Saturday, May 28, 2011

Nailed: Ten Christian Myths that Show Jesus Never Existed at All by David Fitzgerald


David Fitzgerald, Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed at All, (Lulu.com, 2010) 246 pages,
Verdict?: 0/5 A tragic waste of probably rather nice trees.

Barely a day goes by without being reminded that the internet is revolutionising publishing.  Record companies are struggling to compete with artists who can release music direct to the public, e-publishing teens are making millions selling young adult novels via Kindle and we keep hearing predictions of the death of print newspapers.  Part of this revolution is the fact that e-publishing and online "print-on-demand" self-publishing services like Lulu.com and Blurb mean that anyone can be a published author.  The upside of this is that worthy writers of novels, short stories or poetry that have a market but are unlikely to get a traditional publisher can find their audience.  Or someone writing a technical book on an obscure subject, such as how to dress and cook a swan or construct a Tudor ruffed collar, can do the same.  The downside is that now all the cranks, lunatics, crackpot theorists or ranting loons who used to clutter the net with websites preaching their fringe theses have self-published books all over Amazon.com as well.  I suppose you take the good with the bad.

One fringe idea that  has helped keep the print-on-demand publishers ticking along is the Jesus Myth hypothesis - the idea that not only was Jesus not what Christianity claims, but that there was no historical Jesus at all and that the stories about him are purely mythical in origin.  This is a thesis that has been hovering off on the fringe of New Testament scholarship for quite some time - Charles François Dupuis and Constantin-François Chassebœuf both proposed that Jesus never existed back in the Eighteenth Century, though it was first presented in any detail by the German historian Bruno Bauer in 1841.

Later Nineteenth Century ideas about the origin and development of religion, inspired and typified by Sir James Frazer's The Golden Bough, tried to find a single, overarching framework or template for all religions and the vogue for this idea lent itself to the theory that Christianity arose purely out of earlier religious traditions, with Jesus as a mythic "dying and rising god" figure representing rebirth, fertility and the cycle of the seasons.  This formed the basis of some Jesus myth theories by several early Twentieth Century Jesus Mythers; most of whom were enthusiastic amateurs like American mathematician William Benjamin Smith (Ecce Deus: The Pre-Christian Jesus, 1894), Scottish MP J.M. Robertson ( A Short History of Christianity, 1902) and philosopher Arthur Drewes (The Christ Myth, 1909), along with a variety of Theosophists, esotericists and proto-New Age writers.  However mainstream scholarship moved away from the assumptions and methodology of Frazer's anthropology of religion and the idea of Jesus as purely mythical never gained substantial traction.  With the exception of John Allegro's eccentric hippy version of the thesis (The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, 1968), the idea reached an low ebb even amongst amateur theorists by the 1970s.

More recently, however, it has experienced something of a revival, partly on the back of the internet and cheaper and easier small publishing and online distribution.  The new Jesus Mythers tend to fall into three broad categories.  The first consists of theorists who do not quite claim there was no historical Jesus, but rather that he was not who most scholars believe he was - an early First Century preacher prophet.  These are classic pseudo historical conspiracy theories that claim Jesus was "really" some other historical figure, such as Julius Caesar (Francesco Carrota, Was Jesus Caesar?, 2005) or the Emperor Titus (Joseph Atwill, Caesar's Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus, 2005).

The second and far more popular category consists of New Age works reviving (and largely recycling) early Twentieth Century esoteric and Theosophist versions of the thesis, with heavy emphasis on pagan parallels with Christianity as "proof" Jesus simply evolved out of earlier pagan gods.  British mystical writers Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy brought out a version of this thesis in 1999 with the publication of The Jesus Mysteries: Was the 'Original Jesus' a Pagan God?  It was marketed squarely at the kind of reader who devoured Holy Blood Holy Grail and, not surprisingly, its sequel is mentioned in Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code.  A more convoluted version of the same ideas has been presented in several books by a New Age writer who calls herself "Acharya S", but whose real name is Dorothy Murdock.  Beginning with The Christ Conspiracy in 1999, Murdock has proven adept at harnessing the internet to propagate her ideas.  She uses YouTube videos and an extensive website to sell her self-published books and has developed a cult-like following of almost fanatical disciples.  Her "archaeoastronomical" thesis of Jesus as a solar deity got a boost from the notorious underground conspiracy "documentary" Zeitgeist, which somehow managed to link her thesis to conspiracies about 9/11, international banking and the media.

The final category of Myther theories are ones that tend to have been propagated by anti-theistic atheists or seized on by them as a way to attack traditional Christianity.  Most popular amongst them is that of Canadian writer Earl Doherty, whose self-published book The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? (1999) developed out of his website of the same name.  Unlike Freke, Gandy and Murdock, Doherty at least tries to use proper academic processes and approaches and his work is much more popular amongst atheists, freethinkers and humanists as a result.  Doherty does not place the same emphasis on pagan parallels as the New Age proponents of the thesis, but argues for an Jewish proto-Christianity (several of them, in fact) that considered Jesus to be a purely mythic being who was born, lived and died in the sub-lunar circle of the heavens, not on earth.  Several other amateurs and hobbyists, like Richard Carrier and R.G. Price, propose or support similar ideas, with several of them pushing this thesis at secptics' conventions, in atheist gatherings and on atheistic and humanist online fora.

Fitzgerald's False Dichotomy

Which brings us to David Fitzgerald.  Fitzgerald is an atheist activist who is on the board of the San Francisco Atheists and the founder of an atheist film festival.  He has spent some time giving public lectures that are essentially summaries of his book, mainly to secularist organisations and conventions.  His book has certainly received high praise from prominent atheists and Mythers.  Robert M. Price, who is one of the two or three actual professional scholars who give the Myther thesis any credence, wrote a blurb which says it "summarizes a great number of key arguments with new power and original spin".  American Atheist Press editor and biologist Frank Zindler says Fitzgerald "reveals himself to be the brightest new star in the firmament of scholars who deny historical reality to 'Jesus of Nazareth'".  Atheist activist Richard Carrier gives a kind of imprimatur, declaring solemnly and authoritatively "All ten points (in the book) are succinct and correct".  And fellow self-published author and Myther guru Earl Doherty goes so far as to say it is "possibly the best 'capsule summary' of the mythicist case I've ever encountered."  But it seems such high praise from Myther luminaries does not count for much with publishers - like most Myther books, Nailed is self-published.

So is it as powerful as its blurbs declare?  Well, actually, no.  On the whole it is confused, lopsided and, in places, laughably amateurish.  If this is the best "mythicism" can produce then it's small wonder the academy remains singularly unimpressed.

As its title suggests, the book is divided into ten "myths" about Jesus, which the author then proceeds to attempt to debunk and show that a historical Jesus never existed. The first - "The idea that Jesus was a myth is ridiculous" - is not really controversial.  After all, no-one except a fundamentalist apologist would pretend that the evidence about Jesus is not ambiguous and often difficult to interpret with any certainty, and that includes the evidence for his existence.  This, of course, merely means the idea he did not exist is simply valid, not that it's true. But from the start the attentive reader begins to notice something very odd about the way Fitzgerald frames the debate.  He consistently depicts the topic as some kind of starkly Manichaean conflict between Christian apologists on one hand and "critics who have disputed Christian claims" on the other and in his first pages he mentions evangelicals, conservative Christians and populist apologists like F.F. Bruce, R. Douglas Geivett and Josh McDowell in rapid succession.  He notes that the vast majority of Biblical historians reject the idea that Jesus never existed, but counters that "the majority of Biblical historians have always been Christian preachers, so what else could be expect them to say?" (p. 16)

This is glib, but it is also too simplistic.  Many scholars working in relevant fields may well be Christians (and a tiny few may even be "preachers" as he claims, though not many), but a great many are definitely not.  Leading scholars like Bart Ehrman, Maurice Casey, Paula Fredriksen and Gerd Ludemann are all non-Christians.  Then there are the Jewish scholars like Mark Nanos, Alan Segal, Jacob Neusner, Hyam Maccoby and Geza Vermes.  Even those scholars who describe themselves as Christians often hold ideas about Jesus that few church-goers would recognise, let alone be comfortable with and which are nothing like the positions of people like Geivett and McDowell.  Dale C. Allison, E P Sanders and John Dominic Crossan may all regard themselves as Christians, but I doubt Josh McDowell would agree, given their highly non-orthodox ideas about the historical Jesus.


So from the start Fitzgerald sets up an artificial dichotomy, with conservative apologists defending a traditional orthodox Jesus on one hand and brave "critics who (dispute) Christian claims" who don't believe in any Jesus at all on the other.  And nothing in between.  This is nonsense, because it ignores a vast middle ground of scholars - liberal Christian, Jewish, atheist and agnostic - who definitely "dispute Christian claims" but who also conclude that there was a human, Jewish, historical First Century preacher as the point of origin for the later stories of "Jesus Christ".

A Failed Argument from Silence

The false dichotomy established in the first chapter is continued in the second, entitled "Myth No. 2: Jesus was wildly famous - but there was no reason for contemporary historians to notice him ... "   Fitzgerald insists that there are elements in the story of Jesus which should have been noticed by historians of the time and insists that there is no shortage of writers then who should have recorded some mention of them:

There were plenty writers, both Roman and Jewish, who had great interest in and much to say about (Jesus') region and its happenings .... We still have many of their writings today: volumes and volumes from scores of writers detailing humdrum events and lesser exploits of much more mundane figures in Roman Palestine, including several failed Messiahs.  (Fitzgerald, p. 22)

Now, potentially, that is a pretty solid argument.  If we did indeed have "scores of writers" from Jesus' time with such an interest in Jesus' region and who wrote about "failed Messiahs" then it would certainly be very strange that we have no contemporary mentions of Jesus.  Unfortunately, as we will see, this is one of several places where Fitzgerald lets his overblown rhetoric run well ahead of what he can then actually substantiate.

But first, his opening words in the very next sentence are worth noting.  It begins "If the Gospels were true ..."  Here and throughout the book Fitzgerald gets himself into a constant confused tangle over which Jesus he is arguing against.  He keeps saying he is arguing against the idea of any historical Jesus at all, yet at every turn it is the Jesus of a very conservative reading of the gospels that he talks about.  He repeatedly thinks that if he can show that something is not consistent with the kind of Jesus argued for by an fundamentalist apologist preacher like Josh McDowell, he has disposed of the historical Jesus altogether.  This does not follow at all.  Most critical scholars have no time for the McDowell-style Jesus either, so the Jewish preacher they present  as the historical Jesus behind the later gospel figure is left totally unscathed by Fitzgerald's naive arguments.

Thus Fitzgerald goes on to detail things in the gospels which he argues should have been noticed by writers of the time: the taxing of the whole Roman Empire, the massacre in Bethlehem by Herod the Great, Jesus' ministry generally, his miracles, his entry into Jerusalem, his trial and his execution. For anyone other than a fundamentalist, this argument has zero force.  Critical scholars, including many Christian ones, would simply chuckle at the idea that things like the story of an Empire-wide census or the Massacre of the Innocents are historical, so arguing they did not happen counts for nothing much when it comes to arguing against the existence of a historical Jesus.  Fitzgerald even seems to think that the fact the "Star of Bethlehem" and the darkness on Jesus' death are unattested and therefore most likely did not happen (which is true) is somehow a blow against the existence of a historical Jesus (which is not).

And it is hard to see why the other items on his list would be noted, noticed or even known to any far off Roman or Greek historians at all.  Given that these historians make no mention of any other Jewish peasant preachers or miracle workers, it is hard to see why Fitzgerald thinks they should have done so with this one.  As for things like his entry into Jerusalem, his trial and his crucifixion, it is equally difficult to see why they would be more than a one day wonder even locally.  Why Fitzgerald thinks such minor events would be the talk of the whole Empire is a mystery.

But in the quote above he claimed there were "scores of writers" with a burning interest in this region and, apparently, in the doings of Jewish Messianic claimants.  He even claims these writers detail the "lesser exploits" of these Messiahs, but make no mention of Jesus.  Strangely, he never tells us who these "scores of writers" with this interest in Jewish Messiahs are, which is very odd.  As it happens, we have precisely one writer who mentions any figures who might be seen as "failed Messiahs", and that is the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus.  But far from talking about "lesser exploits" of these figures, what this single writer says about Jewish preachers, prophets and Messianic claimants in this period makes it quite clear that Jesus was actually pretty small fry as such figures go.

For example, a bandit-rebel who declared himself a Jewish king called Athronges not only gathered enough armed followers to tackle Roman troops but for a while he was able to inflict military defeats on them, until he was defeated circa 4 BC.  An unnamed Samaritan prophet led a "great multitude"to the holy mountain of Gerizim, promising them a mystical revelation, around 36 AD.  He and his followers were so numerous they had to be attacked by the Romans and dispersed using units of both infantry and cavalry.  About ten years later a prophet called Theudas led "a great part of the people" into the desert, promising to miraculously part the River Jordan and had to be dealt with by Roman cavalry in the same way.  And another unnamed Jewish prophet, this one from Egypt, led an estimated (though unlikely) "30,000 men" to Jerusalem, telling them its walls would miraculously fall so he could lead them into the city.  Again, Roman troops had to be called out to deal with them, leaving hundreds dead and causing the prophet to run away.

It is very hard to see any of these fairly momentous events as "lesser exploits" compared to what even the gospels claim about Jesus.  Even if we take their accounts at face value, a chanting crowd greeting his entrance to Jerusalem, a trial that no-one witnessed and a run-of-the-mill execution are hardly big news compared to mass movements that required the mobilisation of troops and pitched battles.  Yet how many other historians so much as mention Athronges, the Samaritan, Theudas or the Egyptian?  None.  Apart from Josephus, no writer so much as gives them a sentence's worth of attention.  So somehow Fitzgerald thinks these minor events in the Jesus story should be mentioned when far bigger, more significant events are not.  He wildly misrepresents the evidence ("scores of writers") and his attempted argument from silence clearly fails dismally.

Next Fitzgerald goes into some detail about the writers and historians of the First Century who he claims "should" have mentioned a historical Jesus but did not.  He lists eleven who are contemporaries of Jesus.  Like many Mythers, he seems to think that the lack of any contemporary reference to Jesus is somehow a particularly telling point, since the few extra-Biblical references to Jesus are in writings dating almost a century after his time.  This would come as no surprise to anyone actually familiar with the nature of ancient source material, however.  There are few more famous ancient figures than the Carthaginian general Hannibal; even today most people at least know his name.  He was one of the greatest and justifiably famous generals of ancient times.  Yet, despite his fame then and now, we have precisely zero contemporary references to Hannibal. If we have no contemporary mentions of the man who almost destroyed the Roman Republic at the height of its power, the idea that we should expect any for an obscure peasant preacher in the backblocks of Galilee is patently absurd.

(Edit:  In the discussion in the comments on this review here and elsewhere it was brought to my attention that we do have a tiny fragment of one contemporary account of Hannibal.   P.Würzb.Inv. 1 is a papyrus fragment that seems to contain a few lines from Book IV of Sosylus' The Deeds of Hannibal.  I was not aware of this when I wrote the paragraph above, so thanks to the commenter Evan for bringing it to my attention.

The point still stands however - if we have nothing more than a few lines from any contemporary work about Hannibal to expect to have surviving contemporary mentions of someone as unimportant and obscure as Jesus is still absurd.  And there are many other very prominent people for whom we have no contemporary mentions: we have nothing of the sort for the Icenian warrior queen Boudicca or the Germanic warlord Arminius, for example.  Arminius destroyed one tenth of the whole Roman army in one battle and led the only successful rebellion against the Empire in its history, yet we have nothing about him from the time or even from his lifetime.  Fitzgerald's emphasis on the lack of contemporary references to a peasant who did not much is plainly ridiculous.  Of course, it should also be noted that my point is still correct - the text of P.Würzb.Inv. 1  makes no mention of any "Hannibal". ) 

Fitzgerald labours mightily to detail all the writers who he claims "should" have mentioned Jesus.  But in every case his argument suffers from the same fatal flaw: given that none of these writers mention any other Jewish preachers, prophets and Messianic claimants, there is absolutely no reason to think they "should" have mentioned Jesus.  As noted above, Athronges, the Sarmatian, Theudas and the Egyptian prophet were actually far more prominent and significant locally than Jesus was even according to the most naive, face value fundamentalist's reading of the gospels.  Yet not one of them is mentioned by any of Fitzgerald's list of "should" writers either.  Nor are any other comparable Jewish figures of the time, such as Hillel, Shammai, Choni HaMa'agel, John the Baptist or Gamaliel.

Yet Fitzgerald again claims that these writers do mention other figures similar to Jesus.  "In many cases", he claims,  "these same writers have much to say about other much less interesting messiahs - but not Jesus" (p.42)  In "many cases"?  In which cases?  Fitzgerald simply does not say.  And other messiahs are mentioned?  Which ones, where and by who?  Again, despite this being a key point that should potentially back up and substantiate his creaking argument, he never bothers to tell the reader.  The reason is simple - what Fitzgerald is saying here is absolute nonsense.  None of his writers mention any such figures for the same reason they do not mention Jesus: because these writers had no interest in any such Jewish preachers and prophets.  As a result, despite all his bold claims and loud rhetoric, Fitzgerald's argument collapses in a heap.

Josephus and his Amazing Technicolour Interpolations

Despite Fitzgerald's unsubstantiated claims to the contrary, the only writer of the period who seems to have had any interest at all in people like Jesus was Yosef ben Matityahu or Flavius Josephus.  This means that if Josephus did not mention Jesus while mentioning other such figures like Theudas and John the Baptist, people like Fitzgerald would actually be able to make a real argument from silence.   The problem is that Josephus does mention Jesus - twice.  So any Myther book or article has to spill a lot of ink trying to explain these highly inconvenient  mentions away.

Getting rid of the first reference to Jesus, the one in Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVIII.3.4  is made a little easier by the fact that at least some of it is not original to Josephus and was added by Christian scribes later.  The textus receptus of the passage has Josephus saying things about Jesus that no Jewish non-Christian would say, such as "He was the Messiah" and "he appeared to them alive on the third day".  So, not surprisingly, Fitzgerald takes the usual Myther tack and rejects the whole passage as a later addition and rejects the idea that Josephus mentioned Jesus here at all.

He does acknowledge the alternative idea, that Josephus' mention of Jesus was simply added to, but yet again he attributes this to "wishful apologists".  This is a total distortion of the state of academic play on the question of this passage.  As several surveys of the academic literature have shown, the majority of scholars now accept that there was an original mention of Jesus in  Antiquities XVIII.3.4 and this includes the majority of Jewish and non-Christian scholars, not merely "wishful apologists".  This is partly because once the more obvious interpolated phrases are removed, the passage reads precisely like what Josephus would be expected to write and also uses characteristic language found elsewhere in his works.  But it is also because of the 1970 discovery of what seems to be a pre-interpolation version of Josephus' passage, uncovered by Jewish scholar Schlomo Pines of Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Professor Pines found an Arabic paraphrase of the Tenth Century historian Agapius which quotes Josephus' passage, but not in the form we have it today.  This version, which seems to draw on a copy of Josephus' original, uninterpolated text, says that Jesus was believed by his followers to have been the Messiah and to have risen from the dead, which means in the original Josephus was simply reporting early Christian beliefs about Jesus regarding his supposed status and resurrection.  This is backed further by a Syriac version cited by Michael the Syrian which also has the passage saying "he was believed to be the Messiah".  The evidence now stacks up heavily on the side of the partial authenticity of the passage, meaning there is a reference to Jesus as a historical person in precisely the writer we would expect to mention him.  So how does Fitzgerald deal with the Arabic and Syriac evidence?  Well, he doesn't.  He is either ignorant of it or he conveniently ignores it.

Not content with ignoring inconvenient key counter-evidence, Fitzgerald is also happy to simply make things up.  He talks about how the Second Century Christian apologist Origen does not mention the Antiquities XVII.3.4 reference to Jesus (which is true, but not surprising) and then claims "Origen even quotes from Antiquities of the Jews in order to prove the historical existence of John the Baptist, then adds that Josephus didn't believe in Jesus, and criticises him for failing to mention Jesus in that book!" (p. 53)  Which might sound like a good argument to anyone who does not bother to check self-published authors' citations.  But those who do will turn to Origen's Contra Celsum I.4 and find the following:

Now this writer [Josephus], although not believing in Jesus as the Messiah, in seeking after the cause of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, whereas he ought to have said that the conspiracy against Jesus was the cause of these calamities befalling the people, since they put to death Christ, who was a prophet, says nevertheless-being, although against his will, not far from the truth-that these disasters happened to the Jews as a punishment for the death of James the Just, who was  "the brother of that Jesus who was called Messiah",--the Jews having put him to death, although he was a man most distinguished for his justice.

So Origen does not say Josephus "didn't believe in Jesus", just that he did not believe Jesus was the Messiah (which supports the Arabic and Syriac evidence on the pre-interpolation version of Antiquities XVII.3.4) And far from criticising Josephus "for failing to mention Jesus in that book", Origen actually quotes Josephus directly doing exactly that - the phrase "αδελφος Ιησου του λεγομενου Χριστου" (the brother of that Jesus who was called Messiah") is word for word the phrase used by Josephus in his other mention of Jesus, found at Antiquities XX.9.1.  And he does not refer to and quote Josephus mentioning Jesus just in Contra Celsum I.4, but he also does so twice more: in Contra Celsum II:13 and in Commentarium in evangelium Matthaei X.17.  It is hard to say if this nonsense claim of Fitzgerald's is mere incompetence or simply a lie.  I will be charitable and put it down to another of this amateur's bungles.

 Jesus, James and History

So Fitzgerald then turns to this second mention of Jesus by Josephus, the one that is actually mentioned and quoted by Origen as noted above, and attempts to make it disappear as well.  Except the mention in Antiquities XX.9.1 is much trickier prospect for Myther theorists than the clearly edited mention in Antiquities XVII.3.4.  The second mention is made in passing in a passage where Josephus is detailing an event of some significance and one which he, as a young man, would have witnessed himself.

In 62 AD, the 26 year old Josephus was in Jerusalem, having recently returned from an embassy to Rome.  He was a young member of the aristocratic priestly elite which ruled Jerusalem and were effectively rulers of Judea, though with close Roman oversight and only with the backing of the Roman procurator in Caesarea.  But in this year the procurator 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 rein that usual.  Ananus executed some Jews without Roman permission and, when this was brought to the attention of the Romans, Ananus was deposed.

This was a momentous event and one that the young Josephus, as a member of the same elite as the High Priest, would have remembered well.  But what is significant is what he says in passing about the executions that that triggered the deposition of the High Priest:

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 second reference to Jesus is difficult for Mythers to deal with.  Dismissing it as another interpolation does not work, since a Christian interpolator in a later century is hardly going to invent something as significant as the deposition of the High Priest just to slip in this passing reference to Jesus which, unlike the interpolated elements in the Antiquities XVII.3.4 passage, makes no Christian claims about Jesus.  Then there are the three citations and quotations of this passage by Origen mentioned above.  Fitzgerald seems totally oblivious to these, but Origen was writing in the mid-Third Century AD, which shows this mention existed in Josephus then - ie while Christianity was still a small, illegal and persecuted sect and so much too early for any Christian doctoring of this text.

But Fitzgerald falls back on one of the several gambits Mythers use to get their argument off this awkward and pointy hook.  He notes that Josephus tells us the successor of the deposed High Priest was one "Jesus, son of Damneus" and then triumphantly concludes that the "Jesus, who was called Messiah" is not a reference to Jesus of Nazareth at all, but actually a reference to this "Jesus, son of Damneus" instead.

While he declares this ingenious solution to his problem to be "the only (explanation) that makes sense" (p. 61), it is actually highly flawed.  He claims, following fellow Myther Richard Carrier, that the words "who was called Messiah" were "tacked on" and that the Jesus mentioned as the brother of the executed James was this "Jesus, son of Damneus".  But this does not explain why Josephus would identify one son (James) by reference to his brother and the other (Jesus) by reference to their father.  Josephus does this nowhere else in his works.  It also does not explain why when he does say "Jesus, son of Damneus" was made High Priest, he does not mention that this was the unidentified "Jesus" mentioned earlier and that the executed James was his brother, since that relevant detail would be worth noting.

More importantly, neither Carrier nor Fitzgerald explain why an interpolator would "tack on" this reference to their Jesus. The motive behind the clumsy interpolations in Antiquities XVII.3.4 is clear: the idea that Jesus was the Messiah and that he rose from the dead was disputed by non-Christians, especially by Jews, so to have the Jewish historian Josephus apparently attest to these Christian claims turned this passage that simply mentions Jesus into a powerful rhetorical tool in defence of these Christian claims.  But simply adding "who was called Messiah" to this other text supports no Christian claim at all.  If anyone prior to the Nineteenth Century was arguing Jesus did not exist, then it would make sense that such an interpolation might be needed, but that is a purely modern phenomenon.  So Fitzgerald's contrived argument is not only clumsy, it is also supposing something for which there was no motive at all.  Then, yet again, there is the fact that Origen quotes this passage three separate times with the "who was called Messiah" element in it.  This was in the mid-Third Century and long before Christians were in any position to be "tacking on" anything to copies of Josephus.

"Jesus" or Yeshua was one of the most common names for Jewish men of the time.  Josephus was very careful to differentiate between different individuals with the same common first names, especially where he mentions two in the same passage.  So it is far more likely that he calls one Jesus "who was called Messiah" and the other "son of Damneus" for precisely this reason.  The clumsy idea that Fitzgerald proposes is highly awkward in all respects; except, of course, as an ad hoc way of making a clear reference to Jesus go away and leave his thesis intact.


Irrelevance (with howlers)

The next four chapters in Fitzgerald's book are more examples of the author arguing against a fundamentalist version of Jesus rather than the historical Jewish preacher of critical non-Christian and liberal scholars.  In them he marshals some fairly standard arguments that would be news to absolutely no-one except the most clueless of Biblical literalists or naive traditional Christians.  He presents evidence that the gospels were not written by eye-witnesses, that they differ in their depictions of Jesus and that there are some historical and archaeological problems with taking them at face value.  Yet again, Fitzgerald cannot seem to make up his mind if he is arguing against any historical Jesus at all or merely a traditionalist/fundamentalist version of him based on a face value reading of the Bible.  These chapters are run of the mill stuff arguing against things that even many Christians do not believe and they do little or nothing to advance his argument about the existence of a historical Jesus.  The gospels can indeed have been written by non-eye witnesses, can present wildly varying pictures of Jesus and can be riddled with historical and archaeological errors and a historical Jewish preacher could still have been the origin of the later stories.  Much of this part of the book feels like mere padding.

Though there are some howlers in it that, yet again, shows that Fitzgerald is an amateur who really needed an informed editor.  At one point he writes:

Matthew has Jesus making a pun where he tells Peter  "upon this rock I will build my church" (Matt. 16:18).  Though if this had happened in reality, Peter would have scratched his head and asked,  "Say Jesus - what's a church?" since churches hadn't been invented yet, and wouldn't be developed until many decades later. (p. 70)

The word translated as "church" in most English editions is ἐκκλησίαν and it simply means "assembly, gathering, all of a given group", so it would be very odd for Peter to have "scratched his head" at what would have been a perfectly sensible and clear statement.  Personally, I do not happen to believe Jesus said this at all and it seems this was something put in his mouth later by the writer of Matthew.  But the naivete of Fitzgerald's English-based argument is indicative of his weak grasp of the material.

His comments elsewhere in these largely irrelevant chapters are similarly naive.  He pauses in his brief chapter on archaeology and, in a weak attempt to make this chapter vaguely relevant to his main argument, writes:

At the risk of being redundant, we should remember that there has never been a trace of physical archaeological evidence for Jesus, despite centuries of infamous hoaxes such as the Shroud of Turin (p. 108)

Again, that the faithful have clung to pious hoaxes and that the gullible still fall for fake artefacts is not remotely relevant to Fitzgerald's thesis.  And "there has never been a trace of physical archaeological evidence" for most people who have existed in human history, particularly if they were poor and lived in a backwater.  For Fitzgerald to think that the lack of any such evidence for Jesus tells us something about whether he existed or not makes him about as clueless as the Shroud believers.


The Jesus of Paul

The epistles of Paul pose another problem for Mythers like Fitzgerald.  Given that they are the earliest Christian documents we have, generally thought to have been written in the 50s AD, they are uncomfortably close to Jesus' lifetime for the Mythers and remarkably close as ancient source material goes.  So the Mythers take solace in the fact that Paul does not actually say much about Jesus' life and preaching.  They exaggerate this completely, claiming that Paul has nothing to say about any earthly Jesus:

Paul never talks about Jesus' death as though it actually happened to a real man from Galilee who lived on earth a few years before.  Nor does hie give any details about the events of Jesus' life: not the places he travelled, not the miracles he performed, not the parables he told, not even the teachings or instructions he gave .... Paul never says anything about Jesus being an earthly teacher at all. (pp. 128-29)

This is, in fact, substantially nonsense.  While Paul's main focus in his letters is answering questions on issues about his preaching of Jesus as a risen Messiah, he actually does talk about Jesus' earthly life and career at many points.  He says he was born as a human, of a human mother and born a Jew (Galatians4:4).  He repeats that he had a "human nature" and that he was a human descendant of King David (Romans1:3).  Contrary to Fitzgerald's claim, he refers to teachings Jesus made during his earthly ministry on divorce (1Cor. 7:10), on preachers (1Cor. 9:14) and on the coming apocalypse (1Thess. 4:15).  He mentions how he was executed by earthly rulers (1Cor. 2:8) and that he died and was buried (1Cor 15:3-4).  And he says he had a earthly, physical brother called James who Paul himself had met (Galatians1:19).  

Naturally, the Myther theorists that Fitzgerald is following with this idea that Paul believed in a purely heavenly, mystical Jesus have contrived ways to argue away these clear references to an earthly Jesus, but they require contortions, strained readings of the texts, suppositions and, inevitably, assumed interpolations for them to work.  Fitzgerald makes a great deal out of the fact that a lot of the gospels' details are not found in Paul.  This is partly because of Paul's theological focus on the risen Jesus, partly because of the incidental nature of the letters he was writing and the concerns they were addressing and partly because some of those gospel elements  (eg the infancy narratives) are almost certainly are not historical and probably had yet to develop.  But to pretend that Paul did not believe in an earthly Jesus at all requires some contorted hoop jumping of a most dubious and unconvincing nature.

The reference to Paul's meeting with "James, the brother of the Lord" is one that gives the proponents of this idea that Paul only believed in a heavenly, mystical Jesus the most grief.  In Galatians 1, Paul is clearly trying to fend off the charge that he is somehow subordinate to those who were followers of Jesus before Paul's conversion.  In his attempt to counter claims to this effect, he assures the assembly in Galatia that he did not get his "gospel" from the community in Jerusalem.  Though he cannot deny that he did go to Jerusalem after his conversion and did meet Peter, so he quickly adds "I saw none of the other apostles - only James, the brother of the Lord."

There is a consistent tradition that Jesus had a brother called James and that this James became a leader in the Jesus Sect community in Jerusalem.  As we have seen, Josephus mentions the execution of this same James, "brother of that Jesus who was called Messiah".  So we have a confluence of evidence, both Christian and non-Christian, that Jesus had a brother called James who was a leader in Jerusalem and here we have Paul mentioning, in passing, meeting this very same James.  This poses a thorny problem for the Mythers.
There are a variety of ingenious ways used by them to extract themselves from this awkward pickle, usually by claiming that "brother of the Lord" was not meant literally and that there was an (otherwise totally unattested) sub-group of Christian believers who were called "the brothers of the Lord".  Fitzgerald does not resort to this hopelessly ad hoc piece of supposition, but instead falls back on the old Myther standby: supposing a textual interpolation:

Though Christians seize on the one and only verse (Gal. 1:19) that has Paul refer to James in passing as "the Brother of the Lord" it seems more likely that this was a marginal note inserted by a later scribe, whether by accident or deliberately. (p. 145)

He supports this bold claim by noting that "just a few verses later (Paul) disdainfully dismiss(es) James as though he was a nobody (Gal. 2:6)".  What Paul does in Galatians 2:6 is talk about some people who he describes as "those who were held in high esteem" (ie the Jerusalem assembly generally) and says "they added nothing to my message".  But he goes on to note "On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised."  He then talks about how this mission to the gentiles was given to him by "James, Cephas (Peter) and John, those esteemed as pillars" and holds this up as a ringing endorsement of his authority. How Fitzgerald reads that as disdainfully dismissing James "as though he was a nobody" is a mystery.  And how he could use this to posit an interpolation simply as a way of getting rid of an inconvenient piece of evidence and prop up his thesis even more so.   

It is this kind of weak, supposition-laden argument, made up of ad hoc contrivances based on little more than wishful thinking that leaves the Myther position wide open to a savage application of Occam's Razor.  An academic editor would simply laugh at any manuscript that contained an argument this weak on such a key point.  But one of the joys of self-publishing is that you don't have to convince or impress anyone but yourself.  Fitzgerald, it seems, is very impressed with Fitzgerald's arguments.  Not surprisingly.

In Conclusion

I have gone to the effort to write a long review of this book not because it is a worthy work - it most certainly is not.  It is not even the best that the Mythers can do: there are other books which may be flawed but are nowhere near as weak, clumsy, confused or amateurish as this one (as much as I disagree with him, at least Earl Doherty's thesis is coherent and well-researched).  I have chosen to go into some detail with this one because it strikes me as encapsulating most of what is hopelessly wrong about the Myther thesis and its manifestations online and in self-published books like this one.  Like most pseudo history, these arguments for the non-existence of Jesus are flawed by the fact their writers begin with their conclusion.  That is bad enough to start with, and there is no shortage of amateur hobbyist theorists who are too enamoured of their "amazing idea" to subject it to sufficient comprehensive self-criticism.  But this is exacerbated in the Mythers' case by an ideologically-driven bias.

A major part of the problem with most manifestations of the Myther thesis is that its proponents desperately want it to be true because they want to undermine Christianity.  And any historical analysis done with one eye on an emotionally-charged ideological agenda is usually heading for trouble from the start.  Over and over again, Fitzgerald does what most of these Mythers do - plumps for an interpretation, explanation or excuse about the evidence simply because it preserves his thesis.  Their biases against Christianity blind Mythers to the fact that they are not arriving at conclusions because they are the best or most parsimonious explanation of the evidence, but merely because they fit their agenda.

The overwhelming majority of scholars, Christian, non-Christian, atheist, agnostic or Jewish, accept there was a Jewish preacher as the point of origin for the Jesus story simply because that makes the most sense of all the evidence.  The contorted and contrived lengths that Fitzgerald and his ilk have to resort to shows exactly how hard it is to sustain the idea that no such historical preacher existed.  Personally, as an atheist amateur historian myself, I would have no problem at all embracing the idea that no historical Jesus existed if someone could come up with an argument for this that did not depend at every turn on strained readings, ad hoc explanations, imagined textual interpolations and fanciful suppositions.  While the Myther thesis is being sustained by junk pulp pseudo scholarship like Fitzgerald's worthless little book, it will remain a curiosity on the fringes of scholarship good for little more than amusement.  This book is crap.


(Note: Any Mythers who think I need to be educated on their thesis in the comments section, don't bother.  I've been debating you guys online for nearly ten years now and I'm more than familiar with all the counter arguments and alternative readings and other contrivances you people use and so don't need the comments below to be cluttered up by them.  Likewise, sneering comments or commentary by Mythers who I've bugged in online debates over the years will also be deleted.  If you don't like that, then go whine on your own blogs.  Have a lovely day.)

Edit (01.12.13):  In January last year David Fitzgerald posted a lengthy response to my review.  Since then some have asked me if I was going to reply to him.  My reply has taken some time, since it is over 12,000 words long, but it has now been posted on Armarium Magnum:

"The Jesus Myth Theory: A Response to David Fitzgerald"

147 comments:

  1. I think it would be cool if you reviewed "The Pillars of the Earth" and "The Borgias" miniseries on their history

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  2. I must say your blog is rapidly becoming one of my favorite places to visit on the internet. I love your dismantling of the Jesus Myth, I always chuckle at how people can feel they are rational and then say Jesus never existed with a straight face.

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  3. "Several other amateurs and hobbyists, like Richard Carrier, R.G. Price, propose or support similar ideas, with several of them pushing this thesis at secptics' conventions, in atheist gatherings and on atheistic and humanist online fora".

    Them sound like fight'n words to me.

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  4. Whatever they are, they're accurate. As far as I can tell, Carrier has no teaching or research position at any accredited institution. I actually have no idea what exactly he does for a living (the last thing that looks like a paying job on his resume is work as a library assistant). So he's a blogger and hobbyist with a postgraduate degree. Like me. Like lots of people.

    He does self-publish books though, for what that's worth.

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  5. Thanks Tim. Well-written, competent, cogent stuff, as always. I enjoyed reading it.

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  6. I wonder why the Mythicists bother, and who they're trying to persuade? Unless it's just fodder for some of the anti-Christian atheist websites.

    Without going into the historicity or otherwise of the Matthew Nativity story, I don't see the story of the Massacre of the Innocents as implausible. It's certainly in character with Herod; the fact that it isn't mentioned by Josephus might simply be that (a) not many infants were killed - small village, not many candidates for murder, (b)it was par for the course. I remember reading about the harrying of Worcester under Edgar in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and the description wasn't shock horror, or how unusual it was, which implies that this type of action wasn't abnormal, but I don't recollect any previous examples - though of course the requested harrying of Dover in 1051 led to the exile of Godwin
    (c)Josephus, an aristocrat from Jerusalem didn't know of the massacre, and even if he had, he didn't care, whereas the later Christian community did care.

    I don't see the story as historicizing prophecy. I mean, I've read the story a number of times and I can't see the original as prophecy. It seems more likely to me that, if it happened, Matthew (we'll call the author that for simplicity)rooted through the Scriptures for plausible verses that could be read as prophecy.

    Anyway, I enjoyed your review. You do nice thorough ones. More, please

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  7. Unfortunately, as we will see, this is one of several places where Fitzgerald lets his overblown rhetoric run well ahead of what he can then actually substantiate.

    This is a cogent piece of criticism and the fact that you make such confident assertions subsequent to it makes it seem all the more cogent, especially when you say,

    Yet, despite his fame then and now, we have precisely zero contemporary references to Hannibal.

    So I was keen to check this statement out, since if it were verifiable it would be a profound argument in favor of your position.

    One has to wonder whether you are ignorant or dishonest, however, after a cursory investigation of this claim.

    Hannibal has multiple contemporary attestation, from both Silenus, who was a paid Greek historian who Hannibal brought with him on his journeys to write an account of what took place and by Sosylus of Lacedaemon. Sosylus was a companion of Hannibal and actually wrote a seven volume history of the Second Punic War.

    So either you are just finding this fact out now, or you are simply dishonest. In either case you should edit this post to adjust for this fact.

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  8. Evan wrote:

    So either you are just finding this fact out now, or you are simply dishonest. In either case you should edit this post to adjust for this fact.

    No, I am quite aware of both writers and no I won't be adjusting my post. The point of my analogy is that we have no contemporary references to many ancient people and this does not tell us whether these people existed or not. Yes, of course there were contemporary references to Hannibal - it would have been bizarre for then not to be. And yes, we even know the names of a couple of their authors. But their works don't survive. So what I said stands.

    The point is simply about the extremely patchy nature of ancient source material, particularly its survival to us. Drawing a conclusion based on the lack of any surviving contemporary references to a Galilean peasant preacher when we have a similar lack for someone as prominent as Hannibal is absurd.

    My point stands. But good to see you checking things. It would be good for people reading Fitzgerald to do the same, especially on things like his claims about Origen or his often-referenced but never-cited multiple historians who detailed Messiahs but didn't mention Jesus.

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  9. Evan

    Your problem is with the English language not Tim.

    Here is the passage you are complaining about.

    Yet, despite his fame then and now, WE HAVE precisely zero contemporary references to Hannibal. If WE have no contemporary mentions of the man who almost destroyed the Roman Republic at the height of its power, the idea that WE should expect any for an obscure peasant preacher in the backblocks of Galilee is patently absurd.

    This sentence is in the first person plural present. That clearly refers to present time, not Roman times.

    For your argument to be correct Tim's passage would have to be in the 3rd person plural past tense and then transition to the 3rd person plural present

    It would read like this:

    Yet, despite his fame then and now, THEY HAD precisely zero contemporary references to Hannibal. If THEY HAD no contemporary mentions of the man who almost destroyed the Roman Republic at the height of its power, the idea that WE ( transition to the present) should expect any for an obscure peasant preacher in the backblocks of Galilee is patently absurd.

    You need to read things a bit more closely in the future because Tim is factual correct in his passage in question. We do not have any surviving contemporary accounts of Hannibal unless you care to produce them.

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  10. Thanks Tim.

    Whenever I'm confronted with a Christ Myther I'll simply point him to this...

    Mind you, I've done the same with some who believe in the conflict between religion and science and they just didn't get it.

    I guess there's only so much you can do.

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  11. Tim, I've addressed your comments over on Matrix and I don't think you bring up anything new here, so I will let that one stand. However, I think it's great that you have commenters like Duke of Earl here backing you up. Let me know ... do you agree that there's no conflict between religion and science?

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  12. Tim, I've addressed your comments over on Matrix and I don't think you bring up anything new here, so I will let that one stand

    And I and others have replied there as well. There is nothing false or inaccurate about my analogy. End of story.

    Let me know ... do you agree that there's no conflict between religion and science?

    That there can be conflicts between religion and science is obvious. That religion and science fundamentally differ how the world can be apprehended is also clear. What he was referring to was the old "Conflict Thesis" of Draper and White, which supposed that religion has always done everything it could to thwart the development of science. And that is demonstrable nonsense.

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  13. It's slightly confusing having most of the discussion on my post happening on another blog, but it seems we do have a contemporary source for Hannibal. Or a fragment of one at least. P.Würzb.Inv. 1 is a papyrus fragment that seems to contain a few lines from Book IV of Sosylus' The Deeds of Hannibal

    I wasn't aware of this, so thanks to Evan for pointing it out. Of course, it doesn't actually mention Hannibal himself and the attribution of the work is an assumption, but I won't play Myther-style games along those lines - we do have what appears to be part of a contemporary woek about Hannibal. I'll edit my review with a note to that effect.

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  14. As informative, entertaining and scathing as ever, Tim. I wouldn't expect or want anything less from you.

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  15. Tim, thank you for editing the post. I think this is a much more significant difference, obviously than you do, but you are honest to have edited it properly.

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  16. Sigh: The only thing as bad as a fundamentalist religious maniac is a fundamentalist atheist maniac. Or, to hone in on the problem more precisely, people with ideological axes to grind tend to make very poor scholars. (Unless that ideological axe is that good scholarship is more important than anything else. :))

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  17. Evan

    If you find this to be significant at all then you show how little you truly know about history or how to research it.

    Of course there was nothing in those two paragraphs that require Sosylus to be the author and Tim accepting it at face value is basically being courtesies to you. I am not sure I would have.

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  18. Tim, are you planning to review The Great Fire of Rome by Stephen Dando-Collins?

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  19. Evan wrote:

    Tim, are you planning to review The Great Fire of Rome by Stephen Dando-Collins?

    Probably not - I think Dando-Collins is a talentless hack. He started his career as a pop history writer with Caesar's Legion: The Epic Saga of Julius Caesar's Elite Tenth Legion and the Armies of Rome, a book which confused Caesar's Tenth Legion - the X Equestris - with the later,totally different Imperial unit, the X Fretensis. And he throws in some stuff about the X Gemina for good measure, even though that is another unit again.

    So no, I don't think I will be bothering with anything by Mr Dando-Collins. It might encourage the bastard.

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  20. It's odd that that didn't seem to stop you here. You obviously also think that Fitzgerald is a talentless hack or you wouldn't have rated his book a waste of trees. What's the difference?

    Also, does one big blunder render someone's judgment forever worthless? If so, you should stop writing.

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  21. While we're on the topic of Christianity (and since I couldn't find an email address for you), have you ever read, and if so what do you think of, Paul Johnson's History of Christianity?

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  22. Actually, I don't think it's necessarily mythical. Another possible alternative take is that "Jesus" was actually the Jesus the Pharisee leader crucified by Alexander Jannaeus about 110 years ago before the alleged NT Jesus allegedly was crucified. Given that the NT gospel teachings are often Pharisaic or similar, this is indeed possible. The book in question may be mush; the idea in general isn't as fringish as Tim claims.

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  23. Tim, have to disagree with you again, as I wait for you to post my first comment.

    Let's throw out the most conservative Xn scholars on the Josephus interpolation.

    Them aside, I doubt a majority of Xn scholars believe there's a legitimate core to the interpolation vs. the whole thing being an add-on. I've read enough of the scholarship of the relatively recent past to say that I don't.

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  24. Evan he was not really wrong, we have no surviving primary sources about Hannibal. At must we have two paragraphs that possibly came from Sosylus out of his seven books. That is hardly a surviving source.

    Tell you what Evan seeing I know you cannot do it, prove that quotation came from Sosylus. Good luck

    Oh speaking of mistakes are you going to defend your claim there is no evidence for a Davidic Monarchy.

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  25. @Kristofer:

    Let's say the evidence for a Davidic monarchy still isn't overwhelming. "House of David" doesn't imply that a human being named David was an ancestral king before that.

    Rather, other options include the Canaanite god Dod being adopted as protector of the royal line.

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  26. Evan,

    What's the difference?

    I can hardly review every book of sloppy scholarship or amateurish research out there. I don't have time to read most of the things I want to read, let alone stuff that is a chore to go through. But occasionally one comes along that is worth a detailed critique. That's usually when (i) the author's sloppiness is not just due to lack of talent, but also due to a warping bias and ideological agenda and (ii) when people who don't know better might accept what the sloppy writer has to say. That's the case with several of the books I've reviewed here, including those by Rodney Stark, Charles Freeman and this one.

    Believe me, I'd might rather spend my time reading and reviewing real scholarship rather than this biased junk.

    Also, does one big blunder render someone's judgment forever worthless? If so, you should stop writing.

    As Kristofer has noted, my emendation of my point about Hannibal above was largely out of courtesy, not because it made any difference to my argument. Anyone who knows me will tell you that my supplies of courtesy run out pretty quickly if someone starts being a brainless little prick with me. Some forums and blogs are relentlessly polite and civil. This isn't one of them. Act like a snivelling little turd with me one more time and you'll be treated accordingly. Clear enough for you pal?

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  27. Gadfly wrote:

    Another possible alternative take is that "Jesus" was actually the Jesus the Pharisee leader crucified by Alexander Jannaeus about 110 years ago before the alleged NT Jesus allegedly was crucified.

    Lots of things are merely "possible". Historians leave writing about things that are merely "possible" to novelists and stick to what is rendered "most probable" via analysis of the evidence and cogent argument.

    The "possibility" that Jesus was "really" the Yeshu executed by Alexander Jannaeus faces the same problem as many of these theories that Jesus was "really" someone else - if the Jesus in the gospels was that Jesus, why did they set their stories 130 years later? That needs an explanation that accounts for the all the elements in the later stories better than the far more parsimonious idea that there was another guy called Jesus executed in the 30s AD.

    It's not like Jesus was an uncommon name.

    I doubt a majority of Xn scholars believe there's a legitimate core to the interpolation

    Then you need to read the surveys of the literature, because that's precisely what they show. 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 TF to be partially authentic.

    Peter Kirby has done a survey of the literature since 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 Testimonium 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." That speaks volumes.

    I've read enough of the scholarship of the relatively recent past to say that I don't.

    Not quite enough it seems - see above.

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  28. I think Tim is being unnecessarily harsh on Hannibal. The expert on Carthage is Richard Miles, Fellow in Classics at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. In his Carthage Must be Destroyed, Allen Lane, 2010, he has a good little section Writing a History of Carthage, p 12-17, which assesses how far later Roman historians were accurate in relying on contemporary histories of Hannibal, We can back this up by seeing how the geography/archaeology works to confirm details of the campaigns as they come down to us. The battlefield of Cannae, Hannibal's great victory of 216 BC, has been explored- finds from it are in the museum at Barletta. So a reasonably coherent biography of Hannibal can be put together. Jesus left no tangible evidence of his existence, Hannibal did and the surviving later sources, which drew on earlier ones, can be tested against each other and the archaeological evidence to create a narrative, with,of course, many gaps. But why use Hannibal as an example in the first place?

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  29. I have no idea why people are having so much trouble grasping the Hannibal analogy. No, I am not saying the evidence for Hannibal and Jesus is analogous - it isn't. I'm simply saying no contemporary reference to Hannibal survives (and that is taking the Sosylus into account - it doesn't actually mention the guy).

    That's all.

    This really isn't that hard to grasp, yet people still keep getting themselves confused.

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  30. "Jesus left no tangible evidence of his existence"

    This is simply not true. Jesus left the tangible evidence of his followers, for whose behaviour he is by far the most elegant explanation. To assume that there was no such person makes the entire history of early Christianity into a baffling mystery story, which has to ignore most of the valuable hints the source provide. Conversely, with Jesus on board we can actually use these sources to paint a compelling picture of what happened by comparing them with what we know about first-century Judaism and its various currents as well as pagan religions.
    To deny the existence of Jesus is to violate the scientific principle of parsimony (paradoxical as it may sound), as it forces us to introduce a large pool of unproven assumptions as a substitute in order to explain the emergence of Christianity. Mind you, most mythers do not even seem interested in improving our historical understanding of the rise and fall of religions in the Roman Empire. All they want is to "disprove" Jesus to bolster their non-belief, which shows how weakly founded this non-belief of theirs really is. It's as if they superstitiously assume that if some preacher called Jesus actually existed, he may just as well have died for our sins and risen from the dead. Even believing Christians can see the non-sequitur here. Rational non-believers can accept most of what's related historically in the New Testament without having to buy into a single Christian dogma. The unwillingness in some quarters to accept this basic compability reeks of the same intellectual cowardice that lurks behind vulgar versions of the warfare theory with regard to science and religion.

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  31. I am very curious to know Gadfly how you think House of David can refer to a deity? As it is more and more I have been reading on this subject I am learning the only people who object to the stele are OT Minimalist and that there arguments have completely failed to convince the archaeological community.

    We have two sources that mention a House of David. That is enough to convince me there is something to the claim. If that is unreasonable, why is that unreasonable?

    If specifically House of David does not seem to suggest there was a historical David in some way, well why doesn't it suggest that?

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  32. Hey Tim

    I think part of the problem being encountered in here is that some people simply have no clue on how to do historical research and furthermore they simply do not have any talent for history.

    I always made A's in my history classes in high school and college. I simply read the text, listened to the teacher and I got it. I can tell people how to research history but I cannot tell them how to sponge it and get it naturally.

    I suspect you are the same way. You just have a natural talent for it. You can explain the facts but like me you cannot pass on your aptitude.

    I have taught history before as a high school teacher and there are some students of mine who tried and tried who just could not get history. It seemed odd to me but I finally admitted they simple could not get it, as odd as that seemed to me.

    A lot of people do not get history, and they never will no matter how many times you explain it to them. That I suspect would explain the vast majority of Jesus Mythers.

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  33. What about Hannibal's coins? -these are surely contemporary references. Surely the difference is that we have historians such as Livy and Polybius who were using earlier sources on Hannibal, now lost, as professional historians while the gospel writers had a different agenda.We don't know whether there were any historical sources about Jesus written during his lifetime, but we do know that these existed for Hannibal and were available to later historians. No one seriously doubts that the chronological outline of Hannibal's campaigns is broadly correct and we can trace it over a number of years but for Jesus we only have references to a very small part of his life.

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  34. Anonymous

    Your argument just reinforces Tim's point.

    At most we have two paragraphs remaining of a primary source about Hannibal. And that is only cause people are feeling charitable in accepting those two paragraphs. This is all that remains of one of the greatest generals of antiquity.

    To expect a obscure Jewish Rabbi to get as much remaining from primary sources is absurd. Especially when one considers that odds are the primary sources were oral. That we have as much as we do about Jesus is pretty amazing in my book.

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  35. Oh let me play a myther game with those coins.

    They were simply made by people who fell for the Hannibal Myth.

    However it should be noted on coins attributed to Hannibal that in fact the portrait of them tends to be Melqart.

    Now some coins identified to the period of Hannibal have a portrait that seems to be of an African that has sometimes been claimed to be Hannibal.

    However read this about the coins

    ETRURIA, Arretium (?), The Chiana Valley. Circa 208-207 BC. Æ
    Quartuncia (5.34 gm). Head of an African right / Indian elephant
    standing right, bell around neck; M below. SNG ANS 39-41; BMC Italy
    pg. 15, 19; SNG Copenhagen 47; Robinson, NumChron 1964, pl. V; SNG
    Morcom 45; Laffaille 1. Good VF, well centered, choice dark green
    patina. Rare. Exceptionally well preserved and probably one of the
    finest known of the type. ($750) This enigmatic issue has been much
    discussed. It was Sestini in 1816 who first indicated their area of
    circulation in and around the Chiana (Clanis) valley and lake
    Trasimeno, dominated by the cities of Arezzo, Chiusi and Cortona. The
    traditional attribution of the issue to 217 BC, as representing the propaganda of Hannibal’s approach to Etruria, was modified by Robinson (op. cit.), who saw it as a provocative seditious type of Arretium, which was in a state of high tension with Rome in 209/8, in the hoped for arrival of Hasdrubal from Spain with reinforcements. However, the reverse depicts an Indian rather than African elephant with a bell around its neck reminiscent of the elephant/saw aes signatum issue (Crawford 9/1) of about 250-240 BC and associated with the battle of Maleventum (soon to be called Beneventum) in 275 BC when the captured elephants of Pyrrhus were brought to Rome in triumph. A similar Indian
    elephant is also depicted as a symbol on the Tarantine nomos issue
    (Vlasto 710-712), indicating the presence of Pyrrhus in the city in
    282-276. The Barcid coinage of New Carthage (Villaronga CNH, pg. 65,
    12-15) and that of Hannibal in Sicily (SNG Cop. 382) clearly depict African elephants belonging to the elephant corps from about 220 BC. As Maria Baglione points out in "Su alcune parallele di bronzo coniato," Atti Napoli 1975, pg.153-180, the African/elephant issue shares control marks with other cast and struck Etruscan coins of the region, she quotes Panvini Rosati in ‘ Annuario dell’accademia Etrusca di Cortona XII’, 1964, pg. 167ff., who suggests the type is to be seen
    as a moneyer’s badge or commemorative issue in the style of Caesar’s elephant/sacrificial implements issue of 49/48 BC (Crawford 443/1). The elephant, an attribute of Mercury/Turms, is an emblem of wisdom and is also a symbol of strength and of the overcoming of evil.

    It should also be noted coins are not sources, they are artifacts.

    In conclusion.

    There is no known portrait of Hannibal on ancient coinage. At best we have a possibility.

    At best we have two paragraphs of a primary source of seven original books remaining, and even those paragraphs do not mention Hannibal at all.

    Again this does not affect Tim's argument at all.

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  36. This whole discussion is a bit ridiculous as it ignores all the archaeological evidence for Hannibal's existence/campaigns and just confuses the point of the original review. Historians work by bringing together a wide variety of sources( and I have never before heard archaeological evidence not being accepted as a source, much of ancient history would be lost without it) and testing them against each other. It has proved virtually impossible to do this for Jesus- with Hannibal, in contrast, the picture is always being built up by new research such as this below,

    Coins reveal how Hannibal bankrupted the Romans

    Scientific analysis of Roman coins in the British Museum has provided new evidence that Hannibal, the audacious Carthaginian general, nearly bankrupted the Roman state during the Second Punic War in the late 3rd century BC.

    The study has shown that both the weight and the silver content of Roman silver coins dropped dramatically in the 10-15 years after about 225 BC. The weight of bronze coins plummeted in the same period, and a gold coinage - a rare thing in all ancient states - was minted as an emergency measure.

    This evidence for a dearth of precious metals adds to existing evidence for financial crisis in Rome. The number of coin hoards buried for security across Italy and Sicily is known to have dramatically increased around 215 BC, perhaps causing a shortage of private liquidity. Later Roman historians, such as Livy, describe how public funds also dried up in the period. Rome deferred payments to the army in 215-213, while senior officers volunteered to do without pay and sailors were paid out of contributions from wealthy individuals rather than the state.

    The Second Punic War (218-201 BC), marked most famously by Hannibal's march across the Alps in 218, was a war fought for money as much as for power. While Rome relied on recycled foreign coinage and plunder for its precious metal, Carthage controlled the silver mines of Spain and was able to produce plenty of money to pay for its fleets and mercenaries. Rome's finances only improved with successes in Spain and Sicily, in particular after the capture of wealthy Syracuse in 212. A new coinage, based on the denarius, was introduced in 211. However, Rome's eventual victory led to plunder and reparations on a huge scale.

    The museum's research, led by Andrew Burnett, has shown that Rome's silver quadrigati coins dropped in weight from about 6.5g of silver in 225 to about half that in 215, while the purity of the silver dropped from about 98 per cent typically to 80-90 per cent but often to a much lower figure - sometimes as low as 25 per cent with a heavy mixture of copper. Meanwhile bronze asses dropped in weight from about 280g to about 60g.

    Rome's gold coins, produced from about 215 to about 205, portray the sacrifice of a pig - a ritual to make an oath binding. The scene reflects Rome's relief at the fact that most of its allies in Italy remained faithful during Hannibal's invasion.

    Analysis of hoards across Italy, Sicily and Spain shows that all Carthaginian coinage in these areas was swept away after Rome's victory. It was melted down for recycling and replaced by Roman coins. Two generations later, when Carthage was finally erased after the Third Punic War in 146, all coinage in Carthage's homeland (modern Tunisia) was called in and melted down - an immense undertaking, reflecting Rome's intent to destroy not only the city but also all symbols of its former power.

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  37. Anonymous wrote:

    Coins reveal how Hannibal bankrupted the Romans

    Ummm, no they don't. Coins may well give us evidence of the economic strain the Roman Republic was under during the period in which we are fairly certain they were fighting the Second Punic War and we can conclude using later sources that this was due to Hanninbal, but they don't give us direct attestation of the existence of Hannibal at all. Unless you've recently found one that has an inscription on it that mentions Hannibal by name, of course.

    Again, no-one is doubting the existence of Hannibal, saying that we can't conclude his existence from a range of evidence (including the archaeology you mention) or that the extent and nature of the evidence for him is analogous to the extent and nature of the evidence for Jesus.

    All that is being said is that there are no surviving contemporary references to him. None. So to try to make the argument that "no contemporary references to Jesus" somehow means "Jesus didn't exist" is silly. If we have no surviving contemporary references for someone as prominent as Hannibal, to expect any for someone as obscure as Jesus is clearly ridiculous.

    I'm not sure how many times I'm going to have to explain this. No more, I hope.

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  38. Anonymous

    Can coins give any kind of verbal testimony? If not then they are a artifact not a source. Why oh why is it defenders of the Christ Myth always make bone headed historical errors.

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  39. Hey Tim

    Have you ever thought about actually writing books on these subjects, in particular the Conflict Thesis and the Jesus Myth? A lot of people hold to these in the so called rationalist community and it would be very useful to have an atheist correcting this rubbish.

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  40. Have you ever thought about actually writing books on these subjects, in particular the Conflict Thesis and the Jesus Myth?

    After his debate with Craig Evans at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary last March, Bart Ehrman was asked by an audience member about internet-based Mytherism. He responded that the Myther thesis will be the subject of his next book and he will be addressing the main Myther theorists like Doherty and Price.

    Apprently his publishers didn't like the idea, since the Myther thesis is so fringe they couldn't see it selling many copies, unlike Ehrman's other works written for popular audiences. But Ehrman still thinks it's worth doing and he told the audience member in New Orleans that he will be publishing it as an e-book (fine by me - that will make it cheaper and I ordered my Kindle just last night).

    So I think I'll leave dealing with the Mythers to Ehrman, since he's a renowned scholar and an atheist as well (he says "agnostic", but it seems he's a "soft atheist" like me). I just hope he does his homework properly, as a bad book on Mytherism that doesn't deal with them in sufficient detail will be worse than no book at all.

    As for the "Conflict Thesis", I think Lindberg, Grant and Numbers et al have already done the job there. Apparently James Hannam's next book will be the history of the relationship between science and religion. Since Hannam is a Catholic he and I don't see entirely eye to eye on that subject, but he's more objective on the topic than many (including many atheists).

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  41. Tim,

    I just wanted to say that I enjoy your blog, including the spirited comments section. I'm glad to see you posting again.

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  42. "Apparently James Hannam's next book will be the history of the relationship between science and religion."

    If you mean the book that I think you mean, it's already out. It was published a while back in the UK as God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science.

    More recently, an edition was published in the USA under the somewhat more emphatic title The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution.

    I have the UK version (I live in the USA, but I couldn't wait for the US version to come out) and am in the process of reading it. I am really enjoying it and would have finished it long ago, but my journey through the book has suffered a few external interruptions.

    I really appreciate this blog of yours, and I would love to read your take on Hannam's book.

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  43. I really appreciate this blog of yours, and I would love to read your take on Hannam's book.

    Then you'll be happy to learn that I wrote an extensive review of God's Philosophers when it came out and it is the only book so far that I have ever given a 5/5.

    But I was actually referring to his next book, which I gather is not going to be published for some time.

    Glad you both enjoy the blog.

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  44. Earl has descended from his realm and proclaimed I am now to be ignored too :)

    I hope Ehrman gets it right. So far we have Holding's book on the subject but I think that will not really work well with mythers. For some reason they do not like him.

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  45. Can coins give any kind of verbal testimony? If not then they are a artifact not a source.

    Yes of course they can, they often have words on them. Check your change, for heavens' sake. Even this type in question has issue marks, which may not be obvious to us now but neither are many other obscurities, starting at the very high end with the Voynich manuscript and working right down to individual letters on coins. And if a coin of this type is missing its issue mark, does it suddenly stop being a source and just become an artefact? I presume that you must say yes, but I think this is a ridiculous position to hold.

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  46. I think I phrased my position poorly.

    Yes a coin can have writing on it, but even if it does it is at best a very concise statement that will often require the reader to have a prior knowledge to understand its meaning.

    Therefore it is best qualified as an artifact, not a primary or secondary source.

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  47. When are you going to address the real problem of whether there is sufficient historical evidence to support the idea that Jesus was divine? The Mythers' are just a diversion.

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  48. This blog is for reviews of books about history. I doubt I'd bother reviewing a book that argued Jesus was (or wasn't) divine, since that would be theology. As an atheist, theology doesn't interest me very much.

    Feel free to review such a book elsewhere by all means.

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  49. Powerful stuff, Tim, powerful stuff...

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  50. Bart Ehrman's next book RE the existence of Jesus of Nazareth:

    http://www.harpercollinscatalogs.com/harper/517_1965_333138313931.htm

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  51. Thank you for this outstanding review!

    If it wasn't for Kristofer R. Key from Amazon, I would not have found this awesome blog.

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  52. What is your next step Tim?

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  53. Hello Tim

    I saw this on Quora, written by you I believe.

    Can I please have a source for this?

    Finally, in the reign of the Emperor Domitian some men who were from Galilee around Nazareth and who were said to be related to Jesus were questioned by the Romans for fear they may be rebels against Rome. They were released once they were found to be no more than harmless farmers, but not before they made it clear they were descendants of one of Jesus' brothers. Jude, and not of Jesus himself.

    Thanks in advance

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  54. Kristofer,

    Eusebius quotes Hegesippus on this:

    There still survived of the kindred of the Lord the grandsons of Judas, who according to the flesh was called his brother. These were informed against, as belonging to the family of David, and Evocatus brought them before Domitian Caesar: for that emperor dreaded the advent of Christ, as Herod had done.

    So he asked them whether they were of the family of David; and they confessed they were. Next he asked them what property they had, or how much money they possessed. They both replied that they had only 9000 denaria between them, each of them owning half that sum; but even this they said they did not possess in cash, but as the estimated value of some land, consisting of thirty-nine plethra only, out of which they had to pay the dues, and that they supported themselves by their own labour.

    And then they began to hold out their hands, exhibiting, as proof of their manual labour, the roughness of their skin, and the corns raised on their hands by constant work. Being then asked concerning Christ and His kingdom, what was its nature, and when and where it was to appear, they returned answer that it was not of this world, nor of the earth, but belonging to the sphere of heaven and angels, and would make its appearance at the end of time, when He shall come in glory, and judge living and dead, and render to every one according to the course of his life.

    Thereupon Domitian passed no condemnation upon them, but treated them with contempt, as too mean for notice, and let them go free. At the same time he issued a command, and put a stop to the persecution against the Church. When they were released they became leaders of the churches, as was natural in the case of those who were at once martyrs and of the kindred of the Lord.

    (Historia Ecclesiae, 3:20)

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  55. Thanks Tim

    Is this considered credible, I have never heard this one before one way or another so do scholars support this or is there some hesitation?

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  56. I've never heard it disputed and can't think of any reason it would be. It doesn't actually fit very well with later Christian theological concerns, which tend to do their best to downplay or sideline Jesus' family. The Ebionites etc claimed that their founders and leaders were descendants of Jesus and this was a bit close to the theological bone for those who placed more emphasis on Jesus' divinity and saw the Ebionites as "Judaisiers".

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  57. Sounds correct, though I am sure some myther will have some odd explanation for it.

    What are some good books for demolishing myther arguments.

    You can use Holding's book for almost all of them but I would love something more secular minded.

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  58. For what it's worth, I want to suggest another historical figure that can be used more effectively than Hannibal to point out the fundamental flaws in the historical thinking of many mythers: Shimon bar Kochba.
    As we all know, the revolt named after this man had profound historical consequences. Not only did it lead to a short phase of renewed Jewish independence and the mobilization of a gigantic Roman military campaign, but it actually resulted in the destruction of most Jewish settlements in Judea and the neighbouring regions and was thereby instrumental in the transformation of Judaism into its rabbinic/diaspora form.
    It is clear that bar Kochba's immediate effects were much greater than that of Jesus and his followers, who stayed a relatively insignificant movement for at least the first century after their leaders' execution. At the same time, however, bar Kochba shared several traits with Jesus, as he was declared the Messiah by the influential Rabbi Akiva and regarded as such by a far larger number of contemporaries than Jesus. The followers of bar Kochba even seized upon the star prophesied in Numbers 24:17, which also crops up in the nativity story of the Gospel of Matthew.
    Indeed, the name bar Kochba is a reference to this very star and not the man's original name, which was ben Kosiba. But we wouldn't even know this if we hadn't found papyrus documents near the Dead Sea which contain military despatches signed with this name.
    But even these documents, which were discovered in 1952, but not widely publicized until the 1970s, are still extremely sparse in terms of tangible evidence about the personality of bar Kochba and the details of his revolt. The fact of the matter is that historians have argued about virtually every detail of the Bar Kochba Revolt, as the historical evidence they are able to base themselves on is so flimsy. We have not a single systematic historical account that would detail the story of this revolt, nor do we know of any lost work (Roman or Jewish) that contained such information. When it comes to historiographical sources, all we have is an extremely terse account written by Cassius Dio as part of his Roman history, nearly 200 years (!) after the events.

    (tbc)

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  59. The bottom line is that virtually everybody agrees that the Bar Kochba Revolt took place, that its leader existed, and that it is one of the single most momentous events in Jewish (and indeed world) history. At the same time, the historical evidence is so minute that it is easy to see how a writer pre-1952 (before the discovery of the aforementioned papyri) could have come up with a pseudo-scholarly book explaining how the Bar Kochba Revolt was all a huge hoax and how the actual history of Late Roman Judaism was completely different (there is archaeological and numismatic evidence, but it is so wispy that it could be easily explained away or re-interpreted by anybody prepared to make such an argument). That nobody has made such claims thus far only shows that nobody cares about the Bar Kochba Revolt nearly as much as people (including atheists) do about Christianity.
    Which is funny in a way, seeing how both Jesus and Bar Kochba were regarded as messianic figures by their followers. It is easy to imagine that, had history taken different turns, Bar Kochbaism might have become a Jewish sect akin to Christianity. One does not even need to imagine hypothetical scenarios here. We know of dozens of messianic figures in Jewish history who were able to gather a significant number of followers. In today's Jewish landscape, the Chabad Lubavitch movement is growing larger and larger. It has now several hundred thousand followers and dependencies in 65 countries. A significant number among these people believe that R. Menachem Mendel Schneerson was/is, in one sense or another, the Messiah. Chabad messianism is so peculiar and at the same time virulent that many Jews now feel (I happen to live in Israel and hear about these things on a daily basis) it is only a matter of time until Chabad will branch off as a religious movement separate from Judaism (remember Christianity?).
    I think that any non-religious person with a sound mind (some might call this a tautology, but the existence of Jesus-mythers makes me think otherwise) will see little reason in making a categorical distinction between Jesus of Nazareth, Simeon ben Kosiba, Sabbatai Zevi, R. Schneerson and the dozens (if not hundreds) of other Jews in history that were declared (by themselves or others) to be more than just regular human beings (but still human beings nevertheless).
    In fact, one might even formulate a law of Jewish history which says that as long as messianic expectations play a significant role within Judaism, certain Jews who are venerated as messianic figures are bound to emerge from time to time. Given all that, it is indeed very puzzling that the Jesus-mythers feel compelled to fashion Jesus of Nazareth into what would in fact be a HUGE anomaly within Jewish history. Jesus would be the first and only Jewish Messiah claimant in recorded history who did not actually exist, but was invented by his followers, which creates a plethora of unsolved questions that no myther has ever provided a satisfactory answer for.
    Which leads me to my question: is the great popularity of mytherism among modern atheists partly explicable by the fact that most of them grew up in Christian households and/or surroundings and are woefully ignorant of Jewish theology and history?
    I would be interested in your opinions.

    [many thanks for your offer, Tim. Fortunately. I had a back-up copy, so no need to go through all the trouble]

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  60. But we wouldn't even know this if we hadn't found papyrus documents near the Dead Sea which contain military despatches signed with this name.

    Those papyruses are the main reason I don't use bar Kochba in the way you suggest. They mean we do have evidence for him that we couldn't dream of for Jesus. And Hannibal is still a better example of what I'm talking about because he was at the very opposite end of the spectrum to Jesus when it comes to prominence in the ancient world. Yet we still have no surviving contemporary references to him.

    A significant number among these people believe that R. Menachem Mendel Schneerson was/is, in one sense or another, the Messiah.

    And many of them seriously believe that he is coming back from heaven or isn't really dead, despite the fact he died under the full glare of media scrutiny in 1994. This gives us an insight into how the belief that Jesus "rose from the dead"/"is returning soon" developed after his equally public execution (and makes a nonsense of many apologists' claims on that score).

    is the great popularity of mytherism among modern atheists partly explicable by the fact that most of them grew up in Christian households and/or surroundings and are woefully ignorant of Jewish theology and history?

    Many of the atheists who find Mytherism superficially convincing aren't very fluent in how ancient history is studied, so they find arguments like "there are no contemporary references to him so he didn't exist" convincing. Usually once you explain why those arguments don't work they start to see Mytherism as a weak idea.

    There are some who don't, of course, but I've generally found they have a burning ideological need to hit Christianity with the biggest stick available and don't care too much about logic or objectivity. There is a correlation between these atheists and ones who are recovering from a fundamentalist/traditionalist upbringing which is, I'd argue, not coincidental.

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  61. Thank you for your comments, Tim. I agree that Bar Kochba, due to the post-1952 discoveries, can no longer be used as an example of an important historical figure without contemporary source references (that's why I mentioned the hypothetical pre-1952 pseudo-scholar).
    But he still offers some good opportunities to put some of the claims the mythers make about Jesus into proper perspective. The Bar Kochba Revolt was a significant event in Roman military history, which involved participants from some ten or eleven Roman legions and caused a war of attrition that affected the entire population of Judea and surrounding regions, leading to widespread devastation. Despite the catastrophic scale of events, there are - as far as I know - no contemporary historiographic sources on this war. But for some reason, the same dearth of sources is held against the much more insignificant "uprising" of Jesus and his disciples.
    That said, I think you're right that Hannibal is probably a better analogy to debunk mytherism and I hereby partly retract my previous statement that Bar Kochba is more "effective" than Hannibal.

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  62. And many of them seriously believe that he is coming back from heaven or isn't really dead, despite the fact he died under the full glare of media scrutiny in 1994. This gives us an insight into how the belief that Jesus "rose from the dead"/"is returning soon" developed after his equally public execution (and makes a nonsense of many apologists' claims on that score).

    Do any of them believe that Schneerson actually rose from the dead? Without that parallel, I'm not sure how useful this insight really is. In "The Resurrection Debate", Habermas and Flew, Habermas claimed that one of the hymns in one of Paul's epistles that referred to the resurrection could be dated to within 8 years of 33 AD (sorry for a lack of specifics -- I'm having trouble finding my copy in order to refresh my memory). If Schneerson were to be used as a parallel, shouldn't there be at least one group proclaiming a resurrection by now, 14 years after his death?

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  63. Very good article! Just a little history on David as I knew David growing up. I know his family very well as I attended church with them, including David. I even attended his first wedding. David was the one in the family that wasn't into sports like his Brothers and Sister and because of this he was kind of like the son that was left out, even though he was the oldest. He is my age, though I had more in common with his Brother Steve. Dave was very much into Dungeons and Dragons and tried to teach me, but to me it was just stupid.
    Dave had some weird things happen to him at church when he was very young. Such as he was doing something and then all of a sudden time passed and he was somewhere else. Odd? Yep. I was not surprised at all when he dis-avowed all religion and became an "Athiest". Knowing that the rest of his family is religious and that he really didn't fit in with the rest of them doesn't surprise me at all that he would write a book that must certainly hurt them.

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  64. Do you know the work of Robin Lane Fox? He is a serious historian (Professor at Oxford, author of "The Search for Alexander" - which gets high marks from other scholars, and lots of other stuff). His book "Pagans and Christians" is a serious attempt to argue that there was no historical Jesus. I don't find his arguments ultimately persuasive, but they are expert and rational (unlike the idiot you reviewed).

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  65. Ummm, sorry, but I've read Lane Fox's book twice and I can assure he argues no such thing. His book is a history of interrelations between pagans and Christians from the Second to the Fourth Centuries and doesn't question or even discuss the historicity of Jesus.

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  66. Grovelling apologies. The book I should have referred to is "The Unauthorised Version: Truth and Fiction in The Bible." I couldn't find my copies of either that or "Pagans and Christians" in a quick, late night hunt, which is why I confused the two. And before you say it, "The Unauthorised Version" is fairly cautious, but (as I remember it) it still tends to favour the 'no Jesus' result. As I said, I am not persuaded but there are some serious arguments.

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  67. Er, okay. But I still think you may be mistaken in thinking Lane Fox doesn't believe in a historical Jesus. I'm fairly sure that if he held that position we'd have Jesus Mythers holding him up as an authority, rather than having to resort to nobodies like Richard Carrier.

    I just did a search on a few relevant key words and could find no references to Lane Fox doubting the existence of Jesus. Quite the opposite in fact. And none of the reviews of his book make any mention of him holding this position. Given that it would be fairly radical for a scholar of his stature to believe this, that is very odd.

    I suspect you might be misremembering what he said in The Unauthorised Version or getting him confused with someone else.

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  68. Tim, whats ur take on 'historic Mohammed' ? is there more validated evidence for his existence as he was 6 centuries later to Jesus and i believe more active in the middle east politics of his time?

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  69. Not only does Lane Fox not take a Myther view, he even dates Jesus's death to AD36 - later than most. I understand the consensus view is 30AD, with 33 and 27 also having votes.

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  70. I'm relatively confident that 3 April 33 CE would get the majority vote among experts today. I guess it makes the most sense out of the available data. 7 April 30 CE has received many votes in the past, but it presupposes that Luke used the regnal era of Tiberius (whose 15th year in Luke 3:1 equals 28/29 CE) in some non-standard way, since otherwise there would be too little time for Jesus's public ministry. 27 CE is pretty much out of the window, while 29 CE and 36 CE have been occasionally invoked in recent years, but are far from being the consensus view. Naturally, it all depends on how reliable Luke's chronological statements in chapter three are and whether John even begins to give us a realistic depiction of the duration of his ministry. The prospects for that being the case are not overwhelming, considering all the construction and distortion inherent in the post-Marcan Gospel accounts. Even the weekday of the crucifixion, on which so much depends in terms of astronomical dating, has been put into question.
    As far as save bets go, I'd say we can assert with some confidence that Jesus was executed in his 30s (and in the 30s) and that this roughly coincided with Passover. Everything else up to speculation. Some would also assert that he was born when Herod was still alive (i.e. 4 BCE or earlier), but I'm a bit sceptical: the nativity stories have very little historical substance and Herod's presence in the Matthean version can be easily explained as a typological ploy (Herod is to Jesus what the pharaoh was to Moses). Some would say that this is corroborated by the Lucan version, but the latter throws Herod (4 BCE) together with Quirinus (6 CE), creating a chronological jumble that should make one suspicious. The people who constructed these nativity stories were most probably themselves uncertain about Jesus's exact year of birth, but Herod was a famous historical person, the last powerful Judean ruler, which means that he was likely to end up as a historical backdrop to the nativity stories, even if the historical Jesus was in fact born a few years after Herod's death.

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  71. Kristofer, you're apparently not very familiar with OT minimalism. Dod is a Canaanite god; the name is etymologically the same as David.

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  72. I will let archaeologist make that determination Gad. So far they insist it means House of David. Get over it. Please give a single non minimalist who would support that translation.

    I am very familiar with OT Minimalism and I consider it to be trash. While I do not think all of the OT is accurate to suggest the ancient Jews had no ability to tell their history seems absurd to me.

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  73. I fould myself with too much time on my hands today, so I spent a couple of hours skimming over the big (!!!) Jesus-thread on rationalskepticism.org and I must say I'm deeply impressed: Both with the breadth of Tim's knowledge and the mythers' impermeability to reasoned historical argument. Given the latter, Tim's patience is nothing but angelic, the many complaints concerning the acridity of his rebuttals notwithstanding.

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  74. Tim,

    You asked why some are struggling with the Hannibal analogy, and implied that those of us who are struggling with it can't "grasp" it.

    I assure you, many of us fully comprehend the argument that you are making. The trouble is that first, you made an unfortunate choice with Hannibal, since it seems that not only is there an existing contemporary historical reference, but that there existed at one time, other contemporary historical references. Taken together, plus the hurdle of extant archeological evidence, and problem of the difference in time period -- that of Hannibal and that of Jesus, these obstacles hobble the analogy.

    Second, and more importantly, such arguments are hardly dispositive to the question of an historical Jesus. If one does some digging, he/she may find a better example of an important historical figure from Jesus' precise era for whom no contemporary historical accounts currently exist, but any honest assessment would also acknowledge that this is rare. Even more rare would be the case where no contemporary historical accounts are known to have existed for an important historical figure of that era. (Obviously, since such a person would likely not be remembered by history).

    If, as you have argued elsewhere, there is no contemporary historical account of Jesus because the actual Jesus was not an IMPORTANT historical figure, then why would there be any historical account at all, contemporary or not? (Remember, if Jesus is just another run-of-the-mill messiah wannabe, and Paul just randomly chose that donkey to pin his tail (tale?, sorry) on, then the entire question of Jesus' historicity or lack thereof becomes one of irrelevant scholarly minutia, or an exercise in goal post displacement.)

    For the analogy to have any heft, one would have to demonstrate that lack of contemporary historical accounts of important historical figures of Jesus' era was not only common, but was the rule. One can assume that there is inadequate/no evidence for this, because if there were, enthusiasts such as yourself would have long ago laid that card on the table.

    We know that context is often the best tool historians have when assessing the veracity of claims which lack direct evidence. We know that between the possible and the probable lies a formidable empirical divide. This is why it's pivotal for you to establish that in the era in question it is common that we don't have contemporary accounts of important historical figures. Unfortunately for the historical Jesus interpretation, this simply is not the case.

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  75. Am I missing something? How is the investigation into the origins of the world's largest religion a case of "irrelevant scholarly minutia"?

    Anyway, this whole issue of historical "importance" you raise is really just a will-o'-the-wisp. How well informed we are about people's lives in the ancient world is the contingent result of the sources that have come down to us. In the period in question, they are for the most part Roman politicians and military personnel, for the simple reason that these are the people Roman sources tend to focus on (duh).
    Our grasp of foreign heads of state (not to speak of ordinary people) is already much dimmer, for much the same reasons and our dearth of knowledge becomes more pressing the farther we delve into the hinterlands of the Roman Empire.

    Around the time Jesus was born, the Nabataean kingdom was at the height of its power. To this day we can witness the splendour of their holy city, Petra (worth a visit, I might add). What do we know about these people from written sources? Virtually zilch. Were they important? Most certainly.

    If we were forced to rely on Roman sources, large chunks of the history of Judaea and adjacent territories in the 1st cent BCE/1st cent CE would be the same gaping black hole that the ancient history of most parts of the world still is to us. Thankfully, we have Josephus. For most of this region's history in the period in question, he is our only guide. He also happens to be the only writer who informs us about the existence of several first-century Messiah claimants. Some of these caused the Roman army to intervene, but even so, the significance of these events was such that the Roman sources we have are silent on them. We would have never heard about these people if it weren't for Josephus.

    If you really want an answer to your rhetorical questions, you can find it in the works of Josephus (worth a read, I might add). He's one of the reasons "enthusiasts" like me or Tim (and, erm, the whole scholarly community, you know, people who actually study these things professionally) have no qualms accepting the historicity of J of N.

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  76. An Anonymouse wrote:
    You asked why some are struggling with the Hannibal analogy, and implied that those of us who are struggling with it can't "grasp" it.
    Or are getting mighty confused about the focus of the analogy.

    I assure you, many of us fully comprehend the argument that you are making.

    Really? Let’s see …

    The trouble is that first, you made an unfortunate choice with Hannibal, since it seems that not only is there an existing contemporary historical reference,

    No, there isn’t. We have a fragment that does seem to be a few lines from one of the contemporary sources about his campaigns, but it doesn’t refer to him at all. We have NO contemporary references to Hannibal. I acknowledged the existence of the Sosylus fragment above out of politeness and to shut down any claim that I didn’t know of it (I did). But the point stands – we have no contemporary references to Hannibal and that’s even taking the Sosylus fragment into account.

    but that there existed at one time, other contemporary historical references. Taken together, plus the hurdle of extant archeological evidence, and problem of the difference in time period -- that of Hannibal and that of Jesus, these obstacles hobble the analogy.

    Thanks for spectacularly demonstrating that, in fact, you don’t understand the analogy at all. Hannibal and Jesus are analogous in that we have exactly the same number of contemporary references to them: zero. That’s where the analogy starts and ends. I am NOT saying that they are analogous in any other way, because they aren’t. We know there were contemporary references to Hannibal and we don’t know that for Jesus. There is much better non-contemporary evidence for Hannibal than there is for Jesus. And there is archaeological evidence that fits those sources about Hannibal where we have nothing like that for Jesus.

    But I’m not saying that the evidence for Hannibal and Jesus is analogous overall – far from it. I’m noting the fact that there are no surviving contemporary for Hannibal and so to conclude the similar lack for someone as obscure as Jesus means he didn’t exist is absurd. The point of the analogy is to note how easy it is for anyone in the ancient world to exist, even very famous people, and yet leave behind no surviving contemporary references for us.
    So after claiming you understood the analogy, you then demonstrated that you didn’t. Good thing you posted anonymously.

    Second, and more importantly, such arguments are hardly dispositive to the question of an historical Jesus.

    It’s dispositive in the sense that it’s relevant, but it isn’t in the sense that it’s conclusive. But I never claimed it to be. I’m simply noting that the non-existence of surviving contemporary evidence isn’t an indication of the non-existence of the person, as the Hannibal example and many others show.
    (cont. below)

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  77. (Cont. from above)

    If one does some digging, he/she may find a better example of an important historical figure from Jesus' precise era for whom no contemporary historical accounts currently exist, but any honest assessment would also acknowledge that this is rare.

    Rare? What are you talking about? I can give you dozens of them.

    Even more rare would be the case where no contemporary historical accounts are known to have existed for an important historical figure of that era. (Obviously, since such a person would likely not be remembered by history).

    More nonsense. MOST figures in this period are attested by non-contemporary evidence. You don’t seem to have a clue.

    If, as you have argued elsewhere, there is no contemporary historical account of Jesus because the actual Jesus was not an IMPORTANT historical figure, then why would there be any historical account at all, contemporary or not?

    Because in the generation after his death his sect became prominent enough to be noted and people remembered its founder and noted his existence, that’s why.

    (Remember, if Jesus is just another run-of-the-mill messiah wannabe, and Paul just randomly chose that donkey to pin his tail (tale?, sorry) on, then the entire question of Jesus' historicity or lack thereof becomes one of irrelevant scholarly minutia, or an exercise in goal post displacement.)

    I happen to rather like all kinds of “irrelevant scholarly minutia”. And the existence and nature of a figure worshipped by billions as a god isn’t hardly going to be irrelevant trivia whatever conclusion you come to.

    For the analogy to have any heft, one would have to demonstrate that lack of contemporary historical accounts of important historical figures of Jesus' era was not only common, but was the rule.

    If you had a clue you’d realize it IS the rule for most figures in this period. Pick the name of a Jewish aristocrat, priest or leader at random from Josephus and go try to find contemporary references to them. Do this a dozen times. When you fail every time perhaps you’ll begin to grasp your blunder here.

    One can assume that there is inadequate/no evidence for this, because if there were, enthusiasts such as yourself would have long ago laid that card on the table.

    What I actually assumed was that people understood that most ancient figures have no contemporary references to them. News to you it seems.

    . This is why it's pivotal for you to establish that in the era in question it is common that we don't have contemporary accounts of important historical figures. Unfortunately for the historical Jesus interpretation, this simply is not the case.

    Bullshit. Try the experiment with Josephus above and then come back and wipe the egg from your face.

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  78. (he says "agnostic", but it seems he's a "soft atheist" like me)

    I'm a soft Atheist too :)

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  79. What an unmitigated load of crap.

    More Christian fanatics shoring up their cult at all costs.

    Garbage in, garbage out.

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  80. What an unmitigated load of crap.

    Says the guy who then doesn't bother to dispute a single thing in this "load of crap" and who doesn't seem to have even read it.

    More Christian fanatics shoring up their cult at all costs.

    I'm an atheist you idiot.

    Garbage in, garbage out.

    You said it pal. Go away.

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  81. The convoluted methods mythicists use to avoid the obvious consequences of the "brother of the Lord" reference proves them to be as dogmatic as anything one might find in the "Bible Belt." It always struck me as quite obvious the reason Paul used the qualifier: At the time there were two men with that name in the leadership of the early Christians with the other being James son of Zebedee (and brother of John). Paul's qualifier pointed out exactly which James he had in mind and made the point that this was the one in charge at Jerusalem. Whether Paul was being honest or unloading a bunch of bs is, of course, in the eye of the beholder.

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  82. Hey Tim. You write beautifully, i wish i could be half a writer as you are. Anyway, this piece about Jesus vs the 'Mythers' end was highly educative and entertaining. So much so i even decided to quote you in my book even though you are an atheist:
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/B006GOK6TY/ref=sib_dp_kd#reader-link

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2012 in Jesus' name.

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  83. Hi Tim,

    You might choose to have a look at Dave Fitzgerald's response to your review. He does quite effectively rebut your diatribe of his book. As an atheist you should at least acknowledge that doubting HJ is a valid position to take, even if you personally feel compelled to believe otherwise.

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  84. You might choose to have a look at Dave Fitzgerald's response to your review. He does quite effectively rebut your diatribe of his book.

    Where can this response be found? Oh okay, found it:

    Nailed: Completely Brilliant or a Tragic Waste of Trees? YOU be the Judge...

    This will be fun ...

    As an atheist you should at least acknowledge that doubting HJ is a valid position to take

    From my review above:

    "This, of course, merely means the idea he did not exist is simply valid, not that it's true."

    *cough*

    Now, off to read Fitzgerald's response ...

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  85. All due respect Tim, but your previous response comes across as churlish and mischievous. You think you will have 'fun'? You gave the book zero stars warranting no value as a contribution to the HJ debate. If you believe for whatever reason that a historical Jesus did exist that is your right and you can base the whole blog and your life around this premise. But to dismiss Fitzgerald's thesis as unscholarly when your credentials are hardly any more impressive. If you want your opinions to be respected then perhaps you should show some respect as well.

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  86. All due respect Tim, but your previous response comes across as churlish and mischievous.

    I think that was pretty much my intention. So thanks.

    You gave the book zero stars warranting no value as a contribution to the HJ debate.

    Exactly. It was absolutely terrible. Easily the worst book I've ever reviewed.

    If you believe for whatever reason that a historical Jesus did exist that is your right

    Gosh, thanks - how nice of you.

    you can base the whole blog and your life around this premise

    Ummm, I think I'll just base my blog around reviewing history books thanks. And my "whole life"?! Mate - get a grip.

    But to dismiss Fitzgerald's thesis as unscholarly when your credentials are hardly any more impressive.

    My credentials are just fine thanks - more then enough to be able to critique a fellow amateur's self-published booklet. And when it comes to rejecting the fringe "Jesus myth" thesis I'm in some very solid good company, including virtually every scholar in any relevant field. So I'm pretty comfortable with my stance, thanks all the same.

    If you want your opinions to be respected then perhaps you should show some respect as well.

    I am under no obligation to "respect" crappy, error-laden and tendentious pseudo scholarship by a biased amateurish zealot. I'll be writing up a lengthy reply to Fitzgerald's hysterical (in most sense of the word) response soon. In the meantime you can put a cork in your prissy little scolding session and scuttle back to do some more arse-kissing over at Mr Amateur Hour's blog.

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  87. FYI: I've been arguing with David Fitzgerald myself. I posted the following on the Freethought Blogs post, "Will The Real Jesus Please Stand Up" but it hasn't appeared yet. In case it falls down the black hole of moderation, here it is:

    DF:Hardly. Look again – O’Neill deliberately doctors a quote of Dr. Carrier’s just to try and make him look bad. That’s not just a lie, that’s chickenshit.

    And this doctored quote can be found where? That's the bizarre thing about Carrier's allegation. He makes complaints about O'Neill quoting him and indicating supposed misspellings with "sic," yet neither of the links he provides indicate any such quotes.

    DF:I’m aware of both those points and neither changes the fact that Polybius was certainly contemporary with Hannibal.

    But you were talking about contemporary references, that is, material written about the subject when the subject was alive. Histories doesn't fit that criterion. Indeed, if we go with a looser standard for contemporary references, that is, material written by an author who would have been alive during the subject's lifetime (regardless of whether the material was written after the subject's death), then parts of the New Testament, in particular the genuine Pauline letters, could count as "contemporary." Of course, you don't do that.

    DF:Josephus‘s idiom is quite specific and unusual, and is not at all the same as the phrase Origen repeats three times in various contexts

    From the extant text of Josephus: "adelphon Iesou tou legomenou Christou"
    From Origen, On Matthew 10.17: "adelphon Iesou tou legomenou Christou"
    From Origen, Against Celsus 1.47: "adelphos Iesou tou legomenou Christou"
    From Origen, Against Celsus 2.13: "adelphon Iesou tou legomenou Christou"

    Those phrases are all nearly identical. The extant text of Josephus was taken from The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide by Theissen & Merz. The other three texts come from here: http://www.textexcavation.com/anaorigjos.html

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  88. (Continued)

    Me:Offhand, it looks like James died after the time frame covered by Acts.

    DF:And you would be wrong to think so. “Luke” does indeed cover this timeframe in Acts – and mentions Herod Agrippa killing Christians (12: 1-2)

    Acts 12:1-2 covers the death of James, brother of John. We were talking about a different James.

    DF:First of all, I find that suggestion highly dubious

    It's not a suggestion, Josephus clearly describes Ananus' actions as a "breach of the laws." That's a plain reading of the text.

    DF:You’re forgetting that not one single detail in this account -- a trial and death sentence of several men including this beloved Jewish figure James -- jibes with any other account of the Christian James' death, who all agree he was discovered alone in the street by a mob of Jews, who tossed him off a temple roof, stoned him and then one man from the mob beat him to death with a fuller's club

    So? We have in the extant text of Josephus an ignoble death of James by stoning. We have in Christian texts a death story that is flashy enough to smack of exaggeration. Even if you believe that James "the Just" existed and was executed, wouldn't you take the account of him being thrown off the temple roof with a grain, nay, a boulder of salt?

    DF:Remember, this is from a book Josephus wrote in 93 or 94.

    And at this point, Domitian had been persecuting Christians, and there had been a previous persecution under Nero. Given this, it's not unreasonable for Romans to have heard of this sect that you yourself described as "a hated, if not outright illegal, sect."

    DF:Even some 16-20 years later, extremely well educated government officials like Pliny have no idea who these cultists are.

    Pliny wrote in his letter to Trajan, "I have never participated in trials of Christians." He clearly knew of the sect by name, even though he was not sure what to do about its members.

    DF:Personally, I think that’s exactly how the original text read ("James, son of Damneus")
    But then your claim that the interpolation is accidental makes far less sense, since a scribe wouldn't be just tacking an additional text from the margin, but would be removing text. Furthermore, while one can see why a Christian scribe who saw "James, brother of Jesus" would think that the text was referring to that James, brother of Jesus, it's harder to see why a Christian would think that "James, son of Damneus." would be a reference to that other James at all.

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  89. I'm not sure if you've commented here before Mr Ramsey (apologies if you have - I get a lot of comments), but congratulations on your elevation to the status of "a shill for O'Neill". It's rather weird that these guys constantly fall into these paranoid fantasies whereby everyone who dares to disagree with their hobbyist theories must all be in cahoots with each other and collectively out to get the brave and noble Myther.

    You've made a couple of points that I'm intending to make in my upcoming response to Fitzgerald's reply. I must say I find much of his reply plain weird, especially that stuff about Carrier somehow catching me out in some kind of wicked "lie". That claim by Carrier was the reason I gave up on the one post on his blog I ever commented on. Exactly what Carrier was trying to claim still eludes me and the fact that Fitzgerald thinks there's some kind of "lie" exposed there is stranger still.

    I also have to chuckle at Fitzgerald's fan club getting all prissy over my alleged "vitriolic" review, where the strongest word I used about Fitzgerald was "amateur". Compare that to the smorgasbord of ad homs in his reply ("douche", "blog gadfly", "the Perez Hilton of atheism", "Bill O’Reillyesque", "a Fox News pundit", "His Shrillness", "his assholedom","chicken-shit" etc). Apparently it's okay for him to do this but not okay for me to point out that this amateur hobbyist is ... an amateur.

    Their Inferiority Complex combines with a Persecution Complex. Still, many of these people are former fundies so we should cut them some slack over their neuroses.

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  90. The convoluted methods mythicists use to avoid the obvious consequences of the "brother of the Lord" reference proves them to be as dogmatic as anything one might find in the "Bible Belt."

    There's nothing convoluted about them. The first, and very obvious conclusion is that "the brother of the lord" is a title for another Christian; Paul often refers to fellow Christians as "brothers."

    The other argument is more powerful, advanced by Hermann Detering in The Falsified Paul: the first trip of Paul is a fantasy of what Detering calls the Catholic Editor of the epistles, an interpolation. Gal 1:18-24 was added. Detering's discussion of that begins on p104 but you should read the pages before that to get a sense of the arguments of the Dutch Radicals to whom Detering is heir.

    Michael

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  91. The first, and very obvious conclusion is that "the brother of the lord" is a title for another Christian; Paul often refers to fellow Christians as "brothers."

    No, the first and very obvious conclusion is that "the brother of the Lord" means exactly that - the guy's brother. Especially since we have Christian traditions about Jesus having a brother called James and a reference to a James "the brother of Jesus who was called Messiah" in Josephus.

    To pretend that evidence doesn't exist and then suppose that ἀδελφὸν
    τοῦ κυρίου means something figurative when Paul never uses that phrase to mean any such thing anywhere else is whacko Myther contrivance. Here and in 1Corinthians this phrase is used, in the middle of references to other believers who are not so described, to mean a distinct class of believer. Desperate to avoid the inconvenient obvious conclusion (ie that it refers to believers who happened to be his siblings), Doherty and other resort to the baseless supposition that there was an otherwise unattested sub-group who went by this title. Oh, but they weren't his siblings. *chuckle*

    Occam's Razor makes short work of creaking theses that rely on desperate suppositions.

    ... an interpolation ...

    Let a Myther talk for more an 15 seconds and you'll hear them invoke convenient "interpolations" to make any bothersome evidence go away. Of course, whole books have been written on the many and various verses or passages in Paul that have been claimed to be interpolations by someone at some point. So if an anything in any epistle bothers a Myther, it's not hard to find someone or other who has claimed it's interpolated. And when the scholars agree with the Myther, then they are to be believed without quesiton. Otherwise they are to be ignored and we are to listen only to self-published hobbyists and obsessive amateur bloggers.

    Go away Turton.

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  92. I find it funny that while the work of mainstream scholarship, including the work of non-Christian scholars, is denounced as too much influenced by Christian bias by other proponents of the myth theory, Turton on his part cites Hermann Detering, who is a Pfarrer in der Evangelischen Kirche in Deutschland or in other words: a Lutheran or Reformed preacher.

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  93. Hi, this came up again via my facebook newsfeed, and I'm way glad it did.

    I'm surprised to see the discussion comments continuing, and glad, as you might just see it Tim.

    First, and briefly, I totally agree that anyone denying Jesus' existence needs to dismiss a plethora of evidence that secerely undermines that inane conclusion.
    And I say dismiss, because I rarely (if ever) see mythers actually addressing the issues that the evidence raises.

    Crud, going on. Tim, the main reason I wanted to post was to ask if you have done or would consider doing a critique of Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, which argues that the biblical Gospels were, in fact, written by eye-witnesses (or another work that deals with the same issues from that side of the fence on the debate).
    Bauckham isn't a novice or amateur enquierer, but has the scholarly background required to investigate the issue, in my oppinion. But would really enjoy seeing your take on his enquiry.
    And this isn't from a theological perpective either.

    Have a great day further, blessings.

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  94. @ Ignorance: Yes, Mythers are completely dismissive of mainstream scholars unless they can cherrypick out some argument of theirs which supports part of a Myther's position - then the mainstream scholar becomes an unassailable authority whose opinion is written on the cornerstones of the universe.

    Note, for example, how Fitzgerald holds up Alice Whealey's opinion on the Arabic and Syriac paraphrases of the TF as though it is unassailable fact. But somehow I doubt he'd do the same with Whealey's opinion that the idea Eusebius forged the TF is nonsense.

    @ Liam: I haven't read Bauckham but am familiar with his arguments and I find them unconvincing. Maurice Casey does a good job on the same question in his recent Jesus of Nazareth and tackles Bauckham's arguments directly. He concludes that while gMark is much closer to eyewitness accounts than many current scholars accept (due to its high number of Aramaicisms) the idea that gJohn is as well is not sustainable.

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  95. Thanks Tim, I'll check Casey out, sometime, when I get time (haha). I like to read both sides of an argument, to, at the very least, understand the "other" perspective.

    Blessings, I guess I'll be popping in from time to time.

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  96. "Yes, Mythers are completely dismissive of mainstream scholars unless they can cherrypick out some argument of theirs which supports part of a Myther's position - then the mainstream scholar becomes an unassailable authority whose opinion is written on the cornerstones of the universe."

    It's even more ironic than I at first thought it was. Dr. Detering has a Ph.D in theology, not NT studies, and his opinion seems to be based on a pretty radical interpretation of Bultmann. So this myther feels himself fit to resort to theological arguments against historicity, while most myther build their conspiracy theories on that all-pervasive and all-deciding "Xtian" bias.

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  97. Hey Tim, there's an interesting new article on the Josephan quotes in Origen that might come in handy in future disputes with the likes of Fitzgerald:

    Sabrina Inowlocki: "Did Josephus Ascribe the Fall of Jerusalem to the Murder of James, Brother of Jesus?", Revue des études juives 170 (2011): 21–49.

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  98. Thanks Baerista, that's an interesting paper. I started reading it pretty sceptical that Inowlocki would be able to make her case convincingly but by the end I had to admit she seems to be onto something.

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  99. wow what a post thanks blog.........

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  100. Hello Tim,

    If a Myther (or, more aptly put, a Jesus denier) asked you to demonstrate that Jesus existed historically, what evidence would you give?

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  101. @Spartacus: I'd respond that I couldn't "demonstrate" this any more than I could "demonstrate" a great many things in ancient history. History isn't some kind of hard science.

    What I could do is show them why I and virtually all scholars regard a historical Jesus as the "argument to the best explanation" and why the Mythicist alternatives are not considered persuasive. I'd summarise the evidence and arguments to support that as I have here:

    The Historical Jesus and the 'Jesus Myth'.

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  102. Excellent review, Tim. Might I offer a similar analogy for the lack of contemporary evidence. In 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted and caused one of the greatest natural disasters in the known world. Two cities, Pompeii and Herculaneum, were destroyed in the eruption, along with several smaller towns. Estimates of the death toll range from 16,000 to 60,000, many of them being upper class Romans. The eruption is said to have lasted for 19 hours. Yet, despite this eruption being undoubtedly a major event, we have only one contemporary who mentions the eruption: Pliny the Younger wrote a letter to the Tacitus describing how his Uncle Pliny the Elder had been killed in the eruption. Just think about that for a moment: had his uncle not been killed in the eruption, it is quite possible he would not have written about it at all, and we would have no contemporary accounts of anyone who saw the eruption happen. So if this is all we get for one the greatest disasters in the ancient world, to expect plenty of contemporary evidence for some Jewish teacher is nonsense.

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  103. @ Alex

    Good point. It should also be noted that Pliny's letters are dated to the early Second Century - ie 20-30 years after the event.

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  104. Hello Tim,

    I am just curious - what do you belief (based on the historical evidence available to you) that Jesus was: a human or God's son who lived as a human on earth?

    Best regards
    Manfred

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  105. @Manfred.

    I make it very clear in this post and elsewhere on my blog that I am an atheist. That should answer your question.

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  106. Hi Tim. I'm confused. Several times in your responses, you claim that Jesus was an insignificant figure in history (the basis for your argument that there would be less reason for any surviving contemporary references for Jesus than contemporary references for Hannibal), but then you state in a later reply to someone "And the existence and nature of a figure worshipped by billions as a god isn’t hardly going to be irrelevant trivia whatever conclusion you come to". So which is he, an insignificant figure, or a figure WORSHIPPED BY BILLIONS AS A GOD ...? (Sorry for the caps, just meant for emphasis)

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  107. Tim,

    A quote from your blog The Historical Jesus and the 'Jesus Myth'

    When we turn to the latest of the gospels, gJohn, 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 baptised by John is even more awkward. So he solves the problem by removing the baptism altogether. In this latest version, John is baptising 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 gJOHN 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.

    Now if you read the two parts I have put in caps, you will see that they contradict each other. How could John leave the baptism of Jesus out of his gospel if it was a known historical event that "could not be left out"?

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  108. @ Neill

    "I'm confused."

    I'm saying that the historical Jewish preacher was insignificant in his time, though the Christian figure "Jesus Christ" has since come to be worshipped by billions. There is no contradiction there at all.

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  109. @ Neill again

    "Now if you read the two parts I have put in caps, you will see that they contradict each other."

    Not really, though I can see why you've misunderstood me. When I say "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" I'm referring to the general story of Jesus going to the Jordan and meeting John. In three of the four gospels this involves Jesus himself being baptised.

    gJohn's account has a "Jesus/Baptist/Jordan" story, but the awkward bit that has Jesus being baptised himself is removed. It was still considered important to include the "Jesus/Baptist/Jordan" story, but the bit that no longer fitted the developing Christology about who and what Jesus was gets quietly taken out.

    This makes the "Jesus/Baptist/Jordan" story one of the very few stories found in all four gospels. And the way each gospel adjusts it indicates that it was historical despite being awkward.

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  110. Thanks for clarifying both of those Tim.

    Though, I have to say that I have found in my personal experience that when a story keeps chaniging over time, it is usually found to be untrue. Not saying that this is definitely the case with the story of Jesus, but it does still raise my level of skepticism as to the veracity of the "story".

    “A truth is not hard to kill, and a lie well told is immortal.”
    - Mark Twain

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  111. " I have found in my personal experience that when a story keeps chaniging over time, it is usually found to be untrue."

    Too simplistic. The key point in the Baptist example and several like it is that there is a core element that doesn't change, despite the fact it doesn't fit with the objectives and ideas of the gospel writers. Yet it's still there. Why? Because it's historical.

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  112. Tim,

    I find it hard to take you seriously as you (an atheist) tend to condradict yourself quite often, like religion does all too often. In one breath you will say that doubting a historical Jesus is a valid position to take, and in another you almost vehemently defend the truth of a historical Jesus, with what seems like great conviction.

    IF you are an atheist (i.e. someone who has a lack of belief in a god based on the evidence provided), how can you claim to believe that Jesus, the son of the god you don't believe in (or as some christians believe, god himself come down to earth in human form), exists? This is not logical.

    Looking forward to hearing the spin you put on this one :-).

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  113. @ Neill

    "I find it hard to take you seriously "

    Mainly because you seem to understand very little of what I've said.

    "IF you are an atheist (i.e. someone who has a lack of belief in a god based on the evidence provided), how can you claim to believe that Jesus, the son of the god you don't believe in (or as some christians believe, god himself come down to earth in human form), exists? This is not logical. "

    No, it isn't. Luckily for me, I've never claimed I believe any such thing. I am talking about the historical Jesus - a Jewish preacher called Yeshua bar Yosef who preached a Jewish apocalyptic message to other Jewsa, got crucified, died and stayed dead. You are the one who keeps confusing this very human Jesus with the "Jesus Christ" figure of Christianity.

    The two are distinct, though the latter evolved out of memories of the former.

    Once you grasp that "the historical Jesus" refers to an ordinary man, you should find that everything I say makes perfect sense. Once again, it's you who are confused.

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  114. 'I am talking about the historical Jesus - a Jewish preacher called Yeshua bar Yosef who preached a Jewish apocalyptic message to other Jews, got crucified, died and stayed dead. You are the one who keeps confusing this very human Jesus with the "Jesus Christ" figure of Christianity.' - and this latter...? Did not exist? Is a later myth? See Tim?

    Which of the many 'myther' books you refer actually argues against Yeshua bar Yosef? Most say, however badly, that that '"Jesus Christ" figure of Christianity' is mythical and fictional in so many ways, as you have yourself just allowed. By all means continue to debunk and test their arguments. Eventually you yourself will formulate the best 'myther' case, I've no doubt.

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  115. Which of the many 'myther' books you refer actually argues against Yeshua bar Yosef?

    All of them.

    Most say, however badly, that that '"Jesus Christ" figure of Christianity' is mythical and fictional in so many ways, as you have yourself just allowed.

    And they also say he is not based on any historical preacher at all. Whereas I (and virtually every scholar on the planet) say otherwise. Spot the difference.

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  116. Tim, Santa Claus is 'based on' Saint Nicholas. Yet would I be wrong in asserting that Santa Claus is a myth?

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  117. Yet would I be wrong in asserting that Santa Claus is a myth?

    No, but that's not the sense of the word the Mythers are using. As I've already explained to you, they claim there was no historical Jesus at all. Please try to grasp this very simple difference.

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  118. Good work Tim.

    I want to point out that among others, Jesus wasn't and still isn't considered divine in Judaism and Islam, yet was written of in Islamic scripture and other written sources. As such, "Jesus Christ, God In Human Form" is not automatically the same as "Jesus Christ, The Mythical Figure".

    I noticed what earlier commenters were going on about and then I posted this.

    Still, keep up the good work.

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  119. For those who are interested, I have just posted a detailed reply to Fitzgerald's response to my original review:

    The Jesus Myth Theory: A Reponse to David Fitzgerald

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  120. I'm questioning your claim that there are no contemporary writers mentioning Hannibal. Just a quick google shows that the historian Polybius was contemporary - he was born around 200 BC while Hannibal died no earlier than 183 BC. And his work The Histories deals (in extant parts) with Hannibal's war in great detail. I think you're throwing stones in glass houses here when you claim someone else's research would be so poor it is a waste of paper. A somewhat more humble approach would make this kind of mistake less devastating.

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  121. @ Johan

    Thanks, but I was well aware of Polybius. I'm also aware that his account of Hannibal's campaigns is not a contemporary mention of him - that work was begun around 167 BC but was later extended to cover events up to 146 BC and it seems he continued to work on the book until his death in 119 BC. This means his account of Hannibal dates to c. 30-60 years after Hannibal's death in 182 BC, depending on how you look at it.

    Fitzgerald also jumped on Polybius in his response to my review, so I replied to him as I have to you - it's not a contemporary reference. Though I also noted that if he wants to count Polybius as a contemporary reference to Hannibal I'd be happy to grant that if he counts the gospels as contemporary references to Jesus. They were written about the same length of time after his death as Polybius was after Hannibal. Somehow I don't think he's going to agree to my offer.

    So, nice try, but I know my stuff and I check my facts.

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  122. Tim, discussing this old comment by ChrisB:

    And before you say it, "The Unauthorised Version" is fairly cautious, but (as I remember it) it still tends to favour the 'no Jesus' result.

    The poster may have confused Fox's favouring of non-authenticity of the entire testimonium with mythicism. On page 284 Fox states he thinks Josephus didn't refer to Jesus at that point: "He [Josephus] wrote between the 70s and the mid 90s, and, although he refers to John the Baptist, his books never comment on Jesus's career: the one passage which appears to do so is agreed to be a Christian addition."

    That Fox tries to historically reconstruct parts of Jesus' life, notably his trial and execution (and a "secure minimum" in the pages following page 284), of course disproves that he was advocating mythicism there.

    Similarly, he writes on 286: "We know about them [other 'criminals'] from the histories of Josephus, and although he never mentioned Jesus's arrest or death, we can ask what Jesus must have done to be so different from these troublemakers as to deserve the injustice of a Roman crucifixion."

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  123. There is a fourth category of the Christ Myth theory that to a large extent can be traced to Remsburg's 1909 The Christ; it accepted the man existed as a person but basically threw out the story of that man. And this definition shows up in the 1982 and 1995 editions of the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: E-J and is one of ways Biblical scholar I. Howard Marshall in his 2004 I Believe in the Historical Jesus. implies Jesus could be unhistorial: the man Jesus existed but the story of that man is no more reliable then that of King Arthur.

    In fact King Arthur and Robin Hood have historical candidates as much as 200 years away from the point when their stories traditional take place and if these are the core of those stories then why did they time shift?

    More over we have a real world template that Christ Mythers can point to: John Frum.

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  124. Boudicca has been written about by her contemporary Tacitus (Who also wrote about Jesus, but was not his contemporary)

    Arminius left several signs of his existence behind, such as the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, which has been confirmed by contemporaries.

    Is there an event caused by Jesus that left such signs in history? While these appear intuitively good arguments, I'd be somewhat careful about their use when debating a mythicist.

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  125. "Boudicca has been written about by her contemporary Tacitus

    That doesn't matter. When Mythers talk about "contemporary references" they are talking about ones written when the person was alive. Why these are the only references that count is something they never bother to explain, but they are not talking about references by people who happened to be contemporaries writing years later. Otherwise they would have the problem that Paul's references to Jesus would count, given that he was a slightly younger contemporary of Jesus.

    So the fact that Tacitus was about 4 years old when Boudicca died doesn't count. He wrote his account of her uprising about 50 years after her death. So that's not a "contemporary reference".

    Arminius left several signs of his existence behind, such as the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, which has been confirmed by contemporaries.

    None of those reference to this battle that mention him were written in his lifetime. See above.

    " I'd be somewhat careful about their use when debating a mythicist. "

    I'm very careful thanks. Over the last 15 years I've already had several Mythers try to claim we have "contemporary references" to Boudicca, Arminius and Hannibal. They walked away with egg all over their faces.

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  126. This clarified so many points and made me move my own goal posts so thankyou. My initial critique of Mythers (I didn't know there was a name for it) was all the bad syncretinism they displayed comparing the Jesus myth. I saw memes all the time full of bullshit untrue comparative myth. The fact alone that religious characters were born or had parents is not remarkable as they are gods for humans and have some biological experience in common. Such comparisons and stretching other "facts" to fit are very sad. We cant find the truth by lying about something we dont really want to bother o understand.

    I love mythology and have a strong love of classics, epics and sagas. I also like fantasy fiction like SF or horror. I can see the similarities between fantasy fiction and mythology and the differences.

    All to many people who quote or use mythology have some kind of agenda like politics, ethics or explaining the status quot. At worse this is anti-reason, racism, self harm or paranoia. Ancient Iraqi mythology is especially of interest to me but most persons I see discussing it using a mythic methodology. They are are more interested in alien invader conspiracy theories based on works of Zecharia Sitchin, David Icke and Von Danikan (some argue he even wrote like H.P. Lovecraft). Full of sinister misuse of material evidence from archeology or text from translation. Most following this take on history and mythology dont even know how so few unqualified readers came to predominate over thousands of scholars world wide. In population at least.

    Syncretism is used when they want to make comparisons by focusing on similarities. Can be nice to consider but you cant just ignore things that dont fit and cherrypick out all the other possible stories. Mythic readings happily look for links then microfocus on a small detail often out of context or connection with culture.

    It is a shame people want to live in a magical reality cant just play dungeons and dragons and be happy.

    Cheers for this

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  127. I think everyone is seriously ignoring the real issue here.

    All non-mythers have accomplished is proving a Jew called Jesus/Yeshua existed 2,000 years ago. Oh, and he preached god.
    All Mythers have accomplished is denying a Jew called Jesus/Yeshua existed 2,000 ago...and he didn't preach god.

    Yet it makes no difference whatsoever if he existed or not. Once you strip away all the pagan and supernatural elements created by the Roman Church... you're left with just one of hundreds of preachers from that time period each one as deluded as the next.

    Unremarkable at best. There are stories of lesser men achieving far greater....and these guys got the press.

    The chances are he was a pacifist, which appalled people when he was killed. And that is just an assumption.
    In fact, the chances that the Roman's crucified a Jew called Yeshua who preached god...are the same odds of finding a man named Dave in an East End pub.

    So yes, a Jew called Yoshua who preached in god and got a small following must have existed.
    And that is all you will ever have really.

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  128. About Boudica.
    I was reading a book called Defying Rome by Guy De La Bedoyere - a very established historian. At one point he highlights that there is no contemporary evidence for her existence and may have been an invention.
    Dio and Tacitus give differing reasons for her death - the man who defeated her does not even mention who he defeated at Watling Street other than a large rabble of Britons.
    So people could argue that the disorganized mass of angry barbarians were given a figure head in the form her Boudica. In effect, Boudica mythers.

    He himself doesn't hold that theory, but gave it as food for thought.

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  129. "So yes, a Jew called Yoshua who preached in god and got a small following must have existed.
    And that is all you will ever have really. "


    And this is somehow a problem because ... ?

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  130. "And this is somehow a problem because ... ?"

    I never said it was a problem.
    I merely pointed out the futility of the argument.

    This whole myther.non-myther is basically a squabble over some bloke who we know nothing about, who just happened to die almost 2000 years ago.

    Why?

    He was not son of god, he did no miracles and 100% did not raise from the dead. He was not born of a virgin ... he was a normal run off the mill bloke.

    So why are people bent on arguing for and against some random street preacher called Jesus just happened to be killed in the first century?

    At best he was a random hippy who preached and taught people. Nothing out the ordinary given the huge amount of people doing the same thing.

    Most probably he was a mentally ill, or deluded man who genuinely believed he could do supernatural things.

    As worst he was some kind of David Koresh who convinced people he was supernatural. A con man and trickster who started a cult.

    So what are 'mythers' arguing against?
    The supernatural side...or the man?
    Supernatural things don't exist, it is not rational and there is no logic. It is crack pot. No iff's, no butt's. there is not a shred of evidence anywhere to prove that any of this stuff exists. Given that atheists do not believe in make believe deities, it stands to reason that we find a supernatural Jesus ridiculous.

    the man?
    Yes, a bloke called Jesus existed in the 1st century.

    wow - who'd had figured?

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  131. 'VYes, a bloke called Jesus existed in the 1st century.

    wow - who'd had figured?"


    I still can't see the problem for someone who is interested in history. Can you try to explain why I shouldn't be interested in this "bloke"? Because I'm missing that from what you've said.

    Try again.

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  132. You are missing it from what I said as at no point ever did I say it. Not once.
    You can be as interested in him as you want. I myself must have some interest as I would not have stumbled across this blog in the first place. I have already stated that I don't have a problem with that. Yet you keep bringing it up. Why?
    I read both my comments, read yours and think "is that what you got from that?"

    I have already taken your side my assuming you are right and assuming Jesus existed, as someone NOT matching his description is against all the odds.

    After that revelation we have to delve deeper, and that it where arguments start. It is these arguments I find futile. They normally end up with mud slinging and denouncing of either side.
    Is there something special about Jesus that actually warrants this? Boudicca doesn't get it, nor does Robin Hood. No one rages angrily over the existence of King Arthur.
    Why?
    Because it is a religious matter.
    Most of what people 'know' Jesus is from assumption. When people question the assumption they don't do only that, but go overboard. Vice versa.
    David Fitzgerald, for example, goes overboard (as we all know). They you go overboard by denouncing him with the fervor of a priest.

    I wouldn't mind knowing two things.
    1) Are you an atheist (agnostic, deist or whatnot) who is genuinely interested in this non-supernatural figure?
    2) Or a believer?

    I simply don't get your angle in all this :( It doesn't change my views on you or anything, but understanding where the argument originates helps me understand the debate a tad more.

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  133. You are missing it from what I said as at no point ever did I say it. Not once.

    I have no idea what you're talking about. You didn't say what, exactly?

    Yet you keep bringing it up. Why?

    Again, I have no idea what you're referring to. I keep bringing what up?

    I wouldn't mind knowing two things.
    1) Are you an atheist (agnostic, deist or whatnot) who is genuinely interested in this non-supernatural figure?
    2) Or a believer?


    The fact that my profile makes it pretty clear that I'm an atheist should answer your question here. My review makes it pretty clear that I'm an atheist as well. As does pretty much everything I've written on this blog on this subject and several others. Your question makes me wonder if you've even read the review you're commenting on.

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  134. "I keep bringing what up?"
    Asking a) why I have a problem and b) why should people not be interested. It is not interest I argue against, rather the arguing - if that makes any sense lol
    Interest is one thing, but it has just become one of those stubborn debates (not the article, that was sound. But the whole myther/non-myther argument).
    Mythers don't just say "a supernatural messiah didn't exist". They go one step further and say "no one was called Jesus/Yeshua in the first century who believed and preached god".
    Which is pretty lame.
    And this gets countered by atheist proving that Jesus existed with the same fervour of a priest.
    It is getting silly.


    Don't worry, I did read your profile and know you are an atheist. Only from the posts, it was not made clear. Why?
    Because when you look at it, atheists are fervently proving Jesus existed. We've all come across Christian blogs who come up with very similar arguments.
    Sometimes this ends up in, as an odd twist, verifying evidence that would otherwise been completely ignored.

    Like the gospels. Fitzgerald says "here's why the gospels are wrong", gets countered with "why his denouncing of the gospels is wrong." Derails the argument. It is now about a bunch of texts that both side don't believe are a truly credible source.

    Then, when you look at it. There is as much evidence for Jesus as there is King Arthur. Not a bad thing, as there must be something behind the myths and legends.

    I hope I've cleared my point up a bit.
    I'm not saying I am right, just that it my take in it.

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  135. Asking a) why I have a problem

    I didn't ask why you have a problem. I asked you why you think "only" showing that Jesus was a Jewish preacher should somehow be a problem for me. It isn't.

    And this gets countered by atheist proving that Jesus existed with the same fervour of a priest.

    No, I counter it with the rigor of someone who wants to analyse the question objectively - ie the way historians do. The problem with the Mythers is they don't do this.

    Don't worry, I did read your profile and know you are an atheist.

    So why did you ask if I was a "believer"?

    Only from the posts, it was not made clear. Why?

    Because I shouldn't need to make it clear on a blog that declares me to be a "Wry, dry, rather sarcastic, eccentric, occasionally arrogant Irish-Australian atheist bastard." And I did make it clear in this post, given that I say I'm writing "as an atheist amateur historian". I also make it clear in any other post where it's in any way relevant. It' not my fault that you didn't read the post carefully.

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  136. Before I reply, I will state that I am not a myther and I did like the article. I have nothing against you and think we got off on the wrong for a little.
    Anyway.

    "And this is somehow a problem because ... ?"
    That is what you wrote. I took from it what I could. But now that it's all been cleared up, it's cool. Wires cross there on my part. Sorry about that.

    "No, I counter it with the rigor of someone who wants to analyse the question objectively"
    I didn't mean you personally, rather the whole 'non-myther' thing in general. Your article was sound, I enjoyed it.
    But debating mythers makes you go round and round in circles...they like that. It the conspiracy theory mentality. As long as they get attention and keep dragging people back to argue with them... we spend less time on the actual subject.
    You can take all the logic and reason you want to the argument... but you may as well debate with a hard line Christian. Both are firmly set in their ideas.

    "So why did you ask if I was a "believer"? "
    So you could look at the argument from a 3rd person perspective. You are arguing that Jesus exists and using many arguments that Christians use. David Fitz has managed to stress you out to the extent that even an atheist now sounds like a preacher.
    In published works all it takes it a misquote and you can be misrepresented.
    when atheists (or anyone really) has to resort to the gospels to prove a point... the mythers win. Because they can now rip the argument to bits and make you look like your fresh out of the bible belt.
    Its the only reason they chose to pick it. They pick the arena, so to speak. Now the argument is derailed on who quotes the gospels.

    At the end of this article, only a small amount mind you, uses the gospels as evidence. Yet we both know they have been so heavily edited, that the true story cannot be picked from fiction. They are not a credible source.
    For instance there is no evidence for the Census of Quirinius. Even worse, all the Roman evidence points to such a census being absurd. It is clearly an invention.
    The same gospels used to prove historicy also tell of water walking and resurrection. It's like using Geoffrey of Monmouth to prove Arthur.
    Hence it comes across as pretty Christian sounding.

    As you said, you've been debating this for ten years. It means they've caught you in a trap and they know it.
    Mythers will never listen. Like the 9-11 'truthers'. They are totally absent of reason.

    Then, David Fitz trolls you with a lengthy reply (which I may read for a laugh) and you respond.

    Hence I said the argument was futile. Not your article, but the backward and forwards argument.

    All to prove and disprove the existence of an unremarkable man in the first century.

    It was n't a get at you personally, rather the 'myther-non myther' whack-a-mole.

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  137. You are arguing that Jesus exists and using many arguments that Christians use

    I use these arguments because they make sense. If some Christians use some of them as well, that tells us zero about the validity of the arguments. They might also say grass is green but that doesn't mean it isn't.

    David Fitz has managed to stress you out to the extent that even an atheist now sounds like a preacher.

    That's ridiculous. I'm not "stressed" by his stupid arguments, just motivated to critique them for the benefit of those who don't have the background knowledge to see their flaws. Nothing more.

    It means they've caught you in a trap and they know it.

    Nonsense again. I only bother to counter their arguments when I know there is a good chance some of those looking on will benefit. As soon as it becomes clear I'm talking to no-one but close minded Mythers, I move on. Life is too short to waste on ideologues.

    Hence I said the argument was futile. Not your article, but the backward and forwards argument.

    I think I'll decide when I'll bother with them and when I won't. I don't think I need your help with that thanks.

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  138. "I use these arguments because they make sense. If some Christians use some of them as well, that tells us zero about the validity of the arguments. They might also say grass is green but that doesn't mean it isn't."

    However this is not the case if you are using sources that lack credibility. Using the gospels to prove Jesus, is like using the Argonautica to prove Jason. The gospels get so much wrong. If they can't even get the basics of a census correct what chance have you got of biographical facts?

    The only Census that Quirinius did didn't even affect Galilee, and Jesus would have been around 7 at the time. You have earthquakes! The massacre of innocents is not mentioned outside the gospels.

    These are historical events that would be in living memory to the people that wrote the gospels - yet they make these fundamental errors?
    Given that historians learn tales of WWII from war veterans, as it is in living memory. How on earth did these Hebrews make such huge errors?
    It was clearly fabricated. If they fabricated that - what else is true? We know for fact that the gospels were heavily edited over the centuries, so do you even know what parts you are referencing?
    So no - you simply cannot count the gospels. You need outside sources.
    Gospels are a myther trap, and here they will win on the very account that a 'gospel' argument can be disintegrated in no time.

    If you use the gospels, then congratulations, you may as well move onto Geoffrey of Monmouth and his concrete proof that London was founded when Brutus of Troy founded Londona after defeating two giants.

    Hence the need for outside sources. And what viable sources do you have?

    Josephus - a good prime source as he was non-bias.
    Tacitus - mentioned in name only.
    Suetonius - name only
    Talamud - says they hanged him!
    Mara - mentions a King of the Jews

    No mention of him being a fisherman, having 12 disciples, healing the sick, Lazarus, Judas' betrayal, wise men and no room at the inn.

    Goes back to by point you have a bloke called Yeshua, who lived in the 1st century believed in god and preached. Then was killed.
    That is it.
    So let's stick to it.
    It's the only thing Mythers can't beat.

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  139. However this is not the case if you are using sources that lack credibility. Using the gospels to prove Jesus, is like using the Argonautica to prove Jason. The gospels get so much wrong

    Then this still doesn't bother me because if they are "using the gospels to prove Jesus", I'm not. So we don't have a problem. I'm using the gospels the way historians use such texts. They are evidence of what people in subsequent decades believed about Jesus and so can be used to indicate how those beliefs developed and evolved.

    This is why they can be use to examine this question, they just can't be taken at naive face value. Luckily no historian uses them that way.

    Goes back to by point you have a bloke called Yeshua, who lived in the 1st century believed in god and preached. Then was killed.
    That is it.
    So let's stick to it.


    That's all I'm sticking to. And all I have ever stuck to. So I have no idea why you keep posting these weird comments on my blog.

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  140. "That's all I'm sticking to. And all I have ever stuck to. So I have no idea why you keep posting these weird comments on my blog."

    Weird comments?
    Is this how you approach everyone who questions your judgement?
    Do you forget that I only commented on the futility of the myther-non myther argument... before writing a short on Boudica.
    Nothing out of the ordinary.
    You questioned why there was a problem, so explained it.
    You questioned again.
    So I explained again - using detail as you clearly didn't understand it.

    That is why I am here... to try to explain a simple point, over and over again to someone who lacks the capacity to understand.

    It's your blog? then don't post the comments, it is that simple.
    If you didn't want criticism, then don't post the damn blog. It is that simple.
    You bang on about self published authors... yet you are a mere blogger. I can't even use you as a reference in an argument. you have no published works, and clearly have nowhere near the level of understanding that you arrogantly think yourself to have.

    So don't bother posting this. Just take it as me saying "good bye". Or paste some bits and denounce me as you do others... I truly do not care.
    I have better things to do than waste time arguing with a blogger who puts the world to rights.

    p.s
    The gospels are considered an unreliable by all but the conservative historians. There are many reasons why from editing to inconsistencies. All Act's, Romans, Galatians ect are, are the ramblings of preachers.
    It's not like using Tacitus to learn of Boudica. It is like using the Argonautica to learn of Jason.

    You use Galatians 4:4...! Why? That's cherry picking a verse in a whole speech designed to convert the Galatians. You even use it out of context.
    You quote Romans 1:3 to prove he was human and decended of David....utterly ignoring that the sentence continues with.."and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power[b] by his resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:4)
    So well done Tim - you have proven that a dead son of a non existent god came back to life...oh, and was also a bloke born of David.
    And you wonder why I question your judgement?

    My advice is... if you have the balls to write a blog, denouncing people who lack credentials and weight... expect flak from people who consider your work equally lacking.

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  141. Is this how you approach everyone who questions your judgement?

    It's how I respond to people who keep making weird comments. You keep telling me that I'm "only" showing sufficient evidence for a human Jewish preacher who got executed. I keep agreeing with you. Then you keep repeating that I'm "only" doing this, as though that is some kind of problem for me. I keep telling you that it isn't a problem at all. I don't know how many times I have to keep doing this, but the fact you continue to bang on about this point as though it's some kind of problem for me is downright weird. Thus "weird comments".

    *rant deleted*

    If you didn't want criticism, then don't post the damn blog. It is that simple.

    I have no problem with "criticism". I lose patience with repeated comments that make zero sense. See above.

    The gospels are considered an unreliable by all but the conservative historians.

    The gospels are considered unreliable as sources that can simply be taken at face value by all but the most conservative historians. The others use them the way historians use all ancient sources - with scepticism, critical analysis and great care.

    All Act's, Romans, Galatians ect are, are the ramblings of preachers.

    Which tell us what those preachers believed about Jesus. Given that they are written over a span of many decades, this means we can get an idea of how these beliefs evolved. That means we can use this analysis to draw some conclusions about what they evolved out of. Which leads us back much closer to the historical Jesus. This is how historians use source material.

    I've explained this to you once. I have no idea why I need to explain it to you again.


    You use Galatians 4:4...! Why?


    Because in it Paul is clearly saying Jesus was born of a woman - a term which means "a human being" in its Jewish context. This means the Myther claims that Paul didn't believe Jesus was a human being are wrong.

    That's cherry picking a verse in a whole speech designed to convert the Galatians.

    That doesn't matter. It still tells us that Paul believed Jesus was a human and the Myther claim otherwise is wrong.

    You even use it out of context.

    Because the context doesn't change the meaning that's relevant to my point - that Paul believed Jesus was a human and not a mythical being.

    You quote Romans 1:3 to prove he was human and decended of David....utterly ignoring that the sentence continues with.."and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power[b] by his resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:4)

    Because that doesn't change the fact that 1:3 also means Paul believed Jesus was a human. The fact that Paul also believed this human was also the angelic "Son of God" is beside the point I'm making.

    So well done Tim - you have proven that a dead son of a non existent god came back to life...oh, and was also a bloke born of David.
    And you wonder why I question your judgement?


    I question your reading comprehension skills. Romans 1:3 shows that whatever else Paul believed about Jesus, he believed he was a human descendant of David. Which counters the Myther claim that Paul didn't believe this is wrong. If you continue to show that you aren't capable of following my arguments I don't think I'll continue to respond to your increasingly confused and incoherent comments.

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  142. http://vridar.org/category/book-reviews-notes/fitzgerald-nailed/oneill-fitzgerald-debate/

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  143. Yes, the usual pathetic weaselly snivelling and picking of microscopic nits from Neil "Mr Furious" Godfrey, the world's most under-employed librarian. Nothing to see here.

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  144. Has anyone ever read Pontius Pilate's writings? Pontius Pilate did write about Jesus. He would have no reason to discuss Jesus if Jesus did not exist.

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  145. "Has anyone ever read Pontius Pilate's writings?"

    No. No such writings exist.

    "Pontius Pilate did write about Jesus."

    Then next time you get in your time machine to go back to Caesarea c. 30 AD, be sure to pick us up a copy.

    "He would have no reason to discuss Jesus if Jesus did not exist."

    Er, yup. See above.

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