Sunday, January 9, 2011

NT Pod 47: Did Jesus Exist?

NT Pod 47 discusses the question "Did Jesus exist?". It is 13 minutes long.

NT Pod 47: Did Jesus exist? (mp3)
NT Pod 47: Did Jesus exist? (mp3) (Alternative location)

References include: 1 Thess. 2.14-16, Gal. 1.18-24.

Background information (NT Blog).

Feel free to leave your feedback below or on Twitter or on our Facebook page.

Thanks to Ram2000, Me and You, for the opening theme, released under a Creative Commons agreement.


  1. To my mind the final argument is not valid. If the historical existence of "Jesus of Nazareth" is questioned, it does not follow that the existence of Pilate, Herod, Augustus and Tiberius would then also have to be questioned. Two possibilities: When telling a story with fictional characters and an invented/compiled plot (as alleged in these weird myther theories), the evangelist can always add real historical persons into the mix to make his invention more credible. Or when telling a historical story, which is however in the process of diegetic transposition from one place and time into another, the evangelist can use historical characters and real locations connected to the transposed framework as anchorpoints for the resulting hypertext.

  2. Thanks, divusjulius. When I put the question to Tim Freke, I was more interested in finding out if he was also sceptical about the existence of other first century figures from that region than anything else. In other words, I was trying to get to the root of the hyper-scepticism. Is it a general scepticism about ancient history and the limits of our knowledge, or is it something else?

  3. Mark, thanks a bunch for this. This is a top notch discussion. I really admire your statement about coming to a dialogue with mythicists. I hope you give my forthcoming volume a read through when it becomes available next year through Equinox.

  4. Thanks, Tom, for your kind words. I am looking forward to reading your book.

  5. Dialog may be noble, but I don't really see the point in all these myther theories, although they do come up with some interesting findings here and there (comparative mythology etc.). The gospels (in content and style) simply don't read like mythical/syncretistic and mostly fictional compilations. In fact they scream history, the Gospel of Mark is written in the literary genre of the Roman vita etc. The evangelists clearly thought they were writing down real history. So yes, all the alleged evidence has admittedly failed (Tacitus, Suetonius, Josephus etc.), but that doesn't change the nature of the Gospel, and it doesn't mean that Jesus never existed. So new solutions are needed, but the myther school hasn't offered any yet. That school simply denies any history, which won't get us anywhere.

  6. Dear Mark,

    When you say things like "just how early...", and "a decade after jesus..." People need to remember that this is speculation.

    The Chester Beatty Papyri is the earliest copy of what we call the gospels and "pauline texts". This is out earliest substantial christian document find giving us evidentual data / emperical data about early christianity. Some may speculate from that document about earlier events, but we need to remember that the earliest evidence we have (aide from small scraps that would not allow us to create christian doctrine) is from 200CE. People don't realize that that document is actually AFTER Irenaeus wrote his _Against Heresies_ in about 180Ce.

    So when we talk about anything BEFORE 200, people must realize that this is all speculation, since our text trail only exists as early as 200CE.

    This is important for people to understand. And when they hear people talk about Mark being written in 70CE, this is speculation alone, or when someone says that something started a decade after jesus death, again, this is pure speculation.

    Cheers! RichGriese.NET

  7. If Jesus did not exist, would we have to question the existence of the magi who visited him?

    Or the existence of Lazarus? Or Judas? Or the existence of Thomas?

    Where should the skepticism stop? At Jesus? At Lazarus? At the lepers healed by Jesus? At the magi?

    No Christian in the first century ever put his name to a document saying he had even heard of Judas, Thomas,Lazarus, Mary Magdalene, Barabbas, Simon of Cyrene, Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, Jairus, Bartimaeus, Joanna, Salome, Martha etc etc.

    Are these people as well attested as Priscilla, Aquilla, Junias, Epenetus, Ampliatus, Urbanus, Apelles, Aristobulus, Tertius, Gaius - all figures that appear in Christian history in the gap between the death of Jesus and the appearance of the Gospels?

    What counts as attestation of existence - anonymous, unprovenanced works full of miracles , or signed letters?

    Or are both equally valid as attestaion of existence?

  8. There seem to be many instances in Pauls letters where there is a reasonable expectation for Paul to mention Jesus specifically to support what he is writing.

    Paul writes about baptism and its meaning in three epistles (albeit briefly) yet never once refers to Jesus' own baptism. Nor does he ever mention John the Baptist.

    There are roughly a dozen references to Jesus' death/crucifixion and another dozen to his resurrection yet there is never a single reference to Calvary, Golgotha or the empty tomb.

    Paul makes at least four references to the "gospel of God" but not a single reference to any "gospel of Jesus".

    1 Thess. 4:9- "for yourselves have been taught by God to love each other."
    Is it even a little strange for Paul to completely ignore the centerpiece and focus of much of Jesus' ministry? Taught by "God", not Jesus.

    Rom. 8:26- "for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words."
    Where's the Lords Prayer? Paul is interacting with Jesus' disciples yet so many fundamental tenets of Jesus' ministry are missing.

    Rom. 12:14-"Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them".
    Rom. 12:17-18-"..never pay back evil for at peace with all men.
    These admonitions are strikingly similar to the Gospel teachings of Jesus yet Paul never attributes them to Jesus himself, the very man to whom Paul is devoting his life to.

    The epistles contain many more examples like those above. Is it unreasonable to expect Paul to make the connection to Jesus even some of the time? Maybe just once?

    I'm not educated enough on this subject to know whether Mythicism has a strong case or not. But at the very least there are honest questions regarding Pauls silence on Jesus earthly life that are not easily answered by saying "Well, that just wasn't the nature of these lettters".

  9. Thanks for your comments, Rich. The difficulty with your point is that in ancient history we are dealing with manuscript witnesses for much of the time. We rarely have autographs. The manuscript witnesses to NT texts are actually remarkably early and widespread -- this greatly aids the work of the historian.

  10. Thanks for your comments, Steven. I think one has to treat each work on its merits. I go to Paul first when looking for the earliest evidence about Jesus, and of course Paul too believed in miracles, and one of the major pieces of Jesus tradition he shares is about resurrection appearances, in 1 Cor. 15.

  11. Thanks for your comments, Kilo. I'm not sure that I would put a lot of weight on an argument from silence in Paul's epistles given that there are other occasions where he does cite Jesus tradition. I think he was much more inclined to cite Jesus tradition earlier in his career, reflected in 1 Thess. and 1 Cor. (cf. earlier NT Pod).

  12. So where should the skepticism stop? At Judas? At Thomas? At Jairus? At the magi?

    Why does almost the entire cast of Gospel characters disappear when Christians wrote to each other in the first century, choosing to talk about Abraham, Enoch, Isaac, Job,Esau, instead?

    Isn't this exactly what we would expect if Judas, Lazarus, Joseph of Arimathea, Barabbas, Simon of Cyrene, Thomas etc never existed before 'Mark' invented them?

    Is there as much evidence for Judas as there is for the Angel Moroni?

    Resurrection appearances are hardly testimony to an historical Jesus, especially as Paul is unable to come up with any eyewitness details as to what a resurrected body is like, to supplement his theological reflection on the nature of a resurrected body.

    Paul writes in Romans 13 as though crucified people had it coming to them, as the authorities 'do not bear the sword for nothing'

    Paul does cite 'Jesus tradition', sometimes explaining how the body of the founder could be conjured up in a ritual meal and how the Lord spoke to him about Paul's battles with messages of Satan.

    Just how much does the 1 Corinthians 11 passage reek of mythicism when it explains how the cult could get access to the body of its founder in a ritual meal?

    Paul is very much not silent about what happened.

    God appointed apostles. The Jews were given the scriptures - that was the advantage they had. The law and the prophets testified to this new righteousness. Christians had made known Jesus to the Jews, who could not be expected to believe in Jesus until preachers had been sent to preach. 'How can they believe in the one of whom they had not heard?'

    Paul is not silent about the people who had been active in bringing the news of this new righteousness to Israel.

  13. Thanks for your further comments, Steven. I don't think it needs to be a question of where scepticism starts or stops. I think we should work through the evidence on a case by case basis. My point in bringing up 1 Cor. 15 is to note that the miraculous plays a part in Paul too, so we should be wary of playing Paul off against the Gospels on the criterion of the presence of absence of the miraculous.

  14. Suppose we came to Paul without any expectations. Suppose we simply tried to put together a picture of earliest Christianity based on our earliest source, i.e., not reading anything in Paul through the lens of later writings.

    If all we had to go on were Paul’s writings, I don’t think that it would even occur to us that Christianity was predicated in any way on the teachings of a historical person named Jesus who lived in first century Palestine and who had disciples who passed those teachings along to others. Rather, we would think that Christianity was predicated on the teachings of a small group of men, the primary one of which was Paul, who claimed to have had an encounter with a heavenly being and claimed to have received divine revelations from or concerning that heavenly being. We might not think it all that different from the founding of Mormonism, i.e.,Joseph Smith claimed to encountered the Angel Moroni and received revelations. Like Smith’s Moroni, Paul’s Christ had once been a man who walked the earth, but neither Paul nor his contemporaries had known him personally and what they knew about him when he was a man was only known by revelation.

    It is true that Paul talks about knowing other apostles, however, if we were to stick with what Paul tells us, I think we would assume that these were men who, like Paul, had experienced appearances of the risen exalted Christ. Nothing Paul tells us would lead us to believe that they had been disciples of an itinerant apocalyptic preacher named Jesus who had recently tramped about Galilee teaching and healing. Without something else to indicate that Paul knew when and where the man Jesus lived or died or what he said and did during his life, I don’t think we would interpret the reference to James as “the Lord’s brother” as indicating a biological relationship.

    Of course Paul is not our only source and it is entirely reasonable to try to make sense of what he wrote in light to what others wrote. Nevertheless, Paul is our earliest source and perhaps our best source so I think it makes sense to think about the picture we get when he is allowed to stand alone. Moreover, many of the early sources other than the gospels seem to paint the same picture as Paul.

    The question that causes me to remain agnostic about the existence of the historical Jesus is this: Do we accept as historical any other person where the earliest and best source seems to point so exclusively to a mythical or legendary figure?

  15. Thanks for your comments, Vinny. I disagree with you about Paul; I think it easy to underestimate the extent to which he passes on Jesus traditions, traditions that depict Jesus as a historical figure. Even George Wells thought that Paul thought that Jesus was a figure in history.

  16. Mark, it is good that you are taking the time to consider the mythicist position. But from your podcast and comments it still appears to me your understanding of mysticist arguments is very superficial. I don't get the impression that you actually understand the mythicist case in sufficient depth to properly critique it.

    One issue is that you never even mentioned the work of Earl Doherty. If you want to get a proper understanding of the mysticist case (and in your own position of scholarship it is crucially important that you do), it is absolutely essential that you read Earl Doherty's book "Jesus: Neither God Nor Man - A Case for a Mythical Jesus". There is no way around this. You have to read it. There is currently no other mythicist author whose work comes even close to the depth and rigor found in this particular book. Books by Robert M. Price, Thomas L. Thompson and others provide good supporting for the view that Jesus was solely mythical, but no other scholar comes even close to presenting as comprehensive, lucid and rigorous a case as Doherty has. Currently, he is the leading proponent of a mythical Jesus, and he is without doubt the single author most responsible for the theory's recent rising popularity on the internet. The case he makes is well grounded in New Testament scholarship and expands well beyond the research done by G.A. Wells, Paul-Louis Couchoud, Arthur Drews and others. You should also know upfront that Doherty's approach is very different from what is found in some other popular mythicist books like "The Jesus Mysteries" by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, or the "The Christ Conspiracy" by D. M. Murdock (aka "Acharya S") who place too much emphasis on conjectured (and sometimes incorrect) claims of similarities between Christianity and pagan religions. While Doherty cites those authors and agrees with some of the points they bring up, it needs to be made clear that he isn't relying those kinds of arguments to make his case.

  17. Doherty is attempting to formulate as comprehensive as possible a model of how early Christianity might have arose without a historical Jesus. He argues that on the whole, when all the evidence is examined and weighed, a mythicist model is the most plausible explanation of Christian origins. He insists that the Mythical Jesus view is not merely the best explanation of the lack of a historical Jesus in the Pauline epistles, but also the best explanation for peculiar features of the gospels and peculiar features of Christian writings outside the NT.

    Doherty also wrote an earlier book, "The Jesus Puzzle". You do NOT need to read it also, since "Jesus: Neither God Nor Man" is an expansion of it, with many points clarified and with much important additional material added. I should also mention to you that chapter 22 of "Jesus: Neither God Nor Man" discusses the existence of Q and makes an direct effort to rebute the arguments given in your book "The Case Against Q". Personally, I have no opinion which, if either of you, is right on that question. I just wanted to make sure you were aware that a chapter exists where Doherty tries to directly address the material in your book.

    Mark, if you were already familiar Doherty's book, then I am simply flabbergasted why you didn't mention it all in the podcast.

  18. Although, like G.A. Wells and others, Doherty places much emphasis on the various silences in the New Testament, things Paul and others ought to have wrote if they had believed in a historical Jesus, that is only a small piece of Doherty's total argument. The central idea of his book comes from his analysis of many New Testament passages that seem to contradict there having been any historical Jesus. One part of this is Paul's account of where early Christians got their knowledge of Jesus from: just from the scriptures and from direct revelation by the Holy Spirit,and not from man. According to Doherty, Christians believed they had foreknowledge of things not yet openly revealed to the rest of the world.

    Another issue is that the core feature of Jesus' redemptive work, the crucifixion and resurrection, are implied by Paul, by the author of Hebrews, and the by author of Revelation, to have occuried not on earth, but rather in heaven (or more likely an intermediate realm between heaven and earth). Doherty makes an extensive effort to argue that point, as it is essential to his particular theory of Jesus Mythicism.

    Doherty has many interesting thoughts on the book of Hebrews. Hebrews extensively compares and contrasts the work of Jesus, the newly revealed high priest in heaven, with the work of priests on earth. These contrasts make sense if the spilling of Jesus' blood was understood to have occuried in a mythical higher realm. They fail to make sense if the author of Hebrews had believed that Jesus had any physical ministry on earth. Doherty points out that Hebrews 8.4, "if [Jesus] were on earth, he'd not even be a priest" can not be reconciled with the author having believed in a historical Jesus, without completely losing sight of the proper meaning of that verse within its context. I fully agree with Doherty on this point. The author of Hebrews 9:4 could not plausibly had any concept that any Christians believed Jesus was ever physically doing work on earth, and still have written the passage the way he did.

  19. There is yet another issue regarding the case for a Mythical Jesus that I find very compelling. One is the scarcity of any mention in the New Testament of a future second coming of Jesus. If the writers of the NT didn't believe Jesus was literally on earth in the first place, they wouldn't speak of him literally returning. And they don't. Now there are abundant references to the future coming of Jesus, aka the parousia. But in each of those verses, a the future coming is mentioned without any indication that the author thought of it as a returning. Rather the future parousia is described as if it were Jesus' first and only coming to earth. (The only possible mention of a second coming is in Hebrews 9:27-28, and that passage isn't clear in the Greek. Doherty argues that "ex deuterou" here simply means "subsequently", that is, it follows in a logical progression from Jesus' work in heaven mentioned in Heb 9:24-26.)

  20. It seems to me that Paul thought that Adam was a figure from history, but based on what Paul wrote, I don't think that we are justified in thinking that there was a historical Adam. Similarly, Joseph Smith thought that Moroni was an actual figure in history, but I think we are justified in thinking that he wasn't based on what Smith wrote.

    Paul may have thought that Jesus was a figure from history, but the only encounters he describes are the ones that people had after Christ had been resurrected and exalted to heaven. Paul tells us very little that would enable us to place the man Jesus in a historical or geographic context. Thus, if we only were going on what Paul wrote, I don't we would be justified in concluding that Jesus actually was a historical figure.

    This is why I suggest reading Paul without the lens of the gospels. If we didn't have the context of the gospels, would we conclude that Paul's traditions went back to a historical person? I find it hard to see why we would. We read about Paul spending two weeks with Peter and we assume that Paul is describing time that he spent with Jesus' closest follower from his earthly ministry, but Paul doesn't say that about Peter. Without the gospels, I don't think we would conclude that Peter had any experience or encounter with the Christ that was any different than the one Paul had.

    My impression was that Wells didn't think that Paul's Jesus was an actual historical person, although he may have believed that Paul thought so. However, I know that Wells position has evolved and I am not sure where the book I read fit into that evolution.

  21. "Thanks for your comments, Rich. The difficulty with your point is that in ancient history we are dealing with manuscript witnesses for much of the time. We rarely have autographs. The manuscript witnesses to NT texts are actually remarkably early and widespread -- this greatly aids the work of the historian."

    Mark, are you familiar with the case made by the French NT scholar Paul-Louis Couchoud, that the shorter version of the Pauline epistles used by Marcion is almost certainly closer to the originals than what we find in any of our ancient NT manuscripts? Basically, we have direct evidence that orthodox Christians were heavily redacting NT texts during the mid to late second century. This calls the usefulness of our mauscript witnesses to the NT texts, for the purposes of understanding first and early second century Christianity, into serious question.

    (I recommend you just read the PDF version which is linked from there, as the HTML version has some typographical problems.)


    And Mark, I realized I've posted a lot of comments today. I'll let this be the last one for awhile (unless someone addresses a particular question to me) so that I'm not seen as trying to monopolize your page.

    And just to be sure, if anything I wrote sounds condescending, that isn't intended at all. (I sometimes come off that way when I don't mean to.) I am just really interested in the subject, and it is because I respect your knowledge and highly value your opinions that I addressed these comments to you at all. ;-)

  22. Otishpote: thanks for your lengthy comments. Of course I am not being comprehensive in a ten minute podcast and much more has to be excluded than can be included. I am familiar with Earl's work though I haven't yet read the new, self-published volume that you recommend. Nice to hear he discusses my work there. Some years ago, we had a little bit of engagement on the Xtalk e-list, though he was disinclined to spend time in discussion there, which disappointed me a bit.

    Vinny: thanks for your further comment. It sounds like we read the Pauline evidence on Jesus tradition quite differently.

  23. Dr. Goodacre,

    If we did not have the gospels, would we think that Paul’s teachings about divorce or the payment of preachers were based on things he had been told by men who had heard Jesus speak on these topics rather than things upon which Paul believed he had received some revelation? The description of the Eucharistic meal seems to be the kind of thing that Paul must have learned from someone who was there, and yet, Paul says he received it from the Lord.

    I think there are several different ways to read the Pauline evidence on Jesus tradition. Because Paul tells us so little about where he got his information, I don't think we can eliminate the possibility that some of the things that we think of as Jesus tradition actually originated with Paul.

  24. Thanks for your further comments, Vinny. I think we would imagine that those elements came from Jesus tradition, especially 1 Cor. 9.14, which occurs in a context dealing with Peter and Jesus' brothers (9.4-5).

    The "from the Lord" in 1 Cor. 11.23 I think means the earthly Jesus, in the night that he was handed over -- Paul is describing the tradition that originated with what Jesus said that night, and which was passed on to his disciples, to Paul, and then to the Corinthians.

    1. On question always disturbs me. I feel most of the time Paul is trying to control Peter and when we say brother of "Jesus" they are not brother of Jesus literary but the "ekklesi" or the church which was taking shape. The people who were cotrolling the church(heirarchy) just piled up all information for the protection of their jobs or craze in the field.

  25. Dear Mark & interested folks,

    Noticed the on going discussion about the historicity of Jesus. Though I would point you to a excellent essay by Hermann Detering that covers the subject quite completely. Starting , or mentioning believe it or not Voltaire, Hume, and Lock, and then moving on to a number of people in both the Tubingen School and The Dutch Radicals. It is certainly of interest to anyone that is seriously interested in the topic;


  26. @Rich, that essay is not by Hermann Detering.
    The link you gave is actually to a computer voice reading an old article (written in 1926) by Klaus Schilling which in turn is based on Arthur Drews' article "Die Leugnung der Geschichtlichkeit Jesu in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart"

    The source text is here, for those who find the computer voice annoying:

  27. Dear Otishpote,

    On the audio server the file is labeled Hermann Detering because it was obtained from his web site. The scripts I have created to turn web pages into audio files uses some algorithms to attempt to be able to link the audio file back to it's original source. And when I put sample audio files on a second web server, I do not adjust that information generally

    But... As you noticed when you followed the link, the page indicates that it is a summary of Andrew Drews work by Klaus Schilling, and more summary information about the files, source, and authors. So there should be no confusion to the reader or the listener.

    Sorry, if you find the computer voice annoying. I tend to turn almost everything I read on the web into an audio file so that I can sit back and listen to it.

    I also maintain a repository of both the audio and text sources so that they can be organized into a MySQL driven database so that the information is searchable, sortable, and shareable. I try to offer as many possibilities as is reasonable.

    In addition to the audio file There is also the text file and many more files of similar type both audio and text on the "My Server" link, I am not sure if you also noticed that.

    Glad you enjoyed the text file, if you did not enjoy the audio file.

    Cheers! RichGriese.NET

  28. Good lecture! It's good to hear the voice of a historian. I liked the point on all the historical characters from the gospels. If Jesus the main character in a cast of known historical figures, it would be a myth more on par with Forrest Gump than Hercules or Osiris. I'm not sure if I know of a classical Greek text like that. Do you?

    As to the invisibility of the others (the characters Carr mentions), over time, I think lesser individuals involved in some ones life are left out of discussions of their work. It is the ones associated with the work of Jesus who carry on, not the guy who carried the cross, the guy who sold him out to the police, or some random guy he talked to.

    How often do the names of Martin Luther King's favorite driver, or one of his entourage who was a fed get mentioned in civil rights speeches? These would only be notes used among close associates. Jesse Jackson might discuss such trivia about the man in private conversation, but it would be burdensome in a discussion of current civil rights discussion.

    Paul is rather conservative in his use of the Old Testament as his source for inspired words. The sayings he have heard Jesus say do not carry the same weight in his head as the Torah or often Prophets. This is not unexpected. While Paul believes Jesus is the very spirit of God the highest, It has been with the Jewish scripture he has been raised. He looks to the Jewish scriptures for the confirmation that Jesus is who he believes he is.

    The old testament stories are also more widely and uniformly spread than Jesus stories. In the early period if you made an example of "do this like Jesus did when he tamed the lion of Hebron" people reading might be "whoa, we didn't know about that story!" with no quick communications like to day, new traveled fast and you couldn't be sure what your messenger told your partner until weeks later. Only a few events in his life were so commonly mentioned that it could be assumed everyone knew about them. He couldn't talk about the parable of the sowers, maybe because he hadn't heard it or, that he couldn't be sure that his audience had.

  29. Somebody else explaining why there is no evidence for these Gospel characters.

    Do historians spend their time explaining why there is no evidence for the existence of people?

    'How often do the names of Martin Luther King's favorite driver, or one of his entourage who was a fed get mentioned in civil rights speeches?'

    We are talking about Lazarus, who was raised from the dead and who was 'famous' ,and yet appears as a character in a parable in Luke's Gospel.

    We are talking about Judas, who betrayed Jesus.

    We are talking about Joseph of Arimathea,Bartimaeus, Mary Magdalene, Joanna,Salome,Simon of Cyrene, Barabbas, Thomas etc etc.

    There are as many Christians in the first century writing letters mentioning these people as there are members of the Elvis Presley Fan Club who mention Elvis's tap dancing.

    I don't want to hear reasons why there is no evidence for these people,outside anonymous, unprovenanced works which plagiarise each other and claim that Moses returned from the dead (Another event which vanished from Christian consciousness)

    If somebody tells me Judas existed,I want to see attestation of existence.

    This is History 101 for Beginners.

  30. Thanks for your responses, Dr. Goodacre.

    You say Paul "was much more inclined to cite Jesus tradition earlier in his career".

    But why would Paul become less interested in citing the man that he is devoting his very life to? Why would he not want to support whatever point he is making by giving his words the authority and power of his savior? That simply makes no sense to me. And Pauls supposed citations of Jesus regarding divorce and being paid are rather paltry admonitions to cite from the entire ministry of Jesus.

    And regarding "from the Lord" in 1 Cor. 11:23.
    Paul writes "I" received from the Lord.
    That's a rather odd way to state something that he supposedly received personally from Jesus' first followers. Why didn't he simply say that he had received the tradition of the Lords Supper from those who were apostles before him?

  31. Thanks for your comments, Mike, and your further comments, Steve.

    Kilo: I sketch my answer to the question you ask in NT Pod 44.

    On 1 Cor. 11.23, I think Paul is talking about the traditioning process, which begins with Jesus' words on the night he was handed over, and continues through his followers to Paul to the Corinthians. He qualifies "the Lord" in the second half of the sentence as "the Lord Jesus".

  32. It is incredible that Jesus had the good timing to institute a meal of remembrance just hours before he was betrayed, and equally incredible that he thought his followers would need a meal to remember him by.

    Didn't he expect the others to be handed over as well?

    What did he expect the movement to do after his death other than sit around eating meals? Some sort of instructions as to what to do after they had finished eating would not have gone amiss surely, if Jesus had been the leader of a real movement....

    But if people want to see a tradition of a founder instituting a ritual meal whereby the cult gain access to the body of the founder as historical, rather than something reeking of mythicism....

  33. Thanks, Steve, for your comments. What I find useful about your reductio ad absurdum argument is that it illustrates how self-evident you regard the mythicist case to be. Given that most historians do not regard the mythicist case as transparently obvious, my guess is that reductio ad absurdum is not likely to persuade many.

  34. MARK
    I think we would imagine that those elements came from Jesus tradition, especially 1 Cor. 9.14, which occurs in a context dealing with Peter and Jesus' brothers (9.4-5)

    1 Corinthians 9:14
    14 In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

    What distinguishes this from the revelations Paul received from the Lord after his conversion?

    1 Corinthians 9:4
    5 Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas

    Just how many of Jesus's brothers were active in the ministry? Preaching the Gospel seems to have been a family business.

    Luke/Acts has exactly zero of Jesus's brothers as evangelists.

  35. Mark clearly regards 1 Corinthians 11 as obviously historical despite the huge historical problems in the timing of this institution , just hours before Jesus was unwittingly betrayed, and the fact that a ritual meal to conjure up the body of a founder reeks of mythicism,just like conjuring up Samuel's ghost reeks of mythicism.

    And this is virtually the only time Paul has a Jesus who does anything ,apart from being crucified by authorities who 'do not bear the sword for nothing'.

    Paul doesn't even have a Jesus who was known to Jews without Christians being sent to preach about him.

    'How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?'

  36. Steve Carr

    "Why does almost the entire cast of Gospel characters disappear when Christians wrote to each other in the first century, choosing to talk about Abraham, Enoch, Isaac, Job,Esau, instead?"

    And, Steve Carr,

    "I don't want to hear reasons why there is no evidence for these people,outside anonymous, unprovenanced works which plagiarise each other and claim that Moses returned from the dead (Another event which vanished from Christian consciousness)"

    What are you asking for? Please Steve, this is why people "pour scorn" on you. You seem to have no grasp or knowledge of this material beyond the most rudimentary, Sunday school exposure. What you are asking for is like me asking for proof of the alligator that Davy Crockett used to ride up the Niagara Falls before you believe Davy Crockett existed.

    If you don't want answers to your questions, why ask them?

  37. Interesting comments!

    @ Vinny
    Your comment that you would caution against reading the reference to James in 1 Cor 9.5 as an indication of biological relationship makes me wonder what you would propose as an alternative reading of that verse. We must note that in that passage Paul mentions "the other apostles and brothers of the Lord and Cephas (Peter)". Here, Paul seems to differentiate between these three, and in this case one could read this passage one of two ways: either the "brothers of the Lord" are the siblings of Jesus or they refer to those who are a part of the mission but do not hold the title of apostle. I take it that you would opt for the latter.

    If I haven't missed it while reading through the various posts, I am surprised that two important passages from Galatians haven't been brought up: Gal 1.19 & 4.4.

    In Gal 1.19 Paul recounts that he spent two weeks in Jerusalem with "James the Lord's brother". I find it worth noting that Paul says here "the Lord's brother" instead of "James, a brother of the Lord". Paul's description of James here, I would think, lends more support to the understanding that he is the biological relative of Jesus.

    As for Gal. 4.4, Paul describes Jesus as being "born of a woman". This is used elsewhere as Jewish circumlocution for calling someone a human being (cf. Job 14.1; 15.14; 25.4; Matt. 11.11).

    Wondering what everyone's thoughts are regarding these two additional verses.


  38. Thanks for the useful comments and questions, CJ.

  39. I'm not sure what Paul intended. He usually used the word "brother" to designate a spiritual relationship and I can't find anything else in Paul to indicate that he thought that people he knew had heard anything Jesus said or witnessed anything Jesus did during his earthly ministry. I wouldn't say that I "caution" against the biological meaning of brother. I just don't think that I would interpret it that way if I wasn't familiar with later writings.

  40. MIKE
    What you are asking for is like me asking for proof of the alligator that Davy Crockett used to ride up the Niagara Falls before you believe Davy Crockett existed.

    Just produce the evidence that Judas existed, just like Mormons should produce the evidence that the Angel Moroni existed.

    If Mike wants to spend his time abusing people who simply ask for no more than the name of somebody who personally claimed to have seen or heard of this Judas....

    Apparently this is too much to ask,although it is no more than asking for the name of somebody who saw this second gunman who shot JFK

  41. Steve, if you decide to pursue Judas Myth rather than Christ Myth, you will be much more company. However, the title of the pod is "Did Jesus Exist?"

  42. "He qualifies "the Lord" in the second half of the sentence as "the Lord Jesus."

    I don't see how this helps explain Pauls use of "I received from the Lord". Whether he means the Lord God or Lord Jesus the language still reads like a revelatory experience. Some 1 Corinthians commentaries state that Paul might have received this information, or some basic form of it, during his Damascus Road experience.

    It just seems like a very odd way to relate something that should have obviously been learned through people to whom Paul was in personal contact with.

    Thanks again for taking the time to respond.

  43. Kilo Papa, what do you think the chances are that Paul invented the Last Supper? Or is it possible that he had a revelation that transformed the meaning of it? I note in John, while Jesus is the Bread of Life, there is no Lords Supper, Jesus still eats a dinner with his betrayer, but there isn't a ceremonial significance. What do you think?

  44. Hi Kilo. It helps to notice this because "the Lord Jesus" is Jesus "on the night that he was handed over", i.e. this comes to Paul through tradition. I disagree that it "reads like a revelatory experience"; I think it reads like a traditioning process, with "I received . . . I passed on to you" etc.

  45. Dr. Goodacre,

    What is it about "I received . . . I passed on to you" that makes it more likely that Paul intended to communicate that he received it from men rather than received it from God? Wouldn't that language apply equally well to either case? Given his insistence in Galatians 1 that he did not receive the gospel from men or meet with the other apostles for three years after his conversion, don't we have to give at least equal weight to the possibility that Paul thought of the teachings in Corinthians as part of his revelation from God? I was intrigued by your hypothesis that Paul's attitude changed towards the traditions he received from men between Corinthians and Galatians, but it doesn't seem to be a hypothesis that can be substantiated.

  46. Mike,

    One of the biggest problems in understanding Paul is that he tells us so little about what it was about the earliest Christians' beliefs that caused him to oppose them. Paul could certainly have known that they celebrated some sort of ritual meal, but did they see Jesus as the Passover Lamb or was that part of Paul's revelation? I don't know how one could begin to guess how much transformation Paul might have been responsible for.

  47. Vinny,

    It is because it appears to describe the traditioning process, "I received . . . I passed on to you", originating with Jesus on the night that he was handed over; the same process is set out at the beginning of 1 Cor. 15.

    For the contrast between 1 Cor. 15 and Gal. 1, I have further comments at:

  48. Dr. Goodacre,

    Doesn't our interpretation of what Paul meant by "received" in Corinthians depend in part on when we think it was written? If Galatians was the earlier letter, wouldn't we be more likely to conclude that Paul was using "received" to mean "received from God" in Corinthians?

  49. Seems interesting to me how Church dogma has conditioned people to see things in a particular way.

    Traditionalists can't conceive that "brother of the Lord" could mean anything but a biological bother.

    Yet "Son of God" makes perfect sense to them in some other way other than we all understand it.

    This shows how prior Church dogma has conditioned people.

    Cheers! RichGriese.NET

  50. _____

    Traditionalists can't conceive that "brother of the Lord" could mean anything but a biological brother.

    Of course "traditionalists" can conceive of all sorts of things. The question is what is the most reasonable interpretation.

    Someone mentioned Hebrews. I think there are a couple of passages that indicate the writer considered Jesus a real person: Hebrews 4:15 and 5:7-9.


    For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.


    In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him


    -Neil Parille

  51. Incidentally, James Dunn did something of a response to the BBC program in his book The Evidence for Jesus.

    -Neil Parille

  52. Thanks for your comments, Neil.

    I had forgotten about that book by Dunn -- thanks for the reminder.

  53. 'In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear.'

    So Jesus's prayers, cries and tears to be saved from death were heard , were they?

    I thought the guy got killed.

    Hebrews is about as clear as you can get.

    'But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation.'

    Not a part of this creation is pretty clearly not referring to a part of this creation.

    But the author of Hebrews rubs in the fact that Christ was killed in Heaven.

    'It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. 25 Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.'

    Christ appeared once, and entered the Holy Place in Heaven, there to be sacrificed.

    Christ did not suffer once in an earthly Jerusalem, and once in the heavenly Jerusalem that is above us (see Galatians 4 for Paul's adamant claims that there is a Jerusalem above us)

    Christ suffered once. In Heaven, in a place that was not part of this creation.

  54. Steven,

    I'm not familiar with the details of the mythicist position. I've read Price's contribution to the Beilby/Eddy collection and reviewed some stuff on the internet. I've ordered Doherty's 800 page tome.

    As far as Hebrews goes, if the mythers claim that the author did not believe that Jesus lived on earth then there are a lot of passages that need to be explained. In addition to the ones I mentioned there are others such as Hebrews 1:6, 2:14-18, 7:11-14 and 13:11-14.

    It seems to me that the author of Hebrews believes things are happening simultaneously in the physical and the spiritual world. Even if he is something of a Platonist who believes the spiritual world is more "real" he doesn't deny that Jesus lived on earth.

    -Neil Parille

  55. Dear Neil,

    When you say the mythicist position, which group are you talking about? The folks that think the jesus myths are true or the ones that don't believe the jesus myths? I can never get the groups straight. I mean, if you believe the jesus myths are you a mythicist or not a mythicist?

    If you looking for an example of a view of someone that does not think the jesus myths are true you might check out this;

    Cheers! RichGriese.NET

  56. Hey Neil,

    It looks like on that page this would be the first of the 5 main articles.

    Cheers! RichGriese.NET

  57. I know I am late to the party, but I want to chime in, anyway.

    One of the things I respect about Dr. Goodacre is his ability to disagree with differing hypotheses without losing respect for the tenuous, fragile nature of the documentary sources. Which is to say, the paucity of primary sources obliges one to approach opposing arguments with rational humility.

    Thus, I enjoyed this episode for its clear, honest presentation of a position Dr. Goodacre does not embrace, and his subsequent concise counter-argumentation.

    Having said that, I came out with a few questions that I had hoped he would have addressed.

    1) He mentions Paul's acquaintance with people who had personally known Jesus while alive.

    Isn't that reading the Gospels back into Paul?

    We assume Paul's Cephas is the Gospel's Peter because we retroject him there, not because Paul wrote "and then I got to hang out with Peter, who used to hang out with Jesus before the crucifixion..."!

    We assume Paul's "Brothers of the Lord" are the Gospel's sons of Joseph and Mary because we retroject them there and not because Paul wrote "Jimbo shared a mother but not a father with Jesus and is thus called 'brother of the Lord', not because this is his ecclesiastical title like I am an Apostle and Mary is a Mourner, etc."!

    How confident can we be these are actual eyewitnesses? Or could they have been notorious Christian leaders from the past incorporated into the Gospels much the same way other historical figures (e.g. Pilate, Herod, John, Caiaphas) could have been, and we're just, 2,000 years later, conflating the two sources because the Gospel narratives are so culturally ingrained already?

    2) He mentions Paul's inclusion of Jesus traditions.

    How can we ascertain the historicity of oral traditions handed down to Paul? We can be confident Paul was told -- and believed -- that Jesus died and resurrected, that Jesus was betrayed, that Jesus opposed divorces, but considering the admitted lack of personal eyewitness testimony, can we be confident these traditions trace back to historical events? Or only to previous tellings and re-tellings of believed events?

    Again, it goes back to Paul's acquaintance with eyewitnesses, but how sure is our footing there, really? (see #1)

    3) He mentions the little time elapsed between Jesus' life and ministry with Paul's own life and ministry (as opposed to the much wider chronological gap with the Gospels and subsequent epistolary traditions).

    Paul doesn't date Jesus to a "recent" past, and we only believe he did because we accept Mark's inclusion of Pilate in his pascal pageantry. How can we be sure to date Jesus' demise to the early fourth decade without complimentary attestation? How can we know that Jesus traditions hadn't been developing for several decades before Paul came into the picture?

    Again, it goes back to Paul's acquaintance with eyewitnesses (see #1), and also our acceptance that Mark included historical figures from the past (i.e. Pilate, Peter, James, the Twelve, John the Baptizing, etc.) based on second-hand accounts, and our rejecting of the possibility that from the other side of the Jewish War, he could have wanted to anchor his pageantry in a distant-but-not-so-distant past. How justified are we to be confident in that?

    4) An unrelated question: whatever happened to those excellent extended episodes?

    I am aware the NTPod has a long list of subjects to tackle before I can presume to impose, but I would be excited to hear Dr. Goodacre tackle these questions.

    (Disclaimer: I am not a mythicist, and I am definitely not a NT scholar, but as a historian I am still unimpressed with the *positive* evidence for the Historical Jesus. I do, however, enjoy the search and the scholarly debate.)

  58. Thanks, Marcello. All good questions. Can't give them the time and space they deserve right now, I'm afraid, but perhaps in due course.

  59. It is really amazing that these professors those who are holding great jobs in the universities and bible college do they hear all that and if they do not give no answer then what we should about them? Are they making us stupid or we are becoming fools ourselves.

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