Defining Mythicism: Parallelomania, Luxor, and Acharya S

This is nothing new for those who read this blog, but Richard Carrier has posted an excellent example of a problem that plagues the case for mythicism: Parallelomania.  I’ve stated over and over (and over and over) again that correlation does not equal causation.  Here is a snippet from his blog on the subject:

Parallelomania is the particular disease of Jesus myth advocates who see “parallels” everywhere between early Christianity and all manner of pagan religions. Many of those parallels are real; don’t get me wrong. Some are even causal (Christianity really is a syncretism of Judaism and paganism, which point I will soundly prove in my coming book On the Historicity of Jesus Christ). But most parallels are not real, or are not causally related (remember that basic rule in science: correlation is not causation). Some don’t even exist (and here bad scholarship becomes the disease: see my cautionary review of Kersey Graves’ Sixteen Crucified Saviors).

One important example of a “non-parallel” is the Egyptian nativity narrative at Luxor. I reviewed this claim years ago (Brunner’s Gottkoenigs & the Nativity of Jesus: A Brief Communication). Acharya S (aka D.M. Murdock) responded to that by claiming I was reading the wrong text (and also not reading it right), but she’s mistaken. She also claimed that the meaning of “immaculate conception” is up for debate; it is not. She simply cites other people making the same mistake she did, as if a mistake many people make ceases to be a mistake, which is a non sequitur. It would have been better if she had not doubled down on her error and just corrected herself. But that’s her own look out. What concerns me more is her poor treatment of the details of Egyptian history and the texts in the Luxor case.

That Luxor Thing | Richard Carrier Blogs.

His conclusion is too good to simply quote here out of context.  Do read on.

Defining Mythicism: Richard Carrier – “Did Jesus Exist?”

This video is some years old and people’s perspectives become more refined over time.  So I asked Richard if he still stands behind this video before vlogging.  Richard noted, in response:

In the intro of the S.II talk I establish caveats (that the talk itself is tongue in cheek and doesn’t address lots of other issues like the Josephus passages or letters of Paul and so on), but the overall argument is something I will formalize, possibly with some changes, in On the Historicity of Jesus Christ. Obviously that only treats Acts in relation to the question. I’ll have different chapters on extra-biblical evidence, the epistles, the gospels, etc. I give a somewhat serious version of the argument in my online debate with O’Connell (http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/carrier-oconnell/)

Richard adds another caveat:

My argument now is that we face a dilemma, either (a) Acts is fiction from the ground up, or (b) it is based on an earlier set of sources; if (a), then obviously Acts is eliminated as evidence for historicity; but if (b), then the earliest sources behind Acts can be shown to have been suspiciously lacking a historical Jesus. Ironically this means the more reliable you deem Acts to be, the less likely Jesus existed as a historical person (unless you deem Acts to be so reliable as to be free of any error or distortion whatever, but only fundamentalists would believe something so absurd of any ancient historical narrative).

It’s a little crass at times, but overall humorous and provocative food-for-thought.  I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation and the Q&A; I like that carrier does not resort to conspiracy theory.  In fact in the end, during Q&A, Carrier outlines his problems with the movie Zeitgeist and his frustrations with it are my own.

Richard Carrier “Did Jesus Exist?” Skepticon 2 Redux – YouTube.

Defining Mythicism: Explaining ‘Jesus Possibilianism’

Recently I have become acquainted with the concept of Possibilianism (and I think it best represents what I am now).  But not only does it fit me epistemologically, but I think it fits my position on the figure of Jesus as well.  Steven Carr has asked (I think, since at times it is difficult to get at his meaning) about my agnosticism, as if I am suggesting I sort of just sit on the fence about it.  And that isn’t necessarily my position at all, as I do not just throw my hands up in the air and say, sighing, “Well, I guess my job is done now since I don’t have a specific definitive position on historicity.”  But I was wont to explain it in more detail as I hadn’t quite had an opportunity to weigh out what exactly my position was.  Thankfully, it seems Possibilianism has proven to be quite useful.  I’d like then to propose a new term for your consideration and one I’d like to become accepted within the community, Jesus Possibilianism.  Essentially, as it should be defined:

Jesus Possibilianism: (noun) The position that, while not accepting current trends in mythicism (or as I call it, Zeitgeist Mythicism) nor aligning oneself with the theistic epistemological positions on Jesus, refuses to take any hardline approach on historicity (that is, not accepting nor denying affirmitively historicity) while actively engaging in attempting to discover (through academic pursuits) the reality of the multiple positions on the figure of Jesus as they are today, were in the past (both distant and near), and will be in the future (through meme theory).

That is to say, while I doubt historicity, I still seek to determine the value of historicity and do not refuse the possibility, as I recognize the limitations of the evidence and the differences in interpretation which can be as valid (or more valid, in some instances) as those produced by those who call themselves mythicists.

 

Defining Mythicism: Post Compilation of Articles on Jesus

Some have expressed interest in a compilation blog post combining all my articles on mythicism and the figure of Jesus from this site.  So below I have compiled a list of blogs I’ve written for the series ‘Defining Mythicism’.

Below are articles on the figure of Jesus which are not a part of the ‘Defining Mythicism’ series:

Below are articles on Zeitgeist and Acharya S/Dorothy Murdock.

Defining Mythicism: The Signs Gospel and the Figure of Jesus

James McGrath highlights a post by the blog Synoptic Solutions on the Signs Gospel and the figure of Jesus.  I tend to think the post is a little ridiculous.  Here is the offending snippet:

In the Signs Gospel, Jesus is not being portrayed as a god on earth. Instead, he is portrayed as very human–a miraculous human, but a human nonetheless. Like the rabbis, he is not quite historical, yet he is not mythical, either. Instead, he is legendary. And so I propose that this is the correct model for understanding the historical Jesus. He is a legendary figure–but that does not mean he is an imaginary figure. Indeed, it means just the opposite: it means that he was most certainly historical.

There are several problems with this statement overall (e.g., the so-called Signs Gospel itself, the certainty of the claims being made about the Signs Gospel, portrayal of Jesus, the problems associated with Gos. of John, claims about the historicity of the figure of Jesus, and so on). First, and most importantly, the ‘Signs Gospel’ is hypothetical.  Like the sayings Gospel ‘Q’, the Signs Gospel is little more than a collected group of events (re: miraculous works) compiled by certain scholars (some who fall into line with confessional theology) as to seemingly avoid the problems associated with dependency (that is to say, that the Gospels are not independent traditions based upon eyewitness testimony); and we all know there are several very good (I would say ‘unassailable’) reasons to stop pretending ‘Q’ exists (ahem…).  For those unfamiliar with the Signs Gospel and the proposed value of the Gos. of John in historical Jesus studies, according to D. Moody Smith remarks (Johannine Christianity, p. 63):

“It is now rather widely agreed that the Fourth Evangelist drew upon a miracle tradition or written source(s) substantially independent of the synoptics, whether or not he had any knowledge of one or more of those gospels. Since the epoch-making commentary of Rudolf Bultmann, the hypothesis of a semeia– (or miracle) source has gained rather wide acceptance.”

And:

“Whether such a miracle source can be precisely isolated and identified, as Bultmann and some who follow him think, is a question we need not decide here. The demonstration of the existence of a source (or sources) is not entirely dependent upon the possibility of isolating it with certainty and precision throughout the Gospel.”

The problem with D.M. Smith’s statement is that I am not so sure it is as ‘widely agreed’ that John used the Signs Gospel as he makes it appear (I will also not get into his other apologetic-esque comments here; Crossley does a good job of that in the article mentioned below).   I am not sure what is taking place with the John, Jesus, and History Project (JJH) via the SBL, but just judging from James Crossley’s paper (forthcoming in my volume with Thomas L. Thompson) it seems that suggesting that Jesus was a historical figure based upon this Gospel is a difficult task indeed (if not entirely futile, despite what the JJH project suggests).  One has to make gross presuppositions about the state of the evidence (i.e. you have to start from the conclusion that the Gospels present accurate representations of the historical Jesus first, which is a position that runs rather counter to historical-critical methods).   In addition, the Gos. of John might actually not have been composed until sometime in the early second century (but no later than the p52’s terminus ad quem, c. 150 CE), rather than at the turn of that century as it was once thought.

Though, even if it had been written earlier, like around the turn of the second century CE, it does not follow that one can judge the figure of Jesus, let alone propose a whole new model (!), based solely on a single narrative and hypothetical document.  It seems rather presumptuous, if not downright arrogant, to suggest firmly (and with such certainty!) that Jesus was indeed historical from the most miraculous, ludicrous, and late of the canonical Gospels.  And to top it off, the author begs us to presume the existence of a hypothetical document as secondary evidence for his position!

While it might be that the Gospels are legendary, mythologized narratives about a historical person, it is folly to ignore all existing narratives besides the Gos. of John whilst making the outrageous claim that Jesus was a historical figure, mythologized.  This is nothing more than begging the question: if all of these factors (Signs Gospel did exist as a source for John, John did have source material from an eyewitness, tradition stemmed from a historical core, John is the primary witness to historical tradition, etc…) are true, Jesus was a historical figure, mythologized (essentially amounting to nothing more than the Chewbacca Defense: “Chewbacca is a Wookiee from the planet Kashyyyk. But Chewbacca lives on the planet Endor. Now think about it; that does not make sense!”).  But as the song goes, “well, that’s a far cry from the truth.”  We can only say so much from the evidence.  And when one is proposing a hypothetical document, even one that is largely accepted, the proposal can only be hypothetical (as a conclusion can only be as strong as the evidence).  To a large extent, this does prove, quite directly, that there are instances of bias in historical Jesus scholarship and with the question over historical value of the canonical Gospels.

Although there is hardly much need for additional evidence; it is clear that historical Jesus scholarship has its own share of failings.  Crossley notes, for example (and do read the whole article):

[T]he study of the historical Jesus is overwhelmingly concerned with fact finding, description and descriptive interpretation in its various forms, with little concern for questions such as why the Jesus movement emerged when and where it did and why this movement subsequently led to a new religion. By Eric Hobsbawm’s standards (see epigraph) most of these historical Jesus writers would come perilously close to being guilty of ‘antiquarian empiricism’ and more than one historical Jesus scholar might be guilty of writing what Hobsbawm dismissed as the ‘Victorian tome’ so typical of biography.

Aside from these challenges, there are numerous other problematic oversights in the post.  The author blogs the similarities of the miraculous signs from Greco-Jewish traditions but ignores those similar motifs found in the Hebrew Bible.  Where is the discussion or even mention of the same trope found in Ps. 107:23-30?

Some went down to the sea in ships,
doing business on the great waters;
they saw the deeds of the LORD,
his wondrous works in the deep.
For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.
They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;
their courage melted away in their evil plight;
they reeled and staggered like drunken men
and were at their wits’ end.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
Then they were glad that the waters were quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.

I would note as well that Ps. 107 contains other miraculous forms of redemption, through healing of the sick, and the feeding of the multitude (part of the ‘Signs’ which some believe came from this hypothetical source):

Some wandered in desert wastelands,
finding no way to a city where they could settle.
They were hungry and thirsty,
and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
to a city where they could settle.
Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
for he satisfies the thirsty
and fills the hungry with good things.

And of course, one cannot forget the play of the Elisha/Elijah narratives at work in the miracle scenes.  The calming of the storm also has roots in Elijah’s challenge to the Baal worshipers, where Yahweh is portrayed as a God who has control over the storms, in direct conflict with Baal, another storm God.  The feeding of the multitude motif can also be found in the Elisha/Elijah narratives (2 Kings 4:38-41 with Elisha’s magic flour, and with Elijah 1 Kings 17:8-16), as is the healing of the sick/resurrection of the dead miracle stories (i.e., 1 Kings 17:17-24 where Elijah raised the widow’s son and Elisha and the Shunamite woman’s son in 2 Kings 4:18-37).  These miracle stories need not come from another hypothetical source (as fictional as it might indeed be), but from long-held tropes and motifs found in ancient Jewish literature.  John’s ability to take Mark’s Gospel and build upon it is not unknown.

On the subject of absorbing Mark wholly, the author also uses a bit of hyperbole when he states “since we know the Markan author used SG as a source.”  In fact, since these miracles are found in the Hebrew Bible, Mark’s source is probably also the scriptures.  There is no need to fabricate an entirely hypothetical Gospel just to account for the motifs.  And John need only have a copy of Mark, Matthew, and Luke to build upon the scenes (which many believe he did).  The best example for this is the scene at the tomb of Jesus.  Richard Carrier explains it (go to the link for a footnoted version):

So we start with Mark. It is little known among the laity, but in fact the ending of Mark, everything after verse 16:8, does not actually exist in the earliest versions of that Gospel that survive. It was added some time late in the 2nd century or even later. Before that, as far as we can tell, Mark ended at verse 16:8. But that means his Gospel ended only with an empty tomb, and a pronouncement by a mysterious young man that Jesus would be seen in Galilee–nothing is said of how he would be seen. This was clearly unsatisfactory for the growing powerful arm of the Church a century later, which had staked its claim on a physical resurrection, against competing segments of the Church usually collectively referred to as the Gnostics (though not always accurately). So an ending was added that quickly pinned some physical appearances of Jesus onto the story, and for good measure put in the mouth of Christ rabid condemnations of those who didn’t believe it. But when we consider the original story, it supports the notion that the original belief was of a spiritual rather than a physical event. The empty tomb for Mark was likely meant to be a symbol, not a historical reality, but even if he was repeating what was told him as true, it was not unusual in the ancient world for the bodies of heroes who became gods to vanish from this world: being deified entailed being taken up into heaven, as happened to men as diverse as Hercules and Apollonius of Tyana, and Mark’s story of an empty tomb would simply represent that expectation.

A decade or two passes, and then Matthew appears. As this Gospel tells it, there was a vast earthquake, and instead of a mere boy standing around beside an already-opened tomb, an angel–blazing like lightning–descended from the sky and paralyzed two guards that happened to be there, rolled away the stone single handedly before several witnesses–and then announced that Jesus will appear in Galilee. Obviously we are seeing a clear case of legendary embellishment of the otherwise simple story in Mark. Then in Matthew a report is given (similar to what was later added to Mark), where, contrary to the angel’s announcement, Jesus immediately meets the women that attended to his grave and repeats what the angel said. Matthew is careful to add a hint that this was a physical Jesus, having the women grovel and grab his feet as he speaks.

Then, maybe a little later still, Luke appears, and suddenly what was a vague and perhaps symbolic allusion to an ascension in Mark has now become a bodily appearance, complete with a dramatic reenactment of Peter rushing to the tomb and seeing the empty death shroud for himself. As happened in Matthew, other details have grown. The one young man of Mark, which became a flying angel in Matthew, in this account has suddenly become two men, this time not merely in white, but in dazzling raiment. And to make the new story even more suspicious as a doctrinal invention, Jesus goes out of his way to say he is not a vision, and proves it by asking the Disciples to touch him, and then by eating a fish. And though both Mark and Matthew said the visions would happen in Galilee, Luke changes the story, and places this particular experience in the more populous and prestigious Jerusalem.

Finally along comes John, perhaps after another decade or more. Now the legend has grown full flower, and instead of one boy, or two men, or one angel, now we have two angels at the empty tomb. And outdoing Luke in style, John has Jesus prove he is solid by showing his wounds, and breathing on people, and even obliging the Doubting Thomas by letting him put his fingers into the very wounds themselves. Like Luke, the most grandiose appearances to the Disciples happen in Jerusalem, not Galilee as Mark originally claimed. In all, John devotes more space and detail than either Luke or Matthew to demonstrations of the physicality of the resurrection, details nowhere present or even implied in Mark. It is obvious that John is trying very hard to create proof that the resurrection was the physical raising of a corpse, and at the end of a steady growth of fable, he takes license to make up a lot of details.

I had thought we were moving away from such cut-and-paste mentalities in scholarship; how is the Signs Gospel that much different than Thomas Jefferson’s New Testament?  Sure, we can make Jesus anything we want just by trimming out the miraculous bits and combining all the instances where a particular motif or trope holds sway, calling it the hypothetical ‘Whatever Gospel’, and get people to sign off on the idea.  The problem with this is quite simple: it removes context and as I have shown it allows for the collector of these verses, the redactor of this new hypothetical text, to ignore very important subcontexts, narrative functions, and intertextuality in the original text.

Landon Hedrick on Mythicists and Peer Review

Landon Hendrick has a great post about mythicism and peer review and makes an excellent point, often overlooked by many in the mythicist community.  Here is a snippet:

Now, I don’t think that they should start writing papers in defense of mythicism (presenting, for example, a summary of the overall case) for journal submissions. Doing that is bound to fail for the simple fact that you can’t make much headway on that topic in a journal article. Consider the fact that Earl Doherty made his comprehensive case in an 800+ page book. A journal article on that broad topic would likely end up being pretty superficial and unconvincing. And besides that, Earl Doherty seems to think that the scholars in charge of peer review wouldn’t accept a paper on this topic anyway. So that’s not the route I’d recommend.

So my advice would instead be to write scholarly papers on narrow topics which will, if accepted, help support your overall case. All mythicists likely take particular stands on issues which are controversial, so convincing the rest of the scholars that you’re right about those things will go a long way toward helping them to see that you’re right about the big picture as well. Once they see the individual pieces of your case come together in a series of well-written scholarly papers, they’ll be more likely to take mythicism more seriously. And that means they’ll be more likely to read your books and interact with your arguments.

via Landon Hedrick Blogs: Mythicists Need Peer Review.

Do go and read the whole thing.  I have argued this point over and over again and I’m sure my readers are tired of hearing my voice.  So go read another!

Defining Mythicism: Paul, Jesus, and Understanding the Context

In James’ recent review of Ch. 9 of Earl Doherty’s book, he makes the following claim:

In addition to the passages we have mentioned so many times already which hint at Jesus’ humanity through their mention of his brother, his blood, his death by crucifixion, and his descent from David according to the flesh, consider the following as well:

Romans 9:4-5 For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the Israelites. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.  Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them the Messiah according to the flesh.

Philippians 2:7-8 he made himself nothing by taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Hebrews 2:14-17 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil…For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.

No hint? Surely this is more than exaggeration.

I believe James is really stretching here.  But before I argue my reasons, I’d like to stress that I don’t think you can use Paul to prove anything about the historicity of Jesus.  In fact, in my forthcoming paper on the subject, I argue that using Paul as a source of testimony for Jesus’ historicity is doomed to fail.  But I don’t think you can argue Jesus didn’t exist from Paul’s letters either.  There are too many unknowns when it comes to Paul.  How much did Marcion manipulate?  How much did the church fathers alter to refute Marcion?  Did Paul write all of the supposed  ‘authentic letters?’  Did an editor (Marcion? Someone else?) redact several letters into one (like Romans)?  Are we certain that ‘Paul’ is not a name given to the authorship of the letters due to a sort of cultural memory or tradition?  Or to bolster credibility of the letters in the eyes of the communities of Christians?  We know very little, and we have all accepted, as an academic body, certain tradition values to fill in the large gaps of our knowledge.  We hope that these traditions are grounded in reality, but we don’t know.  Perhaps Tertullian is right and Marcion ‘found’ Galatians at a convenient time and manner (i.e., he wrote it himself), or perhaps Tertullian is wrong.  Perhaps it was written to counter Luke.  Or perhaps Luke was written to counter Galatians.  In any event, the point we must stress is that we know less about Paul than we’d like, but we should not confuse our comfortable acceptance of this tradition with hard fact.  This must be remembered as how we understand our position is how we will translate and understand Paul.

It seems James’ point here is anchored on the phrases ‘το κατα σαρκος’ (‘likeness of flesh’; Rom. 9), ‘αδελφοις ομοιωθηναι’ (‘made like [his] brothers’; Heb. 2:17–NOTE: ‘in every way’ is in the Greek, but doesn’t necessarily clarify the way it is translated above.  See comments on this post for further details), and ‘ομοιωματι ανθρωπων’/’σχηματι ευρεθεις ως ανθρωπος’ (‘likeness of man’/’found in the form of a man’; Phil. 2:7).  So my point will rest in how we interpret these phrases.  But let me step back a second and press an issue I think is often missed.  Paul is stressing, quite hard, that Jesus wasn’t human but ‘in the likeness of’ a man or ‘flesh’.  In Heb. for example, the word ‘ὁμοιόω’ is found in many classical sources referring to non-human likenesses, for example, in Euripides’ Helen 33-4:

But Hera, indignant at not defeating the goddesses, made an airy nothing of my marriage with Paris; she gave to the son of king Priam not me, but an image (ὁμοιόω), alive and breathing, that she fashioned out of the sky and made to look like me;

And in Plato’s Phaedrus 261e speaks of how one can manipulate speech in drama (art) to resemble something they are not:

The art of speech is not confined to courts and political gatherings, but apparently, if it is an art at all, it would be one and the same in all kinds of speaking, the art by which a man will be able to produce a resemblance (ὁμοιοῦν) between all things between which it can be produced, and to bring to the light the resemblances produced and disguised (ὁμοιοῦντος) by anyone else.

Indeed, σχημα is quite telling in and of itself.  In Aristophanes Wasps, σχημα is used to mean ‘costume’ (1170), and in Aristotle’s Poetics he uses the word when talking about drama:

For just as by the use both of color and form (σχημασι) people represent many objects, making likenesses of them (1447a, 19).

I think this is symptomatic of the issue here. If James seeks to use these passages to show an ‘apparent reference to a human (fleshly) existence of Jesus’, he cannot accomplish his goal.  Not even Paul himself (or whomever) agrees with him!  Indeed, Paul is stating it quite plainly that Jesus was not human.  Not at all.  In these instances, the use is quite clear: when ‘likeness’ is used they mean, quite specifically, that it isn’t what people believe it to be.  Paul does not mean that Jesus was ‘fleshly’; this is a modern anachronistic interpretation, one that stems from our desires to Euhemerize the context into our rational meaning in the same way Palaephatus Euhemerized the Centaurs into the past by claiming they were the first people to ride horses.  Paul doesn’t mean to suggest that Jesus was a human at all!  He is quite explicit about his meaning, even down to the language, he was not a human but that he was an illusion.

The second we start ignoring this context we start down a slippery slope of rationalizing an allegorical phrase into a historical context, whereby we lose the context completely. What do I mean?  Consider how thisis any different than saying ‘Well the Biblical authors meant that one year was a thousand.’  No, they didn’t, and Paul didn’t mean ‘he was a human on earth’.    Quite specifically, the second we start to interpret Paul’s ‘likeness of human flesh’ as ‘human but interpreted as a likeness’ we are redacting Paul’s words to fit our own modern (academic, even) cultural milieux.  If James wishes to do that, he is, of course, welcome to do so.  But I would ask he present evidence that such interpretations are acceptable in multiple cases (he can start with Euripides).  Otherwise, we must interpret Paul’s words the way he meant them, that is, that to his knowledge the figure of Jesus was an illusion (as the word is used); his humanity was, quite definitively, a fiction.  And this seems to be how the other words (i.e. σχημα) are used as well.

Then James makes leap to suggest that, not only must we interpret the words of Paul counter to how he has written them, but we must demand that ‘in likeness of human flesh’ also means ‘on earth’ without realizing that Paul himself speaks of planes of existence where Jesus was crucified (he speaks, for example, of the ‘Jerusalem above’).  But this requires more time and effort than I’d like to give on this brief discussion, and I’ve already argued it in detail in my forthcoming treatment on the subject, so I won’t spend too much time rehashing those arguments.  The treatment is quite long and I suspect it will speak for itself (esp. on those verses most used, like Gal. 4:4, Rom. 1:3, etc…).

To conclude, however, I will reiterate to the reader that what we know of Paul is nothing beyond tradition.  And how we interpret the text must be based on the recognition that we don’t have Paul’s cultural setting, we don’t know his background (other than that he thinks Pharisees are trash), we don’t know if we even have his true words in every case (or, perhaps, in any case).  We just hope.   There are many references to mystery rites and the language seems to resemble a certain initiation language which has been seen in other literature (including discussions of the Essenes in Josephus), but there is no definitive way to know since we cannot even agree on what is Pauline and what isn’t and I don’t particularly find the arguments for the validity of the tradition convincing (particularly in light of the studies done by Tyson and Pervo which raise the importance of Marcion’s role in the formation of that tradition).  The best argument that can be made is that Paul is inconclusive (at best) on, or (more controversially) does not make reference to, a human figure of Jesus.  And a handful of verses won’t make or break this; the context, overall, is what will make a difference.  And since that context is damaged, or possibly even lost to us, I again ask that James use more caution when making claims like this.  Overstating the evidence will not help your position.  One must always recognize the limitations of the data we have.

James McGrath on Mythicism and Cultural Memory

James McGrath writes:

To state the point more directly in relation to mythicism: The recognition that traditional tools and methods of historical criticism do not provide us with certainty does not demonstrate that the mythicists are right, but that they are every bit as wrong-headed as the fundamentalists on the opposite end of the spectrum.

And he is absolutely correct; but the line is not drawn between ‘mythicism’ and ‘fundamentalism’ since, as it were, the opposite of ‘fundamentalism’ is ‘liberalism’ or ‘progressivism’ as they are the answers to a separate question (how one feels towards their beliefs).  If mythicism is one side of the coin, the other is historicism.  Both James and I know that there are degrees to ones affirmations over historicity (I’m an agnostic that recognizes that evidence is lacking, which doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t there), but if James posits that ‘the other side’ is wrong-headed, he is correct, in as much as the opposite side is historicism.

As a gentle nod, though, I would state that having a background in logic would have quickly corrected James’ equating of fundamentalism as an opposite of mythicism.  ;-)

What I Do and Do Not Believe

I seem to be getting a lot of queries lately about who I am and what I believe.  So here it is in a nutshell.

My “religious” affiliation: Possibilian, Deist.

  • I am not an atheist.  I am also not a Christian (that is, I do not affirm a belief that Jesus Christ is my lord and savior), nor am I a Muslim or a Jew.  I ascribe to no particular faith, but I do see the value in it even if I choose a secular path.  No, you cannot ‘save’ me.  If you are the generous sort, however, you might tolerate me.  Since I tolerate you, I don’t think that is too much to ask.
  • I don’t try to define ‘god’ (nor do I necessarily see the value in substituting a ‘g’ for a ‘G’–‘G’ should only stand for one thing, Geometry.  That, as they say, is that).  So my deism is refined enough, and just enough, to know that I imagine there being some being out there that might be defined as ‘divine’ or ‘supreme’.  Beyond that, I don’t have a clarification beyond a simple generalization.
My perspectives on the Bible and religion: Read the following blog posts…
My perspective on the historical figure of Jesus: I’m agnostic about the historicity of the figure of Jesus.
My political perspectives: Vote, because it is your right to do so, but most likely you’re electing in the same type of person, that is to say, a politician.  But for additional details about my stance on certain political perspectives, see these blog posts:

Defining Mythicism: Mythical Jesus, Mythicist Jesus, and Tertullian on 1 John 4:3

Landon Hedrick has written an interesting blog post. Here is a snippet:

If you believe that Jesus walked on water, cast out demons, healed the sick, raised people from the dead, and was himself resurrected from the dead, then you don’t get to dismiss the “Jesus never existed” theory as too silly or crazy to take seriously.

….

I’m not arguing for mythicism here (I’m not a mythicist). That’s not what I’m up to. Nor am I arguing against it. My point is rather simple: as unbelievable a view as it is, you have no room to dismiss it so casually on the basis of its being totally bonkers if you believe in a magic Jesus yourself.

via Landon Hedrick Blogs: New Rule.

I think it is an interesting perspective. It is definitely worth the read. I can associate with Avalos on being an agnostic about the question, as I am also an agnostic. But I did find this additional comment from Hedrick quite interesting (it is the first comment listed under the blog itself):

According to Hector Avalos (article in preparation), 1 John 4:1-3 at the very leasts suggests that, even at the time of the New Testament writings, there were a group of self-described Christians who did not believe that Jesus had come in the flesh at all.

The passage (RSV) reads:
[1] Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
[2] By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God,
[3] and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of antichrist, of which you heard that it was coming, and now it is in the world already.

But how could there even be prophets saying that Jesus had not come in the flesh if everyone agreed that he was a blood and flesh person all along? So, for Avalos, 1 John 4 suggests that, even at the time of the New Testament writings, Christianity was already divided into what we might call “historical” (if that means a flesh and blood person) and “mythicist” (if that means not a flesh and blood person) views of Jesus.

This passage is noted by Earl Doherty (Jesus Puzzle, pp. 43 and 307).”

What is interesting specifically is that the interpretation of this passage. In the Greek (SBL NT):

Ἀγαπητοί, μὴ παντὶ πνεύματι πιστεύετε, ἀλλὰ δοκιμάζετε τὰ πνεύματα εἰ ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστιν, ὅτι πολλοὶ ψευδοπροφῆται ἐξεληλύθασιν εἰς τὸν κόσμον. ἐν τούτῳ γινώσκετε τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ θεοῦ· πᾶν πνεῦμα ὃ ὁμολογεῖ Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθότα ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἐστιν, καὶ πᾶν πνεῦμα ὃ μὴ ὁμολογεῖ τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐκ ἔστιν· καὶ τοῦτό ἐστιν τὸ τοῦ ἀντιχρίστου, ὃ ἀκηκόατε ὅτι ἔρχεται, καὶ νῦν ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ ἐστὶν ἤδη.

The last verse in this group (bolded above), 1 John 4:3, is where this interpretation really rests. The RP (The New Testament in the Original Greek: Byzantine Textform 2005, comp. and arr. by M. A. Robinson and William G. Pierpont [Southborough, Mass.: Chilton, 2005]) which is noted in the SBL NT, notes an additional section of Greek text:

Χριστὸν ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθότα

Which fits into the verse as such (bolded):

καὶ πᾶν πνεῦμα ὃ μὴ ὁμολογεῖ τὸν Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθότα, ἐκ τοῦ Θεοῦ οὐκ ἔστι· καὶ τοῦτό ἐστι τὸ τοῦ ἀντιχρίστου, ὃ ἀκηκόατε ὅτι ἔρχεται, καὶ νῦν ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ ἐστὶν ἤδη.

And the NA27 (another authority, as it were) also indicates that early witnesses (c. 4th century manuscripts) attest to the Greek with the inclusion of Χριστὸν ἐν σαρκὶ ἐληλυθότα. And if we follow this thinking to the early church fathers, Tertullian, in his De praescriptione hereticorum, ch. 34, he writes:

But in his [John – ed.] epistle he especially designates those “Antichrists” who “denied that Christ was come in the flesh,” and who refused to think that Jesus was the Son of God. The one dogma Marcion maintained; the other, Hebion.

This was written in the early third century, meaning that Tertullian was aware of a manuscript which probably incorporated the Greek addition above. So I have to agree that the rendering in English (from the AKJV):

And every spirit that confesses not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof you have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.

So Avalos’ point actually is quite interesting; indeed it would seem that in the third century, at least, and assuming this rendering dates back to the autographa (which we don’t have), in the second century, there had been at least one sect of Christians which did not believe in an earthly, fleshly, human Jesus. This verse is also quoted, to some small extent perhaps, by Polycarp (assuming the letter is authentic), in his Epistle to the Philippians, ch. 7. If the letter is indeed authentic, it would validate an early second century date for the passage.

h/t to James McGrath for posting this and bringing it to my attention.

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