Sunday, March 09, 2008

Earl Doherty's 'The Jesus Puzzle' -- An Exercise in Mythmaking





In a post-modern post-Christian age where atheism has gained some new life, it was to be expected that there would be some persons who thought it might now be possible to make Jesus and Christianity vanish without a trace through a certain kind of prestidigitation, or at least an enormous amount of revisionist history writing. One such effort is that of Earl Doherty's 'The Jesus Puzzle', which draws on some of the tenets of G.A. Wells and others of their ilk. In response to too many requests here is the basic deconstruction of such unhistorical and even anti-historical myth-making.

The basic tenets of 'The Jesus Puzzle' are listed below in numerical fashion can be summed up as follows (my comments on each of its twelve tenets can be found in bold and in a different color):

Piece No. 1: A CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE

The Gospel story, with its figure of Jesus of Nazareth, cannot be found before the Gospels. In Christian writings earlier than Mark, including almost all of the New Testament epistles, as well as in many writings from the second century, the object of Christian faith is never spoken of as a human man who had recently lived, taught, performed miracles, suffered and died at the hands of human authorities, or rose from a tomb outside Jerusalem. There is no sign in the epistles of Mary or Joseph, Judas or John the Baptist, no birth story, teaching or appointment of apostles by Jesus, no mention of holy places or sites of Jesus’ career, not even the hill of Calvary or the empty tomb. This silence is so pervasive and so perplexing that attempted explanations for it have proven inadequate.

THESE ASSERTIONS INVOLVE SUCH OBVIOUS BLUNDERS AS FOLLOWS: 1) FIRST OF ALL THE EARLIEST NT DOCUMENTS CHRONOLOGICALLY ARE PAUL'S LETTERS (WRITTEN BETWEEN A.D 49-64 OR SO) IN THESE LETTERS NOT ONLY DO WE HEAR ABOUT JESUS AS A HISTORICAL FIGURE BUT ALSO PETER, JAMES, JOHN, AND A HOST OF OTHERS WHO WERE EYEWITNESSES OF JESUS' EXISTENCE, NOT TO MENTION THAT THERE ARE REFERENCES THAT HE PERFORMED MIRACLES, TAUGHT VARIOUS THINGS AND DIED ON THE CROSS. 2) IN THE BOOK OF ACTS WRITTEN IN THE SECOND HALF OF THE FIRST CENTURY WE HAVE NUMEROUS SUMMARIES OF THE LIFE OF JESUS, NOT TO MENTION CLEAR REFERENCES TO MARY AND THE BROTHERS OF JESUS AS WELL. PAUL ALSO MENTIONS THESE BROTHERS CLEARLY ENOUGH IN 1 CORINTHIANS. IN SHORT, THERE IS NO SILENCE ABOUT THESE FIGURES IN OUR EARLIEST NT DOCUMENTS 3) FURTHERMORE, JOHN THE BAPTIST AND JESUS ARE BOTH MENTIONED NOT ONLY IN THE GOSPELS AND ACTS, BUT ALSO IN JOSEPHUS,' ANTIQUITIES, WRITTEN IN THE LATTER DECADES OF THE FIRST CENTURY. 4) TO THIS WE MAY ADD THE TESTIMONY OF TACITUS WHO REFERS NOT ONLY TO JESUS BUT TO HIS EXECUTION UNDER PILATE.

IN SHORT, THERE IS NO CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE ABOUT SUCH MATTERS, BUT RATHER PLENTY OF EVIDENCE. TO THIS SHOULD BE ADDED THE FACT THAT THE CANONICAL GOSPELS, WHICH ARE ALREADY KNOWN AND CITED BY CHURCH FATHERS IN THE SECOND CENTURY, WERE ALL EXTANT IN THE FIRST CENTURY A.D. AND ARE WRITTEN EITHER BY AN EYEWITNESS ( THE FOURTH GOSPEL) OR BY THOSE WHO HAD CONTACT WITH THE EYEWITNESSES (MARK, LUKE, AND SOMEONE WHO KNEW MATTHEW). THIS IS PERFECTLY CLEAR FROM THE TESTIMONY OF PAPIAS AT THE END OF THE FIRST CENTURY A.D. (SEE RICHARD BAUCKHAM'S JESUS AND THE EYEWITNESSES).

IN SHORT, MR. DOHERTY HAS COMPLETELY FAILED TO DO HIS HISTORICAL HOMEWORK ON THESE MATTERS.


Piece No. 2: A MUTE RECORD WORLD WIDE

The first clear non-Christian reference to Jesus as a human man in recent history is made by the Roman historian Tacitus around 115 CE, but he may simply be repeating newly-developed Christian belief in an historical Jesus in the Rome of his day. Several earlier Jewish and pagan writers are notably silent. The Antiquities of the Jews by the Jewish historian Josephus, published in the 90s, contains two famous references to Jesus, but these are inconclusive. The first passage, as it stands, is universally acknowledged to be a later Christian insertion, and attempts have failed to prove some form of authentic original; the second also shows signs of later Christian tampering. References to Jesus in the Jewish Talmud are garbled and come from traditions which were only recorded in the third century and later.

I HAVE ALREADY RESPONDED TO THESE MISTAKEN NOTIONS ABOVE, TO WHICH CAN BE ADDED TACITUS WAS NOT WRITING THE ANNALS IN 115 A.D. AND SHOWS NO EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER OF HAVING CLOSE CONTACT WITH ANY CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY. AS FOR JOSEPHUS THOSE SCHOLARS WHO ARE EXPERTS IN THE 'ANTIQUITIES' ARE QUITE CLEAR-- THE REFERENCES TO JESUS IN THIS WORK CANNOT SIMPLY BE WRITTEN OFF AS LATER CHRISTIAN INSERTIONS, EVEN IN TESTIMONIUM FLAVIANUM, WHERE THERE WERE SOME LATER CHRISTIAN ADDITIONS. DOHERTY'S CLAIM THAT IT IS 'UNIVERSALLY' RECOGNIZED IS SIMPLY A CANARD, WHICH SHOWS HE HASN'T BOTHERED TO EVEN READ THE SCHOLARSHIP AND TEXT CRITICISM ON JOSEPHUS' WORK. FAR FROM THE JOSEPHUS' REFERENCES BEING INCONCLUSIVE, THIS EVIDENCE IS DECISIVE. CONSIDERING THAT JESUS NEVER WANDERED FROM THE IMMEDIATELY VICINITY OF THE HOLY LAND IT IS NO SURPRISE AT ALL IN AN AGE BEFORE THE INTERNET THAT HE IS NOT WIDELY ATTESTED IN THE FIRST CENTURY. INDEED, THE SURPRISE IS THAT HE IS ATTESTED BOTH BY A JEWISH AND A ROMAN HISTORIAN WHO HAD NO AXES TO GRIND IN THE MATTER.

Piece No. 3: REVEALING THE SECRET OF CHRIST

Paul and other early writers speak of the divine Son of their faith entirely in terms of a spiritual, heavenly figure; they never identify this entity called "Christ Jesus" (literally, "Anointed Savior" or "Savior Messiah") as a man who had lived and died in recent history. Instead, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, God has revealed the existence of his Son and the role he has played in the divine plan for salvation. These early writers talk of long-hidden secrets being disclosed for the first time to apostles like Paul, with no mention of an historical Jesus who played any part in revealing himself, thus leaving no room for a human man at the beginning of the Christian movement. Paul makes it clear that his knowledge and message about the Christ is derived from scripture under God’s inspiration.

THIS MUST BE SEEN FOR WHAT IT IS-- A BALD FACED ASSERTION WHICH COMPLETELY IGNORES THE EVIDENCE. GAL. 4 IN PAUL'S EARLIEST LETTER WRITTEN IN A.D. 49 OR SO WE HEAR THESE WORDS " BUT WHEN THE TIME HAD FULLY COME, GOD SENT HIS SON, BORN OF WOMAN, BORN UNDER THE LAW TO REDEEM THOSE UNDER THE LAW." IN ONE OF HIS LATEST LETTERS WE HEAR: "FOR THERE IS ONE GOD AND ONE MEDIATOR BETWEEN GOD AND HUMAN BEINGS, THE MAN JESUS CHRIST, WHO GAVE HIMSELF AS A RANSOM FOR ALL."

IN SHORT, DOHERTY SEEMS TO HE CHANNELING THE MISINFORMATION OF THE LATER GNOSTIC GOSPELS, NOT THE EARLIER AND FAR MORE HISTORICALLY GROUNDED CANONICAL ONES. NOT ONLY DOES HE BADLY MISREAD PAUL, HE EQUALLY MISREADS THE CANONICAL GOSPELS ON THESE VERY MATTERS. IT IS PRECISELY THESE SORTS OF REMARKS WHICH SHOW SUCH IGNORANCE OF THE EARLIEST CHRISTIAN SOURCES WHICH LEAD NT SCHOLARS OF CHRISTIAN FAITH, JEWISH FAITH, AND NO FAITH TO COMPLETELY IGNORE THE PURE POLEMICS OF DOHERTY--- HE IS NO HISTORIAN AND HE IS NOT EVEN CONVERSANT WITH THE HISTORICAL DISCUSSIONS OF THE VERY MATTERS HE WANTS TO PONTIFICATE ON.



Piece No. 4: A SACRIFICE IN THE SPIRITUAL REALM

Paul does not locate the death and resurrection of Christ on earth or in history. According to him, the crucifixion took place in the spiritual world, in a supernatural dimension above the earth, at the hands of the demon spirits (which many scholars agree is the meaning of "rulers of this age" in 1 Corinthians 2:8). The Epistle to the Hebrews locates Christ’s sacrifice in a heavenly sanctuary (ch. 8, 9). The Ascension of Isaiah, a composite Jewish-Christian work of the late first century, describes (9:13-15) Christ’s crucifixion by Satan and his demons in the firmament (the heavenly sphere between earth and moon). Knowledge of these events was derived from visionary experiences and from scripture, which was seen as a ‘window’ onto the higher spiritual world of God and his workings.

HERE AGAIN THIS SORT OF ASSERTION BETRAYS A COMPLETE LACK OF UNDERSTANDING OF PAUL'S WRITINGS, AND INDEED OF EARLY JEWISH DEMONOLOGY. IN EARLY JUDAISM DEMONS AND EVIL SPIRITS ARE INVOLVED IN THE HUMAN SPHERE AND IN THE HUMAN REALM, AS WELL AS IN THE HEAVENLIES. IT IS NOT AN EITHER OR MATTER. PAUL CERTAINLY DOES NOT SUGGEST JESUS WAS CRUCIFIED AND ROSE IN THE SPIRITUAL REALM. TO THE CONTRARY, PAUL RECITES THE EARLY CHRISTIAN CREED IN 1 COR. 15.1-5 THAT JESUS DIED AND WAS BURIED LIKE ANY OTHER MORTAL, AND THEN WAS SEEN ALIVE ON EARTH AFTER HIS DEATH. SINCE TACITUS AS WELL STRESSES JESUS DIED A MUNDANE DEATH AT THE HANDS OF PILATE, ON THE BASIS OF HIS KNOWLEDGE OF THE ROMAN RECORDS, IT IS QUITE IMPOSSIBLE TO DISMISS SUCH EVIDENCE, OR PROJECT IT INTO A MERELY SPIRITUAL REALM. FURTHERMORE, THE BOOK OF HEBREWS IS PERFECTLY CLEAR THAT JESUS SUFFERED AND DIED IN JERUSALEM, NOT IN SOME SPIRITUAL REALM ( SEE E.G. HEB. 13, OR HEB. 7-11). IT DOES REFER TO JESUS GOING TO HEAVEN AFTER HIS DEATH AND ASCENSION INTO HEAVEN. BUT HIS DEATH IS SAID TO BE A SACRIFICE ON EARTH, LIKE THAT OF A PASSOVER SACRIFICE. ONCE AGAIN. DOHERTY HAS TOTALLY FAILED TO INTERACT WITH ANY OF THE EXPERTS ON EITHER PAUL OR HEBREWS, AND CHOOSES TO MAKE UP HIS INTERPRETATIONS AS HE FEELS LED.

Piece No. 5: SALVATION IN A LAYERED UNIVERSE

The activities of gods in the spiritual realm were part of ancient views (Greek and Jewish) of a multi-layered universe, which extended from the base world of matter where humans lived, through several spheres of heaven populated by various divine beings, angels and demons, to the highest level of pure spirit where the ultimate God dwelled. In Platonic philosophy (which influenced Jewish thought), the upper spiritual world was timeless and perfect, serving as a model for the imperfect and transient material world below; the former was the "genuine" reality, accessible to the intellect. Spiritual processes took place there, with their effects, including salvation, on humanity below. Certain "human characteristics" given to Christ (e.g., Romans 1:3) were aspects of his spirit world nature, higher counterparts to material world equivalents, and were often dependent on readings of scripture.

IT IS CERTAINLY TRUE THAT THERE WERE SOME EARLY JEWS AFFECTED IN THEIR THINKING BY PLATONISM. PHILO WOULD BE ONE EXAMPLE, AND THE AUTHOR OF HEBREWS MAYBE ANOTHER. HOWEVER, MOST OF WHAT IS SAID ABOUT HEAVEN AND EARTH AND SALVATION AND ESCHATOLOGICAL ARISES NOT OUT OF REFLECTION ON THE WORKS OF PLATO BUT OUT OF EARLY JEWISH APOCALYPTIC THINKING WHICH BEGAN IN EXILE BEFORE ALEXANDER THE GREAT OR THE AFFECTS OF HELLENISTIC THINKING ON JEWS. IT IS TOTALLY ANACHRONISTIC TO SUGGEST OTHERWISE. THE SOURCE OF OTHER WORLD AND AFTERLIFE THINKING IN THE NT AND IN MOST EARLY JEWISH LITERATURE IS CLEARLY ENOUGH BOOKS LIKE DANIEL, EZEKIEL, ZECHARIAH AND OTHER JEWISH APOCALYPTIC PROPHETS. THE 'HELLENISTIC' EXPLANATION OF THEIR OTHERWORLDLY THINKING COMPLETELY IGNORES THE EARLIER JEWISH LITERATURE, WHICH BTW WAS THE SOURCE OF JESUS' OWN SELF- UNDERSTANDING--- ESPECIALLY DANIEL 7 AND ZECHARIAH INFLUENCED JESUS.

Piece No. 6: A WORLD OF SAVIOR DEITIES

Christ’s features and myths are in many ways similar to those of the Greco-Roman salvation cults of the time known as "mystery religions", each having its own savior god or goddess. Most of these (e.g., Dionysos, Mithras, Attis, Isis, Osiris) were part of myths in which the deity had overcome death in some way, or performed some act which conferred benefits and salvation on their devotees. Such activities were viewed as taking place in the upper spirit realm, not on earth or in history. Most of these cults had sacred meals (like Paul’s Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23f) and envisioned mystical relationships between the believer and the god similar to what Paul speaks of with Christ. Early Christianity was a Jewish sectarian version of this widespread type of belief system, though with its own strong Jewish features and background.

I HAVE DEALT WITH THIS MISINFORMATION IN DETAIL IN MY POST ON THE ZEITGEIST MOVIE LAST FALL. IT DOES NOT NEED TO BE REPEATED HERE. SEE THAT POST (JUST TYPE IN ZEITGEIST MOVIE IN THE SEARCH FIELD FOR THIS BLOG).

Piece No. 7: THE INTERMEDIARY SON

The Christian "Son" is also an expression of the overriding religious concept of the Hellenistic age, that the ultimate God is transcendent and can have no direct contact with the world of matter. He must reveal himself and deal with humanity through an intermediary force, such as the "Logos" of Platonic (Greek) philosophy or the figure of "personified Wisdom" of Jewish thinking; the latter is found in documents like Proverbs, Baruch and the Wisdom of Solomon. This force was viewed as an emanation of God, his outward image, an agency which had helped create and sustain the universe and now served as a channel of knowledge and communion between God and the world. All these features are part of the language used by early Christian writers about their spiritual "Christ Jesus", a heavenly figure who was a Jewish sectarian version of these prevailing myths and thought patterns.

THIS COULD BE SAID TO BE A FAIR SUMMARY OF GNOSTIC THEOLOGY, THAT GOD WHO IS SPIRIT WHO CAN HAVE NO CONTACT WITH THE MATERIAL WORLD, BUT IT BADLY MISREPRESENTS THE THOROUGHLY JEWISH THEOLOGY OF THE NT WRITERS WHO NOT ONLY AFFIRM AN INCARNATION OF JESUS THE SON OF GOD, AND HIS DEATH AND RESURRECTION ON EARTH BUT STRESS HE WILL RETURN TO EARTH TO BRING IN A NEW HEAVEN AND NEW EARTH. IN OTHER WORDS, THE NT REFLECTS THE OT THEOLOGY ABOUT THE GOODNESS OF THE MATERIAL CREATION. THERE COULD HARDLY BE A MORE STRONG AFFIRMATION OF THE GOODNESS OF CREATION THAN THAT GOD'S SON WOULD TAKE ON A PHYSICAL AND GENUINE HUMAN NATURE. IN OTHER WORDS, THE ATTEMPT TO READ A RADICAL SPIRITUAL /MATERIAL DICHOTOMY INTO THE EARLY CHRISTIAN ERA AND ITS FIRST CENTURY DOCUMENTS SIMPLY DOES NOT WORK, AND AGAIN REFLECTS A TOTAL FAILURE TO ACTUALLY DEAL WITH THE HISTORICAL SOURCES AS THEY EXIST.

Piece No. 8: A SINGLE STORY OF JESUS

All the Gospels derive their basic story of Jesus of Nazareth from a single source: whoever produced the first version of Mark. That Matthew and Luke are reworkings of Mark with extra, mostly teaching, material added is now an almost universal scholarly conclusion, while many also consider that John has drawn his framework for Jesus’ ministry and death from a Synoptic source as well. We thus have a Christian movement spanning half the empire and a full century which nevertheless has managed to produce only one version of the events that are supposed to lie at its inception. Acts, as an historical witness to Jesus and the beginnings of the Christian movement, cannot be relied upon, since it is a tendentious creation of the second century, dependent on the Gospels and designed to create a picture of Christian origins traceable to a unified body of apostles in Jerusalem who were followers of an historical Jesus. Many scholars now admit that much of Acts is sheer fabrication.

I MUST STRESS THAT WE NOW HAVE CLEAR EVIDENCE OF ACTS BEING A FIRST CENTURY DOCUMENT. I HAVE SEEN THE FRAGMENTS OF A COPY OF ACTS IN SYDNEY AT MACQUARRIE AND THEY DATE TO NO LATER THAN 125 A.D. IT IS CLEAR AS WELL THAT THEY ARE NOT THE ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT, BUT ONE OF MANY LATER COPIES. SO THE ATTEMPT TO LATE DATE ACTS WILL NOT WORK (SEE MY ACTS COMMENTARY). FURTHERMORE, THE VAST MAJORITY OF NT SCHOLARS THINK THAT JOHN IS AN INDEPENDENT WITNESS TO THE GOSPEL STORY, INDEED IT CLAIMS TO BE AN EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY (ON THE TRUTH OF WHICH--- SEE MY WHAT HAVE THEY DONE WITH JESUS?. WHAT IS ESPECIALLY ODD ABOUT THIS TENET OF DOHERTY'S IS THAT IT FAILS TO RECOGNIZE THE MANY DIFFERENCES IN THE THREE SYNOPTIC ACCOUNTS. THIS DOES NOT SUGGEST THEY ALL ONLY HAD ONE VERSION OF THE STORY. IT SUGGESTS THEY HAD SEVERAL, AND INDEED THE PROLOGUE IN LK.1.1-4 MUST BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY--- LUKE CONSULTED BOTH EYEWITNESSES AND EARLY PREACHERS OF THE GOSPEL, AND INDEED HE ADMITS VARIOUS PERSONS HAD WRITTEN ACCOUNTS OF THE GOSPEL STORY BEFORE HIM, NOT JUST MARK. I WOULD TAKE THIS TO BE A REFERENCE TO AT LEAST MARK AND MATTHEW'S ACCOUNTS.

NOTICE AGAIN THE DELIBERATE DISTORTION OF THE USE OF GLOBALIZING LANGUAGE--- "NOW ALMOST A UNIVERSAL SCHOLARLY CONCLUSION". HE CANNOT BE TALKING ABOUT NT SCHOLARS, OR CLASSICS SCHOLARS, OR ANCIENT HISTORIANS OF THE PERIOD. SO WHAT SCHOLARS IS HE REFERRING TO. SO FAR AS I CAN SEE, THIS IS JUST ANOTHER BALD ASSERTION WITHOUT EVIDENCE, WHICH IS TYPICAL OF THIS SORT OF BRAZEN POLEMIC WHICH DOES NOT DEAL EITHER WITH THE HISTORICAL SOURCES, OR WITH THE CAREFUL SCHOLARSHIP DONE FOR CENTURIES UPON IT.

Piece No. 9: THE GOSPELS AS (FICTIONAL) "MIDRASH"

Not only do the Gospels contain basic and irreconcilable differences in their accounts of Jesus, they have been put together according to a traditional Jewish practice known as "midrash", which involved reworking and enlarging on scripture. This could entail the retelling of older biblical stories in new settings. Thus, Mark’s Jesus of Nazareth was portrayed as a new Moses, with features that paralleled the stories of Moses. Many details were fashioned out of specific passages in scripture. The Passion story itself is a pastiche of verses from the Psalms, Isaiah and other prophets, and as a whole it retells a common tale found throughout ancient Jewish writings, that of the Suffering and Vindication of the Innocent Righteous One. It is quite possible that Mark, at least, did not intend his Gospel to represent an historical figure or historical events, and designed it to provide liturgical readings for Christian services on the Jewish model. Liberal scholars now regard the Gospels as "faith documents" and not accurate historical accounts.

THOUGH THERE HAVE BEEN ONE OR TWO SCHOLARS OVER THE LAST 100 YEARS WHO SUGGESTED MIDRASH WAS INVOLVED IN THE COMPOSITION OF THE GOSPELS TODAY, THIS SUGGESTION IS REJECTED BY THE VAST MAJORITY OF SCHOLARS IF WE ARE TALKING ABOUT THE GENRE AND NATURE OF THE GOSPELS THEMSELVES. MIDRASH IS BY DEFINTION A FORM OF CREATIVE EXEGESIS ON A PRE-EXISTING JEWISH TEXT. IT IS NOT A LITERARY GENRE AT ALL. MOST SCHOLARS TODAY RECOGNIZE THAT WHILE THE GOSPEL WRITERS DO SOMETIMES CREATIVELY INTERPRET THIS OR THAT PIECE OF THE OT IN SERVICE OF EFFECTIVELY PREACHING CHRIST, THAT THIS IN NO WAY ACCOUNTS FOR THE BASIC STRUCTURE OF THE CHRIST STORY. FOR EXAMPLE, THE OT DOES NOT PREDICT A CRUCIFIED MESSIAH. NO EARLY JEWS READ ISAIAH 53 THAT WAY. FURTHERMORE, ISAIAH 7.14 DOES NOT PREDICT A VIRGINAL CONCEPTION IN THE GOSPEL SENSE OF THE PHRASE. WHAT WE HAVE IN THE GOSPELS IS EVENTS WHICH HAPPENED TO JESUS WHICH WERE UNEXPECTED, AND UNTIL FURTHER DILIGENT STUDY OF THE OT WAS DONE, NO ONE HAD THOUGHT SUCH THINGS WERE PREDICTED IN THE OT. AS RICHARD BURRIDIGE'S BOOK 'WHAT ARE THE GOSPELS' SHOWS AT LENGTH, THE GOSPELS ARE LIKE ANCIENT BIOGRAPHIES AND HISTORICAL MONOGRAPHS, NOT LIKE THE EXEGETICAL TECHNIQUE OF MIDRASH. YOU COULD NEVER HAVE CREATED THE JESUS STORY OUT OF THE OT ITSELF, BUT ONCE THE LIFE AND DEATH OF JESUS HAPPENED AS IT DID, THIS FORCED A RE-READING OF THE OT IN THE LIGHT OF THE EVENTS OF JESUS' LIFE.

Piece No. 10: THE COMMUNITY OF "Q"

In Galilean circles distinct from those of the evangelists (who were probably all located in Syria), a Jewish movement of the mid-first century preaching the coming of the Kingdom of God put together over time a collection of sayings, ethical and prophetic, now known as Q. The Q community eventually invented for itself a human founder figure who was regarded as the originator of the sayings. In ways not yet fully understood, this figure fed into the creation of the Gospel Jesus, and the sayings document was used by Matthew and Luke to flesh out their reworking of Mark’s Gospel. Some modern scholars believe they have located the "genuine" Jesus at the roots of Q, but Q’s details and pattern of evolution suggest that no Jesus was present in its earlier phases, and those roots point to a Greek style of teaching known as Cynicism, one unlikely to belong to any individual, let alone a Jewish preacher of the Kingdom.

Q IS A CIPHER FOR THE NON-MARKAN MATERIALS FOUND IN COMMON IN LUKE AND MATTHEW. THIS MAY REFLECT ORAL TRADITIONS THESE TWO GOSPEL WRITERS KNEW OF, OR AN EARLIER WRITTEN DOCUMENT, BUT WHICHEVER IT IS, I KNOW OF NO Q EXPERT WHO SUGGESTS THAT THE Q COMMUNITY INVENTED A JESUS FOUNDER FIGURE. IN FACT EVEN THE MOST LIBERAL Q SCHOLARS WOULD REJECT THIS ASSERTION AS PURE NONSENSE AND WISHFUL THINKING ON DOHERTY'S PART. TO THE CONTRARY, IF YOU STUDY THE Q MATERIAL CLOSELY IN THE GREEK, YOU WILL DISCOVER THAT THERE IS BOTH NARRATIVE AND SAYINGS MATERIAL IN THIS SOURCE, AND BOTH REFLECT THE EXISTENCE OF THE LIFE, EVENTS, AND TEACHING OF A HISTORICAL FIGURED NAMED JESUS OF NAZARETH.

AS FOR THE ISSUE OF WHETHER THERE WAS A Q COMMUNITY, THIS IS DEBATED, BUT IT APPEARS THAT A MAJORITY OF SCHOLARS DO NOT BELIEVE THERE WAS EVER A COMMUNITY THAT HAD Q AS ITS ONLY CHRISTIAN SOURCE MATERIAL, OR THAT ONLY BELIEVED IN A JESUS THAT WAS A TEACHER. THAT IS RATHER LIKE ARGUING THAT THE QUMRAN COMMUNITY ONLY BELIEVED IN THE DOCUMENTS IT HAD CREATED FOR ITSELF, NOT ALL OF THE OTHER SOURCE MATERIAL AVAILABLE TO IT.


Piece No. 11: A RIOTOUS DIVERSITY

The documentary record reveals an early Christian landscape dotted with a bewildering variety of communities and sects, rituals and beliefs about a Christ/Jesus entity, most of which show little common ground and no central authority. Also missing is any idea of apostolic tradition tracing back to a human man and his circle of disciples. Scholars like to style this situation as a multiplicity of different responses to the historical Jesus, but such a phenomenon is not only incredible, it is nowhere attested to in the evidence itself. Instead, all this diversity reflects independent expressions of the wider religious trends of the day, based on expectation of God’s Kingdom, and on belief in an intermediary divine force which provided knowledge of God and a path to salvation. Only with the Gospels, which began to appear probably toward the end of the first century, were many of these elements brought together to produce the composite figure of Jesus of Nazareth, set in a midrashic story about a life, ministry and death located in the time of Herod and Pontius Pilate.

I HAVE SHOWN AT LENGTH IN WHAT HAVE THEY DONE WITH JESUS HOW VERY WRONG THIS WHOLE THESIS IS. FIRSTLY THE EARLY CHRISTIAN MOVEMENT WAS A TIGHT KNIT SMALL OFFSHOOT FROM EARLY JUDAISM. ITS LEADERS WERE CALLED APOSTLES AS IS PERFECTLY CLEAR FROM PAUL, THE GOSPELS, 1 PETER, REVELATION AND OTHER SOURCES. NOT ONLY WAS THEIR A HIERARCHIAL LEADERSHIP STRUCTURE, WITH APOSTLES AND THEIR CO-WORKERS AT THE TOP, WE KNOW WHO WERE THE LEADERS WHO SPANNED THE EMPIRE AND HELPED BIND THE MOVEMENT TOGETHER--- PAUL AND HIS CO-WORKERS, PETER AND HIS, THE BELOVED DISCIPLE AND HIS CO-WORKERS, JAMES THE BROTHER OF JESUS AND HIS, AND SO ON. THE ATTEMPT TO PREDICATE THE LATER DIVERSITY FOUND IN THE LATE SECOND THROUGH FOURTH CENTURIES BACK INTO THE FIRST CENTURY JEWISH SECT CALLED CHRISTIANITY IS BOTH BAD HISTORY WRITING AND POOR RESEARCH. IT ONCE AGAIN COMMITS THE SCHOLARLY SIN OF ANACHRONISM-- READING THE TRAITS OF A LATER AGE INTO AN EARLIER PERIOD. WHAT IS ESPECIALLY EGREGIOUS ABOUT THIS WHOLE APPROACH IS IT IGNORES THAT THERE WAS A STRONG SENSE OF ORTHODOXY AND ORTHOPRAXY IN EARLY CHRISTIANITY FROM THE START. THIS IS HARDLY A SURPRISE IN A MOVEMENT FOUNDED BY DEVOUT EARLY JEWS. ALL THE NT BOOKS WERE WRITTEN BY SUCH JEWS, WITH THE POSSIBLE EXCEPTION OF LUKE-ACTS AND 2 PETER.

Piece No. 12: JESUS BECOMES HISTORY

As the midrashic nature of the Gospels was lost sight of by later generations of gentile Christians, the second century saw the gradual adoption of the Gospel Jesus as an historical figure, motivated by political considerations in the struggle to establish orthodoxy and a central power amid the profusion of early Christian sects and beliefs. Only with Ignatius of Antioch, just after the start of the second century, do we see the first expression in Christian (non-Gospel) writings of a belief that Jesus had lived and died under Pilate, and only toward the middle of that century do we find any familiarity in the wider Christian world with written Gospels and their acceptance as historical accounts. Many Christian apologists, however, even in the latter part of the century, ignore the existence of a human founder in their picture and defense of the faith. By the year 200, a canon of authoritative documents had been formed, reinterpreted to apply to the Jesus of the Gospels, now regarded as a real historical man. Christianity entered a new future founded on a monumental misunderstanding of its own past.

THIS FINAL TENET HAS BEEN ANSWERED BY THE DISCUSSION ABOVE. IGNATIUS I AM SURE WOULD BE TRULY SURPRISED TO DISCOVER HE WAS THE FIRST PERSON TO SPEAK OF A HISTORICAL FIGURE NAMED JESUS WHO LIVED AND DIED UNDER PILATE. NO, THIS WAS ALREADY WIDELY KNOWN FOR ALMOST 90 YEARS BEFORE HE WROTE. NOTICE FOR EXAMPLE PAUL'S WORDS IN 1 TIM. 6.13-- "IN THE SIGHT OF GOD WHO GIVES LIFE TO EVERYTHING, AND OF CHRIST JESUS, WHO WHILE TESTIFYING BEFORE PONTIUS PILATE MADE THE GOOD CONFESSION..."

MR. DOHERTY UNFORTUNATELY IS A MERE POLEMICIST. HE HAS NOT DONE HIS HISTORICAL HOMEWORK, HE CLEARLY HAS NOT BOTHERED TO READ THE BROAD RANGE OF NT SCHOLARSHIP, AND OF COURSE HE COMES AT HIS STUDY WITH A STRONG AX TO GRIND.

22 comments:

Rich Holton said...

I'm a loyal reader of your blog. Further, I love to see poor scholarship revealed for what it is. But please consider doing away with the all-caps in red on pale background. It makes your words almost unreadable.

Robert Fischer said...

+1. There's a nifty "blockquote" tag in HTML which can be used to set aside the summary from your critique. The all caps hurts my eyes, and it puts into my head this kinda terrifying voice of you screaming.

Rob Penn said...

I'm kinda with robert fisher on that one.

Other than that, I enjoyed reading this post. I read your post about Zeitgeist, and found it interesting as well. I'll have to refer back to it in the section you indicated.

Reading your blog is pretty encouraging. I don't like seeing un-intelligent faith, and I know from what I read (digital or otherwise) that there's some one who knows his stuff teaching people out there.

Besides that, reading your critiques kind of puts me in perspective. I've got a lot of study to do in preparation for my future ministry, but it's nice to be able to say "I understand that!" more often in this post than the last. ^_^

Monfort said...

I'm surprised that Doherty is still causing any problems at all. J.P. Holding took him down pretty hard years ago, and Glen Miller has addressed the so-called "Christ-myth" as well.

BTW Ben, Doherty does attempt to deal with the Pauline passages that refer to an earthly Jesus. His response is either 1) it's a late interpolation to bolster the human Jesus; or 2) it doesn't REALLY refer to a human Jesus.

Craig L. Adams said...

Thanks for the review. These ideas are always in circulation on the Internet, so reading the refutation was helpful. (But, yes, the caps were annoying.) I going to save this one, for possibel future reference.

Ralph Hitchens said...

Doherty and other "mythical Jesus" advocates ignore the evidence from Paul's letters and focus attention on the missing decades from Jesus' crucifixion (~30) to the estimated date of the first Gospel (~70). They also ignore the most likely explanation for the dearth of written accounts predating the Gospels -- the destruction of Jerusalem and with it, in all likelihood, the Jerusalem Church and whatever it may have had in the way of an archive. The historian Donald Akenson has called attention to this disaster, which leaves us with only Paul's surviving letters as the earliest testament to Christianity.

RC said...

thanks for breaking down his arguments.

it's interesting how the arguments change and take shape, in over time.

obviously, i hope this book is not wildly popular, or the concepts espoused don't get increasingly introduced into society.

It's as though Doherty (and similar people) are challenged by the message of Christ and will go to all lengths to attack it so that they can ignore what they are challenged to believe as truth.

Quixie said...

I find this post to be misinformative and commented on it here, spurred on by all the amen comments. I post it here just to be fair.

peace

Ó

Roger Pearse said...

Ouch! SHOUTING....

I did an analysis of his assertions about the second century, which can be accessed here.

Basically he asserts that in the second century there are Christians who say that Jesus never existed, or consider the point unimportant.

Doing a search (using Ctrl-F!) for words like 'Jesus' and 'Christ' in the 10 second century writers shows that this is nonsense; 6 definitely contradict him, 2 may do, and 2 don't discuss the issue.

The most interesting bit is that one of Tertullian's works (Ad Nationes) would also 'pass' the criteria used in his book, as evidence that Jesus never existed. But of course we have another 30 works by Tertullian which make it clear that Tertullian thought no such thing. Arguments from silence...

speaker for the dead said...

Thanks for the breakdown. Even though it might have been brief. This is a book and subject that has interested me for some time.

I do not believe the way they read Paul is fair. They don't take into account that Paul's culture was not like ours. Background info was taken for granted in ancient high context societies. None of Paul's epistles were written with the intent of passing on the whole story. Rather he was responding to specific issues and questions to the particular churches. These guys were already Christians, so it’s likely they already knew the Jesus stroy. Paul didn't just walk around his whole life screaming "Jesus and Him crucified". They had to have some background info there in order to interpret what he was saying. His point was we are not saved by Jesus walking on water or raising the dead, but by HIS resurrection from the dead. This is what Paul emphasizes and why we hear so little of the Gospel narrative. These skeptics usually say things like, "pretend we don't have the Gospels, or that we're in the 60's AD and all we have are these letters. Now what can you know of Jesus?" To be sure, if we choose to take up this challange, we would know less, but we could still be able to see the basics of the Gospel story spread out in bits and pieces. Only when we assume, as Doherty does, that there was a Christ-Myth cult (one there is no historical evidence for) can we filter through it things like Rom 1:3 and Gal 4:4 and say Paul didn't mean a human man. The point is, the reader not looking through these epistles with a heavy bias (in either direction) might come away from Paul's letters believing Paul cared little for Jesus' life. But they will NOT, find some kind of ethereal savior god who Paul believed lived and died in the spirit world. This is Jesus mythers importing ideas from a "cult" that we don't even have any evidence existing outside of their own minds.

In any event, what kind of responsible historical inquiry asks people to ignore huge pieces of evidence like the Gospels? Not one interested in truth.

Since I'm still a student, I'm interested if you think this is a fair assessment Dr. Witherington.

Blessings all!
Derek

the Finnie family said...

As ever you put things so clearly and succinctly. Thank You! (please no more caps?)

I'll definitely be saving the text and keeping it handy for when it's needed.

Gforce said...

Dr Witherington,

I was wondering if you might breifly answer a point raised on quixie's responce to this blog.

"mounting analyses (John Knox, Joe Tyson, Richard I Pearl, Eddie Trobisch and Mikeal Parsons to mention just a few)which posit a later dating of Acts, sometimes even as late as the mid-second century."

Not to turn against him or anything, but are scholars now pushing Acts into the 2nd century?

I know you said,

"I HAVE SEEN THE FRAGMENTS OF A COPY OF ACTS IN SYDNEY AT MACQUARRIE AND THEY DATE TO NO LATER THAN 125 A.D. IT IS CLEAR AS WELL THAT THEY ARE NOT THE ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT, BUT ONE OF MANY LATER COPIES. SO THE ATTEMPT TO LATE DATE ACTS WILL NOT WORK (SEE MY ACTS COMMENTARY)."

Just curious.

Thanks

Quixie said...

Sir;

I noticed that you authorized a new comment on this post after I had submitted one earlier today, which tells me that you received mine but chose to decline it for publication.

On my own blogs, I moderate comments also. I allow anyone to comment whether they agree with what I post or not, as long as they are not overtly vulgar or unduly belligerent or otherwise hostile or malicious.

My comment earlier today was neither of these things, so I am left with two other possibilities:

1 - My comment was so sophomoric that it doesn't deserve to be read by your fans (in which case my response would be to assure you that I am not above correction, should you be kind enough to provide it. I am not committed to the mythicist position. I have no stake in these matters, so if I am demonstrably in error, I would welcome some data — but it's got to be better argued and presented than in your original post.

or . . . .

2 - The fact that my comment points to error on your part and generally disagrees with your position is enough to merit its censoring (in which case my response would be to say that you should be ashamed of yourself, for that reveals that you are not interested in dialogue at all, but in accolades and laurels and cheerleaders).

If there is a Santa Claus (and that's a big IF), and if it is true that he knows when you've been bad or good, then I suspect that you will be getting a lump of coal in your stocking come that holiday.

peace be with you

Ó

Quixie said...

Okay . . . now I'm really confused.

Why publish this last comment and not the previous one?

(scratches head)

I give up . . . .
(sighs)


GForce:
I didn't just make those names up; go to a good library . . . . find out if what I'm saying is true or not.

On a side note, I read the book that Dr. Witherington co-wrote with Hershel Shanks about the James Ossuary when it was first released (in fact, I must say that I enjoyed the book very much at the time), in which he showed just as much confidence in the authenticity of the ossuary and its inscription as he shows in the early dating of this fragment of Acts.

Here we are, some time after, and the ossuary inscription seems to have been a forgery after all.

hmmm . . . .

(Just a thought.)


Ó

Ben Witherington said...

Quixie:

You have not been a regular commentator on my blog, and so you do not realize that I do not allow long diatribes from any point of view. I find they do not in any way promote dialogue or discussion, indeed they close off and prevent such discussion off.

As for the James ossuary, I am pleased to say that every single epigrapher, including Ada Yardeni of the IAA and Andre Lemaire, that affirmed the authenticity of that inscription five years ago, still does--- and so do I.

Ben W.

Quixie said...

It was not a diatribe. In fact, I specifically went out of my way to make sure that nothing in it was an attack of any kind. So I resent that accusation for the reason that it's not true. I disagreed strongly with what I see as misinformation on your part, but nowhere in it was I abusive.

Moreover, it was no longer than "speaker for the dead"'s post, so length wasn't the issue either, was it?

But as no one will ever read it now . . . the point is moot. Ain't it?

You bring up Ada Yardeni of the IAA and Andre Lemaire, but you conveniently fail to mention Yuval Goren and Avner Ayalon of GSI. What do they say? This is precisely the sort of selective tunnel vision that I've been complaining about all along in this thread. You mention the people that agree with you and completely ignore the people (equally "expert") who disagree.

So to borrow your own frequently used phrase:

In short . . .
shame.

signing off . . .

poof

JD Walters said...

Re: 2nd Century dating for Acts

His [Quixie's] information is obviously second-hand, because there is no one called "Richard L. Pearl" arguing for a late date for Acts. He is referring to Richard Pervo, who did write a new monograph called "Dating Acts" which argues for a 2nd Century date. Joseph Tyson argues similarly in his new monograph "Marcion and Luke-Acts: The Defining Struggle". Both are indebted to the much earlier work of John Knox (I think he's actually dead?). I have no idea who Eddie Trobisch is, but he's not a recognized New Testament scholar. The only other contemporary scholar I am aware of who pushes a late date for Acts is (or was) J.C. O'Neill. He wrote quite a long time ago.

There does seem to be a new upsurge in arguments for a late date, but they are certainly not in the majority.

Gforce said...

Quixie,

I in no way indicated in my post that I believed you "made up" these scholars. I am a layman, a layman with very little time on my hands. And so, I was merely asking the one of us in this forum who is an expert in these matters what his opinion was. It seems I might have made you a bit agitated, I'm sorry. That truly was not my intention. From what I have read however, it is still more probable than not to place Acts in the first century. Alas, this is not the place for a mini-debate on Acts. :)

I do however wish to apologize again. i did not mean to call your integrity into question. I hope you did not take it that way. I believe I will seek these books out though. Thanks for the info.

blessings

Ben Witherington said...

There are perhaps about 10% of all Acts scholars that think it is a second century book, and this requires they ignore the internal evidence of Lk. 1.1-4 which is the intro to both books since they are linked and the evidence of the 'we passages' in Acts which indicate the author was present during these events.This also entirely ignores the recent textual evidence I mentioned.


As for Goren and Ayalon, Quixie, neither of these men are experts in epigraphy and their own IAA epigraphers refuted their work!!!!


BW3

Quixie said...

GForce:
I was not offended by your post. I know I may sound passionate sometimes, but it's only because of the frustration I feel when confronting the magnitude of stodginess I encounter sometimes.

It's like boxing an infallible glacier. One of the things that actually gives me hope in all of this is that more and more non-Christians are taking up the field of study. Things can only get better as a result (I have faith in the future).

Please accept my apology instead . . . for giving off the impression that I was angry at you specifically. In fact, you seem to be the only person here asking real questions, not cheerleading. Please accept my apologies for my mispelling of the two names as well. I didn't mean to send you on a wild goose chase.


JD Walters:
Thanks for correcting me on Pervo's name. I was using some lecture notes and obviously got it wrong. Second-hand or not, my point was that the dating of Acts is by no means "settled", not that I am better read than anyone.

And . . . . I also got Dr. David J. Trobisch's name wrong (see his website—he really IS an NT scholar.)

Sorry about the mixups of those two names there . . . I was citing from my notes . . . and as I have terrible handwriting, I often get names not quite right. But while the citations were faulty, the kernel of the argument remains.

Anyway . . . I will leave you guys alone now.

Happy preaching!
(cue the choir)

Ó

lijialefw said...

To a nail, lost a war.(wow gold) In a particular press to see(wow power leveling) such a foreign Minyan: In order to (wow gold)receive a nail, we have lost a Mati Tie In order to(wow power leveling) get a piece of Mati Tie, we have lost a Pi Junma In order to get(wow gold) a Pijun Ma, we (wow power leveling)have lost a(wow gold) jockey; To be a jockey, we lost a war victory. This is the first (Rolex)under general Minyan At(World of Warcraft gold) first glance, but careful consideration, you(wow power leveling) will find that it contains a layer of the important essence of life: learn to give up, have a maturity. To a Mati Tie and eventually lead to (wow gold)lose a war, this is not know how early to give up the consequences.
Wise said: two disadvantages of the value comes light, the right to( World of Warcraft gold)
choose the two-phase benefit. A folder to be the tail of the gecko already know how to give up the tail, the preservation of(wow power leveling) life, let alone we are full of (power leveling)the wisdom of mankind? » ! In everyone's life, always (powerleveling)have in the face of choice, a choice, there is bound to give up, we have to learn is to( power leveling)pay a painful price, to give up local interests and preserve the overall interests. In chess, there are not "abandoning single-car" this trick? » As the saying goes: not old, not new. Sometimes, even (power leveling)the most precious things to know in good time to give up. When you( powerleveling)graduated from junior high school, in the face of a sincere friendship, you(powerleveling )will Yiyibushe. But think back, and only bid farewell to middle school, high school usher in a(rs gold )new life, can meet new friends. The recent shift is not on this? » Finally, a celebrity's life motto In( gold wow)conclusion:
Life is like theater, everyone is their own lives in the only director. Only Institute of choice, people will know how to give up the Chewu life, Xiaokan life, the life Habitat has Seasky.

Hemingway said...

Quoting from the bible to "prove" Jesus existed is like quoting Sherlock Holmes to prove he existed. It is a scientifically flawed proof process.

We can prove Sir Auther Conan Doyle, Holmes' creator, existed because there is imperical evidence.

Tacitus only mentions "Christ" a title not a man. A title given to more people than Jesus.

Josephus has been so obviously interfered with by later christians it is embarrising for people who still resort to quoting it.

Why would a Jew (Josephus) writing for a Roman audience even contemplate using the term "messiah" when referring to Jesus? It makes no sense.

Surely he would have referred to him as "the one that some Judean Jews referred to as the messaiah" rather than stating himself that Jesus was the messiah?

Even many of Pauls letters are now generally accepted to be not of his hand due to differences in writing style and prose.

And eminent scholars such as John Dominic Crossan are very firm on the fact that there is not one single eye witness testamony in the New Testament gospels.

In fact the Gospel of John is so obviously plagerized and contrived its obvious he just read the preceeding three gospels and added his own bits and bobs to make the story more dramatic.

The issue of Jesus' existance would appear to be on shakey ground when one considers these facts.

However, the story exists even after all these years.

Why?

Well.... some people still believe that Elvis still lives and works in a gas station in Texas. They adore him, dress up as him and listen "religiously" to his work.

There is a need in humans to have something to believe in.