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Did Jesus exist?

In recent years the historical existence of Jesus has been disputed by atheists and extreme skeptics. Such challenges have typically originated online, consisting of non-professional commentary from individuals with no relevant qualifications (with only very rare exceptions). The overwhelming scholarly consensus of professional historians considers the historical existence of Jesus to be conclusively established. This article surveys the historical sources typically cited as evidence for the existence of Jesus.

Historical evidence

There are no contemporary records of Jesus’ life; that is, none written during the time that he was alive. Even the gospels were written long after his death. The apostle Paul is in fact the earliest witness to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The following are sources outside the New Testament, commonly cited as witnesses for the historicity of Jesus. They are not all of equal value, and some of them do not contribute very useful historical data.

  1. Thallos (Greek historian), c. 55 CE.[1]

The Christian historian Georgius Syncellus quotes a passage from 3rd century Christian historian Julius Africanus, who in turn quotes Thallos  referring to an eclipse.[2] Although Thallos treats the eclipse as a natural event, Africanus argues he is wrong, and that this was an act of God which took place at the crucifixion of Jesus.[3] The uncertainty of who Thallos was, what he wrote, and the lack of a direct reference to Jesus, means this source does not provide any useful information confirming the existence of Jesus.[4]

  1. Josephus (Jewish historian), c. 90s CE.

Josephus is considered the most important historical witness to the life of Jesus outside the New Testament, not only because he is the earliest but also because his work ‘Antiquities of the Jews’ (written during the 90s), contains two references to Jesus. The first reference is lengthy, and much of it looks like it was written by a Christian rather than a Jewish historian such as Josephus; see the words marked here in bold.

‘Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works—a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; (64) and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross,b those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day,c as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.’[5]

It is certain that this reference contains a lot of material which is obviously not authentic, having been added by later Christians scribes when copying Josephus’ work.[6] [7] [8] Nevertheless the overwhelming majority of scholars believe that once these Christian additions are removed, there is still a genuine historical reference to Jesus in the text, which was written by Josephus. Here is an example of what the original text is typically understood to have looked like.

‘At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians (named after him) has not died out.’[9]

Very importantly, a 10th century Christian manuscript written in Arabic quotes this section of Josephus in a way which shows the writer (Agapius of Mabbug), had access to a text which did not suffer from the Christian additions of the oldest available Greek text.

‘At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.’[10]

This text was only published academically in 1971, [11] long after scholars had suggested a neutral ‘reconstructed’ version of the quotation from Josephus, with the most obvious Christian additions removed. The fact that this Arabic text is very similar to the reconstructed text, and is independent of the corrupted Greek version, strengthens the considerably the case that Josephus contains an authentic reference to the life and death of Jesus. This is acknowledged by the overwhelming majority of current scholars.[12] [13] [14]

The second reference to Jesus in Josephus contains a reference to James, called by Josephus ‘the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James’.[15] This reference has been far less disputed, since the mention of Jesus is incidental and since he is referred to as Jesus ‘who was called Christ’, indicating that the writer himself did not believe Jesus was the Christ.[16] [17]

  1. Pliny the Younger (Roman senator), c. 111-113 CE.

While he was the governor of Pontus-Bythinia from c. 111-113 CE, Pliny wrote to the emperor Trajan asking for advice on how to deal with Christians.[18] However, Pliny’s letters tell us only about the beliefs and practices of the Christians in his day; he does not refer to Jesus specifically, and does not provide any independent information on Jesus as a historical figure.[19] Like Thallos, Pliny does not provide any useful information confirming the existence of Jesus.[20]

  1. Tacitus (Roman historian), c. 116 CE.

In his historical work ‘Annals’ (written around 116 CE), Tacitus refers explicitly to Jesus as the founder of Christianity, and his crucifixion by Pontius Pilate.[21]  Arguments that this passage was not written by Tacitus, and was inserted by later Christians, have failed to convince mainstream scholarship.[22] This remains one of the earliest historical references to Jesus, and to his crucifixion under Pilate.

  1. Suetonius (Roman historian), c. 120 CE.

In his work ‘Lives of the Caesars’ (c. 120 CE), Suetonius refers to the expulsion of the Jews from Rome by the emperor Claudius, which Suetonius says was ‘since they were always making disturbances because of the instigator Chestus’.[23] The vast majority of scholars consider this passage to be genuine,[24] and the word ‘Chrestus’ was a common mistaken spelling of ‘Christus’ (meaning ‘Christ’ in Latin).[25] 

Nevertheless, this passage speaks of Jews making disturbances in Rome as a result of ‘Chrestus’, which does not seem to be a reference to Jesus (who was never in Rome). Although Suetonius refers elsewhere to Christians (whom he calls ‘Christiani’), he does not do so in this passage; consequently, this reference in Suetonius is of little use in establishing the historicity of Jesus.[26] [27] [28]

  1. Mara bar Serapion (Syrian writer), c. 73-150 CE.

An non-Christian Syrian writer named Serapion, in a letter to his son (the date of which is still uncertain and debated), refers to a ‘wise king of the Jews’, for whose death God held the Jews responsible, punishing them by exiling them from Judea and scattering them throughout the earth.[29] The only surviving copy of this letter is dated to the seventh century, and Serapion does not name Jesus, but the context suggests he is the ‘wise king’ referred to.[30] [31] This provides some evidence for the historicity of Jesus.

Conclusion

As a result of these sources, Jesus’ existence is considered well established by professional historiography, and the idea that he did not exist is typically not taken seriously.

‘The theory of Jesus’ nonexistence is now effectively dead as a scholarly question.’ [32]

Although details of the life of Jesus are still hotly disputed, there is still a very broad agreement on the key events of his life. The following statements are are all agreed on by the overwhelming consensus of peer reviewed professional scholarship on the historicity of Jesus, from those as conservative as Witherington, Blomberg and Habemas, through those less conservative such as Theissen,[33] and Sanders,[34] to those as skeptical as Ehrman (agnostic),[35] Vermès (Jew),[36] [37] [38]and Lüdemann (atheist).[39] [40]

  1. Jesus was born to a woman named Mary, during the reign of Herod the Great.
  2. He had a father (biological or not), called Joseph.
  3. He was baptized in Galilee.
  4. He became an intinerant teacher.
  5. He proclaimed the kingdom of God.
  6. He conducted a healing ministry which involved certain genuine acts of healing.
  7. He taught a subversive and counter-cultural socio-religious ethic expressed in wisdom sayings and parables; Mark 2:19; 3:27; 4:21; 10:25; 12:17, Matthew 5:38-48; 6:9-23; 7:7-8; 11:7-8; 18:12-14; 18:23-25; 20:1-15, Luke 6:20-21; 6:41-42; 9:58; 9:59-60; 10:30-35; 11:24-26; 12:22-31; 13:6-9; 13:20-21; 14:16-24; 15:11-32; 16:1-8a; 17:33; 18:1-8; 20:46 are all considered authentic sayings of Jesus by the Jesus Seminar.
  8. He associated and identified with social outcasts.
  9. He criticized the established Jewish religious elite.
  10. He was arrested and crucified during the prefecture of Pontius Pilate, for being a public nuisance and social threat.
  11. He died at around 30 years of age.

_____________________________________________________

[1] Also spelled ‘Thallas’ or ‘Thallus’.

[2] ‘Around 55 C.E., a historian named Thallos wrote in Greek a three-volume chronicle of the eastern Mediterranean area from the fall of Troy to about 50 C.E. Most of his book, like the vast majority of ancient literature, perished, but not before it was quoted by Sextus Julius Africanus (ca. 160–ca. 240), a Christian writer, in his History of the World (ca. 220).2 This book likewise was lost, but one of its citations of Thallos was taken up by the Byzantine historian Georgius Syncellus in his Chronicle (ca. 800).’, Van Voorst, ‘Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence’, p. 20 (2000).

[3] ‘This fragment of Thallos used by Julius Africanus comes in a section in which Julius deals with the portents during the crucifixion of Jesus. Julius argues that Thallos was “wrong” (ἀλογώς) to argue that this was only a solar eclipse, because at full moon a solar eclipse is impossible, and the Passover always falls at full moon. Julius counters that the eclipse was miraculous, “a darkness induced by God.” Thallos could have mentioned the eclipse with no reference to Jesus. But it is more likely that Julius, who had access to the context of this quotation in Thallos and who (to judge from other fragments) was generally a careful user of his sources, was correct in reading it as a hostile reference to Jesus’ death. The context in Julius shows that he is refuting Thallos’ argument that the darkness is not religiously significant.’, ibid., pp. 20-21.

[4]The question of identity aside, the value of this fragment is slight. At best all that it shows is that someone in the first century had learned of the tradition of the darkness at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion and then attempted to explain it in natural terms.’, Evans, ‘Jesus in Non-Christian Sources’, in Chilton & Evans (eds.), ‘Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research’, p. 455 (1998).

[5] Josephus, ’Antiquities’, 18.63-64, in Whiston (ed.), ‘The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged’ (1987 ed.).

[6] ‘The clause “if indeed it is right to call him a man” suggests that Jesus was more than human. This looks like a Christian scribe’s correction of the christological implications of calling Jesus only “a wise man.”’, Van Voorst, ‘Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence’, p. 91 (2000).

[7] ‘The crux of this problem is the curt sentence “He was the Christ” (ὁ Χριστὸς οὗτος ἦν). Leaving aside the issue of how intelligible this statement would have been to Josephus’s Gentile audience,43 this sentence looks like a confession of Jesus as Messiah.’, ibid., p. 91.

[8] ‘The entire sentence, “For on the third day he appeared to them alive again, because the divine prophets had prophesied these and myriad other things about him” is filled with Christian content.’, ibid, p. 92.

[9] Meier, ‘A Marginal Jew, Rethinking the Historical Jesus: Volume One, The Roots of the Problem and the Person’, p. 61 (1991).

[10] Brown, ‘The Death of the Messiah, Volume 1 and 2: From Gethsemane to the Grave,  a Commentary on the Passion Narratives in the Four Gospels’, p. 375 (1994).

[11] A 12th century Syriac text by Michael the Syrian, published at the same time, is very similar to the text of Agapius.

[12] ‘Hence the most that can be claimed is that Josephus here made some reference to Jesus, which has been retouched by a Christian hand. This is the view argued by Meier as by most scholars today, particularly since S. Pines drew attention to a less obviously Christian version of the  ‘Testimonium’ which is quoted in Arabic translation in a tenth-century Christian work.’, Wells, ‘The Jesus Legend’, p. 28 (1996).

[13]Most scholars today consider the passage authentic, but think it has been extensively altered to reflect core Christian beliefs (italic type in the quotation above indicates those parts of the Testimonium that are usually considered obvious additions by a Christian hand).’, Neufeld, ‘Recovering Jesus: The Witness of the New Testament’, p. 40 (2007).

[14]Most scholars are confident that Josephus wrote something like this because the later mention of the Christ in the James citation from Antiquities 20.200 assumes a previous mention of this figure.’, Bock, ‘Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods’, p. 55 (2002).

[15] ‘Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions];’, Josephus, ’Antiquities’, 20.200, in Whiston (ed.), ‘The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged’ (1987 ed.).

[16]That, indeed, Josephus did say something about Jesus is indicated, above all, by the passage — the authenticity of which has been almost universally acknowledged — about James, who is termed (A XX, 200) the brother of “the aforementioned Christ.”’, Feldman, ‘Inroduction’, in  Feldman & Hata (eds.), ‘Josephus, Judaism, and Christianity’, p. 56 (1987).

[17]The overwhelming majority of scholars holds that the words “the brother of Jesus called Christ” are authentic, as is the entire passage in which it is found.25 The passage fits its context well. As for its content, a Christian interpolator would have used laudatory language to describe James and especially Jesus, calling him “the Lord” or something similar. At least, as in the passage to be considered next, he would have used the term “Christ” in an absolute way. Josephus’s words “called Christ” are neutral and descriptive, intended neither to confess nor deny Jesus as the “Christ.” Thus Josephus distinguishes this Jesus from the many others he mentions who had this common name.’, Van Voorst, ‘Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence’, pp. 83-84 (2000).

[18] ‘Because he has not been present at such trials before his appointment to Bithynia (to judge from what follows), Pliny has several questions: How should Christians be punished? What are the grounds for investigation, and how far should investigation be pressed? Are any distinctions to be made for age, or for renouncing Christianity? Are Christians to be punished just for being Christians, “for the mere name of Christian,” even though they may not be guilty of “crimes associated with the name”?’, Van Voorst, ‘Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence’, p. 24 (2000).

[19]Pliny does not deal explicitly with the “historical Jesus.” If he has learned anything in his investigations and interrogations about Jesus, he does not relate it to the emperor.’, ibid., p. 28.

[20] ‘None of these features, of course, add to our knowledge of the Jesus of history.’, Evans, ‘Jesus in Non-Christian Sources’, in Chilton & Evans (eds.), ‘Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research’, p. 459 (1998).

[21] ‘The founder of this name, Christ, had been executed in the reign of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate’, Tacitus quoted in Van Voorst, ‘Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence’, p. 41 (2000).

[22]The textual integrity of this section has on occasion been doubted. The text has some significant problems, as attested by the standard critical editions.59 These and other difficulties in interpreting the text have also led to a few claims that all of it, or key portions of it, has been interpolated by later hands.60 But there are good reasons for concluding with the vast majority of scholars that this passage is fundamentally sound, despite difficulties which result in no small measure from Tacitus’s own compressed style. The overall style and content of this chapter are typically Tacitean. The passage fits well in its context and is the necessary conclusion to the entire discussion of the burning of Rome. Sulpicius Severus’s Chronicle 2.29 attests to much of it in the early fifth century, so most suggested interpolations would have to have come in the second through fourth centuries.’, ibid., pp. 42-43.

[23] Suetonius quoted in Van Voorst, ‘Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence’, p. 30 (2000).

[24] ‘We conclude with the overwhelming majority of modern scholarship that this sentence is genuine.’, ibid., p. 31.

[25] ‘“Christus” was often confused with “Chrestus” by non-Christians, and sometimes even by Christians.’, ibid., p. 34.

[26] ‘Although Suetonius did view Christ as an historical person capable of fomenting unrest,55 his glaring mistakes should caution us against placing too much weight on his evidence for Jesus or his significance for early Christianity.’, ibid., p  39.

[27] ‘The “Jews” may really refer to Christians, who in the first century were viewed as no more than a sect within Judaism itself; or the designation may refer to Jews who quarreled with Christians (along the lines of what we find in Acts). Of the two, the latter interpretation is the more probable.’, Evans, ‘Jesus in Non-Christian Sources’, in Chilton & Evans (eds.), ‘Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research’, p. 457 (1998).

[28] ‘The confusion involved is hardly the work of artifice or contrivance, but certainly weakens the historical value of the text.’, Dunn, ‘Jesus Remembered’, volume 1, p.  142 (2003).

[29] ‘What advantage did the Athenians gain by murdering Socrates, for which they were repaid with famine and pestilence? Or the people of Samos by the burning of Pythagoras, because their country was completely covered in sand in just one hour? Or the Jews [by killing]93 their wise king, because their kingdom was taken away at that very time? God justly repaid the wisdom of these three men: the Athenians died of famine; the Samians were completely overwhelmed by the sea; and the Jews, desolate and driven from their own kingdom, are scattered through every nation.’, Van Voorst, ‘Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence’, p. 54 (2000).

[30] ‘The text contains no specific Christian ideas — except for the expression “the wise king of the Jews,” which may refer to Jesus127 — and therefore is presumably of pagan authorship.’, Possekel, ‘Evidence of Greek Philosophical Concepts in the Writings of Ephrem the Syrian’, Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium, volume 580, number 102, p. 29 (1999).

[31] ‘The value of this curious comment lies in the apparent fact that by the end of the first century Jesus was regarded in at least some non-Christian circles as the Jews’ “wise king.”’, Evans, ‘Jesus in Non-Christian Sources’, in Chilton & Evans (eds.), ‘Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research’, p. 456 (1998).

[32] Van Voorst, ‘Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence’, p. 14 (2000).

[33]  Thiessen & Merz, ‘The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide’, pp. 569, 571-572 (1998).

[34] ‘Sanders offered a more concise sketch in The Historical Figure of Jesus (1993). – Jesus was born c. 4 BCE, near the time of the death of Herod the Great; – he spent his childhood and early adult years in Nazareth, a Galilean village; – he was baptized by John the Baptist; – he called disciples; – he taught in the towns, villages and countryside of Galilee (apparently not the cities); – he preached “the kingdom of God”; – about the year 30 he went to Jerusalem for Passover; – he created a disturbance in the Temple area; – he had a final meal with the disciples; – he was arrested and interrogated by Jewish authorities, specifically the high priest; – he was executed on the orders of the Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate.’, Broadhead, ‘Jewish Ways of Following Jesus: Redrawing the Religious Map of Antiquity’, pp. 64-65 (2010).

[35] Ehrman, ‘Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium’ (1999).

[36] Vermès, ‘Jesus and the World of Judaism’, pp. 11-12 (1984).

[37] ‘Why, then, was Jesus crucified? In Vermes’s subsequent volume, ‘The Religion of Jesus the Jew’, he succinctly summarizes his conclusion: “The arrest and execution of Jesus were due, not direclty to his words and deeds, but to their possible insurrectionary consequences feared by the nervous authorities in charge of law and order in that powder-keg of first-century Jerusalem… He died on the cross for having done the wrong thing (caused a commotion) in the wrong place (the Temple) at the wrong time (just before Passover)” (x).’, Keck, ‘Who is Jesus? History in Perfect Tense’, p. 41 (2001).

[38] ‘”The Synoptists are unanimous in presenting him as an exorcist, healer and teacher. They also emphasize that the deepest impression made by Jesus on his contemporaries resulted from his mastery over devils and disease, and the magnetic power of his preaching.”’, Vermes, quoted by Scott, ‘New Options in An Old Quest’, in Greenspoon et al. (eds.), ‘The Historical Jesus Through Catholic and Jewish Eyes’, pp. 7-8 (2000).

[39] Lüdemann, ‘The Great Deception: And What Jesus Really Said and Did’, pp. 77, 83, 96-97 (1999), and ‘Jesus After Two Thousand Years: what he really said and did’, pp. 689-690 (2001).

[40] ‘Lüdemann even concludes that ‘the activity of Jesus in driving out demons is one of the most certain historical facts about his life’ (Jesus 13).’, Dunn, ‘Jesus Remembered’, p. 677 (2003).

  1. July 28, 2014 at 2:33 am

    Hi Jonathan,

    If you’re interested in the historicity of Jesus I would recommend Richard Carrier’s “On the Historicity of Jesus” (Sheffield-Phoenix, 2014). He addresses all of these issues thoroughly. In a nutshell, the most credible theory of mythicism posits that the earliest Christians believed that Jesus was a celestial or angelic sort of being who had been crucified in the lower heavens (kind of like how the Sumerians believed that Inanna had been killed and hanged on a nail in hell before rising from the dead and ascending into heaven).

    To cut a long story short, most of the “evidence” cited here is not inconsistent with such an idea, as you seem to acknowledge yourself. Only three passages even merit discussion: the two passages in Josephus and the passage in Tacitus.

    On Josephus: the Arabic Josephus is not independent of the Eusebian tradition (Eusebius is usually thought to be behind the forgery of the Testimonium), see discussion and scholarship cited here, as well as the discussion in “On the Historicity”:
    http://vridar.org/2014/02/03/oneill-fitzgerald-christ-myth-debate-10-josephus-part-2-josephus-as-evidence-the-arabic-version-of-the-testimonium/

    Of course, the Arabic passage has been “toned down” concerning the comments about the divine nature of Christ, but that is to be expected since the Arabic tradition derives from muslims.

    The Josephan passage on James may also be interpolated:
    http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/journal_of_early_christian_studies/v020/20.4.carrier.html

    Tacitus is a bit better, but even with him we are probably dealing with no more than what he heard from Christians (perhaps directly or from pagan acquaintances). As such, the passage only shows that Christians in the second century believed that Jesus had been crucified by Pontius Pilate (or that they taught this as an exoteric myth that concealed an esoteric truth). I know of no mythicist who denies that Christians held such a belief (or at least taught such a belief in the manner I spoke of) in the second century.

    I’d say that the New Testament evidence is really where all the action is, and is really the only place one could hope to find solid evidence of an historical Jesus. I think Christians and historicists in general have avoided this tack because they figure any mythicist would reject the bible out of hand.

    I, on the other hand, as both an atheist and an agnostic on the question of Jesus’ existence, do not hold such a stance. I think that if positing an historical Jesus is the best explanation for the Pauline letters, the gospels (at least the gospel of Mark), etc. Then we should certainly accept the historicity of Jesus. Of course, whether that actually is the best explanation is a question that needs more discussion.

    • Jonathan Burke
      July 29, 2014 at 11:27 am

      Thanks Ryan, I’ve been reading Carrier for at least five years, and following his discussions with others. I have also engaged him in direct conversation myself on more than one occasion, and was unsurprised to find him unable to answer specific questions. For example, he was unable to provide any lexical evidence for his interpretation of ‘James, the Lord’s brother’ in Galatians 1:19. When an assertion rests on a lexical argument for which there is no evidence, the argument becomes suspect. The mythicist case depends on these kinds of unsupported lexical assertions. Carrier struggles with the very clear term ‘according to the flesh’, saying ‘I find it hard to understand what Paul would have meant to emphasize with this’, but fails to do even the most cursory diachronic and synchronic search of Greek literature to see how this phrase is used. If he had done so, he would have found it in Plutarch (Against Colotes, 30), Diogenes Laertius (Lives of Eminent Philosophers, 10.140), and Athenaeus (The Deipnosophists, 7.279), showing it refers directly to someone who has a physical body. Consequently, mythicist Earl Doherty’s efforts to interpret this as a reference to a spiritual body in ‘the sub-lunar realm’, are totally misguided. The mythicist position piles up these kinds of errors. Trying to argue that anyone reading ‘a crucified Christ’ (1 Corinthians 1:23), would have understood this to mean ‘put to death in the sub-lunar realm by evil spirits’, is an exercise in futility. These arguments are simply not within the realm of lexical probability.

      We know from second and third century texts what a non-human spirit being Christ who never had an earthly existence would have looked like. There are plenty of Gnostic or quasi-Gnostic texts which describe such a Christ. None of them look anything like the descriptions of Jesus found in the earliest Christian writings, in particular the letters of Paul. So we have a historical control for the mythicist interpretation, and it fails the test.

      The mythicist claim that ‘the earliest Christians believed that Jesus was a celestial or angelic sort of being who had been crucified in the lower heavens’ is not taken seriously by mainstream scholarship, for all the reasons which have been articulated in detail by academic commentators. I don’t agree that ‘most of the “evidence” cited here is not inconsistent with such an idea’, nor was I suggesting that in what I wrote. What I have done here is assess the evidence typically asserted for the historicity of Jesus, and demonstrated that only some of it is valid.

      The scholarly consensus holds that both references in Josephus are genuine references to Jesus as a historical figure, and that the Arabic passage strengthens the case. The scholarly consensus also holds that the passage in Tacitus is genuine, and is evidence for Jesus’ historicity. In all three cases there are no intrinsic or extrinsic reasons to suspect complete forgery or interpolation for all three passages. This is why those asserting all three passages are inauthentic, have a personal motivation for doing so; they are attempting to explain away evidence which destroys the mythicist case. There’s no evidence that Christians ever taught the crucifixion as ‘an exoteric myth that concealed an esoteric truth’.

      Contrary to what you suggest, both Christians and historians do include the New Testament as evidence for the historical Jesus; Paul’s letters in particular since they are the earliest Christian writings. You will find them examined extensively and in considerable detail in standard scholarly works on the historicity of Jesus, including those by Ehrman. An itinerant Jewish rabbi in Judea, with messianic claims, a healing ministry, and an apocalyptic eschatology, is the most efficient explanation for the New Testament writings and the rise of Christianity. It meets the test of Occam’s Razor, it is not intrinsically improbable, it is intrinsically likely (given the records we have of similar Jewish teachers in this area during this time), and does not require any extraordinary evidence. In contrast, the mythicist claim does require extraordinary evidence, not the least of which is lexical.

      • July 31, 2014 at 5:48 am

        “For example, he was unable to provide any lexical evidence for his interpretation of ‘James, the Lord’s brother’ in Galatians 1:19.”

        Paul frequently refers to other Christians as “brothers” and Paul even says (Rom 8:29) that Christ is “the firstborn among many brethren” which indicates that all Christians were thought of as brothers of the Lord. Carrier uses this and a broad range of other evidences to support his interpretation for that passage.

        “If he had done so, he would have found it in Plutarch (Against Colotes, 30), Diogenes Laertius (Lives of Eminent Philosophers, 10.140), and Athenaeus (The Deipnosophists, 7.279), showing it refers directly to someone who has a physical body.”

        I don’t think you understand what Carrier is proposing. As he has written:
        “[Doherty’s] theory is entirely compatible with Jesus ‘becoming a man of flesh and blood,'”
        http://infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/jesuspuzzle.html#Sublunar

        He affirms this position still.

        “We know from second and third century texts what a non-human spirit being Christ who never had an earthly existence would have looked like.”

        Have you studied the ascension of Isaiah in particular? If so, is there anything in the Greek that differs substantially from the New Testament’s language in a way that would show the New Testament was not affirming the same thing as the ascension of Isaiah was? If so, could you give details?

        “I don’t agree that ‘most of the “evidence” cited here is not inconsistent with such an idea’, nor was I suggesting that in what I wrote.”

        What were you suggesting, then, when you said:

        “The uncertainty of who Thallos was, what he wrote, and the lack of a direct reference to Jesus, means this source does not provide any useful information confirming the existence of Jesus.”

        “Like Thallos, Pliny does not provide any useful information confirming the existence of Jesus.”

        “consequently, this reference in Suetonius is of little use in establishing the historicity of Jesus.”

        You’ve already made quick work of 3 out the 6 references you used. Moreover, you stated that bar Serapion “provides some evidence for the historicity of Jesus,” but I do not see how this could be so. If the mythicist hypothesis were true, does it follow that we would never expect to see a reference like bar Serapion’s? Not that I can tell, though if you care to explain I’d appreciate hearing the case. For the moment I’ll tentatively count that as 4 out of 6 references that fail to provide evidence for the existence of Jesus. I agree that Josephus and Tacitus have some relevance to the issue of Jesus’ existence, though I’m unsure of how strong they are.

        “The scholarly consensus holds that both references in Josephus are genuine references to Jesus as a historical figure, and that the Arabic passage strengthens the case. The scholarly consensus also holds that the passage in Tacitus is genuine, and is evidence for Jesus’ historicity.”

        A consensus usually refers to an opinion representing at least 95% of the scholarly opinion, and I doubt if anyone has taken a poll that can show +95% of scholars currently hold this position, given that it is advocated by Ken Olson and most recently by the widely-respected Josephan scholar Louis Feldman, among others. See the post authored by Olson here:
        http://historicaljesusresearch.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-testimonium-flavianum-eusebius-and.html

        Moreover, scholarly opinion *always* must derive from ancient evidence, and if the ancient evidence suggests the Arabic transmissions are dependent upon Eusebius’ Ecclesiastica, then it does not vindicate the testimonium. For information about such dependance, see Alice Whealey’s article “The Testimonium Flavanium in Syriac and Arabic.”

        “In all three cases there are no intrinsic or extrinsic reasons to suspect complete forgery…”

        In addition to the reasons I have given above, let me give another reason: no author, pagan or Christian, *ever* cites the Testimonium Flavanium prior to Eusebius. This is acknowledged as a reasonable grounds for arguing forgery, see p.698, Charlesworth, “Jesus Research” (2014).

        “This is why those asserting all three passages are inauthentic, have a personal motivation for doing so; they are attempting to explain away evidence which destroys the mythicist case.”

        It’s irrelevant what someone’s motivations are; what matters is whether their arguments hold up. I imagine you wouldn’t want me to say that you only believed the Testimonium was authentic to support an a priori belief in the historical existence of Jesus, you’d want me to address the reasons you give.

        More to the point, the issue of there having been an “exoteric myth” that initiates and people outside the faith were taught effectively mitigates Tacitus and Josephus as witnesses to the historical Jesus, since we cannot show that what they said derived from anyone but Christians, and Christians would not have said anything except the exoteric version of the truth.

        “There’s no evidence that Christians ever taught the crucifixion as ‘an exoteric myth that concealed an esoteric truth’.”

        On the contrary, Carrier argues that the Christians believed the crucifixion had taken place, but in the lower heavens instead of earth. Stories about it happening on earth were exoteric myths concealing the esoteric knowledge that it had taken place elsewhere. There are indeed reasons for taking this seriously; Carrier demonstrates in detail that religious movements of the time would often tell exoteric stories that concealed esoteric truths, and moreover, there are numerous stories that have been proven beyond the shadow of a doubt to be exactly this (the cursing of the fig tree, tearing of the temple curtain, the barabbas narrative, and Matthew’s genealogy are among the most prominent examples).

        “Contrary to what you suggest, both Christians and historians do include the New Testament as evidence for the historical Jesus”

        I never suggested otherwise. I said that *Christians* and *historicists in general* (not ‘historians’ not ‘new testament scholars’ but only ‘historicists;’ in other words those who go out of their way to argue against mythicism). Moreover, I also said that I do not object to the new testament being discussed as valid evidence concerning Jesus’ historicity. The Pauline letters, the gospels, and perhaps a few other documents within the New Testament do indeed contain passages that mythicists must provide an answer for.

        Of course, I’ve just summarized the issues, I think if you’re really going to pursue this issue you’ve got to engage Carrier’s “On the Historicity of Jesus” (Sheffield-Phoenix, 2014).

      • Jonathan Burke
        July 31, 2014 at 11:50 am

        1. What Carrier fails to do is provide any evidence that ‘X, the brother of the Lord’ was used by Christians as a fictive kinship term. He even acknowledged to me that he had no examples of this, and did what you’re doing; a bait and switch, pointing to a different term. The fact is, if Christians did use this phrase as a fictive kinship term then he would be able to find lexical evidence for its use. For all his blustering and pointing to different terms, he wasn’t able to find any examples. If the value of an asserted meaning for which there is evidence is x, then the value of an asserted meaning for which there is no evidence at all is definitely less than x, making it considerably less probable; ‘That which is asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence’ (Hitchens), ‘Speculation in, speculation out’ (Carrier, on Bayesian analysis). We need evidence here, not speculation or mere assertion.

        In this case we have plenty of evidence that this term was used of biological kinship and would naturally be understood this way; the meaning which is attested by numerous examples is considerably more likely than the meaning which is attested by absolutely no examples at all. Since Christians had a fictive kinship tradition which used adelphos repeatedly as a reference to spiritual rather than non-biological kinship, the use of the formula ‘X, the brother of Y’ (well attested as a reference to biological kinship), makes sense as a term differentiating James as biological rather than fictive kin. Therefore, the biological kinship meaning of ‘X, the brother of Y’ makes sense if Paul is referring to biological kinship (because this meaning is well attested and would disambiguate the reference in context), but the fictive kinship meaning of ‘X, the brother of Y’ does not make sense if Paul’s is referring to fictive kinship (because this meaning is not attested at all, and would confuse the audience if Paul used it ‘without qualification or explanation’).

        So we have a phrase for which two meanings are proposed. One of these meanings is attested strongly throughout the relevant literature, the other is not attested at all (that you have found). It is an extraordinary claim that the meaning for which there is no evidence is the correct meaning, and that the meaning for which there is copious evidence is not the correct meaning. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence; what do you have?

        2. I didn’t misunderstand Carrier, you misunderstood what I wrote. I said “Carrier struggles with the very clear term ‘according to the flesh’, saying ‘I find it hard to understand what Paul would have meant to emphasize with this’”. I pointed out there was no need to struggle with the term, since a simple diachronic and synchronic lexical search would identify how it is used. I did not say Carrier claimed it meant something other than a person with a body of flesh. As for Doherty, despite Carrier saying that a reference to a physical body is not incompatible with what Doherty believes, that is not actually how Doherty understands the term. If you read Doherty for yourself you will see he understands kata sarka as a reference to a spiritual body in a lower level of the sub-lunar realm, not as a reference to a physical body; he says explicitly that Paul’s Christ is “the Christ who was a spiritual entity, not a human one” (“Jesus: Neither God Nor Man”, p. 89 of the 2009 edition).

        Doherty says the term kata sarka is “seemingly vague and particularly cryptic phrase that is used throughout early Christian literature in a variety of ways, often with unclear meaning” (p. 89), demonstrating his ignorance of the term in pre-Christian and post-Christian Greek literature. It isn’t vague or cryptic, and it isn’t used with an unclear meaning in Christian literature. His understanding of this phrase is that it refers to Jesus having a spiritual counterpart of a fleshly body (not an actual fleshly body), which Jesus occupied during his sojourn in a sub-lunar realm (not the earth); “Since the counterpart relationship between human and god involved the latter assuming a form of the former so as to undergo parallel experiences to humans (suffering and death), this brought him into the realm of flesh (below the moon, as some envisioned it) and into the shape of flesh—a “likeness” of it, a spiritual counterpart of it” (p. 159). He denies explicitly that kata sarka refers to literal flesh in this context; “It is frequently claimed that usage of the word sarx can only refer to human flesh, flesh on earth, or the realm of earth itself which flesh inhabits. But this is erroneous” (p. 159), “If “flesh” is being used to describe Christ’s inferior or degraded spiritual form when he descended into the firmament and was crucified by the demon spirits, it is perfectly in keeping with Paul’s outlook on the world in general” (p. 161), “For Paul, such a unified “body” does exist, made up of the flesh of humans and the body of Christ, a body of spirit, not of an incarnated earthly flesh” (p. 166).

        3. I’m not sure what your point is with regard to the Ascension of Isaiah. The text attributes to Isaiah the prophet, visions of earthly events which would happen in the life of Jesus. It describes Jesus as coming down from the earthly heaven, becoming incarnate in a literal physical body, living on earth, having twelve disciples, being tortured, crucified, and buried in a tomb; all on earth. This is not a description of Doherty’s pseudo-human Jesus who never descends to earth, only has a spiritual body, and whose entire messianic mission takes place in the invisible sub-lunar realm of the spirits. The only substantial difference between the description of Jesus in the Ascension of Isaiah and the New Testament is that the New Testament never describes Jesus as a spirit being who comes down from heaven and walks around in a ‘man suit’ for 30 odd years; it describes him being born to a human mother as a normal human being.

        4. My comments on the value of Thallos, Pliny, and Suetonius were an assessment of their value as evidence for the historicity of Jesus. Identifying them as non-substantial sources for the historicity of Jesus does not provide substantiation of the mythicist case. If you cannot see how bar Serapion provides some evidence for the historicity of Jesus, then I suggest you read the relevant scholarly literature. If the mythicist case were true, we would not see a reference to the Jews killing their king; according to Doherty the Jews didn’t kill Jesus, he was killed by demons in the sub-lunar realm. Here is the relevant section from bar Serapion.

        “What else can we say, when the wise are forcibly dragged off by tyrants, their wisdom is captured by insults, and their minds are oppressed and without defense? What advantage did the Athenians gain from murdering Socrates? Famine and plague came upon them as a punishment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king? It was just after that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea and the Jews, desolate and driven from their own kingdom, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates is not dead, because of Plato; neither is Pythagoras, because of the statue of Juno; nor is the wise king, because of the “new law” he laid down.”

        He is speaking explicitly of situations in which wise men are persecuted. He cites Socrates (a historical person), Pythagoras (a historical person), and a ‘wise king’ of the Jews. He says the Athenians murdered Socrates, the men of Samos burned Pythagoras, and the Jews executed ‘their wise king’. If you believe this reads naturally as saying ‘What advantage did the Jews gain when demons invisibly executed their wise king in the sub-lunar realm?’, I suggest you submit it to a scholarly journal; it would certainly be a unique approach to the text.

        5. A scholarly consensus does not need to refer to “at least 85% of the scholarly opinion”; on the contrary, consensus can be large or small (as small as only 10% more than the contrary opinion). Since you value Feldman, let’s have him describe the scholarly consensus that Josephus contains a reference to Jesus; “That, indeed, Josephus did say something about Jesus is indicated, above all, by the passage – the authenticity of which has been almost universally acknowledged – about James, who is termed (A XX, 200), the brother of “the aforementioned Christ.”, Feldman, ‘Josephus, Judaism, and Christianity’, p. 56 (1987). The phrase “almost universally acknowledged” is strong affirmation of an overwhelming consensus. Even Wells (who has disputed the historicity of Jesus), says of the Testimonium “that Josephus made some reference to Jesus, which has been retouched by a Christian hand. This is the view argued by Meier as by most scholars today“, Wells, ‘The Jesus Legend’, p. 48 (1996).

        6. Wheatley’s conclusion strengthens the case for the authenticity of a reference in Josephus to Jesus. She argues that Michael’s version of the Testimonium is closer to Josephus’ original than Agapius’ Testimonium, and affirms Josephus originally wrote that Jesus was “thought to be the Messiah”.

        By far the most important aspect of Michael’s Testimonium in terms of recovering Josephus’ original passage is its reading ‘he was thought to be the Messiah’, because this reading is independently supported by Jerome’s very early translation of the Testimonium, and because it can readily explain Origen’s claim that Josephus did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah. Therefore the most important aspect of Agapius’ text is its reading that Jesus was ‘perhaps’ the Messiah, because this reading lends weight to the hypothesis that Michael’s qualification of Jesus’ Messianic status was based on an older exemplar of the Testimonium rather than being created by Michael ex nihilo.” (pp. 587-588).

        7. Your reference to the lack of citation of the Testimonium prior to Eusebius is contradicted by Origen’s reference to it, referred to by Wheatley (see the passage I quoted). And again, I will cite Feldman; “HORVATH has quite perceptively remarked that it makes no sense for Origen to express wonder that Josephus did not admit Jesus to be the Messiah if he did not even mention him. That Josephus in Origen’s text of him did mention Jesus seems probable from the fact that on three occasions he quotes from Antiquities 20,200, the reference being to James, ton adelfon iesou tou legoumenou xristou, “the brother of Jesus, who was called the Christ”, “The most likely assumption is, then, that the ‘Testimonium’ as read by Origen contained historical data in a neutral form“, Feldman, “Flavius Josephus Revisited: The Man, his Writings and his Significance”, Temporini, Hildegard; Haase, Wolfgang. Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt, part 2. p. 823 (1984).

        8. Motivations are important; motivated readings are always suspect. The difference between myself and a mythicist is that I have no necessity to read Josephus as a historical reference to Jesus; I have other historical sources on which to draw. In contrast, the mythicist must deny all ancient historical references to Jesus. Their reading of Josephus is motivated by the necessity of denying it is a genuine historical reference, for even one such reference destroys the mythicist case.

        9. I am aware that Carrier asserts ” Christians believed the crucifixion had taken place, but in the lower heavens instead of earth”, and that he asserts Christians taught this as an exoteric myth. But simply repeating the assertion is not the same as substantiating it. The fact that other religious movements of the time often told exoteric stories which concealed esoteric truths does not prove that the Christians taught the crucifixion as an exoteric myth. Even pointing to other exoteric myths taught by Christians does not substantiate the claim that the crucifixion is an exoteric myth. Do you understand why the overwhelming majority of scholars do not believe the early Christians taught the crucifixion as an exoteric myth concealing an esoteric truth? As I have demonstrated previously, one of the reasons why is that such a re-interpretation of the text requires piling up lexical errors of the kind committed by Doherty; so many texts have to be interpreted in unnatural ways, without any external historical controls demonstrating this is how they were understood by the earliest Christians.

        10. Christians and historians in general (especially those who go out of their way to argue against mythicism), do use the New Testament texts as evidence for the historicity of Jesus. What have you been reading?

        11. As I have already mentioned, I have been reading Carrier’s work in this area for years; since at least 2007. I am familiar with all his arguments and I have read almost all his books. His latest work does not contain any substantially new arguments, and it is unsurprising that early reviews have not found it persuasive. When it gains some traction within the scholarly community, do let me know.

  2. August 1, 2014 at 2:43 am

    “He even acknowledged to me that he had no examples of this, and did what you’re doing; a bait and switch, pointing to a different term.”

    Paul’s comment in Romans indicates that all Christians were brothers of the Lord even if he did not explicitly use the term “brother of the Lord.” Trying to call this a ‘bait and switch’ just because it is not explicit is weak; the passage logically dictates that Christians would be brothers of the Lord, so its strongly implicit.

    “In this case we have plenty of evidence that this term was used of biological kinship and would naturally be understood this way;”

    Such as? “Brother” is commonly used in the Pauline letters to denote fictive kinship. I reckon if you mean “brother of the Lord” specifically, there is the Rom. 8:29 comment that entails Christians were understood as such, but moreover, ‘brother of the Lord’ is only used twice in the Pauline letters and in neither case is there any clear indication that it is literal. To my knowledge “brother of the Lord” does not appear in any other first century Christian literature.

    “the fictive kinship meaning of ‘X, the brother of Y’ does not make sense if Paul’s is referring to fictive kinship (because this meaning is not attested at all, and would confuse the audience if Paul used it ‘without qualification or explanation’).”

    If Paul was referring to a literal ‘brother,’ given that he frequently uses ‘brother’ in a fictive kinship sense, wouldn’t he also have to make some qualification in that passage (as in, “brother of Jesus according to the flesh”?).

    “I didn’t misunderstand Carrier, you misunderstood what I wrote. I said “Carrier struggles with the very clear term ‘according to the flesh’, saying ‘I find it hard to understand what Paul would have meant to emphasize with this’”. I pointed out there was no need to struggle with the term, since a simple diachronic and synchronic lexical search would identify how it is used. I did not say Carrier claimed it meant something other than a person with a body of flesh.”

    You’ve got me confused: if Carrier thinks it meant a person with a body of flesh, then how exactly does ‘according to the flesh’ pose a problem for him?

    “As for Doherty, despite Carrier saying that a reference to a physical body is not incompatible with what Doherty believes, that is not actually how Doherty understands the term. ”

    Doherty thinks the ancients viewed the spiritual as being different from the way we view it today: for them the spiritual was like a more ethereal form of the physicial, kind of like how Paul talked about the flesh of man being one thing and the flesh of angels being another. Doherty could be right about that, or it could be that Christians thought Jesus had a body like man’s and not at all like an angel’s. The Christ myth theory is compatible with either viewpoint.

    “I’m not sure what your point is with regard to the Ascension of Isaiah.”

    See Carrier’s analysis of it in “On the Historicity.” Long story short, once you remove some of the interpolations from the text, the story that was originally there says Jesus was crucified just beneath the firmament by Satan and his angels.

    “Identifying them as non-substantial sources for the historicity of Jesus does not provide substantiation of the mythicist case.”

    Agreed, but it does show that several sources are nonsubstantial, which means that do not count as evidence against the mythicist theory.

    “If you believe this reads naturally as saying ‘What advantage did the Jews gain when demons invisibly executed their wise king in the sub-lunar realm?’, I suggest you submit it to a scholarly journal; it would certainly be a unique approach to the text.”

    That is not what I said or implied at all. The text we have from bar Serapion could have pretty easily come about whether Jesus existed or not. Think about it: The gospels say that Jesus was the King of the Jews. Someone could have read the gospels and then told it to someone who told it to someone who told it to bar Serapion, which caused him to write as he did. Given that bar Serapion already seems to not understand the gospel story (it almost seems like he thought a literal king was involved) it must be the case that he got his information in a way that resembles a ‘gossip game’ like I described above. As such, he does not confirm the historicity of Jesus. Under the mythicist theory it could easily be the case that someone in the second-century, especially someone receiving garbled information of some kind, could think Jesus was historical even if he was not. After all, if bar Serapion thought Jesus was a king when he was not, he could easily think Jesus was a man on earth if he was not, especially if, as most mythicists have thought, there were historicist sects as early as the late first century.

    “A scholarly consensus does not need to refer to “at least 85% of the scholarly opinion”; on the contrary, consensus can be large or small (as small as only 10% more than the contrary opinion).”

    The value of a consensus is questionable then, if it refers to only a view that has “the edge” so to speak. Do you hold any views which fall into the minority?

    “Since you value Feldman, let’s have him describe the scholarly consensus that Josephus contains a reference to Jesus; “That, indeed, Josephus did say something about Jesus is indicated, above all, by the passage – the authenticity of which has been almost universally acknowledged – about James, who is termed (A XX, 200), the brother of “the aforementioned Christ.”, Feldman, ‘Josephus, Judaism, and Christianity’, p. 56 (1987).”

    I cited Ken Olsen’s discussion of Feldman’s recent work, from 2012. You cited something he wrote *twenty five* years before that.

    “Wheatley’s conclusion strengthens the case for the authenticity of a reference in Josephus to Jesus. She argues that Michael’s version of the Testimonium is closer to Josephus’ original than Agapius’ Testimonium, and affirms Josephus originally wrote that Jesus was “thought to be the Messiah”.”

    Right, but she also demonstrates that the Arabic and Syriac Testimoniums are not independent of Eusebius, the very person thought by Ken Olsen and others to have fabricated the passage, which is the point I was trying to make: we don’t have the independent confirmation of the passage’s authenticity that you think we have. How do you respond to that?

    “I will cite Feldman; “HORVATH has quite perceptively remarked that it makes no sense for Origen to express wonder that Josephus did not admit Jesus to be the Messiah if he did not even mention him.”

    Origen’s comment is easily explained by the fact that Josephus thought Vespasian was the messiah, which effectively precluded his belief in Jesus.

    “Their reading of Josephus is motivated by the necessity of denying it is a genuine historical reference, for even one such reference destroys the mythicist case.”

    “One such reference” wouldn’t destroy the case, because the only relevant things we have are two passages in Josephus (written 60+ years later) and Tacitus (+75 years later) which are already so late that wouldn’t ‘destroy’ anything; at best they might count against the mythicist case to a greater or lesser degree. Moreover, though, dismissing someone’s view based on their motives is fallacious.

    “The fact that other religious movements of the time often told exoteric stories which concealed esoteric truths does not prove that the Christians taught the crucifixion as an exoteric myth.”

    It does not *prove* it, but it does make it highly plausible.

    “Even pointing to other exoteric myths taught by Christians does not substantiate the claim that the crucifixion is an exoteric myth.”

    Right. It just makes it even more probable that it is. You are simply grasping at straws here: if we found the writings of an ancient cult, many of which were symbolic (or otherwise not reporting literal fact), would you grasp at straws so that you could pretend like one story in particular was literal or would you at least admit the plausibility of it being symbolic?

    “Do you understand why the overwhelming majority of scholars do not believe the early Christians taught the crucifixion as an exoteric myth concealing an esoteric truth?”

    Most of them are not aware of the alternative. As Bart Ehrman himself said in DJE, he had no idea that there people who thought Jesus was a myth until a few years ago. Other than that, I have been desperately trying to get an answer to this question, and have not yet recieved it.

    “As I have demonstrated previously, one of the reasons why is that such a re-interpretation of the text requires piling up lexical errors of the kind committed by Doherty;”

    I think the myth theory is perfectly compatible with the belief that Jesus had a physical body like a regular human beings (but only that it existed in the lower heavens when he died).

    “Christians and historians in general (especially those who go out of their way to argue against mythicism), do use the New Testament texts as evidence for the historicity of Jesus. What have you been reading?”

    Look at your own blog post: The title of it is “Did Jesus Exist” and you spent the whole post talking about extra-biblical evidence. That tends to be typical of these types of discussions.

    The point I was trying to make is that I think the Pauline letters and the gospels are the *most relevant* to Jesus’ historicity, not Tacitus or Josephus. That is not to say that Tacitus and Josephus are totally irrelevant, it is only to say that they are less relevant than the gospels and epistles.

    “As I have already mentioned, I have been reading Carrier’s work in this area for years; since at least 2007. I am familiar with all his arguments and I have read almost all his books. His latest work does not contain any substantially new arguments, and it is unsurprising that early reviews have not found it persuasive. When it gains some traction within the scholarly community, do let me know.”

    Many early reviews have found it persuasive, just look at how many people gave it five stars on amazon. Does publishing a book through a reputable scholarly outlet count as “gaining some traction”? What I see from historicists is a constant refusal to engage the evidence or arguments of the other side, and it is getting harder and harder for me to see them as anything more than the geologists who denied plate tectonics.

    • Jonathan Burke
      August 1, 2014 at 11:44 pm

      1. Ok so you don’t actually have any evidence that ‘James, the brother of the Lord’ is a reference to fictive kinship. Pro tip; when making an assertion that phrase X means Y, you need evidence that it actually means Y. Pointing to a different phrase and saying ‘Well this phrase means Y, so that other phrase means Y too’ isn’t evidence. If the phrase does indeed mean what you say, why can’t you find any evidence of it being used that way? In contrast, there is evidence that ‘X, the brother of Y’ is a reference to biological kinship rather than fictive kinship; see the LXX (2 Kingdoms 36:10), see the New Testament (Mark 5:37, Acts 12:2), and see Josephus (Life, 41.201), all in contexts which refers explicitly to biological kinship. That’s called synchronic and diachronic analysis. The definite article in Galatians 1:19 serves to identify a specific known biological brother; ‘the brother of the Lord’ (common to biological kinship), not ‘a brother’ (common to fictive kinship), which is corroborated by other New Testament texts saying Jesus had biological brothers (Matthew 12:46; 13:55, Mark 3:31, Luke 8:19, John 7:3). This is the difference between an evidence based approach (the historicist approach), and just making things up (the mythicist approach). If you’re still confused over this, and why arguments with evidence are to be preferred over arguments with no evidence, you can go here and look what happened when a mythicist tried to take on several Greek scholars and convince them that ‘James, the brother of the Lord’ is a reference to fictive kinship. See if you can do better than he did.

      2. I didn’t say ‘according to the flesh’ was a problem for Carrier. I said he struggled with it, quoting him saying so; “I find it hard to understand what Paul would have meant to emphasize with this”. I pointed out that he wouldn’t have found it hard to understand if he had carried out the kind of basic lexical research taught to first year Greek students.

      3. Yes Doherty thought that spiritual beings were believed to have some kind of body, but you’re missing the point; he doesn’t think they were believed to have the same kind of flesh and blood body humans do. That’s why he has to invent a new definition of kata sarka to fit his theory.

      4. I am not sure you fully understand the issue with the Ascension of Isaiah. This is not unique to Carrier, it’s an idea he borrowed from Doherty, and he used to find it unconvincing (he critiqued this claim of Doherty’s some years ago). The text is a patchwork of sources, the latest of which are Christian additions to earlier Jewiwsh writings. The section to which Carrier appeals is referred to as the Vision of Isaiah, which contains many Christian interpolations. Carrier’s basic theory is that since Isaiah is in the seventh heaven when he sees the vision, then everything he sees also takes place in heaven instead of on earth, and that Jesus only descends to a lower part of the heavens and according to Carrier never gets to earth (chapter 9:13-17), though the text never actually says this. He discounts chapter 11:2-22 on the basis that it was written later than chapter 9:13-17, despite the scholarship identifying evidence that it was part of the original text.

      “Chapter 11 describes the Beloved One’s appearance as Jesus. 11.2–22 in the Ethiopic text includes some traditions about Jesus which are similar to those recorded in 3.13–18. These are omitted by the Slavonic translation and the Latin translation (L2) but the strong probability is that they stood in the original Ascension of Isaiah. The material in 3.13–18 makes for an important comparison with 11.2–22 and confirms that this was so. The Ethiopic text implies that the Beloved descended into the womb of Mary where he was transformed into the infant Jesus—a point that is made more explicitly by the Epistula Apostolorum 13–14 (c. 150 CE—cf. also Sib. Or. 8.456–61).”, Jonathan Knight, The Ascension of Isaiah (Guides to Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha; Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995), 75.

      Finally, the entire section on which Carrier’s argument depends is dated no earlier to the mid-second century, even by Knibb (on whose work Carrier depends).

      “The date of the Vision of Isaiah is rather more difficult to determine. The fact that Jerome refers to 11:34, and that Epiphanius gives a quotation of 9:35f., suggests that this part of the Ascension was in existence, at the latest, by the end of the third century A.D. But it is probably much older than the third century. The Acts of Peter 24, which dates from the second half of the second century, appears to quote 11:14, while the narrative of the miraculous birth of the Lord in 11:2–1636 shows some similarities with the Protoevangelium of James 19, a work attributed to about A.D. 150. It thus seems likely that the Vision comes from the second century A.D.“, M. A. Knibb, “Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah: A New Translation and Introduction,” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the New Testament: Expansions of the “Old Testament” and Legends, Wisdom, and Philosophical Literature, Prayers, Psalms and Odes, Fragments of Lost Judeo-Hellenistic Works (vol. 2; New Haven;  London: Yale University Press, 1985), 149–150.

      This is far too late to be of any reference to the original Christian descriptions of Jesus, and simply reinforces what I said before:

      We know from second and third century texts what a non-human spirit being Christ who never had an earthly existence would have looked like. There are plenty of Gnostic or quasi-Gnostic texts which describe such a Christ. None of them look anything like the descriptions of Jesus found in the earliest Christian writings, in particular the letters of Paul. So we have a historical control for the mythicist interpretation, and it fails the test.”

      5. I see no evidence that the text from Bar Serapion “could have pretty easily come about whether Jesus existed or not”. You speculate about how it could have happened, but don’t provide any evidence for your speculations. Again, this is the difference between the historicist approach (evidence based), and the mythicist approach (make it up as you go along). Your reconstruction can only stand if it is based on evidence, but all you have is a big list of “ifs”. This is a point mythicists miss repeatedly. They seem to think that as long as they can dream up some kind of alternative (no matter what), then they can assert this counter-argument regardless of having no evidence to support it, and without addressing the evidence for the more credible conclusion. If you read professional historians you will learn how they treat historical sources and you will learn why Bar Serapion is regarded evidence for the historicity of Jesus.

      6. Yes a consensus is questionable if it only has a slight edge. However, as we have seen, the consensus concerning the authenticity of two references to Jesus in Josephus is not a consensus with a mere edge; it is an overwhelming consensus.

      7. You originally cited Whealey to cast doubt on the Testimonium containing an authentic reference to a historical Jesus, when in fact her conclusion is that the evidence she has uncovered strengthens the case that the Testimonium containing an authentic reference to a historical Jesus (this is a mistake I have seen other mythicists make). Although she argues Agapius’ Testimonium and Michael’s Testimonium are dependent on Eusebius, I have already cited Feldman providing evidence that there was an uninterpolated version of the Testimonium which was not dependent on Eusebius, cited by Origen (who lived considerably earlier than Eusebius). So I still have evidence of a Testimonium independent of Eusebius.

      8. You don’t address Feldman’s point, which was not ‘Why did Josephus not believe Jesus was the Messiah?’, or “Why didn’t Josephus identify Jesus as the Messiah, instead of Vespasian?”, but “it makes no sense for Origen to express wonder that Josephus did not admit Jesus to be the Messiah if he did not even mention him”. His point is that Josephus clearly did mention Jesus, or Origen would have had no reason to object that Josephus denied Jesus was the messiah. There there had been no such denial, Origen would have had no basis for his objection.

      9. Yes, even a single historical reference destroys the mythicist case. If you don’t understand why references in two independent historians writing just 60 and 75 years after the death of the individual to whom they are referring is solid historical evidence for the historicity of that person, you need to learn more about professional historiography.

      10. I don’t dismiss mythicist readings simply because they are motivated; I said “motivated readings are always suspect”. When we read the “received text” of the Testimonium in Josephus, we have good reason to suspect interpolation; the text contains non-Josephean terminology, identifies Jesus as the messiah when Josephus thought Vespasian was the messiah, and unrealistically has a first century non-messianic Jew wondering if Jesus was actually superhuman. None of this is historically credible given what we know of Josephus. Those are not motivated readings, they are readings which arise because of the problems the text presents. But the reading of “James, the brother of Jesus” is non-problematic as a reference to biological kinship. There is no reason to read this unnaturally. They mythicist’s only motivation for doing so is to remove historical evidence inconvenient to their theory. The same goes for the neutral references to Jesus in the reconstructed Testimonium without Christian interpolations, and the reference to Jesus in Tacitus. And you’ve done the same right here, inventing ad hoc explanations in attempts to remove historical evidence which ruins the mythicist case. And this gets back to what I said before, the mythicist just piles up these ad hoc explanations, all of which are motivated by the attempt to remove historical evidence. There is no other reason to introduce these arguments. They aren’t trying to solve a genuine problem with the text, they are attempting to bolster up a preconceived conclusion.

      11. Why does the fact that other religious movements of the time often told exoteric stories which concealed esoteric truths make the idea that the Christians taught the crucifixion as an exoteric myth, “highly plausible”? How does the conclusion proceed logically from the premise, and where is the evidence? If we found the writings of an ancient cult, many of which were symbolic, but most of which were historical narrative, we would be wrong to conclude that the texts which are historical narrative are actually exoteric myths concealing esoteric truths.

      12. I see no evidence that the reason why the overwhelming majority of scholars do not believe the early Christians taught the crucifixion as an exoteric myth concealing an esoteric truth is that “Most of them are not aware of the alternative”. Do you have any evidence that this is the reason?

      13. You didn’t address my point that the mythicist re-interpretation of the text requires piling up lexical errors of the kind committed by Doherty.

      14. No I don’t spend my whole post talking about extra-biblical evidence. Look at the conclusion, in which I cite eleven points taken from the gospels and Paul, including numerous direct citations of the gospels (“Mark 2:19; 3:27; 4:21; 10:25; 12:17, Matthew 5:38-48; 6:9-23; 7:7-8; 11:7-8; 18:12-14; 18:23-25; 20:1-15, Luke 6:20-21; 6:41-42; 9:58; 9:59-60; 10:30-35; 11:24-26; 12:22-31; 13:6-9; 13:20-21; 14:16-24; 15:11-32; 16:1-8a; 17:33; 18:1-8; 20:46”).

      15. When I talked about early reviews not finding it persuasive, I am of course speaking of reviews by scholars with relevant professional qualifications; I am not talking about stars on Amazon (!).

      • August 2, 2014 at 9:26 pm

        Concerning point 1, you’ve already been given evidence that Christians called one another ‘brothers of the Lord.’ Moreover, the phrase ‘brothers of the Lord’ never occurs in the gospels, rendering your argument moot.

        “I didn’t say ‘according to the flesh’ was a problem for Carrier. I said he struggled with it, ”

        What you have said makes no logical sense; how can someone ‘struggle’ with something and it also not be a problem for them? Moreover, you need to cite where Carrier actually says this specifically.

        “You speculate about how it could have happened, but don’t provide any evidence for your speculations.”

        The alternative hypothesis is at least as speculative as what I wrote. Moreover, I did argue that bar Serapion seemed to think he was talking about an actual king, which indicates that he is not someone with intimate knowledge of the Jesus story, otherwise he would’ve known Jesus’ kingship was metaphorical.

        “Carrier’s basic theory is that since Isaiah is in the seventh heaven when he sees the vision, then everything he sees also takes place in heaven instead of on earth”

        This is a false description of Carrier’s views. The more you speak the more you reveal how little you know.

        “However, as we have seen, the consensus concerning the authenticity of two references to Jesus in Josephus is not a consensus with a mere edge; it is an overwhelming consensus.”

        You have never provided evidence that “an overwhelming majority” view the Josephus passages as authentic.

        “when in fact her conclusion is that the evidence she has uncovered strengthens the case that the Testimonium containing an authentic reference to a historical Jesus”

        I never said her conclusion WASN’T that! I cited her work to support the point that the Arabic and Syriac versions of the Testimonium are not independent of Eusebius, no more, no less. This is a common mistake historicists make; As Neil Godfrey put it, commenting a similar discussion held between David Fitzgerald and Tim O’Neil:

        “So because Whealey argues that some of the Arabic Testimonium is closer (via Eusebius) to what Josephus originally wrote, Fitzgerald is faulted for using her claims and evidence to argue his own point. How dare anyone use the contents of any scholarly work to argue a point to support one’s own case and that the quoted scholar does not otherwise hold! Such a criticism would make it impossible for any new ideas to be advanced that were in any way based upon the research of others.”

        “There had been no such denial, Origen would have had no basis for his objection.”

        The basis for Origen’s objection was that Josephus thought *Vespasian* was the messiah, which precluded Josephus from thinking Jesus was. You say that I did not address this, when I fact I said essentially the same thing previously!

        “Why does the fact that other religious movements of the time often told exoteric stories which concealed esoteric truths make the idea that the Christians taught the crucifixion as an exoteric myth, “highly plausible”?”

        If you don’t understand this, you need to study basic inductive reasoning. If many A’s are B’s, then some particular A has a really good chance of being a B.

        “If we found the writings of an ancient cult, many of which were symbolic, but most of which were historical narrative, we would be wrong to conclude that the texts which are historical narrative are actually exoteric myths concealing esoteric truths.”

        I assume you agree with the converse of your statement that… ‘If we found the writings of an ancient cult, many of which were historical, but most of which were symbolic narrative, we would be wrong to conclude that the texts which are symbolic narrative are actually historical truths.’

        If you do not agree with the statement I just wrote, you are guilty of self-contradiction, because you endorse said reasoning when it supports the historicity of Jesus but deny it if it supports mythicism. On the other hand, if you agree with what I just wrote, then you most further agree that if anyone demonstrated that the gospels were mostly symbolic then that would support mythicism. And, as it turns out, there is abundant evidence that the gospels are mostly symbolic. See Carrier’s book. Or do any reading on NT scholarship at all from the past 150 years.

        “Do you have any evidence that this is the reason?”

        Bart Ehrman confessed in his book, Did Jesus Exist?, that he was totally unfamiliar with mythicism until a few years ago. Moreover, it ought to be just plain common sense that most new testament scholars are not well-read on the Christ myth theory.

        “You didn’t address my point that the mythicist re-interpretation of the text requires piling up lexical errors of the kind committed by Doherty.”

        Yes, I did. ; )

        “No I don’t spend my whole post talking about extra-biblical evidence.”

        Okay, not the *whole* post, but you did spend the overwhelming majority of the time talking about it.

        Two more questions:

        “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.”

        1. In this passage, the ‘brethren’ are brethren of… who?

        2. You say that you want ‘lexical evidence’ that ‘brother of the Lord’ was used symbolically. Do you mean the phrase, ‘brother of the Lord’ specifically? Or just the phrase ‘brother’ more generically? If the latter, there is abundant evidence of fictive kinship meaning. If the former, there is no evidence of a literal meaning either, seeing as how “brother of the Lord” is never used in the gospels or in any other first century document. Moreover, the more abstract ‘X the brother of Y’ fails to take into account numerous things. It fails to take into account that “the Lord” is not a biological term, thus does not indicate a biological relationship. It fails to take into account that, per the above, Christians would have considered themselves brothers of the Lord. It also fails to take into account the fact that the gospel of Luke/Acts never mentions James as a brother of Jesus, and that no gospels ever indicate that any biological brother of Jesus had an active role in the church, and the person Paul speaks of must have had a prominent role in the church.

      • Jonathan Burke
        August 3, 2014 at 6:32 pm

        1. I have told you more than once what kind of evidence you need to provide; lexical evidence that ‘the brother of the Lord’ was used as a fictive kinship term rather than a biological kinship term. I have already provided evidence that the phrase ‘X, the brother of Y’ is a reference to biological kinship rather than fictive kinship; see the LXX (2 Kingdoms 36:10), see the New Testament (Mark 5:37, Acts 12:2), and see Josephus (Life, 41.201), all in contexts which refers explicitly to biological kinship. You keep avoiding this and talking about the plural term adelphoi, used in a different phrase. The passage in Romans 8:29 does not use the syntax under discussion; ‘X, the brother of Y’. It uses different syntax, and the plural of adelphos, not the singular. I realise you most likely can’t read Greek, but you can read English so there’s no excuse for your confusion here. The fact that ‘the Lord’ is not a biological term is irrelevant; ‘James’ isn’t a biological term either, but ‘James and his brother John’ (Mark 5:17), is a reference to biological kinship. The fact that no gospel ever indicate that any biological brother of Jesus had an active role in the church is also irrelevant; it has no effect on the lexical-syntactical meaning of this phrase. The fact that the gospel of Luke/Acts never mentions James as a brother of Jesus is also irrelevant; it has no effect on the lexical-syntactical meaning of this phrase. If your next post fails to provide lexical evidence for your claim, fails to provide a diachronic and synchronic lexical analysis, and fails to address the comments by the Greek scholars to which I linked, it will be deleted.

        2. I have already explained three times what Carrier struggled with. I quoted him directly three times (“I find it hard to understand what Paul would have meant to emphasize with this”), and pointed out that he wouldn’t have found it hard to understand if he had carried out the kind of basic lexical research taught to first year Greek students. So your request that I cite where he says this is, is intellectually dishonest.

        3. No my alternative hypothesis is not at least as speculative as what you wrote. What I wrote does not appeal to non-existent evidence, and is the view of standard scholarship in this area. Your is a motivated reading based on speculation, with no evidence. If your next post fails to provide evidence for your claim, it will be deleted.

        4. If you believe I’ve misrepresented Carrier I’m sure you’ll be able to prove it. Quoting only part of what I wrote, and failing to address it, does not achieve this. I doubt you have even read what Carrier wrote. If your next post fails to address what I wrote, it will be deleted.

        5. I have never claimed that an overwhelming majority considers both Josephus passages authentic. On the contrary, I have demonstrated that an overwhelming majority views the Josephus passages as containing authentic references to Jesus, despite the fact that one of the passages has been heavily interpolated. This has been the overwhelming consensus for at least twenty years.

        * ‘That, indeed, Josephus did say something about Jesus is indicated, above all, by the passage — the authenticity of which has been almost universally acknowledged — about James, who is termed (A XX, 200) the brother of “the aforementioned Christ.”’, Feldman, ‘Inroduction’, in Feldman & Hata (eds.), ‘Josephus, Judaism, and Christianity’, p. 56 (1987)

        * ‘Hence the most that can be claimed is that Josephus here made some reference to Jesus, which has been retouched by a Christian hand. This is the view argued by Meier as by most scholars today, particularly since S. Pines drew attention to a less obviously Christian version of the ‘Testimonium’ which is quoted in Arabic translation in a tenth-century Christian work.’, Wells, ‘The Jesus Legend’, p. 28 (1996)

        * ‘The overwhelming majority of scholars holds that the words “the brother of Jesus called Christ” are authentic, as is the entire passage in which it is found.25 The passage fits its context well. As for its content, a Christian interpolator would have used laudatory language to describe James and especially Jesus, calling him “the Lord” or something similar. At least, as in the passage to be considered next, he would have used the term “Christ” in an absolute way. Josephus’s words “called Christ” are neutral and descriptive, intended neither to confess nor deny Jesus as the “Christ.” Thus Josephus distinguishes this Jesus from the many others he mentions who had this common name.’, Van Voorst, ‘Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence’, pp. 83-84 (2000)

        * ‘Most scholars are confident that Josephus wrote something like this because the later mention of the Christ in the James citation from Antiquities 20.200 assumes a previous mention of this figure.’, Bock, ‘Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods’, p. 55 (2002)

        * ‘Most scholars today consider the passage authentic, but think it has been extensively altered to reflect core Christian beliefs (italic type in the quotation above indicates those parts of the Testimonium that are usually considered ovious additions by a Christian hand).’, Neufeld, ‘Recovering Jesus: The Witness of the New Testament’, p. 40 (2007)

        * ‘Yet there is, Price says, a “unanimous scholarly consensus” for the authenticity of the Book 20 reference.’, House, ‘The Jesus Who Never Lived’, p. 61 (2008)

        6. You cited Whealey to support your argument that the Testimonium is unreliable; “we don’t have the independent confirmation of the passage’s authenticity that you think we have”. But Whealey does actually provide evidence that the Testimonium is contained in Pseudo-Hegesippus, independent of Eusebius.

        “Other than Josephus, its sources are all Latin or, like the Bible, available in Latin translation. For example, it used the Latin rather than Greek version of 1 Maccabees. Eusebius’ works were not yet available in Latin when it was written in the late fourth century.”, Whealey, “Josephus on Jesus: The Testimonium Flavianum Controversy from Late Antiquity to Modern Times”, Studies in Biblical Literature volume 36, p. 31 (2003).

        I have no objection to you citing her work for an argument she never made (so Godfrey’s complaint is irrelevant to me), what I objected to was you citing her work for an argument it doesn’t support. So we have two lines of evidence for a form of the Testimonium independent of Eusebius; the quotation in Origen, and the quotation in Pseudo-Hegesippus.

        7. You clearly haven’t understood the point about Origen yet. The point is that Origen objected to Josephus saying Jesus was not the messiah. This proves Josephus did actually mention Jesus, independent of Eusebius. Do you understand this now?

        8. You need a refresher on inductive reasoning. In the first century Roman empire, many religious movements were polytheistic; therefore, Christianity has a really good chance of being polytheistic. Nope. Many humans are Chinese; therefore, this particular human born in Borneo has a really good chance of being Chinese. Nope.

        9. Yes I agree with the converse of my statement. No, the gospels are not largely symbolic, and even Carrier agrees that their presentation is of a wholly earthly Jesus who was indisputably real. That’s why he doesn’t even pretend that they are evidence for the mythicist case. On the contrary, he says they were written much later than the earliest Christian texts (such as Paul’s letters), when the idea of a mythical Jesus had become replaced with the idea of an earthly Jesus who literally existed as a historical figure. He sways this explicitly; “For example, regardless of whether Jesus was historical, the four “canonical” gospels as well as numerous other sources situate him within a real, historical region (Galilee & Jerusalem), reference “historical” figures such as Pilate, refer to real time periods, etc. It isn’t set in Middle Earth or some other fantastical realm“.

        10. Ehrman saying he wasn’t aware of mythicism until recently does not address the question I pose; do you have any evidence that the reason why the overwhelming majority of scholars do not believe the early Christians taught the crucifixion as an exoteric myth concealing an esoteric truth is that “Most of them are not aware of the alternative”? The alternative here is not ‘mytherism’, the alternative is ‘the early Christians taught the crucifixion as an exoteric myth concealing an esoteric truth’. That is a belief independent of mythicism.

        12. You have failed completely to address the point I have made about mythicists piling up speculative lexical claims without evidence, and piling up ad hoc arguments and motivated readings. Here’s the point again.

        “The mythicist’s only motivation for doing so is to remove historical evidence inconvenient to their theory. The same goes for the neutral references to Jesus in the reconstructed Testimonium without Christian interpolations, and the reference to Jesus in Tacitus. And you’ve done the same right here, inventing ad hoc explanations in attempts to remove historical evidence which ruins the mythicist case. And this gets back to what I said before, the mythicist just piles up these ad hoc explanations, all of which are motivated by the attempt to remove historical evidence. There is no other reason to introduce these arguments. They aren’t trying to solve a genuine problem with the text, they are attempting to bolster up a preconceived conclusion.”

        On that topic, I leave you with this.

        “The more complex and speculative any theory, the less probable it is. And the more complex and speculative premises your theory requires, the more complex and speculative your theory.”

  3. August 2, 2014 at 8:28 pm

    “When I talked about early reviews not finding it persuasive, I am of course speaking of reviews by scholars with relevant professional qualifications”

    What scholars with relevant qualifications have reviewed “On the Historicity of Jesus” by Richard Carrier? None that I know of.

  4. August 27, 2014 at 4:21 am

    Hey Fortigurn, it’s nice to see that your blog is active again.

    There’s one thing about the Testimonium Flavianum I want to ask you: have you been able to access Alice Whealey’s 2008 article in New Testament Studies (54/04), pages 573 – 590, “The Testimonium Flavianum in Syriac and Arabic”? She presents an interesting argument that it’s actually Michael the Syrian’s Testimonium Flavianum in Syriac that is closer to the original text of Josephus than Agapius’ (save some small points). Moreover, she argues that it derives from a Syriac translation of Eusebius’ version which was originally much closer to Josephus’ original passage.

    • Jonathan Burke
      August 27, 2014 at 7:55 am

      Yes I have that article. I also mentioned in my discussion in the comments that MIchael’s Testimonium is closer to the original than Josephus. See above.

      “She argues that Michael’s version of the Testimonium is closer to Josephus’ original than Agapius’ Testimonium, and affirms Josephus originally wrote that Jesus was “thought to be the Messiah”.

      “By far the most important aspect of Michael’s Testimonium in terms of recovering Josephus’ original passage is its reading ‘he was thought to be the Messiah’, because this reading is independently supported by Jerome’s very early translation of the Testimonium, and because it can readily explain Origen’s claim that Josephus did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah. Therefore the most important aspect of Agapius’ text is its reading that Jesus was ‘perhaps’ the Messiah, because this reading lends weight to the hypothesis that Michael’s qualification of Jesus’ Messianic status was based on an older exemplar of the Testimonium rather than being created by Michael ex nihilo.” (pp. 587-588).”

      Good to see you back here, I hope to post some more in the future.

      • ignorantianescia
        August 27, 2014 at 7:14 pm

        Ah, I missed that. I skimmed Ryan’s contribution and decided it was not of much value.

        It is an interesting thought that the Greek testimonium in Historia Ecclestiastica has been interpolated too, as the mythicists’ pet theory is that Eusebius is in fact the forger of the whole thing.

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