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Four Reasons to Believe in Jesus: A Reply to Richard Carrier

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Today ends our four-part series on the historical evidence for Jesus. Popular atheist writer Richard Carrier began Monday with an article titled "Questioning the Historicity of Jesus". On Tuesday, Catholic writer Jimmy Akin responded with his piece, "Jesus Did Exist". Next, Richard offered a post titled “Defending Mythicism: A New Approach to Christian Origins". Finally today, Trent Horn provides a rejoinder.


 
I’d like to thank Dr. Carrier for responding to my article “Four Reasons I Believe Jesus Really Existed”. I’ve followed his work for quite a while and recommend that defenders of the view that Jesus never existed take heed of his advice (especially his rejection of mythicist arguments made in the vein of videos like Zeitgeist).

I’m sure he will agree that the debate over Jesus’ existence is an intricate affair that can’t be settled in a short blog post, but I’d like to comment on some points he raised in response to my original post which gave four reasons for why I believe in the historical Jesus.

4. It is the mainstream position in academia.

 
Like Aquinas, I agree that appeal to authority is the weakest of logical arguments (or, “so says Boethius”). However, mythicists who are not as well-read as Dr. Carrier may think that contemporary scholarship is legitimately divided on this issue, a misconception I wanted to make sure was cleared up before advancing my main arguments.

It is true that merely holding a fringe view does not mean that Dr. Carrier is automatically mistaken. It only means that he must put forward substantial evidence in order to defend a claim that nearly every other scholar in the relevant field, including fellow skeptics, have not found convincing. Or, as he is fond of saying in other contexts, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

Dr. Carrier also points out that scholars do not have a unified consensus of who the historical Jesus was (i.e. cynic sage, prophet, revolutionary, etc.) and he says this counts against the mainstream position. But I don’t see why this disagreement should cause us to doubt there was at least a Jesus who scholars now study. There are many figures in history whose motives or deeds are hotly debated by scholars, but that debate is rarely used as evidence that those people never existed.

3.  Jesus’ existence is confirmed by extra-biblical sources.

 
Dr. Carrier dismisses the references made by Josephus and Tacitus as being unreliable. Unfortunately, Dr. Carrier provided no reason in his response to think the references in Josephus are unreliable. He merely referenced his own article on the subject that is published in the December 2012 issue of the Journal of Early Christian Studies in his response to Jimmy Akin. As a result, I will stand behind the scholarly consensus that Josephus is at least partially authentic and wait to see how fellow Josephus scholars interact with Dr. Carrier’s paper on the subject.

In regards to these accounts being independent of the Christian tradition I will simply say that Tacitus’ disdain for Christians and his reputation as a careful historian, as well as Josephus’ intimate knowledge of Galilee after Jesus’ death, both bode well for their ability to vouch for the events they describe.

2. The Early Church Fathers don’t describe the mythicist heresy.

 

Dr. Carrier said that we simply don’t have enough information about what heresies existed in the early Church to know what happened to the mythicists. But this still does not explain the problem I raised. It seems incredibly unlikely that early gnostic heresies about Jesus being God disguised in human form could plague the Church for centuries but the mythicist “Gospel” preached by Peter and the other real founders of Christianity could simply disappear into thin air in the span of one generation, a length of time where those who knew the apostles could object that the events described in the Gospels never happened.

Dr. Carrier claims that even in the face of this silence there are “hints” pointing to the ancient mythicist believers. He cites 2 Peter 1:19 where the author says Christians did not follow “cleverly devised myths,” but this passage makes no reference to any particular myth or particular groups of people promoting a Jesus myth, so it could just be a general statement about the historical value of the Christian faith. Dr. Carrier also mentions The Ascension of Isaiah which features prominently in the writings of fellow mythicist Earl Doherty. However, the liberal Christian blogger James McGrath provides an excellent summary of why this apocryphal book does not support the mythicist thesis.

1. St. Paul knew the disciples of Jesus.

 
According to Dr. Carrier, Paul only knew apostles, or the deluded followers of a celestial Jesus who were “sent” to preach the Gospel after learning about it through a series of visions. Paul allegedly never describes interactions with people who were the disciples of an earthly Jesus. Of course, even if Paul did describe Jesus “discipling” the apostles, how could someone prove these “interactions” were not mere spiritual visions? If Paul’s descriptions of Christ’s death and resurrection could take place in the “lower heavens,” then why couldn’t these events take place there as well?

Dr. Carrier also replies to my argument that Paul is giving a biological reference about the apostle James when Paul mentions James as “the brother of the Lord” in Galatians 1:19. Carrier claims that Paul could be referring to James as a “spiritual brother” of the Lord and writes:
 

"All baptized Christians were the adopted “sons of God” (Romans 6:3-10) and thus were only “brothers” because they were brothers of their common Lord (Romans 8.15-29, 9.26; Galatians 3.26-29, 4.4-7). We cannot tell from his letters themselves whether Paul means brother of the Lord by adoption, or brother of the Lord biologically."

 
I’m curious that Dr. Carrier cites Galatians 4:4 as evidence that Paul viewed all believers as Christ’s spiritual brothers when the context clearly states that believers become adopted sons of God (or “brothers”) precisely because, as Galatians 4:4 says, God sent his son “born of a woman, born under the law to redeem mankind. This seems to be strong evidence that Paul saw Jesus as a “God-man” who became a man like we all did, by being born. Paul did not view Jesus as some kind of non-human cosmic savior figure.

Dr. Carrier is correct that other people did refer to themselves as having a kind of brotherly relationship with Jesus. In Ephesians 6:21 Tychicus describes himself as “the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord” and in 1 Corinthians 6:5-6 Paul refers to any believer as a “brother” in Christ. But it is very different to be a brother in someone, as in the spiritual sense that we’re all brothers “in the Lord,” and being the brother of the Lord. In Galatians 1:19 Paul says, “I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother” or in Greek, “ouk eidon ei me Iakobon ton adelphon tou kyriou.” The use of the genitive case for tou kyriou signifies that the corresponding English preposition is “of” the Lord, as opposed to “in” the Lord.

Another point in favor of this being a biological title is that Paul does not say Peter is a “brother of the Lord,” only James. This doesn’t make sense under the spiritual view since both men would have a claim to that title (Peter even more so as chief of the apostles). The biological view would make sense and be an easy way to identify James and not confuse him with James the son of Zebedee (another apostle) or James the son of Alphaeus.

Finally, Dr. Carrier says that we can’t conclusively prove Paul is referring to biological brothers of Jesus. That may be true, but I doubt that any of the arguments put forward in defense of the mythicist thesis could meet the standard of “conclusive proof.” The better standard to use is what is most probable, and I think a biological reading of the passage meets that standard.

Conclusion

 
While I disagree with Dr. Carrier’s conclusion I look forward to reading his upcoming book on the subject and hope that future posts at Strange Notions will be able to explore other facets related to the Jesus myth debate.
 
 
(Image credit: Hot Teapot)

Trent Horn

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Trent Horn holds a Master’s degree in Theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville and is currently an apologist and speaker for Catholic Answers. He specializes in training pro-lifers to intelligently and compassionately engage pro-choice advocates in genuine dialogue. He recently released his first book, titled Answering Atheism: How to Make the Case for God with Logic and Charity. Follow Trent at his blog, TrentHorn.com.

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  • David Nickol

    I think what for me is more convincing is that the story of Jesus simply seems like something that happened which the New Testament authors are putting their own "spin" on than something that was invented. One of the criteria used by exegetes to determine whether something in the Gospels is historical or not is how embarrassing it is, on the assumption that embarrassing details wouldn't be included if they weren't true and known to be true. One major one (particularly from the viewpoint of nonbelievers, skeptics, and "liberal" interpreters of the Gospels) is the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. It is a very common assumption that Jesus began as a follower of John the Baptist, and so for those who believe Jesus was God Incarnate, a lot of explaining must be done as to why Jesus would have been baptized by such a lesser figure as John. The betrayal of Jesus by Judas is another embarrassment, as is the denial of Jesus by Peter.

    Another example of "spin" is the downplaying of the Roman responsibility for the execution of Jesus and the shift of blame to the Jews. Pilate was brutal and ruthless, whereas Caiaphas, the high priest, was apparently a rather benign fellow. And yet Caiaphas does everything he can to get Jesus executed by Pilate, and Pilate is depicted as a very reluctant tool of the Jews who really doesn't want to execute Jesus.

    I understand that the "mythicists" claim Jesus was originally conceived as a supernatural being who was crucified on some higher plane and this story somehow got written into human history. I know almost nothing about these claims so maybe I have got them wrong, or maybe there is an explanation, but based on the little I know, my question would be, Why crucifixion? Paul says, "For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles." Crucifixion was a Roman method of execution for the worst criminals and was meant to be humiliating and degrading (in addition to being intensely painful). Exactly why Jews would have invented a story about a great spiritual leader who was, or was later taken to be, God Incarnate and who is crucified would seem to be a great mystery. It seems to me that the crucifixion of Jesus was an incredible blow to the Jesus movement that would not have been invented but would have very unfortunately happened and required a very convincing explanation after the fact as to why God's son would have been so deeply humiliated and rejected.

    Of course, a great many of us were steeped in the Bible and stories about Jesus as we grew up, and so it is difficult to look at the Gospels objectively. But for me the story of Jesus has the feel of something that really happened and had to be explained and rationalized after it happened. This is especially true when looked at in the light of contemporary biblical scholarship and attempts at uncovering the historical Jesus. Of course, the attempt to find the historical Jesus presupposes that Jesus actually existed. But it is the work of those carefully sifting through the Gospels sentence by sentence and word by word to try to determine what was historical fact that, for me, makes the idea that Jesus never existed at all seem very implausible. The entire process of uncovering the historical Jesus would be an empty exercise if there had been no human person named Jesus, but even though the quest for the historical Jesus is fraught with problems, I find the process itself is a kind of confirmation that Jesus was a real person, because the process makes sense to me.

    • Randy Gritter

      Good analysis. The idea that they would not have made up the crucifixion is pretty convincing. But what about later? What about NT Wright's idea that a crucifixion without a resurrection could not possibly lead to any kind of Jesus cult let alone one where He is worshiped as God like we see in St Paul's writings.

      • ziad

        I would argue that they could have chosen a different method of death that would be less humiliating. It did not need to be a crucifixion.

        • Randy Gritter

          OK, so we agree crucifixion is only part of the story because it really happened. But why didn't that humiliating death totally convince everyone Jesus was not God, not the messiah, not anything more than a man. Especially if you believe Jesus did no miracles. Look at Phil 2:5-11:

          Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God,[a] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself,[b] taking the form of a servant,[c] being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

          • David Nickol

            But why didn't that humiliating death totally convince everyone Jesus was not God, not the messiah, not anything more than a man.

            If you want allies in maintaining that Jesus really existed, then it seems to me you have to take them where you can get them. The case that Jesus existed and was God Incarnate can't be plausibly made if Jesus did not exist at all. We're just challenging the "mythicist" position that Jesus never existed. It seems to me the people who believe Jesus existed are all on the same side when it comes to "mythicism." You're welcome to argue in favor of the resurrection if you want to, but you have more of a battle on your hands refuting "mythicism" if you insist that the only alternative is that Jesus existed and was risen.

          • Randy Gritter

            You are right. Many people prefer to get off the train at different spots. I am just thinking that the same argument can get you to the next station.

          • ziad

            I misunderstood your original comment. I thought you were arguing against the Historicity of Jesus, which my comment was trying to argue for :)
            I agree with you on the resurrection

      • David Nickol

        What about NT Wright's idea that a crucifixion without a resurrection
        could not possibly lead to any kind of Jesus cult let alone one where He
        is worshiped as God like we see in St Paul's writings.

        Well, I take the assumption of N. T. Wright to be that the crucifixion was such a catastrophe that only something as powerful as the resurrection could overcome it. Nonbelievers are not going to accept the reality of the resurrection, but I think many will agree that crucifixion was such a catastrophe, the inventors of the Jesus movement could have picked it as the fate of a fictitious Jesus.

        I have heard people ask, somewhat mockingly, if Jesus had been electrocuted, would Christians wear a little electric chair on a chain around their necks? I think it would make more sense to ask if the noose would be a religious symbol if Jesus had been hanged. In any case, to put it somewhat irreverently, from the nonbeliever's point of view, Jesus during his lifetime got lemons, and the Jesus movement made lemonade. A crucified Messiah would have been (and indeed was) extremely unlikely to be accepted by the Jews. Why would one have been invented? How Jesus fit into Judaism, it seems to me, was (from the nonbeliever's point of view) invented after the fact. There is an old saying that if God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him. I don't think that that can be applied to Jesus. I don't think if Jesus had not existed, he would have been invented. He was not the predicted Messiah. The whole concept of Messiah had to be fundamentally reworked in order to apply the concept to him. There is nothing in the Old Testament that even hints at a Messiah whose "kingdom is not of this world."

        • Randy Gritter

          The trouble is the psychology does not work. The crucifixion was a catastrophe. But why make up a story like the resurrection? Why not just drop the whole Jesus thing and go back to fishing? Does just one person do it or do many claim to have seen Jesus risen? Do all the apostles come on side? Why? What is their big win? It can't be God. Making up a lie is never going to get you points with Him. There was no money or power or women to be had from this. What is their angle?

          • David Nickol

            Making up a lie is never going to get you points with Him.

            I would never suggest that the disciples of Jesus invented the story of the resurrection out of whole cloth. I never suggested anyone was lying. Certainly the earliest Christians (or some of them) must have believed that Jesus continued to exist after the crucifixion. Whether his closest followers who had dealt with him personally believed he was risen and walked out of his tomb I have no idea.

            Why not just drop the whole Jesus thing and go back to fishing? Does just one person do it or do many claim to have seen Jesus risen?

            Of the original twelve, we have only the stories of Peter, John,, and James in Acts of the Apostles. We really don't know for a fact what happened to most of the people who followed Jesus in his lifetime. There is tradition, but to what degree it is reliable is anybody's guess.

          • Randy Gritter

            How can you not have an idea? If Jesus didn't rise from the dead then Peter, James, and John would know that. Whether they made the story up or someone else made the story up they are going to know. They were there. The question is what did they say? If they didn't lie then what could it be? That they had dreams about Jesus? That they thought they saw him here or there? That is called grief. People who lose a loved one have that all the time. Even in the first century that would be unremarkable.

            St Peter was not killed until Nero's persecution around 66AD. He is still one of the longest serving popes. If someone was spreading a resurrection story that Peter knew to be false what would happen? Would he not be asked about it? Would he lie or tell the truth?

          • David Nickol

            How can you not have an idea?

            To clarify, what I meant was I had no idea whether the believed Jesus was raised in the sense that he (as I said) "walked out of his tomb" or they believed that he continued to exist in some other manner. We don't have any direct testimony from them. We don't even know what became of most of them. The only person from whom we have direct testimony of encountering the risen Jesus is Paul, and if he saw Jesus as a walking, talking, physical person, he does not say so. So we are left (or so it seems to me) with a question as to what Paul meant when he said Jesus appeared to him or to anyone else.

            He is still one of the longest serving popes.

            It is a tremendous stretch to call Peter a pope. But that is an entirely different topic.

            If someone was spreading a resurrection story that Peter knew to be false what would happen? Would he not be asked about it? Would he lie or tell the truth?

            Where would you suggest we look to read about what Peter did while he was "pope"? This is a form of the argument, "If everything about Jesus wasn't true, the eyewitnesses would have said so." It is a completely unwarranted assumption. It is not as if early Christianity in Jerusalem and Rome was big news and we can go back and check what was in the daily papers. The only reason we're having this discussion at all is because we have so very little to go on. It is not as if there is a voluminous record of what became of Jesus's earliest followers after his death that we can say we know what would be in it and it's not there. There is no record at all. It is not even known with any degree of certainty that Peter went to Rome.

          • Randy Gritter

            This where apostolic succession comes in. What did Polycarp say about John? What did Clement say about Peter? Do you think they are honest? We know each generation of bishops claims to get it from the previous one. If it didn't begin with Jesus then where did it begin? Which generation took this unremarkable nice guy who was crucified and transformed him into a miracle-working, resurrected, messiah?

          • David Nickol

            Which generation took this unremarkable nice guy who was crucified and
            transformed him into a miracle-working, resurrected, messiah?

            Who ever said Jesus was an unremarkable nice guy? Unremarkable nice guys don't get crucified. Jesus was almost certainly extraordinary. It is not exactly clear what he did, but certainly he offended both the Jewish and the Roman authorities seriously enough to get killed.

            You sound frustrated that anyone can imagine any story other than the one constructed by the Catholic Church. And you seem to believe that every alleged fact is interlinked with every other alleged fact so that if one is disproved, the whole edifice collapses. Follow this link to Amazon for Eamon Duffy's book Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes, and use the "Look Inside" feature to read the first two or three pages of Chapter 1. You will see that the beginning of the papacy is not at all simple.

          • http://www.brandonvogt.com/ Brandon Vogt

            David, thanks for all your great comments. I don't remember if it was you or someone else who previously mentioned Eamon Duffy's book, claiming it disproved the early papacy.

            But Joe Heschmeyer, a contributor here at Strange Notions, wrote a thorough refutation of that claim in response:

            The First- and Second-Century Papacy: An Answer to Eamon Duffy

          • David Nickol

            I note that Heschmeyer has to contradict such towering figures as John P. Meier and Raymond F. Brown to make his case. Here's a passage from Dictionary of the Bible by John L. McKenzie, S.J., one of my most trusted references, from the entry on Peter:

            The uncertainties are much more easily resolved if one remembers that the Church of the first generation found its organization and structure as it went along. It is clear that the Jerusalem church remained "the mother Church" in a sense until AD 70. But before one thinks of Jerusalem as central headquarters one should note that Antioch is not known to have sought the approval of Jerusalem for the mission of Barnabas and Paul. The head of the church of Jerusalem was not by that very fact the head of the entire Church. Peter most probably did not remain as head of the church of Jerusalem once the expansion of Christianity had begun. How he fulfilled his mission of "feeding the flock" after he left Jerusalem is not reported in the NT. One should not look in Peter or the primitive Church for the developed conception of the primacy which appears no earlier than the 3rd century. The NT does not show Peter exercising a monarchical leadership. The development of the power possessed by the Church and by Peter into monarchical leadership lies outside of biblical theology; it is an example of the development of dogma, of the office of the Church to define the exercise and the application of the powers she has received from Jesus Christ in historical situations which were never encountered by the primitive Church.

          • Randy Gritter

            It is not that they can imagine another story. It is that the story is not plausible. When I say Jesus is unremarkable I mean in an historical sense not in a Galilean sense. That is, he did no miracles, he did not claim to be God, he did not rise from the dead. He might have told some cool stories but not much more. I can imagine he might be crucified. The Romans crucified many who didn't deserve it. Still how would the disciples react to that? I can't think of examples of any man with so little following before he died becoming so big after he died. It does not compute from a social and political point of view. It also does not compute from a philosophical and religious point of view. That the teachings are radical and new. Salvation through dying and rising. Loving all fellow human beings. God as our Father. These are not small ideas yet they all seem to flow from this thing we call Christianity.

          • David Nickol

            That the teachings are radical and new. Salvation through dying and rising. Loving all fellow human beings. God as our Father. These are not small ideas yet they all seem to flow from this thing we call Christianity.

            God was called Father before Christianity. For example, Isaiah 63:15-16:

            Look down from heaven and regard us from your holy and glorious palace! Where is your zealous care and your might, your surge of pity and your mercy? O Lord, hold not back, for you are our father. Were Abraham not to know us, nor Israel to acknowledge us, You, LORD, are our father, our redeemer you are named forever.

            As to loving fellow human beings, the two greatest commandments Jesus cites are Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18:

            Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.

            Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your own people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

            The idea of salvation by the death and resurrection of Jesus as most of us understand it today does not come from Jesus himself but from two thousand years of Christian pondering, starting with Paul. What is Jesus's explanation of why he must suffer and die. It is quite minimal, and of course even that may not be attributable to Jesus himself, since for all the New Testament authors what looms in the future in the Gospels had happened decades in the past. It is quite common for orthodox, believing Catholic exegetes to conclude that certain post-Easter understandings were retrojected into the account of the earthly life of Jesus.

            It is not Jesus's teachings that are remarkable in the Gospel accounts but the authority with which he is depicted as teaching them. And of course it is taken for granted in the Gospels that others besides Jesus were working miracles.

          • Linda

            This is exactly what I've been wondering today. What's the gain? With Joseph Smith he gets multiple wives, Mohammed gets power -- what exactly did these believers get out if this story? From all accounts the were arrested, tortured, crucified, stoned and imprisoned. They didn't even take credit for the ideas. Who exactly are these illiterate fisherman that came up with an entire philosophy and way of life based on love, humility and service to others, that values women and overturns an entire society, and gets them killed? If they are making it up, why? What is the point?

          • Mikegalanx

            Joseph Smith was murdered by a mob for his beliefs, and many of his early followers were beaten, arrested, imprisoned, driven out of their homes, burned out or killed- that's why they had to keep moving and ended up in Utah.

            Same with the early Islam- the powerful leaders in Mecca persecuted, tortured and even murdered the followers of Mohammed; some fled to Ethiopia and eventually the whole Muslim community had to flee Mecca and take refuge in Medina.

          • David Nickol

            With Joseph Smith he gets multiple wives, Mohammed gets power -- what exactly did these believers get out if this story?

            This is one of the least appealing tacks of Christian apologetics, even setting aside your trashing of Mormonism and Islam! It is the same kind of thing we see in the so-called "trilemma"—Jesus was "liar, lunatic, or Lord." Choose one! Much as I disagree with what I know of "mythicism," and I know very little, the "mythicists" seem to understand that there is a big difference between not believing in a religion and maintaining that it is a pack of lies invented by scoundrels. The false choice Christian apologists try to force is between insulting Jesus and Christianity or wholesale acceptance. Intellectually, it's on the same level as asking, "Have you stopped beating your wife?"

            Who exactly are these illiterate fisherman that came up with an entire philosophy and way of life . . .

            This is an entirely different topic, but exactly how much did the apostles contribute to Christianity as we know it today? Why, when the original apostles spoke only Aramaic, are all the important early Christian documents in Greek? And it is not as if Christianity was invented from nothing. It began as a Jewish sect and is (among other things) an outgrowth of Judaism.

          • Linda

            I am sorry if you think I was trashing Mormonism or Islam. That was not my intent. This series of articles has been a discussion of Jesus as a myth. My point, which was poorly made, is that the human founders and apostles of other religions had some earthly gain, including a following for their own ideas. Subsequent followers of any original leader, messiah, Svengali, or swami may not realize the gain, but it seems that usually the person who promotes the original idea gets something out of it for himself or herself. I never said not meant to imply that anyone is a lying scoundrel and I hope you're not suggesting that I did.

            Usually the argument regarding Christ is that he was a charismatic rabbi, in which case he had his followers and they mythicised him and that's how we got where we are today. But if he's just a myth to begin with, and his disciples gain nothing but pain and death by promoting this myth, why bother? They don't even take credit for any of the ideas. I can't see where the gain is in this for anyone.

            I understand its an outgrowth of Judaism but its quite a departure.

    • Steven Carr

      'Another example of "spin" is the downplaying of the Roman responsibility for the execution of Jesus and the shift of blame to the Jews. '

      This is an excellent point.

      Paul calls the Romans 'God's agents' 'who do not bear the sword for nothing' and 'who hold no terror for the innocent'.

      Reading Romans 13, it is hard to realise that these God's agents, who held no terror for the innocent, were the same people who crucified the Son of God.

      Why, at first reading, it seems that Paul has no idea that the Romans had crucified Jesus.

      That's how much spin Paul has put on it.

    • michael macrossan

      Carrier's take on the baptism issue (from his book "proving History"), is that the baptism was probably not an embarrassment to Mark at all, even if it was to later authors, because Mark did not believe Jesus was God Incarnate as later authors who made up the birth narratives may have. If it was embarrassing for Mark, then Mark had no need to mention it, just like John's Gospel felt no need to mention it. And who knows exactly what was embarrassing to different authors?

      Carrier claims there is widespread doubt about the usefulness of the "embarrassment criteria", it's not just him, he says.

    • Philip Weller

      You make a good point about the crucifixion motif which would have been an unlikely method of execution for a celestial being: a shameful one too. It's like inventing a religious figure who was skinned alive/suffocated, or something weird like that today. For example, Rasputin was drowned because it was considered shameful for a religious person to drown.

      I disagree that the gospels place a spin on the responsibility, however. The Romans had no reason to execute a preacher, especially one who said "render all that is Caesar's to Caesar", any more than they had a reason to execute John the Baptist, or other popular, peaceful religious figures. Pilate's attempts to not execute Jesus are not contrary to his malignity - his whole purpose is to simply contradict the Jews' wishes to have Jesus executed. After all, the enemy of an enemy is a friend. It is similar to stories of Jews who lost family begging the Nazis to shoot them, who refused - only to prolong their pain. Moreover, Caiaphas was a benign fellow according to whom? Josephus, the Jewish pharisee who had no purpose besides glorifying Vespasian, Rome, and the Jews?

    • Doug Shaver

      I think what for me is more convincing is that the story of Jesus simply seems like something that happened which the New Testament authors are putting their own "spin" on than something that was invented.

      This argument presupposes that if the gospel narratives were invented, they were invented for deceitful purposes. They could have been invented for other purposes, and I think they were.

      • David Nickol

        This argument presupposes that if the gospel narratives were invented, they were invented for deceitful purposes.

        I don't want to go back and read everything I wrote in this thread, but let me just say it is not my personal belief that the Gospel authors/editors intended to deceive anyone. Just the opposite: they intended to communicate what they believed to be true.

        • Doug Shaver

          they intended to communicate what they believed to be true.

          So did Victor Hugo when he wrote Les Miserables.

  • Linda

    I like David's comments as well as today's post. I think the prominent role women play should also be considered.

    Also, a question: Religion aside, are there a lot of biographical texts from this time? How much is available for comparison to begin with?

  • 42Oolon

    Is it fair to say that, most reputable historians accept a biological Jesus existed, but not the supernatural claims?

    How do historians view supernatural claims in ancient documents?

    • michael macrossan

      The same as you take supernatural claims in ancient documents (well nearly all such documents) - they don't believe them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ruthy.chandler.106 Ruthy Chandler

    Apparently, the biography written, and words spoken regarding the one now known of as "Jesus" was rewritten by Constantine in order to create fear and division among the people of planet earth. In order to understand why one must first understand the loosh effect and the desire of the separate selfish-self.
    http://www.focusonrecovery.net

  • jayathirunathan s

    S.JAYATHIRUNATHAN
    x (multiply) the + (plus) = +
    cross the cross,its always positive.

  • Bruce Grubb

    The points are poor.

    4. It is the mainstream position in academia: Argument from Authority fallacy

    Continental drift - proposed by Abraham Ortelius in 1596; accepted in 1958. Time of acceptance of incorrect theory: 362 years.

    Heliocentrism - proposed by Philolaus (d. 390 BCE); accepted as a "mathematical convenience" by the Catholic Church during the Council of Trent (1545–1563) but when Galileo Galilei proved it in 1600 the Catholic Church couldn't suppress the information fast enough. Time of acceptance of incorrect theory: 1934 years if one is generous; 2224 years is one is not.

    The Norse colonization of the Americas - known nearly from the beginning through the "Eirik the Red's Saga" and the "Saga of the Greenlanders" both written about three centuries after the events happened. Dismissed largely because the experts saw it as harkening to the Imperial Synthesis Era of the 19th century. Finally accepted in the 1970s. Total denial time: about 900 years.

    Big Bang theory; suggested or implied by John Philoponus (6th century), Abu Yūsuf Yaʻqūb ibn ʼIsḥāq aṣ-Ṣabbāḥ al-Kindī (9th century); Saʻadiah ben Yosef Gaon (9th to 10th century) Abū Ḥāmed Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Ghazālī (11th to 12th century) and Immanuel Kant (19th century); dismissed as crackpot as late as 1963! Total denial time: about 1300 years.

    3. Jesus’ existence is confirmed by extra-biblical sources--uh no it isn't. The first thing one notices about the Testimonium Flavianum is how many people do not mention it even when it would have been in their best interests to do so: Justin Martyr (c100 - c165), Theophilus (d. 180), Irenaeus (c120 - c203), Clement of Alexandria (c150-c215), Origen (c185-c254), Hippolytus (c170 - c235), Minucius Felix (d. c250), Anatolius (230-280), Chrysostom (c347-407), Methodius (9th century), and Photius (c820-891) make no mention of the Testimonium Flavianum even when it would have been in their best interests to do so. In fact, it is documents as late as 1600 there was a copy of Josephus with NO Testimonium Flavianum.

    2. The Early Church Fathers don’t describe the mythicist heresy--mainly because Ehhermerism (deities were originally living men and women who were elevated to divine status because of heroic feats when alive) was the mind set of the day. If you believe as they did that Zeus, Heracles, and every other deity and demigod had one been living breathing people the idea that they might be total fictions would never enter into their minds. "Osiris, Attis, Adonis were men. They died as men; they rose as gods." was the mentality of the day.

    1. St. Paul knew the disciples of Jesus is on really shaky ground. The followers of John Frum have been saying since 1957 that he is the brother of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh who has only sisters. Just because someone says something doesn't mean it is true.

    When you look at the non supernatural elements like the trials, behavior of Pontius Pilate, behavior of the Romans, and other factors we can check the Gospel accounts fall to pieces as history.

  • Doug Shaver

    “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

    A claim that the consensus is mistaken is hardly extraordinary. Historically speaking, it has been correct with disturbing regularity.

    I do agree that anyone challenging a scholarly consensus has a heavy burden of proof. As one who has been tracking Carrier's work for many years, I think he has borne it well.

  • Doug Shaver

    In regards to these accounts being independent of the Christian tradition I will simply say that Tacitus’ disdain for Christians and his reputation as a careful historian, as well as Josephus’ intimate knowledge of Galilee after Jesus’ death, both bode well for their ability to vouch for the events they describe.

    Other than whatever they witnessed themselves, no historian, no matter how exalted his reputation, can vouch for anything more than that their sources said such-and-such, and on this point neither Tacitus nor Josephus says a word about who their sources were.

    If Tacitus was hostile to Christians, he would have been delighted to report that their
    founder had been shamefully executed, and if Christians themselves were saying so, he would hardly have felt compelled to undertake a laborious search for official confirmation.

    Josephus's knowledge of Galilee does not tell us a thing about who his sources about Jesus probably were.