Historicized Scripture: A Response to James McGrath on Neil Godfrey

James McGrath has an interesting article analyzing Neil Godfrey’s blog post from earlier today.   But while I enjoyed the read (James seems to be more open about a lot of these issues, even possibly allowing for a state of uncertainty–something I am quite impressed with), I did have some concerns and would like to stress (take note of) some difficulties.  My points of contention rest with his bullet points.  He writes:

But even if we were certain in such instances that they are all cases of “Scripture historicized,” does this lead naturally to the view that all the stories in the Gospels are examples of this? Hardly. There are three main issues:
  1. First, Spong, Price, Godfrey and others seem to think that this approach to composition is in fact what the rabbis called “Midrash.” It is not. It does not resemble what scholars call midrash, nor does it fit with any known compositional technique for creating entire stories evidenced in any ancient literature with which I am familiar.
  2. Second, they seem to think that if you can find a slight similarity with another story, then it automatically becomes preferable to treat the later story as an invention based on the earlier one. That might not follow even if the similarities were clear; it certainly does not when the alleged parallels and points of contact are few and unconvincing.
  3. Finally, to the extent that this approach to composition may fit some details in the Gospels, this compositional technique makes sense as part of Christians’ attempt to fill in their knowledge of Jesus from Scripture, which they considered an authoritative source. But it makes much less sense as a means of creating a purely fictional Jesus taking inspiration from earlier literature.

Exploring Our Matrix: Godfrey’s Razor and Historicized Scripture.

1. My concerns are quite simple.  With regards to the first, he is correct.  Most scholars (though not all, I believe Thomas Thompson and others have argued that the Gospels do, in fact, reflect Midrash–and they are qualified to say otherwise) do suggest that Midrash is other than what the Gospel genre is.  And over the past six decades, scholars have argued towards defining the Gospels precisely because they do not fit neatly into any particular category.

Bultmann argued, for example, that the Gospels were a new genre (which I tend to think is correct…more on this in a moment), but he labeled them (or, at least, Mark) as the genre of ‘Gospel’; a type of genre which was enriched not by history and culture, but my the eschatological message–such that the genre itself was not at all considered with historical events whatsoever.  Others, like Charles Talbert, argued that the Gospels best reflected Roman biographies, built upon legendary historical figures, overstating things to make them better or more idealized.

But there are problems for both of these sorts of arguments, many of them highlighted by more recent endeavors at tackling the question of genre (like those of Thomas L. Brodie in his massive tome on intertextuality in the New Testament which is somewhere around 600 pages, and I highly recommend it for those who wish to argue this sort of subject matter professionally; also Michael Vines’ book on the genre of the Gospel of Mark), and they handle the arguments much better than I can on my blog.  However, I’m not so sure that we can classify the Gospels using other genre.  On this, I believe Bultmann had it right.

The Gospels, after all, might very well be the start of a new type of literary genre (even if it were another type, we must agree that a genre has to have a ‘start’), which then sprung forth from the 1st century following the success of Mark; after all, following that Gospel (or the proto-Gospel of Mark, whichever) we have a plethora of new Gospels which seem to continue into the early Middle Ages.  Mark might very well have revolutionized the literature style himself, but it is clear that it does not follow the normalcy of what we would expect to see in Greco-Roman biographies (see my arguments here against Greco-Roman biography classifications of the Gospels).  In fact I feel the case is quite strong, after all, since genres have to arise from somewhere, at some time.   So it is perhaps an unfair criticism by James that “it [didn’t] fit with any known compositional technique for creating entire stories evidenced in any ancient literature with which I am familiar.”  That might very well be because it is a new form of composition and a new genre from anything which might have come before.

In addition, it does not, therefore, mean that we can automatically classify it as a work written about a historical or metaphorical (etymological, eschatological) figure.  We must analyze it as a new genre itself.  Here, also, I feel that Bultmann was correct; the author of Mark, at the very least, but I would argue all of them, cared little for the historical world. Their message seems to be theological throughout.  As I’ve said before, I’ll say again: The Gospel authors wrote for their own reasons, with their own rhetoric, using existing material (which, sans James’ second point–tackled later–can be demonstrated easily), expressing sometimes conflicting theological messages which contradict an earlier Gospel narrative.  One must wonder why, if Mark is the priority on the historical figure, that Luke and Matthew change so much of the story if they were writing, as James remarks, about a historical figure?  Thus, these questions plague the concern that James expresses in his first point.

2. This point seems to be based on whether or not James finds the parallels convincing; I, for one, am cautious about using this sort of strong language.   Which parallels does James find unconvincing, for example?  The whole passion narrative and Psalm 22, with Leviticus 16?  I have to say that such language is very clear to me that Mark was drawing directly from these passages to create his narrative.  Is it possible that he was searching the scripture in an attempt to explain Jesus’ death because, as James believes, it had been far too embarrassing?  I don’t believe that to be the case and it can be demonstrated that in some instances Jews were expecting a humiliated and murdered Messiah.  Daniel 9:25-26 comes to mind (see comments below for additional notes on ancient interpretations of these verses):

Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One (the Hebrew here is מָשִׁ֫יחַ, or mashiach–Messiah) the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble.  After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing.

Psalm 22 might have even been the influence behind this passage, being that anyone writing in the Hellenistic and Roman Periods would likely have had access to the Pslams (as is shown by their availability to certain Jewish communities in antiquity and even the Qumran sect).  So I am not quite sure why James would even argue this point; some clearly find the intertextual references here, in this very vital part of the narrative, quite convincing.  In fact it seems more convoluted to say that the author of Mark scoured the scriptures in search of a passage which, conveniently, matches the exact way Jesus is always portrayed to have died.  If James wishes to argue that the convenience is because the author invented the Passion narrative based on a historical figure who was crucified, he will have to produce that figure.  After all, we have no record of that figure at all.  Not even in extrabiblical sources–they all follow the Passion narrative, which Bultmann rightly attributes to a kerygmatic tradition.

Intertextuality in the Bible and all ancient literature is not a fringe idea in scholarship and James would do well to acknowledge that there is an entire field of mainstream scholarship dedicated to imitation and the practice of μίμησις by all authors (not some, not a few, not many–all) in antiquity.  And the evidence is quite clear that authors in the so-called Second Sophistic were quite adept at creating whole individuals from scratch, some later believed (I would argue Lycurgus the lawgiver of Sparta as an example, yet again)!  While James is right to be cautious and recommend caution with regards to authorial intent (it is, indeed, something difficult to argue for–but it is possible and has been done), he should not dismiss it so easily or readily.  Lest we forget, more than a few early Christian church fathers argued that Tobit was a real figure, who did real things, as was laid out in the book bearing this fictional characters name!   As well, Palaephatus argued that Centaur’s were real people; I’m sure it was not that much of a stretch for a movement to evolve around a fictional character.  After all, could it not be said that Moses–a fictional character bearing similar traits to Jesus–was well believed to be a historical figure by thousands of Jews throughout their history.  James should really acknowledge these when he makes assertions about this sort of subject; even if he does not agree with every claim (and I don’t either), clarifying these points will only help his argument if he decides to actually present a case against these parallels (which, as of yet, I am uncertain as to the ones he means specifically).

Now, if James is speaking of parallelism (i.e. the sort promoted by Zeitgeist mythicists), he is correct.  They are often flat out wrong.  They are unsupported by any sort of documentation or archaeological evidence .  So if these are the unconvincing arguments he speaks of, he has my support here.

3. On the third point, James claims with some authority; yet I am not aware that he nor any scholar has argued convincingly (or at all) that this happened in antiquity. Do we have evidence to support that this is what Christians were doing (i.e., do you have evidence somewhere that narratives like this had ‘historicized scripture’ written to hide truths about a historical figures)? Or, instead, is James basing this statement on his presupposition that Jesus existed and Christians knew it, leading to the inevitable conclusion that this is why they ‘historicized scripture’?

Whereas we have plenty of examples of fictional stories based solely, entirely, on ‘historicizing scripture’ to create edifying fictions and, as demonstrated above, we have ample evidence of fictionalized characters being historicized and believed in (Euhemerus, for the win).  Sometimes historians even created whole fictional historicized events (like Alexander the Greats march on Jerusalem found in Josephus) based on nothing but scripture to get across a theological message.  And yet not a single historian that we know of ever criticized Josephus’ fictionalizing of the event (and some even flat-out believed him at face value–hell, some still believe his account today!).   I am not saying this happened with certainty, as far as the Gospels are concerned. But it is only fair that James acknowledge that this did in fact happen.  Jewish/Christian authors were very skilled at this sort of ‘genre’.

But again, to reiterate, the claim that they were historicizing scripture to hide embarrassing details about Jesus makes no sense (we have no examples of this, sans those created on the premise, or based solely on presuppositions, that Jesus existed–the very point in dispute!).  As a result, James might want to consider qualifying the third point more, admitting that this is merely speculation based on a possible probability (yet to be demonstrated) that, if Christians had known of a historical figure of Jesus, this is what they might have done, and why we see examples of ‘historicized scripture’.


89 Responses

  1. Thanks for posting on this, Tom! One quick comment: Daniel 9:25-26 seems to have been talking about the high priest when it makes reference to an anointed one. Whether readers in Jesus’ time picked up on the pseudo-prophecy’s references to the high priests of the era of Syrian rule is another question. But since there were multiple anointed figures in Judaism, and Christians claimed as far back as we have evidence that Jesus was the anointed one from the line of David, I don’t think that we should discuss whether a “messiah” in a generic sense could be said to suffer and die, but whether this was compatible with Jewish expectations regarding the Davidic anointed one.

  2. Dr. McGrath, is it your position that the average reader of Daniel (be he Jewish or Gentile) would understand that distinction?

  3. I think you’re being far too narrowed in your analysis James. Many scholars whose focus and field it is to investigate socio-cultural feelings towards Jewish messianism have a different perspective all together. Again, I and Thomas Thompson cover this in our introduction to our forthcoming book. Every study done on Jewish messianism stresses that views on the Messiah were quite varied–there was no set type of Messianic expectation, not even under certain groupings like “Davidic Messianism”. So whether or not it was compatible is something I think can be demonstrated.

    And I’m not entirely impressed with your analysis that this messiah (anointed one) is meant to be understood as a High Priest; where did you draw that conclusion from?

  4. Commentaries on Daniel. it is a pseudoprophecy, written in light of the events, and describes what happened to the Jewish high priest in the events leading up to the Maccabean crisis. The use of the same terminology in Daniel and 1 Maccabees likely kept an awareness of the meaning of this part of Daniel alive in Jewish awareness.

  5. In support of Tom, I can say that ancient Jews did in fact interpret the prophecy of Dan 9 here as the messiah to come. In fact, it was used to legitimate Bar Kochba as the Messiah in the 2nd century. See Strack and Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch (1922-61), IV, 2, pp. 1010f.

    So, it seems James’ restricted interpretation is against how it has been interpreted in antiquity.

  6. James, I have a lot of commentaries; Eerdmans agrees with my interpretation. Geza Vermes, in his analysis of 4Q471b, 4Q491, and 541 also agrees with this interpretation (in disagreeing with the arguments for a suffering messiah in 4Q285, placing emphasis on the priestly messiah instead of the kingly one). I would also recommend reading the specific analyses done by symposiums and seminars on the issue of Messianism, specifically Neusner and Charlesworth are a good start.

    Also read 11Q13 (Melch) 2:18-20; the author is interpreting Isaiah via Daniel 9, discussing its messianic component (this is a mid-first century BCE document).

  7. Thanks for the interesting post, Tom. The term “scripturalization” is used by Judith Newman in relation to prayers in Second Temple Judaism. I have attempted to apply the term to the analysis of Mark’s Passion Narrative in my article “Scripturalization in Mark’s Crucifixion Narrative” in Geert van Oyen and Tom Shepherd (eds.), _The Trial and Death of Jesus: Essays on the Passion Narrative in Mark_ (Leuven: Peeters, 2006): 33-47. It’s reproduced at http://markgoodacre.org/Markcrucif.pdf, should you be interested.

  8. Mark, thanks for stopping by! I skimmed the article and I think we agree on the ends, but perhaps not the means. While I’m glad to see you agree with the strong use of textual references–scripturalization–in the formation of the New Testament, I am no fan of the argument using embarrassment as a catalyst for the development of New Testament literature (in the case of the passion narrative, specifically). If you don’t mind a little nod, I recommend you read Richard Carrier’s analysis of the argument and why it logically doesn’t equate. Here is an example of his argument taken from here:

    EXAMPLE 3: The Criterion of Embarrassment : “Since Christian authors would not invent anything that would embarrass them, anything embarrassing in the tradition must be true.”

    Major Premise 1: Christians would not invent anything that would embarrass them.
    Minor Premise 1: The crucifixion of Jesus would embarrass Christians.
    Conclusion 1: Therefore, Christians did not invent the crucifixion of Jesus.

    Major Premise 2: A report is either invented or it is true.
    Minor Premise 2 (= Conclusion 1): The crucifixion of Jesus was not invented.
    Conclusion 2: Therefore, the crucifixion of Jesus is true.

    Another way to test rules of inference is to try them out on contrary cases. For example:

    Major Premise 1: Cybeleans would not invent anything that would embarrass them.
    Minor Premise 1: The castration of Attis would embarrass Cybeleans.
    Conclusion 1: Therefore, Cybeleans did not invent the castration of Attis.

    Major Premise 2: A report is either invented or it is true.
    Minor Premise 2 (= Conclusion 1): The castration of Attis was not invented.
    Conclusion 2: Therefore, the castration of Attis is true.

    RESULT: This is obviously not a credible conclusion. We have no good reason to believe there was ever an actual Attis who was castrated and it is commonly assumed the story was invented for some particular symbolic reason. The same, then, could be true of the crucifixion of Jesus. Tacitus reports that the castration of Attis was indeed embarrassing (it is grounds for his disgust at the religion), yet the castration of Attis is not a credible
    story, therefore the criterion of embarrassment is in some manner fallacious. An example within the Christian tradition is the astonishing stupidity of the Disciples, especially in the earliest Gospel of Mark. Their depiction is in fact so unrealistic it isn’t credible (real people don’t act like that), which means Mark (or his sources) invented that detail despite its potential embarrassment. Hence the flaw in the criterion of embarrassment is in assuming that historical truth is the only factor that can overcome the potential embarrassment of some reported detail, when in fact moral or doctrinal or symbolic truth can also override such concerns.

    For example, Dennis MacDonald argues this attribute emulates the equally unrealistic stupidity of the crew of Odysseus and thus stands as a marker of the same things that their stupidity represented. That may be true. But I also argue it furthers a literary theme found throughout Mark of the Reversal of Expectation. Thus everything that seems embarrassing in Mark might be an intentional fabrication meant to convey a lesson. Mark echoes the gospel theme that “the least shall be first” in his construction of all his stories: although Jesus tells Simon Peter he must take up the cross and follow him, Simon the Cyrenean does this instead; although the pillars James and John debate who will sit at Jesus’ right and left at the end, instead two nameless thieves sit at his right and left at the end; although the lofty male Disciples flee and abandon Jesus, the lowly female followers remain faithful, and as a result the least are the first to discover that Christ is risen; and while Mark begins his Gospel with the “good news” of the “voice crying out” of the lone man who boldly came forward as a “messenger who will prepare our way,” he ends his Gospel with several women, fleeing in fear and silence, and not delivering the good news, exactly the opposite of how his book began. So since details that seem embarrassing in Mark might serve his literary intentions, we can’t be certain they’re true.

    This final example exposes the importance of testing criteria by comparing them with alternative theories of the evidence. You must ask yourself, what if I’m wrong? What other reasons might Christians have for inventing potentially embarrassing stories? And how do those reasons compare with the theory that they reported embarrassing stories because they were true? Bayes’ Theorem suits exactly such an analysis.

  9. Thanks, Tom. I am also sceptical about elements in the argument from embarrassment (e.g. see my comments in the last page of the article). Cheers, Mark

  10. Excellent; I will review it to the close rate it deserves later this afternoon!

  11. Hi Tom, Michael Vines in his book The Problem of Markan Genre discusses at length Mikhail Bakhtin’s analysis of the nature of literary genre itself. One of the many worthwhile contributions of Bakhtin is explaining why it is impossible to have a “new genre” appear fresh on a scene. All genres, as with any form of human communication, must come from somewhere — they necessarily draw on antecedents. New genres are born by combining elements of existing genres in a new way. So whatever is new is still “old” in one sense, and can always still be analyized in terms of what went before. (I’ve attempted to outline some of the significant points of Bakhtin’s study of genre and its application to Mark’s Gospel, but I don’t think I covered this particular point in that post.)

    On another point — one raised by McGrath here — I have attempted to discuss the question of messianic expectations with McGrath at some length before. I am surprised he still speaks “with authority” about messianic expectations in the way he does, given the ambiguity (at best) of the evidence for the time we are speaking about. But I won’t repeat here the evidence I offered him in our earlier discussion — I will wait till he digests what was given then and responds ot that, first.

  12. Tom, this is the kind of post that makes your blog a standout on the web. (Along with vridar/Neil Godfrey)

    I hope that you continue to engage in this area ( biblical history/interpretation) on a regular basis.

  13. Tom, on James’ third point, there are a number of instances of people using a biblical passage as reflecting a unrelated historical event. There is Ezekiel’s prophecy of Tyr being thrown into the sea that was supposedly fulfilled by Alexander the great, i heard a preacher not at one time that Roman soldiers pried the individual rocks of the temple apart to get the gold that had melted between them to fulfill Jesus’ “no stone on another” prediction, I’ve heard that Philadelphia was the last city taken by the Turks to fulfill the prophecy that it would be spared the calamity to come in revelation, I’ve heard it said that China had a 200,000,000 man army and that it was prophesied by revelation, that the E.U. had a computer named the “Beast” that could enumerate everyone on earth, and that Russia had tanks with armor made of compressed wood that would burn, and that would fulfill some prophecy in Ezekiel when Israel burned Magog’s weapons for 7 years.

  14. Neil and I have indeed had conversations about Messianic expectations, in which I pointed out that there are indeed a variety of different types of expectations in the Judaism of the period in question, but what mythicists seek to do with that well-known fact misses the point, since the earliest Christians did not merely refer to Jesus as the Messiah in a vague sense, but as the Messiah descended from David. And so the issue is not what could be said about an anointed one, whether royal or priestly, but what the expectations were about the particular kind of anointed one that Christians claimed Jesus to have been.

    I certainly agree that arguments from embarrassment do not provide certainty, but there is no way of achieving certainty through historical research, so I don’t see how that is really a criticism of it. But it does seem that it remains true that, in general, when a group passes on information that is embarrassing to itself, it indicates that this is something that they did not feel they could deny or ignore.

    In the case of Jesus, unless one is willing to push the story of Jesus into a distant past for which we have no evidence and a time in which none of our earliest sources sets it, then we need to recognize that we are dealing with new claims and the generation of people inventing them. And that seems to me to be a different matter than when we are dealing with traditions that have been around for a very long time. In the latter case, they may be preserved because they are part of an authoritative source, and we may be unable to ascertain when they were invented, by whom, and what might or might not have been considered embarrassing by those who did so.

  15. James,

    There is a difference between establishing probability and certainty. This is something I am sure you know. Richard’s position, which he argues using formal logic and mathematics (via Bayes Theorem), is that arguing certain positions don’t just fail logically to establish their points, but fail as probable solutions as well. The criterion for embarrassment does not hold up to any sort of scrutiny beyond superficiality. So to continue to use it, as it is currently utilized by scholars, is to continue to parrot the same illogical, improbable point over and over without actually making a solid case.

  16. James wrote: “Neil and I have indeed had conversations about Messianic expectations, in which I pointed out that there are indeed a variety of different types of expectations in the Judaism of the period in question, but what mythicists seek to do with that well-known fact misses the point, since the earliest Christians did not merely refer to Jesus as the Messiah in a vague sense, but as the Messiah descended from David. And so the issue is not what could be said about an anointed one, whether royal or priestly, but what the expectations were about the particular kind of anointed one that Christians claimed Jesus to have been.”

    James, the “conversation” I have on record is at http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/02/17/james-mcgraths-reply-and-my-response/#comments

    You merely asserted that there were certain messianic expectations “at the time in question” and cited a book for me to read. I am still waiting for your response to my reply that knew the book well and it simply failed to support your assertion.

    I also got no response from you when I cited certain other comments from scholars about this question.

    You seem to be continually arguing with a cloud. Who are these “mythicists” you say “say” all these things? When will you ever cite a real argument and respond to it instead of flailing away at your own straw men?

    I don’t share Doherty’s views on this, and I don’t see how your “what mythnicists do with this information” having any relevance to any argument I know of. You simply make up stuff and think you are engaging with real arguments.

  17. I’m not sure what to say, when mythicists point to the different views of Jesus among historians as though that somehow cast his existence into doubt, and yet the very small number of mythicists and sympathizers with mythicism seem not to find each other’s arguments persuasive. What I can say is that I have appreciated your recent series, putting things in a more tentative and exploratory fashion.

    As for the point about messianism, I’ll try to clarify. The issue is not whether there were diverse forms of messianism in first-century Judaism. The earliest Christians didn’t claim that Jesus was a messiah in some vague sense. They claimed that he was the Davidic anointed one, and we know quite a bit about what that meant in the first century, and also before and after that period. This was the expectation that God would restore the kingship to the line of David. And so my point, that it was paradoxical to claim that someone who had been crucified by the Romans was the long-awaited descendant of David, remains true. And while it is well and good to say that someone could have invented stories about such a figure for entertainment purposes, and that is certainly true, before the Gospels were written we find Paul calling on people to believe that Jesus was such a figure, not read entertaining books about him. And so I still do not see how mythicism makes better sense of the literature of earliest Christianity, in the order in which it is believed to have been written, than mainstream historical study.

  18. So you have now dropped your original assertion and are now only discussing “what was meant by a Davidic anointed one” in the first century. What I was questioning was your original assertion, — that there was a general messianic/Davidic expectation in the time of Jesus — and I see I should charitably infer that you no longer claim this was necessarily the case. Thank you.

    But your wish for a new debate over “what was meant by a Davidic anointed one” will have to be conducted with someone who wishes to disagree with your truism.

    The two topics are obviously quite distinct and my point stands. I might copy and paste it as an addendum on my blog at the end of the relevant discussion section to demonstrate that you no longer argue your original point.

    If you wish to insist that there is a conflict with what you are saying now and with what “mythicists” argue I will leave that up to you. But I repeat it would be helpful if you could actually address which mythicist and which specific argument you think you are actually addressing.

    Your opening sentence is yet one more of your armchair straw men that you have conjured up. As for my own tentativeness, I am glad you are finally beginning to notice what has been plainly there from the beginning re any conclusions are concerned. And for that I should also say Thank-you.

  19. Neil, if by the phrase you used you mean an expectation for a Davidic messiah that everyone shared, then I meant no such thing. I have been talking all along about what Davidic messiahship was generally accepted to mean by those who wrote about such a figure. If any of your misunderstanding was due to the manner in which I expressed myself rather than your hostility towards scholars working in my field, I apologize.

  20. What you said and what we were addressing can be checked on your youtube video on your blog: http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2008/10/did-jesus-exist-on-youtube.html

    I have posted many discussions on my blog on the views of scholars in your field, and have engaged with a wide range of them on my blog and on other online sites, and I think you will be hard pressed to find where I express “hostility”. Many have complimented me and my blog for the very opposite tone. I would ask you to apologize for this ad hominem.

    I would remind you that this whole discussion of which you say you had with “mythicists” began over your statement in your video:

    The reason that the crucifixion persuades most historians that Jesus was a historical figure is that a crucified messiah was in essence a contradiction in terms. . . . It needs to be emphasized that we are talking about a dying and rising messiah. And the messianic expectations of Judaism around the time of early Christianity are well documented.

    It was this unequivocal statement and others like it that were the point of the post to which you responded and that is the “engagement” with “mythicists” on this question that apparently spoke of above.

    You have continued to insult mythicists for views that you concoct in your imagination. I have written many times of the very understanding of the Davidic messiah that you are now saying is all you meant — and I know of no mythicist who argues the nonsense you insinuate.

    Had you not been so hostile against mythicists in general and me in particular you might have taken the time to check and understand this, and what it actually is that “mythicists” do argue, and be more careful with your own careless assertions.

  21. I apologize for having assumed that my meaning would be clearer if I expressed myself in a less verbose fashion. I really should have expressed my meaning more clearly.

    I am glad to hear that you have not had the misfortune of encountering mythicists who hold the views I describe. How that is possible, when some of them comment regularly on your blog, I will leave it for others to clarify.

    Now that I have clarified my point, would you agree that a crucified Davidic anointed one would have seemed an oxymoron to those Jews who wrote about that specific sort of figure in the period prior to the rise of Christianity?

  22. James, would you please explain your reasons for making that claim (the last sentence) in a logical syllogism? I believe I’ve asked you that before, but I don’t think you’ve done that. I’d like you to lay out the formulaic reasons for why you believe it is probable that it would have been an oxymoron for Jews.

  23. Here is my point in a nutshell. all the pre-Christian Jewish texts that we have that mention God raising up an anointed one descended from David are quite clear on what that meant: restoring the kingship to the Davidic line, and that king would be victorious over the enemies of God’s people. There is nothing inherently impossible in having someone create a story about a paradoxical Messiah of the sort Jesus is described as. But the earliest Christian sources are not simply offering entertaining fictional stories about such a figure. They are calling on people to believe that Jesus was crucified by those who hold the reigns of power in the present, and yet was nevertheless the anointed one descended from David. I have yet to encounter a scenario offered by mythicists in which this state of affairs is explained better in terms of someone inventing such a crucified Messiah and calling their Jewish contemporaries to believe in him, than in terms of there having been a historical figure Jesus who raised the hopes of some that he would prove to be the anointed son of David, and in spite of his crucifixion they found ways of dealing with the cognitive dissonance in a manner that has numerous parallels in the history of religion.

    Does that clarify the point I have been trying to make?

  24. Or were you looking for me to offer quotations from the Psalms of Solomon, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and other Jewish sources? I am not sure exactly what it is that seems to need clarification – whether it is the logic (or otherwise) of my argument, or the evidence that it presupposes.

  25. I would like you to put your point into a syllogism; what is the premise, the subpremises that would prove your main premise, and I would like to see it put into a logical syllogism. If your perspective is more probable, it should be an easy thing to do. Here is an example:

    Major Premise: [Some general rule]
    Minor Premise: [Some specific fact satisfying the general rule]
    Conclusion: [That which follows necessarily from the major and minor premise]

    From this point, we can examine your claim and test it to see if it holds up to logical analysis and if it can stand a prima facie examination of the data.

  26. Note: I am not arguing about a mythicist position, nor from a mythicist position. Rather I am only raising concern with your analysis of a particular position you hold about second temple period Judaism. I think you’re making a authoritative claim that does not fit into the framework of evidence, ergo you are (a) overstating your position to a degree that (b) requires a special plea. But I would like to see your position placed into a syllogism because I might be wrong about how you perceive your position; once you lay it out, we can see if I agree or if I feel that we need to examine your conclusion against the evidence in a way that would express why I feel your position is not sound.

  27. I’ll think about how to best do so. But one issue I can already see potentially coming up is whether such either/or logic flows are well suited to the probabilistic nature of historical evidence and its assessment. It may not be logical to say that Christians would never have invented something that was embarassing to Christianity. But might it be possible to say that, all other things being equal, it is less likely that something embarassing to Christianity in our earliest sources was recorded because it was a well-known fact than as a result of some Christian inventing it?

  28. I fail to see how not overstating a position is an issue? If it is not logical (presumably because the evidence does not support it) to make a strong claim, then we should avoid making said claim. History is probabilistic, yes. But conclusions are testable and should be held to strict methodology to determine if they are, infact, the most probable conclusion or if there are multiple conclusions which might be reached with similar probability. And why would you create a special plea (“all other things being equal”)–such a position is not realistic since all other things are not equal and historical data should never be examined the same way as another piece of historical data. Not all evidence is equal and therefore needs to be examined precisely how I am asking you to present your position; it needs to be looked at on a case-by-case basis. So I do not see this at all as a problematic request. I look forward to your syllogism.

  29. Also, you might not realize it, but you’re shifting goal posts with your last question; might you please state your syllogism so we can first determine if the premises stand a prima facie analysis?

  30. I have a Christian history question.

    I have given up all reliance on standard Christian industry assumption/knowledge, and find myself floating in no where land on the very earliest Christian history issues. Here is my question.

    Can it be demonstrated that the writings of the Pauline character came before GMark (assuming it is the earliest gospel), or is this something that has always been assumed but not demonstrated? What tools of history have been used, and what is the line of reasoning that demonstrates that the pauline writings are before GMark? Also, can we say with any certainty how many years before GMark the pauline writings are?

    That is the specific question.

    On the “what the heck is Ricco generally thinking lately?” topic. I have begun to suspect that a key lies with Irenaeus and/or his group. I am starting to be of the opinion that he/his group made a specific effort to frame Christianity into a specific product, and worked hard to make their product unique from the other Christian flavors of the time. He then sold this product to powerful Romans with the goal of giving the Roman authorities a fully packaged usable Religion that they could use in the empire.

    I suspect, that the Irenaeus group had before them all of the text that we use today, and adjusted some or all of them so that they meshed with his product. This messing, may make it impossible to say that Mark was written before Luke, and other things like that, since IF Ireanaesus took a little bit of Mark and stuck it in Luke, and visa versa, AND we have no copies of any of the text from BEFORE Irenaeus time, it would be impossible to understand the texts history in any way other than from the point that the Irenaeus group adjust them. In effect Irenaeus used various prior written Christian texts from a variety of Christian groups, and adjusted them into a product that would appeal to both the neo-platonic intellectuals and the superstitious masses. That allows politics to take over. ie, allowed some in the intellectual circles (ie, like Tertullian) to have a group to strive for leadership positions in, hence giving these intellectuals entry into roman political power circles, and the combined Christianity as a political tool was off to the races.

    But… the result of this idea if even more radical than anyting I have ever heard anyone put forward. It’s more radical than then “Paul created Christianity” idea, which still is appealing to the Christian religion industry because it allows them to write about Paul, and him being a Bible character, the pulbic eats that shit up. What I am in effect am saying is “all your arguments and discussions about 50-150CE are crap and irrelevant… Ireanaeus, a character that nobody but patristic folks care about or want to talk about is the real founder.” It would destroy the Christianity industry, because the the religion industry is only supported by the faithful because they give them Bible crap to read. Once you say, that everything of important happened AFTER these “Bible Times”, the “faithful” will loose interest in religion industry if that is what they start writing about. So in effect, the Religion industry, which exists only via the funding of the faithful, that don’t want to read about anything other than the “The Big Three”; Jesus, Paul, and the Bible, if this idea of mine is actually true, will completely ignore it, since to admit it as valid would make their entire industry of no interest to the faithful which fund them. And hence, if my view is true, it is a view that will be actively worked against.

    How’s that for throwing a wrench into trying to unwind things!

    Cheers! http://RichGriese.NET/about

  31. […] Tom Verenna responded, as did Neil Godfrey. McGrath interacted with their responses here. Both Verenna and Godfrey responded […]

  32. Addressing a specific in this thread. The phrase “other things being equal” is important. We often see discussions/arguments in this industry as if they are fitting the last piece into a puzzle, and that all the pieces assumed before hand have been demonstrated. This is not the case. Almost all the ideas we have regarding early Christianity stand on a series of undemonstrated assumptions. In cases like this this creates a even larger potential problem that normal.

    Let’s take the argument “other things being equal, jews did not expect a crucified messiah”.

    The problem with that is that it ignore many things. Like;

    The fact that the Jews had recently been humiliated by the Roman army, and that there very temple and city was destroy. This tends to make people think of their world view differently.

    Around this time, Philo made jewish scriptures “hot” for intellectuals to explain in an allegorical sense.

    That a legendary Character we call Paul was selling a flavor of Judaism to non-jews, and the group was growing more from new non-jewish members than jewish members.

    And that by the time we reach Ireanaeus, this group not only was separate from the Jews, but in his Against Heresies work Ireanaeus is attacking Jews.

    Finally… we KNOW that at some point the idea of crucified messiah DID come about, because he have this idea in early Christianity.

    So… The type of argument that says “everything else being equal the jews would never have envisioned a crucified messiah” which then sort of leads to the tactic conclusion that “hey… this legendary Jesus character MUST has risen from the dead, since it was so darn unexpected”, is an example of crazy logic.

    It is a example of trying to bolster a prior idea against all the facts. When… FIRST… other things AREN’T equal, and we should be looking at the question this way.

    What can explain the resultant history that we do know happened, ie, that some group that sold the idea of a crucified messiah rose to power? And there are a number of plausible explanations for this given the events that we know happened.

    The “all things being equal” preface to any historical claim is a sure sign of a faulty conclusion.

    Let’s take a modern example.

    The Watchtower Bible & Tract Society in it’s early days expected in the late 1870s the end of the world. And the entire group went off to the Brooklyn bridge to await being “taken up”. Needless to say, the event did not happen. The next day the leader came into the cafeteria, and saw all the gloomy faces. He said “So, anyone disappointed?” and then said “I’m NOT!” and then proceeded to tell the group how Jesus had actually returned invisibly, they just did not understand. And while some fell away, the majority of the group adjusted their view to accept this new idea, and it was incorporated into Watchtower dogma.

    This new idea only came about because “all other things were not equal”. So… change took place.

    Cheers! RichGriese.NET/about

  33. NOTE in the prior post change;

    So… The type of argument that says “everything else being equal the jews would never have envisioned a crucified messiah” which then sort of leads to the tactic conclusion that “hey… this legendary Jesus character MUST has risen from the dead, since it was so darn unexpected”, is an example of crazy logic.


    So… The type of argument that says “everything else being equal the jews would never have envisioned a crucified messiah” which then sort of leads to the tactic conclusion that “hey… there must have been a Jesus that was crucified”, is an example of crazy logic.

    The conclusion I ended with was a subsequent further out conclusion. NOT the immediate faulty logic conclusion I was attempting to demonstrate

    Cheers! http://RichGriese.NET/about

  34. I think I need to offer a few clarifications. First, I’m not attempting to shift any goal posts – in fact, I’m trying to acknowledge precisely Rich’s point, which is that an attempt to offer an analysis of one piece of evidence in terms of a syllogism is not going to be persuasive in and of itself, because there are other pieces of evidence. And so my point was simply to point out that I can only say “unless there is other evidence that suggests the early Christians did X, on the basis of this one piece of evidence, we can say that it is unlikely that they did X.”

    In answer to Rich’s question about Mark’s Gospel, James Crossley argues for a date for Mark’s Gospel that is earlier than most or all of Paul’s letters, because of its apparent concern with the Caligula crisis. James is an atheist, if that adds to his credibility. :-)

    Rich is obviously correct that any attempt to argue from the unlikelihood of Jews inventing a crucified Davidic Messiah to the likelihood of the resurrection is indeed crazy logic. But I am assuming this is a discussion about secular history and not religious apologetics, although I realize that some people combine the two in ways that are problematic.

    As for the syllogism (having offered above my concerns about trying to make a historical argument in this way), how about the following?

    Major premise: Jews who wrote about the expectation that God would raise up a descendant of David to restore the kingship expect that figure to be victorious over foreign powers.

    Minor premise: Jewish Christians tried to persuade other Jews that Jesus was the Messiah.

    Conclusion: It is unlikely that Jewish Christians would have simply invented a story about Jesus’ crucifixion, since it would make it harder to persuade other Jews that Jesus was the awaited Davidic Messiah.

    I wish I could pass this task to someone with more training in formal logic than I have, but perhaps this can do as long as there is the proviso that it is meant as a discussion-starter, and not the last word on the subject?

  35. Just the same, I do not agree with Rich and think he is missing the mark a bit by trying to suggest a syllogism won’t help. I think, in fact, that is precisely what we need to be doing more of; writing out our conclusions and our premises will only help us create stronger points and your insistence on not wanting to do that is troubling. If you are confident in your conclusions, creating a syllogism is the easiest means to prove it. If you lack confidence in your conclusions, then you need to stop overstating your position. Do you see why I am asking you to do this? Do you understand why it is important? Syllogisms keep history honest; they keep conclusions honest. The second you overstate a position or claim authority or probability of a conclusion without testing it, a syllogism will point that out and allow you to refine a position until it either proves your case for probability (by adjusting premises according to the state of the evidence) or it shows the flaws of your conclusions (because the premises, when adjuste to meet the evidence, don’t fit the conclusion). Without this, all you’re doing is making wild claims based upon presupposition. There is no stringent means of method, just reiterating points you find persuasive. Fox News does that all the time, it doesn’t make their positions sound. Do you see the difference? I hope I have been clear.

  36. Also, thanks for the syllogism; let’s examine the conclusion and the premises and see if you have a solid case.

  37. Dear Tom,

    You said; “I do not agree with Rich and think he is missing the mark a bit by trying to suggest a syllogism won’t help.”

    I did not say anything even related to your request for a syllogism. I have no idea where anything in my post would give you the impression that I was even commenting on your request for other participants. My comment had nothing to do with that request.

    If anything I said gave you the impression that I was saying that your request for other participants to lay out their view as a syllogism would not be useful, please let me assure you that I was doing no such thing.

    My comment was related only the the “all other things being equal” idea that seems to be getting some play in the thread. In science we minimize the change in variables in an experiment, so as to isolate one particular effect (affect / effect ?). In the non-experimental review of history, this is not possible. Anyone that attempts to pretend it is possible is going to end up making major mistakes.

    RE my question though. Is there anything that you know of that would indicate that it would be impossible for GMark to be written before the pauline texts? That is my real interest. I initially sent you an email with that question. Feel free to respond via email if you prefer. My caeteris paribus comment was strictly an aside.

    Cheers! RichGriese@gmail.com

  38. Fair enough.

  39. Tom, I appreciate the attempt to introduce rigor. But to use the example of Attis you offered earlier, it seems to me that it shows precisely why historical arguments are at the very least difficult to make in the form of isolated syllogisms. How close or far the story is from the supposed time of invention matters – there is no reason to think that either Paul or the first person to write about Attis and Cybele made up the story. But in the one case we may have reason to think that we are dealing with reference to a recent figure, in the other to a figure from an unspecified time in the distant past, and such considerations may be relevant. And it does not seem to me that your attempt to undermine the argument from embarassment works, since we don’t actually know whether or not the story of Attis is or is not something that originally drew on an actual event involving a young lover who was castrated (history provides a parallel in the case of Abelard and so such occurrences are by no means impossible. It seems to me that we can only say we don’t know whether the Attis story drew on any historical occurrence, not that we can be certain that it didn’t. And I think that has more to do with the passage of time than anything else. If someone were to appeal to their Jewish contemporaries to accept as the legitimate high priest someone who had been castrated, we might well conclude that the laws disqualifying the individual make it more likely that this is a reference to a historical dispute rather than a fictional story. But as I said, that could only be persuasive when lots of evidence is considered and not on the basis of a single isolated syllogism.

  40. James, you misunderstand. Perhaps I was not clear; I am not saying we evaluate a syllogism outside of the evidence nor in spite of it. When I say claims must be analyzed individually, I do not mean isolated. I mean individually (that is what I said, is it not?). In other words, claims should not be accepted merely based upon the precedent that they are similar to another claim. All claims need to be weighed according to the data, individually, rather than accepted via association. I am working on examples now so that confusion can be avoided.

  41. James, you wrote:

    Now that I have clarified my point, would you agree that a crucified Davidic anointed one would have seemed an oxymoron to those Jews who wrote about that specific sort of figure in the period prior to the rise of Christianity?

    Would you kindly explain to me how your “clarification” that you spoke of an “interpretation” overturns your statement speaking of an “expectation”.

    If you have issues with people who comment on my blog, do you not think it more pertinent to address them, since if you really do follow my blog comments you will know of divergences of views between a number of commenters and myself. Would you like me to associate your attitudes and beliefs with those of — i should not mention names perhaps — of commenters on your blog?

    Otherwise I can take it as a given that if you can only take issue with commenters only, you have no issue with my arguments.

  42. Correction to previous post — Tom, can you correct it please and delete this?

    First sentence should have dashes either side of “an interpretation” for it to make sense. Thanks.

  43. Neil, you said that I claimed that expectation of a Davidic Messiah was generally held. I pointed out that I said no such thing. I then explained that my point was that certain features are consistently part of this particular type of Messianic expectation where it isfound, and this is the specific sort of messianism that the earliest Christians focused on when it comes to their understanding of Jesus.

    Perhaps if you can restrain your sarcasm and hostility long enough to explain what you do not understand about my point, it will be possible to figure out what is puzzling you and clarify the point.

  44. Dr. McGrath, you state:

    Minor premise: Jewish Christians tried to persuade other Jews that Jesus was the Messiah.

    Is your primary data for this premise the book of Acts of the Apostles, Justin Martyr or some other text?

    I am not saying this is factually incorrect, but I am curious what you base it on.

  45. I was celebrating with family last night, so I was not able to find the time to post up my analysis of the syllogism; expect it up tonight. I apologize for delaying this discussion.

  46. Evan, I was thinking more of Galatians.

  47. Dr. McGrath, Galatians seems to be written to people who were already Christian, does it not?

    Can you list what texts in Galatians show Paul attempting to persuade Jews that Jesus was the Messiah?

  48. I have to agree with Evan, James; I’m not sure this is the epistle you want to use…

  49. Paul makes reference to Peter’s outreach to Jews in that letter. Unless you are suggesting that Paul invented Christianity (in which case some of his letters are a very strange way of going about it) then our aim has to be to get behind his letters and other sources to the origins of the movement, does it not?

  50. James, I don’t think you’re thinking this through; yes, Peter is mentioned, but not that Peter was preaching a Davidic messiah.

  51. Is your view that Paul proclaimed a Davidic Messiah to non-Jews but the apostles whose activity was aimed at the Jews (and with whom he says he shares a common Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15) proclaimed something and someone else? You are really going to need to elaborate on and clarify what you understand to be going on in earliest Christianity.

  52. I’ll elaborate in my analysis. Don’t worry. =)

  53. Just curious, why did you just create an ad hoc?

  54. Dr. McGrath, this discussion is entirely circular if you base your understanding of what Peter preached to the circumcised is derived from the Gospels. The text of Galatians simply doesn’t say exactly what Peter preached, nor what Paul preached to any Jews. You need to have a coherent source for your second premise and I don’t see that coming from Galatians.

  55. Tom, what ad hoc? And out of curiosity, do really think early Christians weren’t trying to convert Jews? all these Jews in the movement just showed up? If so please explain, I hven’t heard this before, if not, why encourage Evan in his foolishness? Is it necessary to discuss such banal issues? What next, should we drag out all the evidence the Bible existed before King James? You will have to explain why anyone should think the conclusion would be in doubt.

  56. “And out of curiosity, do really think early Christians weren’t trying to convert Jews?”

    Gee…what ad hoc? ;-) When did I say that?!

  57. Evan, I don’t think the Gospels touch on what Peter preached to anybody. James did not seem to mention that,. I think you may have mistook the the reference to “Gospel”, as one of the books under that label. I recommend looking at the reading list for some universities introduction too New Testament classes, read them without trying to conform them to your uneducated preconceptions, then see how you really feel.
    Tom. glad you don’t agree with that. But seriously, what was James’ ad hoc here?

  58. First I apologize, I’m responding via iPhone and I can’t promise there won’t be some crazy typo or odd autocorrect. James’ ad hoc was built around a premise of his thoughts on Davidic Messianic figures, but since I have rehashed this in a word file on my desk top (will be posted tonight) I don’t want to have to repeat here. Best to respond when I post my analysis.

    Concerning your comment to Evan, I find it a little disheartening. I am not sure that assuming NT introductions will have all the answers is the right way to think. And it certainly is not the best advice to give to someone. Especially if there might be reason to suspect that those courses are teaching something based on tradition rather than evidence.

  59. Look forward to the post. I think when you are confused on what gospel means in terms of NT studies, it is a sign you need to familiarize yourself with some basic concepts before forming strong opinions on the subject. When you think Gospel in “Is your view that Paul proclaimed a Davidic Messiah to non-Jews but the apostles whose activity was aimed at the Jews (and with whom he says he shares a common Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15)” refers to the books by the same name, then there is a need to educate your self on basic terms. Religion seems to attract people with strong opinions and no real education to base them on.

  60. Mike, I will ignore the rudeness in your comments and focus on what I can try to clear up.

    This is pretty simple; Dr. McGrath listed Galatians as his support for the idea that Jewish Christians tried to persuade other Christians that Jesus was the Messiah. I’m simply asking where I can look in Galatians to find that. I don’t need to read an introductory text to anything to get that data. I just need to know where to look in Galatians.

  61. Typo there — I meant to say Jewish Christians tried to persuade other Jews that Jesus was the Messiah.

  62. Evan, how do you come away from that thinking that Peter is not trying to convince Jews Jesus is the Messiah? I have no interest in explaining things to a rock with no interest in listening to anything does not support it’s preconceptions.

  63. Mike, what is it in the text of Galatians that states that Peter is trying to convince Jews that Jesus is the messiah? It should be really easy to highlight it if it is there. Just state Gal X:x-x and I can go look it up.

    Remember that this is Dr. McGrath’s primary source for the second premise of his syllogism. He hasn’t produced a text I can find, neither have you. Makes it look it it’s not there.

  64. Paul didn’t write verses. He wrote a letter. It shouldn’t be treated atomistically. Reading the whole thing gives a much clearer sense than just individual verses excised from their literary contexts.

  65. You are leaving me no choice but to assume you can’t cite a passage to support your contention.

    Of course you needn’t supply a single verse … you can supply a whole chapter or sequence thereof or multiple passages. I am familiar with the text of Galatians. I have read the whole thing. I see nowhere that it suggests that Peter preached that Jesus was the Messiah to Jews.

    Suggesting that this meaning derives from a gestalt reading of the whole epistle is, from my perspective, ingenuous.

    The whole point of your minor premise is that it needs to be sourced and verifiable by others. You source it to Galatians. I don’t find what you assert there from my reading of the text. Is it so hard to give a bit of a pointer?

  66. You are leaving me no choice but to conclude that you haven’t actually read Galatians, or at least haven’t read it very carefully. Perhaps you would care to resopond to the question that Tom called an ad hoc, but which seems perfectly appropriate to ask you under the circumstances. What do you understand to be indicated or implied about the Jewish Christian mission by Paul’s letter? In the agreement Paul describes between him and the Jerusalem “pillars”, what do you take the good news to be that they will proclaim to the Jews, and on what basis do you interpret it to be something fundamentally different than what Paul proclaimed to the Gentiles, in spite of his willingness to make such an agreement?

  67. Dr. McGrath, seriously, this is bizarre. You have a syllogism and you were asked to give data to support your second claim. You quoted me Galatians, the whole thing. And you won’t narrow it a bit.

    So I have to conclude that there is no passage in Galatians of any size that you can narrow to explain your position. Again, this is your selection, not mine. I am simply asking you to back up a premise in a syllogism with data.

    I have no idea why you think I would have an answer to your questions. The text of Galatians lists nothing of the sort, and therefore, we have no way of saying with certitude what was being preached. Other epistles suggest there were multiple levels of preaching going on and some epistles were written to churches on one level and other epistles were written to churches on another level.

    So this is as simple as scholarship gets. You have made a claim. You have given a source. Please let me know what citation within that source backs up your claim so that it can be analyzed.

  68. No, I have experience of “conversations” in which you were not aware of broader contextual considerations, whether historical or literary, and so I am saying that if you want to have this conversation with me about Galatians, then you need to know the letter, not just the greatest hits. Otherwise, simply talk to someone who is happy to play your game by your rules.

  69. Oh, I should add that in my comments I have been alluding to relevant passages in Galatians. So it is not as though I haven’t indicated passages. The only issue is that you want to talk about isolated verses in a letter you aren’t sufficiently familiar with so as to recognize references to it.

  70. Dr. McGrath, I will try to focus on what I can seek to glean from your responses. I am familiar with Galatians and have read it multiple times. You can list several chapters as your reference if you wish. Again, you picked Galatians as your source.

    So here are passages from Galatians that IMO don’t seem to support your contention that Jewish Christians preached that Jesus was the Messiah to Jews:

    Galatians 1:1 states that Jesus Christ was not a man.

    1:6-8 discusses the existence of multiple “gospels” extant at the time of its writing, all of which the author thinks are false, with the exception of his.

    1:11-12 clearly states that Jesus Christ was not a man.

    1:16 suggests that the author was the way that the son of God is revealed to mankind and that no human being was the source of the gospel preached by the author.

    2:2-8 describe a conflict between the author and Peter. Peter was to preach “the gospel of circumcision” and the author was to preach “the gospel of uncircumcision” suggesting two different gospels extant and approved by the “Pillars” James, Cephas and John.

    2:11-14 discuss another conflict between the author and Peter whereby the author accuses Peter of hypocrisy regarding dietary restrictions which he followed intermittently depending on his company (again suggesting differing gospels extant at that time).

    2:20 Suggests the author has undergone some sort of crucifixion ritual and has now taken on aspects of the deity he worships, Christ.

    2:21 Suggests that Christ is dead.

    3:1 Suggests that the Galatians had intimate knowledge of the manner in which Christ was crucified.

    I can continue to go through the whole epistle, but there isn’t space in one comment to do so. Your “allusions” appear to all reflect the first three chapters so I have limited myself to those.

  71. Please go on. I’m looking forward to hearing how you account for Paul’s agreement with the Jerusalem apostles that he should preach the Gospel to the uncircumcision and they the same Gospel to the circumcision (Galatians 2:8).

    Do you know something about these “other Gospels” that the rest of us do not? The options range from Pauline hyperbole referring to slightly different versions of the Christian message (including observance of the Jewish Law) to something that shared almost nothing in common. Most interpreters see much evidence that excludes options towards that latter end of the spectrum. Do you have a reason for opting for that interpretation, other than a personal preference for mythicism? Can it do justice to the rest of what Paul wrote in this letter, never mind in others?

  72. Evan, I don’t think your point here is sound. James is correct that he was preached as the messiah; what the question should be concerned with is not whether or not Paul thought of Jesus as the messiah, but what type of messiah he was and, also, if we can define that type of messiah was preached in the same way by both Paul and the Jewish Pillars. As I will show with my forthcoming post on this, you can’t make a probable case–though a possible case can be made, that is strong enough to warrant a high possibility (but it is impossible to know with any level of certainty about 50%–certainly not to the extent that James has suggested in the past).

  73. Dr. McGrath, you state:

    “Please go on. I’m looking forward to hearing how you account for Paul’s agreement with the Jerusalem apostles that he should preach the Gospel to the uncircumcision and they the same Gospel to the circumcision (Galatians 2:8).”

    I’m thrilled that you’ve been able finally to locate a spot of Galatians that you think supports your minor premise.

    Galatians 2:8 — let’s look at it

    The text states that the he who works for Peter works for the author of the epistle.

    Several different translations:

    For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles KJV

    For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles. NIV

    for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles NASB

    For He Who motivated and fitted Peter and worked effectively through him for the mission to the circumcised, motivated and fitted me and worked through me also for [the mission to] the Gentiles. Amplified Bible

    I see no mention of a messiah, no mention of Jesus, and no mention of anything in support of your secondary premise — that Jewish Christians proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah to the Jews. Additionally, there is nothing that supports your claim that they preached the same gospel.

    in fact, Galatians 1 and 2 clearly state that there were other gospels being preached besides the one of the author. Dr. McGrath you seem to think that I know what those gospels were. I don’t. I don’t think you do either, or if you do you seem to be playing coy with the facts.

    Tom, I’m not arguing that Jesus was never preached as the messiah, obviously he was at some point. I’m asking Dr. McGrath to give his source for the minor premise of his syllogism. So far, I find nothing in his source that confirms his premise. If you find it, please show me where it is.

  74. Maybe you should just do a search in an online Bible for Messiah or Christ in Paul’s letters. We find it even in what seem likely to be pre-Pauline formulas.

    Is your view that preaching Jesus as “the greased”, even though the term must have required much explanation outside of a Jewish context, did not originate in the Jewish mission?

    Once I again I feel I must suggest that your guiding criterion is not historical plausibility, but merely a preference for any reading, no matter whether it makes historical sense, that allows you to view mythicism as a viable option.

  75. Dr. McGrath, this is intriguing. You declaim eisegesis in others, yet have now been clearly caught out performing it yourself. My guiding criterion here is nothing but a wish to analyze your argument.

    I am not arguing against your minor premise. I am asking you to support it. So far, you have not supported it.

    That is the limit of this particular discussion. Of course there are places in the New Testament that discuss what you state. You just didn’t mention any of them when asked to support your claim with data.

    I find that intriguing as well.

  76. Paul refers to Jesus as Christ/Messiah often. He connects Jesus as Christ/Messiah with his Gospel often. On occasion he refers to the Gospel he proclaims as “the Gospel of Christ.” And he says that he agreed with the Jerusalem apostles with respect to the Gospel that they go to Jews and he go to Gentiles. And if this evidence from Galatians were not enough, he also says in 1 Corinthians 15 about his Gospel (which he says is about Christ) that it is one which other apostles also proclaim.

    You can continue to make accusations, but I don’t see how anyone could look at things you have written and conclude anything other than that you are either unfamiliar with, or wilfully choose to ignore, what Paul actually wrote.

    Your approach to interpreting Paul reminds me very much of the fundamentalist Christian approach – isolate individual texts that seem to support your dogma, and then explain away any that seem to run counter to your assumptions, never once asking whether this approach is likely to actually get at the meaning of the works in question. But I do wonder whether you see this resemblance of approach yourself, as clearly as others can, and if so whether it troubles you. It should, if you aim is to treat these texts in a serious, academically-rigorous manner, rather than as an apologist.

    But perhaps the most important question is this: Do I keep having to point out familiar features of Paul’s letters and other early Christian sources because you are unaware of them, or because you would prefer they didn’t exist and are inclined to exclude them from the discussion unless someone else brings them up?

  77. Evan, I think the minor premise is pretty well supported and is not in serious doubt. If you think it is flawed you need to make a case for that. If not then it stands. Your arguments given earlier seem to be aimed at idiots. It is insulting that you presume people here would find it compeling. Could you make one for grown ups?

  78. Dr. McGrath, I’m not avoiding other letters of Paul or other early Christian sources. I’m using your text that you gave to prove your point. If you had given something else, I’d have looked at that. I hope readers of this will peruse Galatians and see if what is there supports your minor premise.

    You state pretty clearly that any mention of Jesus Christ means that this is a proclamation that he was the messiah (if I were you I would stop complaining about anyone else doing eisegesis).
    If you no longer think Galatians supports your minor premise, please give another text (perhaps 1 Cor will be this text now) but first let’s look more closely at Galatians using your even more restricted definition of a proclamation.

    I fail to see anywhere in Galatians — the whole epistle read from start to finish — that suggests support in that text for your minor premise (reminder: Jewish Christians preached that Jesus was the messiah to Jews) even with the restrictions you have now added (that any mention of Jesus Christ is a claim he is the messiah). That is pretty amazing in and of itself.

    The text of Galatians 1:6 is very clear that people preach more than one gospel.

    In Galatians Peter is not ever noted to be preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. He is preaching the gospel to the circumcised.

    Cephas is chastised by the author for hypocrisy, but nowhere is Cephas claimed to have been preaching any gospel.

    You nowhere show that what was preached by Peter or Cephas was “the same gospel” and therefore I think it is safe to say, using your sources, at this point, your minor premise is flawed. Therefore, your conclusion is not supported by data that back up your minor premise, and your syllogism as it stands fails to accomplish its task.

  79. I have some time to waste so I’ll explain my problems.

    “So here are passages from Galatians that IMO (please direct your attention here http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=imo ) don’t seem to support your contention that Jewish Christians preached that Jesus was the Messiah to Jews:”

    Galatians 1:1 states that Jesus Christ was not a man.—— Yep. What does this have to do with the above?

    1:6-8 discusses the existence of multiple “gospels” extant at the time of its writing, all of which the author thinks are false, with the exception of his.—- Yep. What does this have to do with the above?

    1:11-12 clearly states that Jesus Christ was not a man. —–Yep. What does this have to do with the above?

    1:16 suggests that the author was the way that the son of God is revealed to mankind and that no human being was the source of the gospel preached by the author.— Nope. Paul admits they are people who are apostles before him and he is persecuting the community of God before the revelation. So he clearly says that he is not the way the son of God is revealed to mankind. You are either stupid or deliberately misleading here. If you thought this would mislead anyone in this conversation, you are both.

    2:2-8 describe a conflict between the author and Peter. Peter was to preach “the gospel of circumcision” and the author was to preach “the gospel of uncircumcision” suggesting two different gospels extant and approved by the “Pillars” James, Cephas and John. —Nope. Paul stated in the beginning there is only one gospel. Why would he change his mind so soon here and without explanation? If Paul thinks the Pillars are spreading a different gospel, why is he not critical of it when he just said at the beginning anyone with a different Gospel should be cursed. But then he is switching back to accept the hand of fellowship from people who are cursed? How stupid do you think we are?

    2:11-14 discuss another conflict between the author and Peter whereby the author accuses Peter of hypocrisy regarding dietary restrictions which he followed intermittently depending on his company (again suggesting differing gospels extant at that time).—Yep, that is Paul’s fake gospel he is going on about. It doesn’t seem though to hinge on whether Jesus is the messiah, though, only that gentiles must follow Jewish law. Where do you get that the other gospel denied Jesus is the Messiah? While the outcome is not described, I have to point out as late as Romans, Paul is eager to drop off a sack of cash to the Church in Jerusalem, so relations couldn’t be that bad.

    2:20 Suggests the author has undergone some sort of crucifixion ritual and has now taken on aspects of the deity he worships, Christ. ??? where do you get he went though a crucifixion ritual? if he did what does that have to do with “Jewish Christians preached that Jesus was the Messiah to Jews”

    2:21 Suggests that Christ is dead.—You seem to be unaware that Paul begins his letter with the statement God raised Jesus from the dead.(1:1) How can you keep arguing you have read this letter, clearly you have not. And again, what does this have to do with your argument?

    3:1 Suggests that the Galatians had intimate knowledge of the manner in which Christ was crucified. —-Yep. What does this have to do with the above?

  80. Galatians 2:7: ἀλλ ὰ τοὐναντίον ἰδόντες ὅτι πεπίστευμαι τὸ εὐαγγ έλιον τῆς ἀκροβυστίας καθὼς Πέτρος τῆς περιτομῆς

    It is as clear as we could hope for. One Gospel, entrusted to Paul for the Gentiles and Peter for the Jews.

    That you fail to see it has no bearing on what is actually there and plain for most other people to see.

  81. Mike, I appreciate your commentary, but you are coming across rather hostile. Do you think you might tone down the verbiage a bit? Both James and Evan have remained civil through all of this. I don’t think comments like “How stupid do you think we are?” are particularly useful and only take away from your otherwise interesting points. I don’t believe Evan thinks you or James are stupid.

  82. Sorry, Tom, I get riled up by by people who have interest other than open and honest discussion. I get the impression Evan agrees with the discussed minor premise but for reasons unknown wants to engage in a odd discussion on its merits. No one like a conversation partner who’s aim is duplicitous.

  83. Mike, I’m sorry you’re riled. I’m sorry you think I have some motive you can’t divine. That being said, I simply invite people to read your text and evaluate it on its merits. First you agree there are multiple gospels being preached, then you claim Paul stated there is only one gospel.

    I’m eager to see evidence from Galatians that supports the statement that Jewish Christians preached that Jesus was the messiah to other Jews. So far I don’t see any, because I don’t see any evidence in Galatians that what was being preached was that Jesus was the messiah at all.

    The message is that the author’s gospel does away with the need for people in Galatia to follow the Jewish law yet there appears to be another gospel to people that are within the law, since Galatians states that Peter was to preach to the circumcised. Paul’s gospel clearly applies to the circumcised, in the final chapter he states clearly the circumcision is irrelevant. Yet he agrees to preach only to the Gentiles and Peter would preach to the circumcised.

    Dr. McGrath, thanks for the Greek. It is clear that the word εὐαγγέλιον appears only once in the sentence. I am not fluent in Koine Greek as you and Tom are, so I will have to defer to your expertise. I will say that no Bible translators have used your phrasing as a translation, and that the Latin vulgate, which I can read, does not state that there is only one gospel, but only that the Pillars entrusted both with a gospel in the same manner.

    The sentence, “I was given a notebook that was red and hers was yellow,” does not suggest that there is only one notebook, even though the word notebook only appears once in the sentence.

    I’m happy you finally gave a text to support your claim, however I remain unconvinced that it does.

  84. It refers to the Gospel once and has Peter taking that Gospel to Jews and Paul taking it to Gentiles.

    But the truth is that it is not one text here or another there that leads to mainstream historical scholarship’s conclusions, but the overall consideration of early Christian literature in all its relevant details. That’s why I wanted you to interact with the letter and not merely individual verses.

  85. Evan, in Galatian’s opening statements, Paul says the Galatians are falling for another gospel, but it is not really a gospel. He believes his is the only one. I doubt he and Peter would amicably agree that Peter will preach a false, cursed, gospel to Jews while Paul preaches a true one to gentiles.

    I don’t think really eager to see evidence of anything that does not support your opinions so I won’t trouble you with them. You haven’t showed any evidence of interest in the subject. Your position is thoughtless and absurdist and could only be thought otherwise by people of low wit. Have fun with that demographic. If Dawkins is the apostle to the brights perhaps you can be the apostle to the dullards.

  86. Am I out of line here? I feel I may be harsh, but it seems that 75% of promoters of mythicism, or what ever they feel their position should be called, are just talking gibberish. Does anyone feel that their is a question on whether the first Christians were trying to promote Jesus as the messiah to Jews? I feel if there is a problem with James’ syllogism it would be in the conclusion, marketing needs aren’t always on the minds of the spiritually inclined. It would be awesome if there were mythisist who weren’t arguing for Paul or Nazareth as fictions, or grand conspiracies to invent a historic Jesus. They give the impression that this an old theory kept alive by kooks, cranks, and clowns.

  87. Mike, you’re not out of line. The vast majority of promoters of mythicism are as you say. But let’s not recall there are scholars, whether you find their arguments unconvincing or not, who find it is more probable that a historical figure of Jesus didn’t exist. That isn’t to say they are mythicists; perhaps they are more agnostic towards the question but think that there are too many limitations with current methods to produce any positive claim. Either way, we can’t lump everyone into that category. Richard Carrier and Thomas Thompson should never be placed in the same basket with the likes of Acharya S. I’m not saying this is what you’re suggesting, but that is why we need to watch how we define terms in this sort of conversation.

    Also, be careful when you use certain language. Bruno Bauer, though dated and no longer useful compared to modern studies, was no crank, nor a kook. The same applies to Arthur Drews. Their concerns were against the arguments raised by historical Jesus scholars of their day; unfortunately for historical Jesus scholars, the new textual evidence we possess (DSS, Coptic Gnostic codices, etc..) have only complicated the question of historicity rather than help define it and strengthen it. So we can’t fault some mythicists for seeing loop holes in some of the arguments raised by certain scholars in the past historical Jesus quest. They may not be qualified to investigate these issues, but you can’t seriously believe that the case for historicity is unassailable and that there are not serious logical gaps in the arguments, as well as a great deal of speculation. The entity that the Academy knows as the historical figure of Jesus is a phantom which has no definable parameters and upon whose nuanced details scholarship cannot agree–and has never been able to agree.

    These concerns cause people to doubt and rightly so. As someone who has remained outside of this current conversation, I can see why you and James might be frustrated with Evan. It seems, more than likely, he is playing coy and Devil’s advocate. When people do that, the conversation has an ability to deteriorate. However, I don’t think he is denying that Jesus was believed to be the messiah; your insistence upon this as if it were one of Evan’s points shows that perhaps your emotional investment in this discussion is clouding your understanding.

    My suggestion is that you step away from this conversation for a day or two, take your eyes off the subject of this discussion, and return with fresh eyes and reread the dialogue. I can respect your frustration, but sometimes it is a good thing to step away and gain some perspective. Writing while irritated is a messy business and the things you write cannot be so easily taken back.

  88. For those interested, see: https://tomverenna.wordpress.com/2011/03/07/james-mcgrath-syllogisms-and-logical-analysis/ for a continued discussion on method and James’ syllogism. I have not yet found the time to respond to his recent comment, but will do so later when I am not so busy. I again would like to thank everyone who has participated in this discussion, especially James for being so patient and civil throughout, and hope we can continue down this path towards a mutual understanding of these difficulties concerning the historical figure of Jesus and historical method in general.

  89. […] Historicized Scripture: A Response to James McGrath on Neil Godfrey […]

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