|Was There No Historical Jesus?
Reader Feedback and Author's Response
Set 29: November 2010
Note: It has been two and a half years since the last Reader Feedback file. For all but the last year of that time, I was busy expanding The Jesus Puzzle and printing Jesus: Neither God Nor Man. Much of the present Reader Feedback is devoted to reviews and reactions to the new book. At the same time, there have been less queries made to me over these last few years, but I apologize for any that I may have lost track of from 2008 and 2009.
Only those reader comments which are given a response are listed in this Index:
- To Bob: Jesus Son of Ananus in Jewish War / Mythicism and Mainstream Scholarship
- To Luiz: Mark's Intention
- To Will: How Would a Non-Existent Q Affect the Mythicist Case?
- To Thomas: G. J. Goldberg on the Authenticity of Josephus' Testimonium
- To Walt: Were Early Christians "Lying"—or only Modern Mythicists!
- To Krystian: Dating the Gospels in the 2nd Century and J. P. Holding's Appeal to Tacitus
- To Dave: "Born of Woman, born under the Law" As an Interpolation
Congratulations on your latest offering, JESUS: NEITHER GOD NOR MAN. In reading your various writings one cannot but help notice the huge volumes of knowledge and careful logic that you bring to your analysis.
I have confessed you as my personal savior ever since reading "The Jesus Puzzle". I could not imagine how you could improve on that, but you did. "Jesus: Neither God Nor Man" is a sweeping epic that, like a top trial lawyer, slowly, methodically builds an irrefutable foundation and then - wham! - connects all the seemingly unrelated elements into a stunning gotcha. Masterful!
You had me hooked within the first three chapters of "The Jesus Puzzle" whereas "Jesus: Neither God Nor Man" takes you deeper and farther back and develops more slowly.
Thank you so much and I'll be re-reading it shortly.
I read The Jesus Puzzle with great interest, and I don't think I have any argument with anything you state in your book. It's a fantastic piece of New Testament exegesis. I, by the way, have a Master's degree in comp. lit. from Columbia University and am an occasionally published author of fiction (Adrift in a Vanishing City is my only book). I just finished an essay setting the record straight, so to speak, on Satan (he and Lucifer are entirely separate entities). All of which I mention just to say I have an abiding interest in Christianity and have cast as critical an eye as I could on your arguments but no alarm bells went off. I'm not, of course, a biblical scholar or even a classical one, but I think there is just too much merit in your thesis for you to be very far from the mark.
Art writes (a posting on the Freethought Rationalist Discussion Board):
I just wanted to jump in with a plug for Earl Doherty. I too had some misgivings about him as he was "not within the field." But when I did some checking around, I found that some heavyweights within the field were profoundly impressed with his work. For example, the world renowned Ph.D of History, Richard Carrier, says that Earl's work has actually shifted his view of Jesus' historicity [paraphrasing] from leaning toward the view that he probably existed to now leaning toward the view that he probably didn't exist Or again, let's take Robert Price, of whom I'm sure you have heard, as he is a Jesus Seminar heavyweight, as well as editor of the Journal of Higher Criticism, as well as a professor of theology and scriptural studies at Johnnie Coleman Theological Seminary. In a clip on YouTube (I can't post the link yet. If you go to YouTube and search "Robert Price," the clip is "Robert Price Part 1"), he has this to say about Earl's work:"Another book you might want to look out for is by Earl Doherty, and it's a double-size expanded version of his great book, The Jesus Puzzle, and this one is called [Jesus] Neither God Nor Man, and it is really super. This man has just this incredible x-ray vision into the text. I've studied the New Testament from various perspectives for decades, and I'm reading this guy and I'm thinking, 'What an idiot I am! Why did I never see this? Why did I never think of that?' Just astonishing stuff. Some may object and carp that, 'Well this can't be much; he had to resort to publishing his own book.' Yeah, well so did Hume. Enough said."
With these heavyweights on the record as saying Earl's work is more than sound, I myself don't really care if some twerp sitting in his/her editorial cubicle never sent Earl's work out to some other twerps in their respective cubicles to review it and send it back to twerp #1. In the end, it's my own take on things that I go with; I'm 10 chapters into Jesus Neither God Nor Man, and I, like Price, though I have a Master of Divinity degree and have researched some of these issues before, am constantly saying, "What an idiot I am! Why did I never see this?"
I just finished your chapter on Hebrews....it is truly brilliant and greatly buttresses the mythicist postion. You know what I really like: your use of contemporary, extra-biblical sources (such as 11QMelch and 2 Enoch) to illumine otherwise shadowy figures and types alluded to in the Biblical texts. Nicely done, sir.
I am mesmerized by your writing. I had read Spong's Liberating the Gospels and have been deeply influenced by it, as I have been by authors such as Pagels, Erhman, Riley, and others.
I think you raise immensely important questions, especially in your critique of Spong. I don't have historical answers. I have spiritual ones and I wish to meditate more deeply on the basic conundrum you have so richly and elegantly raised.
I have read your latest book on Jesus once very carefully. Am studying it a second time and am into it 300 pages. I intend to digest it a third time going over all the Bible quotes in detail.
I am 78 years old and a retired lawyer in Salt Lake City. I own approximately 3,000 books. I am an atheist raised in the Mormon tradition. There is not any book that I own that I have read three times and spent a month digesting.
As a former attorney, I appreciate evidence and there is so much set forth in this book, not to mention the numerous insights. Intellectually, I am most grateful and it was a pleasure to converse and listen to your talk in Montreal [The Atheist Alliance International Convention, October 2, 2010. For the complete text of that talk, see http://montreal2010.org/proc/long/doherty_earl_long_en.html]. I am very sincere in this praise and have not had any book influence me such as yours. Thank you very much.
Peter Gandy (co-author of The Jesus Mysteries) writes (a posting on FRDB):
Your work has had a profound effect on me and my respect for your scholarship is huge. And on a personal level, just knowing that you are out there making your case is a great comfort. We, and I'm including you, me and the majority of posters on this list here, are a small voice in a very large crowd. Our investigations have led us to challenge a vast and entrenched body of received opinions, and our conclusions stand received history on its head. They overturn everything that most people think they know about the origin of Christianity. Making even a tiny dent in that consensus is going to take a long time.
To the vast majority the idea that there was no Jesus at the start of Christianity is quite simply an unthinkable thought. They are not able to arrive at our conclusion because they have not made the journey that we have. Instead they have arrived at a half way house demonstrated by the phenomenal success of Dan Brown. They are prepared to believe that everything they have been told about the origin of Christianity by the Church is a pack of lies. They are prepared to believe that the gospels are not the 'gospel truth' and do not tell us the 'real' story of Jesus' life. But they simply cannot conceive that there wasn't 'someone' at the bottom of it all. And with this last stubborn fantasy still in place they are happy to cooperate with Dan Brown in recasting the Jesus story in the spirit of our modern times, complete with the big romance and a Hollywood style happy ending. This is huge progress in terms of the consciousness of the masses, but necessarily frustrates those who want to see people take that last step. However, I do not think they will do this in our lifetime.
But the paradigm will change. It will not change because the establishment embraces it, but because they will die off and be replaced by a new generation who take the new paradigm in their stride. I see signs of this happening. The internet generation are indebted to you and your work and will carry it forward. And when the history of 'how the paradigm changed' is written up at some uncertain date in the future, your name will feature large. Keep the faith, or should I say lack of it.
The book looks very impressive. If chapter 1 is any indication, your way of explaining your thesis is getting even more clear and elegant. It was good to see the first chapter make such a strong start!
I have been following your books with great interest and find your writings to be very enlightening and thought-provoking. You have convinced me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there was never a historical Jesus.
Kent writes (from Sweden):
Your first book The Jesus Puzzle was an eye-opener for me and I had to consult the bible to see if Paul (or whatever his name was) really could be interpreted as he knew of only a mythical Jesus throughout the so called genuine epistles. It was a great learning experience to re-read the epistles from that viewpoint and the puzzle just fell together!
I'm an atheist so consulting the Bible is not something I do that often! But as I said, your book was a great read and I do believe that you are as spot on as someone ever can be. I think that your work has made you unavoidable so to speak - meaning that every scholar writing on the subject of early Christianity must consider your work, regardless if these scholars are religious or not. I don't know if that really is the case but it should be. That's my opinion anyway. And if I'm not mistaken, the case for a mythical Jesus has been greatly strengthened since your book came out. My impression is that there's much more on the internet about the subject, than for say 10 or even 5 years ago, and also that the number of books with a critical look at religion has increased.
Just a word of encouragement: I have been studying Christian origins for over a decade now and the last couple years I have spent much time considering your Jesus myth explanation. I think it is by far the most persuasive explanation of the evidence that I have found. When I try to explain what I think to others, I like to use the model of evolution. The fragments of how Jesus evolved are like indicator fossils. If the Jesus to Christ theory were correct, we would expect to find evidence of a belief in the preacher from Palestine, if nowhere else then at least in Paul. We don't. On the other hand, if the idea of a human Jesus evolved out of a belief in a heavenly intercessor Jesus Christ, we would expect to find ideas of a heavenly intercessor that predate the idea of Jesus Christ (we do, for example, in Philo) morphing into a vague idea of a Jesus Christ in some mythical past (we do in Paul)...it fits the fits evidence much better!
Anyway, thanks for all the work you do and the enlightenment you bring! Keep up the most excellent work!
Just to say that I really like the new website. Very eyecatching and user-friendly!
If I may be so presumptuous, I have a question, actually two. I read The Jesus Puzzle, THEN found out about your new book! But it was well worth reading Jesus: Neither God Nor Man. You are amazing in your analysis of the material. I'm at the end of the book where you're ripping the Testimonium apart.
Is the mythicist position picking up acceptance in scholarship? I'm sick of hearing "Fringe" and "Whacko". Also, I came across this, I'm sure you know of it. I'm curious as to why you don't mention it. [Here Bob quotes from Josephus' Jewish War, Book 6, Chapter 5, Section 3, and its account of Jesus, son of Ananus, who went about in the years before the War prophesying the downfall of the city, even when subjected to bloody punishment by the authorities. The account goes on at considerable length.]
Isn't that strange? I guess he wasn't all that impressed by the "Real Jesus". Why would Josephus write so much about a nobody Jesus and less than a quarter as much about, well...the Messiah! Does that make sense? What do you think? What are the chances this passage was known to Mark and formed a basis for his character? There are certainly some astonishing parallels.
Response to Bob:
Jesus Son of Ananus in Jewish War / Mythicism and Mainstream Scholarship
Jesus son of Ananus wouldn't have been exactly a “nobody” given the notoriety of his activity in Jerusalem before the War, but Bob’s point is well taken. If a Jesus of Nazareth had had anything like the impact which Christian tradition gives him, or even what would be required simply if the Christian movement had arisen in response to such a person, the difference in the amount of detail between what Josephus allegedly had to say about him and what he said about the other Jesus is striking. While no one today thinks that Josephus wrote that the Jesus of the Testimonium “was the Messiah,” he should hardly have been unaware that many people, including many of his own Jewish countrymen, believed him to be so—and even more amazingly, believed him to be the actual Son of God, part of the very Godhead. This should have led Josephus to devote far more to him than the short and simple paragraph which modern scholarship thinks to distill out of the extant Testimonium as likely ‘authentic.’
As for Mark’s inspiration, there is little question that, while he was writing a fictitious and allegorical story (constructed out of scripture) about a man who he might or might not have believed actually existed, his casting of that character could well have been influenced by certain figures on the first century scene, such as Judas the Galilean and even the noted Jesus son of Ananus. However, it is probably not likely that Mark’s inspiration came from Josephus’ own writings.
As for mainstream scholars having any sympathy for the mythicist theory, with the failure of the Jesus Project to get off the ground mostly due to the reluctance of many of its members to address the question of Jesus existence, I have to say that it looks like we're still at least a generation away from them taking it seriously. Even someone like Bart Ehrman, who has all but declared himself an atheist, won't give it the time of day.
Congratulations on your book The Jesus Puzzle. Although it was first published in 1999, I only came to read it this year and I just loved it. I hope I have the patience necessary to read the 800+ pages of your new book Jesus: Neither God Nor Man". I am a 46 year old Brazilian lawyer. I was a Christian until the age of 15, a Pantheist until I was 40, and finally, an atheist for the last 6 years ( and out-of-the-closet for like 2 years). I was very happy to read your book, because, being an atheist, I always regarded the Jesus Christ story as a great mystery, one that from time to time used to shatter the very foundations of my atheistic convictions. Now, thanks to your book, this mystery has been finally solved, and the solution is that there was never even a mystery to begin with.
I totally agree with what you say in one part of your book, that Mark might be regarded as THE most influential figure in all of humanity. What an unimaginable turmoil this guy created in the world for the past 19 centuries!!! It´s almost unbelievable. So unbelievable that I would like to take this opportunity that I wrote to praise your book and ask you a question: What do modern scholars currently hold true? That Mark willingly WANTED his story to be regarded as history or did he intend it to be just a fictitious novel?
Once again, thank you for your book. I "saw the light", and keep up the great work. I´ve become a fan of yours.
Response to Luiz:
What was in the mind of the author of Mark is a key question, and not an easy one to answer. We can certainly assume that he knew that the actual story he wrote was not history, since he constructed it almost entirely out of scripture. But did he regard the figure represented in that story to be historical, based on the development of an imagined founder within the kingdom preaching sect represented by the Q document extracted from Matthew and Luke? (Mark himself, I have suggested, did not possess the document itself, but he was a party to its general background ideas, being part of that Galilean/Syrian sect which preached the imminent coming of the kingdom and the Son of Man as an apocalyptic judge.) We can also assume that most of the characters which fill his story—other than those independently known to be historical, such as Pontius Pilate and Caiaphas the High priest—were his own invention, people like Mary Magdalene, Simon of Cyrene, Joseph of Arimathea, even Jesus’ mother Mary, since none of them surface in all the early writings until the Gospels become disseminated in the 2nd century. But whether he was creating an “historical novel” about an assumed historical figure about whom virtually nothing specific was or could be known, or whether his intention was to create an allegorical tale symbolizing a combination of the kingdom movement and the cult of the sacrificed heavenly Christ, with his Jesus of Nazareth merely a representative figure for those religious expressions, cannot really be determined.
As for the outlook of mainstream scholarship, it probably contains a wide spectrum. Generally speaking, the traditional way New Testament scholars have regarded Mark is that he inherited a collection of oral traditions about Jesus which he fashioned into a narrative which probably did not reflect an actual sequence of events other than the basic progression from baptism by John to crucifixion by Pilate. Critical scholarship in the last quarter century has come to realize the pervasive presence of a form of midrash in the Gospel, in that almost everything can be seen to derive from Mark’s use of scripture, rather than oral traditions. Such traditions, as well, are coming to be acknowledged as mysteriously missing from all of the early writings outside the Gospels, though attempts are still made to ‘explain’ why this might be so and still preserve their presence in an unstated background. (What cannot or will not be believed is not there will be read into the matter, regardless of the fallacy of doing so.)
But Luiz’ question is actually quite perceptive: in view of their recognition of Mark’s reliance on scripture to create his story, of what opinion are critical scholars in regard to Mark's intention? Did he expect his readers/audience to recognize that the story per se was fictitious, an allegory based on scripture, or did he try to pass it off as actual history, that the events themselves as he portrayed them had really happened? I have yet to read any New Testament scholar who analyses such a dichotomy head-on; most seem to tiptoe around it, if they address it at all. Most that do take refuge in the rationalization that, as early Christians were apparently largely ignorant of any “history remembered” about their founder Jesus (a dubious idea in itself), they were forced to create a story about him by plumbing scripture, perhaps regarding those scriptural passages as prophecies or prefigurations of him; besides, they say, scripture was so much a part of the new movement's mindset and inspiration, it was an inviting source to turn to. All well and good, but if the earthly Gospel figure can scarcely be detected in the non-Gospel documents, and if the elevation of a figure about whom so little was known to such a cosmic level as we find in Paul would be very difficult to understand, especially among Jews, scholarship ought to realize that a whole different approach to Mark’s intention is required.
I hope you are doing well, sir. I just wanted to tell you you how excellent "Jesus: Neither God Nor Man" is! Fantastic work!
I have recently been reading some stuff by Thomas Brodie who applies a very persuasive literary analysis and shows a lot of intertextual relationships between the NT Gospels and other texts from the period (Septuagint, Plato, Josephus, and Virgil) as well as many of the Pauline Epistles. He also has a very convinving theory of relationship between the synoptic gospels which excludes the necessity of a Q document. I realize that you provided a very strong defense for the Q hypothesis in this latest work of yours...but I was thinking, it still seems to me that your overall mythicist theory could easily adapt to a synoptic model that didn't evoke the Q source as a necessary explanatory device. It would seem that the various layers of stratification that you, and others, have teased out of the Q material based on terminological and thematic groupings could easily be applied to another synoptic explanatory model. What are your thoughts on this? I know your are pretty solid with the Q hypothesis, but if it was overturned to your satisfaction, what would the effects be on your particular mythicist reconstruction? Do you agree that the effects would be fairly trivial to your overall case that Jesus probably never existed? I was just wondering how you see the importance of the Q model on your own mythicism?
Thanks so much for your time as well as all the brilliant work you have contributed to the historical Jesus/mythicist discussion.
Response to Will:
How Would a Non-Existent Q Affect the Mythicist Case?
While I have read Thomas Brodie on other things, I don’t know his theories surrounding Q, and unfortunately Will has not indicated which of Brodie’s books he is speaking of. But this is a speculative question, a little like asking if it turned out your wife was a serial killer would you have married her? The point is, I don’t know of a no-Q theory which I would regard as convincing; so my answer to Will’s question has to be entirely theoretical.
I have been chided more than once for endorsing a position—the existence of Q—which actually makes it easier to defend an historical Jesus, in that the Q document could be, and has been, upheld as an early witness to Jesus and his teachings. Given the existence of Q, I am forced to disprove the common scholarly position that the founder figure it seems to have contained at the point it was incorporated by Matthew and Luke into their reworkings of Mark did in fact go back to the roots of the document. Far easier for me, supposedly, if I could dispense with a Q altogether.
But apart from the fact that, in my judgment, accepting the evidence in favor of a Q is far more secure than subscribing to the problematic condition of the prevailing no-Q scenario (Luke copying Matthew, as set out by scholars like Mark Goodacre), there are compensating advantages to accepting Q. First of all, I maintain that a good case can be made for seeing the founder figure in the ‘finished’ Q document used by Matthew and Luke as a development that took place during the course of Q and its sect’s own evolution, and that he was not there from the beginning. Such a demonstration essentially rules out the existence of a root founder, and strengthens the mythicist principle applicable to Christianity as a whole that a founder figure can be invented at later stages in a sect’s development. Second, Q has itself shown that this so-called Jesus movement was not consonant with certain other Jesus/Christ expressions of the time, in that it almost certainly did not entail any concept of a sacrificial death and resurrection, nor any reference to its founder being the Messiah. This, too, aids the mythicist case in helping to reveal (as the rest of the record does) a broad movement which lacked unifying concepts and a common origin.
Q also admirably portrays a sectarian background which provides a setting for the Synoptic Gospels to make sense. One of the requirements faced by those who reject Q is to explain where the Gospels are coming from. Some would deny that the Synoptics represent any current or longstanding sect on the scene, but are little more than freestanding allegories, a kind of literary exercise among various related authors, though it would be hard in this case to pin down what they are allegories of and what purpose they served. If, on the other hand, they are seen more reasonably as representing an actual sectarian movement of the time preaching the imminence of the Kingdom of God and the arrival of the Son of Man as an apocalyptic judge, then the presence of a distinct body of common material within two of these Gospels (Matthew and Luke) and a similar set of ideas in another (Mark) would strongly support the likelihood of a preceding tradition in some literary form which we can label the Q document.
Without a Q, the features of the movement as laid out in the Gospels themselves would lack any perceivable headwaters. None of the teachings assigned to Q can be found in the prior (and contemporary) non-Gospel record, other than some vague similarities—so-called “echoes” of Jesus’ words—unattributed to anyone within the movement reflected in the epistles and other non-canonical documents. We would be left with assigning such teachings to the Gospel writers (mostly Matthew), drawn from sources and precedents, some of them commonplace, all over the Jewish and pagan map. The Gospel Son of Man would seem to have come out of nowhere, a product of the evangelists’ imaginations, since reference to such a figure is completely lacking in the epistles. And so on.
Of course, mainstream scholarship has traditionally maintained that the emergence in the Gospels of all the alleged traditions about Jesus’ words and deeds was a product of oral transmission, though this would require that such traditions had been lying in some kind of eclipse during the period when most of the epistles were written—or at least had lain in their background but never to be expressed by any writer. Incredible in itself, this ‘solution’ no longer works, however, because the Synoptics can now be seen as not full of oral traditions emerging from some intervening silence, but rather of scenes artificially constructed out of scripture. Mark and his redactors seem to be creating out of whole cloth, with no traditions, oral or otherwise, to draw on.
If, theoretically speaking, a truly convincing case were put forward demonstrating a workable alternative to Q (and I am not persuaded that such a thing is possible, given the pervasive problems involved in the Luke used Matthew scenario), we would still be facing much the same dichotomy between the early Christian components. The epistolary record of the Pauline type of Christ cult would still be lacking all sign of the Galilean scene and its teaching message—beyond simply the imminent arrival of the Kingdom, which virtually every Jewish-oriented sect on the first century scene shared. The Gospel ethos, while now containing an atonement death and resurrection story, would still be missing the elevated christology of the epistles: Christ as the creating and sustaining force of the universe, his pre-existence, Paul’s concept of baptism into Christ, the ‘body-of-Christ’ and ‘Christ-in-you’ concepts.
If Luke had copied Matthew and there was no Q to reflect the content of a preceding sectarian movement, then we have all the teaching material otherwise assigned to Q as the product of one man, the author of the Gospel of Matthew, and the basic outlay of the story of Jesus as the product of another single man, the author of the Gospel of Mark. I have pointed out inherent problems in such a scenario, in that Matthew as the author of the Q material does not ring true for the personality of Matthew elsewhere in the Gospel. Moreover, we now have a specific body of Matthean material which not only fails to reflect the editorial interests of the rest of Matthew, but is missing all reference to a death and resurrection or salvific role for its Jesus figure. We also have distinctive redactional features which Q scholars like John Kloppenborg have identified within that block of material, namely clear signs of editing and textual evolution which Matthew could not have been responsible for if we were dealing simply with a subset of his Gospel creation. See, for example, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p.362-3, and especially the analysis of the Dialogue between Jesus and John (Lk/Q 7:18-35), p.369f, which can be seen—and scholars like John Kloppenborg do—as a composite creation at a later stage, employing earlier disparate elements. In summary, from p.374:
The very fact that such analyses as the foregoing can be made about many of the passages assigned to Q is a proof of the integrity of the theory. The structural features, the stratigraphy, the clear indications of evolving interpretation and redaction over time: such things could only arise in the context of a distinct document whose textual history could entail all these things. (We could call it Q’s ‘moons of Jupiter.’) The alternative, that all these passages with their unique features of evolution and redaction were the original creation of Matthew, to be copied by Luke, is not feasible. These processes had to be independent of and precede Matthew.
On the other hand, let’s say for the sake of argument that Luke did copy this block of material from Matthew, something which Matthew derived from an outside source which—since we now wouldn’t need any further explanation for the common wording between the two—could have been an oral body of material that had developed prior to Matthew’s time within a kingdom-preaching sect. What would we end up with? We would end up with the same situation as with a literary Q, only in this case it’s an ‘oral Q.’ (Or maybe it is literary, with only Matthew having had access to it.) We still have a witness to a pre-Gospel phase of belief which is totally divorced from the cultic side of things as in Paul, and one which shows no sign of a dying and rising Messiah. It might be a little more difficult to clearly demonstrate the lack of an historical founder behind Matthew’s source if it were oral, since we would be having to deal with a text, as a rendering of the oral source, that was Matthew’s product. But the end result for the mythicist case would essentially be the same in its most important aspects, in regard to the fate of Christianity as we know it.
I was wondering if you had addressed the arguments of G.J. Goldberg on the authenticity of Josephus's Testimonium.
“In 1995 a discovery was published that brought important new evidence to the debate over the Testimonium Flavianum. For the first time it was pointed out that Josephus’ description of Jesus showed an unusual similarity with another early description of Jesus. It was established statistically that the similarity was too close to have appeared by chance. Further study showed that Josephus’ description was not derived from this other text, but rather that both were based on a Jewish-Christian “gospel” that has since been lost. For the first time, it has become possible to prove that the Jesus account cannot have been a complete forgery and even to identify which parts were written by Josephus and which were added by a later interpolator.”http://www.josephus.org/testimonium.htm
"In this article the Testimonium is shown to be a close rewording of a text that also appears in the Book of Luke. This modification of a source while respecting peculiarities and difficult phrases can be explained as Josephus' standard method of working, but cannot be explained as the normal manner of composing a Jesus story by later Christian writers. The conclusion is that the account in the Antiquities is almost entirely the work of Josephus, based on a Christian proselytizing document that was in circulation circa the year 90." http://www.josephus.org/GoldbergJosephusLuke1995.pdf
What does this mean for the historicity of Jesus? Is the Testimonium authentic, an interpolation, or what? What do you think?
Response to Thomas:
G. J. Goldberg on the Authenticity of Josephus' Testimonium
I was aware of Goldberg’s proposal, but I considered it over-stated. The similarity relates only to the first sentence, in which statements are made whose commonality (such as it is) could be simple coincidence due to their basic nature. But Goldberg’s biggest failing is that he apparently has overlooked the possibility that whoever forged the Testimonium was (consciously or unconsciously) drawing to some extent on the Lukan scene, familiar to him from the Gospel. If the interpolator was Eusebius (or any other scribe), familiarity with Luke’s Road to Emmaus scene could be expected.
Goldberg also fails to attempt an explanation for why Josephus would be drawing on some Christian document that Luke also drew on. Besides, Luke would hardly need to do so for that kind of basic information, and one can be sure Goldberg’s postulated common source document would not have contained any road to Emmaus setting. Moreover, it would necessarily have been brief, since Josephus contains so little of it.
Perhaps I could or should have dealt with Goldberg’s proposal in my new book, but I had set it aside years earlier as too weak to be seriously considered and did not think of it. In any case, I don't think it has achieved much traction.
I'm a member of the Jesus Mysteries group, and I also am currently in the middle of your new book. Currently, I'm in a discussion on Farrell Till's Errancy list with an individual who has characterized the mythicists position as one that claims early Christians "knew Jesus was a myth" and "were lying and knew they were lying" when they claimed he was historical.
I have asked him to name me the mythicists who claim such a thing, since I have read Wells, Freke & Gandy, Robert Price, and currently your work and have not seen any claim that early Christians knew they were lying about anything, or believed that Jesus was a myth. I have stated that early Christians, including Paul, viewed Jesus as a real being who lived in the spiritual realm. Not that they believed Jesus was a myth.
Also, how would you classify the goal of Mythicists: to show that Jesus WAS a myth, or to simply show that there is no evidence Jesus was a historical figure, and was LIKELY a myth?
Response to Walt:
Were Early Christians “Lying”--or only Modern Mythicists!
You are correct in maintaining that no mythicist puts forward the idea that early Christians were deliberately lying about the Gospel figure, knowing that he had never existed. I don't know where he got that idea, certainly not from me, although this is typical of a certain type of HJ defender, in that he considers the mythicist theory so horrifying and impossible (without actually investigating it, of course) that he can only conceive of mythicists being deliberate charlatans.
However, you may be using the terminology a little misleadingly. To say that “Jesus was a myth” is really just saying that he never existed as an historical figure. It’s a bit colloquial. I prefer to say that the early Christ “was a mythical figure” and his death and resurrection were “mythical events.” This says that he and they existed and took place in a non-physical dimension, not on earth.
For myself, I would say that I have sought to demonstrate that the early Christian Christ WAS a mythical figure, operating in the heavenly world, and that this can be shown by the record itself. Not that since there is no evidence he was an historical figure (I would put it that such evidence is weak and severely compromised, and trumped by stronger evidence to the contrary) he was then “likely” non-existent.
I have read some of your texts with interest and I agree with many of your points. What I would like to discuss is the question of the creation of the Gospels in the second century. I find the arguments for their second century origin (based on the lack of earlier references) quite convincing. However, certain online Christian apologists such as J. P. Holding (and others, such as one Jan Lewandowski from my country - Poland) have responded saying that the references to works of Tacitus Annals are also much later than the time of his life and the work is also anonymous just like the Gospels), however nobody denies that it was written by Tacitus. How may one respond to such an argument? I know that there is proof of early references to the works of Tacitus such as the Histories but is it so in the case of the Annals?
Response to Krystian:Dating the Gospels in the Second Century and J. P. Holding's Appeal to Tacitus
I will not try here to get into the complex question about a 2nd century origin for the Gospels (since this is not the focus of Krystian’s question), except to say that I find most of the arguments for dating all the Gospels post-130 too problematic and less than convincing. (As my readers may know, I would date the earliest version of Mark around 90, with the others, again in their earliest versions, following at various times before perhaps 125.) But I will point out that Krystian’s appeal to the lack of earlier references to the Gospels should not be regarded as an indication that they could not have existed earlier. If Mark and to a great extent those who redacted him (Matthew and Luke, and even John) were composing their stories largely as allegories, not intended to represent actual history, an intervening period of a few decades between their composition and when they were disseminated across the wider Christian world as constituting newly-perceived history—only at which time would they tend to be attested to—would be quite understandable.
Krystian mentions J. P. Holding’s counter-argument of choice, that just because something is not attested to for a long period doesn’t mean it didn’t exist earlier, is backed by an appeal to the case of Tacitus, whose Annals are accepted as existing earlier (because they are regarded as authentic to him) and yet lacked attestation until much later. (Part of Krystian’s statement above is confusing in seeming to say that the Annals is “anonymous” like the Gospels, but I won’t try to unravel that.) While I might hate to give him that credit, Holding’s argument and his comparison with Tacitus can have some validity in general principle, as long as one has a reasonably possible explanation for the intervening silence, as I have just demonstrated in regard to the Gospels.
However, the comparison is in more specific respects not all that happy, in that the failure of later Roman historians to employ or quote from the Annals in areas where they might have done so would hardly be of the same caliber as the pervasive silence on the Gospels which spans their traditional dating (between 70 and 100) and their first clear attestation as historical documents by Justin in the 150s. Failure by other Romans to quote Tacitus’ Annals is not as eyebrow-raising as the consistent failure of so many early Christian writers for so long to appeal to biographies (or even oral traditions!) of their own divine founder and the events of his life and death on earth—if Mark was indeed meant to represent history and could be dated as early as 70, let alone dated even earlier (along with other Gospels), as many conservative champions have tried to do.
In regard to Tacitus, it is, however, another matter entirely when one recognizes that no Christian writer before the 5th century appeals to the key 15:44 passage of the Annals in which a Neronian persecution of Christians as accused arsons in the Great Fire of Rome is recounted, along with mention of their founder “Christus crucified by Pilate.” That includes Tertullian who had a fixation on the topic of martyrdom, and Eusebius who was concerned with recounting the martyrdoms of renowned figures like Peter and Paul and James the Just. That silence, the centuries-long period of non-attestation to the Christians/Christus passage in the Annals, should indeed go a long way to spelling its non-existence over that period. And in fact, even in the 5th century, the appearance of something resembling the Tacitus account in Sulpicius Severus does not cite Tacitus as its source, nor does it include the reference to Christus crucified by Pilate. There is thus scope for postulating that the Severus passage was not drawn from the Annals but from some Christian invention which subsequently served as the basis for an interpolation into 15:44. Clear attestation to this alleged ‘non-Christian witness to Jesus’ can be dated no earlier than the 9th century.
To get back more specifically to Krystian’s question, there are a fair number of attestations to other works of Tacitus throughout the period between their composition and Renaissance times, but strangely enough not for the Annals. (For a complete listing, see C. W. Mendell, Tacitus: The Man and his Work, p.225f.) However, we do have a reference in Jerome to the existence of the Annals in a ‘boxed set’ with the Histories, though no quote from them. Mendell considers that Jerome may not actually have read them.
This silence for three centuries (at least) on the part of Christian commentators about the content we now find in Annals 15:44 is often explained away by suggesting that the works of Tacitus, or any other Roman historian, would not have been common reading material among Christians. But Tertullian, Jerome and others show knowledge of other works by Tacitus, yet in discussions of the Christian history of martyrdom, no appeal is ever made to Tacitus’ account of the dramatic and horrifying Neronian persecution. It is hard to believe, regardless of regular Christian reading material, that an account of such a dramatic event in Christian history, indeed the elimination of a vast portion of the Christian community in the capital of the empire, would have remained for centuries under the radar of every extant commentator.
This observation almost becomes inconsequential, however, when set against the fact that no Christian writer during those three centuries ever clearly refers to that Neronian persecution per se, simply as something present in Christian tradition, regardless of whether they knew the Annals account or not. This state of affairs can hardly be disposed of through J. P. Holding’s counter, for such a silence is so incredible that we can logically conclude that the event never took place, and that the passage in the Annals cannot be authentic to Tacitus who lived within a generation of the Great Fire itself. Other historians of the period, such as Suetonius and Cassius Dio, when recounting the fire, impute its responsibility to Nero himself and make no mention of any Christian involvement as arsonists or persecution on such an account. This angle on the matter essentially demolishes the 15:44 ‘Christian’ passage and with it the alleged Tacitean witness to an historical Jesus. I devote a long chapter in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man to a discussion of it.
Earl, in your article do you mean to suggest that this phrase "born of woman under the law" may have been an interpolation as a direct challenge or "correction" to the non-human Christ of Marcion?Response to Dave:
“Born of Woman, born under the Law” As an Interpolation
Yes. In The Jesus Puzzle (1999) I largely avoided significantly addressing the option that “born of woman, born under the law” was simply an interpolation, preferring to interpret it in a ‘mythical’ fashion as authentic to Paul. In more recent work, especially in my new book “Jesus: Neither God Nor Man” I give equal time to the option of interpolation, and in fact do now lean in that direction. Bart Ehrman's work would lend some weight to that option. He notes that there is manuscript evidence of later tampering with the “born of woman, born under the law” original (whether Paul's or an earlier interpolation).
My chapter on “born of woman, born under the Law” in the new book is a reworking of the website article No. 15—which you are seemingly referring to—for the purpose of greater clarity of argument. I do not know if the interpolator was directly countering Marcion, or simply the growing trend in the first half of the 2nd century to recasting the newly-introduced Gospel Jesus as not a fully human man, which Marcion was not the only one championing.
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