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The “Did Jesus Exist” Controversy and Its Precedents

July 23, 2012

Well, the internet is buzzing nowadays with positive and negative responses to Bart Ehrman’s recent book:  Did Jesus Exist?  The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, written in response to the recent mini-wave of people denying that Jesus of Nazareth was a real historical figure.  I haven’t read Ehrman’s book, but to judge from the range of comments on the Amazon listing, it’s generating some heat.

I was emailed last week by someone asking why scholars don’t engage the “mythicists” (as they are called) on the issue.  Were we afraid that we’d be out-gunned in an argument?  Did we secretly know that the denyers had it all?  Were we being elitist?

For me, it’s a matter of having a good many prior commitments to produce positive contributions to the study of early Christianity (e.g., right now, I’m trying to get on with an essay on “Who Read Early Christian Apocrypha?” for a multi-author volume).  But another reason for feeling it less than necessary to spend a lot of time on the matter is that all the skeptical arguments have been made and effectively engaged many decades ago.  Before posting this, I spent a bit of time perusing my copy of H. G. Wood, Did Christ Really Live?, which was published in 1938.  In it, Wood cites various figures of the early 20th century who had claimed that Jesus of Nazareth was a fiction, and patiently and cordially engages the specifics of evidence and argument, showing that the attacks fail.

So in one sense I think I’m not alone in feeling that to show the ill-informed and illogical nature of the current wave of “mythicist” proponents is a bit like having to demonstrate that the earth isn’t flat, or that the sun doesn’t revolve around the earth, or that the moon-landings weren’t done on a movie lot.  It’s a bit wearying to contemplate!   And now, I really must get back to that essay.

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  1. The author of Luke/Acts deliberately removed James from the list of the names of Jesus’s brothers.

    He also deliberately put the brothers of Jesus as a group of people who were not even qualified to get on the draw to become a witness to the resurrection of Jesus – although Paul says James the church leader was a witness.

    The obvious conclusion is that Luke/Acts knew that everybody knew that James was *not* a brother of Jesus. Luke/Acts then was correcting Mark’s Gospel which had misled people into thinking Jesus had a brother called James.

    .A view backed up by Mark’s not having any clue that the brothers he denigrates as non-believers went on to become church leaders, and the Epistles of James and of Jude leaving no hint that any James was a brother of Jesus.

    Even Matthew’s Gospel has Jesus cast out his physical brothers as not being his real brothers! (Matthew 28:10 has Jesus claiming that his real brothers (ie disciples) were to go to Galilee)

    Contrast that with Philo who could be pretty certain that people would have read the Bible (many Jews were familiar with the Bible) and they would have known that Zechariah 6:11 was the verse prior to Zechariah 6:12, and so knew what name the Bible gave to his celestial figure.

    As Dr. Hurtado points out in his books, Luke’s Gospel uses Mark’s Gospel as a source, but does not give James as a brother of Jesus.

    The reason is pretty obvious. Luke knew Mark was wrong , or Luke knew James the church leader was not a brother of Jesus (their story stops after Acts 1:14)

    • Steven,
      Corrections to your comment: (1) Luke-Acts doesn’t have a list of names of Jesus’ brothers from which he could have removed James; (2) Luke-Acts (with the other Gospels) refers to Jesus physical mother and brothers (e.g., Luke 8:19); (3) Mark isn’t the earliest source for a brother of Jesus named James, it’s Paul (Gal. 1:19; and see also 1 Cor 9:5 “brothers of the Lord”); (4) the scenes in the Synoptics where Jesus’ mother and brothers come for him and he refuses them in favor of his disciples presuppose that he had a family to reject!
      Again, I say, let’s get the data straight before we start drawing (wild!) inferences.

  2. Steven,

    I think you have either not read, or not understood my comment. Philo says, in fact he explicitly states, that the epithet that is talking about is “rising” (or “east”):”Behold, a man whose name is the East!”. Gathercole will show you why ἀνατολή was so important to Philo’s interpretation and why his discussion revolves entirely around this. That it was Joshua that mentioned has no relevance to him- indeed, he never even mentions the name. It instead interests him that ἀνατολή was being used of a human being (and he does not claim, as you suggest, that Joshua is a celestial being, indeed the opposite: “A very novel appellation indeed, if you consider it as spoken of a man who is compounded of body and soul”). Then he ruminates on ἀνατολή being used for the logos.. End of story. Where can you fit the Christ myth in there?

    (Also, as it happens I might be seeing some postgraduate Divinity students from Edinburgh in the near future, so I could try and find out if they do indeed agree with me, but, call it hubris if you want, but I’m quite confident that they will, so I think I will let this opportunity slip).

  3. I have a question for anyone here who may have an answer. Does anyone know of a parallel for the mythical Jesus argument that involves another ancient entity outside of the Christian/Jewish Bible? I am wondering if there is any precedent for such an argument. The following criteria have to be met to make it a real parallel.

    1. This mythical person would have been accepted as an historical person for thousands of years and by billions of people, only to be proven a mythical person after all that time.

    2. This mythical person would have had to make an enormous impact on the history of the entire world. So much so, that the entire course of history was changed because of him, even though he was never a real person.

    Does anyone know a mythical person or story that has accomplished these things? If so, then this would really help in demonstrating that many brilliant men and women can be so easily fooled by the writings of ancient farmers.

    • Brettongarcia permalink

      (Editor’s note: As Mr/Ms ?? Brettongarcia has taken great exception to having his rather verbose comments trimmed, I post this one in its entirety, so that readers can judge for themselves as to the value of reading it in its entirety. I’ve inserted a few short responses marked “LWH”, Brettongarcia’s comments marked “B”)

      B: howardma:
      1) Even if your implied moral was true, it would not necessarily be significant. Since logically, Christianity might be simply unique, for once, in the degree of its nefarious results. Here a single metric in Christianity might hypothetically, simply be conceded: it logically could have been simply, uniquely dishonest.

      LWH: Hmm. I’m not quite sure what you’re trying to say. But if you mean that “unique” doesn’t necessarily = “valid”, then I agree.

      B: Furthermore? Though we do not propose here that they are not quite exactly apt by the way, there are some other mythical/historical figures that are at least vaguely similar to “Jesus” in effects.

      2) First a minor example? Many historians today think that a) the character “Hercules,” the archetypal strong man, thought to be a real man, was probably fictional, many now suggest.

      LWH: Hmm. Rather surprising claim. I’d be keen to have the citations of the “many historians today” who think that Hercules was a historical character. But PLEASE concisely!

      B: Further, this strong man figure, b) we learn from Archeology, was rather influential; Hercules was actually by far the most common mythological figure in Greek pottery. Arguably c) furthermore, at least his “strong man,” muscular type, survived thousands of years, and was at least somewhat influential, to this very day; through the various bodybuilding, WWW, and comic superman tales. And helped strengthen the guiding male stereotype, for many centuries: of the physically strong athletic nature of men.

      Although again, we are NOT arguing that the Hercules texts are compellingly parallel here? Still, thought the next myth is not quite entirely comparable in every respect, this one is often mentioned in connection with Christianity: the myth of Santa Claus.

      LWH: You’re not comparing like for like. Hercules is a figure set in some far distant (timeless) past. The Jesus of the NT is set within the lifetime of people with whom he was linked. E.g., Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas, etc. Quite specific, known, and of then-recent date.

      B: 3) The myth of Santa Claus might particularly be interesting to contemplate here; since many think it is quite similar to – even a version of – the Christian myth. Here we will need not a quick, cursory summary, but a close look at analytic details, to prove our point however.

      a) First? The Santa Clause is often thought to be based on a real historical person, St. Nick. (Though to be sure has been influential only a thousand years, and not two thousand).

      LWH: Santa Claus (sp.!) is the American name given to a figure derived from St. Nicholas (a 4th century Christian bishop, see, e.g.,

      b) HOw is the Santa Claus myth thought to be similar to Christianity? The character of Santa Claus is commonly thought to involve a rather close parallel with “God.” Since he is a rather supernatural, invisible person in the sky.

      c) Who somehow “sees” our every moment; and who knows if we are naughty or nice, good or bad;

      d) And who will reward or punish us accordingly.

      e) And as another parallel, the untrue myth of Santa is taught to simple people/children, in order to intimidate them into behaving.

      f) These parallels are close enough – between tales of Santa Claus and Chrisistianity – that today, many – admittedly informal – critics of Christianity, call Christianity a “Santa Claus” tale. At least informally seeing the myth of Santa Claus as a rather close parallel to Christianity.

      Supporters of the “White Lie” theory of religion in particular, believe that Christianity is essentially the same kind of myth as Santa Claus, in these critical ways: aa) the tale involves an invisible supernatural person in the sky. Which was largely invented, bb) generated as a myth, cc) but from an historical person. dd) The mythic figure evolving gradually from a man to a “supernatural” being, ee) related to our “faither”s and mothers. A supernatural being ff) who could see, supernaturally, whether we were good or bad. And gg) who would one day punish or reward us accordingly.

      g) Are the parallels between Santa Claus and Jesus or God accidental, imposed – or historical, by the way? As it turns out, it is also thought by some historians that there are close, actual historical ties of derivation between the tale of Santa Claus and Christianity: the supposed original human source of the godlike Santa, is thought by some to have been an actual person, who was also specifically, a Christian. Who was actually a Christian saint: St. Nick.

      LWH: All very interesting, I’m sure. But, er, ah, if a figure (Santa Claus) is a figure derived from a real historical figure (Bishop Nicholas, as is widely thought), then this isn’t a “myth”. A “myth” is something that never happened, that isn’t derived from some historical event. Perhaps “legend” would be a better category.

      To this very day, informal critics of Christianity call it a “Santa Claus” tale; and this is the reason why.

      • Brettongarcia,

        No insult intended, but is that the best you can do, Hercules and Santa Claus? You did not come anywhere near the criteria I listed. First, you admit that Santa Claus was probably derived from a real person, that’s strike one. And while we’re at it, can you prove that Hercules was not derived from a real person? I am not saying that all the stories surrounding these figures has any historical merit, the same as some believe Jesus was historical, but they also believe the majority of the stories surrounding his life are not historical. That argument in of itself does not deny a historical person at the core.

        The next point was missed as well. These figures you mentioned do not come anywhere near the impact that Jesus had on world history. Were Hercules and Santa Claus at the heart of thousands of wars through out the world, which redefined geography, history and culture for millions of people? Were entire cities and institutions created for the sole purpose of admiring Santa Claus and Hercules, and are they still in existence and functioning today?

        You said that maybe it was because this Jesus story was so unique, and that is why it had such an impact. What makes it unique when many who advocate mythicism say it was derived from pagan myths and/or the Hebrew Scriptures? What is it about rehashing old pagan beliefs that makes it unique?

      • Brettongarcia permalink

        As I noted first, the relation of the Hercules legend or myth and the Santa myth/legend, to the tales of Jesus, cannot be a perfect parallel; if for no other reason than that the scale of the Christian legend is apparently singular. While then too, just as Semantics tell us that no two words are ever exact synonyms, likewise, no two even closely-related myths (or for that matter say, gospels) are enitrely, “exactly” alike. And yet however these two examples – Hercules and Santa – might begin to show how Christianity is not entirely, absolutely singular, as our questioner perhaps meant to imply; but can be located within a general cultural climate of similar tales. As scholars well know, especially Christianity bears many resemblances to other ANE stories; “Daniel” and Flood tales being found in other cultures than Jewish culture, and so forth.

        When dealing with the proposed derivation of one legend or myth from another, or from historical facts, we must always be prepared of course, for some evolved differences in the course of the derivation. In the case of Hercules though, we might well be seeing the pattern that our questioner had in mind: of a 1) myth, then taken as 2) history; but then later again a 3) myth. In this case, opinions vary from era to era, person to person – and scholar to scholar, as to whether Hercules specifically was “historically real,” or fictional. But here is the distinct possibility therefore, that Hercules was – rather as asserted of Jesus, above – first, 1) rather entirely mythical; then 2) later taken by Greeks to be historical. While 3) Hercules is now regarded as mthic by many Classicists.

        So that Hercules in this construction, would be, following the pattern that “howardma” was asking about: 1) a “myth”; which is to say rather wholly fictional. that 2) was taken to be historical. But 3) whom many once again regard as a myth. It was moreover, a 4) tale that enormously influenced the proximate “world,” for perhaps even thousands of years.

        To be sure, in this life and in semantics, there are rarely two things that are absolutely, perfectly alike; even a basketball in your hand, is not quite exactly same as another basketball of the same type … rebounding off a backboard into a basket. And likewise, just as there is in a sense seldom any perfect Identity between two different things (or in translation and semantics, perfect synonymy; due to divergences of “semantic fields” ), still, there is clearly enough resemblance between many things, to begin to see types, patterns. Clearly in tales like those of Hercules, we see a parallel with the asserted pattern of tales of Jesus. Suggest that – as our questioner asked – the story of Jesus could indeed have followed one of the standard patterns for evolving myths. In this case progressing from 1) rather wholly mythic. To 2) being regarded as historical. To 3) being widely regarded as fiction, as myth, once again, today.

        I believe this simple narrative will make quite linear sense; if not interrupted by interpolated commentary.

      • OK. Brettongarcia. You’ve now had two rather lengthy and rambling comments that really don’t speak to the key issue of my post, to which comments should pertain: The latest re-tread of “mythical Jesus” proponents. So, now that you’ve had your say about Santa Claus, Hercules, etc. This should do you.

    • Brettongarcia permalink

      Not quite. 1) My most important point was apprently missed by both of you: that the all-too-common demand – like yours – for complete identity, between a pagan predecessor and the Jesus legend, is not required, to establish basic similarities, to establish patterns or in-common structures, between pagan ideas and Christian ones.

      In addition 2) I added that Hercules is often regarded as having no historical origin, among many scholars. While I now add? 3) That though I do not feel that complete identity is required here, there are scholars who suggest that St. Nick was not historical either. Not too long ago, Nick was de-emphasized by the Church; in part in response to increasing doubts from scholars as to his real status.

      And logically? If either of these or both was solely fictional/mythic – as many scholars suppose? Then in effect, we would have precedent for the claim that even a very influential legend, could have been based on fiction, or myth.

      Time after time, the two of you simply miss my point – and then assert I have not answered objections.

      • Dear Brettongarcia,
        I didn’t miss anything to do with the point under discussion, which is whether it makes more sense to see a historical figure of Jesus behind and part of the impetus for the growth of what I have called “Jesus-devotion” in earliest Christianity. That there are certain rough similarities between some mythic figures and Jesus is both undeniable and not to the point. Such similarities only reflect one aspect of the growth of Jesus-devotion; they don’t invalidate the clear indications that there was a historical figure to whom these devotional elaborations were attached.
        (BTW, I think you’ve had more than your share of space here to vent your assertions, which typically have proven . . . well, not all that sound. So, maybe give it a rest?)

  4. chab123 permalink

    (Editor’s Note: This originally more lengthy comment edited to preserve some essentials and omit some things I judged less crucial.)

    Why make up a Jesus who never existed and was never crucified? One comment may help here:

    “The idea of a crucified Messiah is not only unprecedented within Jewish tradition; it is so contrary to the whole nation of a deliver from the line of David, so out of harmony with the constellation of biblical texts we can identify from various Jewish sources that catalyzed around the royal figure later known as the “the Christ” that terms like “scandal” and “foolishness” are the only appropriate responses. Irony is the only means of telling such a story, because it is so counterintuitive.- Donald H. Juel, “The Trial and Death of the Historical Jesus” featured in The Quest For Jesus And The Christian Faith: Word &World Supplement Series 3 (St. Paul Minnesota: Word and World Luther Seminary, 1997), 105.

    Ehrman discusses the real reasons why Jesus mythers exist at the end of his book. They just think that Christianity is so bad for the world that they need to get rid of its main figure. That is about right.

    Btw, someone mentioned the issues of Paul’s revelation in Gal 1. What is helpful here is to differentiate between essence and form. The essence of the gospel, that Jesus of Nazareth was truly the Son of God, was revealed to Paul on the life changing moment on the Damascus road. Paul realized that the Christians that he had been persecuting had been right all along about Jesus being the Messiah.

    The article I posted by Paul Maier is helpful on the Josephus issue. Everyone knows he is a Josephus scholar. In the end, Professor Hurtado has made outstanding contributions to early Christianity. I think he DOES have better things to do then to engage the myth issue. Keep up the good work.

  5. The problem with the ‘new mythicists’ is that unlike the ‘old mythicists’ they are typically not academically qualified, or qualified in fields unrelated to either New Testament studies or history. A number of them are inadequately qualified in Greek.

    As a result, the ‘new mythicists’ use methods which are very different to the historiographical methods used by professional historians, the text and source criticism methods of New Testament scholars, and the lexiographical methods of Greek scholars.

    Taking Greek as an example, Doherty asserts for various Greek words, meanings which he says himself are not found in any professional Greek lexicon. He sees nothing wrong with this. Carrier advances a meaning for ‘brother of the Lord’ a meaning which he acknowledges cannot be found in any New Testament text using the phrase, or any Greek text of the entire first century. He sees nothing wrong with this either.

    When I asked Doherty and Carrier if they had used the standard lexicographical method for investigating the meaning of Greek words (diachronic and synchronic analysis), neither of them had. Furthermore, neither of them saw any reason to.

    Since the entire mythicist case is based on a negative argument from silence, it’s hardly surprising that they see no place in their approach for any method aimed at actually analyzing evidence; evidence is irrelevant to their case.

  6. Sandwiches permalink

    Professor Hurtado,

    In case you are interested, some of the mythicists who are posting here have gathered to lick their wounds at their favourite watering-hole:

    Usually, they gather there to exchange high-fives when they feel that someone with academic standing has taken them seriously and that they have scored a point (however irrelevant the point may be). The results of their encounter with you seem to have more of the mood of a losing football team.

    Any casual observers should take a look. I am no scholar but there is really no substitute for learning?

    • “Sandwiches” (Once again, I’ll express my puzzlement that people are reluctant to identify themselves): Thanks for the link. My only comments in response to the “vidar” posting about me are (1) that it’s hardly “intellectual bullying” to point out that those trained in a given subject don’t support a given assertion; and (2) people have a right to their own opinions but not to their own “facts”. So, e.g., it is simply NOT the case that Paul’s reference to James as the “brother of the Lord” in Gal 1:19 is regarded as a later insertion by many scholars. There’s no textual uncertainty at that point, no basis for the claim in any case. Paul also refers to “brothers of the Lord” in 1 Cor 9:5, and again there’s no textual uncertainty there. This is simply one of the instances where the evangelists of the “mythicist” camp repeat erroneous claims (and/or invent them?). Refuting such is what makes it all “wearying”.

      • (Editor’s note: I’ve indicated Godvrey’s comments with “NG” and interlaced my responses labelled “LWH” below.)

        NG: You reference my words “intellectual bullying” as if I am confusing this for healthy disagreement. You have misread my post. Expressing disagreement or pointing out where others are mistaken is certainly not intellectual bullying and I have never suggested anything like this. You fortunately appear not to have encountered some anti-mythicists relying upon hostile insult and ridicule to attack mythicist ideas rather than attempting reasoned argument. Note I did specifically say that this was a tactic used by only “some” scholars.

        LWH: My apology for misunderstanding your reference. You were discussing a posting of mine and used the expression “intellectual bullying”, so it seemed to me I was intended. As for “hostile insult and ridicule”, I rather think you’ll have to agree that at least equal doses of it come from some zealous supporters of the “mythicist” position, people who impugn the integrity of virtually the whole of modern scholarship, etc., and make ad hominem statements left and right. But let’s all try to engage data.

        NG: As for the second point about textual integrity [Gal 1:19], I was in fact citing anti-mythicist R. Joseph Hoffmann’s claim for this. Just saying that there is no basis for the claim when you appear not to have even read his arguments does not do away with the basis that others do see. Hoffmann is not the only anti-mythicist to have pointed out the uncertainty surrounding this passage. (I do think Hoffmann overstated his point but there certainly are reasons for questioning the authenticity of the passage. — But this is really an incidental point, and simply having a reason to question something does not, of course, mean it IS an interpolation or should be treated as such. My point was to alert readers to the range of views among conventional scholarship.)

        LWH: Well, as a NT scholar of some 40 years, I’ve never seen this claim, nor has my NT colleague and Paul specialist, Matt Novenson. So, if the claim has been put forth in some serious venue, it’s remained a very well kept secret! In any case, my real point is that there is no textual basis for the claim . . . none. E.g., no textual variants noted in the Nestle-Aland text, nothing in the larger context that suggests a problem, etc. It’s pretty much the same expression Paul also uses in 1 Cor 9:5. Rather clearly, Paul knew people who were known as Jesus’ relatives.

        NG: The weariness I find is in anti-mythicists failing to read posts critical of the conventional wisdom with due care or having read widely in alternative viewpoints even from among their peers.

        LWH: Well, Neil, I must ask you to indicate what this statement is supposed to mean. Is this some veiled accusation against me? When you make such innuendo-type statements, it’s not surprising if people sometimes misconstrue you.

      • Just one more word, Larry. You refer to me as an “evangelist for the mythicist camp”. I should point out that I hold the very same views expressed by Thomas L. Thompson — that the historicity of Jesus is questionable given the nature of the evidence we have, but the real question is understanding how that evidence helps us understand Christian origins. If that turns out to be best explained by a historical Jesus, then well and good. I have absolutely no problem with that at all.

      • Well, I can’t account for Thompson (BTW, he’s not really a specialist in Christian origins, is he?). But I’ll applaud the final part of your comment. Let’s stay with the evidence . . . real evidence.

      • (Editor’s Note: My own brief responses marked “LWH” below interlaced with Godfrye’s lengthy comment marked “NG”)

        NG: Larry, My last comment was a reference to your baffling misconstruing my original post as an accusation that you were engaged in “intellectual bullying”. I introduced a general discussion through a reference to a post of yours — after the intro the post gave all the verbal cues to inform readers it was a general discussion and not a personal one at all. Merely mentioning the words and qualifying them at the end of a post that discussed a wider general state of affairs and not you personally, and that suggested that the mythicist case is founded upon a few specific “proof-texts” and that are not central to any case I have read at all, and that suggests mythicism is as fallacious as denying geocentricism, does indeed suggest a reading of “the opposition” claims that is without real care or interest. Some would even argue that these things are evidence of a hostile or otherwise prejudiced reading.

        LWH: Neil, all I’ve seen offered in the scores of comments, including the lengthy ones from you and others who take a similar line, are a few mis-construed texts and/or exaggerated and incorrect claims. If there’s something big, impressive, new and cogent, then point me to it. Simply claiming that there is something such won’t do. Specifics needed.

        NG: I assumed anyone would take my final paragraph with the same toughness as you presumably expected of others with respect to your own claim of the weariness of engagement with them because they are loonies. Implying others are as looney as flat-earthers is rather more severe than complaining that one side does not read posts with normal care. Let’s cut the ad hominem and address the issues. Let’s not use the worst behaviours from both of our sides deflect us from addressing the issues.

        LWH: I stand by the analogy, until we have something substantial with which to deal. So far, nothing such on the table.

        NG: On the (side-issue) of the argument for Gal 4:4 containing an interpolation, Hoffmann posted it on his blog ( but it has been noted by others, too, and the argument is also found in Ehrman’s “Orthodox Corruption of Scripture” pp 238-239. (Say hello to Matt Novenson for me. I have enjoyed his recent book as much as I have enjoyed reading some of your own publications, Larry — as well as others by Hoffmann, Ehrman, Goodacre, West, et al. I do hope that Matt also took notice that I made it explicitly clear he is not a mythicist.)

        LWH: The reference that I mentioned and to which your comment seemed to respond had to do with Gal 1:19, where Paul refers to James, Jesus’ brother (and I also referred to 1 Cor 9:5, where brothers of Jesus are mentioned). Nothing was said about Gal 4:4. But, again, it’s actually pretty secure, despite surmises by Hoffmann or others. Let’s go with data, not speculations.

        NG: s for Thompson’s credentials (, he himself writes:

        Apparently to him, the more than 40 years I have devoted to research in my study of the primary fields of Old Testament exegesis, ancient Near Eastern literature and ancient history—not least in regards to questions of historicity—leaves me unqualified and lacking the essential competence to address such questions because they also come to include a comparison of such an analysis with these same stereotypical literary tropes as they occur in the Gospels.

        My reason for mentioning his name was not to appeal to authority, however, but to use an analogy that I thought would be instantly recognized and illustrate exactly where I stand.

        LWH: Again, I stand by my comments. Thompson has 40 years in ANE studies dealing with the origins of the OT, Israel, etc., things about which I wouldn’t try to offer an expert opinion. He hasn’t published things on Christian origins, and that’s the test of whether someone has acquired a basis for having his/her opinion counting for much in a given question. No animus. It’s just the tough way that scholarship works, and Thompson will know that.
        My recent blog post addresses the regular appeals to authority to pressure nonspecialists to tow the line on right thinking about the historicity of Jesus

        LWH: In scholarship “authority” rests on having proven your stuff in refereed publications etc., and demonstrating mastery of the data and skills involved. So, if that doesn’t count for anything with you, then so be it. It this wayin any field. Or would you listen to internet amateurs on how to treat cancer??

      • Larry, you are very quick to castigate non-scholars if they at any point in your eyes to appear to be impugning scholars. But your own innuendo against non-scholars does you no credit.

        You wrote: ” In scholarship “authority” rests on having proven your stuff in refereed publications etc., and demonstrating mastery of the data and skills involved. So, if that doesn’t count for anything with you, then so be it. It this wayin any field. Or would you listen to internet amateurs on how to treat cancer??”

        I am sorry, Larry, but you have completely sidestepped the point I made in my linked blog post about the function of authority in scholarship and the public responsibility that that authority brings. You have then gone on to deliver a most obnoxious innuendo against my own thinking biases and proclivities.

        Can you kindly address the points made and not resort to this sort of shameful response towards those who do expect an authority to argue a case clearly to the public without resort to “this is how all scholars interpret the data”, etc, when it is the logical premises of that interpretation that are in fact the subject of the question?

      • Neil,
        I see no impugning in my statement that you quote. I asked you a question, which you didn’t answer: In other matters, would you take the word of trained figures in a given field (e.g., your health care) or canvass opinions on internet sites for which no such trained figures vouch? What I said about “authority” in scholarship is simply the way it is. Scholarship involves hard work and proving yourself to pretty damned critical people.
        I don’t get what question you think I’ve side-stepped. Do scholars have a public responsibility? Of course they do. Believing that is the major reason why I set up this blog site, Neil. To try to bring to a wider public informed scholarship on the New Testament and early Christianity. It’s perhaps the case that the pressures of research and scholarly publication intended to advance knowledge in the field (which means having to publish in refereed journals and books, and presenting your work before other scholars in conference settings, etc.) leaves little time for writing for the general public. And in the UK, the only scholarly publications that count for national assessment purposes are those directed to other scholars, not “popular” level publication.
        The result can be that scholars can seem cut off, aloof, or even a closed shop talking to one another, I agree. But, can I say, it doesn’t encourage scholars to bring their knowledge to a wider public when one gets the sort of intense resistance that I’ve had on historical Jesus matters in the last few days. I’m tough-skinned and dedicated to public understanding of the field, but I rather suspect some colleagues might shy away from the fray!

      • Larry, no-one is asking you to devote hours of time in extra curricular postings. All we are asking you to do is give us reasons why “most scholars” interpret the texts the way they do without begging the question. (It would be nice to avoid the intellectual put-downs, too, such as standing by your analogy that mythicists are akin to flat-earthers.)

        All we are asking is for arguments with logical and methodological rigour — not appeals to “this is the way we see things”.

        Fortunately I can trust medical specialists because their discipline does demand logical and methodological rigour while historical Jesus studies is, by the admissions of several of its own practitioners, fundamentally circular and reliant upon fallacious criteriology. When challenged, as you have been on this blog, you regularly resort to question-begging responses and, yes, appeals to authority rather than logical validity.

      • Neil, “there you go again,” making unfair and misleading accusations. I tire of this, Neil. And you should be ashamed. “Question-begging responses” and “appeals to authority rather that logical validiy”?? Really? So, you’ve completed missed the data and explanations that I’ve tried patiently to provide over the last week or so? Are you sure?? And the bibliographical references, you’ve now studied them and found them all the same? Really? Is it an “intellectual put-down” to note that an argument is invalid, that the data has been misrepresented or ignored, and that a claim that the majority opinion of experts is wrong is made by someone who hasn’t demonstrated the expertise to make a reliable judgement in the subject? It’s one thing to ask for an explanation of something, Neil, something I’m happy to do. It’s quite another to be accused of the various things you and others have lodged against scholars, and, when I give an explanation then to be assailed for giving it.
        As for historical Jesus studies, Neil, once again I ask you to see if you can distinguish between the particular constructions of this or that scholar (which often differ) and the agreed basis on which such scholar argue with one another (which is that there is a historical figure to try to characterize rightly). Scholars differ over how rightly to characterize Abraham Lincoln, but they agree that he did exist, and that there is something to try to capture. So, I simply ask you one question, Neil: Do you really want to understand the field of Christian origins, and how scholars go about it, or do you wish to take insufficiently-informed pot-shots from the sidelines? I have little interest in engaging the latter.

      • Larry, fewer ‘unfair and misleading accusations” from you would not go astray. I at NO time have ever suggested that it is “an “intellectual put-down” to note that an argument is invalid, that the data has been misrepresented or ignored, and that a claim that the majority opinion of experts is wrong is made by someone who hasn’t demonstrated the expertise to make a reliable judgement in the subject?”. I specifically referred to your insistence that mythicists should be compared with flat-earthers. I was referring to innuendo along similar lines — hence my expression “such as”.

        It is not an intellectual put-down to point out logical fallacies in an argument. Scholars do that all the time — and I pointed out that scholars themselves acknowledge the fallacies I addressed.

        Your analogy of Abraham Lincoln is itself fallacious. If we had the evidence for Jesus that we have for Abraham Lincoln we would not be having this discussion.

        I would not waste my time taking pot-shots. But let’s be clear and specific. I grant that there are many questions that require much training in order to make reliable judgements. But what specific expertise do I need to make “to make a reliable judgement” on whether or not Jesus was historical?

      • Neil, you can’t use expressions such as “intellectual put-down” in attempting to chide me in one comment and then claim that you didn’t mean it in the next one! As for my own comments, if someone insists on denying what a body of scholarship holds, and does so without giving a superior analysis of the relevant data, then isn’t that a good bit like taking a “flat earth” stance? Come on, Neil. The analogy holds.
        To answer (yet again, and hopefully for the last time!) your last question: The expertise you need to make a reliable judgement on whether Jesus was or wasn’t a historical figure is the expertise that scholars have to work up to present any judgement on the matter that might win the assent or at least respect of scholarly peers: You need a damn good knowledge of the languages of the original texts (so you can speak reliably to what they say and not be reliant on others); you need a damn good knowledge of the other historical sources of the time; you need a damn good familiarity with the intricate analysis of key materials (such as the Gospel tradition and its literary and rhetorical features and earmarks of provenance); you need a damn good knowledge of the ancient Jewish religious, social, and historical setting, and of the larger historical and religious environment; you need to hone analytical and judgement skills and have them tested and challenged by accomplished scholars; and you need them to publish work that wins the respect of competent scholars, demonstrating an ability to mount a successful case and withstand the (often fierce) criticism of other scholars. These are the sorts of things needed to have your judgement on matters taken seriously and possibly influential, Neil, if by “reliable” we man a judgment that doesn’t just satisfy you but that wins the respect of people with the cometence to assess it.
        Now, does it matter that of those with this high degree of training overwhelmingly (I’d say unanimously but there’s sure to be some exception, as there almost always seems to be) the judgement is that the best conclusion is that Jesus of Nazareth lived, circulated in Roman Palestine, developed a certain following, and generated a sufficient opposition that it led to his execution. Should it matter to you that this is so, that this is the judgement of those (and I emphasize of various personal stances, including Jewish scholars, atheists or non-religious, as well as various Christian stances) with the sort of expertise that I describe? That’s for you to decide. But don’t try to justify a reluctance to accept this view as if you were doing so on some superior grounds. You haven’t offered anything such, but have thus far simply demurred from the scholarly view.

      • I have not said I did not mean what I did in fact say. I have not “simply demurred from the scholarly view”. I have asked for the evidence upon which scholars make specific judgements that does not involve question begging. Now that is NOT a put down. Most scholars on the historical Jesus have asked the question “What was he like?” and his existence has always been a given. Ditto for the question of Christian origins. What I am asking is something scholars have by and large assumed as the basis for their other questions. It is embarrassing to have this pointed out, perhaps, but it is not a put-down to point it out.

        As for alternative scenarios, yes, it is important to raise these, too, and they have been raised often. But that does not invalidate a critique of the prevailing paradigm. How much can we be expected to cover in blog discussion threads?

      • Neil,
        I stand by my characterization of your stance (and that of Vincent): I provide you with texts and reasoning, and the typical response has been “oh yes, but it just might also mean something else,” without offering any reason for preferring the latter.
        The reason that most scholars treat Jesus of Nazareth as a historical figure, Neil, is that they think that makes the best sense of the data. You’re simply wrong in putting it all down to a “question-begging” assumption. Wrong. And so misleading, and unfair. It’s tiresome to keep pointing you to your errors in these matters.
        I don’t expect you or anyone else to develop a ful “alternative scenario” in blog comments (God save us from any such attempt!), any more than I’ve thought I could mount the full scholarly reasoning and anlysis in a blog posting or comments. Instead, I have summarized all too briefly the results of many scholars over many years, published in many articles in refereed journals and scholarly monographs and debated in academic conferences. So, again, simply cite and summarize briefly the warrants given in the scholarly work on which you base your stance.

  7. Bobby Garringer permalink

    The stability of the traditions about Jesus reflected in the New Testament — including some minor details — surely implies both the historical reality of Jesus and the church’s desire to preserve what was known about him.

    James M. Arlandson of Dallas Theological Seminary has written an interesting piece — that gives an astonishing number of examples — titled, “Similarities among John’s Gospel and the Synoptic Gospels.” (See:

    Arlandson includes, among the similarities, everything from known historical figures to prominent and minor people that figure in the story of Jesus. Geographical details, terminology used by Jesus, habits of his life and ministry, and — of course — important specifics regarding his death and resurrection are also among the topics in his survey.

    The literary and theological distinctives of each of the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament are interesting and important, but they seem to center in a core of truth concerning Jesus that is not only historical, but is also personal and theological.

    It is well within the scope and implications of the New Testament texts to conclude that — as a rabbi, a prophet, and the Messiah — Jesus was very intentional in his work and teaching. He left a mark and a legacy that was indelible and was preserved very well in the apostles’ teaching and in the work of those who succeeded them.

    If there were no miracles in the New Testament and if the far-reaching claims concerning Jesus found there were toned down, no one would dare question his historical reality. But then, if the supernatural element in his person and work were missing, he would have been quickly forgotten and there would be no New Testament.

    • Brettongarcia permalink

      (Editor’s note: I’ve edited down “Brettongarcia’s” rather lengthy comment to important points, and have interleaved my responses identified as “LWH”, his comments identified as “B”)

      B: Why aren’t I presently in the scholarly literature somewhere, under this name? The New Mythicism is probably the first great movement to exist primarily in the new medium of the Internet; I like to do much of my work informally, here.

      LWH: Your evangelical zeal is impressive! But I fear it is not widely shared among scholars in the subject areas. The internet also makes it possible for thousands to believe, inter alia, that Obama was born abroad and is a secret Muslim, that Princess Diana’s death was organized by the British Secret Service, etc. That an idea spreads among ill-informed people doesn’t count for much!

      B: I have lived in Muslim countries; have spoken to Imams. And studied Comparitive Religion; and yet I am unaware of the overwhelming cross-cultural consensus on the historical existence of Jesus, of which you speak. . . . . Your assertion of an overwhelming consensus even in just western regions, ignores the recent work of Price, Doherty, and so forth; as well as tons of classic scholarship.

      LWH: I’ve emphasized scholarly agreement that there was a historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth. I can’t account for what Imams in Muslim countries may or may not believe about the matter. You’re simply incorrect that “tons of classic scholarship” deny Jesus’ existence. As for those you name, they are hardly recognized as accredited scholars in the subject matter. But even if there were one or two respected scholars making the claim, this would hardly constitute a consensus.

      B: I’ve heard you say a half dozen times that many liberal Mythicist arguments have been decisively refuted by recent literature. But since here on a simple blog, many people are not fully familiar with the literature? Suppose you simply mention one of your alleged refutations, for those who are not familar with the original (and the counterarguments). Then we might simply discuss here, whether those ideas on their own merit; by logical examination. Rather than by simple Reference to Authority.

      LWH: I’ve mentioned a few times (initially in the blog posting that triggered this discussion) H.G. Wood, Did Christ Really Exist? (1938). There are other works as well, from decades ago. Read them and get back to me.

  8. Brettongarcia permalink

    Even conceding the existence of an historical, Jesus-era Nazareth, is a very, very long way from establishing the historical existence of a Jesus Christ – or even a simple human Jesus.

    We might try to use the rest of the Bible to triangulate some kind of central, “real” Jesus. But the Bible overall is not longer regarded as “perfect”; and most of the parts are now separately in question.

    Then too, other evidence external to the Bible and the early Christian community (as Vinny notes?) is rather against the claims of any significant historical Jesus.

    Today it looks as if only a residual piety or blind “faith” really sustains the percepetion that Jesus was historically real.

    • Dear “Brettongarcia”, since you posit your view in a straightforward manner, I presume that you’ll take no offence if I do likewise. I’m afraid that your view of matters is seriously out of touch with reality. Or perhaps you drink with people who don’t represent historical scholarship on these matters. In fact, it’s only a rump-group with a stubborn refusal to accept the verdict of historians that (re)asserts claims that have long since been demolished. Faith & piety have NOTHING to do with it. Scholars competent in the relevant subject, of various faith and no-faith stances, share “the perception that Jesus was historically real”. Get your facts from scholars, not from self-apointed “experts” unrecognized by scholars in the field.

      • If I could just second Prof Hurtado’s comments here and have a little rant. I do not recognize the opinions of Brettongarcia in any academic study of the historical Jesus I have read or heard. Yet I have seen it repeatedly asserted, both online and in personal exchanges, that the opinions Brettongarcia’s present are the scholarly one. For some reason, though probably because of the prowess of atheist/skeptical internet groups to further their own particular agenda in the internet age, the public’s perception on the reality has been completely distorted. For example “Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed at Al” was voted one of the top atheist books of the year. Abusing history, particularly early Christian history seem to go unchallenged in a way that topics in the sciences never would. Try putting up a fringe, or highly tentative argument on evolution, global warming etc… and see what happens. But with Christianity any old nonsense gets lapped up and is given the completely unwarranted accolade as being the “scholar” and “academic” position. It is the complete opposite of reality: the scholarly position is considered to be the loony fringe one, and the fringe position lauded as being the scholarly one. If you try and explain otherwise you will be labelled as being an apologist, and out of touch with real academic research.

        Even QI (a popular British quiz show) spent two minutes telling everyone how the story of Jesus was actually derived from Mithraism. Where did they get this information from? A scholarly source? Not unless they are reading pre-1950 marginal German scholarship. No, it will be from the countless barrage of this claim that is iterated across amateur websites that they obviously concluded must be true. Science has realized the importance of countering false perceptions in the public, historians really don’t seem that exercised by it- the results can be seen in the comment boxes such as this one, and apparently by the fact that most people in Nordic countries think Jesus didn’t exist!

      • Brettongarcia permalink

        My perspective, is that mariginalizing 1) pre 1950′s German scholarship, 2) marginalizing literature from the Classics, on dozens of Greco-Roman influences in Christianity, and 3) flatly rejecting arbitrarily the New Mythicism, that builds on that legacy, is4) bias.

        The fact is, 5) that by 1930-1980 especially, many religious institutions perceived (probably rightly) that the ongoing attack on contemporary conservative Christianity, might well dissolve Christianity as we knew it. And for that reason? There developed a Religious Right, around Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, and a “New Evangelization” in conservative Catholic circles; that attempted to deliberately defeat “liberalism” by name. And significantly? By the reinstitution of oaths of religious allegiance in religious institutions of higher ed, by subtle pressures – and the simple voluntary flight of liberals from religion, on their own part – eventually, from about 1980 or so … a breed of new religious conservatives was hired in our major academic institutions. Who believed that they were acting from purely academic motives in some cases; but who were tenured on another basis entirely.

        The objections to Mythicism that we are hearing from here, the prevailing anti-Mythicist direction of scholarship from c. 1980 to 2012, has been determined not by objective study of History; but by the development of the Religious Right, and the “New Evangelical Scholarship.” (As for example, say, the publications of Baker Academic; by the “Evangelical Teological Society.”) there the aim was not scholarly; but rather evangelicalism: the vocal support of classic conservative religious principles.

        Many scholars from this now-lost generation, c. 1980-2012, have believed or asserted that they were acting from purely academic, objective standards. But behind the hiring and firing of their generation, were many political forces hard at work. In the deliberate attack on “Liberals,” and liberal theology.

      • Dear “Brettongarcia” (whoever you are),
        Speaking for myself, I don’t marginalize any real scholarship, from whatever period. As I’ve indicated earlier, the demonstration of the fallacies of the “Jesus didn’t exist” proposals goes waaaay back, and current proposals seem largely to be re-assertions of things long refuted, not by supposed “New Evangelical Scholarship” but by respected scholars of various persuasions. Yet once again, I point out that the acceptance of a real historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth, characterizes historical scholarship of all major stripes: Christian (of whatever type), Jewish, non-religious, and internationally in university departments of history, theology, classics, whatever.
        You have it exactly the reverse of matters: The objections to the historical existence of Jesus come from a few individuals who would never have much of a following were it not for the internet and the readiness of a curious number of people to embrace claims rejected by scholars competent to judge matters. There’s no conspiracy. It’s just a matter of record and has been the case since the first attempts to deny the historical existence of Jesus (well over a century or so).

    • Brettongarcia,

      The idea that there is some conspiracy orchestrated by the Church to hide scholarship is, I have to be honest, ludicrous. I can understand your unease at seminaries’ statements of faith, but how they managed to persuade or coerce secular Universities such as Cambridge, Oxford, Edinburgh, St Andrews and Aberdeen into this I cannot fathom. Can I also inquire as to why this right wing conspiracy also allowed the Jesus Seminar to strip away almost everything apart from 33 sayings from Jesus? Presumably it was the foresight of the American preachers you mention to only prevent the theory that Jesus didn’t exist being expressed (a theory which has never, ever gathered support from scholars) when the internet came along?

      Pre-1950′s German scholarship really wont help you. They also (apart from maybe on or two scholars) believed in a historical Jesus. But while we are on the topic; the theories of an initial Gnostic or mystical form of Christianity were suggested in pre-1950′s scholarship are not taken seriously today because of Jerry Falwell (!), but because their theories and readings of the primary texts have been found to be faulty. I mean even their own PhD students didn’t follow in their footsteps.Furthermore, many of the presumed Graeco-Roman facets of Christianity have (especially since the DSS) been found to be of Jewish provenance, not a mystical Graeco-Roman one. Also, there is no slack in N.T. scholarship to consider the Graeco-Roman context of Christianity. My own doctorate, for example, is in the Graeco-Roman philosophical context of the N.T.

      • Brettongarcia permalink

        Of course I am not a “conspiracy” theorist; that is a simple calumny on your part. I do however well know, as a trained Cultural Historian, that when the vast majority of an entire country is devoted religiously, to believing in a given religion, that influences much of their behavior against those who oppose it.

        You don’t agree?

      • Dear Bretongarcia, you’re the one who claimed that some group of “New Evangelicals” sometime in the 1980s had somehow managed to mount a huge scholarly effort to hoodwink people, not me. What do you call such a view?

      • Bretongarcia,

        As an evangelical who recently applied to a number of Divinity department’s PhD programs, I can tell you that evangelicalism has in no way hijacked the academic world. Just try to get into Harvard coming from an evangelical seminary. In addition, the type of devotion that would lead to any sort of collusion between historians and religious fundamentalists certainly does not make up the majority of the USA.

  9. Dr. Barton permalink

    “I simply join practically the entire company of qualified historians in judging that Jesus of Nazareth was a real historical figure.” – larryhurtado

    Uhm, see that’s the sort of thing that CM Theorists have a problem with. There is, to the best of my recollection, no evidence that Bethlehem or Nazareth existed around 0 CE. In addition, there remains considerable debate as what “Nazareth” even means. As such, it is very unlikely that “Jesus of Nazareth” existed. The same is true about other “Jesuses” mentioned in the NT and elsewhere.

    The core of CMT is not that there is no evidence that Jesus was historical. It is that the evidence that does exists is so self-contradictory that any historical Jesus (or Jesuses and there were several) is lost in the noise of the myths and beliefs that concreted around the idea of a messianic savior.

    It is similar to SMT (Santa Myth Theory). The majority of beliefs around Santa Claus are mythical. What evidence exists of a Saint Nikolaus of Greece is so scant and buried in legend that his historicity is possible but his characteristics are unverifiable.

    • My friend, Dr. Barton, I don’t know how on earth you’ve derived your claims about no evidence of first-century Nazareth. See, e.g., Jonathan L. Reed, Archaeology and the Galilean Jesus: A Re-Examintation of the Evidence (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 2000).
      I’m sorry, but those many scholars, of various personal persuasions, who have invested time in learning the languages and canvassing the evidence related to the matter don’t typically share your difficulty in judging that a historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth, both lived and operated in early first-century Galilee, and that his activity prompted a following. There are reasons for doubting the validity of the Christian message, and reasons for attacking Christianity, but denying the historical figure of Jesus or his significance for earliest Christianity isn’t one of them.

      • Dr. Barton permalink

        (Editor’s note: I interleave responses below marked “LWH”. I have also deleted some repetitious material.)

        Barton: First, I’ll counter your book with a later book Rene Salm’s “Myth of Nazarath” (2008) which looks specifically at the archeological and historical evidence for Nazareth and comes to the conclusion that, if it existed, it was a very small village, not impossible for Jesus to have been born in and not impossible to have escaped the rather spotty records of the time.
        LWH: Salm is neither an archaeologist nor a scholar in the subject. He’s free to write whatever he wants, and it’s all derivative and so not taken as having any authority by scholars. But, yes, the broad consensus is that Nazareth was a real village, likely of only a few hundred people in Jesus’ time.

        As for your own reference (which have not yet seen), I can only say that that it seems to focus on Galilee as a whole. Without further review of either text I’ll lean, non-statistically, towards the higher value of the more specific study.

        Barton: As for “many scholars”, again, statistically, that can be important but scholarly statistic mean little or nothing against evidence. . . . .. Hence, in these areas, scholarly weight has proven, many times, to be ambiguous at best and retrograde at worst.

        LWH: The point isn’t that scholars are always right, or that consensus is. The point is that scholars’ views are based on their best efforts to examine evidence, and by people equipped to do so. So, if someone wishes to mount a contrary argument, they should show that they have the skills to do equivalent work. When I say that a given view finds scant support among those qualified to judge, surely that counts for something?

        Barton: I might also add that no amount of authentication of geography of the Galilee region adds any real weight to the historicity of Jesus. We know it existed. We know that some of the gospel writers were a little iffy on their knowledge of the region. For the author of Mark, geography was more a matter of theology anyway.

        LWH: Yes, and I didn’t make such a vacuous statement, but responded with citations of discussion of evidence on the specific incorrect claim you made that there is no evidence of a historical Nazareth.

        For this author, Jesus was a god-man in the truest hellenistic sense. He traveled as a man sometimes and simply appeared at others. His walking across the waters of the Lake of Galilee was characteristic of the hellenistic god-man (I believe that Dionysus did this though I might be mis-remembering). Yet, even when he traveled as a man, it wasn’t entirely mortal. . . .

        LWH: You’re again confusing things. The question isn’t whether the “renditions” of Jesus that we have in the gospels are in every detail “historical”, but whether the evidence overall (including texts earlier than the gospels, e.g., Paul) is all best explained by concluding that there was a historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth.

        Barton: Oh, and again, did “Jesous o nazarious” (“Jesus the Nazarene”) actually refer to a home town or to a sect? I’m pretty sure that that debate is still wide open with strong arguments on either side and no way to resolve them.
        LWH: The scholarly record shows disputation on the matter, but, again, the question is whether there is historical evidence of a village, Nazareth.

        To re-iterate my original point, Christ Myth Theory is not so much the denial of an historical Jesus as the affirmation that so much of what we know of Jesus is mythical that it is probably impossible to evaluate the historical Jesus.

        LWH: Well, if that’s all the “Christ myth theory” is, then there’s not much new to write home about. There are scholars all along a spectrum on the question of how much we can know of the details of the historical figure of Jesus, but they all agree there was such a figure.

  10. L.M. permalink

    James the “Brother of the Lord” is hardly a trump card for the historicity of Jesus.

    • Well, history isn’t about “trump cards” but about sober analysis of available evidence. And a guy known as Jesus’ brother (one of several) is more economically explained as meaning that James’s brothers included Jesus.

      • If a text mentions one or two concrete realities in it, does that mean the enitre text is reliable, every single part of it? The New Testament mentions the very real, historical city of Jeruslaem for example; but does the existence of one verifiably factual thing in the text, mean that therefore, every single element of the text is factual?

      • Dear “G” (and why do people resort to hiding identities on blog sites??):
        The obvious answer is “no, of course not”. As I’ve REPEATEDLY stated, historical analysis takes nothing for granted, and weighs every piece of evidence and each datum therein, testing warrants for each. (Your question is what’s called a “straw man” one, in which you present something as if it had been asserted when it hasn’t. Not a good discussion technique.)

  11. Goodman permalink

    LH: It might seem to a first superficial glance that scholars like Richard Bauckham for instance, support the historicity of Jesus, through the assertion of some kind of real, historical existence of the family, “brother”s of Jesus. But on the other hand? Bauckham of course is most famous for beginning to cast doubt on the veracity of much of (perhaps all) New Testiment testimonies; about families and otherwise. Bauckham seeing the NT not as literal truth, but as “literary” in nature.

    Bauckham especially became famous for suggested that the Apostle St. Paul, for instance, when he warned about “false teachers,” in effect was warning about possible false things even in the authors of the New Testament; like himself. (See Bauckham, “Peter, the Letters of,” Oxford Companion to the Bible, 1993, pp. 586-7).

    And? If the New Testament is “literary” or non-factual, and if it contains much that is even simply false, then of course, any alleged narration of historical fact in it – including the historical existence of the family, brothers of Jesus – would of course, not be reliable.

    • Er, a simple fallacy here. That a given text exhibits literary features is hardly a basis for writing off all its contents as fiction. I’m afraid that historical analysis requires more sophistication than this. And I rather doubt that you’ve represented Bauckham’s position accurately by the way.

      • Larry? Logically, 1) if a given text is largely literary, that means that to that degree its content is likely determined by preconceptions and thought patterns other than strictly factual or historical. While many scholars find countless examples of wholesale borrowing of not only say ANE style but also content, in both the OT and NT.

        2) Bauckham, like most religious scholars, often writes in a rather literary, polysemic way himself; in a style that consistently lends itself to at least two major readings. One pious; the other not.

      • Dear “G” (you know who I am, so who are you?):
        All literary texts are . . . literary, exhibiting . . ..literary features of the times in which they’re written. Even sober modern history-writing is . . . literature, with literary properties. so that’s a red-herring. Of course ancient texts (and modern ones too) include errors of fact, and likely also rhetorical tactics to advance the aims of the authors. All of us involved in the analysis of ancient texts are well aware of this (but thanks anyway). The task, therefore, is to sift and examine all texts to weigh the validity of claims, references, etc. It’s simply a fallacy to say that finding errors in a text or obvious literary features make it useless for historical purposes.
        As for Bauckham, yes, he holds religious views of his own. But his historical claims and judgements have to be supported by, and judged by, the sort of reasoning and corroborative evidence required to be taken seriously by scholars who don’t share his religious views. Again, it’s a red-herring to say that so-and-so is, inter alia, Christian, Muslim, whatever, and so his/her views on historical matters don’t count. If a person invokes religious bases for his/her historical claims, then you can object. but I don’t see Bauckham has done this to my knowledge.

  12. vinnyjh57 permalink

    (L. Hurtado: The following comment attempts serious discussion, but is flawed with invalid claims and inferences. I print it here and respond to it, interleaving corrections below, identified as “LWH”.)

    Vinny: According to mainstream scholarship, it is entirely possible that Jesus of Nazareth was an uneducated itinerant preacher who was unknown outside a small group of followers who were mostly illiterate peasants. As likely as not, he spent his life unnoticed by anyone of prominence or importance until he somehow annoyed the Roman authorities sufficiently that he became one of countless insignificant troublemakers that they put to death.

    LWH: Two points in response. First, as I say to my students, almost anything is possible (and you’ll find someone asserting almost any possibility), so the task of critical historical analysis is to judge, from various possibilities, what is the most likely.
    Second, I take it that you’re not denying that Jesus lived, only that if he did he made no mark on history. I don’t know what “mainstream scholarship” you’re drawing on (it’s best to give citations), but what you allege is not in fact widely held. The level of Jesus’ formal education isn’t a major issue; the question is whether he circulated, attracted followers, and became sufficiently odious to authorities that he was executed. All of these things are affirmed by as near a unanimous verdict as you can get among scholars (who delight in differing with one another!). An “insignificant troublemaker” didn’t get executed, and especially not by crucifixion. Flogged maybe.

    Vinny: From that starting point, we might expect it to be very difficult to prove that he existed because we would have no specific reason to expect such a person to leave the sort of mark in the historical record that would be readily discernible two thousand years later. A few such people did, but most of the people we know of in the ancient world were either literate or prominent people themselves or they accomplished something during their lives that had an impact on the literate and prominent people of their day. The overwhelming majority of people of Jesus’ social status came and went without leaving a trace in the historical record.

    LWH: The impact of Jesus is rather obvious I should think (and so would virtually all historians I’ve read on the subject). He sufficiently polarized contemporaries to make some of them devoted followers, and others mortal enemies. I’d call that impact. Moreover, almost immediately after his execution, his followers were claiming him as God’s ordained Messiah and more. To be sure, that claim rested mainly on experiences that they took as encounters with the glorified/risen Jesus. But the meaning and significance of those experiences (as vindications of Jesus’ messianic status) likewise surely presuppose a prior conviction/execution of him as a messianic/royal pretender (again, as would be very widely held).

    Vinny: Unlike every other person from the ancient world who left a mark as the result of the impact that they had during their lives, stories about Jesus of Nazareth were preserved as a result of his supernatural accomplishments after his death. Jesus is only known to us today because some people claimed to have encounters with a supernatural being who they believed had once been a flesh and blood human being named Jesus. While it is certainly possible that such a person existed, the appearances of the supernatural being can’t be considered any evidence that he did.

    LWH: Well, yes and no. Certainly, without the rapid emergence of the conviction that God had vindicated Jesus and installed him in heavenly glory, there would have been no such religious movement that we know as earliest Christianity. But this conviction clearly motivated his followers to preserve and disseminate his teachings as well as his deeds. Virtually all scholars in the subject agree that the body of traditions extant in the Gospels distill, adapt and convey a prior body/stream of Jesus-tradition that had been used in preaching and formation over the decades between Jesus and the writing of the Gospels.

    VInny: This is not to say that a historian might not reasonably conclude that the existence of a historical Jesus is more likely than not. I simply don’t think that we can ever hope to have the kind of certainty about his existence that we can have about someone like Julius Caesar whose accomplishments during his lifetime left the kind of mark in the historical record that gives us a high level of confidence that he existed in the ancient world.

    LWH: Well, everyone is welcome to his/her own judgement. But the overwhelming judgement of others (of any personal stance on religious questions) is that (1) Jesus did live; (2) he did generate a following during his own lifetime; (3) he did come under the condemnation of the political (and likely temple) authorities and suffered crucifixion; (4) remarkably soon thereafter astonishing claims about him arose and a rapidly trans-local and trans-ethnic religious movement erupted and grew thereafter. I should think that by most judgements of historical impact, this one is hard to match. Not even Julius Caesar compares.

    • vinnyjh57 permalink

      (Editor’s note: I have edited this lengthy comment, retaining essentials, and I interleave responses identified with “LWH”).

      Vinhy: In The Historical Figure of Jesus (pp. 10-11), E.P. Sanders offers the following facts as being “almost beyond dispute”: Jesus was born around 4 B.C.E; He spent his childhood and early adult years in Nazareth; He was baptized by John the Baptist; He called disciples; He taught in the town and villages and countryside of Galilee; He preached “the kingdom of God”; Around the year 30 C.E. he went to Jerusalem for Passover; He created a disturbance in the temple area; He had a final meal with his disciples; He was arrested and interrogated by Jewish authorities; He was executed on the orders of Pontius Pilate. . . . . None of these seem to me to be the kinds of things that we would necessarily expect to leave the kind of mark in the historical record that we would be able to discern 2000 years later.
      LWH: Yes, fair enough. But as Sanders also notes, we have to allow for a Jesus (historical figure) adequate to have generated a group of followers among whom after his execution there arose the powerful conviction that God had made him messiah and lord. That conviction certainly required more than Jesus’ own earthly activities, for they ascribe to God the source of it. But it was a conviction about the historical figure to whom they had already been drawn in commitment.

      Vinny: Being crucified was certainly a significant punishment, but it was typically applied to the people with the lowest standing in the Roman Empire, sometimes in huge numbers. . . I would guess that for only a tiny fraction of its victims do we know their identities or do we have more than a general idea about why they were crucified.

      LWH: You have to distinguish between crucifixions carried out in times of war/revolt (many crucified) and the crucifixion of individuals. The Romans didn’t go about crucifying people for the hell of it or on a regular basis. Yes, for hardly any do we know much about them, which makes it all the more interesting that for this one crucified man we have a lot of attention and testimony.

      Vinny: [Omitted reference to George Washington] With Jesus of Nazareth, there is nothing that predates the myth making and nothing that can be separated from its effects.
      LWH: Sorry, but you’re wrong. We don’t have any textual sources from Jesus’ own lifetime, but we do have reports of his actions and teachings, which are commonly thought to preserve essentials. These point to a figure who generated considerable polarity about him.

      Vinny: Our earliest sources are the letters of Paul and he knew only a supernatural being who made himself known through revelation and whose postmortem accomplishments were supposed to usher in the kingdom of God. Paul has nothing to say about a flesh and blood person interacting with people that he knew personally. Paul has nothing to say about the character in the gospels who polarized his contemporaries into devoted followers and mortal enemies. To put it crudely, Paul only knows that there was ever a man named Jesus because he saw his ghost.
      LWH: Sorry, but you greatly exaggerate and so distort matters. Paul in fact refers to the human figure of Jesus more than once, e.g., specifying his Jewish birth (Gal 4:4), the claim of Davidic descent (Rom 1:3-4), his death (treated as an action of love, e.g., Gal 2:20), and other matters (see, e.g., David L. Dungan, The Sayings of Jesus in the Churches of Paul (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971). It is simply a non sequitur to take the limited references to the earthly Jesus in Paul as indicating either ignorance or lack of interest in Jesus by Paul. What, after all did Paul and Cephas discuss during their two weeks together in Jerusalem, the weather? (Gal. 18).

      Vinny: With Jesus of Nazareth, the stories about his natural life were perpetuated and preserved, and often invented, in order to propagate a belief that had arisen in his postmortem supernatural accomplishments. If you scrape away the supernatural stories, you scrape away the reason that he left a mark at all. It seems to me that this creates challenges to historical inquiry that I have never seen adequately addressed.
      LWH: Again, a bit of over-simplification. But, true, we know of Jesus because his followers were convinced that God had raised him to heavenly glory, vindicating his messianic status (which of course suggests that they had already entertained such a view of him). Also, in fact the problem that you mention has been discussed oooodles of times by scholars over the years, for at least a century. But most scholars don’t see the difficulties of historical inquiry about Jesus as justifying despair.

      • vinnyjh57 permalink

        (Editor’s note: Again, I interleave responses to “Vinny”, my responses marked “LWH”. I’ve also deleted some of the unnecessary expansive statements to save space, preserving essential points.)

        Vinny: I’m not at all certain what Paul and Cephas discussed during those two weeks in Jerusalem, but I have often thought that it might well have been Paul who did most of the talking. . . . . .

        LWH: Paul says (Gal 1:18) that he went to Jerusalem to obtain information from Cephas (Greek historesai Kefan), not to browbeat or propagandize him.

        Vinny: Paul does seem to be referring to a human figure of Jesus, but the sources he cites for his knowledge are revelation, appearances, and scripture. There can be no doubt that he knew things other than what he puts in his letters, but I don’t see how the historian can claim to know what those things were. Based on what Paul writes, which is the evidence we have, I don’t think we can conclude that his understanding of the earthly Jesus was particularly close to the portrait we find in the gospels. It could have been, but I don’t think that the evidence is at all sufficient to determine that it was.

        LWH: No. Paul explicitly says more than once that he had access to Jesus-tradition, as the two-week interview with Cephas cited in Gal 1:18, and as reflected in his use of sayings of Jesus also reflected in the Gospels (again, Dungan’s book that I referred you to in the earlier comment). If you want to make claims about what Paul did or didn’t know or say, it’s good to have done the work of close analysis of the evidence and interaction with the scholarship on the evidence.

        Vinny: I’m simply not persuaded that we do have to allow for a historical Jesus adequate to have generated the Christian movement any more than we would have to allow for a historical Moroni adequate to generate Mormonism. . . . .I certainly don’t know for sure, but I just don’t see that we know enough about what happened in those early years to determine that the growth of Christianity necessitates a historical Jesus.

        LWH: Please note carefully: As I’ve tried to indicate at some length in my book, Lord Jesus Christ (2003), pp.27-78 (“Forces and Factors”), there were multiple factors involved in the eruption of the early Christian movement and its intense Jesus-devotion. One of them was surely the impact of the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth. That was a necessary factor, but, in my view, not in itself a sufficient factor to account for the eruption of devotion to Jesus as sharing in divine glory. But, to repeat, by virtual consensus among scholars, it is very hard to account for devotion to Jesus except by granting that the historical figure had a considerable impact on his followers. (I think we’ve now probably dealt with matters sufficiently for this venue.)

  13. Dan Reid permalink

    I quickly scanned through the comments and didn’t notice anyone mentioning one book where the mythicist argument is made by Robert Price and engaged by Crossan, Dunn, Johnson and Bock: The Historical Jesus: Five Views, eds. James Beilby and Paul Eddy (IVP Academic, 2009). It’s worth a look.

  14. chab123 permalink

    I really do suggest reading the link someone already mentioned- Also, why does it seem that the only apologists for the mythic view are always Richard Carrier and Robert Price? What would skeptics do without these guys? I also am amazed at the abuse of the argument from silence issue from the mythicist crowd. Someome mentioned Josephus and Carrier’s work on this. Paul Maier is one of the premier scholars on this topic.

    • Grog permalink

      Hoffmann sometimes sounds like he speaks to both sides. Take this, for example:

      Here is what Hoffman says about Josephus:

      “The death of James is not recorded in the New Testament. For that we rely on a late 1st century work by the historian Josephus in his Antiquities (20.9). It is known by scholars, however, that Christian references in Josephus’s work are pious additions. In the case of the Jamesian reference, the hand of the Christian editor is especially badly disguised by the addition of “who is called Christ” following the use of the name “Jesus” in discussing the trial of a certain James.”

      Interesting perspective, maybe he missed Maier’s work as well? I think Carrier is going to argue in an upcoming article that Maier’s truncated TF relies on the attestation of the Syriac version of the TF which is now discredited.

  15. Deane Galbraith permalink

    I tend to agree. I just can’t be bothered with their banal level of engagement. Northrop Frye said it best, though, speaking about the banal apologetics at the opposite end of biblical studies:

    “I am not dismissing such explanations: one should doubtless keep an open mind about them, though an open mind, to be sure, should be open at both ends, like the food pipe, and have a capacity for excretion as well as intake.”
    - Northrop Frye, The Great Code, 62.

    • An “open” mind, rightly understood, = a mind ready to consider questions, issues, evidence, and then MAKE A JUDGEMENT based on the best available reasons and evidence. Moreover, thereafter, one should remain “open” to new reasons to re-examine one’s judgement. But having an “open” mind doesn’t mean a reluctance to engage an issue sufficiently to understand it and weigh proposed answers.

      • Deane permalink

        Quite – the mythicists have a banal level of engagement with the issues.

  16. Sandwiches permalink

    In case it is of interest and for those not already aware of it, the views of the mythicists have recently been comprehensively demolished by some eminent academics on The New Oxonian website:

    Essays by

    Maurice Casey, “Mythicism: A Story of Incompetence, Bias and Falsehood”

    R. Joseph Hoffmann, “Controversy, Mythicism, and the Historical Jesus”

    Stephanie Louise Fisher, “An Exhibition of Incompetence: Trickery, Dickery, Bayes”

    • Sandwiches recommends us to read R. Joseph Hoffmann,

      If only everybody would take the time to do so….

      Here is some of what Professor Hoffmann writes :-

      It is sometimes pointed out that Paul makes reference (Galatians 4.4) to Jesus having “been born of a woman, under the law,” but it is widely believed that these words are an insertion into the text of Galatians: Marcion, our earliest witness, does not know them, and as Hilgenfeld once noted, if his opponent, Tertullian, could have quoted them against Marcion, a docetist thinker, to prove the essential humanity of Jesus, he would have. We are left with the bare fact that Paul knows nothing of the human family of Jesus.

      Professor Hoffmann continued :-

      It is known by scholars, however, that Christian references in Josephus’s work are pious additions. In the case of the Jamesian reference, the hand of the Christian editor is especially badly disguised by the addition of “who is called Christ” following the use of the name “Jesus” in discussing the trial of a certain James.

      It is an echo of the same device used in the Testimonium Flavianum (Antiquities 18.3), sometimes cited as a proof of the existence of Jesus but today normally regarded as a Christian forgery. If we purge the Christian interpolation, it is clear that the James mentioned by Josephus, who is delivered to stoning, is the brother of a significant Jewish leader and contender for the priesthood, Jesus bar Damneus, whose name appears in the same passage.

      In Antiquities 20.9.4, a Jesus bar Gamaliel succeeds Jesus the son of Damneus in the high priesthood. Josephus does not mention – at all – the James known from New Testament sources. The James sentenced to stoning is a completely different man.

      Professor Hoffmann continues :- The basis for the suggestion that James is the brother of Jesus depends on early references in Paul, especially Galatians 1.19. There is no doubt that James was regarded by Paul as a significant player in the Jerusalem community, together with Peter and John (Galatians 2.9, repeated in the legendary primacy-catalogue of Mark 9.2ff.). But his use of the word adelphos, as many scholars recognize, refers to James as a member of the brotherhood, as in Galatians 2.4; 3.15; 4.12, or as when he speaks of “false brothers” in Gal 2.4,5. James, according to Luke, uses the same language in calling Paul “brother,” (Acts 21.20) and the community the “brotherhood” (20.17).

      • Hmm. Well, the problem is that Paul doesn’t call James “a brother”, but “brother of the Lord”. He never refers to fellow believers this way.

      • Sandwiches permalink

        It is pleasing to see that Steven Carr is impressed with the views of R. Joseph Hoffmann. As Hoffman observes (in the article I linked to) :

        “The attempt of “mythicists” to show that Jesus did not exist, on the other hand, has been largely incoherent, insufficiently scrupulous of historical detail, and based on improbable, bead-strung analogies. The failure of the myth theory is not the consequence merely of methodological sloppiness with respect to the sources and their religious contexts; that has been demonstrated again and again from as early as Shirley Jackson Case’s (now dated) study, The Historicity of Jesus (1912).”

        I think Professor Hurtado chooses well to concentrate on his academic work, rather than deal with mythicists. As Maurice Casey is driven to conclude:

        “Finally the main point is that Doherty, and his followers, are drastically incompetent, and quite incapable of following evidence or argument. I was sorry to have to comment in my essay, ‘I hope this is sufficient to indicate that the mythicist view is based on ineducable ignorance, prejudice and absolute contempt for anything like learned scholarship.’ I regret to say that this has been abundantly confirmed by the comments on the essays of Stephanie and myself. They also attribute to both of us an astonishing degree of incompetence and insincerity to find which they must have gazed into their mirrors.
        Maurice Casey”

        One might indeed as well try to debate flat-earthers or moon-landing deniers?

      • Chris permalink


        Could you please supply the link to the article by Professor Hoffmann you quote from above?



      • If you wish the link to Professor Hoffman’s article , here it is

      • Chris permalink

        Steven, you quote Hoffmann as writing:

        “Marcion, our earliest witness, does not know them, and as Hilgenfeld once noted, if his opponent, Tertullian, could have quoted them against Marcion, a docetist thinker, to prove the essential humanity of Jesus, he would have.”

        Could you please supply a link to this quote’s source?

        Tertullian’s copy of Galatians 4:4 included the phrase “born of a woman,” because Tertullian quotes it in Chapter 20 of his work On the Flesh of Christ in which Tertullian writes:

        “But Paul, too, silences these critics when he says, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman. Galatians 4:4 Does he mean through a woman, or in a woman? Nay more, for the sake of greater emphasis, he uses the word made rather than born, although the use of the latter expression would have been simpler. But by saying made, he not only confirmed the statement, The Word was made flesh, John 1:14 but he also asserted the reality of the flesh which was made of a virgin.”

        This material is available online at:

  17. ‘But another reason for feeling it less than necessary to spend a lot of time on the matter is that all the skeptical arguments have been made and effectively engaged many decades ago. ‘

    Odd as it may seem, no scholar of the New Testament has ever thought to put together a sustained argument that Jesus must have lived. To my knowledge, I was the first to try it, and it was a very interesting intellectual exercise

    Clearly, either Ehrman did almost no research for his book, or he is pretty sure that the skeptical arguments had not been effectively engaged many decades ago.

    Mythicism will keep thriving until scholars engage mythicist arguments. This is a fact.

    • The mythicist arguments WERE engaged many decades ago. That is the fact.

      • They were indeed engaged many decades ago.
        And those scholars produced confabulations , and called them answers.

        What else could they do? They can only cite Galatians 1:19. That is a prima facie bit of very good evidence, but pretty much all there is on the historicist side.

      • Steven,
        There is MUCH more by way of argument and evidence comprising a whole web that makes a rather compelling case for Jesus having lived in early lst century Roman palestine. Paul’s references (not only in Gal 1) to brothers of Jesus (e.g., 1 Cor 9:5) are only one component, albeit the earliest textual references. Get H.G. Wood’s book, for example, to see how cordially and fully the matters have been engaged, decades ago.

      • If you say Galatians 9:5 refers to the actual family brothers of Jesus (the ones who vanish from Acts as soon as there is a public church with the possibility of public records), then there is nothing more to say.

        Acts, James, Jude have no knowledge of any brother of Jesus called James. Indeed, Luke/Acts goes out of its way to airbrush from history Mark’s comment about Jesus having a brother called James.

        Almost as though the guy knew James was not the brother of Jesus.

      • Hmm. Curious line of reasoning. I would think it more reasonable to infer that the author of Acts felt no need to specify who the James was (leader of the Jerusalem church), as by then (ca. 70-80 CE?) he was so well known. On Jesus’ family, I think the key resource is Richard J. Bauckham, Jude and the Relatives of Jesus in the Early Church (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1990). See also Richard Bauckham, “James and the Jerusalem Community,” in Jewish Believers in Jesus: The Early Centuries, ed. Oskar Skarsaune and Reidar Hvalvik (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2007). On James: John Painter, Just James: The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1997); Hans von Campenhausen, “The Authority of Jesus’ Relatives in the Early Church,” in Jerusalem and Rome: The Problem of Authority in the Early Church (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966); Richard J. Bauckham, “James and the Jerusalem Church,” in The Book of Acts in Its Palestinian Setting, ed. Richard J. Bauckham (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995); Pierre-Antoine Bernheim, James, Brother of Jesus (London: SCM, 1997); James the Just and Christian Origins, eds. Bruce Chilton & Craig A. Evans (Leiden: Brill, 1999).

      • Sorry about the typo. That should, of course, be 1 Corinthian 9:5, not Galatians.

    • Steven,

      I am a little confused about your remarks. Although the name James is not mentioned, Luke does in fact talk about Jesus’ brothers. Who are these “brothers” at Luke 8:19? They certainly are not disciples, if they were, Jesus’ comment about their presence would make no sense. But for them to be his fleshly brothers makes perfect sense, since his fleshly brothers had not yet put any faith in him (John 7:1-5, Mark 3:21). Considering the subject matter of the NT books, there was no reason to make multiple mention of non-believers, even if they were fleshly relatives to Jesus Christ. However, James did become a believer eventually.

  18. Bob Moore permalink

    Even though you are a Christian origins specialist I realize you have other things to do besides engaging the historical Jesus agnostics. And, besides, there’s Ehrman who has taken them on for the scholars. But, even with my limited understanding of the issue, it seems to me Ehrman is not winning. I don’t blame you for not wanting to engage. But without other scholars like you helping out, I’ll just have to keep suspecting that the earth is flat.

    • Well, you’re free to suspect whatever you will. The issues and arguments aren’t new, and have been considered long ago. That’s why Ehrman exhibits a bit of impatience, not out of defensiveness. What “winning” do you refer to? Is there indication that those of us equipped to consider such historical questions are changing our minds? That’s the “winning” that ought to count when it comes to academic questions.

  19. This is an important point. The issues isn’t really that scholars refuse to engage with with mythicists. It is that it’s already been dealt with – a century ago. Another trend that bothers me within the mythicist movement is the attitude that they are very well read and studied on the issues at hand, but very few of them have read basic monographs dealing with Jesus in history (or any of the other figures that they propose to be more historical).

    Enjoy writing that essay!

    • Grog permalink

      Andrew, Could you recommend, let’s say, the best five “basic monographs dealing with Jesus in history”? I certainly would be interested in reading them. If you can go beyond 5, I will read those as well.

      • Hi Grog,

        It would probably be unfair for me to say that there are any “best” monographs. Unfortunately, as I am sure you are aware, historical inquiry is an ongoing conversation in which people will propose ideas and then others will counter them (if those ideas merit being countered). Because this is the case, perhaps I can attempt to offer some books/articles that can take you through the conversation. Forgive me if this list isn’t perfect, because there are a lot. In addition, people will certainly disagree with me on this list.

        Bauer, Bruno, “Kritik der evangelischen Gesichte der Synoptiker,” 2 vols. (Leipzig: Wigand, 1841).

        Bultmann, Rudolf, “Jesus and the Word,” trans. L.P. Smith and E.H. Lantero (New York: Scribner, 1958).

        _______, “Jesus Christ and Mythology” (New York: Scribner, 1958).

        Mack, Burton, “A Myth of Innocence: Mark and Christian Origins,” (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988).

        _______, “The Christian Myth: Origins, Logic, and Legacy” (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988).

        Funk, Robert, “Honest to Jesus: Jesus for a New Millenium,” (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996).

        _______, “The Once and Future Jesus,” in the Jesus Seminar’s “The Once and Future Jesus” (Santa Rosa, CA: Polebridge, 2000), 5-25.

        Crossan, John Dominic, “The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasent (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992).

        _______, “Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography,” (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996).

        Meier, John P, “A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus”, vol. 1: “The Roots of the Problem and the Person (New York: Doubleday, 1991).

        _______, “A Marginal Jew,” vol. 2: “Mentor, Message, and Miracles” (New York: Doubleday, 1994).

        _______, “A Marginal Jew,” vol. 3: “Companions and Competitors” (New York: Doubleday, 2001).

        Wright, NT, “New Testament and the People of God,” (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996).

        ________, “Jesus and the Victory of God,” (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996).

        ________, “The Resurrection of the Son of God,” (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003).

        Bauckham, Richard, “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony,” (WB Eedrmans Publishing Co.: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2006).

        This is by far, an imperfect list. I am sure that there are many others some might like to add. I would also hope that you would read Wood as recommended by Hurtado in the actual blogpost. Just for some additional explanation:

        1. Bauer is the only member of this list that might consider Jesus to be totally fictional. Notice the date of his writing as well.

        2. Bultmann and Mack would hold to a historical Jesus (that he actually existed), but they would consider him to be considerably different from the Jesus of the Gospels. And even then, there would not be a lot we could know about him.

        3. Funk and Crossan (fellows of the Jesus Seminar) would say that there is much we can know about the actual historical Jesus, but they would characterize him very differently than the Gospels.

        4. Meier, Wright, and Buackham all hold to a historical Jesus that is very similar to (or identical with) the one that is described in the Gospels.

        One last comment: I perhaps wonder if you asked for monographs because you sensed arrogance in my comment saying that mythicist haven’t read “basic monographs dealing with Jesus in history.” Please know that arrogance wasn’t intended. This has just been my experience with people who label themsevles mythicist.

        Thanks for reading this long comment and I hope you enjoy going through those sources.

  20. GR Gaudreau permalink

    So the matter is settled, is it? Someone asked you if you were being elitist. My answer, “yes, because when you qualify those who sincerely ask questions you may not like, as being like flat earthers, for example, then you’re being elitist.”

    Bart D. Ehrman is one of my favourite people in his field, and I respect him a great deal, but I think he didn’t do a good job answering mythicists. He did what you just did above, relegated them to the loony bin. I was very disappointed with his book and very disapointed that theologians and historians elsewhere take this tack. You’re blog is reationary and deserves only negatives.

    GR Gaudreau

      You’re (sic) blog is reationary and deserves only negatives.

      Not at all. It is a good blog and deserves praise.

    • I’m very sorry for your ill-informed and judgmental attitude. I can’t account for Ehrman’s book, having seen only reviews of it thus far, but I will account for myself. I don’t disparage those who ask about these issues. I do find it wearying that issues investigated over many decades and settled long ago are presented as if scholars in the guild are unaware of them or are trying to suppress them. (Anyone who thinks that scholars try to suppress anything are seriously out of touch with the way scholarship works!)
      The accusations start from the “mythicists” who often accuse the scholarly guild of acting in some sort of cabal-like manner. This is simply designed to generate interest in an “X-files” generation who think that anything a scholar in an established position says must be the opposite to the truth.
      So, let’s have some arguments and evidence that hasn’t been dealt with already. That would justify me and others taking time to engage it.

  21. Bobby Garringer permalink

    My response to Bart Ehrman is that I don’t believe the Jesus he talks about did exist.

    I haven’t read his book on the subject, but I’ve read a lot of other things he has written.

    His intense anti-fundamentalism seems to have distorted the way he handles New Testament texts and their implications.

  22. Erlend permalink

    I do accept your points but there is, as far as I can see, a new wave of mythicists though, who are different from most of your internet trolls and who are reforming the arguments of the old mythicists. Their presence on the academic stage looks set to be 2012. For example the first academic book arguing that perhaps Jesus did not exist has been published entitled “Is This Not the Carpenter”. I am looking forward to Tom Verenna’s argument on Paul’s conception of Jesus. Richard Carrier is just to publish an article in Journal of Early Christian Studies arguing that Josephus Ant. 20.200 is an interpolation in the text, and his book arguing that Jesus did not exist is to be published soon. You can see a gist of his argument from There will be session at SBL by a Mythicist proponent arguing that Nazareth did not exist at the time of Christ. So they are to be taken note of, and I do think there needs to be a great impetus to engage with them.

    • When/if there are new “mythicist” arguments not previously addressed and that seem to have some prima facie basis, it will be important to consider them patiently. But the arguments I’ve sen thus far are pretty much re-treads of things brought forth a century ago or so and seriously explored and shown to be fallacious shortly thereafter. I’ll await with interest the events that you mention.

      • Mark Erickson permalink

        Hasn’t there been a great deal of new evidence found and major changes in New Testament historical practice in the last 100 years? Meaning the issues deserve to addressed again.

      • Certainly. And matters are constantly/frequently up for re-consideration by scholars and PhD students, where the new evidence or changes in method warrant it. I have yet to see any new evidence or changes in method/perspective such as to call into question the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth.

      • Mark Erickson permalink

        Do you think the historical evidence is strong and clear cut? i.e. What is your percent certainty that Jesus of Nazareth existed? Sorry if you get this question a lot, I just started reading this blog. Looking forward to reading more.

      • Sorry, I don’t do percentages when it comes to historical judgements. I simply join practically the entire company of qualified historians in judging that Jesus of Nazareth was a real historical figure.

      • Grog permalink

        Dr. Hurtado:

        Could you give an example of a retread mythicist argument that was dealt with a century ago? And, please, not the pagan retread argument, I am quite satisfied on that one.

      • Well, yes, the “pagan Jesus/Christ” assertion was made and amply refuted by historians many decades ago, but that hasn’t stopped recent advocates of it (e.g., in the Canadian scene the journalist Tom Harpur). All one has to do is take note of current mythicist claims and compare them with the things dealt with, for example, in H.G. Wood’s book, Did Christ Really Exist?, from 1938. I’ll return the question and ask for examples of arguments/claims worth considering that haven’t already been dealt with.

      • Grog permalink

        1 And thou shalt take silver and gold, and make crowns, and thou shalt put them upon the head of Jesus the son of Josedec the high priest; 12 and thou shalt say to him, Thus saith the Lord Almighty;

        Behold the man whose name is The Branch; and he shall spring up from his stem, and build the house of the Lord. 13 And he shall receive power, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and there shall be a priest on his right hand, and a peaceable counsel shall be between them both.

        Interesting, SC

      • Grog permalink

        Dr. Hurtado,

        Thank you for your response. I will note that the one specific argument you raised, the pagan Jesus, is one that I don’t really hold (which I mentioned). I don’t know who Tom Harpur is, but I do not think that argument is representative.

        I think the most persuasive evidence for a mythicist position is the image of Jesus in the epistles, Pauline writings, Hebrews, etc. That, added to the silence in the epistles concerning “Jesus of Nazareth,” is the main reason I think that the mythicist position is worthy of consideration. I do recognize problems (such as Gal 1:19, for example), but historicism has its problems as well. I think a discussion concerning this though goes beyond the scope of blog concepts. I was hoping to get from you what you think has been refuted of arguments now current in mythicist circles, most prominently espoused by Wells, Doherty, Carrier, etc.

      • If the most persuasive basis for the mythicist position is the alleged lack of evidence from “the epistles”, then that’s easily refuted, as I’ve indicated in other comments in recent days. In fact, there are a number of indications in Paul’s undisputed letters that he knows Jesus was a real historical figure. I take it from your comment that your claim is the sort of thing you find persuasive in these authors’ works. If so, they’ve been refuted for decades.

      • Bobby Garringer permalink

        Being as objective as I can, it seems to me that:

        Those searching for either a mythical Jesus (a mere literary figure) or a “historical” Jesus, in a naturalistic sense, (a mere human being) are blocked in the reading of either epistles or Gospels.

        According to the New Testament, neither such Jesus existed. The Jesus the New Testament authors knew was not a myth and was no mere man.

        Instead, the New Testament documents speak of one who was certain of his unique authority and who expressed himself very deliberately on the matter.

        It seems obvious to me that, the authors of the Gospels and the letters loved and honored Jesus in varied literary expressions that preserved the essence of who he was, what he did, and what he said.

      • Dear Bobby,
        The NT writers certainly saw Jesus through the lens of the events that they saw as his resurrection and the revelation (to them) of his exalted significance. But it would be uncritical and naive to fail to recognize that the Gospels are what I have called “renditions” of the figure of Jesus, portraying him through the lens of their “post-Easter” faith. This seems especially obvious in the Gospel of John. However difficult it may be to get back to the “historical” Jesus (i.e., how Jesus acted and spoke during his earthly lifetime), it is in principle a reasonable question.

      • Bobby Garringer permalink

        The search for a historical Jesus does not necessitate the search for a merely human Jesus.

        And the post-Easter experience of Christ does not necessitate a contrast with the pre-Easter experience. Rather — as implied and often stated in the documents — there is apparent continuity.

        Either Jesus did not intend to train and send out apostles, or he intended to and failed, or he both intended and accomplished this purpose. Again the documents allow for only the last possibility.

        Because I take Jesus’ role as a rabbi seriously, neither the essential unity of the New Testament’s testimony or its varied literary forms and contents are surprising.

        It seems to me that Jesus was a literate person who appreciated a variety of rhetorical and written expressions; and he chose a body of men who had a similar taste — that he encouraged.

        Along with Jesus’ personal purpose, the message he preached and commissioned to be preached was suitable in its expressions within essentially literate societies of the times — among both Jews and Gentiles, who knew what a good book and a good speech were.

        So there is a lot of variety in the form and content of New Testament documents, but there is an essential agreement that, I believe, traces back to Jesus himself — just as the authors indicated.

        We may not know how to fit all the details and peculiar expressions together, but we may assume that concern for truth and loving dedication to Jesus had a controlling influence in what was preached, written and finally preserved in the New Testament.

    • Chris permalink

      The material in the PDF file indicates Carrier has misrepresented some ancient source material. Specifically, Carrier claims that, “there was a pre-Christian Jewish belief in a celestial being actually named Jesus,” but Carrier does not cite any primary sources to substantiate this claim. Instead, he directs readers to his publication titled Not the Impossible Faith. In endnote 284 of this book Carrier identifies 14.62-62 of Philo’s work called On the Confusion of Tongues as his source. 14.60-63 of this source states:

      “(60) But those who conspired to commit injustice, he says, “having come from the east, found a plain in the land of Shinar, and dwelt There,” speaking most strictly in accordance with nature. For there is a twofold kind of dawning in the soul, the one of a better sort, the other of a worse. That is the better sort, when the light of the virtues shines forth like the beams of the sun; and that is the worse kind, when they are overshadowed, and the vices show forth. (61) Now, the following is an example of the former kind: “And God planted a paradise in Eden, toward the East” not of terrestrial but of celestial plants, which the planter caused to spring up from the incorporeal light which exists around him, in such a way as to be for ever inextinguishable. (62) “I have also heard of one of the companions of Moses having uttered such a speech as this: “Behold, a man whose name is the East!”(Zech 6:12). A very novel appellation indeed, if you consider it as spoken of a man who is compounded of body and soul; but if you look upon it as applied to that incorporeal being who in no respect differs from the divine image, you will then agree that the name of the east has been given to him with great felicity. (63) For the Father of the universe has caused him to spring up as the eldest son, whom, in another passage, he calls the firstborn; and he who is thus born, imitating the ways of his father, has formed such and such species, looking to his archetypal patterns” (

      Philo assigns this being the name “East” or “Rise” ([anatolh] in Greek). The meaning “east” fits nicely with the theme of the “east” and “paradise,” because Philo expresses his belief that the Garden of Eden resided in the east. Contra Carrier, Philo does not name this figure “Jesus.” The name “Jesus” does not appear anywhere in the text, nor does the context suggest the name would have been appropriate for Philo’s usage.

      • Chris has produced a fine bit of scholarship, well worth reading, and points out where Philo referred to “Behold, a man whose name is the East!” which is in Zechariah 6:12

        The previous verse, verse 11, names this person as ‘Joshua’ which is the same name as ‘Jesus’.

      • Yes, Steven. But Chris’s point was that the name “Joshua/Jesus” wasn’t thematized by Philo, and there is NO evidence of a pre-Christian cult of a “Jesus”.

      • I might be a bit slow, Dr. Hurtado, but I’m not quite sure what you mean by ‘thematized’. Could you explain why somebody called ‘Joshua’, in Zechariah 6:11-12, referred to by Philo as a celestial being, is not ‘thematized’?

        Surely Philo knew his Bible and would have read it in Greek and known that he was referring to somebody called ‘Jesus’ ?

        Or have I misunderstood again?

      • My point is that Philo seems to be utterly uninterested in the name of the figure that he interprets. Neither Philo nor any other pre-Christian Jewish text reflects a cult of “Joshua/Jesus”.

      • This is an excellent point by Dr. Hurtado.

        Philo does not mention the name of the being in the verse previous to the verse he cited. He is silent about the name, implying , as you rightly say, a total lack of interest in what he is silent about. He must have known the name of the figure he talks about, but he is not interested in it.

        It is good to see how a true expert uses arguments from silence – judiciously, accurately, and in a way that is a model example of what we can deduce from an author being silent.

      • Bobby Garringer permalink

        I think there is something to the argument of New Testament translator, J. B. Phillips; C. S. Lewis; and others in various fields that anyone familiar with the form and content of myth must recognize that the Gospels simply don’t fit the mold. The realism of the person of Jesus contrasts sharply with the figures of ancient myth.

      • Steven,

        Simon Gathercole’s article in JTS from 2005 entitled “The Heavenly ἀνατολή” should show you the problem with Carrier’s interpretation, and the connections he tries to make. His article will show you what Philo is interacting with and what he is arguing and finding significant is the word and the motifs that surrounded ἀνατολή, and that Philo places Zech 6:12 within his theory of the logos (which, among others, you can read about in Prof. Hurtado’s “One God One Lord” chapter two,

        Gathercole also usefully compares Philo’s thought to the N.T.:

        [Philo] considers, rather, that the ‘rising’ is most naturally understood as a kind of emanation from God…Philo, then, regards ἀνατολή on its own as lending itself particularly well to a heavenly interpretation, and does not see how the name could possibly designate a flesh-and-blood figure. The figure in Philo, then, is none other than the λόγος.40 Interestingly, while one must make due allowance for Philo’s theological impulses, from his own point of view he is merely making a linguistic observation The ἀνατολή in Luke 1, then, is well suited to keep company with the surrounding ideas of ‘visitation from on high’ and bringing salvation like the μεγάλης βουλς ἂγγελος in Isaiah 9. Gathercole p.482,483.

        At the very least this article will show you that the point of the reference for Philo is that the name was “ἀνατολή”, not that a surrounding verse happens to mention Joshua!

      • Erlend might well say that the person referred to in Zechariah 6:12 is not the same person as in 6:11, but this carries no weight.


        Zechariah 6:11 names the person in Zechariah 6:12 as ‘Joshua’, which is the same name as Jesus.


        Philo says the person in Zechariah 6:12 is a celestial being.

        It takes a huge amount of chutzpah to claim that the being in Zechariah 6:12 is not called ‘Joshua’ in the Bible, when any student of Dr. Hurtado’s can confirm for you what name Zechariah 6:11 gives him.

      • Steven,

        I am a little confused about your understanding of Zach 6:12. The way I see it, it is clearly referring to two different people. The first thing I do not understand is that you say the heavenly being’s name in 6:12 is Joshua/Jesus, because what it says in 6:11. But 6:11 is talking about the real human high priest Joshua, son of Jehozadak. How are you implying that this MAN is a heavenly being? More importantly though is the similar verse in Zach 3:8 where there is an obvious distinction between Joshua and the Branch.

        “Now listen, Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who are sitting in front of you—indeed they are men who are a symbol, for behold, I am going to bring in My servant the Branch.”

        In both Zach 6:12 and Zach 3:8, this Joshua is being told about the coming of the Branch, Joshua is not the Branch. At most this Joshua was a “symbol” of the coming Branch, who’s name was also Joshua/Jesus. That is why Philo does not mention the name, he knows that Joshua was the earthly high priest, and the coming Branch was someone else.

      • Sorry for the mistake, all references should read Zech not Zach…

      • Chris permalink


        What contextual elements within sections 60-63 lead you to conclude Philo is concerned with the literary context preceding Zechariah 6:12?

      • Carrier claimed Philo referred to a celestial being in Zechariah 6:12 that the previous verse names as ‘Jesus’.

        You have granted that Carrier’s claim is perfectly true, and are now claiming that Philo ignored the verse previous to the one he cited.

        Perhaps he did. Perhaps he didn’t.

        In either case, Richard Carrier’s claim remains as true as it was before you started quibbling that Philo might not have read the verse before the one he cited.

        By the way, why does Luke/Acts airbrush out of history all hints that Jesus may have had a brother called James?

        At least, Philo didn’t rewrite Zechariah 6:11 removing the word ‘Joshua’, as the author of Luke did with his source that named Jesus as having a brother called James.

      • Steven,
        On Luke-Acts, I’m not sure what your point is. The main question before the house is whether Jesus was a historical figure. Luke-Acts includes specific statements about his being born, childhood, death (and specific chronological concerns), etc. Acts also mentions James as leader of the Jerusalem church. I’ve already indicated that your claim that he has been “airbrushed” out is fallacious. He’s there, and so well known that the author likely felt no need to do more than name him.
        As for Philo, there’s no basis for taking the text in question as evidence of some pre-Christian Jesus-cult. That’s the point.

      • Chris permalink


        Philo writes, ““Behold, a man whose name is the East!” I cordially ask you to answer my question: What contextual elements within sections 60-63 lead you to conclude Philo is concerned with the literary context preceding Zechariah 6:12?

        (Editor’s Note: For those who haven’t kept up with this side-thread, the reference is to Philo of Alexandria, The Confusion of Tongues, 60-63.)

      • Chris complains that Carrier got something wrong.

        I point him to the relevant verse in the Bible where the Old Testament names the figure Philo talks about as Jesus.

        Chris graciously concedes that the facts are exactly as Carrier stated.

        This last statement hasn’t happened yet.

        But I can understand Chris not wanting to do that.

        (Editor’s Note: OK, Steven. YOu and Chris seem to be having a great time arguing past each other on this Philo text. It’s not of any real consequence. Philo is clearly doing a catch-word thing, pearl-stringing passage with the word “east/rising” in them, and working them all up to say something about the Logos. But for the purposes of this discussion, the crucial point is that Philo gives no evidence here or elsewhere of a pre-Christian cult to a figure named “Jesus/Joshua”. OK. Let’s tie off this thread now.)

  23. Matthew G. Zatkalik permalink

    With no malice towards educational institutions…. B.B.King has words similar to this: ‘you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink; you can send your kids to college but you can’t make them think.’ That might include other areas of learning. Larry, invest your time and breath in areas that bless the rest of us.

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