The Jesus Process: Maurice Casey

Mythicism: A Story of Bias, Incompetence and Falsehood

Copyright (c) 2012, Maurice Casey

One of the most remarkable features of public discussion of Jesus of Nazareth in the twenty-first century has been a massive upsurge in the view that this important historical figure did not even exist. This view, unknown in the ancient world, became respectable during the formative period of critical scholarship in the nineteenth century, when it was no longer possible for recent Christian opinions to be taken for granted among educated European scholars. Because of its scholarly presentation, with as much evidence and argument as could reasonably be expected at that time, this view was much discussed by other learned people. In the later twentieth century, competent New Testament scholars believed that it had been decisively refuted in a small number of readily available books, supported in scholarly research by commentaries and many occasional comments in scholarly books.[1]

The presentation of this view has changed radically in recent years, led by hopelessly unlearned people. It has two major features. One is rebellion against traditional Christianity, especially in the form of fundamentalism. The second is the massive contribution of the internet. Unlike published scholarly work, the internet is uncontrolled and apparently uncontrollable. Two of the most influential writers of published work advocating the mythicist view, that is, the view that Jesus was not a historical figure, but rather a myth, appeal directly to an audience on the internet.

In Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, Earl Doherty, one of most influential of these mythicists, has commented:

The advent of the Internet has introduced an unprecedented “lay” element of scholarship to the field….the absence of peer pressure and constraints of academic tenure, has meant that the study of Christian origins is undergoing a quantum leap in the hands of a much wider constituency than traditional academia…

Commenting further on his website and his previous book, he added,

The primary purpose of both site and book was to reach the open-minded ‘lay’ audience…[2]

This is as inaccurate as possible. The internet audience is ‘lay’, but it is not open-minded. It has both ‘Christian apologists’, whom mythicists love to hate, and atheists who are determinedly anti-Christian. Both groups consist largely of people with closed minds who are impervious to evidence and argument, a quite different world from the critical scholars among whom I am happy to have spent most of my life, whether they were Christian, Jewish or irreligious. We were not concerned by ‘peer pressure’ or the ‘constraints of academic tenure’, except that we were united by an absolute determination to oppose any threat to the academic freedom of people in our universities, regardless of status, colour, race, religion or creed.

Doherty was born in Canada in 1941. He was brought up as a Catholic.  He comments, ‘I became an atheist at the age of 19…’. Doherty claims to hold a B.A. with distinction in Ancient History and Classical Languages, but he does not say at what institution he obtained it, and his ability to read texts accurately seems very limited. When he has read any critical scholarship, Doherty is hopelessly out of date. For example he announces that Mark contains ‘many anachronisms. It is generally agreed, for example, that there is no evidence for synagogues (in which Jesus is regularly said to preach) in Galilee forty years prior to the Jewish War….’[3] This relies on out of date scholarship, which Sanders saw straight through, and which critical scholars no longer believer in.[4] By 2009, Doherty should have known better, including the archaeological remains of synagogues at Gamla, Herodium and Masada, and the Theodotus inscription (CIJ ii, 1404) which records the building of a synagogue in Jerusalem.

Doherty nonetheless repeatedly depends on later Christian traditions. For example, he comments firstly on the epistles, ‘important fundamentals of doctrine and background, which almost two millennia of Christian tradition would lead us to expect, are entirely missing.’[5] This ‘finding’ is clearly contrary to the nature of historical research. The last thing we should expect to find in first century documents is the deposit of centuries of later Christian tradition.

Doherty discusses passages which he cannot imagine Luke omitting if he knew them. The appropriate setting for this is not critical, as is obvious when Doherty quotes R. H. Stein, Senior Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:

Why would Luke have omitted such material as the coming of the wise men? Would not the presence of such Gentiles at the birth of Jesus have been meaningful for Luke’s Gentile-oriented Gospel? Why would he have omitted the flight to Egypt and return to Nazareth; the story of the guards at the tomb and their report; the unique Matthean material concerning the resurrection; and so on? Added to this is the observation that if Luke had before him Matthew’s birth account and genealogy, one wonders if he would not have sought in some way to ‘harmonize’ the one we have in his Gospel with the Matthean version.[6]

This is fundamentalism, or simply amateur forensics, not critical scholarship or historical research. Luke was a highly educated Greek Christian. He did not read about ‘wise men’ being ‘Gentiles’ at the birth of Jesus. He read about ‘magoi from the East’ (Mt. 2.1). From his point of view they were something like magicians or astrologers, and the notion that ‘we saw his star in the East’ (Mt. 2.2) probably seemed silly enough, before he got to ‘Behold, the star which they saw in the East, went before them, until it came and stood over the place where the child was’ (Mt. 2.9). Luke will have known perfectly well that not only did such things not happen, but magicians/astrologers told untrue stories in which such things did happen. He was writing for churches in the Greco-Roman world, and he will have known that starting like that would not have been attractive to the sort of people he knew well.

The most chronic comment is the last one. It is fundamentalists who ‘harmonize’ their sacred texts. Luke had good reason not to believe that an ‘angel of the Lord’ appeared to Joseph and not to Mary! What’s more, Joseph found out that she was pregnant and needed the vision to stop him divorcing her (Mt. 1.18-25).  Matthew’s gospel was not scripture in a canonical New Testament and lacking such authority, why would the need for harmonisation have arisen at all? It was a Gospel written by one of ‘many (people)’ who ‘set their hand to compiling an orderly account concerning the events which have been fulfilled among us’ (Lk. 1.1), and one which was too Jewish for Luke. Why ‘harmonize’ it with anything? Why not prefer a different story or write his own? The result is infinitely better for educated Greek Christian readers. There are no astrologers, and no doubt by Joseph about Mary’s pregnancy, let alone a threat to divorce her. Instead, we have the birth of John the Baptist as well as Jesus, with the angel of the Lord appearing to John’s father as well as to Mary, the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis. Why harmonize that with Matthew when it is far better on its own!

Doherty uncritically follows Kloppenborg on what some scholars call ‘Q’. Some scholars now regard his view that this was a single Greek document as the dominant theory.[7] The mainstream version of this view has one general problem, namely that the disappearance of ‘Q’ is difficult to explain. Other scholars believe that the ‘Q’ material was not source material used independently by Matthew and Luke, but that Luke copied parts of Matthew, editing as he went along. This is the hypothesis of Goodacre and others which Doherty was so concerned to criticize, because it would leave him without a document from which major aspects of the life and teaching of Jesus were missing. A third view has been widespread among the very small proportion of New Testament scholars who can read Aramaic, the language which Jesus spoke. I call this a ‘chaotic’ hypothesis, because it supposes that the synoptic Gospels had several different sources, some of which were in Aramaic not Greek, and I carried it further myself in a book published in 2002.[8] Doherty shows no sign of having grappled with this work, which issues in results he cannot even contemplate, especially that some traditions in the synoptic Gospels are perfectly accurate. He therefore omits everything of this kind.

Doherty’s ‘original’ work on Paul is equally frightful. In accordance with a regrettable lack of information about conventional scholarship, he shows no knowledge of the fundamental work of the anthropologist E.T. Hall, who introduced the terms ‘high context culture’ and ‘low context culture’ into scholarship.[9] Paul’s epistles were written in a high context culture, which was homogeneous enough for people not to have to repeat everything all the time, whereas American, European and many other scholars belong to a low context culture, which gives them quite unrealistic expectations of what the authors of the epistles ought to have written. This is one basic reason why Paul says so little about the life and teaching of Jesus. To some extent, his Gentile Christians had been taught about Jesus already, so he could take such knowledge for granted. He therefore had no reason to mention places such as Nazareth, or the site of the crucifixion, nor to remind his congregations that Jesus was crucified on earth recently.

Doherty’s examples are especially chronic. One is ‘Calvary’. He makes up a fictional conversation between Paul and his converts. It includes a comment from ‘Julia’ who says how Paul had been to Jerusalem and ‘could stand on the very spot where Jesus was crucified’. He has Paul reply, ‘My dear lady, I’ve never been to Calvary…it’s only a little hill after all.’ Again, on the text of Gal. 4.4f, which is important for establishing that Paul knew perfectly well that Jesus was a historical not a mythical figure, he suggests that Paul somehow should have said ‘God sent his son to die on Calvary and rise from the tomb’.[10]

The English term ‘Calvary’ is a translation, or rather virtually a transliteration, of the Latin calvaria, and would therefore not have been used by Paul either in conversation with his Greek-speaking converts or in a Greek epistle. The Latin calvaria means ‘skull’, so Doherty has Paul say in effect, partly in the wrong language, ‘I’ve never been to Skull’, and supposes that he should have written, again partly in the wrong language, ‘God sent his son to die on Skull and rise from the tomb’. This illustrates how ignorant Doherty is. The Latin calvaria is first recorded as used as a translation of Golgotha by the Latin father Tertullian (Against Marcion, III, 198). Our oldest source says that they, probably a whole cohort, ‘took Jesus to the Golgotha place, which is in translation, “place of skull”’ (Mk 15.22). An Aramaic word of the approximate form gōlgōlthā meant ‘skull’. The idea of it being ‘a little hill’ is not known until the Bordeaux pilgrim imagined it was the place she visited in 333 CE, so this would not be known to Paul either. It is likely to have been called ‘the gōlgōlthā place’ because it was strewn with the skulls of executed people.[11] Why should Paul want to visit such a revolting place? If he went at the wrong time, such as Passover, he might well find not only a site of previous executions, but people screaming in pain as they were crucified too. Pilgrimages to such sites, and the idea they were sacred, appear to date from the time of Constantine onwards, when people were no longer crucified there.

Another astonishing example is Doherty imagining that Paul should have behaved like much later Christians seeking relics. He asks ‘What about the relics? Jesus’ clothes, the things he used in his everyday life, the things he touched?….If the Gospel accounts have any basis we would expect to find mention of all sorts of relics, genuine or fake: cups from the Last Supper, nails bearing Jesus’ flesh, thorns from the bloody crown, the centurion’s spear, pieces of cloth from the garments gambled for by the soldiers at the foot of the cross―indeed, just as we find a host of relics all through the Middle Ages…’[12] This is an extraordinary muddle which has just one point right: relics were characteristic of Christian piety much later. Otherwise, it seeks to impose upon Pauline Christianity the mediaeval Catholic religion which Doherty is supposed to have left.

Furthermore, Doherty cannot understand why relics of Jesus, pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and shrines there did not begin until the fourth century, and he declares, ‘The total absence of such things in the first hundred years of Christian correspondence is perhaps the single strongest argument for regarding the entire Gospel account of Jesus’ life and death as nothing but literary fabrication.’[13] Firstly, Doherty does not understand early Christian piety, which had no need of shrines or relics. Secondly, Doherty ignores the political situation. Until the fourth century, Christians were members of a persecuted religion, and neither major pilgrimages nor the foundation of shrines and churches in Israel were practical. In the fourth century, however, the emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Then his mother, the empress Helena, made the first major Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where she founded the first churches and shrines. It was she who guessed at what became the traditional sites of Golgotha and of Jesus’ tomb, and it was her son the emperor Constantine who ordered the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre over both of them.

Doherty’s attempts to understand what Paul did say are equally incompetent. Jesus’ death by crucifixion was historically straightforward, in the sense that crucifixion was a very common penalty inflicted by Roman authorities on slaves and provincials. It was well known as a very cruel form of death. It was a regrettably well known Roman penalty in Palestine. For example, after Herod the Great’s death in 4 BCE, there were a lot of rebellious upsets in Israel, and Publius Quinctilius Varus, the Roman governor of Syria, brought three legions down to Israel. After sacking Sepphoris, he went on to Jerusalem, where he crucified no less than 2,000 people (Jos. War. II, 75//Ant. XVII, 295). It was obvious to everyone that these events took place on earth.

Following his arrest, Jesus was handed over to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilatus, who condemned him to death by this standard penalty of crucifixion. The titulus on his cross said he was ‘king of the Jews’, Pilate’s term for a bandit, and he was crucified between two other men whom Pilate also condemned to crucifixion as bandits.[14] This is the story which would be well known in the Pauline churches, and which Doherty is determined to omit when considering how to interpret Paul’s epistles. In its place, he has a story in which Jesus was mythically ‘crucified’ by evil powers in the sublunar realm.

For this story, Doherty draws on ideas some of which are found in some Neoplatonic texts, but not in the New Testament nor in the Judaism from which early Christianity emerged. For example, Xenocrates (ca. 396-314 B.C.) already divided the universe into the realm above the moon (the supra-lunar) and the realm below the moon (the sub-lunar), and he believed that the sub-lunar realm was occupied by daemons. Scholars generally consider the Middle Platonic period to have begun c. 90 BCE with the work of Antiochus of Ascalon (c. 125–68 BCE). Following Xenocrates, Antiochus also expressed a belief in daemons, which inhabit the sub-lunar realm (the supra-lunar realm being reserved for the divine celestial bodies). There is however no evidence that such ideas were known in Judaism in Israel, the main source of Paul’s ideas, or that they were widespread enough to be generally known to his Gentile converts. Accordingly, it is of central importance that at this point Doherty reverses one of his major points of method. Having argued up to this point that Paul did not believe anything that he does not mention, he imagines that he could take for granted this mythical realm and the quite unparalleled notion of a spiritual crucifixion up there, without mentioning anything of the kind.

Doherty tries to produce evidence which he imagines makes the crucifixion of Jesus in the sublunar realm plausible. The first document which he mentions in this context is The Hypostasis of the Archons, a Gnostic work of the third century CE, which survives only in one Coptic ms from Nag Hammadi, though it is often assumed to have been originally written in Greek.[15] This refers to Paul as ‘the father of truth, the great apostle’, and at 87, 24 it does refer to the rulers (archontes). Doherty uses it to claim that ‘considering that the roots of Gnosticism go back before the establishment of an historical Jesus in the Gospels, we are once again witnessing an understanding of archontic rulers as spirit demons unassociated with any earthly princes, and thus a pointer to the older understanding in the time of Paul.’[16] This predating of selected parts of a text from the third century CE shows a total lack of historical sense. This document also has Adam created by ‘the rulers (archontes)’ (87, 25ff), and in typical late Gnostic fashion, it has the being who declared himself the one God be a blind being who was sinful, and it does not present the death of Jesus at all. It should be obvious that this source is too late and unPauline to be used to interpret the historical Paul.

Doherty correctly notes that evil spirits come into their own in the apocrypha and pseudepigrapha. He correctly refers to 1 Enoch, which was written well before the time of Paul. Next he refers confidently to the ‘1st century Testament of Solomon’.[17] This is much too early a date. Schürer-Vermes-Millar, in a section primarily the responsibility of Vermes, note correctly that its ‘complex textual history naturally makes it difficult to date.’ There is however good reason to think that ‘it was current in some form around A. D. 400’; further, ‘the archetype of all the full versions (incorporating the demonology) cannot have been put together before the early third century A. D.’[18] This means that it is quite ludicrous of Doherty to conclude on the basis of this evidence that ‘by Paul’s time they [i.e. the demons] have become vast powers that infest the heavens.’[19] There is no such idea in 1 Enoch, and the Testament of Solomon shows only that such ideas were believed by some people some 200 years after Paul’s time.

In addition to the Testament of Solomon, Doherty turns to the Questions of Ezra (Recension B). This is an even later document. It survives only in Armenian. The earliest surviving ms is dated to 1208 CE. This has been labelled recension A, and Recension B is known only from the seventeenth century. Stone was unable to determine whether it was originally composed in Armenian, which would certainly mean a very late date, or translated into Armenian from another language.[20] It is not however known anywhere outside the Armenian church. It is evident that it was not written until centuries after Paul’s life and death, so once again this is the wrong cultural background for understanding anything that Paul wrote or might have believed.

The next document to which Doherty turns is the Ascension of Isaiah. This is a composite work. In its present form it is a Christian work, which appears to have been written in Greek, only fragments of which survive. It utilised an older Jewish work, The Martyrdom of Isaiah, which was still known to Origen and the Apostolic Constitutions, but which has not survived except as used in the Christian Ascension of Isaiah. The whole text of this composite work survives only in Ethiopic. This translation was probably made sometime in the 4th-6th centuries. The oldest ms is however from the 15th century. A similar textual tradition is found in the first Latin translation, which survives only in fragments. A different textual tradition is found in the second Latin translation and in the Slavonic version, which contain only chs 6–11, generally known as the Vision of Isaiah, so they attest to its independent existence. The second Latin translation was first published in 1522, on the basis of a ms which is no longer known. The Slavonic translation exists in two forms, of which the second is a shorter version of the first. The earliest ms of the first version dates from the 12th century, and the translation was apparently made in the tenth or eleventh century.

It should be obvious from this that the date of anything resembling the text of what we can now read is difficult to determine. Knibb makes the entirely reasonable suggestion that the Vision of Isaiah ‘comes from the second century CE’, and gives correct reasons for disputing attempts to date it any earlier. Schürer-Vermes-Millar, in a section primarily the responsibility of Vermes, likewise suggest that ‘the Vision of Isaiah belongs probably to the second century A.D.’, while Charlesworth puts it ‘around the end of the second century A.D.’.[21] This document too is therefore too late in date to form evidence of the cultural environment in which Paul wrote to his converts. Doherty, however, simply announces that a community wrote this ‘vision’ ‘probably towards the end of the 1st century CE’.[22] There is no excuse for dating it so early, and it would still be too late for Paul.

I hope it is clear from this brief account that Doherty, despite being thought of as one of the most important of the mythicists, is unqualified, incompetent and hopelessly biased.

Dorothy Murdock, who writes also under the name of Acharya Sanning, has a significant following too. As well as her books, she has a blog. This includes “Who is Acharya S?”.[23] Here, describing herself with typical mythicist modesty as ‘the coolest chick on the planet’, she claims to have a BA degree in Classics, Greek Civilization, from Franklin and Marshall College, after which she completed postgraduate studies at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Nonetheless, when she gets to dating the Gospels, Murdock declares that ‘all of the canonical gospels seem to emerge at the same time – first receiving their names and number by Irenaeus around 180 AD/CE….If the canonical texts as we have them existed anywhere previously, they were unknown, which makes it likely that they were not composed until that time or shortly before, based on earlier texts.’[24] The criterion of not being mentioned in other texts is an important mythicist weapon. It embodies the fundamentalist assumption that the Gospels should have become sacred texts immediately, and therefore quoted by all extant Christian authors as fundamentalists quote the New Testament.

Fundamentalist belief is expressed for example by someone who calls themselves Paul Timothy, ‘The Holy Spirit has given to us four witnesses to The Holy Spirit has given to us four witnesses to the Life and teachings of Jesus: Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, the compilers and writers of the four Gospels. Each of the four Gospel writers lived while Jesus was on earth. Three of them knew him well, and Luke investigated the facts about Jesus (Luke 1:1-3). Thus, the four gospels are ‘eye-witness’ accounts, the strongest kind. All four writers included in their Gospel some of the same accounts about Jesus, and each one adds some accounts that the others left out.  Yet all agree; the four Gospels form a single true story.’[25]

This is fundamentalist falsehood from beginning to end. The Gospels are not eyewitness accounts. Moreover, they are not quoted as such in the relatively few Christian documents surviving from before the time of Irenaeus, whereas the Old Testament is, from which mythicists draw their conclusion that the canonical Gospels were unknown. Justin Martyr, however, writing in the middle of the second century, refers not to the Gospel according to Mark, but to the apomnēmoneumata of Peter. The Greek word apomnēmoneumata is usually translated ‘memoirs’ in Justin, whether or not they are said to be ‘of Peter’, ‘of the apostles’, or ‘of his apostles and their followers’. It has however a somewhat wider range of meaning, and does not necessarily carry the connotation of the person having written the apomnēmoneumata himself. One reference to Peter’s ‘memoirs’ has the sons of Zebedee called ‘Boanerges, which is “sons of thunder”’ (Dial. 106). The word ‘Boanerges’ is otherwise known only from Mk 3.17, where Mark says that Jesus gave Jacob and John, the sons of Zebedee, ‘the name “Boanērges”, which is “sons of thunder”’. This reference is not merely unique. The term ‘Boanerges’ is a mistaken attempt to transliterate into Greek letters the Aramaic words benē re‘em, which mean ‘sons of thunder’.  The possibility that two independent sources made almost identical mistakes in the transliteration of these words is negligible. It follows that by ‘the memoirs of Peter’ Justin meant something at least very like what we call the Gospel of Mark.

Mythicists also presuppose that the attestation of the Gospels somehow ought to be similar to the attestation of modern documents written in cultures where writing is normal, and books are printed. This is why, as mythicists try to date the Gospels as late as possible, one of the reasons they use is the date of surviving manuscripts. In doing this, however, they show no understanding of the nature of ancient documents and their transmission, which was very different from the writing of books in the modern world.[26]

There are in fact far more copies of the Gospels surviving from relatively soon after they were written than is the case of most works from the Greco-Roman world, or ancient Judaism. The reasons why fewer survive than might have done in the stories which mythicists invent are twofold: relatively few copies were made of any writing before the invention of printing in the mediaeval period, and there were a number of disasters in the destruction of books when libraries were destroyed, and in the Christian case, in persecutions by the Roman state.

For example, Eusebius helped to build up an excellent library in Caesarea.[27] Eusebius had there a copy of the work of Papias, Bishop of  Hierapolis in the early second century, An Exposition of the Lord’s Oracles (Logia), and he quotes important information from it (Eus., H.E. III, 39, 1-7, 14-17). The library was however destroyed. The last reliable mention of it is by Jerome, though it may not have been destroyed until the Arab invasion in the seventh century. In a world where there were not many copies of old books, this destruction was a major disaster, and there should be no doubt that many Christian books were lost in this way. We should contrast the creative fiction of Acharya, who comments on the disappearance of Papias’ work: ‘It is inexplicable that such a monumental work by an early Christian father was “lost”, except that it had to be destroyed because it revealed the Savior as absolutely non-historical.’[28] This comment has no connection with the reality of the ancient world, and Acharya’s ‘reason’ for its destruction is nothing better than malicious invention.

Another mythicist is Canadian journalist Tom Harpur (1929- ), who says with more mythicist modesty that his ‘books, videos and columns have made him a compelling spiritual leader for every generation and all faiths.’[29] He was brought up as a fundamentalist Christian, and ordained priest in the Anglican Church of Canada in 1956, in accordance with his father’s wishes and demands. As a journalist on the Toronto Star (1954-84), he did not have to verify everything as scholars do, and he has ended up never offering evidence for what he chooses to believe. He does however pay tribute to his main sources: Gerald Massey (1828-1907), and Alvin Boyd Kuhn (1880-1963). Massey was a second-rate English poet who also became an amateur Egyptologist. Kuhn was a theosophist who therefore held large-scale false beliefs about the modern value of supposedly ancient traditions, many of which were not ancient at all.

Among his many mistakes, Harpur comments, ‘Significantly, both Massey and Kuhn – and other authorities–testify that the surface of the coffin lid of the mummified Osiris (every deceased person was referred to as the Osiris) constituted the table of the Egyptian’s cult’s Last Supper or Eucharist. It was the board on which the mortuary meals were served. The coffin bore the hieroglyphic equivalent for KRST. Massey connects KRST with the Greek word Christos, messiah, or Christ.He says, “Say what you will or believe what you may, there is no other origin for Christ the anointed than ‘Horus the Karast’, or ‘anointed son of God the Father.’” Nonetheless, he notes correctly that ‘Modern Egyptologists dispute this’, which was already true when he wrote it, and instead of giving a good reason for following a scholar who was incompetent when he wrote before the advent of modern critical scholarship and is now hopelessly out of date as well, HarpurHhh quotes his authority as if it were decisive, just like a fundamentalist Christian quoting scripture.[30] Nor is there any excuse for describing Massey and Kuhn as ‘authorities’.

The American Christian scholar Ward Gasque consulted a number of modern Egyptologists, and discovered that the Egyptian KRST is the word for “burial”, so it is a very appropriate word to turn up on Egyptian coffins, and has no connection with the Jewish and Christian term ‘Christ’.[31] This is another illustration of the complete incompetence of both Massey and Kuhn, and of Harpur’s total lack of any sense of reality in what he has taken over from them.

Harpur gives some indication of what he felt he had found in these writers when he comments, ‘Massey’s books and Kuhn’s four chief works….held me spellbound….the more I read, the more I was convinced that what these men were saying had the ring of truth…[32] This appears to be part of Harpur’s conversion process, since he gives nothing approaching evidence supported with argument. When he does quote someone with expertise, he ignores the date of the relevant sources. For example, he quotes the Egyptologist Eric Hornung for the Egyptian fathers, followed in due course by other Christians, taking over imagery of Isis, Osiris and Horus.[33] They did, but this was a real fact centuries after the time of the historical Jesus, not evidence that he did not exist in the first century CE.

This is only one of myriad examples of mythicists creating havoc with supposed ‘parallels’. Murdock put the central point in a nutshell without realising that from a scholarly point of view, it is not merely sinful, but a mortal sin rather than a peccadillo. Commenting on the notion that Horus was ‘baptised’ by Anup/Inpu, she notes that the comparison ‘between Anup and John has been extrapolated for a variety of reasons’, and adds that ‘“Christian” terminology has been utilized to describe what was found in the ancient Egyptian texts and monuments, as well as elsewhere around the Roman empire during the era.’[34] This is central to the way in which most of the so-called parallels to the life and teaching of Jesus have been manufactured by mythicists. In actuality, Horus was not thought to have been baptised by Anup/Inpu, who was supposed to have been a jackal-headed Egyptian deity, not a Jewish man, and Inpu was not beheaded either.

Murdock also discusses pre-Christian use of the Greek words baptō and baptizō. They both meant ‘dip’, but not in any meaningful sense ‘baptise’, as Murdock alleges. She quotes a passage of Nicander, which is about pickling vegetables, and has nothing to do with baptism, to which it is accordingly irrelevant. She even discusses ‘the act of baptizing the vegetable’ which is as ridiculous as any ‘parallel’ I have come across.[35] Then, as now, people did not baptize vegetables, but they did wash, boil, and immerse them. Nicander was really discussing boiling vegetables and then immersing them in vinegar, to do what we call ‘pickle’ them. This is a striking example of the inappropriate use of Christian terminology to describe all sorts of things, in spurious attempts to make them sound more alike.

The internet, for which these pseudo-scholars write, has become a home of mendacity, including many outpourings of hatred for scholars. One example is blogger Neil Godfrey, an Australian who was a baptised member of the Worldwide Church of God for 22 years, so he belonged to a hopelessly fundamentalist organisation which holds critical scholarship in contempt.  He converted to ‘atheism’ later, so he has had two conversion experiences, and this means that his contempt for evidence and argument as means of reaching decisions about important matters is doubly central to his life.

Godfrey claims to have ‘a BA and post graduate Bachelor of Educational Studies, both at the University of Queensland, and a post graduate Diploma in Arts (Library and Information Science) from Charles Sturt University near Canberra, Australia’.[36] He has worked as a librarian. It is extraordinary, therefore, that he seems to be quite incapable of presenting information accurately. One of his statements followed on a shocking earthquake in New Zealand: ‘I’m a librarian, but I never see or touch a book’.[37] Perhaps this is why he seems incapable of gathering information available in books with any semblance of accuracy.

Godfrey condemns biblical scholars as no better than ‘silly detectives’. In a post headed ‘Biblical historians make detectives look silly’[38], he did not give proper references, and referred back later to his post like this: ‘Biblical historians who research the foundations of Christianity in the Gospels have sometimes compared their “historical research” work with that of detectives or criminal investigators….. Only by lazy assumptions about their sources can biblical “historians” declare Jesus’ crucifixion a “fact of history”….In other words, Paula Fredriksen is but one of a host of biblical “historians” who “do history” according to the analogy of the silly detectives in my earlier post’ [23rd November, 2010].

Godfrey’s earlier post said that Fredriksen ‘is one scholar who did “respond” to something Doherty had written, but her response demonstrated that she at no point attempted to read Doherty’s piece seriously. One might even compare her responses to those of a naughty schoolgirl who has no interest in the content of the lesson, believing the teacher to be a real dolt, and who accordingly seeks to impress her giggly “know-it-all” classmates by interjecting the teacher with smart alec rejoinders at any opportunity.’ Godfrey seems to have no idea that his gross personal rudeness is no substitute for a scholarly response, which is what anyone seriously interested in truth would have provided.

One blogger cited by both Doherty and Acharya is Steven Carr. Doherty cites him to dispose of the evidence that Josephus mentions Jesus at Ant. XX, 200, where he describes Jacob as ‘the brother of Jesus called Christ, Jacob his name’, which is as clear as could be. Mythicists, however, do not wish to believe this.[39] Similarly, Murdock noticed that the mss of the New Testament are not inerrant, as every critical scholar knows. Neither she nor Carr, however, offers a proper critical discussion.[40]

I am well known to some people for my work on Aramaic sources behind the synoptic Gospels, for careful scholarship, and for always telling the truth as I see it.[41] On the internet, however, I have been accused by Blogger Godfrey, Blogger Carr and others of total incompetence, omitting main points and telling lies. For example, Blogger Godfrey, in a blog entitled with his customary politesse, Roll over Maurice Casey: Latin, not Aramaic, explains Mark’s bad Greek, not only drew attention to a certain proportion of these ‘Latinisms’, which would have been reasonable, but also declared that they nullified the evidence of Aramaic influence on Mark.[42] This is quite incompetent, which is why, as far as I know, it had not previously been suggested. Nor is Greek which contains Latin loanwords for Roman objects ‘bad’ Greek, any more than we speak ‘bad’ English when we say we went to a restaurant. Mark’s Latinisms, including loanwords, in no way undermine the importance of Mark’s Aramaisms, which Blogger Godfrey is not learned enough to see, and determined to ignore.

Blogger Godfrey does not refer to any learned scholarship, but to an elementary piece from a second-rate and very conservative American Christian college, formerly Atlantic Baptist College, then (1996) Atlantic Baptist University, now named Crandall University.  It does not have any outstanding New Testament scholars on its staff. This is yet another piece of evidence that Blogger Godfrey is quite incapable of leaving his fundamentalist Christian background behind, in spite of his conversion to an equally dogmatic form of atheism. The list of Latinisms provided by Crandall ‘University’ includes loanwords, by which standard it is incomplete, but otherwise satisfactory. They are all included in the more extensive list provided by Gundry in his standard conservative commentary.[43]

Blogger Godfrey does not mention that the Introduction from which he quotes also argues that Mark’s first language was Aramaic. Blogger Carr commented,

‘Casey, of course, knows perfectly well that there are Latin loan words in ‘Mark’….Naturally, he is a True Biblical Scholar so does not inform his readers that there are any Latin loan words in ‘Mark’…As it would detract from the idea that there were Aramaic sources for Greek, detectable by the bad Greek, Casey does not even mention the prescence (sic!) of Latin loan words….A real scholar mentions facts which might seem to other scholars to put his work into question, and attempts to answer those questions…This is what I am used to when I see scientists writing. I naively took it for granted that all scholars in all fields had the same sorts of standards as the lowliest scientific researcher into the memory of mice…. I now have entered a world where True Bible Scholars simply ignore whatever does not fit their ideas.’[44]

Everything is wrong with this. It is not true that I did not even mention the presence of Latin loanwords. I discussed the ones which I thought were of genuine historical significance, and I gave a significant amount of Roman background to some of these, where I thought this was of historical significance. I therefore discussed legiōn and Hērōdianoi at some length, as well as, more briefly, denarius, and centurion.[45]

Blogger Carr’s comments on scholarly practice are irrelevant too, apart from his crude and misleading use of the term ‘bad’ Greek. The idea that Mark’s Latinisms, understood broadly to include his Latin loanwords, somehow negate the evidence of his use of Aramaic sources is not a theory put forward by reputable scholars: it is a mistake by blogger Godfrey. Learned articles on the memory of mice or anything else do not discuss the outpourings of incompetent bloggers. Nor can they discuss anything suggested after their articles were published: blogger Godfrey’s notion that ‘Latin, not Aramaic, explains Mark’s bad Greek’ was not available to me when I wrote, precisely because no-one else had been incompetent and foolish enough to suggest it.

I hope this is sufficient to indicate that the mythicist view is based on ineducable ignorance, prejudice and absolute contempt for anything like learned scholarship.

The only reasonably qualified scholar to become a mythicist is Robert M. Price. Price was born in Mississippi in 1954. After early involvement in a fundamentalist Baptist church, he went on to become a leader in the Montclair State College chapter of the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. He was trained at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. Its statement of faith includes the following: ‘The sixty-six canonical books of the Bible as originally written were inspired of God, hence free from error….’ Its Mission Statement begins, ‘To encourage students to become knowledgeable of God’s inerrant Word, competent in its interpretation, proclamation and application in the contemporary world.’

It follows that after a fundamentalist upbringing, Price was also processed in a fundamentalist institution where critical scholarship was held in contempt. He went on to do a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. This was awarded in 1981. He also read Ph.D. in New Testament at Drew University, which was awarded in 1993. He was listed as professor of theology and scriptural studies at Coleman Theological Seminary and professor of biblical criticism at the Center for Inquiry Institute, as well as a fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion and the Jesus Seminar.

Price is alone among mythicists in that there is no doubt that he was a qualified New Testament scholar. He therefore bears a most heavy responsibility for the falsehoods which he has promoted. Perhaps his most important book is The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man.[46] What is important about it is that it lends an assumption of scholarship to outpourings of falsehood. These include hopelessly late dates for the Gospels, with Mark being pushed into the second century. Price first declares that it must have been written after 70 CE, on the false assumption that apocalypses, which most of it is not, are always written after the events which they are supposed to predict. Mark’s predictions are not however accurate enough to have been written after the event.[47] Price subsequently relied on Detering, who, continuing with the assumption that there cannot be any predictions in the Gospels, noticed that Mark 13 is not accurate enough to have been a prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE after the event, and claimed that Hadrian setting up his statue in the Temple was the reason for the ‘prediction’ of the Abomination of Desolation (Matt. 24.15//Mk. 13.14).[48]

Price’s treatment of New Testament narratives has two other major features conventional among mythicists. One is to continue with conservative or even fundamentalist exegesis. For example, he discusses Mark 9.1: ‘Amen I say to you that there are some of those standing here who will not taste of death until they have seen the kingdom of God come in power.’ Price declares that ‘all interpreters admit that this prediction must have the Parousia in mind.’ All interpreters have not adopted this incorrect exegesis for the very good reason that the saying mentions the kingdom of God, an important feature of the teaching of Jesus, whereas belief in the Parousia was created by the early church after Jesus’ death.[49]

Another major feature of mythicism is to make fun of New Testament stories which they used to believe in, and still take literally. For example, Price discusses the story of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. On that occasion, Jesus heard a voice which he believed came from God, ‘You are my beloved Son, in you I am well pleased’ (Mk 1.11). Price follows the received text, ‘in whom’, rather than ‘in you’, which assimilated to Matthew, but which is not, as he claims, the reading of Luke. He then declares that it is ‘cobbled together from three Old Testament passages’, as if a major prophet could not imagine a heavenly voice speaking in scriptural terms. Price’s scriptural passages, however, are firstly Ps. 2.7, which says ‘My son thou’, the form in which Jesus would have known the text, translated into Greek in the LXX as ‘My son art thou’, as the text would have been known to anyone writing creatively in Greek. Price’s second passage is Isa. 42.1, which says ‘Behold, my servant, I uphold him, my chosen, my soul delights in him’, for which the LXX has ‘Jacob my servant, I come to his aid, Israel my chosen, my soul received him’. Price’s third passage is Gen. 22.12, which has nothing more than God referring to Isaac as ‘your son, your beloved’. He therefore heads firstly for LXX, which is on the same lines, and simply has God say to Abraham about Isaac, ‘You did not spare your beloved son because of me’. Price therefore heads for what he incompetently calls ‘the Targums’, according to which, when Isaac looked up into an open heaven, a voice said ‘Behold, two chosen ones’. Price does not however quote any Targums, but only an essay in English by Stegner![50]

Price then concludes that Mark’s voice is ‘not historical, unless one wishes to imagine God sitting with his Hebrew Psalter, Greek Septuagint, and Aramaic Targum in front of him, deciding what to crib. Only then does it come to seem ridiculous’. Indeed, but as I commented before, ‘It is Price who has manipulated it to make it seem ridiculous.’ He has not written serious scholarship at all.[51]

It follows that Price has not made good or reasonable use of the New Testament qualifications which he once obtained. The results of his work are no better than those of more obviously ignorant mythicists.


The third and last essay in this series has been written by Stephanie Louise Fisher. Steph came here as an outstanding mature student from the University of Victoria, New Zealand, where she obtained exceptionally brilliant first class degrees including study in history, anthropology, sociology, classics as well as music and other things reflecting her eclectic interests and lateral mind.  She worked as a research fellow to Jim Veitch in the history of the Lloyd Geering heresy trial. While in my opinion there was never any question of her not obtaining one, she won the fiercely competitive overseas research scholarship and was offered the Commonwealth Scholarship twice.  While she could have chosen to go to any first class independent university on earth, she chose to come to England because of her specialist focus on the Double Tradition.  Thus James Crossley, Steph, and I have worked well together, and we have had many debates, while becoming genuine friends over the past few years.

While Steph has been here, she has effectively worked as my research assistant too, without being in any sense subordinate to me. She has been wonderful working both on my last book, Jesus of Nazareth, and on material about mythicists. She is, as the above comments indicate, a scholar with very broad interests, and she works on many projects simultaneously. We do have reputable publishers already interested in her work on the Double Tradition, so we look forward to this task being completed, because New Testament scholarship needs it so much, and she is the only person known to me who can complete it.

Maurice Casey, Emeritus Professor of New Testament Studies, University of Nottingham.

[1] The major generally available books were S. J. Case, The Historicity of Jesus: A Criticism of the Contention that Jesus Never Lived, a Statement of the Evidence for His Existence, an Estimate of His Relation to Christianity (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1912; 2nd edn, 1928); M. Goguel, Jesus the Nazarene: Myth or History? (1925. Trans. F. Stevens. London/New York: Unwin/Appleton, 1926. With a new introduction by R. Joseph Hoffmann, Amherst, New York: Prometheus, 2006).

[2] E. Doherty, Jesus: Neither God Nor ManThe Case for a Mythical Jesus (Ottawa: Age of Reason, 2009), pp. vii, viii, referring back to, which I can no longer access, and E. Doherty, The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? (Ottawa: Canadian Humanist Publications, 1999).

[3] Doherty, Jesus Neither God nor Man, p. 413.

[4] For a summary of the debate, with bibliography, e.g. J. S. Kloppenborg, ‘The Theodotos Synagogue Inscription and the Problem of First-Century Synagogue Buildings’ in J. H. Charlesworth (ed.), Jesus and Archaeology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), pp. 236-82; and for his immediate reaction, Sanders, Jewish Law From Jesus to the Mishnah, pp. 341-3, nn. 28-9.

[5] Doherty, Jesus Neither God nor Man, p. 15.

[6] Doherty, Jesus Neither God nor Man, pp. 316-7, quoting R. H. Stein, The Synoptic Problem: an Introduction (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), p. 102.  I have not otherwise noted a copy published before 1987: there was a second edn. in 2001.

[7] J. S. Kloppenborg, The Formation of Q. Trajectories in Ancient Wisdom (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987); J. S. Kloppenborg Verbin, Excavating Q. The History and Setting of the Sayings Gospel (Minneapolis/Edinburgh: Fortress/T&T Clark, 2000).

[8] P. M. Casey, An Aramaic Approach to Q: Sources for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (SNTSMS 122. Cambridge: CUP, 2002).

[9] Hall, E.T. Beyond Culture (New York: Doubleday 1976).

[10] Doherty, Jesus Neither God nor Man, pp. 664, 198: cf. further below.

[11] Cf. now Casey, Jesus of Nazareth, pp. 445–6.

[12] Doherty, Jesus Neither God nor Man, pp. 80, 82 (my italics).

[13] Doherty, Jesus Neither God nor Man, p. 82.

[14] For a historical account for the general reader, see Casey, Jesus of Nazareth, pp. 425-48.

[15] For an English Translation by Bentley Layton, with a very brief introduction by R. A. Bullard, see J. M. Robinson (general ed.) and Members of the Coptic Gnostic Library Project of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity, Claremont, California, The Nag Hammadi Library in English (4th edn. Leiden: Brill, 1996), pp. 161-9.

[16] Doherty, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p. 109.

[17] Doherty, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p. 109.

[18] Schürer-Vermes-Millar, vol. III.1, p. 373.

[19] Doherty, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p. 109.

[20] M.E. Stone, in Charlesworth (ed.), Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol I, p. 592.

[21] M.A. Knibb, in Charlesworth (ed.), Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol 2, pp. 149–50; Schürer-Vermes-Millar, vol. III.1, p. 338 n.8; Charlesworth, Pseudepigrapha and Modern Research, p. 125.

[22] Doherty, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p. 119.

[24] Murdock, Who was Jesus? p. 82.

[26] See especially H.Y. Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts (New Haven: Yale Univ., 1995); A. R. Millard, Reading and Writing in the Time of Jesus (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 2000).

[27] See Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church, pp. 155-60.

[28] Acharya, Christ Conspiracy, (Adventures Unlimited Press, 1999) p. 227.

[30] Harpur, Pagan Christ, (Thomas Allen and Son Ltd, 2005) p. 101, with p. 224, n.6, again without any proper detailed reference to the work of Massey: see the regrettable comments of Massey, Ancient Egypt, pp. 186-248. The quotation is from p. 219.

[32] T. Harpur, Born Again: My Journey from Fundamentalism to Freedom (Toronto: Thomas Allen, 2011), p. 214.

[33] Harpur, Born Again, p. 215.

[34] Murdock, Christ in Egypt, (Stellar House Publishing, 2009) p. 233.

[35] Murdock, Christ in Egypt, p. 245 n. 2.

[39] Doherty, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man p. 571 with p. 771 n. 221, referring to Carr commenting on Josephus.

[40] D. M. Murdock, Who was Jesus?: Fingerprints of the Christ (Seattle: Stellar House Publishing, 2007), p. 224, with p. 268, referring to Carr, ‘Textual Reliability of the New Testament’, on Carr at

[41] Cf. James G. Crossley (ed.), Judaism, Jewish Identities and the Gospel Tradition: Essays in Honour of Maurice Casey, (London: Equinox, 2010).


[43] R.H. Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), pp. 1043-5.[1]


[45] Casey, Jesus of Nazareth, pp. 242-3, 341, 422-3, 450.

[46] R. M. Price, The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable is the Gospel Tradition?

(Amherst, New York: Prometheus, 2003).

[47] Casey, Jesus of Nazareth, pp. 69-71.

[48] H. Detering, ‘The Synoptic Apocalypse (Mark 13 par): A Document from the Time of Bar Kochba’, Journal of Higher Criticism 7 (2000), pp. 161-200: cf. Casey, Jesus of Nazareth, pp. 33-5.

[49] Price, Shrinking Son of Man, p. 32; see Casey, Jesus of Nazareth, pp. 34, 212-6, 219-21, 374-7, 384, 389, 484.

[50] Price, Shrinking Son of Man, p. 120-21; see Casey, Jesus of Nazareth, pp. 36-7.

[51] See further, Casey, Jesus of Nazareth, pp. 35-8.

The Jesus Process: Stephanie Louise Fisher


(c) 2012 by Stephanie Fisher, University of Nottingham


The purpose of this essay is to make a further contribution to refuting the methods of recent mythicists and drawing attention to their unprofessional attitudes and prejudices.  It also exposes their lack of discernment and inability to engage with critical scholarship. Scholarship is compromised by these evangelising, self-promoting pedlars of incompetence. I discuss especially the recent attempt of atheist blogger, Richard Carrier to replace historical method with Bayes’ theorem, followed by scholars of whom he makes use. I go on to refute some criticisms of my previous comments, and finally put Albert Schweitzer, some of whose comments are routinely misinterpreted, in his historical context.

 Carrier and Bayes’ Theorem.

Atheist blogger Richard Carrier, has now added to his passionate flushings of incompetence with another book, for which he has eventually found a publisher other than himself. See Richard C. Carrier, Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus (Amherst, New York: Prometheus, 2012).

Bayes’ theorem can be traced back to Thomas Bayes (1702-64), in whose name it was first published in 1764. It was generally used, however, only after it was reworked by the mathematician P-S. Laplace (1749-1827), who was not initially aware of Bayes’ work. It has been used much more in recent years, during which it has been applied to all kinds of things, though not without criticism. It was, for example, successfully used by Alan Turing in deciphering the German Enigma code. It is basically at home in aspects of Maths and the Natural Sciences, where abstract measures of probability are needed.

The centre of Bayes’ theorem is the following:

P(A|B) = \frac{P(B | A)\, P(A)}{P(B)}. \,

Here P stands for ‘Probability’, and A and B are two different sets being assessed. Carrier has this slightly more complex version necessitated by the consideration of the relative probability of different hypotheses:

P(h|b) x P(e|h.b)


[P(h|b) x P(e|h.b] + [P(~h|b) x P(e|~h.b]

Carrier explains briefly, ‘P = probability, = hypothesis, = evidence, and = background knowledge.’[1]

Carrier uses this in a discussion which he calls ‘A Bayesian Analysis of the Disappearing Sun.’[2] This is the story that ‘there was darkness all over the land from the sixth hour until the ninth hour’ (Mk 15.33//Matt. 27.45//Lk 23.44-5). Critical biblical scholars have known for a long time that this story is not literally true.[3] Carrier’s discussion adds nothing significant to this discussion. Carrier includes the completely irrelevant notion that there might have been similar three-hour darkness in 1983, which we all know is false too. Carrier concludes that ‘Instead of letting us get away with vague verbiage about how likely or unlikely things are, Bayes’ theorem forces us to identify exactly what we mean. It thus forces us to identify whether our reasoning is even sound.’[4] Carrier’s discussion shows that this is not what happens. He tries to make it seem plausible by ignoring all the best critical scholarship, and discussing methodologically inadequate, ideologically-motivated pseudo-scholarship instead.

Most analysts would say that Bayes’ theorem is not in the least amenable to complex and composite historical texts. Carrier has too much misplaced faith in the value of his own assumptions. He claims, “[Bayes’] conclusions are always necessarily true — if its premises are true. By ‘premises’ here I mean the probabilities we enter into the equation, which are essentially the premises in a logical argument.”[5]  Bayes theorem was devised to ascertain mathematical probability. It is completely inappropriate for, and unrelated to historical occurrence and therefore irrelevant for application to historical texts. Carrier doesn’t have a structured method of application, but worse, he is dealing with mixed material, some of which is primary, much of which is secondary, legendary, myth mixed accretion. He has no method, and offers none,  of distinguishing the difference and this renders his argument a complete muddle. Effectively in the end, he can conveniently dispose of inconvenient tradition, with a regrettable illusion that Bayes provides a veneer of scientific certainty to prior conclusions he is determined to ‘prove unarguable’.

The Quest of the Historical Jesus: Supercilious Pseudo-Scholars, and the Omission of Inconvenient Critical Scholars.

 Carrier begins his book by arguing that the Quest for a historical Jesus has been a failure because it has reached no consensus on criteria or results.[6] He does not seem to realise that this is partly because he has included under the general umbrella of ‘Jesus scholars’ virtually anyone who has written about him, regardless of competence or bias. If he had included only recognised academics in top tier universities with qualifications in ancient history and New Testament Studies, he would have got a different result. As it is, he includes ‘scholars’ such as Burton Mack, who left the Church of the Nazarene to became a methodologically incompetent radical, and Stanley Porter, who is an equally incompetent Christian fundamentalist. Of course they don’t end up with the same picture of Jesus, and this is partly because both of them are totally incompetent in method. It does not follow that we should all drop reasonable historical criteria and use Bayes’ theorem instead, as Carrier has unwittingly demonstrated by means of his own extensive incompetence.

Notably incompetent are his discussions the “Criterion of Embarrassment.”[7] Carrier begins with a blunt declaration of a typical mythicist view: ‘The assumption is that embarrassing material “would naturally be either suppressed or softened in the later stages of the tradition.” But all extant Gospels are already very late stages of the “Gospel tradition”, the Gospel having already been preached for nearly an entire lifetime across three continents before any Gospel was written’.[8] There are two serious things wrong with this. The first is the description of Meier’s view as an ‘assumption’. No-one reading this without checking Meier’s enormous book would imagine that Meier’s comment is the beginning of a coherent argument of some length, not an ‘assumption’ at all. The second problem is the very late date assumed for all the Gospels. As early as 1998, Casey proposed Aramaic reconstructions of a small number of passages of Mark’s Gospel, and on that basis he rather tentatively proposed a date c. 40 CE for this Gospel. This was worked through in detail and reinforced with considerable evidence and argument by James Crossley in a doctoral thesis published in 2004.[9] Carrier knows just what to do with such learned arguments leading to results which he does not wish to believe in: he leaves them all out. What defence does Bayes’ theorem offer against this? It cannot provide any defence against such professional incompetence and methodological bias.

Among many details which illustrate Carrier’s total inability to understand Jesus’ culture is the story of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest and execution. He declares,

‘The authorities did not need Judas… to find or identify Jesus. Given what Mark has Jesus say in 14:49 (and what Jesus had been doing in Jerusalem only days before), the authorities knew what he looked like, and they could have seized him any time he appeared in public.’

It was fortunate for the Jewish people of the time that the Sagan, the chief priest in charge of security in the Temple, was wiser than Carrier. He will not have forgotten what happened in 4 BCE, when Herod Archelaus was faced with a serious protest in the Temple. Archelaus sent people to talk to the protesters, but when Passover came round and support for them increased, he sent in a cohort led by a tribune, so some 500 soldiers led by an officer: the crowd stoned them with such violence that most of the cohort were killed. Archelaus then sent in his army in force: the result was 3,000 dead Jews and the wreckage of a major festival (Jos. War II, 5-13: Ant XVII, 206-8). This is arguably what the chief priests were avoiding by not arresting Jesus in public in the Temple, yet Carrier shows not a glimmer of awareness of the event in the time of Archelaus ever happening..

Mark reports the possible mob scenario events with precision, but Carrier, despite presenting himself as a competent historian of the ancient world, seems to have depended on a traditional English translation. He announces that for the authorities to have arrested Jesus would not only be ‘politically suicidal’, but also that the idea that the ‘Jewish elite would be that stupid is vanishingly small (a fact fully admitted by Mark, cf. 14.1-2, who nevertheless has them stupidly contradict themselves in the very next chapter…’).[10] This supposed contradiction depends on a traditional translation of μὴ ἐν τῇ ἑορτῇ, (Mk 14.2) as, e.g.,  ‘Not during the festival’ (NRSV). Jeremias long ago pointed out that the Greek heortē also means ‘festival crowd’, as standard secondary literature intermittently repeats.[11] Moreover, Mark’s Greek will represent the chief priests saying in Aramaic al behaggā, which also means ‘not in the festival crowd’.[12] This is why Judah of Kerioth led a party to arrest Jesus in a garden at night. They were then able to hand him over to Pilate, the Roman governor, early the following morning, so that he could be crucified outside the city walls at about 9 a.m., when his disciples had fled and there were no crowds about.

As support for not believing the story of the betrayal and arrest at all, Carrier calls on part of the work of the Jewish scholar Haim Cohn.[13] Cohn was a German Jew who emigrated to Israel, where he became Attorney General of Israel, and Minister of Justice, as well as a member of the Supreme Court of Israel and the International Court of Justice in the Hague. He was a member of the “T’hila” Movement for Israeli Jewish secularism. It is culturally ludicrous to expect anyone like Cohn to give a fair account of a New Testament narrative, especially one which has played such an appalling role in the history of Christian anti-Semitism.

Cohn’s total ineptitude in historical research runs through his whole book. For example, at the beginning of his chapter on Jesus, he declares ‘Our purpose is to show that neither Pharisees nor Sadducees, neither priests nor elders, neither scribes nor any Jews, had any reasonable cause to seek the death of Jesus or his removal. Without such, it will be submitted, the reports that they sought to destroy him (Matt. 12:14; Luke 19:47) or that they counseled together “for to put him to death” (John 11:53; Luke 22:2; Mark 14:1) are stripped of all plausibility’.[14] This illustrates the way that Cohn ignores all historical evidence in favour of his own ideologically orientated fantasies, much as Carrier and other mythicists do.

Carrier follows the religious bias of amateurs as greedily as he does his own mistaken prejudices, rather than relying on competent Jewish scholars such as Amy-Jill Levine, Paula Fredriksen and Geza Vermes, when he opines that ‘The fact that Jesus’ betrayer’s name means “Jew” should already make us suspicious’.[15] It should not. Juda(s) (יהודה:  Yehuda, God is praised) was believed to have been the fourth son of the Biblical patriarch Jacob, and hence regarded as the eponymous ancestor of the tribe of Judah;  it is a well attested and popular Jewish name of the period. Famous examples included Judah ‘the hammer’, better known in English as Judas Maccabaeus, leader of the Maccabean revolt in the second century BCE: and Rabbi Judah the Prince. Another example is one of Jesus’ brothers (Mk 6.3). Many real people have been called ‘Judah’ ever since: one of the most famous recent examples is the musician, Yehudi Menuhin.

Carrier then suggests that ‘Iscariot’ is ‘an Aramaicism for the Latin “Sicarius”’. This etymology however is barely coherent. The Latin ‘Sicarius’ is not otherwise used for Jewish insurgents until much later, and no-one had any good reason to put the Hebrew Ish and the Latin Sicarius into a single name at any time. The Hebrew Ish was however sometimes used in names, and the very varied forms of Iscariot, including for example Iskariōth (e.g. Mk 3.19) and apo Karyōtou (D at Jn 12.4) make perfect sense if his designation was originally ‘man of Kerioth’, a village right in the south of Judaea, and this also makes good sense of him.[16]

How much help is Bayes’ theorem in understanding all this? It is of no help whatever. It can do nothing to prevent Carrier from being totally incompetent in doing the meticulous business of historical research, torturing  false assumptions into premises, and using equally incompetent pseudo-scholars such as the hopelessly radical Mack, the Christian fundamentalist Porter, and the equally bigoted  Cohn as pillars in his argumentative travesty. Mack and Porter have in common with Carrier that they cannot read Aramaic, and consequently cannot understand any arguments based on features in the text of the synoptic Gospels, especially Mark, which have often been thought to reflect Aramaic sources. Cohn simply seems not to have done so, and wrote too early to have read recent work written in the light of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Caeci caecos decentes: An ambitious blogger on New Testament subjects with no formal training in the field at all, Tom Verenna, who often makes unqualified pronouncements, has praised Richard Carrier’s piece on the ‘Bible and Interpretation’ on-line journal as an ‘Exceptional article’.[17] And it is indeed exceptional: an exceptionally flawed and overblown piece, Bayes’ Theorem and the Modern Historian: Proving History Requires Improving Methods,[18] in which he is typically misleading and characteristically over confident about his convictions. Especially in evidence in this article is his inability to provide sufficient or adequate references.

In an earlier blog post in which Carrier attempted to promote himself and his book Proving History, he made the most extraordinary and unqualified claim that ‘every expert who is a specialist in methodology has concluded, one and all, that the methods now used in Jesus studies are also totally fucked’.

Whom Carrier considers to be expert, and what criteria he assumes qualifies one as an expert are unclear, especially as Carrier considers himself to be an expert in fields in which he has no qualifications. All competent and critical New Testament scholars investigating the history of early Christianity, should be competent in methodology in order to pursue academic enquiry. Carrier’s claim is ludicrous. In this so-called ‘exceptional’ article, Carrier is still unclear and seems completely disconnected from the reality of the academic process of critical enquiry, debate and progress. He would like us to believe that a collection of essays will be featuring

‘such luminaries as Mark Goodacre and Morna Hooker, all coming to the same conclusion: the method of criteria is simply not logically viable. This leaves the field of Jesus studies with no valid method, and puts into question all consensus positions in the field, insofar as they have all been based, to one extent or another, on these logically invalid methods.’

We cannot assess essays which have not been published. Nevertheless Mark Goodacre has generously sent me his contribution prior to publication. Carrier then goes on to include several other people, including Tom Verenna who has no qualifications and Thomas Thompson who is not a New Testament scholar, suggesting they all reject historical method as leading to confusing results. This is a grotesque caricature of scholarship, and Carrier’s expectation that consensus should be reached by people of such different ideological perspectives is fantasy.

Premised on his assumption that methods in historical studies must be non-duplicative, non-competitive and homogenous, Carrier claims

‘When everyone picks up the same method, applies it to the same facts, and gets a different result, we can be certain that that method is invalid and should be abandoned. Yet historians in Jesus studies don’t abandon the demonstrably failed methods they purport to employ.’

He concludes after accepting his own verdict that ‘This has to end’.

It’s a shame Carrier has collected such a disparate group of people and selected helpful words out of context in order to argue his own conviction that New Testament studies is ‘fucked’. It’s also regrettable that Carrier avoids discussion of crucial historical Jesus scholars such as Roger Aus, Maurice Casey (whose work on Aramaic Carrier routinely omits because it is inconvenient and he cannot understand it) Martin Hengel, William Horbury, who discuss method, evaluate it and constantly seek to improve it.

Method evolves with advances in knowledge and technical expertise; it cannot be shortcut by bogus and inapplicable mathematical formulas. Indeed, the nature of critical scholarship is to provide a continuing critique of the historical methods of previous generations and their application; to evaluate and revise them, and to help them to evolve and to improve.  At no point in such a process does a critical scholar throw his or her hands in the air and pronounce a fatwah on all preceding efforts.  Discussing and debating application and constantly evaluating method, Mark Goodacre whom Carrier cites out of context, writes,

‘This is not to argue for the replacement of one criterion (multiple attestation) for another (accidental information), but to suggest, rather, that crude, ham-fisted application of criteria was never likely to yield reliable historical results in the quest of the historical Jesus.[19]

Goodacre’s incisive comments are entirely correct and illustrate the sort of academic discussion critical scholars are engaged in.

It is presently too early to expect a consensus, even on methods, among all critical scholars, in view of new evidence and new argument especially since the 1970s and in view of more recent developments in Aramaic scholarship. Consensus involving ideological extremes is impossible and this has a regrettable effect on the most critical scholarship because all critical scholars are human beings who necessarily begin and continue their lives within some kind of social framework.

Aramaic, Greek and Porter.

Carrier’s section on ‘Aramaic Context’ moves beyond the incompetent to the barely comprehensible.[20] Astonishingly he once again relies on the Christian fundamentalist Stanley Porter, forcing even an inattentive reader to ask whether he cannot read any reputable critical scholars? Porter needs to believe that Jesus taught in Greek. He put this clearly on the Website of McMaster Divinity College, the theological seminary where he works. Here Porter comments on New Testament Greek: ‘I love the challenge of developing students who are passionate about learning New Testament Greek, the language that God used when he wished to communicate with us directly about his Son, and in which the New Testament is written.’[21]

So that’s it, then. Jesus must have spoken Greek because it is God’s language. It follows that Porter’s scholarship is a sham, and this is why it contains so many predicable mistakes. One mistake is to downplay or even omit the evidence that Jesus spoke and consequently taught in Aramaic. Noting quotations in Aramaic in the synoptic Gospels, Porter comments, ‘By this reasoning it is more plausible to argue that Jesus did most of his teaching in Greek, since the Gospels are all Greek documents.’[22]

This misrepresents the nature of the Gospels themselves. They were written in Greek to communicate the ‘good news’ to Greek-speaking Christians. This mere fact does not tell us in which language Jesus taught, whereas the Aramaic words and idioms in the synoptic Gospels cannot be explained unless the Gospel writers could expect their audiences to know or be told that the ministry took place in an Aramaic-speaking environment, and this is part of the evidence that Jesus must have taught in Aramaic. This is supported by peculiarities such as ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, which is not normal monoglot Greek, and which makes excellent sense as a translation of br ’nash(a)’. Porter’s second major mistake is to exaggerate the use of Greek in Israel. For example, Porter has Galilee ‘completely surrounded by Hellenistic culture’.[23] This Hellenistic culture was however Gentile, and its presence in cities such as Tyre and Scythopolis is entirely consistent with its rejection by Aramaic-speaking Jews. Again, Porter refers to the Greek names of the musical instruments at Daniel 3.5.[24] These are however the instruments of Nebuchadnezzar, and represent in real life the favourite instruments of the Hellenistic persecutor, Antiochus IV Epiphanes. They are the only Greek words in the text of Daniel precisely because they represent Hellenistic persecution, so they reveal very little knowledge of Greek and absolute rejection of it.

Moreover, it is notorious that this is the limit of Greek words in Biblical Aramaic. Qumran Aramaic has no Greek loanwords,[25] an there were very few Greek loanwords in Aramaic until after the time of Jesus. Fundamentalist Christians, however, believe in the traditions of their elders, according to which the book of Daniel, iconic in conservative circles for its providential significance to Christianity, is indisputable scriptural evidence of the use of Greek words in Aramaic in the sixth century BCE, a view which on scholarly grounds must be regarded as completely wrong.

Among genuine evidence of Jews using Greek, Porter cites the funerary inscriptions from Beth She‘arim, noting that they date from the first to the sixth centuries CE, and subsequently responding to criticism by continuing to maintain them as evidence that ‘some from that area, including possibly Jesus, used Greek’.[26] But ‘only a few of the village’s tombs date to the first century CE, and these do not contain inscriptions’.[27] Thus all the tomb inscriptions from Beth She‘arim are too late in date to affect the question of which language(s) Jesus is likely to have spoken in order to communicate with audiences in first century rural Galilee.

So much of Porter’s evidence is from a later time or the wrong place that it should not be used to support the notion of Jesus conducting a Greek-speaking ministry in the Galilean countryside or in relatively small towns such as Capernaum. Porter also drew on what was then recent research to support his view, including the blunt declaration that Sepphoris, where Jesus’ ministry conspicuously did not take place, was a ‘thoroughly Hellenized city.’ This has now been exposed as a temporary American trend, and the Jewishness of the area of the historic ministry has been recognised.[28]

Yet fundamentalist Christian Porter is a ‘scholar’ on whom Carrier relies.

Carrier also dismisses all proposed evidence of Aramaisms in the Gospels with ludicrous comments which show that he has not read relevant primary sources nor any significant secondary literature upon which it is based. He comments, ‘If every instance is a Semitism, then it is not evidence of an Aramaic source’,[29] and then assumes that every instance is a general Semitism (although he doesn’t distinguish the difference) and dismisses Casey’s evidence and entire argument of cumulative weight.[30]

Indeed Carrier has assumed it’s sufficient not to read Casey’s meticulous works because he can dismiss them on a prior assumption, but won’t read his academic arguments to see why Casey believes in written Aramaic sources underlying parts of the synoptic Gospels, not just ‘general Semitisms’. Casey does address the possibility of general Semitisms and has demonstrated in his arguments precisely why and where they are invalid. Carrier for his part repeatedly claims to have referred to ‘experts’, but he does not give proper references, and much scholarship precedes the discovery of Aramaic documents in the Dead Sea Scrolls and is consequently out of date. When he says that experts he knows reject Casey’s work on the ‘son of man’ he is oblivious to the difference between critical reviews and those clouded by hopeless bias.[31]  Needless to say, Casey’s work is rejected by all fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals, who are determined to believe that ‘Son of man’ in the Gospels is derived from Daniel 7, a view which is still attractive to more liberal Christians because it derives what they think of as a Christological title from Scripture. The unfortunate fact is that most New Testament scholars are not competent Aramaists and Casey’s work has to be interpreted and interpreters trusted for critical interpretation. How many of these ‘scholars’ read more than 3,500 examples of the Aramaic term br ’nash(a)’ when they were deciding what it meant? Casey is the only such scholar known to me!

 The Family of the Historical Jesus

 Another significant point of contention is Jesus’ family, whose existence is one of the arguments in favour of his existence. Mythicists pour scorn on this, and especially on Gal. 1.19. At Gal. 1.18, Paul says that after his conversion he went to Arabia, then after three years he went up to Jerusalem to question Cephas, and stayed with him for 15 days: ‘but I did not see any other of the apostles except Jacob the brother of the Lord.’ Of course the Greek word ‘adelphos’ does not necessarily denote a sibling, because it is also used to denote members of a community. Doherty cites 1 Cor 15.6, according to which the risen Jesus appeared to ‘over 500 brethren at once’.[32] These were obviously members of the Christian community, not siblings of the historical Jesus. Noting however not very accurately Phil. 1.14, where members of the community are described by Paul in prison as ‘most of the brethren who have been made confident in the Lord because of my chains’, he declares that ‘James seems to have been head of a community in Jerusalem which bore witness to the spiritual Christ, a group apparently calling itself “brethren in/of the Lord”; the two versions were probably interchangeable.’[33] This is completely spurious: Jacob, and anyone else who might have been a sibling of Jesus, is never called ‘brother in the Lord’, and members of the community in general are never called ‘brethren of the Lord’.

Doherty then seeks to sidestep 1 Cor. 9.5, which has a long tradition of being misinterpreted, going back at least to Drews and others in the late nineteenth century. Here Paul clearly distinguishes a group and a person, ‘the brothers of the Lord and Cephas’. It is obvious that the term ‘brother(s) of the Lord’ is not applied to all members of the community, but Doherty suggests that this ‘may be due to a certain looseness of language’, and that Peter’s separate mention in this text ‘may be for emphasis and need not mean that he is not one of the “brothers”.[34] This suggestion is completely arbitrary. Paul’s language is mundanely precise. ‘The brothers of the Lord’ are Jesus’ brothers enumerated at Mark 6.3f., and Cephas was not one of them. Doherty then expounds his fantasy world to replace this;

‘…other explanations are possible. My own would be that the Jerusalem sect known to Paul began a number of years earlier as a monastic group calling itself “brothers of the Lord” (possibly meaning God) and after those initial visions revealing the existence of the dying and rising Son as recounted in 1 Corinthians 15:5-7, this group expanded its “mandate” to encompass apostolic work and attracted satellite members who, while being referred to as “brothers,” were thought of as distinctive from the original core group.’[35]

This is creative fiction, not scholarship, assumptions supported by guesses and distortion, by Doherty alone, not historical research at all, and it is regrettable that anyone should take it seriously.

Doherty then makes the convenient suggestion that the word ‘the (ton)’ might not have been in the earliest mss., though there is no evidence of its omission. He then declares, ‘I once asked if Paul had the word ton written in big caps’, because Doherty is too ignorant to know that all mss at this date were written in large capital letters – small letters or miniscules having not yet come into use.[36] This illustrates very well that, years after fundamentalist treatment of the text of the New Testament as inerrant, mythicists treat it as something they can always alter when they feel like it, in accordance with their predilections and in total contempt for anything recognisable as principles of reasonable textual criticism.

Doherty includes a very confused and ignorant discussion of what was possible in Greek, and of what we should call the generic use of the Greek article. First of all he declares that ‘there was no way to specify “brother of the Lord” except by simply leaving out the definite article.[37] Paul could however have done this. Secondly, he could have written adelphos tis tou kuriou, ‘a brother of the Lord’. Thirdly, he could have written heis tōn adelphōn tou kuriou, ‘one of the brothers of the Lord’. Paul had however no reason to write any of these things. Jacob was a common name in a culture which had no equivalent of our surnames, and Paul had this very simple way of saying which Jacob he met, in a high context culture in which further explanation was not necessary.  After his inadequate discussion of the Greek article, which should have said simply that it is generic more often than e.g. the English definite article ‘the’, Doherty is left without a reason for Paul’s description of Jacob as ‘the brother of the Lord’. He ends up suggesting that it may have originated ‘as an interpolation or a marginal gloss’. All this is caused by anti-historical convictions that Paul could not have referred to Jesus’ brother Jacob, as he did. It is also based on an arbitrary view of New Testament textual criticism, which is hopelessly out of date.

The rest of Jesus’ family also had names drawn from major figures of Jewish history and culture. His father was called ‘Joseph’, after a major patriarch who ruled over Egypt under the Pharaoh. His mother was called ‘Miriam’, after Moses’ sister. ‘Jesus’ is derived from the Greek form of Yēshua‘¸ whom we usually call ‘Joshua’, the major figure of Jewish history who was believed to have succeeded Moses and led Israel across the Jordan into the promised land. At the time of Jesus this name was believed to mean YHWH saves, or the like, so in effect ‘God saves’ (cf. Matt. 1.21). His brother ‘Jacob’ was of course called after the eponymous patriarch of the whole nation, ‘Jacob’ who was also called ‘Israel’. The other brothers were called ‘Judah’, after the fourth son of the Biblical patriarch Jacob, who was regarded as the eponymous ancestor of the tribe of Judah: ‘Joseph’ again: and ‘Simeon’, who was believed to have been the second son of Jacob and Leah, and thus the eponymous ancestor of the tribe of Simeon.

This family background locates Jesus right inside traditional Judaism. Trying to explain this to contemporary English speaking readers, Fredriksen drew a regrettable analogy with famous Americans’ names, regrettable because the result is not what one expects. Atheist blogger Neil Godfrey, an Australian ‘meta-data’ librarian, thus plucked her brief comments completely out of context, and cited her in favour of the opposite interpretation. While she correctly said, ‘the names themselves convey a close identification with the nation’s foundational past’, Godfrey declared,

‘Add to this the fact that the names are introduced within a narrative that serves the purpose of likening Jesus’ family situation to that of other biblical heroes, like Joseph and David to name only the most prominent ones, and thus conforms to the biblical pattern of being rejected by his own family, and we are entitled to hold some reservations about the authenticity of the list.’[38]

This means nothing more significant than that Godfrey proposes not to believe what he does not fancy. As a member of the Worldwide Church of God he could not cope with the Jewishness of Jesus, and when he converted to atheism this did not change.  As N.T. Wrong astutely observed, ‘Once a fundie always a fundie. He’s just batting for the other side, now.’ [39]


Still More Incompetence.

The undergraduate student Tom Verenna has recently attempted to contribute a piece, ‘Did Jesus Exist? The Trouble with Certainty in Historical Jesus Scholarship’, in Bible and Interpretation May, 2012.[40] This is yet another scandalously ignorant outpouring written in the form of (yet another) attack on New Testament scholar, Bart Ehrman. I do not wish to defend Ehrman’s book but Verenna’s ignorance of New Testament scholarship is indicated by his declaration that the whole idea that Jesus existed is contrary to recent scholarship. In particular, his reference to ‘credible scholars like Thomas Thompson, Bob Price or Carrier’ has two people (Thompson and Carrier) who have never been properly qualified in New Testament Studies, and one (Price) who was a fundamentalist and who was converted to atheism without ever progressing through the rites of academic passage that would make him a critical scholar as opposed to a populariser of radical and unsupportable ideas.[41] Verenna ought to learn more before he pronounces, but his enthusiastic outpourings show no signs of a desire to learn.

Carrier’s over-long blog post[42] reviewing a very very brief piece by Ehrman in the Huffington Post (whenever was a book review ten times longer than the thing reviewed?), misrepresents several things. For example, he cites Philo, De Prov. II, 64, to show that Philo ‘made regular pilgrimages to Jerusalem’. This passage survives only in Armenian, which in general does not provide reliable tradition. Moreover, the passage does not say that he ‘made regular pilgrimages’ at all. It only says that he went via Ascalon, and it is perfectly consistent with the common view that he went only once.

Both Carrier and Verenna claim that Ehrman implies one’s career will be ruined if a scholars challenges the historical existence of Jesus. Ehrman, of course, does not, and Verenna and Carrier, who have never held academic positions, can point to no case since the nineteenth century in German protestant faculties where a career has been jeopardized by holding radical views, competently argued, vetted and defended. This is because there is no evidence and they assume a conspicuous falsehood.  The modern university in most parts of the developed world prizes academic freedom as an unalienable right to profess what you have learned without restriction:  that is why the convention called academic tenure exists. Indeed, even untenured lecturers, especially in the United Kingdom and the Antipodes, are appointed to permanent positions where they suffer no fear for voicing inconvenient positions.  One stands aghast not only that people like Carrier, Godfrey and Verenna subscribe to such opinions but that they feel free to broadcast their ignorance in writing.

Atheist blogger Neil Godfrey defends himself for his misleading comments on the work of Casey, Crossley and other scholars whom he has criticised for ‘circular reasoning, begging the question and special pleading’ after conveniently replacing their learned arguments (which he did not understand) with simplistic and misleading summaries which is all he can understand.  It is also apparent he does not read whole books, once claiming on his blog ‘I’m a librarian, but I never see or touch a book.’[43]

This is perhaps the one credible statement in Godfrey’s expanding dabble into the field of biblical studies: if one does not read entire books from beginning to end as a matter of habit before commenting on or attempting to critique them, what chance is there for scholarship to be fairly represented, and what confidence can a reader have in the validity of such critiques?  Much scholarship is incompletely available on line which could lead to the sort of hopeless misrepresentations, misinterpretations and muddles, by the likes of these atheist bloggers. A recent example of internet noise passing for information was a post by Godfrey  defending Steven Carr who had complained that Casey’s recent book Jesus of Nazareth was not given on a Nottingham university reading list. When I pointed out that there had not been time to put it there, given its recent publication date,   Godfrey announced that to list it  ‘needs nothing more than that the book is available and in print.’[44] This is completely untrue, and shows no grasp of what is involved in running a major university library. This illustrates as well the recurrent petulance of the comments by Godfrey and Carr, to which I have frequently drawn attention–and atheist blogger Neil Godfrey, who is a librarian, ought to know better.

Albert Schweitzer in his Historical Context 

Martin Luther, condemning the selection of words out of context and misrepresentation, says, ‘He does nothing more than latch on to a small word and smear over with his spittle as he pleases, but meanwhile he does not take into account other texts which overthrow he who smear and spits, so that he is up-ended with all four limbs in the air. So here, after he has raved and smeared for a long time … [he] is like the ostrich, the foolish bird which thinks it is wholly concealed when it gets its neck under a branch.’[45]

Mythicists also love to quote old scholarship out of its historical context. Schweitzer is one of their favourites for this. For example, atheist blogger Godfrey comments, apparently trying to demonstrate mythicists don’t use Schweitzer to support their claims, but his comment merely demonstrates that they do.  He is oblivious to the fact that nobody suggests that mythicists pretend Schweitzer was a mythicist.  This is further demonstration that Godfrey shows utter ignorance of what misrepresentation of scholarship is.  Mythicists misinterpret Schweitzer to claim there is no historically valid evidence for historicity of Jesus.  On his blog Godrey writes:[46]

‘Schweitzer understood the limitations of what generally passes for historical method far better than nearly every contemporary historical Jesus scholar I have read: In reality, however, these writers [those arguing for the historicity of Jesus against mythicists] are faced with the enormous problem that strictly speaking absolutely nothing can be proved by evidence from the past, but can only be shown to be more or less probable. Moreover, in the case of Jesus, the theoretical reservations are even greater because all the reports about him go back to the one source of tradition, early Christianity itself, and there are no data available in Jewish or Gentile secular history which could be used as controls. Thus the degree of certainty cannot even by raised so high as positive probability.” (From page 402 of The Quest of the Historical Jesus, 2001, by Albert Schweitzer.)

Little wonder that Schweitzer called upon Christians to let go of their faith in an unknowable historical Jesus (whose very existence could not even pass the theoretical norms of positive probability) and ‘turn to a new metaphysic.’

This ignores the fact that, like von Ranke, whom Godfrey also loves to quote , Schweitzer was a committed German Christian and was not inveighing against the historicity of Jesus or advocating an end of the search to establish his actual historical coordinates. As such, Schweitzer believed that salvation was by faith, not by works, and historical research was merely a ‘work’. This is what he considered ‘uncertain’ about all historical research. It has nothing to do with what present-day historians or incompetent bloggers mean when they think that something is ‘historically uncertain’, which normally indicates that it may or may not have happened. It is well known that Schweitzer followed Weiss in supposing that Jesus expected the kingdom of God to come in his own time–and was mistaken. Schweitzer deserves to be quoted at length, since his memorable statement of the status quaestiones has dominated serious historical research for a century:

His [Weiss’s] Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom of God, published in 1892, is in its own way as important as Strauss’s first Life of Jesus. He lays down the third great alternative which the study of the life of Jesus had to meet….either eschatological or non-eschatological!….The general conception of the kingdom was first grasped by Johannes Weiss. All modern ideas, he insists…must be eliminated from it; when this is done, we arrive at a kingdom of God which is wholly future….He exercises no ‘messianic functions’, but waits, like others, for God to bring about the coming of the kingdom by supernatural means…. But it was not as near as Jesus thought. The impenitence and hardness of heart of a great part of the people, and the implacable enmity of his opponents, at length convinced him that the establishment of the kingdom of God could not yet take place….It becomes clear to him that his own death must be the ransom price….

The setting up of the kingdom was to be preceded by the day of judgement. In describing the messianic glory Jesus makes use of the traditional picture, but he does so with modesty, restraint and sobriety. Therein consists his greatness….

The ministry of Jesus is therefore not in principle different from that of John the Baptist….What distinguishes the work of Jesus from that of the Baptist is only his consciousness of being the Messiah. He awoke to this consciousness at his baptism. But the messiahship which he claims is not a present office; its exercise belongs to the future….

…Reimarus…was the first, and indeed before Johannes Weiss, the only writer to recognise and point out that the teaching of Jesus was purely eschatological….But Weiss places the assertion on an unassailable scholarly basis.”[47]

Now where has all the supposedly historical uncertainty gone? It was never there! In this second passage, Schweitzer was discussing what really happened, and he had no doubts about that at all. His apparent doubts in the much quoted passage above are not historical doubts. They are entirely due to his conviction, which comes indirectly from his Lutheran beginnings, that salvation is by faith, not works, and historical research is a ‘work’ which does not bring salvation.

Genuine historical knowledge, however, restores to theology full freedom of movement! It presents to it the person of Jesus in an eschatological world-view, yet one which is modern through and through because His mighty spirit pervades it.

This Jesus is far greater than the one conceived in modern terms: he is really a superhuman personality. With his death he destroyed the form of his Weltanschauung, rendering his own eschatology impossible. Thereby he gives to all peoples and to all times the right to apprehend him in terms of their thoughts and conceptions, in order that his spirit may pervade their ‘Weltanschauung’ as it quickened and transfigured the Jewish eschatology.”[48]


Successus improborum plures allicit.[50] Carrier slanders scholars with spurious and unqualified accusations such as being ‘insane’ and a ‘liar’ which is merely a reflection of his own n0n-professionalism and inability to engage in critical academic debate.  He has no evidence that his claims are accurate. His attacks are entirely personal and usually conducted in the kind of language we would expect after a few rounds at the local.  They merely appear to be defensive emotional outursts.

Carrier  holds no academic post and the prospect for such is unlikely, a prophecy he would no doubt find preordained in the conspiracy of  ‘mainstream’ biblical scholarship against the truth of his conclusions.  In any case his field is not New Testament or the History of Religion.  To date, his doctoral thesis has not been published.  How does an author of self published books, which have never been peer reviewed, become renowned?   His atheist blog boasts “Richard Carrier is the renowned author of Sense and Goodness without God,  Proving History, and Not the Impossible Faith, as well as numerous articles online and in print. His avid fans span the world from Hong Kong to Poland. With a Ph.D. in ancient history from Columbia University, he specializes in the modern philosophy of naturalism, the origins of Christianity, and the intellectual history of Greece and Rome, with particular expertise in ancient philosophy, science and technology. He has also become a noted defender of scientific and moral realism, Bayesian reasoning, and the epistemology of history.”  One does not generally assume to have ‘expertise’ in areas one is self taught.  Carrier does and his egotistical pretences of learning, compromise his claim to credibility further. As Frank Leahy apparently said ‘Egotism is the anaesthetic that dulls the pains of stupidity’.[51]

His self published books follow here:
self published: AuthorHouse
self published: CreateSpace
self published: Lulu
Doctoral Thesis?? not published.

‘Renowned’?  If Richard Carrier had been Jesus at least we’d know how the gospels got published.  He has claimed on facebook to have covered “the whole issue [of historical criteria, citing] all the relevant scholarship on why those criteria are all flawed.”  He has done neither of these things.  His forthcoming volume is called On the Historicity of Jesus Christ.  The title alone in fact demonstrates how out of touch with critical scholarship Carrier is.  “Christ”?

It was unfortunate that Carrier managed to be invited by Robert M Price onto the Jesus Project.  As Bruce Chilton wrote in January 2009

“the Project has focused on an incoherent set of some of the least important questions in scholarship. For example, it keeps asking “Did Jesus exist?” as if that issue had not been raised repeatedly during the past two centuries… the Project has attempted to address questions of critical approach without a thorough grounding in academic study since the eighteenth century. The result is that some of the assertions made by contributors to the Project are not well informed and invoke quests for “objectivity” that seem more at home in nineteenth-century Europe than in twenty-first century America. What is more worrying, actual knowledge of primary sources (and of their languages) does not seem as great among participants in the Project as among Fellows of the Seminar… Fundamentalists are not the only partisans who permit their wishes to cloud what they see and that it takes more than a declaration of “objectivity” to acquire the discipline of reasoning from evidence, both textual and archaeological”.[52]

Chilton accurately identifies flaws which are so deplorably typical of the mythicist approaches to religious texts today.

Delusion is defined according to Carrier by three criteria: certainty (held with absolute conviction), incorrigibilty (not changeable by compelling counter argument or proof to the contrary), and impossibility or falsity of content.   These criteria are as characteristic of fundamentalist belief, as they are of atheistic Jesus denial, and Carrier’s atheistic convictions, and self image.  It is slightly ironic therefore that he announces during this same talk on Christian Delusion, “I don’t think there’s a problem with being a dick”.[53] If that clownish attitude existed in critical scholarship, academia would be a circus.[54]

In order to continue to advance knowledge and make progress in historical enquiry, we need to extinguish the maladroit methods and bumbling amateurism from scholarship.  From the muddled and ignorant delusions of Richard Carrier to the ideological extremes which have lingered too long and still creep into scholarship through the theological seminary corridor.

To ensure the healthy future of critical historical enquiry and continue to inspire the process of constructive debate and analysis, the continued development of new argument and evidence, and encourage the evolution of improved methodological approaches and application through precision and fine tuning, we need to start taking responsibility for maintaining high standards in scholarship.

This will be ensured with expertise brought about by specific specialist training in all aspects of New Testament and religion, including ancient languages and history, accompanied with sophisticated interdisciplinary knowledge.

It seems fitting to return to Albert Schweitzer.  Although he is renowned as marking the end of the first Quest for a historical Jesus, it could be argued that he inspired future historians with his insight and attitude, and also with his passion for life, his empathy and dedication to clarity:  “What has been presented as Christianity during these nineteen centuries is only a beginning, full of mistakes, not full blown Christianity springing from the spirit of Jesus… To the question whether I am a pessimist or an optimist, I answer that my knowledge is pessimistic, but my willing and hoping are optimistic.”[55]

[1] Richard C. Carrier, Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus (Amherst, New York: Prometheus, 2012) p.50, with p.301 n.10.

[2] Carrier, Proving History, pp.54-60.

[3] See especially R.D. Aus, Samuel, Saul and Jesus: Three Early Palestinian Jewish Christian Gospel Haggadoth, (Scholar’s Press, 1994) ch. 3, esp. pp. 134-57, with a summary for the general reader at Casey, Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian’s Account of His Life and Teaching, (T&T Clarke, 2010) pp. 447-8.

[4] Carrier, Proving History, p. 60.

[5] Carrier, Proving History, p. 45.

[6] Carrier, Proving History, pp. 11-14.

[7] Carrier, Proving History, pp. 126-69.

[8] Carrier, Proving History, p. 126, quoting J.P. Meier, Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (New York: Doubleday, ABRL), vol I p.168.

[9] Maurice Casey, Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel (Society for New Testament Studies, Monograph Series 102; Cambridge: University Press, 1998);  J. G. Crossley, The Date of Mark’s Gospel: Insight from the Law in Earliest Christianity (JSNTSup 266. London: T&T Clark International, 2004).

[10] Carrier, Proving History, p. 317 n. 68.

[11] Joachim Jeremias, Eucharistic Words, translated by Norman Perrin, (S.C.M. Press, 1966) pp. 71-3, utilising older secondary literature in German.

[12] For a fully explanatory summary, see now Maurice Casey, Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian’s Account of His Life and Teachings (T&T Clarke, 2010) pp. 415-7, 425-8, 438-47.

[13] Carrier, Proving History, pp. 153-5, with p. 317 n. 68, citing Haim Cohn, The Trial and Death of Jesus (NY: Harper & Row, 1971).

[14] Cohn, Trial, p. 38.

[15] Carrier, Proving History, p. 154.

[16] cf. Maurice Casey, Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian’s Account of his Life and Teaching, (T&T Clark, 2010) pp. 191-2, 425-8, 439.



[19] Mark Goodacre, “Criticizing the Criterion of Multiple Attestation: The Historical Jesus and the Question of Sources” in Chris Keith and Anthony LeDonne (eds), Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity (T & T Clark, 2012) forthcoming.

[20] Carrier, Proving History, pp. 185-6.

[22] Stanley Porter, “Jesus and the Use of Greek”, 125 n. 9, repeated in Porter, “EXCURSUS”, 171.

[23] Porter, ‘Jesus and the Use of Greek’, p. 135.

[24] Porter, ‘Jesus and the Use of Greek’, p. 139.

[25] F. García Martínez, ‘Greek Loanwords in the Copper Scroll’, in F. García Martínez & G.P. Luttikhuizen, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Rome: Studies in Ancient Cultural Interaction in Honour of A.Hilhorst (JSJSup 82. Leiden: Brill, 2003), pp. 119-45 (121), noting also the absence of Greek loanwords from Qumran Hebrew, other than in the Copper Scroll.

[26] Porter, ‘Jesus and the Use of Greek’, 146-7; ‘EXCURSUS’, 172-3, responding to Casey, ‘In Which Language’, p. 327, and Aramaic Sources of Mark’s Gospel (Society for New Testament Studies, Monograph Series 102; Cambridge: University Press, 1998) p. 66.

[27] M. Chancey, The Myth of a Gentile Galilee (SNTSMS 118. Cambridge: CUP, 2002), 108-9, citing N. Avigad, Beth She‘arim. Report on the Excavations during 1953-1958. Vol. III: Catacombs 12-23 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1976): 260-1. Avigad (pp. 124-5, 261) has catacomb 21 as the earliest, dating perhaps from the Herodian period, but perhaps later, and with no inscriptions.

[28] Porter, ‘EXCURSUS’, p. 176: see now especially M. Chancey, ‘The Cultural Milieu of Ancient Sepphoris’, NTS 47 (2001): 127-45; id., Myth of a Gentile Galileeid., Greco-Roman Culture and the Galilee of Jesus (SNTSMS 134. Cambridge: CUP, 2005).

[30] Carrier, Proving History, pp. 185-6.

[32] E. Doherty, Jesus: Neither God Nor ManThe Case for a Mythical Jesus (Ottawa: Age of Reason, 2009), pp. 60-61.

[33] Doherty, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p. 60.

[34] Doherty, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p. 61.

[35] Doherty, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p. 61.

[36] Doherty, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p. 62.

[37] Doherty, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p. 62.

[38] P. Fredriksen, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews: A Jewish Life and the Emergence of Christianity (New York: Random House, 1999), p. 240; quoted out of context by atheist blogger Neil Godfrey:

[41] See Casey’s essay in this series: and further on Joel Watts’ blog, with comments by Casey and myself, Casey’s comments include a refutation of Verenna.

[45] Against the Heavenly Prophets: In the Matter of Images and Sacrament, (1525) Vol. 40, Martin Luther’s Works: Church and Ministry II (Translated by Conrad Bergendof) p. 185.

[47] Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (First Complete Edition. Translated by W. Montgomery, J.R.Coates, Susan Cupitt and John Bowden from the German Geschichte der Leben-Jesus-Forschung, published 1913 by J.C.B.Mohr, Tübingen. Ed. John Bowden. London: SCM, 2000), pp. 198-201.

[48] Albert Schweitzer: The Mystery of the Kingdom of God, translated by Walter Lowrie (Dodd Mead and Co, New York, 1914) p. 251.

[49] Albert Schweitzer, Ehrfurcht vor den Tieren: Ein Lesebuch, (München, Beck, 2011) p. 22.

[50] The success of the wicked encourages more: Phaedrus, Fables, II. 3. 7.

[51] appropriately Wikipedia for stupid people.

[55] Albert Schweitzer: Out of my Life and Thought, (John Hopkins University Press, 1998) pp 241-2.