Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Jesus: historical evidence for crucifixion

Rev Sam writes (comment on my last Jesus historicity post):

Hi Stephen, if you ever get around to resuming this element of the conversation, you might find this of interest. He's much more of an expert than me.

Stephen's response:

I did watch it. His argument is that the early Christians would not make up a crucifixion story as the Messiah was not someone they would expect to be crucified. The expectation was the Messiah would defeat the Romans, not be executed by them. Of course this is a bog standard argument that gets repeated over and over. He concludes anyone who thinks the story is made up is living in a fantasy land.

This seems to me an amazingly weak piece of evidence.

He is second guessing people's motives for why they would invent a story in which the expected Messiah dies.

First, there may be reasons why they would want their Messiah to die and come back to life. In fact, aren't there some very, very obvious reasons why they would want that? You want to invent a Messiah. But unfortunately no one has defeated the Romans or introduced the Kingdom of God just yet - which is what the Messiah is supposed to do. Hmm. What sort of story might you construct? Or perhaps the Messiah claim got tacked on to a made up resurrection story in order to give it authority, the story then being adjusted to make the Messiah claim fit.

Second, even if the tellers did have a motive not to include this element, and also had no reason to include it, so what?

This chap's argument rests on something like this principle:

If a story, presented as true, reporting many bizarre/miraculous events, contains an element that we think the tellers would have a motive not to include, then that bit of the story is probably true.

This is feeble. After all, alien abductees are often very embarrassed about saying what's been shoved up them. That's not a bit they'd choose to include. Should we conclude that bit of their stories is probably true?

If this is the best Dr. James McGrath has for supposing the Jesus crucifixion story is almost certainly true, I think he's in big trouble. This is an example of the sort of thing that has me beginning to wonder whether this whole branch of academia [post script - I mean, history] - dominated by Christians - isn't mostly bullshit. To me, the standard of inquiry seems woeful.

Remember, I don't say the crucifixion of an historical Jesus is a made up story. I say it's not unreasonable for me, given the evidence I have seen thus far, to suppose it might be.

Of course I don't rule out the possibility that better evidence will come along.

94 comments:

Tom Rees said...

Take a look at 'The Jesus Dynasty' by James Tabor. The cultural myths that Jesus tapped into were very much a wordly - a king of the line of David who would restore glory to the people of Israel (in fact a king and a prophet working in tandem). The response of the Jesus' followers to the death of first John the Baptist and then Jesus seems to be one of shock and disorganisation - until Paul came along and reinvented the story of jesus into the one we know today.

The Barefoot Bum said...

This is an example of the sort of thing that has me beginning to wonder...

You're just beginning to wonder!?

anticant said...

Of course it's all bullshit! But - like Charles II's dying - it seems to take you an unconscionable time to grasp that obvious fact.

Surely ther are more interesting topics to discuss on a philosophy blog?

Rob A said...

This is an example of the sort of thing that has me beginning to wonder whether this whole branch of academia - dominated by Christians - isn't mostly bullshit!

Just to clarify, are you talking about theology, or something more specific?

Stephen Law said...

I am talking about this branch of history, not theology.

Alex said...

Hey Stephen,
I suppose the first thing I would say regarding the historicity of the resurrection is that to accept such a claim, a lot more is needed than "just" a sober evaluation of the historical evidence (as if such a thing were possible). There are a whole constellation of beliefs and emotional biases that factor into ANY assessment of this situation. Depending on where one stands on a number of other critical areas, the evidence pro/con will hold varying levels of weight. From this it must be remembered that your enthusiasm regarding the inadequacy of the evidence is set in a certain context, namely your prevailing world view. Not that any of us are immune to this, but I mention it simply add the needed grain of salt.

You say:
"You want to invent a Messiah. But unfortunately…"

This is a "very, very obvious reason"? It seems to me this creates more questions than it answers. In first century Jewish thought the definition of Messiah was that of a conquering king. So to suggest that perhaps someone wanted to invent a non-conquering Messiah would be like imagining a Kiwi dreaming up a rugby champ who doesn't play rugby. In terms of Jewish and Kiwi expectations, we would no longer be talking about rugby stars or Messiahs anymore; we'd be talking about something else.

I would grant that a dying Messiah story might allow someone with the proper motivations (i.e. "I want a 'prophet of God type story' to sell. The Romans are still ruling. Let's pretend he dies!") to at least conceive the story. But it is 1) difficult to imagine exactly what those motivations might be and 2) why such a story would catch on due to its total lack of the Roman butt kicking bit. It's easy to get excited about a guy who is going to throw out the oppressors (Heck just look at how bent out of shape people get over political candidates!), but what's attractive about a suffering servant who says, "Be sure you count the cost. Following me might well mean a cruel and painful end. Oh ya, and give to Caesar what is his." What's the draw? How did this thing get off the ground if it was a mere fiction that runs contrary to all our natural human motivations?

So, from where I sit your "very, very obvious reasons" for concocting the Jesus story don't seem obvious at all. I'm open to being shown otherwise. Can you help me see why it looks different from where you're sitting?

Stephen Law said...

Hi Alex

re your first para. eh? Sounds like the relativistic twaddle which of course astrologers, pyschics, etc. always wheel out as soon as it looks like the argument's running against them.

re your second para. Obviously if someone wants to invent a "messiah", but the Romans remain unconquered, etc. then "messiah" will have to be reinterpreted so that this person can still be the messiah despite not yet having conquered the Romans. So perhaps that's what they did. What's so implausible about that?

You ask: why would this belief be attractive? Are you kidding? Those generating it will of course gain all sorts of benefits (ask any starter of a cult). Those they tell it to will find it attractive too. I would have thought that the promise Jesus defeated death, would soon come back and kick Roman butt, offer divine forgiveness and eternal life, bring the Kingdom of God, etc. would be very attractive. Indeed, isn't much of this why it remains attractive today?

Of course, this is just *one* of the innumerable ways in which the crucifixion story could have emerged without it being true. I've already provided another (a resurrection cult starts, which then takes on Messianic features) which you ignore.

But remember, in any case, that the onus is NOT on me to come up with the correct explanation of how the crucifixion story emerged without it's being true - rather, it's on this guy to show that there is no plausible explanation other than that it's true.

Compare alien anal probing - if someone says "No one would make up a story about being anally probed, so at least that bit must be true", the onus is surely NOT on me to explain why people say they've been anally probed when they haven't (I haven't the vaguest idea). It's on this person to show there can be no plausible explanation of why people might say they've been probed when they haven't.

BTW. I point out Dr McGrath's argument for his conclusion that the Jesus crucifixion story is almost certainly true seems to rely on a dubious principle.

Are you defending the principle, or not?

georgesdelatour said...

I think the Crucifixion of Jesus happened. NOT the resurrection.

The Gospel writers constantly try to show that you can be both a Christian believer and a loyal Roman subject. Hence the stories of Roman Centurions showing more faith than the Jews, good Samaritans, rendering unto Caesar and so on. The problem is, Crucifixion is the Roman punishment for insurrection, and it can only be ordered by a Roman procurator or prefect. The Gospel writers try to blur the fact of Jesus' execution for rebellion against Rome. They portray the Roman prefect Pilate being pressured into executing Jesus against his will, by an angry Jewish mob.

I think they were "boxed in" by the fact that the execution was then a matter of record. They couldn't just invent a story of Jesus being murdered directly by the mob, or being stoned to death according to Jewish custom.

There is a passage in the Acts of the Apostles (5.34, New International Version) in which the Sanhedrin discuss what to do with the Christians in their midst. It is suggestive:

"But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed them: "Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 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 alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail."

Ophelia Benson said...

I think it's a commonplace of (secular) Jesus scholarship that it's not a matter of early Xians making up the crucifixion but one of early Xians having the crucifixion to explain. That is, it was common knowledge among the early Xians including the ones who wrote Mark, Luke and Matthew that their man had in fact been crucified. This would be like a religious cult now having a savior-guy who had been given a lethal injection. It was a squalid, casual, commonplace, degrading form of execution, reserved for the poor and powerless. The early Xians were stuck with this not very attractive bit of biography, and the problem was how to present it.

James F. McGrath said...

Thanks for interacting with my post. I think the point about the Romans is an important one. It makes more sense of the evidence to consider the early Christians to have desperately trying to reinterpret the notion of Messiah, and to attribute sacrificial significance to the death of Jesus, because they believed him to be the Messiah and now had to deal with uncomfortable realities that didn't fit, than to imagine them creating the whole thing from scratch.

I think too often the extremes (which are uncharacteristic of historical study) get more attention than they deserve. It clearly cannot be the case that Jesus was precisely like all the different portraits of him offered later. It is extremely unlikely that a group of Jews seeking to invent a new religion came up with an imaginary crucified Messiah and passed themselves off as his relatives and acquaintances. This leaves us with the hard task of the historian, which is to sift through the evidence piece by piece and assess the merits of each. When one does so, some of it remains likely to be authentic after critical analysis, much of it does not, and a good deal is simply uncertain.

Steven Carr said...

The standard is woeful.

Donb't forget, Christians claim all Jews expected the Messiah to conquer the Romans, and that Daniel wrote a prophecy about how the Messiah would be killed.

How can both be true?

Steven Carr said...

ALEX
In first century Jewish thought the definition of Messiah was that of a conquering king.

CARR
Daniel 9:26
fter the sixty-two 'sevens,' the Anointed One will be cut off and will have nothing. The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary.

'Anointed One' means Messiah, of course.

'It was a squalid, casual, commonplace, degrading form of execution, reserved for the poor and powerless.'

Perhaps Christians made it up to get around Peter killing Jesus after finding Jesus in bed with Peter's wife? That would have been a lot more embarrassing to deal with than a crucifixion.

Or some Jews had read Isaiah 53, about a suffering servant, and Daniel 9:26 about an Anointed One being killed?

James F. McGrath said...

Daniel is a pseudoprophecy, written under the name of Daniel, who supposedly predicts the events leading up to the crisis under Antiochus Epiphanes. The anointed one in the passage you refer to is the high priest, another type of anointed figure in ancient Judaism. Onias lost the high priesthood when his brother Jason usurped the position, losing it in turn to Menelaus, all of this contributing to the intervention of Antiochus and the outlawing of Jewish law.

Although eventually some would attribute to Jesus the role of priest as well (cf. Hebrews) the type of anointed one that was in mind when the earliest Christians applied the term to Jesus is clear: the anointed king, "descended from David according to the flesh".

Part of the problem is that some people seem to think that all you need to discuss the historical figure of Jesus, or the meaning of Biblical texts, is a Bible.

Steven Carr said...

I don't understand James's comments.

Some Christians claim Daniel 9:26 is a prophecy that the Messiah would be killed.

It is perfectly plausible that some Jews in the first century also thought that.

You just have to glance at the Gospels to see early Christians ripping passages out of all context (the name Rachel is a useful word to search on here)

If people thought the Bible prophesies a dying Messiah, then their Messiah would die.

Which pleased Paul no end, as he had no problems with the idea that Jesus took curses on us by being crucified.

He would have been horribly upset by people claimimg that Messiahs just don't get crucified.

It was essential for Paul for Christ to die, not an embarrassment.

In fact, we have hints that not all Christians took for granted that their Messiah had been crucified.

Galatians 3:1 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.

It seems Paul took the crucifixion of Jesus as dogma, not history.



I don't want to make too much of this point though.

tomverenna said...

I hope you don't mind, I'm adding you to my blogroll. You may be interested in my comments as I'm on the other end of the debate (as it is between James McGrath and I).

Jon said...

The Kingdom of God did come. It came through the person of Christ. Though it came spiritually first, physical next. The physical Kingdom is next on the time line of Christ. Everything has been fulfilled in Scripture to this point, in order for the Second Coming to happen.

Christ had to come and suffer, die and be resurrected. God needed a perfect sacrifice, a payment for sin. Christ was and is that payment.

James F. McGrath said...

Unless one had someone that they believed was the Messiah and who had been killed, what would motivate a Jewish author to reinterpret Daniel as referring not to the events leading up to the Maccabean revolt but to something else? The fact that modern Christians don't understand Daniel is beside the point; ancient Jews understood what it was about.

In all the good crime dramas, the question of motive has to come up sooner or later if the detectives are to make a convincing case. I can't see what the motive would have been for early Jewish Christians to claim that there was a crucified Messiah, and even in at least one instance that they were related to him.

Brian said...

Christ had to come and suffer, die and be resurrected. God needed a perfect sacrifice, a payment for sin. Christ was and is that payment.

Uhm if Christ was God, then God sent himself down to die and be resurrected for God's condemnation of all for the error of one. Yet being God, he couldn't die, so that was just a nasty bit of S&M to make us sychophants, eh?

tomverenna said...

As I've heard it put, God sent himself to sacrifice himself to himself to save humanity from himself...

Steven Carr said...

MCGRATH
Unless one had someone that they believed was the Messiah and who had been killed, what would motivate a Jewish author to reinterpret Daniel as referring not to the events leading up to the Maccabean revolt but to something else?

CARR
I don't know. I am not a psychiatrist.

What did Jesus do that made James and Paul think he was the Messiah?

Try to use their words, rather than your own.

Incidentally, Luke/Acts never claims James was the brother of Jesus - rather an important fact to leave out.

georgesdelatour said...

Steven Carr

"Don't forget, Christians claim all Jews expected the Messiah to conquer the Romans, and that Daniel wrote a prophecy about how the Messiah would be killed.

How can both be true?"

Ever heard of Abraham Lincoln? Gandhi? Both men were killed immediately after their great victory.

James F. McGrath said...

Luke Acts (most likely one of the latest works in the New Testament) doesn't mention it, but Paul's letters do, which are much earlier.

This is my biggest problem with the "Christ myth" approach. It picks and chooses which evidence to focus on based on a pre-conceived theory rather than allowing the evidence to dictate the conclusions as much as possible.

This approach reminds me a lot of Young Earth Creationism. "Could've" is good enough if it fits what you already believe.

Stephen Law said...

Thanks for coming over to comment James - I appreciate it. You said:

"It makes more sense of the evidence to consider the early Christians to have desperately trying to reinterpret the notion of Messiah, and to attribute sacrificial significance to the death of Jesus, because they believed him to be the Messiah and now had to deal with uncomfortable realities that didn't fit, than to imagine them creating the whole thing from scratch."

This might be true - I'm not sure, because there are yet other possibilities. But my real worry here is that even if the existence of a real J who was crucified were slightly more plausible than other theories on the table, that's certainly not yet to say that it's silly to doubt there was an historical J who was crucified. Which is what the Rev Sam think, and you were suggesting, I take it/ Take a look at my earlier post here:

http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com/2008/09/jesus-historical-evidence-argument.html

I'd be interested in your comments...

all the best
Stephen

Stephen Law said...

that should say:
http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com/2008/09/jesus-historical-evidence-argument.html

Stephen Law said...

Incidentally James you also say:

"It is extremely unlikely that a group of Jews seeking to invent a new religion came up with an imaginary crucified Messiah and passed themselves off as his relatives and acquaintances."

But the Gospels were not written by J's friends and acquaintances/eye witnesses (or at least that's highly contentious). We have, rather, documents written by the faithful several decades after the events about which they write, saying someone died, came back to life, and is the Messiah. And did various other miraculous things. I am questioning whether these documents really give us excellent grounds even for supposing there was any such historical individual., so excellent that it would be silly to doubt....

Hambydammit said...

Hi guys. I'd like you to take a look at the conversation I had with Dr. McGrath. I think you'll find that my position has been much maligned and misrepresented, but in the end, I have gotten no answers to a rather impressive list of basic and very valid questions.

http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2008/10/messiah-vs-myth-did-jesus-exist.html

Jon said...

Brian -
I hold that God is omniscient. If anyone of us knew how Christ could be fully man and God at the same time, well we might be omniscient ourselves, but as you and I both know that is not true. And yes it is true since Jesus is God, on the one hand He did send Himself to reconile us to Him.
I don't deny that being a Christ follower involves faith, but so does any other theory expressed on here.

Steven - You've said several times that the Gospels were not written by eyewitness, but have never provided proof of your position.
Also, check out Lee Strobel's "The Case for Christ" book. He was once an agnostic who researched for himself the historical evidence of Jesus. What he found ... faith in Christ.

Respectfully,
Jon

Hambydammit said...

No offense, but Lee Strobel's case is constructed like a well built sieve. It would be very time consuming to catalog the enormous number of logical flaws in his book.

By the way, if anyone's interested, I have a blog about reason vs. religion. http://allthingsstupidandreligious.blogspot.com/

I'd be interested in comments, complaints, or criticisms from anyone here.

Alex said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James F. McGrath said...

I agree that there is no reason to think that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses. The early church admitted as much about Mark, the earliest Gospel. John's Gospel makes a claim of connection to an eyewitness in the third person, and thus clearly was written in its present form by someone else. And so even a face value treatment of the Gospels would leave claims to authorship by eyewitnesses at best "not proven" and at worst highly dubious.

But our earliest source of knowledge about Christianity is Paul, who was an opponent of and then an adherent to Christianity within less than a decade of its origins. Paul makes reference to "James the Lord's brother" (Gal. 1:19), from whom the opponents of Paul's work in Galatia came (Gal. 2:12). And so Paul knows of an individual who is potentially the source of opposition to his own understanding of Christianity for Gentiles, and yet he never mentions any doubt about the possibility that James may have made up his connection to Jesus.

Why is the view that this James invented a Messiah or claimed to be the brother of a Messiah someone else invented, and never had even his opponents question this, more plausible than the view that James was the brother of an individual named Jesus around whom and focused on whom the Christian movement developed?

Alex said...

Hi Stephen,
Relativistic twaddle? Astrologers? Eh? Why begin with an application of the genetic fallacy? I could just as easily ridicule your enthusiasm over the inadequacy of various arguments as the loud noises godless philosophers make when they can't find a knock down argument. But I'm sure you wouldn't appreciate that, and in any case it's utterly irrelevant. So what say we abstain from going down such roads.

"Obviously if someone wants to invent a "messiah", but the Romans remain unconquered, etc. then "messiah" will have to be reinterpreted so that this person can still be the messiah despite not yet having conquered the Romans."

I'll grant this.

"So perhaps that's what they did. What's so implausible about that?"

Any number of things. A major one of which is that the only evidence we have access to simply doesn't support the "inventing" hypothesis. Second, how do we explain a messiah story concocted by contemporaries of Jesus that was based around a historically falsifiable claim (a claim which they were in a position to know was false, if it was false) from which they often reaped the grand rewards of being chased from their homes, stoned and killed. Not exactly a parallel with modern personality cults.

One might think just sticking to the "ya, he died, but don't you fret! He'll be back soon!" story would be a much easier way of dealing with the matter. Adding the bit about an empty tomb and personal appearances only adds a inconveniently falsifiable layer to the story (1 Cor 15:6; Acts 26:25-26). Why include that? How did Jesus' own brother become a follower of this story? (Gal 1:19 and extra-bibiclally corroborated by Josephus here: Antiquities 20.9.) If this person wasn't really his brother, why would someone pretend such was the case? One could continue on with numerous other reasons, but the point has been made. It's implausible due to what the evidence would lead us to accept were mere "invention" the case.

Re: para 4. Indeed there are "innumerable" possible ways of looking at this. The question of probability, however, remains to be answered. You offer a resurrection cult gaining messianic features. Do you see evidence of this happening? Does it explain the evidence as well as other theories? Were the fabricators of the story followers of a historic crucified rabbi or not? If they were, why would concoct an empty tomb tale? Why not just talk of a second coming? Why did they not just disband like all the other failed messiahs? If they were not ever actually aquatinted with Jesus, how could they pull off such a story while most of those who were aquatinted with Jesus were still alive?And on and on it goes.

At any rate, my interaction thus far has simply been aimed at demonstrating that what you call "very, very obvious" reasons are not, on closer inspection, nearly so obvious as you suppose. I will grant that to that degree I haven not been interacting directly with your central reason for posting. To this end I would say this: To the degree that someone giving a testimony includes information that they would have reason not to include (women being the first to discover the tomb, the empty tomb itself, incidental mundane details that contribute nothing to the story, etc...) the probability that they are telling the truth increases. Do you see such a principle to be controversial?

Alex said...

That should be Antiquities 20.9.1

Hambydammit said...

Why is the view that this James invented a Messiah or claimed to be the brother of a Messiah someone else invented, and never had even his opponents question this, more plausible than the view that James was the brother of an individual named Jesus around whom and focused on whom the Christian movement developed?

Well, the first reason I have consistently heard is that there is not a consensus over the use of "brother" in this context. I'm not a language scholar, so I can only repeat what I've heard, but I am led to believe that a potentially better interpretation would be that James was a spiritual brother, in the sense that Paul describes all believers as brothers.

Second, I think it's a stretch to say that nobody questioned James. We simply don't have a written record of anyone questioning him. Supposing that very early Christianity was seen as a relatively insignificant cult (and there is certainly evidence of many insignificant cults in that time) why would we suppose that a nonbeliever would go out of his way to discredit James? There would be no reason to waste the time.

Third, I think it's been well documented enough that mystery "relatives" tend to come out of the woodwork when someone becomes rich or famous. How much easier would it be to claim relation to someone who didn't exist, and supposedly died a decade earlier? With no actual family to dispute the claim, it would be a cakewalk so long as the imposter knew enough about the legend to make up some good details.

The point I'm trying to make is not that this position is the most probable one. I only mean to say that it is certainly a plausible one, and cannot be dismissed out of hand. There are two ways of looking at James. Either we suppose that his claim of relation to Jesus is evidence for a historical Jesus, or we suppose that the complete lack of contemporary evidence for Jesus is evidence of James' untrustworthiness.

James F. McGrath said...

Those proclaiming a crucified Messiah were hardly rich and famous, at least not at this early stage.

Since we do not have record of someone challenging James' claim to be Jesus' brother, is it not best to work with the evidence we actually have?

wombat said...

Alex - "Adding the bit about an empty tomb and personal appearances only adds a inconveniently falsifiable layer to the story"

If it was added sufficiently after the event that the possible witnesses are safely deceased or sufficiently far away that they are unlikely to pop up at an inconvenient moment then it does not seem very falsifiable.



In any case which is more plausible - someone rising from the dead or someone surviving crucifixion? Don't forget that ancient peoples weren't that good at spotting death added to which Pilat really wanted to let him off and there were people who would petition for the "corpse" to be given to them rather than hanging out for the crows.

Hambydammit said...

But within a new cult, the path to relative fame would be very short. Supposing that James (if that's *really* what his name was...) was a savvy person and in close proximity to a blossoming new mystery cult, it's not hard to imagine a situation in which he could better his own place in the world by pretending to be someone important.

I don't mean to suppose that there certainly was a challenge to James, but only to propose that we cannot say with certainty that he was not opposed.

I'm curious to know if you can address my point about using the lack of contemporary evidence for Jesus as evidence of James dishonesty. (Before you say I'm suggesting it's the correct interpretation, I'm not. I'm only suggesting that it's a valid interpretation worth considering.)

By the way, a little research has dug up more on the word brother, used by Paul. It is "adelphos," and it's the same word Paul uses to describe Christian "brethren." As I said, I'm not a language scholar, but both Robert Price and Richard Carrier have made this argument, and I believe both are qualified to make the statement with some authority.

Jon said...

Carr-
Paul did not take Christ's crucifixion as dogma, he regarded it, as well as the resurrection, as the pinnacle of his faith. He did not witness it, but is was revealed to him on the road to Damascus. In addition, he knew everyone of the men that walked with Jesus threw His ministry, who were eyewitness.

Jon said...

It is interesting that there are so many of you that seem to be intent on destroying the Christian faith. Why is that? To me it cements even more that I serve a risen Savior - Jesus the Christ.

James F. McGrath said...

Sure, there is nothing to prevent us from speculating that "James" saw a mystery cult with the potential for success and claimed to be the brother of its central figure. But we have no evidence of that whatsoever, and historical study tries to make the best judgment based on the evidence we do have, not to surmise what we might conclude if we had other sources that said other things.

"Brothers" is indeed used by early Christians as a group. This doesn't explain, however, why James is singled out to be referred to not simply as "one of the brethren" but as "James the Lord's brother". Could Paul have been using an honorific title for this person whom he thought might be opposing him? Sure. Is it more likely that the meaning is simply that James was Jesus' brother? Clearly.

Would it be asking too much to suggest that the line of discussion stop being "Isn't is possible that someone might have done X even though we have no evidence?" and instead ask about the most natural interpretation of the evidence we actually have?

georgesdelatour said...

Hi Alex

Can you help me with this one. Matthew 27 says:

And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.

I find it strange that, if this really happened, word didn't spread to Rome about such an incredible incident.

"So, Pilate, how are things going down there in Jerusalem?"

"Oh, nothing to report. It's all quite boring, really. I executed this dissident local rabbi last Friday. It led to an eclipse, an earthquake and lots of dead people coming back to life and walking around the city - the usual stuff. Can you get me a posting closer to Rome? I'm sick of eating this boring Kosher food all the time."

Hambydammit said...

Sure, there is nothing to prevent us from speculating that "James" saw a mystery cult with the potential for success and claimed to be the brother of its central figure. But we have no evidence of that whatsoever

And neither do we have any evidence that he was related. We simply have no evidence either way.

and historical study tries to make the best judgment based on the evidence we do have, not to surmise what we might conclude if we had other sources that said other things.

And since we have no outside evidence whatsoever either way... then the logical conclusion is ???

Can't you see my point, James? I'm not suggesting either conclusion. I'm suggesting that you are jumping to a conclusion when there isn't sufficient evidence. Every piece of evidence you have presented has a perfectly plausible explanation that would point away from a historical Jesus.

Given inconclusive evidence with plausible hypotheses for both sides, it seems disingenuous at best to claim that there is strong evidence for Jesus historicity.

"Brothers" is indeed used by early Christians as a group. This doesn't explain, however, why James is singled out to be referred to not simply as "one of the brethren" but as "James the Lord's brother".

What's so strange about it? James is clearly an influential person in the early church, and it seems perfectly plausible to suppose that Paul was indicating this by singling him out for particular mention. Further, you have made frequent mention of divisiveness between early church figures. It seems plausible to suppose that Paul was attempting to foster good will by using the honorific specifically for James.

Could Paul have been using an honorific title for this person whom he thought might be opposing him? Sure. Is it more likely that the meaning is simply that James was Jesus' brother? Clearly.

Clearly? Really? Then why is there such vehement scholarly dissent?

Would it be asking too much to suggest that the line of discussion stop being "Isn't is possible that someone might have done X even though we have no evidence?" and instead ask about the most natural interpretation of the evidence we actually have?

That's not what's happening. I'm not just pulling suggestions out of my butt. I'm proposing internally consistent and historically plausible interpretations of the available data. You suppose that Paul must have been using adelphos to mean sibling, and have not offered a plausible linguistic justification for that interpretation. I suppose that Paul might have been using it to mean "brethren" since that is consistent with the usage in the rest of the epistle. Which is the more natural conclusion? That the word is used consistently, or inconsistently?

James F. McGrath said...

Georges,

One can reach the same conclusion by taking the historical approach I am advocating. You'll notice that there are no resurrections of the dead around Jerusalem in earlier accounts of the crucifixion. This is Matthew's addition to the tradition. It shows that later authors added to, subtracted from, and otherwise modified the information they received.

Historical study is not Christian apologetics. It clearly creates problems for so-called "Bible-believing Christians". The different between it and the Christ myth approach is not that one supports Christianity and the other does not. The difference is that one says "What can we conclude based on the evidence we have?" while the other says "If we imagine a conspiracy behind these texts can we not conclude that the whole thing is made up?"

Hambydammit said...

Historical study is not Christian apologetics. It clearly creates problems for so-called "Bible-believing Christians". The different between it and the Christ myth approach is not that one supports Christianity and the other does not. The difference is that one says "What can we conclude based on the evidence we have?" while the other says "If we imagine a conspiracy behind these texts can we not conclude that the whole thing is made up?"

I'm happy to back James up on this. I have stated before that I am not a Christian, but I am not philosophically threatened by the idea of a historical Jesus. It only takes a tiny bit of critical thinking to realize that even if there was a basis for the Jesus myths, they are still myths. The evidence of this is very simple. Virgins don't have babies. Dead people don't come back to life. Water doesn't turn into wine without adding grapes. Mud doesn't cure blindness.

I mentioned this on another blog, but I feel it's worth mentioning again. Jesus of the Gospels is probably only as historical as Wonder Woman. The comic book character was based on Elizabeth Marston, the wife of William Marston, the serial's creator. He admired her strong will, honesty, and uncanny ability to tell when people were lying to her. To that end, he invented a character with super-duper doses of the qualities he most admired in his wife. He gave her a magic lasso, made her extremely beautiful, and invented a fictional magical island of goddesses from whence she came.

Do you suppose that in two thousand years people will debate whether there was a Wonder Woman? I have no way of knowing, but it's not beyond the realm of possibility. One would think humans would be smarter than that, but then again, there are a couple billion people who believe a talking snake and a naked woman were the downfall of all mankind.

The point is that even if there was a historical Jesus, and I grant the possibility that there was, he was certainly not influential enough in his life to warrant any mention, and he doesn't appear to have written anything of note if he was even literate. The magic and mythology of the Jesus legend is as historical as Wonder Woman, regardless of whether or not there was a mortal man who inspired the creation of the legend.

This much seems clear enough.

Stephen Law said...

James, you say:

“I don't see that the miraculous element found in many ancient sources generally leads historians to conclude that individuals mentioned in them did not exist. There are miracle stories that are connected with Alexander the Great, Marcus Aurelius, the Maccabees, and the Jewish war against Rome.”

But there are obvious differences. Take Marcus Aurelius. We have lots and lots of independent evidence for existence of the various Roman emperors, including Marcus Aurelius. We have his own writings, of course. We have many contemporary accounts of all sorts of stuff, that fits together well. True, one or two mention a minor “miracle”: a heavy shower! It occurred at an opportune moment (they were about to give up a battle due to thirst) so was put down to divine intervention.

Also note these various sources of information we have about Marcus Aurelius are not members of a cult with said individual as their focus.

So, we have really excellent evidence Marcus Aurelius existed. The heavy shower “miracle” clearly doesn’t threaten that excellent evidence very much at all.

Now turn to Jesus. We have four documents not by eyewitnesses, but rather anonymous individuals decades after the death of JC. These ALL record miracles. I was reading Mark the other day – it’s almost wall to wall miracles. There’s scarcely a page that doesn’t report some quite extraordinary event. And the miracles aren’t heavy showers, are they? People raised from the dead, the loaves and fishes, casting out of demons, walking on water, etc. That's the main evidence for the existence of JC and the crucifixion.

Oh, and then we have Paul, also writing at least twenty years after the events in question. Again, a true believer

And that’s it! That’s the evidence for the existence and crucifixion of this person (unless you want to count Josephus?)

Seems to me that the fact that this small handful of reports, not from eyewitnesses, written decades later, written by just five true believers, chock full of the most extraordinary miracles, are not terribly good evidence for the existence of JC and his crucifixion. Some evidence yes. But not exactly compelling.

My point is – the fact that the accounts report not just a heavy shower, but are brim full of supernatural miraculous claims of a most amazing sort surely does seriously undermines their credibility even when it comes to the mundane details about JC’s existence and the method of his death.

There could well be a real person back there, twenty
years or more earlier than Paul wrote. But I’m not yet convinced. Nor am I convinced there was a crucifixion, though I certainly grant that there might have been.

Quite what was the source of all this extraordinary stuff these five guys report – I don’t know. But to say – “Oh there clearly was such a person and he really was crucified – it’s just silly of you to doubt it” - well, I can’t yet see that.

Stephen Law said...

Alex, you ask:

"To the degree that someone giving a testimony includes information that they would have reason not to include (women being the first to discover the tomb, the empty tomb itself, incidental mundane details that contribute nothing to the story, etc...) the probability that they are telling the truth increases. Do you see such a principle to be controversial?"

Yes, the fact that someone's testimony includes details we can see they would have reason not to include does indeed, raise the probability that the testimony is true.

Which is why the fact that alien abductees reports of anal probings lends their testimony a little support.

But not very much.

Jon said...

hambydammit -

In regards to the "miracles" of Jesus to which you were referring. They were miracles, which by definition goes against all natural laws. Of course mud does not heal blindness, but supernaturally anything is possible.

wombat said...

"Which is why the fact that alien abductees reports of anal probings lends their testimony a little support."

I don't think it does. These are aliens who have obviously superior technology. They can transport themselves between the stars, have ships out accelerate and out turn jet fighters in atmosphere, instruments that can zap the memories of subjects, project thoughts into their brains etc. They are also apparently concerned enough about subjects wellbeing to talk to them, put them back where they found them afterwards and so on.

Why not just ask nicely? If you are doing a forced exam why not do it while the subject is out cold, rather than when it might object? Try the same on a cat and see what happens..

Why would they not just raid a medical library instead?

No. This detail renders it less plausible IMO.

wombat said...

"Of course mud does not heal blindness, but supernaturally anything is possible."

Maybe. Maybe not. Who is to say that the supernatural does not obey it's own laws?

Unfortunately most of the supernatural events have the same sort of character as magic as practiced by Penn and Teller or similar. Why all the theatricals with the mud?

Stephen Law said...

OK wombat - what I meant was - the fact that this is an embarrassing detail they would not have chosen to include in the story lends the story a little support (but of course a really tiny amount).

And that support is more than outweighed by the ridiculousness of the suggestion, as you point out.

Brian said...

Jon
If anyone of us knew how Christ could be fully man and God at the same time, well we might be omniscient ourselves, but as you and I both know that is not true.
And yet you continue:

And yes it is true since Jesus is God, on the one hand He did send Himself to reconile us to Him.
I don't deny that being a Christ follower involves faith, but so does any other theory expressed on here.


Talk about claims of absolute knowledge, with no evidence worth considering. You are claiming to be omniscient in this case. Your absolute claim of truth must be a claim of omniscience.

anticant said...

Oh dear, hasn't anybody posting here read Hume?

Sam Norton said...

Isn't the key question how to account for the variety of evidence that we have? Which isn't just the gospels, which might have eyewitness testimony in them (it's not a _highly_ contentious argument, it's a seriously advanced argument by respected scholars, eg Bauckham).

For each particular element of evidence Stephen can posit a more or less plausible alternative explanation. Yet the argument is cumulative - it's not enough to simply express doubt and claim that it is rational in any one particular case, there needs to be a) grounds for the doubt (and, along with the mainstream of historical scholarship, I disagree that the "supernatural" elements are sufficient for this degree of doubt), but also b) there needs to be an alternative hypothesis which both does justice to all the available evidence AND is more plausible than what is accepted by that mainstream scholarship, both atheist and Christian. Nothing like that is being advanced here, and it seems to be proceeding without any engagement with the overall picture (which I did my best to describe on my blog).

I think there comes a point in investigating any complex phenomena when some level of authority has to be respected. Whether it is with global warming, peak oil, 9/11 conspiracies, creationism, historical Jesus studies - whatever the argument happens to be about - there comes a point when the rational response simply becomes 'these people know more about the subject than I do and despite lots of arguments have a consensus which disagrees with me radically'. This doesn't necessarily mean that the consensus is correct - a million lemmings could be wrong - it just means that the burden of proof is pretty high. To dismiss these various forms of consensus as more-or-less bullshit is simply to enter David Icke territory.

But of course, I could be wrong.

georgesdelatour said...

Stephen

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?

Stephen Law said...

Hi Georges

Perhaps it coaleced 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 what they saw lead me to think their evidence is not nearly good enough to make reasonable the belief that such a miraculous thing happened, the miraculous part taints their testimony that there was any such person, let alone that he walked through the wall.

We need really good independent evidence that someone was indeed there, before it's reasonable to believe it.

wombat said...

Sam - What other evidence are you offering? (A URL will do nicely)

Stephen Law said...

I have just expanded on that last comment in a new post...

Jon said...

Brian -

There is a difference of claiming omniscience and declaring what you believe. Respectfully, what I see on these posts are people taking things out of context. I was simply declaring to you that I believe that Jesus is God and therfore sent Himself.

With respect,

Jon

Hambydammit said...

I'm honestly a little surprised that those of you, georges and James, in particular, who are arguing for a cumulative case for a historical Jesus can't see that there is an equally cumulative case for an ahistorical Jesus.

The bulk of the evidence for Jesus' historicity in James online course notes rests on several criteria which are not the standard for textual criticism. In other words, those espousing the historicity of Jesus must invent a unique justification for Jesus because the normal route -- that which has established Josephus, for instance -- would be insufficient.

For each of his criteria -- embarrassment, claims of relation, failed savior, etc -- there is a parsimonious and equally plausible (if not more plausible) explanation for the same set of circumstances, only supposing an ahistorical figure.

For years, I've been searching for a literary character who meets two criteria:

1) Complete lack of contemporary reference and no "necessary place in history."
2) Strong scholarly support for his historicity.

Curiously, I can't find any. Jesus is the only figure I can find who would fail utterly the test of historicity we would apply to Josephus or Dionysus, and is yet assumed to be historical.

It seems to me the likely answer to this is bias. After all, no other figure of which I'm aware supposedly sings a couple billion people to sleep when they're scared.

James F. McGrath said...

I must object. You have not offered a cumulative case for an ahistorical Jesus. All you've offered is evidence that one could, if one tries hard enough, explain the belief of the early Christians that Jesus in another way. But you have not shown that this is preferable, nor have you explained how this supposedly fictional figure got mistaken for a historical one within less than a decade of the time in which he was supposed to have lived and died. Paul may write his letters later, but his first contact with Christianity is less than a decade away, and at that point there is already a "James the brother of Jesus" claiming to be related.

Could there have been a conspiracy? Sure. Does that make the existence of the historical figure of Jesus less certain than that of someone like Josephus, who actually wrote books? Sure. Have you demonstrated that the non-existence of Jesus makes better sense of the evidence than his existence? Hardly.

Brian said...

Jon, first you state, matter-of-factly that the Kingdom of God is real. This was a claim to absolute knowledge, you didn't couch it in wishy-washy 'I believee' terms. Then you deride all knowledge, because your position is a matter of faith then all other positions must be equally so. This is quite dishonest.

You believe what you believe, but having faith in science or the existence of a material world, which is testable is very different from having faith in the blood sacrifice of a deity who died but didn't, who didn't have any blood or life but did and resurrected but he didn't etc.

I wish you would show the respect you keep talking about and not try to tar all positions as no more rational than yours.

Jon said...

Brian -

You'll have to forgive me for the disrespect. I'm very new at this debate thing. I don't mean it.

However, I'm just curious, you're claiming, as well as many others on this posting, that Jesus did not even exist. On what grounds are you making this claim? Its interesting to me, because to date everything I have read and studied indicates that secular scholars and Biblical scholars alike all agree that the person of Jesus did in fact exist. So I ask one more time, what your basing his non-existence on?

Dr Funkenstein said...

I read Bart Ehrman's Jesus a while back - although I thought his discussion of the gospels was very interesting, for similar reasons to yourself I found the claim that Jesus was a definite, real historical character very weak.

I kept expecting Ehrman to pull out a handful of extrabiblical sources that would put the claim at a high level of certainty, but he made it clear that the 4 gospels in the bible are as about as good as it gets in terms of providing a historical portrait of Jesus.

Given that there are contradictions, obvious embellishments and claims that almost certainly were not true (eg Jesus being greeted by huge crowds as he rode into Jeusalem - he would almost certainly have been arrested on the spot by the authorities if it was the case that he was stirring up a large number of people, and with that many followers you'd figure there'd be a lot more written about him at the time of his proposed existence) etc etc, I can't really see how anyone can make the statement with such certainty ie that Jesus was definitely a real person and anyone who disagrees is mad

Dr Funkenstein said...

I'd also add that there are other Jesus/gospel stories that seem to have pretty clear parallels with older tales eg the feeding of the 4000/5000/5000+ (depending on which gospel you read :) ) with the loaves is similar to Elisha's story in 2 Kings 4: 42-44, and Jesus also compares his going into the heart of the Earth for 3 days with the story of Jonah and the whale.

James F. McGrath said...

Historically speaking, I wouldn't say that Jesus compared his time in the belly of the earth with that of Jonah in the belly of the whale. Only Matthew adds that detail, and a comparison between Mark, Luke and the other instance in Matthew suggests that the "sign of Jonah", if it goes back to Jesus at all, was simply synonymous for "no sign".

Sam Norton said...

Wombat - my long post on the evidence is here.

Steven Carr said...

As always, Sam's 'long post' on the evidence never comes to grip with mythicist arguments.

Why is Paul so adamant that innocent people have nothing to fear from the authorities, when the authorities allegedly arrested, flogged, beat , mocked and crucified Jesus?

Steven Carr said...

MCGRATH
and at that point there is already a "James the brother of Jesus" claiming to be related.

CARR
James cannot even quote the Bible accurately.

Luke/Acts makes no claim that this James had ever even seen Jesus , let alone being his brother.

Why would that 'fact' be deliberately suppressed, unless Paul was using 'brother' as a title, in the same way he uses it elsewhere?

Which explains perfectly why somebody who thought he was writing a definitive account of the early church, would make no mention of this James being the brother of Jesus - an omission that historicists, once more, are reduced to silence about.

wombat said...

Rev Sam.

Thank you for that link. A good read.

Certainly the point about the mention of miracles etc in ancient texts is well made. In such times these sort of things were thought to be possible. This makes it more likely that reports of such events will be written down as if they really happened, it gives us two possible sources of the miraculous events :

(i) literary embellishments by the writer either for emphasis or political reasons.

(ii) testimony collected from 3rd
parties and taken at face value
because that was OK at the time.
Not only that but because it was believable people were more likely to try it. If an angler tells a tale of a big bass weighing say 70lbs this is perhaps a tall tale but he is more likely to tell this than to claim a 70lb stickleback.


Just because miracles were more believable doesn't much weaken the argument that testimony including them counts against the reliability of the claimant. What it does for us is make ancient exaggerations easier to spot.



Truth : I caught a stickleback.

Modern Fisherman I caught a 70lb bass!! Just wish I had a camera with me. (theatrical sigh)

Ancient Fisherman;

Truth: Alas! Full day and night did I battle with a great sticklebacked fishe and when I hauled it in on the dawn of the second day it was full as big as a grown man.

wombat said...

Hit the post button too soon. Should have ended the last comment with:


Ancient Fisherman;

Truth: Alas! My nets were empty save a stickleback.

Story: Full day and night did I battle with a great sticklebacked fishe and when I hauled it in on the dawn of the second day it was full as big as a grown man.

James F. McGrath said...

Steven, why are you so willing to turn to much later sources when it suits your point? I'm not talking about Luke-Acts, or even the letter attributed to James, which may well not be authentic. I'm talking about Paul's reference to having interacted with James the Lord's brother less than a decade after the crucifixion.

Steven Carr said...

' I'm talking about Paul's reference to having interacted with James the Lord's brother less than a decade after the crucifixion.'

Where does Paul claim this was less than a decade after the crucifixion?

And why would somebody writing an orderly account leave out such basic and important information as that James was the flesh and blood brother of Jesus?

Perhaps because he wasn't?

Perhaps because Paul was using 'brother' as a title, the way he did about other brethren?

Paul, of course, gives no especial status to James because of his alleged familial relationship.

Paul doesn't even have to explain away why he differs so much from the actual brother of Jesus.

Steven Carr said...

Why is Paul so adamant that innocent people have nothing to fear from the authorities, when the authorities allegedly arrested, flogged, beat , mocked and crucified Jesus?


This is always met with silence by historicists, despite their theory having such power to explain the data.

Jon said...

James -

I'm trying to figure you out. Where can I go to email you privately? I would like to ask you some questions.

James F. McGrath said...

Jon, there's contact information on my academic web page.

Steven, I'd recommend reading Galatians. Historians usually give priority to earlier sources, all other things being equal, and Galatians may well be as much as half a century earlier than Luke-Acts, on the estimate of some.

Steven Carr said...

So James still cannot attempt to find words by Paul saying he met James within a decade of the crucifixion.

Nor can James attempt to say why the first attempt at a 'definitive' history of the early church leaves out any idea that this James had ever even seen Jesus, let alone been his brother.

All James can do is say that when Paul uses 'brother' , he is not using it metaphorically, as Paul does when he speaks of his children or the brethren.

And you can forget about the historicist explanation of why Paul is so sure that innocent people have nothing to fear from the authorities - apart from being arrested, beaten, flogged, stripped, mocked and crucified.

Perhaps that just slipped Paul's mind?

James F. McGrath said...

I referred to Galatians 1:19, where Paul mentions his meeting with James the Lord's brother. This is three years after his shift from persecutor to proponent, and is presumably to be dated sometime around 36-39 CE.

James F. McGrath said...

P.S. I'm going to try to get a new series on the historical Jesus going on my blog. I'd welcome your input in the discussion!

Steven Carr said...

I asked James where Paul said he met the brother of Jesus within 10 years of the crucifixion.

Guess what? James came up with no reference where Paul said he met the brother of Jesus within 10 years of the crucifixion.

Paul never dates the crucifixion.

Nor does Paul ever state that anybody persecuted Jesus.

Paul persecuted Christians, but apparently he has no idea that there was a Christian movement led by Jesus, just a couple of years earlier than his persecutions, which would have also been persecuted.

Steven Carr said...

JAMES (on his other blog)
And there is no reason Paul would have used the term in writing to non-Aramaic-speaking Christians other than that the term already had some significance for them, presumably in connection with Jesus, the object of their faith and devotion.

CARR
That is the historicist case.

Presumption, and claims that people are 'living in a fantasy land' to ask if these presumptions are justified.

James F. McGrath said...

I presume 1 Thessalonians 2:15 doesn't count.

You can go on pointing out that other explanations are possible, and that leaves legitimate room for uncertainty about the historians' consensus. But you have still not offered a historically plausible scenario for the invention of all the various material that I've cited.

There is always room for doubt in history. Even the seemingly certain is only "highly probable". So you're not demonstrating anything historians don't already know. But for you to make a case for your own viewpoint, you need to show that your scenario is more probable than the one that most historians find most persuasive, namely that Jesus existed.

Steven Carr said...

Paul in Romans 8
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

If only there had been somebody to teach Christians what to pray for!

Perhaps to teach them to pray for God's will to be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.

And perhaps to teach them to pray for their daily bread, and for their debts to be forgiven.

Then this prayer could have been passed along by oral tradition, until somebody wrote it down to preserve the teaching.

But, alas, Paul does not know what to prayer for.

If only there had been an authority figure to teach Christians a prayer.

Steven Carr said...

1 Thessalonians is widely regarded as an interpolation, because
1) The Romans crucified Jesus, not the Jews (Remember, crucifixion by Romans is allegedly the one solid fact that comes from Tacitus as well as Paul. Now we learn that Paul doesn't even know that!)

and b) What punishment had come on the Jews at the time of Paul's writings, who never writes elsewhere in such a vengeful mood against the Jews.

James F. McGrath said...

Steven, if you want to change the topic to whether there is sufficient evidence for the Lord's Prayer originating with Jesus, that is fine. It could be an interesting discussion. But even if it could be shown that the prayer is a product of later Christianity, that doesn't demonstrate that Jesus didn't exist.

Are you interested in approaching this subject as a matter of historical investigation using the tools of historiography? Or are you an apologist for the mythical Christ position, determined to advocate it at all costs?

With respect to 1 Thessalonians, are you referring to the possibility that the reference to "the Jews" in the passage cited is an interpolation into that letter, or the possibility that 1 Thessalonians may not be an authentic Pauline letter? At any rate, there is always the possibility that it is an interpolation, but it is in all our manuscripts, and in view of his reference in the Thessalonian correspondence to someone setting himself up as God in the temple, he may have expected that a crisis was imminent because of Caligula's move to have an image of himself installed in the Jerusalem temple. See Philo of Alexandria's Embassy to Gaius for more on that subject.

Steven Carr said...

James doesn't understand the burden of proof.

Apparently, we need to come up with the scenario that led to somebody telling a story about Jack and the Beanstalk , before we can doubt its veracity.

These things are often lost to history.

The mythicist claim is not that we can know what led to such stories.

So we don't need to produce any such scenarios.

The mythicist claim is that an historical figure would have left more of a footprint in the writings of his followers, and that the first 'histories' would not be such a mixture of theology, legend, and scouring of scriptures.

That is what needs to be shown by mythicists, who make no claims (at present) about what led to people making up legends.

The historicist case is that the crucifixion of a Jew led to Christians proclaiming him God, without ever any recorded , or even implied, controversy with Jews about how a man could be God.

(Christians argued among themselves about this, but Paul never regards it as a stumbling-block for himself or other Jews)

So it is the historicists who must provide evidence for their origins scenario.

Mythicists have no origins scenario. They look at the finished product, not the origins.

Steven Carr said...

Is James claiming that 1 Thessalonians 2:15 is not an interpolation, and that there is no record in Paul's thought of the Romans crucifying Jesus?

Which rather rubs out Tacitus as a witness to the historical Jesus....

Did Paul really write about Jews 'They are enemies of the whole human race....'?

James F. McGrath said...

"Mythicists have no origins scenario" and thus have a cop-out whenever asked to explain why their proposal is more plausible. Suddenly they claim to have no proposal.

This is really tiresome, since you are determined to believe what you want, and consider raising doubt to be the equivalent of demonstrating an alternative hypothesis. This is the approach creationists regularly use when arguing against evolution. It doesn't work for them, and it doesn't work here either.

If at some point, you actually do have a scenario and wish to discuss its merits using the tools of historical investigation, let me know.

Steven Carr said...

James has no origins scenario for Jack and the Beanstalk.

Does that mean the historicist case for Jack wins by a walkover?

All mythicist positions need an origins scenario.

There is no origins scenario for Jack and the Beanstalk.

Therefore, James is a Jack-and-Beanstalk historicist.

Unless James believes that mythicists don't need origins scenario to know something is a myth....


And James still is utterly silent about how Paul can known that his Jesus was flogged, beaten , stripped , mocked and crucified by authorities that he claims hold no terror for the innocent, and only punish the wicked.

Jon said...

Steven Carr -

I'll have to agree with James. You seem to have your own agenda in mind and are not very objective.
History is a puzzle. Always has been always will be. For none of us were there. We have to take what we know put it together and see which scenario fits best. In the case of Christianity, there is many puzzle pieces that seem to align with the authority of the Gospels. Does this make them true? No. But we do have them. Over 5,000 manuscripts to be exact. So should we just throw it out? No. We use what we have and put the puzzle together.

I'm not going to change your mind and neither will anybody else. This is evident from the tone of your writing. Look at it from the standpoint of what if instead of why not.

Steven Carr said...

Another person unable to even attempt to explain why Paul thought the authorities only punished people who do wrong...

He is 'going to agree with James', which apparently means never answering mythicist points, while demanding mythicists answer questions that are off-topic.

James F. McGrath said...

Steven, you'll find that people sooner or later get tired of being accused of not answering your questions, when we have attempted to do so and your response has been to cite Jack and the Beanstalk without even an attempt to show that the stories of Jack and Jesus are comparable, similar genres, similar anything. The feeling that our arguments are not being answered is every bit as strong on my side of the fence, I assure you.

Steven Carr said...

Again James misses the point.

Apparently, he claims mythicist explanations need origin scenarios to be taken seriously.

So where is his origins scenario for Jack and the Beanstalk?

Who invented it?

And why?

Perhaps James now realises why it is such a strawman to demand an origins scenario before claiming something is a myth.

And his other claim is that historicist theories explain the evidence so well.

So why is he stumped by the very first mythicist question?

Why does Paul believe Jesus was whipped, flogged, stripped , mocked and crucified by authorities, when Paul writes that authorities only hold terror for those who do wrong?

Surely the historicist case is so strong and such a wonderful way of explaining the data that James can do better than bleat that people are asking questions, and they are unfair, and they shouldn't ask questions, because it is all so unfair, and please mummy, make the bad man stop asking questions.

James F. McGrath said...

I never asked you to stop asking questions. Nor did I ask a parent to intervene. I asked for some justification for your claim that "Jack and the Beanstalk" and "the story of Jesus" are comparable genres with comparable evidence for (lack of) historicity. Instead of providing a logical argument or evidence, you offered insults and ridicule. The impression I have is that the majority of people involved in this conversation will not fail to notice that this attempt at distraction is presumably an indication that you don't have an actual argument to make or evidence to offer. And since by writing in this way you are making this point better than I ever could, by all means continue! :)

Steven Carr said...

James continues to obfuscate.

His claim is that you need an origins scenario of a myth, before you can say that something is a myth.

So where is his origins scenario for Jack and the Beanstalk?




And why do historicists not even attempt to explain the data they claim their theory explains?

Apparently, only the theory of a whipped, crucified, flogged and stripped Jesus can explain Paul writing to Christians about how the authorities only punish wrongdoers.

So why do historicists refuse to answer questions, no matter how much you beg, cajole, plead, insult and ridicule them?

I could get Jeremy Paxman to grill McGrath all day , and he would still refuse to answer questions, while declaring that it is irrational to doubt historicity.

McGrath continues to simply lie 'You have no evidence to offer'


Romans 13
Why is Paul so adamant that innocent people have nothing to fear from the authorities, when the authorities allegedly arrested, flogged, beat , mocked and crucified Jesus?

Why is Paul also so adamant that Christians do not know what to pray for, when they allegedly had a charismatic teacher who taught them what to pray for?

Why does Luke/Acts never once imply that James had ever even seen Jesus? Surely this indicates that Paul was using 'brother of the Lord', as a title, the way he uses 'brethren' and 'children' elsewhere?

Why is there not the slightest hint that Jews found it controversial to claim that a man was god?

Surely this was the highest blasphemy, yet the very earliest Christians write as though there was no such controversy.

Why does Paul only mention 2 things that Jesus ever did?

One was to accompany the Israelites in the desert (Very historical!)

The other was to found the cultic meal. This is exactly what you expect a mythical founder to do, just as Romulus and Remus founded Rome.

Nazorean said...

Quite revealing are the more secular mentions of Jesus Christ or Jesus of Nazareth. First, we have the infamous 'Testimonium Flavianum' of Josephus made at the end of 'Jewish Antiquities,' which was not published until the middle of the 90s, then we have the quotes by St. Ignatius of Antioch and Clement of Rome also made at the end of the first century and the beginning of the second century. At that time, we also have the famous apologetics quotes by Suetonius and Tacitus about Jesus and the Christiani.

Conversely, we have the Pauline Epistles which were written and preached during the 50s making no reference to Jesus of Nazareth. The author knows about a cosmic Christ the Savior, but nothing about a real live crucified Jesus Christ. Then we have 'The Shepherd of Hermes' which most scholars have attributed to the early second century, but others believe may have been written by 'Paul.' Paul was actually Apollonius of Tyana, who was of Greek ancestry, which makes him an obvous candidate to be the author. This scripture was a part of the early Church canon and makes no mention of Jesus of Nazareth. Then we have 'The Epistle of Barnabas' believed to have been written during the 80s. This early Church scripture only mentions Jesus Christ, but knows nothing about a real live flesh and blood Jesus of Nazareth.

The gospel accounts of the life and passion of Jesus Christ are believed to have been first written during the late 60s and early 70s. Strangely, prior to this time no one ever heard of Jesus Christ or Jesus of Nazareth. It was only after the gospels were written that we hear quotes about Jesus Christ. If Jesus Christ were a real person who was crucified c 30 CE we would not need gospels to tell us that he existed and that these events actually happened.

Dead Sea Scroll archivist Joseph Atwill in 'Caesar's Messiah' clearly shows in the empty tomb narrative, which appears in all 4 gospels, that the gospels had a common source and were not the product of some quasi-literate Jewish Apostles. Starting with John, then Matthew, then Mark and finally Luke, what we find is that in Matthew, Mary sees the tomb scene precisely as she left it in John and so on. This shows common knowledge among the authors of all 4 gospels. To learn more about how the Romans subverted the teachings of Yeshu and the Nazoreans and proclaimed them the revelations of their godman Jesus Christ visit: http://www. nazoreans.com