|Was There No Historical Jesus?
Responses to Critiques of the Mythicist Case
GakuseiDon "Earl Doherty, the Jesus Myth and Second Century Christian Writings"
(with much new material regarding the second century apologists)
A contributor to the Internet Infidels Biblical
Criticism and History
forum who goes by the name of "GakuseiDon" recently posted a critique
of the "Jesus in the Christian
Apologists" chapter of my book, The Jesus Puzzle.
I am familiar with him only through the IIDB, and am unaware of any
other work by him; his critique does not seem to be part of a
larger web site. While it is of sufficient quality and substance to
merit a reply, I will style him an "apologist" (rather than a neutral
critical historian) for reasons which will become clear in this
response. The critique can be read at:|
In the discussion on the IIDB thread which followed GDon's notification about his critique, a few points were raised which I would like to address as a prelude to examining the text of the critique itself. One is in regard to the silence in Paul and other early epistle writers about historical details in the supposed recent life of Jesus. This involves a misunderstanding of the situation which I have tried on many occasions to correct, seemingly to no avail, and one wonders how serious certain people can claim to be in addressing the substance of the mythicist case before undertaking a condemnation of it. When the "silence" in the epistles is referred to by such critics, it is always in terms of what Paul and the other early writers do not mention, rather than what they do. I have styled this difference the negative vs. the positive silence. By focusing only on the former, apologists think to be able to appeal to the limits (or outright invalidity, as they like to put it) of the argument from silence. There could always be some explanation, they claim, for why Paul does not mention such-and-such, even if this involves just about everything to do with an historical life, and even in situations that would cry out for such mentions. Be that as it may, what is conveniently ignored are the positive things that Paul states about his faith, his object of worship, the beginnings of the movement, and so on; some of his and others' statements clearly exclude the idea of an historical founder while many others make it highly unlikely. These are clearly laid out in my book and on this website, and have been raised in internet arguments over the years, but they have yet to be properly addressed. (I'll mention a few shortly.) These "positive silences" are not so easy to ignore or dismiss, even though scholarship as a whole tends to do precisely that.
"Bede" on IIDB had this to say:
But is it [GD's case against my
fatal to Doherty's thesis? Probably not. The
that he can always point to (assuming he does retreat from his second
century examples [which, of course, I
have no intention or need of doing])
is the Jewish revolt ending in 70AD. Aside from Paul,
getting back before that is always hard (although Hebrews is a big help
here), and the only way to kill mythicism is to prove that Paul knew of
a historical Jesus. Given almost all scholars (all until Carrier's so
far unexplained conversion) already think this is proven, the argument
is unlikely to develop.
Well, many have tried to prove that Paul knew of an historical Jesus, but this has so far been a failure, except through reading meanings into Paul that are not evidently there and by ignoring the "positive" things I referred to. The fact that so many scholars "already think this is proven" is a good measure of the lack of seriousness and honesty they have brought to the question, and how much of their stance is simply predetermined. While I won't get overly offended by Bede's snide accusation about the quality of my Greek, its lack of proficiency remains to be demonstrated—by "good" scholars or otherwise. Simply assuming that one of those "good" scholars could demonstrate it (which is his implication) won't do. It's similar to the common claim that a "good" scholar or historian could shred the mythicist case if only they would undertake to do so. This remains an assumption—and thus invalid as an argument—until someone actually does it and shows that it's possible. However, I am offended on Richard Carrier's behalf, whose proficiency in Greek is undoubtedly superior to mine and does not merit such offhanded disparagement. And since Carrier has in fact offered an explanation for his recent conversion to the probability of the mythicist position, one can only assume that Bede has been forced to ignore or dismiss this as well.
Let's also look at some remarks on IIDB by GakuseiDon:
is that from what I see,
there is currently no case to
rebut. There are a series of statements from Doherty regarding the
writings of Christians in the first couple of centuries, but when you
try to pin down the case that he is actually arguing, things get
frustratingly vague. There is no cohesive case there. All that we are
left with are a number of curiosities - Paul's lack of references of
Jesus's ministry, for example - that tend to get argued separately.
I can't speak to GDon's ability to perceive cohesive cases, but there are many who see the case laid out by The Jesus Puzzle, and on the website, as comprehensive, coherent and anything but fragmented. This would be a good time to briefly mention a few examples of those "curiosities" regarding Paul and others. Again, GDon styles it in terms of "a lack of references to Jesus' ministry," but the situation is far more sweeping and positive than that. He and others consistently ignore passages such as these:
Romans 16:25-26: "...the gospel about Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept in silence for long ages but now revealed. and made known through prophetic writings at the command of God..."
2 Corinthians 5:5: "God has shaped us for life immortal, and as a guarantee of this he has sent the Spirit."
Titus 1:3: "Yes, it is eternal life that God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago, and now in his good time he has openly declared himself in the proclamation which was entrusted to me by God our Savior."
1 Corinthians 12:28: "Within our community, God has appointed...apostles...prophets and teachers."
1 Peter 1:7: "...so that your faith may prove itself worthy when Jesus Christ is revealed."
Romans 8:22: "Up to now, the whole created universe groans in all its parts as if in the pangs of childbirth...we wait for God to make us his sons and set our whole body free."I don't intend to reargue the details of the case here, but I offer the above as examples of the sorts of statements that saturate the epistles, giving us a comprehensive picture of a faith which began with God's revelation of his Son through scripture, one that is impelled by the Spirit rather than the memory of a human Jesus, wherein the "gospel" being preached is that of "God" and nothing is presented as having been instituted by a recent human founder, where no historical Jesus is inserted between God's promises and prophecies, and their fulfilment in the missionary movement. Jesus himself is a "secret/mystery" revealed by God to apostles like Paul, after long ages of being unknown, an entity who will be coming to earth only in the future. And so on. The case is not nearly so simple as Paul failing to mention features of Jesus' earthly ministry. If the Gospel preconceptions are set aside, we have no "curiosities" here. Rather, we find in the epistles a consistent, sensible and clearly stated picture of a faith movement like others of its day, one that was an expression of contemporary religious and philosophical trends, and one that did not involve a recent historical figure. Without the Gospels and 19 centuries of church tradition created out of them, nothing would seem out of place or lacking. There is nothing "vague" or uncohesive about it.
I review this background not only because there are too many who still turn a blind eye to it, but because with such a scenario in mind for the beginnings of the movement—or part of it—it becomes much easier to situate and evaluate elements such as the second century apologists within the larger picture. I'll also add another misconception which has skewed GDon's and others' criticisms. Historicists are still tied to the old paradigm of a Christianity which was, if not entirely unified, essentially a singularity, linear in its development. One thing supposedly grew into the next, and more or less in lockstep. They have failed to appreciate the chaotic, fragmentary nature of the entire movement, different streams from different places flowing at different times into the ultimate Christian river.
The documentary evidence ranges from the purely philosophical "only-begotten Son" and Logos of Philo, to the scripture-revealed sacrificial Christ of Paul, to the Revealer-Son of some of his rival apostles who regarded a crucified Messiah as "folly," a Revealer found at the base of the Gospel of John as well. Hebrews has an entirely unique take on a High Priestly Christ whose sacrifice takes place in Heaven, based on the Temple cult. Documents like The Odes of Solomon and the Shepherd of Hermas reveal other sects' mystical beliefs in a heavenly Son who is a channel of knowledge like Wisdom and non-sacrificial. The Gnostic Savior concept can be regarded as part of a separate stream (critical scholarship now largely considers gnosticism as having had an independent genesis, though a certain amount of merging with the Christian Jesus was to take place), as can the Logos religion of the major apologists. Out of left field came the wisdom and apocalyptic preaching of a Kingdom of God movement which impelled the addition of a Galilean ministry to create the Gospel Jesus, and so on. Some of the objections of mythicism's detractors are best dealt with when this picture of diversified origins is taken into account.
A Picture of the Second Century
To some extent, GDon has misrepresented my position in this chapter of my book. In "Jesus in the Christian Apologists" (which, alone among the chapters of The Jesus Puzzle, is a reproduction of the "Second Century Apologists" article on my website, with only minor changes), I define an "apologist" as one who is presenting a document or documents that are defenses of the faith, and I make the claim that a "majority" of those that are reasonably extant do not speak of an historical Jesus. Thus an inclusion in his critique of figures like Ignatius and Polycarp is not valid. Nor of Basilides and Heracleon who are not apologists. I also make it clear that my parameters in this study of the second century do not extend beyond the year 180 or so. Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian lie outside this group, falling into a later time frame in which I pointed out that virtually all Christian writers were now on board the train of belief in the historicity of the Gospel Jesus. I realize that it may be valid to examine the content of those later writers to help evaluate the 'silence' of the earlier ones, which GDon tries to do, but only if that content is properly represented, which as I will demonstrate is not the case here.
No one is denying that, surveying all of the second century writers from start to finish, a great many seem to have believed in some kind of historical Jesus, although with some of them, particularly in the gnostic category, it may be hard to tell just what was the nature envisioned for such a figure. But my emphasis was on a certain group of apologists from whom we have major and complete works which purport to give a comprehensive presentation of the faith, chiefly for outsiders. By examining that group, it was my intention not only to show how they differed from the circles that produced and subscribed to the Gospel story and character, but to cast light on the variety of expressions within the Logos- and Christ-belief phenomenon. If there could be shown to be a broad segment of expression covering several major apologetic documents over several decades, all ignoring or even denying by implication the existence of an historical founder, it speaks to a "Christianity" which encompassed a version of faith which did not include an historical Jesus. It serves to undermine the validity of belief in those circles which by that time did envision such a figure, since it would belie the unity and singular origin of the movement as a whole.
It has long been acknowledged by scholars of the second century apologists that they show little if any connection to the type of cultic Christianity of the first century as represented by Paul. They thus find themselves in the position of having to explain this discontinuity. What happened to divorce the second century stream represented by the apologists from the first century Pauline antecedent? In that group, including Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, Minucius Felix and (I maintain) in Justin's earliest thinking, there is not only no historical founder in view, there is no idea of incarnation, there is no atonement doctrine and no Calvary, there is no resurrection of a human or divine entity from the dead. These are major voids, quantum divergences from a presumed original faith movement that are hardly explainable by the rather feeble rationalizations provided by modern scholars. But they are hamstrung by their own preconceptions. They are reading a certain set of documents and beliefs into everything else. The most plausible explanation is that there was no discontinuity, no divorce or divergence from Paul or some of the early Fathers of the Church. Rather, these are the varied expressions of general trends of belief found throughout the Empire, trends which were only gradually coalescing and evolving into a commonality based on the ever more appealing and powerful figure created by the Gospels.
Even in Paul's day, there were "apostles of the Christ" going about preaching the message of "another Jesus" (based, like his own, on the "spirit"—meaning revelation—and not historical tradition) which was so at odds with his own he could call them agents of Satan (2 Corinthians 11). There is thus nothing unusual at encountering a range of apologetic works produced in the second century which could diverge so widely from each other, some based on knowledge of the Gospel story with biographical details of an historical founder, while others are devoid of such things, presenting nothing so much as a Logos religion. (Many scholars of the second century use this term to describe the apologists.) The mistake is to try to force them all into the same mold, all products of a unified movement with a single origin. One of the other aspects of that group of second century apologists which I failed to emphasize is their total lack of a sense of history. They talk of their religion essentially as a philosophy, not as an ongoing movement with a specific century of development behind it, through a beginning in time, place and circumstance, and a spread in similar specifics. It's not just Paul and his type of faith they show no knowledge of.
This is not to say that they were necessarily oblivious to other current expressions. Both Tatian and Minucius Felix indicate that they were not. But since these elements were not part of their own faith, they could ignore them—or criticize them. Just as we have a perplexing range of documents from the first century of Christian faith which scholars have great difficulty in pulling into line with orthodoxy and a single chain of development, we encounter the same variety and difficulty in the second century, only with some recognizable signs of gravitational pull. But as long as scholars, whether of the first or second century, refuse to countenance the conclusion which all this diversity points to, namely that what became Christianity did not go back to a single founder or point of origin, we will continue to flounder in this sea of uncertainty and debate.
But on to specifics.
Throwing Light on the Apologists
Following on his Introduction and opening survey of the Christian writers of the second century, GDon focuses in on the apologists themselves. In his list, he includes three whose works exist only in fragments, Quadratus of Athens, Claudius Apollinaris, and Melito of Sardis. As I said earlier, while it is clear that these writers did indeed refer to their belief in an historical Jesus, it is difficult to evaluate their overall attitudes toward the faith and the type of "defense" they offered in the absence of complete works, and because of the uncertainties attached to what little has survived. In my book I briefly mentioned a similar document that was discovered in its entirety in the late 1800s, the little apology of Aristides. I pointed out that it was a work in Syriac from the Levant area, based on a knowledge of some Gospel or Gospel traditions. Since it has nothing to say about the Logos or Greek philosophical concepts, it is clearly in a different category from the major apologists. Its literary quality and breadth of thought is very limited. As to the others, Quadratus exists in only one brief fragment, which makes an allusion to the healings of "the Savior" and how many who were so healed survived to the writer's own time, a claim hardly less than outrageous. As it would have been impossible for someone in the second quarter of the century to reasonably make such a claim, the integrity of this lost work is greatly devalued. Apollinaris is equally obscure, with what little preserved scarcely telling us that it comes from an apology. For Melito, the situation is chaotic in the extreme. Remarks about him by later writers such as Eusebius are unreliable, contradictory, and most likely second or third hand. Titles of works are uncertain or corrupted; inauthentic attributions abound.
Nor are the datings of these works and fragments all that secure. GDon is not the first to tout Aristides and Quadratus as "early" apologists, but the emperors to whom they are reputed to have addressed their works have been questioned. (See The Apology of Aristides, p.10-17; I do not have at hand an author's name for this book, though it was published early in the 20th century. It argues for a dating of Aristides later than 140, and Quadratus in the latter second century, rather than earlier.) Indeed, all the traditional datings of the apologists, with the exception of Justin and Tatian, are dependent on later assumptions about their authors and who they wrote to, and we are not unfamiliar with interpretations and traditions coming from later Christian commentators which do not stand up to critical scrutiny. Thus, GDon's arguments relating to relative dating and which type of apologist are to be assigned to which part of the second century are in some cases resting on shaky ground.
In any event, my lack of inclusion of such uncertain and fragmentary works in a study of "the major apologists" is hardly surprising, and GDon tries to make too much of it. His own inclusion of these obscurities I regard as an example of apologetic padding, designed to enable him to say that of "the second century apologists writing to pagans, we can see that 7 of 12 refer to a historical Jesus." And, as I've pointed out above, that "7" includes the later Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian, who belong as much to the third century as to the second.
Here and later, GDon makes the claim that I regard the Gospels as "probably already circulating among the pagans" shortly after the year 150. I've never gone so far as to say they were "circulating," though I acknowledge that certain interested and knowledgeable pagan writers such as Celsus may well have read one or more such documents, in whatever state they may have existed at that time. My point, rather, was that some pagans, including among those being addressed by the apologists, were undoubtedly familiar with Gospel traditions about a human Jesus as the founder of the movement and certain teachings and events associated with him. We should note that such familiarity is only in evidence from the latter second century, and not before—with the sole exception of the reference in Tacitus, whose authenticity remains under a cloud. (I happen not to commit myself to inauthenticity, and can dismiss its 'witness' value on other grounds.) Pliny's letter gives us no witness to a figure who was historical, nor does Suetonius, and no satirist before Lucian around 160 gives any attention to the outlandish beliefs of the Christians regarding a crucified man and his resurrection.
But by far GDon's most misguided appeal is to later writers who clearly believe in an historical Jesus but in certain of their documents do not mention historical details about him. GDon thinks to link this to my statement in regard to the earlier apologists, that "this blatant suppression of Jesus, the misrepresentation of everything from the name 'Christian' to the source of Christian ethics, amounts to nothing less than a denial of Christ." But there is a huge difference between a writer who nowhere in his work betrays a knowledge of an historical Jesus and those who do, but happen not to mention him in specific places. Such later authors as Clement and Tertullian do not deny the human Jesus in their works as a whole, and to interpret a silence in one particular document as such a thing borders on the dishonest; it is certainly a misapplication of the concept. Nowhere does Clement or Tertullian say something like, "I have gone into every aspect of our religion" while failing to mention Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnation, the resurrection and so on. Nowhere do they give us disparaging remarks about a crucified man such as we find in Minucius Felix, or an outright ridicule of the concepts of gods being born or coming back from the dead such as we find in more than one writer. Silence in a particular spot or document, when balanced by open presentation in others, is not "concealment." It is unclear to me how GDon cannot recognize the fallacy of his comments in regard to Tertullian, when he acknowledges that there are indeed "vivid references" to Christ's incarnation, death and resurrection in the Apology but none, not even the names Jesus and Christ, in the Ad Nationes (both written in the same year, he notes), as though this somehow provides a case against my stance on the earlier apologists. He might as well have declared that the absence of such things in one chapter of a work in contrast to their mention in another chapter of the same work is significant as well. The point is, we do not have additional works from the earlier apologists verifying that they did indeed believe in an historical Jesus, and this makes all the difference in the world.
GDon lays particular emphasis on the Ad Nationes of Tertullian (written c.217) and accuses me of being "clearly unaware" of the work. I am sorry to disappoint him. In no small fashion does he misrepresent the content and significance of certain passages of this document. He refers to Tertullian's remarks in Chapter 3 about the meaning of the term 'Christian': "The name Christian, however, so far as its meaning goes, bears the sense of anointing." And he thinks to make a comparison with Theophilus' similar remarks in To Autolycus [I, 12]: in response to some disparagement by Autolycus (not quoted), Theophilus says, "Wherefore we are called Christians on this account, because we are anointed with the oil of God." Here Theophilus is defining the meaning of the term, and it does not include any reference to "Christ"; nor is there anywhere else in this writer a counter-balancing reference to such a figure or to an alternate or additional meaning for the name. The situation in Tertullian could not be in greater contrast. First of all, his reference to the 'anointing' sense of Christian is in the context of a lament that the pagans are persecuting believers on the basis of their name, not their alleged activities, and he wishes to point out the good qualities inherent in the name itself. To that end he talks of it "bear[ing] the sense of anointing." He is not defining it here, and he goes on to add to that positive image by pointing out that when the pagans mispronounce the name as "Chrestians" they are creating their own "sense of pleasantness and goodness." There is no question of misrepresentation or concealment here as there would have to be in Theophilus, who presents a definition of the name "Christian" solely in terms of anointing.
But that's not the end of it. Surely GDon himself read further, into Chapter 4, which opens: "But the sect, you say, is punished in the name of its founder." Not only is this an admission that the term Christian is based on the founder figure, it tells us that the pagans so regarded it as well. Tertullian goes on:
"Now in the first place it is, no doubt a fair and usual custom that a sect should be marked out by the name of its founder, since philosophers are called Pythagoreans and Platonists after their masters; in the same way physicians are called after Erasistratus, and grammarians after Aristarchus. If, therefore, a sect has a bad character because its founder was bad, it is punished as the traditional bearer of a bad name. But this would be indulging in a rash assumption. The first step was to find out what the founder was, that his sect might be understood, instead of hindering inquiry into the founder's character from the sect. But in your case, by being necessarily ignorant of the sect, through your ignorance of its founder, or else by not taking a fair survey of the founder, because you make no inquiry into his sect, you fasten merely on the name, just as if you vilified in it both sect and founder, whom you know nothing of whatever." [Ante-Nicene Fathers vol. 3, p.111-112]
It is a mystery how GDon can hold up a document containing a passage like this as casting any light on apologists like Theophilus. It matters little if the name of this founder is not actually stated (something which GDon makes a big issue of), or if no details of his earthly career are mentioned in a treatise which is wholly devoted to countering the calumnies levelled by the pagan against the Christian, and (in Book II) to a critical condemnation of the pagan gods. Ad Nationes is in no way a defense of the Christian faith, unlike the Apology which is; the latter contains no shortage of reference to Christ as a human man in history. GDon is appealing to a technicality, building a mountain out of a molehill. (While admitting that Ad Nationes does indeed relate 'Christian' to "the name of the founder," he adds, "all the while refusing to give the name of the founder." This is a blatant apologetic twist, forcing some significance on the absence of the name which is hardly justified by the text itself.) Given the narrow nature of the Ad Nationes subject matter, there is nothing particularly unusual, significant, or "weird" (as one reviewer on Amazon put it) about the lack of mention of Jesus' name or historical activities.
GDon misrepresents the case by reducing it to the simplistic claim that I regard the absence of the terms "Jesus" and "Christ" as the criterion for distinguishing an "MJer" (Mythical Jesus) from an "HJer" (Historical Jesus). It is not simply the presence or absence of a term, but the picture created by the writings of a given author as a whole and their commonality of content with other similar writers around the same time. If I did not include Tertullian in my examination of the second century scene, it is because he fell later than my parameters (both the Apology and the Ad Nationes post-date, at the earliest, the year 198), and because I never considered anyone would have the temerity to hold up the situation in that apologist's work as some kind of argument against my reading of documents several decades earlier. Again, it amounts to padding on GDon's part, and misleading padding at that.
Tertullian does something in the above quoted passage that none of those earlier apologists do, which makes it even more disingenuous for GDon to lump them all together. Tertullian goes so far as to demand that the pagan "find out what the founder was, that his sect might be understood." He criticizes the pagan for being ignorant of the founder, not "taking a fair survey of him." GDon can hardly impute to Tertullian a conscious concealment of Jesus in Ad Nationes (he is doing so if he insists on creating a parallel between Tertullian and the earlier apologists whom he claims are doing just that), since this would contravene Tertullian's insistence that the pagan should familiarize himself with the founder, the better to understand and evaluate the sect. Making such an appeal is the direct opposite of what GDon and others suggest is the tacit strategy of most of the earlier apologists, who are alleged to have set about to deliberately hide the founder from the pagan—a true "conspiracy of silence."
Explaining the Silence
At this point, GDon goes on to offer reasons for the apologists' silence on the historical Jesus and the details of his life. Again, he misrepresents my position. He quotes me (accurately) as saying that "nowhere in the literature of the time is there support for the standard scholarly rationalization about the apologists' silence on the figure of Jesus...nowhere is it even intimated that these writers have deliberately left out essential elements of Christian faith, for reasons of political correctness or anything else." But in claiming that in fact such things are to be found in the texts, he distorts the meaning of my statement.
That is, he fails to make an important distinction. The reasons he offers for the apologists' silence are conclusions that are drawn by modern scholars, based on factors they have identified in the second century. But these are not reasons which are intimated by the apologists themselves. In other words, no one says or even implies, "I am being silent on the historical Jesus, I am deliberately downplaying or obscuring his role, even to the point of seeming to mislead the reader, because of such-and-such a factor in the present day." That implication is being read into the situation by modern scholars, and it is a judgment which ought to be overridden by other considerations which I point out, considerations which should make the carrying out of such deliberate silence, even in the face of those alleged factors, highly questionable. Let's look at GDon's enumeration of them.
1. "The apologists were more concerned with stopping the persecutions against the Christians of the day than converting their audience: ... In Doherty's opinion they should have tried to rehabilitate the figure of Christ, even the HJ writers appeared more concerned with addressing the injustices against the Christians of the day than discussing historical details of Christ (for example Tertullian's 'Ad Nationes')."
Regardless of whether this was the case, it should not have precluded the apologists from presenting essential elements of the faith picture, especially when they are purporting to do that very thing. If, as GDon himself would assume, the pagans were already familiar with basic Jesus and Gospel traditions, what is to be gained for the supposed purpose of the apology by being silent on them? In fact, would it not be counter-productive in the eyes of the pagans to appear to be concealing, denying and misleading the reader? When a defendant conceals information about his activities in regard to the circumstances surrounding a crime, this creates suspicion, not mollification. The proper course would certainly have been to attempt to rehabilitate Jesus if he was a real elephant in the room. And GDon himself is being counter-productive in appealing once again to Ad Nationes, for Tertullian does precisely the opposite: he does not remain silent on the historical Jesus. In fact, he urges his readers to learn about him. If he felt it was OK not to hide all mention of the founder in a closet, why did the earlier apologists not feel the same way?
2. "The names 'Christian' and 'Christ' were hated: Tacitus...refers to Christianity as 'a pernicious superstition', charged with the hatred of all mankind'..."
Indeed they were, but it was hardly on account of the figure of Jesus or his reputed teachings, or even for claims that he had been resurrected from the dead. Such things had sufficient commonality with the cultic beliefs of pagans themselves (as Celsus admits and attests) that they would hardly have provoked the reaction witnessed to by the apologists. Rather it was the calumnies of alleged pernicious activities on the part of Christians, together with their denial of the traditional gods and refusal to engage in state religious observances, that led to denigration and charges of hatred. We can hardly imagine that the teachings of Christ (or most of them) as laid out in the Gospels would have been regarded by pagans as abominable, or that his reputed miracles—especially the healings—would not have placed him in a popular vein that included their own healer god Aesclepius. Thus there would have been every reason for apologists to accentuate these things, not bury them, as promising avenues to convincing the pagan that Christianity was founded on commendable and attractive elements.
3. Christianity was viewed as a barbarous new religion: ... New sects were regarded suspiciously by the Romans, and nearly all the apologists stressed Christianity's 'antiquity' via its Jewish roots, over its more recent origin....As Karen Armstrong points out in her book The History of God, the Roman ethos was strictly conservative, and Christians were regarded with contempt as a sect of fanatics who had committed the cardinal sin of breaking with the parent faith. The apologists often referred to the ancient Hebrew prophets to try to show a continuation from ancient times."
This claimed Roman attitude is clearly an exaggeration. The Greeks and Romans alike regularly embraced new cults, new saviors, coming from more outlandish reaches than Palestine and the Jews. I can't verify his reading of Karen Armstrong, as he must have a different edition of her book than my own, but I'm very dubious about the Romans regarding the Christians with contempt for breaking away from Judaism, a faith they hardly held in high esteem themselves; or for simply doing such a thing in principle. In any case, concealing Jesus would hardly improve the matter. In fact, GDon's observations about referring to Christianity's 'antiquity' and continuation from the Hebrew prophets ought to have led the apologists to present Jesus as the fulfilment of Jewish and prophetic expectations (even if the Jews themselves refused to see it that way). If the pagans already knew about Jesus anyway, why pass up the opportunity to put a better spin on him as a link to ancient precedents, as the culmination of Judaism? As I said by way of introduction, the drawbacks to silence make less sense than the alleged reasons put forward by apologists for that silence.
4. "The writer adopted different approaches to different audiences."
What writers? Almost all the ones we are examining, Theophilus, Athenagoras, Minucius Felix, Tatian and the author of Diognetus do not show different approaches to different audiences. We only have examples of one approach. GDon is simply appealing here to Tertullian, the invalidity of which I have addressed above, and to this he adds the scarcely relevant observation that Justin discusses the Logos "much less so" in Trypho than he does in his Apology. Also, GDon cannot leave the subject without appealing to that much-used fallacy of implying that there may have been lost documents by those one-trick apologists which could have adopted a different approach on other occasions and mentioned an historical Jesus. This kind of argumentation is utterly without merit, as I have often complained, and is a mark of desperation. We cannot make judgments based on things we don't have and know nothing about.
GDon wraps up this section by reiterating his lack of distinction I mentioned above. I do not "ignore" his alleged reasons for the silence found in the apologists' writings because they are not there. The writers themselves do not intimate them (let alone state them) as motivations for or factors in their silence. While these factors were indeed present in the situation of the time, it is simply modern apologists' own reasoning that they were the cause impelling the writers to silence. My point is that there is no indication from the writers themselves that they were, and that other factors such as I have discussed would have proven much stronger in impelling them to bring Jesus into the light rather than keeping him in a darkness which would have been ineffective anyway.
I would thus regard this aspect of GDon's critique as entirely ineffectual. And my observations should cast a different light on his summary declaration at the end of this section:
A thorough review of the relevant literature is an important part in developing any thesis. It is clear that Doherty hasn't examined all the literature of the period. It is also clear that Doherty hasn't analyzed his MJ writers for points of similarities to the HJ writers of the day (more examples given below). It cannot be overstated enough that these are serious flaws in his approach to the evidence being presented in this section of his book. I suggest that it amounts to a virtual one-sided presentation of the evidence.
I'm afraid I do regard this as an overstatement, simply because GDon has brought in writers who are not directly relevant to the chapter he is addressing, and presents them in a manner which is misleading when comparing them to the body of apologists I deal with. As for his alleged "points of similarity" with acknowledged "HJ writers of the day," these will be further dealt with when he brings such writers forward for examination.
Plumbing the Hebrew Scriptures
GDon addresses the copious appeal to scripture by early Christian writers, especially of the Gospels, in their presentation of a 'biographical' picture of Jesus. While admitting that doubt is cast on the historical accuracy of accounts that are seemingly constructed entirely out of scripture, he maintains that "this alone shouldn't be used to suppose that the authors didn't regard Jesus as an historical personage." I've never claimed that it should, although it's a strong part of a collective argument. It is hard to understand why scripture would be the sole source in the presentation of a 'biography' given the reasonable assumption that oral traditions about Jesus' life should have been plentiful, and there should have been no reason to ignore them. Nor should there have been the limitless leeway many subsequent evangelists allowed themselves in reworking virtually everything in the supposedly historically-based accounts created by their predecessors. GDon's appeal to G. A. Wells' remarks also doesn't work. Wells said that even though the source of statements like 'descended from David' is scripture, not historical tradition,
"...this does not mean, as Doherty supposes, that the life and the death were not believed to have occurred on earth. The evangelists inferred much of what they took for Jesus' life-history from scripture, but nevertheless set this life in a quite specific historical situation."
Here Wells (and by extension, GDon) is simply begging the question. Whether the life and the death were believed to have occurred on earth is precisely the point under debate. While we cannot necessarily conclude from the usage of scripture that they were not, it needs to be demonstrated that they were, and this is extremely difficult to do when it is realized that all the biographical details are indeed supplied from scripture, and are the product of a huge midrashic exercise by the evangelists in virtually all its details. Nor is setting such an exercise in a specific historical situation any indication of belief in basic historicity, as all historical novelists do this. Wells is actually contradicting his own position, because he regards the Pauline Jesus as someone Paul envisioned as having lived in an obscure distant past, not in the time of Pilate, so in that view the evangelists would necessarily have been entirely fabricating such a 'history'.
GDon makes the legitimate point that "to prove that the Gospel message was valid, and that Jesus was the expected Messiah, the early Christian writers had no choice but to draw upon the Hebrew Bible and 'find Christ' in there." But he is thereby getting himself into trouble. If scripture is where Christ is 'found' in the sense of being prophesied (which is what he must mean), an essential element of that exercise would be to demonstrate how such prophetic passages were fulfilled in the actual earthly life of Jesus. It would make no sense to draw on those biographical 'prefigurations' without adding the other half of the presumed equation in actual history. But this is precisely what a whole range of early writers fails to do; and my group of second century apologists fails to engage in the exercise at all. GDon compounds his own fallacy by pointing to Ignatius (whom he erroneously calls an apologist) and Justin Martyr as practitioners of this exercise, but Justin is precisely the apologist whom I identify as the one who has adopted the Gospels as historical, giving him two sides to the equation. Theophilus, Felix, Athenagoras, Tatian do not, and I have focused on this startling contrast. Even Ignatius, whom I have pointed out is the earliest non-Gospel writer to give Gospel-like biographical features to his Christ, fails to directly link such features to specific scriptural passages. His appeal to scripture, as indicated in the quote GDon provides, is more or less 'in spirit' (as well as in the spirit of mythicism), and his biography of Jesus is so threadbare he can scarcely be said to be familiar with any written Gospel, let alone that he had one open before him on his desk. GDon also appeals to the epistle of Barnabas, which stands on the cusp of the equation of scripture with presumed historicity, but even here, there is a perplexing lack of appeal to specific Gospel elements; the few that are claimed to be so are either so general as to be 'historicizing' products of scriptural expectation, or are given interpretations which are at odds with the Gospels as we have them. (See my Supplementary Article No. 12.)
In fact, what GDon has done is selectively appeal to the example of certain writers that are acknowledged to be believers in some form of historical Jesus, and then say by implication: "See, this is what they are all doing!" Well, they are not all doing it. A vast number of the writers of the first and second centuries do nothing of the sort. And the void in them is deafening. By pointing to the writers who do engage in such comparisons, or by appealing to select apologists who do present an historical Jesus in their pictures of the faith, GDon only serves to highlight the bizarre nature of those who don't. His strategy of taking one strain of writers who are by definition "HJers" and claiming that this somehow demonstrates that all writers must be the same, is typical of the sort of reasoning traditionally engaged in by New Testament scholarship as a whole. It's like pulling a few apples out of a barrel of fruit, pointing to their characteristics and concluding that the rest of the batch all look and taste the same when an actual sampling of the others tells our senses otherwise. Christianity in its first two centuries was one great barrel of mixed fruit, and only in the third and fourth centuries did it get mashed into one giant purée by the stamping of "orthodox" feet.
Like his "reasons" for the maintaining of silence on the historical Jesus, his "reasons" for the apologists stressing Christianity's roots in the Hebrew Bible are simply beside the point. Even if such factors were in play, they would not have precluded adding an historical Jesus to the mix, and in fact producing him would have been a more natural and advantageous addition to those roots in the Hebrew Bible than keeping silent on him. If emperors are presumed to have been favorably impressed by figures like Moses and the prophets, why not by a figure like Jesus, especially given the intellectual and literary qualities of writers like Athenagoras who could have offered those comparisons and presented him in the best possible light?
Begging the Logos
GDon asks, "Was there a 'Logos' based Christianity separate from a historical stream?" He claims there is no evidence for it; rather, "the concept [of the Logos] was adopted by orthodox Christianity." But this is putting the cart before the horse in the face of all contrary evidence. If "orthodoxy" must be defined as including belief in an historical Jesus and the events of the Gospels, the vast majority of documents from the first century and many from the second show no such sign of such things; they are only to be found there by reading such associations into them. While epistles like the Pauline corpus and Hebrews do not use the term "logos" itself, their philosophy of the Christ and Son is virtually identical to the Greek Logos and to the Wisdom-as-Logos concept of Judaism. That group of apologists I focus on (except for Felix) have the Logos, in concept and word, as central to their religious faith, and only Justin makes a link of such an entity with an historical Jesus. (Tatian does not, contrary to what GDon claims.) Ignatius does, but again, here GDon is appealing to the same two writers who are "HJ authors" and demanding that we infer the same is the case with all the rest, who pointedly do not make such a link.
He also gets another horse and cart in the wrong order in saying that, "the gnostics had created their own ideas of how the Logos related to a historical Jesus." The Nag Hammadi library, as interpreted by today's scholarship, shows that the Logos idea existed in gnosticism before an historical Jesus was added to it. Several gnostic systems describing the emanations within the Pleroma (the Godhead in heaven) involved purely spiritual, logos-type entities (one of which was labeled "Christ"); such systems did not always include a descending savior figure, but even when it did (as in the case of Derdekeas and the Third Illuminator), it cannot be seen as an outgrowth from an historical Jesus. When the Gospel figure intruded upon gnostic thought he could not be integrated in human form, so he retained many mythical elements and was usually rendered docetic. GDon speaks of the "controversy" over "whether the Word had become corruptible flesh," but such a controversy is nowhere in evidence during the first century, and I have pointed out that the whole docetic issue is simply a product of the time when an historical human Jesus was introduced and became a problem for the hitherto heavenly Christ who had suffered only in a spiritual form and dimension. Because certain people like Ignatius had no problem in making such a transition, even when surrounded by those who did, Christianity was able to take the momentous step of creating an historical founder who was incarnated in flesh.
GDon's claim that "it isn't coincidence that the Logos became a popular theme to be used in apologies to the Emperor and pagans in the second half of the second century" is again misconstruing the situation. Such a statement would have to imply that styling Jesus as the Logos became advantageous and was introduced at such a time. That would only work if we found all apologists, or at least a majority of them, conforming to such a development. It would only work if Jesus was mentioned. But most of them don't do this. They don't try to make a human founder figure more fashionable or palatable to the pagan by interpreting him in such a manner. They don't point to Jesus as the embodiment of the Logos. They simply have a Logos as the pivot of their faith, which is why we can style them as part of a 'Logos religion.' GDon's claim is simply another statement of the traditional rationalization that in speaking of their heavenly Son (as in Colossians 1:15-20 or Hebrews 1:1-3) early Christian writers are offering an interpretation of Jesus of Nazareth, which is simply reading something into things that is never even hinted at. In fact, such an "interpretation" on the part of Tatian, Theophilus, and Athenagoras could not possibly have remained tacit, for why would any pagan be expected to accept without qualm such an identification of their traditional abstract Logos with a human man, especially one who had been a crucified criminal? The idea would strike the pagan as ludicrous. It would require the most vigorous explanation and justification, which no apologist could possibly neglect to supply.
It would also only work if the historical Jesus presentation of the faith preceded the Logos presentation, but this is, of course, far from the case. The entire body of Christian documentation outside the Gospels during the first century has nothing to say about an historical Jesus, but preaches a Logos-style spiritual Son and cultic Redeemer. So we should reasonably conclude that the historical Jesus was added to the Logos—he was a subsequent interpretation of the Logos if you like—rather than the other way around. Where the Gospels are concerned, the Logos ("Word") does come at a later stage, but this is an evolution within the Gospel stream itself which had a largely independent origin. In the Gospel of John, it came about through an attempt within the Johannine community to merge their own savior concept with the Synoptic story line.
GDon claims that pagans by the 160s were becoming familiar with the idea of Christian origins (meaning the Gospel story and character) and were rejecting it "as superstition." And so the apologists turned to the Logos as "a useful concept to Christians trying to re-image Christianity as a philosophical school." This, too, flounders on closer examination. Such a "re-imaging" would have to involve Jesus himself, since he was an integral part of the picture: indeed, we have to think that it was precisely his career as Messiah and his reputed resurrection that would have been the object of the accusation of "superstition." Pagans would hardly have regarded belief in a divine offspring (their own religions were full of them), or even the Jewish God, as a superstition, worthy of ridicule. Thus there would be no point in excising Jesus from the picture since he would have been the essential element that had to be dealt with, especially since it could be regarded as deception to simply substitute a 'philosophical' entity, any incarnation ignored, for the traditional human founder pagans were presumably familiar with.
Athenagoras does indeed start his apology with a salutation to the Emperors and to "philosophers." Since he makes a presentation of his faith entirely in terms of a philosophical entity familiar to pagan tradition, the first conclusion should be that this is its sum total, rather than imposing on him the thought of other writers who had gone in different directions from different sources, and accusing him of suppressing it.
Slandering the Christians
GDon spends much space in this article on examining the pagan accusations against Christians during the second century. Yes, much of the concern of the apologists is in countering such accusations, most of them certainly ridiculous or unjustified, but I find this line of argument irrelevant. Again, this should not of itself have required or prompted the apologists to suppress mention of an historical Jesus. Indeed, quite the opposite. Since most of these calumnies related to 'moral' issues, such as incest or libertine behavior, the worship of their priests' genitals, and even cannibalism, and since the apologists are ever at pains to convince their readers that Christians are good and ethical citizens, the most natural way to demonstrate this would have been to appeal to the estimable teachings of their founder, his own exemplary lifestyle, his urgings to an honorable life. While there may be less appealing pronouncements alongside these in Jesus' catalogue, nothing would prevent the apologists from highlighting only the commendable and supportive parts of their traditions about him (something modern preachers do all the time).
One of the commoner pagan fantasies about Christians was their participation in orgiastic "love feasts." Such slanders could have been countered by an account of the Last Supper as Jesus had instituted it. A major commentator on Minucius Felix, H. J. Baylis, wonders why Octavius would not have introduced this 'pure and sacramental' event into his response to his opponent's accusations.
A Missing Heresy?
At the core of GDon's rebuttal is an argument which others have seized on as compelling, imagining it to be a virtual refutation of the whole Jesus myth case. Briefly stated, it claims that among all the heresies addressed and condemned in the literature of the second century, there is no mention of a heresy involving a denial of the human Jesus. No sect or branch of Christian faith is accused of not believing in the historical figure of the Gospels, in some form or other. If the mythicist picture were correct, they say, we would expect to find some traces of groups who had not yet evolved to the historicist viewpoint, and these would be roundly condemned by at least some apologists.
On closer examination, this argument can be seen to be porous. First of all, there are indications in epistles around the turn of the second century that there were indeed circles of the faith which denied the fact that Jesus had been on earth. Ignatius, in his insistence that Jesus had truly been born of Mary, baptized by John and crucified by Pilate, condemns those who do not preach such a Christ. Nor is this directed against simple docetism. (I have argued this in an Appendix of The Jesus Puzzle.) The first two epistles of John speak of those who do not acknowledge Jesus as having come in the flesh, an argument made by an appeal to the proper "spirit," meaning revelation, not historical tradition; the author refers to such circles of belief as "Antichrist." (See my Supplementary Article No. 2.)
So right at the beginning of the second century we do encounter the existence of such a 'heresy.' As the century progressed, more Christian circles were joining the historical Jesus bandwagon, and full-blown gnosticism reared its head. By the time the apologists turned their attention to attacking the latter, an undertaking that does not begin until after the year 150, many have fallen under the Gospel spell. Early traditions have been reinterpreted. No one who knew of or attached any importance to Paul doubted he was speaking about an historical Jesus; they simply read the Gospels into the epistles, as Christians continue to do. Gnostics like Marcion toward the middle of the century were also assuming that some kind of historical figure lay behind the Gospels, and they were concerned with appropriating him for themselves as a teacher of the true High God behind the Demiurge of the Hebrew Bible. They would have had little motive to deny the existence of an historical figure, even though an earlier writing like the Valentinian Gospel of Truth (it probably predates 140) shows no presence of a human Jesus, despite the best efforts of scholars like Jacqueline Williams to find allusions to earlier New Testament documents, including the Gospels. By the time we get to Irenaeus and Tertullian, the entire reading of early Christian tradition and writing had been irreparably skewed. Not even Celsus could cut through the tangle and see the Gospel Jesus for what he was, a fictional creation.
For centuries we were dependent on writers like Irenaeus and Tertullian for our picture of the gnostic heresies. Today we can see that so much of what they presented about the beliefs they castigated were distorted by misconception and prejudice. Certainly the presence of savior figures as something that had no connection to Jesus of Nazareth in the developmental stages of those sects was lost to them. And what of the reaction of heresiologists to apologists like Theophilus and Athenagoras and the circles of 'heretical mythicism' they seem to represent? I am aware of no reference at all to any of them by writers in their immediate wake, favorable or unfavorable, so it is quite possible people like Tertullian and Irenaeus had simply not encountered them. GDon claims that such apologists were well received by subsequent orthodox writers, but the latter were notably later; he mentions Eusebius who who can hardly be relied upon for a dependable reading of what Athenagoras had really been about, a century and a half earlier.
However, there is an aspect to GDon's argument which has been completely overlooked. I will leave the reader hanging, and revisit the question in my Conclusion, in response to his summary comments on it.
Finally, I will throw out the suggestion that the traditional and even modern scholarly datings for some of these apologists, along with their ascriptions as to addressee, may not be accurate. The debate over Minucius Felix, for example, has been going on for at least a hundred years, with datings covering almost a century of variance. (I regard the arguments for its primacy over Tertullian's Apology and its dating to the neighborhood of 155 as the more compelling.) Scholarly debate over what emperor a given writing was addressed to, even in the presence of one being stated in the text, is not unknown. We know from experience that authorship and provenance of earlier documents by later Christian commentators can be notoriously unreliable and downright fanciful, such things often being added by later editors. Thus our relatively late dating of Theophilus and Athenagoras has to be taken with caution. It may well be that by the time Irenaeus and Tertullian were mounting their high horses in defence of the heresies that beset them all around, circles who still believed in the non-existence of an historical Jesus had virtually died out.
GDon notes that "one of Doherty's MJ writers" (which he has earlier identified as Theophilus) wrote an anti-heresy work against Marcion, now lost. Given the general unreliability of such traditions—this one comes from Eusebius, who declared that a lot of things were known to him, including a letter from Jesus himself to King Abgar of Edessa, which Eusebius quoted from his own copy!—it is risky to formulate any arguments based on unconfirmed attributions of non-extant works. And I was wryly amused at GDon's appeal to Tertullian's inspiration from Minucius Felix for his Apology as an indicator of how highly regarded this allegedly MJ writer was. Of course, this necessitates an admission that Felix was actually the earlier work.
The Catalogue of Apologists
In "Section 2" of his critique, GDon goes on to individual examinations of the several major apologists I deal with. I will be doing some paraphrasing here, as he sometimes provides lengthy passages from my book which I will not reproduce in full. (On the site, the corresponding article is "The Second Century Apologists".)
1. Justin Martyr
GDon finds it "curious" and "incredible" that I would take one section of Justin's Dialogue with the Jew Trypho and draw a meaning from its silence on Jesus of Nazareth when the rest of the work is full of references to such a figure. (This, of course, is exactly what he does in regard to two works by Tertullian, as I've noted above.) However, in this case, I maintain it is justified. In the opening chapters of Trypho, Justin is recounting his conversion, an episode that happened in the past. The account (even if it is only allegorical—some have suggested that the old man he meets by the sea is a metaphor for the Logos itself) reflects his thinking at that earlier time, and while one can't deny that it may be curious that Justin would not have recast that thinking in light of his later views, it is fortunate for us that he did not. The greater curiosity, in fact, is that two such contrasting sections within the same work do exist. Why, indeed, does Justin not present his conversion experience, and the ideas that contributed to it, in terms that include an historical Jesus? Any of the reasons GDon suggests, such as Justin's purpose being concerned with philosophical arguments, should apply to the work as a whole. If he could include Jesus within that purpose in the bulk of the document, why not to his account of his conversion experience? If he felt no qualms anywhere else, why would they be operating here? The only explanation which makes sense to me is that Justin, for whatever reason, consciously or not, has preserved the actual state of affairs at the time of his conversion and has not contaminated it with later developments in his thinking through encountering the Gospels. One cannot 'prove' that this is what happened, but the possibility is not "incredible," especially in view of the comparable evidence we find in other apologists who are entirely silent on an historical Jesus. Justin came out of the same school of philosophical thought as the others; only he went on to embrace the Gospel Jesus where they did not. (Tatian was apparently to do so, but only after writing his own apology.)
Let me go into more detail about this conversion account than I did in the book. In Chapter 7 of Trypho, the old man is speaking about "teachers" of the philosophy of body and soul they have been discussing. Justin has asked if it is best to employ one, seeing that so many pagan philosophers have, in the old man's view, been deficient in their insights. The old man points to the Hebrew prophets "who spoke by the Divine Spirit" and foretold events that are now happening.
"They [meaning the prophets] were entitled to credit on account of the miracles which they performed, since they both glorified the Creator, the God and Father of all things, and proclaimed His Son, the Christ [sent] by Him; which, indeed, the false prophets, who are filled with the lying unclean spirit, neither have done nor do, but venture to work certain wonderful deeds for the purpose of astonishing men, and glorify the spirits and demons of error. But pray that, above all things, the gates of light may be opened to you; for these things cannot be perceived or understood by all, but only by the man to whom God and His Christ have imparted wisdom." [Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, p.198]
This is the translation from which GDon quotes the part involving the first reference to the Christ. When he goes on to claim that "Justin makes clear in the text that the ancient prophets proclaimed a HJ," he seems to be basing this in part on the implications of the "sent" word. But this is the product of the translator; it is not in the Greek text. The Greek reads: "(they glorified the Father) kai ton par' autou Xriston huion autou katēngellon". While it is difficult to translate this phrase literally, there is no word for "sent"; this is an implication supplied by the translator (which is why it was placed in square brackets). The idea expressed is simply "proclaimed the Christ from him (par' autou), his Son." The "from him" is by no means a clear or strong reference to "sending" the Son to earth in incarnated form, as GDon would like it to be. In fact, in the spirit of a Logos religion, it seems to be a reference to the 'emanation' aspect of the Christ and Son. When Justin goes on (at the end of the above quote) to speak of this Christ as imparting wisdom, this is not a necessary reference to a teaching Christ on earth; it is simply the common thought in virtually all expressions of Logos philosophy, that the Logos/Christ is the channel—a spiritual one— through which God makes knowledge of himself known and acts upon the world. He does this through his emanations, and the fundamental aspect of Logos religion is that it "proclaims" the existence of such an emanation. This is the "Son," through whose revelatory activity salvation comes. When Justin a few sentences later [8.2] refers to "the words of the Savior," this is "tōn tou sōtēros logōn" which is a common way of expressing the 'teaching' that comes from scripture, regarded as the voice and channel of the Son. We find such ideas, for example, in 1 Clement and the epistle to the Hebrews and alluded to in The Odes of Solomon.
But here is the point I am leading up to. If, as GDon claims, Justin and the old man are speaking of an historical Christ on earth, why is a specific reference to this divine "teacher" notably missing in their discussion of teachers? Justin has asked about the necessity and value of teachers of philosophy, about who should be consulted to provide insight into the great questions they are addressing. What is the old man's answer? He points to the Hebrew prophets. "These alone both saw and announced the truth to men" [my emphasis]. Where is the earthly Jesus in this category? How could the old man, or Justin, have left him out? He even (see the above quote) disparages the miracle-working of "false prophets" who seek to astonish men, something very reminiscent of Minucius Felix's oblivious derogation of supposed features associated with Jesus.
GDon appeals to the opening lines of Chapter 8: "When he had spoken these and many other things, which there is no time for mention at present..." Could not Christ's earthly mission, he asks, be the "many other things" referred to? Well, usually one mentions the most important factors and relegates the minor ones to non-specific tags like this. Somehow, I find it difficult to see all reference to Christ's earthly career as minor and unimportant. In any case, we don't know. And it's yet another appeal to the possible existence of things we don't actually have, but which would bolster one's case if we did have them.
That same opening section of Chapter 8 also contains indicators that Justin at this time had no particular conception of an historical Jesus. I mention these in my book, but one merits a fuller quote:
"But straightaway a flame was kindled in my soul; and a love of the prophets, and of those men who are friends of Christ, possessed me."
It seems odd that Justin would not speak of feeling a love for Christ himself. Odd, unless this is because he had as yet no sense of Christ as a distinct, let alone human, entity, an historical man capable of being "loved" as one would love the prophets—no more than Philo would say that he "loved" the Logos with the same emotion and admiration he felt toward Moses. Philo regarded the Logos as an abstraction, and while Justin's and the other apologists' type of Logos may have evolved somewhat beyond this, Justin in his conversion account, and the others in their entire works, express no emotion toward the Christ; he is simply a philosophically envisioned aspect of God. (By contrast, the composer of the Odes of Solomon expresses much love for the Son and Word; this is an earlier and probably independent expression of the faith, a set of devotional hymns, not an apology, which nevertheless presents no human or sacrificial Son, nor uses the name "Jesus." Its venue is thought to be the region of Edessa in northern Syria.)
GDon also makes reference to a "later" statement by Justin, that "Of these and such like words written by the prophets...some have reference to the first advent of Christ..." But this statement comes in Chapter 14, much later than the conversion account. To try to have it cast light on the darkness in the earlier chapter is a stretch, especially since there is no connection implied. The remark is merely part of the post-Gospel phase of Justin's thinking, the setting in which his dialogue with Trypho takes place, when he had reinterpreted everything in his Logos religion in terms of Jesus of Nazareth.
Thus, I once again have to disagree with GDon's summary assessment that my conclusion "that Justin converted first to a philosophical Christianity devoid of a historical Jesus" is "nonsensical" and something which "defies logic." I will also take exception to his claim that I have "badly misread" the well-known statement by Trypho at the end of Chapter 8:
"But Christ—if He has indeed been born, and exists anywhere—is unknown, and does not even know Himself, and has not power until Elias come to anoint Him, and make Him manifest to all. And you, having accepted a groundless report, invent a Christ for yourselves, and for his sake are inconsiderately perishing."
It is true that within the context of the scenario Justin is presenting, Trypho would have to mean that the "invention of a Christ" refers to the making of a Christ out of the historical Jesus, who is a figure Justin believes in and is the pivot of his discussion with Trypho—outside the conversion account. (GDon mentions the supportive "Note on Trypho" by Peter Kirby, who discusses the meaning of the passage in these terms, within the scenario presented by the text.) But we must look beyond the text and take into account that this dialogue, together with the figure of Trypho, is a construction of Justin. The fact that he would make his character put things this way, with this meaning, does not guarantee that this is what the real Jewish world was saying. The very fact that he has included it in his dialogue indicates that it must reflect something which was being said against the Christians. But the very vagueness of the passage, the fact that clear reference to an historical Jesus is lacking, may well indicate that the accusation was more in keeping with my suggestion, that the invention of "a Christ for yourselves" was out of whole cloth. Justin, in transferring this into his dialogue, has given it an historical Jesus context.
There is virtually nothing in the above quoted passage which, taken out of the scenario of the Dialogue, would require us to accept GDon's (or Kirby's) contention as to its meaning. Trypho is stating what would certainly be the Jewish requirements for identifying anyone as the Messiah; at the present time no one knows, so the Jews would claim, whether the Messiah has yet come into the world. The Jews could well declare that, because such requirements have not been met in anyone, the Christians (of the sort Justin represents) have invented their own false Messiah, in their declaration of him in the form of a recent human man. Again, this does not mean that they were referring to this man as historical. In fact, the "invented a Christ for yourselves" conveys the opposite.
The only element of Trypho's statement which might disturb such an interpretation is the phrase, "having accepted a groundless report," since this could refer to traditions, or assumed common knowledge, about the historical man in question. But it could equally refer to the Gospels or other written or oral reports which were not regarded as authentic, and thus the passage, if it reflects fairly accurately the things being said in the world at large, could as easily indicate that there were common opinions being voiced against the Christians that they had simply invented their Christ, lock, stock and humanity. Thus it is not entirely a "misreading," let alone a bad one. However, there is simply no way of resolving the question. To that extent, I overstated the idea that the passage supports the existence of a non-historical Christ.
GDon is not the only one who appeals to the fact that Tatian was, by tradition, Justin's "pupil." They all use it to draw the conclusion that Tatian must therefore have followed Justin in all things and adopted all of his views. But our meager knowledge of their relationship does not justify such a conclusion. We only have the tradition voiced by Irenaeus and Tertullian that Tatian was a disciple/hearer of Justin. We have no record of the course of Tatian's tutorship, when exactly it began or finished, how intense it may have been, what degree of influence Justin had on him compared to other inputs, and so on. All we have is a single writing by Tatian, and in it he is silent on Justin as his teacher. In fact, he makes mention of Justin exactly twice (which hardly justifies GDon's claim that it is "several times"). The first, in Chapter 18, states that "the most admirable Justin has rightly denounced (the demons) as robbers." (This the ANF translator claims in a footnote is "the language of an affectionate pupil," which is simply wishful thinking and an application of tradition, as there is no necessary association of thaumasiōtatos with a teacher-pupil relationship.) The second is even less significant, a remark in Chapter 19 about a certain official who "endeavored to inflict on Justin, and indeed on me, the punishment of death." These are pretty slim pickings. Tatian speaks of his conversion through reading the Jewish scriptures, but nowhere does he suggest that Justin had anything to do with it, or with teaching him what he believes. The fact that Tatian went on later to compose the Diatessaron, a harmony of the four Gospels which is not extant, says nothing about his earlier state of mind, or whether this 'conversion' to the Gospels was due to the delayed influence of Justin.
What we are left with is a comparison of Tatian's thought, as expressed in his Address to the Greeks, with the writings of Justin. GDon claims that "not unexpectedly, Tatian uses the same concepts as his teacher, Justin." While there are certainly similarities of expression in the examples from the two writers, one cannot say that Tatian derived them directly from Justin; Logos philosophy permeated the era, and could well have been the source of both men's ideas. Even if Tatian wrote about the Logos due to his exposure to Justin, this creates no necessary link between them in any other area. GDon admits that "it is possible that Tatian adopted Justin's terminology and still rejected Justin's view of a historical Jesus," but he adds: "there is no evidence that this occurred" (which I assume refers only to the latter phrase). Surely this has things backwards. Evidence is required that Tatian adopted Justin's view of an historical Jesus, and this is in fact precisely what is missing, since Tatian has nothing to say about such a figure, and puts forward in his Address to the Greeks none of the views of Justin regarding the human Jesus. And if we were to search for "evidence" that Tatian rejected Justin's view, what form would it take? It's not likely we would get a statement from him to that effect. Surely such evidence would take the form of precisely what we find in the Address: the deliberate failure to include any of the direct identification of Jesus with the Logos, any appeal to the events of Jesus' ministry, to the Gospels themselves to illustrate aspects of his life and nature—in short, all the things which Justin openly and enthusiastically includes in his own picture of the Logos-Christ.
In regard to both writers' passages on the resurrection, I made the point that Tatian does not appeal to Jesus' resurrection as support for his contention that resurrection of dead bodies is possible (Chapter 6). GDon presented a passage from Justin (First Apology, Chapter 19) showing that in similar circumstances Justin also does not appeal to Jesus' resurrection. To some extent, the comparison is valid, though Justin is focusing on his readers' experiences, which include the fact that they "have never seen a dead man rise again." It would do little good to appeal to Jesus' resurrection, since this is something they would never have seen either. But contrast this with the extant fragments from Justin's lost work On the Resurrection (which GDon doesn't mention). Here the circumstances are also similar. "They who maintain the wrong opinion say that there is no resurrection of the flesh" [Chapter 2]. After a number of philosophical arguments, Justin goes where Tatian and the other apologists never tread:
"And what is most forcible of all, He raised the dead. Why? Was it not to show what the resurrection should be?... Why did He rise in the flesh in which He suffered, unless to show the resurrection of the flesh?... And when he had thus shown them [the apostles] that there is truly a resurrection of the flesh...he was taken up into heaven while they beheld, as He was in the flesh. If therefore, after all that has been said, any one demand demonstration of the resurrection..." 
This appeal to Jesus' own resurrection is something we do not get from Tatian, or from Theophilus (not even in response to Autolycus' demand, "Show me even one who has been raised from the dead!"), or from Athenagoras, who wrote a 25-chapter treatise on the resurrection of the dead.
What follows from GDon is somewhat confused. He quotes me: "In Tatian's Apology we find a few allusions to Gospel sayings, but no specific reference to written Gospels and no attribution of such things to Jesus." He wonders what significance I draw from this, in view of the fact that I elsewhere admit that Tatian does make reference to "something like the Gospels." The "significance" here is that Tatian does not appeal to them in making any of his arguments, does not attribute to Jesus the teachings he alludes to, which is something we need to keep in mind when looking at that reference. GDon then notes that Justin also doesn't specifically name any Gospels, referring to them as "memoirs of the apostles." But this is the 'naming' of them. He doesn't know any other names, certainly not the names of reputed authors which only appear later in Irenaeus. (Papias' reputed references to Matthew and Mark are not to any narrative Gospels.) The fact that I acknowledge Justin as being familiar with one or more Gospels is not a contradiction. The glaring contradiction is that Justin regularly appeals to these "memoirs," regularly points to Jesus' teachings as his product, to the events of Jesus' life, which is something that the other apologists we are examining fail to do.
On the key question of what Tatian is referring to in chapter 21 of his apology, there seems to be more confusion. GDon quotes me as allowing that Tatian's statement "Compare your own stories with our narratives" is a probable reference to Christian Gospels, then he goes on to argue as though I don't make such an admission. The primary question is not what is Tatian referring to by "our narratives." We both agree, it's some form of Gospel. Rather, the question is, does Tatian regard these as on the same level as the Greek myths? I maintain that the text indicates he does, GDon maintains otherwise. I prefer the translation of Molly Whittaker [Tatian, 1982], less flowery and more direct than the Victorian ANF:
"We are not fools, men of Greece, nor are we talking nonsense when we declare that God has been born in the form of man. You who abuse us should compare your own stories with our narratives... So take a look at your own records and accept us merely on the grounds that we too tell stories. We are not foolish, but you talk nonsense [kai hēmeis men ouk aphrainomen, phlēnapha de ta humetera]...."
The statements prior to the last sentence would certainly convey the idea that Tatian is making a general equation of the Greek stories with the Christian narratives. Accept us because we too tell stories. Despite GDon's denial, my statement is accurate that neither here nor anywhere else does Tatian rush to point out that the Christian stories are "factually true." This is a devastating silence. I have also said that he doesn't rush to declare them "superior" to those of the Greeks. GDon thinks to read the last sentence above as doing just that. I see it as not much more than a schoolyard taunt. "You call us foolish? You are the foolish ones!" If Tatian were really concerned with pointing out the superiority of the Christian fables to the Greek ones, or their actual historicity, I think he was capable of doing it in a more sophisticated fashion—and more obviously. He goes into some detail in itemizing the legends of the Greeks, which he accuses of being ridiculous if taken seriously, and he asks how they can mock those of the Christians. This may be the most telling remark of all, for how, on the question of whether legends are to be taken seriously or simply as 'stories,' can Tatian not address the question of how the Gospel accounts are to be taken? And do it by more than just "We are not foolish"? It is probably true that Tatian thinks the Greek legends have the greater degree of foolishness, but he has hardly advanced any perceivable case for regarding the Gospel tales as being in a different category—which would certainly be his opinion and his impulse to do if he were a believer in the historicity of Jesus and the reality of the account of his life.
This is typical apologetic argumentation. Ignore the glaring discrepancies, in this case the complete lack of any mention or appeal to the Gospels or the figure of Jesus as support for Tatian's case throughout his work, and focus on some minor and at best ambiguous detail that can be twisted into supporting the apologist's stance. (The same, as we shall see, is done for Minucius Felix.) Peeling a flake of skin off the elephant's hide does not remove it from the room.
Finally, GDon appeals to Tertullian in the same misleading way he did earlier. From Chapter 21 of Tertullian's Apology, he quotes:
"Receive meanwhile this fable [this ray of God born of a virgin, grown to manhood, etc.], if you choose to call it so—it is like some of your own—while we go on to show you Christ's claims are proved..."
GDon has seized on Tertullian's remark that the Christian "fable" (and he is calling it that because his readers do so) is like those of the Greeks; he claims that this is the same as what Tatian has done, ignoring the fact that Tertullian goes on to do what Tatian does not. He appeals in great detail in that chapter to elements of the Gospel story, in ways which leave no doubt that he regards them as worthy, factual and superior to the Greek myths. He says he will go on to prove the validity of those beliefs about Christ. The beam is overlooked while the splinter is removed. GDon's comparison is invalid because the more important considerations are not paralleled between the two apologists. Tatian's lack of what Tertullian includes is precisely what sets them apart.
As GDon progresses from one apologist to the next, he repeats many of the same arguments. Rather than this creating a cumulative strengthening effect, the weaknesses in such arguments only become the more obvious. The misleading appeal to Tertullian's Ad Nationes I have dealt with earlier. There is more dubious reasoning when GDon claims that, even though Theophilus presents ethical teachings from "the gospels" as the inspired word of God (meaning the evangelists have them through inspiration), even though such teachings are said to be of the gospels and not of Jesus, pagans would know they were from Jesus because, like Celsus, they were familiar with such teachings in the Gospels. Theophilus' readers would know what he was talking about (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). This plainly creates a contradiction. On the one hand, Theophilus, along with his companion apologists, were supposedly deliberately silent on the historical Jesus because the subject was anathema to the pagans, but on the other hand, they knew that pagans were familiar with Jesus already and would simply interpret what they wrote in terms of him. Apparently this is some form of ancient Da Vinci Code. GDon goes on to make this outrageous statement: "I suggest that the primary question isn't 'why doesn't Theophilus refer directly to Christ,' but 'what do we understand from what he is saying'?" His position seems to be that it is no longer incumbent on modern scholars to offer an explanation for the silence; rather it becomes a case of what can we read into the words in keeping with our own assumptions. This, of course, is the methodology of traditional New Testament scholarship in regard to all the documents, not just the second century apologists.
On the thorny question of why (quoting me) "Theophilus has not a thing to say about this Word's incarnation into flesh, or any deed performed by him on earth," the strategy all along regarding such silences is to force the desired meaning onto whatever passages one can, no matter how obscure the possibility or how strained the process. GDon suggests that Theophilus does claim that the Logos acted on earth and points to Chapter 22:
"The Word, then, being God, and being naturally produced from God, whenever the Father of the universe wills, He sends Him to any place; and He, coming, is both heard and seen, being sent by Him, and is found in a place."
This obscurely worded verse is elucidated by what leads up to it. Theophilus is explaining that, while God Himself cannot contain himself in a specific 'place' (which is why philosophers felt he needed an aspect of himself, namely the Logos, to do so and communicate with the world), the Word could so contain itself. An example of this was the Word's visitation to Eden to converse with Adam; the voice Adam heard was that of the Word, God's Son. But Theophilus is hardly saying that this visitation to Eden was an incarnation; it was simply the voice of a spiritual entity who could "contain himself" in Eden. GDon has no justification for regarding the above quote, which concludes this whole passage, as anything but a statement of the same thing. The spiritual Son and Word is "sent" whenever and wherever God needs him, in a spiritual form to communicate with human beings. (The New Testament epistles are full of this kind of language.) GDon could not be more misguided than to claim that, "It certainly appears to be an indication of the Word being physically active on earth, and...is almost certainly an expression of the incarnation." It appears to be nothing of the sort.
Not only has GDon simply forced the meaning he wants on a passage that will not bear it, he ignores other aspects of it. Following on the verse saying that the Word is God's Son, Theophilus remarks:
"Not as the poets and writers of myths talk of the sons of gods begotten from intercourse [the translator adds: with women], but as truth expounds, the Word, that always exists, residing within the heart of God."
Here is a perfect example of the the type of 'denial' of an historical Jesus that can be seen within so much of what the apologists write. How can Theophilus state that this Word and Son is not to be thought of in the manner of gods that are born on earth, when in fact this was precisely the case with the historical Jesus? How can he go on to define the 'Word/Son' entirely in terms of Logos philosophy, as though the whole incarnational aspect of the Word simply doesn't exist for him? Elsewhere in his work, Theophilus ridicules the pagan for believing that his gods Heracles and Aesclepius were raised from the dead [1.13]; he tells Autolycus that the Christian doctrine is not recent, that it is "not modern or fabulous but ancient and true" [3.26]; another good example of the outright exclusion of an historical Jesus is this astounding statement [2.33]: "And therefore it is proved that all others have been in error; and that we Christians alone have possessed the truth, inasmuch as we are taught by the Holy Spirit, who spoke in the holy prophets and foretold all things."
Theophilus' attitude toward the "gospels" is certainly curious. He treats them as inspired documents, not historical records and never mentions their central character. I suggested that his one reference to an evangelist, "John" [2.22], may be a marginal gloss, since he gives no other authorial name and elsewhere always treats such sources collectively. GDon claims that "a reference to a named Gospel of John would appear to be conclusive evidence establishing Theophilus as an orthodox Christian," but this is ignoring a great deal of contrary evidence, including the fact that in a following chapter [2.27] Theophilus declares that "everyone who keeps God's law and commandments can be saved, and, obtaining the resurrection, can inherit incorruption." This is salvation by knowledge of God and his laws, which is a hallmark of the Logos religion. The 'orthodox' Atonement doctrine is completely missing here. Theophilus can hardly be aware of, or subscribe to, Jesus' declaration in the Gospel of John that "I am the Resurrection and the Life"—meaning that he himself is the only avenue to salvation. Again, these are the sorts of things throughout the apologists that GDon and others simply ride roughshod over.
Finally, GDon claims that, since Theophilus is reported to have written a work against the heresy of Marcion, he finds it improbable that he could have composed such a thing without betraying his lack of belief in an historical Jesus. And where does that report come from? Eusebius, a century and half later. I've already commented on the reliability of traditions proceeding from later Christian times, and from Eusebius in particular. In any case, we can only judge the content of a work by having access to it, and there are no extant fragments.
Athenagoras, too, is full of those exclusionary silences. In Chapter 10 of his A Plea for the Christians, he gives the emperor a detailed picture of the Son and Logos, one of the finest we have in all of ancient literature, as though in answer to a question: "if you inquire what is meant by the Son." There is no mention of an incarnated Jesus, and Athenagoras wraps up his description with "If I go minutely into the particulars of our doctrine, let it not surprise you." If I had been the emperor, I would have had the apologist hauled before me and executed for telling me such a bare-faced lie. He has also lied to me in Chapter 11:
"For presenting the opinions themselves to which we adhere, as being not human, but uttered and taught by God... What, then, are those teachings in which we are brought up? 'I say unto you, Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that persecute you; that ye may be the sons of your Father who is in heaven, who causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust'."
GDon is not the only one to claim that this shows Athenagoras' knowledge of Matthew, but there is no guarantee of this. Athenagoras never refers to a 'gospel' in the sense of a written source, and in Chapter 32, he says: "For the Logos again says to us..." and he goes on to present some unknown dictum about the evils of kissing. This is in line with the language of the quote above, that these teachings are from a divine source, God himself through the channel of the Word, which is said to be a "not human" source. While they may be circulating in a documentary collection (possibly with no attribution), Athenagoras seems not to hold the opinion that they are the product of an historical teacher and founder of the faith. He quite clearly says the opposite, and directly to the emperor's face.
Moreover, here the apologist has missed a golden opportunity. He presents such teachings with pride, and they would no doubt strike an emperor like Marcus Aurelius (if he indeed was the one being addressed) as laudable. If Athenagoras thinks that the Christian ethical code demonstrates moral superiority, why not present it as the product of Jesus and raise the founder's stock in pagan eyes?
In one of the most devastating passages in all the apologists, Athenagoras clearly demonstrates that he will have no truck with any divine incarnation in flesh. Chapter 21 is a rant against the anthropomorphic qualities of the Greek gods:
"But should it be said that they only had fleshly forms, and possess blood and seed, and the affections of anger and sexual desire, even then we must regard such assertions as nonsensical and ridiculous; for there is neither anger, nor desire and appetite, nor procreative seed, in gods....Let them, then, have fleshly forms, but let them be superior to wrath and anger....Let them have fleshly forms, but let not Aphrodite be wounded by Diomedes in her body....Do they not pour forth impious stuff of this sort in abundance concerning the gods?...Are they not in love? Do they not suffer? Nay, verily, they are gods, and desire cannot touch them! Even though a god assume flesh in pursuance of a divine purpose, he is therefore the slave of desire...He is created, he is perishable, with no trace of a god in him."
This passage rivals those of Minucius Felix for the open denigration of features of the Greek myths which are supposedly paralleled by those of orthodox Christian faith about Jesus. Does Athenagoras know the Gospel of Matthew, yet accept its descriptions of Jesus' righteous anger against all and sundry, from Pharisees to fig trees? Can he embrace the event of Jesus' crucifixion and the bloody punishment of his body? Would he declare to the emperor that when gods assume flesh they are slaves of desire, that they lose all trace of being gods, without arguing for the exception that an incarnated Jesus would surely have to be accorded? If the apologist is trying to demonstrate the follies of gods who take on flesh, should not a qualification be to demonstrate by Jesus' example how a divinity incarnated into flesh should comport himself? One wonders how the condemnation of such features of pagan faith which apologists regularly indulge in would strike the pagan believer, or even the emperor, when those even moderately familiar with orthodox Christian tradition would no doubt see a parallel with the apologists' own presumed beliefs. The confusion and skepticism that would be generated in the reader would surely foil any purpose the apologist had in presenting his radically censored "defense of the faith."
None of these things disturb a modern apologist like L.W. Barnard (Athenagoras) who manages to pilot his little ship with the Gospel-colored windows amid the treacherous shoals that beset his course through this document, and emerge unscathed. GDon is a no less cheerful proponent of the doctrine that black is white, and that what the writer means is the direct opposite of what he is saying.
5. The Epistle to Diognetus
This little apology, whose date, author and provenance are uncertain, inhabits the same world of the Logos-Son as the others, but the faint and indistinct image of an additional dimension seems to emerge from the mist. I have said that it contains an allusion to incarnation, but on further examination I am now going to retreat from that suggestion. In chapter 7, the writer tells us:
"....God Himself...has sent from heaven, and placed among men, [Him who is] the truth, and the holy and incomprehensible Word, and has firmly established Him in their hearts....As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He Him; as God He sent Him; as to men He sent Him; as a Saviour He sent Him, and as seeking to persuade, not to compel us..."
Might this be an incarnation in flesh? Compare Baruch 3:37 which says, "Thereupon Wisdom appeared on earth and lived among men." Is this incarnation? Not in any scholar's view. (Because it doesn't relate to Jesus, common sense can take precedence over confessional theology.) The epistles regularly speak of the Son being "sent," and there is precious little sense of earthly incarnation. Galatians 4:6 has the "spirit" of the Son being sent into people's hearts, very much like the above sentiment that the Word has been sent from heaven and established in the human heart. Spiritual Saviors were often sent to humanity in ancient world religious thought. Nor does Chapter 9, with its allusion to an atonement doctrine, cast any clearer light on the question:
"He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous [etc.]"
Is this the Gospel crucifixion, a death on Calvary? There is nothing earthly about it. In fact, it is derived from Isaiah 53. It could as easily be a mythical concept inspired by scripture, nothing more. Considering that there is no reference anywhere in this 'epistle' to gospels, to the name Jesus, to an historical time or place, there is little to justify seeing the idea as dependent on any historical tradition whatever. Thus, we have an unusual situation in this particular document which should cause modern apologists some concern. After all, they have explained the silence in writers like Theophilus as a strategy of concealing the historical Jesus and all reference to the 'superstitious doctrine' about his death. Yet this writer has supposedly opened the door a bit; an apparent human man who underwent some form of sacrifice is allowed to emerge ever so faintly from the shadows. If he could take Jesus this far out of the closet, why not all the way? Wouldn't this partial revelation create more questions for the readers?
Or is it the case that this writer and his community have simply developed an additional idea about the Son and Logos they worship, an idea they have taken from certain scriptural passages. As yet, they have developed no details about a life on earth—if indeed they envision such a thing. As suggested above, perhaps this Son has been sent only into believers' consciousness, into their hearts; perhaps the act of ransom (it is never more specified than that) took place in the spiritual world, like those of other savior gods. In fact, the similarity to New Testament epistle language comes clearly into focus later in chapter 9:
"Having therefore convinced us in the former time that our nature was unable to attain to life, and having now revealed the Saviour who is able to save even those things which it was [formerly] impossible to save, by both these facts He [i.e., God] desired to lead us to trust in His kindness, to esteem Him our Nourisher, Father, Teacher, Counsellor, Healer, our Wisdom, Light, Honour, Glory, Power, and Life, so that we should not be anxious concerning clothing and food."
There are lights flashing all over this passage, and they do not illuminate an historical Jesus. What has happened in the present time? Like the New Testament epistles' mode of expression, it is not the coming of the Son to earth, but the revealing of him. The "revealed" verb above is deiknumi: to show, present, to make known, to announce. This virtually guarantees that the "sending" of the Savior spoken of in Chapter 7 is a spiritual one, a revelation of the Son. Incarnation, a birth on earth, would simply not be described this way. Then we note that, again like much other early Christian expression, the Son acts in the present, not in the past. Now that he has been revealed, he is able to save. No event in the past is alluded to as the saving act. Again like the New Testament epistles, the focus is on God as the primary agent of salvation. The writer gives him a long list of titles, and all his emotion is directed toward him, as it is throughout the work. No titles, no thanks, no emotion is bestowed on the Son himself, a coldness we find in other apologists' writing about the Logos. Could this writer really have any knowledge of a Jesus of Nazareth who had bled and died for him outside Jerusalem? As for a resurrection, there is not a word of it breathed throughout the entire epistle.
Even in Chapters 11 and 12, which are generally regarded as a later addition to this work, what do we find? Does this appendix perhaps reflect the development of some idea of an historical Jesus? This is the relevant passage:
"I minister the things delivered to me to those that are disciples worthy of the truth. For who that is rightly taught and begotten by the loving Word [or, and becoming a friend to the Word], would not seek to learn accurately the things which have been clearly shown by the Word to His disciples, to whom the Word being manifested has revealed them, speaking plainly [to them], not understood indeed by the unbelieving, but conversing with the disciples, who, being esteemed faithful by Him, acquired a knowledge of the mysteries of the Father. For which reason He sent the Word, that He might be manifested to the world; and He, being despised by the people [of the Jews], was, when preached by the Apostles, believed on by the Gentiles...."
As in the previous passage we looked at above, there are flashing lights here as well. Many will point to the idea of Apostles of the word (I am reproducing here the capital "A" simply as a feature of the ANF translation), but what indicators are there that this is a reference to the Gospel apostles of an historical Jesus? The answer is none; in fact, quite the opposite. Just as earlier the idea of the Word being "sent" looked to be in the spiritual sense, the same is true here. The key indicator is the phrase "to whom the Word being manifested has revealed them." The verb for "being manifested" is phaneroō, to bring to light, make known, the most common revelation word of the New Testament epistles. The Word is being revealed to "disciples," which is simply those who subscribe to such a faith and philosophy; through this spiritual revelation of the Word (with whom they "converse") they have "acquired a knowledge of the mysteries of the Father." There isn't the slightest suggestion of an earthly ministry here. God has "sent" the Word so that he might "be manifested" to the world: phainō, yet another revelation verb: to appear, become visible, to be brought to light. This revelation of the Word, and the preaching of it by "Apostles," has not been accepted by everyone. The writer declares that he was despised by the people (hupo laoû); the translator adds "of the Jews," which is sometimes the implication of the word laos. Even if this is the meaning here, there is no necessary connection with the Gospel story and its Jews rejecting Jesus. The writer is simply contrasting the reception of the idea of the Word by the gentiles with that of the Jews. The former had proven much more receptive to the idea, no doubt because of the longstanding Logos tradition in Greek philosophy.
The writer goes on to describe the revealed Word:
"This is He who was from the beginning, who appeared [phainō, brought to light] as if new, and was found old, and yet who is ever born afresh in the hearts of the saints."
This is hardly a description of a life on earth. When the Word was revealed in recent times as though a new idea, the claim was that he was in fact old, existing with God from the beginning. He is ever "born" in the hearts of believers, a thought squarely in tune with all that has been said about the Word being sent and revealed. There is nothing of an incarnational birth. It is all a spiritual relationship between heaven and earth, between divine entities and human believers.
GDon speaks of "hints" of an incarnation, because he can find nothing else, a perplexing state of affairs in itself. Yet even those hints do not relate to an historical Jesus or a life on earth. They point collectively, consistently and logically to the non-historical nature of early Christian faith as reflected in so much of the documentary record. How long will it take modern scholarship to wake from its self-imposed sleep and smell the scent of mythicism?
For now, we will investigate the scent of burnt powder, in the document I have called "a smoking gun."
6. Minucius Felix
GDon makes no attempt to deal with the following passages in Minucius Felix:
"Is it not ridiculous either to grieve for what you worship, or to worship that over which you grieve?" [21, ANF translation]
"Therefore neither are gods made from dead people, since a god cannot die; nor of people that are born, since everything which is born dies....For why, if they [i.e., gods] were born, are they not born in the present day also?" [23, ANF translation]
"Why should I refer to those old wives' fables, of men being changed into birds and beasts, into trees and flowers? If such things had ever happened, they would happen now; but since they cannot happen now, they have never happened." [20, J.H. Freese translation]
"And yet, although so much time has elapsed and countless ages have passed, is there a single trustworthy instance of a man having returned from the dead like Protesilaus, if only for a few hours? All these figments of a disordered brain, these senseless consolations invented by lying poets to lend a charm to their verse, to your shame you have hashed up in your excessive credulity in honor of your god." [11, J.H. Freese translation] (Edited to add: I should note that this particular passage is placed in the mouth of the pagan, but the pagan in this chapter is ridiculing Christian belief in the resurrection of the body, declaring that no example can be provided of anyone ever being brought back in the body from death. The author has not placed any counter to it in the mouth of the Christian.)
I don't need to belabor the point that these references supposedly have direct parallels in the Christian faith and (if we are to believe apologists like GDon) were part and parcel of the writer's own faith. And yet he could have his characters speak with scorn of such things in the religion of the pagans (except for belief in a bodily resurrection) without any worry over what effect this scorn would have on the identical features of his own. How could the author place such statements in the mouth of his debaters and give himself no luxury of offering any qualification where Jesus was concerned? H. J. Baylis (Minucius Felix, 1928) frets over several of these. Concerning the third quote above, he says: "Minucius, strangely enough, seems to be sublimely unconscious of what his dictum would mean if applied to the miracles of Christ." About the second, he says: "...without the insertion of a saving clause, what Christian could assent to the proposition that 'a god cannot die, and he cannot be born, since birth implies death'?" And on the fourth: "The most serious omission is a very surprising one...Here was the opening made wide for the entrance of the historic fact of the resurrection of Christ, the central point of the apostolic Evangel. But the Christian Octavius ignores it." (As he ignored traditions that Jesus had miraculously raised people from the dead.) Baylis at least has the courage to voice his qualms—and he has further ones on the crucified man passage—but he allows none of it to lead him to an insight on the real nature of the document he is studying.
We might also note that there is a further silence involved here. The pagan Caecilius denigrates the idea that Christians worship a crucified man and his cross, which Octavius replies to as we shall see, but why is there no similar accusation on the part of Caecilius that the Christians also worship a man who they believe rose from the dead? Why does he not challenge Octavius to defend this ridiculous item of faith along with that of the crucified man? Having brought up the question of resurrection of the body, if the pagan knew of Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus (and how could he not?), how could he fail to add that to the ridicule pile?
The simple answer to all these questions is that none of these items of faith familiar to us from Gospel orthodoxy were a part of the beliefs of the writer of Minucius Felix. No other explanation makes any sense.
GDon focuses his whole attention on the key double-passage relating to the crucified man. Let's note a few general observations about it. The first part is the accusation itself by Caecilius, in Chapter 9. The charge that
"the objects of their worship include a man who suffered death as a criminal, as well as the wretched wood of his cross"
is part of a litany of calumnies about the Christians which include that they are a religion of lust and fornication, that they reverence the head of an ass and the genitals of their priests, that they dismember infants and drink their blood. The crucified man is inserted into the midst of these. I suggest that presenting the central tenet of the faith in this way should have been unthinkable for an orthodox Christian writer.
When he gets to the second part in Chapter 28-30, Octavius' response to this litany, the crucified man is dealt with in the same fashion, as one part of the answer to all these calumnies. No special treatment is accorded it. The time spent on it is cursory. No devotional tone is present. Octavius simply addresses it in its order on the list. Again, why would the author do this? If nothing else, what impression would this create with his readers? If such an accusation needed to be addressed, there would have been no reason not to give it a special place of its own within his debate, and every reason to do so. GDon does not address this glaring anomaly.
Instead, he, like everyone else, focuses on the crucified man element of the two passages, taking the words apart, imposing twists and spins on them in whatever way he can, in a valiant and desperate effort to squeeze out meanings and implications which are not there. I will reproduce the latter passage in full here. (GDon intimates that since he understands that this is my translation, there should be something suspicious about it. But it is my own only in the sense that I have melded three different translations of others to create the simplest and clearest presentation of the text. Particularly where the key reference is concerned, had he compared mine with the ANF which he uses, he would have seen that the differences with the latter are very minor and in no way change the sense of the ANF.)
Note that the opening two sentences here refer back to the other charges he has just addressed. The transition to the accusation of the criminal and his cross is almost seamless, with neither word nor tone indicating that he is not simply going from one "indecency" to the next:
"These and similar indecencies we do not wish to hear; it is disgraceful having to defend ourselves from such charges. People who live a chaste and virtuous life are falsely charged by you with acts which we would not consider possible, except that we see you doing them yourselves. Moreover, when you attribute to our religion the worship of a criminal and his cross, you wander far from the truth in thinking that a criminal deserved, or that a mortal man could be able, to be believed in as God. Miserable indeed is that man whose whole hope is dependent on a mortal, for such hope ceases with his [the latter's] death."
And that's it. Could there be any greater example of a limp, throwaway, non-committal response to an accusation as important as this? Could a Christian apologist be any more obscure, any more misleading, in dealing with the central item of the faith? Is this a defense of the crucified Jesus? Those two sentences contain nothing but negative terminology. "Criminal" is repeated twice, reference to a "mortal man" twice; the believer who hopes on a mortal is "miserable." The mortal man dies and hope ceases. Could an orthodox Christian apologist have been happy with such a response? Would he have formulated it this way in the first place? Could he possibly believe that his pagan readership would understand the hidden qualifications, the supposed implications, which modern scholars manage to extract from it? How can Caecilius avoid absorbing nothing but negativity? How is he to take from this that the crucified man was not a criminal? How would he know that this man was instead innocent? That he was more than mortal? That hope can be placed on this man because it does not cease with his death, that the believer in Jesus is in no way "miserable"? None of this is even intimated. It is declared by modern apologists to be implied, but only because those things are part of their own belief system and they want them to be there.
Baylis remarks: "There can be nothing more regrettable than the way in which the answer is given to the charge of worshipping a crucified man... An instructed Christian might understand the allusion to the divinity of Christ, but it is certain that the Pagan would at once infer that his direct challenge had been avoided, since general observations about deification had been substituted for the admission or denial that the Christians worshipped Christ crucified." Even Baylis' "allusions" have been read into the text. Because of a priori certainty that this author, along with all the others, must be orthodox Christian (otherwise the whole house of cards would come tumbling down), scholarly studies are devoted to explaining how this could be so in the face of writings that reflect back at them only fog and distortion.
Unlike other apologists, the author of Minucius Felix has brought up the very subject that so many of them seem to avoid like the plague. If he has had the courage to present Jesus of Nazareth and his crucifixion in spite of all the alleged reasons not to, why would he then handle him in so wretched a fashion? If the human founder is brought on stage in full view, why is he not defended to the best of the writer's ability?
The scramblings of apologists like GDon thus become an exercise in futility. I talked earlier about the beam that is left in the eye while the splinter is taken out and whittled into some desired shape. GDon offers three different tinkerings with the text.
First, in regard to the accusation passage (9), he quotes the Latin for the key sentence "And some say that the objects of their worship include a man who suffered death as a criminal, as well as the wretched wood of his cross; these are fitting altars for such depraved people, and they worship what they deserve." He points to the word "facinoris" as meaning "bad deed, crime, villainy," giving the phrase a meaning of, "that the man was punished for bad deeds or for villany." No argument there. But he then accuses me of using (or inventing) the translation just stated which "de-emphasizes" this. Supposedly, my "who suffered death as a criminal," avoids presenting the idea that "Christians worshiped a common criminal who had committed actual crimes." He offers two other translations which make this distinction clearer: "a man punished by extreme suffering for his wickedness," and "a malefactor put to death for his crimes." I find this to be hair-splitting to a bizarre degree. Let me offer in turn one of the translations I incorporated: "a man who was punished with death as a criminal..." (G. W. Clarke, Ancient Christian Writers #39, 1946), which puts things as I did. Apparently Clarke failed to realize he was misleading the reader.
On the basis of his preferred translation, GDon declares that the pagan accusation is that "Christians are wicked because their founder was wicked." While not impossible, particularly as an implication, it is certainly putting a twist on the actual words. But what good does this do? Does it really get apologists out of a jam? Hardly. It simply puts a slightly different requirement on the Christian Octavius to refute that meaning, which is something he does not do. He does not in any way declare that this crucified man did not commit any crime. In fact, in his response he simply refers to this man as "a criminal" (noxium) which implies that he accepts Caecilius' designation of him, and goes on to declare that it is ridiculous to think that we Christians would worship a criminal as a god. It seems to me that GDon's preferred translation gets him into even greater trouble than before; certainly it in no way improves the situation.
He, however, seems to think that with this meaning, Octavius' response is actually a refutation of the charge. "For in that you attribute to our religion the worship of a criminal and his cross, you wander far from the neighborhood of the truth, in thinking either that a criminal deserved, or that an earthly being was able, to be believed God." He then states: "Note that M. Felix is NOT denying that his religion worships a crucified man, as Doherty implies. How do pagans 'wander far from the truth'? It isn't by thinking that Christians worshiped a criminal and his cross, but by thinking that anyone would worship someone who was an actual criminal. Rather than being a denial that Christians worshiped a crucified man, it appears to be an affirmation that the person being worshiped was crucified."
Now, if anyone can get their mind around this piece of tortuous logic, I commend them. If GDon's interpretation of the accusation were true, Octavius' rejoinder would have to address this understanding of it, it would have to be phrased in such terms. It is not. Octavius does not deny that the crucified man was a criminal; in fact, as I said, he calls him that himself. GDon expects us, and Felix's readers, to see in the "wander far from the truth" the denial of GDon's preferred translations and understandings. In other words, that he is saying to Caecilius: "It is not the truth that this man was a criminal, it is not true that he actually committed a crime." This is simply wishful thinking. Even if the accusation should be phrased in such terms, Caecilius and the reader would be hard put, after an interval of 18 chapters, to understand exactly what Octavius is supposed to be refuting, and take it from the simple phrase "wander far from the truth." The phrase has to be understood in the immediate context in which it appears. It refers to the previous sentence, in which the accusation is stated as: you worship a criminal and his cross—just that. And it is repeated immediately afterward, as I pointed out, by Octavius continuing to refer to the crucified man as a criminal. GDon's dancing around the texts is so convoluted as to be comical. But they are typical of apologetic tactics. I will allow that not too many are quite so proficient at this kind of exercise as GDon. The plain denial in Chapter 29 that Christians worship a crucified criminal has become an affirmation that the Christians worship a crucified man. Black is white.
GDon's next attempt to reinterpret the text in the image of his own preference deals with the passage that immediately follows. Octavius muses about the idea of worshiping a man, and points to the Egyptians who do so (which Baylis regards as meaning Anubis); he offers some thoughts about whether that man, or princes and kings in general, should be viewed and treated as a god. He thinks doing so is not "proper," rather they should simply be accorded honors and hailed as great and outstanding men. This "would be the most fitting tribute to a man of distinction, and affection the greatest comfort to a benefactor." This translation is from Fathers of the Church, vol. 10, and corresponds to the ANF that GDon uses, in which the final phrase reads: "whereas honour is more truly rendered to an illustrious man, and love is more pleasantly given to a very good man."
Whichever translation is used, the idea Octavius is conveying is that we ought not to worship men as gods at all; it is best simply to accord them honor and love. Its connection with the preceding rejection of the crucified man should be clear: Caecilius has accused the Christians of worshiping a crucified criminal; Octavius has responded that this is not so, that it would be foolish, since no criminal deserves to be so worshiped, and no mortal is able to be so worshiped. These further thoughts about treating men as gods is simply stating a further dimension to the question. We ought not to treat men as gods at all, he says; it's not fitting and it's better just to give them honor and love.
How GDon can turn this inside out and claim that this passage "appears to be the very defense of 'the crucified criminal' that Doherty says is lacking" is beyond me. Once again, black is white. In fact, the passage conveys the very opposite. If Octavius says that men should not be treated as gods, how can he be defending the Christian worship of a man, whether he was guilty of a crime or not? GDon has simply latched on to the idea of giving love to a good man (who is not a god), and declared that this is somehow meant as a defense against the accusation of worshiping a bad man (who is a god). This would be so obscure—and illegitimate, since one is held to be human, the other divine—as to be unintelligible. GDon has completely failed to understand and apply Octavius' later remarks.
This is followed by a curious statement:
"...the primary question in a thesis regarding the question of Christ's historicity should be: what is M. Felix saying about his beliefs? Given the late date that this was written, his comments as read can only apply to Christ. Again, Doherty doesn't ask: if M. Felix has another version of Christianity, then why doesn't he clearly give that version?"
Much of this is simply question begging. Claiming that a late date is a "given" not only contradicts what he said earlier about Tertullian admiring Minucius Felix so much his own Apology was inspired by it, I have pointed out that there are good arguments (see H. J. Baylis's study) for dating MF around 155. Even were it assigned a later date (or perhaps GDon is referring to the 155 date), the comments as read hardly have to be seen as only applying to an historical Christ. This is the very issue under debate, and given the obscurity of those comments and the general silence about so much relating to orthodox Christianity, GDon's claim has to be demonstrated, not assumed. As for his final remark, I don't see his point. My position is that the author is clearly giving his version of Christianity. It is represented by the sum total of what he says, which has nothing to do with a Jesus or Christ, let alone an historical one. And within that sum total is the clear rejection of Caecilius' accusation that the Christians worship a crucified man.
Now, let me clear up a common confusion. This is not to say that the author of Minucius Felix is directly denying the existence of an historical Jesus. Octavius' words do not say, "there never was such a man," or "the man you claim we worship never existed." He offers no opinion on that aspect of things. But this does not mean that we cannot draw such a conclusion ourselves. Think of it this way: if one group calling itself Christian is capable of denying that Christians do or ought to worship a crucified man, it can hardly be the case that the movement began in such a fashion. The author may or may not be aware of other circles who do hold to a crucified man as the founder and object of their faith. But if that man had existed and had been worshiped as God and savior throughout the movement, it would be impossible for any Christian writer not to know this and impossible to deny outright, as Octavius does, the accusation he puts in Caecilius' mouth. Instead, he would surely be acknowledging Jesus' existence and attempting to discredit the traditions and claims about him, given that he obviously doesn't subscribe to them. This would require direct references in the text to the historical man himself. This in no way does the author do.
GDon makes a final attempt to recast the text. An added element of Caecilius' accusation is that the Christians worship the cross of the crucified man. I contend that Octavius' answer is tantamount to dismissing the cross entirely as a Christian icon. That seems pretty clear in his comment: "We do not adore them, nor do we wish for them." I also said that "he goes on to admonish the pagan for being guilty of using signs of crosses in their own worship and everyday life." I admit that this is not well stated, and needs to be better nuanced. What Octavius does is point out the common presence of the cross sign in general usage: that the pagans include and even adore representations of crosses as "parts of your gods" (is this an admission that some of the pagan gods, probably those of the mysteries, are associated with execution or even crucifixion motifs?), that they appear on flags and standards, that trophies and ships' sails imitate them, and even the common position of prayer creates a cross sign when "a man stretches out his hands to worship God with a pure heart."
This last comment, which GDon makes much of, is nothing special. It is not a defense of the sign of the cross, it is simply another example of the imitation of the cross shape in natural or man-made things. There is certainly no implication of any connection to the crucifixion. (Compare J. H. Charlesworth's unfounded contention that references in the Odes of Solomon to a "stretching out of the hands"—the arms held straight out to the sides—is a poetic metaphor for the cross.) What is Octavius' purpose here? Seeing the cross as being present in ordinary things (which is what he is saying) hardly serves as a useful or relevant argument in favor of its legitimate or special significance for Christians. It hardly serves as a defense for Christian use. His remarks follow on his "We neither worship nor wish for them," so they must serve to explain why not. The reason he gives is that they are natural and commonplace, even in pagan culture. Nothing he says indicates that he is defending them for Christians, either as signs or as material objects. As I say, "There is not a hint that for Minucius the cross bears any sacred significance or requires defending in a Christian context."
My phrase "admonish the pagan for using signs of the cross" is admittedly misleading. I should have said that Octavius admonishes the pagan for accusing the Christians of worshiping crosses, with its implication that crosses are despicable things; Octavius argues this is not so because they are actually commonplace things. GDon offers a distinction of his own and maintains that the pagan accusation about crosses is a charge that Christians worship the physical cross itself, rather than the sign of the cross. Octavius, he says, is defending the latter rather than the former; his comment, "crosses we neither worship nor wish for," is allegedly aimed solely in that direction. But Octavius' statements are hardly a defense of the cross as a sign; they are simply a demonstration of its commonplace character. Despite his mentioning that the sign of the cross appears in prayer supplication, he is not imputing any special worthiness to it. This prayer position is not something specific to Christians. Thus, despite GDon's contention, there would be no conflict between the reference to the prayer position, and dismissing the cross as both a physical object of adoration and an icon. The passage as a whole indicates Octavius is denying that Christians value either.
Much of GDon's summary case against me involves the accusation that I have "badly misread" and misinterpreted the documents, and that I haven't examined all the literature of the period. I think those accusations have been sufficiently discredited. In his conclusion, he repeats the argument that if belief in an historical Jesus existed in some circles by early in the century, then by later in the century no pockets of continuing mythical Jesus belief could have existed without them coming to the attention of the early heresiologists, such as Irenaeus and Tertullian, who would certainly have remarked on groups who had a Jesus that was still not regarded as having been on earth. But this objection is based on a significant misconception.
There is a very important distinction GDon and others are overlooking, and it is not the one between the historical and mythical Jesus (HJ and MJ). In fact, this dichotomy is here something of a misnomer. The forms of non-historical faith among the apologists we have been looking at in the latter half of the century should not, strictly speaking, be referred to as involving a mythical Jesus. Athenagoras & Co. are not "MJers" because they don't have any Jesus at all. The Logos itself is a mythical entity, but not in the same way. They don't have a sacrificial redeemer figure such as the one at the center of the Pauline cult, and this may to some extent be true even of Diognetus. No one among the apologists I have presented ever declared that they had a Jesus who was an entirely mythical figure. Rather, they had a Logos who was a revealing emanation of God; Minucius Felix didn't even have this. This means that GDon is demanding a reference by the later heresiologists to something that didn't exist. It may be that no pockets of mythical Jesus faith survived by the latter second century. They had evolved into historical Jesus faiths; or they had morphed into the gnostic sects who now placed a foot in both camps, turning their spiritual Christ into a docetic one and melding him with an adopted historical figure, largely under the influence of the Gospels. The philosopher-apologists of the second century belonged to a Logos religion, in which the Son was not a Jesus-Savior figure but only an abstract heavenly force, a part of God. As such, they would not have raised the ire of the heresiologists, for whom they may have blended into the general philosophical background. If they never brought up a Jesus or Christ (and remember that those apologists defined "Christian" in terms of anointing, not any Messiah, spiritual or human), why would the heresiologists have especially remarked on them?
GDon has misread the overall picture. If the documentary record of the first century and a half is examined without preconceptions, we find a remarkable diversity of theologies and soteriologies; of abstract, revealer, and sacrificial entities; varying blends of philosophy and religion, varying reliances on the Jewish scriptures and traditions. We find a disconnectedness, except in a few very general ways, between all these manifestations, which often coexisted at the same time. Beside them thrived Jewish non-mainstream sects with their own blends of faith and expectation, there were similar groups among the Greeks and Romans. Again I appeal to John Dillon's fortuitous phrase, "a seething mass of sects and salvation cults" [The Middle Platonists, p.396]. Communication was primitive, preservation and transmission of writings a fragile affair. There was no Internet to present the opportunity of viewing and understanding this riotous mix. Even today, do the Mormons worry about the Moonies, do evangelicals concern themselves with post-modernism?
When much of that great diversity coalesced into a common faith, much understanding of the past was lost. The Gospels came to impose themselves over the whole conglomeration. If later commentators came to view an apologist like Athenagoras as a great writer and defender of their own faith, it was because they read that faith into what the apologists were saying and overlooked what they were not saying, just as the later Church misread Paul and saw in his Christ Jesus the human man they now believed in. Christianity still pursues that chimera today.
Within such a picture, many of the inconsistences and contradictions within what we erroneously regard as a unitary movement with a single source and a linear development become understandable. GDon is making demands and drawing conclusions based on an entirely fanciful and distorted picture, one which the believing community within which he operates is incapable of letting go, of examining for flaws, of revising according to new or newly understood evidence. While his critique of my Second Century Apologists chapter/article comes from a reasonably scholarly direction, the closed-minded apologetic approach and the deficiencies of that traditional background guarantee that his case is irreparably off the mark.
* * * * *From a review of SIMONETTI and PRINZIVALLI, Storia della letteratura cristiana antica (1999):
Addendum on the dating of Minucius Felix
Roger Pearse, in a posting on the IIDB thread regarding GakuseiDon's critique, made the following statement:
"Incidentally Doherty refers at some length to a phrase in Minucius Felix, but I understand that the recent HLL tells us that modern scholars consider the question of the priority of the Apologeticum solved, and that Minucius must therefore have been written between 210-245. This was published in 1997, two years before Doherty: but I understand from Michael Sage's monograph on Cyprian (extract) that this was resolved around 1975, on philological grounds. Once Minucius is understood to be a third century figure, contemporary with Tertullian and Cyprian, I think it becomes impossible to understand that isolated half-sentence in the manner Doherty would like."
But the priority of Tertullians Apology—supposedly relegating Minucius Felix to the third century—is anything but "resolved." Investigating the link supplied by Pearse, one finds the following:
In the Introduction to Michael E. Hardwick's article:
"The current state of the question is that a later date is favoured, with the philological argument being solidly in that direction. However the question is really open....
The priority of Minucius Felix rests upon the coherence and style of his narrative while Tertullian’s priority depends upon the assumption that his is the more vigorous and therefore more creative work. Both sides employ a priori considerations regarding what characterizes creativity. Therefore, the results are predetermined. Given the state of the debate it is not wise to go beyond dating the Octavius between c. 160 and c. 250 C.E."
When grounds such as coherence, vigor and creativity are used to "resolve" the priority between two works whose relationship has been been debated for more than a century, we know that solid evidence is lacking. It is not surprising that the above editor finds these grounds not only highly subjective, but susceptible to a priori determination.
Hardwick offers quotes from reviews of various books relating to the question of MF's dating. The following are five out of the nine reviews offered, all of books published since 1985:
From a review of QUISPEL (Gilles), African Christianity before Minucius Felix and Tertullian (1982):
...The final pages (308-321) reopen again the debate on the priority of the author of the Octavius which G.Q. has always held and which he still defends against all the philological arguments; because "Philology is a dead alley" (p.318).
From a review of CAPPELLETTI (Angel J.), Minucio Felix y su Filosofia de la Religion (1985):
...He adopts the date of 160 for the composition of the treatise, following W. Baehrens (1915), but without engaging in a real discussion on this so often debated question.
From a review of BROSCIUS (Miecislaus), Quo tempore Minucii 'Octavius' conscriptus sit (1994):
Argument founded on the historicity of the events related in the dialogue and on the existence of an edict of persecution. Minucius, Octavius and Caecilius must have been Roman citizens ; they could not have embraced the Christian faith except before 202, year when Septimius Severus prohibited the conversion of Roman citizens to Christianity. If the facts reported are before 202, because of the premature death of Octavius, it is difficult to place the editing of the dialogue later than 212-220.
... Minucius Felix (p. 162-165) appears before Tertullian (p. 166-179): even more precisely, Oct is dated a little before 197, the year in which Apol was published (p. 163), the argument advanced being that Tertullian readily reworks his own works or those of his predecessors.
From a review of ALDAMA (Anna Maria), El Octavius de Minucius Felix (1987):
On the subject of the relation between the Octavius and the Apologeticum, the author asks if the question of priority could one day be resolved, in the degree to which the two works reflect the very different situations of a Roman elite and a provincial milieu.
It would seem that the situation isn't quite as "resolved" as Pearse has suggested. He is relying on the opinion of Michael E. Sage, who, in an article included at the end of the above link, subscribes to the philological argument:
The problem has been decided in favour of the priority of the Apologeticum. The Octavius contains resemblances not only to the Apologeticum, but also to the earlier version of that work by Tertullian, the Ad Nationes. But careful analysis has revealed that the earlier work contains fewer resemblances to the Octavius than the finished version which became the Apologeticum. [p.53] But such an argument can cut both ways. It could be argued that the Octavius appealed more to Tertullian as he revised, resulting in its greater utilization in the Apologeticum. Further detailed analysis led to the false view that Minucius Felix was simply a compiler and that his dialogue was a mosaic.
Recently this view has been abandoned, and a decisive argument has been brought forward to establish the priority of the Apologeticum. [It is not clear from Sage's article exactly who was the source of this "decisive argument."] A careful analysis of the use made in the Octavius of Cicero and Seneca has revealed that the author adopted and changed them for his own purposes. The dialogue is more than a mere patchwork of classical commonplaces. A comparison reveals that the works of Tertullian are utilized in the same manner by Minucius Felix as the others. Thus the question of priority has been resolved in favour of Tertullian.One wonders if the creators and supporters of this argument have taken into account the issues raised by the mythicist position, including many of the points I have presented in my book and in this article. While examining Minucius Felix as to its use of Cicero, Seneca and Tertullian, did they consider the questions mythicism raises: namely, why in his adaptation of Tertullian's Apology would the author of Minucius Felix cut out every reference to an historical Jesus; why would he introduce, with no qualification, all those denigrations of pagan religion which supposedly have clear parallels in the Christian religion; why would he abandon Tertullian's policy of having the pagan learn as much as possible about Christianity— including its founder? Why would his silence on an historical Jesus mirror several other documents of the second century and none of those of the third century he is purportedly a part of? And, of course, how above all could he treat the question of the crucified man in such a manner if he is the product of a post-Tertullian milieu? I suggest that these features of Minucius Felix offer an independent and far more reliable basis for resolving the question of priority. Orthodox scholars have turned a blind eye to such things, which calls into question the integrity of their comparisons between the two apologists. It also demonstrates how whole new windows are opened up for an understanding of many difficult and unresolved issues in early Christian scholarship when the mythicist theory is taken into account.
For some further thoughts on some of these issues in regard to the second century apologists, see my Response to Doug: Did the Second Century Apologists know of the Gospels? in Reader Feedback 25.