Liberal Scarecrows, Shadows, and Atheist Internet-Experts

eorge Rupp, former president of Columbia and before that the dean of Harvard Divinity School wrote in 1979 that “Christian theology is in disarray; it has neither a goal nor a purpose,” trends follows fads with such dizzying speed, he wrote,  that the discipline is more like a carousel gone wild than an academic discipline.  If Rupp were observing the current state of New Testament scholarship in 2012, he might have written just the same thing.

Why has this situation arisen?  While generalizations are always more convenient than precise, I think it’s safe to say that three overlapping trends explain the current crisis in New Testament studies.

irst, of course, New Testament studies is simply a mess.  It is a mess because many otherwise conscientious scholars (many of them either refugees from or despondents of the Jesus Seminar) had reached the conclusion that the New Testament should be regarded as a theory in search of facts.  Accordingly, the “facts” were arranged and rearranged in sometimes ingenious ways (and sometimes absurd) to support personal theories. The harsh truisms of 100 years of serious “historical-critical” study (not atheism or scholarly extravagance) were largely responsible for the rubble out of which the scholars tried to build a plausible man, but the men they built could not all be the same character as the one described in the gospels.  They differed from each other; they differed, often, from the evidence or context, and–perhaps vitally–they differed from tradition and “standard” interpretations, which had become closely identified with orthodoxy–which in turn was identified with illiberal politics and hence ludicrous and bad. Having left a field full of half clothed and malformed scarecrows, the theorists packed their bags and asked the world to consider their art.

ECOND: the rescucitation of the myth theory as a sort of zombie of a once-interesting question.  The myth theory, in a phrase, is the theory that Jesus never existed. Let me say for the hundredth time that while it is possible that Jesus did not exist it is improbable that he did not. For the possibility to trump the probability, the mythicists (mythtics in their current state of disarray) need to produce a coherent body of evidence and interpretation that persuasively challenges the current consensus.  No argument of that strength has been proved convincing.  Moreover, there are serious heuristic questions about why many of the mythticists want the theory “proved,” the most basic of which is that many are waging a kind of counter-apologetic attack on a field they regard as excessively dominated by magical thinking.

Bruno Bauer

And the “proof”  is unlikely to appear. As someone who actively entertained the possibility for years, I can report that the current state of the question is trending consistently in the direction of the historicity of Jesus and partly the wishful thinking of the mythtics is responsible for the trend. The myth theory, in its current, dyslectic and warmed over state,  has erected the messiest of  all the Jesuses in the field, constructed mainly from scraps discarded by the liberals and so startling (perhaps inevitably) that it looks more like an Egyptian god than a man, less a coherent approach to its object than an explosion of possibilities and mental spasms. Like all bad science, its supporters (mainly internet bloggers and scholarly wannabes)  began the quest with their pet conclusion, then looked for evidence by alleging that anything that counted against it was false, apologetically driven, or failed the conspiracy smell-test. A survey of the (highly revised and hideously written) Wikipedia article on the Christ Myth Theory shows its depressing recent history–from a theory that grew organically out of the history-of-religion approach to Christianity (which drove my own work in critical studies) to a succession of implausibilities and splices as limitless as there were analogies to splice.

The prototype of the Jesus story?

Yet the myth theory is explained by the woeful history of liberal scholarship: ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. It is a direct result of the mess liberal scholarship made of itself.  If the problem with “liberal” scholarship (the name itself suggests the fallacy that guides the work) is that a flimsy, fact-free, wordless Jesus could be a magician, a bandit, an eschatologist, a radical, a mad prophet, a sane one, a tax revolutionary, a reforming rabbi (anything but Jesus the son of God)–the mythical Jesus could be Hercules, Osiris, Mithras, a Pauline vision, a Jewish fantasy, a misremembered amalgam of folk tales, a rabbi’s targum about Joshua. In short–the mirror image of the confusion that the overtheoretical and under-resourced history of the topic had left strewn in the field.  If the scarecrows concocted  by the liberals were made from rubble, the mythtic Jesuses were their shadows. If the bad boys of the Jesus Seminar had effectively declared that the evidence to hand means Jesus can be anything you want him to be, there is some justice in the view that Jesus might be nothing at all.

he Myth Theories, in some respects, but not every detail,  are the plus ultra of the old liberal theories rooted in the Enlightenment and the philosophy of Kant and Schleiermacher, abetted by the work of Strauss and his sympathizers. Perhaps that is why New Testament scholarship is so eerily quiet or so lazy towards them, and why the proponents of the theory feel betrayed when scholars who point them to their own scarecrows  suddenly say that while the scarecrow exists, the shadow doesn’t.  That is what happened (unmysteriously) when the very liberal Bart Ehrman, thought to be a “friend” to atheists and mythtics, decided to draw a ring around his neck of the field and say that a makeshift Jesus made of doctrinal rags and literary plunder is better than no Jesus at all.  It is not nice to be driven into a field, invited to choose the most appealing strawmen to reject, and then told that only scholars can reject scarecrows. New Testament scholarship defends its nominal field with a No Trespassing sign that invites the suspicion that there is very little to protect.

inally, the New Atheism.  In a minor scholarly rhapsody called Of Love and Chairs, I tried to suggest that not believing in God is not the same as not believing in Jesus.  In fact, it is only through making a category error that the two beliefs can be bought into alignment.  It is true that both God and Jesus are “discussed” in the Bible (though Jesus only in an appendix).  And it is true that later theology understood the Bible to be saying that Jesus was a god or son of God. But of course, very few scholars today think the Bible actually says that or meant to say that.  It is also true that the God of the Hebrew Bible walks, talks, flies through the sky, makes promises, wreaks venegance, gives laws and destroys sinners. And surely, that is a myth–or at least, extravagantly legendary. Thus, if God and Jesus occupy the same book and his father is a myth, then he must be a myth as well.

This reasoning is especially appealing to a class of mythicists I’ll call “atheoementalists,” a group of bloggers who seem to have come from unusually weird religious backgrounds and who were fed verses in tablespoons on the dogma that all of the Bible is, verse for verse, completely, historically, morally and scientifically true.  To lose or reject that belief and cough up your verses means that every one of them must now be completely false.

The New Atheism comes in as a handy assist because it came on the scene as a philosophical Tsunami of militant opposition to religion in general but biblical religion in particular.  NA encouraged the category error that the rejection of a historical Jesus was nothing more than the logical complement of rejecting the tooth fairy, the sandman, Santa and the biblical God. Conversely, believing in the god of the Bible, or Jesus, was the same as believing in (why not?) a Flying Spaghetti Monster. The NAs were less driven by the belief that religion was untrue than that religion was all bad, that God is Not Great, that it is toxic, hostile to science (the true messianic courier) and a delusion, a snappy salute to Freud’s diagnosis.

While the books of all four NA “Horsemen” were roundly thumped in the literate press as hastily conceived and shoddily reasoned attacks–largely provoked by the anti-religion and anti-Muslim rage of the post-9-11 world–they became canonical, and strategic, for large numbers of people who wanted to take Dawkins’s war against religion from Battleship Mecca to Battleship Biblicana. It is intersting for example than in the Wiki article on the Christ Myth Theory referenced above, where almost anyone who has floated the notion gets a mention,  someone has felt it necessary to insert Richard Dawkins’s irrelevant opinion that “a good case can be made for the non-existence of Jesus,” though he “probably did” exist (God Delusion, 2006, 96-7).  –Irrelevant and non-supportive.

IBERAL scarecrows, mythicist shadows, and atheist internet-experts who argue history as though scholarship was a polticial slanging match of opposing “opinions.” That is not the end of a story but the description of a situation.  I do not believe that “professional” New Testament studies, divided as it still is, especially in America, by confessionally biased scholars, fame-seekers, and mere drudges, is able to put its house in order. Their agendas only touch at the Society of Biblical Literature conclaves, and there c.v. padding and preening far outweigh discussion of disarray and purpose.  I think the situation in New Testament studies has been provoked by a “Nag Hammadi” generation–myself included–who weren’t careful with the gifts inside the Pandora’s box, so greedy were we for new constructions of ancient events.

But as part of a generation that thought it was trying to professionalize a field that had been for too- long dominated by theology, Bible lovers, and ex-Bible lovers, it is disheartening now to see it dominated by the political interests that flow from the agenda-driven scholarship of the humanities in general–attempts to see the contemporary in the ancient.  The arrogance of the “impossibility of the contrary” has displaced the humility of simply not knowing but trying to find out.

I have to sympathize with the mythtics when I lecture them (to no avail) about the “backwardness ” of their views and how New Testament scholarship has “moved beyond” questions of truth and factuality–how no one in the field is (really) talking about the historicity of the resurrection any more. How the word “supernatural” is a word banned from the scholarly vocabulary, just as “providential” and “miraculous” explanations are never taken seriously in assessing the biblical texts. They missed the part where we acknowledged it wasn’t true, and so did the people in the pews. They want to know–and it’s a fair question–where it has moved to.  This is not a defense of mythicism; it a criticism of the stammering, incoherent status quo and failure to do what a discipline is supposed to do: look critically and teach responsibly.

Robert Funk, a founder of the Jesus Seminar

I do not think, either, that the voices of dissent have much, if anything to offer.  I’m well aware that many of my colleagues are grossly ignorant of the history of radical New Testament criticism.  That being so, they are unlikely respondents in the defense of sound method. Perhaps that is why they are  unresponsive, in an era where non-response is always interpreted as a sign of weakness–especially in the gotcha culture of the blogosphere.

If the challenge to mythtics is to come up with something better than the more cognizant radicals had produced by 1912, the challenge for liberal and critical scholarship is to recognize that the mess that made the mess possible–the scarecrows that created the shadows–need to be rethought.  That’s what scholarship, even New Testament scholarship, is meant to be about: rethinking. That is what the Jesus Process is all about.

See also: “Threnody, Rethinking the Thinking Behind the Jesus Project,” The Bible nd Interpretation, October 2009.


47 thoughts on “Liberal Scarecrows, Shadows, and Atheist Internet-Experts

  1. Joe, I just posted this as a comment on Vridar – Only Scholars can “Know” Jesus Existed. Thought you might find it to be of interest. You did once say that you can see why Betz so understands the Sermon on the Mount. Best, Ed.
    The Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount. (Extracts from Essays on the Sermon on the Mount by Hans Dieter Betz):
    “Jesus is revered by the community of the Sermon on the Mount as the teacher of the proper interpretation of the Torah and the correct praxis of piety, as well as practical philosophy in general. Christological titles are not used at all.”
    A truly disturbing problem arises for the community only when they discover that there are other “Christians” who have drawn very different conclusions from the teaching of Jesus. It is not only their task to maintain and defend the teachings of Jesus, but to establish, first of all, what Jesus taught and desired of others, and what he did not teach and did not desire. The strange fact that such conflicting interpretations of the teaching of Jesus could arise so soon constitutes the profound dilemma of the SM in relation to the historical Jesus.”
    “As a general statement of its historical situation, one can say that the SM belongs, both theologically and in terms of history of religions, within the richly diverse Judaism of the first century.”
    “If the (Jerusalem Jesus Community) of the Sermon on the Mount represent a response to the teachings Jesus of Nazareth, critical of that of Gentile Christianity, then it serves unmistakably to underline the well-known fact of how little we know of Jesus and his teaching. The reasons for our lack of knowledge are of a hermeneutical sort, and cannot be overcome by an excess of good will. The Gentile-Christian authors of the Gospels transmitted to us only that part of the teaching of Jesus that they themselves understood, they handed on only that which they were able to translate into the thought categories of Gentile Christianity, and which they judged worthy of transmission. By contrast, the Sermon on the Mount stands nearer to the Jewish thought of Jesus of Nazareth, and manifests its affinity and distance over later Christianity.”
    “ – – we must leave open the possibility, and even the probability, of an image of Jesus which is completely different from that of the synoptic tradition and its Gentile-Christian redactors.”

  2. Pingback: A little biographical footnote « Vridar

    • I am not sure there is anything in this piece about offering platforms; is it the case that the Meister of Vridar has not occasionally offered his views and tried to contravene others? Why the simpering innocence? There is nothing wrong with facilitation. At the same time, a platform that energetically puts Earl Doherty, Dorothy Murdock/Acharya S., Kenneth Humphreys and their few zealous supporters up as a scholarly front has, in my view, a long way to go. It isn’t just that their views are mutually and internally inconsistent, and thus no better than the worst liberal scholarship (in fact far worse), it is that you promote the fantasy that somehow these views all fall into place under a master theory. You can add Carrier (who has grown suspiciously tenatative, probably to avoid being piled on in public), Price, and Thompson to your stage, but I am not sure that would not simply complicate the picture further. Perhaps you see my point, that to facilitate what you faciliate actually makes the myth theory increasingly untenable because you have no apparatus for sorting out the sensible from the ridiculous and no voices who are doing the job convincingly.

      • Joe, Your repllies to my above comment over against my earlier comment to your post, News From the Freethought Ghetto: “A viable historical solution to the Jesus Puzzle”, with your most generous reply: “Ed. Thank you so much for this – – filled with wisdom and understanding, like Job!”, leaves me in a state of complete mystification, beyond words. My use of the “V” word Vridar must have set off some beyond belief response. I am by no way a supporter of Vridar. Only by the strangest of circumstances did I even become aware of Vridar. I commented as a critic. If you have any word of explanation it might help my delimma. .

      • Dear Ed,

        I think I see where your confusion lies. Joe’s response wasn’t to your comment above. Your comment appears as the first comment on this post. If you look just beneath you comment, there is a link to Vridar in the comment thread, and below that link, Joe’s comment appears. Joe was responding to the link which links to Vridar’s post about himself. When someone posts a link like that in a comment, It’s called a pingback. That means that if Godfrey links to this website in a post, the ‘pingback’ to his post appears in the comments. If you click on the pingpack and read Godfrey’s post (I wouldn’t bother or waste too much time there though – he is committed to his own opinions), Joe’s comment will make sense. My comment below is also a response to Godfrey’s rather absurd, self absorbed, post in which he pretends to be what he is not, on his own blog – Vridar. Whether or not he sees out comments is irrelevant – we don’t really care. But you, Ed, are welcome here. 🙂

        very best wishes,

    • “my past wayward religious experience has taught me humility” No it hasn’t. It taught him dishonesty. And perhaps not only to others, but also to himself. Taught him humility? If it had he should have realised this post isn’t about him. He isn’t even mentioned. Humble generally goes with truthful. He’s neither. As for supposed accusations of anti Jewishness – he doesn’t get it at all. It’s nothing to do with being ‘anti Jewish’. It’s the fact that the mythicist flaw is to reject historicity, and to do that it must first ignore any humanity as a Jewish human being. The mythtical flaw is to reject the image of a godman, which is a later Christian creation of the myth of the Christ, a myth that critical scholars refuted years ago. Fundamentalist Christians aren’t anti Jewish. Many fundamentalist Christians though, particularly in certain parts of the world and especially post 2001, are anti Muslim. They generally know nothing about Islam. Those fundamentalist Christians will support Israel in its war with Islam which demonstrates even more that fundamentalist Christians are not anti Jewish. Nobody is accusing anybody of being anti Jewish let alone Godfrey of being anti anything except a historically plausible figure.

      Ironically his simpering innocence and pretentions of humility in his post all about himself (with reference to Tim), responding to a post which isn’t about him, is called a biographical note. It is not. It is self centred autobiography – and far from convincing.

      • Oh my – Unbelievable. The meister at Vridar has read the comments and copied them on his blog. I can’t work out whether he is really as vacuous as he appears. He says “Having pointed out the nonsense of her accusation that my experience somehow led me to have a problem with the Jewishness of Jesus [I had done nothing of the sort] she now suggests that her point was that being too sympathetic to Jewishness means I must be anti-Muslim …” [what????!!!!!]……

        I made neither of the accusations he pretends. First I never accused him of being anti Jewish in the first place. That was his own bizarre interpretation to the implication that a historically plausible figure, given the gospel context of Jewish first century culture, is a Jewish human being, but Godfrey, as other mythicists ignore a historically plausible figure and merely deny the Christ myth which we all know clearly didn’t exist. And the anti Muslim accusation? He’s as ‘anti Muslim’ as I am. Both he and I have independently been involved in positive ways in our own countries with Muslim groups and communities. I said that some Christian fundamentalists vote in favour of the state of Israel and support the Israeli government against Iran. Some parts of the world was an indirect to Republicans. Why try to have a conversation with a self absorbed person who seems so determined to misunderstand. He will never get it.

        What I said was “Nobody is accusing anybody of being anti Jewish let alone Godfrey of being anti anything except a historically plausible figure.” – something he appears to have [deliberately???] overlooked. Very odd fellow.

  3. Just here, I feel compelled to repeat my comment from another site, which posted a quote from “Neither God nor Man” by Earl Doherty, which, however inadvertent, expresses the all-pervasive, fundamental, indisputable fallacy of the Mythicists’ argument.
    By way of pointed emphasis, I reproduce the quote in a paraphrase making but one change: the word “Christian” is replaced with the word “Universe”: “The advent of the Internet has introduced an unprecedented ‘lay’ element of scholarship in the field – the absence of peer pressure – has meant that the study of “Universe” origins is undergoing a quantum leap in the hands of a much wider consistency than traditional academia.” (Quantum and Relativity Physics).

    • The real point of my critical use of the Doherty quote: Mythicists’ failure to take account of present understanding of our top NT Studies scholars. To illustrate:
      Our evidence for the real Jesus, his true historical significance, rests solely on the basis of the faith and witness of the apostles. This has been the traditional basis for the Authority of NT Scripture, its norm being that it contains the source of the original and originating witness to Jesus. It is the basis for recognition of the Guild of NT Studies as a legitimate discipline.
      But just here we are brought up against the fact of the fateful mistake of the Jesus tradition. The early church, in applying its criterion of canonicity, was mistaken. “We now know not only that none of the OT writings is prophetic witness to Christ in the sense in which the early church assumed them to be, but also that none of the writings of the NT is apostolic witness to Jesus as the early church itself understood apostolicity. The sufficient evidence of this point in the case of the NT writings is that all of them depend on sources, earlier than themselves, and hence are not the original and originating witness that the early church mistook them to be in judging them to be apostolic. The witness of the apostles is still rightly taken to be the real Christian norm; even if we today have to locate this norm not in the writings of the NT but in the earliest stratum of Christian witness accessible to us given our own methods and reconstruction. This Jesus-kerygma, which is very definitely (apostolic) witness even though its Christology is merely implicit, in contrast to the explicit of the Christ kerygma that we find in Paul and John and he other NT writings, represents the earliest witness of faith that we today are in a position to recover. The first step one must take in using (NT Scripture) as a theological authority is historical rather than hermeneutical. Specifically that is the step of reconstructing the history of tradition, so as thereby to identify the earliest stratum of this tradition, which is the real Christian canon by which even Scripture has whatever authority it has.” (From the article, Faith and Freedom by Schubert M. Ogden, online). It is important to understand the How and the Why of this mistake which can only be known from such a reconstruction. See my “A viable historical solution to the Jesus Puzzle – -“

  4. One of the most common complaints against Mythicism is that it is vague; that it lacks the “firm” findings. of Historicism However, I see that vagueness and lack of firmness, as a potential virtue.

    Many historicists and their allies, the believers, seek and even claim to already have, an absolute firmness, a certainty, that the facts just don’t warrent. They want to hear that at least, firmly, “Jesus is real”; Jesus existed historically. However, even the more careful HJ scholars – which at the moment, might include those quoted by Ed Jones above – acknowledge that no really firm facts are in evidence.

    And that being the case? Finally a certain openness, a certain lack of dogmatic certainty, might be far more honest to what we actually have.

    In fact, even a certain vagueness, shadowy ghostliness about where it all came from, not only is more honest, and in closer correspondence to the (themselves vague) “facts”; in many circles, this is even considered a higher theology. God being thought to be so great, that all our merely human attempts to conceptualize him, and his “mystery,” are thought to always fall short; being inevitably too simplistic … and dogmatic.

    So here a certain Christian liberal openness – now advocated by say Dr. James McGrath – might be the Christian virtue that we should pursue. Though over and above some of McGrath’s assertions, the better expression of that openness to the Larger Complexity … would not be Historicism … but Mythicism.

    In a sense, Mythicism to be sure always aims – if possible – to tack things down; to generate the kind of firmly proven sketch of the provenance of the Jesus legend, with all facts and archeological and scientific evidence, in place. But if it doesn’t quite do that? Then in a sense, it has not failed. And indeed, it is better prepared to find little. Since it knew all along, better than anyone, that the facts have never been firmly in evidence. And that in the end we have nothing more substantial than “shadows.” Or “ghosts.” Or … “Myths.”

    If you see a “shadow”? Maybe that is God himself, after all. Not the dramatic, showy, concrete. lurid Sunday School illustrations of zombie resurrections; but at most a “still small” and hardly-discernable voice. Or say, a slight illumination around and within ordinary objects….

    • Of course, not even a bone or an inscription is a “firm” fact, and a bone of Jesus would be discnfirmation of the gospel anyway. Between fact and myth there is a huge array of possibility; this is a process, not a light switch.

    • Brettoagoreta, Your reference to my comment leads me to add this and a follow up comment from another site.
      Mythicists: Imagine, do but imagine, Doherty’s quote above stated in the nonsensical context of the discipline of Quantum and Relativity Physics, over against the daily critical out pouring, with reckless abandon, evidencing complete disregard for the Guild of NT Studies having any legitimacy as a discipline, its scholars rationally deficient, faith led. Keying Earl’s Reply: “Thanks, Ed. Believe me, by now we’ve gotten your point.” To Earl’s credit, this is followed by Neil’s Reply for Earl, listing some of Earl’s arguments which are strikingly consistent, as far as they go, with significant points made in my reconstruction of origins of Jesus traditions, Ed Jones Dialogue -Vridar. However for Earl, this all seems to lead to quite different conclusions.
      Against the all too evident general misunderstanding of the Guild’s traditional basis of historical authority, I again repeat: the Guild, the oldest formal discipline, has consistently functioned on the conviction of two premises: the reality of God and the Authority of Scripture. As to the first, I make this aside: The history of history’s irrefutable fact that a significant number of the world’s finest thinkers, including a number of our most notable scientist were confirmed Theists. Including the founders and grand theorists of modern quantum and relativity physics: Einstein, Schroedinger, Heisenberg, Bohr, Eddington, Pauli, de Brogue, Jeans, and Planck. At least to say theists stands in highest intellectual company.
      As to the latter, the Authority of Scripture: The historical norm for the canon of Scripture being the sources judged to be apostolic witness to Jesus, the original and originating faith and witness of the apostles, eyewitnesses to Jesus. This was the sufficient evidence for Jesus based on the claim of the church fathers. Until the Enlightenment, there was little to question the church’s understanding of apostolic authority. With the historicism of the nineteenth century, the historicity of the apostolicity of traditional canon was raised. Specifically in the challenge of Reimarus (1750): The Christ of faith was not the historical Jesus. “Search the Scriptures and see if Christianity is not based on an historical mistake.” Indeed the early church fathers had made a fateful mistake in judging the Scriptural sources of apostolic witness. So began the 200 year plus Quest for the Real Jesus.

      • The above post continued.
        The premise of the Authority of Scripture, the basis for the conviction that the norm of the NT canon was apostolic witness, has traditionally been taken as the reliable source for knowledge about Jesus. With Reimarus’ challenge, the Christ of faith is not the Jesus of history, the Quest for the real Jesus began. For the first 200 yrs. it took the form of Neo-Orthodoxy, an apologetic attempts to extract the real canon from traditional canon. Not until the 80s was it finally fully acknowledged (by our top NT scholars) that “we now know, given our present historical methods and knowledge, not only that none of the OT writings is prophetic witness to Jesus in the sense in which the early church assumed them to be, but also that none of the writings of the NT is apostolic witness to Jesus as the early church itself understood apostolicity”. (Schubert Ogden). Further, they have identified our most certain NT source of apostolic witness to the real Jesus, “an alternative to known above all from the letters of Paul, the Gospels, as well as the later writings of the NT’ (Hans Dieter Betz). Hence we now understand how the “Jesus Puzzle” developed from this fateful mistake of the early church in missjudging the sources of apostolic witness. We can now know not only the details of the How and the Why of this historical mistake, but even more significantly, now can identify our most certain source of apostolic witness to the real Jesus, our source for knowledge of who he was and what he was about. This calls for a new reconstruction of origins of post crucifixion Jesus traditions for the period 30 CE-65 CE, before Christianity, before the Gospels, partly before Paul. This makes the term “Christian Origins” a misnomer. Christian was first used of Barnabus and Paul’s mission in Antioch, it was never used of the Jerusalem Jesus Movement. More later.
        This constitutes the Guild of NT Studies’ counter to the Mythicists argument: THE SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE FOR THE EXISTENCE OF JESUS IS THE NEW TESTAMENT APOSTOLIC WITNESS. I.e. The evidence rests “solely on the basis of their (the apostles) prior faith and witness”. (Schubert M. Ogden).
        In a comment on Vridar which included this last paragraph, PW replied: “Smartest thing I have read yet”. Both were removed within hours without explanation.

  5. An excellent piece, Dr Hoffmann! By all means, let’s spread the blame around a bit.

    This is a bit offtopic, but, as you express once again your dislike for Dawkin’s writing on religion, I wonder what you think of his writing on zoology? The Selfish Gene is wonderful, despite its terrible title and some staggeringly stupid remarks to the effect that attempts before Charles Darwin to define mankind are worthless. Dawkins himself, while his appreciation of the learning of past ages may still be lagging a bit, in the decades since the book was published has almost admitted that its title is unfortunate. And The Ancestor’s Tale, a sort of Canterbury Tales moving from the present back in time to humankind’s earliest-known ancestor’s, is equally impressive.

    • I know Richard; like him personally; wish he had stuck to science and much admire the clarity of his science writing. He has always dabbled in theology a bit, or at least the debate about God’s existence, esp in the 1990’s and much of the book are his warmed up lecture notes from those debates.

  6. Mythicism is indeed inherently anti-Jewish. Non-Jewish scholars have endeavored to sever Christ and the New Testament from Judaism, and mythicism is part of this tendency. It is the ultimate extension of what one scholar has called “the ultimate Western fantasy – that Christ had not, in fact, been a Jew” (Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture, and Race by Robert Young, p. 85). This de-Judaizing of Christ and the New Testament is, according to some scholars, part of the thought complex that led to the Holocaust. As one writer puts it, “[T]he treatment of Jesus in scholarship, and thereby in churches as well, had an indirect influence in preparing people to think of Jesus as disconnected from Judaism and therefore to separate the two in making moral evaluations” (The historical Jesus in the twentieth century, 1900-1950 / Walter P. Weaver, p. 256). All this dovetails neatly with the current vogue of anti-Israel Left Fascism.

    • The assertion that Mythicism is “anti-Jewish” is an all-too- common calumny.

      The fact is that Jesus himself often began to suggest that non-Jews could enter into covenant with God; as Jesus noted that a Roman centurion for example, might have more “faith” than a native of Israel. So that Jesus himself, was beginning the process of increasing emphasis on Gentiles. One that was not anti-semetic; but that would broaden the scope of Judaism, to include Gentiles, and Gentile ides.

      In fact,there are countless signs that the New Testament itself was attempting to broaden the appeal of Judaism; appealing to the “gentiles,” the goyem, the non-Jews. Paul especially, is at pains to show that the non-Jew, the “Greek,” can be “heir” to the promises of the Jewish God, simply by believing and having “faith”; without being Jewish, or literally circumcised “according to the flesh.” While indeed, Christianity was to distinguish itself from Judaism as a “different” religion, in that it essentially, hellenized Judaism; and allowed non-Jews (and non-Jewish ideas) to enter into covenant with God.

      Many elements of traditional Christianity itself at times to be sure, attempted to cut themselves off from the Jewish roots of their religion; the Old Testament and so forth. In favor of a “new covenant.” But finally Christianity itself of course was not “anti-semetic”; but simply attempted to broaden out Judaism, by allowing the Gentiles, non Jews, to interact with God. Shifting some emphasis from being biologically Jewish, to a kind of “faith” that could include many different ethnicities.

      Mythicism likewise does not denigrate Judaism and the Old Testament; but rather follows the attempt to ALSO integrate into the covenant, Gentiles and their culture as well.

      As did Jesus himself.

      • “The fact is that Jesus himself often began to suggest that non-Jews could enter into covenant with God; as Jesus noted that a Roman centurion for example, might have more “faith” than a native of Israel.” How would this be germane; who would be this “Jesus jimself” if he is a mere cipher?

  7. Simply put: Mythicism notes the influence of myths on Christianity; especially the influence of Greco-Roman or hellenistic stories and myths. For this reason in part, it is often accused of 1) “failing to see” the truly Jewish nature of Jesus. At times it is even accused of 2) “anti-semitism.”

    But it is not inherently anti-Jewish, to simply call attention to the influence of Greco-Roman thought on Christianity.

    Nor does Mythicism noting Greco-Roman and ANE influence on Jesus “fail to see” the absolutely and purely Jewish side of Jesus. In fact it demonstates that the “Jesus” of the New Testament was himself rather hellenized, and was not entirely, conservatively and strictly “Jewish” at all.

    There were many, many gentile influences on Jesus.

    • Who or what do I think Jesus was? Mythicism asserts he is a fiction, a myth.

      Though here I am defending Mythicism often, note that I will at times – for the sake of convenience, and conventionality – refer to “Jesus” as if he was a real, even historical person. Though it should be understood that in effect I use the term to stand for a character; one that might be true – or might be fictional. The usual term in History and Folkloristics/Mythography, for this kind of person, is to say that he is a “legend” or “legendary.”

      In any case, we can refer to fictional characters at times as if they were real: as when we say “Zeus was seen appearing in the clouds, by all the people of Athens.” Or when someone quotes “Dr House” from the TV show, etc..

      So why though, why would I at times seem to attach importance to what the character “Jesus” says at times? Dr. McGrath in his blog notes that in liberal Christianity as he presently defines it, Jesus might be a mythical character. And yet, Jesus is still be presumed to have some importance I might add; since many myths after all, contain deep truths. (Intermixed, albeit, with many falsehoods too).

      Sometimes to indicate that “Jesus” is in phenomenological brackets, or that his status as real is precisely what is in question here and elsewhere, I also at times just put the name in quotes: “Jesus.” Or at times I refer to the “legendary Jesus,” say. When we need to emphasize his provisional status.

      To be objective I feel that the current Jesus investigation, should not just from the start present this entity as presumed to be fully real, as conventionally described. Since that would be begging much of the question at hand.

    • That is almost a matter for surprise…. There were Greek teachers and philosophers there, and it is scarcely conceivable that Jesus should have been entirely unacquainted with their language. But that he was in any way influenced by them, that he was ever in touch with the thoughts of Plato or the Stoa, even though it may have been only in some popular redaction, it is absolutely impossible to maintain.–Das Wesen des Christentums / Adolph Harnack, p. 28 [my translation].

      • It is too bad that Harnack cannot see the very considerable cross-cultural stratum of Greco-Roman influenced Jews. Who included no less famous contemporaries than Philo, Herod, and later Paul and Josephus. Some of whom at times worked with Greeks and Romans, and were clearly influenced by their culture.

        By the way, if Jesus was in Egypt to avoid being killed by Herod, he might even have met, even been taught by, his 20-years-older Hellenistic Jewish contemporary, Philo. In Alexandria, Egypt. A major city full of Hellenized Jews.

        These are just a few of the probably tens of thousands of Hellenized, Romanized Jews that Harnack finds impossible to see or imagine.

  8. Jesus “himself” in this case would be say: 1) the Jesus indicated by at least “red-letter” words said to have been spoken by Jesus himself in the NT. Deeper than that, we might look for 2) words which are thought by historicists, to be the “real” Jesus. Or specifically say 3) words which seem to be from plausibly authentic Jesus traditions; like the “Q” source.

    But for that matter? Note that Q is described as a stoic or “Cynic” philosopher/sage; but the Cynical philosophy (“blessed are the poor” etc.), is in turn, from a fellow student, with Plato, of Socrates. Antisthenes by name.
    So that if Q reflects the oldest and most authentic “Jesus” we have? Then Jesus, even in the earliest manifestations we can presently discern, seems influenced by Greek philosophy/myths/culture. Especially Platonism.

    Again, the deepest “Jesus” we can present discern, seems not to be purely Jewish; but is hellenized, Platonistic. Even in Q material.

  9. BG,

    The Q hypothesis eliminates all early tradition in Mark’s gospel which appears in Matthew and/or Luke. It excludes therefore very Jewish material such as the apocalyptic sayings which appear in all three synoptic gospels where Matthew and Luke have followed Mark. The historical Jesuses constructed on the assumption that the double tradition material in Matthew and Luke represent the earliest tradition, are historically implausible and not a remotely like a first century Jewish teacher/prophet, but more like a completely unique, and ridiculously implausible ‘cynic-like’ person who isn’t very Jewish. Conveniently Doherty accepts the existence of Q uncritically. The Jesus of Q is historically implausible and clearly not a particularly Jewish Jew at all.

    In any case, the Q hypothesis is a hypothesis based on the assumption that it exists, and evidence is squeezed and stretched to fit. Double tradition material in common order and close verbal agreement, appears with material which has no common order and virtually no verbal agreement at all, simply because it is double tradition and not shared by Mark. It has been refuted many times and only lives in the scholarship of the Q scholars themselves whose careers now depend on it.

    Red letter sayings??? This is an irrelevant concept invented by some Christians. It is not a ‘fact’ that Jesus said that there was no greater faith in Israel than that of the centurion. I don’t think the arguments for its historicity are convincing. But even assuming it is historical and other saying attributed to Jesus which speak to Gentiles are historical also, this does not amount to Gentile inclusion in the Jewish covenant. For example, the context of the centurion story is important. The centurion says he doesn’t need Jesus to go and heal because he just has to say the word. No Jewish person would have believed that, probably not even Jesus would have claimed to have that power, so Jesus’ response was a natural response. It has nothing whatever to do with later admission of Gentiles into a Christian community which was no longer Jewish. With Paul, you have moved to the Christianity which evolved after the Jewish tradition Jesus taught.

    • So Stephanie Fisher rejects Q theory, and its potential description of Jesus, as “ridiculously implausible.” On the grounds in part, that its potential Jesus is not entirely Jewish.

      But that is exactly the point.

      Nor obviously is a “Cynic” sage Jesus impossible; since the Cynic philosophy was available, from c. 300 BC, through the Greco-Roman culture that, in the time of Jesus, occupied Jerusalem. And that might be expected therefore, to have influence in and around “Jesus.”

      • The trouble is that you have eliminated the earliest evidence. The double tradition does not include the earliest evidence such as some of the material of the Gospel of Mark, which provides massive evidence of the Jewish environment of Jesus, the Jewish nature of his teaching, and the Aramaisms of which Mark is full. This is supported by parts of Matthew and Luke as well.

        This has nothing to do with whether it was possible to have a Jewish cynic in Jerusalem.

        The lingua franca of Israel was Aramaic. There would have been little point Jesus teaching to the people of the countryside in Hebrew. He may well have spoken to the scribes and Pharisees in Hebrew but we do not know this as we are not told. That teaching in Aramaic would in any way conflict with the religion of Judaism, is just nonsense. That my evidence and argument is narrowly focused or solely dependent on Aramaic evidence is purely your own imagination. Just because you choose to contradict Aramaic evidence, it is you who have conflated it and ignored everything else. Aramaic evidence only forms part of our arguments which include evidence from Judaism and Hebrew texts as well as Greek ones.

        I do wish you’d apply yourself to learning and an appropriate education in history instead of persistently speculating and cherry picking, and then spinning your long uninformed sermons here.

  10. Barratt Pashak,
    Mythicism is not inherently ‘anti Jewish’ at all. The myth theory came out of the nineteenth century, provoked by liberal Protestant German scholarship which was anti Judaism, but it wasn’t til the Nazi Christian scholarship around the second world war that the historical Jesus became a pale skinned blue eyed Aryan ‘Christian’. Post war scholarship came to recognise the prejudice and restore Jesus’ Jewish identity. See for example Maurice Casey, ‘Who’s Afraid of Jesus Christ? Some Comments on Attempts to Write a Life of Jesus’ in James Crossley and Christian Karner (editors) “Writing History, Constructing Religion” (Ashgate 2005). Casey looks at the impact of a Christian discipline and Nazism on the scholarly quest for the historical Jesus. There are still some particularly conservative Christian scholars, who concede Jesus’ Jewish, but present him as unique, and not particularly Jewish at all. This myth is strengthened by the assumption of the existence of Q, a hypthetical sayings source stripped of all the Jewish sayings present in all three synoptic gospels. The modern mythicism as inherited a non Jewish Jesus, a Christ myth which is easy to refute as historically implausible.

    What on earth is “the current vogue of anti-Israel Left Fascism” other than oxymoronic? Mythicism today is not inherently anti Jewish. It is anti historical and perpetuates a not very Jewish and not very human mythical figure, but mythicists themselves are not ‘anti Jewish’. Opposition to the right wing/Republican/conservative Christian support of a political state of Israel has nothing to do with anti semiticism and is completely irrelevant to the mythicist view.

    • I am sorry, Steph, but the connection between mythicism and de-Judaizing Liberal scholarship is quite clear:

      So the sources were already being subjected to severely critical evaluation, so much so that the question could arise as to just how much of a historical figure actually lay behind them. This was the door opened by the liberal criticism, and through it marched the likes of Arthur Drews, William Benjamin Smith, and John M. Robertson.–The historical Jesus in the twentieth century, 1900-1950 / Walter P. Weaver, p. 49.

      This is part of a Left Fascism that is far more insidiously evil than the fundamentalist Christianity it purports to attack. The attack on the historicity (ie. Jewishness) of Christ and the attack on the state of Israel are nothing more than genteel versions of the same old anti-semitism.

      • Uh huh – so how does this contradict what I wrote? Historical Jesus scholarship until 1950? It doesn’t so far as I can see but it does not support any implication that today’s mythicists are anti Jewish simply because they have inherited a non Jewish figure which came out of older scholarship.

        As for the latter paragraph – you have not justified your oxymoron nor any of your accusations at all. I don’t approve of Netanyahu or anyone’s ‘war on Islam’. I am not ‘anti Jewish’ or anti semitic and it would be completely ridiculous to suggest I am. So don’t.

      • Post-Holocaust scholarship still has not really assimilated Christ the Jew, as one of its leading lights himself attests:

        Q So what was the matrix within which Jesus lived?

        A As long as the world was thought to be entirely Christian, it worked to think of Jesus in a strictly Christian matrix. But after the Holocaust, Jews said, “But Jesus was a Jew.” So we said, “Okay, okay,” and we put him back in a Jewish matrix. That was just polite. No big deal.

        Interview with John Dominic Crossan

        I would also point out that the Jewish reclamation of Christ began long before the Holocaust. As Risto Santala relates:

        Nowadays there is a keen interest in the person of Jesus in Israel. The first one among Jewish scholars who opened this positive approach was Constantin Brunner. In 1921 he created the motto: “Bring us back our Jesus!” “Die Heimholung Jesu” does not, however, mean the same understanding, as we have. After his motto he claimed, that “our Messiah has equally little to do with the Christ of the Christianity as the constellation of the bear has to do with the beast in its name”.

        It seems to me that Gentile scholars today want a Christ who is Jewish, but not too Jewish.

  11. Perhaps rather than appealing to Crossan(?!) or any others belonging to
    the notorious Westar Jesus Seminar to support your accusations… (“Gentile” scholars???? who invented the concept of ‘Gentile scholars’?) how about examining contemporary critical scholarship. First become acquainted with the scholarship of Geza Vermes. Then try the book I pointed to above edited by Crossley and Karner, and Crossley’s ‘Jesus in an Age of Terror’
    and Crossley’s newly published ‘Jesus in an Age of Neoliberalism’ ‘Judaism, Jewish Identities and the Gospel Tradition’, and even Maurice Casey, “Jesus of Nazareth” (T&T Clark, 2010) with ‘From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God’ (WJK 1991) for luck. But still, while some liberal and conservative scholarship perpetuates a “Jewish but not too Jewish” (Crossley said that a long time ago) Jesus, not Jewish enough, you cannot accuse scholarship of ‘anti-semiticism’, let alone contemporary mythicism too. It does not follow.

    • Apparently, Crossley agrees with me and Crossan:

      The end results of contemporary scholarship are not dramatically different from the results of the anti-Jewish and antisemitic scholarship of much of the twentieth century.–from the blurb for Jesus in an age of Terror.

      The only antidote for the persistent anti-Judaism of non-Jewish Bible scholarship is to actually read Jewish scholarship on the subject. Vermes is fine for a starting point. However, as one reviewer points out, “Dr Vermes admits that this book needs to be supplemented by a consideration of the teaching of Jesus, yet to be done.” For this, you really need to read Our Christ, by Constantin Brunner, something that, to my knowledge, no contemporary scholar has done.

  12. As for Casey, he, too, detects a whiff of anti-Jewishness in some recent scholarship:

    Arnal suggests that outstanding American scholars such as Chilton, Frederiksen and Sanders conform Jesus to the figure of an ‘Eastern European Jew’ to distance themselves from anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism in previous scholarship. He objects to ‘a Jesus who was circumcised, who had a recognizably Jewish name…I.e. Yehoshua or Yeshua…If multiple attestation tells us anything, it is that Jesus’ name was, in fact, Jesus.’ [Cipher Judaism in historical Jesus Scholarship] This is exactly the sort of rejection of Jesus’ Jewishness to which scholars such as Frederiksen and Sanders have properly objected, and Arnal’s use of the criterion of multiple attestation is quite bizarre. With arguments of this kind, Arnal’s allegation that outstanding scholars have the ‘Eastern European Jew’ at the centre of their reconstructions of the historical Jesus never appears plausible.–Jesus of Nazareth: An independent historian’s account of his life and teaching / Maurice Casey, p. 24.

  13. Actually BP, Crossley and Casey agree with me. They discuss the extremes and mistakes and prejudices in scholarship. You are making broad general accusations and using scholarship that was written in a context now out of date to justify your accusations against all contemporary scholarship.

  14. The accusation of “anti-semitism” against any and all scholars who note Greco-Roman influence in Christianity and Jesus, is simply unjustified drama. Indeed, the two most common accusations against anyone you don’t like on the Internet, probably include the accusation they are “Nazis.” (No doubt to be sure, some Nazis misused the classicists’ view of Christianity; but anyone can misuse something good. The accusation that Mythicsts are “all Nazis” therefore, is not credible).

    The Bible itself CONSTANTLY shows Jesus influenced by non-Jewish ideas. Even if we reject Q material as the earliest record of Jesus, and follow Mark, we still see many signs of Jesus, in Roman-occupied Jerusalem, turning against elements of Judaism; in favor of what are in effect, Gentile practices.

    1) For example, in Mark 2.23 ff, Jesus is pictured working, gathering food on a Sabbath; even though that was prohibited by the Old Testament God, on pain of death. To be sure, Jesus offers a midrashic-style justification for this; but the end is to change a major Jewish Old Testament tradition.

    Then next 2) in Mark 3.31 ff, Jesus begins to suggest that you don’t have to be biologically Jewish, to be saved; opening the way for Gentiles to enter into fellowship with Jesus. As next 3) Jesus notes that he is a prophet not acknowledged in his own country, or in effect his own Jewish countrymen (5.4).

    In fact, Jesus crosses so many Jewish laws that 4) soon enough, Jesus is in fact in trouble with conservative Jews; the “scribes and Pharisees” (7.1-13). While indeed, 5) the Jews are not only convinced themselves he is not authentically, conventionally Jewish; they finally execute him for that. Which 6) seems reasonable, given Jesus beginning to drop next, the traditional Jewish food prohibitions in Mark 7.14-23, As next, 7) Jesus at first rejects a “Greek” non-Jewish woman; but then finds her acceptable and heals her 7.25-30. And as 8) Jesus founds the Eucharist … with a very un-Jewish command that you must drink his blood to be saved. (Jewish kosher meat normally being drained before consumption, etc.).14.24.

    So that finally far from Jews of the time validating Jesus as a Jew, 8) the Jewish high priest no less, accuses Jesus of “blasphemy” against Judaism (15.63).

    These eight examples or so, are just a few of the dozens of examples of Jesus’ embrace of non-Jewish, essentially Gentile ideas, even in the text of the Gospel of Mark. To come up with the assertion that Jesus was wholly Jewish, and was in no way influenced by say Greco-Roman thought, therefore, you have to cross out an awful lot of evidence to the contrary, even in Mark.

    • These eight examples, do not present examples of “Jesus’ embrace of non-Jewish, essentially Gentile ideas” at all. For plenty of evidence with argument to the contrary which I will not summarise here, see Maurice Casey, Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel (Society for New Testament Studies, Monograph Series 102; Cambridge: University Press, 1998) and James Crossley, The Date of Mark’s Gospel: Insight from the Law in Earliest Christianity (Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 266; London: T&T Clark, 2004). Etcetera, etcetera etcetera.

  15. Steph:

    Jesus breaks/changes/finesses one Jewish law after another, after another. So that finally Jesus is executed by the Jews of his time. For not being, in their judgement, a good Jew.

    For 2,000 years, it has been continually argued in common sermons, that Jesus was not breaking any Jewish laws; by his own arguments in part. But here? I’ve just listed about eight major, striking, shocking conflicts between Jesus and Jewish tradition, just in the Gospel of Mark alone. Including – no less – Jesus breaking/changing one of the Ten Commandments. (The one against working on a Sabbath; breaking Jewish law in favor of gentile/Greco Roman practice). Shockingly in fact, the Jews of Jesus’ time – who should know what is Jewish – not only do not validate Jesus as a good Jew. But on the contrary, the Jewish authorities of Jesus’ time constantly object to Jesus – for breaking one Jewish law after another. So that finally they execute Jesus for blasphemy against the Jewish traditions.

    Jesus finally is executed by authorites of his own time – for not being a good Jew. It seems clear to me therefore, that the “Ballad of the Wholly Jewish Jesus” has been sung far too long, among all too many too-evangelical scholars. As they support a view of Jesus that has ignored far, far, far too much Biblical evidence.

    (Incidentally: to my list of eight major conflicts between Judaism and Jesus, you might add to these eight, the fact that the New Testament was written in Greek. And not Aramaic. Suggesting massive control of the New Testament by … Greek culture, more than any other. More than Jewish culture.)

    1) So it is time to broaden our review of scholarship. Why keep citing just one scholar – Maurice Casey – and his limited findings? For that matter, Steph, surely you know perfectly well that there are hundreds of scholarly assertions of Greco-Roman influence on Jesus. Not least of all, was Joe Hoffmann’s simple reference to such influences, on this very blog.

    2) For the sake of those blog readers not familiar with the literature, or who do not have online access to a scholarly library – why not present brief summaries, the substance of the arguments Steph merely mention, or reference? I believe Steph is presenting bare citations, and that she is not re-presenting the actual arguments – because deep down, she knows how thin the arguments against Greco-Roman influence on Jesus, really are. Merely telling readers to go read a library full of books, which – as Steph improperly assets – will back her up, uniquely, is a mere dodge; not scholarship.

    3) Generations of everyday ministers have presented a million sermons (literally) to try to “harmonize” Jesus and the New Testament, with Old Testament – and in effect, jewish – tradition. Finally though we should not be overly influenced by those all-too-unscholarly harmonizations. The fact is that there are enormous conflicts between Jesus and Jewish culture. Conflicts which finally resulted in the crucifixion of Jesus by the Jews of his time; for Jesus’ heresy, apostasy against Jewish tradition.

  16. Bretton Garcia.

    You aren’t discussing texts and historical traditions. You’re assuming the gospel material is verbatim Jesus and literally true history. You’re muddling up history with later tradition like a biblical literalist. The problem with you not bothering to read the critical scholarship is that you pontificate your long sermons here which are full of mistakes and assumptions with no evidence or support. This is not a pulpit provided for you to preach from and expect to be received as pronouncer of some sort of ‘gospel truth’. I gave you two scholars who are current experts in Jewish tradition and law. The New Testament reflects Greco Roman influences – the historical Jesus tradition does not. You don’t appear to have the critical tools to differentiate between early material and later Christian accretions to the text, nor do you understand Jewish Law. Please preach your sermons to the mythicists but don’t sing and dance here. “For 2,000 years, it has been continually argued in common sermons, that Jesus was not breaking any Jewish laws; by his own arguments in part…” Really? I suggest you in need of a course on church history. This totally contradicts the traditional teaching of the Christian church.

    Your examples of Jesus influenced by non-Jewish ideas are full of mistakes. I keep citing Casey and Crossley because in the last few years they have done so much to locate Jesus within Judaism, Casey has particularly included the Aramaic sources of Mark’s Gospel, and he has recently written Jesus of Nazareth (T&T Clark, 2010) which summarises all this work for general readers like you. You ought to read these books, they do not amount to a whole library, and I cannot summarise all the reasons why you are mistaken in a blog comment. This is not a forum for your preaching and those to pontificate while unwilling to read or listen. You have accused Hoffmann of suggesting a historical Jesus himself was influenced by non Jewish tradition, rather that Christian tradition demonstrating these influences, which is what I have said, without obviously providing references to him making such claims.

    For example, Mark 2.23-28 is full of Jewish assumptions and evidence of an Aramaic source. It does not picture Jesus as ‘working’ by ‘gathering food on a Sabbath’, as ‘prohibited by the Old Testament God on pain of death’. It pictures some people described as his ‘disciples’ plucking grain on the Sabbath. They were taking ‘Peah’, the grain left at the edges of fields for the poor in accordance with Lev. 19.9-10 and eating it because they were on the verge of starvation. Jesus defended them with purely Jewish arguments, ending with a son of man statement which makes proper sense in Aramaic (Casey, Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel, pp.138-73, summarised at Jesus of Nazareth, pp.321-3). The bible does not say whether taking ‘Peah’ was allowed on the Sabbath or not, and the dispute is typical in one point, it was Pharisees who were very strict about the interpretation of the Law, whereas Jesus, as a first century Jewish prophet, defended these disciples by taking a more liberal view of biblical interpretation.

    Again, at Mark 3.31ff Jesus does not ‘begin to suggest that you don’t have to be biologically Jewish to be saved’. This was a Jewish meeting, at which Jesus was told that his mother and brothers were looking for him. He looked round at his (Jewish) disciples and said ‘Behold, my mother and my brothers, for whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother’. This ties Jesus to faithful and observant Jews, and has nothing to do with Gentiles, who were not present and not mentioned.

    At Mark 6.1-6, Jesus has come from beside the sea of Galilee, where he healed the daughter of a synagogue leader, to his hometown. This is obviously Nazareth, where Jesus is known as ‘the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of Jacob and Joses and Judah and Simeon’ and the inhabitants also comment ‘And are not his sisters here with us?’ This is why Jesus said ‘a prophet is not without honour except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his house’. Mark reports that he was not able to do much healing there, one of the centres of his ministry in Capernaum and elsewhere in Galilee. This has nothing to do with Gentiles either.

    Your worst example is the last one, where you refer to ‘the crucifixion of Jesus by the Jews of his time; for Jesus’ heresy, apostasy against Jewish traditions’. Jesus was not crucified ‘by the Jews of his time’. This is extraordinary and outrageous anti Jewish prejudice belonging to conservative Christianity and the source for anti semiticism. It demonstrates complete lack of understanding of the history of anything. Crucifixion was a Roman penalty, and Jesus was crucified by Roman soldiers after being condemned by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilatus. He had the charge ‘king of the Jews’ affixed to Jesus’ cross, so he was effectively condemned by the Roman governor as a Jewish bandit. His dispute with the chief priests was a dispute between the Jewish prophetic tradition on the one hand, and the authoritative running of Judaism centred on the Temple in Jerusalem. This has nothing to do with Gentiles either (see Casey, Jesus of Nazareth, chs 9 and 11).

    All your examples are just as faulty as these. You should read some scholarship, instead of pontificating from the perspective of your prejudices.

  17. Bretton, I think you are conflating Hellenistic/Roman influence on the Gospels with Hellenistic/Roman influences on Jesus himself. Several of the examples listed above are patently ahistorical (the conviction for blasphemy and the eucharist, for instance) and others are merely tendentious attempts to characterize what was fairly normal prophetic teaching as “law breaking.” Jesus is consistently portrayed as presenting his teachings as a correct understanding of the law, not as a rejection of it. For instance, the “sabbath was made for man” story was not a rejection of the Sabbath, but a denial that the Sabbath had been broken. His argument was that it was permissible to break the Sabbath to save a life.

    You mention other examples that are merely part of Mark’s overriding agenda to say that the Gentiles were the true heirs of Jesus because the Jews rejected him.

    Greco-Roman influence is all over the post-Pauline (and arguably even on the Pauline) development of Christianity, but they are redactional influences, not inceptional ones. They do not describe the real life of HJ himself.

    • In the Old Testament elaboration of the meaning and strictness of the probibition on working, even preparing food on the Sabbath, an incident is narrated in which a man is found collecting “sticks” of wood on a Sabbath. That man is executed.

      For various reasons, Christians try to finesse and “twist” this. Even the early Christians tried to come up with Jewish/midrashic reasons to allow some work on the sabbath. Some of these modifications of Jewish law, seem reasonable to us today. But the fact remains, that these modifications were made. And made furthermore, by arguments that were not strictly, Old Testament/Torah reasoning. But “prophetic” as you suggest? Or perhaps after all, Hellenistic. Since strict Judaism was being modified in a way that would accomodate Greco-Roman practices.

      Which might be expected; since Jerusalem had been a Roman province since 64 BC.

      Are these descriptions of a Hellenistic Jesus really the historical Jesus himself? That is what we need to determine here, by allowing open investigation into these subject. These very events, first of all, ARE in what many scholars take to be the earliest gospel of Mark.

      Simply going into Denial, and suppressing this information, in effect will be found to be the Denial of Jesus himself.

      • Your ‘examples’ of Greco Roman influence on Jesus above are full of mistakes. This has been pointed out to you in some detail. You have misinterpreted the evidence – ‘twisted’ it – to fit your assumptions. Simply going into ‘denial’, refusing to listen, and read the scholarship and recognise your commitment to your own prejudiced presumptions, is effectively a denial of Jesus’ Jewishness. The law was ‘modified’ by Pharisees etc with whom Jesus debated. But Jesus does not break Jewish law in the earliest tradition. You are merely imposing these modifications on Jesus because you do not understand the evidence, you cannot read texts and you insist on refusing to read critical scholarship. Simply parroting your previous mistakes is tedious.

  18. My conclusions have evolved and I have changed my mind in the process of discussion and debate with critical people of learning and scholarship, who have convincing arguments supported with evidence. Years ago I found aspects of a simplistic hypothesis convincing but I have since been convinced otherwise by new evidence presented and analysed in a critical scholarly way. The problem with some people committed to argument is that they are unwilling to listen and learn and read themselves and instead, express their opinionated ideas without evidence and argument or having read current critical scholarship in a learned way. The result is generally complete hypocritical uninformed nonsense, circular speculation based on contradiction and pure rhetoric.

  19. Eric Zuesse in the first scientific historical probe of the writings of the New Testament states the problematic of Christianity the best (even if he fails to read the fact that Jesus traditions did not begin with Christianity – the fact that for the period 30 CE to 65 CE there were two separate movements having completely different interpretation of the significance of the Jesus event, marked by an extreme adversarial relationship: the first the Jerusalem Jesus movement, soon followed by a Jewish Hellenist group inventing the notion of the salvific effects of the death and resurrection, from which Paul received his Christ myth gospel):
    “What’s known today as Christianity started with Paul, and was then developed by his followers who wrote the canonical Gospels and the rest of the NT.. The religion of the NT actually has nothing to do with the person of the historical Jesus. The NT was written and assembled to fulfill Paul’s Roman agenda not Jesus’s Jewish one. This is shown to explain th4 entire Christian myth.”.

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