The Historicity of Paul the Apostle

Face of Paul as found in a Renaissance painting by Albrecht Durer.I am often enough asked what evidence there is for the historical existence of Paul that a summary write up would be handy to refer people to. This also has use as some scholars ignorantly claim that any standard that would deny the historicity of Jesus would entail denying the historicity of Paul (like that renowned fool James McGrath). Such a statement can only be uttered by someone who stalwartly doesn’t know (or is stubbornly refusing to hear) why the historicity of Jesus is said to be improbable.

The best formal attempt to argue for the non-historicity of Paul is that of Hermann Detering (see The Fabricated Paul). I cannot ascertain his qualifications in the field. But his writings are well-informed. They just trip over logic a lot. His case is not sound. Nor is anyone else’s I’ve examined. They falter on basic methodology (like ignoring the effect prior probability must have on a conclusion, or conflating possibility with probability) and sometimes even facts (e.g., Detering seems to think self-referencing signatures commonly appear only in forgery; in fact, they are commonly found on real letters—I’ve seen several examples in papyrological journals).

By contrast, the following is a basic run-down on why the historicity of Paul is actually, unlike Jesus, highly probable…

The Prior Probability

Jesus belongs to several myth-heavy reference classes. He is a worshipped savior deity. He is a legendary culture hero. He is a Rank-Raglan hero. And he is a revelatory archangel (already as early as the earliest writings we have, granting the letters of Paul are such). All of those classes of person already start with a high prior probability of being mythical, because most members of them are mythical (or for culture heroes, about even). And these are beings all of whom are claimed to be historical, yet are usually in fact mythical. Just like Jesus.

Paul does not belong to any such class. Paul thus falls into the class of ordinary persons who wrote letters and had effects on history. In ratio, most of such people claimed to exist, actually existed. By far. The mistake being made then is that people assume the starting prior for anyone claimed to exist is “50/50” (agnosticism) but we know for a fact that that is not true. Examine thousands of cases, and you will find persons claimed to exist, overwhelmingly actually existed. Only a small proportion didn’t. That entails that for any random person claimed to exist that you pick out of a hat, the prior odds are quite high they actually existed (On the Historicity of Jesus, Chapter 6.2 and 6.5).

To challenge that starting point, you need to show that Paul belongs to a reference class whose members are most often mythical (or at least half of whose members are). No one has done this. And it won’t be easy to. Because it’s shaky if you can only collect two or four members in the set you intend to use, because with such low counts, statistical anomalies are highly likely, and therefore any ratio you generate is going to have margins of error so great as to negate any utility of the set. This is why I used the Rank-Raglan set for Jesus: for that we have fifteen members. As far as ancient history and history of religions go, that’s pretty good. It still entails a large margin for error, but not so much as to erase its utility (as I demonstrate in Chapter 6 of On the Historicity of Jesus). And that is only reinforced by the fact that Jesus also belongs to several other reference classes that typically contain mythical people (see Part 3 of my commentary of the Covington Review.). So Paul is very much not analogous to Jesus.

Now, this is just the prior probability. And a prior probability can be overcome and reversed by a lot of evidence to the contrary. And you have to include that step. So, do we have “a lot of evidence to the contrary”?

The Differential Evidence

James Tabor has provided a very brief summary of the evidence for Paul (in The Quest for the Historical Paul). And perhaps the best monograph for the purpose is Gerd Lüdemann’s Paul, The Founder of Christianity (2002). But neither deals with this question thoroughly.

I will concur that, as I have found, the book of Acts is near useless fiction (On the Historicity of Jesus, Chapter 9). And all extra-biblical evidence for Paul, which is not based on the letters attributed to him, derives from Acts and no other source (either by using Acts as a source, or embellishing it’s tales with more mythology about Paul). So on those counts, Jesus and Paul are in the same evidential boat: there is nothing attesting them that counts as independent of Acts, and Acts is wholly unreliable as a source of historical facts in this matter.

Except in Paul’s case. Because we actually do have letters claiming to have been written by Paul. We do not have this for Jesus, except centuries later, when one ridiculous and patently obvious forgery appeared, Christ’s Letter to Abgar (which bears several hallmarks of forgery that Paul’s letters lack, including its naive and simplistic character, reflection of later church assumptions, and historical implausibilities). So the historicity of Jesus and Paul are actually not in the same evidential state.

We know there are many letters forged in the name of Paul. In fact, most letters attributed to Paul are forgeries (several in the canon, but a great many more fabricated centuries later, including a fake Third Corinthians that is actually still in some lesser canons, and a whole fake chain of letters between Paul and the Roman philosopher Seneca). So why do we regard any of the letters to be authentic?

Because unlike the forgeries, we can say several things about what are regarded as the six authentic letters of Paul (usually there are said to be seven, but I think arguments for Philemon being a forgery are sufficient to warrant at least agnosticism, as it is such an unusual letter in the corpus, and does have telltale signs of later invention: see Robert Price, The Pre-Nicene New Testament, pp. 467-68).

  • First, they all cohere in style (idioms of vocabulary, connotation, grammar, punctuation, sentence length). The forged letters do not. They neither cohere with each other (except when produced as a unit, like the Seneca correspondence), nor with the style features of the authentic six. So one person did write those six (even if, as the letters openly state, they also reflected the views of a co-worker whom Paul sometimes names in each case).
  • Second, they are stitched together from pieces of other letters. Each full letter named in the New Testament actually contains pieces of several letters, whose full content and original destination are now lost (see OHJ, p. 511). Sometimes so badly connected up as to be nearly unintelligible (e.g. the transition between 1 Cor. 8 and 9: OHJ, pp. 582-83). One does not forge letters that way. Which makes this another good indicator that these are not forgeries. Rather, someone tried to semi-reverently keep an original collection, but just the parts they liked, and assembled them together into a new whole in the most logical way they could. Their meddling after that was small and nitpicking, as the manuscript evidence shows, or blatant and obviously un-Pauline, as some of the interpolations made before 150 A.D. show (see Pauline Interpolations).
  • Third, they all make arguments and interact persuasively in a context where the Jewish temple was still standing and its cult operating. And in a context where views of Jesus and the Church that appear in the Gospels have not yet come to exist (not even to denounce or counter or rebut, much less use or co-opt or transform). This is very unlikely unless the letters were written before the year 66 A.D. (when the Jewish War began, an event wholly unknown to the author), and before the Gospels were written (which could be as early as 70 or 75 A.D. for Mark).

That third point is important, because the letters explicitly present themselves internally as having been written in the 50s A.D. So the congruence of that fact with their content totally ignoring later existing doctrinal and tradition battles in the Church is very likely if the 50s is indeed when they were written. It is very unlikely otherwise: not impossible, but very unlikely, and that produces a strong Bayes factor favoring authenticity.

I can’t even think of a single example of an ancient forger successfully ignoring all the central doctrinal and tradition disputes of their own day merely to produce a convincing period-accurate but thereby contemporarily-irrelevant document. The temptation to support or attack the then-going views (usually by fabricating early support for them, e.g. 2 Peter) is simply too strong, and in fact is the usual motivation for forging documents in the first place. In short, the letters of Paul make no sense in the second century (in precisely the way that, for example, 2 Peter actually does).

These six letters also claim to be written by Paul and cohere in references to and descriptions of himself, and if they were indeed written when claimed, there is no reason to doubt that the author was Paul. No motive existed then to invent that name. Nor would such an invention at that point in history matter, since the exact name of this apostle is irrelevant to any argument one might construct about this man’s and these letters’ role in the history of Christianity. Paul may well have been the apostle’s adopted pen name, the Mark Twain to his Samuel Clemens. That makes no difference to anything (other than the fact that Paul is a distinctively Roman name that would be unlikely for anyone to have who was not a Roman citizen, which may be where Luke got the idea).

All that considered, that a Paul wrote those letters in the 50s A.D. makes all the evidence very likely. Otherwise, not at all likely. Therefore, it’s the far more probable hypothesis. And that makes Paul far better attested than Jesus: because we have some things written by Paul himself! (Would that we had such evidence for Jesus.) You can only assume “the evidence for Paul’s historicity is equivalent to that for the historicity of Jesus” if you assume the letters are forged. But then you can’t use the fact that “the evidence for Paul’s historicity is equivalent to that for the historicity of Jesus” as an argument for the letters being forged (without arguing in a circle).

Evidence for Forgery?

Robert Price has on occasion argued that Galatians, for example, was forged as a rebuttal to Acts. One can sort of make that fit, since indeed one is definitely responding to the other. But for it to be that way is far-fetched. The evidence is far more likely (far more what we would expect) if it was the other way around. In fact, Acts tries very hard to contradict Galatians (OHJ, Chapter 9.1), and has a clear motive to do so (to whitewash the divisions in the early Church and fabricate a tale of harmony), whereas Galatians does not seem aware of how hard it needs to contradict Acts, and its only evident motive is to respond to opponents of the writer claiming he didn’t really get a vision from Jesus but was conning his way in by actually getting his gospel from human informants (the whole point of Galatians 1).

And that theory requires no heaped up collection of weakly attested assumptions about later hypothetical ideological battles. Most Detering-style arguments are based on claiming hundreds of interpolations in these letters that conveniently and circularly support Detering’s conclusions, all based on a series of ad hoc assumptions about the second century history of the Church, when in fact almost everything we know about that is speculation, not established fact. The more assumptions you have to rely on, and the more conveniently complex they are, the lower the prior probability of your thesis. Speculation in, speculation out. Detering does not seem aware of this logical fact. He thus falls into the common trap of all bad historians: any theory you can gerrymander to fit all the evidence must be true. Because look how well it fits! Sorry. Illogical. (See Proving History, pp. 27 and 61, and the index, “gerrymandering (a theory)”).

Other arguments attempted include the one about personal signatures I mentioned at the start (sorry, no, not evidence of forgery); the fact that the letters of Paul are crafted by the literary and allusionary standards of Greek rhetoric (sorry, no, this would be expected for doctrinal correspondence intended to persuade; comparing this to letters with wholly different functions is simply a fallacy of false analogy; closer analogs are ancient political and legal speeches; 1 Clement, BTW, fits better the charge of not looking like a letter, yet it is obviously a homily, one that was simply delivered by post, to be orated to the congregation—delivering pre-written speeches like that was common in antiquity; in Classical Athens, Lysias made a living at it, and Paul’s letters are closer to that practice than to love letters or requests for mittens; in fact, these letters simply do not look like fictional letters from anywhere else in antiquity—I’ve read a lot of examples of the latter, and they have little in common in style and content with letters like Paul’s); and the fact that the letters are weirdly long (sorry, no, that is only because the editors created them by sticking a bunch of smaller letters together in mash ups sold as single letters).

Is Paul the Persecutor an Anachronism?

Another argument attempted to support a mythical Paul is to claim anachronisms in the letters, such as that Paul couldn’t have been allowed under the Roman Empire to prosecute Christians as the letters claim Paul had done. But that is not an anachronism. Until the 60s A.D., by imperial decree the Jews were allowed their own laws (in fact even Romans had to obey some of them in Judea; otherwise, only Jews were subject to them). This was because they allied themselves with the winning side in the civil war (supporting Julius Caesar and then Augustus, in the 50s to 30s B.C.). That was only no longer the case after the Jewish War (66-70 A.D.). I discuss this in some detail, with references, in my chapter on burial law in The Empty Tomb.

There is some dispute whether this agreement was already being altered before the war. For example, the Talmud and the Gospel of John both claim the Jews had lost the right to execute without Roman permission 40 years before the war, but that number, coming only from the Talmud, is suspiciously theological, and the evidence of Jewish trials and executions in the 30s and 40s is more than extensive enough to disprove such a legend; although they may have gotten the date wrong (or Roman permission may have been so easy to get it never even got mentioned). Crucially, Josephus, far closer to the events and the data than the compilers of the Talmud, makes no mention of this development, which is a significant strike against it. He may have been inclined to conceal this. But it doesn’t look so. Even his story of Ananus getting into trouble for executing James refers only to his assembling the court without imperial permission, and it’s unclear which step in that process was a violation, e.g. Josephus may mean that Ananus had not yet received the endorsement of the Roman authorities to be high priest or chair of the Sanhedrin, and in any event the implication is that a court assembled with imperial permission would be, even then, authorized in issuing death sentences.

But that only relates to death sentences, not other sanctions. And Paul does not say he executed anyone. Roman law certainly once allowed Jewish authorities to arrest, try, and execute blasphemers, and limits on specifically executing them were either merely procedural or would have simply defaulted such trials to meeting out lesser sentences. Roman citizens would have been exempt, of course, and also citizens of other non-Jewish polities, and probably any Gentiles (except in certain cases, such as defiling sacred objects). For instance, a Gentile could probably appeal to any court (maybe even a Jewish court) with the defense that they are not even a Jew.

Moreover, Paul actually implies his base of operations was Damascus (Gal. 1:17; 2 Cor. 11:32), which was not always part of the Roman Empire. Paul is otherwise vague as to where he persecuted (he was never in Judea when he was a persecutor, according to Gal. 1:22). Citizens of Damascus may have had the power to appeal to the Damascene authorities and Damascene law to exempt themselves from Jewish arrest warrants, although (a) Jewish inhabitants, like many others, in Damascus, did not necessarily have Damascene citizenship (you did not have it merely by living there), and so would be subject to Jewish law unless the Damascenes banned that and there is no evidence they did; and (b) any Jew who used that tactic to escape would likely be shunned as an apostate, betraying Jewish law, and could no longer associate with fellow Jews—unless their fellows agreed the warrant was unjust. So in Damascus what Paul could or couldn’t do would be a complex political question, and not a cut-and-dried matter of law. Paul implies he was hunted by the Damascene authorities once he converted, which suggests the Damascenes were actually endorsing the enforcement of Jewish law there (against, as they would see it, troublemaking Jews), and thus annoyed when Paul switched sides. The Romans, meanwhile, wouldn’t care, as long as Roman citizens weren’t being arrested, and the Jewish court didn’t overstep its bounds.

So, in general, in this case and others, I find nothing in Paul’s letters to be anachronistic. It is either too vague to be claimed such. Or it is perfectly consistent with the conditions of the 50s A.D.

Is Paul’s Christianity Too Sophisticated?

A commenter once argued these five claims against the letters’ authenticity:

1) The complexity and depth of the theology and ethics of Paul,
2) The virulent advocacy and opposition of Pauline doctrine,
3) the pronounced post-Jewish Christianity of Paul, enigmatic in a time pre-70,
4) anachronism of concerns addressed (about [being] celibate or [the] criteria of true apostleship)
5) post-apostolic gnosis.

But none of this works as historical logic.

1. There is no reason Christian theology would not be well developed within years (or indeed less than even one). All founded philosophies begin highly sophisticated. In fact, all religions in history have accumulated sophisticated theology in just years from their founding. And indeed, in this case the Christian theology Paul inherited and improved on would have developed from an already-existing Jewish theology, and thus most of its complexity is simply a carry-over of that, with sectarian tweaks (e.g., OHJ, Chapter 4, Element 18, pp. 143-45).

2. There is nothing unusual at all about religious innovators being virulently contrary and forceful right out of the gate—in fact, that is historically typical.

3. There is nothing even unique about the Torah-free Judaism Paul advocates. There were already pre-Christian sects experimenting with that (The Empty Tomb, pp. 107-10). And these letters depict it as new to Christianity, an innovation of a latecomer (rather than trying to fabricate it as original and an idea coming from the original founders, like Luke attempts to do in Acts). Such an innovation is also more likely to occur very early, otherwise institutionalized forces against it would be much stronger. In fact it makes particular sense in Paul’s context, where Diaspora Judaism was becoming increasingly disconnected from Palestinian Judaism, and indeed increasingly compromised and embarrassed by it. Temple nationalism was creating ill will toward Jews everywhere (OHJ, Chapter 5, Elements 23-29, pp. 153-63) and the “exclusivism” of Judaism was a constant cause of pagan anti-Semitism, and thus an obvious thing to get rid of, for anyone who wanted better pagan-Jewish integration…and a more successful growth in congregations (and thus, money: see J.D.M. Derrett, “Financial Aspects of the Resurrection,” in The Empty Tomb)

4. There is nothing anachronistic about Paul’s notions of celibacy or apostleship. If anything, Paul’s concepts make no sense in a post-Gospel Christianity, so there is no plausible way those letters were written after the Gospels became the frontline weaponry of inter-sectarian debate.

5. And to suggest Paul’s ideas of gnosis are post-apostolic is to simply make a circular argument. One has to presume it’s post-apostolic, in order to declare it post-apostolic. Because we have no other apostolic writings. Period.

So, no, there is no argument against Paul’s letters being authentically of the 50s A.D. here, either.

An Argument from Silence?

But can we deploy a valid AfS against the historicity of Paul? Doesn’t the fact that no one seems to mention him for almost a century seem odd? No. To be valid an AfS requires the actual expectation of mentions (Proving History, index, “Argument from Silence”). But between 30 A.D. and 150 A.D. there are no documents (none whatsoever) that would likely have mentioned Paul, except those that would—and they do!

In fact, there are almost zero documents, period. The history of the Christian Church before 150 A.D. has been scrubbed almost entirely clean. Tons of documentation and books that would have existed, were destroyed (OHJ, Chapter 8.4). All we have left is what’s in the canon, and a few stragglers beyond. Among those stragglers, several do in fact mention Paul. The letter of 1 Clement attests to Paul’s existence (and his body of letters)—and is ignorant of later legends placing Paul’s death in Rome; Clement places it in Spain. That letter is traditionally dated to the 90s A.D. Although I and some other scholars concur the evidence actually places it before the year 66 (OHJ, Chapters 7.6 and 8.5). And the Ignatian epistles attest to Paul’s existence (and his body of letters). Those are traditionally dated to the 110s A.D. Although I and several other scholars concur the evidence actually places them decades later (OHJ, Chapter 8.6).

What else could have mentioned him? We have nothing. The apologies of Aristides and Quadratus don’t concern themselves with ancillary actors in history like Paul. Nor do documents like the Didache (which sets rules for “apostles” but does not concern itself with listing who they are). So we can’t expect them to mention Paul. We don’t have the books of Papias. So we can’t say what “wasn’t in” Papias. And in that same period non-Christian sources are all oblivious even to the existence of Christians—or at best are only vaguely aware of Christ, and that’s lifetimes after Paul. So they can hardly be expected to know about Paul.

So there is no sound argument from silence against the historicity of Paul. Any document we would expect to mention him either does mention him, or no longer exists (and therefore can’t be checked). As I explained in my analysis of Bart Ehrman’s use of Pilate as a false analogy (whom Ehrman claimed was no better attested than Jesus, a claim that is factually and egregiously not true), most historical persons have as little evidence for their existence as we have for Jesus. Thus, we cannot infer non-historicity from just that (as I explain in Proving History, pp. 26-29 and 117-19). We need a prior favoring non-historicity. Or a state of evidence favoring it. Or both. For Paul, we have neither. For Jesus, we have both.

Desperate to avoid this fate for the argument, defenders of a mythic Paul will resort to insisting the Gospel of Mark should mention Paul. I cannot fathom a single reason why, or where on earth in the narrative that fact would ever come up. And that’s not just because Mark is a symbolic fiction that communicates nothing literally to begin with (see Mark 4 and OHJ, Chapter 10.4). Even taken literally, there is no point in it where a mention of Paul would be expected. But it does defend the version of Christianity that in his letters Paul says he invented. Yet Paul’s letters show no awareness of any of the stories told in Mark (apart from too vaguely to match the specifics introduced by Mark, e.g. OHJ, Chapter 11.7). The best explanation of that fact is that Paul’s letters precede Mark.

That argument failing, they will resort to saying that Justin Martyr never mentions Paul, therefore Paul didn’t exist. But that’s absurd. Justin wrote around 160 A.D. To suppose the Pauline letters were not circulating by then is ridiculous. Justin’s near contemporary Tertullian reports that Marcion was already circulating those letters by 140 A.D., decades before Justin wrote. Whereas when Justin wrote the anti-Marcionite canon did not yet exist. It was being created during Justin’s life or shortly thereafter. So there is no reason Justin would talk about Paul’s any more than any other letters. There were just a bunch of letters by bunches of different people. Not relevant to anything Justin argues. Only the Gospels were, and Justin was working from, it appears, the post-canonical Gospel of James (the first to place the birth of Jesus in a cave, the only birth story Justin mentions). Which doesn’t argue for the non-existence of Mark, by the way. So neither would not mentioning Paul.

Similarly other late authors (e.g. Theophilus, writing c. 180 A.D.). It is simply not reasonable to expect everyone to mention Paul, as we know for a fact even people using the canon with Paul in it often didn’t, and they rarely wrote anything in which mentioning him would be relevant. So that some authors don’t mention him is 100% expected. True, that some authors would mention him is also expected to be highly probable—except for the fact that we have almost no authors from the relevant historical period to check from. And yet, lo and behold, we still have some references to Paul (1 Clement and Ignatius; and one might also, albeit weakly, count the forgery of 2 Peter and the historical fiction of Acts, etc.). Everything else was destroyed. And we can’t argue from the silence of documents we don’t have.

There is therefore no valid argument from silence to work from.

To be fair, I don’t think there is an argument from silence against the historicity of Jesus, either—provided we accept he was an uninfluential nobody (OHJ, Chapter 2; although that is a tough pill for historicists to swallow: see OHJ, pp. 574-75 n. 82 and p. 557 nn. 55 and 56). Hence I assign a Bayes factor to that of even steven: no effect (OHJ, Chapter 8.13). And if so for Jesus, definitely the same goes for Paul.


What lowers the probability of Jesus existing is the kind of evidence we don’t have for Paul. Evidence placing Jesus in several myth-heavy reference classes, but not Paul. And evidence the non-existence of Jesus explains better than his existence does. There is nothing comparable for Paul.

In particular: Mistakes in Acts make the existence of Jesus less likely, because they are more likely to have occurred if his existence was being fabricated and hamfistedly inserted into a real outline of early Christian history (OHJ, Chapter 9.3-5). We have nothing of comparable effect for Paul. And evidence that Jesus was originally known only through revelations and hidden messages in scripture (OHJ, Chapter 11; e.g. Romans 16:25-26), which we also don’t have for Paul. And though that last requires agreeing the Pauline letters were written before the Gospels, that is a highly probable fact. Even apart from what the dates were, arguing the reverse requires swallowing too many improbabilities to credit. The sequence of Epistles, then Gospels, simply explains the evidence far better than the reverse can.

So unlike Jesus, Paul has a high prior probability of existing. And unlike Jesus, the Bayes factor for Paul not only does not reduce that prior, it actually raises it, because there is no evidence Paul’s non-existence explains better than his existence, and some evidence his existence explains better than his non-existence. The logically correct conclusion is that Paul probably existed and wrote the six authentic letters in the 50s A.D. (albeit we are now seeing only fractions of the actual letters he wrote, and somewhat meddled with). And that conclusion follows even when the same logic and methodology leads to the conclusion that, unlike Paul, Jesus probably did not exist. Except, originally, in the fevered imaginations of the revelators of a schizotypal cult (OHJ, Chapter 4, Elements 15 and 16, pp. 124-41).


  1. Why don’t you put the date of your writing at the end or beginning of the text, but within the body of the tex, so that any referral to the article automatically shows the date?

    1. The date should show in the byline. It doesn’t Because we got screwed over by a shitty web designer and can’t afford to fix it.

      Seriously, that defect is on our list of a million things we want changed. But it could be years before we find the volunteer hours to get to it.

      But it is not practical to type it into the body because that consumes character count, and only a small number of characters are taken from the opening text to represent the content of the article when it posts in RSS feeds and equivalent (e.g. Facebook).

    2. In Response to RC:
      “The date should show in the byline. It doesn’t Because we got screwed over by a shitty web designer and can’t afford to fix it.”
      Do you control your own source code? What language is it written in?

  2. Hi Richard,

    Can I raise the prior against Paul’s historicity when I see a possible theological reason behind his name?

    Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
    (Matthew 5:19)

    The dicothomy anti-Law/pro-Law is reflected for the first time in History by the metaphor ”more little” versus ”more great”. The marcionites invented the figure of the Amazing Colossal ”More Little” Apostle: Paul. The last is the first.

    So Dr. Detering:

    Moreover, that the name Paul could already be conceived in a figurative sense by the writer of the Pauline letters can be clearly seen in 1 Cor 15:9, where “Paul” speaks of himself as the last and the smallest, like a “miscarriage” as it were. B. Bauer correctly commented about this: “He is the last, the unexpected, the conclusion, the dear nestling. Even his Latin name, Paul, expresses smallness, which stands in contrast to the majesty to which he is elevated by grace in the preceding passages of the letter.”
    (The Falsified Paul, p. 145)

    The logic would be: if Matthew didn’t have had that metaphor ”more little” versus ”more great” along the debate about the Law and the Jewish identity, then we could have no invention of Paul at all.

    You doubt the existence of ‘Ebion’ founder of ebionites for a similar reason.

    Very thanks for any reply,


    1. “Can I raise the prior against Paul’s historicity when I see a possible theological reason behind his name?” — That question reduces to: “Is this a possibiliter fallacy?” (Proving History, Chapter 2, Axiom 5).

      Matthew is an anti-Pauline text. It is specifically written (redacting the pro-Paul Mark) to attack and denounce him and his views, by putting those denunciations retroactively into the mouth of Jesus. Mt. 5:19 is a perfect example of that (a clear and direct attack on Paul’s gospel). So if there was any intended joke here, it’s based on Paul’s letters, not the other way around. But even that this was intended can’t be established, because hyperbolic last-first/least-greatest comparisons are ubiquitous in Christian writing and thought.

      Even the coincidence of Paulus meaning “littleboy” does not entail intention (Paulus was also a very common and prestigious Roman name, e.g. Aemilius Paulus) and even insofar as it did, it could well be the initiation name Paul chose for himself when he converted, precisely because of its symbolism.

      His original name could well have been Saul, its nearest homophone; although Luke might have just made that up for the same reason. Or if Paul received Roman citizenship during his life—although unlikely; he’s more likely to have inherited it if he had it at all—he would have to invent a new Roman name for himself (the trinomen, selecting a common first name, a mock family name, and a unique nickname), and converting Saul to Paul would make sense again (for the first name; Paulus being one of the twenty or so accepted). Otherwise his parents would have just chosen it for him when he was born into the citizenship.

      That Christians took nicknames upon adoption by God (i.e. baptism: OHJ, Element 12) would make sense anthropologically (they are being inducted literally into a new family with a new father, which often went with adopting a new name, e.g. when Romans adopted someone into their family) and fit the data (Paul refers a few times to the first apostle as named Cephas, a name that means Rock in Aramaic, Peter in Greek, but did not exist as an actual name in that form, so it looks very much like an adopted name that was symbolic to the role Cephas/Peter saw for himself; I suggest the same may have been true of the other apostles: OHJ, pp. 524-25 n. 29). Even Apollos may be an adopted name, being derived from the verb apollô (apollumi in some Jewish literature of the day, e.g. 4 Macc., took the simpler form of apollô), “destroyer” (as an exorcist) or “loser” (a humble boast) or “killed” (having died to the world in baptism). But this is now just speculation (Apollos could just be a shortened form of Apollonius, a common Greek name).

  3. I stumbled across a guy claiming that he believes Paul and Josephus were the same person – that Josephus invented Paul. He claimed the shipwreck as the biggest clue. Does that seem remotely possible?

  4. What would it mean for Paul to not be a historical figure?

    I suppose minimal history would be that one man wrote at least six of the epistles, and maybe to include the date?

    Minimal non historicity? Could the epistles have a single author and this not be Paul? If so, I guess minimal non historicity could be that some time after the spread of Christianity, someone decided to write a set of letters written as though by an early apostle.

    1. “What would it mean for Paul to not be a historical figure?” — There are too many variables to answer that generically. It would depend on what exactly the alternative was proved to be (there are countless theories).

      “I suppose minimal history would be that one man wrote at least six of the epistles, and maybe to include the date?” — If they were written in the 50s by the same person (and as I describe, all the evidence confirms this to a high probability) then they are de facto written by “Paul.” Whether that’s a pen name or not is irrelevant to history. (Just as the actual name of the authors of the Gospels is irrelevant; we just work with the assigned names as the code names for those authors.)

      “Minimal non historicity? Could the epistles have a single author and this not be Paul?” — That depends on what that would mean. It’s a meaningless question if the letters are dated to the 50s, since the actual name is moot. So it depends on the specific theory being advanced (and it’s only worth considering once that theory is proved to be probably true). Are the letters from the 50s but fictional? To what purpose? Etc. Are the letters fictions from another period? What period? Why then? And to what purpose? Etc.

    2. Do you know of any decent summaries of the “Paul was not real” position? Given your bad review of the book, I don’t feel like buying it, but I’d like to know what case they are trying to make.

      If the standard Paul is a Jew who persecuted Christians before converting then founded several churches and wrote letters to them to clarify doctrine and theology in the 50s, before being imprisoned and dying in Rome, how much of that would need to be false for “Paul” not to be real?

      I could see someone claiming acts is fiction, and that what we know of Paul’s life from that book is not real, so Paul was not historical, but that would seem to me to be an excessively strict definition of “Paul”. In terms of the analogy with Jesus, virtually everything in the bible could be false, but as long as there was a real person who formed the movement that led to Christianity, then there was a real Jesus (and according to the definition in your book, it doesn’t have to be at any particular time, and he doesn’t have to have been executed, just that his supporters claimed he was).

  5. Hi Richard. You seem to have ignored the core of the Detering-Price theory, viz. Paul was a polemical reinvention of Simon Magus. Also Roger Parvus over on Vridar.

    1. No, I’m not ignoring that. That’s part of the string of possibiliter fallacies I spoke of. There is no logical method by which that comes out of present evidence as probable. And I’m only interested in what we can establish is likely. Not what is merely possible or can be made to fit.

  6. Thank you for this important post. It is some much-needed commentary on an often-neglected topic.

    I’m sure you would agree that we can divide the subject into two questions: (1) the historicity of an apostle Paul and (2) the authenticity of the letters attributed to Paul. Your point about the prior probability that we should assign to the historicity of an apostle Paul is well-taken; I would agree that it is, on any accounting, better than half.

    But what about the prior probability of the authenticity of the letters attributed to an apostle, Paul? Surely that is not nearly as high as the prior probability of the existence of a historical apostle Paul. We know of too many forged letters and other texts attributed to ‘apostles’ in order to maintain that it is very high. And this is part of why it is important to treat the questions separately; even if Paul were historical, he very well may not have written any particular letter attributed to him.

    Of course I do appreciate the comments you do make in favor of establishing some of the letters attributed to Paul as authentic letters from the first century figure. It’s a very welcome addition to the discussion. Hopefully we will hear more in the future about the questions surrounding these letters and their composition, including the debate over their authenticity and, if authentic, the debate over their contents and whether (and where) there were interpolations.

    1. Are you planning a longer response to this? Seems funny it’s the only comment here without a reply. FYI, I’ve missed you posting about the NT. Are you in general moving on to other topics?

      1. I’ve always done philosophy, ancient history, politics, and social commentary in the same proportions for years and years. So I don’t know what trend you are imagining.

        And my article already addresses anything you are curious about in Kirby’s comment. No further comment is required.

      1. The question is what would you say is, and, most importantly, why?

        For myself, it’s 50/50, because one doesn’t forge letters until one knows there are letters to forge. So some of the letters among those that can have been written in the first century have a 50/50 chance of being the originals (people only started forging letters from Paul after they knew letters from Paul carried authority; so it’s at least 50/50 that authentic letters started the ball rolling, and one needs to locate those, after ruling out letters that can’t have been written in the fourth century, e.g. the collection of letters between Paul and Seneca we already known can’t have been).

        Similarly for the shorter Ignatians. It’s just in that case, the consequent probabilities all but kill the authenticity assumption.

  7. Any thoughts on St. Thecla?
    OT I understand the Aramaic speaking xtian community in her purported hometown in Syria has come under siege from time to time in the recent civil war.

  8. What about 1 Clement being later interpolated with older material similar in content and style to Hebrews? That would explain why it is so painfully long, why it describes a well developed church hierarchy, why it refers to the deaths of Paul and Peter in a not so recent past, why it still contains a reference to the temple cult and several other oddities.

    Eusebius notices that material too, and claims that the letter was widely circulated in antiquity. I can imagine someone very early taking a powerful and popular homily targeted at a single community and making a more complete (or more jewish-christian oriented) doctrinary document out of it.

    Peter Kirby argues for 22:1 to 41:2 being interpolated, it looks good to me:

    1. Seems more possibility than probability. 1 Clement is an oration, not a letter in the specific sense (it was sent to be orated to the congregation). It has more in common with written speeches. And as such it looks like a rhetorically coherent work. Even the oddities Kirby looks at can be found in other orations. So I don’t think we can do much with that.

  9. Thanks for all those details. I could search all around the web and never find all that information – and here you’ve got it all in one place.

  10. Is the painting of Paul at the start hinting at temporal lobe epilepsy?
    Do you think Durer realised this? Usually ikonic depictions of Paul have him, ‘tall’
    (ie 170cm for the time) lanky and balding.

    1. If you are referring to visual media (based on that work of fiction called Acts), that’s centuries too late to be of any use in respect to knowing anything about the historical Paul

  11. …even insofar as it did, it could well be the initiation name Paul chose for himself when he converted, precisely because of its symbolism.

    you don’t call yourself ”Little” if what you want is a political power on your group and to be adored as a guru from your followers from the start. Viceversa, it’s even strategic in war renaming the enemy with the more ridicolous name:

    …unless all recognize the simbolism implicit in your nickname/i> (but this requires to assume that they know they deal with a literary character from the start).

    It is expected at 100% that the character/icon of freedom from the Torah was invented in a marcionite community by the name ”Paul” if that symbolism described by Detering (see my comment above) is designed precisely in reaction to the metaphor anti-gentile of Matthew and/or in keeping with the evangelical parable of the mustard seed (according to which who seems ‘small’ in appearance hides implicitly already in itself its own greatness).

    Viceversa, is it expected that an apostle with a personality so powerful and culture so broad as Paul (assuming his existence & his authorship of Pauline letters) will choose as a nickname exactly a name allusive of its (even phisical) weakness and insignificance and irrelevance in the face of an almost reverential worship of his personality from all the followers who he gathered far and wide in the Mediterranean, quasi predicting accidentally (=by pure coincidence) that his nickname ‘Paul’ will become the symbol of all that he represents alive and will represent after death???

    My answer: no. It’s surprising. It’s unexpected, not probable, because the effect that produces this apparent (even phisical) weakness of Paul reflected in his name is that:

    I tend to see him – in our interpolated letters – as a kind of hunchback of Notre Dame: i.e. the legend of a person externally miserable, but interiorly big (”the last is the first”). And no one denies that this representation is designed to make a point all literary/simbolic/allegorical. I wonder if this precise image of Apostle (as a sort of Little Big Man) was already in intention of his original creators or editors.

    I’m curious only to know how do you reply to this last defense.
    Very thanks,


    1. “…you don’t call yourself ”Little” if what you want is a political power…” — Oh yes you do. Humility is a common tactic of those who want to gain influence. And Paul uses self-humiliating throughout his letters in exactly that way (he repeatedly brings up how much he sucks at things and how feeble and pathetic he is and how inferior to other apostles yadayada). He outright says “I am the least of the apostles,” 1 Cor. 15:9. That’s a preacher’s ploy. Just like preachers who claim they were once stalwart atheists and sinners before they saw the light. “Oh humble me. See how I don’t grab at power or act all haughty? I’m safe, see? So give me some power, please!” That’s how it worked. Today we call that passive-aggressive. Back then it was a rhetorical strategy.

  12. “Dr. Detering:
    Moreover, that the name Paul could already be conceived in a figurative sense by the writer of the Pauline letters can be clearly seen in 1 Cor 15:9, where “Paul” speaks of himself as the last and the smallest, like a “miscarriage” as it were. B. Bauer correctly commented about this: “He is the last, the unexpected, the conclusion, the dear nestling. Even his Latin name, Paul, expresses smallness, which stands in contrast to the majesty to which he is elevated by grace in the preceding passages of the letter.”
    (The Falsified Paul, p. 145)”
    Detering’s argument is void if 1 Cor 3-11 is (rightly so) considered a later interpolation as I explained here:

    Cordially, Bernard

  13. Richard,

    I think I have accumulated a good amount of evidence that Paul is a mythical character based largely on the Stoic ex-Christian Peregrinus. The Pauline epistles were first popularized by Marcion, whose originally came from Peregrinus’ home in Asia Minor, and the language and theology in the Pauline epistles matches far more closely with the Stoicism being popularized there than with the language and theology of Jesus in the gospels.

    According to Lucian, when Peregrinus was in prison, his followers bribed the guards to sleep in his cell with him and Paul’s follower Thecla does the same in the apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla. Peregrinus is said to have gotten rich from the donations while the Pauline epistles defend Paul against the charge that he “stole money”. The term Peregrinus refers to a free non-citizen while Acts strangely emphasizes that Paul was born a Roman citizen. Both Peregrinus and Paul lose their clout over the eating of kosher foods and both make an appeal to the Emperor after the falling out. Peregrinus killed his father before becoming a Stoic and Paul admits to being a violent man in his past. Peregrinus is stoned in Pisa while Paul is stoned in Lystra. Peregrinus is called the “New Socrates” and Paul is given that role when he debates the Epicureans and Stoics in Acts 17. While on a ship, Peregrinus got sick by the winds while Paul’s ship got stuck in a hurricane. Peregrinus shipwrecked on Malta and according to Epiphanius, the Pauline Christian Valentinus was likewise caught in a shipwreck. Peregrinus survives a riot in Pisa while Paul survives a riot in Ephesus. A mysterious “Alexander the Metalworker” does some unknown harm to Paul, which in Acts is changed to Demetrius the silversmith causing a riot in which “Artemis is great!” is chanted to push out the Christians, while similarly, Alexander the False Prophet, also referenced by Lucian, was said to have inspired his followers to chant “Out With the Christians!” Peregrinus originally came from Parium in Mysia and Acts goes out of its way to say that Paul never stepped foot in Mysia because the Spirit of Jesus suddenly appeared to him and forbade him to go there for an unexplained reason! Finally, Peregrinus burned himself to death, and an edited Pauline verse says he will “yield my body up to the fire” (1 Cor. 13:1, ESV).

    What do you think of these parallels?

    Jeff Q.

    1. Stoicism was popularized and influencing the whole empire for centuries before Paul. So you can’t date or geographically locate a text that way. (Not least because a lot of Stoicism looks a lot like Aristotelianism, so it’s no simple task to tell them apart when you only have vague allusions and adapted abstractions to work with.)

      There is a good case to be made that the letters of Ignatius are the letters of Peregrinus (Parvus, in A New Look, makes that case well enough that it’s more than merely possible but I think close to 50/50, give or take).

      But I see no plausible case that the letters of Paul are.

      The Acts of Paul and Thecla were fabricated in the late second century. They tell us nothing whatever about the actual Paul.

      Everything else you list is expected anyway (Paul is a Roman name, yet the letters never mention citizenship, that appears to be Luke’s inference only; agitators often end up in riots; churches often grumble over money; etc.). Or is incorrect (Paul never mentions being specifically violent, or ever having anyone executed; Socrates was dead before Epicureans and Stoics existed, so debating them in Athens entails no allusion to Socrates; Alexander is in a known forged letter, not written by the author of the six letters I’m talking about, so no such Alexander actually existed in the real Paul’s life that we know of; etc.).

      No coincidence needs to be explained by positing such a far-fetched hypothesis.

      At best you could use this to show that Lucian may have fabricated his account of Peregrinus by modeling it on Acts and the Epistles. Because it’s the only coherent collection. The writings about Paul are diverse by multiple authors written decades or even as much as a century apart. In that condition, the one inventing is the single coherent work, not the diversified jumble. So at most you could use this to argue Peregrinus was mythical. And even then, not with much confidence.

  14. If “Paul” was invented after the gospels, he certainly would have been one of the twelve (under a different name of course), not one who got his gospel through revelation from above and never witnessed the earthly Jesus.
    In in epistles, Paul repeatedly has to defend his credendials. Being one of the twelve would have solved that.
    Paul, through his letters, is far from being the ideal apostle, as a literary creation would have rendered him.
    He had to fight to keep is converts from Corinth and Galatia under his spell (sometimes successfully, other times not). He had to acknowledge some of his competitors were superlative, that, at best, he would only measure up with them. He had opposition from Jews but also from his own Gentile converts (Corinth).
    He had to admit his relation with the pillars of the church of Jerusalem was rather frigid, when his own converts thought these pillars were “saints” and deserved funds to be collected for them.
    He also said he started on the wrong foot by persecuting proto-Christians.
    None of his letters states he went to Rome as an apostle (that got fixed up in ‘Acts’), Rome being the pinnacle of any apostolic carrier for a travelling apostle.
    Also, I have this blog post in favor of Paul having existed and a least writing some letters:
    I reproduce below the ending of that blog post:
    >> One more point: does the above verses look to come from a “fabricated Paul”?
    According to 1 Cor 16:21, Paul did not write the letter, he dictated it.
    And Paul, very likely, did not want to loose face in front of his scribe, probably one of his followers, by asking him to erase several verses or rewriting the letter (if on a scroll) or part of it (if on sheets). That would imply Paul made a mistake (& was not inspired from above!).
    However, someone writing in the name of Paul in secret had the luxury to do some rewriting in order to remove any “faux pas”. <<
    Cordially, Bernard

  15. Dr. Carrier, can you explain why my comments (supporting your case) are so fallacious and implausible?
    Cordially, Bernard

    1. Every time I do that you send word walls of crazy. So, no. If you don’t know why by now, you won’t listen or learn why. Conversations with you are a waste of time. If you want me to link to my having told you this repeatedly over the years by now I will, because you seem to forget. There is no talking with you. I’m confident every sane and informed person can see how everything you say is based on improbabilities and possibiliter fallacies. I don’t need to walk them through it.

  16. Richard,
    Have you ever contemplated the ideas of AD Loman (+/- other Dutch Radicals) that Paul represents the writings of a Gnostic-Messianic community? ie. Have you interacted with their writings & those ideas primarily, and not through the writings of others?

  17. I’m not sure what you mean by “renowned fool James McGrath”. McGrath actually references the “Jesus didn’t exist” website in the article that you link to, and the “Jesus didn’t exist” website questions the existence of a historical Paul because, as is explained here:
    “Curiously, the trail-blazing Christian missionary and apostle appears nowhere in the secular histories of his age. Ironically, though supposedly in Jerusalem at the right time, he can give no witness to a historical Jesus. But was Paul himself a genuine historical figure? The Pauline journeys, including the supposed transportation of the apostle to Rome, are characterized by incongruities, contradiction, and the absurd.”

    Isn’t this the same reasons that some mythicists believe there is no historical Jesus? “No evidence in secular histories” and “Contradiction and the absurd”? Seems like you agree with McGrath here, at least on this particular point.

    1. McGrath is not renowned as a fool for finding claims like that silly. He is a renowned fool for thinking that carries over to Jesus, that the evidence is the same. He is a fool, in other words, for repeatedly getting basic facts wrong and stalwartly failing to ever correctly understand the arguments he lambasts, while claiming to know better than actual experts how ancient history works, and never owning up to any of this even when repeatedly caught red-handed at it. Read this thread to see where and why he earned the reputation as a fool. And this for evidence of his face-palming mistakes displaying basic ignorance of ancient history and literature (yet he has the gall to imply I am not qualified…the one guy between us who actually has a Ph.D. in ancient history). And this for his failure again to even understand the thesis he attacks. And he never learns. It’s a joke by this point.

  18. To be valid an AfS requires the actual expectation of mentions (Proving History, index, “Argument from Silence”). But between 30 A.D. and 150 A.D. there are no documents (none whatsoever) that would likely have mentioned Paul, except those that would—and they do!

    If you concede the premise that these documents the mentioned Paul are later than 150 CE (for example,, so Parvus on 1 Clemens), can the AfS have a more strong effect against historicity of Paul?

    A barker of low rank, Simon said Atomos – candidate to role of Simon Magus aka Paulus by some scholars – is better known to a Roman public than a cives romanus like Paulus.

    I agree that the Argument from Silence in pagan sources doesn’t work against Jesus (assuming not a triumphalist Jesus). But I wonder: the Paul I have ever known has always been THE triumphalist Paul. For me it’s even impossible a priori to imagine an ”obscure” Paul, since the guy manifests such a huge ego to crush all rivals ego.

    It seems prima facie that Lucian of Samosate did mention Paul:

    … the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world…. Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they were all brothers one of another after they have transgressed once for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshipping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws.

    …but the ‘problem’ is that the Paul of Lucian could be just Marcion!

    1. Placing documents about Paul after 150 eliminates them as evidence. So, sure, removing evidence for h reduces the probability of h by as much as having that evidence would raise it. But that’s idle speculation. 1 Clement was almost certainly written before 66. It’s argument is completely illogical without a functioning Jewish temple cult. It is unaware of the mid-second-century legends placing Paul’s death in Rome. It is unaware of the stories in the Gospels. And so on. See my discussion in OHJ.

      As for Paul being famous, I don’t see any evidence of that. He was just one of a dozen apostles, all doing the same things he was, yet all of whom were so obscure we know next to nothing about any of them. Someone just liked bits of his letters more than the others a lifetime later and preserved them (probably Marcion). Had that not happened, we would probably not even know the man’s name.

      Lucian had no access to any history of Christianity outside the canon. Which in his day included Acts, as well as the Epistles. So no conclusions can be drawn from what he infers from those.

  19. Sorry, I was imprecise. I did not mean to say Stoicism in and of itself places it in Asia Minor. There is also Stoicism in the Synoptic gospels but I do not think they all came from there and then. I meant to say that the epistles show strong parallels to Marcion’s Stoicism (with later anti-Marcionite additions from the Antioch Christians who edited the canonical Matthew, followed by more additions and new epistles from the Apostolic Church in Ephesus).

    I am aware of the arguments that Ignatius being based on Peregrinus, but my own hypothesis came before I read about it. Stephan Huller has also made convincing arguments that Polycarp is based on Peregrinus as well. As you might imagine, I take these as validations of my own hypothesis and further evidence that a very large percentage of the mythology behind the pseudo-epistles of Asia Minor is based on Peregrinus, or at the very least, that the legends of Peregrinus follow an established default legend also used by Christian pseudo-authors. Since Peregrinus himself lived up until 165 A.D., the dating of Paul and Thecla to the late second century is right in line with Peregrinus and the first appearance of the Apostolic Church canon around 180 A.D. The fact that you consider Ignatius being Peregrinus to be 50/50 but Paul being Peregrinus to be “far-fetched” is curious.

    Paul is described as violent in 1 Timothy 1:13.: “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.”

    Also, I did not mean to say that arguing against Epicureans and Stoics makes him a “New Socrates” because Socrates argued against them! My point was Epicureanism and Stoicism were two of the newer, popular Greek philosophies that began with Socrates. Although probably a retcon, Stoicism was said to have originated with Socrates’ pupil Antistehenes, so because Peregrinus WAS a Stoic, the author of Acts had Paul argue against the Stoics and Epicureans to prove he was on the same level as them, thus admitting he talked *about* Stoicism, but was not a Stoic himself.

    Is it expected that there should be a final break between a prophet and Christians over violating kosher law, or that Acts should make up reasons for not going to Mysia, or that Paul would talk about death by fire when there is no tradition of him being martyred that way?

    Also, I disagree with the assumption that the epistles were written in whole in places and times too far apart. I think it is easier to divide the theology by the layers of the text in the epistles rather than the categorizing the entire epistle to one specific date and time. You could have a large cache of letters of Peregrinus rewritten as letters for Paul by Marcionites, with only some being canonized by the Marcionite Church and others remaining “apocryphal” until years later when the Apostolic Church in Ephesus found and edited them.

    Jeff Q.

    1. 1 Timothy is a second century forgery. It therefore contains no data about the historical Paul.

      The rest is speculation. And speculation in, speculation out.

      People need to learn the difference between doing history, and doing historical fiction. Because conflating them discredits the field. See Chapter 2 of OHJ and Chapter 1 of PH.

  20. That is not really an answer. You’re just being dismissive. Your answer makes me think you do not even know what I am talking about.

    If Paul is a fictional person, then all his writings are all forgeries and no historical data on him exists. If 1 Timothy was originally a pseudographical letter based on the legend of the second century Stoic Christian Peregrinus (or in the very least they share common mythological themes later attributed to both of them), then dating 1 Timothy to the late second century fits perfectly. It’s the evidence that the other canonical Pauline epistles *as we have them today* are first century that is the question at hand. The existence of shorter Marcionite epistles puts that well beyond speculation.

    If you do not think the parallels are compelling, just say so (assuming you read and understood my comment in the first place). Don’t try to make some grand separation as if every parallel you see is history and science and every parallel others see that you don’t is fiction. Is Robert Price’s “Colossal Apostle” a work of historical fiction?

    Jeff Q.

    1. And if Jesus was a space alien, then…

      Oh, why bother.

      Why are people so in love with speculative conditional reasoning?

      (1 Timothy everyone agrees is a forgery, so I don’t know what you are attempting to argue with it.)

  21. Richard,
    I asked you (#16)
    “Have you ever contemplated the ideas of AD Loman (+/- other Dutch Radicals) that Paul represents the writings of a Gnostic-Messianic community? ie. Have you interacted with their writings & those ideas primarily, and not through the writings of others?”

    You replied
    “Just more of the same. Detering comes from that school. They just stack up mountains of possibiliter fallacies. That’s not history. It’s historical fiction.”

    The Dutch Radicals wrote long before Detering. It would be interesting to primarily engage in Loman’s work, as it seems Detering only repeats it. The idea that Paul represented a Gnostic-Messianic community, in opposition to a Jewish-Messianic community, is interesting; as is the proposition that Jesus represents a truce of these communities.

    If that was the case, it might also suggest the narrative originated in Asia Minor more than Galilee & Judea. Regards.

    1. Doesn’t change the fact that this is a stack of possibiliter reasoning. No different (indeed arguably more elaborate and thus less probable by definition) than Detering’s tamer arguments based on that school’s claims.

      You don’t get knowledge from speculation. You definitely don’t get knowledge from a hundred speculations.

  22. Phillip Hallam-Baker June 9, 2015, 7:42 pm

    The historicity of Paul is a non-question, it has no consequences. Paul is known for three things, for writing his letters, for having claimed to have done the things he says he did in the letters and for working to build the Gentile church.

    Since we have the letters it is clear that someone must have written them. And the stylistic similarities strongly suggest that at least six were written by the same hand. Further the fact that they survived strongly suggests that they were important to the early church.

    So all we are left with is whether the Paul in the letters was the person who had claimed to have the visions of Jesus or made someone up who claimed to have visions. Which is a distinction without a difference.

    The historicity of Jesus is in a completely different category. The question is whether Christianity grew out of a nucleus of historical events involving an actual historical person or if the first gospel was written as a devotional interpretation of scriptural prophecies.

    If historicity is true then Jesus does at least merit consideration as one of the earliest social/political/religious reformers and his words bear weight as the MLK of his day. If the gospels are fiction then his words have the same moral authority as Yoda’s philosophical ditties in Star Wars. If the gospels are fiction are reading words written by a nobody scribbling away alone in their hut, not the words of a religious leader whose words brought thousands to his cause.

    1. The historicity of Paul’s letters is crucial to understanding the origins of Christianity. And the historicity of those letters hangs on the historicity of Paul (minimally conceived).

      So the issue is more about people who want to move those letters into the second century and claim their entire content is a fiction.

      The historicity of Paul is thus actually more important than the historicity of Jesus. This is the difference between history as an actual objective field of factual inquiry, and religion, which has no actual connection to reality. Religiously, Paul’s revelatory Jesus was totally real and as authoritative as Yoda. So the existence of Jesus of Nazareth is actually irrelevant to the truth of Christianity as a religion. It may well in fact be true that Jesus was really crucified by Satan in outer space as Paul imagined, and it may well be true that this somehow fixed the universe. That is a completely separate question from what the historical truth is of how Christianity began. Because whether Jesus was really crucified by Satan in outer space, or whether he was only believed to be because it conveniently solved certain theological problems historically created at the time (OHJ, chapters 4 and 5), the historical conclusion is the same: there was no Galilean preacher named Jesus who got the religion started. It was all started by revelations. The Jesus of Galilee was invented later.

    2. Richard,
      I think the way which Paul seems to be writing to and preaching to established churches is important to understanding the history of Christianity, as well as the way that the Pauline letters were used by the next generation of subsequent Fathers and then then-proponents of that early version of Christianity (the notion of the Trinity, first mentioned by Theophilus of Antioch in the mid 2nd C, had not been entertained).

      Your comments above that Mark is pro-Paul, and that ‘Matthew is an anti-Pauline text’ are interesting: written “to attack and denounce Paul and his views, by putting those denunciations retroactively into the mouth of Jesus”

      Where and when do you think Mark and Matthew were written?

      1. Mark most likely 70s (it is too urgently trying to explain why the Jewish War didn’t cause the end of the world), Matthew most likely 80s to 110s (I am certain Luke is using Matthew, and Luke dates 90s to 120s). Although later is possible (because Later for Luke is possible, depending on when one dates Papias).

  23. Richard please:

    Is ‘docetism’ by and large mythicism? who were its leaders..any writings/polemic survive?
    Paul mentions other christian sects – basilidians? cerinthians? carpocratians?

    As far as I can recall you don’t mention JND Kelly’s Early Christian Doctrine. Not relevant?


  24. Vincent Guilbaud June 10, 2015, 8:39 pm

    Hi Richard,
    This message is not about the historicity of Paul, but an anachronism I thought you were talking about in: “Is Paul the Persecutor an Anachronism?
    Paul’s Timeline:
    * Paul persecute “Christians”
    * 33-36 Damascus (conversion)
    * 3 years in Arabia & Damascus (before 40, Aretas death)
    * 36-39 Jerusalem (Peter/James)
    * 14 years in Syria, Cilicia…
    * 50-53 Jerusalem (James/Cephas/John)
    * Antioch (confront Peter)
    * 55 Write Galatians
    How can Paul or anyone else could have persecuted “Christians” so early and far away?
    How can he have even heard about it (let alone convert) around Damascus at that time?
    Moreover, the amazing speed of Christianity’s spread all over the eastern part of the roman empire by a handful of poor ignorant & illiterate fishermen is just too dubious. Paul writes to communities that already exist! This is an important argument in Doherty’s book that I have not found in yours, although OTHOJ is an outstanding achievement.

    1. I don’t understand the question. Damascus isn’t far. It’s adjacent to Galilee. And on the main land trade route north from Judea. Missionaries could have been working that region within months of their inspiration (e.g. within a year of “first revelation” as described in 1 Cor. 15).

      Study how religions spread (e.g. Mormonism). It doesn’t work as slowly as you think. Unless you are measuring by growth in adherents rather than growth in communities (not the same thing).

      And remember the Gospels are theological bullshit. So they cannot be used to date the origin of Christianity. (As we know from the Babylonian Christians writing gospels placing Jesus a hundred years earlier: OHJ, ch. 8.1.)

  25. Hi Richard,
    I attempt to put in discussion your claim:
    He is a Rank-Raglan hero.

    Paul does not belong to any such class.

    You should know that a Catholic historicist scholar, Adamczewski, has written a commentary on Gospel of Mark where he says that ‘Mark’ has pratically invented his gospel Jesus ex novo ”reading” his ‘life’ and ‘actions’ in life and predication of Paul (even if a HJ existed, as Adamczewski, catholic priest, believes by definition).

    1) Assume for a moment that this catholic priest is right (in any case, he is neither the first nor the last to argue on sound pauline influence on Mark).

    2) but you give the proof, in OHJ, that Jesus is a Rank-Raglan hero.

    3) therefore, if the life of Jesus is ‘read’ in Paul (in virtue of point 1), then Paul is a Rank-Raglan hero, too.

    Contra Carrier arguing for Paul not being a Rank-Raglan hero!

    I see that Paul may collect 14 points in Raglan scale (that has in all 22 points).

    4. The circumstances of his conception are unusual, and (Gal 1:15, 1 Cor 15:8)
    5. He is also reputed to be the son of a god. (Acts 14:12, 1 Cor 1:12)
    6. At birth an attempt is made, usually by his father or his maternal grand father to kill him, but

    The reason: Gal 1:13-14, Gal 1:16-17
    What attempted to ”kill” spiritually – on ‘birth’ – Paul is his Jewish education and the risk that, immediately after his conversion, he could go to Jerusalem where he could find harmful influence by apostles before him who were somehow corrupt (because they have corrupted the true gospel).
    In Mark this is reflected by Jesus leaving Nazareth (allusion to ultra-Jewish past of Paul) in order to scrupolously receive the baptism from John, where he is separated via Spirit from John.

    7. he is spirited away, and

    The reason: Gal 1:16-17, Gal 1:18, Gal 2:1

    The Spirit departs Paul as much as possible from those who can defile him spiritually, and therefore led him among Pagans, far distant from Jerusalem.
    Note that in Mark this is reflected by the fact that the Spirit moved Jesus into the desert and then, instead of going in Judaea, Jesus comes in Galilee of the Gentiles (Capernaum being Damascus).

    8. Reared by foster -parents in a far country.

    the reason: Gal 1:16-17, Gal 1:18, Gal 2:1

    to the extent that Paul is in the gentile world far away from Jerusalem, he is ‘safe’ spiritually from any deadly contamination with the the Judaizers of Jerusalem.
    The alienation/separation from his original country can also be seen, in marcionite terms, as adoption by a Alien God (I am who says this).

    As above, this is reflected in Jesus preaching in Galilee of Gentiles and not in Judaea.

    9. We are told nothing of his childhood, but (Acts 13:9, Acts 22:3, etc.)

    10. On reaching manhood he returns or goes to his future Kingdom.

    the reason: Gal 1:18-24, Gal 2:1-10
    When Paul is spiritually ‘read’, he goes to Jerusalem. I remember that in Marcionite Galatians verses 18-24 are not attested while verse 2:1 lacks ”again”. In any case, when Paul goes to Jerusalem, He is keen to stress his independence(as a King of his own right) and his do not have rivals to own gospel.
    This is reflected in Mark by the diatribes, in Judaea and Jerusalem, between a paulinized Jesus and scribes/pharisees (representatives of Pillars) + Jesus’family. They will betray him, just like Paul will be betrayed by Peter.

    11. After a victory over the king and/or a giant, dragon, or wild beast (2 Corinthians 11:24-26, 1 Cor 15:32, Acts 28:3-6)

    13. And becomes king. (2 Cor 12:2-4)
    15. Prescribes laws, but (Acts 15:2, Romans 3:31, etc.)
    16. Later he loses favor with the gods and/or his subjects, and (Acts 21:27, 2 Timothy 4:16, etc.)
    17. Is driven from the throne and city, after which (Acts 22:18, Philippians 1:13, Philippians 4:22, Colossians 4:3, etc.)
    18. He meets with a mysterious death, (Acts 28:30-31, 1 Clement 5:5, Philippians 1:23, 2 Timothy 4:7, etc.)
    22. He has one or more holy sepulchres. (Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside-the-Walls, etc.)

    I am right, then the priors against Paul’s historicity are 3 versus 2.

    But do you think that the consequent pro historicity is sufficient to overcome any priors in the case of Paul?

    Very thanks for any reply,


    1. Just one giant possibiliter fallacy that goes off the rails at the very first premise.

      It’s also a typical failure to understand how to apply the Rank-Raglan criteria (“mysterious death” does not mean we lack sources about how someone died; tombs invented centuries later can’t apply to when a person was invented; Paul never is a king; he never is the son of god; he never loses favor with his own subjects; Paul does not come into a kingdom “after” battling a great foe; there are no discussions of his parents; no references to his being attacked as a baby; no references to his conception at all, supernatural or otherwise; etc.).

      This is 99% pure crank.

  26. If the Jesus story is fake and Paul existed, how can Paul meet the fictional Peter and James in Antioch (Galatians). Are you suggesting this was added to Galatians later? thanks for any help

    1. Peter and James aren’t fictional. They are the first Apostles, who received the first revelations of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:1-8).

      I think you are confusing that fact with the fiction that they knew Jesus before those revelations. That is conspicuously absent from Paul: indeed that they ever saw him before his resurrection is nowhere to be found in his account of them (Ibid.). He likewise never knows anything about there being “Disciples,” only “Apostles,” whom Paul explains are persons who receive election by revelation of the Lord. Not people who were taught by him in life (that is missing from everywhere it should be found, e.g. Romans 16:25-26).

        1. In my peer reviewed monograph On the Historicity of Jesus I conclude there is perhaps a 1 in 3 chance Jesus existed.

          I think you need to read that. Because it sounds like you’ve been misinformed regarding its thesis.

          My book compares two hypotheses: minimal historicity (the least ambitious and easily defended theory, or meta-theory, that Jesus existed) and minimal mythicism (the least ambitious and easily defended theory, or meta-theory, that Jesus did not exist). The latter theory holds that Christianity began when a certain sect of Jews began claiming to receive mystical revelations that a Christ-figure had died for their sins in another (probably celestial) realm; then a lifetime later, stories were invented imagining he had come to earth and preached in Palestine. (And a sect that took those stories literally is the sect that gained imperial power and decided all records survival.)

          So on minimal mythicism, Christianity began when Peter had a vision. Then his colleagues had visions confirming his. And this group declared themselves Apostles, “the sent-ones” or “messengers.” Pharisees tried suppressing this movement, then a few years later one of them (Paul) claimed to have also received one of these visions and thus also to have been elected an Apostle. Paul then changed the sect; and his sect is the only one that survived the next few hundred years.

          Thus, Peter, James, and so on are all real people, who really did (at least claim to) have visions of Jesus (1 Cor. 15) just like Paul (Gal. 1), and Paul had to convince them to accept him and his new version of the gospel (whose innovation was to allow Gentiles to join without converting to Judaism), and so on.

          I find in the end that this scenario has about a 2 in 3 chance of being correct on the available evidence; with a 1 in 3 chance it’s not what happened, and some “earthly Jesus” theory is true instead.

      1. OK in re-reading it you say “in life” so maybe I’m getting the distinction that the apostles are getting instructions from the cloud so to speak. thanks

      2. I won’t bother you any more after this last one, I’m just in search of who invented Jesus. If you’re convinced Paul existed and wrote in the 50s then Jesus was invented by this gnostic clique or someone whose politics influenced them (against the Judeans). I do understand they could have been drawing on plenty of sources to mock up their ghost. I saw your video on the gospel of Mark. Does Mark or the faction he represents kidnap the character to take it in the direction of a man born of woman? Mark doesn’t mention the birth, does that make him also possibly a gnostic? but those who come after Mark endeavor to give Jesus the history. If the Judeans killed an actual human stopping him from fulfilling prophecy I think that’s a better sell if you’re putting together a new religion while divorcing yourself from the old one. thanks again

        1. Actually, Gnosticism didn’t exist.

          But if you mean simply “revelatory religion,” Paul repeatedly identifies Christianity exactly as such (Rom. 16:25-26; Gal. 1; 1 Cor 15:1-8; etc.).

          The founder was Cephas (Peter), as Paul says in 1 Cor. 15:5 and Gal. 1:17-18.

          Mark wrote after all these people were dead. He created an allegory with secret meaning (as he alludes in Mark 4), like all similar religions did. Later authors then expanded Mark by making his mythology ever more elaborate, like all similar religions did.

          As to why the religion began, you have to understand the political and religious context it arose in: this is covered in Chapter 5 of On the Historicity of Jesus.

  27. OK just one more? Someone at Vridar sent me this excerpt of yours (below). What’s happening is I’m writing a short essay for friends to help them understand what I’ve been babbling about. In the article it came from, you don’t seem to attribute it to any source, is it from the Pauline? it would help if I can say who records or reports the statement especially if it is from Paul. Thanks very much for all your help it has cleared up some things for me a great deal

  28. Hi again just one more (sorry if this is sort of a duplicate comment, it didn’t seem like the last one went through). What’s happening is I’m writing a short essay to friends trying to help them understand what I’ve been babbling about. Am curious if the below is you own conclusion or if it appears in Paul or can be attributed to a primary source. thanks very much for all your help,

    On this model, Christianity, as a Jewish sect, began when someone (most likely Cephas, perhaps backed by his closest devotees) claimed this “Jesus” had at last revealed that he had tricked the Devil by becoming incarnate and being crucified by the Devil (in the region of the heavens ruled by Devil), thereby atoning for all of Israel’s sins, so the Jerusalem temple cult no longer mattered, the sins of Israel could no longer hold back God’s promise, and the end of the world could soon begin.

      1. I just purchased OTHOJ on kindle will check it out. would you agree with the statement “(there is) a possibility that Paul had some idea of a human-figure Jesus who became a celestial Jesus.” or would that fall into your 1/3 possibility that Jesus existed assessment? on the 2/3 side does Paul become like a mouthpiece for Cephas or does he take over the group adding his own ideas? thanks very much for your help

  29. “The more assumptions you have to rely on, and the more conveniently complex they are, the lower the prior probability of your thesis.” As a believer in the person and Lordship of Jesus Christ, I have to say that this is my favorite sentence in your article. I will definitely be quoting that, but will certainly give you credit. Peace to you, friend.

  30. Mr.Carrier , have you ever heard about Michael Lawrence and is dating for Paul?

    He is claiming that we are using the Acts of Apostles for dating Paul in the 50’s but he is also arguing that since Acts is a fiction we shouldn’t use it for dating Paul. Also we got the idea from Acts that Paul created the different early churches (meeting places) but in fact those churches are already existing according to Paul’s letters…Mr.Lawrence is dating Paul from the story of Paul’s basket escape taking place in the city of Damascus (described in the letter ‘2 Corinthians’). In the 50’s Syria was a province of Rome and Aretas (the fourth) was the king of the Nabateans but was not in control of the city of Damascus unlike Paul claims in the story. So maybe Paul meant instead Aretas(the third) who was in control of Damascus in 72 BCE . Therefore that would date Paul story in 72 BCE!

    1. Michael Lawrence is an amateur with no relevant qualifications who makes many implausible claims. So I wouldn’t count on anything he says.

      But as to the possibility that Paul actually lived in the 50s B.C., others have considered that. We just don’t have any evidence to verify it so as to make it probable; all the evidence we have, however flawed it may be, puts him a century later. Otherwise possibly, does not get you probably. See my past comment here.

      1. Thank you for the additional information. I would like to add that I found also curious that by the time of 2 Peter , the Christians were already considering Paul’s letters as ‘scriptures’ , a term they normally use for the old testament. Don’t you think that those facts could indicates Paul preaching in much earlier days than the 40’s or 50’s?

        1. 2 Peter was written precisely when Christians were trying to market Paul’s Epistles as scriptures, which is one reason we know it was written mid-2nd century. That tells us nothing about when Paul wrote, alas.

  31. Mr. Carrier , you make a strong case of Jesus story being most likely a mythical figure based on the mythical character of Jesus himself and Paul being more likely a real character (Paul being an Apostle but not a divine figure).

    It seems to me that there is a lot of ‘Paulemic’ revolving around the person of Paul himself…Why there is so many forged letters of Paul. Why Acts who has Paul as a main character contradicts in many points the letters of Paul (historical events and doctrines) .Paul’s personality and relationship with the other apostles seems different in Acts compare to Paul’s letters.

    The dating of Paul (apart from Acts which is not reliable because being very fictitious) taken from Paul’s letters seems to be in the context of a Jewish temple still standing and operating as you said which would be prior to 70 AD and the gospels…

    Paul writing is very gnostic. In the second century there were a struggle between gnostic doctrines and the orthodox doctrines…Paul could have been invented as a fictitious character for promoting gnostic views. Marcion of Sinope who has been the first one to produce a New Testament canon was said to be very active in the mid 150 AD according to Iraneus. Marcion had a version of Luke Gospel that lacks Jesus nativity according to Iraneus. The first appearance of the collected set of “genuine” letters of Paul was in Marcion’s Gnostic Bible, in 130AD .

    Serapion claimed that Marcion used a text purported to be written by Peter. The Gospel of Mark, which lacks a virgin birth and was used by Gnostic Christians, is rooted in Peter’s traditions, as Mark was the supposed interpreter for Peter.Marcion is the diminutive version of Mark, meaning “Little Mark”. Is it just a coincidence that Marcion supposedly had a Gospel influenced by Peter and was also presumed to have a Luke-like Gospel which lacked a virgin birth.

    Could this Gospel mentioned by Serapion be the same one mentioned by Irenaeus? If so, then maybe the appropriate Gospel linked to Marcion is not Luke; rather, it should be Mark. Also , Marcion could have been the author of Paul’s letters to promote is gnostic views since he was the first one to have the ‘genuine’ letters . If so, Marcion would have ‘placed’ his letters in a time frame prior to the destruction of the temple (Damascus basket’s escape in 2 Corinthians as an indicator) just like Mark ‘placed’ his Jesus story prior to the destruction of the temple using the so called Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of the temple.

        1. I haven’t checked his reference class or run out the math on that, but I’m pretty sure it would give us a high prior (like somewhere in the vicinity of 80% or 90%), and there is no usable external evidence (nor any expected) but the internal evidence we have still increases the prior. No evidence we have reduces it. So it’s somewhere on the high end of the probability spectrum but not as high as many other ancient persons.

      1. The promotion of Paul by Marcion as being the only true Apostle and the fact that Marcion is the first to mention Paul’s letters (like he discovered some of them) is a little suspicious to me. Also Marcion’s campaign through the Mediterranean mirrors in some aspect the campaign of Paul the Apostle…Marcion wanted to be the bishop of Rome just like his hero Paul was the most important figure after Jesus. Outside of the gospels and the new testament is there any secular eye witness of Paul? Again, I’d be curious to see a study of the historicity of Paul the Apostle coupled with Bayesian theory like you did for Jesus…


Add a Comment (For Patrons & Select Persons Only)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.