Was There No Historical Jesus?
Earl Doherty

Reader Feedback and Author’s Response
Set 27: February 2007



Angela writes:

   Thank you so much for writing your book The Jesus Puzzle. I had heard of the mythic Christ thesis, but didn't honestly think there was much substance to it. Your book has definitely changed my mind on that subject. You make a very persuasive case that the Jesus of the Gospels never existed. You are the first scholar, in my view, to provide a convincing explanation for the profound silences found in the epistles on Jesus of Nazareth. It's not surprising that Paul would have formulated a worship of the Christ drawing upon the mystery cults of that time.
   I have been, at times, a great enthusiast of "historical Jesus" scholarship. I have read the works of Crossan, Borg, et al. None, however, have been as incisive and lucid as The Jesus Puzzle. Your book just seems to cut through all the "noise" and wishful thinking about a historical Jesus.
   I must admit your book has caused me to grieve the loss of an anti-establishment, "left wing" Jesus, but it is a loss that I am more than willing to bear in the name of a truer historical picture. I have also felt a deep pain, realizing that the many atrocities of the last two thousand years have been carried out in the name of someone who may have never existed. I am so struck by the deep meaninglessness of that anguished history.
   Thanks again for an amazing book. I think the mythic Christ thesis is the ultimate antidote to Christian fundamentalism.


William writes:

I have just finished reading The Jesus Puzzle and found it to be the best of the several books I have read exposing the lack of evidence for an historical Jesus. Your approach contrasting the epistles and the Apologists vs the Gospels is a completely convincing scholarly accomplishment.

Nick writes:

   My name is Nick and I am writing to you from Athens, Greece. I recently read your book The Jesus Puzzle and I want to congratulate you on your work. Although I am a devout Christian, I have to admit that your arguments are well established and your case is a strong one. It is difficult for me to accept that there was no historical Jesus, because that would undermine all my previous beliefs, but I will keep following your line of thought. Please keep me informed on any new piece of evidence that you provide in the future.

Jon writes:

I know you probably hear this a lot, but I want to thank you for all the
work you do.  I used to be an evangelical that debated on the Sec Web.  I
was there when you debated Nomad (Brian Trafford) and though I was a
Christian at the time I was somewhat impressed.  But I never really gave
your view serious consideration, because I accepted the standard Christian
argument: "Even liberals reject the view that Jesus was a myth."  That was
good enough for me.  Since then (about a year ago) I've rejected
Christianity and finally stumbled on your website.  What an eye opener!!
Absolutely fascinating.  And I'll admit it.  I'm persuaded.  I haven't even
read your books yet (I plan on ordering them for my birthday soon).  But
I've learned tons from your website and your continued efforts on the Sec
Web.  I can't believe the amount of abuse you put up with, and truthfully I
cannot understand why many unbelievers are so hostile about it.  But just
know that some of us do gain insight as a result of your toils.
   I get a lot of abuse now myself because I involve myself in online debates
with Christians.  I've admitted that I accept your argument, and boy, that
gets them riled up.  They throw your name around like an epithet.

Alfredo writes (from Japan):

   I learned about you from "The God Who Wasn't There" DVD, read your book (as well as Robert Price's book, Sam Harris and Alan Dundes' one). I have visited your website and read some of those articles. Your work and other scholars' work has helped me clarify issues that were suspicions which I needed to investigate about. Your work has motivated me to continue my study and think of ways to do something about fundamentalism.

Gordon writes:

After reading your website I was moved to buy your book. Your writing is insightful and clear. Your research into early Christian documentation is unsurpassed. I have nothing but praise for your work and for your insight.

Duane writes:

   I read your book about how the story and life of Jesus 'evolved' throughout the centuries. It was an excellent education of history! It was also quite 'sobering' to learn that we are all 'on our own'. The gospels are very inconsistent. You proved this in your book. I can't put the book down, it's that good. There is one thing I can't tolerate, and that is to be lied to. If jesus was not the son of god, don't make him something he wasn't...divine.  I think people need something to believe in. It gives them hope and peace. I can understand this. But like Carl Sagan said, "Rather the hard truth than a comforting fantasy". I will look for more books from you in the future.

Judith writes:

   Just a short note to say that I find your site very enlightening!! Keep up the good work!! With web sites such as yours, the world just might have a chance at waking up!!!

Ron writes:

   Thanks for your book The Jesus Puzzle. Also, thanks for the PDF file of your novel. I'm sure if I scour your website I will find the explanation, but, why did you not publish the novel? I am enjoying it immensely.

[E.D.: After Prometheus Books turned it down in 1998, I posted it in its entirety on my site, thinking that no one would really be interested in publishing it, and I wasn't about to publish it myself (too expensive). But to my great surprise, a Korean publisher and a Spanish publisher encountered it on the site and asked to translate and publish it, which they did in 2005 and 2006 respectively. (As far as I know, the Spanish version is not being marketed on our continent, at least not yet.) There might be possibilities for future English publication, but I think I would revamp the plot setting at such a time to make it post-millennium.]

David writes:

   Your website (as well as American Atheists and Talk
Origins) has been an invaluable resource for me in
obtaining an intellectual foundation for my assertion
of atheism.  I was literally shaken to the core when I
recently (within the past week) first read the
scholarship on the questionable historicity of Jesus.
I have a postgraduate degree and consider myself to be
above average well read, and I rejected the idea of
Jesus' Divinity at least 5 years ago, but I never
thought the evidence of his historical existence was
so flimsy!
   I don't know if I missed the cite in your writings (I
haven't read everything yet!), but Romans 4, like
Hebrews 11, does not define Jesus of Nazareth as the
paragon of faith.  Abraham gets this designation.
Jesus is referred to in the chapter, but purely in the
platonic, celestial sense. 
   I think the point is highlighted by the beginning of
the next chapter, Romans 5 verse 1 (NIV):"Therefore,
since we have been justified through faith..." The
"therefore" refers to the example of faith in Romans
4, Abraham's faith. It is his faith, not the faith of
a once human Jesus, which acts as the scriptural (OT!)
and principal model for the faith Paul encourages his
recipients to have.

[E.D.: Yes, yet another example of Paul's inability to think of or point to a recent human Jesus as a model for anything to do with his faith.]

Adam writes:

     I first became acquainted with you on the special features of The God Who Wasn't There DVD.  That led me to the website (Age Of Reason).  I also look forward to reading The Jesus Puzzle as soon as I can get my hands on it!  I am so glad that there are scholars like you devoting themselves to a factual, reasoned understanding of Christian mythology.  As an ex-Christian myself, I have seen and experienced first-hand the damage that a zealous belief in Christian dogma can and does do.  My parents and most of my brothers are all Christians and it is difficult to present my skepticism in a way that they can accept, so I tend to change the subject when it comes up.  You have already helped me in this regard immensely by demonstrating how easy it is to support a skeptical view of Jesus when you look at the facts.  Anyway,  I just want to say thank you for being a voice of Reason and for pursuing Truth.  We are up against 2000 years of an established paradigm, but alas, we have the truth on our side!

Lance writes:

   Although I have yet to read your book "The Jesus Puzzle" I did read
your response to a "critique" of your work by J.P.Holding. While I know
nothing of your scholarship I have a great deal of respect for your
restraint and decorum.
   I have also been the victim of Mr. Holding's bombast. I made the
mistake of emailing him about the content of his apologetic website Instead of addressing my points Mr. Holding, or whatever
his real name is, hurled a few insulting sentence fragments my way and
presented me with a "screw ball" award. Perhaps you will also be so
honored. I would be proud to be in your prestigous and tolerant company
at any future awards ceremony.

[E.D.: Yes, Mr. Robert Turkel is notorious for his tact and tolerance of dissenting viewpoints. I have been the honored recipient of more than one "screw ball" award, but have yet to be invited to a presentation ceremony. I have ignored Mr. Turkel following my initial response to him several years back. His latest "reply" to me is about a page long in which he calls me too "stupid" to respond to (in regard to my recent "Refutations" article).

Andreas writes (from the Netherlands):

   Last week I found your website, and started reading. It's good, very good: I find your theory very convincing. It makes sense of a lot of weird ideas in the New Testament, and it also makes sense of Christianity's disputes of the Trinity....The beginnings of Christianity have puzzled me ever since I was a teenager; and this is the best account I've read so far.

Grete writes (from Norway):

   I am from Norway, and I am just so thrilled by the presentation of your books and articles on the Internet. I appreciate very much your ideas and criticism. I have read a lot about the history of Christianity, and I have been so shocked by the violence of our western religion. The fact that most Christians (and Theology) today ignore the history of violence, is most disturbing. Unfortunately, I assume your books will never be translated into Norwegian. The Christian religion is an official state religion in Norway. Christianity is not open to debate, not even by the media. Theology is a powerful academic discipline.

[E.D.: That comes as a surprise to me. I envisioned all the Baltic area countries down to the Netherlands as quite liberal and progressive minded. Some of my website has been translated into Finnish and Swedish, but so far, no offers from Norway.]

Paul writes:

I wanted to say that I recently discovered your site and think it is absolutely great! I had done other research which came to the same conclusion as yours, so a non-historical Jesus is not a new idea for me, just your methodology (which is well thought out). I am curious to know however your thoughts on a different author, Joseph Wheless. I'm sure you've heard of him...In any case I absolutely love your site and the Jesus Puzzle Novel.

[E.D.: Yes, I am familiar with Wheless though have never read any of his books. "Forgery in Christianity" is quite famous, and perhaps I will get around to reading it one day.]

David writes:

   While I commend your refutation of Strobel's The Case for Christ in Challenging the Verdict, I was transfixed by The Jesus Puzzle. I had heard arguments that challenged the historical Jesus before, but I thought the issue had been, for the most part, laid to rest by an abundance of voluminous material from independent contemporaneous historians. Was I in for a surprise!
   I am an attorney living in
Dallas, Texas. As you might imagine, the fundamentalist onslaught is almost too much to bear. I have ordered copies of your books for the few right-minded friends I have, as gifts, and they are as intrigued and as impressed as I. As you might imagine, I have not been too popular on the cocktail circuit lately, challenging the historicity of Jesus. Much to my surprise, however, there have been a few staunchly conservative religious folk whose initial ire was replaced with genuine curiosity after hearing my entire summation of your argument.
   Recently, I read anew all of Paul's contributions to the New Testament (or what most scholars ascribe to him), looking for some reference to an earthly Jesus.  Paul's insecurity is striking.  This is a man who begs and whines.  He constantly compares himself to the "super apostles," and desperately needs to convert others for his ego, if not out of guilt for hunting christians.  In short, he needs to be accepted and believed.

   The idea of Paul writing a veritable cornucopia of persuasive letters designed to cajole, intimidate, guilt, scare, and otherwise use any means necessary to convert gentiles without referencing an earthly Jesus and hosts of other fleshly beings to substantiate the latter's miracles and bear witness to his ministry is absurd.  This resonates stronger considering Paul's writings are thought to have been within 20 to 40 years after the alleged crucifixion, and thus would be more likely subject to eyewitness verification.  Paul worked tirelessly at marketing.  Why not use your most powerful sales pitch?  He never encouraged anyone to travel to the historical settings where the earthly, historical Jesus walked, ate, slept, taught, performed miracles, was crucified, or was resurrected.  Paul's personality craved this proof.  Clearly, he would have used these arguments if they were available.  Unfortunately for Paul, the gospel writers and other revisionists did not come along for several decades. I was a philosophy major in undergrad and am familiar with the Platonic tradition.  Paul is clearly referring to Jesus existing in that Greek intermediate realm between Heaven and earth.  The allegory of the cave has clearly left its imprint on the mindset of the time. And a natural reading of Hebrews 8:4 must be troubling to those who argue otherwise.
   Your book inspired me to read the New Testament from a new perspective, unshackled from previous assumptions about Jesus's historicity. The result was nothing short of an epiphany for me!  Yes! Yes! Yes! This is it. Finally, a refutation of the historical Jesus which combines a critical study of the outside historical record, a natural reading of the biblical text itself, the philosophical milieu, and common sense.  By the way, thanks for destroying the credibility of the writings of Josephus, or at least pointing out that his original work was almost certainly altered.  Fundamentalists always throw Josephus at me, and now I am equipped with the rebuttal.
   The only tragedy about your efforts is that Strobel is probably rolling in dough for giving the people their dose of seemingly confirming medicinal gobbledygook and your provocative, sobering books are blacklisted by christian-owned (or at least influenced) bookstores. The Rev. T.D. Jakes just sold his home, less than 2 miles from me, for approx. 5.5 million dollars. For his sake, I hope the needles in heaven have gaping eyes or the camels are awfully diminutive. I've always said, ironically, "The only thing that prevents me from selling God is morality." At any rate, thank you for the books.  I'm doing what I can to spread the good word.

Tom writes:

   Thank you for your ideas about a mythical Christ. I have been studying and meditating on the New Testament (as a layman) for almost 30 years, and yours is the best explanation I have found for the different representations there of Jesus. You have convinced me that once 'the man from Galilee' is dispensed with, the rest of the early Christian record is much clearer and easier to understand.
   In discussing your ideas with others I am struck by how deeply ingrained is the idea of a historical Jesus of Nazareth. It seems that many, even non-Christians, feel a need to believe in this 'person'. The recent success of The Da Vinci Code points to the ongoing confidence people have in the basics of the Gospel story, even when its orthodoxy is challenged.
   I also agree that the history of the church founded on this literalized myth is a sad, even tragic illustration of how susceptible to delusion humans can be. People are ready to believe in miracles and immortality more than the awesome reality of our universe as we see it around us. I fear that if we as a species remain fearful and ignorant we will invite a real apocalypse upon ourselves.

[E.D.: I couldn't agree more. As for the negative reaction even of the non-believer to the idea that Jesus of Nazareth never existed, part of it, I believe, is an instinctive aversion to feeling that we've all been conned (even if the 'con' wasn't really deliberate), that our entire society has been led down the garden path for two millennia and our history is full of so much sound and fury and pointless atrocity in the name of a chimera. Keep in mind, too, that many current non-believers are actually ex-believers, and it's adding insult to injury that not only were they indoctrinated into a religious system from which they were forced to liberate themselves, they are now told that the whole thing was based on a monumental figment of the imagination. No one likes to be 'had' to that extent.]

Javier writes:

   In your article "Who Crucified Jesus?" you wrote, "But most views of the universe also saw a division of the upper world into several levels, usually seven, based on the known planets." Which seven planets are you referring to? Uranus was discovered by William Herschel in 1781. English and French historians are still fighting over who really discovered Neptune. Astronomers are still debating whether Pluto is even a planet. And last but not least, before the heliocentrism of Copernicus, the Earth was not a planet (it was the center of the Universe). By my count, that leaves five (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, & Saturn) planets known to the ancients.

Response to Javier:

The Seven "Planets" and Biblical Cosmology

Javier is concerned that only five planets were known by the ancients, but the term "planets" applied to all the celestial bodies under the stars: namely, the moon, Venus, Mercury, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn (in that order, if I recall correctly). Each one controlled one of the seven spheres of the heavens, above which stood the sphere of the "fixed stars" beyond which lay God's own Heaven and dwelling place. In the ancient Near East, including the Graeco-Roman era, these "planets" were looked upon as divine entities, though apparently less so in the Old Testament culture. The biblical books do not refer to them as such, but some prophets condemned star worship among the Israelites.

Biblical references to cosmology and the actual structure of the universe are practically non-existent. The Hebrews were no astronomers, certainly nothing like the Babylonians. It is thus difficult to judge the cosmology of the earliest Christians, how someone like Paul envisioned the activities of the spiritual Christ in the heavenly world. He speaks of being personally "caught up to the third heaven" (2 Cor. 12:2-4), so we can assume a layered universe in his thinking. But he may have subscribed to the three-layered heaven we sometimes encounter in Jewish writing and Semitic mythology, rather than a seven-tiered one. In a heaven of seven layers, rising to the third wouldn't strike one as too notable, and in fact, he seems to refer to "paradise" in verse 4 as though he is still speaking of the third heaven, though this is unclear. If he was only less than half way to the top, one wonders what might have been revealed to him to merit the remarks he makes ("and heard words so secret that human lips may not repeat them"). Since he never enlarges on the matter, I suspect that his experience may not have been as dramatic as he wants to convey; like his having "seen the Lord," such things were required dues he had to have paid in order to justify his apostleship.

As well, no early epistle writer speaks of the distinction between a supralunar and a sublunar location, the dividing line between the corruptible and the incorruptible, though it was pervasive in ancient pagan writing. However, in one Jewish sectarian document, the Ascension of Isaiah, despite certain points of inconsistency which can perhaps be put down to the multi-layered and erratic editing process this writing underwent, we are given a seven-tiered heaven and a distinction between those layers of heaven and the sublunar "firmament." But it is not unlikely that turn-of-the-era Christ belief such as in Paul was an amalgam of Hebrew and Greek thought, as Jewish culture was not immune to Hellenistic influences and Paul operated in both the Palestinian and Diaspora milieus. Too many modern apologists and scholars assume an isolation that simply didn't exist, and close their eyes to the prominent Hellenistic content (especially in regard to the mystery cults) present in earliest Christianity.

It is both amusing and revealing to note how a conservative publication like the New Bible Dictionary (Inter-Varsity Press, England, 2nd ed., 1982) speaks of ancient Jewish views of the universe, as reflected in the Old Testament. According to one of its contributors, M. T. Fermer (Stars, p.1144), "a view of the universe is assumed which is not inconsistent with modern scientific cosmology...the Bible consistently assumes a universe which is fully rational, and vast in size, in contrast to the typical contemporary world-view, in which the universe was not rational, and no larger than could actually be proved by the unaided senses." It is statements of utter nonsense like this which render untrustworthy and dismissable any scholarship in thrall to orthodoxy and belief in a divinely inspired scripture. To modern astronomy's picture (outlined by Fermer) of a thousand million stars in our own galaxy, only one of tens of millions of similar galaxies spread throughout the universe, "the Bible is often spirit," says Fermer, than it is to ancient cosmologies. As well, "the universe of the biblical writers is rational."

As proof of the latter, Fermer appeals to Psalm 104. There we find that the earth is fixed on a foundation which is immovable, and that all things in nature take place at the behest of God. The first thought is in keeping with the pervasive biblical view, no more enlightened than any contemporary one, that the earth is the fixed center of the universe (remember Joshua stopping the sun?), while the second conceives of no natural laws but only the orchestral conducting of each note of a complex symphony by God himself, a view which persisted into the 17th century. This sort of thing is hardly "not inconsistent with modern scientific cosmology." Claiming that the Bible presents a "fully rational" universe in reputed contrast to non-Jewish irrationality further turns a blind eye on, for example, the Stoics, who saw an inherent Reason (calling it the "Logos") in the cosmosequivalent to "natural laws"and who regarded humanity as sharing in that Reason, enjoying happiness best by living one's life in harmony with it. Fermer apparently regards this is far less rational than worshipping and fearing a powerful Overseer in the sky, who according to biblical accounts could be petulant, punitive and merciless, genocidal and homophobic, demanding constant animal sacrifice and dictating misleading and contradictory writings for his people's edification.

As an example of 'spinning' biblical passages, few efforts on the part of apologists can top Fermer's case for arguing that the Bible (through God's inspiration, of course) conveys a knowledge of the universe's "awe-inspiring immensity":

In the promise to Abram, God couples the number of stars with the number of grains of sand. Only c.3000 stars are visible to the naked eye, so on the face of it this is a feeble comparison. But the total number of stars in the galaxy is comparable with the number of grains of sand in all the world! The Bible is full of such implications of vastness quite beyond the knowledge of its day.

And what is that biblical passage conveying such remarkable and unprecedented insight? It is Genesis 22:17, which, by the way, follows right after God's demand on Abraham that he sacrifice his only son, this being the test of Abraham's loyalty and "fear of God."

(Inasmuch as you have done this...) I will bless you abundantly and greatly multiply your descendants until they are as numerous as the stars in the sky and the grains of sand on the seashore. [NEB]

Fermer sees this as a "coupling" of stars and sands, meant to imply that the number of one is as great as the nmber of the other. Hardly. This is simply a double element of poetic extravagance, no more meaningful than if a lover said to his love, "I would cross the widest ocean and swim the broadest river to be with you," which certainly entails no implication that the river is as wide as the ocean. Moreover, if Fermer seeks to be literal and 'scientific' about this, he might question the accuracy of God's statement. Have Abraham's descendents really proliferated, or are likely to proliferate, to the number of stars in the universe, to his own figure of a billion times tens of millions? There have scarcely been a scant fraction of that number of human beings on the face of the earth in all of history, let alone descendants of Abraham, nor could the earth ever support so many. We would have to populate the stars themselves, and there is nothing in the Genesis passage (nor in ancient cosmology of any sort, Hebrew or Greek) which envisions or implies a spread to other habitable planets beyond the seven heavens. The biblical writers could have had no such concept and were simply indulging in uncritical hyperbole.

My point in scoffing here at the NBD's laughable apologetic antics? To lament the fact that this sort of thing is traditional and endemic to biblical scholarship, even in the 20th and 21st centuries, in an attempt to make such primitive writings palatable to the modern mind, if not simply to pull the wool over our eyes as to their outdated and irrelevant nature. It is the sort of thing that continues to be necessary to preserve reliance and respect for anything scripture says, Old or New. It is the sort of thing one gets in Sunday Schools, from pulpits, in books like Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ, from creationists who take Genesis and other improbableif not impossiblebiblical accounts seriously and literally. It is the sort of thing which has crippled critical thinking in the young, which leads people to entertain and preserve throughout their lives all manner of outlandish and insupportable beliefs and attitudes, to offer arguments and 'proofs' that collapse at the slightest application of modern knowledge and common sense. This sort of reasoning is endemic to standard Bible Commentaries written by supposedly intelligent scholars. It has anesthetized generations of Christian believers into accepting the Bible as the greatest book ever written, timeless and superior in every way to the rest of the world's output of thought and science, when it is simply another product of its time, no more advanced and no less primitive than the people who lived it and wrote it. We would no more drive an ancient chariot around the streets of a modern city than we should let such a book govern our lives, laws, ethics and views of reality, and it's time we consigned it to a fossil museum and undergraduate classes on ancient literature.

Chris writes:

   Norman Perrin has written at some length about his proposed origin of the Son of Man sayings tradition. From my reading, this proposed explanation of the "coming" Son of Man sayings are an apology for the violent death of Jesus (A Modern Pilgrimage in New Testament Christology, p.10-22, 57-83). If such is the case, it seems to be a notable problem in your Jesus-Myth hypothesis. The need to apologize for Jesus' death seems to preclude (sic, I assume Chris means something like "require," rather than a word which means to "exclude"): One, that there was an historical Jesus whose death was embarrassing, and two, that the Q community knew of this death (see Q 11:30, 12:40, 17:24, 17:26-30). Though these sayings are all Q2 material, I perceive that they may be problematic nonetheless.

Response to Chris:

The Son of Man Problem

Not having read this particular book by the late Norman Perrin, I cannot tell whether the idea that the "coming" Son of Man sayings are an apology for Jesus' death is stated as such by Perrin himself, or is Chris' own interpretation of what Perrin has to say on the subject. Either way, I think this is a good opportunity to examine the Son of Man question as a whole and to consider what the presence of the particular Son of Man sayings found in the Q document have to tell us about the Galilean phase of Christian origins and the question of Jesus' existence. Incidentally, all the Q sayings mentioned by Chris relate to the "future coming" aspect of the expected Son of Man and give us no indication that the Q compilers regarded this figure as already having been on earth or undergone a death. One of the arresting facts about Q is that it seems to have contained no reference at all to a death and resurrection; and certain Q features suggest that no such things were present in the community's thinking about its Jesus. If Perrin is interpreting some Q Son of Man sayings as implying them, as Chris seems to be suggesting, I would have to say that he is guilty of reading them into the document. The one saying often appealed tonot mentioned by Chrisis 14:27: "No one who does not carry his cross and come with me can be a disciple of mine." But this looks to be a reference not to the cross of Jesus but to that of the prospective follower; the saying is often regarded as a proverb about enduring hardship, and crucifixion was a common form of execution. (See The Jesus Puzzle, p.149 and note 70.)

If there is a prime example of a perennial difficulty being readily solvable by the Jesus Myth theory, it is the so-called "Son of Man problem." In his book Jesus the Jew, Geza Vermes begins his chapter "Jesus the son of man" with this statement:

Shortly before his death, Paul Winter remarked stoically that the literature on the son of man was becoming more and more impenetrable with no two people agreeing on anything. At about the same time, A. J. B. Higgins in an article bearing the typical title 'Is the Son of Man Problem Insoluble?' suggested that the answer 'for all we know already exists among the widely divergent ones familiar to workers in this field'. Soluble or not, the problem is held by most interpreters of the New Testament to be of crucial significance. [p.160]

In the three decades since this was penned, little has changed. Why is there such a problem created by the appearance of this phrase in the New Testament? Vermes lists three "paradoxes" involved. One: despite the fact that it occurs over 60 times in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke), it is never used by Paul or other epistle writers. Two: in the Gospels the title is placed only on the lips of Jesus. Third: no one around Jesus reacts to its usage, either with puzzlement or hostility. We will return to each of these points later.

(Vermes virtually ignores the usages of "Son of Man" in the Gospel of John, where it occurs about ten times, and I too will set them aside here as not casting any light on the question. John's usage is not derived from Q or its environment, and seems simply borrowed from the Synoptic source that gave the Johannine community an 'historical Jesus' in the first place. The evangelist employs the phrase as a synonym for his concept of "the Son" who came down from heaven, sent by the Father. He discards any apocalyptic connotation and makes him an aspect of Jesus who is destined to be glorified and "lifted up," yet another example of the free-wheeling redaction later Gospels performed on the earlier, unconcerned with historical accuracy.)

The uses of the phrase "the Son of Man" (always presented in English translations as though a title, although there are no capitalizations in the Greek) can be grouped into a number of sets of contrasting categories. First, the phrase is used, on the one hand, as referring to a divine, heavenly figure expected to arrive at the imminent End-time, an apocalyptic judge, as in Matthew 25:31 ("When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, he will sit in state on his throne..."). On the other hand, it is used in other cases in a more general sense, as an elaborate phrase simply for "a man" or "this man" with no obvious identification with the apocalyptic figure, as in Luke 9:58 ("Foxes have their holes...but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head"). It could be understood in a "generic" sense, as a reference to "man" in general, or in an "indefinite" sense, as "a man" or "any man," or it could be a circumlocution: Jesus' own roundabout or euphemistic way of saying "I" allegedly for reasons of modesty and supposedly in keeping with Aramaic idiomatic usage (the latter is debated). It might also have a combined sense: the speaker referring to "man" or "a man" but with an intended focus on himself. ("Can't a guy get any respect around here?") Scholars have proposed all these possible meanings for the 'general' sense. (The Gospel of John has none of the general sense usages.)

So we have a first contrasting set, the coming apocalyptic judge called by the seeming title "the Son of Man," and the general euphemism for "man" or "this man," sometimes in phrases that seem almost proverbial (as in Luke 9:58 above, or Mark 2:28: "the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath"). A usage of circumlocution or poetic euphemism for "a/the man" (sometimes representative of 'mankind') goes back into Jewish scripture, as in Isaiah 51:12 ("the son of man who is made like grass") or throughout Ezekiel when God addresses the prophet ("But you, son of man, hear what I say to you").

In the second set, the contrasting usages number three, as classified by Rudolf Bultmann. The first relates to Jesus' earthly activities, such as in regard to forgiving sins (Mark 2:10, "The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins") and in the 'proverbial' examples given above. These are non-apocalyptic and fall into that earlier 'general sense' or generic/indefinite/circumlocutory category. The second relates to Jesus' death and resurrection, in the form of prophecies about such things by Jesus, as in Mark 8:31 and parallels ("And he began to teach them that the Son of Man had to undergo be put to death, and to rise again three days afterward"). The third relates to Jesus' future return, as in Jesus' response to the High Priest in Mark 14:62 ("and you will see the Son of Man seated on the right hand of God and coming with the clouds of heaven") or Matthew's scene of apocalyptic judgment presided over by the Son of Man in 25:31-46.

Vermes prefers a different categorization formulated by scholars, a third set of contrasting usages: the relationship of the various Son of Man sayings to the passage in Daniel 7 which seems to have given rise to an apocalyptic association with the term. We need to look at that seminal passage, responsible for the development of so much apocalyptic thought in the Jewish (and hence Christian) psyche from the time of the Maccabean revolt until the disastrous Jewish Wars of 66-70 and 132-135. Following a pseudo-prophetic passage in chapter 7 outlining in cryptic terms and beastly imagery the history of the conquests over Israel leading up to the time of the document's writing (c.168-4 BCE), Daniel's vision moves on to something genuinely prophetic, something which had not yet come to passnor would it ever:

I saw in the night, visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him, and to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. [Dan. 7:13-14; RSV]

It is subsequently revealed to Daniel that this "one like a son of man" represents the righteous of Israel:

"And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; their kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey them." [7:26-27]

The exact nature the author envisioned for this "one like a son of man" in 7:13, whether a personified human, an angel or other divine figure as representative or champion of Israel, is a matter of scholarly dispute, but it is clear that the motifs of this passage in Daniel entered Jewish consciousness as a forecast of the End-time and Israel's looked-for glorification. The "one like a son of man" underwent a variety of interpretations in messianic fashion. He surfaces in 4 Ezra and the Similitudes of Enoch, in rabbinic literature, in Revelation and the Gospels, and he is present in the latter's precursor, Q.

For Vermes and others, then, it is significant that some Son of Man references in the Synoptics are clearly dependent on the Daniel 7 scene, directly (by quoting it) or indirectly (using various of its motifs: clouds, glory, kingship, coming), while others seem not at all dependent on Daniel and make no reference to it, direct or indirect. Vermes totals and compares the number within each category and whether they came from the first Gospel, Mark, whether they are common to Matthew and Luke (from Q) or part of a residue found individually in Matthew or Luke (presumably inspired by Mark or Q). He finds "a real unbalance" between these totals and decides that they "must mean something" (p.178), though he does not suggest what.

But scholars are creating unnecessary problems for themselves, and it is, of course, due to their need to regard Jesus and his ministry, portrayed in Q and the Gospels, as historical. For practical purposes (conforming to our third set above), there are two contrasting categories of Son of Man sayings: those that show a derivation from the ideas of Daniel 7 and those that do not. (The latter includes references to Jesus' activities on earth, as in the general/proverbial type, and the predictions by Jesus of his suffering, death and resurrection which are found only in the Gospels.) How to relate those two categories? A prominent theory has been that the latter represents Jesus' way of referring to himself (a circumlocution, presumably influenced by scriptural and Aramaic speaking habits); subsequently, oral tradition and the evangelists' own editorializing carried over that phrase into alleged references by Jesus to his suffering, death and resurrection, and to his return at the Parousia, but still as a circumlocutory reference; neither Jesus (if he spoke any of them) nor those who came after intended an identification with any widely known apocalyptic figure. The problem is, the dramatic presentation of the coming of the Son of Man and the need to prepare for it, the fearsome expectations associated with him, the powerful motifs drawn from Daniel 7, are so strong and pervasive in both the Gospels and Q that it is difficult if not impossible to believe that a messianic-type concept (no doubt deriving from Daniel) was not operating in these circles, with Jesus identified as that figure. The circumlocutory explanation is simply too weak.

The debate on this score has long centered around the question of whether there was a widely established and unified concept of an "apocalyptic Son of Man" in Jewish circles, to which either Jesus could have attached himself, or his followers attached him after his death. This is still maintained by some, but perhaps the bulk of recent scholarship on the matter is that there was no such widespread, unified concept; rather, a lot of independent circles used the imagery of Daniel 7 to develop a diversity of messianic prediction involving a "one like a son of man." However, the difference is, for practical purposes, little more than semantic. Whether there existed one or many manifestations of the idea, popping up at various times in various guises, both are compatible with the view that the 'Christian' version of the Son of Man in Q and the Gospels represents an End-time figure and expectation, one which had come to be associated with Jesus.

If this were not the case, it would be difficult to understand the survival and pervasive use of a merely generic or circumlocutory mode of expression for Jesus, how it would have been attached to so much that oral tradition presumably preserved or came to invent of Jesus' sayings, so much that was being forecast about his return, and all references to him speaking of his destined death and resurrection. A limited use by Jesus of a local Aramaic speaking habit would be a pretty slim basis for the riotous development of such a christological terminology. (That Jesus' use would have to be considered limited and not requisite, either by himself or by the evangelists, is shown by the fact that the latter offer sayingsand even alternate versions of the same sayingsin which Jesus has no compunctions about using the direct "I" pronoun.)

This would be especially true in non-Aramaic settings, such as Q and the Gospels inhabited. The whole question of an Aramaic basis for the first-century church as revealed in the early Christian documents is too complex to go into here, but we can note that former scholarly theories, such as those prominent during the 1960s and 70s, that an Aramaic root layer underlay the writings and preachings of the early period, have been more or less laid to rest. All the known documents are shown to have been conceived in Greek, despite the occasional Aramaicism absorbed from a multi-cultural environment (just as we in an English culture have taken the odd French expression to use for ourselves, such as "raison d'etre"); most Aramaic expressions used by the evangelists are explained by them, showing that their circles were not Aramaic; and even though Galilee had an indigenous Jewish elementsomewhat scorned by Jerusalem circles as equivalent to our 'hillbillies'the area also contained a cosmopolitan gentile element, whose culture seems to have absorbed and adopted many things Jewish. This being the case, it is difficult to conceive that such an Aramaic-based quirk, the phrase "the son of man" used by preachers simply to report Jesus' references to himself, would be perpetuated so thoroughly and for so long; especially given the fact constantly pointed out by scholarsincluding Vermes himselfthat it is an unusual and even awkward phrase (someone called it "an inelegant barbarism") when translated into Greek: ho huios tou anthropou. How would oral transmission have coped with such a situation, having to explain the non-Greek generic or circumlocutory meaning? (And it never is explained, unlike the elucidations provided for other, direct, Aramaic expressions.) Why would anyone have bothered? The quirk would have died out in the face of more convenient and intelligible modes of expression. There would have been no reason not to simply declare that it was "Jesus" who would be coming in glory on the clouds, and it would be a "return"not simply an apparent first arrival, which is the manner in which all the Q sayings are formulated, many still retaining that feature when carried over into the Gospels.

Vermes himself makes this admission, remarking that "even at this stage [of a post-Jesus use of son of man as a derivative application from Daniel 7 and not attributal to Jesus himself] it is most remarkable that its use as a form of self-designation still survives" (Jesus the Jew, p.184). Having thoroughly undercut his basic theory by this comment, it is a wonder that the idea still survives in his own thinking even a quarter century later in his 2003 The Authentic Gospel of Jesus. That this theory did not win over  the scholarly community as a whole (despite an initial flurry of support) is shown by some three decades of further research on the Son of Man question which is still as divided as ever.

No, the very survival of the phrase, even through the evolution that took place in Q itself, can only be reasonably explained by assuming that for a non-Aramaic audience, "the Son of Man" in Greek could have a significance beyond a speaker's idiosyncracy of referring euphemistically to himself. That would be true even if it derived from something in the Jewish scriptures. Those scriptures had assumed meaning and importance for many beyond the ethnic circles of Jewry itself, as the multi-cultural Christian movement as a whole attests. That significance of the phrase for the circles of Q and the Gospels lay in the expectation of a divine apocalyptic figure, originally a "one like a son of man." He was being preached by the Kingdom community that produced the Q document, and he continued to be preached by the communities which built on Q or Q-type traditions and produced the next stage: the Gospels. By then, the Son of Man was being identified as Jesus himself, who would return as this apocalyptic figure.

Some have suggested that the disciples misunderstood Jesus' use of a euphemism, taking it as some kind of self-adopted titular reference, but there is no record or suggestion in the Gospels that the disciples did so, that Jesus had to explain himself. And it is hard to imagine that such a misunderstanding could have continued throughout the entire ministry and beyond without being corrected. Besides, the very wedding of the two meanings of the phrase, a simple euphemism for "(this) man" and an expected apocalyptic figure, mixed together willy-nilly throughout the Gospels and Qand, one has to presume, throughout the early church up to the time of the evangelistsis bizarre in itself if this really represented an actual state of affairs in Jesus' ministry and its aftermath. Confusion would have abounded. Instead, the confusion is entirely ours, and suggests that all orthodox-based attempts to solve this so-called problem are misguided. Scholars have struggled over the generations to try to glean what the phrase meant, which sayings might be authentic to Jesus, if any, whether Jesus really identified himself as the Son of Man and what he envisioned by it, did he really prophesy the Son of Man's suffering, death and rising, what was the connection between the two basic types of saying, and so on. What we need is a fresh and decidedly non-orthodox approach, one that can be supplied by Jesus mythicism and the essential non-historicity of the Gospels. Bultmann was of the opinion that of his three classes of Son of Man sayings in the Gospels, the ones that related to his future coming represented the oldest traditions. I am sure he was correct, but for reasons he would not have subscribed to. This will become clear on looking back before the Gospels, into Q.

Before doing so, let's consider one of the other "paradoxes" of the Son of Man question as noted by Vermes. Outside the Gospels, the phrase appears in Christian documents only three times. In Acts, it appears in the mouth of the about-to-be-martyred Stephen (7:56) who sees a vision of the Son of Man at the right hand of God in heaven; here it is undoubtedly based on the Gospel image. It appears twice in Revelation (1:13 and 14:14) where it is undoubtedly not based on the Gospels but directly derived from Daniel 7's apocalyptic imagery; here it is not in any way associated with a human historical figure (except by reading such a thing into Revelation as a whole). This paucity is another curiosity in itself, but the paradox Vermes is speaking of is that

this presumed christological formula is given nowhere in Paul or the other epistles, i.e. in the explicitly theological expositions of the New Testament.

In other words, in those early writers most concerned with the nature of their Christ, his titles and roles and activities for salvation, there is no sign of Jesus as the Son of Man, no usage of the term at all. If Jesus, or even the early church speaking for him, had styled himself as the apocalyptic Son of Man, and given Paul's fixation on the impending end of the world and Jesus' return (he even borrows biblical motifs in speaking of it, including Daniel's "clouds" in his 'Rapture' passage of 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17), why does neither he nor any other epistle writer refer to Jesus as the Son of Man, let alone discuss it as a christological aspect of Jesus' nature? Given his contact with the Jerusalem apostles, is it conceivable that he could not have known of this designation if it had been an historical reality? Could so many early Christian writers have been ignorant of it?

There is only one scenario which unties this perplexing Gordian knot, and it will become clear by a consideration of the Son of Man in Q. (This, by the way, is a compelling argument for the existence of Q, and against the claim that the alleged 'Q' catalogue is simply the invention of Matthew, subsequently copied by Luke: the restricted nature of this group of Son of Man sayings.) I have maintained that, even though only Matthew and Luke show evidence of possessing and quoting a Q document (perhaps, this being later than Mark, Q was further along in its evolution and more widely available), the author of Mark inhabits a Q-type milieu; he is part of the kingdom-preaching movement represented in Q, centered in Galilee and extending into Syria. When one looks at the content of Q (which Matthew and Luke have elaborated on in Son of Man sayings peculiar to each of them), one realizes that the expectation of the arrival of the Son of Man is anif not theessential feature of the movement's preaching. This can be identified as one of those various manifestations of belief in a Son of Man based on Daniel 7, "popping up" in this Kingdom-preaching sect, whether influenced by a wider-established concept across Judaism or being simply a case of a new and independent development of the idea. For all we know, it may have been the earliest, in the early to middle decades of the first century; certainly, none of the other extant manifestations can be dated earlier. The day of the Son of Man is coming, there will be a judgment, the sign given to this generation is the sign of the coming Son of Man. (Mark has none of the specific sayings about the Son of Man taken from Q by Matthew and Luke, but he has those essential features about him, as well as the expectation of his coming on the clouds in glory; sayings related to the latter feature Matthew and Luke have taken from him.)

But here is the key consideration. Is this new sectarian Son of Man, in its original Q form, something associated with a Jesus? Do we, like orthodox scholarship, have to determine whether Jesus made the association himself, which sayings were his product, how his followers reconciled the apocalyptic Son of Man with the non-apocalyptic son of man in other sayings, and so on? Or is it really all much simpler? I suggest that it is, and that the tortured calculations of scholars, from their diverse and incompatible points of view which often propose geneses and processes that would hardly make sense in the real, practical world, can be set aside.

Consider what is said in Q about the Son of Man and what is not said. First of all, one type of saying in Mark, taken over by Matthew and Luke, about Jesus teaching that the Son of Man is destined to suffer, die and be resurrected, is entirely missing, and it is now a scholarly commonplace that these sayings are likely the invention of Mark; they serve a literary purpose to link the Galilean part of his Gospel with the Passion, the one looking ahead to the other. In Q, there is no hint of a death and resurrection at all. (Again in passing, if Q did not exist, why would Matthew have developed a new group of sayingsthe ones supposedly copied by Lukewhich lack all reference to a death and resurrection?) In fact, the apocalyptic Son of Man in Q is an entirely future figure. His advent is not a "return." Nothing in those Son of Man sayings themselves suggests that this character is coming back from heaven after previously being on earth. In fact, one of the most telling units in Q is the preaching of John the Baptist. Luke/Q 3:16 says:

He spoke out and said to them all: "I baptize you with water; but there is one to come who is mightier than I. I am not fit to unfasten his shoes. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His shovel is ready in his hand, to winnow his threshing-floor and gather the wheat into his granary; but he will burn the chaff on a fire that can never go out."

This is one of the indicators in Q that it initially contained no Jesus or founder figure, and that the apocalyptic Son of Man the Q community preached was a heavenly figure not yet come to earth. This saying attributed to John (no doubt falsely, being simply a co-opting of the now-dead Baptist by the Q community) identifies the Son of Man with no teacher or miracle worker presently walking the same ground as he, nor does the language or tone imply such a thing. This fearsome judge is only "to come," in keeping with all the other Q sayings about the End-time Son of Man. (For other indicators that no founder Jesus was present in early stages of Q, see The Jesus Puzzle, p.165f.)

The Son of Man in Q is not anyone 'on the scene.' This means that none of the problems identified with the Son of Man question will ever be solved by orthodox scholarship because the pieces cannot be put together in coherent fashion given the presence of an erroneous premise. The sect represented by Q began its life as a preacher of the Kingdom, and part of the coming of that Kingdom would be the arrival from heaven of the Son of Man "who would separate the wheat from the chaff."

When a founder was added to the community's view of its past (something not uncommon in sectarian practice throughout history), in the so-called Q3 layer of material (whether he was originally given the name Jesus, we cannot tell), the sect's teachings and miracle-working were assigned to him, and the Son of Man sayings were placed in his mouth. This created the awkward effect (to us) that this Jesus seems to be speaking of someone else. This effect was carried over into the Gospels, though in several cases one or other of the evangelists changed the saying and had Jesus use "I/me" or "my."

One question may present itself: why did the Q community, in coming up with a founder figure, identify him with their expected Son of Man? One could speculate on a reason, but is the question valid? Is there such an identification in Q at all, or did that take place only with the Gospel of Mark? A single saying in Q (Lk./Q 12:8-10) might suggest such an identification, but here the original wording is uncertain, not only because it differs between Matthew and Luke, but because a much more likely original could have preceded the later version: the community preachers themselves saying, "whoever accepts us [i.e. our preaching] before men, the Son of Man [at his coming] will accept before the angels of God; but he who rejects us before men, the Son of Man will reject before the angels of God." This sort of minor revision, usually to do with pronouns and referents, can be deduced in many places, even in simple comparisons between Matthew and Luke. That it happened previously during the evolution of Q is very possible as well, most likely when a founder figure was incorporated.

Thus we can surmise that Q's founder simply took up the preaching of the coming Son of Man as others had before he was introduced to the scene. Virtually every apocalyptic Son of Man saying in Q conveys that very thing, that its Jesus is indeed speaking of someone else, not himself. (Bultmann advocated that interpretation.)

But if such a linkage between their new Jesus and their old Son of Man was present in the thinking of the Q community, perhaps it was under the influence of that other, non-apocalyptic category of sayings, a couple of which appeared in Q. These are the sayings which have "son of man" as a substitution for "a man" or "this man": Luke/Q 9:58, "the son of man has nowhere to lay his head," and 7:34, "the son of man came eating and drinking" (leaving off the capitalization to avoid conveyance of the titular). Mark has others which may be derived from the same circles, giving "the son of man" power to forgive sins and lordship over the Sabbath (2:10 and 2:28, which Matthew and Luke have taken from him). On the one hand, it is entirely possible that the presence of the two categories of saying began as a simple coincidence. The non-apocalyptic sayings have the nature of the proverbial, and it is this proverbial character which could have been more widely understood and which would have brought them in and preserved them within an essentially non-Aramaic milieu. On the other hand, it is also possible that the presence of the apocalyptic "Son of Man" in the community's thinking may have attracted sayings of the other sort, in a kind of 'catchword' process, even if there was initially no common identification between the two, the latter being something that developed only later, either in Q's evolution or in Mark (as discussed above). And with the evolutionary step taken by Mark from the Q ethos to his Gospel amalgamation of the Q Jesus and a cultic sacrificial Christ, the Markan Jesus became the Son of Man incarnated, on earth to teach about his own impending sacrificial act and resurrection, and his return as apocalyptic judge. (Mark also brought in the term "Messiah," adding that to the mix of characterizations of his Jesus, something Q never did. Such a title never appears in Q, another peculiarity that would have to be attributed to Matthew's idiosyncratic catalogue of these sayings if Q never existed.)

When Q evolved a founder figure, he was quite naturally associated with the non-apocalyptic 'son of man' references. After all, those could be seen as referring to present activities and to the founder himself; the 'proverbs' became personified in him. This may have led eventually to identifying him with that other "Son of Man," but as I suggested above, I have a feeling that Q didn't actually take that step. The sayings themselves don't reflect it, and the Q Jesus still sounds as if he is talking about someone else. If this is the case, the orthodox basis of Q (though not its existence) is completely overturned. For the Q community, the Son of Man was not Jesus. Their (imagined) founder and their (equally imagined) expected divine judge were two different figures, and the latter arrived in their thinking before the former.
This destroys any idea that these allegedly early "Jesus people" had any concept of their founder's return at the End-time; that was a role already filled by the Son of Man. By corollary, it pretty well destroys any concept that he had been executed (something Q never mentions anyway), since a tradition of such a fate would inevitably have led to imagining his return in compensatory glory, especially one conveniently linkable to the glorious Danielic-based Son of Man. This is a natural conclusion, since we encounter that very thing in the Gospels and in Christian tradition. But we can go further. We can say that it almost certainly destroys the reality of a Q founder, no matter what the traditions about his fate. If the kingdom preaching Q community owed its very existence, its teachings and miracle-working, its eschatological expectations, to a prominent founder, it is very unlikely that it would have centered its preaching around an apocalyptic figure which had no connection with that founder, or that it would have left such a founder in the dimmest of backgrounds during the early phases of the development of its foundation document, the root stages of Q.

That, too, is an acknowledged feature of Q in the scholarly breakdown of the document's formation over time: the figure and personality of Jesus is virtually absent in the earliest stratum. Even his name appears only in a set of chreiai which can be shown to be a later assemblage (see The Jesus Puzzle, p.162). Only his alleged 'product' is focused on. Even in the so-called Q-2 stratum when we encounter the apocalyptic preaching and controversy elements with the Jewish establishment, Q itself in almost all cases presented only the sayings material, without any contexts (these were supplied by Matthew and Luke) which would have linked them with a specific Jesus figure in a specific recorded setting, as opposed to simply being a reflection of the activities of the community itself. In a couple of extended anecdotes, such as the curing of the centurion's servant and the so-called dialogue between Jesus and John, Jesus becomes a character in the pericope; but the latter is a later construction (see The Jesus Puzzle, p.171), while a certain amount of accommodation of the new founder would have been effected by recasting sayings to use his name, or pronouns like "I" and "he." Thus the Son of Man situation in Q has further provided support for the Jesus Myth scenario.

In any case, we have solved all of Vermes' paradoxes, along with the perplexities of the Son of Man question that have perennially plagued scholars. The Son of Man designation is not found in non-Gospel early Christian documents like the epistles because no such tradition about their Christ figure (who was not human, in any case) was in existence. Paul and his cultic circles lay entirely outside the Galilean kingdom-preaching movement, and a linkage between them only took place with Mark. They may have shared a certain common apocalyptic expectation that was 'in the air,' some of it based on Daniel, but it is significant that for Paul it is the heavenly Christ who will arrive on the clouds, while for Q it is the "Son of Man." The Son of Man sayings in Q originated with the kingdom-preaching movement represented by Q. It is no coincidence that, as Bultmann notes, it is the "coming" Son of Man who is present in that oldest tradition, since no earthly Son of Man was envisioned by them. The presence of a few proverbial "son of man" sayings was largely an incidental feature and originally did not refer to an individual on the scene, though it may have stood 'generically' for the community.

Why is Vermes presented with a second paradox: all of the Gospel Son of Man sayings being found only in Jesus' mouth? Because such sayings originated with Q, which was essentially a sayings collection. No matter who first regarded the Q Jesus as identifiable with the Son of Man, that pool of sayings came from a milieu which had placed them in his mouth, and the evangelists did not step outside that system. Mark, in drawing on his own more limited oral traditions concerning the coming Son of Man (he had no Q document), fashioned unprecedented sayings about death and resurrection, but felt no need to have any other character speak such a designation for Jesus but Jesus himself. Perhaps the contexts, in his mind, didn't require it.

Why did the Synoptic evangelists not have other characters query Jesus' usage of that seeming title which identified him with an expected apocalyptic figure? (John has the crowd once ask, in 12:34, "Who is this Son of Man?" that Jesus has just referred to, but Jesus gives them no explanation.) Again, there is a simple answer. First, this is how Vermes puts it:

The third paradox lies in the curious lack of impact made by the expression on the contemporaries of Jesus. Far from being treated as a mystery, the most problematic of all New Testament problems, there is no record in either Matthew, Mark or Luke of any query concerning its meaning or objection to its use. Among friends and adversaries it arouses neither enthusiasm nor hostility. [Jesus the Jew, p.161]

No one in Jesus' Gospel audience queries his usage of the term "son of man" because the Gospel and Q accounts do not represent actual history. Q in any case contains very little in the way of biographical settings, the sayings mostly stood on their own, so no such reaction on the part of bystanders or disciples would have come into play in that collection. When we get to the Gospels, particularly the first one, we need to realize that this was not conceived as an historical record. It was an allegorization of the activities and beliefs of the communities that produced them (which is why later evangelists had no compunction about wholesale reworking of the earliest one to fit their own communities and agendas; they were simply 'improving' a literary creation). The immediate audience for these pieces of "good news," the believing community itself, knew the meaning of the Son of Man and did not require any explanation to be incorporated into them. In the broader society within which these sectarian communities proselytized, many people may have acquired a familiarity with the figure the sect was preaching to them and would not need to be portrayed as puzzled by it; their hostility was simply in the form of rejection, as the sayings themselves indicate. And as noted, by now a certain widespread attitude toward the Danielic figure as having messianic overtones could have been in circulation, familiar to much of the Jewish establishment, even if they didn't subscribe to it. On this 'paradox' we could speculate at length, but all we have to remember is that it was the evangelists who controlled their story, not history. It is they who, for whatever reasons, chose not to incorporate a reaction to their main character's statements. And the latter simply reflected the symbolism they chose to give him, a symbolism that did not need explaining to the community itself, for which these documents, in true sectarian fashion, were written.

Once we abandon the a priori assumption that the Gospel Jesus existed, that he preached and may in some way have used the phrase "son of man" in designation of himself, that the Gospel scenes are to be regarded as anything resembling remembered history (other than symbolizing the faith and activities of the community itself), we eliminate the paradoxes and problems inherent in this most problematic of New Testament puzzles and open up the way to a solution. We can trace the development and evolution of the Son of Man sayings to arrive at the Gospel catalogue. As is often the case, the adoption of inaccurate or unexamined premises can foil the solution to a problem. The whole of ancient philosophy and cosmology, and with it the period's religious constructions, were utterly divorced from reality, since everything was approached from erroneous and unverifiable premises about the nature of the universe. Prior to Darwin, religious convictions, even by major philosophers, were based on a profound ignorance about the biological development of life through evolution, which is why evolution has proven so devastating to those convictions and revealed them, too, as divorced from reality. One day scholars will come to realize that all their continually debated and ever changing predications about the Gospel Jesus have been wrong, simply because of their erroneous (and largely unexamined) premise that such a man existed.

John writes:

       I have been reading up lately on the ancient myths of Cybele and Attis. What 'pre-christian' texts are there still in existence to support these stories? And what parts relate to the Old Testament stories and also the Virgin birth, death and resurrection?

Response to John:

Cybele and Attis and the Relationship to Christianity / Resurrection in the Mysteries

Cybele was the Phrygian version (north-west Asia Minor) of one of the most longstanding myths of ancient and prehistoric times, that of the Great Mother, or Earth Goddess, or simply the Goddess, found over the entire Mediterranean and Near Eastern world. As the earth, she was the fount of all life, but in Asia Minor she assumed qualities rather wild and savage, partly under the influence of Dionysos worship in neighboring thrace (north-east Aegean) which was carried into Phrygia and Lydia. In the midst of the dark days of the struggle with Hannibal (2nd Punic War), the Roman Senate decided to adopt Cybele as a national Roman goddess, being assured by oracles and the Sibylline Books that she would bring them victory over Carthage. This move had some justification, since according to legend Rome itself had been founded by Trojans fleeing the fall of their city a millennium earlier. In 204 BCE, the king of Pergamum (near the ancient site of Troy) sent the black meteoric stone that represented the goddess by ship to Rome, where it was installed in a temple on the Palatine. (The very next year Italy was blessed with a record harvest and the withdrawal of Hannibal from Italy, so who knows?) Rites of the goddess over the next few centuries were strictly controlled by the Senate.

In the accounts of this coming of the Great Mother to Rome there is no mention of Attis. He appears in the mythology associated with Cybele, some of it earlier than the Roman adoption, as her only lover, a shepherd boy who raised her jealous ire by dallying with a nymph or marrying a king's daughter (depending on the version of the myth). The result was his death, although the precise nature of that death (by a boar or castration) and whether it was self-inflicted was not fixed in the first few centuries of the mythology. When the myth reached its classic form, it became self-castration in a moment of madness, mirroring the practice of the priests of Cybele, the Galli, who emasculated themselves in bloody fashion to better serve the goddess. (A little more drastic and primitive counterpart to modern Catholic priests who take a vow of celibacy, and less reversible.) Here we have a probable example of myth arising from rite; the practice of castration by the priests of Cybele would have led to the development of the myth of the precedent-setting castration by Attis who himself had served Cybele.

While Attis appears in mythology early on (from Herodotus to Diodorus), the big question is, when did he begin to be worshipped as a deity in his own right, and when did he become an actual savior god? The Romans initially seemed to take little or no notice of him. Eventually, in the third and fourth centuries CE during the twilight of the mystery cults, he became a solar god, but what his status was at the turn of the era, when Christianity began, is debated.

Figurines of Attis have been unearthed from the temple precincts dating from the first century BCE that indicate 'resurrection' for and worship of Attis, and inscriptions from the Augustan period refer to hymns to Attis. The emperor Claudius in the mid first century CE officially reorganized the Cybele cult which included festivities for Attis commemorating his death and (possibly) resurrection. The exact nature of the latter is in dispute (and I will discuss the meaning of the term later). In the earlier versions of the myth (up to Diodorus in the late first century BCE, one of which is preserved in the 3rd century Arnobius), Attis remains dead, or at least he is not resurrected to earth (an important distinction); and he does not seem to be regarded as a deity in his own right.

That apparently changed in the early first century. In the ceiling fresco of a recently excavated building from the reign of Tiberius, we see a winged Attis leading someone to Olympus, which must mean that he is immortal himself capable of granting immortality to his devotees. Then in the reign of Claudius we have the formal institution of March festivities for Attis which involved a 'passion week' celebration quite similar to the Passion of Christ (from which it was hardly derived at that early a date). But what elements did the festival contain at that time?

The fully developed festival, as witnessed more clearly in the 3rd and 4th centuries, was spread over some two weeks. On March 15, the "entry of the reeds" (bearers carrying them) seems to have commemorated Attis' youthful induction as a shepherd, and it may also refer to his emasculation which legend has it was done with a broken reed stalk. On March 22 came the "entry of the pine tree," this being the tree under which Attis died after his bloody castration. In some representations, Attis is actually attached to the tree, and borne into the temple. The 22nd and 23rd were days of mourning for the dead Attis. From the beginning of the festival to this point, the faithful fasted and practised sexual abstinence, and on the 24th the priests performed flagellation on themselves and sprinkled their blood on the effigy of Attis on the tree and on the temple altars. Novices who had committed themselves to taking the plunge may have performed the rite of self-emasculation on that same day. The night of the 24th, Attis and the tree were buried and the faithful kept watch over the site.

The 25th of March was known as the Hilaria, the "rejoicing." Firmicus Maternus around 350 CE records the morning pronouncement by a priest of the cult, generally assumed to be the Attis cult, although there is a similar pronouncement in the cult of Osiris:

"Be of good heart, you novices, because the god is saved.
Deliverance from our sufferings will come for us, as well."

"Sufferings" was probably a reference to this world in general, and thus the idea of a resurrection to a better life.

To digress for a moment, the parallels to the Christian Passion week are evident. Without suggesting that either one borrowed directly from the other, we can see the natural common elements that the cultic mind would apply to the death and rising of a savior god. The festival begins in both cases with a celebratory entrance, the carrying of the reeds and the strewing of the palms on Palm Sunday. After several days comes the death of the god, with the common motif of the tree to which the god is attached. Devotees in both cases mourn and fast and abstain, as in the Christian Lent. The bodily suffering of both gods is accentuated, whether through scourging and crucifixion, or self-inflicted wounds. Another common element is the mourning of the god by a woman close to him (something almost universal to the myths of dying saviors), Attis by his lover Cybele, Jesus by his mother Mary at the cross. Then comes burial, followed by a resurrection, a period of grief ended by a morning of celebration and renewal of hope. It is also not a coincidence that both festivals occurred at the spring solstice, since both myths were ultimately inspired by the astronomical cycle of the season, when the sun became dominant once more and the days turned longer than the nights.

We can also make comparisons with the mystical thought of Paul as applied to his Christ. The death of the god occurs, followed by his burial, then after a period a resurrection. No more does Paul need to see those elements of his "gospel according to the scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3-4) as a witnessed occurrence in recent history than the devotees of Attis did (whether they envisioned it on earth or in a mythical spirit world). And how did Paul's devotees of Christ share in the mystery of his experiences? First, they joined in the death of the god Jesus through baptism (Roman 6:3, "we were baptized into his death"). We can compare this with the taurobolium of the Attis rites, where the initiate was drenched in the blood of a bull slaughtered above him. This rite is only attested to from the 2nd century on, so we cannot say if it was introduced any earlier than the next great surge of the Attis cult after Claudius, namely in the reign of Antoninus Pius (138-161). But it was likely preceded by more benign rites of baptism and rebirth, something common to virtually all cultic expression of the kind under examination.

Paul also speaks of being "buried" with Christ (Romans 6:4) and to this we can compare the hint in Clement of Alexandria and Firmicus Maternus, that during the period of mourning between Attis' death and his resurrection, the devotees symbolically "descended" to the womb of the Goddess, referring to myths like that of Persephone who reigned in the Underworld. Paul's mystical understanding of dying with Christ thus envisioned accompanying him into burial and the earth, in parallel with the expression of the mysteries. (This in itself would be sufficient to explain his reference to Christ being "buried" in 1 Cor. 15:3, which need not have an historical meaning.) Since the ceremonies of the mysteries, as noted by Maternus, involved the symbolic dedication of the devotee to undergo voluntary death before being permitted to descend into the realm of death (apparently carried out in the Attis rite through entry into a cave or subterranean part of the temple), we can see this sort of thing translated sacramentally into Paul's conception of Christian baptism. And as the initiates in the mysteries would emerge from this death and burial in a reborn state, guaranteed salvation, Paul too sees a resurrection for the Christian devotee linked to the savior's one: "If we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, certainly we shall be also in [the likeness of] his resurrection" (Romans 6:5).

There is even an allusion to a rite of eating and drinking associated with the Attis festival. Both Clement and Maternus record a formula announced by the initiate: "I have eaten from the tambourine (associated with Cybele) and have drunk from the cymbal (associated with Attis)." This may well have referred to a ritual meal the initiate undertook before being allowed to enter into the innermost temple from which he emerged reborn. Whether the elements of the meal commemorated the passion of Attis is not known, but we can certainly see a parallel to Paul's "Lord's Supper," which too need no more have commemorated a recent historical event than did any of the sacred meals of the mysteries, and they virtually all had one. (The parallel is also evident with the Gospel "Last Supper," yet another element in common between the two "passion weeks.") That the meal of the Attis cult, like that of Dionysos, represented the body and blood of the god is very possible, since the two cults were linked in both derivation and geographical location.

These close parallels demonstrate the intimate connection between the soteriology of the savior god religions and that of Christianity, and make any denial that both are cut from the same cloth the ultimate burial of one's head in the sand. It also justifies regarding Christianity, in the essentials of its rituals and theory of salvation, its fundamental principle of unity with the savior deity, as a pagan expression rather than a Jewish one. Judaism shared nothing with the above discussed features, despite the elements it did contribute to syncretistic Christianity, such as its scriptural basis, its messiah and apocalyptic expectations and assorted other traditions.

The critical part of the debate over the connection between Christianity and a cult like that of Attis, much exercised in Christian apologetic circles, concerns the Hilaria, the celebration of Attis' deliverance from death. When did it become part of the March festival? Maarten J. Vermaseren, perhaps the leading authority on the Cybele-Attis cult in the latter 20th century, subjects this question to a close examination in his Cybele and Attis: the Myth and the Cult (see pages 110-123). There are less than a handful of extant texts before the 4th century which refer to the Attis festival, all of them brief and none directly mentioning the Hilaria, although one (by Herodian around 187) may do so indirectly. When Vermaseren adds the archaeological evidence (of which there is almost as much a paucity as the textual), the picture gets a little less obscure. Even before the turn of the era there are representations of a winged and dancing Attis, indicating not only that he is regarded as an immortal (and thus having conquered death), but that his celebration is representative of the theme of the Hilaria, the rejoicing after mourning, the resurrection following death. Vermaseren points in particular to the scene in the unearthed temple mentioned above as demonstrating that the resurrection concept was in existence in the early 1st century. While he admits in summary (p.123) that the scant evidence of both types allows no more than a "hypothesis" about the addition of the Hilaria to the Attis festival, he believes "this hypothesis tends toward a resurrection conception," which arose a good deal prior to the 4th century. He might have added that if such a concept was part of the Attis cult in the 1st century, it is hardly feasible than an observance of it would not have become part of the Attis festival until another three centuries had passed.

It is unfortunate that our evidence is indeed so scanty, making it possible for apologists to postulate the theory that the Attis cult of the later empire consciously mimicked Christian antecedents in an attempt to win over adherents, including from Christianity itself. This is unlikely in principle, simply because the Attis cult was part and parcel of a broad range of savior god mythology which was based on the dying and rising concept (even if "rising" had a multiplicity of applications), and the thought of imputing to all of them a deliberate copying of Christianity is beyond the feasible, let alone the sensible. More than one Christian apologist of the 2nd and 3rd centuries (such as Justin and Tertullian) argues against the current accusation of borrowing in the other direction, with no intimation that Christianity is alone in its concept of the savior conquering death. Celsus, writing around 170, having made himself quite familiar with the details of the Christian faith, makes no bow toward a major feature like resurrection as a unique aspect of Christ, and in fact accuses the Christians in blanket fashion of outright plagiarism from the Greek traditions.

A. T. Fear ("Cybele and Christ" in Cybele, Attis and Related Cults, ed. E. N. Lane, 1996, p.39-50) goes so far as to style the cult of Attis in the 4th century a "created religion" designed to "confront Christianity on its own ground," since it was supposedly clear to the pagans "that Christianity had fundamentally changed the religious agenda of their society." While fearlessly giving voice to that favorite apologetic fantasy that the similarities between Christianity and the mysteries can be put down to pagan copying, Fear's theory is entirely speculative, which his own language admits:

We can see therefore how the changes in the [Attis] cult might not have been merely mutations which took place unconsciously over time to ensure the cult's survival in the religious marketplace of antique polytheism [a scenario, certainly a sensible idea, which he has earlier admitted "could be"], but could rather have been a deliberate attempt to produce a rival to Christianity. [p.44]

This speculative proposal requires that the extant record, as discussed above, must be interpreted as meaning that anything not directly stated in the record of the earlier centuries must not have been current, but was only introduced at the time when it is clearly found, namely in the late 3rd and 4th centuries. It means ignoring the indicators that Vermaseren sees as indicative of a "resurrection conception" as early as the reign of Tiberius. There is probably no doubt that the cult of Attis underwent a surge of attention in pagan circles in the early 4th century when Christianity shot to the top of the heap at the command of Constantine, who virtually turned it into the state religion; and this surge was no doubt in response, to try to counter the new upstart. But that hardly means that the Attis cult was reworked from the ground up (pun intended), introducing overnight under the machinations of some backroom conspirators dramatic new concepts such as resurrection and the addition of the Hilaria, where none existed before. The populace would well have known that such ideas were not traditional and ancient. A few decades later, Julian the Apostate, no ignoramous he, did his best to give an acceptable philosophical and allegorical veneer to the Attis cult, and it is hardly likely he would have been taken in by so recent an overhaul of a fundamental aspect like resurrection (which he allegorized, in the case of Attis, as the ascent of the soul). One is reminded of the dubious attempts of those earlier Christian apologists to explain away the close similarities between Christianity and the cults, but at least Fears doesn't suggest that it was the demons who did it.

Now, it has become crucial to make an important clarification here, one I have mentioned before, including in The Jesus Puzzle (p.115-116). On both sides of the perennial question concerning the similarities between the pagan and Christian salvation cults, there have been excesses. Apologetic websites countering claims that everything in the Jesus story has previous parallels in the mysteries, down to the moles on his skin, are proliferating, and poor old Kersey Graves [Sixteen Crucified Saviors] has become a punching bag. At the same time, less informed skeptics continue to circulate these detailed comparisons between Jesus and savior gods like Osiris, Attis and Mithras, presenting the former as nothing more than a plagiarized mirror of the latter. The battle centers particularly on the idea of the god's "resurrection." Yes, on this score the historians of the History of Religions School of the early 20th century may have gotten carried away, although I think it was more in the nature of a semantic miscalculation than a 'factual' one. Both sides need to nuance their focus and stop presenting straw men.

When we speak of a "resurrection" or "resuscitation" in the pagan mysteries, we are not (or should not be) speaking of a return to earth by the god, in flesh, to resume his former life or remain for a time on the material plane. Apologists, and even some mainstream scholars, exercise themselves needlessly over this point, anxious to show that the gods of the mysteries did not rise from their graves to walk the earth again in the way that Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels. This is certainly true. Osiris was not reassembled by Isis to stand on the banks of the Nile once more. Attis did not return to earth after the period commemorated by his mourners; the Hilaria was not a rejoicing to celebrate Attis' return to the fields to tend his sheep and play his pipe. One of the versions of the Attis myth (the one recorded by Arnobius) expressly has Zeus refusing to restore him to his previous life.

But no religion has ever celebrated death per se, and certainly not death as a finality. It may be a departing of this world, but the great majority of humanity has always hoped for an afterlife, and preferably a happy one. Osiris and Attis, perhaps the two most prominent 'dying and rising' savior gods of the ancient world, did not need to return to earth. They conquered death to set up shop in the next world, where they welcomed the souls of those who were joined with them and to whom they had shown the way. The future lay in the next world, not in this one, and it was generally regarded as a future in spirit only, the body (which pagan philosophers regarded with little love) shed forever.

In ancient Egypt, only the Pharaohs and the nobles could afford to undergo the rites of passage (including proper embalming) that would guarantee survival in the world of the dead. The masses simply perished into oblivion. The mystery religions as a social phenomenon arose in part so that ordinary individuals could take their eternal fates into their own hands and achieve salvation through being initiated into the rites and knowledge that would open the door to the afterlife. Through being linked with the savior, they could join him in a resurrection to a new existence. It was not in flesh and it was not on earth, and thus it did not require that the god be resurrected in that sense as a precedent.

To some extent, the Jews saw things differently. Though there were a variety of viewpoints about what, if anything, happened after death, Hebrew thought was not strong on afterlife concepts until a couple of centuries before the turn of the era. When the idea of survival after death became popular, it tended to expect God's (or a Messiah's) arrival to set up a Kingdom of God on a transformed earth. Sectarian expressions sometimes deviated from this and saw a heavenly messiah-figure as guaranteeing an ascent to heaven of the righteous where they would assume "thrones and crowns" and "garments of glory" (as in the Ascension of Isaiah and the Similitudes of Enoch). Paul has a foot in both worlds, which is fitting since Christianity as originally formulated was a syncreticism of the Hellenistic and Jewish. United with the god Christ Jesus through baptism and faith, the devotee is guaranteed resurrection into the kingdom of God, where "we will always be with the Lord" (1 Thess. 4:17); but not in flesh and blood, for "flesh and blood cannot possess the kingdom of God, and the perishable cannot possess immortality" (1 Cor. 15:50). As he says in that passage, Christ himself constitutes the prototype for the resurrected believer's new spiritual body.

And yet Paul in that passage fails to tell us that this "prototype" is a resurrected body that was formerly flesh, dying on earth and rising from his tomb; in fact his entire argument excludes it, despite centuries of insistence on reading such a thing into the text. Which leads us to another observation that presents a stark reality no one wants to face. Not only do Paul and other epistle writers fail to tell us that Jesus rose from the dead in flesh, or returned to earth after his resurrection (the "seeings" of 1 Cor. 15:5-8 are better understood as visions), the early Christian writings tell us explicity where Jesus went immediately after his rising from death: to Heaven, to take his place at the right hand of God. 1 Peter 3:18-22, Ephesians 1:20, Hebrews 10:12, the hymns of Philippians 2 and 1 Timothy 3:16, exclude any period on earth. (Can we really believe that if there was such a thing, not a single epistle would make mention of it?) In other words, Jesus after his death (which to judge by the early writers is in myth, not history) is resurrected to the afterworld, there to receive his devotees. That is the resurrection which is the "firstfruits," with the resurrection of believers to follow into the same place. This is all that Paul presents to us. Christ's is a resurrection just like that of Osiris and Attis. Whether that afterworld is located above the firmament or below the earth, or in some unspecified spiritual dimension to which souls go, is essentially a matter of cultural difference, as well as cultural attitudes regarding the worthiness and survivability of material flesh and blood. Apparently, in regard to the latter, Paul sympathizes more with the pagan outlook.

If the myths of the savior gods are essentially rooted in the seasonal cycle of the life, death and renewal of agriculture (and there are few doubts about this, though many interpretations), then rising must follow dying. But while plants resurrect on the same earth in which they die, it was clear that not even the Pharaohs came back to the same earth, so they were seen as living on in the next world; their this-world aspect lived on in the succeeding Pharaoh. Since the gods who represented, who were responsible for, the life and death cycle of plants did their work from an invisible realm, it was to that invisible realm, to that other world, that the souls of the dead went who achieved salvation. It would seem that Paul and the early Christian writers had much the same concept, for they make nothing of any rising of Jesus in flesh to appear to his followers, or of any concept that we too will rise in flesh. Instead, both Christ and the believer enter the realm of God following resurrection, both with spiritual bodies.

If properly interpreted, the theme of "dying and rising" is not a misnomer when applied to the mystery deities. Apologists are, as is their wont, apealing to straw men. Frazer and others of his time may have been less than clear on what they meant by resurrection; perhaps they were even less than clear in their own minds, and thus share responsibility for creating the straw man in the first place. But there is no reason why we cannot be fully clear today, and argue both sides on that basis, not on a false one. And if we do not insist on reading the Gospels into the epistles, we can also see that earliest Christianity shared in the same basic concept as the mystery religions. Not that Pauline Christianity was based directly on the cycle of the seasons; it was of too recent vintage for that. But its ultimate ancestry was the same, with the addition of its more distinctive and contemporary input from Judaism.

The Gospels, once they were misinterpreted as history, turned this whole system on its head. Just as Ignatius wanted Christ to have suffered in the same flesh as he himself inhabited, so too did he need Christ to have been resurrected in flesh to guarantee the same destiny for himself. Today's Christians seem to envision some amalgamation of the two ancient thought-worlds. Heaven will be a place where the flesh lives on, immortalized and transformed into perfection. Many, following in Paul's delusional imaginings, see themselves raptured directly to Heaven, avoiding the unpleasant process of death altogether. But everything that science and empirical observation tells us indicates that life is not about immortalizing the individual. There are no discernible gods that direct the cycle of the seasons, but only nature itself, impersonal processes. The plants that die in the winter are not the same as those that are renewed in springtime. The ancient mysteries suffered under the delusion that we, as individuals, are destined for an afterlife, but at least they recognized at the core of their rites that " at the base of all new life," that "without death there can be no life; without dying, no fertility." (Walter Otto, "The Meaning of the Eleusinian Mysteries," in The Mysteries: Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks II, p.20, 29). Without the passing away of the old growth, new growth is not possible. Thus, we live on in our progeny (which includes our ideas when adopted by others: both genes and memes), contributing to an ever evolving-process, not in some paradise where nothing changes and the only activity seems to be the unending worship of an insatiable Deity. Personal salvation has been a life-destroying fantasy, obscuring a reality that is much more complex and ultimately, perhaps, far more profound.

Frederick writes:    

      I'm a huge fan of your website and I wish your interview on Brian Flemmings' DVD would have been even longer.
   I was looking at 1 John 3:12 (right after the verse that doesn't attribute the "love your neighbor" quote to Jesus) and I noticed that the example given of one who did not love his brother as he should was Cain. Wouldn't this have been a logical place to mention Judas?
   Also, not related to the new testament I noticed that the Sodom story of Genesis 19 is repeated almost identically in Judges 19 in a slightly different setting. Seems like too much of a coincidence to me.

Response to Frederick:

Silences in 1 John / Midrash in the Old Testament

Frederick is a good example of a public that is growing ever more perceptive of the anomalies present in the biblical record. The statement in 1 John 3:11 is: "For this is the message you have heard from the beginning: that we should love one another." If this is a reference to a command that came from Jesus in his teaching on earth, this is a curious way to put it. Why not say, more naturally, something like: "For the Lord himself instructed us to love one another"?

The phrase "from the beginning" recurs several times throughout this epistle. In fact, it begins the epistle: "What was from the beginning..." The "what" is a neuter pronoun, repeated in successive phrases referring to a message or revelation which took place at the beginning of the sect:

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands touched, concerning the word of lifeand the life was manifested, and we have seen and we bear witness and we announce to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us...

Traditional scholarship likes to style this "prologue" a reference to apostles witnessing the person and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, but this is a stretch. Again, the pronouns are neuter, not masculine; what was "with the Father" is feminine, referring to the word "life." There is no direct reference here to any historical figure. The most natural way to take the passage is as a poetic description of a revelatory experience by persons unstated, an experience that happened at "the beginning" of the Johannine sect, from which was derived a conviction in God's offering of eternal life, accompanied by commands such as to "love one another." The writer urges his readers to retain "what you have heard from the beginning" which can hardly refer to them having heard Jesus himself. More than once he makes it clear that the command to love came from the Father, most notably in 2 John: "...just as the Father commanded us. And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning...As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love." That command and that beginning lies within living memory of some of the sect's members, and it comes from God.

As for 3:12, which Frederick calls attention to, an appeal to Cain who did not love his brother but in fact slew him might well be natural in this context, but then, so would a reference to Judas, who did not love his master but betrayed him. Here we have yet another of countless places in the epistles where the writer is silent on anything to do with the Gospel story, and while one example does not make a substantial case, repeated examples do tell us something. Judas is likewise missing in Hebrews 12:15-17:

See to it that there is no one among you who forfeits the grace of God, no bitter, noxious weed growing up to poison the whole...(Esau) sold his birthright for a single meal....

Certainly Judas should have jumped to mind here. And when the writer of 1 Clement appeals to examples of those who suffered at the hands of jealous men, he too fails to mention Judas' betrayal of Jesus.

Frederick has also pointed out a good example of midrash in the Old Testament. There are about as many definitions of "midrash" as writers who try to define it, but the bottom line is that it constitutes any use of a previous passage or combination of passages or themes in scripture to formulate something new. The purpose may be for instruction, elucidation, a presentation of new truths, telling of a new story, etc. Here, the writer of Judges 19 tells the tale of a Levite travelling with his wife, and during a visit to his father-in-law in Gibeah townsmen come to the door of the house, demanding that he be surrendered to them for their sexual pleasure. He and his host offer as a substitute the Levite's wife, the host's daughter. This is virtually a carbon copy of the account of the angels visiting Lot and his daughters before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and is clearly a literary derivation, not an historical account. Here we have an existing element from scripture pressed into service to tell a new story.

The New Testament Gospels are full of such pieces of midrash, in fact it would seem that almost the entire Gospel story has been put together on that basis. Jesus' life experiences, his miracles, the details of his trial and death, are dependent on Old Testament themes and passages. To offer just one example, the story of the slaughter of the innocents in an attempt by Herod to kill the newborn messiah is a carbon copy of the tradition attached to Moses' birth and his escape from Pharaoh's slaughter of the Hebrew newborns in Egypt. When so much of the Gospel story is seen as derived from such midrashic processes, the work of the evangelists can no longer be labeled "biography."

Bart writes:

   I have enjoyed your book immensely. I am recommending it far and wide as the best of its genre, and quite compelling.
   Why do you think Mark, who had no direct knowledge of the Galilean area, chose to put Jesus and his disciples there?  One would think that it would be useful to a writer to place events in a locale familiar to himself and his readers. Why were the particular cities chosen for his ministry (Capernaum, Magdala, Tiberias, Bethsaida, and Cana) while ignoring the larger and better known capitol Sepphoris?
   Also, do you have any source information to corroborate the existence of synagogues in the region of Galilee prior to the end of the Jewish war? Mark's presentation of Jesus and his disciples being persecuted by the synagogues is obviously something that would not have occurred until late in the first century and was put in the gospel to deal with a current situation. But I am of the understanding that there is no solid evidence that the synagogue system was even there prior to the war.

Response to Bart:

Why is Jesus a Galilean?

I think it is a basic misunderstanding to imagine that Mark simply fished around for a place to put his "invented" Jesus and chose Galilee, perhaps by flipping a drachma. Rather than a "choice," Mark set his story there because Jesus was symbolic of the kingdom-preaching movement Mark was a part of, and that movement was centered in Galilee. However, it also seems to have extended somewhat beyond that region, into parts of Syria. Mark's reputed ignorance of Galilean geography is not that profound; he simply makes a few mistakes in the relative locating of certain places. That would be possible if he were located not too far outside Galilee and was not well travelled. Thus the Galilean character of his Jesus would be determined by pre-existing conditions. As for the particular sites, one might suggest that the movement operated in the smaller centers, not in the major cities of the gentile portion of the populace, and thus these are where the story's activities would take place.

I also think it is a mistake to regard Mark as the "inventor" of Jesus of Nazareth. He put flesh on the bones that had been formed in the preceding kingdom movement (or at least that part of it responsible for the Q document), but it was they who had "invented" a founder for themselves, modeled on their own activities and teachings, incorporating him into their collection of community sayings and anecdotes. I believe Mark did invent the composite character of the Gospel itself, Jesus of Nazareth, particularly that aspect relating to his trial, death and resurrection. What specifically inspired him to the latter is difficult to say, though it may well have had something to do with the Christ cult as preached by the circles of Paul (though not at all necessarily Paul himself).

Not that Galilee wasn't convenient for Mark. Galileans were still rather maligned 'outsiders' in the eyes of the Jewish establishment, and to tell the symbolic story of such a preacher who challenged and bested that establishment, ultimately to be vindicated by conquering death itself (all of it representing what the sectarian community itself was doing and anticipated doing), would have served Mark's purposes well.

I am not going to attempt to pronounce on the synagogue question. This is a recurring and often heated debate based on archaeology, and it doesn't seem resolvable. It does seem likely that synagogues, to the extent that they are presented in the Gospels, did not enter Galilee as an established cultural feature until after the Jewish War of 66-70 when areas outside Judea witnessed an inundation by exiled Pharasaic rabbis after the destruction of Jerusalem.

Philip writes:

   I am very interested in your articles but can you explain to me why Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians are believed to have been written under Paul's name and not by Paul? If they are pseudo-Paulian letters are they of the same Gnostic tradition or are they literalist writings?

Response to Philip:

Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians not by Paul / Some Arguments for a 1st Century Paul

First let me remark on Philip's final query. The term "gnostic" is often used in far too broad a manner where the first century is concerned, since it leads to confusion with the fully developed gnosticism of the 2nd century. No first century Christian writer, and certainly not Paul, reflects that kind of gnosticism. Certain features of Paul's thought and expression may resemble milder aspects of it, such as the informal ranking of those who are "spiritual" and those "unspiritual" (1 Cor. 2:15), or in his discussion of "wisdom" in the same letter, but there is nothing like the gnostic concept of the True God being distinct from and higher than the God of the Old Testament, or the heavenly Pleroma of divine and proliferating aeons, or many other features of mature gnosticism (which was a riot of diversity itself). At best, we should refer to any "gnostic" character of writers like Paul as simply a "proto-gnosticism," and that in only some aspects. There is as much in Paul that constitutes a Logos religion, which is not related to gnosticism and which may have had some influence in manifestations during the 2nd century, as witnessed in certain Christian apologists of that later time who preach a Logos-Son but no historical Jesus.

Nor is there so dramatic an evolution between Paul and those who subsequently wrote in his name as to style the latter "literalist." They still perpetuate the basic thought of Paul, while reflecting some evolution of ideas beyond his. This will become clear in my quotes in answer to Philip's question.

Mainstream critical scholarship is pretty well agreed on seven genuine letters of Paul (not that they couldn't have undergone a certain amount of editing later), while rejecting Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Thessalonions and the three Pastorals as not by Paul, but written under his name to claim the authority and prestige of the apostle in the service of issues that arose anywhere from ten to fifty years after his death. The best capsule discussion of the arguments for non-authenticity of these epistles which I have encountered is by Calvin J. Roetzel, in The Letters of Paul: Conversations in Context. He deals with each epistle separately, itemizing the reasons why these works are not by Paul. I will not reproduce Roetzel's entire arguments but make a few representative quotations.

Colossians (p.93-96):

"a. In the linguistic evidence, one can cite the appearance of language which is unusual for Paul, the absence of favorite Pauline words and expressions, and the presence of certain stylistic features that are rare or missing altogether in the undisputed letters. Thirty-three words appear in Colossians that occur nowhere else in the New Testament and fifteen words which, though used by other New Testament writers, fail to appear in the recognized letters of Paul...."

"b....Even a casual reading of the letter will uncover its redundant style. Expressions like...'for ages and generations' (1:26), 'teach and admonish' (3:16), and 'psalms and hymns and spiritual songs' (3:16) are common in Colossians but less pronounced in the undisputed letters. Morever, there is in Colossians a greater tendency to string together dependent clauses and phrases into long, rambling sentences."

"c. At many points the theology of Colossians agrees with that of the undisputed letters, but in its concept of apostleship, Christology, and eschatology we see significant departures....Although in the undisputed letters Paul does represent himself as the apostle to the gentiles who shares in the sufferings of Christ, nowhere does (he) speak of the vicarious character of his suffering. In Colossians, on the other hand, the apostle gladly suffers, he tells his hearers, 'for your sake' (1:24)."

"Finally, in Colossians the sense of urgency so characteristic of the apostolic mission in the undisputed letters is missing altogether. No longer is the apostle driven to complete his work before time runs out. No longer does the apostle write under the shadow of the world's denouement. No longer is apostleship itself seen as a gift of the endtime..."

Ephesians (p.100-102):

"b. The theology of the letters more than the vocabulary and style suggests that the author was someone other than Paul. In at least three important areas the outlook of Ephesians differs from that of the undisputed letters: its eschatology, view of the church, and understanding of apostleship....The tension between the 'now' and 'not yet' characteristic of the genuine letters is muted in Ephesians. The approaching end and impending judgment are alluded to only in the most general way (1:4). The sense of urgency that informs the apostolic mission is gone, and no interest in the parousia (or coming) of Christ is expressed....In these three statements about Christ, salvation of the gentiles, and the understanding of the believers [1:21, 2:13, 3:18], space rather than time is the controlling category."

"Where in 1 Corinthians the church is seen as the body of Christ, in Ephesians the church is viewed as the sphere of activity of the cosmic Christ. The presence of this cosmic Christ expands the horizons of the church enormously. It is the universal church now rather than the local congregation that is emphasized....This world-wide community, founded on "the apostles and prophets" (Eph. 2:20f), which serves as the seat of the cosmic Christ, differs markedly from the struggling local congregations we know from the undisputed letters."

"Finally, the understanding of apostleship in Ephesians differs significantly from that of the recognized Pauline letters. The apostles provide the foundation of the church (2:20f), a statement that would have made Paul wince. Thirteen times the apostle is referred to as a saint. According to the undisputed letters, the mission of the apostle is to proclaim the gospel to the gentiles (Gal. 1:16, 2:7, etc.) Ephesians, on the other hand, Paul's apostolic task is to proclaim the unity in the church of Jews and gentiles (3:2-6). This shift of emphasis reflects a situation that developed after the time of Paul and, therefore, argues for a post-Pauline date for this letter...."

2 Thessalonians (p.106-108):

"2 Thessalonians receives strong support for inclusion among the authentic letters. Persuasive arguments can be marshaled both for and against Pauline authorship, but it is included here because its authenticity is in doubt...First, the language and style of this letter differ from the undisputed letters...On the other hand, we find many places where 2 Thessalonians agrees with the wording of 1 Thessalonians...Some argue that Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians either shortly before or after 1 Thessalonians and naturally uses the same language to address a situation that has changed little. Others notice that most of the parallels appear in the letter opening and closing, traditionally the most stereotyped parts of the letter...The issue of authorship must be decided on other grounds."

"All of the undisputed letters have one thanksgiving, except for 1 Thessalonians which has two. Now we have learned that the second thanksgiving (1 Thess. 2:13-16) was added later. The break in the material, the unusual language, and a veiled allusion to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 support the argument that the second thanksgiving was added after Paul's death. The second thanksgiving was inserted to reflect the developing tensions between non-Christian Jews and Christians after the war. Now, 2 Thessalonians, duplicating the unusual form of 1 Thessalonians, also has two thanksgivings. It is possible then, if not likely, that a later writer using the edited version of 1 Thessalonians with the two thanksgivings, imitates the version before him. It follows, obviously, if such were the case that Paul could not have written 2 Thessalonians."

"One other small clue seems to point toward some author other than Paul. In 2:2, the author urges his hearers not to be disturbed by letters "purporting to be from us." From what we know of pseudepigraphy elsewhere, most often the names that are taken belong to some venerated figure from the past (e.g., Moses, Enoch, Abraham, or in the New Testament, Peter, Paul, James, etc.) We know of no instance of a pseudonymous letter being written in the name of a living person. From a practical point of view we can see why. For it would seem contrary to reason for a person to adopt the name of a contemporary figure when the risk of being exposed would be rather high....Moreover, a special problem intrudes when one argues, as many do, that Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians only a few weeks before 2 Thessalonians. While such an argument explains the similarity of the letters, it is difficult to see how in only a few weeks after the writing of the first letter a pseudonymous letter could appear bearing Paul's name."

"...In the first letter Paul expects that some of his readers will still be alive at the parousia of Jesus (4:17). We have seen above that this emphasis on the imminent return of Christ persists throughout the undisputed letters of Paul....It seems strange, therefore, in 2 Thessalonians to see an apocalyptic timetable that postpones the end. Before the "day of the Lord" (2:2) the believers will witness the appearance of the "restrainer" (2:6), the "man of lawlessness" (2:3) [the latter two terms are never used in the genuine letters], and a period of apostasy from the faith (2:2-12)...the delay effected by the apocalyptic timetable is unique in Paul's letters."

I will not here address the arguments concerning the Pastorals, as dispute in their regard is more muted, the evidence for 2nd century authorship being quite strong. (And Philip did not raise them specifically.) But protestation in varying degree against the non-authenticity of all these letters is a regular feature of conservative scholarship, as well as by people in other circles less acquainted with the details of the case against authenticity. These counter-arguments usually amount to little more than the claim that Paul changed his viewsand his vocabularyas time went on. Such dubious appeals hardly stand up to close examination. The undisputed letters themselves show no sign of such drastic changes on Paul's part, an observation which includes Romans, generally regarded as his last extant letter. Such an argument would require that all the disputed letters be dated afterwards, in the last four or five years of his life, but with no way to tie them to an itinerary or Sitz im Leben as there is, at least tentatively (given the reliance on Acts), in the case of the others. Besides, the scope of some of those "changes" in Paul's thought are too vast to conceive of being possible within the same mind and within such a short time period.

This picture of several important evolving viewpoints fitting the development of a faith movement over time, involving more than one personal outlook (in fact, several), is also a strong argument against the ultra-radical scholarship which claims that nothing of the Pauline corpus is authentic and in fact is all to be dated to the 2nd century, either as the product of Marcion in their original forms, or in their present versions as Catholic redactions in response to the co-opting of Paul by the gnostics. It would be almost impossible to conceive how this sort of radical scenario could have given rise to the pervasive and clearly identifiable features discussed above that we see in the corpus: the evolution of ideas and the adjustments to issues that would logically develop over time in an eschatological sect. Marcion was not apocalyptically oriented; nor was the mid-2nd century Roman church. Such things had receded into the background as impending events. Whence, then, the vivid and imminent apocalyptic expectation of letters like Romans or 1 Thessalonians? Why is there a universal absence of reference to an historical Jesus and Gospel details if these letters were fashioned by writers and editors who would have been quite familiar with at least some of those details? How could a second century cadre of forgers have managed to convey the highly vivid and emotional personality that jumps off the pages of the undisputed letters, and yet give the group of epistles regarded as pseudonymous a much flatter, stilted character lacking so much of the persona of the rest? For these and other compelling reasons, I cannot subscribe to the "second century Paul" position that so many other radical scholars in the field are keen on. (A further point in this regard will be noted below.)

   I was wondering what kind of answer you had to 1 Corinthians 11:23 where Paul talks of the Lord's Supper and how Jesus was betrayed. Doesn't this seem to suggest that Paul is pulling this from knowledge of the Gospels? Also, if Paul invented Christianity then how come the Gospels don't really ever mention him?

Response to Frank:

Is Paul's Lord's Supper dependent on the Gospel scene? / Did Paul "invent" Christianity?

I don't know what Christians and apologists would do without 1 Corinthians 11:23 and 15:3f, the latter for its alleged references to the post-resurrection appearances of the Gospels (despite the fact that Paul nowhere refers to an empty tomb or says that Jesus ever rose in flesh, and despite the fact that his language and implication is that these are all visionslike his own), the former for giving them at least one passage in the entire Pauline corpus that sounds like something from the Gospels. Of course, both passages have long been undermined as such by mythicists, including myself in The Jesus Puzzle and in website articles like "The Source of Paul's Gospel."

It is surprising how much confidence is placed in English translations of the epistles, with never a thought as to how reliably they may be rendering the original language, or how much the translators may be reading from the Gospels into the epistles. The word "betrayed" in 1 Corinthians 11:23 is a prime case in point. The trusting reader invariably assumes that this is a clear reference to Judas and his betrayal of Jesus to the authorities.

But the verb which this translates is "paradidomi," which in its basic definition means simply to "hand over/on" or "deliver."  It can be used in the context of an arrest or betrayal, and so it is in the Gospels. Mark 14:17 has Jesus say, "One of you will betray me," using the future of this verb. In the Gethsemane garden, Judas is referred to as "the one betraying," ho paradidous. However, in 15:1, the verb is used in stating that the Sanhedrin "delivered" Jesus to Pilate, where there is no sense of betrayal. Even less of that sense can be present in Romans 8:32:

"He (God) did not spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all." Here it can hardly imply betrayal or arrest. In Ephesians 5:2 and 25 it is Christ who "gave himself up on your behalf." No thought of Judas or of an arrest on Passover eve would be present here. As to the scene being set "at night," there is nothing to prevent mythical stories from being given such a setting, especially those involving death and sacrifice. If the Corinthian communal meal is observed after dark (Paul does not specify), the origin myth would likely be set at a corresponding time. [The Jesus Puzzle, p.112]

To which I could add that virtually all the mystery cults had a sacred meal commemorating the precedent-setting actions of their savior gods. That of the Mithras cult symbolized the 'event' in which Mithras and the Sun god shared a repast on the carcass of the bull just slain by Mithras. This was hardly looked upon as historical.

One often hears that "Paul invented Christianity," although the phrase "as we know it" is generally understood, in reference to his theology of the Christ. Yet it is difficult to tell what of his christology was original to him, despite his claim that his gospel came from no man but through personal revelation (Gal. 1:11-12), derived from "the scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3-4). After all, he does admit in 1 Corinthians 15:11 that "we all preach the same thing," referring to the group he has just mentioned who enjoyed visions of the spiritual resurrected Christ. Other apostles of the Christ in the wider proselytizing arena he moved in were definitely not preaching the same thing, as he makes clear, accompanied by a few anathemas, in Galatians 1:9 and 2 Corinthians 11 and 12.

Why did the Gospel writers not mention Paul? Well, first of all, they tell a story set prior to when Paul arrived on the scene, which may be all the explanation that is needed. But I think it is far from certain that the evangelists were that familiar with him. Even though the Gospels' Last Supper may ultimately be derived from the sacramental significance Paul applied to an existing communal meal, his "Lord's Supper" may have spread into more general knowledge by the time Mark came to write his Gospel. I think it unlikely that any of the evangelists knew much, if anything, about Paul's epistles.

Indeed, Paul's influence on the range of sectarian expression which came together in Christianity seems to have been quite limited until the middle of the 2nd century. As Peter H. Davids says (The Epistle of James, p.41): "[W]e suspect Paul's influence was much less pervasive in large areas of the early church than has often been thought true." His ideas are completely absent from Q, and even from the Gospels, whose bare concept of atonement (such as in Mark 10:45) is so general and basic that it hardly requires dependence on Paul's thought. ("Luke" who is supposed to have been a companion of Paul shows none of it in the Gospel itself, especially as the one vicarious atonement element, in the eucharistic scene of 11:19-20, seems to be a later insertion.) Paul is also missing, as is his doctrine of atonement, from most of the major 2nd century apologists: Theophilus, Tatian, Athenagoras and Minucius Felix. Even Justin fails to mention him. On that score, J. C. O'Neill (The Theology of Acts in its Historical Setting, p.27-28) comments:

The only satisfactory explanation of Justin's silence is that Paul was not an influence on his theology; that Paul's writings were not in use in his Church; that Paul was not especially remembered for his missionary work; that Paul was not quoted against Justin's church by Jewish controversialists; and that Paul was not counted as one of the was possible for Christian writers to be ignorant of Paul or to ignore him. Luke [in Acts] seems to be a midway case....The silence of Justin about Paul indicates two things: that the hero of one part of the Church could be as good as unknown in another part; and that even the collection and publication of the letters of Paul took time to affect the whole Church.

O'Neill believes that, despite the use of one or two letters of Paul by Ignatius and the writer of 1 Clement, a Pauline corpus was not published much before 135 CE. Communities which had contact with Paul, or were recipients of his letters, such as Rome or Antioch, knew some of his teaching (as in 2 Peter, Ignatius and 1 Clement, the latter very vague as to his fate as though the legend of his martyrdom at Rome had not yet fully developed), but the first comprehensive adoption and treatment of him as an authority was on the part of the gnostic Marcion, well into the 2nd century. Marcion seems to have provoked the proto-orthodox Roman church to get off its posterior and do something to reclaim the apostle to the gentiles for themselves.

There is no sign of Paul in the Epistle of Barnabas, in the Didache, in the Odes of Solomon, in the Shepherd of Hermas; nor in Revelation. The first named, written sometime around 110-130, is surprising, since the writer is focused on scriptural interpretation to support his views, something for which Paul should have been well known. Even in discussing circumcision (ch.9), Barnabas is completely silent on Paul's view of the subject which was in keeping with his own. Nothing specifically Pauline can be found in Hebrews, which contains much that is remote from Paul's particular soteriology.

Another thing we have to realize is that contrary to popular opinion, Paul does not seem to have founded all, or perhaps any, of the communities he came in contact with or influenced. The clearest case in point is the Christian community at Rome, which had been in existence "for many years" (Rom. 15:23) when Paul first wrote to them, never having been there. Burton Mack is also of the opinion (Who Wrote the New Testament?, p.104) that Paul did not found the congregation in Corinth (although in 1 Corinthians Paul seems to want to intimate that he did), and that further, "it is questionable whether Paul was the first to introduce the Christ gospel to Athens, Ephesus, and other cities in Asia Minor for which Luke [in Acts] gave him full credit." Nor is there anything in the early record which suggests that the Jerusalem apostles around a figure like Peter engaged in any far-flung missionary activity to establish such congregations, certainly not beyond the Palestine-Syria region. (Nor can we reasonably accept the picture in Acts that hordes of Jews visiting Jerusalem following the resurrection were converted to Jesus and brought the gospel back home to their own communities: observant Jews being convinced on the spot that a man was God and had risen from the dead, then converting many fellow Jews in multiple distant centers to the same outlandish and blasphemous ideasyeah, right.) As to the reference to "I follow Cephas" in 1 Corinthians 1:12, many scholars acknowledge that there is no evidence elsewhere that Peter ever went to Corinth and that this phrase does not necessarily mean that a specific party of believers in Corinth had attached themselves to him. (On this, see my Supplementary Article No. 1: Apollos and the Early Christian Apostolate).

To pick up on a point made in an earlier response, this picture of a fragmentary knowledge of Paul and an influence which only picked up steam as the 2nd century progressed further argues against the radical view that the Pauline corpus was the product entirely of 2nd century writers, perhaps Marcion as the originator, and the Roman church as redactors to claim Paul for the new orthodoxy. It is again virtually impossible to imagine that such 'forgers' would not have presented a scenario of Paul's movements more amenable to their own positions and claims for Paul. What party would have been interested in creating the picture of widespread rivalry to Paul's teachings, or to make the differences in doctrine so unclear? Why would the church of Rome have deliberately conveyed the message that Paul did not in fact found their own community?

Once again, we encounter the picture of a fragmented, uncoordinated movement whose traditions were not universal, which had a piecemeal, schizophrenic development that only came together in the latter part of the second century.

Joey writes:

   My name is Joey. I am 19 years old and I am a Biblical Studies/Theology major at a Christian university. Don't let that last part put you off; I am here for the program, which is surprisingly good, not necessarily for the religious atmosphere.
   Let me start by saying, I haven't read all of the "Jesus Puzzle," so I won't comment on that. I have read many of your responses that you have on your site. While I am a proponent of rationality and logic, is it correct to discredit all spirituality or any other sort of seemingly unexplainable subconscious/extra-sensory experience that a person has? Isn't spirituality important in some respects?
   For a long time, I believed myself to be a Christian, while now I would consider myself more agnostic with a vaguely Christian leaning. I'm pretty liberal in terms of my views on Christianity, and often draw more criticism from those Christians around me than [do?] outspoken anti-Christian folks.

Response to Joey:

What about "Spirituality"?

I wonder what Joey will do with a Theology major given his status as an agnostic who isn't afraid to reveal his liberal views. We can only hope that he'll put it to good use in promoting rationality in an overly irrational Christian society.

As for "spirituality," this has become perhaps the wooliest term bandied about in modern times. What does it mean? Joey defines it in part as "seemingly unexplainable subconscious/extra-sensory experience," referring perhaps to mystical experiences which many Christians claim they have enjoyed. His key word here is "seemingly." Is everything for which we don't have a ready explanation to be slotted into some kind of supernatural category? The history of science shows that even the most subtle and perplexing behaviors of nature and the human brain will eventually be found to have natural, discoverable causes behind them. We can see that nothing need be put down to mysterious, non-earthly forces, that the belief that we are tapping into higher, otherworldly realities and divinities is simply a figment of our imaginations (and certain brain propensities). As to spirituality being "important," I can't tell what Joey has in mind here, but I can hardly agree that basing one's life or philosophy on concepts that bear no relation to reality is going to be very productive.

"Spirituality" is sometimes used to convey the idea that one is in tune with nature or some greater power/energy/meaning beyond our individual awareness and identity, and to the extent that this relates to the behavior and potential of the natural universe and ourselves within it, still uncovered or perhaps only imperfectly perceived
with nothing 'super-natural' about itI have no objection, although I object to having such concepts referred to as 'God.' Too many proponents of ideas like this adopt an anti-science stance, as though these things are beyond science and understanding, yet can be reliably grasped through intuition or a special 'spiritual' connection to such ultimate realities. This is little more than religious faith and revelation in another guise, televangelism under another name. (Please pay the guru at the door.) Science does not have to be conducted solely in the laboratory, but wherever it is practiced it adopts procedures and outlooks that involve objective observation, controlled experiment, and verifiable conclusions. With a methodology like that, we are in less danger of having the wooliness of spirituality pulled over our eyes.

Nyk writes:

   Thank-you for your treatises, commentary, rebuttal, dissertation, et al. on the question of the existence of an historical Jesus. I have always suspected as much and not having the ability to research the original materials could never articulate what you so eloquently have done.
   The stories of God in Genesis are very suspicious to me. Almost like a grandfather who makes some serious mistakes in judgment, someone who has no knowledge of the universe. (A discussion on neutrinos would have been out of the scope of understanding, but that the earth revolved to separate the night and day would have been substantial.) Have you researched this area of the existence of a God with a vested interest in His people?

Response to Nyk:

The Bible as Misery?

Nyk touches a nerve here. Why is it that the bible shows no interest on the part of God in aiding humanity in any way other than preparing us for the presumed next world, rather than improving our lot in this one? How can a loving God create us within an environment that in so many ways is inimical to our well-being, whose nature and workings have been so hidden to our understanding, requiring so long and painful a process of discovery on our part to learn about and exercise any control over? The bible contains not a single piece of insight or information that was not available to the limited knowledge of the time, which is to say, comprising mostly the misinformation of the time. The book of Joshua assumes that the sun revolves around the earth. In the Gospels, the very Son of God believes that illness is caused by demon spirits! Not a single scientific insight can be found on the pages of the Deity's own writings, not a single piece of advice or technological revelation that would alleviate some of the misery humans have had to struggle with, or to correct the failings and deficiencies of the Creator's human body. The bible, in fact, has contributed to our store of miseries, in a range of superstitions and erroneous information about the universe, its xenophobia and homophobia, its misogyny, its general intolerance and the support it has given to persecution and slaughter, its all-round primitive outlook which too many people today are still working mindlessly to perpetuate.

To suggest, as Christians do, that mankind's misery is of its own making because of some mythical Original Sin, serves only to highlight what is perhaps the bible's greatest crime against humanity: its indoctrination of so many with an obsessive sense of sin and guilt and self-abasement (I receive letters talking about such things with distressing regularity), its picture of the "fall" of humanity into evil, and its foisting upon us of a complicit God with a monstrous fixation on demands, injunctions, prohibitions, and punishment
s both immediate and eternal.

We need less of God's 'love' and more of our own.

....As a further comment on the foregoing, I will give the final words to a concerned reader....

Chris writes:

    I read “The Jesus Puzzle” in 2002 and bought a dozen copies to distribute to friends (and enemies).  Your book is a remarkable encapsulation of comprehensive research and textual criticism leading to unmistakeable conclusions about the Jesus of Christian faith and the faith itself. 
   Sam Harris, in his book “The End of Faith” (Norton, NY, 2005) comes to approximately the same conclusions that you do, and summarizes his findings in an interview on his website thus:

Any honest appraisal of the state of our world, or of human history, will lead you to conclude that the evidence for an omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent Creator who takes an interest in the affairs of men and women is impossible to find.

    It is difficult to understand how logical, evidence-based, clearly reasoned conclusions such as these about Christianity (and in Sam Harris’ book about other religions, too) seem not to effect marked changes in a worldview that is based on ignorance, a lack of clear reasoning, and evidence that not only contradicts the worldview but clearly emphasizes that its entire foundation cannot be true.
   It seems, however, that other recent “Christian” books such as: John L. Allen, Jr (2005), Opus Dei, Doubleday, NY, and Bart D. Ehrman (2005), Misquoting Jesus, Harper, San Francisco, get a wider readership and are accepted by readers much more readily than “The Jesus Puzzle” and “The End of Faith”, even though they are quite obviously biased, very poorly written and they offer conclusions that, in any other context, would be laughable as completely without bases in fact.
   The authors of the Christian books are so-called “theological scholars” of some import, although their backgrounds and religious affiliations are somewhat different (one is a Roman and the other an Episcopalian/Evangelical Baptist). They have both written widely on things Christian and they use the same mixture of half-truths and emotional, illogical gobbledygook to make their points.
   Their books are curiously similar in spite of their different subjects (A Catholic Sect and Textual Criticism of the Bible), displaying an inability to write English without the overuse of biblical-type language nuances, a patronizing tone, inaccurate, childish word-usage and the stilted overuse of repetitive flowery adjectives and adverbs. In other words, they write badly and crudely. They use rationalizations that border on lies, and their “evidence” is often nonsense.  Yet well-known and respected publishing houses publish them.
   “The Jesus Puzzle” ends with the assertion that “…there is no going back…” and that the Christian worldview is doomed as the growth of human consciousness includes a recognition of reliable and historic documents. 
   But even at the advanced scholarship/academic level (where you suggest such a consciousness has taken root) this does not seem to be the case when nonsense, purporting to be scholarship, (as in the two Christian books I refer to here) is still published by renowned publishing houses. The exponential growth of evangelical and charismatic Christianity and other religious fundamentalist beliefs in the very poor parts of the world (which nurture the most undereducated people and which often have no access to books and other publications) is frightening.
   Sam Harris’ call for action seems more realistic given, particularly, the escalating danger in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, and the spread of diseases like AIDS because of religious intervention. We need to face the threatening global dangers engendered by religions diametrically opposed to each other.  Their texts, which are considered the direct word of their gods, must be refuted and faced by everyone now.
   The questions that should be answered seem to include:

1.  Accepting that violence is not an option, what action should be taken to counter the religious world threat?
2.  How can the ordinary person who realizes the need for such action, participate in, and help develop, such action?

3.  The religious groups – particularly the evangelical groups – are well-organized and are making strong, well-planned and very large conversions in the third world, particularly in Africa.  How can a disorganized, largely splintered group counter these evangelical efforts?
It appears from the growing violence across the world that the need to end religious ignorance quickly is an immediate necessity. How is this to be achieved?
   “The Jesus Puzzle” starts the needed process, “The End of Faith” calls for the next stage: strong and immediate action to counter the religious organizations in their growth and in their promotion of violence.  How can we do this?

How indeed?


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