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An Atheist Historian Examines the Evidence for Jesus (Part 2 of 2)

Jesus2

NOTE: This it the second of a two part series. Before reading this be sure to check out Part 1.
 


 
Many Christians accept that a historical Jesus existed because they never thought to question the idea in the first place, or because they are convinced that the gospels can be read as (more or less) historical accounts and so don't need to be seriously doubted on this point.  But why do the overwhelming majority of non-Christian scholars also accept that Jesus existed?

The Total Lack of Evidence for a "Mythic Christianity"

 
Essentially, it's because it's the most parsimonious explanation of the evidence we have.  Early Christianity and the critics of early Christianity agree on virtually nothing about Jesus, except for one thing - that he existed as a historical person in the early first century.  If there really was an original form of Christianity that didn't believe this, as all versions of the "Jesus Myth" idea require, then it makes no sense that there is no trace of it.  Such an idea would be a boon to the various Gnostic branches of Christianity, which emphasized his spiritual/mystical aspects and saw him as an emissary from a purely spiritual world who aimed to help us escape the physical dimension.  A totally non-historical, purely mystical Jesus would have suited their purposes perfectly.  Yet they never taught such a Jesus existed - they always depict him as a historical, first century teacher, but argued that he was "pure spirit" and only had the "illusion of flesh".  Why?  Because they couldn't deny that he had existed as a historical person and there was no prior "mythic Jesus" tradition for them to draw on.

Similarly, the memory of an earlier, original Christianity which didn't believe in a historical Jesus would have been a killer argument for the many Jewish and pagan critics of Christianity.  Jesus Mythicists claim this mythic Jesus Christianity survived well into the second or even third century.  We have orthodox Christian responses to critiques by Jews and pagans from that period, by Justin Martyr, Origen, and Minucius Felix.  They try to confront and answer the arguments their critics make about Jesus - that he was a fool, a magician, a bastard son of a Roman soldier, a fraud etc - but none of these apologetic works so much as hint that anyone ever claimed he never existed.  If a whole branch of Christianity existed that claimed just this, why did it pass totally unnoticed by these critics? Clearly no such earlier "mythic Jesus" proto-Christianity existed - it is a creation of the modern Jesus Mythicist activists to prop up their theory.

Indicators of Historicity in the Gospels

 
The main reason non-Christian scholars accept that there was a Jewish preacher as the point of origin of the Jesus story is that the stories themselves contain elements that only make sense if they were originally about such a preacher, but which the gospel writers themselves found somewhat awkward.  As noted above, far from conforming closely to expectations about the coming Messiah, the Jesus story actually shows many signs of being shoehorned into such expectations and not exactly fitting very well.

For example, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is depicted as going to the Jordan and being baptized by John the Baptist (Mark 1: 9-11), after which he hears a voice from heaven and goes off into the wilderness to fast.  For the writer of Mark, this is the point where Jesus becomes the Messiah of Yahweh and so there is no problem with him having his sins washed away by John, since prior to his point he was man like any other.  The writer of the Gospel of Matthew, however, has a very different Christology.  In his version, Jesus has been the ordained Messiah since his miraculous conception, so it is awkward for him to have the chosen one of God going to be baptized by John, who is a lesser prophet.  So Matthew tells more or less the same story as he finds in Mark, which he uses as his source, but adds a small exchange of dialogue not found in the earlier version:

"But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented." (Matt 3:14-15)

When we turn to the latest of the gospels, the Gospel of John, we find a very different story again.  The writer of this gospel depicts Jesus as being a mystical, pre-existent Messiah who had a heavenly existence since the beginning of time.  So for him the idea of Jesus being baptized by John is even more awkward.  He solves the problem by removing the baptism altogether.  In this latest version, John is baptizing other people and telling them that the Messiah was to come and then sees Jesus and declares him to be the Messiah (John 1:29-33).  There is no baptism of Jesus at all in the Gospel of John version.

So in these three examples we have three different versions of the same story written at three times in the early decades of Christianity.  All of them are dealing with the baptism of Jesus by John in different ways and trying to make it fit with their conceptions of Jesus and at least two of them are having some trouble doing so and are having to change the story to make it fit their ideas about Jesus.  All this indicates that the baptism of Jesus by John was a historical event and known to be such and so could not be left out of the story.  This left the later gospel writers with the problem of trying to make it fit their evolving ideas about who and what Jesus was.

There are several other elements in the gospels like this.  The Gospels of Luke and Matthew go to great lengths to tell stories which "explain" how Jesus came to be born in Bethlehem despite being from Nazareth, since Micah 5:2 was taken to be a prophecy that the Messiah was to be from Bethlehem.  Both gospels, however, tell completely different, totally contradictory and mutually exclusive stories (one is even set ten years after the other) which all but the most conservative Christian scholars acknowledge to be non-historical.  The question then arises: why did they go to this effort?  If Jesus existed and was from Nazareth, this makes sense.  Clearly some Jews objected to the claim Jesus was the Messiah on the grounds that he was from the insignificant village of Nazareth in Galilee and not from Bethlehem in Judea - John 7:41-42 even depicts some Jews making precisely this objection.  So it makes sense that Christian traditions would arise that "explain" how a man known to be a Galilean from Nazareth came to be born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth - thus the contradictory stories in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew that have this as their end.

If, however, there was no historical Jesus then it is very hard to explain why an insignificant town like Nazareth is in the story at all.  If Jesus was a purely mythic figure and the stories of his life evolved out of expectations about the Messiah then he would be from Bethlehem, as was expected as a Messiah.  So why is Nazareth, a tiny place of no religious significance, in the story?  And why all the effort to get Jesus born in Bethlehem but keep Nazareth in the narrative?  The only reasonable explanation is that Nazareth is the historical element in these accounts - it is in the story because that is where Jesus was from.  A historical Jesus explains the evidence far better than any "mythic" alternative.

But probably the best example of an element in the story which was so awkward for the early Christians that it simply has to be historical is the crucifixion. The idea of a Messiah who dies was totally unheard of and utterly alien to any Jewish tradition prior to the beginning of Christianity, but the idea of a Messiah who was crucified was not only bizarre, it was absurd.  According to Jewish tradition, anyone who was "hanged on a tree" was to be considered accursed by Yahweh and this was one of the reasons crucifixion was considered particularly abhorrent to Jews.  The concept of a crucified Messiah, therefore, was totally bizarre and absurd.

It was equally weird to non-Jews.  Crucifixion was considered the most shameful of deaths, so much so that one of the privileges of Roman citizenship is that citizens could never be crucified.  The idea of a crucified god, therefore, was unthinkable. This was so much the case that the early Christians avoided any depictions of Jesus on the cross - the first depictions of the Crucifixion appear in the Fourth Century, after Christian emperors banned crucifixion and it began to lose its stigma.  It's significant that the earliest depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus that we have is a graffito from Rome showing a man worshipping a crucified figure with the head of a donkey with the mocking caption "Alexamenos worships his god".  The idea of a crucified god was, quite literally, ridiculous.  Paul acknowledges how absurd the idea of a crucified Messiah was in 1 Corinthians 1:23, where he says it "is a stumbling block to the Jews and an absurdity to the gentiles".

The accounts of Jesus' crucifixion in the gospels also show how awkward the nature of their Messiah's death was for the earliest Christians.  They are all full of references to texts in the Old Testament as ways of demonstrating that, far from being an absurdity, this was what was supposed to happen to the Messiah.  But none of the texts used were considered prophecies of the Messiah before Christianity came along and some of them are highly forced.  The "suffering servant" passages in Isaiah 53 are pressed into service as "prophecies" of the crucifixion, since they depict a figure being falsely accused, rejected and given up to be "pierced .... as a guilt offering".  But the gospels don't reference other parts of the same passage which don't fit their story at all, such as where it is said this figure will "prolong his days and look upon his offspring".

Clearly the gospel writers were going to some effort to find some kind of scriptural basis for this rather awkward death for their group's leader, one that let them maintain their belief that he was the Messiah.  Again, this makes most sense if there was a historical Jesus and he was crucified, leaving his followers with this awkward problem.  If there was no historical Jesus at all, it becomes very difficult to explain where this bizarre, unprecedented and awkwardly inconvenient element in the story comes from.  It's hard to see why anyone would invent the idea of a crucified Messiah and create these problems.  And given that there was no precedent for a crucified Messiah, it's almost impossible to see this idea evolving out of earlier Jewish traditions.  The most logical explanation is that it's in the story, despite its vast awkwardness, because it happened.

Non-Christian References to Jesus as a Historical Figure

 
Many Christian apologists vastly overstate the number of ancient, non-Christian writers who attest to the existence of Jesus.  This is partly because they are not simply showing that a mere Jewish preacher existed, but are arguing for the existence of the "Jesus Christ" of Christian doctrine: a supposedly supernatural figure who allegedly performed amazing public miracles in front of audiences of thousands of witnesses.  It could certainly be argued that such a wondrous figure would have been noticed outside of Galilee and Judea and so should have been widely noted as well.  So Christian apologists often cite a long list of writers who mention Jesus, usually including Josephus, Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, Suetonius, Lucian, Thallus and several others.  But of these only Tacitus and Josephus actually mention Jesus as a historical person - the others are all simply references to early Christianity, some of which mention the "Christ" that was the focus of its worship.

If we are simply noting the existence of Jesus as a human Jewish preacher, we are not required to produce more mentions of him than we would expect of comparable figures.  And what we find is that we have about as much evidence for his existence (outside any Christian writings) as we have for other Jewish preachers, prophets, and Messianic claimants of the time.  The two non-Christian writers who mention him as a historical person are Josephus and Tacitus.

Josephus

 
The Jewish priestly aristocrat Joseph ben Matityahu, who took the Roman name Flavius Josephus, is our main source of information about Jewish affairs in this period and is usually the only writer of the time who makes any mention of Jewish preachers, prophets, and Messianic claimants of the first century.  Not surprisingly, he mentions Jesus twice: firstly in some detail in Antiquities of the Jews XVIII.3.4 and again more briefly when mentioning the execution of Jesus' brother James in Antiquities XX.9.1.  The first reference is problematic, however, as it contains elements which Josephus cannot have written and which seem to have been added later by a Christian interpolator.  Here is the text, with the likely interpolations in bold:

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

There has been a long debate about what parts of this reference to Jesus are authentic to Josephus or even if the whole passage is a wholesale interpolation.  Proponents of the Jesus Myth hypothesis, naturally, opt for the idea that it is not authentic in any way, but there are strong indications that, apart from the obvious additions shown in bold above, Josephus did mention Jesus at this point in his text.

To begin with, several elements in the passage are distinctively Josephan in their style and phrasing.  "Now (there was) about this time ..." is used by Josephus as a way of introducing a new topic hundreds of times in his work.  There are no early Christian parallels that refer to Jesus merely as "a wise man", but this is a term used by Josephus several times, e.g., about Solomon and Daniel.  Christian writers placed a lot of emphasis on Jesus' miracles, but here the passage uses a fairly neutral term παραδόξων ἔργων - "paradoxa erga" or "paradoxical deeds".  Josephus does use this phrase elsewhere about the miracles of Elisha, but the term can also mean "deeds that are difficult to interpret" and even has overtones of cautious skepticism.  Finally, the use of the word φῦλον ("phylon" - "race, tribe") is not used by Christians about themselves in any works of the time, but is used by Josephus elsewhere about nations or other distinct groups.  Additionally, with the sole exception of Χριστιανῶν ("Christianon" - "Christians") every single word in the passage can be found elsewhere in Josephus' writings.

The weight of the evidence of the vocabulary and style of the passage is heavily towards its partial authenticity.  Not only does it contain distinctive phrases of Josephus that he used in similar contexts elsewhere, but these are also phrases not found in early Christian texts.  And it is significantly free of terms and phrases from the gospels, which we'd expect to find if it was created wholesale by a Christian writer.  So either a very clever Christian interpolator somehow managed to immerse himself in Josephus' phrasing and language, without modern concordances and dictionaries, and create a passage containing distinctively Josephean phraseology, or what we have here is a genuinely Josephean passage that has simply been added to rather clumsily.

As a result of this and other evidence (e.g., the Arabic and Syriac paraphrases of this passage which seem to come from a version before the clumsy additions by the interpolator) the consensus amongst scholars of all backgrounds is that the passage is partially genuine, with additions made in a few obvious places.  Louis H. Feldman's Josephus and Modern Scholarship (1984) surveys scholarship on the question from 1937 to 1980 and finds of 52 scholars on the subject, 39 considered the passage to be partially authentic.

Peter Kirby has since done a survey of the literature and found that this trend has increased in recent years.  He concludes "In my own reading of thirteen books since 1980 that touch upon the passage, ten out of thirteen argue the (Antiquities of the Jews XVIII.3.4 passage) to be partly genuine, while the other three maintain it to be entirely spurious. Coincidentally, the same three books also argue that Jesus did not exist."

The other mention of Jesus in Josephus, Antiquities XX.9.1, is much more straightforward, and much more of a problem for Jesus Mythicists.  In it Josephus recounts a major political event that happened when he was a young man.  This would have been a significant and memorable event for him, since he was only 25 at the time and it caused upheaval in his own social and political class, the priestly families of Jerusalem that included his own.

In 62 AD the Roman procurator of Judea, Porcius Festus, died while in office and his replacement, Lucceius Albinus, was still on his way to Judea from Rome.  This left the High Priest, Hanan ben Hanan (usually called Ananus), with a freer reign than usual. Ananus executed some Jews without Roman permission and, when this was brought to the attention of the Romans, Ananus was deposed.  This deposition would have been memorable for the young Josephus, who had just returned from an embassy to Rome on the behalf of the Jerusalem priests.  But what makes this passage relevant is what Josephus mentions, in passing, as the cause of the political upheaval:

"Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so (the High Priest) assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Messiah, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned."

This mention is peripheral to the story Josephus is telling, but since we know from Christian sources that Jesus' brother James led the Jesus sect in Jerusalem in this period, and we have a separate, non-dependent, Christian account of James' execution by the Jerusalem priesthood, it is fairly clear which "Jesus who was called Messiah" Josephus is referring to here.

Almost without exception, modern scholars consider this passage genuine and an undisputed reference to Jesus as a historical figure by someone who was a contemporary of his brother and who knew of the execution of that brother first hand.  This rather unequivocal reference to a historical Jesus leaves Jesus Mythicists with a thorny problem, which they generally try to solve one of two ways. They either claim:

(i) "The words "who was called Messiah" are a later Christian interpolation"

Since it is wholly unlikely that a Christian interpolator invented the whole story of the deposition of the High Priest just to slip in this passing reference to Jesus, Mythicists try to argue that the key words which identify which Jesus is being spoken of are interpolated.  Unfortunately this argument does not work.  This is because the passage is discussed no less than three times in mid-third century works by the Christian apologist Origen and he directly quotes the relevant section with the words "Jesus who was called the Messiah" all three times: in Contra Celsum I.4, in Contra Celsum II:13 and in Commentarium in evangelium Matthaei X.17.  Each time he uses precisely the phrase we find in Josephus: αδελφος Ιησου του λεγομενου Χριστου ("the brother of that Jesus who was called Messiah").  This is significant because Origen was writing a whole generation before Christianity was in any kind of position to be tampering with texts of Josephus.  If this phrase was in the passage in Origen's time, then it was clearly original to Josephus.

(ii) "The Jesus being referred to here was not the Jesus of Christianity, but the 'Jesus, son of Dameus' mentioned later in the same passage."

After detailing the deposition of the High Priest Ananus, Josephus mentions that he was succeeded as High Priest by a certain "Jesus, son of Damneus".  So Mythicists try to argue that this was the Jesus that Josephus was talking about earlier, since Jesus was a very common name.  It certainly was, but we know how Josephus was careful to differentiate between different people with the same common first name.  So it makes more sense that he calls one "Jesus who was called Messiah" and the other "Jesus son of Damneus" to do precisely this.  Nowhere else does he call the same person two different things in the same passage, as the Mythicist argument requires.  And he certainly would not do so without making it clear that the Jesus who was made High Priest was the same he had mentioned earlier, which he does not do.

The idea that the Jesus referred to as the brother of James was the later mentioned "Jesus son of Damneus" is further undercut by the narrative in the rest of Book XX.  In it the former high priest Ananus continues to play politics and curries favour with the Roman procurator Albinus and the new high priest by giving them rich presents.  This makes no sense if Jesus the brother of the executed James was also "Jesus the son of Damneus", since the new high priest in question is the same Jesus ben Damneus - the idea that he would become friends with his brother's killer just because he was given some nice gifts is ridiculous.

Mythicists are also still stuck with the phrase "who was called Messiah", which Origen's mentions show can't be dismissed as an interpolation.  They usually attempt to argue that, as a High Priest, Jesus the son of Damenus would have been "called Messiah" because "Messiah" means 'anointed" and priests were anointed with oil at their elevation.  Since there are no actual examples of any priests being referred to this way, this is another ad hoc argument designed merely to get the Mythicist argument off the hook.

So the consensus of scholars, Christian and non-Christian, is that the Antiquities XVIII.3.4 passage is authentic despite some obvious later additions and the Antiquities XX.9.1 passage is wholly authentic.  These references alone give us about as much evidence for the existence of a historical "Jesus, who was called Messiah" as we have for comparable Jewish preachers and prophets and is actually sufficient to confirm his existence with reference to any gospel or Christian source.

Tacitus

 
The mention of Jesus in the Annals of the aristocratic Roman historian and senator Publius Cornelius Tacitus is significant partly because of his status as one of the most careful and skeptical historians of the ancient world and partly because it comes from someone who is obviously a hostile witness.  Tacitus absolutely despised Christianity, as he make clear when he mentions how the emperor Nero tried to scapegoat them after the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD.  He also gives an account to his readers as the origin of the Christian sect and their founder in Judea:

"Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular." (Tacitus, Annals, XV.44)

Again, this clear reference to Jesus, complete with the details of his execution by Pilate, is a major problem for the Mythicists.  They sometimes try to deal with it using their old standby argument: a claim that it is a later interpolation.  But this passage is distinctively Tacitean in its language and style and it is hard to see how a later Christian scribe could have managed to affect perfect second century Latin grammar and an authentic Tacitean style and fool about 400 years worth of Tacitus scholars, who all regard this passage and clearly genuine.

A more common way of dismissing this passage is to claim that all Tacitus is doing is repeating what Christians had told him about their founder and so it is not independent testimony for Jesus at all.  This is slightly more feasible, but still fails on several fronts.

Firstly, Tacitus made a point of not using hearsay, of referring to sources or people whose testimony he trusted and of noting mere rumour, gossip or second-hand reports as such when he could.  He was explicit in his rejection of history based on hearsay earlier in his work:

"My object in mentioning and refuting this story is, by a conspicuous example, to put down hearsay, and to request that all those into whose hands my work shall come not to catch eagerly at wild and improbable rumours in preference to genuine history." (Tacitus, Annals, IV.11)

Secondly, if Tacitus were to break his own rule and accept hearsay about the founder of Christianity, then it's highly unlikely that he would do so from Christians themselves (if this aristocrat even had any contact with any), who he regarded with utter contempt.  He calls Christianity "a most mischievous superstition...evil...hideous and shameful...(with a) hatred against mankind" - not exactly the words of a man who regarded its followers as reliable sources about their sect's founder.

Furthermore, what he says about Jesus does not show any sign of having its origin in what a Christian would say: it has no hint or mention of Jesus' teaching, or his miracles, or anything about the claim that he rose from the dead.  On the other hand, it does contain elements that would have been of note to a Roman or other non-Christian: that this founder was executed, where this happened, when it occurred ("during the reign of Tiberius") and which Roman governor carried out the penalty.

We know from earlier in the same passage that Tacitus consulted several (unnamed) earlier sources when writing his account of the aftermath of the Great Fire (see Annals XV.38), so it may have been one of these that gave him his information about Jesus.  But there was someone else in Rome at the time Tacitus wrote who mixed in the same circles, who was also a historian and who would have been the obvious person for Tacitus to ask about obscure Jewish preachers and their sects.  None other than Josephus was living and writing in Rome at this time and, like Tacitus, associated with the Imperial court thanks to his patronage first by the emperor Vespasian and then by his son and successor Titus.  There is a strong correspondence between the details about Jesus in Annals XV.44 and Antiquities XVIII.3.4, so it is at least plausible that Tacitus simply asked his fellow aristocratic scholar about the origins of this Jewish sect.

Conclusion

 
The original question we concerned ourselves with was whether historians regard the existence of Jesus to be "historical fact".  The answer is that they do as much as any scholar can do so for the existence of an obscure peasant preacher in the ancient world.  There is as much, if not slightly more, evidence for the existence of Yeshua ben Yusef as there is for other comparable Jewish preachers, prophets, and Messianic claimants, even without looking at the gospel material.  Additionally, that material contains elements which only make sense if their stories are about a historical figure.

The arguments of the Jesus Mythicists, on the other hand, require contortions and suppositions that simply do not stand up to Occam's Razor  and continually rest on positions that are not accepted by the majority of even non-Christian and Jewish scholars.  The proponents of the Jesus Myth hypothesis are almost exclusively amateurs with an ideological axe to grind and their position is and will almost certainly remain on the outer fringe of theories about the origins of Christianity.
 
 
Originally posted at Armarium Magnum. Used with permission.
(Image credit: DDMCDN)

Tim O'Neill

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Tim O'Neill is an atheist blogger who specializes in reviews of books on ancient and medieval history as well as atheism and historiography. He holds a Master of Arts in Medieval Literature from the University of Tasmania and is a subscribing member of the Australian Atheist Foundation and the Australian Skeptics. He is also the author of the History versus The Da Vinci Code website and is currently working on a book with the working title History for Atheists: How Not to Use History in Debates About Religion. He finds the fact that he irritates many theists and atheists in equal measure a sign that he's probably doing some good. Follow his blog at Armarium Magnum.

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  • jakael02

    "The idea of a Messiah who was crucified was not only bizarre, it was absurd." I can relate to 1st century Jews who expected a militant messiah and got a crucified one. That would be difficult to accept; yet as God sent Jesus, so Jesus sends his Church. So Jesus exists today within his Church, but unfortunately, it appears so broken, divided, and pitiful in the west.

  • Max Driffill

    While I agree with the author that Jesus represents a real (though not supernatural) character in history, I think Josephus, and Tacitus don't really damn the mythicists as strongly as Tim thinks they do. They are reporting hearsay evidence about Jesus, while reporting about Christians. Tacitus may have had more direct knowledge of Jesus' end, but we can't really discern that from the passages in question. That he detested Christians for their beliefs we do know, and knowing their beliefs he may have simply reported what they believed here. The Annals, which are dated to 109 CE, were written nearly 75 years after the crucifixion. Did Tacitus go to some hall of records and feel supported in his report on the crucifixion? Or did he, as the author suggested consult a source he trusted? I'm doubtful of the first, and find the second plausible, but if it is the second, it still amounts to hearsay. What Tacitus and Josephus (Antiquity of the Jews, 94 CE) are doing, primarily, is reporting on Christians, and tangentially referencing their beliefs.

    I think the strongest evidence though, that Jesus was probably a character in history (albeit one whose activity and life have been seriously opaqued by time) comes from those odd passages found in the Gospels that caused problems for believers then and now. Namely his uncomfortable preachments about the end of all things coming quite soon, that is to say, unambiguously, within the lifetimes of his followers. There are also weird bits about his rudeness (calling a Caaninite woman a dog for instance, or getting mad a tree) that would not quite fit with later audiences who didn't share his prejudices.

    There is also all the narrative work of getting him to Bethlehem. If he had been a myth, the simplest, most expedient thing would have been to simply have him born where the "prophecies" said the Messiah needed to be born). The ret-conning (retro-active continuity mending-its a comic book term) of his place of birth, getting the man who everyone knew to be from Galilee to be born in Bethlehem seems a clue that there really was a Jesus and that a story or two (the gospels don't agree) was concocted to account for the well known fact that Jesus did not fit the prophecy. We can know that the gospel writers were a bit confused too, because the accounts of Jesus birth don't actually fit what is known about history (Luke and Matthew do not agree on the year of Jesus' birth http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/jesus_born.html). But with those kinds of clues being the best evidence for anything about Jesus, I think we must accept, that at the end of the day, the historical record doesn't leave us a whole lot to confidently say about Jesus, except that he was, probably, a real human being.

    • jakael02

      Regarding your last paragraph, I have forgotten the details surrounding that. So I decided to re-read some materials. I have summarized an alternative possibility regarding the tension between the gospels regarding the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and thought it may just another side of the coin.

      Many scholars agree that Luke 2:1-2 are the most historically inaccurate verses of the entire Gospel. Some say Caesar Augustus never ordered an
      empire-wide census and the census of the Roman governor of Syria, Quirinius, did not occur until A.D. 6 (a full decade after Jesus birth). With this, many assume the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem as a later invention to full-fill the prophecy of Micah 5:2.

      So how can Luke associate Quirinius with a census that occurred many years earlier than A.D. 6? A clue is Luke’s own word for Quirinius, the same for Pontius Pilate’s governing role. Quirinius and Pilate were “governed” as regional procurator and was not the legate of the entire province. So this leaves open the possibility that Luke is referring to Quirinius to an administrative role he played prior to him being an imperial legate. This possibility is strengthened by Justin Martyr who states Quirinius was a “Procurator” in Judea (not Syria) at the time of Jesus birth.

      Much remains uncertain, but more could be said to support this possibility. Overall, the idea may ease the chronological tensions in Luke 2:1-2 and reestablish Luke as a historian.

      • Max Driffill

        JaKael,

        Your approach has of course to deal with the words used and not what you would like them to be. And Justin Martyr's placement of Quirinius in Judea is more or less unimportant to what the Gospel of Luke says of Quirinius. The soft fit you are trying to offer seems like a minority opinion among biblical scholars. It may indeed be true, but if it is, most scholars disagree with the case.

        Also Luke may have been a historian, but it is unlikely that Luke wrote the gospel who bears his name, at least most historians seem to think it unlikely.

        • jakael02

          Max,

          I did not explain it well. I tried to keep it brief and that gave ample room for me to explain it poorly.

          Luke used the term "governor", not "legate". Quirinius became legate in 6 A.D. I'm arguing he was likely governor of Syria prior to becoming legate. Herod the Great dies in 4BCE is true, but some recent scholars are arguing it's 1BCE. So there is not universal agreement on that.

          With that said, the tension is not as strong if in fact Luke's use of governor referred to Quirinius prior to being legate and Herod died closer to 1 BCE rather than 4 BCE. Again, we both wish we were dealing with more facts on the ground than what we got.

          I hope that makes somewhat sense.

          • jakael02

            Mistake, Quirinius was governor of Judea prior to legate, not Syria. He was legate of Syria. My mistake.

        • Bruce Grubb

          The rendering of Luke is actually a translator slight of hand. In the original Greek the passage actually reads "leader of the people" NOT king. In fact, Mark 6:22 used the SAME Greek word (Basileus) to refer to Herod Antipas who was Tetrarch NOT King. Herod Archelaus was "leader of the people" of the provinces of Judea, Samaria, and Idumea which is different then the Judea kingdom Herod the Great ruled. Only in trying to make it agree with Matthew does Herod the Great even enter the picture. Read on its own the Herod "leader of the people" of Judea in Luke is clearly Herod Archelaus NOT Herod the Great.

      • " So this leaves open the possibility that Luke is referring to Quirinius
        to an administrative role he played prior to him being an imperial
        legate."

        To to anyone with an understanding of the history of the period and of Roman administration, it doesn't. Prior to 6 AD Judea was ruled and administered by Archelaus and before that was part of the kingdom of his father Herod. When Archelaus was deposed in 6 AD the Romans took direct control of this territory for the first time and so taxed it directly for the first time. This meant they had to bring it into line with the administration of the rest of the province of Syria and so had to institute a census to determine taxation for the first time.

        And this was a big deal, due to some OT taboos about "numbering the people of Israel" as well as the indignity of being taxed by kittim. Thus the revolt of Judas the Galilean that Varus then had to put down in 7 AD. This was a reaction to the tax census of 6-7 AD. Even Luke notes that the census of Quirinius was "the first" (Luke 2:2).

        It makes no sense for Qiurinius to have somehow been administering a tax census in Judea before the Romans took direct rule of that territory, on three grounds.

        Firstly, the Romans didn't undertake something as expensive and arduous as a census for the fun of it and they didn't take censuses in territories they didn't tax, so why would he be doing so in Herod or Archelaus' territory? There is no example of the Romans ever doing this in any other client state and no reason for them to be doing so in Judea at this point.

        Secondly, the census of 6-7 AD triggered a revolt, in reaction to the idea of a foreign tax and a numbering of Israel. Why this outrage then if the very same Roman had been doing the same thing just a few years earlier with no such reaction?

        Thirdly, the idea that Quirinius - a senatorial level legate - would be doing some administrative work in Judea subordinate to an earlier senatorial legate who was governor of Syria is simply nonsense. No man of his rank would undertake such a task - it would have fallen to an equestrian, just as the prefecture and procuratorship of Judea later did for precisely this hierarchical reason. The Romans took these things very seriously.

        This and other apologetic attempts at inventing an "earlier census" simply don't work. This is why most scholars accept that the whole "census story" is a device to get Jesus' parents to Bethlehem and "explain" how a Nazarene from Galilee could have been the Messiah and fulfilled the prophecy of Micah. It's midrash and folklore, not history.

        • jakael02

          Tim,

          Thanks for the detailed response. I am learning much. In addition, I think everything you said was accurate. To further evolve this little string I want to state the possibility that it was not a "census" for taxation, but a "oath of allegiance" to the Roman Emperor. Please read below for a snap-shot of my argument that is written by Curtis Mitch/Scott Hahn. Please let me know what you think and/or if I'm missing anything.

          The Jewish historian Josephus recounts that during the last
          years of Herod’s rule, Judea was required to swear an oath of loyalty to Caesar. Archeological evidence confirms
          the same type of oath was sworn elsewhere in the empire around 3.B.C. This might well mean that the registration
          described in Luke 2:1 involved an oath of allegiance sworn to the emperor, not a census taken for the purpose of taxation. A later Christian historian named Orosisu (5th Century A.D.) says explicitly that Augustus required every person in every Roman province to be enrolled with a public oath. Even Caesar Augustus tells us in his personal writings that the whole Roman world had professed him to be the “Father” of the empire by the time this title was
          officially given to him in 2 B.C. These converging lines of evidence make it possible that the census of Luke 2 was subjects expressing loyalty rather than taxation.

          • "I want to state the possibility that it was not a "census" for taxation, but a "oath of allegiance" to the Roman Emperor."

            This is clutching at apologetic straws. If it was an "oath of allegiance" why did the writer of gLuke clearly state it was a "census, tax registration" or ἀπογραφὴ? And if it was required of people in Judea, why would a Galilean need to take part? This is desperately fanciful.

          • Nick_from_Detroit

            "And if it was required of people in Judea, why would a Galilean need to take part?"

            That's easy!
            Saint Joseph was NOT a Galilean. He was of the House of David, the royal, Davidic bloodline. So, he would have to go to the City of David, Bethelem, for any enrollment. The Blessed Virgin Mary was also of the line of David.

          • Roman censuses didn't care where your distant ancestors lived 1000 years earlier. How on earth would getting everyone to go back to the town some ancient ancestor had (perhaps) once lived in be of any use to Roman tax administrators? However you cut it, this story makes no sense.

          • Nick_from_Detroit

            Not true, Mr. O'Neill.
            Since, this was the empire-wide enrollment for the 750th anniversary of the founding of Rome and Augustus' 25th as Caesar, when ALL the peoples of the empire had to swear an oath to proclaim Augustus "Pater Patriae" (Father of the Country). I.e., c. 6-2 B.C.

            In Judea, 6,000 Pharisees refused to take the oath, so the Romans and Herod would have cared very much that all claimants to throne of David, King of Judea, also take the oath. Plus, the Jews would have been used to going back to their ancestral lands for the Jubilee years, when property was returned each family (Lev. 25:8-17).

          • (i) The vote for Augustus to be declared Pater Patriae was made by Roman citizens only, not peasant carpenters from Galilee.
            (ii) The only reference to "6,000 Pharisees" refusing anything is in Antiquities XVII.42 and refers to some kind of swearing of an oath to assure "their goodwill to Caesar. There is no connection between this and a vote for a title for Augustus made by Roman citizens.
            (iii) The Romans didn't care about "Jubilee years" and wouldn't need people to go to some town that may have been lived in by some distant ancestor 1000 years earlier to swear any oath and
            (iv) Quirinius can't have had anything to do with any of this because he was not governing the territory in the period before Herod died and could not act as a subordinate to the governor because he was of consular rank.

            So you fail again. I've seen every single trick and twist used by Biblical apologists to try to get around this one. They all fail. Seriously - give up.

          • Nick_from_Detroit

            (1) Do you have a source for this? I seem to remember reading that archeological discoveries have found inscriptions that refer to taking this oath, in other Roman provinces, of all the people, not just Roman citizens. Besides, Saint Joseph was a member of the royal family. Since, Herod was either half-Jewish, or not Jewish at all (he was an Edomite, after all,) and was installed as "king" by Julius Caesar, it is only logical that the Romans would have wanted any heirs to the throne of David to swear their allegiance to Augustus, given the history of the Jews with the Seleucids.

            (2) "[N]o connection" is just an assertion on your part?

            (3) If Judea had an existing infrastructure for enrolling her inhabitants, why wouldn't Herod and the Romans use it for their own enrollments? Why create a new bureaucracy? That doesn't make any sense.

            (4) There are a few reasonable explanations that deal with "Quirinius problem," as I'm sure you are well aware. Two that I recall of the top of my head are whether, or not, Quirinius, when he was sent to Syria to fight a war during the time period we're discussing, might have been sent to Judea, because Herod and Varus had botched the enrollment.
            The other explanation, debated even today by expert scholars, I readily admit, is that proto (Lk.2:2) should be translated as "before" not "the first" as it is in several passages from the Gospel of Saint John. I'm no linguist, so I leave it up to the experts.

            I'm surprised that you still cling to such outdated scholarship, by the way. E.g., the fairly recent, in the realm of biblical research, "Markan priority" invention and Schurer's dating of Herod's death to 4 B.C. Modern scholarship has done much to debunk them.

            Finally, as a Catholic, my belief in the inerrancy of Sacred Scripture does not depend on every historical date being perfect, in eras when record keeping was nothing close to the modern era. There are also several instances, in the Old Testament, of the inspired author getting dates wrong. Even though Saint Luke was, as he proclaims, trying to write an accurate account of Christ's life and deeds, my faith doesn't depend on whether, or not, he was right about Quinirius' governorship, vis-a-vis Christ's birth.
            Anyone who would attempt to make this some kind of stumbling block is missing the forest through the trees, I'm afraid.
            Thank you, for your time and replies, on such an old blogpost.

          • Nick_from_Detroit

            And we never heard from him again....

      • Pythinia

        Some say Luke wrote his gospel from the works of Josephus.

    • "They are reporting hearsay evidence about Jesus, while reporting about Christians. Tacitus may have had more direct knowledge of Jesus' end, but we can't really discern that from the passages in question."

      Sorry, but I deal with this in my article. We can't know
      where Tacitus got his information, but that's not unusual with ancient
      sources. But I note several solid reasons that his source was not mere
      "hearsay" and was not from what Christians themselves said but from a
      non-Christian source or sources. Rather than repeat myself, I'd invite
      you to re-read my arguments in this regard.

      If by "hearsay evidence", however, you mean second hand evidence than my response would be "of course". Given that he was writing a generation later and at the other end of the Empire to Jesus, he is inevitably going to be reporting second hand. Again, this is the case with most of our ancient
      sources. Appian was writing 600 years after the death of Alexander and
      even when he was referring to (now lost) first hand accounts from the
      time, his accounts are at least second hand. No-one bats an eyelid at
      that. To apply a degree of hyper-scepticism about this unremarkable
      mention of an executed Jewish preacher on those grounds is absurd and
      smacks of bad faith and double standards.

      And as for your being "doubtful" that Tactius consulted some "hall of records", this is actually as plausible as anything else. We know from his writings that he actually did precisely this on occasion and had access to public records and archives of the Acta Diurna (see Annals XV.74, Annals XII.20 or Annals III.3 for example). He also tells us that he was drawing from several sources when writing his account of the Great Fire. So there is good reason to believe that what he says here was not mere "hearsay". And "second hand" (or more) accounts are the norm for ancient histories.

      • Max Driffill

        Tim
        I, of course don't disagree with you on any point you make in the reply. I know you dealt with Tacitus in the OP. I was writing simply because, while I think what you say is reasonable, I don't think it is incredibly damning to the mythicist case. Of course it certainly doesn't help them. He absolutely could have gone to some more concrete records that make mention of the crucifixion. I have no idea if there would be an official account, that is to say some record of the people executed under Pilate, that he could have looked up. Maybe there was. May be he doubled checked with some other trusted source. As you say it is entirely plausible, or as you say, "as plausible as anything else." My only point is that he could have been simply reporting on what Christians themselves said were the roots of their belief (either heard from Christians, or from his trusted source, and this may be where his trusted source heard it. We cannot really know what his source was, and how it established the claims made about Jesus because he doesn't say. Anyway, I think that both Tacitus and Josephus still pack plenty of ambiguity into quest for the historical Jesus.

        As I have said in other posts on this very thread, I think Jesus represents a real (not supernatural) figure in history. All I was saying here was that I didn't think either Tacitus, or Josephus represented slam dunks against the mythicists. They were both writing long enough after the fact that much of their commentaries about Jesus could simply have been informed by common knowledge, perhaps a by product of the growth of Christianity and people increasingly gaining familiarity with its concepts and beliefs. Of course I am no expert, just a moderately well read amateur.
        Thanks for you time.

        • Reports from the provinces to the Senate were published in the Acta Diurna and we know Tacitus had access to and utilised archives of those documents. We don't know if the execution of some Galilean troublemaker at Passover was significant enough to warrant a mention or if Tacitus used any such report. I'm just noting the possibility. Incidentally, Richard Carrier has repeatedly claimed that any such records would have been destroyed in the Great Fire and so Tacitus couldn't have used them, which shows that Carrier, for all his bluster, isn't as well read in the sources as he thinks he is.

          That aside, I have never claimed that the Tacitean or even the Josephean mentions of Jesus are a "slam dunk" on their own. But they make up part of a confluence of evidence that all points in one direction: that the Christian sect was founded by a preacher who was called "Messiah" and who was crucified by Pontius Pilate. This is why so much of the Myther case is take up with contrived ways to try to make all this evidence go away and then triumphantly declare "there is no evidence!". This is why they aren't taken seriously by scholars or any objective analysts of history.

          • Max Driffill

            That seems reasonable to me.

      • MewCat100 .

        "We can't know where Tacitus got his information, but that's not unusual with ancient sources. But I note several solid reasons that his source was not mere "hearsay" and was not from what Christians themselves said but from a non-Christian source or sources. Rather than repeat myself, I'd invite you to re-read my arguments in this regard."

        So we can't know, but your reasons are "solid." This is confirmation bias at best. Then, later, you contradict yourself by saying that it is hearsay based on the fact that it is second-hand evidence. That is the definition of hearsay, so why would you assume anything different. It is why the evidence carries almost no weight. A person repeating something he heard is simply piecing together a story as best he can while not being in possession of all or even most of the facts. Tacitus may be spot on or he may be 1,000 miles off. We don't know and thus what he says is of almost NO value except to raise a few speculative thoughts.

        • "So we can't know, but your reasons are "solid.""

          If you're going to keep commenting on my stuff, I suggest you brush up your reading comprehension. We can't know what his sources are (because he doesn't tell us explicitly), but there are solid reasons to believe he did have sources and that he wasn't relying on mere hearsay. Understand this time?

          "This is confirmation bias at best."

          You keep using that term but give no indication you understand what it means. "Confirmation" of what, exactly? "Bias" toward what, exactly? What the hell are you talking about?

          "Then, later, you contradict yourself by saying that it is hearsay based on the fact that it is second-hand evidence."

          I say no such thing.

          "A person repeating something he heard is simply piecing together a story as best he can while not being in possession of all or even most of the facts."

          Firstly, how do you know Tacitus was "repeating something he heard"? Secondly, I give solid reasons to believe he was not doing this. Third, he himself scorns people who do this. Finally, if we can only accept eye-witness testimony and not information that may have been gleaned from sources, pretty much all ancient texts have to be thrown away and the study of ancient, medieval and most early modern history would need to be abandoned. Does that seem rational to you?

          Come back when you can read English and actually make some sense.

    • Joe Ser

      Catholics do not solely depend on the written. Tradition is also very important. So we see the oral and the written emerging together. This is what the Church preserves and transmits. The accuracy is taken very seriously since the stakes are so high.

      4 people are standing on 4 different corners and they witness an accident. Each sees the very same event from a different perspective. The each can add details the other didn't see. However, it is clear there was an accident.

      This is exactly what makes the Gospels so compelling.

      • Max Driffill

        Joe,

        4 people are standing on 4 different corners and they witness an accident. Each sees the very same event from a different perspective. The each can add details the other didn't see. However, it is clear there was an accident.

        I'm sorry that just doesn't work. It is unlikely that any of the Gospel authors knew Jesus were any kind of eye witness to the events. They often don't just offer different perspectives, but different and mutually exclusive accounts (see the Herod and Quirninius discussion on this thread for an example). The Gospels aren't exactly terribly compelling as actual history. What little history they offer must be teased out by clever scholars like Tim O'Neil.

        • Jim (hillclimber)

          Moreover, the contradictions don't just arise in difference between authors, but also in differences *within* authors.

          In the gospel of Luke we have the Ascension occurring on Easter Sunday night, whereas in Acts, *the very same author* recounts the Ascension occurring 40 days later. He must have been aware of his own contradiction, and he can't have thought no one would notice. He seems to have believed he was speaking about historical events, but it seems that he was much more interested in the way that narrative flow would move people to belief than he was with what we would consider accurate reportage.

          I don't know if a Christian ultimately needs to find this, in itself, to be especially troubling. I am still trying to decide if it troubles me. The contradictions indicate something about the genre of Gospel, but I'm still trying to sort out what that means about their ultimate truth content.

          • Max Driffill

            Jim,
            I think, it really ought to trouble you. Because it indicates that the writing is more about compelling beliefs vs reporting accurate history. The two accounts of the Ascension can't both be true. If the authors were interested in making narrative decisions that made for a better, more compelling, and convincing story, owing to missionary goals, then they cannot also be engaged in the act of trying to honestly report history. Atheist's have a term for this sort of communication, the phrase that describes it? Lying for Jesus.

          • Jim (hillclimber)

            I guess that's not so obvious to me.

            My church tells me to read scripture with an awareness of genre. What is the genre of a gospel? Clearly the gospels are not presented as pure fable, but I think we can also say that they were never intended as "actual history", as we understand it today. We know this latter fact because: 1. the literary genre of "actual history" hadn't been invented yet, and 2. we see them openly and shamelessly contradicting themselves, even while we have clear evidence that the evangelists were careful and talented writers.

            We probably don't have anything that corresponds exactly to the genre of "gospel" today, but as a rough approximation I think we could say that they were intended as "historical fiction". Is historical fiction "a lie"? I would say it is only a lie if it is presented as "actual history", and again, we know they weren't doing that. Historical fiction, at its best, can give you an even fuller experience of the truth than "actual history" can.

        • Joe Ser

          Matthew and John were both Apostles. Before Nero's death a copy of Matthews Gospel is taken to India. Before Herod Agrippa dies Matthew's composes his Hebrew Gospel and is also issued in Greek. Before 64AD, the burning of Rome Peter endorses Luke's Gospel by using it in a series of talks and Peter approves Mark's transcript. John writes his first twenty chapters. Before 66AD, the Jewish Rebellion in Palestine Mark issues his second larger edition of Peter's talks. Papias (about 130) records that Mark wrote down Peter’s words. Justin Martyr reports (161 – 165) that Apostles wrote Gospels. Prologues use Matthew-John-Luke-Mark sequence and report Peter’s approval of Mark’s Gospel.
          Clement of Alexandria states (about 200) that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were the first to be written.

          The early Church trumps the recent scholarship. (the teasing of clever scholars)

          • Max Driffill

            Joe,
            I don't think there is any compelling evidence for any of what you have stated. In any event, it doesn't amount to compelling evidence that the canonical gospels were composed by anyone who knew Jesus.

            And there is good reason for doubting any of them were. Given what we know about the average life expectancy of people in 1st Century Palestine. Assume that most of Jesus' pals were around his age, say a decade in either direction as our standard deviation and it is unlikely that any of them were alive to write the Gospels especially later ones like Matthew, Luke and especially John. The average life expectancy was between 20-30. If you calculate from age 10, that life expectancy could be bumped up to 45-47 (infant mortality in antiquity was quite high and pulls down the average). How likely is it that anyone of Jesus immediate circle would have been around to pen John some sixty or seventy years later (when they alleged authors were in their 20s, 30s, 40s at the time of the events)?
            Not very likely at all.

            Also, we cannot expect any of Jesus' people, working class, 1st century Jews to have been terribly literate, especially in the language in which the canonical Gospels were penned.

          • Joe Ser

            Indeed, most of the Apostles died at a younger age since they were martyred, precisely because they would not renounce Jesus, his works and sayings and the Resurrection.. Arguing life expectancy without being martyred is extremely weak.

            Apostolic authorship has been the longstanding understanding and teaching of the Church, never in question until a few hundred years ago. Proper scholarship takes it all into account, not just historical criticism. If you dig into the ECF's and the early writings you will see the above is true.

          • Max Driffill

            Joe,

            If the persecution of the Christians was as bad as you seem to think it was then this doesn't help your case any of Jesus' inner circle were likely to have written the documents. Instead of being weakening my reasoning you would actually strengthen it.

            Are you saying they would not have even made it to the average life expectancy? If so, that probably means that none of Jesus closest followers wrote any of the canonical Gospels.

            Here are the dates for the gospels (I use the dates the majority of scholars agree on).

            Mark 66-70 CE Matt 80-90 CE. Luke 80-100 CE John 90-100 CE

            Jesus died sometime around 30 CE. Looking soley at average life span it becomes increasingly unlikely that any of his inner circle were the authors of the canonical Gospels as we move toward John, They would likely have died before they could have penned the gospels. If you assume that his 12 favorites were around his age, spread from 20s to 40s (which seems reasonable) at year 66, you have spread of ages that trend too old for many of them to have survived into the periods required. 66 is roughly 32-36 years after the death of Jesus. If a person were 20 at the time they would be in their mid -50s when earliest date for gMark occurs. Being 55, would put one about a decade past the general life expectancy for some one in Palestine at the time. Not impossible, but not likely either (especially for older age classes of Jesus' crew), especially when you add stress. And stress you must add if you want to claim that the Jesus's followers met their ends even sooner owing to persecution. Extreme stress does not increase life expectancy, nether does being killed by persecutors.

            So far from being a weak point, The average life expectancy becomes a serious consideration. And that is just one point against authorship by Jesus' closest followers.

          • Joe Ser

            Your dates are wrong. The scholars that proposed these dates are mostly Protestant and came up with this stuff a few hundred years ago. The long standing Catholic dates are as I showed in my other post.

            Before 54 AD a copy of Matthew's Gospel taken to India.

          • Max Driffill

            Sorry Joe,
            Those are consensus dates among modern scholars. I would be willing to bet even most Catholic scholars would agree with those dates.

            The experts disagree with you. That is to say, people trained in the relevant languages and history disagree with you.

          • Joe Ser

            Consensus is not scientific. Consensus can be had and still be wrong. Admittedly there have been some Catholics who have been swayed. Pope BXVI a preeminent Biblical scholar has considered the historical critical method and has stated it has its place but does not tell the whole story. Scott Hahn on Benedict:

            "Why would students of the Bible establish, as a methodological
            principle, the necessity of deliberately excluding reference to the
            texts’ original and living "habitats" in the faith communities that gave
            rise to these texts and still regard them to be sacred and
            authoritative? A natural scientist, by comparison, would never presume
            to study an animal or plant without considering its surrounding
            environment or ecosystem. Yet this is precisely the modus operandi of "scientific" exegesis (83). "

            "He goes on to talk about the root of the problem--the underlying Enlightenment bias against faith, the supernatural and the miraculous. Hahn writes, "This puts historical critics in the position of having to explain away rather than to explicate the plain sense of many biblical texts, such as those of Christ walking on water, multiplying loaves and fishes, healing the sick, and raising persons from the dead" (84).

            "The fundamental question here is this: doesn't the bias against faith fly directly in the face of scholarship's attempt to be objective? The answer is, most assuredly it does."

          • Susan

            Consensus is not scientific.

            You're not familiar with scientific consensus?

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_consensus

          • Joe Ser

            The scientific consensus shunned J Harlen Bretz for over 50 years. Finally, just recently they accepted the catastrophic megaflood.

            BTW - I don't accept Wiki sources.

          • Max Driffill

            Consensus is scientific. The scientific enterprise, is by it's nature conservative and requires evidence to alter positions. There is nothing wrong with that. Consensus is not guaranteed to be correct. But it is a good gauge of the where the best data currently point.

          • Joe Ser

            Science by its own definition, a priori can say nothing about the supernatural. It cannot provide the entire picture. Being so provisional it has a fatal flaw.

          • Susan

            Science by its own definition, a priori can say nothing about the supernatural.

            What is "the supernatural"? How does it work? What does it mean? What can you say about it and how is what you say reliable?

          • Joe Ser

            Dictionary definition:

            1
            : of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe; especially : of or relating to God or a god, demigod, spirit, or devil
            2
            a : departing from what is usual or normal especially so as to appear to transcend the laws of nature b : attributed to an invisible agent (as a ghost or spirit)

          • Susan

            I know how to use a dictionary Joe. It doesn't answer any of my questions.

            How does it work? What does it mean? What can you say about it and how is what you say reliable?

          • Max Driffill

            That doesn't mean we could not test the effects of alleged supernatural processes.

          • Max Driffill

            I think history cannot deal with the supernatural, or miracle claims, especially deep history. But science can examine modern supernatural and paranormal claims more often than people think.

            Consider the following:

            Emily Rosa, aged 9 designed a test of Therapeutic Touch. She tested whether practitioners could really detect "human energy field" without touching them.

            She tested whether or not claimants could feel this HEF when they couldn't see the subject.

            Here design is pretty brilliant.

            "The study tested the ability of 21 TT practitioners to detect the HEF when they were not looking. Rosa asked each of the practitioners to sit at a table and extend their hands through a screen. On the other side of the screen, Rosa randomly selected which of the TT practitioner's hands she would hold her hand over. The TT practitioners were then asked which of their hands detected Rosa's HEF. Subjects were each given ten tries, but they correctly located Rosa's hand an average of only 4.4 times. Some subjects were asked before testing to examine Rosa's hands and select which of her hands they thought produced the strongest HEF. Rosa then used that hand during the experiment, but those subjects performed no better. The results showed that TT practitioners could not detect the hand more often than chance, and Rosa et al. therefore concluded that there was no empirical basis to the HEF and by extension therapeutic touch...

            For a longer look: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emily_Rosa,

            Or you could look at her paper:

            L Rosa, E Rosa, L Sarner, S Barrett (April 1, 1998). "A Close Look at Therapeutic Touch". Journal of the American Medical Association 279 (13): 1005–1010.

            So, I think its quite possible to study the supernatural.

          • Doug Shaver

            Science by its own definition, a priori can say nothing about the supernatural. . . . Being so provisional it has a fatal flaw.

            Science is provisional for a crucial reason: It acknowledges the fallibility of its practitioners. How is that a flaw? Where is the virtue in any presupposition of infallibility?

          • Joe Ser

            The flaw is that it changes. In addition, it is fallible by the fact humans reason it.

            Therefore it is more correct to state scientists currently believe.........(fill in blanks) but tomorrow that could change.

            Science though is not totally limited by human reasoning, there are yet discoveries to be made that may overturn much of what we believe today.

          • Doug Shaver

            The flaw is that it changes.

            So, people who wish to be flawless must never change their minds?

            Science though is not totally limited by human reasoning,

            What other reasoning does it have access to?

            there are yet discoveries to be made that may overturn much of what we believe today.

            If it is a flaw to change one's beliefs, then when those discoveries are made, we should ignore them, should we not?

          • Joe Ser

            Absolutely not, they have to change their views. That is not the point. Science changes is the point. We should be very careful when using science as an argument against God.

          • Doug Shaver

            I have not used science as an argument against God. I don't recall making any argument against God yet. I am questioning your assertion that the ability of science to change in response to new information is a flaw. I don't think it is a flaw. I think it is a virtue. Can you tell me why I should think otherwise?

          • Joe Ser

            You may have not, others do.

            I do not call science changing with data a flaw, I submit science cannot be used against God as it is always changing. That is the fatal flaw. Is this clear?

          • Doug Shaver

            No, it is not clear. At this point, I have no idea what you mean.

          • Michael Murray

            But you have to be clear about how science changes. Usually the change is clarification and new detail which makes minor adjustments to old theories or expands their scope. The planets did not all start to move differently when relativity theory replaced Newtonian mechanics. Newtonian gravity remained a remarkably accurate description of how gravity works in the part of the universe it had always been applied to.

            Science is very, very, very unlikely to suddenly produce a giant gap and say "oh look we can put God in there".

            Sean Carroll has a great description here

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vrs-Azp0i3k

            of what we know about fundamental physics that is very, very, very unlikely to change. This includes the physics of how the brain works and therefore we can be quite confident that humans don't have souls.

          • Joe Ser

            Correct. Consider though, there will always be at least one gap otherwise we would be God.

          • Michael Murray

            Consider though, there will always be at least one gap otherwise we would be God.

            I don't see that at all. I can well envisage a time when we understand all fundamental physics (if that turns out to be possible). There is no real reason why the earth might not have formed hundreds of millions of years earlier so we could be hundreds of millions of years older than we are. That's a lot of time for doing science!

            Of course there will always be things we don't understand as deducing the behaviour of complicated things from the basic physics is hard.

            The distinguishing feature of Gods from my perspective is their ability to manipulate the universe not just understand it. God is supposed to be able to create the whole shebang and then intervene in parts of it whenever He likes.

            Not that I believe in such an entity of course.

          • Joe Ser

            Of course not. lol Everything came from nothing is safer.

          • Michael Murray

            Personally I don't know where everything came from.

          • Joe Ser

            Agnostic?

          • Michael Murray

            Why would that make me agnostic? I am atheist = holds no beliefs in gods. Of course I don't need to have a reason to hold no beliefs in gods but in my case I do which is complete lack of evidence for gods.

          • Joe Ser

            Interesting article today - excerpted from The Universe: Leading Scientists Explore the Origin, Mysteries, and Future of the Cosmos.

            ...
            "In my field, fundamental theoretical physics, for thirty years we have
            failed. There hasn’t been a major success in theoretical physics in the
            last few decades after the standard model, somehow. Of course there are
            ideas. These ideas might turn out to be right. Loop quantum gravity
            might turn out to be right, or not. String theory might turn out to be
            right, or not. But we don’t know, and for the moment Nature has not said
            yes, in any sense."

            and

            "Science is not about certainty. Science is about finding
            the most reliable way of thinking at the present level of knowledge.
            Science is extremely reliable; it’s not certain. In fact, not only is it
            not certain, but it’s the lack of certainty that grounds it. Scientific
            ideas are credible not because they are sure but because they’re the
            ones that have survived all the possible past critiques, and they’re the
            most credible because they were put on the table for everybody’s
            criticism.
            The very expression “scientifically proven” is a contradiction in terms. There’s nothing that is scientifically proven"

            http://www.newrepublic.com/article/118655/theoretical-phyisicist-explains-why-science-not-about-certainty

          • Max Driffill

            Also, it didn't shun him, His hypothesis for the formation was published in a reputable journal twice (1923 and 1925). Some other authorities just didn't think he was correct.
            The data won out and his hypothesis was confirmed.

          • Joe Ser

            "Soennichsen is the leading expert on the history of J. Harlen Bretz. He
            recounted that in 1923, when Bretz introduced the idea of a cataclysmic
            flood carving out the scablands, he was shunned like a scientific
            heretic." http://www.turnbull-lichens.us/?p=197

          • Susan

            This is fairly standard in science. As the evidence accumulated, they became convinced.

            Evidence. It's a lovely thing.

          • Joe Ser

            Exactly.

          • Max Driffill

            Despite the fact that he kept his university position and continued to work? Yeah. sure.

          • Max Driffill

            I'm sorry, noting a consensus is a reasonable thing to do. It doesn't mean the consensus is automatically correct, but one must wonder why a majority of researchers on a particular topic agree. Consensus doesn't mean that research ought to stop, but if you find yourself in the minority opinion, it might help to examine that situation.

            If you are not an expert, as I am not, and you are not, It pays to really attend to the consensus. It may be wrong, but the majority of workers in the field, the people who look at the evidence, understand the history and languages, tend to agree, and do so across ideological divides. That is a good reason to not scoff at a broad academic consensus.

          • Joe Ser

            This excerpt is from the Pope’s recent book Light of the World.
            It begins with a question by Peter Seewald which articulates many of the concerns I just expressed and then there is the Pope’s answer.

            SEEWALD: The historical-critical method had its merits, but it also led fatefully to an erroneous development. Its attempt to “demythologize” the Bible produced a terrible superficiality and a blindness toward the deeper layers and profound message of Scripture. What is more, looking back, we realize that the alleged facts cited for the last two hundred years by the skeptics intent on relativizing pretty much every statement of the Bible were in many cases nothing more than mere hypotheses. Shouldn’t we
            be much clearer then we have been that the exegetes have to some extent been practicing a pseudo-science whose operative principle is not Christian, but an antiChristian animus, and that it has led millions of people astray?

            POPE BENEDICT: I wouldn’t subscribe to so harsh a judgment. The application of the historical method to the Bible as a historical text was a path that had to be taken. If we believe that Christ is real history, and not myth, then the testimony concerning him has to be historically accessible as well. In this sense, the historical method has also given us many gifts.
            It has brought us back closer to the text and its originality, it has shown us more precisely how it grew, and much more besides. The historical-critical method will always remain one dimension of interpretation. Vatican II made this clear. On the one hand, it presents the essential elements of the historical method as a necessary part of access to the Bible. At the same time, though, it adds that the Bible
            has to be read in the same Spirit in which it was written. It has to be read in its wholeness, in its unity. And that can be done only when we approach it as a book of the People of God progressively advancing toward Christ. What is needed is not simply a break with the historical
            method, but a self-critique of the historical method; a self-critique of historical reason that takes cognizance of its limits and recognizes the compatibility of a type of knowledge that derives from faith; in short, we need a synthesis between an exegesis that operates with
            historical reason and an exegesis that is guided by faith. We have to bring the two things into a proper relationship to each other. That is also a requirement of the basic relationship between faith and reason.

          • "Your dates are wrong."

            Total nonsense - they are the accepted dates used by the overwhelming majority of scholars, including Catholics.

            "Before 54 AD a copy of Matthew's Gospel taken to India."

            Care to back that fantasy claim up with some actual evidence? Give that a try.

          • Joe Ser

            We can start here about St Thomas going to India. (with references)

            http://www.ewtn.com/library/homelibr/kerala.txt

          • Max Driffill

            Just skimming, I can find no passage in your link that indicates he was working from any specific gospel.

            EDIT (Further note) All it says is that "He proclaimed the Gospel." Which, and I think the text clearly implies this, means only that he was teaching Christian doctrine.

          • Joe Ser

            The people of India hold that St Thomas was the first to bring the Gospel to Inida. Then we have Papias - Papias, wrote that "Matthew wrote down the sayings in Hebrew and each translated it as he was able", (Eusebius, H.E. [the History of the Church], 3.39; cf. 3.24).

            "Matthew published a written gospel for the Hebrews in their own tongue, while Peter and Paul were preaching the
            gospel in Rome and founding the church there. After their passing, Mark also, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, transmitted to us in writing the things preached by Peter. Luke ... . Lastly, John ..."
            (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.1.2; cf. Eusebius, H.E., 5.8)

            Saint Pantaneus had traveled to India later and found that St Bartholomew had gone there before and left a copy of Matthews gospel in Hebrew characters. (which was Aramaic - my quotes)

            The Ethiopians claim the oldest Aramaic Bible. St Philip took the Gospel there in 34AD, fulfilling the prophecy of "Ethiopia will quickly stretch out her hands to God" (Act. 8:36; Ps. 68:31) Irenaeus also writes that he preached the Gospel to the Ethiopians. Tradition further records that the apostle Matthew preached the Gospel to Ethiopians. The two church historians, Socrats and Rufinus support this tradition.

            For Matthew, who had at first preached to the Hebrews, when he was about to go to other peoples, committed his Gospel to writing in his native tongue, and thus compensated those whom he was obliged to leave for the loss of his presence. Bishop Eusebius, Church History, 3.24.6

            Among the four Gospels, which are the only indisputable ones in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that the first was written by Matthew, who
            was once a publican, but afterwards an Apostle of Jesus Christ, and it was prepared for the converts from Judaism, and published in the Hebrew language.
            The second was that of Mark, who composed it under Peter's guidance. ... The third, the Gospel which was praised by Paul, was that of Luke, written for gentile converts. Last of all, there is that of John. Bishop Eusebius quoting Origen (185-253/54), head of the Catholic Catechetical School in Alexandria, Egypt, from the first of his books on the Gospel of Matthew, Church History, 6.25.4

            According to the ECF Matthew preached orally and then committed it to writing while Claudius was emperor. He died in 54AD. The dating of Matthew is between 41 and 50AD.

            There is an Aramaic translation project going on that has fragments. This gospel which was personally handed to The Church of the East by The Apostles themselves, in the ancient City of Edessa, in the 1st century. The Orthodox church claims Matthew was written in Aramaic Hebrew and completed before he traveled to Ethiopia.

          • Max Driffill

            Joe,

            You are reciting faith claims. That is fine, but they don't appear to be supported by evidence. As Tim has noted, most Catholic scholars don't disagree with the consensus dates I've offered for the gospels. There is appears to be no sound, evidence that corroborates any of what you are saying. You have church traditions that say X about the gospels. Traditions are not the same as actual, sound, historical evidence.

            The people of India hold that St Thomas was the first to bring the Gospel to Inida. Then we have Papias - Papias, wrote that "Matthew wrote down the sayings in Hebrew and each translated it as he was able", (Eusebius, H.E. [the History of the Church], 3.39; cf. 3.24).

            The link you provided earlier admits there is really not much evidence other than local tradition that it was Thomas who was there. And it makes absolutely no mention that he brought the Gospel of Matthew to India with him.

            Besides the affirmations of people living long after (Ireneus for instance was not born until 130) what evidence do you have that Matthew was the first Gospel?

          • Joe Ser

            The writings you disregard? They are historical, the kind of evidence you would want.

            Bartholomew took Matthews Gospel to India. St Thomas took the oral gospel there first. If I remember correctly, there is also a church built on the site.

            First off, because the ECF's across the board put it this way. Matthew, Luke, Mark and John. St Jerome (later) put it Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

            You are easily discounting the early belief and evidence as being unreliable, but stand behind literary criticism? Really?

            Kali year 3153 (52 AD) the foreigner Thomas Sanyasi came to our village (gramam) preached there and therby causing...Kurikilamkatt 2005, pp. 173, 183

            The Origins of Christian Society in Ancient India - http://digitalcommons.uconn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1283&context=srhonors_theses

          • Max Driffill

            The writings you disregard? They are historical, the kind of evidence you would want.

            I haven't. I will leave it to others to tease out whether or not Thomas went to India and started a church (Tim seems skeptical).. All I am saying, is that none of the evidence you have presented, indicates that he took with him the gospel of Matthew. The majority of the historians of this period (who do vastly more than literary criticism by the way) have looked at the evidence, even the information you think is so persuasive and still found that the dates for the canonical gospels are not what you think they are.

          • Joe Ser

            We can give it more time. Early Gospels have always been the tradition and in the writings of the Church, so I feel comfortable the modernist scholars will see it eventually.

          • Max Driffill

            Joe,
            If more evidence comes in sure, we can always adjust our positions. At present though, it doesn't appear that gMatthew was penned until much later, between 80-90.

          • David Nickol

            Even the old online Catholic Encyclopedia is very skeptical about the historical reliability of stories about the Thomas. After the initial paragraph of the entry for St. Thomas the Apostle, which is based entirely on the Gospels, the entry continues:

            This exhausts all our certain knowledge regarding the Apostle but his name is the starting point of a considerable apocryphal literature, and there are also certain historical data which suggest that some of this apocryphal material may contains germs of truth.

            Later in the entry, we have the following:

            On the other hand, though the tradition that St. Thomas preached in "India" was widely spread in both East and West and is to be found in such writers as Ephraem Syrus, Ambrose, Paulinus, Jerome, and, later Gregory of Tours and others, still it is difficult to discover any adequate support for the long-accepted belief that St. Thomas pushed his missionary journeys as far south as Mylapore, not far from Madras, and there suffered martyrdom.

            In Catholicism, Tradition with a capital T is very important, but what you are citing here is tradition with a lowercase t which is not, per se, a part of Catholic faith.

          • Joe Ser

            Agree T and t are different.

            Mylapore is way down in India. So is Madras and on the East Side. Kerala is on the west side. The St Thomas Christians claim he was buried at Mylapore and then moved to Edessa.

            The Colors of India

            St Thomas Church at Palyar in Trichur, Kerala is
            considered to be the oldest church in India. In 52 A.D. Thomas Didaemus,
            one of the 12 apostles of Jesus Christ. is believed to have landed at
            Musiris (Cranganore) in Kerala. He made his first converts both Jews and
            Hindus at Palayur a town now in Trichur district, Kerala. There he built
            a small church with an altar, which he consecrated. The Palayur church
            still stands at the same site and is the oldest church in India. In the
            17th century Reverend Fenichi enclosed the original church with a new
            outer building, as the wooden walls of the old church were destroyed
            with time. But the original altar consecrated by St. Thomas still
            remains at this site.- http://www.thecolorsofindia.com/interesting-facts/culture/oldest-church-in-india.html

            Orthodox Wiki (ahhh, I know I said I don't like Wiki) - The Indian Orthodox Church (also known as the Malankara Orthodox Church, Orthodox Church of the East, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (MOSC), Orthodox Syrian Church of the East), is a prominent member of the Oriental Orthodox Church family. The Church traces her origins to Thomas the Apostle, who came to India in AD 52, established the Church and suffered martyrdom. - http://orthodoxwiki.org/Church_of_India

            The Basilica of the National Shrine of St.Thomas Chennai India is only one of three churches built over the bones of an apostle. His relics are there.

            Piece of a hand Bone of St. Thomas which touched the wound of Jesus, it was brought from Edessa and preserved in the Milapore St. Thomas Museum

            http://www.santhomechurch.com/index.php/relics-of-st-thomas

            Side Note: St Thomas is the patron saint for people in doubt, very fitting. :)

          • David Nickol

            Side Note: St Thomas is the patron saint for people in doubt, very fitting. :)

            The Catholic faith asserts nothing about Thomas the Apostle other than what is in the Gospels. No tradition (small t) having to do with the alleged travels of Thomas is a part of the Catholic faith. I don't understand why some Catholics seem to think if themselves as superior in faith to others because they believe, for example, that John the Apostle wrote the Fourth Gospel. These things are not a matter of dogma or doctrine.

          • Joe Ser

            The Pope went to venerate the burial place of St Thomas in India.

          • David Nickol

            The Pope went to venerate the burial place of St Thomas in India.

            That in no way indicates it is a tenet of the Catholic faith that St. Thomas is actually buried there.

          • Max Driffill

            Fascinating as that is (which pope? when? citation?) it does not constitute evidence that Thomas was there.

          • Joe Ser

            Pope JPII in 1986 and 1999. In 1956, Pope Pius XII raised the Cathedral Church of the Archdiocese of Madras-Mylapore to the dignity and rank of Minor Basilica.

            ADDRESS OF JOHN PAUL II ON OCCASION OF THE VISIT TO THE CATHEDRAL BASILICA OF SAINT THOMAS THE APOSTLE

            Madras (India)
            Wednesday,
            5 February 1986

            Dear Archbishop Arulappa,
            Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

            It is an honour and special grace for me to come to the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Thomas the Apostle here in Madras. As so many pilgrims before me have done, I too come to venerate the Tomb of the Apostle to India. This holy place speaks of the history of the Church in this beloved land. It calls to mind, not only Saint Thomas and his martyrdom, but all the others after him who have dedicated their lives to the preaching of the Gospel, all those who have borne witness to Christ both in word and in deed.

            I pray that our faith will be strong like theirs, and that our love for Christ may inspire us to love and serve our neighbour. With joy in our hearts, let us praise God who, through Saint Thomas, has communicated the Good News of salvation in Christ Jesus our Lord. - http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/speeches/1986/february/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_19860205_s-tommaso-apostolo_en.html

            In 1606, Pope Paul V, in elevating San Thome of Mylapore to a cathedral, declared that "there lay buried the body of St. Thomas." Pope Leo XIII in his apostolic letter of September 1886 to the Bishops of India reiterates "the constant tradition of the church" that St. Thomas evangelized in India.

            "In 1122, Mar John III, Metropolitan designated Patriarch of India, with his suffragens went to Constantinople, and thence to Rome, and received the pallium from Pope Callixtus II. He also narrated to the Pope and the Cardinals the miracles that were wrought at the tomb of St. Thomas at Mylapore.[34] About the year 1142, the
            historian Odorichus Vitaleus recorded about the See of St. Thomas in Malabar and about the unbroken Catholic faith of the St. Thomas Christians.[36] The Venetian traveller Marco Polo in 1293 visited Quilon, then an important center of Christianity, and Mylapore "where lay buried the body of St. Thomas."[35] John of Monte
            Corvino, the Papal Legate to China, stayed in Kerala for several months in 1291. From China he wrote to Rome in 1305 that he saw the church of St. Thomas in Kerala and that the St. Thomas Christians were persecuted. Odorie of Pordenone in 1325 saw in Kerala numerous Christian families and their churches decorated with holy statues."

            The history of this site means it is obviously very important and establishes the long held position.

          • Max Driffill

            The length of a position is not necessarily indicative of its correctness. No, no. Neither would Thomas being in India be evidence for you that he had with him the Gospel of Matthew.

            In any event the details of Thomas traditions have evolved over the centuries it seems. Most of the traditions has its roots in the non-canonocial Acts of Thomas, a gnostic tradition. To historians, the details of his death must be unknown. The idea of his martyrdom doesn't seem to arise until the 16th century. Marco Polo thought Thomas died accidentally and still other think he died of natural causes. And still we have no account mentioning that he had with him a copy of the Gospel of Matthew.

          • Joe Ser

            My claim was Bartholomew left the written copy of Matthew, not Thomas. Thomas preached the Gospel.

          • Joe Ser

            Would St Paul's travels be considered part of the Catholic faith? St Peter's? St James?

          • "The people of India hold that St Thomas was the first to bring the Gospel to Inida."

            Yes, and for centuries the people of Britain believed that Joseph of Arimathea went to Glastonbury and planted a magic tree. That doesn't mean it happened. We have a plethora of these later traditions, many of them completely contradictory and almost all of them fanciful.

            "Papias, wrote that "Matthew wrote down the sayings in Hebrew"

            And modern analysis shows that if that happened then the modern "Gosple of Matthew" is not that work - it was written in Greek and shows no sign of having been translated from Hebrew or Aramaic.

            If that's your "evidence" then it's pathetic. We'll be sticking to the consensus dates thanks.

          • stevegbrown

            Hello, I'm sure that you have heard of John A. T. Robinson's book "Re-dating the New Testament"? He points out that it is quite odd that none of the gospels mention the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Something so momentous not mentioned, strongly suggests that the books were written before the event.
            I know, I know. It was a minority position back in 1976 when it was published. But it is gaining ground again. So consensi are not cast in stone.
            The discovery of a fragment of St Mark's Gospel in cave 7 of
            Qumran has brought possible dating at 50.
            What are your thoughts Tim? Thanks for the article..

        • Nick_from_Detroit

          Sorry, but not true. Saints Matthew and John were members of the Twelve Apostles, ergo, eyewitnesses. There are NO contradictions in any of the four Gospels, and they are historically accurate.

      • Doug Shaver

        We do not have four people all saying, "I was there and I saw what happened." We have four stories that church officials tell us were written by people who were there and saw what happened.

      • An unknown number of people claim to have stood on four different corners and they claim to have witnessed an accident. One person who remains anonymous writes down what he saw of the accident. Then, another person using a false name writes down what *he* supposedly saw, liberally stealing from the first anonymous person's report. We have no reason to suspect this second person knew anything about the accident first hand. He just calls himself "Mark". Then, a second person using a false name ("Matthew") copies bits of the first two documents and adds some other details which he supposedly saw. Then, A THIRD PERSON (who may or may not be "Luke") writes down what happened at the accident, borrowing heavily from what anonymous an pseudonymous witnesses wrote. He claims to be a historian, but he has an ax to grind, and he employs lot of questionable tactics (such as quoting pseudonymous and anonymous sources without really doing any fact-checking). Finally, one last "witness" steps forth. He also uses a false name ("John") and writes a lot of new material about the accident.

        All the accounts of the accident claim that angels appeared, food appeared from nowhere, and dead people jumped back up alive again.

        After many thousands of people have bought into this accident with angels and resurrections and gasoline from the automobiles changing into wine--and after several decades pass--serious historians begin to inquire about what actually happened.

        What can we say about *that* accident?

        • Joe Ser

          An accident did happen.

          Your scenario is not the same.

          Matthew and John were both witnesses.
          Luke was a physician and wrote down what Mary told Him. He was also a companion of Paul. He also interviewed the Apostle's. He was a Gentile.
          Mark was a disciple of Peter and recorded the talks Peter gave. 500 or so saw Him alive after the Resurrection.

          The point of the 4 people on the corner was to show that each person will provide details and perspective that another may have not. What gives the Gospel's credibility is this very fact.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    I found this to be a very fascinating essay (as much as I hate the charge that the Gospel writers made things up to fit their conception of Christ). Thanks, Tim O'Neill!

    • I don't look at it as a charge so much as a possibility. We are not yet at the point where we say scripture is inspired. That comes later with the establishment of the authority of the church. At this point we have to consider the case where the gospel writers were just making it up.

      I know Tim is an atheist but I have to say again his arguments sound very much like the ones Christians make. Like pointing out that women were the first witness of the resurrection. If they were going to make stuff up then why make up problematic data? Often Christians argue that way and atheists sneer at it. It is good to see that kind of reasoning being validated by an atheist even though he does not take it as far.

      • Max Driffill

        He doesn't take it as far because the evidence, when looked at squarely, doesn't permit it.

  • Great piece. It is important to note that the strongest argument here relies on the portions of the Gospels being fabricated. If you accept that the nativity story is true, that God needed to be baptized by a human and that god being sacrificed as a substitutional atonement make perfectly good sense, you lose the strongest argument that Jesus ever existed.

    • jakael02

      Good point. I don't post often, but I read these posts often, and you always seem to have a good intellect about this stuff.

      The alternative is that the Gospels are not fabricated, but the historical-critical method results in contradictions due to the lack of historical information that we have to form conclusions. We are dealing with only a fraction of what survived I believe.

    • Kevin Aldrich

      It is important to note that the strongest argument here relies on the portions of the Gospels being fabricated.

      Well, there is still the external evidence of Josephus and Tacitus, which seems pretty strong.

      But I don't think the core argument needs to assume fabricated portions of the Gospels to work (though I'm no NT scholar). The core of this type of argument, I think, is that the Gospel writers included details that would not seem to make sense if they were making them up much later to make the Gospel as plausible and attractive as possible to their contemporary audiences.

      • Josephus and Tacitus are evidence that there were Christians, not that there was a Christ.

        • Kevin Aldrich

          That is not borne out by O'Neill's discussion above.

          • It is borne out by their writings themselves. They were both born after Jesus died. They are writing on the basis of heresay.

            But I don't deny the historical Jesus any more than Homer or Socrates.

            But like Josephus and Tacitus, I am not convinced he was a god.

          • "They are writing on the basis of heresay."

            I deal with that claim in my article. Though if by "hearsay" you mean their accounts aren't first hand, then that is pretty weak. Almost all of our ancient sources aren't first hand and some are written centuries later - Arrian wrote 600 years after Alexander's death yet he is our main source for his campaigns. To dismiss an ancient account on these grounds is absurd.

        • Wrong. Both clearly refer to a historical person who was the founder of the Christian sect and set him in a specific and quite recent historical context.

          • Doug Shaver

            Both clearly refer to a historical person who was the founder of the Christian sect and set him in a specific and quite recent historical context.

            Whether they constitute strong evidence of that person's existence depends on what or who their sources were.

    • Jim (hillclimber)

      I don't see it that way.

      From a theological perspective, I don't see it as problematic to say that the first Christians were confused and embarrassed by the revealed nature of God. For all our subsequent 2000 years of theology, we are still sometimes confused and embarrassed by the revealed nature of God.

      Back then, they were embarrassed by the crucifixion. These days some Christians are embarrassed by deep time and space and our seemingly inconsequential station in the universe. Just because these things were, or are, embarrassing doesn't mean that they are not revelations of God.

    • Joe Ser

      The Baptism is actually done by the Holy Spirit as recorded. I addition, Jesus was setting an example. John always preached "one greater than he would be coming". Matthew records it this way:

      13 *Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to the Jordan, unto John, to be baptized by him.

      14 But John stayed him, saying, I ought to be baptized by thee, and comest thou to me?

      15 And Jesus answering said to him: Suffer it now: for so it becometh us
      to fulfil all justice. Then he suffered him.

      16
      And Jesus being baptized, went up presently out of the water: and
      behold the heavens were opened to him: and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon him,

      17 *And behold a voice from heaven, saying: This is my beloved son, in
      whom I am well pleased.

      • David Nickol

        The Baptism is actually done by the Holy Spirit as recorded.

        Are you saying that in Matthew's account of the baptism of Jesus, it is not John the Baptist, but the Holy Spirit who baptizes Jesus?

        What would be the effect, meaning, or point of one person of the trinity baptizing another?

        • Joe Ser

          The Gospel speaks for itself. The Catechism:

          The baptism of Jesus

          535 Jesus' public life begins with his baptism by John in the Jordan.228 John preaches "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins".229 A crowd of sinners230
          - tax collectors and soldiers, Pharisees and Sadducees, and
          prostitutes- come to be baptized by him. "Then Jesus appears." The
          Baptist hesitates, but Jesus insists and receives baptism. Then the Holy
          Spirit, in the form of a dove, comes upon Jesus and a voice from heaven
          proclaims, "This is my beloved Son."231 This is the manifestation ("Epiphany") of Jesus as Messiah of Israel and Son of God.

          536
          The baptism of Jesus is on his part the acceptance and inauguration of
          his mission as God's suffering Servant. He allows himself to be numbered
          among sinners; he is already "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin
          of the world".232 Already he is anticipating the "baptism" of his bloody death.233
          Already he is coming to "fulfill all righteousness", that is, he is
          submitting himself entirely to his Father's will: out of love he
          consents to this baptism of death for the remission of our sins.234 The Father's voice responds to the Son's acceptance, proclaiming his entire delight in his Son.235 The Spirit whom Jesus possessed in fullness from his conception comes to "rest on him".236 Jesus will be the source of the Spirit for all mankind. At his baptism "the heavens were opened"237
          - the heavens that Adam's sin had closed - and the waters were
          sanctified by the descent of Jesus and the Spirit, a prelude to the new
          creation.

          537
          Through Baptism the Christian is sacramentally assimilated to Jesus,
          who in his own baptism anticipates his death and resurrection. The
          Christian must enter into this mystery of humble self-abasement and
          repentance, go down into the water with Jesus in order to rise with him,
          be reborn of water and the Spirit so as to become the Father's beloved
          son in the Son and "walk in newness of life":238

          • David Nickol

            The Gospel speaks for itself.

            I agree, although I would say the Gospels speak for themselves. In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist. In the Gospel of John, there is no account of Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist.

          • Joe Ser

            You don't see it in John?

            28 These things were done in Bethania beyond the Jordan, where John was
            baptizing.

            29 The next day John saw Jesus coming to him, and he saith: Behold the
            lamb of God, behold him who taketh away the sins of the world.

            30 This is he of whom I said: After me cometh a man, who is preferred before
            me, because he was before me.

            31 And I knew him not, but that he may be made manifest in Israel, therefore
            am I come baptizing with water.

            32 And John gave testimony, saying: *I saw the Spirit coming down as a
            dove from heaven, and he remained upon him.

            33
            And I knew him not; but he, who sent me to baptize with water, said
            to me: He upon whom thoiu shalt see
            the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, he it is that baptizeth
            with the Holy Ghost.

            34 And I saw: and I gave testimony, that this is the Son of God.

            35 Again, the following day, John stood, and two of his disciples.

            36 And looking upon Jesus, walking, he saith: Behold the lamb of God.

            37 And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.

          • David Nickol

            You don't see it in John?

            No. These verses from the Gospel of John do not say John the Baptist baptized Jesus, nor is there an account anywhere else in the Gospel of John that depicts John the Baptist baptizing Jesus.

          • Joe Ser

            John was not into repeating events that everyone already knew. He was bringing out the deeper meaning.

          • David Nickol

            John was not into repeating events that everyone already knew.

            What is your evince for this? What is your evidence that the audience "John" the Evangelist wrote for already knew what was in the other Gospels? And how do you account for the serious discrepancies between the synoptics and John's Gospel regarding the timing of the Cleansing of the Temple and the Last Supper?

          • Doug Shaver

            John was not into repeating events that everyone already knew.

            Then why did he describe the crucifixion and resurrection?

          • Joe Ser

            In general. However, the crucifixion and resurrection were two very very important events.

          • Doug Shaver

            However, the crucifixion and resurrection were two very very important events.

            That would explain why his readers already knew about them. It would not explain why he had to tell them again.

          • Joe Ser

            It is common for authors to include pivotal or foundational events.

          • Doug Shaver

            And the Eucharist was not such an event?

          • Max Driffill

            I think the text of John is slightly ambiguous, though may not be in Greek. But it could be saying that John Baptized Jesus, or it could be that John is simply meeting the person, for him has been baptizing, the person who baptizes everyone with the Holy Spirit. It could also be describing, quite poorly, the act of John baptizing Jesus.

          • Joe Ser

            The Apostles too were confused and uncertain about Jesus. Peter denied Him, they ran and hid behind locked doors in fear.

            The SAB is refuted in the SAB refuted.

          • Max Driffill

            The SAB is a wonderful dissection, and formed the basis for the Scripture Project at Sam Harris' Project Reason.

            Addendum: I have several friends who were seminarians who have said they wished they had the SAB when they were in Seminary.

          • Joe Ser
          • Max Driffill

            That wasn't a refutation. That was an, "I don't agree with what they are doing over there at SAB."

            No citations either for its major charges. The author does nothing to refute the exposure of glaring inconsistencies. Also, there is this bizarre claim about social customs and norms explaining behavior of early Christians and of course Old Testament customs. Social customs oughtn't be used to explain away atrocities by people who are alleged to be speaking to or directly for the author of the Universe. This is a terrible counter point and one that exposes rich problems of theology. We are told, and repeatedly that the God of Abraham is a 3 O god, omnipotent, omnipresent and omnibenevolent. And yet the behavior of characters through out the bible, who are in contact with this character behave in the most awful ways. To tell me that that God had to work within the social context of the times indicates that he could neither be all powerful, or all knowing. If he is those things, then he is unlikely in the extreme to be omnibenevolent.
            SAB? Hardly refuted by the link you provided.

            Furthermore, The SAB project is simply about thinking critically about the bible (and now the project has extended to the Quran and The book of Mormon).

          • Joe Ser

            It is fine to think critically. Maybe you have already done so, but I suggest a solid Study Bible and commentary. Resting your entire argument on the SAB excludes way too much..

          • Susan

            Resting your entire argument on the SAB excludes way too much..

            That would be a useful point if Max rested his entire argument on the SAB. Of course, he doesn't.

          • Max Driffill

            I have read the bible, and thought critically about it prior to discovering the SAB. I use it now mostly as a reference.

          • Joe Ser

            The additional tools are the commentaries which set the context, give useful explanations and the constant understanding by the Church. Then we can add the ECF's, the writings of the Pope's and Magisterial documents over time.

          • Susan

            The additional tools are the commentaries which set the context, give useful explanations and the constant understanding by the Church

            Specifically, what context do these commentaries set? How do we know they are reliable?

            the constant understanding by the Church

            What sort of "understanding" by your church? What do you mean specifically?

          • Joe Ser

            You can investigate these historical writings yourself. Go through them and contrast them with the modernist version.

            We have been debating here the Evidence for Jesus.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    I don't see why we have to assume the author of Mark saw Jesus as being a normal man in need of redemption before his baptism. Theologians have though of plenty of good reasons why Jesus wanted to be baptized by John the Baptist, so I don't think we need to think what O'Neill says about Matthew's comment. John the Evangelist could have omitted mentioning the baptism of Jesus for a host of reason unrelated to Jesus' preexistence.

    • What do Catholics believe baptism does?

      • Kevin Aldrich

        We believe that John's baptism was symbolic, signifying the person was repentant of his sins and wanted to be forgiven. We believe that the baptism Jesus instituted really does forgive sins and gives the baptized supernatural grace, a share in God's own life.

        • David Nickol

          When did "symbolic" baptism become real (Christian) baptism. If I remember what I have read correctly, there is no evidence in the Gospels that Jesus personally baptized anyone, and yet he told his disciples to baptize people. Were the people baptized by the disciples of Jesus during the earthly ministry of Jesus "symbolically" baptized or truly baptized?

          • The baptism was real. It was just not sacramental. The Baptisms became sacramental when the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost (this Sunday BTW). See Acts 19:1-7.

          • David Nickol

            Yes, but followers of Jesus were baptized during his earthly ministry by the disciples. Was it necessary for them to be "sacramentally" baptized after Pentecost?

            Did the Apostles themselves get baptized after Pentecost? If there was no sacramental baptism before Pentecost, then they could not have been sacramentally baptized.

    • David Nickol

      Theologians have though of plenty of good reasons . . . . John the Evangelist could have omitted mentioning the baptism of Jesus for a host of reason . . . .

      There is something about this line of argument that bothers me, particularly when it involves scripture. I am not quite sure how to express this, but for scriptural arguments, the more explanations you can come up with for a given inclusion or omission, the less persuasive any one of them is, and the less significant the question begins to appear. If you believe scripture is the inspired word of God, then there should be clear reasons for what is in it and what is not in it. So in a sense, saying there could be any number of reasons why John doesn't mention the baptism of Jesus is just waving the issue away, not answering it. The really big question for me is why there is no description of Jesus instituting the Eucharist in the Gospel of John.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        An answer to why John did not mention Jesus' baptism or the institution of the Eucharist in his Gospel is that other writers had already done that. John was shedding other kinds of light on the meaning of Christ's life.

        • David Nickol

          It does not strike me as a satisfactory answer. John's gospel is significantly different from the synoptics, yet it is still a gospel. Perhaps the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist was not all that important. But the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper provides the basis for Christian liturgy and the Mass. It seems to me it is such a foundational event that it is difficult to imagine John the Evangelist saying to himself, " Well, other people have told that story. I don't need to repeat it."

          Also, is there any indication that John wrote his Gospel with the assumption that his readers would be familiar with one or more of the synoptics?

          • "Also, is there any indication that John wrote his Gospel with the
            assumption that his readers would be familiar with one or more of the
            synoptics?"

            Given that there is no evidence the writer of gJohn himself made any use of the synoptics and may not have ever read them or even known they existed, this is unlikely.

          • fredx2

            This is what gets me about a lot of this scholarship.Since when is absence of evidence reason to believe something happened? ("Something" being "John was not aware of the existence of the synoptics".)

            It seems to me that if there is no evidence of something, then it could go either way. We don't know. To infer that he was unaware seems too great a leap to make.

          • David Nickol

            But Tim O'Neill did not draw a definite conclusion. ("Given that there is no evidence . . . may not . . . this is unlikely.") And the argument that is being dealt with is that John left many things (including such important things as the institution of the eucharist) out of his Gospel because he knew they had already been written about. But even if there is no evidence that he wasn't aware of the synoptics, there is no evidence that he was. No evidence is no evidence. If it is illegitimate to conclude that John was either aware nor unaware of the synoptics, an alleged awareness of the synoptics on John's part cannot be used to explain why he left things out of his Gospel that were included in the synoptics.

            To my knowledge, you did not object to the argument that certain key events are missing from John's Gospel because he knew they had already been written about. Why not? As I said above, if there is no evidence either way, then you should object just as strongly when someone assumes John was familiar with the synoptics as when someone assumes he wasn't.

            But then again, it should be noted that we draw inferences from absence of evidence all the time. Watch a crime show on television some time. Do they not draw conclusions from what doesn't happen? There is no sign of a struggle at the murder scene. The dog didn't bark. There was no sign of forced entry. The victim had no defensive wounds. There had been a series of robberies in the neighborhood, but in this case no valuables were taken from the scene. We draw conclusions all the time about what it appears people didn't do or didn't seem to know. It is a perfectly legitimate thing to do, and there is no reason scholars shouldn't do it. They just must do it wisely.

          • We know what it looks like when the writer of one gospel, say gMatt or gLuke, uses another gospel like gMark as one of their sources. We can see this in the direct textual correspondences between gMatt/gLuke and Gmakr. We find none of these between the synoptics and gJohn. This doesn't necessarily mean the writer of gJohn was unaware of the other gospels, but it means there is zero evidence that he was.

            So you can't just assume that he was because you feel like doing so. You need evidence. And there's none.

          • Doug Shaver

            Since when is absence of evidence reason to believe something happened? ("Something" being "John was not aware of the existence of the synoptics".)It isn't, but it's no reason to believe the contrary, either.

            It seems to me that if there is no evidence of something, then it could go either way. We don't know.

            Fine, but apologists rarely admit to not knowing. They will typically affirm X, and when a skeptic says, "There is no evidence for X," they will respond, "In that case, we're entitled to believe X, because absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."

            In their minds, this seems to be an especially cogent argument when they can imagine a reason -- any reason at all -- for there being no evidence. Thus we get: "If YZ was the case, then John would not have mentioned X even though he knew about it. Since John did not mention X, YZ must have been the case. Therefore, John knew about X and so X is true."

        • Doug Shaver

          An answer to why John did not mention Jesus' baptism or the institution of the Eucharist in his Gospel is that other writers had already done that.

          Is that why he did mention the crucifixion and resurrection? Because no writer before him had done so?

          • Kevin Aldrich

            If you have an argument to make, why don't you make it?

          • Doug Shaver

            I thought my argument was obvious, but OK. My argument is as follows. John did mention some events that previous writers had mentioned. Therefore, his failure to mention other events cannot be presumed attributable to an aversion on his part to repeating what other writers had mentioned.

  • Jim (hillclimber)

    Question for Tim O'Neill: Is it a fair summary of your position to say that you see nothing fundamentally surprising about the development of the early Christian cult, when set in context next to other millennial cults with broken dreams (other than the obvious fact that the Christian cult has been more successful than most)? In other words, the nature of the reinterpretations of their tradition, the zeal of the cult members, rapidity of growth, etc, everything is perfectly consistent with what has happened in similar situations?

    That is different than how I have thought about it previously, but I am open to that possibility. I want to hear the counter-arguments first though. What do you see as the best counter-arguments to your position (assuming I have characterized it correctly), if indeed you see any good counter-arguments at all?

    • "Question for Tim O'Neill: Is it a fair summary of your position to say
      that you see nothing fundamentally surprising about the development of
      the early Christian cult, when set in context next to other millennial
      cults with broken dreams (other than the obvious fact that the Christian
      cult has been more successful than most)?"

      Yes, that's a fair summary. We have multiple examples of sects who have had their leaders killed or their expectations shattered and have simply found news ways to accommodate this within their original ideas. In fact, this seems to be the norm in these situations. We even have another example of this happening in Jesus' own milieu. Like Jesus, John the Baptist was arrested and executed. Did his sect die out? No, it went on for some time afterwards (possibly surviving into modern time in the Mandean sect). And like the Jesus sect, it spread into the diaspora at least as far as Greece. We even had references to people believing that John rose from the dead.

      What do you see as the best counter-arguments to your position (assuming
      I have characterized it correctly), if indeed you see any good
      counter-arguments at all?

      A couple of people have presented the claim that Christianity is somehow unique in several respects that its success means it must be true. They are usually the common counter-arguments, though I consider both of them flawed and pretty feeble. Like most apologetics, they tend to only convince the already convinced.

      • Jim (hillclimber)

        Fair enough. Thanks!

  • Joe Ser

    One thing to note about John's gospel is he did not find it necessary to repeat the other Gospels, yet treated them as historical documents, supplementing with specific details and explanations. John was also an eyewitness and states all the Jesus said and done could not be contained in many books. John was present at Jesus' baptism. I find no evidence he removed the baptism at all.

    • David Nickol

      One thing to note about John's gospel is he did not find it necessary to repeat the other Gospels, yet treated them as historical documents, supplementing with specific details and explanations.

      What is the evidence that John knew Matthew, Mark, or Luke? Can you give an example or two of John treating Matthew, Mark, or Luke "as historical documents, supplementing with specific details and explanations"?

      John was also an eyewitness and states all the Jesus said and done could not be contained in many books.

      Few "practicing" contemporary Biblical scholars would claim that the author of the Gospel of John was John the Apostle. for example, check out the Introduction to John's Gospel in the NAB. Here is a brief excerpt:

      Critical analysis makes it difficult to accept the idea that the gospel as it now stands was written by one person. . . .

      Other difficulties for any theory of eyewitness authorship of the gospel in its present form are presented by its highly developed theology and by certain elements of its literary style. For instance, some of the wondrous deeds of Jesus have been worked into highly effective dramatic scenes (Jn 9); there has been a careful attempt to have these followed by discourses that explain them (Jn 5; 6); and the sayings of Jesus have been [w]oven into long discourses of a quasi-poetic form resembling the speeches of personified Wisdom in the Old Testament.

      I don't think that any New Testament scholar believes the long discourses attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John are the words of Jesus himself. I can only imagine that anyone interested in the historical Jesus would far prefer, in an eyewitness account, the actual words of Jesus as the eyewitness heard them than poetical discourses woven out of those words.

      John was present at Jesus' baptism.

      Unless I am very much mistaken, in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the baptism of Jesus takes place prior to Jesus beginning his public ministry and hence prior to the calling of any of the apostles. Can you cite a passage from any of the Gospels indicating that John (the Apostle) or any other follower of Jesus was present at the baptism of Jesus?

      I find no evidence he removed the baptism at all.

      There is no account of Jesus being baptized in the Gospel of John. The authors/editors of John do not say Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. If you believe there is an account of the baptism of Jesus in the Gospel of John, could you please cite chapter and verse?

      • Joe Ser

        John was an Apostle so was Matthew. Luke was Peter's recorder. John knew Peter. Matthew recounts how Christ called Peter, Andrew, James and John to be his disciples (Mt. 4: 18-22)

        John the apostle was a follower of John the baptist. The Apostle John reports the trial before Annas.
        Irenaeus : ‘Later on too, John, the disciple of the Lord, who had even reclined on his bosom, he too brought out a Gospel while he was dwelling in Ephesus of Asia’. The Muratorian Canon explains that John wrote at the insistence of his fellow bishops and disciples. John agreed and asked them to fast for three days and share with each other what had been revealed. Clement mentioned that John wrote the fourth Gospel after being urged by his friends. The first 18 chapters seem to be a response to the Gnostics.

        There are some problems with the NAB commentary as it seems to accept the historical critical conclusions while ignoring the long tradition. The Bible did not just drop out of the sky and to ignore the tradition and cede to modern criticism is a stretch.

        John claims he was an eyewitness.

        The Haydock commentary -

        "In his gospel, St. John omits very many leading facts and circumstances mentioned by the other
        three evangelists, supposing his readers sufficiently instructed in points which his silence approved. It is universally agreed, that St. John had seen and approved of the other three gospels."

        24 "This is that disciple who giveth testimony of these things, and hath written these things: and we know that his testimony is true."

        27 * The same is he that shall come after me, who is preferred before me: the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to loose.

        28 These things were done in Bethania beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

        29 The next day John saw Jesus coming to him, and he saith: Behold the lamb of God, behold him who taketh away the sins of the world.

        30 This is he of whom I said: After me cometh a man, who is preferred before me, because he was before me.

        31 And I knew him not, but that he may be made manifest in Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.

        32 And John gave testimony, saying: *I saw the Spirit coming down as a dove from heaven, and he remained upon him.

        33 And I knew him not; but he, who sent me to baptize with water, said o me: He upon whom thoiu shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, he it is that baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.

        34 And I saw: and I gave testimony, that this is the Son of God. John 1:27-34

    • The question is "what do Catholics believe baptism does" not whether this one is symbolic or whether when John b baptized Jesus the Holy Spirit was baptizing itself through a human. I didn't think this was a difficult question.

  • Ken Olson

    Hi Tim,

    I would not wish to defend the overall mythicist in general, but on the specific issue of language of the Testimonium Flavianum being “distinctively Josephan,” the argument you make seems to depend on scholars’ speculations about what “we’d expect to find” in a Christian writer, not on an actual comparison of the language of the Testimonium with the texts of actual early Christian writers. None of the examples you give are peculiar to Josephus and absent from Eusebius (who, of course, I think composed the passage). I did a guest post on this topic on Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne’s Jesus Blog back in August:

    http://historicaljesusresearch.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-testimonium-flavianum-eusebius-and.html

    (1). The Greek found in the Testimonium , κατὰ τοῦτον … τὸν χρόνον (“Around this time”): This is found times four times elsewhere in Josephus (Ant. 14.56, 17.19, 18.39, 18.80) and three times elsewhere in Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 6.19.15, 6.32.1; Commentary on Psalms PG 23 col. 784b). If you are talking about any Greek expression that could be translated “About this time,” rather than the actual Greek wording found in the Testimonium, then there are a huge number of parallels in both Eusebius and Josephus.

    (2). σοφὸς ἀνήρ (“wise man”): Eusebius identifies Christ as a σοφὸς ἀνήρ in the Prophetic Eclogues (PG 22 col. 119a). Eusebius, it is true, does not say Jesus was “merely” a wise man – but neither does the Testimonium.

    (3). παραδόξων ἔργων ποιητής (“maker of miraculous works”): The
    three words found together in the Testimonium are never found together elsewhere in Josephus’ works, but occur repeatedly in Eusebius to describe Christ or God (e.g., Ecclesiastical History 1.2.23, Demonstratio 3.5.59, 3.7.4, Vita Constantini 1.18.2). It doesn’t seem likely that Eusebius intended the term skeptically when he applied it to Christ or God. Can you give any examples from ancient or medieval Greek literature where παραδόξων ἔργων ποιητής is intended to imply skepticism?

    (4). τῶν Χριστιανῶν … τὸ φῦλον (“tribe of Christians”): This term is found elsewhere in Eusebius, at Ecclesiastical History 3.23.2.

    Best wishes,

    Ken

    • Hello Ken,

      I'm familiar with your work on the TF but I have to say I'm not persuaded. Every word in the passage can be found elsewhere in the Josephan corpus with the exception of one - "Christians". And the ones I highlighted are not only found in Josephus in several places, but aren't found in reference to Jesus and Christians in the pre-Nicean corpus. That you've found several of them in Eusebius' works isn't too much of a surprise seeing how prolific that guy was, but the weight of evidence still tips towards partial authenticity. The textual variants in Jerome, and the Arabic and Syriac paraphrases all indicate that the very phrases that stand out as clumsy additions had earlier, less apologetic versions. I feel the idea that the passage is original to Josephus but was added to so as to better counter Jewish objections to the ideas of the Incarnation and Resurrection is the most parsimonious reading of the evidence.

      • Ken Olson

        You’re familiar with my work and have rejected my conclusion. Ok. But you seem to have gone beyond rejecting my conclusion and rejected the data as well. The fact that Eusebius does use the terms: (1) “Now (there was) about this time”; (3) “wise man” (as applied to Jesus); (2) παραδόξων ἔργων; and (4) φῦλον (as applied to Christians), does not prove that Eusebius wrote the Testimonium. It does, however, falsify your argument that
        these terms are “distinctively Josephan in their style and phrasing” and that they are not used by early Christians. These are *all*, not just “several”, of the examples you highlighted. So you qualify your claim by saying they “aren't found in reference to Jesus and Christians in the pre-Nicean corpus.” Actually, the Prophetic Eclogues and the Demonstratio are generally dated before Nicea, but you could easily modify your qualification to “before 300 CE” or some such. But what's the justification for stipulating "pre-Nicean" or “before 300 CE” as a requirement for the Christian language that ought to be considered other than the fact that it excludes the counterexamples that falsify your claim?

        • A trifle aggressive there Ken? I was referring to terms that we could find being used to refer to Christians in the period before they were in any position to be adding a wholesale interpolation. So that would be, broadly speaking in the Ante-Nicean corpus. To note that two of Eusebius' works were pre-325 AD is a bit nitpicky. I'm sure you can understand what I was saying.

          • Herro

            >I was referring to terms that we could find being used to refer to Christians in the period before they were in any position to be adding a wholesale interpolation.

            So when Christians were able to add "a wholesale interpolation" these elements of the TF were *not* "distinctively Josephan in their style and phrasing"? :S

  • spin

    The topic, as stated in the title, involves a historical examination of the evidence for Jesus. O'Neill, who is as confused about his topic as he was several years ago, has spent more than half of his effort writing not about the historicity of Jesus but about Jesus mythicism and similar notions.

    After a potted tour of these ancilliary topics, O'Neill tries to get onto topic. He examines the different approaches to the story of John the Baptist. While acknowledging that the writers have their own ideas about Jesus, he concludes somehow that the differences indicate "that the baptism of Jesus by John was a historical event and known to be such and so could not be left out of the story." This non sequitur seems to be one that O'Neill likes, as he has repeated it often through the years. The logic seems to be that if three writers working the same material in different locations can't get a story straight, it must somehow be true. I hope that makes sense to you. I'm used to hearing urban legends that have so many different variations and spawning more with every iteration.

    The next so-called historical indicator in O'Neill's litany involves Bethlehem and Nazareth. Despite two gospels telling us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, O'Neill wants to believe that he must have been born in Nazareth, as the name Bethlehem is derived from Micah 5:2 taken as a prophecy for the messiah, and Nazareth was so insignificant. Beside assuming that Jesus is historical here to have come form some place, he assumes he can second guess the development of Christian traditions. There is no historical examination here. It is rather a text analysis unrelated to any historical evidence whatsoever.

    The inexorable litany moves to the crucified messiah notion, which for O'Neill is strange because it doesn't fit Jewish notions of the messiah. That certainly is true, but it is also certainly true that several religions cropped up at the same time that featured just as strange ideas. As Christianity emerged from this context, strangeness of ideas is not a functional criterion on which to bas historicity. Paul, according to Acts, is from Tarsus in Cilicia, a land where the religion of Mithras was popular according to Plutarch's Life of Pompey, at least a century before the time of Paul. Mithras, the Romans learned, saved the world by slaying a bull in a cave. How that weird event worked, I have no idea, but arguments from strangeness don't help us understand history. We are still waiting for O'Neill to examine anything historical.

    At this point he tries to use classical texts that were maintained by Christians, hoping that they will add to the history he has already established. The first comes from Josephus with a famous section in the Antiquities of the Jews known as the Testimonium Flavianum or TF (18.63-64). This passage is between two calamities that befell the Jews. In fact the second calamity starts with "About this time another [=a second] calamity three the Jews into an uproar."(18.65) The first was related in 18.55-62 involving Pontius Pilate brutalizing the Jews. Wedged in between is the TF of Christian interest, separating the second calamity from the first. O'Neill admits that at least some of the TF is fake. He then attempts to show that the rest of it must be true through dubious textual analysis, which I have debated with him in the past. Obviously there is no history to be done in simple text massaging.

    A further passage from Josephus relates to a man killed by the high priest of the time, Ananus. The text describes this man as "the brother of Jesus, who was called Messiah, whose name was James". Apparently the only reason this James is mentioned is to show that Ananus acted outside his authority, yet the text has a little Christian nugget to describe this James, citing the gospel of Matthew, 1:16 which talks of "Jesus called Christ". The structure of the text placing "the brother of Jesus called Christ" shows that the writer is more interested in Jesus than in either James or Ananus. The Greek text also features awkward language not appropriate for the language of the time of Josephus. The English now reflects the word order of the text, but one would have expected an order reflected in strange English, thus: "the of Jesus the called Christ brother, whose name was James". This is the only other place in the works of Josephus that uses the word "christ", despite the fact that the writer reworked the Old Testament which used the notion over forty times. Josephus avoided the term, yet his text uses it twice for Jesus. You can imagine the apologetic response, which involves assuming the conclusion that O'Neill is aiming for.

    O'Neill follows his attempt at using Josephus with more off-topic comments on mythicism. A person whop is interested in history is supposed to be making a substantive case for history.

    The last stop in this via crucis is poor old Tacitus, whose text, at least the relevant portion, survives in an 11th century manuscript copied at the monatery of Monte Cassino. It features the Testimonium Taciteum (TT), cited by O'Neill. It was a text that was unknown to early christian writers who searched for witnesses to Jesus in antiquity. It features some similarities to the work of a Christian writer Sulpicius Severus (circa 400 CE), who apologists claim copied from Tacitus, though there is no evidence that the similarities stemmed from the TT. The reverse cannot be discounted and fits the behavior of Christian writers who invented letters between Paul and Seneca, wrote fanciful "apocryphal" gospels, fake letters of Julian, even a fake donation of Constantine to the church. The art of the fake is quite familiar in the arsenal of early Christian writers.

    But looking at the TT one finds some very strange aspects. It is always presented out of context so one cannot see how it fits its text. The full passage deals with the great fire of Rome and Nero's relation to it. It attempts to show that Nero was responsible without saying so. Immediately before the TT, Tacitus writes, "But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order"—from Nero by implication. All human efforts failed to banish the belief, yet the TT tells us that Nero then tried to blame the Christians, despite all human efforts failing. It makes much better sense to see the TT as another Christian insertion in a Christian preserved text than to accuse Tacitus of such incoherent writing.

    There are several other problems with the TT, though the worst is that it interferes with the developing attack by Tacitus on Nero for being responsible for the fire, which was reached with the beautifully subtle "the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order". This is now followed with a martyrdom of Christians which grabs the impetus from condemning Nero and gives it to the deaths of the naughty Christians who were so poorly treated that they earned the sympathy of the people.

    O'Neill is not a historian of the period. He is a naive reader who shows no depth of interaction with his sources. A historian sets out to uncover history, not to attempt to negate non-histories. There are no contemporary works to help us uncover a historical Jesus. This doesn't mean that there was no historical Jesus, but that the history cannot be more than asserted. And history is not based on assertion. The historicity of Jesus is clouded by the fact that we have no evidence from the beginning, no eye witnesses, no contemporaries. It is further clouded by the process of selective Christian preservation of the writers of the ancient past. That process we can observe is one of invention and manipulation when it comes to Christian matters. It is hopeful to assume that it is not the case when analyzing the literary texts O'Neill has chosen.

    There is no history in this "Atheist Historian Examines the Evidence for Jesus". One wonders why O'Neill, a professed atheist, bothered. It surely doesn't matter to him whether Jesus existed or not.

    • "O'Neill is not a historian of the period."

      Actually, I have never claimed to be more than an interested amateur. Though one, interestingly, who just inspired you to write a 1400 word rant made up mainly of straw-manning and sneers. But who and what exactly are you, "spin"? For someone who gets so pompous and about who and what others are, you have always been very shy about your own credentials.

      • spin

        You called yourself an "atheist historian". I merely clarified that you are not a historian of the period. You are giving yourself tickets. I don't do that sort of thing. I merely note that you have rehearsed the same assertions for years trying to influence people for no apparent gain. You are an atheist, yet you've served up the same flimsy support for a historical Jesus for years without improvement. When criticized, you don't deal with the criticism, but immediately launch into the usual stream of ad hominems. Fine. When you calm down you might try a rational response.

        • "You called yourself an "atheist historian".

          Wrong. The writer of this blog called me that. Given the number of hobbyist wannabes claiming that title when it comes to this topic, I'm always careful to never make that claim.

          "When criticized, you don't deal with the criticism"

          I don't indulge in exercises in futility. In my previous encounters with your sneering, pomposity and, at several points, foul abuse (that got you banned on another venue, remember "spin"/whatsyourname?) it became clear that the only "dealing" with your "criticism" that you'll accept is abject submission to your self-declared genius. And full acceptance of your grab-bag of eccentric private theories. I'm happy to stick with the positions I outline above, given they square with the opinions of the overwhelming majority of genuine real world experts on these matters, and ignore the fatuous hectoring of a online nobody who hides behind a stupid pseudonym.

          • spin

            Just like a prime minister who makes a speech under a sign "Ditch the witch", saying it has nothing to do with him.

            You may continue with ad hominem comments about my internet name, but you remain as frivolous as the article you signed... talking about an exercise in futility.

          • The title was written by Brandon Vogt, who asked me for permission to republish my article here. If you are calling me a liar then you can simply ask him. He's posting here.

          • spin

            Calling you a liar? We are getting melodramatic, aren't we.

            You didn't correct him or, apparently, advocate anything more reflective of reality. You were happy to have your article rest under the misleading banner.

            But surely you have more to say than to complain about the fact that you are not a historian in the field.

          • "You didn't correct him or, apparently, advocate anything more reflective of reality."

            Actually, I considered doing so. But given that I couldn't think of a short way of describing myself more accurately that would work in this title and because I didn't think something so utterly petty would matter to any reasonable person, I didn't bother. Yet again the pettiness of small-minded vindictive types has surprised me, as it often does.

            But surely you have more to say than to complain about the fact that you are not a historian in the field.

            To you petty, anonymous, vindictive trolling person? No. A few months ago I was contacted by a Holocaust denier about a piece I wrote detailing a critical flaw in their thesis. He had written a response (of sorts) which was full of straw men, misrepresentations, distortions and flawed counter arguments. He invited me to respond and to "debate" him and finished with a sneering question about why I, as a non-Jew, should be interested in the issue at all and asking why I would even care.

            In other words, much like your first screed above.

            I declined to deal with him. Not surprisingly, he went back to his tiny online coterie of like-minded weirdos and they high-fived each other how I had been "defeated". Whereas the truth was I just couldn't see the point in wasting my time "debating" someone with unshakeable fixed ideas who would not be dealing in good faith. Life's too short.

            You can work out the parallels here. Go away "spin".

          • spin

            You didn't correct him. So you happily allowed yourself to be misrepresented.

            The rest is just more contentless entertainment. The article above shows a veneer of reason, but your responses here just remove the veil.

    • Bruce Grubb

      I know this is late but another problem with Tacitus is Christians themselves right after him are unaware of the account.

      Instead what we get is The apocryphal Acts of Paul (c. 160 CE) which has Nero reacting to some guy named Patroclus who had supposedly died and was told that Christ Jesus would "overthrow all kingdoms" and this man was now a solder in Jesus' army (so the Christians themselves have Nero reacting to a possible attempt at overthrowing his government). The roughly (150-200) contemporary Acts of Peter at the end states "Nero, being greatly affrighted by such a vision, abstained from harming the disciples at that time when Peter also departed this life." Depending on which tradition you believe this was either 64 or 67 CE.

      So we have Nero either reacting to sedition or leaving the group alone. It isn't until c400 CE that the story of Nero using the Christians as a fall guy for the burning of Rome appears in the Christian literature.

      • "another problem with Tacitus is Christians themselves right after him are unaware of the account."

        Were they? Or were they simply not keen on highlighting an overtly hostile account that called them "a most mischievous superstition...evil...hideous and shameful...(with a) hatred against mankind"? Later we get Sulpicius Severus' account in Chronica II.29 which clearly uses Tacitus as his source (without direct attribution) but carefully removes the insult. So, you were saying?

        • Bruce Grubb

          Did you even *read* the part about The apocryphal Acts of Paul (c. 160 CE) and Acts of Peter (150-200)? The first has Nero responding to to a possible attempt at overthrowing his government and the other leaving the group alone because of some vision. Why didn't the **Christians** know of this version until Sulpicius Severus?

          Also the Tacitus passage was unknown until the 15th century and part that actually has this passage dates from from the 11th century. (The part of Tacitus that dates to the 8th doesn't have the section this passage appears in)

          Even Remsburg who in 1909 felt there was enough to *support* the existence of a historical Jesus said "This passage, accepted as authentic by many, must be declared doubtful, if not spurious, for the following reasons:

          1. It is not quoted by the Christian fathers.

          2. Tertullian was familiar with the writings of Tacitus, and his arguments demanded the citation of this evidence had it existed.

          3. Clement of Alexandria, at the beginning of the third century, made a compilation of all the recognitions of Christ and Christianity that had been made by Pagan writers up to his time. The writings of Tacitus furnished no recognition of them.

          4. Origen, in his controversy with Celsus, would undoubtedly have used it had it existed.

          5. The ecclesiastical historian Eusebius, in the fourth century, cites all the evidences of Christianity obtainable from Jewish and Pagan sources, but makes no mention of Tacitus.

          6. It is not quoted by any Christian writer prior to the fifteenth century.

          7. At this time but one copy of the Annals existed and this copy, it is claimed, was made in the eighth century -- 600 years after the time of Tacitus.

          8. As this single copy was in the possession of a Christian the insertion of a forgery was easy.

          9. Its severe criticisms of Christianity do not necessarily disprove its Christian origin. No ancient witness was more desirable than Tacitus, but his introduction at so late a period would make rejection certain unless Christian forgery could be made to appear improbable.

          10. It is admitted by Christian writers that the works of Tacitus have not been preserved with any considerable degree of fidelity. In the writings ascribed to him are believed to be some of the writings of Quintilian.

          11. The blood-curdling story about the frightful orgies of Nero reads like some Christian romance of the dark ages, and not like Tacitus.

          12. In fact, this story, in nearly the same words, omitting the reference to Christ, is to be found in the writings of Sulpicius Severus, a Christian of the fifth century.

          13. Suetonius, while mercilessly condemning the reign of Nero, says that in his public entertainments he took particular care that no human lives should be sacrificed, "not even those of condemned criminals."

          14. At the time that the conflagration occurred, Tacitus himself declares that Nero was not in Rome, but at Antium.

          Many who accept the authenticity of this section of the "Annals" believe that the sentence which declares that Christ was punished in the reign of Pontius Pilate, and which I have italicized, is an interpolation."

          Carrier adds MORE issues with Annals: the entire section of the Annals covering 29-31 CE is missing - “That the cut is so precise and covers precisely those two years is too improbable to posit as a chance coincidence.”

          Raphael Lataster in his "Questioning the Plausibility of Jesus Ahistoricity Theories—A Brief Pseudo-Bayesian Metacritique of the Sources" paper in Intermountain West Journal of Religious Studies[5] points out there are several problems with the passage:

          "It is questionable if a non-Christian historian would refer to this person as Christ rather than the more secular Jesus of Nazareth."

          "Though Annals covers the period of Rome’s history from around 14 CE to 66 CE, no other mention is made of Jesus Christ.

          "This passage is also ignored by early Christian apologists such as Origen and Tertullian, who actually quote Tacitus in the 3rd century."

          It should be mentioned that there is a problem with the translation of this passage as well; the word "Chrstus" is often rendered "Christus" (Christ) but in reality there is no vowel between the 'r' and 's' to show if is indeed Christos instead of Chrestos or something else instead.[6] In fact, on occasion "Chrstus" has been rendered Chrestos a variant reading found as far back as 1874: "Tacitus (a.d. 110) also says "Chrestus, the founder of that name (the Christian), was put to death as a criminal by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea, in the reign of Tiberius." with 2009 being the latest: "Tacitus identified him as “Chrestus”..." Such manipulation generally occurs when connections to Suetonius are being made.

          Based on all this odds are the Tacitus passage is copied from Sulpicius Severus not the other way around Ie it is a forgery.

          Jay Raskin is more generous and notes here is a strange temporal jump in this part of the Annals in that it goes back from the time of Nero to the time of Tiberius and returns back to Nero again. As noted "Tacitus would have had to explain more about the suppression of the new superstition if it died out in the 30’s and started again in Rome around in the 60’s. (The Fire was in 64). If the outbreak of the superstition happened in the time of Nero, as Josephus reports, there would be no need to explain what happened."

          Raskin states the passage was altered and originally read:

          Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite punishments on a class hated for their disgraceful acts, called Chrestians by the populace. Chrestus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty (i.e., Crucifixion) during the reign of Nero at the hands of one of our procurators, Porcius Festus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular.

          • "Why didn't the **Christians** know of this version until Sulpicius Severus?"

            It may come as a surprise to you, but they didn't have access to the internet and so weren't able to find works like Tacitus at the touch of a button. Of course, if you have evidence that the writers of those two apocryphal Acts knew and read Tacitus yet didn't draw on him for their theologically-based embroidery on Peter and Paul's hagiography, feel free to present it.

            "Why didn't the **Christians** know of this version until Sulpicius Severus?"

            I think you mean why didn't they refer to it directly - you can't assume your own conclusion. And the answer has already been given: during the period when Christianity was a despised underground sect that was periodically persecuted, there was no incentive to cite a passage that details an early persecution and also refers to their sect as "a most mischievous superstition .... evil .... hideous and shameful .... (with a) hatred against mankind". So we don't get a passage that even depends on Tacitus until after the Edict of Milan and even then Sulpicius Severus takes out all the insults.

            "Also the Tacitus passage was unknown until the 15th century and part that actually has this passage dates from from the 11th century."

            Big deal. Pretty much every one of the earliest manuscripts we have of any ancient writer date to the Middle Ages or even later. And Severus' use of the passage shows that it existed in at least c. 403 AD.

            "Even Remsburg who in 1909 ... "

            John Remsburg, the self-educated Kansas school teacher writing a whole century ago?" Gosh - what could possibly go wrong here?

            "1. It is not quoted by the Christian fathers."

            Already explained - they tended not to quote insults about their faith unless they had a reason to do so. Remsberg fails to show where and why they should have done this.

            "2. Tertullian was familiar with the writings of Tacitus, and his arguments demanded the citation of this evidence had it existed."

            He "should" have done this when, where and why?

            3. Clement of Alexandria, at the beginning of the third century, made a compilation of all the recognitions of Christ and Christianity that had been made by Pagan writers up to his time."

            Where?

            "4. Origen, in his controversy with Celsus, would undoubtedly have used it had it existed."

            "Undoubtedly" why?

            5. The ecclesiastical historian Eusebius, in the fourth century, cites all the evidences of Christianity obtainable from Jewish and Pagan sources, but makes no mention of Tacitus.

            All of them? Prove it.

            "6. It is not quoted by any Christian writer prior to the fifteenth century."

            Because it's full of insults about Christianity.

            "7. At this time but one copy of the Annals existed and this copy, it is claimed, was made in the eighth century -- 600 years after the time of Tacitus."

            Like pretty much any ancient text then. And? So?

            "8. As this single copy was in the possession of a Christian the insertion of a forgery was easy."

            This is just an extension of "7", not a separate point. And simply noting that an interpolation may have been made is not an argument that it was. That's just hand-waving.

            "9. Its severe criticisms of Christianity do not necessarily disprove its Christian origin. No ancient witness was more desirable than Tacitus"

            So the perfidious interpolators were so clever that they deliberately made it look genuine by putting in these insults, therefore the very fact that it doesn't look like a forgery is evidence it is! Amazing logic.

            "10. It is admitted by Christian writers that the works of Tacitus have not been preserved with any considerable degree of fidelity. In the writings ascribed to him are believed to be some of the writings of Quintilian."

            I suppose we can't blame Remsberg for working from nineteenth century ideas.

            "11. The blood-curdling story about the frightful orgies of Nero reads like some Christian romance of the dark ages, and not like Tacitus."

            Subjective judgement. And wrong anyway - lurid passages like that can be found elsewhere in Tacitus. he could get quite bloodcurdling when he wanted to.

            "12. In fact, this story, in nearly the same words, omitting the reference to Christ, is to be found in the writings of Sulpicius Severus, a Christian of the fifth century."

            The most logical (and therefore the accepted) explanation for which is that Severus used Tacitus as his unacknowledged source.

            "13. Suetonius, while mercilessly condemning the reign of Nero, says that in his public entertainments he took particular care that no human lives should be sacrificed, "not even those of condemned criminals.""

            Deceptive nonsense. Or just incompetence on the part of the Kansas schoolteacher. He's referring to Suetonius Nero VI.12 where a reference is made to one particular incident early in his reign where he did not allow the death of any gladiators in one show. Suetonius then goes on:

            "I have separated this catalogue of Nero's less atrocious acts, some deserving no blame and some even praiseworthy, from the others; but I must begin to list his follies and crimes" (VI.19)

            Remsberg is either hoping his readers have never read Suetonius in full or he's cherry picking. Either way, his point is garbage.

            "14. At the time that the conflagration occurred, Tacitus himself declares that Nero was not in Rome, but at Antium."

            How's this even relevant?

            Well, that little trip back to 1909 proved to be a total waste of time. What else have you got? Oh no, Carrier and Lataster!

            "Carrier adds MORE issues with Annals: the entire section of the Annals covering 29-31 CE is missing - “That the cut is so precise and covers precisely those two years is too improbable to posit as a chance coincidence.”"

            What's this got to do with Bk XV? And it's amusing that Carrier not only uses his "if I state it emphatically it magically becomes true!" technique that he loves so much but uses it to try to bolster a conspiracy theory. I'm actually starting to feel genuinely sorry for that guy.

            Speaking of people I feel sorry for ...

            "Raphael Lataster ...

            The student Lataster? Gosh.

            ""It is questionable if a non-Christian historian would refer to this person as Christ rather than the more secular Jesus of Nazareth.""

            Given that the historian in question has just introduced the subject of "CHRISTians" and is explaining both the origin of this sect and the etymology of its name, of course he's going to use "CHRIST".

            ""Though Annals covers the period of Rome’s history from around 14 CE to 66 CE, no other mention is made of Jesus Christ."

            No other mention is made of any other Jewish preacher, prophet or Messianic claimant either, including several who were much more prominent and significant than Jesus. So where and why would we expect him to be mentioned other than as an explanation for this cult in Rome? This is a terrible argument.

            "This passage is also ignored by early Christian apologists such as Origen and Tertullian, who actually quote Tacitus in the 3rd century."

            Already answered.

            "It should be mentioned that there is a problem with the translation of this passage as well; the word "Chrstus" is often rendered "Christus" (Christ) but in reality there is no vowel between the 'r' and 's' to show if is indeed Christos instead of Chrestos or something else instead.[6] "

            Utter gibberish. And the words "Christos" and "Chrestos" were pronounced the same way, so of course both get written with variant vowels. What's this meant to prove?

            "Based on all this odds are the Tacitus passage is copied from Sulpicius Severus not the other way around Ie it is a forgery."

            What "odds" would those be exactly? You need to eliminate the consensus view that it was actually the other way around. Simply using the Carrier technique of stating what you'd like to be true emphatically isn't actually making an argument.

            "Jay Raskin ...

            Now we get "PhilospherJay" joining the chorus line of nobodies.

            "Tacitus would have had to explain more about the suppression of the new superstition if it died out in the 30’s and started again in Rome around in the 60’s. (The Fire was in 64). If the outbreak of the superstition happened in the time of Nero, as Josephus reports, there would be no need to explain what happened."

            And that makes no sense at all.

            Seriously - go away.

          • Bruce Grubb

            The "they tended not to quote insults about their faith" tap dance falls apart with The apocryphal Acts of Paul (c. 160 CE) which was written by Christians and has Nero reacting to the claim this cult would "overthrow all kingdoms" by one of their members. More over it doesn't explain why in their own writings the Christians were completely unaware of Tacitus's version until the 5th century.

            More over Carrier has wrote an article published by Vigiliae Christianae ("a peer-reviewed academic journal published by Brill Publishers") that goes into detail on why odds are the Tacitus passage did NOT reference Christians but rather "was originally speaking of the Chrestians, a violent group of Jews first suppressed under Claudius, and not the Christians, and accordingly did not mention Christ. We should so conclude because alternative explana- tions of the evidence require embracing a long series of increasingly improbable assumptions." - Richard Carrier (2014) "The Prospect of a Christian Interpolation in Tacitus, Annals 15.44" Vigiliae Christianae, Volume 68, Issue 3, pages 264 – 283

            "In the final analysis, given the immensity of the persecution Tacitus describes, its scale in terms of the number of victims, its barbarity, and the injustice of it being based on a false accusation of arson to cover up Nero’s own crimes, what are the odds that no Christian would ever have heard of it or made use of it or any reference to it for over three hundred years? By any reasonable estimate, quite low. Not even prolific and erudite professors of Latin like Tertullian or Lactantius? Lower still. That for nearly three centuries no Christian martyr tradition would develop from either the event or Tacitus’ account of it? Lower still. That no known legends, martyrologies, or tales would adapt or employ it as a motif in any way, not even in the various stories and legends of the persecutions and martyrdoms under Nero that we know did develop and circulate? Lower still. And on top of all that is the additional unlikelihood that all other pagan critics of Christianity (like Suetonius and Pliny the Younger, but even such critics as Celsus) would also somehow not have heard of the event or never make any mention of it." - Richard Carrier (2014) "The Prospect of a Christian Interpolation in Tacitus, Annals 15.44" Vigiliae Christianae, Volume 68, Issue 3, pages 264 – 283

            Occam's razor is not something you shave with. :-P

          • "The "they tended not to quote insults about their faith" tap dance falls apart with The apocryphal Acts of Paul ("

            How does that follow?

            "More over it doesn't explain why in their own writings the Christians were completely unaware of this until the 5th century."

            That's what you're trying to argue. Simply repeatedly asserting it is not making an argument. You have to show that they were unaware of it as opposed to being aware of it and not referring to it because it was insulting.

            "Move over Carrier has wrote an article published by Vigiliae Christianae ("a peer-reviewed academic journal published by Brill Publishers") that goes into detail on why odds are the Tacitus line did NOT reference Christians "

            Gosh - the anti-Christian polemicist and failed academic? You don't say. Strange how virtually all actual Tacitean experts have no problem with this passage. I wonder who is more likely to be correct - the overwhelming majority of objective experts or the failed nobody with an axe to grind.

            "Tacitus line did NOT reference Christians but rather "was originally speaking of the Chrestians, a violent group of Jews first suppressed under Claudius"

            Which is a bit like the country gentleman who spent years researching a book that argued that the plays of Shakespeare were not written by William Shakespeare but by a man just like him who had the same name.

            I've read Carrier's article. That he should refer to "improbable assumptions" is richly ironic. Like the rest of this failed academic's work, it's been cited by no-one and is another of his failures.

          • Bruce Grubb

            Tell out oh wise one just WHAT part of "a peer-reviewed academic journal published by Brill Publishers" did you not understand?

          • I understand peer review just fine. It's not a holy imprimatur of correctness. It just means the person has made a coherent argument and supported it with evidence and references. The problem with the arguments you highlighted remain.

          • Bruce Grubb

            So Carrier "made a coherent argument and supported it with evidence and references" and yet you don't except it. How does THAT make any blasted sense?

          • Because an argument can be coherent and unconvincing, or even wrong. "Coherent" = logical, consistent, orderly. I can put together plenty of logical, consistent and orderly arguments that are completely wrong. One of the first principles of logic you learn in undergraduate philosophy is that "valid" and true" are not the same thing. Similarly "coherent" and "correct" are not the same words. Ditto for "except" and "accept", while we're on the subject of things that don't make sense.

        • Jim Little

          Arthur Drews addressed this in 'The Witnesses to the Historicity of Jesus' - "The expressions of Sulpicius agree, in part, almost word for word with those of Tacitus. It is, however, very doubtful, in view of the silence of the other Christian authors who used Tacitus, if the manuscript of Tacitus which Sulpicius used contained the passage in question. We are therefore strongly disposed to suspect that the passage (Annals, xv, 44) was transferred from Sulpicius to the text of Tacitus by the hand of a monastic copyist or forger, for the greater glory of God and in order to strengthen the 'truth' of the Christian tradition by a pagan witness."

          • Actual scholars of Tacitus think that's garbage. For a "monastic copyist or forger" to be able to fake pure Tacitean prose and Silver Age Latin is far fetched enough, but for them to resist the urge to have Tacitus say nice things about Christianity "for the greater glory of God" and instead put in a string of vicious slurs beggars belief. Then there is the question of why this "monastic copyist or forger" would be doing this. Unlike the interpolations in the Testimonium Flavianum, nothing in the Tacitus reference bolsters any Christian claims that were disputed by opponents. It simply says he was executed and where and when - none of which was ever in dispute in later centuries. So what would be the point of this amazingly skilful interpolation?

            This whole idea is nonsense. Though it's great to see Mythers still rehashing crap from a century ago. It doesn't stink any less for being recycled, yet again. It just shows that all this stuff was rejected 100 years ago and you guys just don't understand that it's been left in the dust.

          • Jim Little

            "Actual scholars of Tacitus think that's garbage." -- Citations please.

          • Easily done. The only remotely modern Tacitean scholars who have argued anything like what Drews proposed are Jean Rougé ("L'incendie de Rome en 64 et l'incendie de Nicomédie en 303" in Mélanges d'études anciennes offerts à William Seston 1974, pp. 433-41) and Charles Saumange, “Tacite et saint Paul,” Revue Historique 232 (1964), pp 67-110. All the others - thousands upon thousands of them - don't accept this.

            Why?

            For the reasons I note above in the rest of my comment, which you've totally ignored. So once again we have a vast and overwhelming consensus against the silly fringe Mythicist claim. Why does that keep happening do you think?

            As Norma P. Miller, author of "Style and Content in Tacitus" and "Tacitus' Narrative Technique", notes of another supposed interpolation in Tacitus: "The well-intentioned pagan glossers of ancient texts do not normally express themselves in Tacitean Latin". That does double for any much later "monastic copyist or forger".

          • Jim Little

            You've given two citations that agree with Drews. Rougé gives a reasonable argument about there being interpolation in 'Annals' (a perceived parallel between Nero's burning of Rome and Galerius's burning of Nicomedia, and from the fact that only Tacitus among extant writings links the burning of Rome with persecution of Christians). Saumange proposed, like Drews, that the passage in 'Annals' 15.44 came via Sulpicius Severus, but specifically from a passage in 'Histories' Bk 6; Saumange's premise & argument cannot now be verified as the book he refers to is now lost.
            Rouge is right - the association of a persecution of Christians with the great fire in Nero's Rome (the context of Tacitus' reference) is nowhere mentioned by Christian commentators for the next several centuries; which is surprising given the focus of the likes of Tertullian and Eusebius on previous put-downs of Christians or Christianity (even if some of those accounts are likely to have been embellished).
            There are a fair number of attestations to other works of Tacitus throughout the period between their composition and Renaissance times but, strangely, not for the Annals. (For a complete listing, see C. W. Mendell, Tacitus: The Man and his Work, p.225f.) There is a reference in the writings of Jerome to the existence of the Annals in a ‘boxed set’ with the Histories, though no quote from them. Mendell considers that Jerome may not actually have read them.
            It is only Christians that incorrectly called Pilate procurator and not prefect (“Pontio Pilato, Syriam tunc ex parte Romana procuranti” – Tertullian, Apology XXI.18, “Pontius Pilatus procurator Judaeae a Tiberio mittitur” – Eusebius’ Chronicle in Jerome’s translation).
            Besides, I doubt there are "thousands upon thousands" of 'Tacitean scholars', and hardly any (if any) who would be across all the issues & arguments around Annals 15.44 - if it is authentic, how it may only reflect hearsay; or how it may be tied to what Tacitus's contemporaries Seutonius and Pliny the Younger were saying about Christians or 'Chrestus'. And, of course, the extant Annals (the oldest surviving manuscript, the Second Medicean; 11th century), refers to 'Chrestianos' - and none of them refer to Christ Jesus or Jesus Christ.
            Suetonius also connects the spread of religious practices with the expulsion in Tiberius 36:
            "He abolished foreign cults in Rome, particularly the Egyptian and Jewish, forcing all citizens who had embraced these superstitions to burn their religious vestments and other accessories."
            Suetonius mentions "non-Jews who had adopted similar beliefs" as the object of these measures.

          • "You've given two citations that agree with Drews. "

            Two from thousands of scholars. Anyone with any exposure to the humanities will know that in a well-studied field, if a coherent argument can be made, someone will make it. So what matters is if others in the field find their argument for that position convincing. In this case, the answer is "no".

            "Saumange proposed, like Drews, that the passage in 'Annals' 15.44 came via Sulpicius Severus"

            Neither gives a good argument for why we shouldn't simply accept the far more logical and parsimonious conclusion that the derivation went precisely the other way.

            "the association of a persecution of Christians with the great fire in Nero's Rome (the context of Tacitus' reference) is nowhere mentioned by Christian commentators "

            I see you had to narrow that claim right down to make it work. Because both Tertullian and Suetonius talk about Nero persecuting Christians, they just don't specifically put it in the precise context of the aftermath of the fire. Please show us exactly where you think a Christian writer between Tacitus and Sulpicius Severus should have done this very precise thing.

            "It is only Christians that incorrectly called Pilate procurator and not prefect"

            Please show me the other references to Pilate by non-Christians that use the correct title and which thus support that claim. You don't seem to be thinking this stuff through very carefully.

            "I doubt there are "thousands upon thousands" of 'Tacitean scholars'"

            Don't be ridiculous. There isn't an Ancient History or Classics Department in any university on the planet that didn't have at least one specialist in Tacitus.

            "and hardly any (if any) who would be across all the issues & arguments around Annals 15.44 "

            The fact that it's not a live issue amongst those thousands of Tacitus scholars should tell you something.

            "how it may only reflect hearsay"

            Go read Annals IV.11 and then come back and report to us what Tacitus' attitude to hearsay was. We'll wait.

            "And, of course, the extant Annals (the oldest surviving manuscript, the Second Medicean; 11th century), refers to 'Chrestianos' - and none of them refer to Christ Jesus or Jesus Christ."

            So he was referring to someone else who as the origin of Christianity and who, by an amazing co-incidence, also happened to be executed in Judea by Pilate in the reign of Tiberius? The desperate nonsense you people resort to never ceases to amaze me.

          • Jim Little

            "Please show me the other references to Pilate by non-Christians that use the correct title"

            The Pilate Stone; on which the inscription reads
            (conjectural letters in brackets) -

            [DIS AUGUSTI]S TIBERIÉUM
            [...PO]NTIUS PILATUS
            [...PRAEF]ECTUS IUDA[EA]E
            [...FECIT D]E[DICAVIT]

            "Please show us exactly where you think a Christian writer between Tacitus and Sulpicius Severus should have done this very precise thing"

            I don't think a Christian writer between Tacitus and Sulpicius Severus could or 'should' talk about Nero persecuting Christians.

            Josephus spent time with Nero at the time of the fire: for over a year, from the first part of 64, [Life, 3]. The fire happened in July, but, Josephus fails to mention it at all. Josephus’s attitude to Nero was such that he would have mentioned it in Jewish War XX. viii. 2-3. Instead he takes other biased historians to task, “some of whom have departed from the truth of the facts, out of favour... while others, out of hatred to him, have so impudently raved against him with their lies... Nor do I wonder at such as have told lies of Nero ... But as to those that have no regard to truth, they may write as they please; for in that they take delight: but as to ourselves, who have made truth our direct aim.”

            Besides, "Because both Tertullian and Suetonius talk about Nero persecuting Christians, they just don't specifically put it in the precise context of the aftermath of the fire" -- is a non-sequitur. Tertullian is writing over 100 yrs later and he derived his information from Seutonius, writing 50 yrs later after the time of Nero. In The Life of Claudius 25.4, Seutonius refers to Jews and a 'Chrestus': "As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome." Seutonius's Nero 16:2 simply says, in between references to food and chariot drivers, "Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition.

            "So he [Tacitus] was referring to someone else who as the origin of Christianity and who, by an amazing co-incidence, also happened to be executed in Judea by Pilate in the reign of Tiberius?"

            No. It is very unlikely that Tacitus was, in fact, referring to anyone 'who is the origin of Christianity'. Jesus wasn't the origin of Christianity, his followers were. Annals 15.44 is a highly atypical passage with respect to the themes of the rest of that book -ie. the references to Pilate and Tiberius don't fit. There's a reasonable likelihood Tacitus did not write that passage.

  • Geoff Barrett

    [b]As a result of this and other evidence (e.g., the Arabic and Syriac
    paraphrases of this passage which seem to come from a version before the
    clumsy additions by the interpolator) the consensus amongst scholars of
    all backgrounds is that the passage is partially genuine[/b]

    Doesn't Whealey (2008) demonstrate that the Arabic and Syriac "paraphrases" are themselves derived from Eusebius? If that's so, then I don't see how these paraphrases are "other evidence" of authenticity.

    [b]the Christian apologist Origen and he directly quotes the relevant
    section with the words "Jesus who was called the Messiah" all three
    times:[/b]

    Doesn't it suggest warning bells to you when Origen makes a direct quote of a passage but only gets one part of that passage correct? There is nothing in the passages cited by Origen that resembles what Josephus wrote other than the very phrase, "Jesus who was called the Messiah," that is in question. To me, that suggests treading lightly when making bold statements of authenticity. Did Origen directly quote Josephus, then look away briefly and went suddenly off the tracks? And because this is true of every instance in which AJ 20.200 is cited by Origen, did this same occurrence happen again and again. It doesn't make sense.

    You make statements that sound very authoritative but when you scratch the surface, there isn't much there.

    • "Doesn't Whealey (2008) demonstrate that the Arabic and Syriac "paraphrases" are themselves derived from Eusebius?"

      No, actually, that's not what Whealey concluded at all. Though that is the garbled version of her conclusion that has been parroted by online Mythicists who obviously haven't actually read her paper.

      " Did Origen directly quote Josephus, then look away briefly and went suddenly off the tracks?"

      No, Origen just read his Josephus as an Christian exegete and so read in things that aren't there. We have other examples of Origen doing precisely this.

      "You make statements that sound very authoritative but when you scratch the surface, there isn't much there.

      I think you'll find I can back brief statements made in comments section on a blog post with great detail when required. I deal with this objection to the value of the three quotations of Josephus by Origen in detail HERE. I deal with the Arabic and Syriac paraphrases and Whealey and Pines analyses of them in detail in the same article.

      • Geoff Barrett

        "Doesn't Whealey (2008) demonstrate that the Arabic and Syriac "paraphrases" are themselves derived from Eusebius?"

        "No,
        actually, that's not what Whealey concluded at all. Though that is the
        garbled version of her conclusion that has been parroted by online
        Mythicists who obviously haven't actually read her paper."

        Are you sure?

        "By arguing that Agapius' Testimonium is a loose paraphrase of the Testimonium from the Syriac Historia Ecclesiastica while Michael's Testimonium is a literal rendition of this same text the present study indicates that the importance of Agapius' text lies in the extent to which it supports readings in Michael's text..."

        Whealey, A. (2008). The testimonium flavianum in syriac and arabic. New Testament Studies, 54(4), p. 587 .

    • spin

      Origen doesn't quote Josephus at all. He provides a reminiscence without a text before him. That reminiscence seems to be not of Josephus but of Hegesippus, the relevant section of this latter writer being preserved by Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History 2.23. Hegesippus, a name confused with that of Josephus in antiquity, wrote an analysis of James that helps us understand the comments of Origen. The only thing that people find in Origen is the expression, "the brother of Jesus called Christ", which is a small extension of Mt 1:16's "Jesus called Christ". All the rest clearly shows that Origen was not aware of what is now in AJ 20.200. Origen believed that his Josephus indicated that the death of James was the cause of the calamity which befell Jerusalem, though Josephus indicates that it was the death of Ananus (Jewish War 4.318). Hegesippus on the other hand states that immediately after the death of James Vespasian began his siege of the city. Eusebius understood him to mean that this death "happened to [the Jews] for no other reason than the wicked crime of which [James] had been the victim." This is also Origen's understanding, so the evidence points to Hegesippus—not Josephus—as the source of Origen's comment. Not only does Origen not know the content of the supposed source, but he gets the book wrong, thinking it was bk 18, not 20. Eusebius doesn't recognize that Origen was referring to bk 20 for he cites Origen directly as Josephus, then proceeds to go on to 20:200 as a distinct passage.

      As to Michael the Syrian and Agapius, they ultimately shared the same Syriac source, though there is no way to know the history of that Syriac translation. There was cross-fertilization from western source in Syriac, so using a later source such as the Syriac doesn't help us understand an earlier source.

      • Hey "spin", didn't you forget the final bit in your just so story above where a Christian interpolator (there's always at least one in these contrived confections) then came along and inserted τον αδελφον Ιησου του λεγομενου Χριστου ("the brother of that Jesus who was called Messiah") into Josephus so that it then conformed to the τον αδελφον Ιησου του λεγομενου Χριστου (Commentarium in evangelium Matthaei X.17),τον αδελφον Ιησου του λεγομενου Χριστου (Contra Celsum II:13) and αδελφος Ιησου του λεγομενου Χριστου (Contra Celsum I.47) we find in Origen's Josephus references? Thus helpfully making it look as though Origen was actually doing what he said he was doing all along and fooling all those silly Josephan scholars. Luckily we have you and other anonymous online hobbyists to present the great pile of contrived suppositions above and show us where those silly old scholars with their pointless use of Occam's Razor had got it all wrong.

        Sorry, but I think I'll stick with scholars like Mizugaki and Baras on Origen's references to Josephus. Just as I find Whealey more convincing than some online nobody on the Arabic and Syriac paraphrases and where they fit into the textual tradition. I find their careful argument and sober scholarship in peer-reviewed journals more persuasive than an anonymous online person with a fine line in stentorian bluster, childish pettiness and anger management issues but zero qualifications or credibility. I'm a bit old fashioned that way.

        • spin

          Having been shown to be backing a dead horse by none other than Eusebius, who knew what Origen attributed to Josephus and what he himself found in AJ 20.200 were two distinct passages, you really don't have much to say other than you surrender the field to your betters and argue from their authority.

          You can name Mizugaki, but he is of little help to you as he doesn't show that any of the Origen texts I cite below is based on Josephus. He merely assumes the fact.

          Baras asserts that Origen didn't cite Josephus directly, but "summarize[d] Josephus' information". He already knows his conclusion, like you. However, unlike you, Baras realizes the link between Hegesippus and Origen, for Origen did not derive the connection between the death of James and the fall of Jerusalem from Josephus, despite Origen's assertion each time. Baras of course has over-complicated his theory. It is simpler to think that Origen got all his facts from Hegesippus and confused him with Josephus.

          If you are going to play with the Greek, you should know that you are misrepresenting the issue by supplying insufficient context. In the TF the complete phrase is

          τον αδελφον Ιησου του λεγομενου Χριστου, Ιακωβος ονομα αυτω

          Notice how "Ιακωβος ονομα αυτω" follows the descriptor. In all the examples from Origen, the name comes before the descriptor. In his commentary on Matthew 10.17, Origen writes,

          "Ιακωβον τον αδελφον Ιησου του λεγομενου Χριστου"

          This phrase is not derived from the TF. It was constructed by Origen, who liked it enough to use it again, though he added to it, changing "James" to "James the Just" and molded it to his needs (CC 1.47):

          "Ιακωβου του δικαιου, ος ην αδελφος Ιησου του λεγομενου Χριστου"

          and this he repeated with little modification (CC 2.13):

          "Ιακωβον τον δικαιον, τον αδελφον Ιησου του λεγομενου Χριστου"

          Obviously you hope to hide the differences and appeal to the similarity of αδελφος Ιησου του λεγομενου Χριστου, which is just a short extension of the phrase from Mt 1:16.

          There is no reason to assume that Origen got anything from Josephus other than the name of his work. His content is from Hegesippus, though you will want to believe, despite Baras's assertion that Origen only summarized Josephus he literally cited "τον αδελφον Ιησου του λεγομενου Χριστου".

          Let's face it, this response of yours is a stitching together of a long appeal to authority and just more ad hominem. If you understand the notion of blowback, just keep on with phrases like "stentorian bluster, childish pettiness and anger management issues but zero qualifications or credibility". The unintended irony won't be lost on your readers.

          • "Having been shown to be backing a dead horse by none other than Eusebius ..."

            Or Eusebius knew what Origen was referring to (the quotes would have helped there) and, unlike you, could see the rest of what Origen had to say was exegesis. As usual you honk your interpretation as though it's not only the only possible interpretation but is in fact unimpeachable fact. It's this bombast that is one of the main reasons you are so hard to take seriously.

            "You can name Mizugaki, but he is of little help to you ...

            More stentorian honking. What he actually does is show that Origen didn't read his texts as a historian but as an exegete and so read in Christian assumptions, showing other examples of Origen telling us Josephus "says" things that he doesn't actually say. This is a far more parsimonious reading of things than your convoluted fantasy castle of suppositions, with Josephus being mistaken for Hegesippus and then the inevitable creaking contrivance about later interpolations to explain away the actual text of Josephus and its conformance to Origen. The fact you can't see those ad hoc contrivances aren't convincing to those who don't share your coterie's odd prejudices speaks volumes.

            Speaking of which ...

            Baras asserts that Origen didn't cite Josephus directly, but "summarize[d] Josephus' information". He already knows his conclusion,
            like you.

            Oh the irony. Yes, because only you and your weird little clique could possibly be free of prior ideas here.

            It is simpler to think that Origen got all his facts from Hegesippus and confused him with Josephus.

            Garbage. It's far simpler for Origen to have done what he said he did, no less than three times: read that in (into, actually) Josephus. Your convoluted version requires several suppositions and so is not "simpler" at all. It just excises evidence inconvenient to your a priori conclusions. Which is why it's accepted by you and your little online treehouse club and pretty much no-one else.

            If you are going to play with the Greek, you should know that you are
            misrepresenting the issue by supplying insufficient context.

            No, I'm just highlighting the relevant section that is found in Origen and in Josephus. Of course the differences disappear if you choose to expand the context beyond the quoted sections - that's just asinine. But again it get honked loudly as truth, as per your usual blustering M.O.

            Let's face it, this response of yours is a stitching together of a long appeal to authority and just more ad hominem.

            I love the way you preface these assertions with matter-of-fact bluster like "let's face it", as though this is all self-evident and anyone who disagrees is an idiot. My response was actually not "long", not an "appeal to authority", contained no "ad hominem" and pointed out that the position I hold is more parsimonious. I expect you will now respond with more of your bullying, bluster-filled, shouty schtick. I don't need your to repeat your convoluted, supposition-laden ad hoc argument thanks. It was completely unconvincing the first two times. Honk away - you'll be ignored.

          • spin

            You are the only person I've seen so fixated with the word "stentorian". Perhaps you could try a new-word-a-day service to get a wider range of insults.

            "You can name Mizugaki, but he is of little help to you ...,

            What he actually does is show that Origen didn't read his texts as a historian but as an exegete and so read in Christian assumptions, showing other examples of Origen telling us Josephus "says" things that he doesn't actually say.

            I think he is correct about Origen's habits. But it doesn't change the fact that he in no way shows any evidence to support your use of him, so your talk below of parsimony is not founded in reality.

            This is a far more parsimonious reading of things than your convoluted fantasy castle of suppositions, with Josephus being mistaken for Hegesippus and then the inevitable creaking contrivance about later interpolations to explain away the actual text of Josephus and its conformance to Origen.

            I'll get on to these assertions below...

            The fact you can't see those ad hoc contrivances aren't convincing to those who don't share your coterie's odd prejudices speaks volumes.

            Thanks for the tirade. I'm sure your readers love that about you.

            And I'm trying to understand why you need to invent a "coterie" for me. Are you referring to Peter Kirby's early writings forum, the only one I now participate on? Do you have trouble talking to me as an ordinary individual that you need to put me in some fanciful circle of plotters? You know full well that I am not a mythicist and that I think you are functionally no different from them. So what's this imagined "coterie" of yours?

            Baras asserts that Origen didn't cite Josephus directly, but "summarize[d] Josephus' information". He already knows his conclusion, like you.

            Oh the irony. Yes, because only you and your weird little clique could possibly be free of prior ideas here.

            Coterie, clique. More empty tirade.

            It is simpler to think that Origen got all his facts from Hegesippus and confused him with Josephus.

            Garbage. It's simply for Origen to have done what he said he did, no less than three times:

            Actually twice, but don't let me interrupt.

            read that in (into, actually) Josephus. Your convoluted version requires several suppositions and so is not "simpler" at all. It just excises evidence inconvenient to your a priori conclusions. Which is why it's accepted by you and your little online treehouse club and pretty much no-one else.

            The only thing I have claimed—given that the names were confused in antiquity—is that it appears Origen confused Hegesippus for Josephus, something that Baras partially accepts. It is in fact simpler to see Origen getting everything he needed from Hegesippus. Beside ad hominem you have provided no logical argument against this simpler conclusion.

            Let's face it, this response of yours is a stitching together of a long appeal to authority and just more ad hominem.

            I love the way you preface these assertions with matter-of-fact bluster like "let's face it", as though this is all self-evident and anyone who disagrees is an idiot.

            I happily leave the issue up to the reader to evaluate your appeal to authority and your stream of ad hominems. Perhaps others might find you the "suppository of wisdom".

            My response was actually not "long", not an "appeal to authority", contained no "ad hominem" and pointed out that the position I hold is more parsimonious.

            Your last paragraph mentioned scholars without any logic indicating what value those scholars' ideas have to your views, just that you feel you could mention them. And it is very hard to get past the tirade, "stentorian bluster, childish pettiness and anger management issues but zero qualifications or credibility"—which you don't consider ad hominem—without a good laugh at your expense.

            I expect you will now respond with more of your bullying, bluster-filled, shouty schtick.

            I doubt if our readers find anything I have written to be "bullying, bluster-filled, shouty schtick". The lady doth protest too much.

            Honk away - you'll be ignored.

            It is not like you have participated in conversation thus far, have you? It seems to me that you have difficulties in civilized discourse with anyone who disagrees with you. It would help to have a few more registers of discourse beyond didactic and vociferous.

  • Mike

    Again thanks for this succinct summary of the evidence for the historicity of Jesus; personally i've never understood why making him up seemed to ppl a more plausible way to deny Christianity than to simply state that he may have lived but there is no way he rose from the dead.

    • spin

      Mike, the job of history is first to weigh what can be said of the past. It starts with the strongest indicators and attempts to lay claim on historical fact. From there it makes arguments about aspects of the past that are not so solid, arguing for best fits of the fewer facts available. It does not assume what it needs to demonstrate, as in the case of a historical Jesus.

      What O'Neill has provided—once we get past the time wasting discussion of mythicism—is mainly textual manipulation. Mythicism is merely another approach to the discussion of what to make of the existence of the literary tradition that developed around emergent Christianity, so it is irrelevant to understanding what history can help us understand about the past. If the history comes up with nothing, then perhaps mythicism is something to be considered. It is not in itself an issue for understanding historical methodology as applied to Jesus.

      A historical analysis of Jesus is not concerned about claims about denying Christianity. It's very hard for history to say that someone never existed. We cannot say, for example, that Robin Hood or King Arthur never existed, though many people assert either that they did or did not exist. There are holes in our historical record. There is no historical way I can see for anyone to say that Jesus never existed. We are looking into a hole of history where there are so few functional records. There is so little archaeological evidence that we could bring to bear on the issue, so, if a historical analysis comes out saying that there is not sufficient evidence for the existence of Jesus, one cannot go further and say that he did not exist. I'd say Christianity is pretty safe.

      However, O'Neill shows little understanding of history and seems more interested in the techniques of apologetics. He provides no evidence for the existence of Jesus. He relies rather on discounting other approaches to the survival of Jesus traditions and backs that up with reference to texts that have been preserved by the Christian scribal apparatus, which was not an uninterested party when dealing with notions of Jesus. No effort has been made by O'Neill to evaluate the risks of using the sources he does use so promiscuously.

      He provides no way of evaluating the veracity of the report regarding Jesus and the Christians in the era of Nero. He merely presents it naively, as though we should accept it on face value, despite the fact that the text was kept for almost a thousand years by Christian scribes and that there are discourse concerns with the existence of the Testimonium Taciteum. No historical evaluation of that text. The Josephus material is again presented as to be accepted without question. There is no effort to weigh up the potential of scribal intervention, when it deals with a topic that is of interest to the scribes.

      O'Neill simply has no concern for doing historical research or presenting a scholarly approach to the material. He has not presented a summary of the evidence for the historicity of Jesus, but of the apologetic arguments for his existence.

      ———————————

      I personally don't know if Jesus existed or not, as I cannot say if Ned Ludd existed or not. But I do know traditions from the past can preserve information about non-existent people. A famous example is Ebion, the reputed founder of the Ebionite Christian heretical group. He is first mentioned by Tertullian and his story grows through the church fathers. The name Ebionite comes from a Hebrew word meaning "poor", so poor people were Ebyonim. This is the source for the name of the group and the founder is invented by mistake assuming that the group name is derived from its founder. How does one know if Jesus did not enter tradition in a similar manner?

      History cannot assume that someone existed merely based on a few words of preserved tradition. At best the material attributed to Tacitus is hearsay tradition that jars with the discourse against Nero. The Josephus material is admittedly touched by Christian scribes, leaving no rational criteria to provide the limits of the scribal changes, so it could all be fake. Nothing supplied by O'Neill aids the historicity of Jesus. It was just mummery.

      • Mike

        I think you're being unfair to him; don't forget he's an atheist who believes that JC existed but did not rise from the dead and that the Christian God does not exist; he's examined the evidence for God and come to the conclusion that he doesn't exist.

        According to your standards, we can't be sure anyone from the ancient world ever existed: the earliest copies of Plato's Rep. i think are from the middle ages, and there are zero original copies of most of the most famous books written in the pre-middle ages; should we conclude that these authors are made up, should we preface our discussions of them with a warning that they may have been made up by Christian scribes?

        Also don't forget that there is also the mountains of evidence contained in the gospels themselves and in the epistles and in the archaeological evidence for early churches, for pontius pilate, and on and on; if this was simply made up, the lie has to be the most elaborate lie every thought up in the history of the world.

        Thx.

        • spin

          Mike, I know O'Neill's views relatively well, having debated with him over years, so I don't believe that I have been unfair to him.

          According to my standards I can show a lot of people existed purely on hard evidence. I know Simeon bar Kokhba existed, because I've seen copies of his letters found in a nice clear archaeological context. I could list very many others who get similar support, Akhnaten, Ashur-uballit, Shuppiluliuma, Burnaburiash, Ramses II, and so on, all evidenced with extreme certainty. Then we could look at the tombs left from the past. The city of Asshur featured numerous tombs of nobles, the Valley of the Kings provides similar evidence. Next we have coins that tell us that rulers from at least the time of Alexander onwards existed because they are mentioned on the coins. Statues and inscriptions testify to the existence of people. With this sort of data, we can then supply confirmation for many people in literary histories, such as those of Tacitus or Polybius. This in turn allows us to validate the general credibility of such works and to treat more of their content as testable. But what happens when confronted with tradition texts such as biblical sources, whose content has very little that is verifiable from outside sources? Things become much more difficult.

          Analysis of the gospels reveal texts that feature construction patterns that reflect tradition collection based around story snippets often called pericopes that allow analysis of sourcing, helped naturally by the fact that we have a gospel which was the source of two others. We have direct evidence of not historical but literary construction at work. We can see how the source text, ie Mark, was modified, for particular literary ends. Something I've been working on for a long time involves the home of Jesus. Mark contains disparate indications, 1) Nazareth, 2) Capernaum and 3) an unnamed hometown where Jesus was rejected. It is interesting to observe what the other synoptic gospels do with the Marcan indications, especially when they also have to deal with Bethlehem as well. Matthew features two relocations, starting in Bethlehem, moved to Nazareth and then as an adult moved to Capernaum, though the text doesn't specify the unnamed hometown. Luke on the other hand starts in Nazareth, features a trip to Bethlehem then back in the birth narrative, and the text rejects the Capernaum tradition. It also names that unnamed town as Nazara. Here we can see purely literary activity by the gospel writers. None of this augurs well for the use of the gospels as historical sources, for not only is the content almost impossible to verify even in small parts, but the texts indicate that they are not historical in intent.

          And when you talk about lies—"the lie has to be the most elaborate lie every thought up in the history of the world"—why must you consider Christianity to be a lie in not the factual? Would you call the traditions regarding Ebion a "lie"? There are many more options than facts and lies. Would you call the book of Daniel fact or lie? Such a dichotomy here is simply inappropriate.

          I talk of traditions because traditions were accepted by the people receiving them as in some way real, yet even the simple act of transmission in the ancient world changed those traditions perhaps imperceptibly, but enough iterations cause wider ranging changes. Telling often improves the starting material, you add embellishment. You pick up traditions from other people and pass them on, trusting them to be valid, but you usually have no way of checking their validity. All we end up with is the state of the tradition as fossilized in writing after some notion of canonical has been reached. We have the end products, the canonical form of each gospel. We can only use literary methods to analyze their construction, which provides us a small amount of history—a spartan textual history.

          I don't know how Jesus entered the consciousness of ancient people, whether he was real or not, but I know that traditions will develop around any figure that is productive. The more commitment bearing the figure was in antiquity the more likely traditions would develop. Ebion left relatively few traditions for there was no committed user base behind him. One can imagine that a religious figure such as Jesus that holds sway over many believers could stimulate a much larger body of traditions. People would want to know more. Traditions only fossilize with wide communication networks and standardization through the establishment of a canon.

          • Mike

            1. it seems to me you apply one standard to other ancient figures and another to jc, keeping in mind that jc was not a Pharaoh or a Caesar; if you want to keep it fair you have to compare the evidence for other rural peasant preachers to him.
            2. the gospels record not transcripts of events but relate the goings on of the time and place; that they are based on one another is not in anyway problematic to me; all history books of ancient events talk in this way, plus the central idea is that jc rose from the dead and so up until that point he was just another weird magician so naturally you would expect the stories about his birth and preaching to be more "spotty" as ppl weren't paying as much or any attention back then. The birth story is of course a retelling of what mary probably told someone really happened to her and to joseph but is it an exact chronological diary, no and has never been presented as such.

            3. well if jc didn't exist then the ppl who wrote about him as if he did were lyiing weren't they? or do you mean that paul and peter were lying; are you saying they were the first to start the rumour? someone at some point must've been lying for whatever reason maybe pure and good but fibbing none the less; ps here you have to account for the ppl who were put to death rather than recant, or are these also made up stories.

            4. again catholics have no problem recognizing the gospels as the end result of the stories that were read by the early church and then formally collated; are they missing key things, probably; are somethings made up like the saints coming out of tombs, maybe but the overall picture you get is that something real happened not that an older myth "evolved". There are many example of older myths evolving and this thing doesn't fit that mold; it's too sudden too quick; it takes the world by storm in a few years.

            4. "productive" figures, well aren't you using circular reasoning or begging the question in that they were productive to begin with and that's why they were remembered not that being remembered made them productive, do you see my point?

            5. it's a very strange tradition to develop organically in that it features a bit of a loser with no money, no power, no connections no smarts in a rural backwater and yet it becomes the dominant narrative or myth? IF This is true then even if it didn't happen it's one hell of an amazing myth and perhaps one worth believing in.

            All the best.

          • spin

            Mike, I think you are accusing me of the fact that historical methodology makes distinctions. It does. Which rural peasant preachers that can in some way be established as historical do you want me to compare Jesus with? History talks about what it can. When there is insufficient evidence, would you like a another standard? I think you need O'Neill for that.

            If you can be happy to do historical research with writers such as those of Matthew and Luke who were evidently not engaged in a historical endeavor, I don't really know how to respond. Will evidence such as the story of the temptation or the prayer in Gethsemane help delve into the literary nature of the writing of gospels? There was no-one present to record the events, one was mystical and the other just done away from earshot, such that only an omniscient narrator writing a literary work could be responsible for the narrative elements. We could look at problems such as being able to see the whole world from the top of a mountain, this defies physics, but an ancient writer would not have known. The literary nature of the text oozes from all cracks. Would you trust a narrative to be historical if it represents someone dead long enough to be braindead becoming functional again? You might believe in miracles, but that doesn't augur for a text than can be used for history. Perhaps you might consider the feeding of the thousands with a few loaves and fish. The interesting thing here is that there are two versions of the same story with variations. This indicates an oral fork in the tradition, which the collators accepted without much criticism, though one is omitted in Luke. The literary nature of the synoptic gospels is to me overwhelming. You can make excuses for this but it won't change the treatment afforded by historical methodology.

            I don't understand why you insist on talking about lies. You did not answer my questions on the issue of lying. There is a misuse of the notion to include anything that is not literally true, but are parables lies? They aren't even on the same scale. If you are teaching moral precepts that you couch in a dialogue, is the dialogue a lie? What about mistakes, are they lies?

            As to people put to death rather than recant, the history of the Sikh movement my convince you of the truth to be derived from them. Or you might consider terrorists who ram buildings with planes because they are true to their faith unto death. This sort of thinking doesn't help us with doing history.

            You may "have no problem recognizing the gospels as the end result of the stories that were read by the early church and then formally collated", but in stating that you admit that the material you have is not capable of supplying trustworthy data about the past. You accept a period of circulation of the stories for which you cannot explain the method of transmission, though the end result evinces signs of a literary nature. Having no problem recognizing the gospels as the end result of the stories that were read by the early church and then formally collated, doesn't help yield historically fertile sources.

            I see no question begging or circularity in the fact that some figures are the source of larger tradition development than others. My point was that once a figure has entered a tradition there is no way of knowing if the material that accompanies the figure represents a reality, unless there is clear external support. The figure of Isis stimulate quite an amount of tradition, while the Germanic king of Italy Theoderic stimulated quite an apocryphal tradition. One is real—I can supply the evidence for Theoderic—, the other isn't, so in itself the fact that a sizable tradition exists behind them is no reflection of a reality. Our task is to find material to support real events, not simply to allow the possibility that the material reflects the past. It may, but we have no way to verify it, so it doesn't help us do history. Doing history is our task.

            Your last point seems to me to be a reflection of your own incredulity, which does not yield historical data. People have believed all sorts of things. Stories of women and ribs were around a few thousand years before Genesis was written, talking about amazing myths worth believing in. But you are sneaking myth into the discussion, which indicates that you are inadvertently changing the subject.

            History has become much more systematic and rigorous over the centuries. Writers of the past are held to much higher standards than when historians simply rehearsed those writers' narratives. My discussion here has been that modern historical method, though its rigors produce more reliable historical information, requires written sources that can be in some ways verified. Written sources that evince clear signs of being traditions, as I hopefully have illustrated with the gospels, allow us no way to verify their content. I cannot see a way to do trustworthy history with them.

          • Mike

            The gospels record events that really happened they purport to do that; that they may not get every detail is a silly standard. Again Plato's Republic by your standards could have been re-written changed by some medieval monk, in fact all the great ancient books go back only to the middle ages in their originals.

            The fact that there are 4 versions is a PLUS not a negative bc it shows like a newspaper might the various angles of the story: even today try reading 4 versions of some event and you'll get 4 versions but by comparing and contrasting them the one conclusion you won't come to is the even likely didn't happen.

            Now if your contention is that the gospels themselves, the archaeological evidence the history of the church can not establish that jc rose from the dead, well that's fine don't worry you're not alone. Remember the church is NOT SOLA SCRIPTURA, the Catholic church collated the books into the bible based on the best evidence at the time that these and not those were the most accurate reports of the strange happenings.

            Also as Oneil points out the overwhelming majority if scholars do not doubt jc existed and that some version of the events took place....so this is alittle like arguing the world is flat if you don't mind me saying.

            Again i think what your saying is that the events may have happened but the gospels have undergone changes so no one can be absolutely sure and with that i agree and so does the church; the q becomes to what extent and if you're thesis is they are myths that developed then that's your point of view excellent, all the best.

          • spin

            One can assert that any text records what really happened, but the assertion need not be true. That is why I talked of validating the content of some of a text in my first response to you.

            Plato's Republic does not purport to be history, so let's try say Herodotus, of whose histories 26 fragments are preserved from antiquity among the Oxyrhynchus papyri. Thucydides, 50 fragments. Oh and lots of Plato. But the scribal interference with texts requires some ideological motivation. Can you imagine some motivation for a medieval monk adding sections to the Republic or Herodotus's History? While we have clear examples of tendentious amendments to texts preserved by Christian scribes, there is little motivation to manipulate classical texts. (The Testimoneum Flavianum and the Testimonium Taciteum are possible exceptions—and I think they are both fake as I said to O'Neill in my first post to him here).

            That there are four versions of the gospel narrative is neither positive nor negative. They could be four independent testimonies or they could be a rehearsal with variations, like a bunch of criminals who fabricate a story to explain what happened at a crime sceen. What has proven to be useful is that the synoptic gospels provide evidence for the process of gospel writing, which shows a purely literary effort, rather than factual as in the case of differences between the overlapping sections of Josephus's Jewish War and Antiquities of the Jews.

            My interest is what history can or cannot say, given the evidence or lack thereof. In the case of Jesus the evidence does not support the claim that he was historical, so talking of the "historical Jesus" in anything more than a hypothetical sense is unjustified. You can believe that Jesus acted in history, but the available evidence will not get you there, despite pundits like O'Neill.

            There is a whole industry of biblical scholars popping out self-serving volumes making claims about the historical Jesus. It certainly sells books and now that mythicism has been discovered by the publishing world, there is more money to be made reassuring believers that there are silly people out there attacking Christianity. There is very little concern about history in this publishing spree. The more scholarly efforts are small improvements on what Schweizter said a hundred years ago. So, does it matter that O'Neill points out "the overwhelming majority if scholars do not doubt jc existed"? Our society is built on a long developed Christian fundament and many of the scholars in that majority are or were Christians. It does not bode well for adherence to historical methodology when those who are using it earnestly believe in their conclusions before the research. Confirmation bias is the scurge of such efforts.

            As I've told O'Neill in the past, history is not decided democratically. Does the fact that the vast majority of people believed that there were WMDs in Iraq put them there? History is a pure tyranny of evidence. When it is not, it stops being history and in its place is an ideological instrument. We see it in revisionist "history", such as those produced by the USSR and the US during the cold war. We see it in those snappy tomes of historical Jesus research.

            I note again your fears concerning myths. They are not my concern. I'm interested in what can and can't be uncovered through historical research. Jesus and some of the events related in the gospel may reflect the past, but I see no way for people to demonstrate it one way or the other through historical research. If you care to believe one way or the other, it is a personal choice that is not informed by history.

          • Mike

            I think it is informed by the best historical analysis, analysis that btw has been "under attack" for 2,000 years but appears to be in some respects getting stronger and stronger: did you see the results of analysis of names used in the gospels and how they correlate almost exactly to the proportion of those names in the general pop. of the time and area? It's fascinating, i think it's a Veritas Forum lecture.

            Don't forget that the earliest gospel fragments like this

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rylands_Library_Papyrus_P52

            are from way before the bible was collated.

            BUT mostly don't forget to apply the SAME level of scrutiny to jesus as you would to other similar figures, similar in power or prestige so comparing evidence of him to say plato the most famous philosopher of the ancient world is biased and therefore unfair i would say.

            Jc was a poor peasant preacher in the equivalent of some small town in alabama who was killed had no money power or army and who only came to real prominence AFTER he came back to life in the flesh...then his "cult" took off.

            As for mythes the gospels do not have any markers of myth; they seem to be written unlike any other myth in the world; they are written like actual reports.

            Consider that if you were trying to make a myth jc you would not have him dying on a cross and if you did you'd have him coming back like this:

            "on the 3rd day the heavens thundered and a great light of pure grandeur opened up unto the entire world and with majestic force and fire and lightening, the man-god and creator and destroyer of harvests and moons and suns came down and the earth shook as his awesome power was displayed and ppl quacked and worshipped him and the trees burned and the waters etc. etc." NOT

            "they were walking down the road when a guy said to them hey where are you going didn't you hear that the son of man is alive? so they sat down and ate with him and then he disappeared"

            The first is a myth in the making it's how you would go about it; the 2nd is a really weird way of trying to convince ppl that this person is the creator of reality itself.

            All the best!

          • spin

            Mike, in this reply you're giving me very little historical analysis to deal with.

            Melodrama of 2000 years under attack doesn't do anything.

            Proportion of names!? Not helpful, as it shows only what people in the general era had in mind as names to cite.

            What am I supposed to do with P.52 without any historical analysis?

            Then there's the repeat about applying the same level of scrutiny. Why repeat it? Is there something in what I have said that suggests I am not? If so, cite it.

            I have tried to keep the red herring regarding myth out of the historical Jesus discussion and you keep raising. Why?

            Doing history involves validating sources in order to use them in an argument that attempts to clarify the past. The inclusion of a real Jesus in history needs evidence, not textual massaging. You can't do history by just making excuses.

          • Mike

            To be honest i am lost as to what your objection is.

            Ok so if not myth then a retelling and retelling that distorts the original to such a point that jc becomes god? Yes, that's possible, but doesn't make any sense! Consider that Romans of all ppl would come to consider some backwater loser from judea the god? that makes zero sense. or that greeks did this? again this makes no sense.

            Exactly, re: content! Look, the "good news" offers the best message: that this is not the end that our creator will make everything right...how can you not vote for that? Seriously.

          • spin

            The blog entry was a potted survey of the evidence for a historical Jesus. That is the topic. It was a poor effort that presented mainly apologetics from an atheist.

            Looking at the evidence available we have to say whether we can ascribe historicity to Jesus or not. My understanding is that we cannot. This doesn't mean that there was no Jesus, but that we cannot say there was with any historical credibility.

            Your discussion about backwater losers is to me unhelpful. They don't usually make it into history, do they? It suggests that you are trying to subvert historical methodology to sustain your beliefs. If you believe, you don't need history. But history needs more than excuses for lack of evidence. Did Jesus exist? I cannot say, because the evidence doesn't support that existence. You are not providing any more evidence, nor showing how the little evidence we have can be used more successfully for a historical Jesus.

            If you're happy with the content of the christian biblical literature, what more do you need? I think the historical Jesus research effort is for those who aren't happy with it.

          • Mike

            Lol so he may have existed but there is insufficient evidence, historical, to conclude that? Well why didn't you just say so?

            As you know i think 2,000 years of analysis and research and archaeological evidence script. analysis has beyond a doubt proven that jc of nazareth was a real person and that is the overwhelming conclusion of historians throughout the ages.

            But best of luck in your endeavors!

          • spin

            Mike,

            Lol so he may have existed but there is insufficient evidence, historical, to conclude that? Well why didn't you just say so?

            I did, a number of times.

            As you know i think 2,000 years of analysis and research and archaeological evidence script. analysis has beyond a doubt proven that jc of nazareth was a real person and that is the overwhelming conclusion of historians throughout the ages.

            You seem to have suddenly forgotten much of the discussion. To prove someone was real requires sufficient historical evidence, but we know there isn't. There is no archaeological evidence whatsoever that points to the existence of Jesus. And you are back with the democratic theory of history, ie that numbers somehow turn stories into history with a wave of the magic count. I guess I'll have to leave you to your sty of contentment.

          • Mike

            Thanks, all the best! and good luck on your quest for the holy grail, of sorts!

            Take care and thanks for the exchange.

          • spin

            Mike, I don't waste much time on things "holy". We have the chance of knowing about those things we can get evidence for. I'll leave holy cows to others.

            Cheers.

          • Mike

            I understand you're perspective...thanks.

          • Doug Shaver

            that this is not the end that our creator will make everything right...how can you not vote for that?

            I'll vote for it in the sense that I would like it to be true. I will not, however, believe that there is some connection between what I want to be real and what actually is real.

          • Mike

            That's too bad bc as i see it it's the best bet...if true you win if falso you lose nothing...i am hoping bc it's the best message i've been offered...no one else especially not atheists offers a better msg to ppl who will never get a fair shake in this world...secular atheism is great if you're a white upper class liberal with a +100k a year gov job but if you're the + billions of ppl who will never live like we do, there's the hope of justice in the end...that's a powerful proposition...even if false.

          • Doug Shaver

            if true you win if falso you lose nothing

            Pascal's wager, eh? It's a sucker bet if I ever heard one.

          • Mike

            Ok, don't take it then...obviously the choice is yours, but i think it's a no brainer..

            All the best.

          • Doug Shaver

            Ok, don't take it then

            Actually, according to everyone who seems to take it seriously, I don't have that option.

          • Mike

            Ok, all the best.

          • Doug Shaver

            if you want to keep it fair you have to compare the evidence for other rural peasant preachers to him.

            OK, I want to be fair. Show me another rural peasant preacher who was deified within a few years after his death, and I will compare the evidence for him with the evidence for Jesus.

          • Mike

            that's my point. there's been only 1. what a weird coincidence.

          • Peasant preachers who were "deified within a few years of their death"? Not even Jesus falls into that category - the process of deification took about a century. But we have at least two examples of peasant preachers who were regarded to have risen from the dead and exalted by God after their executions, and both from exactly the same time and socio-religious context. One was Jesus. The other was the Baptist. What does that tell you?

          • Mike

            that something strange happened?

          • No, that the idea of eschatological preachers being precursors to a coming general resurrection was in the air and so not one but two such figures were regarded to have done so in the same socio-religious context.

            Or are you trying to tell me that not only your Jesus but John the Baptist also actually "rose from the dead"? Both the Baptist and Jesus preached the coming end times and last judgement, with a general resurrection. Both were executed. Both were said to have risen from the dead. Both sects survived their execution. Both sects spread into the Diaspora.

            So try telling me again that Jesus was unique. He wasn't.

          • Rob Abney

            Where can we read about John the Baptist rising from the dead?

          • " King Herod heard about this, for Jesus’ name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”" (Mark 6:14-29)

            "it was said by some that John had risen from the dead"
            (Luke 9:7)

            " Herod the tetrarch heard the news about Jesus, 2 and said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead"
            (Matt 14:1-2)

            "Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

            They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”"
            (Mark 8:27-28)

            The latter scene is set after the Baptist's execution. So the only way people could say Jesus was John the Baptist was if the Baptist had somehow come back to life. Elijah was thought to have ascended into heaven to return in the last days, so both ideas have Jesus as a prophet who had died and/or gone up to heaven and had returned in human form.

            Then in Acts 19:1-4 Paul encounters disciples of John baptising people in Ephesus. So not only did the idea that John had risen arise but his sect survived and spread into Greece, before the Jesus sect did.

            Then we have the Mandeans, a sect that traces its origin to the Baptist, that calls Jesus an "apostate" and a "liar" and which survives to this day.

          • Rob Abney

            So as a historian do you consider the evidence of John's resurrection to be comparable to the evidence of Jesus' resurrection?

          • "Comparable" in what sense?

          • Rob Abney

            Do you consider either of the accounts strong evidence to support a resurrection? Why is Jesus' resurrection more widely accepted than John's?

          • "Do you consider either of the accounts strong evidence to support a resurrection?"

            Do you consider the accounts of Atia being impregnated by a serpent strong evidence to support Augustus as the son of Apollo? Do you consider the accounts of Caesar being seen ascending into heaven strong evidence that he became a god after his death? Do you consider the reports of Vespasian healing the blind and lame strong evidence that he was a deity?

            "Why is Jesus' resurrection more widely accepted than John's?"

            Why is Mormonism more widely accepted than other fringe Protestant offshoots that arose in the US at the same time? Why is Scientology more widely accepted than the other 1950s UFO cults?

          • Rob Abney

            It looks like you are implying that the evidence for John's resurrection is scant and on par with other stories. But what about Jesus's, do you find the evidence more compelling objectively? Which describes you better, a historian or an atheist? Do you reject the resurrection a priori?

          • Mike

            you seem to be agreeing with me. jesus was so unique that only his cousin was somewhat similar.

          • 'you seem to be agreeing with me."

            As a conclusion to what I just said, that is nothing short of surreal.

            " jesus was so unique that only his cousin was somewhat similar."

            Both were said to have risen from the dead, both had their sect's survive their executions and both sects went on to expand beyond Palestine. These are often claimed as unique properties of Jesus, yet we can see that they are not. They are clearly things that could arise from the execution of Jewish preachers in the environment of early first century Palestine because they happened at least twice, that we know of.

            And that's despite the fragmentary nature of our sources. If the gospels didn't exist and all we knew of the Baptist was what we find in Josephus we would have no idea that it was said he rose from the dead or that his sect survived his execution and spread into the Diaspora. For most of the other analogous figures of the time all we have are similarly brief mentions by Josephus; mostly much briefer ones. So who knows how common it was for the sects of people like Theudas or the Egyptian to follow the same pattern. The fact that two of them clearly did so shows that Jesus was not unique - at least not to anyone who understands what "unique" means.

            And please show me where gMark, gMatt or gJohn say the Baptist was Jesus' "cousin". gLuke introduces that story in its infancy narrative. Though even in gLuke the Baptist seems to have completely forgotten that his "cousin" was the Messiah by Luke 7:20. Very strange ...

          • Mike

            ok interesting take. we disagree take care.

          • We "disagree" because my position is based on objective analysis of the evidence and yours isn't.

          • Mike

            oh geez you're new to this aren't you. can i ask a personal q? were you raised catholic?

          • "you're new to this aren't you. "

            New to what, exactly?

            "were you raised catholic?"

            Like a large percentage of the planet, yes. Relevance?

          • Mike

            just curious as to what made you first reconsider the church's beliefs. and do you think that all religion is wrong or are some more right like are the liberal christian church in you opinion better?

          • In my late teens I sat on the sidelines of a conversation about Christianity between a Christian and an agnostic where she kept saying "Jesus said ... " and he kept challenging her "how do you know?" As a young guy with an interest in ancient history, I realised I had no idea about the origins of the gospels or the historical basis for Christianity. So I set out to answer that question, confident that afterwards I would be able to answer challenges like his better than she could. A few years later (with a degree under my belt) I had a pretty good idea of how and what we can and can't know. But I was also no longer a Christian.

            I've also been discussing this stuff online since 1992, so no I'm not "new to this". I'd strongly suggest not talking down to me again.

          • Mike

            do you now suspect that the gospels are myths that kind of thing? that seems to me to be the most popular atheist belief that they are amalgams of hopes and dreams peppered with truths here and there.

            btw so why did you finally leave christianity? i was never a 'real' christian and in college made fun of it or ignored it like everyone else. then things changed and i returned.

          • I consider the gospels to be polemical works that mix things that are historical, things that the writers considered to be historical and things that are meant purely as theological statements presented as events and sayings. This is why both mythicists who reject them as purely "myths" and Christians who regard them as wholly or even substantially historical accounts are both highly confused.

            I left Christianity when I realised that the historical claims that it makes about Jesus could not be sustained and that he was a Jewish apocalyptic preacher.

          • Mike

            interesting. most ppl leave bc they become liberals. anyway thx for exchange and take care.

          • Rob Abney

            Tim, that explains why you left Christianity, but what about the historical and philosophical claims about God, what made you reject those?

          • a three year philosophy degree.

          • Doug Shaver

            A weird coincidence indeed, if it really happened.

        • Doug Shaver

          According to your standards, we can't be sure anyone from the ancient world ever existed:

          If by "sure" you mean "infallibly certain," then you're correct, but I think it's a mistake to define the word that way. I am sure that Julius Caesar existed, but if anyone asks, "Could you possibly be mistaken?" then I must reply, "Yes, it is possible." I do not consider that a problem for my epistemology.

          • Mike

            JC may not have existed either but all things considered i think he did...thanks.

    • Doug Shaver

      i've never understood why making him up seemed to ppl a more plausible way to deny Christianity than to simply state that he may have lived but there is no way he rose from the dead.

      You've been trying to understand something that didn't happen. Christianity is trivially easy to deny without denying Jesus' existence. No skeptic is under any illusion that merely affirming Jesus' existence puts one one a slippery slope to believing that Jesus is lord. I left Christianity and became an atheist some 30 years before I began to harbor even a suspicion that Jesus of Nazareth might not have been a real person.

      • Mike

        I agree, thanks.

  • Pythinia

    What about the 'The Jew Trypho' charged that
    Christianity was based upon a rumour and that if Jesus was born and lived
    somewhere he is entirely unknown, he charged that Jesus was a figment of the
    Christian imagination. This he said in his dialogue with St Justin Martyr. (2nd Century AD) (Circa 100 – 164 approx.)

    • That's not what Trypho says. He does not say that if "Jesus lived" etc. he says that if the *Messiah* has been born, he is unknown but Jesus was not the Messiah. He's not denying that Jesus existed - not least because elsewhere in the dialogue he makes it quite clear that he accepts Jesus did. He's denying that Jesus was the Messiah.

      • Doug Shaver

        He's not denying that Jesus existed . . . . He's denying that Jesus was the Messiah.

        Maybe. Here are his words:

        But Christ—if He has indeed been born, and exists anywhere—is unknown, and does not even know Himself, and has no power until Elias come to anoint Him, and make Him manifest to all. And you, having accepted a groundless report, invent a Christ for yourselves, and for his sake are inconsiderately perishing.

        Yes, he could have meant, "The man you call the messiah was not really the messiah." But that isn't what he said, and I don't think it's a reach to construe what he did say as meaning, "The man you call the messiah might not even have existed."

  • Pythinia

    I think you are making assumptions about 'Jesus Mythicists' you bring in the 'ideological axe to grind' as if that will disperse their debate by rendering unimportant their views... We cannot know from this point in time just whether Jesus existed or not - he certainly is today and millions of folks rule there lives by him - the point is how did it come to this with so little historical data? Faith? in what and why....

    • I note their "ideological axe" as a very good reason to suspect they are not looking at this question objectively, nothing more. But that is something that needs to be kept in mind. No, we can't "know" if he existed or not. People who like certainty should avoid ancient history - they'll quickly became discouraged by how many things we can't "know". What historians look for instead is what is most likely: i.e. what is the most parsimonious interpretation of the evidence that we have. The consensus of scholars on that is clear: it is most likely there was a historical Jesus at the core of the later stories. This is not "faith", it's an assessment of likelihood of the kind that historians make all the time.

      • Doug Shaver

        The consensus of scholars on that is clear:

        Yes, the consensus is clear. It is not so clear that the consensus is well founded. A growing number of scholars without antireligious ideological compulsions -- still a very small number, but growing nonetheless -- are coming to believe that it is not well founded. And the vast majority of scholars credentialed in the relevant academic disciplines certainly do have ideological commitments to Jesus' existence.

  • candide

    The real question is not whether Jesus existed. The real question is whether he was the Jesus taught by the established Christian church in 325AD or someone else, whether he was a pre-existent divine figure and/or part of a Triune Godhead, or as Albert Schweitzer wrote over 100 years ago, an apocalyptic Jewish prophet, fully and only human, who expected, wrongly, that his death would usher in the Kingdom of God. History confirms Schweitzer's view, not that of the Council of Nicaea.

  • candide

    The earliest Christians were gathered around Jesus' brother James the Just, who regarded Jesus as the Son of Man, which could mean any number of things: a messiah, a specially endowed figure given divine powers after his resurrection, a prophet of God. James' community believed Jesus was not God. Paul of Tarsus taught that Jesus either after his resurrection or even before, was "the heavenly Man," sent to save men from their sins. Paul was a mystic and he received these ideas from Jewish mysticism. Christianity could have gone either way, but because of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem the followers of James were dispersed and marginalized and the Christianity we know of adopted the views of Paul and the author of the Gospel of John. That is why Jesus is known primarily as divine.

  • candide

    Atheists would do best not to question the existence of Jesus but only his orthodox persona as a divine being sharing the Godhead witdh the Father and the Holy Ghost.

    • Doug Shaver

      Atheists would do best not to question the existence of Jesus but only his orthodox persona as a divine being

      Yes, we would, if we cared about nothing other than discrediting Christianity.

  • Bruce Grubb

    The reasoning behind Josephus TF being real is a joke. Anybody who knew what they were doing could use the "Around this time" lead in. As has been pointed out over nearly 150 years this doesn't explain why the next paragraph begins with "About the same time another terrible misfortune confounded the Jews ..."; WHAT "another terrible misfortune"? Even in the supposed original reads like a freaking commercial for Jesus.

    Never mind that there is NONE of the details Josephus gives regarding other would be messiahs. What "wonderful works" did Jesus do? Doesn't say. Why did " the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross" rather then take care of it themselves by stoning him or being the crap out of him as they did with Jesus ben Ananias [Ananus] of 66-70 CE? Doesn't say.

    Compare the TF with John the Baptist who Josephus gives more detail about what he did and why he was killed. Heck, there is more detail on The Samaritan prophet of 36 CE then there is for Jesus and Josephus doesn't even give his actual name or title.

    Tacitus is another joke as the manuscript actually is about "Chrstus" who depending on the "scholar" is rendered as Christus or Chrestus as the mood suits them. No actual Roman record would have used this title but the man's actual name and then stated that his followers gave him this title. More over in the 4th century it was stated very clearly "this group did not name themselves after Christ or with Jesus’ own name, but Natzraya." a term that was applied to ALL followers of Jesus. A little later the group is called Jessaeans.

    In fact, Tacitus is at odds with two near contemporary CHRISTIAN accounts: The apocryphal Acts of Paul (c. 160 CE) and "The Acts of Peter" (late 2nd century CE). The first had Nero reaction to claim of sedition by a "revived" soldier of Christ while the second claims Nero had a such a frightening vision that he "kept away from the disciples . . . and thereafter the brethren kept together with one accord . . .'.". NO Christian version of this story appears until Sulpicius Severus c. 400 CE and it is nearly a rewrite of the above with only the "Their founder, one Chrstus had been put to death by the procurator, Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius." line missing. More over the 29-31 CE Annuals which would have given more information have been removed with a "cut [that] is so precise and covers precisely those two years [that it] is too improbable to posit as a chance coincidence."

    This is the piss poor quality of what amounts to our supposed best secondary reference to Jesus and everything else is even worse.

    • "The reasoning behind Josephus TF being real is a joke."

      Considering the consensus is that many parts of it aren't "real", arguing against it being genuine in toto is a straw man argument. So you're not off to a flying start.

      WHAT "another terrible misfortune"?

      A "wise man" being executed.

      Even in the supposed original reads like a freaking commercial for Jesus.

      If Josephus thought Jesus, like the Baptist and Onias, was a good guy wrongfully executed, why is this a problem?

      "Never mind that there is NONE of the details Josephus gives regarding other would be messiahs."

      His other passages on several similar figures are similarly light on details.

      "What "wonderful works" did Jesus do? Doesn't say."

      What "wonderful works" does Josephus say Elisha did in IX.8.6, where he uses precisely the same phrase? Doesn't say. It helps to actually study the whole text.

      "there is more detail on The Samaritan prophet of 36 CE then there is for Jesus and Josephus doesn't even give his actual name or title."

      So when Josephus omits what would seem to be a key detail about the Samaritan (or the Egyptian) that's fine but when he does so with Jesus that isn't? You aren't making much sense. All of these brief accounts of these figures tell us far less than we would like to know - they are largely peripheral or incidental to his narrative.

      "Tacitus is another joke as the manuscript actually is about "Chrstus"
      who depending on the "scholar" is rendered as Christus or Chrestus as
      the mood suits them."

      We have Christian manuscripts where the word is spelled "Chrestus". Considering both "Christus" and "Chrestus" were pronounced exactly the same, this is hardly surprising. And the "Christus" in the Tacitean passage is one who was the founder of the Christians, was executed in Judea, by Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. To pretend this doesn't clearly refer to Jesus is ridiculous.

      " More over in the 4th century it was stated very clearly "this group did
      not name themselves after Christ or with Jesus’ own name, but
      Natzraya."

      That was stated very clearly about the Epiphanius about the Nazorean sect. He says that all Christians were also called "Nazarenes" but is making the point that the Nazoreans called themselves this exclusively and rejected the name "Christians". "Christians" is attested as a term for the Jesus sect in the first century in Acts 11:26 and this term was well known in Tacitus' time, as we can see from Pliny's account of them.

      " Tacitus is at odds with two near contemporary CHRISTIAN accounts"

      How can apocrypha from 160 and the late second century be "contemporary" with Tacitus? By that logic the canonical gospels are "contempory" attestation of Jesus.

      "This is the piss poor quality of what amounts to our supposed best
      secondary reference to Jesus and everything else is even worse."

      Gosh. I guess all those Josephan scholars who consider the TF partially authentic (you know, the majority of them) and all the Tacitean scholars who accept his passage as wholly authentic (virtually all of them) are just idiots then. Luckily we have online keyboard heros cribbing from an unemployed blogger to save us from these morons.

      • Bruce Grubb

        "Considering both "Christus" and "Christus" were pronounced exactly the same," Assuming a typo there that is like saying Chef and Chief are pronounced exactly the same because they are spelled nearly the same way and nonsensical. No one really knows how these words were pronounced.

        • that is like saying Chef and Chief are pronounced exactly the same because they are spelled nearly the same way and nonsensical. No one really knows how these words were pronounced.

          Gosh. So I guess the whole books written on the subject drawing on vast amounts of data including things like rhyme, puns, plays on words and orthography simply don't exist because this guy without a clue says so. Those with something of a clue, on the other hand, can check out the detailed discussion in G. Horrocks, Greek: A History of the Language and Its Speakers (2010) Ch.6. The evidence shows that the letter η had the phonetic value /i/ in nearly all of the Greek-speaking world. Which means Χρήστος and Χρίστος were homophones. So transcribing oral /khrist-/ into Latin both Chrest- and Christ- would have been perfectly reasonable orthographies. This is why we find fluidity between the forms even in Christian documents, as I've already explained.

          But I'm guessing you aren't terribly interested in what actual experts have to say and want to just keep parroting the failed academic and unemployed, biased polemicist you're cribbing your tangle of crap from. Just like Creationists, these online Mythicists are little more than foghorns repeating arguments on subjects they don't actually understand but which make them feel warm inside.

          • Bruce Grubb

            WHAT "evidence"? The claims of Christians? That is like asking Neo-Nazis about the validity of Holocaust denial. In fact, if you look at the related word Chrestus makes far more sense then Christus:

            chraomai: consulting an oracle

            chresterion: "the seat of an oracle" and "an offering to, or for, the oracle."

            Chrestes: one who expounds or explains oracles, "a prophet, a soothsayer"

            chresterios (χρηστήριος): one who belongs to, or is in the service of, an oracle, a god, or a "Master"

            theochrestos: "God-declared," or one who is declared by god.

            Now for a GENTILE audience doesn't those make far more sense then Christus which requires some knowledge of Judaism to make sense of?

            On Tacitus I said two NEAR contemporary accounts. And you avoided the REAL issue. WHY to the Christians THEMSELVES relate two account not only at odds with what Tacitus relates with nearly 180 degrees from each other.

            WHY would Christians clam that Nero was reaction to claims of SEDITION when he supposedly was going after Christians as a way to shift blame for the fire of Rome which even Suetonius doesn't support (he just lists their punishment...whatever it may have been... as part of a general house cleaning of Rome). The later account is even more gonzo as that one has Nero having a dream-vision so intense he leave the movement alone.

            If we are to buy into the whole Criterion of embarrassment BS then The apocryphal Acts of Paul (c. 160 CE) MUST be the the TRUE account because no Christian would make up the story that they were being punished for promoting sedition if Nero was actually using them as fall guys for the burning of Rome. ;-P

          • "WHAT "evidence"? The claims of Christians? "

            So now all the experts in ancient Greek phonomics and orthography are "Christians" who can be dismissed as being on the same level as Holocaust deniers. It doesn't take too long for online Mythers to descend to this giddy level of rhetorical nonsense.

            "if you look at the related word Chrestus makes far more sense then Christus"

            What doesn't make sense is the idea that Tacitus was referring to some other group who followed a "Chrestus" and that this group, by a remarkable sequence of coincidences, just happened to follow a guy who was also executed in Judea, by Pilate in the reign of Tiberius, but who wasn't the Jesus who was called "Christus". It was someone else, totally unattested, who founded a cult, also unattested, which ended up in Rome. Then this other cult based on this other executed early first century Judean vanished without trace. But they weren't Christians. Occam's Razor slashes that contrived garbage to ribbons. But Mythers constantly have to construct these fantasy castles of unparsimonious, contrived nonsense to make inconvenient evidence go away and keep their silly thesis from collapsing. Then they wonder why no-one with a clue takes them seriously.

            Now for a GENTILE audience doesn't those make far more sense then Christus which requires some knowledge of Judaism to make sense of?

            No. And the Gentile audience doesn't need to know why this executed Judea was called "Christus", even if they didn't know enough Greek to be able to figure out it means "anointed". Tacitus is explaining the etymology of the word "Christian" and the shameful and superstitious origin of the sect.

            "WHY to the Christians THEMSELVES relate two account not only at odds with what Tacitus relates with nearly 180 degrees from each other."

            You seriously can't work out why Christian accounts written decades later at the other end of the Empire would differ from a hostile account by a Roman aristocrat? Or from each other. Try a little harder.

            But thanks for all those words in ALL CAPS. That made your tangled and incompetent arguments so much more CONVINCING. As did the very mature emoticon at the end - we're clearly dealing with a profoundly serious intellect here.

            It's almost as though these guys are trying to make their kooky fringe thesis look ludicrous ...

          • Bruce Grubb

            As Jay Raskin points out the passage is strange in that "Tacitus would have had to explain more about the suppression of the new superstition if it died out in the 30’s and started again in Rome around in the 60’s. (The Fire was in 64). If the outbreak of the superstition happened in the time of Nero, as Josephus reports, there would be no need to explain what happened."

            He suggests the passage originally read as follows:

            Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite punishments on a class hated for their disgraceful acts, called Chrestians by the populace.Chrestus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty (i.e., Crucifixion) during the reign of *Nero* at the hands of one of our procurators, Porcius *Festus*, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular.

            Two name changes and presto-chango you have "evidence" for Jesus. And given Christians were not above forging entire letters this is well within plausibility.

            More over Raphael Lataster in his "Questioning the Plausibility of Jesus Ahistoricity Theories—A Brief Pseudo-Bayesian Metacritique of the Sources" paper in Intermountain West Journal of Religious Studies points out some of the same things Remsburg did in 1909:

            * "It is questionable if a non-Christian historian would refer to this person as Christ rather than the more secular Jesus of Nazareth."

            * "Though Annals covers the period of Rome’s history from around 14 CE to 66 CE, no other mention is made of Jesus Christ.

            * "This passage is also ignored by early Christian apologists such as Origen and Tertullian, who actually quote Tacitus in the 3rd century."

            In fact, no reference to this passage is made until the 14th century making it highly suspect.

            Never mind the final nail in this nonsense. We know that Pliny the Younger was good friends and regularly corresponded with Tacitus and Suetonius so anything one reports that the other two don't know about is suspect.

          • "As Jay Raskin points out ...

            Ah yes, "PhilosopherJay" - another online amateur nobody with a crackpot theory. What could possibly go wrong here?

            "Tacitus would have had to explain more about the suppression of the new
            superstition if it died out in the 30’s and started again in Rome around
            in the 60’s."

            "Would have to" Why? He's explaining who these Christians were and why they were so called by reference to their leader in the 30s and then saying it sprang up again in Rome "where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular". What more explanation is needed? None at all. I love it when these Mythers declare that things "should" have happened and give absolutely no basis for these grand declarations.

            "He suggests the passage originally read as follows"

            Translation - "he substantially rewrites the passage to make it fit his crackpot theory and then triumphantly declares that it fits his theory perfectly!" Gosh. It must be fun to study history by rewriting the evidence - so much easier than the way actual historians do it.

            "Two name changes and presto-chango you have "evidence" for Jesus."

            Two name changes and presto-chango you've made some inconvenient evidence against your a priori, ideologically-driven assumptions conveniently disappear. How wonderful.

            More over Raphael Lataster.... points out some of the same things Remsburg did in 1909"

            Yes, these modern second-rate nobodies do little more than rehash the crap from the original second-rate nobodies who peddled this garbage in the first place.

            ""It is questionable if a non-Christian historian would refer to this
            person as Christ rather than the more secular Jesus of Nazareth"

            A stupid claim, given that Tacitus is explaining who the "CHRISTians" were and why they we called that by reference to their founder "CHRISTus". Next?

            "Though Annals covers the period of Rome’s history from around 14 CE to 66 CE, no other mention is made of Jesus Christ."

            Another dumb non-starter. Given that no other early first century Jewish preachers, prophets or Messianic claimants are mentioned by Tacitus, why would we expect any mention of this one in any other context? Where would we expect this mention and why? Next?

            "This passage is also ignored by early Christian apologists such as
            Origen and Tertullian, who actually quote Tacitus in the 3rd century"

            It gets dumber. Let's see if anyone can work out why these apologists would not be keen to highlight a scornful, sneering condemnation of their faith where Tacitus describes it as "a most mischievous superstition .... evil .... hideous and shameful .... (with a) hatred against mankind".

            " We know that Pliny the Younger was good friends and regularly
            corresponded with Tacitus and Suetonius so anything one reports that the
            other two don't know about is suspect."

            Then vast amounts of accepted Roman history are thereforte "suspect", as there is very little overlap between all three of those writers. Over and over again Mythers make these absurd claims, oblivious to the fact that if the standards they use to try to make evidence relevant to Jesus were applied consistently, the whole study of ancient history would become untenable. But they don't actually care about history or rationality - they have a driving ideological need to prop up their silly thesis and no understanding of the discipline they are mangling as they do so. Much like Creationists and science.

          • Bruce Grubb

            " second-rate nobodies" don't have their work printed by Brill. Tell me do you actually think before you post this drivel?

            By Occam's Razor' what fits better? That somehow EVERY Christian that used Tacitus (we don't know WHERE Sulpicius Severus got his reference from) missed this massage for 10 centuries or that some guy in the 11th century messed with this?

          • "" second-rate nobodies" don't have their work printed by Brill. "

            If you mean Lataster, I'm pretty familiar with his standing in the scheme of things, given that he's a student at my university. The boy is a nobody. Your delusion this student is some great authority shows exactly how without a clue you are. He has self-published two books through print-on-demand services and has had a couple of articles in low-ranked and/or non-peer reviewed journals, as we'd expect for a post-grad at his level. What exactly has he had published by Brill?

            that somehow EVERY Christian that used Tacitus (we don't know WHERE
            Sulpicius Severus got his reference from) missed this massage for 10
            centuries

            But they didn't. Tertullian made an oblique reference to it when he writes "Examine your records. There you will find that Nero was the first that persecuted this doctrine ... We glory in having such a man the leader in our punishment. For whoever knows him can understand that nothing was condemned by Nero unless it was something of great excellence." And even you have noted that Sulpicius Severus is clearly using this passage, minus the insults against Christianity. So Occam's Razor tells us that other writers didn't highlight a passage that called their faith "a most mischievous superstition .... evil .... hideous and shameful .... (with a) hatred against mankind" for pretty obvious reasons and it was only once Christianity was no longer an illegal and persecuted sect that we find it utilised, minus the insults, by Severus. Where, exactly, is the problem?

            Your weird and tangled alternative, via "PhilosopherJay", on the other hand makes no sense at all. Somehow we have some other sect that just happened by co0-incidence, to derive from a "Christus/Chrestus" executed by Pilate in the 30s (but which wasn't Christianity) being persecuted. But which is otherwise unattested and then vanishes without trace. Yet somehow Terttullian is sure that if his Roman readers examine their records they will find evidence of a Neronic persecution of his sect. And Severus clearly uses the Tacitean passage in his history. All this simply does not add up.

            But that is about par for the course for these Mythicist bumblers.

  • MewCat100 .

    Given how much we know about the editing, re-writing, etc. of Gospels, I find it laughable that they are used as any sort of evidence. What is more laughable is the fact that references to early Christians and early Christianity are often used as if they were references to Christ himself or even to a person on whom the idea of Christ might be based.

    There is simply no solid evidence to support the idea that the idea of Christ is based upon a real individual existed and there never will be. There is nothing better than hearsay for evidence in these cases, a type of evidence that we consider crap, at best, in modern settings. The search for the historical Jesus is nothing more than an exercise in mental masturbation in which everyone posits a theory, seeks only information to support that theory, and then ignores any information that refutes it. It is, perhaps, the largest exercise in confirmation bias ever undertaken. The best we can say is that a person on whom the biblical Jesus is based MAY have existed, but there may also have been basis at all. It's a wash.

    • "Given how much we know about the editing, re-writing, etc. of Gospels, I find it laughable that they are used as any sort of evidence."

      Then it seems you don't understand how critical scholars use them. They are used the way any historian uses any ancient text - to examine what the writer believed happened and then to use that critically to try to determine what may have actually happened. The differences in the gospels' accounts of various events are actually therefore useful. If gMatt says Jesus was born in Bethlehem and then moved to Nazareth as a child and gLuke says his family was from Nazareth, he happened to be born in Bethlehem and then they returned to Nazareth, this contradiction tells us a number of things. Most pertinently here, it tells us that the idea of a Messiah from Nazareth was a problem for these writers, so they presented (contradictory) stories that had had him being born in Bethlehem, in accordance with a prophecy in Micah. They wouldn't need to do this if it wasn't well known that Jesus was a Galilean from Nazareth. This tells us he was from Nazareth. Which supports the idea that he was a historical preacher who was being shoehorned into the Messiah concept and not some fictional/metaphorical/mythic being. Otherwise why is insignificant and inconvenient village of Nazareth in the story at all?

      The "editing, re-writing" etc of the Gospels makes little to no difference to this. Firstly, what we know about that shows that this is rarely more than an addition of a word or phrase. Secondly, we know this far better in the case of the gospels because we have so many manuscripts to work from (we don't have this for other ancient texts). And thirdly, we can take the edits and revisions we trace through this textual evidence into account when analysing the texts.

      "What is more laughable is the fact that references to early Christians and early Christianity are often used as if they were references to Christ himself or even to a person on whom the idea of Christ might be based."

      Not by me. Once again what we seem to have here is someone who is just parroting standard Myther blurts, without any detailed knowledge of the area or without even reading what they are commenting on. Much like Creationists wandering into a science discussion with cut-and-paste anti-evolution boilerplate. This never ends well.

      There is simply no solid evidence to support the idea that the idea of Christ is based upon a real individual existed and there never will be.

      My, what a bold statement. People who like "solid evidence" for things should probably avoid ancient history altogether - they will find themselves disappointed.

      "There is nothing better than hearsay for evidence in these cases, a type of evidence that we consider crap, at best, in modern settings."

      The evidence we have for the historical Jesus is much the same as the evidence we have for the majority of figures in the ancient world. Perhaps you could go to your local university and explain to the historians who study periods before "modern settings" and tell them everything they do is "crap". I'm sure they'll be immense impressed and grateful for your deep and wise insight.

      "The best we can say is that a person on whom the biblical Jesus is based MAY have existed"

      No, we can (and do) say that, on balance, it is most likely such a person existed. That is the consensus of the vast and overwhelming majority of scholars (minus a tiny handful of fringe contrarians), and for good reason. These include the majority of atheist, agnostic, Jewish and non-Christian scholars. Perhaps you should educate yourself as to why this is so.

  • Nullifidian

    Though this has little to do with your article, since you don't use Suetonius for evidence, I'd still like to mention that there is a convincing case that Suetonius isn't referring to Jesus or early Christians at all. His use of the name "Chrestus" is taken by those who want to read Jesus into the passage as a mistake for "Christus". However, H. Dixon Slingerland in Claudian Policymaking and the Early Imperial Repression of Judaism at Rome makes a fairly convincing case that "Chrestus" is the correct name, a Latinized form of a Greek name that was a common good luck name given to slaves. Slingerland also makes a detailed and, in my opinion, unassailable demonstration based on the grammar of the passage that the events recounted in Suetonius' chapter on Claudius were occurring during the reign of that emperor, and do not refer to an event happening roughly three decades before, when Jesus would have been executed. Given Slingerland's arguments, I wouldn't even take it as a given that this passage even refers to any early Christian sect.

    That said, I agree with the rest of the analysis in this article entirely. I think it's more plausible, on balance, that there exists some crumb of historical reality at the heart of the stories about Jesus, although I doubt if we'll ever be able to get a very clear idea of what the real man was like. As an atheist, I think mythicism hurts us in two ways. Aside from employing the same blind faith and biased approach to evidence that we criticize in apologists, it paradoxically supports Christianity by making it appear as if the case for Jesus' divinity is so apparent even to atheists that the only way to get around it is to make a last-ditch appeal to the nonexistence of any historical Jesus. In fact, it's the other way around: the case for Jesus' divinity is weak, but the case for his existence is, as you have demonstrated, fairly basic and compelling.

    • All of which is part of why I don't refer to Suetonius as evidence for Jesus. The other reason is that, even if he was referring to Jesus' sect, this is only evidence of the existence of the sect, not of its founder. The Tacitean reference, by contrast, gives us concrete information about the sect's founder - where he was executed, when and by who.

      • Doug Shaver

        The Tacitean reference, by contrast, gives us concrete information about the sect's founder - where he was executed, when and by who.

        But it gives us zero information about where the author got that concrete information.

        • Welcome to ancient history. Enjoy your stay.

          If you going to reject any ancient source that doesn't tell us where the writer got their info you're going to have to throw away about 99% of all source material. Does that strike you as "rational"? Use your brain, please.

          • Doug Shaver

            Your assumption that anyone who disagrees with you isn't using their brain is noted.

            I did not say that a source should be rejected if the author fails to identify their source. I intended only to suggest that whatever we know or may reasonably suspect about the author's sources is critical to a determination of whether, and with how much confidence, we should believe whatever the author is asserting.

          • Which means we have to throw out 99% of our sources, according to you. That's ridiculous. This is why no-one takes irrational people like you seriously. You're in the same kooky category as Creationists.

          • Doug Shaver

            Which means we have to throw out 99% of our sources, according to you.

            I believe that is a gross misrepresentation of my position.

            Or, is it actually your position that when assessing the reliability of an ancient document, inquiry into the author's sources is simply irrelevant? Is it your understanding that professional historians never make such inquiries, or that when they do, it is for reasons unrelated to determining the credibility of the author's assertions?

          • Of course we don't ignore where an ancient historian got their information. But if there is no reasons to think their sources are unreliable, we assume their information is correct. Josephus lived in the same very small city as Jesus' brother. Tacitus moved in circles with a range of Jewish nobles who could give him information about what happened in Judea in 30 AD. To pretend they couldn't get valid information about people like Jesus and James is patently ridiculous. This is why no-one takes people like you seriously. You're a joke.

          • Doug Shaver

            But if there is no reasons to think their sources are unreliable, we assume their information is correct.

            I don't know who you're including in that "we," but I've found a few historians who disagree with you. A blanket presumption of reliable-until-proven-otherwise is inconsistent with everything we now know about human nature. I am not arguing for a presumption of unreliability. I am arguing for no presumption -- a suspension of judgment pending discovery of evidence favoring a judgment one way or the other.

            To pretend they couldn't get valid information about people like Jesus and James is patently ridiculous.

            I am neither claiming nor pretending that they couldn't. What they could have done is irrelevant. We need a reason to believe something about what they did do.

          • "I've found a few historians who disagree with you"

            Name them.

            "A blanket presumption of reliable-until-proven-otherwise is inconsistent with everything we now know about human nature."

            Garbage. We assume their unnamed sources are reliable unless we have good reason not to. If we didn't we couldn't analyse the past at all. You don't have the faintest clue how history is studied, which is why you're a joke.

          • Doug Shaver

            Name them.

            You really believe there aren't any? I wasn't expecting that. I'll have to get back to you after spending some time in my files.

          • And we never heard from him again ...

          • Doug Shaver

            I'll remember you said that.

          • Doug Shaver

            I've found a few historians who disagree with you

            Name them.

            My memory deceived me. None of the authors I could check says anything explicitly contradicting what you say. The key word there is “explicitly.” Much of what they do say strikes me as clearly inconsistent with your position, and that is why I said what I did. But that is a matter of interpretation, and I have no wish to get into an exegetical squabble with you. I’ll instead just confess to having been mistaken.

            You’re not the first person I’ve encountered to claim that certain ancient sources must be presumed reliable until proven otherwise. I’ve heard it from many apologists for evangelical Christianity, and I have routinely challenged them to quote just one reputable historian who explicitly asserts the claim. None has ever done so. One of them alleged that John P. Meier stated it in the first volume of his A Marginal Jew but failed to provide a more specific citation. I bought the book and read it carefully. No such statement was there.

            Perhaps you can do better than any of those apologists could. Until you do, though, it looks to me as though we’re both just assuming something about how historians ought to be doing their jobs and finding confirmation of our respective assumptions when we read their work.

            You don't have the faintest clue how history is studied

            I have tried very hard to get one. I’ve read several books and many articles in professional journals on the subject. If you are convinced, merely on the basis of my disagreement with you, that I have learned absolutely nothing from all of that reading, then of course there is no way I’m going to change your mind. But I do have a few observations for the lurkers’ benefit.

            No historian, professional or amateur, can approach any inquiry without some assumptions. Before examining any documentary evidence, there are certain things we must think we already know about the time and place in which the evidence was produced and about the people who were likely to have been involved in the document’s production. But the unavoidability of assumptions does not entail their infallibility, especially not when other researchers, even if they’re amateurs, challenge them. Even if it is the case that all professional historians are prepared to explicitly state, “We assume X,” we lay people have every epistemological right to ask, “Why do you assume X?” and to be dissatisfied with any response that amounts to “Because we’ve always done it this way.”

            A blanket presumption of reliable-until-proven-otherwise is inconsistent with everything we now know about human nature.

            Garbage

            Not just because you or anyone else says so.

            We assume their unnamed sources are reliable unless we have good reason not to. If we didn't we couldn't analyse the past at all.

            Your assumption would guarantee an inaccurate analysis of the past, because your assumption has no basis in the facts we have both about human cognition in general and about two particular human activities called literature and propaganda.

            For an analysis of the past in which we can justifiably have some confidence, we need only to have some sources that we may judge with good reason to be reliable. There are plenty of sources that we do have good reason to consider reliable. There are other sources that we have good reason to consider unreliable, and yet others on which we have no basis to make any judgment at all. We make judgments when we have good reasons for those judgments, and we suspend judgment when we don’t.

            Historiography is not a legal proceeding. There is no presumption of either innocence or guilt. If neither is proven, then neither is established and there can be no defensible verdict.

          • "My memory deceived me."

            What a surprise.

            "Much of what they do say strikes me as clearly inconsistent with your position"

            Given that nowhere did I say everything a historian says is immediately considered wholly "reliable", that's not surprising either. What I did say is that if an ancient source makes a reference to a person or event or place as historical we don't immediately assume this isn't correct unless we have reason to do so. That's quite different from uncritically accepting everything they say about a person, event or place is completely "reliable".

            "For an analysis of the past in which we can justifiably have some confidence, we need only to have some sources that we may judge with good reason to be reliable. There are plenty of sources that we do have good reason to consider reliable. There are other sources that we have good reason to consider unreliable, and yet others on which we have no basis to make any judgment at all. We make judgments when we have good reasons for those judgments, and we suspend judgment when we don’t."

            Gosh, you mean basic undergraduate historiographic heuristics? Congratulations - you just got the first glimmerings of the historical method as worked out by people like von Ranke roughly 200 years ago. You have a lot of catching up to do. The first thing you need to jettison, however, is your weirdly fanatical bias against anything associated with Christianity. Until you do, any analysis you manage in your fumbling way to achieve is going to be the kind of junk we've seen from you so far.

          • Doug Shaver

            You are misrepresenting much of what I've said. But then, you accuse me of doing the same to you.

            It's up to the lurkers now. I've made my points.

          • Lazarus

            It just seems that you are unable to have a civil discussion when questioned, even politely done like we see Doug doing. "Garbage", he is a "joke"?

            This certainly does your own credibility no good. I for one will stop reading your opinions until you learn to have a civil discussion.

            Edited to add : your comments are also regularly in breach of the forum rules, but I suppose they can be ignored when you're involved.

  • Bahumuth

    >>Early Christianity and the critics of early Christianity agree on virtually nothing about Jesus, except for one thing - that he existed as a historical person in the early first century.

    Can you name one Jewish source that accepts that Jesus was a first century Galilean exorcist? The Talmud, the Toledot, and Mara Bar Serapion all place Jesus in the first century B.C. Epiphanius cites a source that dates him to that period as well. Justin's "Trypho" says "“if he has indeed been born and exists anywhere—is unknown…” The 12th century Spanish philosopher, physician, and historian, Abraham ben Daud, is recorded in Dr. Adolph Neubauer’s Medieval Jewish Chronicles from 1887 as saying that Jesus having lived 110 years earlier was not just the belief of some Jewish historians but all Jewish historians. And the funny thing is, I always see historicists like Ehrman make these citations to prove a historical Jesus without admitting (or knowing) that it is an entirely different Jesus! When trying to prove the historical Jesus, Van Voorst says that Jewish references to Jesus “provide an even stronger case than those in classical literature that [Jesus] did indeed exist…” yet when it comes to question of WHO Jesus is, this goldmine of corroboration suddenly turns into a garbage heap that “may contain a few older traditions from ancient Jewish polemic against Christians, but we learn nothing new or significant from it. Scholarly consensus is correct to discount it as a reliable source for the historical Jesus.” Van Voorst wants it both ways: when defending the existence of the historical Jesus, the Jewish tradition is not just a credible independent witness, it is the strongest witness, but when determining what can be said about the historical Jesus, it is derivative and historically worthless.

    >>For the writer of Mark, this is the point where Jesus becomes the Messiah of Yahweh and so there is no problem with him having his sins washed away by John... So Matthew tells more or less the same story as he finds in Mark, which he uses as his source, but adds a small exchange of dialogue not found in the earlier version... There is no baptism of Jesus at all in the Gospel of John version... All of them are dealing with the baptism of Jesus by John in different ways and trying to make it fit with their conceptions of Jesus and at least two of them are having some trouble doing so and are having to change the story to make it fit their ideas about Jesus. All this indicates that the baptism of Jesus by John was a historical event and known to be such and so could not be left out of the story.

    Assuming the author of Matthew believes he is writing history and not fiction, why would he (or John) need a secondary source apart from Mark (or a Proto-Mark gospel) to convince them that the story was historical?

    1 Clement says, "Let us take pattern by those who went about in sheepskins and goatskins heralding the Messiah’s coming; that is to say, Elijah, Elisha and Ezekiel among the prophets, and other famous names besides", proving that the "heralding of the Messiah by a prophet in sheepskins" was an established religious motif completely independent of the John the Baptist narrative.

    The baptism story provides an etiological narrative describing how Christianity evolved from Essene-like baptism rituals, marking the beginning of Jesus' ministry, to the Dionysian Eucharist at the end. The Marriage in Cana uses the same etiological narrative device in the "Water to Wine" story, symbolizing the change from baptismal water to Eucharist wine.

    >>So why is Nazareth, a tiny place of no religious significance, in the story? And why all the effort to get Jesus born in Bethlehem but keep Nazareth in the narrative?

    Acts 24:5 says "Nazarene" is the name of Paul's "sect". We also know there was another sect called the Nazoreans. Then there is also the heavy association Christianity has with the Hebrew word netzer (“branch”). There are also many different spellings of Nazareth, such as Nazara, indicating the best explanation is that "Jesus the Nazarene" was reinterpreted, several different times, as "Jesus of Nazareth". Mark only mentions "Nazareth" once, in Mark 1:9, and not during the episode when Jesus returns to his hometown, which is a strong indication that it was not part of the original story. This argument is found in just about every mythicist work out there. You really need to READ the material before you start criticizing it.

    >>The idea of a Messiah who dies was totally unheard of and utterly alien to any Jewish tradition prior to the beginning of Christianity, but the idea of a Messiah who was crucified was not only bizarre, it was absurd. According to Jewish tradition, anyone who was "hanged on a tree" was to be considered accursed by Yahweh and this was one of the reasons crucifixion was considered particularly abhorrent to Jews.

    Jews did not believe those who were crucified for fighting against the Romans were cursed by God. So if the author was trying to apply that to Roman crucifixion, then the verse was shoehorned in for theological reasons. Jews only believed Yahweh cursed Jews who were executed by Jewish law for breaking his commandments, so it would make sense if the author of that verse believed Jesus was stoned to death and literally hung on a tree as Jewish law prescribes, as portrayed in 1 Thessalonians, the Talmud, the Toledot, Mara Bar Serapion, Peter's account of Jesus' death in Acts 5:30, John Dominic Crossan's hypothetical Cross Gospel, and Delbert Burkett's hypothetical Sanhedrin Trial Source used by Luke for both the Passion and Stephen's martyrdom.

    >>It was equally weird to non-Jews. Crucifixion was considered the most shameful of deaths, so much so that one of the privileges of Roman citizenship is that citizens could never be crucified. The idea of a crucified god, therefore, was unthinkable.

    There are vases showing Dionysus crucified on a pole in front of an altar of adherents taking the bread and wine Eucharist. A marble sarcophagus also shows an old man displaying the crucifix to the baby Dionysus, foreshadowing his fate. Orpheus is portrayed crucified on a tiny (now lost) stone as crucified with a moon and seven stars above him with the inscription “Orpheus becomes a Bacchi”, insinuating that he achieved he became one with Dionysus through his death. Antinous also does not appear to be embarrassed when he is holding up a cross in one hand and the Eucharist grapes in the other. Pictures are linked below.

    http://lost-history.com/dionysus.php

    http://lost-history.com/orpheus.php

    http://lost-history.com/serapis.php

    >>As a result of this and other evidence (e.g., the Arabic and Syriac paraphrases of this passage which seem to come from a version before the clumsy additions by the interpolator) the consensus amongst scholars of all backgrounds is that the passage is partially genuine, with additions made in a few obvious places. Louis H. Feldman's Josephus and Modern Scholarship (1984) surveys scholarship on the question from 1937 to 1980 and finds of 52 scholars on the subject, 39 considered the passage to be partially authentic.

    75% is hardly a consensus. Kirby has also posted an article by professor Paul Hopper who in his study on the Josephus said:

    "The study concludes that the uses of the Greek verb forms such as aorists and participles are distinct in the Jesus passage from those in the other Pilate episodes, and that these differences amount to a difference in genre. It is suggested that the Jesus passage is close in style and content to the creeds that were composed two to three centuries after Josephus.,, The activities of a religious fanatic who moved around Galilee and Judaea preaching a gospel of peace and salvation, was said to have performed miracles, was followed by crowds of thousands of adoring disciples, and within the space of a few hours invaded the hallowed grounds of the Temple, was hauled up before the Sanhedrin, tried by King Herod, interrogated by Pontius Pilate and crucified, all amid public tumult, made no impression on history-writers of the period."

    https://www.academia.edu/9494231/A_Narrative_Anomaly_in_Josephus

    Ken Olson also shows that Eusebius, the first person to quote the Testimonium, also describes Jesus as "a wise man", "a worker of wonderous deeds", "with pleasure", as someone popular with Gentiles, and he uses the term "Christian Tribe".

    http://www.academia.edu/4062154/Olson_A_Eusebian_Reading_of_the_Testimonium_Flavianum_2013

    Wells and others have pointed out that Origen referenced “James, the brother of Jesus” three times as proof of how “wonderous” it was that even though Josephus did not accept Jesus as Christ he still reported how the “justice of James was not at all small.” Had the Testimonium been extent in Origen’s version of Antiquities, he certainly would have cited a far-more important reference to Jesus at least once.

    >>This mention is peripheral to the story Josephus is telling, but since we know from Christian sources that Jesus' brother James led the Jesus sect in Jerusalem in this period, and we have a separate, non-dependent, Christian account of James' execution by the Jerusalem priesthood, it is fairly clear which "Jesus who was called Messiah" Josephus is referring to here.

    John Dominic Crossan brings us into reality here:

    “Josephus’ phrase 'inhabitants…who were strict in observance of the law' probably means Pharisees. Was James a Pharisee? And, more important, how long had he been in Jerusalem? We know for sure, as seen earlier, that he was there by about 38 C.E., when Paul first met him. Did he come there only after the execution of Jesus, or had he been there long before it? I realize how tentative all this is, but much more explanation for James’s presence and standing in Jerusalem needs be given than is usually offered. Did he leave Nazareth long before and become both literate and involved within scribal circles in Jerusalem? Could his earlier presence there and Jesus’ (single?) visit to Jerusalem be somehow connected with this unit in John 7:3-5?… “If you do these things, show yourself to the world.”… All of that is terribly hypothetical, and I am quite well aware that it is. But we need to think much more about James and how he reached such status among Jewish circles that, on the one hand, he had to be executed by a Sadducee and that, on the other, his death could cause a High Priest to be deposed after only three months in office.”
    -Jesus, A Revolutionary Biography, 135

    If James was part of Jesus' movement, then why does the Gospel of Mark say he was hostile to Jesus? Why would the people in Jesus' hometown talk as if his brother is still there and not walking with Jesus? Why would James take the leadership position instead of Peter? And then isn't it a huge coincidence that James the brother of Jesus ends up occupying the same exact spot in the "Peter-James-John" trio of Galatians as James the son of Zebedee takes in the gospels? If this James was a Galilean peasant whose brother had been killed by the Romans, why would his death have caused such an uproar? (The crowds of Jeruaslem seem very fickle: first they welcome Jesus in the Triumphal Entry, then they call on Pilate to have him crucified, then they riot when Jesus’ brother is killed.) Why would Herod Antipas, who according to Luke had both Jesus and James the brother of John killed, remove the high priest for doing the same thing to Jesus’ brother? Wouldn’t the same people who became angered over James’ death be even more angry of Jesus’ death? Why does Josephus write far more material on the brother of “the one called Christ” than on Jesus himself? Was James more historically important than Jesus?

    >>(i) "The words "who was called Messiah" are a later Christian interpolation"
    >>(ii) "The Jesus being referred to here was not the Jesus of Christianity, but the 'Jesus, son of Dameus' mentioned later in the same passage."

    Why can't it be both? If Agrippa deposed the high priest in order to appease the crowd, then wouldn’t it make sense to replace him with someone the crowd supported? In fact, if we assume James was originally said to have been the brother to the Jesus “son of Damneus” rather than Jesus “who is called Christ,” then that is exactly what he did: replaced the dead James with his brother. As it stands now, the replacement appears to be arbitrary.

    >>Furthermore, what he says about Jesus does not show any sign of having its origin in what a Christian would say: it has no hint or mention of Jesus' teaching, or his miracles, or anything about the claim that he rose from the dead. On the other hand, it does contain elements that would have been of note to a Roman or other non-Christian: that this founder was executed, where this happened, when it occurred ("during the reign of Tiberius") and which Roman governor carried out the penalty.

    The reference to the "reign of Tiberius" was used as the first line in the Marcionite "Gospel of the Lord". Tacitus also uses the term "Chrestus" instead of "Christus", which is the same term the Marcionites used.

    http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/marcion1.html

    >>The proponents of the Jesus Myth hypothesis are almost exclusively amateurs with an ideological axe to grind and their position is and will almost certainly remain on the outer fringe of theories about the origins of Christianity.

    I think anyone who refers to himself as an "atheist historian" instead of "historian" is almost by definition an idealogue. You write not to teach but to convince others you are smarter than the "amateurs". But to make an argument against something, you have to know what you are arguing against, and throughout these two articles, you show yourself to be totally ignorant of some of the most basic premises of mythicism. Not only that, you do not seem very well read on the subject in general. You don't seem to be familiar with the Jesus Seminar or any of the other historical Jesus models out there. What's worse, you make no attempt to fill in the huge gap of questions that occur when you try to combine the gospel narrative with your "maximalist" interpretation (I use this term in avoidance of the word "apologetic") of Acts and Josephus, such as why the rank suddenly goes from Peter -> James son of Zebedee -> John in the gospels to James son of Zebedee -> James brother of Jesus -> Peter/Cephas, or why Herod Antipas removed the high priest for killing James the brother of Jesus after killing James son of Zebedee himself. There are of course theories, like those of Robert Eisenman, that the gospels purposely diminish the roles of Jesus' family in favor of an Apostolic church, but they are also highly speculative. And that's really the problem. To make your case, you assume or pretend there are no problems with the narrative. You can make these problems look simple if you just gloss over everything without really thinking it through the way you do here, but when all of your material is filled with so many massive contradictions, then whether by mythicism or historicism, you have to break Occam's Razor to invent a narrative that harmonizes them using one speculation or another. So the conflict you seem to be establishing is not so much mythicism vs. historicism but historical/mythical speculation vs. blind acceptance of a glossed-over harmonization of the New Testament and Josephus.