THE JESUS PUZZLE
Was There No Historical Jesus?
by Earl Doherty
READER FEEDBACK AND AUTHOR'S RESPONSE
First let me express my gratitude for this amazing body of work. I must admit that I found your site yesterday and have been on line at least 15 hours attempting to read and assimilate all that you've provided. I was "saved" in 1980 under dubious circumstances but never truly bought it. I've looked for a "kindred spirit" for a very long time as I could no longer accept the vision of God and the universe as set forth in the bible. The Jesus Puzzle was an epiphany and I'm happy to report that I've got my MIND BACK!
For the longest time I've been questioned as to why I do not believe in the existence of the character called Jesus. Now that you have published your work, I will be recommending it to whoever wants to know the reasons why. Thank you so much for doing so. It has been a blazing torch in a sea of darkness.
This is the biggest pile of bolony [sic] I have ever read. I truly hope you find Jesus and let him into your heart before it is too late.
Your website and writings have been a fascinating journey for me. Raised in a rural Lutheran church family, I had always found the in-group, out-group mentality of the church disturbing. The guilt and fear used to motivate people to stay, while not paramount, were certainly there as an undercurrent should you attempt to objectively criticize the faith or the converted. A personal revelation came to me a few years ago as a result of Joseph Campbell's writings regarding his work in comparative mythology. Once you realize that virgin births, catastrophic floods, etc. are mythological motifs seen in cultures pre-dating Christians by thousands of years, the facade of literal biblical interpretation crumbles. The exposure of the absence of an historical Jesus only serves as a capstone to solidify the criticism of a religion that has chained its followers to unreality for nearly two thousand years. Of course many other religions are guilty of the same crimes. Thank you for having the courage to publish your thoughts and ideas. Perhaps we are not as far away from an "Age of Reason" as previously thought.
You know, Mr. Doherty, people like you need to be hung by your thumbs. I am a Believer and you can write till your bones are bare and bleeding and you will in no way take my eyes off Jesus. It is terrible when folks like you write about nothing you know nothing about, just pure speculation. You were not there, you don't know, you are just guessing and it opens the door for Satan to do his work. I know and so does every other Believer that Satan is the one that inspires your writings. I will pray for you but I can see where you will spend eternity. I feel soooooo sorry for you and for anyone that would read and believe the trash that you publish.
I find your website on the historical Jesus a superb logical answer to a lot of real nagging questions. What all religions have in common is the control of the people through B---S---. I can readily see how religion got started but I can't see how in this day and age a majority of the world's people can cling to myths and superstition while enjoying the benefits of science. No God of any religion ever fed or clothed people, science and hard work did.
Reading the New Testament is forever changed when applying your views. I'm certain the same can be said about the Hebrew Bible. The myths and morality plays are entertaining but to have 'faith' that ANY of the Bible is true is literally wishful thinking. I am not now nor have I ever been an atheist. But Jesus or Moses are not the answer. Keep up the good work.
I have just been reading your articles on line, and I must say that I never thought I would meet a fellow searcher that dared to confront the religious establishment as you have done. I congratulate you for your knowledge and guts to cut across these cultural lines and make a stand for a new stance. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
I found your site some time ago and have regularly come back to it. I enjoy it immensely. I have a degree in theology but as you can imagine we were basically taught the 'party line.' I went there to get answers, I came away with even more questions. I am very grateful for the work you do. Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge with the rest of us.
The results of your scholarship deserve the widest possible dissemination, and I hope against hope that your book will serve as a catalyst for opening some minds and putting truth in the spotlight. Long live rational thought!
Before I came across your web site I had never seriously entertained the idea that Jesus might have been a wholly mythical being. Over the years, nevertheless, my knowledge of Jesus has shrunk continually. He was once my Lord and Savior. In my undergraduate years I gave myself over to the "New Quest" only to find that he eluded me at every turn. I remember distinctly opening my first lectures on Paul with words to my students to this effect: "Were we destitute of the Gospels, and had we to rely exclusively on Paul, we would know nothing about Jesus at all." By the time I came to your web site I could write everything I knew about Jesus the man on the back of a cigarette box. Now, even if he existed, I know nothing at all - not even that he existed. Thanks for the teaching.
I am still trying to understand the purpose of the writing of the later three canonical Gospels. Matthew indeed seems an 'improved' version of Mark's midrash, but how about 27:62-66 and 28:11-15 [the 'guard at the tomb' sequence]? The reason for writing this is to refute a Jewish explanation of the empty tomb. In order to make this necessary, a bodily resurrection idea had to exist. That would not make of Matthew a midrash, where it would not be necessary. The same with Luke 24:33-43 [Jesus' post-resurrection appearance to the Eleven] with its emphasis on touching and eating. It is puzzling. Indeed, this is why Christians point to these passages to support a physical resurrection. It is difficult to show them that it has to be understood as an allegory, since the narration in this form does not lend itself to allegorical interpretation. (On the other hand, Matthew 28:16-20 [Jesus' appearance to the Eleven on a mountain in Galilee] can easily be understood as an allegory with Jesus appearing on a mountain. The same can be said about the meeting on the road to Emmaus.)Response to Eric:
Matthew's Guard at the Tomb / Luke's Post-Resurrection Scene
In regard to Luke, I don't see a problem at all. A story declaring that a man had risen from his grave (even as allegory, or symbolic of what the believer/reader could anticipate for himself after death) could be extended in the writer's mind to including an element of demonstration as to the veracity of such a resurrection. In the case of Matthew's 'guard at the tomb' sequence, this is perhaps more difficult to see in that way, although as part of a (fictional) story about a man rising from his tomb, it is not out of place. Nor is it necessary to think that Matthew includes it because there was an actual Jewish claim that, if Jesus was said to have risen, it was because the disciples must have stolen the body. If that were the case, one would expect to find a counter to it (such as Matthew's guard at the tomb) in more than just one Gospel. If such a Jewish claim were current, we might also expect it to show up in those later Talmudic references to Jesus, or even in Justin's "Dialogue with the Jew Trypho." The fact that this story is unique to Matthew is, to me, more than a little suspicious.
I also think it is possible that this element is a later insertion. Certainly, the flanking paragraphs for both parts of the guard at the tomb story run very well into each other. Aside from the observations I've made, it's impossible to resolve the question. In my book, I leave my options open (p.193). I allow for the possibility that the later evangelists believed in the historicity of the founder figure who appears in the later layer of the Q document they used. And they may have thought that the passion story of Mark's Gospel was basically historical, although they would not have regarded the details of Mark's account as anything more than representative or symbolic. This would be the only way to explain their cavalier willingness to change anything they felt could be improved or altered in Mark's account to fit their own teaching agendas.
The same goes for John. I have said that this evangelist could hardly have regarded his picture of Jesus, and the sayings he puts in his mouth, as at all historical. His Jesus diverges too much from the Synoptic precedent (which John almost certainly used) and conforms too much to the doctrines of the evangelist's own community.
Jarek writes (from Poland):
I have some questions: 1. When Talmud has been written down? My opponents deny its birth-time of 3rd century. They state that it has appeared between 2nd and 5th century and consists of the babylonian and the jewish (jerusalem) versions; they also think that Jews would support arguments for the silence about Jesus and put Jesus into the Talmud tradition at the beginning of the 2nd century.... [further questions below]Response to Jarek:
The Talmud / Sheol and an Afterlife / Acts' Attestation / Midrash / Quirinius' Census
The Talmud only came to be written down, in its earliest phase (called the "Mishnah"), starting about 200 CE, by Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi (Judah the Prince). It was a codification of centuries of earlier rabbinic oral expansions on the Mosaic Law (written in the Pentateuch). Before 200 CE, this Oral Law had been handed on only by word of mouth from generation to generation. Actually, the "Talmud" is an overall term referring to the initial Mishnah, plus the "Gemara," two branches of commentaries which accumulated on the Mishnah over the next few centuries, one in Babylon and the other in Palestine, although the latter are also referred to as the Babylonian Talmud and the Palestinian Talmud.
There is no mention of Jesus in the Mishnah (though some scholars think to interpret a couple of things as oblique references to him, none of which bear any relation to the Gospel story) despite the fact that the Mishnah records many sayings of rabbis of the first century.
Two separate collections, contemporary with the Mishnah and early Gemara, are the Tosephta and the Baraita (some of the latter are included as distinct parts of the Talmuds). There are a few references in these collections to Jesus, or to figures—with different names—interpreted as being Jesus, though they bear little or no resemblance to the Gospel character. Some are reputed to come from rabbis who lived at the end of the 1st century CE. The most famous is probably the one which states that Ben Stada, a magician who lured men to apostasy, was condemned to death by stoning in the city of Lydda, not in Jerusalem. A later Baraita contradicts this by saying that he was hung, but still in Lydda.
The references to Jesus in the later Gemara (commentaries) on the Mishnah are even further off the mark. One places him in the time of the Maccabean king Alexander Jannaeus around 100 BCE, another identifies the husband of Jesus' mother as Pappos ben Jehudah, who in the Talmud is said to have been a contemporary of rabbi Akiba, who flourished in the early second century (See J. Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth, p.22, and R. Travers Herford, Christianity in the Talmud and the Mishnah, p.35-40 for a full discussion of these passages.)
Not only does the imprecision and contradictory (to the Gospels) nature of all these references point to a total lack of any reliable Jewish tradition about Jesus, we can state the principle that any such traditions are unreliable when recorded more than a century later (often much later), because they could have been influenced or altered by the intervening period in which the Christians themselves developed an historical Jesus. And in fact there are some indications that these recorded traditions are reacting to Christian claims and accusations based on the Gospel story.
For example, in the Baraita reference, it is stated that before the 'hanging' a herald went about for forty days, calling for someone to come forward to defend Jesus. This is clearly a device invented in rabbinic tradition in answer to the Gospel picture, which portrays the execution as carried out in secret haste. As Maurice Goguel (Prolegomena to the Life of Jesus, p.74) says, "In the Talmud, therefore, all we can discover are some modified reflections of the Christian tradition; it would be futile to attempt to draw from it the least hint which might be useful from the historical point of view."
Anything written down in the 3rd and 4th centuries cannot be depended upon to faithfully record traditions reputedly of the 1st or 2nd centuries. We can certainly see that this is the case with later Christian traditions about their own earlier events. Eusebius in the 4th century, for example, records all sorts of things about early Christian history which we know to be unlikely, untrue or exaggerated. In any case, the actual references to Jesus in the Talmud are so garbled and unlike the Gospel story, that we can second G. A. Wells' remark (The Jesus of the Early Christians, p.200): "This does not suggest a reminiscence of the events alleged in the gospels." Wells goes on to say: "Incidentally, Jesus is nowhere in the Talmud said to have been executed by the Romans; his death is represented as solely the work of the Jews; and nowhere is his alleged Messiahship mentioned, not even as a reason for putting him to death."
2. What can we state about the Jewish concept on human fate after death? Was the Sheol a place without return? Did Jahwe ever promise a life after death? Was it somehow related to the Christian idea of Resurrection?...Jews seem to have started to believe in a life after death only in the post-Exilic period. In writings referring to earlier periods, there is no evidence that Jews believed in a resurrection or afterlife, and in fact Old Testament scholars will usually state that they had no such belief in the earlier periods. Sheol as an abode of the dead (who are aware of their post-death existence) does not appear in Jewish writings before the Exile. It is also to be noted that when it does, Sheol is the abode of both the good and the bad, sometimes with distinct areas for each. In other words, even the post-exilic Jews had at first no concept that the Righteous would be in heaven with God. This idea did not develop until the second century BCE.
3. Who has quoted the Acts of the Apostles for the first time (around 170)?...Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, in Book III of his Against Heresies (Chapter 12) quotes Acts copiously. This was written around 180. Acts is known in the apocryphal Acts of Paul, which was written sometime before 197. There are many "allusions" claimed to be found in earlier documents, but none of them are conclusive and are generally rejected—with a possible exception allowed for Justin Martyr—by scholars such as Ernst Haenchen, an authority on Acts. The closest Justin comes to 'echoing' Acts (in the middle of the second century) is in his First Apology 50.12: ". . .and when they had seen Him ascending into heaven, and had believed, and had received power sent thence by Him upon them, and went to every race of men, they taught these things, and were called apostles." However, Justin, unlike his attribution of many Gospel quotations to "memoirs of the Apostles" (he gives no names for these Gospels), does not identify this 'echo' as being found in any specific document.
If Acts were in existence as an accepted record of church beginnings for the better part of a century, as many claim, such a lack of clear attestation before Irenaeus would seem impossible. Note also that Eusebius quotes Papias as speaking of collections of sayings and anecdotes attributed to a Jesus, allegedly compiled by "Mark" and "Matthew," but there is no mention by Eusebius of Papias speaking of any document that could be identified with the Acts of the Apostles. Here again, especially in regard to a writer who was said to have stressed his connections with and knowledge of the apostolic age and its figures (some of whom were allegedly followers of Jesus), Papias' apparent ignorance (c.130) of such a document belies any claim that it could have been written and in circulation from 50 to 80 years earlier.
Another consideration put forward, for example by John Knox (Marcion and the New Testament, p.120f), relates to Marcion's attested use of an early form of the Gospel of Luke, sometime in the 140s. Marcion was a gnostic who was adamant that Christianity should not be linked in any way with its Jewish antecedent or with the Jewish God. Had Acts been written and attached as a companion piece to the Gospel of Luke by this time, Marcion would not have been likely to adopt Luke at all, since Acts is clearly a 'catholicizing' piece of writing, with one of its principal theological positions being that the Christian movement was an outgrowth of Judaism and the inheritor of the Jewish God's promises.
4. Can you tell more about the midrash tradition. When has it started? Who was its precursor (if ever existed)? My opponents state that it was invented in Middle Ages by rabbi Rashi....It is difficult to define a "start" to midrash, since the practice goes back into the Hebrew bible. For example, the books known as 1 & 2 Chronicles are sometimes defined as later midrashes on the earlier 1 & 2 Kings. Individual episodes in later books of the bible are midrashes on episodes in earlier books, such as Joshua crossing the Jordan being a midrash on the Exodus account of Moses crossing the Red Sea. The basic purpose of this kind of midrash is to illumine the present or future by appealing to the past, casting something new in a familiar setting of the old and thus highlighting its significance or meaning. By this definition, the Gospels as a whole (at least in their original intention) were a midrash on ancient themes within a setting of contemporary activities (the Kingdom of God preaching movement), to illumine new developments in religious thought and expectation. I don't know who Jarek's "opponents" are, but to say that midrash was invented in the Middle Ages shows an ignorance of the subject, unless they are defining it quite differently.
5. Is it true that we cannot be sure that Quirinius ordered to count the number of people of the Roman Empire in 6 AD? Some state that we have records only from 20 AD and then 34 AD, 48 AD, etc.I can't itemize the complete record of Roman censuses, but the Quirinius 'census' was a local one applying only to Judea following the Roman expulsion of Herod's son Archelaus, in order that an imperial tax could be imposed on Judea. This information comes from the very reliable Jewish historian Josephus. Of course, this census (no matter what its scope) is dated ten years after the rest of Luke's setting for Jesus' birth, namely during the reign of Herod the Great, who died in 4 BCE. Luke has to be wrong on at least one or the other.
I am fascinated by the depth and breadth of your research, the success of your web site, the courage of your convictions. But... ...Of course, there was such a man! There doubtless were dozens of such men! There have always been such men, since the days of the shaman. We had such a one just recently in Waco, but the FBI crucified him before his malignant superstition could propagate.Response to Ed:
Could Josephus have called Jesus "a wise man"?
Yes, and Josephus describes such men as the curse of the Jewish state all throughout the first century, leading to the destruction of state, temple and city. And yet the reference to Jesus in Antiquities 18 (the so-called Testimonium Flavianum), even that part claimed by scholars to be "authentic" to Josephus, is positive and even laudatory, calling him a "wise man" and a "teacher of truth." I point out in my Supplementary Article No. 10: Josephus Unbound, and in an extensive chapter in my book, that it is impossible to consider that Josephus could have referred to Jesus this way, since Jesus would have had everything in common with all those other messianic-type agitators which Josephus clearly detested.
Nor would Josephus have had any way of receiving selective information about some praiseworthy aspect of Jesus, such as his supposed ethical teachings, separating them from reports of his miracle-working (an element which in any case is included in the "authentic" Testimonium's phrase "a doer of wonderful, or startling, works"), or from his predictions about the apocalyptic end of the world, or even from reports of revolutionary antics like the Gospel cleansing of the Temple. Whether authentic or not, these sorts of things would have been inextricably associated with Jesus by the time Josephus was writing. Even some of Jesus' reputed ethical teachings would have struck Josephus, a staunch supporter of Roman rule, as radical and subversive.
Nor would Josephus have remained silent on what the entire early movement, as we see in epistles like Paul's, were supposedly doing to this human man: elevating a crucified criminal to the level of pre-existent divine Son of God and Savior of the world. All of this would have been blasphemous to any traditional Jew, including Josephus.
Thus we can safely reject any "authentic Testimonium." And if a respected historian like Josephus, with his encyclopedic knowledge of first century Palestinian history, did not mention Jesus, this turns the tables and provides strong evidence that there was no such man as Ed and so many others hypothesize.
Ignatius, in the 19th chapter of his epistle to the Ephesians, says: "Now the virginity of Mary was hidden from the prince of this world, as was also her offspring, and the death of the Lord; three mysteries of renown, which were wrought in silence by God." Can you offer any insight as to what Ignatius might have meant by "hidden from the prince of this world" or "wrought in silence"?Response to Alex:
I suspect that the original supernatural character of these events was developed when Jesus was purely mythological. (The identification of "Mary" as the virgin—based on Isaiah 7:14—who had given divine birth would have been a later addition.) It is difficult to imagine that Satan could have been presumed to be unaware of any of these things had they taken place in an earthly setting. What would have shielded his vision from Calvary? And Satan's own minions, the demons who possessed the sick and were expelled by Jesus' healing exorcisms, had already declared their knowledge of who he was. But once these mystical ideas were established in a mythological setting, they could more easily have had an historical dimension added to them in the time of Ignatius.
We should note the close parallels between Ignatius' idea that Jesus' identity and purpose were hidden from Satan, and similar ideas in other documents. In 1 Corinthians 2:8, Paul tells us that Jesus was crucified by "the rulers of this age" who did not know who he was. As I frequently point out, the phrase "rulers of this age" is regarded by many liberal scholars as a reference to the demon spirits, and not to earthly authorities. In the Ascension of Isaiah 9:12-13, the vision of the future descent of the Son through the layers of heaven includes similar features: "and the god of that world will stretch forth his hand against the Son and they will lay hands on him and crucify him on a tree without knowing who he is; so his descent, as you will see, is hidden from the heavens so that it remains unperceived who he is." The 'hidden' element takes place in the heavens, implying that the crucifixion does, too. In any case, there is in this passage no reference to an earthly dimension. Christ makes his descent through the heavenly spheres, ultimately to end up in the underworld where he will rescue the souls of the righteous ("he will plunder the angel of death"); but of activities on earth, there is nothing to be said. The same is true of Chapter 10, which outlines a direct commission of the Son by the Father, who speaks only of his descent through the layers of the heavens and his dealings with their various angelic inhabitants. (Chapter 11, which details a crude Gospel-like story, including a Nativity scene unlike that of Matthew or Luke, is present in only one of three manuscript lines and can be regarded as a later interpolation.)
Ignatius speaks of these elements of the salvation story as "mysteries" that were "wrought in silence by God." The Pauline and other epistles repeatedly speak of Christ and his role in salvation as a mystery (or 'secret') now revealed by God, with previous knowledge of him being hidden through long ages. Ignatius' "wrought in silence" would simply be another way of expressing the same idea.
The whole point of keeping Christ's identity hidden from Satan only makes sense in a mythological (supernatural world) setting. The death of Christ, especially in the earlier period, was regarded as a way of neutralizing or overcoming the power of Satan and the evil spirits and rescuing the dead souls under their dominion. If human rulers were the agency of the crucifixion, little interference would be caused by those evil spirits being aware of the unfolding drama and its significance. But if the spirits themselves were to be the agency of Christ's death in the spiritual world, bringing about their own consequent destruction, the Son's identity and role in salvation would need to have been kept hidden from them, so that the spirits would proceed unknowingly with the execution that would lead to their downfall.
I noticed in one of your reader feedback responses you write: "...such claims became discredited when it was seen more clearly that the myths and artistic representations of the various hellenistic cults actually contained nothing tangible about any resurrection of the god from the dead." Is it not the case that the myth of Attis states that he was resurrected by Cybele after being buried for three days? Is it merely a repeated claim that has no foundation in any ancient sources?Response to Colin:
Resurrection for Attis?
The myths and concepts of the Greco-Roman mystery cults are for modern scholars often a matter of interpretation rather than of clear knowledge, since rarely does one find a direct description in any ancient sources. On the matter of "resurrection" one first of all has to define what one means by the term. Osiris was killed and dismembered, but his parts were gathered together by Isis and (after using them to father Horus on herself) buried, to 'come to life again' in the underworld where he became Lord of the dead. Is this "resurrection"? Not by Gospel standards, of course. The Greek Dionysos was resurrected in a different form by Zeus. Again, the parallel with the Gospel Jesus is not exact. But the Greeks were not concerned with spending eternity in their own flesh—in fact, the thought was repugnant to them. Thus, they did not invent gods who underwent such a thing to guarantee a similar fate for themselves. Rather, their savior gods overcame death in a way that guaranteed a happy afterlife for the soul. In the cultural equivalent, this was as much a "resurrection" as the Christian version.
In the cult of the Great Mother Cybele from Asia Minor, a consort, Attis, was introduced, perhaps a century or two before the Common Era. The Attis myth said that he had castrated himself (to explain the practice of the priests of Cybele who in fits of ecstasy rendered themselves eunuchs), an act which brought about his death. Much interpretation has gone into the public rites of Attis and Cybele, celebrated in a spring festival spread over many days. Reminiscent of the Christian Passion week, the death of Attis was mourned on one day, followed by an interim period of fasting and self-punishment. (Compare the Christian Lent.) Then came a ceremony which might be interpreted as symbolizing the resurrection of Attis. Whatever the mythical details, later Christian commentators show that the rites symbolized a sharing in some kind of triumph of the deity over death. Firmicus Maternus, a Christian of the 4th century CE, is much quoted for his preservation of the cultic formula: "Be consoled, O initiates, for the god is delivered; therefore we too shall have deliverance from our sorrow." This may not refer to physical resurrection, but the effect for the Greek devotee was still the same.
The tendency by representatives of the so-called History of Religions School early in the 20th century (Reitzenstein, Cumont, Bousset, etc.) was to characterize all these savior gods, along with some earlier mid-east divinities like Tammuz and Baal whose myths spoke of coming to life after death, as "dying and rising" deities, conferring immortality through ritual observance and sharing in the god's nature in much the same way as Paul portrays Jesus and the believers' relationship to him through baptism. The backlash by Christian apologists which subsequently occurred attempted to downplay or entirely discredit such a grand and disturbing parallel, mostly doing so through a strained and disdainful nit-picking about differences which, where they are in any way significant, can mostly be put down to cultural distinctions. That pendulum is swinging back, with scholars today admitting that, for all pragmatic purposes, the "dying and rising god" mytheme (to use Robert Price's term) is a valid one to cover the entire range of salvation cults of the ancient world, including Christianity.
Certainly, ancient Christians did not think to discredit the mysteries on such a basis. In fact, the Fathers acknowledged that clear parallels were there, and prior to the Christian expression, so much so that they scrambled to explain such things by saying that Satan had deliberately counterfeited them ahead of time so as to undermine the coming faith of Christian believers.
(For more on this subject, see the Response to Miles in Reader Feedback Set 4.)
In reading through your website, there were several curiosities that arose. I will ask specifically regarding two: 1. I notice that the dates of authorship that you assign to many of the books of the New Testament, as well as to some of the Ante- Nicene non-canonicals, are substantially different than those given historically by the bulk of textual and patristic scholars. Upon what are you basing those assertions? . . . [another question below]Response to Gary:
Dating of New Testament Documents / Eyewitness Problems
I snipped the rest of Gary's comment on this question because the basis for his complaint is largely inaccurate. Except for the Gospels themselves, I have pretty much adhered to standard datings for the New Testament documents. By "standard" I am referring, of course, to mainstream liberal scholarship. That leaves aside more 'radical' groups like the Jesus Seminar (as Gary styles them) as well as those who would date the entire body of Christian writings to the second century; but it also excludes the Bible College 'scholar' and the broader class of conservatives who would deny, for example, that there are letters within the traditional Pauline corpus which were not written by Paul. I regard, for example, the epistles of James and to the Hebrews as probably pre-Jewish War, Colossians and Ephesians as written within a couple of decades after Paul's death, 1 Peter and the Johannine epistles as late first century, 2 Peter perhaps a decade or so into the second. Such dating is hardly radical, so there is no need to defend my observations about such writings, or the conclusions I draw from them, on the basis that I have some unique dating system, as Gary suggests. (Of course, even the mainstream dating of such documents can be speculative and uncertain, with a wide leeway often necessary.)
In the matter of the Gospels, I would simply push them perhaps two decades or so further into the first and second centuries than traditional scholarship has tended to do. And I back this up with specific arguments, particularly in regard to the first Gospel, Mark. But here again, my mythicist theories do not stand or fall on a later date for the Gospels. In fact, such later dating also serves to explain some perplexing observations, such as the late attestation of the Gospels in the wider Christian record, which even standard scholarship is forced to struggle with.
As to non-canonical writings, here again I adhere fairly closely to standard datings, such as for 1 Clement, Ignatius and Barnabas. In fact, I am criticized for such conservatism by a few friends in the field who are far more radical than I on these questions. I am not sure on what Gary thinks to base the criticism he voices here, but it is largely misplaced.
2. Most historical matters, including the existence of Christ's life and reputation, can be established from multiple witnesses. Even if none of the gospels were written until the later years of the first century, there is a bit of a problem. Though their subject is not chronology, if the setting of their story is correct, Jesus is portrayed as being crucified roughly between about 27 and 35 AD. If several people manufacture a story about a man's life that happened only a few decades ago, especially with the kind of claims the Gospels make for him, they are going to have a real problem on their hands because there will be substantial numbers of people alive who were either eyewitnesses to the matter (or lack of matter) or whose parents were. I know quite well the stories of substance told by my grandparents of their time, let alone my parents' or my own, and it would be an extremely difficult task to get me to accept as true something that I or my parents or grandparents had lived through and whose witness was substantially different. Yet Pliny the Elder and other non-Christian and secular authors leave us no witness of public rejection or doubt regarding the tale the Christians were telling. How can this be accounted for?As is often the case in questions like this—and I have answered this one before—Gary sets up assumptions which cannot be supported on closer examination. If Gary had never had the good fortune of knowing his grandparents, and his own parents had been killed in some widespread disaster a generation earlier, would he be as likely to be able to say what those previous generations had experienced or had not? If they had lived in some overseas country, would the traditions of what had happened there, perhaps concerning things his forebears had not personally taken part in, liable to be familiar to him?
The Jewish War of 66-70 laid waste much of Palestine, destroyed cities, infrastructure and records, and this at a time when record-keeping and the transmission of knowledge was on a far more primitive level than ours. Three-quarters of the population of this area was killed or dispersed by the Romans. As for "the tale the Christians were telling," this is something which even Christian records do not witness to before the early second century. There is simply no testimony to identifiable aspects of the Gospel story before the time of Ignatius, let alone evidence that anyone possessed copies of such written documents. If Mark, the first Gospel, was set down on paper much before then, there is no evidence that its ideas circulated beyond the Markan community itself—apart from being noticed by some nearby community (in Syria?) where another writer (now known as Matthew) took Mark's document and expanded on it, if this even took place before Ignatius' time. The "public," pagan or otherwise, can't reject what it has not encountered. Besides, if the earliest Gospel was not intended to represent history, and for a couple of decades was simply viewed as a piece of midrashic symbolism, no one would have taken the trouble to deny its contents.
And what do we see when someone starts declaring that the story of a Jesus born of Mary and crucified by Pilate was literally true, as Ignatius does? Those who fail to agree with him are labeled "mad dogs" and "beasts in the form of men." Those who "deny that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh" (1 John 4:2-3) are called "the Antichrist." Gary assumes that the early Christians lived in a reasonable world, where newly developing religious ideas about the beginnings of the faith would have been amenable to correction by more knowledgeable voices, if such existed. Sorry, Gary, it ain't so.
I believe you have finally got a handle on the true origin of Christianity. However, I read a book which pointed out that things written in the gospels which didn't fit the story were probably true and had to be included because they were so widely known. It suggested that there was a person that was a revolutionary with an armed following who seized the Temple briefly, was captured and executed by crucifixion by the Romans. Could such a historic person been chosen by Mark as a basis for his work of fiction? In other words, would he have felt compelled to pick some actual person who was crucified to substitute for Paul's spiritual level crucifixion? I am not suggesting that this person was forming a new religion. He would have just been one of the many Zealots of the time.Response to Kenneth:
Jesus a Zealotic Revolutionary?
That Mark modeled his Jesus on a specific revolutionary who had seized the Temple in an armed uprising is highly unlikely, simply because the historians of the time, and especially Josephus, make no mention of such a person or event.
On the other hand, it is quite possible that Mark took his cue for some of Jesus' features from the agitators and Zealots who do show up in the historical record, but they and the atmosphere of their age would simply have provided some of the background to the Gospel figure. Mark's Jesus inevitably must reflect features of his time, or the audience couldn't have related to him. This hardly constitutes, however, the existence of "an historical Jesus" per se, any more than legend basing the Greek Heracles (who was also in some circles a savior god) on a type of Mycenaean-era warrior gives us "an historical Heracles," or Ian Fleming rooting his James Bond in British MI-5 agents produces "an historical James Bond."
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