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Focus, Focus, Focus!

December 6, 2017

Some of the comments responding to my posting about the failure of the “mythical Jesus” notion to catch on with scholars illustrate the necessity of keeping clear the issue under discussion.  The issue in my posting was whether the three claims on which Carrier bases his case are valid or not.

One reader, however, seems all bothered that the authors of GMatthew and GLuke used GMark without acknowledging it.  Well, actually the author of GLuke does acknowledge previous witnesses to Jesus (Luke 1:1-4).  But, in any case, this isn’t the key issue.  It’s a “red-herring.”  The question is whether the Gospels are best accounted for as literary productions that incorporate a body of prior traditions about Jesus of Nazareth, and on that question scholars over 250 years have broadly agreed that they do.  The earmarks of the traditions are there all over their texts.  The Gospel writers weren’t inventing a human figure, but composing biographical narratives of a figure who had been central from the beginning of the Jesus-movement.  The Gospels mark a development in the literary history of the first-century Jesus movement, appropriating the emergent biographical genre.  But they were essentially placing Jesus-tradition in this literary form.

Another reader seems greatly exercised over how much of the Jesus-tradition Paul recounts in his letters, and how much Paul may have known.  Scholars have probed these questions, too, for a loooong time.  E.g., David L. Dungan, The Sayings of Jesus in the Churches of Paul (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971).  But, in any case, this isn’t the issue of my posting, or even essential to the “mythical Jesus” question.

The Pauline question is whether his letters treat Jesus as a real historical figure, indeed a near contemporary, and the answer is actually rather clear, as indicated in my posting.  Paul ascribes to Jesus a human birth, a ministry among fellow Jews, an execution specifically by Roman crucifixion, named/known siblings, and other named individuals who were Jesus’ original companions (e.g., Kephas/Peter, John Zebedee).  Indeed, in Paul’s view, it was essential that Jesus is a real human, for the resurrected Jesus is Paul’s model and proto-type of the final redemption that Paul believes God will bestow on all who align themselves with Jesus.  In Paul’s view, what God did to/for Jesus is what God will do for Paul and others who respond to the gospel.

Of course, with the Jesus movement of his time more widely, Paul also ascribed to Jesus a post-resurrection heavenly status and regal role as God’s plenipotentiary, and likewise (and on the basis of Jesus’ heavenly exaltation) a “pre-existence”.  But for Paul and earliest believers it wasn’t a “zero-sum game,” in which Jesus could only be either a human/historical figure or a heavenly king.  For them, the one didn’t cancel out the other.

And also, to be sure, Paul (and other early believers) readily drew upon Jewish scriptures and antecedent Jewish traditions in attempting to formulate for themselves and others Jesus’ status and place in God’s redemptive programme.  But it is a serious misunderstanding of matters to think that the clothing of Jesus in traditions of divine Wisdom or “Servant” or whatever, counts against his historicity.  The earliest circles of the Jesus movement ransacked their scriptures to try to understand the events of Jesus, especially his execution and (in their conviction) his resurrection.  But it was these historical events that drove the process.

Finally, this discussion is about history, not theology or faith.  What you make of early Christian claims about Jesus’ significance, how you view traditional Christian faith, etc., are all quite separate matters from the historical judgement that Jesus of Nazareth was a real early first-century Jew from Galilee.

So, let’s stay focused, folks.


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  1. Paxton Marshall permalink

    Larry, I have obtained the volume of the Apostolic Fathers you recommended. I must point out that both Lightfoot and Holmes are Christian theologians, not secular historians. Holmes claims, without presenting evidence, Ignatius’ “heavy use of Pauline tradition” saying “He has read 1 Corinthians, and probably Ephesians and 1 and 2 Timothy”. Holmes provides no citations to demonstrate this claim, nor does he reveal that the latter three letters are generally considered not to have been written by Paul.

    Most notably Ignatius does not mention Paul, in spite of the fact that he was supposedly being taken to Rome, for a reprise of Paul’s martyrdom. He does not know of this parallel? Ignatius goes on and on about the virtues of martyrdom and yet mentions neither the martyrdom of Peter or Paul. And one of his letters is written to the Church at Ephesus where Paul was famously imprisoned. Don’t you find that curious? It also seems strange that his Roman guard, escorting him to his execution , gave him such liberty to communicate and interact with his fellow despised Christians.

    • Paxton: I do apologize that you have to read works by “Christian theologians”. It must be most distasteful. Perhaps you should, instead, simply read books by . . . Buddhists? Jewish scholars? Atheists? One can’t be too careful. And it is really inconsiderate of Ignatius not to have written about Paul, and not to have directly cited the Pauline letters! Really! He should have done better. I’m afraid that all we have is what the past has left us, and we historian-beggars can’t be choosers.

      • focusonfocusblog permalink

        Grant Willson: I think you are quite within your rights to critique readers when their assertions are not supported. Paxton raises a potential for bias and then supports that with evidence. Could you comment on whether you are aware of evidence that Ignatius uses Pauline tradition (i.e. the evidence that should have presented by Holmes)?

      • Grant: The Holmes edition provides the evidence. Which is phrasing that is found only in this or that Pauline letter, instances noted in the edition. Had Paxton read farther than the introduction, and actually studied the Greek text and compared it to the relevant Pauline passages, he (with others who have done so) would readily see things. I’ve also directed him to Paul Foster’s analysis of Ignatius’ use of NT writings, but it appears that Paxton can’t be bothered to do the hard work of engaging scholarship. For other examples of Paxton’s carelessness or limited understanding of things (which doesn’t, however, prevent him from blethering on as if he knew what he was talking about), Holmes refers to Ignatius’ knowledge/use of “Pauline tradition”, which = not only authentic letters of Paul but also those written in his name such as Ephesians and 1-2 Timothy.
        We must also reckon with the circumstances in which Ignatius wrote: en route to Rome for execution. He likely didn’t have a library with him, and so simply incorporated phrasing as it came to mind. I noted Smyrnaeans 1:1, where Ignatius refers to Jesus as “baptized by John in order that all righteousness might be fulfilled”, phrasing that strikes anyone familiar with matters as an echo of Matt 3:15. This is one example of others.

  2. bryantiii permalink


    I wonder how those who do not believe that Jesus was a historical figure deal with John’s statements in I John 1:1-4, 4:2-3,
    That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. . . . By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.

    The passages above would indicate that the writer had a very intimate relationship with a person who was called Jesus; that this same Jesus was a living person and not a figment of one’s own imagination.

    What say you?

    • 1 John is dated late, and the statements that you cite pertain to some sort of crisis in the circle to which the author wrote.

  3. Hugh Scott permalink

    At the risk of being criticised for failing your ‘Focus, Focus, Focus’ Test’, by stepping in some way outside your personal dispute with Carrier, I think it is germane to point out that this dispute is only one example of the wider dispute between the ‘mythicists’ and the scholarly consensus that the Jesus of the New Testament was a historical person. This historical existence is accepted even by scholars, such as Vermes and the Jesus Seminar members, who do not accept the majority Christian view of the life, death, Resurrection, and Godhead of this historical figure. ,

    Although there is a constant flow of sceptical books about Christ and Christian origins, there is, equally a constant stream of very positive books on the authenticity of the New Testament record concerning Christ and Christian origins, which not only demolish the views of the sceptics, but positively develop the case for authenticity, and very powerfully suppport the traditional Christian position. Their scholarship supports the faith. I list some such books. I can add more titles.

    I point out that, surprisingly to me, the titles of the books sometimes seem to me to be ambiguous or even negative, but in fact the subtitles give a much better idea of what each book is about.

    1. Putting Jesus in His Place – the Case for the Deity of Christ (Robert Bowman and Edward Komoszewski, Kregel Publications, 2007, pp. 392)
    2. Fabricating Jesus – How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospel (Craig Evans, IVP Books, 2007, pp. 290)
    3. Reinventing Jesus – How Contemporary Skeptics Miss the Real Jesus and Mislead Popular Culture (J. Ed Komoszewski, M James Sawyer and Daniel Wallace, Kregel Publications, 2006, pp. 350)
    4. The Jesus Legend – A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition (Paul R Eddy and Gregory Boyd, Baker Publications, 2007, pp. 480)
    5. One God, One Lord – Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism (Larry W Hurtado, SCM Press, 1988, pp. 178)
    6. The Real Jesus – The Misguided Quest for the Historical Jesus and the Truth of the Traditional Gospels (Luke Timothy Johnson, HarperCollins 1997, pp. 182).
    7. Destroyer of the gods – Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World (Larry Hurtado, Baylor University Press, 2016, pp. 290)
    8. Why on Earth Did Anyone Become a Christian in the First Three Centuries (Larry Hurtado, Marquette University Press, 2016, pp. 144)

  4. Paxton Marshall permalink

    “The Pauline question is whether His letters treat Jesus as a real historical figure”.

    Just because Paul believed Jesus was a real historical figure doesn’t mean it’s true. Besides asking if his letters treat Jesus as a real historical figure, shouldn’t we go beyond that and look for evidence that his belief is true? Or at least look to see what evidence he presents that his belief is true. I’m not saying there is none. He claims to have met Jesus’ brother and some disciples. But does he mention any conversation with them or information from them about this man/God he worships? Wouldn’t that have been useful information for the Christians he was writing too. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that for Paul, Jesus was a savior god, not a man. And if he had to die and be resurrected in order to fill that role, it was still his death and resurrection Paul was interested in, not his life.

    I’m not saying that Paul’s indifference or ignorance of Jesus’ life means that Jesus didn’t exist. I’m just saying that the evidence of Paul is not sufficient to conclude that he did.

    • Paxton: Again, please focus! The claim that I addressed in my posting was that for Paul Jesus was simply a “celestial being” with no historical/earthly existence. That’s blatantly incorrect. So, our earliest witness who takes us back to within 1-3 years after Jesus’ execution identifies Jesus’ siblings, and knows Jesus to have been born, and crucified. The Pauline evidence is sufficient to show that Carrier’s portrayal of Paul is false. That will do for now.

    • David Madison permalink

      Funnily enough, Paxton, that is actually a relevant question. In theory, mythicists could concede that Paul believed in a historical Jesus and still deny that Jesus existed. The reason why most of them don’t do that, is that they think they can get away with an alternative strategy. They accept that Paul’s letters are *potential* evidence for a historical Jesus but then deny that the letters are *actual* evidence. This is because, in their view, Paul was talking about a celestial Jesus. This is nonsense, of course, but it is the most popular mythicist strategy.

      So the answer to your question – why should we trust Paul even if he did believe in a historical Jesus? – is that even those who are desperate to deny the existence of Jesus recognise how difficult it would be NOT to accept what Paul says. Instead, they pretend that Paul is really talking about a different Jesus.

      In my opinion, their strategy is equally hopeless. The Gospels were written only 40 to 70 years after Jesus’ career took place. There is nothing remotely like this in ancient mythology, and remember that an analogy between Jesus and the figures of ancient mythology is supposed to be the basis on which mythicists are working.

      Furthermore, the Jesus movement was under the spotlight right from the start. They faced constant opposition. And yet we are supposed to believe that the early Christians were able to replace the “original” Jesus with a completely different version while they were engaging in debates with their opponents. If there is a parallel to this in ancient mythology, I would like to know what it is.

      • Paxton Marshall permalink

        I just read the letters of Ignatius of Antioch, who wrote around the time the gospels were being written. He makes no mention of Paul, even though there were great similarities in their missions. Ignatius seems to be as ignorant as Paul of the Jesus of the gospels. He does mention the virgin birth and the name of Jesus’ mother, both of which Paul seems to be unaware of. There are also some hints of Jesus’ social justice gospel, but without reference to the gospel stories of how he promulgated his views. As in Paul, the condemnation of the rich, so pronounced in the gospels, is entirely missing. The accommodation of Jesus’ gospel of radical equality to a hierarchical world has begun. Ignatius is obsessed with the authority structure of the church and the need for Christians to submit to authority. Very unlike the teachings of Jesus in the gospels.

      • Paxton: There are scant similarities between Ignatius and Paul as to “mission.” Paul was an itinerant “missionary”, establishing congregations across a wide Mediterranean arc, whereas Ignatius was a local leader in the church in Antioch.
        Ignatius wrote early 2nd century, whereas the Gospels are commonly dated late 1st century. Ignatius appears to know GMatthew, including the tradition of a virginal conception of Jesus (Smyr. 1:1), and Davidic descent, and crucifixion under Pontius Pilate (Smyr. 1-2). Read Ignatius again . . . this time more carefully!
        Ignatius shows an acquaintance with at least some of Paul’s letters

      • Paxton Marshall permalink

        Larry, here are some of the similarities I find between Paul and Ignatius. Both were writing to Greek churches from other Greek churches. Both were on their way to Rome to be executed. Both gloried in the abuses they sustained for Jesus. In fact both were quite egocentric bragging over and over about the sufferings they had sustained. Both were quite haughty about their leadership of the movement. And then in the next passage affecting the deepest humility, even abasement. Certainly there are differences as well. Ignatius does not seem to share Paul’s obsession with sex, while Paul does not share Ignatius’ obsession with hierarchy

        Few preachers today woul preach a sermon without some anecdote of Jesus’ life as a moral lesson. Not one such anecdote from either Paul or Ignatius. Maybe Ignatius knew of the virginal birth tradition from Matthew, but he might also have picked it up from the oral traditions you have mentioned. Is their any other evidence Ignatius was familiar with Matthew or any if the other gospels?

        As to the dates of Ignatius, my understanding is that he is thought to have been born around 30 ad. This he would have been quite old if his letters were written in 2nd century. Could his letters, like Paul’s, been written before the gospels, which would explain the lack of references to them? But why no reference to Paul? On the way ther gand, some think that his focus on bishops and the church hierarchy are not reflective of conditions if the first or even early second century, and that these letters were written later by someone else. I welcome your corrections.

      • Sam: There are soooo many corrections necessary! Inter alia, Paul wasn’t “obsessed” with sex. Matter of fact, he was quite candid about it, as in advising married couples to have sex often to avoid being tempted (1 Cor 7:1ff).
        As for Paul and Ignatius, no real comparison, as I stated. Paul was a trans-local founder of churches, and Ignatius was a local church leader. Both happen to have gone to Rome for execution, but Ignatius’ letters were written en route and as part of the drama that he helped to stage about the matter. Paul’s letters were written in the midst of his trans-local ministry.
        Ignatius is typically dated to early 2nd century, as you can follow by consulting any competent introduction to his works, e.g., the excellent handy work by Michael Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations (Baker, 2007).
        Your expectations of what modern preachers might do (hmm, you surely don’t darken church doors, do you??), are hardly relevant. We go by what we have in the texts. As for evidence that Ignatius knew GMatthew, here’s a reference: Paul Foster, “The Epistles of Ignatius of Antioch and the Writings that late Formed the New Testament,” in The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers, eds. A. F. Gregory & C. M. Tuckett (Oxford University Press, 2005),159-86.
        You raise questions that were settled long ago about Ignatius’ date, etc. If you’re serious, there’s a wealth of scholarly work out there to consult. That’s what we do to explore a matter seriously. Not simply blog comments.

      • Paxton Marshall permalink

        Larry, in my intellectual life radiation we prioritize the original sources. I am not simply blogging comments. I am studying the sources and asking questions. You dismiss the questions with “the authorities agree” or “scholars have long ago settled”. But Christian scholars have been proved wrong about a lot of things over 2000 years, and true believers are notably susceptible to confirmation bias.

        Though o no longer attend church regularly I have listened to at least a thousand sermons from a variety of denominations and religions. I have the highest regard for the love and support that many Christian communities offer, as well as contempt for many, like American Evangelicals, who have hijacked the caring social gospel of Jesus for their own bigotry.

        But intense admiration does not require abandoning ones critical facilities. I have asked many questions and am willing to learn from your extensive knowledge. But when you simply dismiss legitimate questions and observations with a superior sneer, I have to question your open mindedness to the evidence.

      • Paxton: You haven’t simply posed questions of the “I’d honestly like to know” variety, but have consistently acted as if you’re some kind of (ineffectual) opponent or gadfly. That’s just annoying, when you obviously are out of your depth on this subject, Paxton (just as I might well be in many other disciplines). And part of your ignorance is your assumption that you’re arguing against “Christian scholars”. The historical judgements that I provide aren’t “Christian” ones, but those held by professional historians of the ancient world, of various personal stances. Yes, a body of scholars can be wrong, and corrections to widely held views are made (and, by the way, in my career I’ve successfully led a few corrections). But corrections come by doing superior analysis and or invoking overlooked data. The “mythicist” position has no traction with scholars of varied stances because it doesn’t offer either. No sneering from me. Just impatience with your badgering. If you honestly want to learn something, fine.

      • David Madison permalink

        Paxton, arguments from silence are dubious at the best of times but this one is in danger of backfiring. It is true that Ignatius says very little about the life of Jesus, but he undoubtedly considered Jesus to be a historical figure. As you point out, Ignatius mentions Mary the mother of Jesus and he also mentions the crucifixion under Pilate. The moral of the story: it is possible for an early Christian letter writer to say very little about the life of Jesus but still consider him to be a historical figure. This is significant because the lack of details in Paul’s letters is being offered as evidence for a belief in a purely celestial Jesus.

        But this is my problem with mythicism. It is all about trying to read between the lines and exploit alleged anomalies in the evidence. What mythicists don’t have is a historical source which clearly tells us how the Jesus movement “really” began, and that, in my opinion, is what they simply must provide. So it is not just that Carrier reads between the lines incompetently, which he undoubtedly is guilty of, but that his entire approach is misguided.

      • Paxton Marshall permalink

        David: “what the mythicists don’t have is a historical source that tells us how the Jesus movement really began”.

        Agreed. And it’s unlikely they will find one, isn’t it? The only sources that purport to tell us that are the gospels/acts. They are not only not independent accounts, they are not, and do not claim to be objective observers. Like Paul, the rest of the NT, and Ignatius they are primary sources on the means and claims used to spread the religion. I will agree with Larry that Paul’s letters indicate that he believed that Jesus lived, was crucified, and resurrected. They are not first hand accounts, and Paul does not claim to know these things from his own observations. But as Larry points out, conventional dating puts Paul on the scene soon after the time alleged for Jesus’ death and Paul relates knowing people who did know Jesus and would have known of his death and resurrection. So I agree with Larry that the Jesus story is on much firmer ground than stories like that of Moses that can be dated only to centuries after the fact. One problem I see with Paul’s evidence, and correct me if I’m wrong, is that Paul doesn’t claim to have learned what he knows about Jesus from James, Cephas, et al. He claims to know it by divine revelation.
        [ LWH here with the asked-for correction: Paul does claim to have made inquiries of Kephas over a two-week stay with him, and that he also met with James the brother of Jesus (Gal 1).]
        I have read Carrier’s book and found much of what he argued to be plausible, but hardly proven. My reading of Paul’s letters does not support the contention that Paul thought Jesus was a purely celestial being. It’s pretty clear he thought he was human enough to be executed. But what he believed and what he knew are not necessarily the same, and I see no evidence that he had much knowledge or even interest in Jesus’ life and ministry.

        The central question to me is how did the moral example and precepts of Jesus, as portrayed in the gospels, and to a large extent only in the gospels, become the inner conscience of the western world. Paul’s Jesus, is all about crucifixion, resurrection, and life after death. But it is the Jesus of the gospels who took the social justice teachings of the Hebrew prophets and made them accessible to the world. Part of the emotional appeal is that he was a living exemplar of this morality. If he did not really live, we are left with the question of where, how and why MML&J came up with such a compelling character. I doubt that we’ll ever know for sure, but we can keep asking the uncomfortable questions.

      • Paxton: Perhaps your latest posting indicates a stopping place, as you seem to concede the crucial point, which is that Paul did regard Jesus as a real historical figure, crucified on earth (not in some celestial realm by demons!).
        If you read Paul’s letters more carefully, you will see that Paul actually saw Jesus’ crucifixion as not only a redemptive event but also a model for life, including his own, of obedience and self-giving. Paul cites several sayings of Jesus in his letters and the more likely view is that he knew and used still more in his on-site teaching/foundation of churches. Scholars have been asking “uncomfortable questions” for centuries, and continue to do so (Christian scholars prominent among them). “Mythicists” aren’t offering anything that hasn’t been considered and rejected on the basis of historical analysis.
        But, as I say, let’s draw a line here.

  5. Paxton Marshall permalink

    “The earliest circles of the Jesus movement ransacked their scriptures to try to understand the events of Jesus”.

    But isn’t it just as possible that some of these early Christians imagined a character who fulfilled the prophecies of scripture? Was it Jesus first, scripture second; or scripture first, Jesus second, as with the Book of Mormon.

    • Paxton: First, I don’t get the reference to the book of Mormon. In it the angel Moroni is never posited as an earthly figure, whereas the NT consistently makes this claim. Here’s a better analogy: In the Qumran texts the “teacher of righteousness” is portrayed via various OT texts. He was, it appears, an important figure in the early (foundational) period of the Qumran sect, and the sect applied various OT texts to him. This is pretty much what happened with Jesus.

      • Joshua McClure permalink

        Dr. Hurtado, I appreciate your recent posts on mythicism.

        While I likewise don’t get Paxton’s reference to the Book of Mormon, it’s not clear you portrayed the figure Moroni accurately. If I may, let me clarify that Moroni was, according to the book, an earthly figure, a record keeper and son of a military general who had lived ca. 420 CE. Moroni was the final writer in a long series of earthly writers of the “record,” which he “sealed” and buried prior to his death.

        In the 1820’s, according to Joseph Smith, this same Moroni, now a resurrected being and heavenly messenger/”angel,” revealed the location of the record to Smith. Hence, Moroni was first an earthly figure and later a resurrected one.

      • Then I stand corrected, Joshua.

  6. Paxton Marshall permalink

    “The question is whether the gospels are best accounted for as literary productions that incorporate a body of prior traditions about Jesus of Nazareth. ”

    But doesn’t this just push the question back a generation. A body of prior traditions does not mean the subject of those traditions actually existed. We have a body of prior traditions about Santa Claus , Robin Hood, and King Arthur. There is no good evidence any of them existed.

    • Paston: Once again, focus on the issue. The claim I addressed in my posting was whether the Gospels represent some radical “historicization” of a previously “mythical/fictional” figure. My point was that scholarly analysis agrees that the Gospels instead draw upon a prior body of traditions about Jesus that go back decades earlier. Of course, these traditions include legendary embroiderment. But that’s what happens to historical figures of importance.

  7. Bryant Williams III permalink


    Thank you for your posts on the “mythical Jesus” issue. There are always going to “crackpots” out there that will promote heresy as orthodox. As Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

    It seems that the old adage still applies, “Ask the wrong question and you will get the wrong answer.” Too many times modern practices, rules, etc. are used to interpret past practices. This creates more problems than the original documents.

    Finally, it appears that the heresies of the Gnostics, Marcion, et al are very much alive.

  8. Dr. Hurtado said:

    “Indeed, in Paul’s view, it was essential that Jesus is a real human, for the resurrected Jesus is Paul’s model and proto-type of the final redemption that Paul believes God will bestow on all who align themselves with Jesus. In Paul’s view, what God did to/for Jesus is what God will do for Paul and others who respond to the gospel.”

    This sounds suspiciously like my comment on Dr. Hurtado’s blog post “Why the ‘Mythical Jesus’ Claim Has No Traction With Scholars” from a couple days ago when I wrote:

    “Paul calls the resurrected Jesus the ‘first fruits’ of the general resurrection of souls at the end of the age (1 Corinthians 15:23). This would seem to imply Jesus was “of the same kind” as the rest of the imminent upcoming ‘harvest’ of souls, not just some celestial being unrelated to the rest of humanity.”

    This leads me to suspect Dr. Hurtado is actually a mythical, celestial being created by Neil Godfrey out of my various internet writings to create Drama and hence get more people reading Vridar.

  9. Hon Wai Lai permalink

    Prof. Hurtado, I haven’t paid much attention to the publications of the mythicists. From works of Ehrman and Maurice Casey, I am satisfied the scholarly consensus on historicity of Jesus based on a variety of evidence within and outside the New Testament shows it is a closed case, to the extent any question concerning events in Antiquity can be. There is one issue though I don’t recall Ehrman or Casey addressing, is how to refute the charge that the Pauline references to a mortal Jesus (has human birth, a ministry among Jews, execution specifically by Roman crucifixion, known siblings) were later additions to the Pauline manuscripts by late 1st century or 2nd century proto-Orthodox Christians keen to emphasise the humanity of Jesus against docetic claims. Given we have only fragments of manuscripts from the 2nd century, this suggestion cannot be refuted using manuscript evidence.

    • Hon Wai Lai: But if the Pauline letters were tampered with, then no one can use them to make any case, one way or the other, and “mythicists” are thereby shut out as well! No. For historicizing bits to have been inserted would require evidence that there was an earlier “mythicist” Jesus notion to amend. And there is no such evidence.

  10. focusonfocusblog permalink

    My name is Grant Willson. I am bothered by the fact that Matthew borrowed from Mark without acknowledgement (although it has provided many enjoyable hours reading the redaction critics). The ancient Roman author Vitruvius referred to that practice as theft. As modern readers we need to acknowledge this unacceptable ancient literary practice as unethical just as contemporaries of the Gospel writers did. Larry can you acknowledge that to the readers as it goes to the heart of academic integrity? The relevance of this assertion to the Jesus discussion is the light it might shed on the moral compass of Matthew. Matthew certainly contains a number of incidents such as the guards at the tomb which appear more like poorly thoughout apologetics than prior tradition. Richard Bauckham points out that others ancients such as Plutarch freely borrowed material….but didn’t Plutarch also invent Romulus?

    • Grant: You impose a particular view of what authors are allowed to do, and ancient writers followed a much more diverse practice. Moreover, note that none of the Gospel writers sought to claim credit–they’re all anonymous. So, it’s hardly fair to view them as passing off what they adopted as their own work. Matthew seems to many scholars to include legendary material (such as the reference to dead people appearing in Jerusalem at Jesus’ death). But that’s also what happens as historical figures important to groups get talked about.

      • Hi Larry, can you please clarify if you believe that the references to dead people appearing in Jerusalem is legendary material, and if so why. And if so, what are the implications for the historicity of the other details related to the resurrection events.

      • The story of dead people appearing in Jerusalem has marks of legend because (1) it doesn’t have multiple attestation (unlike, e.g., the claim about Jesus’ resurrection and appearances, or even more obviously the report of Jesus being crucified, interrogated by temple authorities, etc); and (2) the story of dead people appearing seems to function simply to enhance in some way Jesus’ death. That’s just what legends do, enhancing events, making them more striking. Similarly, the birth stories with their star, angels, magi etc.

      • Paxton Marshall permalink

        Who claims to have actually witnessed Jesus being interrogated, crucified, or ressurected? Do you regard something reported in Mark, Matthew, and Luke as multiple atteststion?

      • Paxton: It is standard procedure to view something reported in more than one of the Gospel narratives as “multiple attestation”. Even if an author re-reports something, it is an independent choice to do so. Paul cites tradition that he apparently received from witnesses about Jesus’ crucifixion, and resurrection appearance/experiences (1 Cor 15:1-7). A crucifixion in Roman Judea would have been by Roman authority, and they tended to arraign those accused for interrogation. But, look, if you reeeeeeally need so badly to deny everything, then do so. But this petty badgering makes you look rather spooked or silly.

      • Mr Hurtado
        If you use the category of multiple attestation to de s cribe the multiple resurrections and the angel, magi accounts in Matthew as legend, then what do you make of Jesus turning water into wine in John’s gospel.
        Would it not be more reasonable to assume if the gospel writers record history reliably in many areas (as demonstrated in multiple attestation) then they would also be doing so in areas where their reports are not attested elsewhere?

      • Dave, The birth stories(and there are two rather different ones) in Matt & Luke and some other stories have the look of legendary developments, intended to bring out the *meaning* or significance of a figure or event rather than simply relating events. I think that it is more reasonable to judge that the Gospels reflect both the preservation of “authentic” Jesus-tradition and legendary growth as well (the latter is quite frequent in the case of high-impact figures). And “legendary” doesn’t mean useless, just that it has to be used with due regard for its nature.

      • Mr Hurtado, this sounds like the Jesus Seminar to me. Cant you just explain away what you don’t know what to do with. Surely many people would also say the resurrection of Jesus has the marks of legend also. How can Bible readers know these distinctions you make?

      • Claims that Jesus was raised by God appeared early and became foundational for all else in early Jesus-movement circles. The claim is multiply attested. By contrast, for example, the birth story in Matthew is his alone, with no hint of it elsewhere. Indeed, Luke has a very different one. So, there are reasons for suspecting that these stories were shaped and even created as symbolic narratives. But this isn’t the issue. I simply note (with most scholars, not the Jesus Seminar!) that the Gospels incorporate both historical events and traditional embroiderments.

      • focusonfocusblog permalink

        Grant Willson: But Luke has specific historical details such as the census and Matthew claims there are witnesses in Jerusalem to the dead rising. Aren’t they the characteritics of history?

      • Grant: If you prefer another view of matters, you’re entitled to it. Invoking details isn’t a mark of “history” alone. Good story telling does so too, and legendary embroiderment as well.

  11. The Qumran community saw itself as in a time of fulfillment of Scriptures and in some sense a fulfillment of those Scriptures.

    Obvious conclusion.

    The Qurman community didn’t exist.

  12. Hear hear. Paul’s letters alone settle the issue of the historical Jesus without any need for theology. Jesus’ own brother James acknowledged as leader by early movement met Paul at least 3 times. Paul also writes to and meets with Peter and John and the Lord’s Brothers. Lastly, Paul acknowledges that he might have known Jesus in the flesh…

    2 Corinthians 5:16New International Version (NIV)

    16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.

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