Friday, October 31, 2008

Historicity of Jesus

Hi Georges

You commented on the last jesus historicity post:

I'm trying to imagine how the religious cult that became Christianity got started assuming there never was a charismatic Jesus character for people to coalesce around. Try to imagine Islam spontaneously coming into existence without Muhammad, Sikhism without Guru Nanak, Mormonism without Joseph Smith or Scientology without L. Ron. How would it work, exactly? Any examples?

Perhaps it coalesced around some other individual or individuals, such as e.g. the "disciples", or Mary Magdalen. There are many candidates.

Hell, I don't know. But the fact that I don't know doesn't mean it's probably true there was a historical Jesus.

Compare a case where e.g. several people claim to have witnessed a person in a house, who then, amazingly, walked through a wall.

Why do we possess such testimony? How does it arise? I don't know. People often seem terribly convinced. Now not only does the miraculous nature of much of what they saw lead me to think their evidence is not nearly good enough to make reasonable the belief the miraculous thing happened, the miraculous part taints their testimony that there was any such person, let alone that he walked through the wall.

Under such circumstances, we need really good independent evidence that someone was indeed there, before it's reasonable to believe it (perhaps there was, of course).

So what's the evidence for Jesus? We have the testimony of four more or less anonymous gospel writers, quite possibly none even an eye-witness, plus Paul, none writing within even twenty years of the events they describe (most writing decades later), all of them true believers, all attributing fantastic miracles to this person.

Surely this is not really good independent evidence.

Incidentally, this Deacon, Ken got the wrong end of the stick, and graciously amended his post. Point is - I don't say there wasn't a historical Jesus. I just say that, given the evidence I have seen so far, I am not very sure either way. This gets me accused of irrationality and even insanity!

88 comments:

Enigman said...

Well, there are good Darwinian grounds for believing that humans are probably irrational. Dawkins indulges himself with the comforting belief that people are basically rational, which is nice for him (and I think he is right about that anyway). But we should not confuse comforting (if useful) beliefs with true ones, should we?

Enigman said...

...not to mention the question of how you could possibly have any evidence that you are not insane (given that an insane person's testimony that there were lots of people who agreed with him that he was not should hardly be given much credence). Although having said that, I do note that you do not claim not to be irrational and insane.

georgesdelatour said...

Hi Stephen

Stephen

The available documents are few. They're biased and they're incredible. Further evidence could come to light - some contemporary Roman records, well-preserved in a nearby cave, would do nicely, thanks. They'd completely change this argument - maybe even settle it.

But, in the absence of such verification/refutation, we're free to believe either that some kind of historical Jesus existed, or that the Gospel writers made him up ex nihilo. It's not insane to believe either hypothesis.

Isn't this a case of "abductive reasoning", or "inference to the best explanation", rather than proof/refutation. The idea of a small group of millennial Jews, originally followers of a real person, developing a new theology after his death, and hyping him into a super-being - that just feels more plausible to me. A more amorphous group, forming without that initial focal inspiration, and making the whole story up from scratch - I don't think it's impossible, just less plausible. That's why I asked for other examples of religions forming the way you think Christianity did. If that kind of collective creation isn't hard to pull off, I'd expect there to be a few other examples. The presence or absence of such examples would be merely suggestive, not proof. Certainly Islam, Sikhism, Mormonism and Scientology all started the way I think Christianity did, around a charismatic preacher.

Stephen Law said...

Let's talk probabilities. Currently I put the probability of there being a historical Jesus at about 60%. A bit more probable than not. But certainly something open to significant doubt. Not nearly enough evidence to convince me, I'm afraid.

I don't think I'm being nutty or irrational in taking that view. What does seem irrational to me is to suppose the available evidence puts entirely beyond reasonable doubt the existence of a historical Jesus. That's what I am questioning.

It may be georges delatour and I don't really disagree?

Jackie said...

Georgedelatour,

They didn't make it all up from scratch. Many of the miracles we associate with Jesus were attributed to other saviour cults first. Even Catholic apologists acknowledge that there were other savior cults around the same time and era with a great deal in common with Xianity. For instance, "Mithra was called the son of God, was born of a virgin, had disciples, was crucified, rose from the dead on the third day, atoned for the sins of mankind, and returned to heaven." Why should we believe that Jesus was real and Mithra was not - just because one story got written down and became popular while the other died out as an oral tradition?

Anonymous said...

"I'm trying to imagine how the religious cult that became Christianity got started assuming there never was a charismatic Jesus character for people to coalesce around. Try to imagine Islam spontaneously coming into existence without Muhammad, Sikhism without Guru Nanak, Mormonism without Joseph Smith or Scientology without L. Ron. How would it work, exactly? Any examples"

But that's not the question. There could have been a charismatic figure named Jesus for people to coalesce around without that figure having the properties the Christians ascribe to Jesus.

That's why I don't understand the problem. There could have been hundreds of charismatic preachers named Jesus or Joshua. But if they didn't have the traits the Christians ascribe to Jesus, then what's the point?

Ichabod Chrain

Hambydammit said...

I posted this comment on the last historicity thread, but it seems everyone has moved on to here, so I'll say it again.

I've been searching for several years to find a character who meets the following two criteria:

1) Complete lack of contemporary evidence for his existence, and no "necessary place in history." That is, if he didn't live, we have no problem creating a parsimonious account of the time in which he didn't live. For some reason, a lot of apologists like to use Alexander the Great as an analog for Jesus. This seems rather silly because of the second part of this criterion. If there was no Alexander, historians have a lot of explaining to do. It would make most of the history of that time rather nonsensical.

2) Very strong scholarly support for his historicity.

Jesus is the only figure I can find who meets both of these criteria. That is, he has no necessary place in history, no contemporary references, and yet he is widely believed to have been real.

I've pointed out in other places that applying the same methods of textual criticism as we do for Josephus or Dionysus, we could only conclude that Jesus did not exist. However, scholars like James McGrath invent their own criteria -- Argument from Faild Messiah, Argument from crucifixion.

It sounds an awful lot like special pleading to me.

Call me insane said...

I guess it is all a matter of choice: believe in a theistic origin of man, or believe that random atoms can combine, create life, sustain life, make the choice to improve their life (you do call it natural selection, but who makes the choice?), balance all of the aspects of life, and continue for millions of years.

Did that man actually walk through a wall? I have walked through many a wall.

I used a door.

Eric said...

"I've been searching for several years to find a character who meets the following two criteria:
1) Complete lack of contemporary evidence for his existence, and no "necessary place in history."
2) 2) Very strong scholarly support for his historicity."

I don't, off the top of my head, have a *specific* 'character,' but I do have a collection of unknown characters for which there isn't a scrap of contemporary historical evidence, who have no 'necessary place in history,' and who have 'very strong scholarly support for [their] historicity, viz. the kings of early Rome. It is widely agreed that Rome had an early regal period (largely based on the consistent testimony of much, much later writers), but there is no contemporary evidence whatsoever for their existence (besides, if I remember correctly, a cup with an inscription that could be interpreted as 'king').

It sounds to me as if this example meets your requirements. As James has said, it seems as if you're applying historical standards to Jesus that are not in any way consistent with the standards applied in general by historians as they go about reaching conclusions.

Stephen Law said...

Hi Call me insane

You say:

"I guess it is all a matter of choice: believe in a theistic origin of man, or believe that random atoms can combine, create life, sustain life, make the choice to improve their life (you do call it natural selection, but who makes the choice?), balance all of the aspects of life, and continue for millions of years."

This is (i) a false dilemma and (ii) irrelevant to the topic under discussion!

Hambydammit said...

Eric, I would argue that kings have a rather necessary place in history, and I'd further point out that this is not a character. This is a class of characters.

If Rome had no rulers, historians (and philosophers!) would have a lot of explaining to do. Furthermore, I don't know of any worldwide debates where one side vehemently claims that a particular king of Rome must have existed and another claims that he certainly did not have to exist.

So no, that's not what I'm looking for. Now, cue someone telling me that I'm shifting the goalposts, and cue me telling them to go back and read what I wrote the first time and see that it's absolutely consistent with what I'm saying now.

Stephen Law said...

Hi Eric - the early kings testimony passes my test for reasonable belief, the Jesus testimony fails it, because all the testimony is chock full of miracle claims. So this is not a counter-example to my position.

wombat said...

georgesdelatour

re - forming of religions.

How about a number of saints that possibly never existed? Some of these have a strong traditional following, even have holidays, but were never officially canonized it seems and some seem to lack historical evidence.

OK its not a whole religion but it at least goes part of the way.

Jainism seems to have some founder figures who go back billions of years
see this at Harvard and the
inevitable wikipedia


Another offering is the infamous John Frum who might well have existed in some form but almost certainly didn't do all the work of getting his cult started.

georgesdelatour said...

Hi Jackie

From what I've found out about Mithraism, the claimed parallels between it and Christianity are mostly based on the 20th century's two great "mythology" guys: James Frazer, who first claimed Mithras was a life-death-rebirth deity; and Joseph Campbell, who first claimed Mithras had a Jesus-style virgin birth. Both men were pushing 'completist' theories of myth which made them want to believe this sort of thing, and brush aside anomalies. Certainly the evidence I've been able to find doesn't support either of these men's bold assertions. Here's Wikipedia on Campbell's virgin birth claim:

"This theory is in contradiction to the traditional understanding of Mithras' birth. In Mithraic Studies it stated that Mithras was born as an adult from solid rock, "wearing his Phrygian cap, issues forth from the rocky mass. As yet only his bare torso is visible. In each hand he raises aloft a lighted torch and, as an unusual detail, red flames shoot out all around him from the petra genetrix."

Hi Wombat

Thanks for pointing me in the direction of those two religions. Interesting!

Hi Stephen

I don't think we really disagree at all. I'd give a historical Jesus existing maybe five more percentage points of plausibility than you do. But I completely accept that some future archeological find could change everything.

anticant said...

I've always assumed "Saint" Paul is the prime suspect in the invention of Jesus the Godhead Incarnate.

A great many theologians award him that accolade.

Hambydammit said...

I'm not a huge fan of the argument from Mithra, or Dionysus, or whatever. For some reason, a lot of people seem to think that if a historical parallel that is exactly like Jesus that it is somehow a coup in historical research.

I suggest that this is not based on good reasoning. There's no reason to suppose that the Jesus myth was copied exactly from an older myth. Quite the contrary, actually. Students of Greek during this time were taught to write new stories using old models. If we find thematic elements from older legends, that is typically sufficient to conclude that the author borrowed his material, assuming he was reasonably certain to have had access to the older legends.

We see this throughout literary history, actually. Hell, we see it in Hollywood. Show me an entirely new Hollywood hero, and I'll be really impressed.

Writing literature is equivalent to borrowing from the past. That's why literature is relevant to us!

This is why it seems more likely to me that the Jesus myth is an amalgam of several traditions, primarily Greco-Roman and Jewish. Reading the Gospels, we can see borrowed themes from both traditions -- Dionysus and Mithras, perhaps, and certainly Moses, David, and other Jewish legends. (I'm being generous with Mithras, but it's not really a huge concern.)

The Gospel of Mark is the first account we have of the Jesus myth. Prior to that, we have very nebulous accounts which may or may not refer to a real person. (This point is hotly contested. See Richard Carrier's work, for example.)

Mark is written in Greek, in the style of a legend, by someone who was obviously familiar with both Greek and Jewish mythology. Given the magical and mythological character of the story, it seems reasonable to conclude that Mark's author heard of this new messianic myth and decided to "put it on the big screen" so to speak.

It wouldn't be so unlike a Hollywood director buying a minor author's story and making it into a hit film.

Call me insane said...

Hi Stephen, thanks for the response.

I will admit that the response was perhaps tangent to the main thrust of your post, but I do not believe that I am the first to comment on a tangent thought.

Also, can you explain what you mean by "a false dilemma?"

Last, in referencing the door, I merely point out that the standard of historical evidence for Jesus is going to be different because at the time of His death, many people did not understand the significance of it. I'm sure that if people would have known that a significant religion would develop regarding his teachings, much more documentation would have been kept. But that is a little like trying to un-pop a balloon.

anticant said...

Oh, really! Who would have imagined that a 'significant' religion - well, wealthy anyway - would develop from the ramblings of Mrs Mary Baker Eddy, or L. Ron Hubbard?

All religions are born of credulity latching onto superstition.

jeremy said...

Call me insane,

A false dilemma, of course, is an error of reasoning due to assuming only two potential options, when in fact there are many more. It is usually erroneously used as you used it: there are 2 options, option A isn't correct, therefore option B must be right. (This would only hold IF there really are only 2 options.)

Why is what you wrote a false dilemma? Well, there are many more possibilities! In addition to a "theistic origin of man", there could also be a "deistic origin of man", or even (gasp) an "evolutionary origin of man", to name only the 2 most glaring omissions.

Of course, I mention evolution as an alternative to what you wrote, since phrases like "random atoms" and "you call it natural selection, but who makes the choice?" indicate that you clearly don't understand the theory (if that is what you think you are attacking?).

Lastly, re: your "the standard of historical evidence for Jesus is going to be different [i.e. less conclusive]" point: this may be true, but that really isn't the problem of us skeptics here. The reasons for having poor evidence don't matter in the final analysis. If we are left with poor evidence for something, it is correct to at least doubt its occurrence.

wombat said...

Call me insane -

Apparently there were lots of such faith healers and wandering preachers rattling around in the region at the time so one more would not seem worthy of note I suppose . On the other hand there was a significant contact with the Jewish religious establishment who were perfectly literate as indeed were the Romans, so why should there be any lack of historical evidence?

DavidS said...

The fact that there are arguably no contemporary records of Jesus strongly indicates that he was not a particularly significant figure in his lifetime. If his conception and birth were such stupendous events you'd think there would have been something written contemporaneously.

The uniqueness, for the time, of the 'teachings' and quotes attributed to him suggests that someone was there, made an impression, and created a loyal following. But then maybe it was a group effort, and they created a figurehead.

Hambydammit said...

The uniqueness, for the time, of the 'teachings' and quotes attributed to him suggests that someone was there, made an impression, and created a loyal following. But then maybe it was a group effort, and they created a figurehead.

I really wish there were more emphasis on argument and critical thinking in schools.

The uniqueness of the teachings attributed to Jesus only proves that somebody thought of relatively new teachings. It doesn't point to a historical Jesus with any necessity. Without corroborating evidence, it only points to an author who wrote down these teachings. It could have been the author, a scribe, a historical Jesus, or the author's mother, for all we know. In the absence of any evidence, we can say nothing more than that the author(s) of works about Jesus were aware of new ideas.

DavidS said...

Hambydammit said: "It doesn't point to a historical Jesus with any necessity"

I gave a couple of possibilities - a person, a group creating a figurehead.

More than one possibility. That's the whole point. Why read more than what's there?

Brian said...

The uniqueness of the teachings attributed to Jesus only proves that somebody thought of relatively new teachings. It doesn't point to a historical Jesus All the nice, moral things Jesus said were from said before. Plato did a much better job through Socrates. The stuff about going to hell and that may have been platonic too. I think the republic.

DavidS said...

Brian

I am referring as much to the expressions as to the concepts, and the time and place. I doubt whether residents of Gallilee would have had much contact with Platonic philosophy.

Similar ideas can arise in different areas/groups at different times quite independently (e.g., the Golden Rule of Confucious and of the Torah).

The morals attributed to Jesus stand out in the local context. Maybe it was the product of a group, creating a mythical figurehead. It was certainly some sort of development in that time/place.

And in that historical context, it's a shame that the morals are packaged with all the absurd claims of miracles, divinity and other superstition.

Of course it wasn't all moral from our modern ethical persepective.

DavidS said...

Hambydammit wants to find a character other than Jesus who meets the following two criteria:

1) Complete lack of contemporary evidence for his existence, and no necessary place in history.

2) Very strong scholarly support for his historicity.

I would say that ‘God’ also meets these criteria.

The first criterion seems to cover many legendary figures such as King Arthur and Robin Hood. The second criterion requires a strong reason why a ‘scholar’ would need to have the figure there.

Religion, with its concepts of absolute and unchanging ideas, gives that impetus. The very foundation of a religious system such as Christianity REQUIRES such a figure to exist. And in the case of Christianity, the very large number of adherents ensures a large number of scholars motivated to claim historicity.

The same applies to ‘God’ – no good evidence at the beginning of time (or since) for God’s existence. Under modern physics and cosmology, the universe can start and go on without God.

And there is strong religious scholarly support for God’s historicity, motivated by a very strong need for his existence. As with Jesus.

Enigman said...

The fact that there are arguably no contemporary records of Jesus strongly indicates that he was not a particularly significant figure in his lifetime.
If Jesus existed, much as claimed by Christians, then the pagan Romans and the anti-Christian Jews would have done the usual thing and made some effort to destroy historical records along with his followers. It was fairly usual to delete names from inscriptions, and his enemies were pretty powerful.
Consequently, the indication is no quite so strong.

Regarding Mithras, Osiris and such; similarly, if Jesus was our Creator then we could be expected to have had various revelations of his story (especially on Eternalism). Many of the OT prophesies are interpreted that way by Christians. They were not copied by the Gospel writers, but fulfilled by Jesus. That may or may not be true, but the mere possibility lessens the strength of the evidence of such parallels.

georgesdelatour said...

Hambydammit

I feel the same way. Yes, there were many colourful myths floating around the ancient world 2,000 years ago, Yes, elements of these myths probably influenced the Gospel writers, and entered the Jesus narrative in a kind of literary sidewind. If that's all that's being asserted, fine. But some people think they've found a kind of archaeological passepartout, something which can unlock and explain all the mysteries of the Jesus story. And I don't buy it. I don't think the Gospel writers took some existing Egyptian or Persian story off the shelf and merely changed the name of the hero. Take Dionysius. Yes, a lot of wine symbolism in the Jesus story may have come from there. But you still have to do a lot of work to get from what we know about Dionysius to Mark's Gospel.

If we're trying to understand the specific local origins of Christianity in the environment of Roman occupied Judea 2,000 years ago, I think our best guide is "Monty Python's Life Of Brian". I mean that seriously, folks! It captures the crazy mood of that time and place better than anything else I know. I suspect Christianity started from one of the many failed Jewish insurrections against Roman rule. That's why I suspect there was a rebel leader, probably called Jesus (or Brian), whose followers had to reinvent a meaning for their movement after his death and failure. All I'm saying is, I find that version of events more plausible than others. I have absolutely no evidence for it.

Eric said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hambydammit said...

DavidS, pardon my presumption. I guess I'm getting twitchy from everyone trying to say historicity is the most likely scenario based on faulty logic.

I don't think the Gospel writers took some existing Egyptian or Persian story off the shelf and merely changed the name of the hero.

Please reread what I wrote, taking more care. In fact, let me quote myself: "There's no reason to suppose that the Jesus myth was copied exactly from an older myth."

But you still have to do a lot of work to get from what we know about Dionysius to Mark's Gospel.

Let me quote myself again: "This is why it seems more likely to me that the Jesus myth is an amalgam of several traditions, primarily Greco-Roman and Jewish. Reading the Gospels, we can see borrowed themes from both traditions -- Dionysus and Mithras, perhaps, and certainly Moses, David, and other Jewish legends. (I'm being generous with Mithras, but it's not really a huge concern.)"

That's why I suspect there was a rebel leader, probably called Jesus (or Brian), whose followers had to reinvent a meaning for their movement after his death and failure. All I'm saying is, I find that version of events more plausible than others. I have absolutely no evidence for it.

Traditionally, theories with no supporting evidence are called blind speculation. I'm fine with you making a blind speculation, but I hope nobody else will make the mistake of thinking a blind speculation is as plausible as one with supporting evidence.

I appreciate that you recognize the relative merit of your belief. I wish more Jesus historians had your sense of reserve.

Eric said...

"Eric, I would argue that kings have a rather necessary place in history...If Rome had no rulers, historians (and philosophers!) would have a lot of explaining to do."

Hi Hambydammit

Ah, but notice the shift from 'kings' to the quite vague term 'rulers.' 'Rulers' (understood broadly) are arguably necessary for any society to function, but 'kings' are decidedly not. Plenty of societies, in every area of the world have developed without kings. Furthermore, it's not the case that subsequent Roman history would be unexplainable or incoherent on the supposition that Rome never had kings (have you ever read the accounts of the early kings? They're obviously archetypal and contain many mythical elements). Hence, your claim that the kings have a necessary place in Roman history cannot be sustained without some pretty powerful arguments to support it. Given that the kings aren't necessary, they do meet the latter part of your first criterion.

"and I'd further point out that this is not a character. This is a class of characters."

Indeed. I noted this myself in the first sentence I wrote.

"Furthermore, I don't know of any worldwide debates where one side vehemently claims that a particular king of Rome must have existed and another claims that he certainly did not have to exist."

Well, the notion that the debate must be 'worldwide' and 'vehement' is irrelevant. That aside, there *is* some debate among historians about whether the king Lucius Tarquinius Superbus was a historical figure. Note, I'm only answering your last point (quoted above); I'm not claiming that there is 'strong scholarly support' for his historicity.

"the early kings testimony passes my test for reasonable belief, the Jesus testimony fails it, because all the testimony is chock full of miracle claims. So this is not a counter-example to my position."

Hi Stephen
I agree that the testimony passes your test. However, I'm not sure how strong a test it is. We do know that there are many incontrovertibly historical figures (as far as any historical figure's existence can be incontrovertible, that is) about whom many miracle stories are told, so it doesn't seem to be the case that miracle stories necessarily mitigate any claims to historicity in a significant way, especially when you consider the way history was written in ancient and classical times.

When a supposed historical figure is embedded in a particular time and particular place which is easily identifiable; when we have authentic documents written within decades of his (supposed) life referencing him (that is, written when plenty of people who would have known him or about him were still alive); when we have letters referencing specific people who (supposedly) knew him in an attempt to establish the authority of the writer's message (in other words, when the writer is appealing to his audience's knowledge of these people, and their existence); when the information we have about this figure is consistent with what we know about the place, culture and time period he is claimed to have lived in; and when his existence explains significant historical phenomena in a way that is both consistent with the evidence we do have -- even if we discount any miraculous stories -- and does so in such a way that it renders his existence more plausible than not, we have very good historical grounds for believing his existence to be more probable than not. I know that you agree that it is more likely than not that Jesus did exist, and that you're only arguing that it's not ridiculous to suppose that he didn't. However, while this may obviously be true on logical grounds (i.e. where we can come up with many alternative, consistent explanations that suppose his nonexistence) it's significantly weaker on historical grounds (where the standards of inquiry are much stricter), and especially on historical grounds in ancient and classical history (given the paucity of evidence).

anticant said...

I really wish there were more emphasis on argument and critical thinking on this thread!

Most of what's being said here is so speculative that it makes little if any sense.

georgesdelatour said...

This must be the slow class.

Let's consider a few facts:

1. We know from Josephus that Roman rule over Judea was fiercely resisted by many Jewish groups who believed that Israel belonged only to a Jewish king descended from King David. There were numerous documented Jewish revolts against Roman rule, culminating in the Great Jewish Revolt (66-73 AD).

2. We know from Josephus about one such group, the Zealots, and their leader, Judas of Galilee; the writer of the Acts Of The Apostles definitely didn't invent him. Gamaliel refers to him in Acts 5:36. The writer of Acts definitely didn't invent Gamaliel; his existence is independently confirmed in Jewish sources (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamaliel). In Acts, Gamaliel refers to three leaders of failed Jewish insurrections - Theudas, Judas the Galilean and Jesus:

"Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men [the followers of Jesus] alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail."
3. We know the Roman-appointed high priest Caiaphas really existed; the Gospel writers definitely did not invent him. Josephus records his term in office. In 1990 his family ossuary was discovered two miles south of present-day Jerusalem.
4. We know that Pontius Pilate really existed, and that he really was the prefect during the "Jesus period"; the Gospel writers definitely did not invent him. A stairway in the Roman theatre in Ceasarea bears the motto "The prefect of Judaea, Pontius Pilate, erected the Tiberium (in honor of Tiberius Caesar)".

5. We know the Romans crucified many Jewish rebels during the "Jesus period". Josephus tells us that they crucified thousands of Jews. In 1968 the crucified body of one 'Yehohanan, the son of Hagakol' was discovered accidentally in an ossuary. It dates from almost exactly the same time as the alleged crucifixion of Jesus. It was examined extensively by Prof. Nicu Haas, at the Hebrew University Medical School in Jerusalem

6. Tacitus, writing in c116 AD says, "Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus".

I'm going to spell this out again. None of the above facts prove beyond reasonable doubt that someone called Jesus definitely existed. But, taken together, they are very suggestive. It's a good working hypothesis to think that he probably existed It's possible some future archeological discoveries will change this. If a Roman history dating from this time was discovered, one which showed detailed knowledge of local events, it could settle the matter. We're talking about abductive reasoning here.

I think the "Jesus myth" argument is very similar to the Baconian theory of Shakespearean authorship. But that's one for another blog!

Steven Carr said...

'"I'm trying to imagine how the religious cult that became Christianity got started assuming there never was a charismatic Jesus character for people to coalesce around. Try to imagine Islam spontaneously coming into existence without Muhammad, Sikhism without Guru Nanak, Mormonism without Joseph Smith or Scientology without L. Ron. How would it work, exactly? Any examples"

Try to imagine followers of Josephs Smith denying that scripture has also been revealed to people in the 19th century.

Romans 13

Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.

Apparently, Jews simply could not conceive of a Messiah who had been crucified by foreign powers.

This is no problem for Paul, who tells the world that foreign powers simply do not crucifiy people who do right.

Paul continues
Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer...



Apparently, Jews simply could not conceive of a Messiah who had been crucified by foreign powers.

This is no problem for Paul, who tells the world that foreign powers simply do not crucifiy people who do right.

This is just one thing that historicists have never even attempted to explain.

Why is Paul so certain that no innocent people have been crucified by the authorities?

wombat said...

georgesdelatour

Nice summary.

1,3,4 & 5 are good background information. They refer to events and people and help to place and date the events in the narrative. However they do not point to the historicity of the central character.

This is similar to the Sherlock Holmes stories. Baker St still exists. The Reichenbach Falls exist. We could take the mention of these places in the Holmes tales as evidence that the author knew about these places but we don't accept the references as supporting the existence of Holmes and Watson. We can use them to suggest places to look for confirmation of Holmes existence. i.e. records of tenancy in Baker St and so on.

6. Simply refers to the existence
of the Christians at the time of Tacitus and at that time they claim that their man was executed by Pilat.

"I think the "Jesus myth" argument is very similar to the Baconian theory of Shakespearean authorship."

Not quite. Whoever wrote the plays the historicity of Henry V and the likely fictionalty of Hamlet stands or falls pretty much independently.

Psiomniac said...

georgesdelatour,

Wombat has stolen my thunder while I typed, but never mind.

All that your argument does is establish that it is plausible that the early Christians developed from a Jewish resistance group whose leader was crucified by Pilate. I don't think anybody here is disputing that.

But if you think your argument establishes a very high probability for the historicity of Jesus then I think that is more problematic.

Consider the Flashman Papers. Macdonald Fraser certainly didn't invent Rugby school. There is plenty of independent historical evidence for other characters and events portrayed in the Papers, for example Lord Cardigan or the Charge of the Light Brigade.

But there aren't any credible contemporary sources that establish the existence of Harry Flashman other than the Papers themselves. And actually we know that the Papers are not contemporary in fact, they are fiction, written much later.

Turning back to the Jesus case, how about a few more 'facts'?

Luke dates the birth of Jesus by saying that Ceasar Augustus called for a empire wide census when Quirinius was governor of Syria and Herod was king of Judea.

But no historian of the roman empire makes any mention of a census during the reign of Augustus, Herod died four years before the common era began and Quirinius wasn't governor during the reign of Herod.

What did Tacitus have to go on in c116? Do we know if he had reliable sources or was he reporting the myth?

So is there a cumulative effect of all these facts which is very suggestive? I suggest not.

wombat said...

psimniac -
"Wombat has stolen my thunder while I typed, but never mind."

Sorry about that. Perhaps we will have cumulative effect :)

"So is there a cumulative effect of all these facts which is very suggestive? I suggest not."

In fact could we not take it that the cumulative effect of sources which corroborate events, people and places within the narrative with the exception of Jesus himself is actually suggestive of ahistoricity?

Well one can argue that his significance was not realised at the time or he made little impact as being just another wandering preacher but he was supposedly enough of a pain to the authorities to get executed, attracted large crowds on several notable occasions and had a triumphal entry to Jerusalem. Worthy of note to either Temple or Roman scribes perhaps?

Steven Carr said...

PSIMONIAC
All that your argument does is establish that it is plausible that the early Christians developed from a Jewish resistance group whose leader was crucified by Pilate.

CARR
Nobody is disputing that except early Christians.

Romans 13
Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.

Psiomniac said...

I apologise for my user-name, it is difficult to type.

psiomniac <== for those who might like to cut and paste.

Wombat, you've done it again! I was going to develop that point but you have saved me the trouble, so thanks. Let's hope a cumulative effect will ensue :-)

Stephen Carr, Romans 13:1-7 is a text that still provokes a lot of debate. It didn't take me long to read some of it and think of how to reconcile this passage with the execution of Jesus. But I accept that on the face of it, a patch is required.

Steven Carr said...

PSIMANIAC
It didn't take me long to read some of it and think of how to reconcile this passage with the execution of Jesus. But I accept that on the face of it, a patch is required.

CARR
You would think that such a well-developed theory as historicist have would have an article all ready for that point, that could simply be cut and pasted in as an answer.

But historicists have often not even bothered with supporting their theory.

Why should they? It is obviously true, so why bother answering the points of mythicists?

anticant said...

Theologians are not trained to assess evidence in the manner that historians - or lawyers - are.

I doubt very much whether any competent professional historian would place much weight upon the flimsy stuff being presented here as 'evidence'.

Sam said...

Dear Stephen Law:
The humble admission of "I don't know" in the case of the probability of the existence of Jesus is not reasonable.

The use of an argumentum ad silencium to call positive evidence into question is in this case not acceptable. Granted, Jesus didn't leave a massive historical footprint in all sorts of different cultures like Alexander the Great (or George Bush).

Yet considering he was only active in a small vassal-state in the Middle East, the fact he left a modest footprint in the sources of those such as Tacitus et al is very simply A1 evidence that Jesus existed.

Saying in light of this "I'm not sure" is surely epistemologically clever, yet it practically calls the entire historical enterprise into question. You're not that postmodern, are you?

wombat said...

Sam -
"..such as Tacitus et al is very simply A1 evidence that Jesus existed. "

It is simply evidence that at the time of writing Christians existed in sufficient numbers in Rome.

Steven Carr said...

'Granted, Jesus didn't leave a massive historical footprint in all sorts of different cultures like Alexander the Great '

That's right.

Early Christians like Paul taught that innocent people were not killed by the authorities, never referred to Jesus preaching, while other early Christians like the author of James advised their readers to take their examples from other people rather than from the life of Jesus.

How small a footprint do you want?

Paul P. Mealing said...

I don't claim to be a scholar on this, but I have a BBC documentary by a foreign war correspondent, Jeremy Bowen made in 2001, called 'Son of God'. Bowen covered the Palestinian conflict for 4 years and claims he's not a religious person, and he certainly doesn't appear to be pushing a religious barrow.

The title is a misnomer, because he makes no attempt to give Jesus deity status. His conclusion is that Jesus was a provocateur and revolutionary who deliberately pushed both the Jewish priesthood and the Roman administrators to the point of martyrdom. He cites much the same evidence that 'georgesdelatour' gives, with particular reference to Josephus.

He interviews a number of scholars: historians, archaeologists and theologians from UK, America and Israel. The only new piece of info, I haven't found in this discussion, is from historian and biblical scholar, Dr. Mark Goodacre, from the University of Birmingham, who cites independent Jewish and Roman references that Mary had a child out of wedlock (no name given). One of these claim that this was the result of an assignation with a Roman soldier, also alluded to in Monty Python's The Life of Brian (so they did their research well).

Regards, Paul.

anticant said...

Yes - Monty Python's 'Life of Brian' is as credible as the Gospel authors' life of Jesus.

Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

While it might be legitimate to doubt the historicity of Jesus, what effect is the acknowledgment of this possibility supposed to have on Christian thought? To take something like the Resurrection on faith is to volunteer oneself to believing in all sorts of events regardless of probabilities.

In this respect, the skeptical approach is once again limited by our inability to prove a negative. Indeed, it would be arguably safer for Christianity as an institution if Jesus did not exist, for it is unlikely then that a text would ever be found casting concrete doubt on the divinity of person who never existed in the first place. The essence of the Faith is preserved.

And besides, the challenge that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence is also bolstered by the historical observation that early Christians were quite thorough in their censorship of material that was not supportive of their theology. We can speculate as to what hidden texts are secured in the vaults of The Vatican, but it's fair to say that if any early Christian got hold of a manuscript suggesting Jesus to be anything but divine, it probably did not survive to be rediscovered later. Indeed, the only such text that has survived happens to have done so because it was in the charge of Christianity's competing and equally censorship-happy rival, Islam.

wombat said...

Rev. Dr. Incitatus

"it would be arguably safer for Christianity as an institution if Jesus did not exist,"

Perhaps that is a major source of problems for both Christianity and Islam.
The core belief in a historical figure tends to encourage realist rather than mythic or allegorical interpretations of the rest of the religion. Hence nutty fundamentalism in both religions.

Billy said...

Christianity seems to borrow lots from other religions - the virgin birth, descent to the under world, resurrection, self sacrifice etc were all present in other myths that pre-date the time of "jesus". A fact the early apologists were aware of. Then christianity went about creating saints to replace pagan gods. So, one can imagine how it could spread even if there was no jesus.
Most early converts would have got their information about "jesus" without ever seeing him anyway. If you believe the bible, then "Paul" did most of the early evangelising (and according to the bible, his "experience" of "jesus" was a vision - after he supposedly was executed for blasphemy). So to say that it needed a charismatic figure like jesus to kick it off is not much of an argument - much of the early work was done by "paul" (according to the bible).

Billy said...

Georges delatour,

From what I've found out about Mithraism, the claimed parallels between it and Christianity are mostly based on the 20th century's two great "mythology" guys

There are plenty of acient references to mithras by ancient christians. They acknowledge the similarities between the two cults -eg
[Justin Martyr, /1 Apol./, ch. 66.]

MrFreeThinker said...

Everyone here should lay off the Zeitgeist moves for a while.

@Hambydammit
To meet your challenge
John the Baptist, Hillel the Elder , Gamaliel the Rabbi, Hori the Circle Drawer, Appolonious of Tyrana

MrFreeThinker said...

"To take something like the Resurrection on faith is to volunteer oneself to believing in all sorts of events regardless of probabilities.":
However it is very clear that the early Christians did appeal to evidence (like eyewitness testimony, the empty tomb, prophecy ) to confirm their beliefs(Read Corinthians or Acts sometime). This idea that people believe things without evidence is a myth that you are perpetrating

MrFreeThinker said...

CARR
while other early Christians like the author of James advised their readers to take their examples from other people rather than from the life of Jesus.

MRF
I read the passage and James was using examples from the Old testament to illustrate his point. I don't see how this helps your case.

Steven Carr said...

James was using examples from the Old Testament?

Presumably in the way Muslims do not regard Muhammad as an example to follow?

After all, he was a mere prophet, unlike a god like Jesus.

Early Christians would never have dreamed of mentioning anything Jesus did, apart from initiating their cultic meal, the very thing a figure of myth is supposed to do.


Just as Romulus and Remus founded Rome, Jesus founded the Lord's Supper.

wombat said...

"This idea that people believe things without evidence is a myth that you are perpetrating"

Hmm.
Homeopathy?
Astrology?
Scientology?
Modern advertising?

wombat said...

Anyone got any thoughts about this

The claim is that it provides a precedent for the resurrection story.

wombat said...

Sorry botched the link - it should have been Time article

Sam said...

Wombat,
That is begging the question! Of course Tacitus was not hanging out in Galilee, watching Jesus do his stuff. His writing is evidence that Jews existed in Rome whose metanarrative had been reformed and given a new centre by the life of a particular Jewish rabbi, Jesus. Calling the existence of this rabbi into question is historical nonsense as it can not explain the restructured metanarrative in first century Judaism.

By all means be an atheist etc etc, but lets do some history!

Sam said...

Steven Carr,
One of the rules of interpretation is that we try and present someone's case in a way which they themselves would first agree with.

Your portrayal of Romans 13 as a bare causal "solution" to the theodicy problem ignores the motif of martyrdom in chapter 8. Paul is arguing on a different level about the function of the state in chapter 13.

Are your comments merely an exercise in obfuscation?

Steven Carr said...

SAM
'His writing is evidence that Jews existed in Rome whose metanarrative had been reformed and given a new centre by the life of a particular Jewish rabbi, Jesus.'

CARR
Tacitus never mentions the name Jesus or says he was a Rabbi.

SAM
Your portrayal of Romans 13 as a bare causal "solution" to the theodicy problem ignores the motif of martyrdom in chapter 8.

CARR
So that is why Paul claims the authorities only punish wicked people, when they flogged, whipped, crucified and stripped Jesus!

Jesus was a martyr , and so was one of the wicked people that the authorities punish.

It all makes sense now.

Kyle S said...

Steven Carr,

I think you are looking for the interpretation of Paul's writings that proves you right.

As you point out Paul says "rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong".

But this seems to conflict with the story about Jesus being crucified on the cross even though he was perfect. In fact, it's worse than that. Paul himself has been persecuted by the authorities, is he saying that he was doing wrong in those cases?

You have to remember that Paul is writing a letter, not a philosophical treatise. He is trying to make a point, that Christians should respect the authorities because in normal circumstance they are there to uphold good, not evil.

Imagine I was writing a letter to someone who kept getting in trouble with the police and claimed they were being victimised, when they were actually just causing trouble.

I might write to that person and say "you shouldn't cause trouble for the police, if you act good, then the police will not bother you because they are there to uphold good, not evil". I am being willfully ignorant of miscarraiges of judgement if I say this? Surely not, I am just trying to make a point. I don't have to endlessly qualify all my statements.

I think you need to be a bit more thoughtful when you are interpretting a person's writing, rather than just opting for the interpretation that suits you.

Steven Carr said...

'"you shouldn't cause trouble for the police, if you act good, then the police will not bother you because they are there to uphold good, not evil".'

I imagine killing the Son of God is pretty irrelevant to whether or not people are trying to do good, rather than do evil.

Who were the authorities that Paul talked about in Romans 13?

'This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing.'

Paul, of course, never claimed to be persecuted by the people he paid taxes to, so your dodge that Paul in Romans 13 is talking about the people who persecuted even him, is revealed as a dodge to get around the evidence.

Incidentally, Paul also writes in Romans 13 'Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.'

Christians of today teach that Paul thought of Jesus as a recent human being who had been raised in a localised body.

If that was the case, then that makes as much sense as Muslims telling other Muslims to clothe themselves with Muhammad.....

Kyle S said...

Steven Carr,

Your objection seems to turn on your claim that Paul believed that no who was innocent has ever been punished by the authorities. However, you have given no real proof that this is what Paul thought.

All you do is take a short passage out of context and interpret it as if it was meant strictly literally and without qualification. People rarely talk strictly literally.

Incidentally, Paul also writes in Romans 13 'Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.'

Christians of today teach that Paul thought of Jesus as a recent human being who had been raised in a localised body.

If that was the case, then that makes as much sense as Muslims telling other Muslims to clothe themselves with Muhammad.....


I can understand you saying that you don't understand these verses, but why does it show that Paul didn't think that Christ had bodily risen from the dead? Is it because you think it's impossible to have metaphors involving people with bodies? Why is this verse easier to understand if Paul doesn't believe in the ressurection?

MrFreeThinker said...

I'm kind of disappointed with your comments here Stephen

"Putting on Christ" comes from a baptismal liturgy where a person took off their clothes, dunked themselves in water, and after they came out they put on a new garment.It was to symbolise a spiritual act of being joined to the body of Christ . Yes, this isn't literal but figuratively and spiritually speaking.
I really don't see how Paul using a metaphor helps your case any.
And you do ignore all the instances where Paul clearly says Jesus was physical (like Romans 1 where he clearly says "[Jesus] who was DESCENDED FROM DAVID according TO THE FLESH")

Steven Carr said...

'"Putting on Christ" comes from a baptismal liturgy where a person took off their clothes, dunked themselves in water, and after they came out they put on a new garment.'

Really? There is no mention of baptism in Romans 13.

Where is this liturgy described by early Christians as 'putting on Christ'?

And Christians still claim that when Paul said rulers hold no terrors for those who are innocent, he simply didn't mean it.


He actually meant they stripped, whipped, flogged, mocked and crucified the Son of God.

When somebody says 'There are no elephants in the room', there could be an elephant in the room.

People rarely talk strictly literally.

And descended from David according to the flesh, is a strange way of saying somebody was born recently.

Paul never seems to write of Jesus as being anybody anyone had ever met.

It seems that Jesus was as much a historical person to Paul as the Maitreya is a historical person to Benjamin Creme.

MrFreeThinker said...

"Put on Christ" is used to refer to baptism. Paul uses the same term in
Galatians 3:27.I recall reading it in a commentary on Romans sometime.
But Stephen if Paul didn't believe in a physical Jesus, why does he say he is descended from David?

wombat said...

sam - Tacitus etc.

Well I wasnt intending question begging so lets have another go.,,

Tacitus as evidence of historical Jesus depends on knowing where he got his info from. Was it from Roman sources, say via Pilate (in which case I agree it is a plus) or was it simply from talking to, or listening to rumours about, Christians. If it is the latter then I don't think it is as strong.

Steven Carr said...

Galatians 3:27
'You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.'

I suppose that is being like Muslims saying they were clothed with Muhammad.

Paul seemed to believe in a physical Jesus the way Benjamin Creme believes in a physical Maitreya.

Sam said...

Steven Carr,
I'll repeat what I said:
"Your portrayal of Romans 13 as a bare causal "solution" to the theodicy problem ignores the motif of martyrdom in chapter 8."

this will make it clear to all who are reading that you are indeed ignoring the motif.

MrFreeThinker said...

I also wonder what Stephen does with verses like
1 Corinthians 2:7-8 -
None of the RULERS of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have CRUCIFIED the Lord of glory.
1 Thessalonians 2:14-16:
the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out.

where Paul does explicitly say who killed Jesus.

Steven Carr said...

'None of the RULERS of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have CRUCIFIED the Lord of glory.'



1 Thessalonians 2:14-16:
the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out.

CARR
I guess the Jews were the rulers of the age.

And here was me thinking that they were downtrodden and oppressed,
and all the time they were the rulers of the age.

Did the Jews kill Jesus, as Mr. Freethinker claims?

Let us talk about non-existent persons.

Let us talk about the Maitreya

What could have caused Benjamin Creme to start to say that such a person lives, and is a real, historical person?

Surely the simplest explanation for Creme preaching a Maitreya is that there is a charismatic figure living and teaching today.

Of course, the fame of this person has not spread beyond a small circle , which is why nobody else writes about him.

But in 2,000 years the existence of the Maitreya will be considered axiomatic and anybody who questions whether such a person lived will be called irrational and living in a fantasy land.

Here are just some of the miracles worked by Maitreya, whose miracle-working is evident in every strata of writing about him by his followers :-

‘Such wells have been created by Maitreya all over the world — one in Germany, a place called Nordenau where thousands of people have taken the water, and one north of New Delhi where suddenly an empty well gushed this water, which was found to have miraculous healing properties.’

Maitreya appeared to not just 12 people or 500 people, but 12 TIMES 500 people, or 6000 people.

‘He appeared ‘out of the blue’ on the 11th of June, 1988, in Nairobi, Kenya, before 6,000 people. One moment he wasn’t there, the next moment he was standing beside the woman dressed in blue. Her name is Mary Akatsa.’

Gosh, Christians would kill for evidence like this!

Yet this Maitreya does not even exist, although the 'evidence' for him is a thousand times stronger than the evidence for Jesus of Nazareth.

Steven Carr said...

SAM
Steven Carr,
I'll repeat what I said:
"Your portrayal of Romans 13 as a bare causal "solution" to the theodicy problem ignores the motif of martyrdom in chapter 8."

CARR
I am indeed ignoring this nonsense you write.

If you actually wrote a paragraph explaining what you were talking about, I might have a chance of understanding you.

anticant said...

Is ANYTHING in the Bible historically true?

I very much doubt it.

Sam said...

Dear Stephen Carr,
I'll explain it more clearly:

If you portray Romans 13 as a categorical statement along the lines of: "bad people always get beaten up and punished, and whoever is healthy is good", then the expectation in Romans 8:35-36 that Christians might undergo persecution (the quote refers to the persecution of the innocent in Psalm 44:20-22) is being ignored. Paul's statement in Romans 13 is a general statement along the lines of "thank God for the police: the police are there so that swindlers get caught and grandmas can sleep safe at night - if you don't park on the double-yellow-line you won't get a ticket."

Sam said...

Dear wombat,
As far as Tacitus' sources go, it's a lot of guess-work.

Mid- to late-second century apologists Justin and Tertullian, writing to Roman officials, appeal to Roman records concerning Jesus' death under Pilate.

But if Tacitus had consulted Prokrator Pilate's reports, then he would have got the name right - he seems to have thought that "Christ" was Jesus' name, rather than just his title.

So while I do in fact think that Pilate's record once sat in a filing cabinet (particularly because of Justin's reference in Apol I:48,3), I don't think that Tacitus consulted it.

To be frank, the weight of a few mentions in Roman and Jewish sources is not really the issue. The issue is how one explains the rise of Christianity when postulating the non-existence of Jesus.

If there are atheists here who really feel the calling to get on the back of Christians then they can get into James Crossley, a non-Christian scholar who believes that most of the gospels are early and historically valuable. Food for thought!

I can't believe that I, a Christian, am giving you guys such a hot tip. Not as hot as N.T. Wright though ;)

Steven Carr said...

I see.

So Sam cannot find a word in Romans 8 which says the authorities were persecuting Christians.

But a total lack of any evidence never stopped Christians harmonising passages before...

Paul says he himself persecuted Christians.

Perhaps he regards himself as the authorities ??

Romans 8 says 'He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?'

Perhaps Paul thought God killed the Son?

How could God have spared his own Son, if God took no part in his death?

Deke said...

Carr, you’re nuts. For Paul, God did not spare his own son because he is the one who sent him for the specific purpose of being an atoning sacrifice, and then allowing him to be sacrificed. Gal 4:4-5

Stephen Law, I won’t take up a lot of your time as I only comment when I feel I absolutely have to. I applaud your honesty in dealing with the the issues surrounding the historical Jesus. No one should ever call you crazy for that. The greatest thing about history is that we always have the ability to re-evaluate or positions as new arguments and evidence are put forth. That being said, repeatedly giving the impression that the Gospel authors, and even many modern NT scholars as being the authors of "true believer” works, and so somehow becoming magically less valuable for the discussion at hand is wrong.

Regarding the Gospel authors, (eyewitnesses, later Christians, or communities, all these options are entertained by scholars) there is no such thing as a piece of historical literature, ancient or otherwise, that is "objective". All, are put forth with certain presuppositions and biases. Consider the work on the Holocaust. Many of these scholars are Jews, and so are “true believers” that the holocaust was wrong and should be remembered as such. Does this mean we should suspect them? That we should consider their testimony of less value than any non-Jewish scholar? History is always biased to some degree. There is no avoiding this fact.

With regard to modern NT scholars, this is simply not acceptable. There are plenty of scholars who are not Christians who would treat the Jesus myth idea as silliness. Further, insinuating that the opinions of those who are Christians are somehow of less value because they are "true believers" is even more inappropriate. It is analogous to me saying, "There is not one logical argument that supports atheism. All those atheists who argue otherwise are simply 'true-disbelievers' and so do not need to be taken seriously." Using your argument, Young Earth Creationists are totally vindicated. The evolutionists simply are too biased in their naturalism.

By the standards of ancient historiography, the establishment of Jesus of Nazareth as a first century historical figure who was poor, Jewish, an itinerant preacher, and crucified, is exemplary. Virgin birth? Miricles? Raised from the dead? These are completely seperat issues. I am convinced that if you continue to research this in the future, carefully weighing the evidence on both sides, and using modern, historical and text critical tools (which by-the-bye, excludes internet and amateur film-making loonies) you will come to this conclusion as well.

Blessings,
Deke

Steven Carr said...

DEKE
For Paul, God did not spare his own son because he is the one who sent him for the specific purpose of being an atoning sacrifice, and then allowing him to be sacrificed.

CARR
So basically God was responsible for the death of Jesus?

And that explains why Paul is adamant that the authorities never punish innocent people, and only punish the wicked?

DEKE
There are plenty of scholars who are not Christians who would treat the Jesus myth idea as silliness.

CARR
And I'm sure that in 2,000 years people will treat the 'Maitreya-myth' idea as silliness.

After all, the followers of the Maitreya have reported that he appeared to 6000 people, and is living in London.

DEKE
By the standards of ancient historiography, the establishment of Jesus of Nazareth as a first century historical figure who was poor, Jewish, an itinerant preacher, and crucified, is exemplary.

CARR
And by the same standards, the establishment of the Maitreya as a 20th century historical figure who was poor, Muslim and lived in London is exemplary.

Perhaps you can explain why Paul never mentions Jesus doing anything other than founding the cultic meal. (not even preaching!)

Perhap you can explain why not one person named himself as somebody who saw Jesus.

Perhaps you can explain why the author of James was unable to come up with one example of the life of Jesus for people to follow.

Perhaps you can explain why Paul knew that people were preaching all sorts of different Jesus's - not all of whom could exist, obviously.

All of these should be met with the standard historical answers, which people have already worked out, and have all ready to go.


Instead, they are met with outrage and personal abuse.

Steven Carr said...

There is still no explanation as to why Paul never has to produce any defense of the blasphemous-to-Jews idea of God becoming human.

There is still no explanation as to why Paul never has to explain away the failure of Jesus to convert Jews.

His only comment is that the Jews could hardly believe without a preacher being sent to them!

But doesn't Paul realise that allegedly, just 3 years before his conversion, Jesus himself was allegedly preaching to the Jews!

Romans 10:14
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?


I repeat Paul's statement 'And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?'

The Jews have never even heard of Jesus!

Although Paul states outright that Jews have never heard of Jesus, you will be called a loonie, living in a fantasy land, irrational, silliness, if you stop to think for a second about what Paul writes.

Kyle said...

Steven Carr,

It seems to me that you are trying to show that Paul did not believe that Jesus existed.

You attempt to show this by by the following method:

1. If Paul believed Jesus existed he would have said X.

2. You then point out that we have no record of Paul saying X.

3. And from this you conclude that Paul did not believe that Jesus existed.

I don't think that your claims of the form in 1 are correct, but even if they are, your argument doesn't work.

There could be many reasons why there is no record of Paul saying the things you claim he says.

i) He said it in another letter, that we no longer have

ii) he said it ion person, so there is no written record

iii) someone else was dealing with these issues, so Paul saw no reason to add to what had already been said

iv) Noone asked him about it

Carr, you need to show some positive evidence for thinking that Paul didn't believe that Jesus existed.

Steven Carr said...

KYLE
Carr, you need to show some positive evidence for thinking that Paul didn't believe that Jesus existed.

CARR
I knew there would be no evidence coming back the other way.

The historicist theory explains the facts so well, that it is no wonder that historicists are reduced to silence so often :-)

According to Paul, the reason why the Jews had not converted was because they had not heard of Jesus, because preachers were only just now being sent.

He never accuses them of ignoring the signs of Jesus, or the miracles of Jesus, or the preachings of Jesus, or the resurrection of Jesus.

The Jews had not converted because they had not heard of Jesus.

Even Paul could not come up with many things that Jesus had done.

wombat said...

Sam - "The issue is how one explains the rise of Christianity when postulating the non-existence of Jesus."

I think that it has already been shown in other instances that a movement can get started and gain momentum without having an historical focal figure. It obviously helps if there is a vocal charismatic leader but this does not have to be the central figure on whom the story is based. I have mentioned the well documented cargo cults (which appear in Dawkins book) but would also consider Mormonism and Scientology as examples too. The Mormons can point to a historical Smith but what of the angel Moroni or the claimed author of their original text Mormon himself? In the Scientologist case we have a real L. Ron Hubbard but again what about Xenu? (ruler of the "Galactic Confederacy") In the same way Christians have a historical Paul, a great missionary, charismatic etc.

Admittedly just because this sort of thing can (and obviously does) happen does not mean that it did in this particular case but it does mean that we can't just point to a lot of Christians milling around and claim that their manifest existence proves the historicity of their theme story any more than one can use an observation about the number of homeopathic "medicine" shops to get a paper published in "The Lancet".
It also means that the supporters of the "Mythical Jesus" have plausible examples to offer and so they cannot be dismissed out of hand for want of one.

Now if some nice archaeologist could find PP's filing cabinet....

Eric said...

There's one fact that the "Jesus-myth" crowd cannot adequately explain: Why does Paul appeal to his meeting with Peter, James and (later) John to establish the authority of his teachings? Clearly, this makes no sense if Peter, James and John did not exist; Paul is availing himself of his audience's familiarity with them. Now, why would Paul appeal to Peter, James and John? The most obvious explanation is that not only were they known to Paul's audience, *but they were known to Paul's audience as having known Jesus*. This simple fact undermines the whole case against Paul having created the Jesus-myth, and it serves to severely undermine the case against the existence of the historical Jesus. The most parsimonious interpretation of this fact is that Peter, James and John knew Jesus; that members of Paul's audience knew that Peter, James and John knew Jesus; and that Paul is appealing to this common knowledge to support his teachings. The notion that Paul is appealing to non-existent people, or that he is appealing to fellow members of some conspiracy, is patently ad hoc, not to say ridiculous.

Steven Carr said...

'The most obvious explanation is that not only were they known to Paul's audience, *but they were known to Paul's audience as having known Jesus*.

CARR
There is an assumption.

The other explanation is that they were leaders in the church.

This explains why Paul does not regard James as having any really special authority, as compared to Paul, because of his being any alleged brother of Jesus.

Galatians 1
I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

Paul does not claim that Peter, James and John taught him anything.

Galatians 2
When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.

CARR
I think Christians call this 'appealing to the authority of Peter', because everybody knew that Peter knew Jesus personally.

GALATIANS 2
As for those who seemed to be important—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance—those men added nothing to my message

CARR
It made no difference to Paul that these people knew Jesus personally (!), and knowing Jesus could add nothing to the message of somebody who never met Jesus (!)

Yes, that all makes sense....

Eric said...

"There is an assumption.
The other explanation is that they were leaders in the church."

There's a difference between an assumption and a conclusion that follows from an inference.

Paul either thought or taught that Jesus was a historical figure -- after all, he refers to his death quite frequently.

Paul mentions the resurrection appearances, and note whom he lists first: Peter and the twelve. Why would Jesus be said to appear to Peter and 'the twelve' first? (Never mind, for the moment, the women; Wright, and many other scholars, argue that the appearances to the women wouldn't have been added later, and that therefore this periscopic material in the gospel accounts likely antedates Paul's letters; however, it's a contentious issue, and not relevant. I merely mention it to preempt any attempt you might make to raise an irrelevant issue.) If Paul either thought or taught that Jesus was a historical figure, and if he told others that Jesus appeared after his death first to Peter and the twelve, the obvious conclusion is that they either knew Jesus and were close to him (why else would he be said to appear to them?), or that Paul (and his audience) thought that they knew Jesus. Your conclusion, i.e. that they never knew Jesus, a fictional character whom they probably created, doesn't explain these facts (and Paul's references to the apostles in Galatians) at all; rather, much like a creationist with an agenda, you use the gaps in the historical data to support your 'mythical Jesus' position, only your now required to suppose that Peter and the apostles originated it (rather than Paul). Now, you cannot provide any evidence whatsoever to support your conclusion that Peter, James and John were merely early leaders of the church, and that they never knew Jesus, while both all the textual data and every non-evidential criterion by which we test explanations (simplicity, etc.) supports my conclusion.

So, let me put the question to you:

Why were Peter, James and John leaders of the early church, if Jesus never existed? (And please, try to provide some actual evidence to support your conclusion, so as not to waste my time and yours with wooly conjectures.)

wombat said...

eric -

Just trying to follow this line so please bear with me if I'm asking trivial questions -

Why should mention of someones death render them historical? The Greek tales of the Trojan war for example are full of them. A death is a way of establishing that the person is at least part mortal as in for example the death of Heracles.

You said "Why were Peter, James and John leaders of the early church, if Jesus never existed?"

How would Jesus existence influence this?

Sam said...

@Wombat: I agree with you that "a movement can get started and gain momentum without having an historical focal figure." Daoismus is based upon the teachings of Laotse, for instance, but the tradition surrounding his life is a later development. The "initiators" of the movement were the inherent wisdom/attractiveness of the teaching and certainly important leaders who pepped it up.

The cargo-cult which you mentioned is different. The "initiator" was in this case an external influence (the aeroplane's load) and the cult is a prime example of how external influences can be (uncritically) interpreted within animism.

However I fear that to apply these examples of non-existent initiators to Christianity is firstly highly unplausible in view of the history of ideas, which is littered with leadership as a key, and secondly becomes untenable when the actual data of the movement is studied.

The texts of the New Testament are shockingly centred around the person of Jesus, applying all sorts of categories to him:
* Jn 1,1.14 the eternal logos of Greek philosophy made flesh! (the logos in a person - not merely the logos explained and more clearly taught...)
* The eschatological worship of the Jewish God, Jahwe transferred to a man who died (Philippians 2,5-11)
* The (human) king of the Jewish people is a man who died.

One may question the truth of these claims, but to deny that the claims are applied to a real person is bad history.

The non-existence of Jesus is only maintained in esoteric groups. When you ask them for evidence they refer to their own, special encyclopedias and sources (much like the Zeitgeist film, incidentally).

This system only works as long as the "right" sources are asked, and other sources demonised, assuming that the entire corpus of historical science at universities has been taken over by the Rockefeller family or the Federal Reserve, or whatever. The worldview is hermetically sealed and works as long as you believe the conspiracy theory.

I'm not saying, you, wombat, are claiming all this, but I just want to point out that proposing the non-existence of Jesus is tantamount to leaving the library full of peer-reviewed historical work and going into the wood to look for mushrooms.

jeremy said...

May I pour some petrol on the fire? Perhaps we aren't the only ones saying that questioning Jesus' historicity isn't that irrational, after all - see this link.