Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Jesus Myth Theory: A Response to David Fitzgerald

"Never Argue with a Fanatic"

A wise old former university lecturer of mine once advised me "Never argue with a fanatic."  At the time I didn't understand.  Given that I was a post-graduate student in my early twenties, I spent quite a bit of time arguing vigorously with all kinds of people, including Creationist and other fundamentalist Christian fanatics.  And I  had convinced myself, in all the zeal of a new-found atheism, that this was a very worthy and, indeed, necessary and important thing to do.  It's only been in more recent years that I've come to understand why she gave that advice - the fanatic in question is usually completely beyond reason and, on most subjects, everyone else really doesn't care.

In the last ten years or so I have spent a reasonable amount of time arguing with a few of the more fanatical adherents of the "Jesus Never Existed" brigade, but I've been fairly selective about who I have debated and why.  On the whole, I've ignored the New Ager wing of the Jesus Myther faction (eg the acolytes of the woman who calls herself "Acharya S" and the people who take the online "documentary" Zeitgeist seriously) as well as the tiny handful who are convinced by the "Jesus was really a Roman emperor" theses of Atwill and Carotta.  I've concentrated mainly on the atheists who tend towards some version of Earl Doherty's thesis, which is now being evangelised by the anti-Christian activist, Richard Carrier. And I usually only do so when there is some chance that the other person or some of the onlookers might see why scholars don't take the Jesus Myth thesis seriously.  To do otherwise is simply to waste time I can spend elsewhere to much better effect.

Two years ago Amazon included David Fitzgerald's Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed At All in my recommendations and, on reading glowing reviews of it by none other than Earl Doherty, Richard Carrier and others of the tiny handful of Jesus Mythers, I thought a review of it would be a worthwhile platform for showing why the Jesus Myth thesis is contrived pseudo historical junk.  It seems the effort was worth it - that review has gone on to become the third most read on this blog and it comes up in the top links on any Google search on Fitzgerald's book.  I regularly find link-backs to it on various online discussions where someone responds to an expression of sympathy for the Jesus Myth thesis with a simple "Read this" and a link to my critique of Fitzgerald's book.

So it's hardly surprising that Fitzgerald himself was much displeased with my review and that, a year or so afterwards, he wrote a very long and very detailed response on his own blog entitled "Nailed: Completely Brilliant or a Tragic Waste of Trees? YOU be the Judge ... " Unsurprisingly, Fitzgerald came down on the side of "Completely Brilliant".  His response was pretty much what I would have expected, with precisely the contrived counter-arguments we see from the Jesus Mythers in any number of online debates on the topic.  But over the intervening year people have kept asking me if I am going to reply to his reply, so since there does seem to be some interest and since his response gives me the opportunity to counter some Mythicist arguments in more detail, I'm going to do so below.

Firstly though, a couple of points to note.  My original critique of Fitzgerald's book was fairly long - about 7,500 words.  Given that he made a point of responding to virtually everything I said, Fitzgerald's response was even longer - a whopping 10,000 words.  So it's inevitable that my reply is also going to be substantial.  Apologies for that in advance.  I will try to indicate what part of his arguments I'm rebutting in my subheadings so that those who don't want to wade through the whole thing can find any point of particular interest more easily.  Secondly, and on a related point, I am going to try to keep the length of my reply under control to some extent by only responding to substantial points or ones in which I think people may feel Fitzgerald countered my arguments effectively.  The danger in doing this is that the Mythicists and their followers seem to think any point they make that isn't rebutted is a mighty victory (as anyone who has tried to reply to one of Earl Doherty's tsunamis of text would know), so if anyone feels I miss a point that was worth addressing I'm happy to take it up with them in the comments section below or perhaps in a second post.

So, I hope you're sitting comfortably - on with the show ...

Fitzgerald Gets Emotional.  Very Emotional.

No-one likes getting a bad review.  I understand that.  And there's no doubt that my review of Nailed left readers pretty clear that I thought the book was absolutely terrible - easily the worst book I've ever reviewed on this blog.  But I generally kept the tone of my critique level and definitely tried to avoid making any comments about the author himself.

In his reply, however, Fitzgerald decided to make this personal.

His fans sprang to his defence, declaring my review "vitriolic", though its tone actually rarely rises above "mildly scornful".  Despite this, Fitzgerald decided to not only respond to my critique but also to attack me personally, and so his piece manages to call me a "douche", a "blog gadfly", "the Perez Hilton of atheism", "Bill O’Reillyesque", "a Fox News pundit", "His Shrillness", "his assholedom","chicken-shit" and a few other colourful epithets.  As a friend of mine said to me after reading it, "Mate, it seems you really hit a nerve".

Fitzgerald seems genuinely mystified as to why anyone would want to disagree with him - the idea that I would feel moved to do so because I think he is simply profoundly wrong doesn't seem to occur to him.  He asks himself "what IS this guy’s fucking problem?" but fails to come up with a plausible answer.  He finally hits the nail right on the thumb by concluding that I'm motivated by "a mix of jealousy and desire for self-promotion" and finally declares "all O’Neill really craves is notoriety - to be the Perez Hilton of atheism."

It only takes a few seconds' clear thought to realise that writing a detailed and lengthy critique of a short self-published booklet by a total nobody on a subject most people would find yawn-inducing is hardly going to make me the next Perez Hilton, even within the tiny bubble of internet atheists.  And the most cursory reading of my blog would indicate what my actual motivation is.  Here I criticise Rodney Stark for distorting history and presenting pseudo historical junk reasoning out of ideological bias.  And I criticise Charles Freeman for distorting history and presenting pseudo historical junk reasoning out of ideological bias.  And I criticise Stephen Greenblatt for distorting history and presenting pseudo historical junk reasoning out of ideological bias.  Even without reading any of the rest of my online history over the last twenty years and seeing me do the same thing with Holocaust deniers, Dan Brown believers, Serbian nationalists and George W. Bush fans it doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to see the clear pattern here and to realise where my critique of Fitzgerald and the Mythicists fits into it.

Richard Carrier - An Artist's Impression
Scholars, Hobbyists and the Amazing Richard Carrier

Things don't get much better when Fitzgerald finally turns to my review.  In fact, his very first criticism contains a rather clumsy blunder.  He objects strenuously to my reference to "several other amateurs and hobbyists, like Richard Carrier and R.G. Price", responding in the rather shrill over-defensiveness that Mythicists always adopt when the fact that their ranks are made up almost entirely of amateur dabblers is pointed out.  In a state of high dudgeon, he informs us that "Robert M. Price (who he misnames “R.G. Price”) .... is a professor of biblical criticism, a member of the Society of Biblical Literature as well as the Jesus Seminar, CSER, and edited the Journal of Higher Criticism."  Well yes he is.  But I was not refering to Robert M. Price, who is pretty much the lone professional scholar amongst the Mythicists.  I was referring, as I very clearly said, to R.G. Price, the author of the self-published Mythicist book Jesus: A Very Jewish Myth.  I later refer to Robert M. Price as "one of the two or three actual professional scholars who give the Mythicist thesis any credence", which makes the distinction between the amateur and the professional quite clear.  Of course, having two Mythicists with the same surname and initial explains Fitzgerald's awkward blunder, but given that R.G. Price self-publishes using - same print-on-demand service Fitzgerald used to publish Nailed - it's amusing that he did not know who I was talking about.  That aside, his silly mistake doesn't exactly get him off to a flying start.

He also doesn't start well with his complaint that I "lump together the crank theories with the serious scholarship being done by Doherty, Price, Carrier, et al.", given that anyone who reads my critique can see I do precisely the opposite.  After summaries of the crackpot theories of Atwill, Carotta and "Acharya S"/Murdock, I note that there is a third category of Jesus Myth theory that is more scholarly (not that this would be hard), exemplified by Earl Doherty.  I state clearly "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."  Though it is a little odd that Fitzgerald was so keen to dissociate himself from the New Age kook "Acharya S" when he wrote his reply but has been less fastidious lately: both he and the New Ager in question happily helped contribute to a recent Jesus Myth collaboration.  Birds of a feather and all that ...

But he takes particular umbrage at my characterisation of Richard Carrier as an amateur.  This is not too surprising given that in his book's "Acknowledgements" he calls Carrier "my best friend, mentor and hero" and gushes about his "brilliant scholarship, scholastic rigor, insights, criticisms, corrections and encouragement" (p. 239).  Carrier does have a Ph.D in Ancient History from Columbia, but he remains an amateur rather than a professional scholar, despite Fitzgerald's hyperbolic description of this blogger as "one of the most influential atheist thinkers on the planet today" (with a link to some kind of list of 25 prominent atheists, with Carrier at No. 25).  Carrier has no research or teaching position at any accredited institution of higher learning and has, in the five years since achieving his doctorate, has published only two articles in peer reviewed journals - a dilatory publishing record explained by the amount of time he has spent self-publishing anti-Christian polemic and giving talks on why Christianity is wrong to sceptical and rationalist organisations.  It also explains his recent announcement that he has effectively given up any hope of securing a professional academic appointment and seems to be sticking to his hobby of polemics full time.

Now, I will admit to some jealousy of Carrier in one sense: I wish I could give up my professional career and indulge in a hobby - say, book binding or fly fishing - as a full time pursuit while my patient spouse supported me financially.  But while Carrier does enjoy this rare privilege he remains, as I said, not a professional academic but simply a blogger with a higher degree.  And there's no great shortage of them on the internet.

Fitzgerald is definitely sensitive to any criticism of his self-declared "hero"; earlier in his piece he made a couple of bizarre assertions about me, claiming I "used to regularly show up on Richard Carrier’s blog doing (my) usual pissy, nitpicking schtick".  This claim is, unfortunately, complete garbage.  I have only ever read a handful of Carrier's blog posts in my whole life and "showed up" on his blog precisely once, commenting the grand total of two times on one post.  How this can become me "regularly showing up" in Fitzgerald's mind is a great mystery.  As is his next claim:

(That is) until of course he took it too far and Carrier actually caught him in a lie, which seems to have put an end to his antics on that blog.

I've found that Mythicists are very keen on not simply disagreeing with those who find their thesis unconvincing, but also seem to have a strange need to prove their opponents are actually wicked as well.  This is about the third time I have had a Mythicist proclaim that I have "lied", though each time the claim has been patently manufactured.  In this case, it's hard to see exactly what the hell Carrier is on about.  He invites the reader to click on two links and see me "lying" about some sort of claim of misspelling and a fraudulently misplaced "sic", but the quotes in the two linked comments are identical, contain no "sic" and give us no clue as to what this alleged "lie" is.  Very weird behaviour from "one of the most influential atheist thinkers on the planet today".

A commenter noted that Carrier's claim about my supposed wicked "lie" makes no sense and is not substantiated by the links he gives and pointed this out to Fitzgerald on another blog post.  Oddly, Fitzgerald simply fell silent.  This kind of bizarre behaviour really makes you wonder what is driving these people.  Not rationalism, that's for sure.

Fitzgerald ends his touching if slightly weird defence of his "mentor and hero" by paraphrasing Lloyd Bentsen saying "Tim O’Neill, I know Richard Carrier. Richard Carrier is a friend of mine. And you, sir, are no Richard Carrier."  This was, I gather meant to be some kind of put down.  But given my exposure to Carrier's polemics over the years, I can't say I found it more than mildly amusing.  

Carrier is actually the epitome of what is wrong with the way New Atheism tends to approach history - starting with any conclusion that makes religion in general and/or Christianity in particular look as bad a possible and then cherry picking evidence or arguments to support that a priori position over any other interpretation.  Because he has a good knowledge of the source material and is a good polemicist he happens to be much better at this game than, say, Hitchens or, worse still, Dawkins.  And years of performing to a peanut gallery of generally historically-illiterate atheist fanboys seems to have convinced him of his own vast omni-competence.   Carrier is precisely the kind of person who has always made the very worst kind of historian - an ideologue with an agenda.  So I can't say Fitzgerald's "you are no Richard Carrier" line bothers me much.

Take the brief exchange I had with Carrier in the blog post linked to above.  As is to be expected, Carrier is happy with the idea that a mob of wicked Christians destroyed the last remnant of the Great Library of Alexandria when they tore down the Serapeum in AD 391.  When I had the impertinence to point out that none of the five accounts we have of this well-documented event so much as hint at any library being destroyed, he brushed this aside, saying the emphasis of the accounts is focused on the cultic elements in the temple.  Maybe so, but at least two of the accounts are hostile to the faction of the destroyers, so its still odd that they don't mention the destruction of a famous library, especially since one of them was Eunapius of Sardis: an anti-Christian zealot, pagan philosopher and scholar.  It is hard to see why he, of all people, would neglect to mention the hated Christian ignoramuses destroying the last remnant of the greatest library in the world.  No matter, says Carrier blithely, "his account is too brief". Carrier assures his readers "All he describes is the raid on its pagan statues, and some vague looting otherwise. His concern is clearly with the offense to the gods."

Of course few of the readers of Carrier's blog have any inclination to check what the little master says.  But if they had checked this they would have found Eunapius' account is not actually very "brief" at all.  And that he has much to say about things other than statues and looting.  The account in his Lives of the Philosophers runs to 548 words in English translation.  Of these, a full 245 are not about pagan statues etc, but are devoted wholly to denigration of the ignorant Christian monks who destroyed the temple.  He calls them "men in appearance (who) led the lives of swine", says they "fettered the human race to the worship of slaves" and mocks them for their worship of martyrs' relics and their general stupidity.  Given that around 40% of his account is taken up with this scorning and mocking of these monks, it is still very strange that this scholar neglects to mention in his condemnation that these ignorant oafs also happened to destroy one of the best libraries in the world.  Carrier's glib "his account is too brief" excuse does not ring true if you actually look at the account.

Carrier also dismisses the idea that Ammianus Marcellinus' description of the Serapeum was based on having seen the temple himself, despite Ammianus making it clear that he had visited Egypt when on military service in the east (History, XVII.4.6), describing seeing obelisks amongst the ruins of Thebes.  Then he claims that all of Ammianus' account of the Serapeum, including his pertinent use of the past tense when he mentions the libraries it had once housed, can be ignored because "his text on this is a quotation almost verbatim of the 2nd century Aulus Gellius" and so not an account of the state of the Serapeum in the mid Fourth Century at all.

Again, his blog readers are unlikely to have bothered to check if Carrier's "almost verbatim" claim is true by digging up the Latin texts of both Ammianus and Aulus Gellius and comparing them.  At this stage I abandoned arguing with Carrier's blatant bias on this point as a lost cause.  But when someone on another forum later tried to use his claim to counter my argument that Ammianus' account shows there was no library in the Serapeum in AD 391, I showed them the Latin.  Far from being "almost verbatim", Ammianus' description is significantly longer (75 words in Latin) and contains multiple elements not only not found in Aulus but also not found in any other description of the Serapeum - they are details totally unique to his work, as we would expect if he had seen the temple himself.  His account only overlaps in any way with the far shorter passage in Aulus (41 words in Latin) in one short phrase - "bello Alexandrino, dum diripitur civitas" in Ammianus and "bello priore Alexandrino, dum diripitur ea civitas" in Aulus - far too brief and too different to make any solid case for derivation, given they are simply two writers describing the same war in similar terms.

When this person confronted Carrier with the two passages in Latin and asked for him to justify his "almost verbatim" claim he responded with some waffle and ... the bizarre and baseless claim that he'd exposed some lie I'd made (see above).  Even for a polemical blogger, this is weak stuff.  For a supposed "historian", it's absolutely pathetic.

But this is typical of Carrier. He has a wall-eyed bias when it comes to Christianity which sees him doing bizarre things like blundering around trying to prop up a version of the old "Conflict Thesis", showing that he has a grasp of Medieval history on about the same level as a Prince Valiant comic strip in the process.  Or trying to pretend Bayes' Theorem can be used in history to do anything other than give your prior assumptions an illusion of mathematical precision to the easily bamboozled.  But he has also increasingly nailed his colours to the mast of the sinking ship of Jesus Mythicism and seemed to think that his great moment had come when he poured forth a vast torrent of words critiquing eminent New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman's recent book Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth .  Despite their enormous length and slightly crazed passion, these posts consisted almost entirely of inconsequential attempts at nitpicking of minor issues, though Carrier seems wholly convinced he was striking Ehrman many mighty blows.  Ehrman's coolly urbane and scrupulously professional replies (here and, at greater length here), by contrast, have the amused tone of a man who has found himself being savagely attacked by a tiny but inexplicably enraged chihuahua.

Carrier's only substantial point was where he claimed to have found textual evidence of a belief that the Messiah would die and rise again that pre-dates Jesus.  This, if true, certainly would undermine one of the main objections to the idea no historical Jesus existed to get executed and thus give rise to this wholly new concept of a dying Messiah.  Unfortunately Carrier is no textual critic and is not sufficiently well-versed in the appropriate linguistics to carry this off, and another blogger who does have the requiste training proceeded to take him to the woodshed a give him a savage whipping.  In a series of long and detailed posts, Thom Stark shows the difference between someone who knows what they are talking about and a fatuous wannabe with delusions of omni-competence in areas well beyond his field.  Stark's posts here, here and here are a joy to read.

So I'm "no Richard Carrier"?  All I can say to that is "Thank you".

Apologists versus "Critical Scholars"

Fitzgerald's adulation of his "hero and mentor" Carrier is directly relevant to his next major objection to my critique.  He took exception to this passage in my original review:

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"

He responds by claiming "this nonsensical 'dichotomy' is O’Neill’s own creation, not mine" and assuring his readers " I frequently cite the work of the 'middle ground of scholars' throughout the book -including several of the ones he claims I’m ignoring - by name." But this dichotomy is not in my imagination, it's right there in the part of the book I cite in my review (pp. 15-16).  He contrasts Christian apologists, naming and quoting Josh McDowell, F.F. Bruce and Otto Betz dismissing the idea Jesus never existed, and then contrasts them with "critics who have disputed Christian claims" beginning with (you guessed it) Richard Carrier.  Nowhere in this passage is there any acknowledgement of the vast number of critical scholars who "dispute Christian claims" and also dismiss the Jesus Myth theory.

More importantly, there is no acknowledgement of this middle ground of scholars anywhere in his book, despite the fact they make up the overwhelming bulk of the scholars in the relevant fields.  A naive reader who was unaware of the academic state of play on the question of a historical Jesus would have no idea this wide middle ground even existed if Fitzgerald's book was all they read on the subject.  Even in a popular treatment of a scholarly topic, that smacks heavily of wilful distortion.  It certainly doesn't indicate wholesale academic honesty.  What a careful, honest or even just competent treatment of the subject would do would be to deal with all relevant positions throughout the analysis, but Fitzgerald does not even acknowledge this middle ground position  - that of a historical Jesus who was not miraculous and does not conform closely to the Jesus of the gospels - even exists.

His claim that he cites these non-Christian scholars "including several of the ones he claims I’m ignoring" does not blunt the criticism above - when he does so, he usually cites them to support a specific point of critical analysis, with zero acknowledgement that the scholar in question fully accepts a historical Jesus.  This is something like the way Creationists love to pepper their work with scholarly footnotes and citations of real scientists, without noting that these same scientists think Creationism is nonsense.  

And his claim that he does this with "several" of the scholars I mentioned is typical Fitzgeraldian exaggeration, unless we can find a way to make "just two" stretch into "several".  The only scholars on my list that he cites are Bart Ehrman (8 times) and Hyam Maccoby (3 times).  Maccoby is cited via endnotes to support three unremarkable statements about Jewish culture in the period.  The citations and quotes of Ehrman are generally to support widely accepted conclusions about the nature of Christian scriptures.  Again, a reader not familiar with this material would have no idea that while Ehrman, like most scholars, rejects the idea of a Jesus based on a face value reading of the New Testatement, he vehemently rejects Mythicism to the extent that he has written a whole book debunking it.  This is like the way Creationists merrily cite and quote Stephen Jay Gould when convenient, despite Gould's vehement opposition to Creationism.

The others I mentioned as representing the middle ground of Jewish and other non-Christian scholars - Maurice Casey, Paula Fredriksen, Gerd Ludemann, Mark Nanos, Alan Segal, Jacob Neusner and Geza Vermes - get no mention at all in Fitzgerald's book, despite including several of the biggest names in the field.  The people mentioned in the parts of the book where he argues against the idea of a historical Jesus are not these neutral, objective scholars but apologists, fundamentalists and conservatives.  These include Josh McDowell, Otto Betz, F.F. Bruce, Douglas Geivett, Lee Strobel and Craig Blomberg, many of whom are not even scholars at all.  Far more prominent than anyone cited in his work is a grab-bag from the Mythicist fringe, including Earl Doherty and Frank Zindler (2 times) and Robert Price (3 times).  Even the highly obscure early Twentieth Century French Mythicist Paul-Louis Couchoud is citied (2 times).  But the "authority" Fitzgerald turns to over and over again is not any leading scholar or acknowledged professional expert in the field but none other than his "hero and mentor", the blogger and anti-Christian activist Richard Carrier, who is cited and quoted and otherwise put on a pedestal a whopping 13 times in the text (even more in the endnotes).

A scholarly analysis of a question strives to account for all serious arguments and deals with them in detail.  Even a popular treatment makes a point of paying due acknowledgement to relevant positions on a given issue.  But nowhere in his book does Fitzgerald even hint that there is a substantial middle ground between the gospel Jesus of people like McDowell and Strobel and the non-existent Jesus of his Mythicist friends.  When that middle ground is the scholarly mainstream and held by the leading scholars in the field, this omission ceases to be merely amateurish and sloppy and becomes actively and deliberately tendentious.

The "Failed Messiahs" Who Weren't There

Like most Mythicists, Fitzgerald attempts to make an argument from silence to support the idea that Jesus did not exist.  These arguments usually boil down to this:

1. Jesus is not mentioned by {insert First Century writer/writers here},
2.  {First Century writer/writers} should have mentioned Jesus if he existed,
3.  Therefore Jesus did not exist.

This is considered a killer argument by many of the more naive variety of Mythicist.  On the hysterical venting of angry teenage apostasy that is the  /r/atheism forum on reddit, for example, pretty much any reference to a historical Jesus is met with a sneering version of this argument, as though this somehow settles the matter on its own.

Fitzgerald, at least, tries to make the argument in a more sophisticated way, but in doing so he makes an assertion which would be astonishing to anyone with a genuine grasp of the source material:

There were plenty of 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, my emphasis)
The problem with this claim is not that there were not other figures in Roman Palestine who were like Jesus or even that there were not other failed Messiahs.  There were.  The problem lies in his claim that there  were "plenty of writers" or even "scores of writers" talking about them.  As I noted in my review, if we really did have "scores of writers" who were busily "detailing" the "lesser exploits of much more mundane figures (and) several failed Messiahs" in this period but who did not mention Jesus, then the argument from silence above really would be a killer argument.

The key point to note here is that the weakness of the Mythicist argument from silence lies in its second premise: in order for the argument to work, it is not enough for the Mythicist to merely note that the writer/s in question don't mention Jesus, but they have to also show they should have done so. That is slightly more tricky.  This is why kooky Mythicist claims that, say, because Marcus Annaeus Lucanus makes no mention of Jesus he therefore didn't exist are so utterly ridiculous.  It is very difficult to show why a Roman poet from Spain whose sole remaining works are a single poem and a history of the war between Caesar and Pompey (in the century before Jesus was even born!) "should" have mentioned Jesus when he shows zero interest in Jewish affairs and makes no mention of any other Jewish preachers, prophets, wonder workers or Messianic claimants.

But if, as Fitzgerald so grandly asserts, we actually have "many" - indeed, "scores" no less - of these  writers who actually DO mention other such Jewish preachers, prophets, wonder workers or Messianic claimants but DON'T mention Jesus then Fitzgerald would have himself a killer argument.  The problem for Fitzgerald is that he asserts that there are "scores" of writers that do this but he then backs this up with ... well, absolutely nothing.  He doesn't quote or even cite any of these "scores" of writers - "both Roman and Jewish" - detailing any other Jewish preachers, prophets, wonder workers or Messianic claimants but neglecting to mention Jesus.  He doesn't even tell us who they are.  He just claims they exist and then ... well, nothing.

This is because they don't exist and his claim is complete garbage.  Which means his whole argument collapses.

We do indeed know about other Jewish preachers, prophets, wonder workers and Messianic claimants from this time.  There are quite a few of them, as I noted in my review when I named the most relevant of them.  But we don't know about them from Fitzgerald's non-existent "scores" of writers.  We know about them from one writer: Josephus.  And he does mention Jesus - twice.

This put Fitzgerald in something of pickle when I noted this garbage argument (which makes up the bulk of his second chapter, or 29 pages of the 215 in his book).  So he responded with ridiculous bluster and a clumsy attempt at a dodge.

First we get this:

Incidentally, perhaps this is a good time to mention the real reason I didn’t list them all out: Nailed was distilled down from a manuscript that was originally not 250 pages, but nearly a whopping 700 pages. So in fact, there’s a lot of information that I don’t mention, and many hard choices I had to make about what to include and what to leave out in a book that’s intended to be a reader-friendly intro to the subject. 

So what we are supposed to accept is that, despite the fact this argument requires him to not merely "list out" all these supposed writers  (he actually lists precisely none), but to indicate who he's talking about and to quote and cite them "detailing" these other Jewish preachers, prophets, wonder workers and Messianic claimants while not mentioning Jesus, Fitzgerald didn't do so because ... he didn't have space.  As excuses go, this is on a par with "the dog ate my homework".

But it gets worse.  This wholly feeble excuse is followed by this:

Annnnyway, here’s where O’Neill makes my point for me. He proceeds to name a few would-be messiahs from the first century .... None of these failed messiahs, prophets and rabble-rousers succeeded anywhere near as well as our Jesus of Nazareth. But every one of these loser messiahs did beat Jesus on one crucial matter: all of them managed to leave a trace in the contemporary historical record - so why couldn’t Jesus?

But the flaw in Fitzgerald's  argument does not lie in the lack of "would-be messiahs".  As he says, I listed plenty of those.  What Fitzgerald skips around here is that the problem lies with the complete  lack of these alleged (dare I say it mythical) "plenty" or even "scores" of writers who mention these other figures but fail to mention Jesus.  He claims these writers exist and then backs that claim up with ... nothing.

And these people pretend they can't get taken seriously by real scholars because of some vast academic conspiracy.  Any rational person can see that someone like Fitzgerald can't be taken seriously because he can't back up his claims and keep his key arguments from collapsing in a heap.  Bluster doesn't obscure basic incompetence.

Obscurity and Fame in the Ancient World

Like most Mythicist arguments, those in Fitzgerald's book work best against the Jesus of a literal or face value reading of the gospels but lose almost all of their power against the historical Jesus of the mainstream, middle ground scholarship that he deliberately chooses to ignore and obscure.  So he argues that if Jesus was such a big deal, he should have been noticed.  As he says in the conclusion to his second chapter:

If Jesus really lived and died and returned from the dead in the early first century, it didn't seem to make an impact until the end of the first century. (p. 49)

The idea that someone rose from the dead and yet this didn't get noticed or noted by anyone at the time is unlikely has at least some strength, but this is an argument against them rising from the dead, not against the existence of a peasant preacher.  That a peasant preacher had stories about them told after their death and their sect didn't get noticed for several decades afterwards actually makes perfect sense.

Fitzgerald insists that the other Jewish preachers, prophets and Messianic claimants managed to get mentioned (all, it should be noted, solely by Josephus) despite the fact that their actions were what he calls "lesser exploits" compared to those of Jesus.  But, as I noted in my review, several of these others seem to have been much more prominent than Jesus and their exploits were far from "lesser".  As I argued, Athronges, the Samaritan prophet, Theudas and the Egyptian all seem to have had followers in the thousands and be significant enough to require the dispatch of several units of Roman troops.  That's far and above anything even the gospels claim about Jesus.

I went on to argue that even if we take the gospels at face value about his significance, his entry into Jerusalem and his trial, he is nowhere near as significant and had nothing like the following of these others.  Which makes Fitzgerald's "lesser exploits" argument complete nonsense.  My point was, fairly obviously, that the gospels are almost certainly talking up his prominence, his following and the impact of his arrival in Jerusalem, yet even if we were to accept them as wholly true on these points, he still comes out as the figure who is "lesser" than these other more significant Jewish agitators - a guy whose whole movement can be shattered by a simple arrest by a squad of Temple guards in a garden and not requiring cavalry squadrons and cohorts of auxilia.

Bizarrely, Fitzgerald completely misreads this.  He decides that I was saying that even if we take what the gospels say about Jesus overall at face value - angels, heavenly voices, miracles, earthquakes, risen saints and ascension and all - he was still less significant than Athronges and Theudas et. al.  Which is not remotely close to what I said.  Again, it's hard to know if this sort of weak misrepresentation is due to basic incompetence, petty malice or a combination of both.

To highlight how easily a peasant nobody like Jesus could very easily pass without any surviving contemporary notice at all, I held up the example of someone at the other end of the scale of fame and significance to Jesus and who, despite this, also has zero contemporary references that have survived to us.  Hannibal was about as far from a Jewish peasant preacher in terms of fame and significance as you could get in the ancient world, yet we have no contemporary references to him at all.  None. This shows that the nature of ancient source material is such that we have contemporary references for virtually nobody, including people much more significant than Jesus.  So making an argument about the existence of any ancient figure based on the lack or otherwise of contemporary references is patently ridiculous; doubly so for a peasant preacher.

Never one to let a potential petty blow go unstruck, Fitzgerald leapt on the fact that we do have a paragraph of what is most likely a contemporary source about 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 gracious enough to note this in an edit to my review, though I also pointed out this still doesn't invalidate my point - the fragment makes no mention of Hannibal and we still have zero contemporary mentions of him.

Not content with that, Fitzgerald then grandly declares "O’Neill is unaware that we do have at least one complete and contemporary account of Hannibal in book three of Polybius of Megalopolis’ The Histories." As we'll see in a moment, Fitzgerald consistently misfires when he makes these assumptions about what material I am and am not "aware" of.  Of course I'm 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.  

When I said there are no contemporary references to Hannibal, I had naturally already taken the date of Polybius' work into account.  Of course, I'd be happy to graciously grant Fitzgerald that a work written 30-60 years after the death of Hannibal is "contemporary" on the proviso he's consistent and therefore rules the synoptic gospels to be "contemporary sources" as well, given they were written 40-60 years after Jesus.  But somehow I don't think he's going to do that. 

On to Josephus

In a typically brazen distortion, Fitzgerald's book tries to dismiss the idea that the mention of Jesus in Antiquities XVIII.3.4  - the testimonium - is at least partially original to Josephus as something that "wishful apologists try to argue", rather than the consensus opinion of objective scholars across the board.  Though in his reply to my critique he is forced to admit that this is not some desperate position by "wishful apologists" and he says "O’Neill rightly notes that the majority of scholars accept the passage as at least partially authentic".  Absolutely, though no-one reading his book would know that, given the distorted way he presents the arguments - something he does throughout his work, as has been noted above.  But he tries to rescue his position with this:

 ... but what he fails to add (if he even realizes) is that the “Partially Authentic,” or Reconstuctionist camp is the largest camp simply because scholarly opinion is so divided over the extent of tampering; it is a very large tent with lots of room for disagreement - and there is ferocious disagreement. 

Given the amount of study I've done on the subject, I'm naturally well aware of this - but he does love those weasely little parenthetical insinuations.  The point is that this simply doesn't matter.   How much of the passage is or isn't authentic is entirely beside the point: if any of it is an authentic mention of Jesus by Josephus, the Mythicist goose is well and truly cooked.  And the fact remains that the consensus of scholarship by experts Jewish, Christian, atheist, agnostic or Calathumpian is that Josephus did mention Jesus here.

But when I make the common-sense observation that if you take out the most obvious interpolations (the "he was the Christ" and "appeared to them alive again" elements) it reads like what we'd expect from Josephus, Fitzgerald is back to lumping these esteemed scholars in with "apologists" once again, saying "O’Neill (repeats) a dreadfully tired old line from the Christian apologists he despises".  Actually, I take this "line" from esteemed scholars I admire, such the late Geza Vermes, one of the greatest Jewish scholars of our time:

The Christian passages, those that cannot be ascribed to the Jew Josephus, are easily distinguishable .... Once the Christian supplements are removed, the original notice is reduced to the description of Jesus as "wise man" and "performer of paradoxical deeds", the epithet "Christ" attached to the name of Jesus; the crediting of the death sentence to Pilate; and the mention of the existence of the followers of Jesus at the time of the writing of the Testimonium in the 90s CE."(Geza Vermes, "Jesus in the Eyes of Josephus", Standpoint, Jan/Feb 2010) 

I'm sure if the late Professor Vermes was still with us he would be mildly amused to hear some self-published polemicist has lumped him in with Christian apologists.

Then Fitzgerald goes to work dismissing "the apologists" (you know, leading scholars like Vermes, Ehrman, Feldman, Whealey - "apologists" like that) on the grounds that "there is no consensus on what is 'obviously interpolated'".  Well, no there isn't.  Some think the phrase "for he was a doer of wonderous works" is one of the Christian interpolations.  Others note that the word used here - παράδοξα (paradoxa) - is used by Josephus twice elsewhere to describe the miracles of Elisha and so is a usage he may have made.  Some think the reference to "the tribe of the Christians" is an addition, on the grounds that he usually uses the word φυλή (phulē) as an designation for an ethnic group.  Others note he uses it more broadly elsewhere, to refer to the female gender or to a swarm of locusts, and so could be used by him to indicate a distinct group.

But there is a very clear consensus on the idea that "he was the Messiah" and "he appeared to them alive again on the third day" are obvious interpolations.  A couple of other phrases possibly are also, but we can still remove these elements and be left with a relatively laudatory passage much like Josephus' reference to John the Baptist (Antiquities XVIII.5.2).  Which is about what we'd expect from this writer, the only one of the time who had any interest in such figures.

Fitzgerald waxes emphatic about whether the passage contains distinctively Josephan language, stating baldly that "Josephan scholars Steve Mason and Ken Olson have both pointed out that the passage does not use Josephus’ characteristic language."  It's interesting, by the way, that leading experts on Josephus who hold the view that Fitzgerald doesn't like get repeatedly smeared as "apologists", yet Ken Olson, who is a graduate student at Duke University working toward his doctorate, is referred to as a "Josephan scholar".  It seems Fitzgerald just can't resist giving everying the maximum possible spin.

Olson has written some very good papers on the subject, though his conclusions are very much in the minority.  But the esteemed Josephan scholar Steve Mason would be rather surprised to find himself being cited in an argument against the partial authenticity of the testimonium, since he definitely supports the consensus position.  Mason does indeed note a couple of words in the passage which are unique or unusual (Mason, Josephus and the New Testament, pp169-170), but he then goes on to detail the solid reasons that most scholars accept partial authenticity, dismissing the more extreme view fairly curtly, stating:

To have created the testimonium out of whole cloth would be an act of unparalleled scribal audacity.
(Steve Mason, Josephus and the New Testament, p. 171) 

He then proceeds to note that, while there are a couple of words which are unusual, "much of the rest is perfectly normal".  He follows this by detailing no less than six examples of distinctively Josephan language in the passage.  So it is very strange that Fitzgerald tries to marshal Mason to support his claim that there isn't distinctively Josephan language in the passage, when the weight of Mason's arguments and examples goes the opposite way.  It's almost as though he hasn't actually read Mason's book and is getting his information second or third hand; something Mythicists do quite a bit.

Pre-Eusebian References to Josephus’ Antiquities

Having failed to make one argument from silence work effectively, Fitzgerald’s response quickly attempts another one:

Perhaps the major giveaway is that this passage does not appear until the 4th century. For the first 300 years of its existence, there is no mention of the Testimonium anywhere. This couldn’t have been simply because no one happened to read it; Josephus’ histories were immensely popular and pored over by scholars.

Citing Michael Hardwick’s Josephus as an Historical Source in Patristic Literature through Eusebius he notes that “more than a dozen early Christian writers …. are known to have read and commented on the works of Josephus” and questions why none of them mentioned the testimonium.  That looks like a solid argument at first blush, until it’s realised it’s not “the works of Josephus” generally which are in scope here, but more specifically Antiquities alone; since that is where the testimonium is found.  After all, it’s not like these writers had access to a nice modern Complete Collected Works of Flavius Josephus edition from Loeb Classical Library.  Then we need to filter out the references to Antiquities which are derived via an intermediary rather from access to the work itself.  Once this more precise focus is applied to Fitzgerald’s usual hyperbole, his “more than a dozen” quickly shrivels to perhaps just five.  And even that is being extremely generous.

Filter things down to this relevant evidence and we are left with:

(i)                 Methodius, On the Resurrection, (II.18) – Methodius cites Josephus on the destruction of the Temple, though whether he’s referring to Antiquities or the Jewish War is unclear.

(ii)               Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, (I.21) – Clement makes an argument about the antiquity of Jewish thought and gives calculations of the years back to Moses based mainly on the Jewish War, but which Hardwick and Whealey argue probably also contains elements from Antiquities.

(iii)             Irenaean fragments XXXII.53 – This cites Josephus talking about Moses.  Whealey thinks this is based on Antiquities Bk II, but it’s hard to see how Irenaeus could also have read the later books of Antiquities, given that he was under the impression Jesus had been crucified in the reign of Claudius, whereas Josephus specifically says in Bk XVIII that Pilate was removed during the reign of Tiberius.  So he may have been basing this on a second hand reference or only had access to the earlier books of the work.

(iv)             Anatolius of Alexandria, Pascal Canon, 3 – Writing on the dating of Passover, Anatolius  makes a general reference to evidence from Josephus and Philo, though it’s hard to tell from it if he has actually read either or which Josephan work he’s referring to.

(v)               Origen, Contra Celsus I.6, I.47, IV.11 and Commentary on Matthew X.17, all of which clearly reference Antiquities.

Of these, the only writer that gives us any definite indication of having actually read the relevant section of Antiquities is Origen.  And Origen speaks twice of how Josephus “did not accept Jesus as Messiah”, which indicates that the version of Josephus he read did contain something like the reference to Jesus in Antiquities XVIII.9.1 before it had been added to (see below). 

This touches a point that Mythicists always seem to miss when trying to use this argument from silence – if the original form of the testimonium simply said Jesus was “said to be the Messiah” and that he was crucified etc. where and why would early Christian writers need to reference this?  It’s not like there were any Jesus Mythers in the second or third centuries they could use this passage against, so when and where would they need to use it?  As a piece of testimony in the debates they were having – about Jesus’ status as Messiah, for example, or about him rising from the dead – the posited likely  original form of the passage would have been entirely useless. 

Indeed, the very elements in the textus receptus of the testimonium which the textual evidence indicates are later additions are precisely the ones which turn this passage into something useful in the debates of the time.  Having a Jew declare Jesus to be the Messiah (as opposed to simply being called the Messiah) and to declare that he did appear alive again on the third day (as opposed to this simply being believed by others) transforms this unremarkable brief mention into a powerful argument against Jewish opponents.  But if, as most scholars agree, these elements were later additions, the original would have contained nothing of much use to the (as the analysis above shows) very small number of Pre-Nicean Christian writers who had access to a copy of Bk XVIII of the Antiquities.  In other words, the “silence” of this tiny number of writers is entirely explicable.  

Pines, Whealey and the Testamonia of Agapius and Michael the Syrian

Fitzgerald then goes into some detail on why he ignored the highly pertinent textual evidence of additions and emendations to the testimonium provided by the variant versions found in Agapius and Michael the Syrian.  These variants exhibit differences in the very elements in the textus receptus version which seem most likely to be later Christian additions to the Josephan text.  But since Fitzgerald has held up Steve Mason as an authority, I'll give his summary of the significance of this evidence as a usefully succinct one:
(T)he existence of alternative versions of the testimonium has encouraged many scholars to think that Josephus must have written something close to what we find in them, which was later edited by Christian hands.  If the laudatory version in Eusebius and our text of Josephus were the free creation of Christian scribes, who then created the more restrained versions found in Jerome, Agapius and Michael?  The version of Agapius is especially noteworthy because it eliminates, though perhaps too neatly, all of the major difficulties in standard text of Josephus …. Agapius’ version of the testimonium sounds like something a Jewish observer of the late first century could have written about Jesus and his followers. (Mason, p. 172)
But, of course, if these variants indicate Josephus’ reference to Jesus was merely “edited by Christian hands” the Mythicist case is critically weakened.  They need the whole passage to be "the free creation of Christian scribes”.  This is why Fitzgerald crows that “several years ago historian Alice Whealey conclusively proved both these claims wrong”.

Like Creationists, many Mythicists use counter-arguments that have taken on an almost folkloric form – they haven’t actually read the scholarship on a given point themselves, but they have seen other Mythicists cite it and so they do so as well.  So I’ve seen this “Alice Whealey has dismissed the idea that the textual variants indicate later Christian additions” idea invoked several times before.  Each time it emerged that the Mythicist in question had not actually read Whealey’s dense and quite excellent paper on the question.

So, after a summary of Pines’ cautious arguments, Fitzgerald triumphantly declares:

Alice Whealey made her rather conclusive case (see Alice Whealey, “The Testimonium Flavianum in Syriac and Arabic,” New Testament Studies 54.4 (2008) pp. 573-90) that even the once-much-touted Arabic version of the Testimonium actually also derives from... you guessed it - Eusebius, by way of an intermediary Syriac version, and so long story short, neither of these medieval Arabic or Syriac texts came from Josephus. Which is why I didn’t include any of this wild goose chase in Nailed. Which, if O’Neill really kept up with Josephan studies as much as he’d like us all to think, he should have known all along...

Unfortunately for Fitagerald, I have indeed "kept up with" Josephan studies; which is why I am well aware of Whealey's article.  This is also why I know that, far from somehow debunking the idea that the variant testamonia of Agapius and Michael point to an original, unedited version of Josephus' text, she actually supports and refines it.

Whealey's article is closely argued and complex and she argues persuasively that Schlomo Pines was on the right track when he pointed to the versions of the testimonium in Agapius and Michael as evidence that the mention of Jesus in Antiquities XVIII.3.4 was original to Josephus, but added to later by Christians.  But she notes that since Pines wrote in 1971 there has been extensive work done on the relationship between Agapius' Arabic chronicle and the Syriac one by Michael and on their most likely common sources and their interrelations.  Drawing on this more recent work, Whealey reassess Pines' analysis and draws some different conclusions.

Whealey disagrees with Pines that it's Agapius' version of the testimonium that most closely reflects what Josephus wrote and argues that it is actually Michael the Syrian's Syriac version that does so:

(I)n arguing that Michael's Testimonium, which is generally close to the textus receptus Testimonium and which has clearly been taken from a recension of the Syriac Historia Ecclesiastica, is more authentic than Agapius’ Testimonium, this study implies that the textus receptus Testimonium is much closer to the passage that Josephus originally wrote about Jesus than is often assumed. Indeed, the evidence of Michael the Syrian’s Testimonium, used in conjunction with the evidence of Jerome’s Testimonium, indicates that the only major alteration that has been made to Josephus’ original passage about Jesus is the alteration of the phrase ‘he was thought to be the Messiah’ to the textus receptus phrase ‘he was the Messiah’. (Whealey, p. 588) 

So what Whealey actually argues is that both Agapius and Michael got their versions of the testimonium from a common source - probably James of Edessa - which in turn used "a recension of the Syriac Historia Ecclesiastica".  And the pertinent point here, given Fitzgerald's erroneous "long story short" summary above, is that she argues this recension of the Syriac translation of Eusebius Historia read "thought to be the Messiah" rather than "he was the Messiah".  She also notes Jerome's Latin translation of the testimonium has a very similar phrasing:

 Since it is scarcely credible that the writers could have independently modified the Testimonium in this same way their readings must reflect an original Greek Testimonium reading something like 'he was believed to be the Christ'. Jerome's translation reading 'credebatur esse Christus' is highly significant because the earliest manuscripts of his De viris illustribus, the work in which his translation of the Testimonium appears, date to the sixth or seventh century; thus they are several centuries older than the earliest Greek manuscripts of Book 18 of Josephus’ Antiquities or of Eusebius’ Historia Ecclesiastica. (Whealey, p. 581)   

 Thus she concludes that both the Syriac version of Eusebius and Eusebius' original text both referred to Jesus as merely being "thought to be the Messiah", with Eusebius, like Josephus, being amended later.  Jerome and the Syriac recension that lies behind Agapius and Michael therefore reflect both an unedited version of Eusebius and, ultimately, the original text of Josephus' testimonium.  Interestingly, she also note that "because this reading is independently supported by Jerome’s very early translation of the Testimonium, .... it can readily explain Origen’s claim that Josephus did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah." (p. 588).

 There are possible counter-arguments to this, of course, as there always are with any such argument.  But the issue here is how on earth Fitzgerald could have read all these references in Whealey's article to what "Josephus originally wrote about Jesus" (p. 588) and "Josephus' original text about Jesus" (p. 587) and yet try to use Whealey's article to argue against the idea that Josephus originally mentioned Jesus.  And his "long story short" summary above shows clearly that he didn't understand what Whealey was saying about the implications of Jerome and the Syriac Historia's version of Eusebius at all.  Again, it's almost as though he didn't even read Whealey's article and was just parroting some bungled Mythicist folklore about it.  Or if he did read it, he clearly didn't understand it.  Again, we see evidence of either crippling ideological bias or abject scholarly incompetence.

 On to Origen 

In my review I took Fitzgerald to task for this complete misreading/misrepresentation of a relevant passage from Origen:

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) 

He cites Contra Celsum I.47 but, as I noted, Origen does not say that "Josephus didn't believe in Jesus", just that he was "not believing in Jesus as the Christ".  More importantly, Fitzgerald's repeated claim that Origen "criticises (Josephus) for failing to mention Jesus in (Antiquties)" is a bizarrely distorted reading of what Origen actually says:

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. (Contra Celsum I.47)

Origen clearly takes Josephus to task for failing to attribute the fall of Jerusalem to Jesus, but says nothing about "failing to mention Jesus".  This is entirely in Fitzgerald's imagination, not in the text.  Of course, Fitzgerald doesn't actually quote Origen in his book, so his readers can't tell that what he claims is a fantasy.
In response, Fitzgerald simply asks "how can O’Neill deny that Origen is not doing exactly what I said he did: criticizing Josephus for not mentioning Jesus? Read it again - it’s right there in black and white"  He then quotes Origen's phrase "... he ought to have said that the conspiracy against Jesus was the cause of these calamities ...", as though chiding Josephus for not attributing the calamities to Jesus' execution is somehow criticising him for not mentioning him at all.  That Fitzgerald can't see this is a complete non sequitur speaks volumes about his weird bias and/or his scholarly incompetence.

In my critique I note that, far from Origen criticising Josephus for not mentioning Jesus, he directly quotes Josephus doing so and does so in three separate places.  In Antiquities XX.9.1 the phrase Josephus uses is τον αδελφον Ιησου του λεγομενου Χριστου ("the brother of that Jesus who was called Messiah").  In Origen's Commentarium in evangelium Matthaei X.17 we find the identical phrase: τον αδελφον Ιησου του λεγομενου Χριστου.  In Contra Celsum II:13 we find it again: τον αδελφον Ιησου του λεγομενου Χριστου.  And in  Contra Celsum I.47 we find it with one word changed to fit the context of the sentence grammatically: αδελφος Ιησου του λεγομενου Χριστου.

Fitzgerald's response?  He waves away these multiple clear textual parallels in no less than three places on the grounds that Origen doesn't explicitly state that he is quoting Josephus and with the silly note that in Origen's time there were no quotation marks.  To dismiss this patently obvious evidence that Origen's text of Josephus did include the key phrase "the brother of that Jesus who was called Messiah" in such a weak manner is simply pathetic.

But he has to try to dismiss it, because if the text included that vital phrase as early as Origen's time, then the whole contrived Mythicist scenario whereby it was added by a Christian scribe collapses - Origen was writing far too early (mid-third century AD) for Christian scribes to be doctoring the text of Josephus.  And the Josephan passage Origen is referring to here represents the biggest fly in the Mythicist ointment.

Josephus on the Execution of James

The second reference to Jesus in Josephus - the one in Antiquities XX.9.1 - is much more problematic for the Jesus Mythers, since here the scholarly consensus that it is genuine is overwhelming.   Mythicists display a remarkable virtuosity when it comes to piling up suppositions to make this reference in Josephus' account of the deposition of the high priest Hanan ben Hanan go away.  They try various tactics, but most fall back on yet another manifestation of their stand-by argument whenever things get difficult for them: interpolation.  They argue that the passage is authentic, but the part where Josephus says the James he is discussing is the brother of a Jesus "who was called Messiah" is a Christian interpolation.  Therefore, they claim, the Jesus in question is the "Jesus, son of Damneus" mentioned a few lines later and not Jesus of Nazareth.

Following his "mentor and hero" Carrier, Fitzgerald argues that "the James Reference is an accidental interpolation or scribal emendation and that that passage was never originally about Jesus Christ but Jesus ben Damneus (The Jesus who is actually mentioned in the passage, and fits the context!)" and he dismisses the references to it by Origen noted above by claiming that what Origen says about the James passage doesn't reflect what Josephus wrote and so can't be taken as evidence that the phrase "who was called Messiah" was in Josephus' text in the mid-third century AD. 

Fitzgerald's treatment of this in his book seems to have been a truncated summary of an argument his mentor has since made in more detail in one of the few pieces of actual peer-reviewed scholarship he's had published - "Origen, Eusebius and the Accidental Interpolation in Josephus Jewish Antiquities 20.200", Journal of Early Christian Studies, 20, 4, 2012, pp. 489-514.  Unfortunately for Fitzgerald, his hero's argument has several critical flaws.

Like Fitzgerald, Carrier argues that Origen can't be used as evidence that Josephus' text originally included the key phrase "the brother of that Jesus who was called Messiah" because, as he puts it "Josephus neither says, in AJ 20.200 or anywhere else, that James’s execution caused the fall of Jerusalem" (Carrier, p. 499).  Having dismissed the idea that Origen was referring to Josephus on the grounds that Josephus doesn't actually blame the fall of Jerusalem on the death of James, Carrier then contrives an alternative explanation whereby Origen actually muddled Josephus with Hegesippus.

But a scholarly article is meant to address or at least acknowledge alternative arguments, preferably by dealing with them comprehensively, and there is a solid body of scholarship that deals with why Origen would say that Josephus "says" the fall of Jerusalem was punishment for the execution of James when Josephus clearly says no such thing.  Both Wataru Mizugaki and Zvi Baras detail why Origen would claim this about Josephus is two separate papers in Josephus, Judaism and Christianity, ed. Louis H. Feldman and Gohei Hata (Wayne State University Press, 1987) - see W. Mizugaki, "Origen and Josephus" pp. 325-337 and Z. Baras, "The Testimonium Flavianum and the Martyrdom of James", pp. 338-348.  As Mizugaki explains, Origen was not a historian looking at his sources with some form of objectivity.  He was a Christian exegete, looking at them through the distorting lens of his religious convictions.  So he tended to see his sources "say" things that aren't actually there.

Mizugaki gives several other examples of where Origen claims Josephus "says" things that he does not actually say and even one example where Origen alters Josephus' text to make it better fit the exegetical point he's trying to make (Mizugaki, p. 333).  In Fragment 115 of Fragmenta in Lamentationes Origen discusses Lamentations 4:19 and claims "Josephus reports that even the mountains did not save those who were trying to escape".  Except nowhere in any of Josephus' works does he "report" this at all - Origen is reading his Christian theology into his understanding of both Lamentations and Josephus.  Mizugaki argues:

As we have noted, by citing and using Josephus to his own purpose, Origen interprets his historical account from his theological viewpoint and adapts it to his interpretation of the Bible. (Mizugaki, p. 333)
In the same way, the sequence of events following the execution of James could easily be read by an exegete to lead directly from the death of James to the fall of Jerusalem, even though Josephus in no way makes that link.  Josephus details how Ananus' fall from his former position encouraged him to wield influence through bribery and currying favour with gifts thanks to wealth he gained from extortionate religious taxes (XX.9.2). This led to the sicarii rebels (the villains of Josephus' account of the Jewish War) targeting him via the kidnapping of his son, Eleazar, forcing Ananus to lean on Albinus to release captured sicarii  in exchange for his son (XX.9.3).This was followed by Albinus trying to gain favour with the increasingly fractious priests by releasing even more sicarii rebels so that "the prisons were indeed emptied, but the country was filled with rebel bandits" (XX.9.5). He presents this sequence of events as the precursors of the procuratorship of Gessius Florus and as the background to the environment of political dispute, rebel banditry and Roman violence and oppression which triggered the rebellion that he had already detailed in his earlier work, the Jewish War.

Naturally we can see that Josephus isn't saying these things happened because of the execution of James and isn't connecting James to them in anything but an incidental way.  But Origen didn't read his sources that way - he read them through the lenses of faith and "saw" connections and causes in this sequence of events where Josephus details how "as for the affairs of the Jews, they grew worse and worse continually" and how this sequence led to the fall of Jerusalem. For Origen the place of the execution of James in this sequence was not hoc post hoc but rather hoc propter hoc

The idea that James' death was somehow cosmically linked to the fall of Jerusalem seems to have been around long before Origen and is also reflected in Hegesippus, who gives his account of James execution and then notes "And shortly after Titus besieged Judea , taking them captive".  We find the same trope in Eusebius (though here obviously following Origen) and Jerome and it's also implied in some Gnostic traditions regarding James.

That Origen was reading this Christian trope into Josephus makes far more sense than Carrier's convoluted alternative and is based on Origen doing what he says he's doing - referring to Josephus.  Carrier's alternative requires a string of contrived suppositions, which means Occam's Razor favours Mizugaki's far neater explanation.  Strangely, neither the highly relevant papers by Mizugaki and Baras nor the prominent collection edited by Feldman and Hata in which they appear can be found anywhere in Carrier's footnotes.

Carrier's contrived scenario requires a number of suppositions to be true for his removal of the key phrase to work and for his alternative reading to be correct.  Amongst them is the requirement for Josephus to have originally referred to James by reference to his brother in one sentence and then to refer to Jesus son of Damneus by reference to their (supposed) father in the next.  This is contrary to the very careful and consistent way Josephus introduces and differentiates between members of the same family thoughout his work - and yes, I've re-read the whole of Antiquties with this question in mind to check on this.  However you cut it, Carrier's thesis does not stand up to Occam's Razor and, like all his work, it's an ad hoc way to get to an ideological objective: removing a key piece of evidence for the existence of a historical Jesus.  Not that Carrier sees things that way.  He is very impressed with his article - so much so that he gives it a ringing endorsement in its final paragraph:

The significance of this finding is manifold, but principally it removes this passage from the body of reliable evidence for the fate of Jesus’ family, the treatment of Christians in the first century, or Josephus’s attitude toward or knowledge of Christians. Likewise, future commentaries on the relevant texts of Origen and Josephus must take this finding into account, as must any treatments of the evidence for the historical Jesus. Most pressingly, all reference works that treat “James the brother of Jesus” must be emended to reflect this finding, particularly as this passage is the only evidence by which a date for this James’ death has been derived. (Carrier, p. 514)
In almost 30 years of reading scholarly articles from a range of fields I have never come across one that included such a fatuous, unprofessional, arrogant and patently immature pronouncement.  When this ludicrous proclaimation was brought to Bart Ehrman's attention he commented wryly "No timidity there!".  This pompous nonsense speaks volumes about Carrier's ludicrous narcissism. But that seems to be what performing for a peanut gallery of fawning acolytes like Fitzgerald will do for someone who once had a chance at a genuine academic career.


There were other counter-arguments in Fitzgerald's response, but they were mostly nitpicks and trivia of the petty kind the Jesus Mythers seem to love. This post is already weighing in at over 12,000 words and I think I've done enough to counter Fitzgerald's most substantial points and demonstrate his fundamental incompetence.  He cited Mason as supporting him when anyone who reads Mason can see he does the opposite.  He cited Whealey in a way that shows he either didn't read her article or didn't understand it.  And his key argument rests on the supposition-laden thesis of his tendentious and hopelessly biased mentor, which doesn't take account of the full range of relevant scholarship and is fundamentally flawed.

Not that any of this will convince Fitzgerald - fanatics don't change their minds.  But for those who asked me to respond to his points, I hope my work above has shown why once you winnow away all his response's pomposity, bluster, sneering insults and bile, there is pretty much nothing there.  Which effectively sums up the whole Jesus Myth coterie all around.


Ignorance said...

Very impressive post, Tim. I wonder how long it'll take till the dragons come over.

The only messianic pretender, apart from Jesus, who is mentioned in ancient sources outside Josephus' texts I can think of is Bar Kokhba. And most of them are available thanks to the letters having been found. The non-Christian Roman texts (around four) don't even mention his name, and only the letters from the En Gedi area mention his actual name. So much for the scores of other writers who mention messianic pretenders. (It is even questioned by some scholars whether Bar Kokhba had messianic aspirations.)

Anonymous said...

I wonder why you think self-published books are in any way of less value than big publishing house published books?

Your deprecation is implied by the fact that you keep mentioning it.

Tim O'Neill said...

"I wonder why you think self-published books are in any way of less value than big publishing house published books?"

They often aren't of less value that mass market publisher's books. But they often are of less value than academic publishes' books, since they have a reputation for scholarship and quality and tend to only publish works that make it through a rigorous peer review process.

A self-publisher only has to convince themselves that their arguments stack up. Convincing an expert peer review panel and a professional academic editor is a much more difficult prospect. Fitzgerald's book would never have made it through that process.

Anonymous said...

So you support gagging by authoritarian opinions and power?

Where would we be if, for example, Thomas Payne did not self publish his books? In England a guy was jailed for even selling Payne's books let alone publishing them.

If we the public and lay people were limited to only reading books made available through the filter of authoritarian approval the world would still be believing that Earth is flat and the center of the universe.

I think that self published books are an extremely valuable addition to the general enlightenment of humanity.

Democratic publishing is as valuable as democratic governments.

Do you advocate that stupid voters should not be allowed to vote? If not then why do you believe that authority should be able to dictate who should be allowed to publish a book.

Tim O'Neill said...

@ Anonymous

What a weird comment. Where did I advocate "gagging" anyone? If you read the opening paragraphs of my original review, I talk about what a great thing self-publishing is. I'm currently planning on writing a book myself and, if I can't secure an established publisher, I'll probably self-publish it.

But if someone held up my self-published work and said that it was most likely to be on the same level as something published by an academic press after rigorous peer review, I'd be the first to disagree with them.

Do you understand what "peer review" means? It seems you don't.

Anonymous said...

@ Tim O’Neal
“What a weird comment. Where did I advocate "gagging" anyone?”

Well maybe I misunderstood you when you said:
>>“Fitzgerald's book would never have made it through that process.”

>>”Do you understand what "peer review" means? It seems you don't.”

I understand peer reviews all too well having been subjected to it for many years while doing a PhD and having successfully published a few articles myself in a peer reviewed journal.

Peer reviewing occasionally fails abysmally in cases where the thing being reviewed is a MAJOR challenge to the currently established 'wisdom'.

For example look what happened to Alfred Wegener (a meteorologist not a geologist) who proposed the theory of Plate Tectonics. He was even 'proven' to be wrong by some of his 'peers' and ridiculed by others who as geologists thought they were more qualified than a mere meteorologist. (see this article )

If peer reviewing is going to throw out anything unapproved and not allow it to be published then we will only ever hear about approved stuff.

Without publications OUTSIDE of peer reviewed ones we would never know anything other than the uncontroversial knowledge and any challenging theory might be lost because it never got published.

So when you said “Fitzgerald's book would never have made it through that process” I misunderstood you to believe that this a good thing of which you would have approved.

I am glad to see that you do approve of self-published books. I hope you can see how mentioning the fact while reviewing such a book (especially negatively) and even pointing out that other authors who approve of the book self-publish too might be misconstrued as an ad hominem fallacy.

Tim O'Neill said...

The Anonymouse squeaked:

Well maybe I misunderstood you

Yes, you obviously did. Hard to see why - what I said was perfectly clear.

Peer reviewing occasionally fails abysmally

Did someone claim it was infallible? The point that you seem to have missed it is that a peer reviewed work is vastly more likely to be reliable scholarship than one that has had no critical review at all.

I hope you can see how mentioning the fact while reviewing such a book (especially negatively) and even pointing out that other authors who approve of the book self-publish too might be misconstrued as an ad hominem fallacy.

Only a complete idiot who didn't understand what the ad hominem fallacy is would be so stupid. Noting that a work that has passed no form of critical review is less likely to be sound than one that has been through a rigorously critical editorial process is a plain statement of fact and not remotely like an ad hominem.

Your comments have made little to no sense so far. And I have very short patience with cowardly anonymous commenters. Go away.

Humphrey said...

Was Thomas Paine really self-published? I think with all his best known works he had to find publishers who could set in type, print and distribute his books.

For Common Sense he went (via agents) to the Philadelphia Publisher, printer and bookseller Robert Bell who agreed to print the pamphlet because he was sympathetic to his arguments. It was Bell who had to take most of the financial and political risks on the publication as only his name appeared on the title page. I don’t know if it counts as peer review – but Paine did get the manuscript sent to Benjamin Franklin and Sam Adams who liked it and only suggested minor revisions (Franklin also famously reviewed the manuscript of The Wealth of Nations).

‘Rights of Man’ became the best-selling book ever published in English but it was published by J.S Jordan on Fleet Street.

I've read some very good self-published stuff which is minority interest local history stuff & is too niche to be worth publishing on any scale.

Tim O'Neill said...

Ah, but Fitzgerald assures us in his response that he didn't self-publish because he couldn't find a publisher, but because it would make him more money. Because I'm sure he rejected offers from Harvard and Oxford University Press to go with And everyone knows scholars write purely for the cash - it's a sure path to riches.

Anonymous said...

Peer review is like democracy: It may not be perfect but it's better than past and current alternatives.

Labarum said...

I thought it amusing that his response to your pointing out he never identified the "scores of writers" by claiming he had to cut the book from 700 to 250 pages. At no point did he think it pertinent to just quote from the missing page that listed those scores of writers. As I said, it was amusing ... but typical

Neo said...

Tim, what's ur take on Reza aslan s latest book on Jesus? Is his a more validated version of how events happened?

Tim O'Neill said...

@ Neo

The general background to the life of Jesus that Aslan gives is pretty standard stuff. And much of what he says about inaccuracies, distortions and spin in the gospels is also fairly standard as well and nothing a modern scholar of the New Testament would object to, however much conservative Christians don't like to hear it. The idea that Jesus' teaching and career had what we would call a "political" dimension is also not a remarkable conclusion, nor is the idea that the gospels work to downplay or obscure aspects of this. And the claim that Jesus went to Jerusalem in the week he died with the plan of provoking a confrontation that would result in a massive transformation and usher in the "kingdom of God" is an entirely plausible reconstruction.

Where Zealot goes off the rails is in Aslan's misunderstanding of Jesus' religious context. He gets (as most Christians don't) that Jesus was very much a Jew of his time and that this means he was an oppressed peasant in a time of great oppression and that he was reacting, often angrily, against this. But Aslan doesn't understand the Jewish apocalyptic mindset, so he doesn't see that the transformation Jesus was preaching and the one he went to Jerusalem in the hope of seeing or perhaps triggering was not merely political but actually cosmic - he didn't want to usher in a revolution, he wanted to see the coming of the total transformation of the world, armies of angels wiping out the enemies of God, Yahweh himself imposing his direct rule on the world, the judgement of the living and dead and the renewal of the cosmos with a new heaven and an new earth.

Aslan doesn't seem to have got the apocalyptic vision that permeates Jesus' whole teaching,lies at the heart of all his parables and is the meaning behind the miracle stories about him. This did indeed have a political dimension - the Romans and the corrupt Temple priesthood were going to be swept away in the coming apocalypse, according to Jesus - but this was secondary to his message. Aslan seems to think that it was primary. See Tim O'Neill's answer to Jesus: Was Jesus an apocalyptic Preacher? for more details on Jesus as a Jewish apocalypcist.

The second part of the book, where Aslan claims the whole story of Jesus was hijacked by Paul and how Paul effectively invented Christianity from scratch is even weaker. Paul certainly set Christianity on its later course by making the focus of the faith very much on the risen Jesus, but Paul was as much an apocalypcist as Jesus was and was not somehow radically different to him or to his earliest followers.

About three quarters of Aslan's book is unremarkable stuff, even if it is news to many reviewers and unpalatable to most Christians. That Jesus was a radical illiterate peasant preacher is not some wild idea - it's the best reading of the evidence. The problem with the book is Aslan's detour off into the idea that Jesus was primarily a political preacher. He misses the whole apocalyptic context of his message and so thus gets the story fundamentally wrong.

Benzocaine said...

Hi! Short question about the negative evidence argument ("Nobody wrote about Jesus, despite having motives to do so, therefore he probably didn't exist").

Are you saying that Jesus was too insignificant for writers to mention him? If so, how can we know anything about this insignificant figure? And how did Josephus know? Why would Josephus suddenly think that this Jesus figure was worth mentioning? Does "[the brother of a Jesus] who was called Messiah" add anything to Josephus' Roman audience?

If there is no explanation to why Joesphus would make that comment, there is sufficient (though not conclusive) evidence to suspect that it's a Christian interpolation. Especially in the light of the interpolations in TF.

It is known that brothers of the lord is used, both in the epistles of Paul, and in the gospels, to denote a sect of wandering Christian "munks". Why could not James have been one of those "brothers of the lord", perhaps even their high priest?

The only conclusive evidence I can draw is that James was a Christian, a brother of the lord, and that at the time, Christians believed that the Messiah was named Jesus.

To avoid any doubt, yes I'm a Jesus skeptic, no I'm not a mythicist. What I can't understand is why Christian scholars are so fanatical about the existence of Jesus. What does that insignificant figure, that nobody found worthy of mention, add to our understanding of Christianity?

The Christ probably doesn't resemble the historical Jesus (if he existed) anyway.

That wasn't so short after all, but the main question is this: If the historical Jesus was too insignificant to mention, how do we know he existed and why does it matter?

Wouldn't it be more honest to say "we don't know"?

*kind* regards (no hostility),
/Fredrik Bendz

Tim O'Neill said...


"Are you saying that Jesus was too insignificant for writers to mention him? If so, how can we know anything about this insignificant figure?"

The argument is that we have no contemporary references to him, therefore he didn't exist. But this doesn't follow at all. We have no contemporary references to any of the other Jewish preachers, prophets and Messianic claimants either, despite several of them having followers in the thousands that required the mobilsation of Roman troops to disperse. And the Hannibal example shows that we can have no contemporary references to extremely prominent people. This is simply the nature of ancient source material - we don't have much of it on anyone, so making an argument about the existence of anyone on the basis of a lack of contemporary references is stupid.

"And how did Josephus know? Why would Josephus suddenly think that this Jesus figure was worth mentioning?"

Josephus lived in a city with Jesus' brother as a young man which had a population of 50-80,000. Having lived in a small city of that size, I can assure you you tend to know pretty much anyone of any prominence very easily. I don't understand why you think he would "suddenly" decide Jesus was "worth mentioning". A guy who caused enough of a disturbance to get crucified by the Prefect is worth a paragraph.

"Does "[the brother of a Jesus] who was called Messiah" add anything to Josephus' Roman audience?"

It identifies who he was. And differentiates him from the next Jesus menioned, the "son of Damneus" so they don't get two guys with the same very common name confused.

"If there is no explanation to why Joesphus would make that comment, there is sufficient (though not conclusive) evidence to suspect that it's a Christian interpolation."

There is an explanation - Jesus was called "Messiah" and referring to him by that nickname identifies which Jesus he is talking about. So where is the problem?

"It is known that brothers of the lord is used, both in the epistles of Paul, and in the gospels, to denote a sect of wandering Christian "munks"."

Pardon? This is "known"? By who? Where does Paul use the term in this way? Where is it used in this way in the gospels? I'm not sure what a "munk" is (do you mean "monks"?) but this is not "known" at all - you might need to check your facts here.

Paul does use the terms "brother/s IN the Lord" and "brothers IN Christ" to refer to fellow believers. But the terms "brother/s OF the Lord" he uses twice and both times he mentions other believers who don't fall into this category in the same sentence. So who are these "brothers of the Lord"? Mythers (like Doherty and Carrier) have to pretend they are a sub-sect of Christians, for which we have zero evidence. On the other hand, we have plenty of references to Jesus having four brothers including James. So the only logical conclusion is that this term refers to them.

"Wouldn't it be more honest to say "we don't know"?"

We don't "know" all kinds of things about ancient history. That doesn't mean an "agnostic" position is the only reasonable one to take. What historians do is accept that we can't "know" and settled for arriving at a conclusion that is the argument to the best explanation of the evidence. In the case of Jesus, that conclusion is that he most likely existed. The alternative explanations don't stand up to Occam's Razor.

WMF said...

Sorry if this is redundant, I haven't read every comment in detail, but I think this hasn't been brought up yet.

There appears to be a minor error:

Oddly, Fitzgerald simply fell silent.

It seems he did respond:

Relevant portion:

"All right, then. First off, you claim that Carrier caught Tim O’Neill in a lie, but when I click-through to your evidence, it’s a pretty thin reed. Carrier complains “O’Neill flagrantly lied about me in claiming I had grossly misspelled the words he quotes (even indicating this with “sic”), yet his own prior quotation of me proves he knew full well I had not misspelled them.” So he apparently quoted Carrier at some (apparently unspecified) point with “sic” and such, later quotes Carrier without the “sic,” and this is supposed to prove that he is a liar. Okaaaay …"

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.

Tim O'Neill said...


Yes, but look at the reply to Fitagerald's repeat of the allegation made in response. A commenter called Ben Schuldt is puzzled by Fitzgerald's response to J.J. Ramsey and says

"That link (http://richardcarrier.blogspot... doesn't have Carrier linking to O'Neill's actual crime. Carrier just links to two comments in the same comment thread that say the same thing to show that they show the same thing. Help?"

And, as I said, Fitzgerald falls silent.

In fact, it's worse than that. J.J. Ramsey also posted a long reply to that last comment to Fitzgerald, but the moderator of the blog in question decided to quietly censor it. Mr Ramsey suspected he was being silenced so he also posted a copy as a comment on my blog. You can read it toward the end of the comments on my original review of Nailed, posted in two parts.

Here's what J. J. Ramsey said on the Carrier allegation:

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.

Fitzgerald or someone decided to silence dissent on this point. See what I mean about these "rationalists" acting like fundamentalist fanatics?

WMF said...

See what I mean about these "rationalists" acting like fundamentalist fanatics?

I see it, thanks. I just didn't read through the entire comment section, so it wasn't entirely clear in response to which comment Fitzgerald fell silent.

Analyst said...

> Even without reading any of the rest of my online history over the last twenty years and seeing me do the same thing with Holocaust deniers, Dan Brown believers, Serbian nationalists and George W. Bush fans it doesn't take Sherlock Holmes to see the clear pattern here and to realise where my critique of Fitzgerald and the Mythicists fits into it.

Meh. I've yet to see any reason to dismiss Remsberg, except that "he's old fashioned". I note you didn't try.

If your only argument for Jesus is that nobody wrote that he didn't exist you could hardly find a weaker argument. You might as well postulate his parents as Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber. If you rely on the gospels you are relying on four anonymous and contradictory comic books without pictures, all heavily redacted. If you rely on the epistles you once again have problems of authorship.

Your arguments for Jesus are no better than arguments for Glycon, Moroni or Xenu.

(PS: It takes me about 20 tries to find one of those stupid captchas I can read. If you are going to moderate all posts anyway, please turn that crap off).

Tim O'Neill said...

@ Analyst
"I note you didn't try."

The section entitled "The Failed Messiahs Who Weren't There" begins with an analysis of why the argument from silence Remsberg used as the basis of his absurd list is garbage. Try actually reading the article you're commenting on.

"If your only argument for Jesus is that nobody wrote that he didn't exist you could hardly find a weaker argument."

Not only is that not my "only" argument, it's not even an argument I make here. Try actually reading the article you're commenting on.

"If you rely on the gospels you are relying on four anonymous and contradictory comic books without pictures, all heavily redacted. If you rely on the epistles you once again have problems of authorship."

Gosh! We're having to use ancient sources with biases and which are of uncertain authorship! Whatever will we do!! Oh, I know - we'll do what any scholars of ancient source material do, because they deal with that situation all the time.

If this level of knee-jerk blurting is all you have to offer, don't bother commenting here again.

VinnyJH57 said...

I don't think it makes zero sense that Hanan might seek to placate Albinus and Jesus ben Damneus with presents even if he were responsible for the death of Jesus's brother. That seems quite plausible for a wealthy man given to intrigues. That Jesus ben Damneus would make some sort of accommodation with an influential person like Hanan seems plausible as well.

On the other hand, Josephus's usual practice in identifying someone as the brother of someone or the son of someone seems like an important point which Carrier should have addressed.

Tim O'Neill said...

I don't think it makes zero sense that Hanan might seek to placate Albinus and Jesus ben Damneus with presents

That Hanan might do so makes perfect sense. That Jesus ben Damneus might cosy up to the killer of his brother because he was given some nice gifts makes no sense at all.

That Jesus ben Damneus would make some sort of accommodation with an influential person like Hanan seems plausible as well.

Maybe you dislike your brother/s. Or you are an arsehole. The rest of us would find this idea absolutely ludicrous.

Josephus's usual practice in identifying someone as the brother of someone or the son of someone seems like an important point which Carrier should have addressed.

Yes - one of several points he neglected to address. These examples of neglect are amongst the reasons Carrier will never be more than a blogger with no professional career - he's a biased polemicist playing to a peanut gallery of the clueless.

VinnyJH57 said...

Since Josephus doesn't describe Jesus ben Damneus as "cosying up" to Hanan, whether or not it might make sense for him to do so is irrelevant.

History is full of stories of family relationships sacrificed for the sake of political power. I wouldn't be surprised if there are a few examples in Josephus.

Tim O'Neill said...

"Since Josephus doesn't describe Jesus ben Damneus as "cosying up" to Hanan ...

Pardon? Please read the text. Here is what Josephus says:

"as for the high priest, Ananias he increased in glory every day, and this to a great degree, and had obtained the favor and esteem of the citizens in a signal manner; for he was a great hoarder up of money: he therefore cultivated the friendship of Albinus, and of the high priest [Jesus ben Ananus], by making them presents"

How the hell is "cultivating the friendship" of the high priest not cosying up to him?

History is full of stories of family relationships sacrificed for the sake of political power.

History (and human psychology) is rather more full of people being understandably upset at other people killing their siblings. And so being resistant to their overtures, no matter how nice their "gifts" might be.

The problem here is that not only does Josephus not detail an internecine priestly feud here, but he apparently tells us the brother of a man executed in this vaguely alluded to feud somehow forgets his brother's deaths and adopt "friendship" with his killer. And this extraordinary state of affairs is mentioned in passing, without comment. This is very weird.

Added to the other problems with Carrier's thesis, the whole thing becomes yet another creaking Myther contrivance. One of far too many. Occam's Razor comes into play again and the Mythers are shaved to the bone.

VinnyJH57 said...

"Rather more" is a long way from "makes zero sense" and "ludicrous."

Tim O'Neill said...

"Rather more" is a long way from "makes zero sense" and "ludicrous."

Garbage. The idea that Ben Dameus would become friends with the man who killed his brother is weird enough. But the idea that Josephus would allude to this remarkable state of affairs in such an oblique way is absolutely ludicrous. Together, they make zero sense.

But the creaking and groaning Myther case is consistently propped up with these sorts of ridiculous contrivances. You need a special sort of emotional need to believe to take this garbage seriously. It requires faith.

Baerista said...

I suppose you won't be suprised that I found your second dissections of Fitzgerald's "arguments" quite entertaining, a joy to read, and, most importantly, accurate. I am particularly pleased to see you took the time to undo Ziff's article on "Origen..." in "the Journal of Early Christian Studies," which astounded me for the sheer fact that it was accepted by a good-quality journal. I wouldn't be surprised if the reviewers recommended his article for publication on the condition that he acknowledges and addresses opposing scholarly opinions, but Carrier simply refused. Very often, editors don't really check whether authors implement all the changes requested.
Anyway, there is one other article on early Christianity that Carrier managed to get published: "Thallus and the Darkness at Christ's Death" in the "Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism" and I think this one has actually considerable merit (meaning that I agree with its thesis). He's certainly not completely incapable as an historian (unlike Fitzgerald), but nonetheless quite insufferable in many ways, as you correctly point out. Anyway, I wondered what your thoughts were about this "second" article of his?

Tim O'Neill said...

His article on Thallus is pretty sound. Though even there he can't resist the tone of the polemicist. His final line states "Therefore Thallus should be removed
from lists of writers attesting to Jesus". A real scholar would be able to make the point that the supposed Thallus reference is not a solid reference to Jesus without that kind of dogmatism, but he just can't help himself.

Still, at least he didn't declare his paper a "tour de force" and the last word in the subject or tell us, yet again, how great and wonderful he is. We should be grateful for small mercies.

VinnyJH57 said...

I'm not suggesting that Jesus ben Damneus and Hanan became best friends forever. I'm suggesting that since Josephus describes both Albinus and Hanan as little better than gangsters, given the times, it would have been prudent for Jesus ben Damneus to maintain civil relationships with both of them regardless of any grievances he had. As Josephus himself switched sides in the war to save his own skin, I cannot imagine that he would have thought such conduct particularly remarkable and since Jesus ben Damneus doesn't appear to have had much influence on the course of events, there is little reason for Josephus to devote much time to discussing his relationships.

I think that much of the reason mythicism continues to creak and groan along is that the other side is so frequently propped up by arguments from incredulity.

Tim O'Neill said...

"I think that much of the reason mythicism continues to creak and groan along is that the other side is so frequently propped up by arguments from incredulity. "

It's hard not be to incredulous at "arguments" which are so fancifully stupid. Of course you can cobble together an ad hoc cluster of speculations whereby Ben Damneus somehow decides to forget the recent death of his brother and take up a "friendship" with Hanan because of "gifts", despite this stretching credulity past breaking point. Just don't expect any objective observer to find that contrived crap convincing.

You're still left the problem that Josephus normally details internecine conflicts in his own social class, he doesn't refer to them obliquely in this weird way. And that he would mentioning in passing that Ben Damenus decided to cosy up to his brother's killing without making this explicit or commenting on this behaviour is doubly bizarre.

So yes, colour me incredulous. Your arguments are incredibly stupid, which is why no-one takes this crap seriously.

VinnyJH57 said...

Why do you insist on reading things into the passage that aren't there? There is nothing about Jesus ben Damneus deciding to take up a friendship with Hanan or cosying up to Hanan. The passage only decribes the actions that Hanan took. Hanan gave presents to Albinus and Jesus ben Damneus in order to curry favor. It says absolutely nothing about how either one responded to the presents.

I'm not left with any problems since I am only responding to your claim that Hanan giving presents to Jesus ben Damneus makes "zero sense" if the James in question had been Jesus's brother. I'm not interested in what you imagine Josephus might have written about someone whose actions apparently didn't merit any attention.

It's been a pleasure chatting.

Tim O'Neill said...

"There is nothing about Jesus ben Damneus deciding to take up a friendship with Hanan or cosying up to Hanan."

Maybe there isn't out there on Planet Myther, but back here on Earth the passage reads:

" ... he therefore cultivated the FRIENDSHIP of Albinus, and of the high priest [Jesus] ..." (Antiquities XX.92)

See if you can spot the key word in there that might be indicating FRIENDSHIP.

And then these loons wonder why no-one takes them seriously. Hilarious.

VinnyJH57 said...

And the "he" in that passage is Hanan, not Jesus ben Damneus. There is nothing about the latter deciding anything or cosying up to anyone. Nor is their any indication of how he responded to Hanan's efforts. There is no indication that Jesus ben Damneus did anything that would be inconsistent with having a grievance against Hanan.

So just what scope do you imagine for the friendship that Hanan cultivated--political neutrality or slumber parties?

Anonymous said...

Vinny isn't wrong (and certainly not loony). The passage ("καθ᾽ ἡμέραν γοῦν τὸν Ἀλβῖνον καὶ τὸν ἀρχιερέα δώροις ἐθεράπευεν") talks about attempting to flatter via presents, certainly not cultivating some
(reciprocal) friendship.

Indeed, while you recognize such, you make that bold jump in your main article.

Anonymous said...

I was looking for good arguments to refute the mythicist position. I'm afraid I found nothing convicing here.


VinnyJH57 said...


Thanks. Unfortunately, I don't know Greek, but that interpretation makes the most sense in the context. Regardless of the identity of the James in the passage, the fact that Albinus removed Hanan from office and replaced him with Jesus ben Damneus would point towards any subsequent relationship being one of political accommodation rather than personal intimacy.

Anonymous said...

One of my conservative Christian friends is trying to foist books by NT Wright upon he a real scholar or just another of the usual Josh McDowell-types? The books are too long to wade through if they wind up just being more bullshit/no scholarship

Ignorance said...

I was looking for good arguments to refute the mythicist position. I'm afraid I found nothing convicing here.

Try to look better, there is an excellent demolishing of Fitzgerald's appeal to Whealey and a solid counterargument to Carrier's paper. If you take away these pillars of the mythers their case is substantially weakened.

Then there are other good points, such as Fitzgerald not and never mentioning these other writers interested in Jewish messiahs from the first century.

One of my conservative Christian friends is trying to foist books by NT Wright upon he a real scholar or just another of the usual Josh McDowell-types? The books are too long to wade through if they wind up just being more bullshit/no scholarship

NT Wright is an orthodox Christian but definitely a bona fide scholar of a high rank. But he has also written some theological and apologetical books, so you might want to check the books' contents first.

VinnyJH57 said...

Much of Wright's work is accepted as legitimate scholarship, however, I don't think that many mainstream scholars treat his defense of the historicity of the resurrection as much more than apologetics. I suspect that the book your Christian friend is recommending contains hundreds of pages of sophisticated sounding discussions of historical methodology and an argument that boils down to "The resurrection must have happened because nobody could have invented it."

Personally, I prefer my apologetic claptrap unadulterated.

Tim O'Neill said...

"And the "he" in that passage is Hanan, not Jesus ben Damneus. There is nothing about the latter deciding anything or cosying up to anyone."

Right - so let's see if I've got this remarkable story straight. Reading between the lines, you've discerned that there was an internecine power struggle between two priestly houses, that of Ben Hanan and that of Ben Dameus. Hanan ben Hanan seized an opportunity to have one James ben Damneus illegally executed. Jesus ben Damenus objected and the leading people Jerusalem agreed, so Ben Hanan was deposed as High Priest and Jesus ben Damneus was elevated in his place. Then Ben Hanan tried to curry favour with Ben Damneus by giving him rich gifts, but true to the memory of his recently killed brother, Ben Damneus rejected him.

Wow - that's quite an exciting story. So much so it almost makes you wonder why Josephus didn't actually tell it. Still luckily we have internet Mythers who can see these things between the lines and so can reveal them unto us.

VinnyJH57 said...

No. I haven't discerned that at all. All I've discerned is that Hanan giving gifts to Jesus ben Damneus is in no way a critical flaw in the hypothesis that he was the brother of James that Josephus was referring to.

However, I have been alerted to the possibility that the Jesus to whom Hanan gave the gifts was not Jesus ben Damneus at all, but the next high priest Jesus ben Gamaliel, which would refute your argument completely.

Tim O'Neill said...

Ah yes - a "possibility". And in Myther Land, if there's a "possibility" that allows them to prop up their thesis, it immediately becomes the best explanation and rapidly hardens into unimpeachable fact.

Carrier's thesis still has the problem of going against the consistent way Josephus designated people via appellations.

VinnyJH57 said...

It's a possibility that you seem to have overlooked which makes me wonder what else you missed.

Tim O'Neill said...

I'm actually being pretty gracious in even acknowledging it at a possibility. It is, but only just.

XX.9.1 finishes with Jospehus telling us that Jesus ben Damneus was made high priest. Then in XX.9.2 he tells us of Hanan cultivating "the friendship of the Albinus, and of the high priest", with zero indication that this is another, new high priest to the one just mentioned. And Jesus ben Gamaliel doesn't get mentioned until XX.9.4, which comes after a whole sequence of events involving the Sicarii, the kidnapping of Hanan's son and an account of the people's grievances with Agrippa. And then finally we get "And NOW Jesus, the son of Gamaliel, became the successor of Jesus, the son of Damneus, in the high priesthood, which the king had taken from the other". See that word "NOW" there?

So we're supposed to believe that Josephus neglected to mention that Ben Gamaliel was the high priest referred to in XX.9.2 and for some reason, after relating a whole lot of other events, tells us Ben Gamaliel became high priest "now", when actually it was before all the events he details in 9.2-4? You've got to be joking.

And than you people wonder why no-one takes your dumb crap seriously.

VinnyJH57 said...

Your graciousness is truly overwhelming, but I think the reason that we might consider the possibility is because Josephus discusses the relationship between Jesus ben Gamaliel and Hanan in Book IV of The War of the Jews.

Tim O'Neill said...

And how does what he says there make your silly reading more plausible?

VinnyJH57 said...

If we know that Hanan had a working relationship with the high priest after Jesus ben Damneus who was also named Jesus, that might be some reason to think that's the high priest he was presenting with presents. Doesn't it make sense to read Antiquities in conjunction with Wars?

Tim O'Neill said...

"Doesn't it make sense to read Antiquities in conjunction with Wars? "

Not when the reading in question makes so little sense, no. The gift-giving is mentioned at XX.9.2 but Jesus ben Gamaliel doesn't become high priest until XX.9.4. So your reading fails.

Got anything else?

Ignorance said...

How long will it take until somebody claims "James, the brother of Jesus called Christ" originally read "James, the brother of Jesus son of Gamaliel"? I guess the sky is the limit for Mythicism.

VinnyJH57 said...

As Josephus tells different parts of the story in different places and different books, I cannot imagine how anyone who wasn't bluffing could pretend to know which readings make sense without reading all the different parts.

Tim O'Neill said...

And now we get to the Myther blurting in the place of sense. As ever. Hey Vinny - tell us where Josephus says anything in the War that somehow makes Jesus ben Gamaliel's elevation to the high priesthood come earlier than it does in Antiquities. Because those of us looking at things objective4ly can't see that at all.

Do tell, there's a good chap.

VinnyJH57 said...

Even within Antiquities XX Josephus skips around a lot. It is only after he relates that ben Gamaliel succeeded ben Damneus that he talks about the sedition that arose between the high priests as a result of Hanan's replacement with ben Damneus. So just a couple paragraphs after you read Josephus as describing ben Damneus and Hanan as BFF, Josephus actually tells us that they were throwing stones at one another. After that Josephus again describes Hanan using his wealth to gain influence, which would fit with him giving presents to ben Gamamiel rather than ben Damneus.

Your objectivity is most impressive, but your reading skills are less so. That makes it very hard to credit your claim to know which stories Josephus would
have thought important enough to cover in detail.

Ignorance said...

Vinny, correct me if I am wrong, but Josephus is describing there feuds between the mobs of ben Damneus and the mobs of ben Gamaliel. Ananos then conveniently exploits their quarrel.

That you misread it in the way you do demonstrates your strong bias.

Tim O'Neill said...

"Even within Antiquities XX Josephus skips around a lot. "

A little, in places. And Josephus is good enough to tell us when he's doing so. That doesn't mean you can just decide he is whenever it helps you prop up your stupid crackpot theory.

"It is only after he relates that ben Gamaliel succeeded ben Damneus that he talks about the sedition that arose between the high priests as a result of Hanan's replacement with ben Damneus."

Which is perfectly clear and perfectly logical in the context. That doesn't mean you can suddenly leap back to the beginning of the chapter and decide that someone who was described at the "high priest" then was the one he just told us was made high priest NOW.

So just a couple paragraphs after you read Josephus as describing ben Damneus and Hanan as BFF, Josephus actually tells us that they were throwing stones at one another.

He tells us there were factions in the priestly caste, some of whose followers (whose?) threw stones at each other. Try to actually read what's there.

"Your objectivity is most impressive, but your reading skills are less so."

Yes, yet again I find my reading skills aren't "imaginative" enough to be a Myther. I can't warp and bend the text to fit a whacko story the way crackpots like you can. Too much training in actually analysing the text as it is I'm afraid.

VinnyJH57 said...

Josephus tells us about factions that resulted from ben Damneus replacing Hanan so it does not take any imagination to figure out that the two were on different sides of the stone tossing.

Tim O'Neill said...

... so it does not take any imagination ..."

It takes some, since that isn't in the text. But you have a Myther's unique talent for seeing things in texts that aren't there, when convenient. It's how you people keep your contrived thesis propped up.

VinnyJH57 said...


I think you are correct. I had assumed that he was talking about the king taking the high priesthood from Hanan and giving it to ben Damneus since that was what was described earlier, but the natural reading of the later passage is that the sedition arose from the king taking it from ben Damneus and giving it ben Gamaliel.

However, Josephus still goes on to tell us that Hanan used his wealth to gain influence with those who were willing to receive and Wars tells us about a relationship between Hanan and ben Gamaliel so I would still think we have to put Hanan on the opposite side of the conflict from ben Damneus, don't we?

Mr Regnier said...

Good post Tim.

Out of interest, do Carrier or Fitzgerald provide any evidence there actually was such a person as James ben Damneus?

And how do they deal with Josephus' statement that Ananus accused James and the rest "as breakers of the Law", which would fit with this being an accusation against Christians?

VinnyJH57 said...

"Breaker of the law" would fit with accusations against anyone.

WMF said...

It's a possibility that you seem to have overlooked which makes me wonder what else you missed.

Tim missed countless other possibilities. After all, Josephus could have very well been writing about Jesus, but has it ever occured to Tim that it simply might have been sarcasm?

Tim O'Neill said...

"Out of interest, do Carrier or Fitzgerald provide any evidence there actually was such a person as James ben Damneus?

No, but most of these people are solely attested by Josephus, often with only one or two passing references. Much like Jesus.

And how do they deal with Josephus' statement that Ananus accused James and the rest "as breakers of the Law", which would fit with this being an accusation against Christians?

It would fit all kinds of things, so that doesn't really need to be dealt with.

Tim O'Neill said...

Tim missed countless other possibilities.

If Tim were writing a frigging book he would have discussed all kinds of other possibilities - there's no shortage of them.

it ever occured to Tim that it simply might have been sarcasm?

How the hell would you know what has or hasn't occurred to me, idiot? Given that λεγόμενος can take the meaning of not just "called" but "so-called/alleged", this is actually a possibility I've discussed at some length elsewhere.

WMF said...

Sorry Tim, I thought bolding the word sarcasm (together with its content) would make it sufficiently clear that the comment was intended as such.

Tim O'Neill said...

Okay. Seriously, given the level of stupid we've been getting in the comments on this post it probably did need more of a red light than that. But my apologies.

Kristofer said...

The strangest thing about mythers is they are willing to make up many things without evidence to avoid the idea of a religious peasant in the 1st century and we know many of those existed. Many exist in the 21st century too.

They are willing to make up the following:

A sublunar realm where deities reenacted earthly events.

An unknown group of Christians who called themselves "Brothers of the Lord"

A James not known to history to avoid the implications of Jesus having a brother and thus existing.

James ben Damneus not known to history and specifically Josephus.

An accidental footnote in the 3rd century of the James passage in Josephus

Origen being too stupid to notice this footnote.

Josephus writing the James passage in a completely unique manner from all the rest of his writings.

That their is a conspiracy among historians to suppress mytherism and this conspiracy involves many atheist historians.

I could list a lot more but it is hard to believe anyone becomes a myther through rational thought.

Jeremiah said...

I stumbled across this via Patheos` James McGrath and am certainly happy I did so. This was a verbal thrashing that Fitzgerald had coming. I also read your review of his book and the comments section where you took on all comers. Very nice work.

As an atheist who converses with other atheists almost daily through social networking groups and friends, I find it a disturbing trend that a community which alleges to be a beacon of logic, reason, and evidentialism, many readily embrace mythicism. I don`t have the qualifications to combat deeper inquiries from the better learned mythicists but I do my best to try and curb it whenever I can. Some of their lust for information which confirms their bias is, at times, difficult to deal with. I have however, directed two mythers to this blog in an effort to educate them. So thank you providing me with a go-to source.

Without turning this into a long rant, and I`m sure you don`t hear this enough, but I appreciate the work.

Labarum said...

There is this amazing thing called context. The Antiquities passage about Josephus reads:

But as for the high priest, Ananias, he increased in glory every day, and this to a great degree, and had obtained the favor and esteem of the citizens in a signal manner; for he was a great hoarder up of money: he therefore cultivated the friendship of Albinus, and of the high priest by making them presents;

Reading this we see that Annias increased in glory due to him receiving the favor and esteem of the citizens via a signal manner (for those not familiar with the phrase "signal manner" it means inappropriately). This inappropriate means is from his wealth and he then gives the examples of presents to individuals (including the high priest) as examples. Thus, in the context, there clearly is the implication that the receiver accepted the gift.

gbarrett said...

So Tim, we've had some exchanges on Amazon regarding your take on Josephus' mention of James in AJ 20.9.1. I came here to learn more about your views and I see you have a fairly well-defined position that Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher, preaching that angels would soon swoop down, sweep away the Romans and the corrupt jewish temple officials, etc.

Let me first say, that if there was a Jesus, I agree that this particular reconstruction is probably the most likely one.

However, there is some troubling evidence to contend with. First, there's the fact that Paul doesn't really mention any of this (hear me out before you jump and say AHA another argument from silence). Since Paul, we would agree, is our earliest and closest source for the actual teachings of Jesus, we have to rely on his works first and foremost, maintaining our skepticism in regard to what he says.

Now, when I say that Paul never mentions this, what I mean is that Paul does not refer to a Jesus who taught any such things. Paul, himself, certainly has an end of the world or a transformation perspective. However, we can infer from Romans 13 that the Jesus movement was not at odds with the Romans or civil authorities at all. This is off key if we are trying to argue that Jesus' apocalyptic message caused a conspiracy of Rome and Jewish temple officials to execute him as a political rebel (by crucifixion). And, in fact, Paul does not say that Jesus taught these things, but that his message was a secret revealed by "the Spirit," not taught by an earthly Jesus.

Please take note, what I talked about here was the lack of evidence in our primary source to support your position PLUS positive evidence that tends to undermine your position.

Now, we can be skeptical about Paul's take. Paul, allegedly a citizen of Rome (I don't think Paul actually says this, but I could be wrong), could just want to distance Jesus' more radical message from what Paul wants to focus on. That's certainly possible and plausible, but it still leaves us with a problem that our primary source evidence does not support your position that Jesus taught an apocalyptic message.

So here is the conundrum. You can continue to point out the foibles of "mythicist" arguments, but the problem is every attempt to reconstruct a "real" Jesus also has fatal errors.

Tim O'Neill said...


"Paul doesn't really mention any of this"

Wrong yet again. Go read 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 where he not only talks about the coming apocalypse but attributes teaching about it directly to "the Lord's word".

You really need to get a better grip on the source material if you want to avoid making these constant blunders.

Harry H. McCall said...

I have posted a response to much of your post on Debunking Christianity:
Even if the Entire Testimony of Josephus on Jesus is Authentic, It’s Apologetically Worthless

Tim O'Neill said...

"I have posted a response to much of your post on Debunking Christianity:

Your post would have a bit more credibility as a response to me if you managed to get my name right for a start. You manage to mangle both my first and last names - quite feat for such a simple name.

That aside, your article goes wildly off the rails at this point and careens off into nonsense from there:

"Simply put, [ifeven if josephus did mention Jesus] would the same as claiming that because Jesus (Luke 17:26) or the Epistle of 1 Peter (3: 20) mentioned Noah (and the Flood), then both a man name Noah and a worldwide floor must have been real and historical."

That gets my Worst Analogy of the Year Award for 2014 so far.

Harry H. McCall said...

I tried to recalled your name off line when I add Objection #2 so I happen to recall a comment I made on DC a month ago:

Also Tom or Tim O'Neil (or whatever he goes by) thinks he has an apologetic defense for Josephus on Jesus. While he criticizes people like Richard Carrier or John Loftus, he doesn't do a very good job defending The Testimonium Flavianum.

Secondly, since you do think both Jesus and Josephus existed as historical figures, I find my analogy of using Jesus’ Gospel statement as a proof for a historical Noah well within the context of your article.

Finally, for so one so adamant about proving all Mythicists wrong, then let’s see you prove me wrong in the comment section under my post . . . I’m a Mythicist with a new approach to an old textual problem. If you don't want to post a comment there, then I'll understand.

Tim O'Neill said...

since you do think both Jesus and Josephus existed as historical figures ...

So now Josephus didn't exist? The way you guys are going the whole ancient Mediterranean will soon be completely uninhabited!

" ... I find my analogy of using Jesus’ Gospel statement as a proof for a historical Noah well within the context of your article."

And these guys can't work out why real scholars don't take gibberish arguments like this seriously.

... et’s see you prove me wrong in the comment section under my post

I'd be happy to show the flaws in your argument, certainly. Right now I'm about to get on a plane to a tropical island in the Philippines, where I suspect I'll be more occupied with which beach we should go to or what cocktail I want to enjoy by the pool. But I'll post some comments when I get back next week. I can't say critiquing this sad, feeble little effort is high on my priority list right now.

Harry H. McCall said...

"I can't say critiquing this sad, feeble little effort is high on my priority list right now."

I've heard the wind blow before.
Bring it on!

Kristofer said...

Did you forget Harry? I was looking forward to seeing you swat him.

Tim O'Neill said...

"Did you forget Harry? I was looking forward to seeing you swat him. "

I've posted a lengthy reply in a comment to his post.

Harry H. McCall said...

I just learned Tim posted a response tonight (3-10-14) to my article on Debunking Christianity. I will respond to his criticism latter this week. However, Tim has done some defensive revisions on article and tempers my quote of him with, “This statement allegedly represents an argument attributed to me . . . though I barely recognise it as anything I've ever said.” As to his citing Bart Ehrman, especially his book: Did Jesus Exist I found this review of Ehrman’s book by a amateur skeptic very informative:

Tim O'Neill said...

"However, Tim has done some defensive revisions on article ... "

What does that even mean?

... and tempers my quote of him with, “This statement allegedly represents an argument attributed to me . . . though I barely recognise it as anything I've ever said.”

Your "quote" of me? What the hell are you talking about? The sentence I objected to is barely coherent, let alone a quote from me.

"I found this review of Ehrman’s book by a amateur skeptic very informative"

The fact you found that amateurish ramble "informative" speaks volumes.

Harry H. McCall said...

Now I know where JP Holding’s sarcastic brother lives: Australia
(My review of your comment to my Josephus post will appear as a full new post on DC so all can commit on.)

Tim O'Neill said...

I hope writing that made you feel a bit better Harry. We have something a bit like Godwin's Law around here: "the first person to react to a debunking of their pet pseudo historical fringe theory by comparing me to a Christian apologist loses." That goes double for the loons who try to tell me I'm a pretend atheist and closet Christian because I don't agree with their crackpot ideas.

Do let us know when you get around to writing that response. If it's anything like the first one I'm sure it will be a hoot.

Duke of Earl said...

Well it does have to be said that Holding's contempt for Christian Fundamentalists (not to be confused with the scholars who wrote "The Fundamentals" a century ago) as well as the group he describes as Fundy-Atheists (who started as Christian Fundamentalists and still read the Bible with the same wooden literalism they started with) is quite... impressive.

On the other hand he respects skeptics like Peter Kirby who take the time to actually know the subject.

It is quite possible for two intelligent people to look at the same historical evidence and disagree in the conclusions they draw from it, however the Christ myth is not a matter of interpreting evidence differently, but of basically hand waving away all the evidence, often by inventing criteria (as Tim demonstrated with Hannibal's contemporary references (or lack thereof)) that would leave us unable to believe anything written in history books. That is not something a genuine scholar of history (of any religious persuasion) would do.

The Christ Myth is anti-history.

Lee Spencer said...

First of all, who the hell are you to throw out criticism of another author when you are not even on the same level? Worse, you even mention Hitchens and Dawkins, as if you are even a pimple on the ass of either of them. Your arrogance is astounding, and I see very little you should be so arrogant about.

You think you're better at "the game" than Hitchens was? What stages have you stood on debating anybody? At least a Google search of Fitzgerald brings up quite a bit of his work, including lectures and debates. Even more on Carrier. A search for you brings up a ton of people with the same name, and other than a couple obvious entries, I can't even tell which is you. What I did see was certainly not very impressive. Just you spouting off about what you think other atheists are doing wrong. I don't even understand why Carrier is bothering with small potatoes like you.

Tim O'Neill said...

I hope that little rant made you feel better Jack.

Unknown said...

I would agree that Fitzgerald needs to
bring forth his evidence on scholars besides Josephus who were referencing messianic prophets of the time. Any word from his camp on this?

Tim O'Neill said...

"Any word from his camp on this? "

Total and complete silence. Fitzgerald was simply trying to substitute bluster and bombast for solid argument and got caught out. Like much of the Myther case, it was smoke and mirrors.

Mike D said...

It was difficult to navigate through the pointless vitriol and condescension in this post (which is not to excuse Fitzgerald's) and actually hone in on the actual arguments.

The post ultimately reinforced my own point of view: nobody actually knows whether a historical Jesus existed. It's speculative. The existence of Q and the other 'primary sources' is speculative, period. The reliability of Josephus' account is speculative.

Take for example the idea of Jesus escaping any contemporaneous notice. The absence of contemporaneous accounts of course doesn't disprove his existence, and we can construct some plausible scenario of why it might have taken a long time for tales of his deeds to be written down. But again, it's entirely speculative. If one is a skeptic regarding the existence of a historical Jesus, there's certainly no compelling evidence in that regard which should persuade one otherwise.

I haven't read Fitzgerald's work (only watched his lectures), but I've read some of Carrier's and his conclusion is agnostic. He think it is more plausible that Jesus is entirely mythical, and even assigns some supposedly Bayesian probability to it, but he doesn't go so far as to claim that any of his arguments conclusively prove that Jesus never existed.

And that's really where the mythicist position really gets distorted beyond all recognition by advocates of a historical Jesus. The existence of a historical Christ is, at best, a controversial claim rooted in a great deal of speculative conditionals. Maybe the Christ myth is loosely based on a real person, maybe not. Ultimately, who gives a shit? A great deal of accounts of historical figures are dubious and speculative — did Vlad III, for example, really invite peasants to an extravagant dinner and then lock them in the room and set it ablaze, or was that a myth born from exaggerated tales of his cruelty? Who knows? Who cares? Even relatively recent historical figures, like George Washington, can quickly become enshrouded in myth.

Ultimately, the mythicists are dead right about one thing:there's no compelling reason to believe that a historical Jesus existed, and more importantly no compelling reason at all to believe the Christ of the gospels existed. The former is a debate that, because it's so rooted in wanton speculation, can never be conclusively settled. It's also why it's irrelevant.

Tim O'Neill said...

"It was difficult to navigate through the pointless vitriol and condescension in this post (which is not to excuse Fitzgerald's) and actually hone in on the actual arguments."

The "vitriol" was in response to his long list of insults to me. Perhaps you like being a meek little lamb to people who call you things like a "douche", a "blog gadfly", "the Perez Hilton of atheism", "Bill O’Reillyesque", "a Fox News pundit", "His Shrillness", "his assholedom","chicken-shit" etc, but I don't. And the condescension was in response to his attempts at being condescending to me, while at the same time making idiotic errors. Speaking of which - the expression is "home in", not "hone in".

nobody actually knows whether a historical Jesus existed.

People who want certainty and to "know" things should avoid ancient history altogether. You'll find that many things in ancient history come down to an assessment of likelihood. People who aren't comfortable with that should perhaps stick to the sciences.

It's speculative. The existence of Q and the other 'primary sources' is speculative, period. The reliability of Josephus' account is speculative.

Wrong. "Speculative" means "possible, but with no evidence that indicates that it's true". The things you mention are all supported by good evidence and so are not merely "speculative". The trick is in having the skill to work out how likely they are.

"Ultimately, who gives a shit?"

Those of us who are interested in the analysis of ancient history do.

"Ultimately, the mythicists are dead right about one thing:there's no compelling reason to believe that a historical Jesus existed"

Garbage. They are wrong on this - there is sufficient evidence to conclude that his existence is most likely. If you don't agree with that then this seems to be because, judging from your confused comments above, you don't have much of a grasp of historiography.

But if you're really so uninterested in the whole subject, feel free to go away.

Unknown said...

I am certainly no scholar on Biblical Studies, but, Mr. O'Neill, if you're typical of apologists--being Christian or otherwise--religion is very much disserved.

Your adjectival sarcasm and vitriol along with your distasteful rhetorical artillery do nothing to support your position, a fortiori the purported Son of God. I'm sorry, Sir, but, unless you're intent on alienating your position's supporters, there is simply no excuse. Credibility and sincerity are destroyed by ridicule and ad hominum attacks.

Even from a factual point of view, you often empirically fail from what I can tell. (For example, I failed to find any discussion of the Josephus context of overall calamity in which the Christian interpolation is found.) And shouting louder and louder that your detractors are confused, unread, ignorant, or failed to grasp this or that does not cure anything except, again, to alienate any impartial reader.

So if you think that a disdainfully crafted review will cleverly motivate your opponents to respond, you really should think again.

Tim O'Neill said...

"Mr. O'Neill, if you're typical of apologists--being Christian or otherwise--religion is very much disserved.

I don't care about religion. I'm only interested in history.

Your adjectival sarcasm and vitriol along with your distasteful rhetorical artillery do nothing to support your position, a fortiori the purported Son of God.

I have zero interest in any "Son of God". Though the pomposity of your turn of phrase does tickle me.

"And shouting louder and louder that your detractors are confused, unread, ignorant, or failed to grasp this or that does not cure anything except, again, to alienate any impartial reader."

Gosh. Anyone would think I didn't actually present any arguments. Oh, hang on ...

"So if you think that a disdainfully crafted review will cleverly motivate your opponents to respond, you really should think again. "

Good thing you didn't respond. Oh, hang on ...

Hey folks - for extra laughs, read this clown's comment in the voice of Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons. "Worst. Jesus Myth Debunking. Ever!"

M! said...

I had the pleasure (no sarcasm, I’m being sincere) of debating Richard Carrier on the identity of Jesus yesterday. When I brought up the info on Origen’s use of Josephus in the Feldman edited volume as evidence for an earlier, uncontaminated TF, he brought up Whealey. He said more recent scholarship debunked what I said.

I told him I had a journal article in my folder I could show him after if he wanted to see. He asked what year it was – I did not remember and could not grab my photocopy until the debate was over.

Before I could take a look at it, I was a bit shaken because I thought the article I had brought was favorable to the TF and I recalled it being newer. As I reviewed it, I realized I was correct. At the time, though, Carrier’s confidence had me second guessing my memory. Furthermore, I re-realized the article I had brought was the very article by Whealey he was referring to.

I read through it again (it had been a while) and began to wonder: how could Carrier cite this article as if it was contrary to evidence for the TF? Then I realized my mistake: during the debate, I mentioned the Arabic version of the TF.

Technically, Carrier was correct in saying that Whealey’s piece cast doubt on the authenticity of the Arabic version. Her point was that the Arabic TF was not going back all the way to what Joe originally wrote but instead to the Eusebius’ citation of the TF. But Carrier and Fitzgerald give the impression that Whealey is taking down the TF 100%. She is not. Here is one relevant paragraphs from the piece (Alice Whealey. 2008. "The Testimonium Flavianum in Syriac and Arabic". New Testament Studies. 573–590):

"This study thus also implies that it is Michael’s Testimonium that is much more important as a witness to Josephus’ original text about Jesus than Agapius’ Testimonium. By far the most important aspect of Michael’s Testimonium in terms of recovering Josephus’ original passage is its reading ‘he was thought to be the Messiah’, because this reading is independently supported by Jerome’s very early translation of the Testimonium, and because it can readily explain Origen’s claim that Josephus did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah. Therefore the most important aspect of Agapius’ text is its reading that Jesus was ‘perhaps’ the Messiah, because this reading lends weight to the hypothesis that Michael’s qualification of Jesus’ Messianic status was based on an older exemplar of the Testimonium rather than being created by Michael ex nihilo."

Here is a paraphrase of what I understand her to be saying (please correct me if you know what you’re talking about):

the version preserved by Michael the Syrian (the Syriac TF) is closer to the original Josephus TF than the Arabic TF BUT the Arabic TF and the Syriac TF derive from a Syriac translation of Eusebius BUT the Arabic TF and the Syriac TF - both most likely point to what Eusebius originally wrote - BUT what Eusebius cited - Jesus “was believed to be the Christ” (NOT “Jesus was the Christ”), was actually derived from what Josephus originally wrote.

After Carrier brought up Whealey in the way he did (before I remembered I already had read the article by her), I said her views have not achieved consensus. But I said this thinking Whealey was somehow saying what Carrier was saying she was saying – but she wasn’t!

Am I wrong? I want to get better understanding this …


Tim O'Neill said...

"Am I wrong?"

No, you're absolutely right. This is just another example of Carrier being a biased polemicist and incompetent hack while pretending to be a historian.

I keep coming across Mythers who dismiss the textual variants of the TF by waving vaguely toward Whealey's article, proving that they have never actually read it. It seems that Carrier is the point of origin for this flawed tactic. He is a complete joke.

Anonymous said...

This is the first time I have commented on this blog.

I would like to start by giving a quick overview of where I stand on several key issues:

1. I agree that Richard Carrier’s results are often skewed due to his strong and consistent biases.
2. I think that it is quite possible that the Testimonium Flavianum is an interpolation from beginning to end, but I am open to listening to arguments that would contradict this conclusion.
3. I think that it is much more likely that the reference to Jesus (of Nazareth) in Antiquities 20.9.1 is authentic, but again I am open to listening to the arguments.
4. I am convinced that there was a historical Jesus. I am not likely to change my mind about this.
5. I appreciate your efforts to dig into the details and get things right.

I would like to point out one area where there may be flaw in your analysis of Antiquities Book 20, Chapter 9.

You write, “The second flaw in Carrier’s thesis is even more critical. His protégé Fitzgerald claims that Jesus the son of Damneus is “the Jesus who is actually mentioned in the passage, and fits the context” and Carrier makes the case for this being the Jesus who was the brother of the James executed by the high priest Hanan ben Hanan/”Ananus”. If this was the case, Hanan executed this James and was therefore deposed by Herod and the Romans and was replaced by this James’ own brother, “Jesus, son of Damneus”. But it’s very hard to reconcile this reading with what Josephus tells us happened next. This is because Josephus goes on to detail how his deposition didn’t dampen Hanan’s enthusiasm for intrigues and how he cultivated the favour of the new Roman procurator Albinus and that of the high priest “by making them presents” (Antiquities XX.9.2). The problem here is that the “high priest” that Hanan is currying favour with via “presents” is none other than Jesus, son of Damneus. This means, according to Carrier’s reading, the very man whose brother Hanan had just executed and who had replaced him in the priesthood has, a couple of sentences later, become friends with his brother’s killer because he was given some gifts. This clearly makes zero sense.”

When I pulled my copy of the Antiquities off the shelf to check on this, the first thing that I noticed is that Antiquities 20.200 refers to Ananus and Antiquities 20.205 refers to Ananias. The names are spelled differently.

I looked a Greek version of the Antiquities at Again, the names are spelled differently. The name in Antiquities 20.200 is Ἄνανος and the name in Antiquities 20.205 is Ἀνανίας. So, the differences in the English translation are based on differences in the underlying Greek text.

As part of my effort to figure out what is going on here, I purchased a copy of the Amazon Kindle edition of the following book:
VanderKam, James. From Joshua to Caiaphas: High Priests after the Exile. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2004.

To be continued ...

Anonymous said...

Continued …

In the back of VanderKam’s book, there is a list of “The High Priests of the Second Temple”.

The section of the list that we are concerned is given and is as follows:
33. Ananus son of Seth/Sethi (6-15 CE)
34. Ishmael son of Phiabi (15-16 CE?)
35. Eleazar son of Ananus (16-17 cE?)
36. Simon son of Camith (17-18 CE)
37. Joseph Caiaphas (18-36/37 CE)
38. Jonathan son of Ananus (36 or 37 CE)
39. Theophilus son of Ananus (37-41 CE)
40. Simon Cantheras son of Boethus (41-42 CE)
41. Matthias son of Ananus (42-43 CE?)
42. Elionaeus son of Cantheras (43?-45 CE)
43. Joseph son of Camei (45-48 CE)
44. Ananias son of Nedebaeus (48-59 CE)
45. Ishmael son of Phiabi (59-61 CE)
46. Joseph son of Simon (61-62 CE)
47. Ananus son of Ananus (62 CE)
48. Jesus son of Damnaeus (62-63 CE?)
49. Jesus son of Gamaliel (63-64 CE)

I looked through the text of VanderKam’s book and found the following comment:
“Ananias was, then, high priest yet in 58 CE, but he was not to hold the office much longer. … Ananias figures several times in later stories about the period after his high priesthood. Josephus notes that he exercised great influence during the reign of Albinus (62-64 CE) as procurator. He won the favor of the populace, so we learn, because of his wealth. "Now the high priest Ananias daily advanced greatly in reputation and was splendidly rewarded by the goodwill and esteem of the citizens; for he was able to supply them with money: at any rate he daily paid court with gifts to Albinus and the high priest. But Ananias had servants who were utter rascals and who, combining operations with the most reckless men, would go to the threshing floors and take by force the tithes of the priests; nor did they refrain from beating those who refused to give. The high priests were guilty of the same practices as his slaves, and no one could stop them. So it happened at that time that those of the priests who in olden days were maintained by the tithes now starved to death" (Ant. 20.9, 2 [§9205-7]).”

It’s clear from this comment that VanderKam believes that the Ananias in Antiquities 20.205 is Ananias son of Nedebaeus, rather than Ananus son of Ananus.

I’m not an expert on the details of this time period, but I think that that it is likely that VanderKam is right. If he’s right, then this kind of undermines this part of your argument against Carrier and Fitzgerald.

I tend to agree with your other arguments about this section of the Antiquities.

On a side note, one of the main reasons for my confidence in the existence of a historical Jesus is a book that was published by Cambridge University Press in 2011.

The book that I am referring to is:
Humphreys, Colin J. The Mystery of the Last Supper: Reconstructing the Final Days of Jesus. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

There are two helpful reviews of this book at:

Tim O'Neill said...

@Paul Tanner

Hello Paul,

Thanks for your comment(s) above. I've had a good look at the Greek text and checked all the references to the various Annas/Ananus/Ananias figures that Josephus refers to. There has been some differences of opinion as to who is who - Whiston, for example, identified Ananias as the elder Ananus, the father of the guy who executes James in Bk XX. But having looked at all the relevant names and how Josephus differentiates between them, I think VanderKam is right and the high priest who executes James and the (former) high priest who curries favour with Jesus ben Damneus are two different people.

So you're right - this takes all the strength out of my argument above. I'll remove it as a result. I still think Carrier and his acolyte are dead wrong on the "Jesus" = "ben Damneus" thing for the other reasons I've given.

I get a lot of very stupid attempts at criticism on these Jesus Myth posts, so it's nice to actually get a useful one. And I'm always happy to accept I'm wrong - something our friend Carrier has never done in his entire life.

English Lady said...

Sorry to go OT, but your reference to 'the argument of silence' is an interesting one. It could be applied to Boudicca the first century British warrior woman on the basis of the dearth of contemporary sources, and archeaological evidence for her existence (aside from the urban myth that her grave is located under King's Cross Station in London).

For example, Boudiccca's rebellion and her role in it are only mentioned in two Roman sources, Tacitus and Dio, neither of whom ever travelled to Britain. The Britons did not write about her because they did not have a discrete written langauge of their own.
Guy de la Bodoyere in his book 'The Real Lives of Roman Britain' explored how what these writers said about Boudicca was actually a critique of contemporary Roman politics in which she is case as a sort of virtuous and noble barbarian rebelling against Roman oppression.

Yet we don't see anyone arguing for her non-existence, despite there apparently being less evidence for her life and career then that which is allged of Jesus in Roman and other ancient sources.