17 votes, average: 4.88 out of 517 votes, average: 4.88 out of 517 votes, average: 4.88 out of 517 votes, average: 4.88 out of 517 votes, average: 4.88 out of 5 (17 votes, average: 4.88 out of 5)
You need to be a registered member to rate this post.
Loading...

Would I Be Personally Devastated if the Mythicists Were Right? A Blast From the Past

For my mailbag this week I dug into one from the past — almost exactly five years ago.  I would probably answer it the same today.  My thoughts here on how we go about knowing what actually happened in the past strike me as having very broad application (not just to the question I was asked), and (especially toward the end of my answer) to have even greater relevance now than they did then, given our current historical moment.

 

QUESTION:

Was also wondering – and maybe you addressed this in your book … would you feel an emotionally traumatic disappointment if it was conclusively proved that Jesus was indeed a mythical figure? In all honesty how would you feel if it were true beyond a doubt that all the arguments the ‘mythicists’ have presented were found to be correct (or mostly correct) regarding his assumed existence? This question is not meant to be offensive or unnecessarily provoking – I’m just curious.

RESPONSE:

I don’t address this in the book, and I think it is a terrific question! The reason I do is this. I think every historian of religion who makes a case for one thing or another needs to be queried: what is at stake for you in the matter?

For example, I have participated a number of public debates with conservative evangelical Christian scholars who have wanted to insist that they can PROVE, historically, that Jesus was raised from the dead. Now I should state with vigor and emphasis – the only people on the face of the planet who think that it is possible to use historical methods to prove that Jesus was raised from the dead are precisely Christians who personally believe that Jesus was raised from the dead. No one else thinks so.

 

I’m not saying that all Christians think Jesus’ resurrection is susceptible of historical proof.  There are obviously plenty of Christians, especially those who know anything about how history works, who are quite happy to say that No, the resurrection cannot be proved.  It is a matter of faith.   What I am saying is that they only ones who think that the resurrection can be proved are  people who already believe in it.  And they believed in it long before they started thinking about it historically.   When they did start thinking about it historically – lo and behold, history proved what they already believed!!

In my view this is not history.  It is theology.   These people are trying to use history to support their theological beliefs.  And that’s not an appropriate use of history.

So too, on the opposite end of the spectrum, the mythicists.   They – to a person, so far as I know – are atheists (or strong agnostics) who think Christianity is wrong headed.  They thought that well before they started looking into the historical Jesus.  And when they did look into the historical Jesus (will wonders never cease??), they found that Jesus was a myth, so that the religion they rejected and thought was dangerous turned out to be nothing but a fairy tale.   Again, their historical views have not been reached at by a disinterested application of historical criteria to the material.

So too in another but related realm.   Albert Schweitzer long ago argued that every generation of scholars portrays Jesus in their own image.  The same is true of individual scholars, who tell you what Jesus was really like, and mirabile dictu!, it turns out that Jesus looks a lot like them!   And so, for example, a believer like Ben Witherington who, I suppose from his early days, has believed in Jesus as the miracle-working son of God, portrays Jesus precisely as a miracle-working son of God; a believer like John Dominic Crossan who is deeply invested in issues of justice and who works against oppression (e.g., of woman, minorities, people in developing countries) portrays Jesus as a first-century Jew who was principally interested in working for justice and against oppression.   Some feminist New Testament scholars see in Jesus a proto-feminist; some Marxist New Testament scholars see in Jesus a proto-Marxist.  And so on and on, world without end.

I myself am not a believer in Jesus, and I must say, my portrayal of Jesus does not coincide with the way I would like him to be, in major and fundamental respects.  My view of Jesus is that he was an apocalyptic prophet who expected that God would very soon intervene in the course of history to overthrow the forces of evil in a cataclysmic act of judgment, in order to bring in a miraculous utopian kingdom on earth in which there was no more pain, misery, or suffering.  I think Jesus was completely wrong about this, and this is not my view of the world.  It is not about to end with a cataclysmic break in history to be followed by a utopian existence here on earth.

When I started my serious study of the New Testament, on the other hand, I had a view of  Jesus very much like the one most conservative evangelicals have: Jesus was a miracle-working son of God who came to earth principally to die for sins.   My historical studies eventually changed my views of Jesus.  I think every historian should be willing to change his views based on his study of the evidence.  Scholars who do not change their views – but come out of a study with the same views they brought into it – are highly suspect.

And so, one might ask, what about the existence of Jesus?  Didn’t I start my study of the historical Jesus thinking he existed, and didn’t I come out of my study with the same view, so isn’t that view suspect?

I think that is an entirely appropriate and fair question.  My response is this: I looked at all the evidence I could, as hard as I could.  I examined every surviving source that refers to Jesus in all the relevant ancient languages.  I read what scores and scores of scholars had to say about Jesus.  And on that basis I decided whether I was right or not.   I decided that the vast majority of scholars (all but one or two, out of many thousands) are absolutely right.  Jesus did exist.

Would I be devastated to learn I was wrong?  Absolutely NOT!!!   Quite the contrary – throughout my scholarly career I have changed my views on lots of lots of issues, if the evidence seemed to demand it (I know scholars who have never changed their views on much of anything.  That should give one pause….).   And I simply adapt my personal views according to my historical findings.   Since I am an agnostic who does not believe in Jesus, one could easily argue that a mythicist position would be more attractive to me personally.  I too could then argue, as a scholar, that Jesus did not exist and that people should seriously consider leaving the Christian faith as I myself did.

So why don’t I argue that, if it would be more palatable with my personal view of the world?  Because I’m a historian, and I think evidence really matters, and it matters that we get history right, so far as we can.   If we rewrite history according to our own agendas and in light of our own deeply vested interests, how are we any better than other ideologues  — for example those that made such a mess of the twentieth century, in various parts of the world, with their rewriting of history?  We simply cannot allow ourselves to rewrite history to suit our purposes.

But if based on our historical investigations we come to learn something we did not know before, or come to see something we did not believe before, or find out that our previous views of something were wrong – we need to change what we think!   This applies to believers and non-believers both.  No one should be afraid to go where they think the “truth” (however you define it) is leading them.

Would I be traumatized if the mythicists were right after all?  Not in the least.  I would probably feel energized.   But I can’t allow that expected outcome determine what I find when I engage in the difficult task of coming to understand what happened in the past.

If you don’t belong to the blog yet — why not join?  It won’t cost much, you’ll get tons for your money (5-6 posts a week!), and every penny goes to help those in need.  So why not???


An Example of a True Story that Didn’t Happen: Part 1
True Stories that Didn’t Happen

85

Comments

  1. stokerslodge  May 28, 2017

    Bart, please forgive me if my questions appear to be rather intrusive, I don’t mean them to be. When you went from being a passionate fundamentalist bible believing Christian, to being an unbeliever – was it a traumatic and bewildering time for your immediate family and friends? How did they respond and cope and come to terms with the direction your life was taking at that time? And how did you navigate your way through it all? And finally – have you ever written anything about that aspect of your journey?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 29, 2017

      I’ve said a few things about it on the blog before. Most of them couldn’t figure out what happened to me. I wouldn’t say they were traumatized, exactly, but some of them were very upset. But what can you do? Friends drop away; with family you simply realize that there are other more important things than agreeing about religion — such as loving one another no matter what….

  2. cheito
    cheito  May 28, 2017

    DR Ehrman:

    Your comment:

    My view of Jesus is that he was an apocalyptic prophet who expected that God would very soon intervene in the course of history to overthrow the forces of evil in a cataclysmic act of judgment, in order to bring in a miraculous utopian kingdom on earth in which there was no more pain, misery, or suffering.

    My comment:

    Your view of Jesus being an apocalyptic prophet is based on historically unreliable sources, such as Mark, Matthew and Luke, and your interpretation of the writings of Paul are not conclusive nor indisputable.

    • John Uzoigwe  May 29, 2017

      That’s why he said his view..”( based on what we know historically) whether the story are reliable or not is another question entirely.

      • cheito
        cheito  May 30, 2017

        That is exactly my point!

        DR Ehrman is using the author of Mark to assert that Jesus was an apocalypticist.

        Based on what we know historically about the Author of “Mark’ I argue that we can’t accept anything that “Mark” says about Jesus as historically accurate. We can’t be certain if “Mark” is Quoting Jesus correctly.

        Perhaps “Mark” did not get it right historically.

        The author of “Mark” was not an eyewitness. He recorded his account decades after the death of Jesus.

        We don’t know where he got His information from.

        Perhaps “Mark” was writing history according to his own agenda and theological views.

        We don’t know if the author of “Mark” was an ascetic, or a doscetist, or apocaplypticist?

        We don’t know who this individual was, nor do we know his theological inclinations.

        Therefore we can’t ascertain any reliable truth about the exact words of Jesus based on what we know historically about the author of “Mark.

        In my opinion Mark is not a reliable witness, nor a reliable historian.

        Therefore in my view DR Ehrman conclusion that Jesus was an apocalypticist is not well founded historically.

        • Bart
          Bart  June 1, 2017

          Have you read my book where I lay out the evidence? If so you may want to reread it. I don’t depend on the fact that Mark says so.

          • cheito
            cheito  June 1, 2017

            DR Ehrman:

            Your Comment:

            I don’t depend on the fact that Mark says so.

            My Comment:

            I have read “Misquoting Jesus”, twice.
            “Did Jesus exist?, The historical argument for Jesus of Nazareth”, once,
            and “Forgery and Counter forgery”, half-way through.

            I’m assuming you asked me, if I read your book, Jesus: the Apocalyptic Prophet of The New Millennium?
            I Have NOT read it, but I will.

            However you do use Mark as evidence, that Jesus was an Apocalypticist, who prophesied that he would return in his own generation.

            Mark 9:1 is perhaps one of the oldest sources that quotes Jesus as saying, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who shall not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.”

            Matthew 16:38 and Luke 9:27 state also similar words, but they used Mark as a source, so they are only using Mark’s story for their own purpose, whatever that was, and like Mark, they were not eyewitnesses.

            Later in time, others used Mark, and quoted Him, but None of these authors actually heard Jesus utter the words recorded by Mark.

            As for 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17. I differ with you on the interpretation of those verses and I disagree with you that Paul believed that Jesus would return in his lifetime.

            There are other scriptures in which Paul indicates that certain conditions must be met before Jesus would return, and in Philippians, Paul was eager to depart and be with the Lord, but knew by faith, that for their sake he would remain with them.

            Paul, in that verse in Philippians, doesn’t sound like a man who believed Jesus was definitely coming in his own lifetime and that He would be one of the one’s that would be raptured.

          • Bart
            Bart  June 2, 2017

            You probably won’t agree with me when you do read what I have to say about it, but at least then you’ll know what I say!

    • JakSiemasz  May 29, 2017

      Which historically reliable sources would you suggest Dr. Ehrman use to develop a view of Jesus?

      • cheito
        cheito  May 30, 2017

        JakSiemasz:

        To begin with, I’d say that the undisputable writings of Paul are reliable sources.
        From Paul’s writing we learn much about Jesus.

    • Tim  May 29, 2017

      *Chuckle* Gosh, then I suppose the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who happens to be a leading expert in the field will now abandon the results of his entire career’s work because you told him that the synoptic gospels are “historically unreliable” and made some vague handwaving about Paul.

      Do total nobodies who make these sorts of comments realise how fatuous they sound? Clearly not.

      • cheito
        cheito  May 30, 2017

        Tim:

        My understanding is that DR Ehrman already knows, that the synoptic Gospel are historically unreliable sources, that is why I’m puzzled that he uses them to quote Jesus.

        Note:

        I don’t expect DR Ehrman to abandon any position that he has. DR Ehrman only changes his position when he realizes that he has been wrong.

        • Tim  June 1, 2017

          If you’d read anything Ehrman has written on the subject you’d know that he doesn’t regard them as wholly reliable and able to be taken at face value, as Biblical literalists do, but also sees them as containing *some* historical information. He also details the ways that we can tease likely historical information from them. It’s by this process that he, and many other scholars, consider the apocalyptic material in the gospels to be most likely historical and authentic.

          The fact that you don’t seem to understand all this indicates that either you haven’t actually read any of Ehrman’s work or you really didn’t understand it.

      • turbopro  May 31, 2017

        >> Do total nobodies who make these sorts of comments realise how fatuous they sound? Clearly not.

        If I may please: I believe we should accord each other the courtesy to express our opinions, as humble as they are, without having to make assumptions about each others’ character. No need for name-calling, I should think.

        As s/he is wont to do, cheito was clear in stating her/his opinion–“My Comment” Now, whether we accept his comment is up to us to decide.

        I may accept that any one interpretation of the writings of Paul is neither conclusive nor indisputable–we’re talking about the past over two millennia ago, right. Nonetheless, the assertion, “[y]our view of Jesus being an apocalyptic prophet is based on historically unreliable sources, such as Mark, Matthew and Luke[,]” well, that needs some splainin’.

        cheers

        • Tim  June 1, 2017

          Thanks for the school marm scolding. I said nothing at all about their “character” and simply noted that a nobody on the internet trying to lecture a leading figure in the field on a very basic point is making a fatuous comment.

  3. godspell  May 28, 2017

    One might argue that all apocalyptic prophets will be proven right EVENTUALLY. If not necessarily in all respects. We may be a bit behind schedule, but we are making strides on a daily basis. And that’s not Jesus’ fault. Pity he wasn’t right.

    But he was about the things that really matter, and that’s not me projecting. That’s me reading what he actually said, and what it actually meant. I don’t think he was a modern liberal reformer, or socialist revolutionary; I know he wouldn’t have understood most (if any) Christian dogma, but in saying he was a Jewish apocalyptic preacher who believed God was coming soon to transform the world in a short time isn’t addressing the real question–why did he need to believe that? And why did he react to that belief the way he did–by creating a doctrine of love and forgiveness and equality and acceptance, for men and women, rich and poor, and ultimately (in spite of having the usual Jewish prejudices against the goyim) for all men and women of good will, regardless of race or religious background?

    As Dr. Johnson said, when a man knows he’s going to be hanged tomorrow, it concentrates the mind wonderfully. Works just as well if he only believes he’s going to be hanged–or if he arranged for his own hanging in the mistaken belief that he was required to do so.

    I’d be devastated if I was proven wrong about that, but I kind of doubt I ever will be. You can’t prove what’s in another person’s heart, even if that person is standing next to you. You can only believe.

    • cheito
      cheito  May 29, 2017

      godspell:

      Your Comment:

      …but in saying he was a Jewish apocalyptic preacher who believed God was coming soon to transform the world in a short time isn’t addressing the real question–why did he need to believe that?

      My questions and Comments:

      Did Jesus really believe and preach that God was going liberate the Jewish people, and establish a kingdom here on earth in his own generation, where Jesus himself would be the king and rule all the other nations?
      The answer to this question depends on the sources you read.

      If you believe the Gospel of Mark, then, yes, Jesus did predict that he would return in his own generation. But is Mark quoting Jesus correctly? Is Mark an undisputed historically reliable source?

      The truth about the Gospel of Mark is that it was written anonymously over four decades after Jesus’ death. We don’t know who wrote it, nor do we know the author’s reasons for writing it.

      What did the author of Mark believe? Was he an ascetic? Did he believe in docetism? Was he an apocaplypticist who wanted to portray Jesus as one? Did the author of Mark make up his stories of Jesus according to his own beliefs as Thomas did in his Gospel? Where did “Mark” get his stories? He doesn’t say?

      The author of Mark didn’t know Jesus personally. He never met him.

      My point is that the sources we have that assert that Jesus was an apocalypticist preacher are historically unreliable, contradictory, and therefore untrustworthy. I can not know if Jesus actually said that he would return in his own generation, as Mark 9:1 records in his Gospel, because in other sources, such as in the book of Acts 1:6, he clearly says that it is not for us to know times and epohcs.

      Example:

      Acts 1:6-7-And so when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” 7-He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority;

      Mark 9:1 And he said to them,”Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste
      death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”

      • godspell  May 30, 2017

        It’s a bit insulting to say to somebody who has been posting responses to Bart’s articles here for several years now, and has clearly read some of his books, that ‘Mark’ did not know Jesus. Of course he didn’t. Neither did any of the gospel authors, and almost certainly neither did Paul. It’s an open question whether we have a single written statement from anybody who ever saw Jesus in the flesh, though pretty definitely we have some from people who talked to people who knew Jesus. What we know about him from the primary sources is mainly second-hand, but that’s all we have about many historical figures. We can still make informed conclusions based on that information.

        As to your assertion that Jesus was not an apocalyptic preacher, that’s just baffling to me. I don’t think that’s all he was, but self evidently he was prophesying events that by any reasonable definition, could be called apocalyptic. Not the end of everything, but what might be called a total reboot in today’s parlance. A new beginning. An idea that can be found in many religions, if not all of them.

        I don’t see how any of the passages you quote disprove that assertion. We can and will argue, to the end of human history, exactly what Jesus meant by this or that, but we know damned well he was talking about the coming of the Kingdom of God, which meant (by definition) the end of all Kingdoms of Man. That’s apocalyptic, or the word has no meaning.

        • cheito
          cheito  June 1, 2017

          godspell:

          Your Comment

          It’s a bit insulting to say to somebody who has been posting responses to Bart’s articles here for several years now, and has clearly read some of his books, that ‘Mark’ did not know Jesus. Of course he didn’t. Neither did any of the gospel authors, and almost certainly neither did Paul. It’s an open question whether we have a single written statement from anybody who ever saw Jesus in the flesh, though pretty definitely we have some from people who talked to people who knew Jesus.

          My Comment:

          The author of the gospel of John, claims that his sources, i.e. the accounts he records for us, were written and publicly testified to by the disciple whom Jesus loved. This disciple then was an eyewitness and companion of Jesus. He saw Jesus in the flesh!

          John 21:24-This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.

          Paul states, in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, that Jesus appeared to him, in the same manner that that Jesus appeared to Peter, then to the twelve, then to all the other apostles, and then to five hundred people at one time. Paul Saw Jesus!

          Paul also states in Galatians that he didn’t learn nor received the Gospel he preached from any person nor human institution. Therefore not only did Paul see Jesus, but Jesus gave Paul, personally, a message to preach.
          ________________________________

          Note:

          When I say that Jesus was not an apocalyptic preacher, I mean that I don’t believe Jesus taught that He would return in His own generation. Yes, Jesus taught that He would return to establish God’s kingdom but he never gave a time nor a date when he would do that.

          The synoptic Gospels, as we have them, are not reliable sources. They contradict each other. Therefore I will not quote Jesus from these sources because I can’t be certain that they are quoting Jesus correctly.

          _________________________

          • godspell  June 2, 2017

            Cheito:

            What ‘John’ says doesn’t change the fact that this gospel was written so long after the death of Jesus that it can’t possibly be an eyewitness account.

            And so many stories in John make no sense on the face of things. For example, instead of seeing John the Baptist baptize Jesus–as happens in the synoptics, though it’s explained away in the later ones–the Baptist sees Jesus, and starts telling his followers “This is the Messiah.”

            And yet we know John’s cult went on for at least a generation after both John and Jesus were dead. John basically tells everybody to get on Team Jesus, and yet Team John continues.

            Explanation: “John” didn’t like the baptism story. Jesus accepting baptism from John doesn’t fit the story he wants to tell, about a clearly divine being who has no equals. Jesus reportedly said no one born of woman was greater than John the Baptist. “John” must have really hated that.

            So he just ignores the baptism story, ignores the later story about Jesus saying something deeply respectful of a man whose disciple he probably was for a time, who is now facing death (as Jesus must have known could happen to him someday, and it wasn’t long afterward, was it?)

            John gets rid of the human Jesus. His Jesus is not a real person. His Jesus is a god in human form, with no human qualities at all, no weaknesses, no flaws, no personality.

            This is why John is the gospel I least trust. Powerful writing in it, this can not be denied. But the Jesus in this gospel isn’t someone I can recognize as a real person. And I guess if you only want to see Jesus as God, that’s not a problem. But I want more than that. I want the living Jesus, not the plaster Christ.

          • cheito
            cheito  June 5, 2017

            Godspell:

            Your Comment:

            What ‘John’ says doesn’t change the fact that this gospel was written so long after the death of Jesus that it can’t possibly be an eyewitness account.

            My Comment:

            The fact as I see it from the evidence itself, is that The Gospel of John was perhaps published between 90-95 AD. ( If the scholars are correct). However, the person who made public the stories of John in 90-95, was not the one who wrote them.

            The fact, according to the report in John itself, is that the disciple whom Jesus loved, testified and wrote the stories in John. John 21:24 is very clear about this. Therefore they were written by an eyewitness.

            ___________________

            John 21:24-This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.

            John 19:35-And he who has seen has borne witness, and his witness is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe

            _________________________________

            As for Jesus’ Baptism, if you read John 1:32-34, you’ll see that John says that he didn’t Know that Jesus was the son of God, and that the one who sent him, i.e. God; told him that he would recognize Him when after he would see the spirit descend as a dove out of the sky and remained on him.

            I think John, first baptized Jesus without knowing who he was, then recognized him, when he saw the sign that God had told him.

            ____________

            John 1:32-34

            32-And John bore witness saying, “I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him.

            33-“And I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’

            34-“And I have seen, and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

            ________________________________

            To me, the Jesus of John speaks and acts like the son of God would.

            Jesus existed with God, before He was born of a descendant of David.

            He existed before Abraham.

            The father sent Him.

            He came from another place, i.e. “heaven”.

            God was in him reconciling the world.

            The signs that he performed in John’s account, demonstrated that God had sent him.

            ___________________________

      • Tim  May 30, 2017

        This comment is the equivalent of someone responding to a blog post by a leading physicist and asking if they have considered why things tend to fall downward if you drop them. Hey “chetio” – I think Professor Ehrman is way ahead of you on all that stuff. Like, 4,000 miles ahead of you and driving a Ferrari. Perhaps if you put on your shoes and hurry you can catch up with him.

      • Rick
        Rick  June 1, 2017

        “but in saying he was a Jewish apocalyptic preacher who believed God was coming soon to transform the world in a short time isn’t addressing the real question–why did he need to believe that?”

        Ans: Because Hebrew life in 1st Century Palestine generally sucked and Yahweh, contrary to his covenant with his chosen people, had not done anything about it so, he must be waiting for something hence it (the great straightening out of all things wrong) was coming soon! Other wise Yahweh couldn’t be … well Yahweh. (Pardon me Hashem couldn’t be Adonai)…
        I believe that is a rather blunt and overly concise explanation of 1st Century apocolypticism I must have gotten from this blog courtesy of our host- although it is possible I got it from Rabbi Ellis Rivkin….

  4. Tim  May 28, 2017

    “They – to a person, so far as I know – are atheists (or strong agnostics) who think Christianity is wrong headed.”

    Almost, but not quite. Thomas L. Brodie, for example is a Dominican priest but somehow manages to reconcile this with his belief that no historical Jesus existed. It may be that a couple of the “Jesus was based on another historical figure (like Julius Caesar, Titus or Simon Magus)” variety of Mythicism could be theists as well. But yes, overall the most vocal Mythicists and their supporters just *happen* to also be vocal anti-Christian activists.

  5. john76  May 28, 2017

    Hence the goal is to construct a model that fits the available evidence, and can explain away apparently recalcitrant evidence, and we are left with an embarrassment of riches of “possible interpretations:” Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet, or charismatic healer, or Cynic philosopher, or Jewish Messiah, or prophet of social change, or mythical celestial being, or zealot.

    “Contradiction” reminds me of textual hermeneutics.

    There is, of course, the message the author intended, like in Moby Dick where we learn about the tragic nature of revenge.

    But, as Derrida pointed out (“There is nothing beyond the text”), there may also be unconscious themes that the author didn’t consciously intend, but she accidentally put in the text nonetheless.

    Moreover, there may be a “trace” of something in the author’s text that may contradict (“contra dicere in Latin,” “speak against”) the author’s project, such as the way Aristotle may have detected the hint of something in Plato’s texts that threatened to overthrow Platonism. Or, how an author’s moral message may be tainted by hints of bigotry.

    And texts can be inherently ambiguous. So there can be a plurality of interpretations of the same text, while some interpretations “speak against” others, with no real ground for deciding between them: eg., Jesus as apocalyptic prophet, or charismatic healer, or Cynic philosopher, or Jewish Messiah, or prophet of social change, or mythical celestial being, or zealot. Each faction of interpreters point out that their model explains the available evidence, and that their model can effectively explain away any supposedly recalcitrant evidence.

    Hermeneutics are a humbling process that remind us of human frailty. And that’s a good thing. Untold tragedy has happened in human history because people have acquainted “truth” with “certainty.” Certainty, as Nietzsche showed, is a psychological state, not a guarantee of truth. Everyone has had different points of view about things they once were “certain” about, such as Dr. Ehrman’s fundamentalist youth changing into a liberal perspective of the academy.

    As Heidegger said, truth is more primordially seen as ἀλήθεια, which is not just “correctness,” but more originally (with the alpha privative, “a-letheia”) “unconcealed,” or “revealed,” or “exemplary,” like when we speak of someone going out of their way to help us that they are demonstrating what it means to be a “true” friend.

    • john76  May 29, 2017

      Before there can be truth as “correctness” (the agreement of a proposition with a state of affairs), there must be “ἀ-λήθεια,” “un-hiddenness.”  For instance, before 1+1=2 is “true” for a child, it must be “revealed” with manipulatives that when you group one thing with another thing, you get two things. 

      And, as Heidegger said, there is a “giving” to truth (“Es gibt Sein,” in German).  Anyone who has stayed up all night trying with futility to solve a problem, when suddenly the answer :”comes to them,” knows this (Eureka! I’ve found it – in Greek).  The phenomenological experience of truth is more than just sheer effort, because there must be a revealing and a finding of what is given.  Even today people in the Arts still speak of their’ ‘Muse,’ and if the muse isn’t inspiring you, it’s a wasted night of writers block. 

  6. smackemyackem  May 28, 2017

    Really good article.

  7. talmoore
    talmoore  May 28, 2017

    The Mythicists are probably about as correct about Jesus’ non-existence as the Birther conspiracy theorists are about Barack Obama being born in Kenya. I wouldn’t sweat it.

    As to making “facts” fit to ones preconceived notions, see my detailed comment on epicycles.

  8. Jon1  May 28, 2017

    BBC poll says 43% of people in uk think Jesus never existed:

    http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-34686993?post_id=10153282380408111_10153282380368111#_=_

    I am not a mythicist (have never seriously looked at it), but it seems to me that this is not really a fringe position anymore among the populace. Wouldn’t it be proper of you to say that you have not really considered the most rigorous treatise for the mythicist position until you have read Richard Carriers book, footnotes and all? Just saying, you know, from a scholarly perspective…

    • Bart
      Bart  May 29, 2017

      Yes, I’ve read it. And don’t think much of it. But it would take three books as long as his to explain all the problems!

      • Jon1  May 29, 2017

        Amazing how you find the time to do everything you do. When I read a contrary opinion on something, I have to read it really really slowly to make sure I am not reading it with my own biases. How many hours did it take you to read Carrier’s 700 page book “On the Historicity of Jesus”?

        • Bart
          Bart  May 30, 2017

          A careful reading requires roughly 29,000 hours. And they are hours you will never get back.

          • Jon1  June 1, 2017

            Bart,

            I understand your reluctance to invest all the time needed to read all of Carrier’s book carefully. Can I make a suggestion? Debate Carrier on just one or two capsules of thought related to the Jesus myth theory (perhaps you could pick two and Carrier could pick two). You could even do the debate in writing (I actually think this would be the best way to do it). Like I said, I am not even a mythicist, but I think the mythicist hypothesis will continue to spread until someone takes on Carrier directly. I think a lot of people are going to view it as a huge missed opportunity to advance Christian origins studies if you and Carrier never interact because of personality conflicts. A debate that focuses on just a few topics might act as a proxy for what a larger debate would look like.

          • Jon1  June 3, 2017

            Bart,

            On the topic of “careful reading”, I would like to ask you a question about one of your previous interpretations of Digesta 48.24.1 (which is relevant to your view that Jesus was left to rot on the cross):

            “The bodies of those who are condemned to death should not be refused their relatives; and the Divine Augustus, in the Tenth Book of his Life said that this rule had been observed. At present the bodies of those who have been punished are only buried when this has been requested and permission granted; and sometimes it is not permitted, especially where persons have been convicted of high treason. Even the bodies of those who have been sentenced to be burned can be claimed, in order that their bones and ashes, after having been collected, may be buried.”

            You previously said of this passage, “the passage is absolutely explicit: the release of bodies to be buried DOES NOT APPLY to those who have been convicted of high treason” (https://ehrmanblog.org/did-roman-laws-require-decent-burials/).

            To be honest, you seem blind to the possibility that when the Digesta passage speaks of returning the body to the relatives and says, “SOMETIMES it is not permitted, especially where persons have been convicted of high treason”, it may not mean that those crucified for high treason were NEVER allowed burial; it may just mean that it was rare. And the bit about bodies being burned may not refer to the HIGHEST LEVEL OF PUNISHMENT where bodies can be claimed by relatives (as you interpret it at the link above), it may just mean that burned bodies were allowed burial “even” though there was very little of the body left (just “bones and ashes”).

            I know there are other passages to consider when deciding whether or not Jesus was removed from the cross on the same day as his death, but why is your interpretation of the Digesta passage better than the interpretation above?

          • Bart
            Bart  June 5, 2017

            I’m sorry to hear that you think I’m blind to the sense of the text and that I haven’t read it carefully enough. 🙁 But yes, I have indeed considered your interpretation as a possibility, but I don’t read it that way. When he says “especially” I think he means that this is one case in which it doesn’t happen, not that it is one case where it most rarely happens. Part of my reason: I don’t know of a single exception to the rule. If anyone does, I’d love to hear it!

          • Jon1  June 5, 2017

            Bart,

            I am glad to hear that you have considered the interpretation of Digesta 48.24.1 that I outlined, and frankly, I would be surprised if you had not. But your response to this passage – “the passage is absolutely explicit: the release of bodies to be buried DOES NOT APPLY to those who have been convicted of high treason” (https://ehrmanblog.org/did-roman-laws-require-decent-burials/) – illustrates the lack of carefulness I was suggesting (which led me to think that you might be blind to other ways of reading this passage). Specifically, you seem to be using OTHER evidence to form your opinion of what Digesta 48.24.1 says (“I don’t know of a single exception to the rule”). I am happy to talk about the other evidence related to removal of crucifixion victims from the cross, but looking ONLY at Digesta 48.24.1, it seems to me that you should not be stating what you state above. Instead, you should be stating that Digesta 48.24.1 does not help us determine EITHER WAY whether the body of someone convicted of high treason would be returned to their family. And you should be acknowledging that Digesta 48.24.1 shows that the Romans did sometimes return the bodies of punished people to their relatives out of compassion or as a way to help keep the peace (these being the only two reasons I can think of, but I am certainly open to other reasons).

          • Bart
            Bart  June 6, 2017

            If you can name a single person crucified for treason who was removed from his cross for decent burial, then we’ll have something more to talk about!

          • Jon1  June 6, 2017

            Bart,

            That’s a strange request. You know that we do not have a log of what happened with every Roman crucifixion victim for treason. And you also know that Jesus’ case was unique because the Jewish authorities would have wanted Jesus’ body buried before sunset (Jewish War 4.317) so probably asked to have it removed from the cross, and because it was the eve of a major Jewish holiday that celebrates Israel’s liberation from foreign domination with a million Jews in the city. All I have (and all you have) are various texts that bear on the question of whether Pilate would have allowed Jesus off the cross in these specific circumstances.

            I already explained why Digesta 48.24.1 does not answer the question (it can be read both ways), and why it appears (to me anyway) that you are trying to bully your interpretation into the text.

            The blasphemous images and temple treasury incidents in Antiquities 18.3.1-2 also do not answer the question. You interpret these texts one way, but there is another way. Specifically, Pilate raided the temple treasury despite the threat of a riot because there was a massive MONETARY payoff for Pilate that was used to pay for an aqueduct (something that could be justified to his superiors in Rome and worth the risk of a temporary uprising). Pilate backed down in the blasphemous images incident because there was no monetary payoff in pressing the issue, he saw how deadly serious the Jews were about their religious beliefs, and he did not want to unnecessarily incite a riot, which would cause disfavor with his superiors for not keeping the peace. Consistent with his behavior in these two cases (which were just simple job preservation), Pilate may have allowed Jesus to be removed from the cross in deference to Jewish burial sensitivities on the eve of a major Jewish holiday that celebrates Israel’s liberation from foreign domination with a million Jews in the city to avoid an unnecessary riot, which would cause disfavor with his superiors for not keeping the peace.

            And then of course there is Jewish War 4.317: “…The Jews used to take so much care of the burial of men, that they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun.” I do not know if this was allowed for treason, but neither do you.

            Sorry Bart, I don’t mean to be insulting or to challenge your expertise, but it looks to me like you have WAY overstated your case that Jesus was left on the cross and I am just asking questions to see what I am missing. I am sincerely interested in your response.

          • Bart
            Bart  June 7, 2017

            Yes, I can see how it’s strange. But we do have a number of references to what happened to the bodies of crucifixion victims from antiquity. It is very much worth while examining what they all say.

          • Jon1  June 7, 2017

            Bart,

            I think you are asking too much of the historical record. Yehohanan did not come with a tag on his skeleton indicating what crime he was crucified for, and Flaccum 10.83 and Jewish War 4.317 do not indicate what crimes were involved for the people in those references who were removed from the cross. So I cannot provide the example of treason you specifically asked for. Evidence often does not provide such slam dunk examples. However, I would say it is a really good bet that in every one of those cases where the body was removed from the cross there was something to be gained by the Romans. This is what you seem to be minimizing. Jesus was crucified in peacetime on a Jewish festival where nationalistic passions were at their peak and huge numbers of Jews were present. Part of Pilate’s job was to keep the peace, which would include not unnecessarily inciting a riot. Because of their religious beliefs, the Jews would have severely wanted Jesus buried before sunset. Early in his tenure, Pilate saw how serious the Jews were about their religious beliefs (the blasphemous images incident in Antiquities 18.3.1). If there were exceptions to crucifixion victims remaining on the cross, it seems plausible that Jesus was one of them because Pilate would not have wanted to unnecessarily incite a riot. I really don’t get how you cannot acknowledge this argument.

            In any case, one thing that sends up red flags for me when reading someone’s argument are statements that seem exaggerated in order to close the door on the alternative view. So going back to my original question in this thread, can you please explain to me how this one statement from you can possibly be correct: “the passage [Digesta 48.24.1] is absolutely explicit: the release of bodies to be buried DOES NOT APPLY to those who have been convicted of high treason” (https://ehrmanblog.org/did-roman-laws-require-decent-burials/). Specifically, can you please explain why, when the passage (quoted below) speaks of returning the body to the relatives and says, “SOMETIMES it is not permitted, especially where persons have been convicted of high treason”, it CANNOT mean that those crucified for high treason were in VERY RARE cases allowed burial, and why the bit about bodies being burned MUST refer to the highest level of punishment where bodies can be claimed by relatives (as you interpret it at the link above) and CANNOT mean that burned bodies were allowed burial “even” though there was very little of the body left (just “bones and ashes”).

            Digesta 48.24.1: “The bodies of those who are condemned to death should not be refused their relatives; and the Divine Augustus, in the Tenth Book of his Life said that this rule had been observed. At present the bodies of those who have been punished are only buried when this has been requested and permission granted; and sometimes it is not permitted, especially where persons have been convicted of high treason. Even the bodies of those who have been sentenced to be burned can be claimed, in order that their bones and ashes, after having been collected, may be buried.”

          • Bart
            Bart  June 8, 2017

            Yes, the problem is, as just one example, that we don’t know how long Yehohanan was on his cross before he was taken off. There is no reason that I can think of to think it was the day of his death.

          • Jon1  June 9, 2017

            Bart,

            The point of Yehohanan, Flaccum 10.83, and Jewish War 4.317 is only that crucified bodies were sometimes removed from the cross. In every specific case, I’ll bet there was something in it for the Romans. We don’t know anything about the circumstances of Yehohanan, but we do know that it would have been to Pilate’s advantage to let Jesus off the cross on Friday to avoid a possible riot by some of the Jews. For the same reason, Pilate backed down and respected Jewish religious beliefs in the blasphemous images incident in Antiquities 18.3.1. Again, I think you are minimizing what was in it for Pilate to allow Jesus to be removed from the cross.

            Also, I think you missed my question from the previous post: Can you please explain how this statement of yours can possibly be correct: “the passage [Digesta 48.24.1] is absolutely explicit: the release of bodies to be buried DOES NOT APPLY to those who have been convicted of high treason” (https://ehrmanblog.org/did-roman-laws-require-decent-burials/). Specifically, can you please explain why, when the passage speaks of returning the body to the relatives and says, “SOMETIMES it is not permitted, especially where persons have been convicted of high treason”, it CANNOT mean that those crucified for high treason were in VERY RARE cases allowed burial, and why the bit about bodies being burned MUST refer to the highest level of punishment where bodies can be claimed by relatives (as you interpret it at the link above) and CANNOT mean that burned bodies were allowed burial “even” though there was very little of the body left (just “bones and ashes”).

          • Bart
            Bart  June 10, 2017

            My view is that bodies were *always* removed from the cross. And something happened then to the carcass. What happened, in every case, was *some* kind of burial.

          • Jon1  June 10, 2017

            Bart,

            It’s fine with me if you want to think Jesus was left on the cross for a number of days and then buried, but Jewish War 4.317 strongly suggests that Jewish crucifixion victims were sometimes allowed burial before sunset on the same day they were crucified, and it would have been to Pilate’s advantage to let Jesus off the cross on Friday to avoid a possible riot by some Jews. I’ve done my best to try to convince you of this but for some reason we can’t seem to connect. All I am interested in now is whether or not you still think the following statement of yours on Digesta 48.24.1 is true: “the passage is absolutely explicit: the release of bodies to be buried DOES NOT APPLY to those who have been convicted of high treason” (https://ehrmanblog.org/did-roman-laws-require-decent-burials/).

          • Bart
            Bart  June 11, 2017

            Have you read my discussion of all this on the blog and in my book? If so you know what my views are. If not, you might look for “Craig Evans” using the search function on the blog.

      • Tony  May 29, 2017

        The question itself contains an unachievable condition:

        ” how would you feel if it were true beyond a doubt that all the arguments the ‘mythicists’ have presented were found to be correct (or mostly correct) regarding his assumed existence?”

        As you’ve read Carrier you’d know that, “true beyond a doubt….found to be correct”, is not a rational based historical approach or outcome. The best we can hope for is a relative probability analysis. Another way to approach it would be a best fit determination.

        The best way is to look at Historicity and Mythicism as two hypothetical models. Objectively comparing the two models against the available data should give an indication of the better fit.

        • Rick
          Rick  June 1, 2017

          Has anyone else noticed that many amateur mythecist (as you might encounter on other blog type sites and comment sections) frequently try to hold 1st Century historical analysis to legal standards of evidence? My usual reaction to such argument is that it we’re simply trying to reach a reasonable conclusion working with what is available, not convict OJ. Would love to read a better comeback.

    • Petter Häggholm  May 29, 2017

      I haven’t read the particular books of Carrier’s I expect you are referring to (Proving History and On the Historicity of Jesus), but I noticed something rather peculiar in the reviews. Carrier attempts to bring Bayesian analysis to the study of history, which results a rather unusual interdisciplinary work that few people are likely to have the training to evaluate from both sides. Historians seem generally dismissive of Carrier’s history, though of course they often aren’t qualified to talk about his mathematics. On the other hand, I’ve seen reviews by mathematicians, including ones who profess sympathy for Carrier’s historical conclusions, heavily criticise his use of Bayesian inference.

      It looks like in each case, the experts are unimpressed with Carrier’s work in their respective fields, even if few people have professional credentials on both sides. I can’t vouch for them being right—I haven’t read these two books, and I don’t have qualifications in either field—but it seems awfully suggestive to me.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  May 30, 2017

        “Carrier attempts to bring Bayesian analysis to the study of history, which results a rather unusual interdisciplinary work that few people are likely to have the training to evaluate from both sides.”

        As a social scientist myself, who has had a foot in both historical research and mathematical models (from economics), I’m one of those people uniquely qualified to evaluate Carrier’s attempt at proving historicity via Bayesian statistics. And I can assure you, Carrier has no freaking idea what he’s doing.

        But don’t take my word for it. I’ll give you an example of what I’m talking about. Carrier brings up the Rank-Raglan Hero-type inventory: a list of events and traits common to most “mythical” heroes (e.g. born to a virgin, a “son” of a god, etc.). He then proceeds to claim that Jesus fits 20 out the 22 items on the inventory — a claim that, for anyone familiar with Rank-Raglan, is very much a stretch. In actual fact, an argument can be made that Jesus, at best, fits half a dozen of the items on the list. But that’s neither here nor there. The important point is that Carrier, rather disingenuously, attempts to link this “mythical” Jesus as defined by Rank-Raglan to the historical Jesus. He then proceeds to construct (or should I say pulls from his rear end?) a probability of Jesus’ historicity *based on an inventory of mythical hero traits*. Where he actually finds the hard numbers is anyone’s guess. (I mean, I, too, can make up probabilities out of thin air if I wanted to, but that’s not exactly academically rigorous.) So let’s say that Carrier’s probabilities are accurate (which, again, is highly, highly dubious) what has he proven? He’s only proven that the legends ATTACHED to the historical Jesus are highly improbable! What are the odds that Jesus was actually born of a virgin? Well, since we’ve never actually seen a verifiable virgin give birth in a laboratory, the odds are decidedly slim. I wouldn’t put my money on those odds. But that’s not the question. The question is what are the odds that there was an historical Jesus? What are the odds that Jesus:
        1) Was a Jewish man from 1st century Galilee?
        2) Was an apocalyptic preacher?
        3) Had a small following of like-minded apocalyptic Jews?
        4) Went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival, where he preached in the Temple?
        5) Was arrested and executed by the authorities for sedition?

        Those odds are not so slim. In fact, you would be a fool NOT to put your money on those odds? Of course, assigning a number to those odds — as Carrier doesn’t seem to have a problem doing — would be foolish. But I’m sure we can all agree that the probably is much, much closer to one than it is to zero.

        So much for Carrier’s misguided foray into proving historicity via math.

      • Pattycake1974
        Pattycake1974  June 1, 2017

        I read OHJ. There’s only one word I can think of to describe it: covfefe

    • talmoore
      talmoore  May 29, 2017

      14% of Americans also believe the moonlandings were faked. Should give you a good idea of what we’re dealing with here.

      http://www.cbsnews.com/news/60-minutes-vanity-fair-poll-conspiracy/

    • Tim  May 29, 2017

      Those who think Carrier’s clunker of a book is some kind of profound contribution to the field should perhaps check out this online critique of its primary arguments:

      http://members.optusnet.com.au/gakuseidon/Carrier_OHJ_Review.html

      That’s by a well-read amateur, but it exposes enough gaping holes in Carrier’s ideologically-driven position and arguments to indicate why professional scholars wouldn’t bother with a failed academic like Carrier. His stuff is bombast, smoke and mirrors, but underneath all the pomposity and wordiness it simply really isn’t very good.

      • godspell  May 30, 2017

        And it doesn’t need to be. I don’t want to impugn the man’s motives, but in general, if you’re never going to be a really first-rate scholar in your field, what’s the best possible way to create a viable professional niche for yourself and get the kind of popular attention many genuinely first-rate scholars never get? Find an audience who will uncritically applaud what you say, because they desperately want to hear it. Works great for climatologists who deny global warming, or biologists who deny evolution by natural selection? An under-served audience is always looking for someone to serve them–ie, tell them what they want to hear, whether it bears any relation to the known facts or not.

        When you think about it, this explains a lot of things about the world we live in, including a recently held election.

      • Pattycake1974
        Pattycake1974  June 1, 2017

        Here’s another review–http://members.optusnet.com.au/gakuseidon/Carrier_OHJ_Review.html

    • wannes  May 29, 2017

      I think this article gives a good example of why you should always try (as much as possible) to track back to the original source, and see what itself says (you know, from a scholarly perspective).

      The article states: “But, the Church of England survey found that four in 10 people did not believe Jesus was a real person, with a quarter of 18 to 34 year olds believing he was a mythical or fictional character.”

      This seems to suggest that 18 to 34 year olds are much less likely to believe Jesus is a myth than the general population! This seemed odd to me!
      So if you do read the original research, which is linked to in the article, you’ll see there is a 18% “don’t know” group who is not mentioned, and which you conveniently add to the 22% “Jesus is a mythical or fictional character” people. And if you did your calculations well you should notice this only adds up to 40%. I assume you confused that one with the “However, 43% of the people asked said they did believe in the resurrection ”

      This does not change the fact that this is a significant part of the population, but the merit of an argument does not solely depend on it’s support by non specialists/ non interested people.

    • Tony  May 30, 2017

      I’m not inclined to comment on personal motives, biases or ideologies insofar as the a-historicity of Jesus of Nazareth is concerned. As an atheist I don’t have a lot of sympathy for Christianity or religion in general. I do not care whether Jesus of Nazareth was a nobody – somehow exalted to become the son of God – or did not exist. But the historical process on why, and how, he came about is fascinating.

      The Christian meme has great strength and will certainly survive the notion by some, stating their main hero is likely fictional.

      On the other hand I have some difficulty believing that you, having extensively published in both academic and popular literature on the historical Jesus and teaching the same in a well respected university as well being a high profile and public go to figure on the historical Jesus subject, would be so sanguine on a-historicity as your post suggest.

      Are you saying you have no bias, vested interest, or ego?

      Anyway, say hello to Dale Martin – he does not know me from a hole in the ground – but his public Yale intro course a few years back was excellent and also had me in stitches.

      • godspell  May 30, 2017

        I suppose Shakespearean scholars would be mainly quite discomfited if evidence that the Earl of Oxford or whoever really wrote the plays (there’d be a few churlish gloaters in the fold, I’m sure), but would people really care any less about the plays? Would the services of those who are experts on those plays be in any less demand if that happened? And FYI, that is never gonna happen, my friend. Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare.

        You make a solid point about how Christian dogma can easily survive historical proof that Jesus didn’t exist. As it has survived undeniable proof that the bible can’t possibly all be literally factual, that it contradicts itself constantly. As it has survived clear scientific proof that the earth is billions of years old.

        So do you ever want to shake your fellow atheists who keep trying to take down Christianity by disproving the historical Jesus, and yell at them “The HISTORICAL Jesus is not our problem, doofuses!!”?

        And would they listen if you did? Of course not. Believing what you want in the face of all evidence to the contrary not being an exclusively theist thing.

        🙂

  9. hasankhan  May 29, 2017

    I like that you don’t hold strong position on things that cannot be proven such as what was Gospel author’s intention when he wrote something and that you’re open to continuously learning.

  10. Jim Cherry  May 29, 2017

    As most blog members likely know, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
    I don’t see any extraordinary evidence that a 1st century Jewish apocalyptic preacher (one of many) did not exist, but plenty of evidence to the contrary.
    Can it be useful to use the term “mythicist” (lower case) for those who believe the Biblically described miracles are myths, and “Mythicist” (upper case) for those who claim the “historical Jesus” never existed?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 29, 2017

      Interesting idea. But it might lead to confusion among the uninitiated….

      • Raemon  May 29, 2017

        Bart, you recently said you occasionally think of yourself as a “Christian agnostic”. Isn’t the core belief of Christianity that Jesus’s death served to propitiate God? A price to be paid for mankind’s failures? It seems this belief becomes a mere suspicion without a belief in God.

        What does a Christian agnostic believe?

        Thanks!

        • Bart
          Bart  May 30, 2017

          Yes, I obviously don’t mean *that*!! I mean that as an agnostic I try to follow Jesus’ core teachings about loving others and taking care of those in need. So I try to follow his teachings, but I don’t believe he is the son of God who died for the sins of the world.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  May 29, 2017

      There’s already a word for those people who are skeptical about the miracle claims in the Gospels, but who are much more positive there was an historical Jesus. They’re called “historians”.

  11. RonaldTaska  May 29, 2017

    It is not history. It is not theology. It is confirmation bias.

    Excellent post which reminds me of my medical school training where day after day, patient after patient, we changed our minds about diagnoses based on the accumulating evidence. Once one learns to think that way it is hard to change to just accepting things by “faith.” Which faith? How does one determine this?

  12. turbopro  May 29, 2017

    Sorta OT, but kinda relevant to the ongoing discussion. A “devoted atheist” –whatever that means–filed an interesting case:

    “13 th September 2002
    Luigi Cascioli lodges the present formal complaint
    at the Seat of the Court of Justice in Viterbo,

    Versus

    don Enrico Righi, parish priest in Bagnoregio, as representative of ministers of religion, for abuse of popular credulity and impersonation.”

    –> http://www.luigicascioli.eu/traduzioni/en_proceso1.htm

    A rule of Law is a very good thing.

  13. Boltonian  May 29, 2017

    ‘When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?’ John Maynard Keynes.

  14. dragonfly  May 30, 2017

    I understand Robert Price went from fundamentalist preacher to mythicist. I guess some people like the extremes.

  15. john76  May 30, 2017

    Mythicists sometimes cite Origen (Contra Celsum 1.47 and Commentary on Matthew 10.17), who certainly knew Book 18 of the Antiquities and cites 5 passages from it, as explicitly stating that Josephus did not believe in Jesus as Christ. This seems to exclude Origen as being aware of the relevant passage in the Testimonium Flavianum as we have it today, but doesn’t it ALSO imply Origen’s copy of Josephus’ work did say “something” about Jesus, enough for Origen to conclude that Josephus didn’t think Jesus was the Christ?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 1, 2017

      I would need to look at the Origen passage again, but if you’re describing it aright, that would seem to be the implication.

  16. screwtape  May 30, 2017

    Once a person has rejected the Christian claims of who Jesus was, why would it matter to them beyond academic curiosity whether there was a real Jesus or not? Can’t see how anyone but a believing Christian could be “emotionally traumatized” to learn that Jesus was only a myth.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 1, 2017

      It probably wouldn’t, except to say that history matters, and Jesus is, after all, the most important figure in our history.

  17. john76  May 30, 2017

    Mythicists sometimes make a big deal about the fact that there is little about Jesus’ biography in Paul’s writing. But there may be good reasons for why Paul does this.

    Paul says his Gospel is:
    – “3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: how Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 was buried, rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and was seen by Cephas, and then by the twelve. (1 Corinthians 15:3-5).”

    Paul wanted his readers to focus and stay on message because there were others trying to lure away believers by presenting a different Christ than Paul was:
    – “12But I will keep on doing what I am doing, in order to undercut those who want an opportunity to be regarded as our equals in the things they boast about. 13For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. (2 Cor 11:12-13)
    – “Evidently some people are troubling you and trying to distort the gospel of Christ. 8But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be under a divine curse! (Gal 1:7-8)
    – “Now I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and obstacles that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Turn away from them. (Romans 16:17).”
    -“4For if someone comes and proclaims a Jesus other than the One we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit than the One you received, or a different gospel than the one you accepted, you put up with it way too easily.” (2 Cor 11:5)

    In this regard, Paul said ““For I decided to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor 2:2).”

    I think Paul wasn’t elaborating on Jesus’ biography because he was trying to get his reader to focus and stay on message about Paul’s gospel.

    • john76  May 31, 2017

      I mentioned elsewhere that

      Paul’s gospel is:
      “3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: how Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 was buried, rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and was seen by Cephas, and then by the twelve. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).”

      So, since Paul was always ranting about other apostles that were presenting “another gospel of Christ,” there were Christians back then who did not preach atonement. These may have been Christians long before Paul.

      These other apostles, since they were preaching “salvation through works,” would not have believed in the salvic act of Christ’s atonement, let alone the salvic act of a celestial cosmic Christ. Mythicists say that Christianity started with visions of a celestial Christ who taught of his salvic act. There is no reason to think this, because there were clearly Christians before Paul who did not believe in atonement.

  18. Jason  May 30, 2017

    Man-has the mythicist pebble really been in your shoe for a half a decade now?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 1, 2017

      Mythicists may not be in my shoe but they’re on my case.

  19. John  June 1, 2017

    A quick couple that should be easy:

    1. Do you know of any example or references to Paul knowing or saying The Lords Prayer?

    2. You mentioned once, that the reason Paul added the 500 and himself to the creed in 1 Cor 15 was to bolster his credibility. Do any other verses spring to mind, where he does something similar?

    Thanks Bart.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 1, 2017

      1. No; 2. I don’t think I was arguing that Paul was just making it up. I think the one is a tradition that he heard and the other is an experience that he himself (thought he) had.

      • John  June 1, 2017

        Thanks Bart.

        No 2. No I understand, you said before, but I thought you also mentioned that the reason he tagged them onto the end of the creed was to boost his credibility, was it not?

        • Bart
          Bart  June 2, 2017

          No, I don’t recall ever saying that. But he certainly wanted the Corinthians to know that he himself had seen Jesus alive after his crucifixion.

  20. john76  June 1, 2017

    I’m about half way through Lataster’s book. He makes the interesting point that Jesus and his atoning death that effectively rendered useless the temple cult “coincidentally” emerged at just the time in history when a big problem for the Jews was the “inaccessibility caused by the temple being controlled by the Roman-loving Temple cult. One noteworthy example would be the more ‘progressive’ Pharisees, what with their synagogues and Old Torah, who had less need for the Temple; likewise the Essenes who thought the Temple leadership so corrupt that they developed and performed their own religious rituals elsewhere. (Lataster, Jesus Did Not Exist, 223-224).”

    • john76  June 2, 2017

      I’m trying to put together the big picture for the idea that Jesus didn’t exist:

      1) Love seems to be a central theme of early Christianity.

      Paul wrote:

      – 8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not give false testimony, You shall not covet,” and if there are any other commandments, are summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love works no evil to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:8-10)

      Mark seems to echo the commandment of love as we find it in Paul:

      – The Great Commandment: 28 One of the scribes came and heard them reasoning together. Perceiving that Jesus had answered them well, he asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?” 29 Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is, ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord. 30 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)

      (2) The problem of trying to create a benevolent, just society was that the Christians believed the central feature of that society, the Temple, was corrupt. Mark has Jesus say: “17Then He began to teach them and declare, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” (Mark 11:17). Jesus and his atoning death that effectively rendered useless the temple cult “coincidentally” emerged at just the time in history when a big problem for the Jews was, as Lataster says, the “inaccessibility caused by the temple being controlled by the Roman-loving Temple cult. One noteworthy example would be the more ‘progressive’ Pharisees, what with their synagogues and Old Torah, who had less need for the Temple; likewise the Essenes who thought the Temple leadership so corrupt that they developed and performed their own religious rituals elsewhere. (Lataster, Jesus Did Not Exist, 223-224).”

      (3) To rectify this problem, the first Christians invented a story of an atoning Christ, keeping the philosophy of love paramount, but substituting the temple cult with, to use Paul’s words, a simple and pure (2 Cor 11:3-5) faith in Christ.

      This is compatible with a purely mythic origin of Christianity, as with the ‘noble lie’ theory of Christian origins.

      • john76  June 3, 2017

        One last thought:

        Doesn’t the apostle Paul seem to suggest mythicism when he says, in large part, what makes him an apostle is that he has “seen” Christ (“Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? – 1 Corinthians 9:1), perhaps suggesting it was a rare thing to have seen Christ (because Jesus was not a popular faith healer who had an earthly ministry, but rather was a mythical being)?

        Lataster picks up on this too when he writes: “Paul outright says this, effectively claiming that Christians only know about Jesus because of chosen ones like himself (Lataster, JDNE, 245).” Lataster cites in support of that contention the following passage from Paul:

        14How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? 15How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!” (Romans 10:14-15).

  21. John  June 10, 2017

    Another easy one, I think.

    There is a passage that says the soldiers drew lots for Jesus’ clothes. Really?

    He was an itinerant preacher who’s clothes would have been ripped and blooded. He must have looked like a tramp and smelt disgusting by that stage.

    Is it likely that he soldiers would have done such a thing? What would a historical view on this verse?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 11, 2017

      Yeah, it seems unlikely historically. But it’s portrayed as a fulfillment of scripture, and maybe that’s why the tradition started.

You must be logged in to post a comment.