GakuseiDon's critique by Jacob Aliet
on the Internet Infidels
A Response to Gakusei
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This article is divided into two sections. The first section comprises comments on GakuseiDon’s critique of Earl Doherty’s treatment of the Second Century Apologists, and a refutation of GDon’s explanations for the silence of those apologists on historical details about Jesus. The second section presents criteria that can be employed in evaluating early Christian writings with the aim of determining whether the Christianity presented in them entails a Historical Jesus.
GDon’s critique marks a turning point in the type of criticisms that the Jesus Myth hypothesis has received since Earl Doherty reformulated it with the publication of The Jesus Puzzle. Most critics denied that there was any silence on earthly details about a historical Jesus in the writings of the second century Christian apologists. The typical argument advanced by such critics asserted that since everyone knew there was a historical Jesus, there was no need to keep mentioning historical details about Jesus’ life when speaking about him. Others maintained that the entire hypothesis is invalid because it relies on an allegedly illegitimate ‘argument from silence’. Still other critics argued that the silence was deliberate due to political considerations, and thus needs no further examination.
In a marked departure from such denials, GDon admits that the sound of silence in the second century Christian texts is loud and requires an explanation, which he proceeds to provide. The last part of this section is a critical evaluation of GDon’s attempt to explain the Conspiracy of Silence (to borrow one of Doherty’s favorite phrases—used ironically).
GDon’s critique is a relatively well-written piece with fairly clear ideas and expressions. At least on the face of it. Compared to recent critiques of the Jesus Myth Hypothesis, it is focused, rational and scholarly. The ideas in it are organized logically and the presentation is good, though he tends to repeat himself a few times. GDon’s approach is however, fundamentally conservative even as he agrees with Doherty on several points. Like one trying to figure out the intricacies of Byzantine history, GDon carefully looks at the difficulties he perceives in the Jesus Myth hypothesis through a microscope. But we encounter similar problems to those we find in critics who try to look at the theory using a telescope: GDon loses perspective, argues out of context and ends up presenting a befuddled, obverse, upside-down interpretation of the most obvious of issues.
Stylistically, the article is bare and the reader has to struggle not to go to sleep even though it is only 31 pages long. The language is neither engaging nor entertaining. No metaphors, no artistic expressions, no catchy phrases. Chinua Achebe would complain that the work is ponderous and wooden and heavy. But we are more interested in the substantive points GDon makes, and so we now shift focus to the substance of it.
There are two criticisms, out of the several dozens that GDon advances against Doherty’s thesis, that are valid. And Doherty admits as much in his response to GDon’s write-up. Doherty admits that his usage of the phrase “admonish the pagans for using signs of the cross” is misleading and that it would have been clearer to state that Octavius admonished the pagans for accusing Christians of worshipping crosses. Because, per Octavius, crosses are common and “natural” and not despicable as the pagan accusation makes them to appear to be. Doherty also admits to having overstated the idea that a passage by Justin supports the existence of a non-HJ. The passage in question is Justin’s statement, through Trypho, about Christians having accepted a groundless report and using it to invent a Christ for themselves.
Evaluating the Logos as an Asset to Christianity
Other than these, Doherty finds GDon’s approach fundamentally apologetic. For example, he writes regarding GDon’s treatment of Tatian’s “accept us because we too tell stories”:
“This is typical of 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 the work, and focus on some minor and at best ambiguous detail that can be twisted into supporting the apologist’s stance.”
In this way, GDon gets bogged down by attacking a few splinters while ignoring the giant logs. There are many cases where GDon is clearly at pains to avoid what the text is stating, and instead engages in tortured interpretations of the text in an attempt to tangle a thin web of his own preference around the bursting texts, as we see when he tangles Octavius’ “wander far from the truth”; in such cases Doherty’s criticism is on target. This also applies to GDon’s obverse “black is white” obfuscation and his employment of what Doherty calls “apologetic padding” to mummify salient points while unpacking and magnifying tangential points. A number of the arguments GDon makes are fragmented and anything but well thought out.
argues that there was no “logos-based Christianity separate from
historical stream” and “the logos would have been a useful
Christians trying to re-image Christianity as a philosophical tool.”
The conclusion he is trying to draw is that the second century
apologists speak in terms of a logos
because they have chosen to apply to the historical Jesus a concept
they consider to be useful in gaining pagan sympathy; and that they
were the first to create such a logos
First of all, the two
premises in his argument are not related as GDon seems to think. He
would have to demonstrate both of them individually, and he has not
done so for either one. Even if the latter were true, that the logos would have been a useful
concept in winning over pagans to the Christian "son", this does not show that there
was no logos Christianity
separate from the historical stream prior to the second century
apologists. In fact, GDon has engaged in a somewhat garbled circular
argument here, in that his first statement is used as both a premise
and a conclusion.
Second, we have no
determining what was or was not useful for the “historical stream of
Third, the argument takes for granted a disputed issue, which is that the second century Christian apologists previously held a Christianity that was different from what they presented in their writings. Fourth, we have no reason to believe that the early Christians: (a) wanted to re-image Christianity, or (b) co-opted every concept they perceived as useful in the achievement of that goal. GDon’s argument is actually a conclusion framed as an argument. And lastly, its very construction is problematic: how does GDon know that an ‘historical stream of Christianity’ could have absorbed a ‘logos-based Christianity’ if he doesn’t believe there was a ‘logos-based Christianity’ in the first place?
In any case, how does he rule out the possibility that the ‘logos-based Christianity’ could have been the one that absorbed the ‘historical stream of Christianity’?
The conjecture “the logos would have been a useful concept” is challenged by ecclesiastical writers like Tertullian who attempted to distance Christianity from pagan religions by saying that it is the devil that set up the similarities between Christianity and pagan religions. Tertullian’s ‘diabolical mimicry’ argument is an example that serves to make GDon’s claim unlikely. Another example is Theophilus’ To Autolycus, where the apologist exposes the insufficiency and infantile quality of the pagan teachings. This means that apologists did not absorb pagan concepts unidirectionally as GDon would have us believe: they also derided and ridiculed them.
This is not to deny that paganism was popular in the first three centuries. The issue here is that GDon must demonstrate his point, and not just conclude it.
Were the Apologists Spinning Christianity?
Beyond GDon’s assumption that the logos would have helped in re-imaging Christianity appears a lack of appreciation of the idea that the logos and Jesus of Nazareth are, at least operationally, mutually exclusive – the existence of one means the absence of the other. The logos was transformed by some Christians into Jesus of Nazareth. In cases where we find both the logos and a historical Jesus in the same presentation, the logos (the word) is an antecedent of the historical Jesus. In Athenagoras’ A Plea for the Christians, we find the logos and “a son” but they are both treated as abstract forces coalesced together in God.
“Would have been a useful concept” appears to mean that the logos would have been used to sex up the image of Jesus of Nazareth. GDon is like one arguing that monotheism would have been a useful concept for re-imaging a polytheistic religion. Consider this: Justin writes in Apology, 5 that the logos “took shape, became man, and was called Jesus Christ”. The gospel of John also says that the “the word became flesh.” This means that, per John, the word was in the past and the rest of the “work” was done by Jesus, not the logos. The same applies to Justin. GDon fails to explain how adding a logos to the figure of Jesus would have styled up Jesus. Tatian writes in Address to the Greeks that the pagans were devoted to their gods who had human forms yet these gods did not have logos antecedents. How exactly was having a logos a good thing? GDon does not explain.
It is important to note that we encounter in works like Epistle to Diognetus and Athenagoras’ A Plea for the Christians Christianities devoid of any allusions to a historical personage as a central savior figure. Even in the face of these examples, GDon would still like us to believe that the earliest Christians had a historical Jesus at the core of their religion, then they saw that the pagans loved the logos concept and so these early apologists falsely presented Christianity to the pagans as logos-centered without a historical Jesus, then, after the pagans had accepted Christianity, the Christians brought back a historical Jesus to the fore and relegated the logos to an ineffectual role. And that these contortions and distortions were done purposefully for around one hundred years before the mold was allowed to dry to the Christianity as we have it in the late third century onwards – a Christianity that is firmly entrenched in the gospel tradition. This theory, if accepted, would make Christianity the most functionally fluid religion: a religion that could be molded at will to win specific converts and then calcify back to an earlier structure once the purpose is achieved.
And in support for this comical rigmarole and teleological mutation theory, GDon has not even a shred of evidence that the conspiracy of silence regarding the historical details of Jesus was a purposeful misrepresentation by the Christian apologists. We find no evidence that these apologists had made a conscious choice to slant their presentations to exclude a historical Jesus. All GDon has are unfounded suppositions.
On the Illustrious man in Octavius
GDon writes the following while assessing Minucius Felix: “M.Felix continues by stating that, while some men could be chosen to be worshipped as a god, only a good man can inspire love.” He then cites Minucius Felix as stating that “…honor is more truly rendered to an illustrious man, and love is more pleasantly given to a very good man....” Then GDon claims:
“Given the late date that this was written, his comments can only apply to Christ.”
This statement is an argument from a preconceived position and, as Doherty correctly points out, “GDon’s claim has to be demonstrated, not assumed.” Minucius is telling the pagans about the kind of a person who deserves love and honor. And GDon begins (above) by stating this. But the last statement is abrupt and completely out of the blue. It is not logically connected to the preceding line of thought and it is not demonstrated by GDon. This is a hijack of the text’s meaning.
Our awareness of the nature of second century Christianity denies us the luxury of making bald assumptions like “Given the late date that this was written, his comments can only apply to Christ”. GDon’s statement assumes that Christ was the only deity an individual like Minucius would have honored. The Christ GDon has plugged onto the text stands out like a sore thumb. Per GDon, the only being that deserved honor in the mind of Minucius, was Jesus of Nazareth.
points out in his response that this is incorrect because Athenagoras
others believed in a logos, not a Jesus. Others believed in God
The Shepherd of Hermas community for example, believed in a
God, who had
“a Son”. Doherty notes regarding Shepherd:
Neither the intermediary son that we see in Shepherd nor the logos in other documents are Jesus; yet, whether mythical or otherwise, these figures were at the cores of some of the Christianities that these early Christians embraced and promulgated. This is a distinction GDon appears unaware of throughout his critique. As Doherty points out, Gnostic sects, for example, had a foot in both the mythical Jesus camp (Pauline) and the Historical Jesus sect, producing a docetic Jesus. GDon’s interpretation of the passage by Minucius Felix is therefore unjustified and without basis.
Explaining the Silence
Gdon advances four explanations for the silence by second century Christian apologists on the historical details about Jesus. Before we look at them, let us review the setting under which these apologies were composed, for what and for who.
J. Tixeront, in A Handbook of Patrology, 1920 (available online at ECW), explains that apologists aimed at defending Christians against accusations brought against them, which included atheism, indolence and other calumnies. Their work was therefore both defensive and explanatory. Some of the apologies were presented as letters addressed to the emperor(s), while some were aimed directly at the public. The public constituted both the pagans and the Jews, and the apologies addressed each of these groups. Some apologies, like Epistle to Diognetus and Theophilus’ books were directed at individuals. Tixeront writes:
“Among the apologies against the Jews may be cited St. Justin's Dialogue with Trypho. In these apologies the expository and demonstrative character predominates. The Jews harbored many prejudices which had to be removed, and a spirit of hatred which had to be overcome; indeed, they were not the last to spread popular calumnies against the Christians and denounce them to the authorities. But in the writings addressed to them the Apologists are less intent on refuting their accusations than on convincing them of the divine mission of Jesus Christ and the truth of his religion. Consequently, their purpose was to demonstrate the messiahship of Our Lord and for this demonstration they use mostly the argument from the prophecies, their thorough knowledge of the Sacred Scriptures proving very useful for this purpose.”
introduction, let us now examine GDon’s
explanations for the silence on the historical details about Jesus in
writings of Christian apologists
1. The apologists were more concerned with stopping the persecutions against the Christians of the day than converting their audience: Many of the authors wrote to the Emperor of the day or the pagan public, as a plea for justice against the persecutions taking place, rather than as a vehicle for conversion. We can see this in the writings of HJers like Justin and Tertullian, as well as in Doherty's MJ writers like Minucius Felix.
GDon’s argument can be stated as follows: The historical details about Jesus’ life were only used by apologists for converting the audience. But the apologists were more concerned with stopping the persecutions against the Christians of the day than converting their audience; therefore the apologists did not mention historical details about Jesus’ life.
GDon has not demonstrated that the historical details about Jesus were only mentioned to audiences when the purpose was to convert them. As such, his argument is not valid. An example that disproves GDon's assumption is Theophilus’ To Autolycus, where the apologist denounces Paganism and extols Christianity in a work that is clearly designed to win converts. Yet, Theophilus fails to provide any historical details about Jesus in that work. He even defines the word “Christian” without mentioning Jesus! This example illustrates to us that the apologists did not use historical details about Jesus only to win converts. GDon’s explanation is therefore incorrect.
GDon’s second explanation for the silence is as follows:
2. The names 'Christian' and 'Christ' were hated: Tacitus, at the start of the 2nd C, refers to Christianity as 'a pernicious superstition', charged with the hatred of all mankind. Pliny the Younger punished those who continued to call themselves 'Christians'. Not a few of the apologists addressed letters to the Emperors of the day, decrying this injustice of persecution for ‘the sake of a name’. Tertullian in "Ad nationes" notes that Christians were being punished 'in the name of the founder' … and wondered what harm there was in a name, all the while refusing to give the name of the founder.
GDon is claiming here that because the name ‘Christ’ and ‘Christians’ were hated, apologists avoided them and they thereby ended up omitting the historical details about Jesus in that process.
First of all, ‘Christ’ is not a name but a title meaning ‘the anointed one’. Secondly, we have seen from writings like Didache and Athenagoras’ A Plea for The Christians that Christ is a title that is not preserved for Jesus of Nazareth alone. Thirdly, the claim that Christian apologists avoided the word ‘Christ’ and ‘Christians’ is proven false when we examine the following works which have the word ‘Christians’ appearing severally: Athenagoras’ A Plea for the Christians, The Octavius of Minucius Felix, Theophilus’ To Autolycus and Epistle to Diognetus.
Common sense also dictates that one would have no effective way of defending Christians without referring to them (the Christians) in the course of that defense. GDon’s second explanation is therefore also false.
GDon’s third explanation is:
3. Christianity was viewed as a barbarous new religion: Another charge by pagans against Christianity was that it was a new barbarous 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.
First of all, this explanation assumes that the apologists directed their arguments at the Romans alone. This is incorrect because as Tixeront has explained above, some of the apologies were presented as letters addressed to the emperor(s) while some were aimed directly at the public, who comprised Jews and pagans. Secondly, Christianity is constructed upon the belief that the putative coming of Jesus Christ was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. Based on this, we can still grant GDon’s proposition that “all the apologists stressed Christianity's 'antiquity' via its Jewish roots” without that proposition necessarily entailing omission of historical details about Jesus. Thus the apologists could still have stressed Christianity’s vaunted antiquity and link a historical Jesus to Jewish prophecies. Indeed, the claim of prophecy fulfillment would have portrayed Christianity as even more potent compared to pagan religions. As Tixeront writes above: “[The apologists’] purpose was to demonstrate the messiahship of [Jesus]”. To demonstrate this messiahship [to the Jewish audience], the apologists would therefore have quoted the Old Testament prophecies regarding the messiah. But the apologists fail to link Jesus of Nazareth to Jewish roots. This explanation therefore also fails to account for the silence.
GDon’s last explanation is as follows:
4. The writer adopted different approaches to different audiences. From the writers with multiple letters still extant we can see that they varied their approach to different audiences. It is noted that only Justin Martyr, for example, insists strongly on the theology of the Logos in his "Apology" to the pagans, but much less so in his "Dialogue with the Jew Tryphon". Tertullian’s “Apology” and “Ad nationes” were probably written in the same year, yet the “Apology” contains many direct references to a HJ, while “Ad nationes” has none.
This argument foils itself because by the same argument one would expect some of the apologists to mention historical details about a HJ. But before the year 180, Justin is the only major apologist who mentions historical details about a HJ. The silence that pervades the other apologetic works is so ‘loud’ that GDon himself has undertaken to explain the silence. And yet, in a befuddled sense, he is arguing that the audience was so varied that the silence was widespread. The alleged variability of the audience does not correspond with the silence, which contrawise, is not varied but pervasive. Thus GDon’s last attempt at an explanation also fails. Tertullian of course wrote beyond 180CE and is therefore outside the scope of our analysis.
We can see from the above that GDon, despite his earnest efforts, commits some significant errors in his attempts at explaining the silence on the historical details about Jesus while refuting Doherty’s evaluation of second century apologists. Some other errors GDon commits include treating Ignatius, Basilides, Heracleon and Polycarp as apologists. Plus, the section GDon addresses in Doherty’s book is titled Jesus in the Christian Apologists. GDon has no excuse to include Ignatius in his list, except perhaps to falsely amplify the extent of his “rebuttal” and purportedly “false” exclusions by Doherty. Going beyond the scope of Doherty’s argument by including Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria in his list is equally wrong and renders a huge chunk of GDon’s argument irrelevant. As GDon declares that Doherty has not examined all the literature of the period and announces that Doherty has “badly misrepresented” the literature, the situation is rich with irony. And Doherty correctly points out that “GDon has misread the overall picture”.
the next section, I provide some criteria for identifying a non
Jesus in the early Christian texts.
Most of the ideas in this section are derived from the works of Earl Doherty. My main effort is in breaking them down and organizing them in the form of criteria.
I use the expression “historical Jesus” to refer to the central figure portrayed in the New Testament gospels as having been the “son” of Joseph and Mary, who had twelve disciples and died via crucifixion during the term of Pontius Pilate, and whose death is believed by Christians to have redeemed believers and whose salvific death inspired the birth of Christianity.
The Hebrew word ‘Yehoshua’ or Jesus simply means savior (or ‘Yahweh saves’). And ‘Christ’ is Greek for Hebrew ‘Mashiach’ which means ‘the anointed one’. So, simply put, ‘Jesus Christ’ means the ‘anointed savior’. As such, it is not really a name as much as it is a title. A name would be more like Jesus of Nazareth. Thus, finding an entity being referred to as Jesus or Jesus Christ in the early Christian documents should not necessarily be regarded as a reference to Jesus of Nazareth. Most of the early proto-Christian sects were offshoots of Judaism and they had concepts that we find in the Jewish writings combined with Greek philosophical concepts.
The character Jesus of Nazareth in the gospels is commonly known as Jesus Christ but he is not the only Jesus Christ, or the only Christ that was known. In Didache for example we find a Jesus Christ but he is not Jesus of Nazareth. He doesn’t incarnate, doesn’t get crucified, doesn’t resurrect. There is no Mary, no Joseph, no Pilate, and no earthly references with respect to that Jesus. We find in it a Christianity that is devoid of any redeemer figure.
Seething Mass of Salvation Cults
Hellenistic Jews such as Philo and Greek thinkers alike believed God to be transcendent and too spiritual and pure to come in contact with the material and impure world. Stoics, for example, believed that humans possessed the reasoning principle that governed the universe as per the mind of God.  They called this the logos. Among Platonists, the logos varied between being God’s creative forces and being a divine entity. Philonic thought  entailed a “heavenly man” who had the qualities of the logos.
The book of Proverbs 8:1-36 presents personified Jewish wisdom (Sophia), and we find similar ideas in the Wisdom of Solomon and Baruch. In communities such as that of the Shepherd of Hermas, we find a “Son” of God who was made manifest. In texts such as the Gospel of John and Tatian’s Apology to the Greeks, the word (logos) becomes flesh—although the latter mentions this only in connection with Christian “stories” (the implication being they are myths like those of the Greeks) while failing to stipulate that it happened in history.
the Didache, there is a Jesus Christ through whom God’s power
came to be
known. But this Jesus did not incarnate or undergo a salvific death.
(the way of life) is instead obtained by following the teachings
the document. God is the central focus and is the source of knowledge.
not an intermediary savior figure: he is just a passive channel for
to shine through. As we examine the Christian texts in the first three
centuries, this savior figure, with the passage of time, is
incarnated and finally presented as the historical figure which we find
gospels. But before the gospel figure of Jesus became established
John Dillon describes the world from which Christianity evolved as composed of a “seething mass of sects and salvation cults”  where religious ideas swirled, syncretized, and diverged among various philosophical schools of thought. Competing factions within Christianity like Ebionites and Gnostics engaged each other in a fierce and creative duel resulting in a “riotous diversity” from which Christianity emerged.
Our purpose here is to identify the kinds of Christianities that were present before the figure of Jesus as a redeemer and savior figure occupied a central place in the belief system of early Christianity.
One could very well argue that documents that do not speak of a Jesus who died and resurrected are, ipso facto, non-Christian documents, something Richard carrier has argued. The present author, however, deems it untoward to arrogate to himself the role of deciding for the early Christians what constituted “Christian” and what did not. Texts that are treated by scholars as Christian texts and texts whose authors present themselves as Christians, or whose authors are clearly referring to Christianity, will be treated in this analysis as sources that inform us about what Christianity was.
Some Working Assumptions
Below, I suggest some criteria for identifying Christianities  without a historical Jesus at their cores, as found in Christian writings before the end of the third century. Note that these criteria are meant to cumulatively point us to the absence of a historical Jesus in the version of Christianity under examination. They do not operate in isolation but mesh together, link by link, to form a framework that can be regarded as a complete presentation of a religion, or a picture that, even though incomplete, can indicate the balance of probability regarding whether or not there was a historical Jesus in those flavors of Christianity. The criteria also do not have equal weight. For example, texts satisfying The Omission of Earthly Details Criterion are 50% likely to be presenting Christianity without a historical Jesus.
is important to understand that this weight is assigned solely on the
that Christianity is foundationally constructed to have Jesus of
the central savior figure, without whose death salvation cannot be
Jesus declares in John 14:6: “Nobody comes to the father except
through me”. Because of the primary importance of the death of Jesus of
Nazareth for Christianity—he being the “man” whose life
religion—and because of the significance of his resurrection and the
centrality of himself as a
redeemer, mention of that earthly life is regarded as a sine qua non
presentation on Christianity. This assumption is maintained
whether the presentation is made to believers or to non-believers. In
broadest strokes, we can expect mention of:
1. The earthly death, suffering and or resurrection of Jesus.
2. His ministry on earth, his disciples, parents and Pontius Pilate.
Faced with the exclusion of all these earthly elements in an entire presentation of Christianity, combined with the knowledge that Christianity emerged from a heterogeneous background fecundated with the confluence of Hellenistic Greco-Roman thought and Jewish philosophy, we can straightaway assign a 50% chance that the Christianity being presented could be without a historical Jesus.
This doesn’t mean it is 50% likely to have a mythical Jesus: it can simply mean they may be logos-centric, theocentric and so on depending on the rest of content of the Christianity under examination. Omission of the mention of an earthly life of Jesus places us at the borderline between the historical Jesus camp and non-historical Jesus camp. It places us on ground zero: the junction from which we could either go the historical Jesus route or the non-historical Jesus route.
is regarded as a reasonable assumption if the reader accepts the
that there were several competing Christian cults before orthodox
was made a state religion at
Summary and Weighting of the Criteria
Name of Criterion
Exclusion of Earthly Details Criterion
Nature of Savior Criterion
Emergence of Savior Criterion
Knowledge Source Criterion
Rejection of Godmen Criterion
Central Deity criterion
Event Timing Criterion
Saving Agency Criterion
Earthly Details Criterion. Documents that satisfy this criterion
that lack mention of
Applies to: Minucius Felix, 1 Clement, Shepherd of Hermas, Odes of Solomon, Epistle to Diognetus , Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Corinthians, Hebrews, Epistle of Barnabas, Theophilus (To Autolycus), Athenagoras, Tatian (Address to The Greeks), The New Testament Gospels and the Didache.
(Polycarp, Papias, Irenaeus, Justin, Ignatius, Clement of Alexandria, Tatian’s Diatessaron are knocked off at this point)
Criterion 2. Nature of Savior Criterion . Documents that satisfy this criterion may have Jesus as a pre-existent being who came/comes down (as we see in Philippians 2:6-11) and undergoes suffering/crucifixion at the hands of demons, not Pilate. The crucifixion/ransom is cast in a supernatural setting. (Because of this, the resurrection or incarnation can only be perceived by those that are spiritually enlightened from scripture or through revelation). Texts meeting this criterion may also have the savior’s presence as illusory (e.g., a phantom) as per those who believed in a Docetic Jesus, or as structured like air and fire (Tatian) even if such presentations do not entail the treatment of Jesus as a saviour.
In some of the texts that fall under this criterion, as in Marcion, Christ is portrayed as a revealer figure, not as a savior figure .
Applies to: Marcion (see notes 13 and 16), Philippians 2:6-11, 1 Timothy 3:16, The Ascension of Isaiah 9:13-17, 1 Corinthians 2:6-8, Colossians 2:15, Tatian (Apology to the Greeks) , Athenagoras .
Criterion 3. Emergence of Savior Criterion. Texts that meet this criterion talk about a son or the word being revealed or shown (as opposed to having come to earth) – this means a spiritual revelation. The verbs used vary between deiknumi (to show, present, to make known or to announce) and phaneroō which means to bring to light, become visible or to make known. Or the “birth” / appearance is placed in a mythical realm. Galatians 4:4, for example, the Greek verb ginomai, which means to come into existence, is used, instead of gennaō, which means to be born.
The logos is born in the hearts or minds of believers, not on earth. That is, there is no mention of an incarnational birth on earth.
Applies to: Galatians 4:4 , Epistle to Diognetus, Theophilus, Athenagoras, Marcion
Criterion 4. Knowledge Source Criterion . Texts that meet this criterion have it that knowledge from the son and about the son, like his salvific suffering, is obtained from Old Testament scripture, through God’s son or through revelation by God; not from what the savior taught during his ministry on earth, not from eyewitnesses and not from historical sources. This knowledge may lead to salvation.
Applies to: Romans 16:25-26, Colossians 1:26, 2:2, Ephesians 3:5, 2 Corinthians 1:22, 5:5, Gal 1:16, Hebrews , 1 Clement, Epistle of Barnabas, Athenagoras, Theophilus, Tatian (Apology to the Greeks), Didache, Marcion , Epistle to Diognetus.
Criterion 5. Rejection of Godmen Criterion. Documents that meet this criterion are documents which have in them Christians condemning or denigrating the worship of man in general, whether as a savior or otherwise, on account of his mortality and his being made of impure matter. This may also entail rejection of the concept of the divine actually being part of the physical world as per Docetism. It can also entail denigrating the image of a crucified man whilst implying that such a man is not worthy of worship. Ebionites for example, rejected a divine Jesus but emphasized the humanity of Jesus as the son of Mary and Joseph .
Applies to: Minucius Felix (through Octavius), Theophilus , Marcion , Theophilus, Athenagoras .
criterion. Documents that meet this criterion refer to the logos
(the word) or the son or, in some cases, of (Jesus) Christ as the
savior agent or redeemer who confers revelatory powers and wisdom. Not
Or they focus on God as the primary agent of salvation. All thoughts, emotions, praise and devotion are directed toward God and none, or an insignificant proportion of the same, toward the son.
Applies to: Odes of Solomon, 1 Corinthians 8:6 and Hebrews 1:2-3, Theophilus, Athenagoras, 1 Clement 29:1, 38:4, 35:5, Shepherd of Hermas, Epistle to Diognetus, Didache, Tatian (Address to The Greeks)
Criterion 7. Event Timing Criterion. Texts meet this criterion if the salvific act (which could be the revelation of knowledge about God or crucifixion / ransom) that takes place is alluded to as taking place in the present or in the present continuous tense, and not as having taken place in the past.
Applies to: Hebrews , , 2 Cor 5:5 Epistle to Diognetus, Theophilus, Tatian 
Criterion 8. Saving Agency Criterion . Saving agency excludes a redeemer figure and instead is either wisdom, grace and so on. Not (through) the redemption or atonement via the death of Jesus of Nazareth.
Applies to: Odes of Solomon , Tatian (Apology to the Greeks), Athenagoras 
Guidelines on Using the Criteria
While applying these criteria, one should visualize a scale with one end having a historical Jesus and the other end having a non-historical Jesus. Criterion 1 makes these two extreme ends balance by assigning them equal weight. Then the rest of the criteria will determine which side is more probable.
The criteria provided must be balanced with other parts of a text at hand to arrive at a conclusion regarding whether or not the version of Christianity being presented lacks a historical Jesus.
To illustrate how these weights are assigned, consider criterion 5: Rejection of Godmen criterion. This criterion is mutually exclusive with the idea that Jesus died on earth to confer salvation to believers. It reduces the chances of the Christianity being presented as having a historical Jesus at its core by 5%. Strictly speaking, this criterion, by itself, is a negative criterion because it doesn’t positively tell us what the writer believes. It reduces the possibility that the Christianity presented entails a historical Jesus as a savior figure, but leaves open the possibility that the Jesus presented, if any, was accepted as historical but was not a savior – perhaps just the founder, or the Jesus may be regarded as having been chosen by God as the political messiah on account of his good deeds on Earth (see Ebionites in the notes).
It is however assigned a 5% weight of likelihood that the Christianity presented lacks a historical Jesus because there are very few versions of pre-third century Christianity that are aware of a historical Jesus and at the same time do not regard him as a savior. In other words, the rejection of a resurrected Jesus by a Christian before the third century is treated as likely to be accompanying a rejection of a historical Jesus.
Criterion 2 has a weight of 10% because it is the central fabric that the rest of the beliefs are centered about; that is, teacher, founder, redeemer, savior and so on and is, per orthodox Christianity, the link to God (John 14:6).
Criteria 3 and 4 are also assigned the same weight on the basis of their significance. The rest of the criteria are assigned weights of 5% because they can be accomodated alongside other beliefs that entail a historical Jesus and yet fail to create any significant incongruence in the minds of the believers. For example, Marcion’s rejected the idea of God incarnating yet he held that Christ’s presence on earth was illusory. Equally consider the Ebionites, who accepted a historical Jesus but only as an ordinary man, not as a savior, thus Ebionites would meet the rejection of Godmen criterion without much fuss. There is more on the Ebionites in the notes.
Comprehensiveness of the Texts
As an example of how to apply these criteria, the Didache, upon casual inspection, meets criterion one but it is simply a list of teachings. It doesn’t reveal in meaningful detail what the writer(s) believed regarding Jesus, or the means of salvation. Jesus is simply a means through which God makes his message known. Jesus is treated purely as a vessel, not a deity or a being. All praise and thanks are to God and not to Jesus. So Didache meets criteria 1, 4, 7 and 6. It therefore has 80% probability of lacking a historical Jesus at its core. Or in other words, the picture of the religious beliefs behind the writer(s) is also 80% complete, yet it has no historical Jesus. But because it is silent on other issues, it gives us an incomplete picture and therefore doesn’t prove unequivocally (100%) that the believers lacked a historical Jesus.
In any event, we are secure in the knowledge that, from what is available, the Jesus mentioned in Didache was not a historical Jesus because he is treated simply as a revelatory channel. The Way of Life is through obeying the teachings given in the text. There is no ransom God gave and there is no resurrection or salvific death that the believers can benefit from. The teachings are of God (the Lord), not of Jesus. We therefore know that the Jesus in the Didache was not a historical Jesus. But we do not know how the writer believed the Father made the cup known to them through the child Jesus. Because of this incomplete presentation, we can’t advance far beyond 80% probability. We have eliminated a historical Jesus (whose primary purpose was to die in order to confer salvation to believers) but cannot account for what the writer believed regarding the manner in which Jesus operated and how he became a child of the father.
score beyond 85% is certainly Christianity without a Historical Jesus.
Historical Method and these Criteria
The application of the criteria must be done correctly. That is, if one incorrectly qualifies a text as meeting a specific criterion, they are likely to end up with absurd results. The context of each passage must be factored in and one’s approach must conform to the historical method.
Along with the criteria are some examples of writings that satisfy these criteria. These are meant to be used as a guideline. My examples go beyond the second century apologists and are only for illustrative purposes. It is important to remember that the divine entities (e.g., the Greek logos) that we find being mentioned in Hellenistic literature, such as Philo’s heavenly man, could be described in expressions that appear human-like, as we see in Shepherd of Hermas which mentions the “body of Christ”. These human-like expressions alone are not enough to make the deities in question historical or human. A text like Epistle of Barnabas never mentions Jesus of Nazareth, but possesses unmistakable earthly references about “the son” that are also found in the gospels, such as 7:3: “…when crucified he had vinegar and gall given him to drink...” However, the event alluded to is not regarded as historical because the entire the passage reads: “…but moreover when crucified He had vinegar and gall given Him to drink. Hear how on this matter the priests of the temple have revealed.”
One would then have to ask: How is it that Barnabas treats this information as a spiritual item that is revealed by the priests from the scriptures? Is history revealed from the scriptures, or witnessed by all that are present when an actual event occurs at a specific point in time? If history is not revealed but witnessed, can the event alluded to be treated as a historical factoid if it is not derived from a historical source?
This factoid, though possessing earthly elements cannot be regarded as speaking of a historical event because the source is not historical. It is therefore ahistorical on epistemological grounds. Doherty notes regarding Epistle of Barnabas 5:12: “It is God, not historical memory, which has identified the Jews as those who killed his son.” And even though it may happen to have what can be regarded as earthly elements, it is treated by Barnabas as an item of faith in the same fashion that Paul treats the idea that Christ was resurrected.
criteria provided here are neither rigorous nor comprehensive, but they
a good starting point for the development of criteria that will
reduce bias and ad-hocness in
the examination of early Christian
writings for the presence or absence of a historical Jesus nucleus.
Limitations of These Criteria
It is important to remember that one significant function performed by methodological criteria is the provision of a means to reduce ad-hocness in the assessment of the evidence. In a subject as polarized as this, a good starting point is a provision of basic assumptions which must be deemed fair by all interested parties. The acceptance of such assumptions, accompanied by a rigorous methodology, can provide all with a means to assess the texts without being accused of bias or subjectivity.
a foundation, one needs to understand the socio-cultural milieu under
texts in question were produced in order not to be misled by semantic
or get sucked into the cracks left by vague allusions and
incomplete presentations. One must also be able to look at the texts
fresh perspective without being unduly influenced by the gospel stories
regarding Jesus, in order to employ the criteria meaningfully. The
method must also be observed and integrity of the texts, their adequacy
historical setting factored in.