Larry Hurtado's Engagement with Jesus Mythicism

February 16, 2018

Here are some excellent excerpts of Larry Hurtado's engagement with Jesus mythicism:

 

1. Anything is open to question, of course.  But to engage the sort of questions involved in this discussion really requires one to commit to the hard work of learning languages, mastering textual analysis, text-critical matters, historical context of the ancient Roman period and the Jewish setting of the time, archaeology, and more.  And we know when someone has done this when they prove it in the demands of scholarly disputation and examination, typically advanced studies reflected in graduate degrees in the disciplines, and then publications that have been reviewed and judged by scholarly peers competent to judge.  That is how you earn the right to have your views taken as having some basis and some authority.

2. Certainly, Paul speaks of many revelations (e.g., 2 Cor 12:7), and of course refers to his own religious re-orientation as occasioned by what he terms a revelation (by God) of God’s “Son” (Gal. 1:12-16). As I’ve said before, in principle anything (almost) is possible; and the task of critical historical work is to judge what is more likely, more reasonable in light of all the data. So, e.g., to repeat yet again what I’ve stated several times, Paul cites sayings of Jesus which are also included in the Synoptic Gospels. The latter show no indication of being particularly indebted to Paul for their contents. Moreover, the literary texture of the Jesus-sayings doesn’t fit Paul’s discourse style, but instead exhibits lots of “local color” of Jewish Palestine. So, merely to mention very concisely some of the reasons, most scholars by far judge that the best inference is that Paul drew upon Jesus-tradition already circulating then (obviously, at least by the time he wrote). Where did this Jesus-tradition come from at that early point? Well, as I say, given its literary texture and features, it seems to derive from a Palestinian Jewish setting. That is, independently of Pauline data, the gospels seem to reflect a derivation of Jesus-tradition from an early Jewish Palestinian setting (especially the Synoptic sayings material). Now since Paul shows acquaintance with some of this material, it seems most likely that he was using this early Jesus-tradition, and not drawing upon supposed sayings communicated in his revelatory experiences. In some other texts, Paul explicitly identifies the content of revelatory experiences, e.g., 2 Cor 2:8-9. He makes no such claims for the sayings I’ve pointed to in, among others, 1 Cor 7. Instead, those seem to reflect the Jesus-tradition that we also encounter in the Synoptics. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to imagine that Paul would have had some aversion to Jesus-tradition. So, why should we impute such a stance to him?

3. But, of course, Vincent, all we have are a handful of his letters, and it would be rather foolish (wouldn’t it) to presume that these occasional letters (typically responding to issues not addressed in the Jesus-tradition) reflect all that Paul knew and taught about Jesus. It would be as/more reasonable to allow that he conveyed more about Jesus in his missionary preaching and teaching than is contained in these letters. Likewise, as I’ve sometimes indicated in classes, it may be more dodgy than some scholars have assumed to think we can construct a “theology of Paul” out of these few texts. Perhaps all we should claim is a “theology of paul’s extant letters”.

4. Well, Jesus was “wholly Jewish”, but, of course, the Jewish setting was one in the Roman era. And early Christianity rapidly became a trans-local and trans-ethnic movement. The emphasis on the Jewishness of Jesus has, however, hardly been confined to “conservative” scholars. How about the four volumes on Jesus by Geza Vermes, for example (a prominent and senior Jewish scholar). Of course, early Christianity was a Roman-era religion, and, especially in the second and third centuries, began to engage actively the larger intellectual world of the time. Your assertion of “Greco-Roman myths deep inside Christianity”, is, however, wide off the mark when it comes to Christian origins. To be sure, as the centuries followed, especially in the post-Constantinian period, Christianity took on (and adapted to its own purpose) features of ancient “pagan” thought, images, themes, etc. But it is VERY hard to demonstrate anything other than antipathy toward pagan religion in the NT. And, in any case, the question before us is the historicity of a figure named Jesus of Nazareth. Whatever later “mythic” themes about him may have developed, it is pretty clear to scholars in relevant fields that there was a very Jewish figure to whom these themes were added.

5. By “the earliest claims” about Jesus made by Christians I follow standard historical method in preferring (1) our earliest extant sources (which are Paul’s letters), and then (2) looking for what historical information is provided. When one does that, one finds that the earliest extant claims include prominently that God raised Jesus from death and installed him as Messiah and Lord. In addition, these statements all site him as a Jew, living in Roman palestine, who delivered teachings (several citations in Paul), etc. Moreover, Paul (himself a contemporary of Jesus) also refers to contacts with other contemporaries (including prominent followers of Jesus, e.g., Peter, and also relatives, e.g., James).

6. Paul came to SHARE the view that the crucified Jesus had been resurrected from his experience (which he took as divine revelation), but PRIOR to that he had devoted himself to attempting to destroy (his words) the young Jesus-movement, which means that the movement was already circulating claims about Jesus that he considered odious and possibly blasphemous. Given that his “revelation” experience convinced him to join the Jesus-movement, it’s logical to infer that he came to share a view of Jesus that he had previously opposed. This is confirmed by his own statements: e.g., 1 cor 15:1-7, where he lists resurrection appearances to others prior to his own, and then includes his as a late event in the series. Further, in the clear evidence of conflicts between Paul and certain other Jewish-Christian figures, there is no indication of these having anything to do with beliefs about Jesus as crucified and resurrected, etc. Instead, the conflicts seem to have been over the validity of Paul’s policy that gentile converts were not required to take up full Torah-observance and were to be treated as full co-religionists on the basis of their faith in, and obedience to, Jesus. The purported analogy to Joseph Smith’s alleged vision of the angel Moroni is not analogous. Smith’s claim was the initial one; Paul simply embraced the Jesus-claims that he had previously opposed. (Of course, he also believed that he had been given a distinctive commission to the gentiles. But that’s not christology.)

7. Mark, the earliest full COPY of a COLLECTION of Paul’s letters is P46 (palaeographically dated ca. 200 CE). It is commonly accepted among critical scholars that these letters were written ca. 50-60 CE (one or two perhaps even a bit earlier). They have been scoured intensively for 150 years at least for indications of any interpolations, etc. None of the alleged interpolations affect the issue before us. Textual criticism is one of my own areas on which I’ve written a good deal, for what it’s worth. In comparison to any text from antiquity, our manuscript basis for the NT writings in general is faaaar and away, light years, better, sounder.

8. The only texts from antiquity about which we have absolute textual certainty that we have exactly what the writer wrote are “documentary” texts, such as letters and contracts. For all else, all literary works, pagan, Jewish, Christian, whatever, all we have are copies. The discipline of textual criticism engages the available evidence and by diligent study of manuscripts, copyists habits, and a host of other matters scholars attempt to judge the best critical edition of a given work. All we have is comparative judgements, and those for the NT are unexcelled.

9. I’ll have to turn the tables, Neil, and ask for a superior explanation of the data, among which are the following (and you’re free to be concise also):

(1) Explain the eruption of a Jesus-movement about 30 CE, in which the figure of Jesus was central, and among devout Jews of Roman Palestine;
(2) Explain Saul of Tarsus’ indignation and sense of obligation to destroy this movement;
(3) Explain his focus on Jesus’ crucifixion (if it never happened);
(4) Explain the origin the the body of Jesus-tradition in the Synoptics that all seems to have a Palestinian flavor, includes such remarkable stories as some of the parables, etc;
(5) Explain how in the numerous indications of opposition to the early Jesus-movement there is no claim that the figure of Jesus never existed (surely it would have occurred to someone to make the charge if there were any doubt);
(6) Explain why Paul would have been concerned to interview Kephas and learn from him if he were simply operating on the basis of his own revelations and had no interest in any tradition about Jesus;
(7) Explain why Paul seems so convinced that there was such a figure, born a Jew (Gal 4:4) and who operated among the Jewish people (Rom 15:8), and left teachings (e.g., 1 Cor 7:10-11), and was raised from death by God (e.g., Rom 4:24-25, and many others);
(8) Explain how and why early Christians referred to Jesus’ crucifixion (when everything was against them doing so) if it never happened, and how a crucifixion of a recent contemporary (which is what they claimed) would have flown if everyone knew otherwise?


10. Part of the problem may be an insufficient acquaintance with how historians work with the limited data available.  Let me illustrate this by analogous examples.  To someone with limited acquaintance with ancient historical matters, it may seem impressive, for example, to learn that no writing by Jesus survives, or that a contemporary Jew such as Philo of Alexandria doesn’t mention him.   So, one might buy the accusation that people posit a historical figure named Jesus without any (or adequate) basis and out of insufficiently examined bias.  But, actually, the situation isn’t really so unique. For a “pagan” example, take Apollonius of Tyana, for knowledge of whom we have almost exclusively a “Life” of the figure written by Philostratus, completed sometime in the early 3rd century CE.  Per Philostratus, Apollonius lived in the early-mid first century CE, which means that our earliest text about him was composed some 150+ years after the putative date of his death.  Yet, although there are many questions about exactly what he was and did, most scholars readily accept that there was such a figure.  Philostratus’ “Life” is full of miraculous accounts that generate some doubts about them,  and Apollonius is presented as a divine-like figure, but behind the account most scholars think there was a historical Apollonius, and that he likely had some following. To point to Jewish examples, let’s consider Akiva, the great early rabbinic figure typically thought to have been active in the time of the Bar Kochba revolt (132-135 CE).  Our earliest texts mentioning him are rabbinic writings, the earliest layer of which (Mishnah) may have been composed ca. 200 CE(?).  We have anecdotes about Akiva, but large gaps in biographical information.  Nevertheless, I think pretty much every scholar who has considered the matter judges that he’s a real historical figure and was of some significance. As yet another example, let’s take Hillel, typically posited as living sometime first century BCE.  He left no writings, and no contemporary mentions him (no reference in Philo, or Josephus, for example), and our earliest texts mentioning him are, again, rabbinic material, from sometime after ca. 200 CE, well over 200 years after his death.  But Hillel is pretty important in Jewish tradition, and scholars (whatever their religious stance) tend to think that he lived and obviously made an impact sufficient to generate traditions about him. You see?  In positing a Jesus of Nazareth, there’s no funny business, no special pleading, no unique moves going on.  It’s pretty much the same sort of historical reasoning that we have in these and other cases of ancient figures, particularly those of major significance.  So, when scholars don’t react excitedly to people noting, for example, that the earliest extant narrative accounts of Jesus were written ca. 40-50 years after his death, it’s essentially because this isn’t unique.  In fact, the date of the gospel accounts in relationship to the time of Jesus is comparatively pretty close.  And when we note the abundant references to Jesus in Paul’s letters, dated ca. 50-60 CE (specifically, references to Jesus as born a Jew and ministering among Jews, crucified, examples of his teaching), we have even stronger basis for thinking that Jesus wasn’t some legend composed wholecloth by the gospel writers.

11. It’s difficult to find reviews or critiques of Carrier’s books by scholars in the field of New Testament/Christian Origins, but the reasons are (from talking to colleagues in the field) largely that Carrier’s whole approach and his major claims on which he rests his “alternate” vision of things are so evidently wrong. Similarly, it’s difficult to find critiques of flat earth theory in science journals. I’m not being ad hominem here, just stating the fact that Carrier is so erroneous in major claims that scholars find the task of writing up a critique as a distraction from doing their own serious work. I’ll perhaps blog some critique, just because readers without familiarity in the field sometimes think that he’s made some impressive case. He hasn’t. It’s not his field, and it shows.

12. Despite Carrier’s evangelistic prophecies that the scholarly world will come to see that he, though now a voice in the wilderness, is correct in judging Jesus of Nazareth to be a mythical invention, there is in fact no sign of fulfillment.  He is a paid advocate of his views (having been hired to produce these books), not a disinterested or dispassionate assessor of things.  He is not expert in the very subjects on which he writes in these books, and his mishandling of the evidence shows this all to clearly.  I conclude that, in so far as scholarly judgment of the matter is concerned, Carrier’s often-strident efforts will be judged as the last hurrah of the “mythicist” claim, although internet die-hards are likely to remain doggedly committed to it.

13. Dr. Carrier: It’s a peculiar world (but sadly now all too familiar), when someone obviously out of his depth in a given field to revolutionize a field. Why should I read your 700+ pages when your own summary of your claims shows how fallacious your position is? Better ways to use my time. So stop trying to play games.

14. The overwhelming body of scholars, in New Testament, Christian Origins, Ancient History, Ancient Judaism, Roman-era Religion, Archaeology/History of Roman Judea, and a good many related fields as well, hold that there was a first-century Jewish man known as Jesus of Nazareth, that he engaged in an itinerant preaching/prophetic activity in Galilee, that he drew to himself a band of close followers, and that he was executed by the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate. These same scholars typically recognize also that very quickly after Jesus’ execution there arose among Jesus’ followers the strong conviction that God (the Jewish deity) had raised Jesus from death (based on claims that some of them had seen the risen Jesus).  These followers also claimed that God had exalted Jesus to heavenly glory as the validated Messiah, the unique “Son of God,” and “Lord” to whom all creation was now to give obeisance.[i]  Whatever they make of these claims, scholars tend to grant that they were made, and were the basis for pretty much all else that followed in the origins of what became Christianity. The “mythical Jesus” view doesn’t have any traction among the overwhelming number of scholars working in these fields, whether they be declared Christians, Jewish, atheists, or undeclared as to their personal stance.  Advocates of the “mythical Jesus” may dismiss this statement, but it ought to count for something if, after some 250 years of critical investigation of the historical figure of Jesus and of Christian Origins, and the due consideration of “mythical Jesus” claims over the last century or more, this spectrum of scholars have judged them unpersuasive (to put it mildly). The reasons are that advocates of the “mythical Jesus” have failed to demonstrate expertise in the relevant data, and sufficient acquaintance with the methods involved in the analysis of the relevant data, and have failed to show that the dominant scholarly view (that Jesus of Nazareth was a real first-century figure) is incompatible with the data or less secure than the “mythical Jesus” claim.  This is true, even of Richard Carrier’s recent mammoth (700+ pages) book, advertised as the first “refereed” book advocating this view.[ii]  Advertisements for his book refer to the “assumption” that Jesus lived, but among scholars it’s not an assumption—it’s the fairly settled judgement of scholars based on 250 years of hard work on that and related questions.

15. Carrier’s three claims actually illustrate his lack of expertise in the relevant field, and show why his “mythical Jesus” doesn’t get much traction among scholars.  Let’s start with the third claim.  There is no evidence whatsoever of a “Jewish archangel Jesus” in any of the second-temple Jewish evidence.  We have references to archangels, to be sure, and with various names such as Michael, Raphael, Yahoel, and Ouriel.  We have references to other heavenly beings too, such as the mysterious Melchizedek in the Qumran texts.  Indeed, in second-temple Jewish texts and (later) rabbinic texts there is a whole galaxy of named angels and angel ranks.[iv]  But, I repeat, there is no such being named “Jesus.”  Instead, all second-temple instances of the name are for historical figures.[v]  So, the supposed “background” figure for Carrier’s “mythical” Jesus is a chimaera, an illusion in Carrier’s mind based on a lack of first-hand familiarity with the ancient Jewish evidence.[vi] Now let’s consider his second claim, that “all similar savior cults from the period” feature “a cosmic savior, later historicized.”  All? That’s quite a claim!  So, for example, Isis?  She began as a local Egyptian deity and her cult grew in popularity and distribution across the Roman world in the first century or so AD, but she never came to be treated as a historical woman.  How about her Egyptian consort Osiris?  Again, a deity who remained . . . a deity, and didn’t get “historicized” as a man of a given date.  Mithras?  Ditto.  Cybele?  Ditto.  Artemis?  Ditto.  We could go on, but it would get tedious to do so.   Carrier’s cavalier claim is so blatantly fallacious as to astonish anyone acquainted with ancient Roman-era religion.[vii]  There is in fact no instance known to me (or to other experts in Roman-era religion) in “all the savior cults of the period” of a deity that across time got transformed into a mortal figure of a specific time and place, such as is alleged happened in the case of Jesus.[viii] OK, so two strikes already, and one claim yet to consider:  a supposed shift from Jesus as “a celestial being” (with no earthly/human existence) in Paul’s letters to “a historical ministry in the Gospels decades later.”  The claim reflects a curiously distorted (and simplistic) reading of both bodies of texts.  Let’s first look at the NT Gospels. It’s commonly accepted that the Gospel of John is the latest of them (with differences of scholarly opinion on the literary relationship of GJohn to the others), and that perhaps as much as a decade or more separates the earliest (usually thought to be GMark) from GJohn.  So, on Carrier’s claim, we might expect a progressively greater “historicization” of Jesus, and less emphasis on him as “a celestial being,” in GJohn.  Which is precisely not the case—actually, the opposite.  Most readers of GJohn readily note that, in comparison with the “Synopic” Gospels, the text makes much more explicit and emphatic Jesus’ heavenly origins, his share in divine glory, etc., right from the opening chapter onward with its reference to the “Logos” as agent of creation and who “became flesh” and “dwelt among us” (1:1-5, 14). In contrast, GMark simply narrates an account of Jesus’ itinerant ministry of teaching, performing exorcisms and healings, conflicts with critics, and then a lengthy account of his fateful final trip to Jerusalem.  There are allusions or hints in GMark that Jesus’ larger identity and significance surpass what the other characters in the account realize, as, e.g., in the cries of recognition by the various demoniacs.  But Jesus has a mother, brothers and sisters (3:31-32; 6:3), is portrayed as  known local boy in his hometown (6:1-6), and to all the other human characters in the narrative Jesus is variously a prophet, teacher, blasphemer, Messiah, or criminal.  Most indicative that the Jesus of GMark is a genuine mortal is the account of his crucifixion, his death, and burial of his “corpse” (Mark’s clinically precise term, 15:45).  Whatever his higher significance or transcendent identity, in GMark Jesus is at least quite evidently a real mortal man.[ix]  Now, to be sure, GMark (as all the NT Gospels) presupposes that intended readers also regard Jesus as the exalted “Lord”.  But the story the Gospels tell emphasizes his historic activity. As far as the other “Synoptic” Gospels are concerned (GMatthew and GLuke), it’s commonly accepted that they took GMark as inspiration, pattern and key source, each of them, however, producing a distinctive “rendition” (to use a musical term) of the basic narrative.  GMatthew, for example, emphasizes Jesus’ Jewishness, adds a birth narrative with lots of allusions/connections to OT texts, and gathers up traditions of Jesus’ teachings into five large discourse blocks.  GLuke, writing, it appears, more for a Gentile readership and with more of a nod to generic features of Greek history and biography of the time, inserts dates (3:1-2), and has his own birth narrative and genealogy that links Jesus more to world history. But the overall point here is that across the years in which the Gospels were composed, there isn’t a trajectory from a “celestial being” with no earthly existence to a “historicized” man.  If anything, the emphasis goes in the opposite direction.[x]  Certainly, it appears to most scholars that the Gospels reflect the growth of legendary material about Jesus, the birth narratives being a prime example.  But legendary embellishment is what happens to high-impact historical figures, and doesn’t signal that the figures are “mythical”. One further point about the Gospels.  Yes, a few decades separate them from the time of Jesus’ execution under Pontius Pilate and from the commonly accepted dates of Paul’s undisputed letters.  The NT Gospels, with their bios-shaped narratives do mark a noteworthy development in the history of earliest Christian literature.[xi]  But it’s dubious to posit that they mark some major departure theologically from earlier Christian beliefs about Jesus.[xii]  Instead, they echo and develop the crucifixion-resurrection focus that we see in our earliest texts, drawing upon the emergent biographical genre to produce a noteworthy “literaturization” of the gospel message. And some 250 years of critical study of the Gospels has continued to show that they draw upon various earlier sources, both written and oral that had been circulating for decades, including collections of sayings and disputations of Jesus, likely also a body of miracle stories, and narratives of Jesus’ crucifixion.  Indeed, the Gospels (especially their variations in their respective accounts) reflect multiple and varied stories and traditions about Jesus that were taught and transmitted across the decades between Jesus’ execution and the composition of these texts.  Which means that treating Jesus as the Messiah and exalted Lord whose teachings and earthly actions were significant did not begin with the Gospel writers, but has its roots deeply back into the earlier decades.  The earmarks of the traditions on which the Gospel writers drew are there and have been readily perceived by scholars for a long time, whatever differences there are among scholars about precisely the form and extent of these traditions.  Treating Jesus as a historical figure didn’t commence late or with the authors of the Gospels. But, in a sense, the “mythical Jesus” focus on the Gospels is a bit of a red-herring.  For the far earlier references to an earthly/mortal Jesus are in the earliest Christian texts extant:  the several letters that are commonly undisputed as composed by the Apostle Paul.[xiii]  These take us back much earlier, typically dated sometime between the late 40s and the early 60s of the first century.  So Carrier’s final claim to consider is whether Paul’s letters reflect a view of Jesus as simply an angelic, “celestial” being with no real historical existence. Unquestionably, Paul affirms and reflects a “high” view of Jesus, as the true Messiah, the unique Son of God, and the exalted Lord to whom now God requires obeisance by all creation.[xiv]  After his initially vigorous opposition to the young Jesus-movement, he had an experience that he regarded a divine revelation, which confirmed to him Jesus’ exalted status and validity as God’s unique “Son” (Galatians 1:14-16), after which he became a trans-national exponent of the claims about Jesus.  Corresponding to this, and still more remarkable in light of Paul’s firm Jewish heritage and continuing self-identity, his letters reflect a developed devotional pattern in which the resurrected and exalted Jesus features programmatically along with God as recipient and focus.[xv] But for Paul and those previous Jesus-followers whom he had initially opposed prior to the “revelation” that turned him in a new direction, Jesus was initially a Jewish male contemporary.  It was what they took to be God’s resurrection and exaltation of the crucified Jesus that generated their view of him as having a heavenly status.  And, in keeping with ancient apocalyptic logic (final things = first things), God’s heavenly exaltation of him as Messiah and Lord generated the conviction that he had been “there” with God from creation, as “pre-existent”.[xvi]  So, there are two major corrections to make to the claim espoused by Carrier. First, Paul never refers to Jesus as an angel or archangel.[xvii] Indeed, a text such as Romans 8:38-39 seems to make a sharp distinction between angelic powers and the exalted Kyrios Jesus.  Moreover, although Paul shares the early Christian notion that the historical figure, Jesus had a heavenly back-story or divine “pre-existence” (e.g., Philippians 2:6-8), this in no way worked against Paul’s view of Jesus as also a real, historical human being. And, secondly, there is abundant confirmation that for Paul Jesus real historical existence was even crucial.  Perhaps the most obvious text to cite is 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, where Paul recites a tradition handed to him and then handed by him to the Corinthians, that recounts Jesus’ death (v. 3), his burial (v. 4), and then also his resurrection and appearances to several named people and a host of unnamed people.  Now, whatever one makes of the references to Jesus’ resurrection and post-resurrection appearances, it’s clear that a death and burial requires a mortal person.  It would be simply special pleading to try to convert the reference to Jesus’ death and burial into some sort of event in the heavens or such. Indeed, Paul repeatedly refers, not simply to Jesus’ death, but specifically to his crucifixion, which in Paul’s time was a particular form of execution conducted by Roman authorities against particular types of individuals found guilty of particular crimes.   Crucifixion requires a historical figure, executed by historical authorities.  Jesus’ historical death by crucifixion was crucial and central to Paul’s religious life and thought.[xviii]  To cite one text from many, “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23). Or consider Paul’s explicit reference to Jesus as “born of a woman, born under the Law” (Galatians 4:4).  Paul here clearly declares Jesus to have been born, as mortals are, from a mother, and, further, born of a Jewish mother “under the Law.”[xix]  Birth from a mother, and death and burial—surely the two clearest indicators of mortal existence!  Moreover, Paul considered Jesus to be specifically of Davidic descent (Romans 1:3), and likewise knew that Jesus’ activities were directed to his own Jewish people (Romans 15:8).[xx] Paul refers to Jesus’ physical brothers (1 Corinthians 9:5) and to Jesus’ brother James in particular (Galatians 1:19).  Contrary to mythicist advocates, the expression “brothers of the Lord” is never used for Jesus-followers in general, but in each case rather clearly designates a specific subset of individuals identified by their family relationship to Jesus.[xxi]  Note particularly that in Paul’s uses, the expression “brothers of the Lord” distinguishes these individuals from other apostles and leading figures.  The mythicist claim about the expression is a rather desperate stratagem. Paul knows of a body of teachings ascribed to Jesus, and uses them on several occasions, as in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, where he both invokes a specific teaching discouraging divorce, and also acknowledges that he has no saying of Jesus at other points and so has to give his own advice (e.g., 7:12).  Rather clearly, the source of the sayings of Jesus was not some ready-to-hand revelation that could be generated, but instead a body of tradition that Paul had inherited.  Certainly, Paul refers to his many visions and revelations (2 Corinthians 12:1), and even recounts one at length (vv. 2-10).  But he also refers to a finite body of teachings of “the Lord” that derived from the earthly Jesus and were passed to him. It would be tedious to prolong the matter.  In Paul’s undisputed letters, written decades earlier than the Gospels we have clear evidence that the “Jesus” referred to is a historical figure who lived among fellow Jews in Roman Judea/Palestine, and was crucified by the Roman authority.  There is no shift from a purely “celestial being” in Paul’s letters to a fictionalized historical figure in the Gospels.  For both Paul and the Gospels, Jesus is both a historical figure and (now) the “celestial” figure exalted to God’s “right hand” in heaven.  Whatever you make of him, the Jesus in all these texts is never less than a historical mortal (although in the light of the experiences of the risen Jesus he became much more). We have examined each of Carrier’s three claims and found each of them readily falsified.  It’s “three strikes you’re out” time.  Game over.

16. Paxton: MY God, you’re missing the point yet again. Carrier’s claim (and the standard mythicist claim) is that Paul thought of Jesus as a celestial being, not a human, historical figure. THAT’S THE ISSUE, not whether Paul was right or not. Most scholars judge that he was. But the fallacious mythicist claim is that Paul didn’t regard Jesus as a historical figure. I think you should go do something else other than comment on this site.

17. I focused on three claims that Richard Carrier posits as corroborating his hypothesis that “Jesus” was originally a “celestial being” or “archangel,” not a historical figure, and that this archangel got transformed into a fictional human figure across several decades of the first century CE.  I showed that the three claims are all false, which means that his hypothesis has no corroboration. There is no evidence of “a Jewish archangel Jesus”.  All known figures bearing the name are portrayed as human and historical figures.  Furthermore, contra Carrier, Paul never treats Jesus as an archangel, but instead emphasizes his mortal death and resurrection, and mentions his birth, Davidic descent, and Jewishness, cites teachings of Jesus, and refers to his personal acquaintance with Jesus’ siblings. There is no example among “all the savior cults” of the Roman period of a deity being transformed into a mortal being of a given time and place (such as he asserts happened in the case of Jesus).  Carrier claims a pattern, but there is none. From earliest extant Christian texts (Paul) to the NT Gospels, “Jesus” is a genuine human figure.  To be sure, Paul and other early Jesus-followers believed also that Jesus had been raised from death and exalted to heavenly glory.  They also then ascribed to him a back-story or “pre-existence” (e.g., drawing on Jewish apocalyptic and Wisdom traditions).  But for Paul “Jesus” wasn’t simply a “celestial being”.  And for the Gospel writers, he wasn’t simply a bloke. My posting was intended simply to illustrate, especially for “general” readers outside the relevant fields, why the “mythical Jesus” view is regarded as bizarre among scholars in the relevant fields, scholars of all persuasions on religious matters, and over some 250 years of critical study.  It is a sad and desperate move for “Vridar” to dismiss this fact by impugning this huge body of scholarship as either gullible or prejudiced, when the only “crime” is a refusal to endorse the “mythicist” notion.  The scholarship that I point to has been shaped by the critical impulses from the Renaissance and “Enlightenment,” all texts, whether biblical or Christian or whatever, subjected to the same critical tests and procedures.  In what other subject would a solid body of scholarly judgement be treated to such foolish disdain?

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

19. Carrier accuses me particularly of ignoring his arguments and committing gross errors in the handling of relevant evidence.  Well, to test this, let’s return to one of his key claims and arguments, the one where he says that Philo of Alexandria mentions an archangel named “Jesus”.  I have read those pages of his book (200-205) where he discusses the relevant passage in Philo (De Confusione Linguarum, 62-63; Philo citing and allegorizing a passage in the OT book, Zechariah 6:11-12).  This example will adequately serve to illustrate why Carrier’s work hasn’t had any impact in scholarly circles.  He gets himself into a muddle. To begin, Carrier claims that the Zechariah passage mentions a figure named “Jesus Rising,” but that’s obviously incorrect.  The text (Zech 6:11-12) actually mentions a priest figure named “Joshua” (Greek:  “Iesous” = “Jesus”) who is addressed about another figure, a royal personage who is named “Sprout” or “East” or “Rising” (the Greek:  anatole has a number of connotations).  There are two figures in the scene.  And there’s no “Jesus Rising” in the text of Zechariah.  Carrier has confused the two figures mentioned there:  One is a priest (Joshua/Jesus), and the other is a predicted royal figure called anatole who is to appear. And Philo doesn’t call the figure named Anatole “Jesus” either, because Philo read the Zechariah text more carefully than Carrier.  So, at an elementary level of accuracy, Carrier is mistaken:  No “Jesus Rising” guy anywhere, either in Zechariah or in Philo.  Furthermore, Philo doesn’t designate this figure in Zechariah an “archangel.” Instead, Philo here is in the midst of an extended allegorical play of sorts on forms of the word “anatole” (“rising,” or “east) that he begins much earlier in De Confusione 60.  And Philo’s larger intent in this writing is to offer an allegorical interpretation of OT stories, to defend them against pagan claims that they are derivative and crude.  One of theses stories is of God planting a garden “in Eden towards the sun-rise” (Greek: kata anatolas).  Philo urges, however, that the garden wasn’t a literal one (to dodge the ridicule of saying that God planted an earthly garden, something far beneath him in Philo’s view).  And then, he goes into a kind of free-association of biblical texts that have the word anatole and cognates, one of these being the Zechariah passage (and other texts follow).  In short, Philo mentions the Zechariah passage solely because it gives him another instance of the word anatole that he can allegorize. In that Zechariah text, Philo allegorically treats the figure called anatole as one of many representations of what he elsewhere labels God’s “Logos,” to which Philo attaches various other labels as well.  Now in Philo’s thought (which, it appears, Carrier hasn’t researched adequately in the six years he devoted to his project), the Logos is not really a separate ontological being, not really an “archangel.”  Instead, for Philo the “Logos” designates the form in which God engages creation, and that of God which can be perceived by the creation.  As one scholar put it, the Logos is the side of God turned toward the creation.  Philo wanted to affirm the reality of God’s creation and governance of the world, while also avoiding accusations that the Bible portrays a crude anthropomorphic view of its deity. In short, in De Confusione, Philo wasn’t positing or developing any “archangel named Jesus.”  Philo wasn’t talking about archangels at all there, and neither he nor the Zechariah text calls the anatole figure “Jesus.” Carrier has simply muddled things.  He’s incorrect.  His claim is fallacious.  These aren’t the sort of risible ad hominem terms that he prefers to dish out, but they will do quite well to make my point. I could go on to other Carrier fallacies, such as his repeated misconstrual of the Euhemerist view that the gods derive from ancient heroic figures.  Carrier amusingly gets it backwards, as if it has to do with gods becoming historical figures.  He cites Romulus as a supposed example of a god becoming a mortal, whereas Romulus and Remus are mythical figures as far back as we have any reference to them.  They don’t become mortals.  If, as some have speculated, the myth was based on some real instance of children suckled by a wolf (a view rejected by most scholars), then we would have an instance of historical figures becoming mythical figures, exactly the opposite of what Carrier claims.

20. No, Dr. Carrier. You sloppily misread things again! The claim I addressed was that Philo calls the “anatole” figure “Jesus” and saw him as an angel. Of course, there are other texts where Philo calls the Logos other terms, but that’s another matter. Do try to use your evidence more carefully. You won’t then get taken to the woodshed so easily!

21. A recent fulmination by Carrier (responding to my critique of his claims about this passage and other matters) presents what he claims is a translation of the latter passage from the Hebrew.  But in comparing his translation with the Hebrew text, I am bound to wonder how good his Hebrew is. Contra Carrier, Zechariah 6:11 cites an oracle ordering the creation of “crowns” (not “a crown”).  The Hebrew word here is atarot (the plural form of the noun).  As the larger context of Zechariah makes clear, the prophet predicts and praises the appearance of two figures.  One of them is Joshua (Greek:  Iesous)  the priest, and the other is referred to here as tsemach (Heb:  “branch,” “shoot”), a royal figure who will rebuild the temple and sit on a throne.  One of the crowns is placed on the priest’s head (v. 11), and the other is for the “Branch” guy.  The Hebrew text says that the priest will sit on his own throne (v. 13; the LXX says the priest will sit “on the right side” of the Branch figure), and “there shall be peace between them.”  So, two guys, not one.  (Actually, the best English translation of the text is probably the Jewish Publication Society Hebrew-English TANAKH.)   And, by the way, the larger text of Zechariah makes it abundantly clear that two “anointed” figures are central in the oracles for the future of the Jewish people. Philo reads Zechariah better than Carrier, and in the passage in De Confusione comments on the royal figure (referred to in the Greek LXX as “anatole“, a translation of tsemach).  Only Philo engages here in allegorical use of the text, taking the figure as symbolical.  But, and here’s the critical point, neither here nor elsewhere does Philo refer to “an archangel Jesus”. That’s a pretty critical blow to Carrier’s mythicist case.  For he wants to claim that there was an archangel named Jesus already in circulation (so to speak), which (he further asserts without warrants) that earliest Jesus-believers took over and fashioned him into their savior-figure.  But, I repeat:  no Jewish archangel Jesus, not in Philo, nor in any other Jewish text.

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