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The Historical Jesus: Recommended Reading

February 19, 2015 Leave a comment

Abstract

With the rise of interest in studies of the historical Jesus and the increasing presence of mythicism on the internet, Bible believers are advised to be well informed on the subject of Jesus historicity. This article provides a balanced reading list of resources presenting the evidence for Jesus’ historicity and the authenticity of the Jesus tradition, and addressing mythicist claims.

Works by Christians

This is a select list of recommended works on the historical Jesus by Christian scholars. There are too many to describe in detail, but it is worth noting the authors who are considered most useful and authoritative in the field; Craig Blomberg, William Lane Craig, James Dunn, Craig Evans, Gary Habermas, Craig Keener, John Meier, Stanley Porter, and Robert Van Voorst.

  1. Craig L. Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997).
  2. Darrell L Bock, Studying the Historical Jesus: A Guide to Sources and Methods (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Leicester, England: Baker Academic ; Apollos, 2002).
  3. Darrell L. Bock, Jesus according to Scripture: Restoring the Portrait from the Gospels (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002).
  4. Ronald K. Craig, William Lane; Lüdemann, Gerd; Copan, Paul; Tacelli, Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment?: A Debate between William Lane Craig & Gerd Lüdemann (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000).
  5. Tom Evans, Craig A. Wright, Jesus, the Final Days (ed. Troy A. Miller; London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2008).
  6. Bruce David Chilton and Craig A. Evans, Authenticating the Words of Jesus (Brill, 1999).
  7. Michael R. Cosby, Portraits of Jesus: An Inductive Approach to the Gospels (Westminster John Knox Press, 1999).
  8. Pieter F. Craffert, The Life of a Galilean Shaman: Jesus of Nazareth in Anthropological-Historical Perspective (vol. 3; Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2008).
  9. Markus Cromhout, Jesus and Identity: Reconstructing Judean Ethnicity in Q (vol. 2; Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2007).
  10. Donald L. Denton, Historiography and Hermeneutics in Jesus Studies: An Examination of the Work of John Dominic Crossan and Ben F. Meyer (vol. 262; London; New York: T&T Clark International, 2004).
  11. John P. Dickson, The Christ Files: How Historians Know What They Know about Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010).
  12. James D. G Dunn, Jesus Remembered (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2003).
  13. James D. G. Dunn and Scot McKnight, The Historical Jesus in Recent Research (Eisenbrauns, 2005).
  14. James D. G. Dunn, A New Perspective on Jesus: What the Quest for the Historical Jesus Missed (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005).
  15. Craig A Evans, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources,” in Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research (ed. Bruce David Chilton and Craig Alan Evans; Brill, 1998), 443–78.
  16. David Flusser and R. Steven Notley, Jesus (The Hebrew University Magnes Press, 2001).
  17. Joel B. Green and Max Turner, Jesus of Nazareth Lord and Christ: Essays on the Historical Jesus And New Testament Christology (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1994).
  18. I. Howard Green, Joel B.; McKnight, Scot; Marshall, ed., Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992).
  19. Leonard J Greenspoon, M. Dennis Hamm, and Bryan F LeBeau, The Historical Jesus Through Catholic and Jewish Eyes (Harrisburg, Pa.: Trinity Press International, 2000).
  20. Brian Han Gregg, The Historical Jesus and the Final Judgment Sayings in Q (Mohr Siebeck, 2006).
  21. Gary R. Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company, 1996).
  22. Tom Holmén and Stanley E Porter, Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2011).
  23. Leander E Keck, Who Is Jesus? History in Perfect Tense (Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 2000).
  24. Craig S Keener, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2009).
  25. John S. Kloppenborg and John W. Marshall, Apocalypticism, Anti-Semitism and the Historical Jesus: Subtexts in Criticism (vol. 275; Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series; T&T Clark International, 2005).
  26. Leif E. Kloppenborg, John S.;Vaage, ed., Early Christianity, Q and Jesus (vol. 55; Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 1992).
  27. J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B Wallace, Reinventing Jesus: How Contemporary Skeptics Miss the Real Jesus and Mislead Popular Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2006).
  28. Clive Marsh and Steve Moyise, Jesus and the Gospels: 2nd Edition (Continuum, 2006). Criteria of authenticity.
  29. John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew, Rethinking the Historical Jesus (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1991-2009). Published in four volumes, criteria of historicity and authenticity.
  30. Stanley E. Porter, Criteria for Authenticity in Historical-Jesus Research (Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004).
  31. Mark Allan Powell, Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee (Westminster John Knox Press, 1998).
  32. Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus: A Critical Study of Its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede (trans. W. Montgomery; 2d ed.; London: Adam and Charles Black, 1911).
  33. Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz, Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998).
  34. Robert E Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2000).
  35. Ben Witherington III, The Jesus Quest: The Third Search for the Jew of Nazareth (2nd ed.; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997).
  36. Ben Witherington III, What Have They Done with Jesus?: Beyond Strange Theories and Bad History—Why We Can Trust the Bible (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006).
  37. Thomas R Yoder Neufeld, Recovering Jesus: The Witness of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2007).

Works by non-Christians

These works are useful because they provide non-Christian scholarly perspectives of the historical Jesus, and cannot be dismissed by non-Christians as biased in favour of Christian beliefs. Naturally these works give no credence to the gospels’ accounts of supernatural events such as Jesus’ miracles and his resurrection, and their assessments of how Jesus was viewed by his disciples does not always agree with our own. Nevertheless, they are important witnesses to the extent to which Jesus’ historicity is well established within mainstream secular scholarship, proving it is not merely a fringe view confined to Christians

Bart D Ehrman, Jesus, Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1999). Assesses the New Testament evidence for the life and work of Jesus, applying criteria of authenticity. This book is useful for learning how the criteria of authenticity are applied, and for understanding the historical evidence for the existence of Jesus.

Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (HarperCollins, 2012). Describes the historical evidence confirming the existence of Jesus, and addresses a range of mythicist arguments and books, from the scholarly to the populist. This book is useful for learning how the criteria of historicity are applied, understanding the historical evidence for the existence of Jesus, and understanding and answering standard mythicist arguments.

Bart D. Ehrman, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (Harper Collins, 2014). Explains the process by which Jesus became known as God. Whilst agreeing with the scholarly consensus that Jesus did not consider himself divine or teach his followers that he was divine, Ehrman believes that at least some of the early first century Christians (including those who contributed to the New Testament), were already starting to see Jesus as a divine being in some way. This book is useful for learning how later Christians developed the doctrine of the Trinity, and provides excellent evidence that neither Jesus nor his disciples considered him to be divine.

Michael Grant, Jesus. (New York NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1977). Very useful as an account of Jesus by a secular professional historian, and still considered a standard work in the field.

Maurice Casey, Jesus of Nazareth an Independent Historian’s Account of His Life and Teaching (London; New York: T & T Clark, 2010). Focuses on the language of the gospels to reconstruct the historical Jesus in the context of 1st century Judaism, with a particular emphasis on identifying authentic Aramaic sayings of Jesus behind the Greek text of the gospels. On the basis of this approach, Casey dates Mark’s gospel extremely early (c. 40 CE), earlier than the earliest of Paul’s letters (1 Thessalonians, c. 51 CE). Casey’s Aramaic reconstructions have been recognized as shedding important light on the historical Jesus, even though they have not all been accepted. His very early date for Mark has not been widely accepted, but is considered possible by mainstream scholarship.

Maurice Casey, Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? (London: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2014). Casey’s last work on the historical Jesus (Casey died in May 2014), addressing specifically the typical mythicist arguments. A strongly worded book, Casey identifies numerous weaknesses in the mythicst case, which he characterizes as a fringe view held almost exclusively by non-scholars, or by a very small number of scholars without directly relevant professional qualifications. This work is useful as a resource for a scholarly consideration of recent mythicist arguments typically found online rather than in print publications.

James G. Crossley, Reading the New Testament: Contemporary Approaches (Routledge, 2010). A valuable work explaining how standard professional historical methodology is applied to New Testament research and the subject of the historical Jesus. Crossley describes the various forms of historical analysis applied to the gospels, and explains in detail the criteria of authenticity used in the Quest for the Historical Jesus. Crossley dates Mark’s gospel to around 35 CE, even earlier than the date proposed by Casey, but although his case for this date has not been accepted, it is still taken seriously by mainstream scholarship and is considered within the bounds of possibility.

R. Joseph Hoffmann, Jesus Outside the Gospels (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1984). Hoffman’s early work on the historical Jesus concluded that very little could be verified about his life, and cast doubt on the authenticity and accuracy of the gospel records. Nevertheless, he concluded in favour of the historicity of Jesus. This book is mainly useful as a contrast to his late work, demonstrating how his views shifted over time.

R. Joseph Hoffmann, Sources of the Jesus Tradition: Separating History from Myth (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2010). Edited by Hoffman (who wrote most of the chapters), this book contains essays from atheist members of The Jesus Project, a secular investigation of the historical Jesus which started in 2008 and was terminated in 2009 (despite having been planned to run for five years). The book received mixed reviews from atheists, and even from members of The Jesus Project itself. It is useful as an introduction to typical arguments made against the historicity of Jesus by writers such as Robert Price, Richard Carrier, Frank Zindler, and Robert Eisenman.

Living On The Edge: challenges to faith

September 1, 2013 Leave a comment

Today Christians in the Western world are typically living in a post-Christian society. Christian beliefs are met with skepticism, and people see little reason to believe. Christians are confronted with daily challenges to their faith, and often struggle to understand the relevance of Christianity to modern life.

The book ‘Living On The Edge: challenges to faith‘ (due to be printed in November 2013), addresses those concerns. For an overview of the book, click here.

Widowfield on McGrath: Brodie, Vermes, & parallelomania

July 13, 2013 4 comments

Tim Widowfield has commented critically on a review by James McGrath, of Thomas Brodie’s book ‘Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery‘ (2012). This article considers Widowfield’s criticisms.

Bad faith

Widowfield accuses McGrath of “bad faith in dealing with mythicists”, pointing to McGrath’s review of Brodie’s work as “a prime example”.

Well, here’s a prime example from McGrath’s scathing remarks about Brodie’s suggestion that Paul’s supposed profession may have something more to do with theology than with history.

His treatment of the case of Paul, like Brodie’s work on Jesus, illustrates both the usefulness of detecting literary parallels, echoes, and borrowings, and the bizarre results of taking that approach to the extreme that Brodie does, into the realm of unchecked paralellomania [sic]. His argument that mundane details about Paul were fabricated on the basis of earlier literature includes the claim that the reference to Paul having been a tentmaker was inspired by references to tents in the Jewish Scriptures, including God spreading out the heavens like a tent (p.151). Using such an approach, being willing to claim even identical prepositions as evidence of literary dependence, is a method which could claim that absolutely anything is derived from absolutely anything else. The sad thing is that the bizarre extremes to which Brodie is willing to go to make one text wholly derivative from another cheapens and detracts from the legitimate points he makes about the smaller number of texts and points of contact that have strong evidence in their favor. (emphasis mine)

That’s quite an accusation. Does Brodie really claim that some writings are based on others because of “identical prepositions”? Perhaps so, but McGrath doesn’t give us any specifics.

Bizarre and extreme

After quoting McGrath, Widowfield explains why he feels this is an example of bad faith on McGrath’s part.

Note the scare words in that paragraph. Brodie’s ideas are “bizarre” and “extreme.” Brodie, McGrath is telling us, has failed to show restraint. How do we know he’s gone too far? Because he’s reached the wrong conclusions. You see, sophisticated NT scholars know how the game is played. A writer needs to find that Goldilocks Zone, where the Jesus porridge is ju-u-u-ust right. Anyone out on the “fringes” can be ignored (and insulted), because they either accept too much material as authentic or because they accept too little.

Widowfield claims McGrath says Brodie’s ideas are bizarre and extreme. In fact McGrath does not say this. Here are McGrath’s words, as quoted and emphasized by Widowfield.

His treatment of the case of Paul, like Brodie’s work on Jesus, illustrates both the usefulness of detecting literary parallels, echoes, and borrowings, and the bizarre results of taking that approach to the extreme that Brodie does, into the realm of unchecked paralellomania [sic]

Firstly, McGrath makes the point that Brodie’s work “illustrates the usefulness of detecting literary parallels, echoes, and borrowings”; McGrath states specifically that the kind of pattern detection in which Brodie is involved, is valid and useful. Additionally, McGrath acknowledges “legitimate points” made by Brodie “about the smaller number of texts and points of contact that have strong evidence in their favor”.  So McGrath not only acknowledges Brodie’s approach is a valid literary treatment, but also acknowledges it has “legitimate points” with conclusions “that have strong evidence in their favor”. Widowfield makes no mention of any of this, despite quoting McGrath directly. Instead he claims McGrath simply says “Brodie’s ideas are “bizarre” and “extreme””.

Secondly, McGrath does not uses the word ‘bizarre’ in the way Widowfield claims. Contrary to Widowfield’s claim, McGrath does not say “Brodie’s ideas are “bizarre” and “extreme””. What he says is that Brodie’s work illustrates “the bizarre results of taking that approach to the extreme that Brodie does, into the realm of unchecked parallelomania”. It is the results of Brodie’s extremism that McGrath refers to as “bizarre”, the “bizarre extremes to which Brodie is willing to go” (emphasis mine).

Thirdly, McGrath never says that Brodie “has failed to show restraint”, nor does he say the evidence Brodie has gone too far is “he’s [sic] reached the wrong conclusions”. The term he uses is “unchecked parallelomania”, objecting to Brodie’s appeal to parallels without a systematic check for validation and falsification. Later  in McGrath’s article he repeats this, pointing out that any literary work can be interpreted as the product of literary borrowing “as long as one’s penchant for parallelomania knows no restraints”. McGrath also cites Brodie’s “complete disregard for other possibilities”, reinforcing the fact that it is Brodie’s lack of methodical validation of his theory to which McGrath objects, not simply that Brodie has reached a conclusion with which McGrath disagrees.

Paul the tentmaker & Godfrey on parallels

McGrath took issue with what he describes as Brodie’s clam that “claim that the reference to Paul having been a tentmaker was inspired by references to tents in the Jewish Scriptures, including God spreading out the heavens like a tent (p.151)”. In response, Widowfield invites readers to “examine all of Brodie’s reasons, and not just the ones McGrath scoffed at”. He then simply lists the four points of Brodie’s reasons for his case, though he does not actually examine any of them.

So, to McGrath’s specific point on Paul as a tentmaker: Is this an outlandish idea? Well, let’s examine all of Brodie’s reasons, and not just the ones McGrath scoffed at. First of all, Brodie admits that the reference in Acts 13:3 sounds legitimate. However, he says that before we take it at face value, “it is necessary first to investigate the literary relationship of tent-making to the Septuagint image of the tent and to the image of Paul as architect (1 Cor. 3:10-11).”

  1. The term in 1 Corinthians is quite specific: σοφὸς ἀρχιτέκτων (sophos architektōn) or “wise master builder or architect.” Cf. to the Jewish tradition of calling   wise Rabbis, doctors of the law, and their followers “builders of the law.”
  2. “In Isaiah, God spreads out the earth as a tent.”
  3. “[T]ents are given a central role among people of the desert.”
  4. In John’s gospel, we’re told that the Word sojourned or “tented among us.” (John 1.14) In Greek: ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν (eskēnōsen en hēmin).

He could also have mentioned the importance of the tabernacle (portable tent shrine) in the OT as the precursor to the Temple in Jerusalem. YHWH dwelt or “tented” with his people wherever they might roam. He might also have discussed the importance of the tabernacle in the Epistle to the Hebrews.

Widowfield makes no further comment on Brodie’s argument, and does not actually examine any of Brodie’s points as he said he would do. Nevertheless, he does not provide readers with any reasons for accepting Brodie’s argument as valid. No explanation is provided as for why this list of verses makes a logically coherent case for Paul’s occupation being a literary invention in the manner claimed by Brodie, and why this is a more efficient explanation than any alternatives.

For a more critical analysis of Brodie’s suggested parallels between texts, some of Neil Godfrey’s comments are quite useful. In response to a claim made on one of Godfrey’s articles that the Elijah/Elisha narrative in the Old Testament, and the Jesus/John the baptist narrative in the New testament are “the same allegorical tale of a solar myth” (accompanied by two links to articles arguing for literary dependence on the basis of parallelism), Godfrey was quite critical of the theory, explaining “I have three difficulties with this, if I may“. His three specific criticisms are worth citing for their relevance to Brodie’s work, and agree very well with McGrath’s own criticisms of parallels drawn by Jesus mythicists.

1. Showing a correlation of concepts does not of itself show us causal or direct linkages.

Godfrey makes an excellent point here. In fact this is the first point to be made when considering Brodie’s lists of alleged parallels; mere correlation is insufficient evidence for “causal or direct linkages”.

2. The correlations are put together not from a single work but from a range of sources, e.g. from 3 different gospels, not from one coherent document expressing a unified thought.

Again, an excellent observation from Godfrey on the parallelism he was criticizing. In the same way, the texts cited by Brodie in support of his claim that Paul’s attributed occupation as “tentmaker” is a literary invention, come from a range of sources; one of the earliest authentic letters of Paul (1 Corinthians), the Old Testament book of Isaiah, and John’s gospel (considered by scholarly consensus to have been written long after the book of Acts). They certainly do not come “one coherent document expressing a unified thought”. It is possible that Brodie actually makes a coherent argument as to the relevance of these texts, and explains logically the basis on which they support his argument concerning the attributed occupation of Paul. However, Widowfield does not describe any such argument made by Brodie.

3. What alternative explanations are there for the similarities? Can any of these be tested and found to have more validity than others?

Godfrey’s third point is equally relevant to Brodie’s claims. What alternative explanations does Brodie present, and in what way does he test all of his options to see which have the greatest validity? Widowfield does not tell us. Yet this is an important point, which Godfrey has made on more than one occasion when dismissing the parallelism arguments made by others, as he does here.

So your argument does indeed come down a propensity to see patterns for which you sometimes say (incorrectly) that there are no other explanations. There are indeed other explanations, and when I point one out to you you reply that I should go beyond the evidence and leap to your speculation.

In contrast, Godfrey is generally enthusiastic about Brodie’s arguments (“Some of his literary borrowings strike me as spot-on!“), though he also says “I sometimes find myself in a love-hate relationship with them“. Nevertheless, he insists “Brodie’s arguments do NOT lend themselves to a facile “parallelomania”“. For Godfrey, Brodie’s arguments are superior to the parallelism arguments which Godfrey criticizes in other people’s work, such as the supporters of astrotheology, whose arguments for parallelism Godfrey dismisses out of hand without even feeling the need to explore the subject first (emphasis in the following quotations is mine).

Now I am quite open to the possibility that Christianity began as some sort of astrotheology cult or whatever, but before I am persuaded to investigate that possibility in any depth I would need to see something more than rhetorical declamations of woolly correlations as an argument.

I have never taken the time before to explore astrotheology, not because I have some psychological block against the very idea, but because I have never seen any pointers to actual evidence or valid methodology. I have only seen “parallelomania” and subjective patterns being constructed across all the data the way we sometimes see magnificent shapes in the clouds.

Rhetorical questions

Widowfield represents McGrath as being irritated that Brodie has chosen to answer questions which are supposed to be rhetorical.

But the main point to understand is this: The New Testament is replete with examples of additions, deletions, and alterations that have their roots not in tradition, but in authorial invention. Brodie’s sin is answering that rhetorical question: “Why would anybody make it up?” Brodie says, “Here’s why, and here’s how.” And that drives people like McGrath round the bend.

McGrath does not say anything like this. It is therefore no surprise that Widowfield presents no quotation from McGrath in an attempt to justify his claim. McGrath certainly never takes Brodie to task for answering the question “Why would anyone make it up?”. McGrath does take Brodie to task for not making a case that his explanation is more logically coherent and more efficient than alternative explanations, which McGrath refers to as a “complete disregard for other possibilities“.

It illustrates the bankruptcy of Jesus mythicism, and the fact that it has the potential to ruin careers, not because there is ingrained antipathy to it in the academy, but because the case for it is based on thoroughly unpersuasive arguments, and the complete disregard for other possibilities, such as that either Jesus himself or an author like Luke deliberately made a comparison and contrast between Jesus and Elijah.

Theological meanings

In support of Brodie’s arguments, Widowfield cites examples of occupations

We should mention that occupations in the New Testament and in later Christian tradition often have theological meanings. We have fishermen who become “fishers of men.” We have Mary, who was supposed to have been a weaver (or a spinner of wool) — and who created the very temple veil that split down the middle during the crucifixion. Some people still believe this story is true.

However, neither of these examples are analogous to Brodie’s claim concerning Paul’s occupation. Brodie claims Paul’s occupation was a literary invention derived from a combination of texts for theological reasons, but Widowfield does not cite any examples which do this. On the contrary, he simply cites occupations which he claims “have theological meanings”.

Widowfield cites “fishermen who become “fishers of men”, but provides no evidence that the occupation “fishermen” has a theological meaning here; on the contrary, it is clear “fishermen” has a literal meaning, referring to “Simon and his brother casting a net into the sea (for they were fishermen)” (Mark 1:14). The phrase “I will make you fishers of men” which follows (Mark 1:17), is an example of a play on the literal meaning of the word; in both cases the Greek word ἁλιεύς (halieus), means ‘fishermen’. The occupation of Mary was only attributed to her much later in Christian tradition (as Widowfield notes), not in a Biblical text, and Widowfield provides no evidence that this was an occupation with a theological meaning at the time the gospel was written. This is no parallel at all to Brodie’s argument concerning Paul’s occupation.

What Vermes does which Brodie doesn’t

Widowfield introduces a comparison between the work of Géza Vermes and that of Brodie, with a quotation from Vermes.

Finally, we have a muddied reference to Jesus as a laborer or carpenter. On this last point, Geza Vermes had this to say in Jesus the Jew: A Historian’s Reading of the Gospels:

Was he a carpenter himself, or was he only the son of a carpenter? The confused state of the Greek text of the Gospels usually indicates either a) a doctrinal difficulty thought by some to demand rewording; or b) the existence of a linguistic problem in the expression in Hellenistic terms of something typically Jewish. Here the second alternative applies The congregation in the synagogue voices astonishment.

‘Where does he get it from?’ ‘What wisdom is this … ?’ ‘Is not this the carpenter/the son of the carpenter … ?’

Now those familiar with the language spoken by Jesus are acquainted with a metaphorical use of ‘carpenter’ and ‘carpenter’s son’ in ancient Jewish writings. In Talmudic sayings the Aramaic noun denoting carpenter or craftsman (naggar) stands for a ‘scholar’ or ‘learned man’.

This is something that no carpenter, son of carpenters, can explain.

There is no carpenter, nor a carpenter’s son, to explain it.

Thus, although no one can be absolutely sure that the sayings cited in the Talmud were current already in first-century AD Galilee, proverbs such as these are likely to be age-old. If so, it is possible that the charming picture of ‘Jesus the carpenter’ may have to be buried and forgotten. (p. 23, emphasis mine)

Widowfield does not explain what he means by “a muddied reference to Jesus as a laborer or carpenter”. Since Vermes refers to what he calls “The confused state of the Greek text of the Gospels” with regard to the references to Jesus as a carpenter (Mark 6:3), or son of a carpenter (Matthew 13:55), it is possible Widowfield drew the conclusion that the Greek in the text is obscure in meaning, or of doubtful certainty. In fact neither is the case. In both passages the Greek is certain, with the alternative reading “son of a carpenter” (ὁ τοῦ τέκτονος υἱὸς, ho tou tektonos huios), in Mark 6:3, only appearing in the 3rd century P45, the late medieval f13 manuscripts, a number of the late minuscules, and a few of the Old Latin manuscripts (the Syriac manuscript Syrhr omits the word for “carpenter” in Mark 6:3).

Vermes appears to be referring to the fact that Mark 6:3 refers to Jesus as a carpenter, whereas Matthew 13:55 refers to him as the son of a carpenter. Regardless, the text is certain in both places; the manuscripts simply differ in their descriptions. Vermes suggests this is a result of an Aramaic term of reference being confused by later Greek writers, “the existence of a linguistic problem in the expression in Hellenistic terms of something typically Jewish”. This suggestion was adopted from Vermes by German theologian Rainer Riesner, but has been criticized by scholars such as John Meier, not least because it relies on a hypothetical Aramaic source for which there is no evidence, and parallels of uncertain date, in Jewish literature. Meier critiques the suggestion thus (emphasis mine).

“Sometimes, to bolster this suggestion, appeal is made to the Aramaic word supposedly behind the tektōn of our Greek Gospels, namely naggārāʾ.170 But naggārāʾ, like tektōn, has a wide range of meanings: carpenter, turner, artisan, and, in a metaphorical sense, master or artist.171 Even if we were sure that this is the precise Aramaic word behind tektōn in our Greek text, it would prove nothing.

Riesner, however, pushes the significance of this hypothetical Aramaic source even further by appealing to some later talmudic passages, where naggārāʾ seems to mean “scholar,” while bar naggārāʾ (“son of the carpenter”) means “student, disciple.”172 From this Riesner concludes that people in the “carpenter” trade were known for their knowledge of Scripture. Since all the talmudic passages of this sort are of proverbial nature and hence of venerable age, Riesner argues that the connection between a carpenter and special knowledge of Scripture could reach back to Jesus’ day. One can only comment that such reasoning leans heavily on very slight and late evidence. Talmudic proverbs could preserve material two or three hundred years old and still not bring us back to the lifetime of Jesus. What is perhaps most telling here is that Riesner can supply no examples of this usage from the earliest rabbinic compilation, the Mishna.” [1]

The suggestion has also been rejected by other scholars, typically because it does not fit the context of the passage at all.

For the implausible conjecture that ‘carpenter’ was used of Jesus in a metaphorical sense to mean ‘scholar’ or ‘learned man’ see Vermes, Jesus the Jew, pp. 21-2. He cited y. Yeb. 9b; y. Qidd. 66a; and b. ‘Abod. Zar. 50b.” [2]

“This interpretation requires dismissing the gospel context.”[4]

“But the term in Mk 6:3 clearly is not used in that sense. Mark’s point is that because Jesus was only a carpenter, the residents of Nazareth refused to listen to him. Otherwise, the passage makes no sense.”[5]

No one in the passage is talking about a problem which only a scholar could solve, or the lack of a scholar to solve a problem. They are astonished and ask “Where did he get these ideas? And what is this wisdom that has been given to him? What are these miracles that are done through his hands?” (Mark 6:2).

To suggest they answer their own question by saying ‘Is this not the scholar, the son of Mary and brother of James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon? And aren’t his sisters here with us?’ (Mark 6:3), would suggest they answer by acknowledging Jesus is a scholar and miracle worker, which contradicts the very next statement that “they took offense at him” (Mark 6:3), and the statement that Jesus “was amazed because of their unbelief” (Mark 6:5). It also fails to explain why they are described as astonished.

Vermes himself acknowledged the lack of conclusive evidence for the parallel; “no one can be absolutely sure that the sayings cited in the Talmud were current already in first-century AD Galilee”. According to one scholar, Vermes later abandoned this interpretation.[3] This is supported by Vermes’ references to Jesus in his much later work ‘Searching for the Real Jesus: Jesus, the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Religions Themes’ (2009).

In this book, Vermes says “This very human person, who is the subject of Jesus the Jew, was a carpenter in the village of Nazareth” (p. 20), “They [the gospels] report that Jesus lived with his parent, Joseph and Mary, his four brothers and several sisters in Nazareth in the Galilee ruled by Antipas, Herod’s son, and was a carpenter or builder” (p. 41), and “He was a builder or a carpenter” (p. 36). Widowfield quoted Vermes’ work written in 1981, but appears unfamiliar with Vermes’ most recent work and the evidence for his change of view.

Widowfield then draws a comparison between Vermes and Brodie, with a rhetorical question.

“Was Vermes a parallelomaniac using unsound methods to reach “bizarre extremes”? Brodie, after all, said that Paul’s identification as a tentmaker could have literary, metaphorical meanings that later became historicized.”

There are several reasons why this comparison is invalid.

1. Vermes was fully aware of the conjectural nature of his proposal, and stated it cautiously, giving due weight to the lack of supporting evidence. Accordingly, four qualifications accompany Vermes’ statement; “no one can be absolutely sure”, ‘If so'”, “it is possible”, “may”.

 “Thus, although no one can be absolutely sure that the sayings cited in the Talmud were current already in first-century AD Galilee, proverbs such as these are likely to be age-old. If so, it is possible that the charming picture of ‘Jesus the carpenter’ may have to be buried and forgotten.”

2. Vermes cited relevant literature in which a parallel could plausibly have been found, and made a testable case for his theory, on the basis of textual evidence. Consequently, it was falsifiable and it has been falsified.

3. After his view was subjected to sustained criticism (though perhaps not because of this), Vermes later changed his mind and abandoned the view he had held previously.

None of this finds any parallel with Brodie.

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[1] Meier, ‘A Marginal Jew, Rethinking the Historical Jesus’, volume one, pp. 283-284 (1991).

[2] Davies & Alison, Jr, ‘Matthew 8-18’, International Critical Commentary, p. 456 (2004).

[3] ‘Even Easterman’s use of the metaphorical understanding of the Aramaic naggar, not as is literal meaning of ‘carpenter’ but ‘scholar’, is based on Vermes’s work, although the latter has since retracted that view.’, Lim, ‘The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Very Short Introduction’, p. 15 (2005).

[4] Davies & Alison, Jr, ‘Matthew 8-18’, International Critical Commentary, p. 456 (2004).

[5] Fiensy, ‘Jesus the Galilean: Soundings in a First Century Life’, p. 69 (2007).

How did the early Christians baptize?

March 13, 2013 5 comments

The Challenge

In the 19th century many scholars denied that immersion was the original mode of baptism.[1] McKay and Rogers wrote influential interpretations of the archaeological evidence,[2] and Dale’s linguistic study became the standard lexical resource for the anti-immersion position.[3]

The Facts

The Greek word for baptism refers to dipping, plunging, or immersion in both the Septuagint and the New Testament.[4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] 

Major studies by Lothar Heiser (1986), Sandford La Sor (1987), Jean‐Charles Picard (1989), Malka Ben Pachat (1989), and Everett Ferguson (2009), all agree the archaeological and textual evidence indicates full immersion was the earliest normal Christian practice.[13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18]

The earliest Christian record of baptism outside the New Testament,[19] [20] proves 1st century Christians normally baptized by immersion.[21] [22] [23] [24] [25] [26]

The scholarly consensus is that full immersion was the normal practice of the earliest Christians.[27] [28] [29] [30] [31] [32] [33]  [34]  [35] [36] [37] [38] [39] [40]

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[1] Among many others, Thorn, ‘Modern Immersion Not Scripture Baptism’ (1831), Kerr, ‘A Treatise on the Mode of Baptism: showing the unfounded nature of the assumption, that immersion is the only proper mode of administering the ordinance and that pouring or sprinkling, is the most scriptural and significant, and by far the preferable mode of its administration’ (1844), Beckwith, ‘Immersion Not Baptism’ (1858), Kerr, ‘The Heavenly Father’s Teaching: a pedo‐Baptist’s reply to immersionists shewing that Baptism is not immersion, and that immersion is not Baptism, for they are direct opposites’ (1874), Bush, ‘Bible Baptism Never Immersion’ (1888).

[2] McKay, ‘Immersion Proved to be Not a Scriptural Mode of Baptism but a Romish Invention’ (1884), Rogers, ‘Baptism and Christian Archeology’ (1903).

[3] Dale, ‘Inquiry Into the Usage of Baptizo’ (1824‐1879).

[4] ‘In the Sept.: 2 Kgs. 5:13, 14 we have loúō (3068), to bathe and baptízomai. See also 28, 40;&version=ESV; Lev. 11:25, 28, 40, where plúnō (4150), to wash clothes by dipping, and loúō (3068), to bathe are used. In 19;&version=ESV; Num. 19:18, 19, báphō, to dip, and plúnō, to wash by dipping are used’, Zodhiates, ‘The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament’ (electronic ed. 2000).

[5] ‘In Mark 7:4 the verb wash in “except they wash” is baptízomai, to immerse. This indicates that the washing of the hands was done by immersing them in collected water. ‘, ibid.

[6] ‘The sevenfold dipping of Naaman (2 K. 5:14) perhaps suggests sacramental ideas and illustrates the importance of the Jordan. In the later Jewish period טבל (b. Ber., 2b of the bathing of priests; Joma, 3, 2ff. etc.)’, Kittel, Bromiley, & Friedrich (eds.), ‘Theological dictionary of the New Testament’, volume 1, p. 535 (electronic ed. 1964–c1976).

[7] ‘Βαπτίζω+ V 0‐1‐1‐0‐2=4 2 Kgs 5,14; Is 21,4; Jdt 12,7; Sir 34,25 M to dip oneself 2 Kgs 5,14; to wash Jdt 12,7′, Lust, Eynikel, & Hauspie (eds.), ‘A Greek‐English Lexicon of the Septuagint’ (rev. electronic ed. 2003).

[8]  ‘baptizō 77x pr. to dip, immerse;’, Mounce, ‘Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words’, pp. 1104‐1105 (2006).

[9] ‘In Gk. lit. gener. to put or go under water in a variety of senses, also fig., e.g. ‘soak’ Pla., Symp. 176b in wine)’, Arndt, Danker, & Bauer (eds.) ‘A Greek‐English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature’, p. 164 (3rd ed. 2000).

[10] ‘1. In the LXX baptō usually translates the OT Heb. ṭāḇal, dip (13 times; on 3 occasions baptō represents other vbs.). baptizō occurs only 4 times: in Isa. 21:4 it is used metaphorically of destruction, but in 2 Ki. 5:14 it is used in the mid. of Naaman’s sevenfold immersion in the Jordan (the only passages as equivalent for Heb. ṭāḇal).’, Brown, ‘New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology’, volume 1, p. 144 (1986).

[11] ‘Despite assertions to the contrary, it seems that baptizō, both in Jewish and Christian contexts, normally meant “immerse”, and that even when it became a technical term for baptism, the thought of immersion remains. The use of the term for cleansing vessels (as in Lev. 6:28 Aquila [cf. 6:21]; cf. baptismos in Mk. 7:4) does not prove the contrary, since vessels were normally cleansed by immersing them in water. The metaphorical uses of the term in the NT appear to take this for granted, e.g. the prophecy that the Messiah will baptise in Spirit and fire as a liquid (Matt. 3:11), the “baptism” of the Israelites in the cloud and the sea (1 Cor. 10:2), and in the idea of Jesus’ death as a baptism (Mk. 10:38f. baptisma; Lk. 12:50; cf. Ysebaert, op. cit., 41 ff.).’, ibid., p. 144.

[12] ‘Lexicographers universally agree that the primary meaning of baptizo G966 is ‘to dip’ or ‘to immerse”, and there is a similar consensus of scholarly opinion that both the baptism of John and of the apostles was by immersion’, Jewett, ‘Baptism’, in Murray (ed.), ‘Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible’, volume 1, p.466 (rev. ed. 2009).

[13] ‘The philological evidence is technical and inconclusive. But the archaeological and Mishnaic evidence seems to support the argument for immersion., Sanford La Sor, ‘Discovering What Jewish Miqva’ot Can Tell Us About Christian Baptism’, Biblical Archaeology Review, (13.01), 1987.

[14] ‘The conclusions of Lothar Heiser on the administration of baptism after examining the literary and pictorial evidence accord with mine: the water customarily reached the hips of the baptizand; after calling on the triune God, the priest bent the baptizand under so as to dip him in water over the head; in the cases of pouring in the Didache and in sickbed baptism the baptized did not stand in the font.’, Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church: history, theology, and
liturgy in the first five centuries’, p. 860 (2009).

[15] ‘Either bending his knees, kneeling, or sitting, an adult could have been totally immersed as required in fonts from 1.30m to 60cm deep.’. ibid., p. 852.

[16] ‘The express statements in the literary sources, supported by other hints, the depictions in art, and the very presence of specially built baptismal fonts, along  with their size and shape, indicate that the normal procedure was for the administrator with his head on the baptizand’s head to bend the upper part of the body forward and dip the head under the water.’, ibid, pp. 857‐858.

[17] ‘The Christian literary sources, backed by secular word usage and Jewish religious immersions, give an overwhelming support for full immersion as the normal action. Exceptions in cases of lack of water and especially of sickbed baptism were made. Submersion was undoubtedly the case for the fourth and fifth centuries in the Greek East, and only slightly less certain for the Latin West.’, ibid., p. 891.

[18] ‘Later church practice in this regard led artists to the strange fantasy of Jesus standing waist deep in water while John poured water on his head (such pictures do not occur until medieval western times).’, ibid., p. 202.

[19] ‘It contains details of the church life of the earliest Christians, their preference for baptism by immersion, their fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, the forms of their eucharistic prayers.’, Manion & Mudge, ‘The Routledge Companion to the Christian Church’, pp. 42–43 (2008).

[20] ‘In the Didache 7 (a.d. 100–160), the oldest baptismal manual extant, triple immersion is assumed,’ (Silva & Tenney (eds.), ‘The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, volume 1, pp. 494‐495. (rev. ed. 2009).

[21] ‘Baptism is by *immersion if possible” (Cross & Livingstone (eds.), ‘The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church’, p. 482 (3rd rev. ed. 2005).

[22] ‘One witnesses the fasting and the solemn rite of baptism, preferably by immersion in flowing water.’, Milavec, “Didache”, p. ix (2003).

[23] ‘According to the Didache (1st century), baptism should be done by a triple immersion in running water.’, Lacoste, ‘Encyclopedia of Christian Theology: G‐O’, p. 1607 (2005).

[24] ‘The argument of the section is clear: while adhering strictly to the preference for flowing water and baptism by immersion, necessary concessions are made to local circumstances.’, Draper, “The Didache In Modern Research”, p. 47 (1996).

[25] ‘As a rule, it involved immersion in running water (see Acts 8:38; Did. 7).’, Fahlbusch & Bromiley (eds.), ‘Encyclopedia of Christianity’., volume 1, p.184 (1990‐2003).

[26] ‘Baptism is by immersion in the threefold name, but sprinkling three times on the head is allowed in an emergency.’, Vokes, ‘Life and Order In An Early Church:The Didache’, in Haase (ed.), ‘Aufstieg Und Niedergang Der Romischen Welt’, volume 2, p. 221 (1993).

[27] ‘New Testament scholars generally agree that the early church baptized by immersion.’, Wiersbe, ‘Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the New Testament’, pp. 466‐467 (1997).

[28] ‘Most scholars agree that immersion was practiced in the NT, and it is likely that both of these texts allude to the practice, even though baptism is not the main point of either text.’, Schreiner, ‘Believer’s Baptism: Sign of the New Covenant in Christ’, p. 81 (2007).

[29] ‘Furthermore, modern NT scholars generally concede, regardless of denominational affiliation, that Christian baptism in NT times was by immersion, as it was and still is in Judaism.’, Helyer, ‘Exploring Jewish Literature of the Second Temple Period’, p. 481 (2002).

[30] ‘The baptism commanded by Jesus in the making of disciples is an immersion in water. The topic formerly was warmly debated, but in these days there is general scholarly agreement. Several lines of evidence converge in support of the baptismal action as a dipping.’, Ferguson, ‘The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today’, p. 201 (1996).

[31] ‘It seems also that the profession was articulated in responses that the one being baptized made to the questions of the one baptizing during the baptismal rite, which in general was required to take place through total immersion, in total nudity, in running water.’, DiBerardino, ‘We Believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’, p. 88 (2009).

[32] ‘Baptism in the Bible was by immersion, that is, the person went fully under the waters,’, Lang, ‘Everyday Biblical Literacy: the essential guide to biblical allusions in art, literature, and life’, p. 47 (2007).

[33] ‘The earliest preference was for baptism in running streams or in the sea (Mark 1:9; Acts 8:36; Didache 7). Next in preference was total immersion in a fountain or bath‐sized tank (Tertullian, Baptism 4).’, Flinn, ‘Baptism’, in ‘Encyclopedia of Catholicism’, Encyclopedia of World Religions, p. 52 (2007).

[34] ‘Baptism was normally by immersion either in the river or in the bath‐house of a large house’, Dowley (ed.), ‘Eerdman’s Handbook to the History of Christianity’, p.10 (1977).

[35] ‘There is little doubt that early Christian baptism was adult baptism by immersion’, Grimes, ‘Deeply Into the Bone: Re‐Inventing Rites of Passage’, p. 50 (2002).

[36] ‘Our study has not attempted to demonstrate that affusion rather than immersion was the practice in New Testament times, since it is clear that immersion was the general rule;’, Marshall, ‘The Meaning of the Verb “Baptize”’, in Porter & Cross (eds.), ‘Dimensions of Baptism: Biblical and Theological Studies’, p. 23 (2002).

[37] ‘We can be fairly sure that early baptism was not normally by sprinkling. Other possible alternatives were pouring (affusion) and immersion. Probably immersion was the norm.’, Guy, ‘Introducing Early Christianity: A
Topical Survey of Its Life, Beliefs, and Practice, pp. 224‐225 (2004).

[38] ‘In the early days of the Church, total immersion, often in streams or rivers, seems to have been most commonly used (Mark 1:9; Acts 8:3).’, Tischler, ‘All Things in the Bible: A‐L’, p. 59 (2006).

[39] ‘Saunder and Louw comment, ‘Obviously the phrases “going down” and “coming up” are used to focus on the two processes involved in immersion.’ Clearly the evidence from such accounts favors strongly the notion that baptism was by immersion.’, Ware, ‘Believers’ Baptism View’, in Wright (ed.), ‘Baptism: Three Views’, p. 22 (2009).

[40] ‘Stander and Louw, Baptism in the Early Church, p. 25, argue similarly for understanding the prevailing practice of the early church to be that of immersion from several other citations of various church fathers and documents, included among them Aristides of Athens, Clement of Alexandria (p. 31), Tertullian (pp. 36‐37), Hippolytus (p. 42), and Basil the Great (who practiced tri‐immersion, p. 82).’, ibid., p. 22.

Ehrman & Carrier: the historical Jesus (9)

This post continues from the original post in this series.

Carrier defends Murdock on the canon

In his book (p. 24), Ehrman made the following response to a claim by DM Murdock (writing under the pseudonym ‘Archarya S’), concerning the canon of the New Testament (Murdock’s claim is in quotation marks, “” and Ehrman’s comments follow in square brackets, []):

Bart Ehrman: ―”It took well over a thousand years to canonize the New Testament,” and ―”many councils” were needed to differentiate the inspired from the spurious books (31). [Actually, the first author to list our canon of the New Testament was the church father Athanasius in the year 367; the comment about ―many councils‖ is simply made up.]

Carrier objected to Ehrman’s statement, charging him with error:

Richard Carrier: (1) Ehrman’s statement that there weren’t “many councils” to decide the NT canon is, read literally, false. There were in fact several councils ruling on the canon, and indeed the canon was never truly settled until the 16th century. Someone who tutored under Metzger, who extensively documented these facts, should know that. I can only assume he meant to say that the canon proposed by Athanasius in 367 (in a letter, not a council ruling) was repeatedly affirmed by every subsequent council convened to decide on the canon (although the fact that they had to keep meeting to do that means there were repeated attempts to change it). Acharya’s own characterization of the matter might also be accused of being misleading. But Ehrman’s wording is going to seriously mislead and misinform the public even more, not only as to the actual history of the canon, but also as to Acharya’s knowledge of the facts.

Carrier’s claim that ‘the fact that they had to keep meeting to do that means there were repeated attempts to change it’ is a non sequitur; the conclusion does not follow logically from the premise. He fails to take into account the fact that church councils often re-affirmed the decisions of previous councils regardless of whether the points affirmed were under challenge. He provides no evidence for his claim, and the facts are to the contrary.

When challenged on this point by a respondent on his blog, Carrier gave a response including the the following claim:

Richard Carrier: Your facts also don’t quite agree with what is stated in Metzger’s Formation of the New Testament Canon. You might want to do more homework on this.

This response appears authoritative on the surface, but on closer inspection it is transparently a bluff. Carrier makes a vague reference to Metzger (a recognized scholar on the history of the New Testament text), but fails to actually address any of the points raised by the respondent, and does not cite or quote any specific statements by Metzger relevant to the point under discussion. The reality is that Carrier has no answer to the challenge raised by his respondent, and is hoping that a casual reference to Metzger will convince them that they are wrong. This attempt at evasion is not the response of someone confident in a knowledge of the facts.

Additionally, Carrier’s reference to the work ‘Formation of the New Testament Canon’ is problematic, since he attributes this work to Metzger. There is a book entitled ‘The Formation of the New Testament Canon: an ecumenical approach’ (1983), by Farmer and Farkasfalvy, and another book by entitled ‘Formation of the New Testament Canon’ (1965), by Robert Grant, but Metzger did not make any contributions to either book. Carrier did not provide any details which would help identify specifically the work to which he was referring.

Metzger’s own work on the formation of the New Testament canon is entitled ‘The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance’ (1997), and when we examine what Metzger actually says in that book, we find nothing supportive of Carrier’s claims. Metzger does not say that numerous councils were held to decide on the canon. On the contrary, he notes that the canon suggested by Athanasius was promoted by Augustine in three provincial synods, all of which re-affirmed the canon of Athanasius.

Bruce Metzger: It was Augustine who, in three provincial synods, cast his weight for the twenty-seven books which we know as the Christian Scriptures. These synods were held, one of them in Hippo in A.D. 393, one in Carthage in 397, and the last of them again in Carthage in 419. The opening words of the statute on the canon are straightforward and forthright: ‘Besides the canonical Scriptures, nothing shall be read in church under the name of the divine Scriptures.’ Then there follows an enumeration of the canonical Scriptures. The order of the New Testament books is Gospels, Acts, Pauline Epistles, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, James, Jude, the Revelation of John. The only difference to be noted in the reiteration of the statute is that, in the synods of 393 and 397, the phrase runs, ‘Thirteen Epistles of Paul, and the Epistle to the Hebrews, by the same’, whereas the statute of 419 reads, ‘Fourteen Epistles of Paul’. (See Appendix IV. 12 below.)

Twenty-seven books, no more, and no less, is henceforth the watchword throughout the Latin Church.

None of the councils cited here by Metzger were held to determine the canon, they simply re-affirmed the canon as they addressed other issues. The 393 CE synod of Hippo was a general annual synod, the 397 CE synod of Carthage was a general synod addressing issues from the transfer of clerics between churches to the reconciliation of repentant actors (it states explicitly that it is simply confirming the canon already received), and the 419 CE synod of Carthage was held specifically to address appeals to Rome.

Metztger notes that this did not settle the issue of the canon once and for all in every Christian community, and does note that differences over the canon continued to be raised occasionally.

Bruce Metzger: Yet it would be a mistake to represent the question of the canon as finally settled in all Christian communities by the beginning of the fifth century.

Bruce Metzger: Thus, despite the influence of Jerome and Augustine and the pronouncements of three provincial synods, more than once in the following centuries we come upon evidence of divergences in the canon, either by way of addition or subtraction.

Nevertheless, Metzger provides no support for Carrier’s defense of Murdock’s claim that there were ‘many councils’ held to decide the New Testament canon.

Godfrey and Ehrman: the historical Jesus (2)

June 30, 2012 2 comments

Ehrman’s representation of Wells

Neil Godfrey charges Ehrman with misrepresenting the views of Wells so completely that it is not possible that Ehrman has even read the pages of Wells’ work that he cites.

Neil Godfrey: Bart Ehrman has indignantly declared he read all of the books he discusses in his book Did Jesus Exist? How, then, could he possibly have confused the mythicist argument of Wells with that of Doherty. The two are opposed to each other. But Ehrman appears to have picked up a garbled account and attributed half of Doherty’s argument to Wells!

Neil Godfrey: Ehrman is writing outright disinformation about Wells’ argument. Ehrman cannot possibly have read the pages in Wells’ book that he cites.

Godfrey’s claim is directed very specifically towards this paragraph by Ehrman.

Bart Ehrman: Instead, Wells contends, Paul understood Jesus to have been a supernatural being who lived in utter obscurity some 150 years or so earlier, who was crucified not by the Romans but by the demonic forces in the world.

Let’s put this paragraph of Ehrman’s next to Wells’ own words, as quoted by Godfrey himself.

* Ehrman: ‘Wells contends Paul understood Jesus to have been a supernatural being
* Wells: ‘Paul believed in a supernatural Jesus

* Ehrman: ‘who lived in utter obscurity
* Wells: ‘he was convinced that Jesus lived an obscure life on earth’

* Ehrman: ‘who was crucified not by the Romans but by the demonic forces in the world.’
* Wells: ‘who assumed human flesh and was crucified on earth at the instigation of supernatural powers

Godfrey claims that Ehrman ‘is writing outright disinformation about Wells’ argument”, and ‘cannot possibly have read the pages in Wells’ book that he cites’. Readers may decide for themselves if the evidence supports Godfrey’s claims.

Godfrey and Ehrman: the historical Jesus (1)

Erhman’s citation of Doherty

Neil Godfrey (owner of Vridar, a blog promoting the Mytherist view of Jesus), claims Ehrman made a ‘hostile error‘ in stating that Earl Doherty ‘speaks of a single ancient view of the universe’ in his book ‘Jesus – Neither God Nor Man: The Case for a Mythical Jesus’ (2009):

Neil Godfrey: Either way, Ehrman has clearly done nothing better than skim Doherty’s book(s) and demonstrated he has not read the arguments he claims to be reviewing. Otherwise there is no way he could have made such a hostile error as to claim Doherty speaks of a single ancient view of the universe.

Contrast Godfrey’s claim with the following statements made by Doherty in his book.

1. ‘So much of the ancient view of things was determined by myth because that was essentially all they had.”, Doherty, ‘Jesus – Neither God Nor Man: The Case for a Mythical Jesus’, p. 11 (2009).

2. ‘Part Four, “A World of Myth and Savior Gods” (chapters 10 to 14), enters the multi-layered universe of the ancients. It will examine their view that a vast unseen dimension lay above the earth, where all sorts of supernatural proceedings took place among gods and spirits.’, Doherty, ‘Jesus – Neither God Nor Man: The Case for a Mythical Jesus’, p. 14 (2009).

3. ‘Ancient philosophy as a whole, its view of the universe and of God, was the product of purely intellectual contemplation.’, Doherty, ‘Jesus – Neither God Nor Man: The Case for a Mythical Jesus’, p. 83 (2009).

4. ‘We will address the specific point about “being in the flesh” in a separate chapter to follow. But the question of heavenly trees and ground gets to the heart of the present matter, as an expression of modern literality and the inability to comprehend the ancient mind’s view of the universe.’, Doherty, ‘Jesus – Neither God Nor Man: The Case for a Mythical Jesus’, p. 150 (2009).

Godfrey claims it is a ‘hostile error’ to claim Doherty speaks of a single ancient view of the universe. Yet there are four clear statements in Doherty’s book in which he does exactly that; ‘the ancient view [singular] of things’ (p. 11), their view [singular] that’ (p. 14), ‘view [singular] of the universe’ (p. 83), ‘the ancient mind’s view [singular] of the universe’ (p. 150).