Κυριακή, 5 Μαρτίου 2017

Richard Carrier : List of Responses to Defenders of the Historicity of Jesus (1)

List of Responses to Defenders of the Historicity of Jesus

Now that my new book On the Historicity of Jesus has finally become available, for convenience I will be collecting here links to all the responses I’ve published to defenders of the historicity of Jesus. So this article will be continually updated with new entries, and I will keep the order alphabetical by last name of the scholar responded to (when I know it). I have also sorted them into generic debates, and responses to my books specifically.
If anyone sees responses or reviews (in print or online) to my books on this topic (On the Historicity of Jesus or Proving History), please direct me to them in comments here. Please also remark upon any merits you think the response has (or if you think it’s rubbish). I won’t bother replying to all of them. But I’d like to keep a running collection in any case.
Replies to Generic Defenses of Historicity
Akin, Jimmy (conclusion: argues by assertion rather than evidence).
Bermejo-Rubio, Fernando (conclusion: thoughtful, but circular, and argues from credulity).
James Bishop (conclusion: ignorant to the power of ridiculous).
Casey, Maurice (conclusion: grossly illogical, probably insane).
Craig, William Lane (conclusion: dishonest and illogical Christian apologetics).
Crook, Zeba (conclusion: good effort, but doesn’t quite get there).
Crossan, J.D. (conclusion: only two premises, one factually dubious, the other illogical).
Ehrman, Bart (conclusion: makes major factual and logical errors, then lies about it).
Goodacre, Mark (conclusion: relies on premises he didn’t know were false).
Horn, Trent (conclusion: gets the text wrong, flounders on weak arguments).
MacDonald, Dennis (conclusion: muddled and not well thought-out).
Mykytiuk, Lawrence (BAR) (conclusion: outdated and unresearched).
Replies to Criticisms of Proving History
Antony, Louise (conclusion: doesn’t understand math).
Brown, Kevin (conclusion: standard Christian apologetics).
Fisher, Stephanie (conclusion: didn’t read the book, lies about it; doesn’t understand math; probably insane).
Hendrix, Tim (conclusion: only complains about things the book didn’t say)
Ian of Irreducible Complexity (conclusion: pedantic; retracted all substantive criticisms).
McGrath, James (conclusion: didn’t have much to criticize; and what he did, got wrong).
Tucker, Aviezer (conclusion: misses the point a lot; but affirms its thesis).
Replies to Criticisms of On the Historicity of Jesus
Covington, Nicholas (conclusion: poses good questions, is mostly persuaded).
Evans, Craig (conclusion: didn’t even read the book; had no logically valid rebuttals to it).
Hallquist, Chris (conclusion: makes horribly embarrassing mathematical mistakes).
Hendrix, Tim (conclusion: confused & inapplicable; ignores what’s actually in the book).
Lataster, Raphael (conclusion: valid concerns, already dealt with in the book).
Marshall, David (conclusion: just dishonest and illogical apologetics).
McGrath, James (conclusion: screws up on facts and logic to the point of being useless).
Petterson, Christina (conclusion: bizarrely devoid of any substantive analysis).
Ramos, F. (conclusion: just dishonest and illogical fundamentalism).
Rosson, Loren (conclusion: almost persuaded, remaining objections addressed).
Waters, Kenneth (conclusion: didn’t do his homework; just angrily gainsaid everything).

Strange Notions: Questioning the Historicity of Jesus

The Catholic website Strange Notions asked me to write two brief articles on why questioning the historicity of Jesus is more plausible than commonly assumed. I was asked to respond to two earlier challenges to that thesis on their site, written from the perspective of Catholic apologetics: Did Jesus Exist? An Alternate Approach by Jimmy Akin and Four Reasons I Think Jesus Really Existed by Trent Horn.
My first article, responding to Akin, is Questioning the Historicity of Jesus. My second, responding to Horn, is Defending Mythicism: A New Approach to Christian Origins. Together these have accumulated almost two hundred comments, often long and thoughtful, which sadly I haven’t the time to read through. (If anyone has the gumption to do it and would like to summarize the whole thread and/or report to me which comments might be worth my attention or blogging a reply, feel free to post anything like that in comments here.)
Akin then replied to me in Jesus Did Exist: A Response to Richard Carrier. And then Horn replied in Four Reasons to Believe in Jesus: A Reply to Richard Carrier. Here I shall respond to those…

Akin Misses the Point

Akin fails to notice that I only begin addressing his article after the fifth paragraph of my first contribution, and that I plainly state that I was required to be brief (each entry under 1200 words), and that all I aimed to do was describe generally how we reply to the claims I was asked about, not to prove the thesis I am proposing (in both essays I explicitly note that I shall only do that in my forthcoming book). In fact the first four paragraphs are about (1) why this debate is newly important and to be taken seriously and why it can’t be dismissed by simply noting that it’s not yet the majority consensus; (2) what exactly mythicists are arguing (i.e. what their hypothesis is); and (3) where anyone interested in exploring this debate can go to learn more.
So all of Akin’s complaints about all that (spending over two hundred words) indicate he didn’t understand what I was asked to do, which is a bit surprising because I actually explain that in the essay itself (in the fifth and last paragraphs, which he even quotes, uncomprehendingly). He apparently wanted an 800 page thesis. For free. Once we recognize that’s silly, we can move on to what we’re really talking about, which is what answers mythicists give to arguments like his, and whether they have merit.
Although it’s worth noting Akin seems to operate from a position of bad will when he assumes I’ll attack him unjustly for anything he says, and indeed even implies I deliberately set it up so I could. Evidently Catholicism doesn’t teach its adherents to think well of people. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised. But in any event, I already conceded in my article that I had not proved the mythicist thesis, only described it and what it says about the few things his article said, so I was actually graciously making things easier for him: all he had to do was assess the value of the points I did actually make. He could have just done that. Instead he burned two hundred more words complaining about this.
Efficiency is not his forté.
It is also ironic that he complains about my stating positions without defending them, then states positions without defending them (the Gospels and Acts “are nowhere near so late as Carrier seems to think”…even though what I stated was the mainstream consensus on their dating, and he gives no reason to disagree…not even a bad reason).
Apparently consistency is not his forté, either. (One would think a fan of Jesus would at least do the Golden Rule well.)

Defects in Akin’s First Point

But now to his actual argument. In making his first point, Akin errs twice:
(1) First, that he “meant” the Gospels by the “earliest accounts” attesting how Christianity began is a red herring fallacy. My point was that those accounts are not corroborated in earlier Christian writings (and that mythicists regard the Gospels as fabricated). He thus gave no response to my actual point.
I can think of many responses one could have given. And those I do indeed address in my forthcoming book. The debate essentially must rest here until then. I fully acknowledge this means the debate is not thereby resolved. But since I explicitly said so in my essay, he can’t complain that I’m moving the goal posts. I’ve kept them consistently in the same place.
(2) Second, he is incorrect to say the Gospels are the “earliest accounts” attesting how Christianity began. Paul attests to how Christianity began in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8. Where we hear nothing of Nazareth, a ministry, or Jesus appointing and training disciples, or commissioning anyone to do anything until after he died (the only place in this account that we first hear of his ever appearing to anyone). Contrary to Akin, this is a “relevant account.”
And again, I can think of many responses to this point. I have similarly found there are many other passages in Paul that concur with the Corinthians account, but not the Gospels account, of how Christianity began (I’ll end my discussion of Akin here with one of them), and I can likewise think of many responses to that point as well. All of which I address in my book. So we’ll just have to wait until my book comes out to continue that debate. In the meantime, all I was tasked with doing was stating what the mythicist argument is. Not to prove that it prevails over all possible objections. And I explicitly said I had not.

Defects in Akin’s Second Point

In making his second point, Akin doesn’t deliver a valid response. Akin says “Paul acknowledges that his relationship was different than that of the other apostles” but all Akin offers as being that difference is that Paul “related to Jesus as ‘one untimely born’ (1 Cor. 15:8)—that is, out of the normal sequence that governed how the others related to Jesus.” But that sequence consists solely of post mortem revelations of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:3-8). Thus confirming my point, not Akin’s: Paul seems only ever to know of Jesus communicating with his apostles by revelation (and hidden messages in scripture). Paul never once shows any awareness of any other way anyone knew or met Jesus, or any other way in which Jesus communicated with his apostles.
And that’s weird.
I should also note that Paul does not say ‘one untimely born’ in the sense of ‘born late’–he says he related to Jesus as an abortion [ektrôma], which is a premature birth, not a late one, and in fact worse, as it typically indicated an outright miscarriage. And Paul says he related to Jesus as an abortion not because he was appointed late but “because [Paul] persecuted the church” (1 Cor. 15:9), and for no other reason. The term ektrôma was in antiquity a term of contempt, implying monstrosity or rejection or enfeeblement. Paul thought of himself as a rejected monster because he did awful things to the church he now loved; but Jesus was willing to overlook that, and appear even to a rejected monster (an abortus) such as himself.
I include that digression because it illustrates how easily misled one can be who reads the Bible only in English translation. Akin apparently actually thought Paul used a word meaning born late. He thus didn’t even come close to grasping what Paul actually meant. And consequently, he didn’t notice that what Paul actually meant does not support the point Akin was trying to make.
This is a common occurrence in the mythicism debate: those defending historicity routinely assume the certainty of their position, and thus advance ad hoc arguments for it that they are sure must be correct, but that mythicists have long noticed are not–and can easily show are not. As I have just done. The real lesson here is not that Akin’s argument is invalid (though it is), but that he didn’t know it was invalid. This is extremely common. Even from the lips of what should be well qualified experts like Bart Ehrman (and for the travesty of his errors and fallacies in this matter, see my summary in Ehrman Historicity Recap).
This is why arguments from authority in this field are particularly unreliable (hence Proving History, chs. 1 and 5). Which was nearly the first point of my essay in this exchange.

Defects in Akin’s Third Point

Akin then attempts to respond to my point that we can’t tell for certain whether Paul refers to “brothers of the Lord” as biological or spiritual brothers. But he doesn’t do anything but gainsay. Again Akin implies the Gospels are “early sources [which] indicate that [these brothers] were familial relations of Jesus” but he doesn’t demonstrate either that these sources are actually any earlier than I (and the mainstream consensus) said, or that the Gospels can even be trusted on this point (or any point), or that they even say anything about any brothers of Jesus being at all involved in the church (they don’t–in fact, they pretty much depict Jesus renouncing them, as if having no idea they would take leadership positions in his future church). Indeed, the earliest Gospels unanimously say the three pillars, the top three apostles Peter, James and John, did not include any familial relation of Jesus at all. In all their accounts, the James in this top trio is not the brother of Jesus, but of John. (The Gospel of John, meanwhile, never mentions any James at all.)
Acts also conspicuously shows no knowledge of any brothers of Jesus having any leadership role in the church. It mentions Jesus’ brothers having been absorbed by the church in Acts 1, but then they disappear, and neither of the two men named James subsequently depicted as taking leading rolls in the church is the brother of Jesus. Neither do any of the epistles (not those of James nor Jude, nor any at all) mention they are the brothers of Jesus. The letter of 1 Clement also conspicuously shows no knowledge of any brothers of Jesus. To get the first evidence of any such brothers taking leadership roles in the church, we have to go almost a hundred years after the founding of the cult, to the most unreliable of sources: Papias, whom even Eusebius condemned as unreliable.
One might bring up Josephus here, but I already mentioned in my earlier essay that I have proved Josephus never mentioned a James being the brother of Jesus the Christ–the “Christ” part was instead a later accidental interpolation. And to interact with that argument, you’ll have to go to and confront the published academic literature where it is laid out. (Akin seems to complain that my peer reviewed articles are behind paywalls…as if I had anything to do with that–I agree academic journals stifle the arts by profiteering, but alas, we aren’t taken seriously unless we publish in them, which is a nice racket for them, but that’s not a Goliath this David can fell. At any rate, it’s unfair to insist we publish our arguments in real academic journals, then complain when we do.)
It’s also worth noting that even if we trusted this passage, Josephus conspicuously does not say this James was even a Christian–or, conversely, that his brotherhood with Jesus was biological. Josephus might not have even known there was a difference, mistaking Christian filial language as literal. But that’s all academic anyway, since the evidence goes to show Josephus never originally mentioned Christ in this context to begin with.
Again, this is not the end of the argument. I can imagine lots of responses. I address the best of them in my book. But the point to observe here is how all of this betrays the fact that Akin doesn’t really know his own source materials very well. He even thinks they prove things that in fact they conspicuously don’t.

Defects in Akin’s Fourth Point

Akin then argues that “Paul also tells us that Jesus was ‘descended from David according to the flesh’ (Rom. 1:3).” But the word “descended” in fact is not there. Nor is the word that is used there the usual word Paul employs for being born, but instead the word for being manufactured, like Adam was, leaving us to ask what exactly phrases like that mean. This was so disturbing to later Christians, in fact, that they tried doctoring this passage to contain the correct word for biological birth, which meddling we can now see in later extant manuscripts, as famously proved by none other than Bart Ehrman.
Likewise Akin cites Paul saying Jesus was “born of woman, born under the Law [of Moses]” (Gal. 4:4), but again the actual word used is the same as above (and later Christians again tried to get away with changing it), and the context is of allegorical births to allegorical women (read the whole of Gal. 4), so we can’t be sure Paul means this literally. So contrary to what Akin says, this does not “clearly” indicate Jesus’ birth as a Jew in any earthly manner. There are deep questions about this passage as well as the other and just what they mean.
Both, as it happens, are entirely compatible with the mythicist thesis. Such is their ambiguity. But once again, I am not pretending to have ended the argument here. I am only explaining what the mythicist argument is. To continue the debate we will have to await the publication of my book, where all the issues and objections are fully addressed. We can then proceed from there.
It’s important to reiterate that the mythicist thesis does not deny that Jesus was originally regarded as having become incarnate, as a human man, manufactured from Davidic flesh, and was then killed and buried (and rose again). It just holds that this all occurred in the lower heavens, not on earth. I extensively supply the background evidence making all this plausible in my forthcoming book. But here my point is that insisting Paul said Jesus was a Davidic human man does not even contradict the mythicist thesis. Whatever merit that thesis has is a separate question.

Defects in Akin’s Fifth Point

Akin then throws out a litany of what he thinks are verses establishing historicity in the epistles of Paul. But here is where it becomes disingenuous. He cites a passage in 1 Thess. 2, but does not mention that a significant number of mainstream scholars regard that as an interpolation (a fact widely known). And the evidence strongly favors their conclusion (as I lay out in Pauline Interpolations). Not mentioning well-known facts that undermine their case is another common strategy of historicity defenders which undermines their reliability. Possibly Akin is too out of touch with the literature to know of this particular problem. But that doesn’t bode well for his reliability either.
Similarly, he cites the Lord’s supper commandment in 1 Cor. 11, but omits the part where Paul says he learned this directly from Jesus. In other words, via revelation. Of course, I assume Akin is also resting on the historically implausible Catholic assumption that a real Jesus would ever have said or done any such thing (as it entails he fully planned to die, and for his death to operate as a Passover sacrifice, and for his death to be annually celebrated with ritual cannibalism and blood drinking…and his Jewish followers were totally fine with this). That is also seriously doubted by a large number of bona fide experts in Jesus studies.
I should also note that the word Akin renders as “betrayed” here is actually “handed over,” which word Paul always uses, when in respect to Jesus’ sacrifice, as an act performed by God (e.g. Rom. 8:32), and thus not as a betrayal, thus eliminating any allusion to the later myth of Judas–which myth is also missing in 1 Cor. 15:5, where Paul shows no knowledge of there being only eleven disciples for Jesus to visit after his death. This is another example of not reading the Bible in its original language, and not checking to see how Paul uses certain words, particularly in reference to the same facts. (For more on the Judas myth, see Proving History, index “Judas.”)
I won’t even discuss Akin’s reference to 1 Timothy, which is almost universally regarded as a second century forgery. Evidence forged by historicists cannot prove historicity. Period.
Thus when we actually look at Akin’s evidence, it quickly dissolves into an unreliable or unclear mess. This is why mythicism must be taken more seriously than the likes of Akin will allow. It can’t be gainsaid by ignoring points like the above. There is a case here, one Akin was not even aware of, and seems ill-equipped to address. Where we go from here depends on the arguments and evidence I shall be publishing this February (the release date my publisher tentatively expects). But in the meantime I’ve adequately explained where mythicists are coming from when confronted with evidence like this. The debate thus begun shall have to continue next year.

Defects in Akin’s Sixth Point

Akin then completely misses the point of my argument from analogy when he says:
It’s true that Christianity, Islam, and Mormonism each had a founder who organized a movement that spread rapidly, but in each case the movement’s early writings point to that founder being a historical individual: Jesus, Muhammad, and Joseph Smith.
Note that, in my essay he is responding to, I said the analog (the revelatory being communicating the cult’s new teachings) is not the founder, but the celestial revelator: Jesus for Peter (and Paul), Gabriel for Mohammad, Moroni for Smith. The actual historical founders are Peter/Paul, Mohammad, and Smith. Akin simply has not addressed this argument. (I am aware there are challenges to the historicity of Mohammad, but testing that thesis is outside my knowledgebase, so I am assuming his historicity here.)

Defects in Akin’s Last Point

Akin closes by claiming my statement that “Paul says no Jews could ever have heard the gospel except from the apostles (Romans 10:12-18)” is false. Well, this is easily tested. Let’s look at what Paul says there:
[H]ow are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?
“Sent” in that last sentence being apostalôsin, the verb form of “apostle.” Paul is thus saying there is no way anyone can ever have heard of Jesus unless they hear it through an apostle.
This entails they can’t have heard it from Jesus–as for example supposedly thousands of Galilean and Jerusalemite Jews had done (according to the Gospels). Paul is adamant here, and absolute. He thus is not aware of anyone having heard the preaching of Jesus from Jesus himself (except the apostles). Paul therefore has no knowledge of Jesus having a ministry, or preaching to anyone except his apostles. Which Paul only ever says Jesus accomplished by revelation (e.g. 1 Cor. 15:3-8; Gal. 1; 1 Cor. 9:1; Rom. 16:25-27; etc.).
Indeed, Paul basically says here that it is impossible for anyone to have heard of Jesus (and what he preached) except from apostles (and those who heard it from apostles). In the very first line he says the Jews never even heard of Jesus (or from Jesus, depending on the meaning of the genitive) until the apostles preached him. So even the knowledge that Jesus existed could only be reported by apostles. Paul evidently couldn’t imagine Jews having heard about Jesus from anyone else, like the thousands of supposed non-apostolic witnesses to his ministry, or having heard of Jesus directly from Jesus, such as having seen him and heard him in person, as many Jews of Paul’s day would have…if Jesus existed in the ordinary historical sense.
Note that Akin again betrays his lack of knowledge of Greek here, or else his failure to check the Greek before pontificating an ad hoc argument, as his interpretation of this passage is not even remotely plausible. He weirdly thinks Paul is making a distinction between preachers and apostles, when in fact he is equating them. Indeed, no such distinction exists anywhere in Paul, nor makes any sense in the context of Paul’s understanding of the gospel.

Conclusion on Akin

Throughout this analysis it has become clear that it is Akin’s position that “gives the appearance of a castle built of shaky inferences that strain to get us away from the plain meaning of the texts.” He is the one not paying attention to the actual Greek or the context or range of possible meanings or even authenticity of the passages he is relying on. If this is what has to be done to defend historicity, is not historicity done for? I won’t straw man historicity that way. Akin is just not the best defender of it. But I have found that even the best cases look similar (even if not quite so bad). Case in point…

The Horn Rejoinder

So much for Akin’s rebuttal. Horn is more respectful, thoughtful and efficient. He cuts right to the chase, assumes no bad will, and appears to know more of what he’s talking about.

Horn’s Fourth Reason

Horn reiterates his “fourth” point honestly, and I agree with him that the state of the field entails I “must put forward substantial evidence in order to defend a claim that nearly every other scholar in the relevant field, including fellow skeptics, have not found convincing.” The one thing he leaves out, though, is that they have not found it convincing because they have only looked at bad arguments for it, and have yet to reason correctly on the matter in any publication I know.
In my experience (and by now I have a lot at this) the “vast majority” of experts in this field are astonishingly ignorant of many pertinent facts, and even assert things confidently that are indisputably false, or make arguments that are indisputably fallacious. Even the excellent Mark Goodacre did this; as did Bart Ehrman, a lot; and James McGrath is the veritable poster child for this kind of thing. I document that this holds for the whole field in Proving History, chapters 1 and 5. This seriously undermines any claim like Horn’s that we should trust the consensus on this.

Thus, though Horn admits this is his weakest argument, it is actually far weaker than even he seems to know.

Horn’s Third Reason

Horn doesn’t really have a rebuttal to my point that we cannot demonstrate that the extrabiblical sources we have are independent of the Gospels.
He complains that I “provided no reason…to think the references in Josephus are unreliable,” but then simply ignores the arguments in my cited article, even though he knows that was my stated reason (so he can’t really say I provided “no” reason). Here he acts like those arguments don’t exist, simply because they are in a peer reviewed academic journal. Which is a perverse standard of evidence if ever there was one. Basically, he just pretends he can gainsay my arguments by not reading them, and accepts that as an adequate reason to trust the passages in Josephus.
This is yet more evidence that defenders of historicity are not engaging in any valid reasoning in defense of their position. Horn evidently doesn’t realize that his own behavior here proves my point about our not being able to trust the scholarly consensus. Because the scholarly consensus is based on head-in-sand argumentation much like this. “I won’t read any peer reviewed papers proving I’m wrong; I’ll just declare I’m not wrong because everyone else who hasn’t read those papers agrees with me.” That’s just about the most illogical thing he could say.
Horn then attempts to defend the independence of Tacitus’s explanation of Christian origins by saying “Tacitus’ disdain for Christians and his reputation as a careful historian” would entail he would fact-check this. But, no. Tacitus would do what his best friend Pliny did: ask Christians (Pliny, notably, did no further fact-checking–and Pliny is actually Tacitus’s most likely source here, since they were governing adjacent provinces at the time and Tacitus frequently corresponded with Pliny to get source material for his histories). Their story would be so embarrassing to Tacitus’s aristocratic sensibilities that he would have no reason to fact-check it. In other words, Tacitus’ disdain is precisely why he wouldn’t look for independent corroboration of the Gospels (or Christians quoting the Gospels). He wouldn’t need to.
It’s even incredible to imagine he’d think it at all worth the bother to waste days combing through the Roman archives (quite a feat considering they had burned up twice in the interim) just to verify a howler of a story even the Christians themselves aren’t denying. And that’s even besides the fact that what it meant to be a “careful historian” in his day is not what that means today. This is well demonstrated by actual historiographers of Tacitus, who don’t find him to be the best of historians by Horn’s required standards (see Greek and Roman Historians: Information and Misinformation, just for a start). Simply repeating what Christians told him is exactly in accord with the standards of history Tacitus exemplified throughout his opus. Whereas arduously and laboriously fact-checking such minor details is not. At all. (And this all assumes the passage in Tacitus has not been meddled with, even though we have reason to believe otherwise, as I show in another peer reviewed article soon to appear in Vigiliae Christianae.)
Horn then tries to justify the passages in Josephus by citing his “intimate knowledge of Galilee after Jesus’ death,” but that’s a non sequitur. Even apart from the fact that the evidence shows Josephus never mentioned Jesus (a point, I just noted, Horn presents no argument against, nor even seems inclined to care to), if we assume in some respect Josephus did, that does not at all mean he learned of their movement from anything other than Christian sources. Indeed, the evidence strongly indicates the central passage in question was derived from the Gospel of Luke, or at least Luke’s Christian source (see The Testimonium Flavianum), and there is certainly nothing in it that suggests otherwise; while the other reference (if again we trusted it against the evidence that we shouldn’t) reports nothing but that Josephus was told a certain James was called a “brother” of a certain Christ, which I explained above does not prove he knew this meant biologically. So that doesn’t even verify historicity.
This is simply the weakest of tea. Historicity cannot stand on such unreliable evidence as this. But this will only be completely clear in chapter eight of my forthcoming book On the Historicity of Jesus, where I treat all this evidence in detail, with citations of the relevant scholarship. For now, the point is that Horn is not even interacting with the actual facts relevant to evaluating these sources, and is relying on naive assumptions about ancient historiography that have no basis in fact. Yet this is a typical way to argue for historicity. And that’s precisely what makes historicity increasingly doubtful.

Horn’s Second Reason

Here Horn argues that:
It seems incredibly unlikely that early gnostic heresies about Jesus being God disguised in human form could plague the Church for centuries but the mythicist “Gospel” preached by Peter and the other real founders of Christianity could simply disappear into thin air in the span of one generation, a length of time where those who knew the apostles could object that the events described in the Gospels never happened.
The “early Gnostic heresies” he means are all mid-to-late second century. Thus, this argument simply ignores everything I said. We don’t know what “heresies” were about in the century before that, or how they were dealt with. And that’s the material point. The battle for historicity was fought and won between 60 and 120 AD. Precisely the period we conspicuously have no texts from.
I had left aside the circular argument implied by Horn’s calling all alternative Christianities “heresies,” when the Christianity defended as “orthodox” in later second century texts is as heretical as any when measured against the original faith of even Paul, much less Peter. But now the circularity of this is even more relevant. Because Horn seems not to realize that “the original Gospel preached by Peter and the other real founders of Christianity” wasn’t even discussed much (beyond cursorily) by the likes of Irenaeus or Hippolytus (and it was so uninfluential even in the East that we really have only one substantive discussion of that original sect of Christianity, in a hostile 5th century treatise), and they seem to know little or nothing about the heresies combated by Paul in his epistles, yet plenty about sects (even in their own day) that regarded Jesus as a cosmic being and stories about him as allegories. So Horn’s incredulity is invalid: evidently, earlier forms of Christianity rejected by those later “orthodox” sources could get eclipsed or ignored by them, and yet even they were aware of sects that could plausibly have evolved from original mythicism, for whom the Gospels were allegories and Jesus’ birth was in outer space. (Even Paul’s sect, with its baptisms for the dead and glossolalia and near gender equality and assignment of Jesus to sub-god status, is pretty much not even discussed anywhere afterward, only later deviations from it are.)
Horn also relies here on the equally self-refuting Christian apologetical argument that “those who knew the apostles could object that the events described in the Gospels never happened.” How do we know that argument is false? Because there are numerous plainly false things in the Gospels that no one on record ever gainsaid (or affirmed, either–we simply have no texts from anyone who knew the apostles even mentioning the Gospels…at all, pro or con). Thus clearly “those who knew the apostles” didn’t object “that the events described in the Gospels never happened.” So we cannot expect them to have done so at all, because we have no instance of their doing so in any single case.
I give examples of this point in chapters three and five of Proving History. The most prominent: the sun going out for three hours; the Gospels egregiously contradicting each other on doctrine and chronology and geography (e.g. did the apostles flee to Galilee and see Jesus there, as Matthew and Mark claim, or did they stay in Jerusalem and see Jesus there, as Luke and John claim; and was Jesus born under Herod the Great as Matthew claims or under Quirinius ten years later as Luke claims?); not to mention the earthquakes and hordes of resurrected dead descending on Jerusalem in Matthew, but unknown to any other Gospel author, likewise Matthew’s entire empty tomb narrative, and John’s entire resurrection narrative. And so on.
Evidently, the Gospel authors could say tons of false things, and somehow no one ever gainsaid a single one of them, much less with the argument “I spoke to the apostles who were there and they said that didn’t happen” (even the Gospels don’t say that). So as arguments go, this is a non-starter. Somehow everything written about the church in the period between Paul and the mid-second century has simply been deleted from the historical record. Even though there must have been hundreds of letters and volumes in that period, and countless battles over what Jesus said and did and over the doctrine and history of the church, yet not a single one was preserved or even mentioned in later centuries. So we simply do not know what they said. We therefore cannot claim to know what they did not say.
So my point stands: we simply cannot argue from the silence of documents we don’t have.
Horn then makes the irrelevant argument that 2 Peter 1:19 doesn’t give us any more details about the sect it is attacking other than that they taught the Gospels were “cleverly devised myths.” That’s irrelevant because all we need here is what is here: evidence that a Christian sect existed that taught the Gospels were “cleverly devised myths.” That was my point. And yet, moreover, we hear nothing else about them. Thus all record of what this unknown sect taught, and even what was argued against them, was deleted from history…apart from this one example that managed to slip through, which in fact shows us evidence had to be forged to argue against them. Which makes historicity look close to indefensible.
Horn then cites McGrath against Doherty on the Ascension of Isaiah, but McGrath is routinely wrong about a great deal when it comes to facts and source materials (as I have repeatedly shown). So he is not a reliable authority. Indeed, he tends to be among the least reliable authorities I know. (And indeed in this case, a great deal of what he says about the Ascension of Isaiah is dubious or fallacious…and though the same might (?) be said of Doherty’s treatment of the text, any errors Doherty may have made cannot be imputed to me.) But at any rate, that debate will have to continue after publication of my book, which treats this source in detail from the cited scholarship of actual experts on it.

Horn’s First Reason

Horn doesn’t seem to have an argument left here. He basically just admits I was right that his first reason was wrong: Paul actually never mentions “disciples,” or Jesus choosing or teaching disciples during his life. Horn thought that was true. I showed it wasn’t. So now Horn backtracks from that argument (essentially abandoning it) and jumps onto the same bandwagon as Akin in attempting to find references to Jesus having parents at least. I already addressed what’s wrong with that tactic above. Likewise regarding Jesus having brothers.
But here Horn commits a major factual error. When attempting to “save” his theory that “brothers of the Lord” means actual rather than figurative kin, he falsely claims that in 1 Corinthians 6:5-6 “Paul refers to any believer as a ‘brother’ in Christ” (emphasis mine). No, there is no preposition “in” there at all (or the word Christ). Horn strangely then makes a whole argument out of that preposition being there, when in fact it is not. Nothing more need be said against his argument than that. Paul never once uses that preposition in this way (there is no instance in Paul of “brother in the Lord” or “brother in Christ”; even in Php 1:14, the preposition goes with the participle, “confident in the Lord,” not the noun “brother”).
(And as for Ephesians, that is a later forgery, not written by Paul, so not relevant to the facts of what Paul said or knew, but it also does not say “brother in the Lord,” it says “deacon in the Lord”; it cannot be circularly presumed that the preceding statement that he is also a brother was meant to go with the same preposition: Eph. 6:2.)
This is another instance where a historicity defender thought there was evidence for their position, yet the evidence they thought there was doesn’t even exist. This is quite common for historicity defenders. Which is yet another reason we should question historicity–and certainly question the excessive confidence in historicity displayed by its defenders, as it is so routinely based on what is factually false. Another common folly of historicists is making up arguments on the fly without thinking them through…
Case in point, Horn makes the illogical argument that Paul does not call Peter a brother of the Lord, even though he was one. But Paul already called him an apostle. So he did not need to add that he was also a baptized Christian. Horn’s expectation that he would is therefore unfounded. Indeed, the only times Paul ever uses the full appellation “brother of the Lord” is when he wants to contrast apostles with mere Christians, or to make clear Christians are meant and not biological brothers (a confusion that would arise, for example, if Paul had simply said “James the brother,” since in Greek that could imply he meant a biological brother of Peter).
But as I noted before, here is where further debate can ensue. And that will have to await my book, which treats the evidence and scholarship and objections on this matter in detail. For now the point is only that there are definite ambiguities in these passages, and thus historicity cannot rest so confidently on this evidence as has been pretended. These facts require more than prima facie examination. And that at least Horn recognizes. So we’ll have to resume all this in 2014.

On Bermejo-Rubio's Dispassionate Plea for a Historical Jesus

Fernando Bermejo-Rubio is one of the most impressive new scholars in biblical studies. His work on the “quests” for the historical Jesus is paradigm-challenging and superb (see The Fiction of the Three Quests). It is thus no surprise that he would publish the only defense of the historicity of Jesus against its opponents that is actually worth reading. Usually such tracts are awash with errors, distortions, a substitution of assumptions for facts, or blatant fallacies, or bundles of all of these–even when coming from experts who ought to know better (like Erhman, McGrath, and so on and so on and so on–and on and on–even Goodacre, a little, who otherwise did the best job I know short of Bermejo-Rubio, and indeed the two together make the strongest case overall).
Biblical scholars often read the online trade periodical The Bible and Interpretation (I have published with them myself, and have cited other articles there on my blog before). It’s somewhat informal, but run and read (and usually only contributed to) by serious scholars. Respected bible scholar Phillip Davies (himself a historicist) published his plea to take the question of historicity more skeptically there. Now, Bermejo-Rubio has published his best defense of historicity there: Prolegomena to a Dispassionate Plea for the Historicity of Jesus the Galilean. It’s not the best conceivable (since it isn’t comprehensive in the way I’d want the best defense to be), but it commits far fewer errors than any others I know.
I had read this months ago, but could only find time now to write about it (evidence of my backlog). But for anyone keen on hearing my response to his case, here you go.

The Ideal Pro-Historicity Position

Right from the start Bermejo-Rubio’s approach is singled out by “trying to tackle this issue in a rather irenic and respectful attitude,” and by making clear he is not a Christian and has no skin in the game. Indeed, I would add, as his paper on the “Three Quests” shows, he is more than happy to tear down beloved traditional views in the field. He is not cowed by consensus and does not appear to fear for tenure or backlash. As he outright says, “too often I have realized that common opinion, including in the field of Jesus scholarship, is based on wrong assumptions, and I myself maintain some views on the historical Jesus…which are in a minority.”
Indeed some of his views, I have to agree with the majority, are wrong (although I fear he may be right about the fiction of the “three quests”). But like Mark Goodacre, he knows what it is like to openly defend a minority position and be attacked for that, and thus he sympathizes with anyone in the same position, more so than comfortable snipers at the top of the tower ever do. He knows full well, as we do, that the privileged often become arrogant, and terrified of interlopers who would crumble everything they thought was certain and have based their careers on.
Bermejo-Rubio also rightly criticizes mythicists for often undermining their cause by constantly repeating false information (or, I would add, not using valid logic), and often having as much an anti-religious bias as apologists have a religious one, but he knows this cannot be used as an argument to dismiss them. I’ve often made both points myself (e.g. here, here, here, here, and here). Lay readers may be curious to know what the German says in Bermejo-Rubio’s fifth note on this point, about Bauer–often touted as the original mythicist–so I’ll translate it:
[Bauer’s mythicist stance probably sprung] from the impression the German Christian apologists of the time, as they stood against Strauss [the first widely influential skeptic and critic of traditional views of Jesus–ed.], must have made in any rigorously honest and deep thinking person. Consequently, he amused himself with a certain demonic pleasure witnessing their helplessness after breaking the crutches of pseudo-science and tossing them aside […] a wild desire, in other words, to rob the theologians of everything, tore Bauer much farther away [from their position] than his critical knowledge [alone] would have led him.
That’s arguably true, and I think true for most mythicists today: justifiably outraged, even betrayed, by the constant and egregious lies Christian apologists employ in defense of their historical Jesus–repeated even by secular scholars fooled by Christian rhetoric and too lazy or conformist to check their facts or logic first–many a mythicist goes balls out to destroy and embarrass them. They are thus led to extreme and immoderate views. After all, it’s hard to have sympathy for such an absurd and dishonest and illogical position, and it can be satisfying to assume everything they argue is likewise false. But that’s not the reality. In reality, some of what critics of mythicism and defenders of historicity say is true, and mythicists ought to exercise more caution and care, and be more self-critical and self-reflective in building their position and their case for it.
Like historicist Phillip Davies (whose editorial I linked above), Bermejo-Rubio wants to elevate mythicism, or at least agnosticism regarding historicity, to a position that can be at least treated as a respectable, honestly debatable position within the field, even if he personally isn’t persuaded by it. That requires effort from both sides: from establishment scholars, it demands attitudes like those of Davies and Bermejo-Rubio; from mythicists, it demands more rigor, caution, and humility.

Towards an Ideal Pro-Historicity Case

Bermejo-Rubio rightly characterizes the Gospels as very problematic evidence to build a case for historicity from. Although he does not dismiss them as evidence entirely (he constructs his own theories of the historical Jesus from details within them, based on his own assumptions about how those texts were composed and for what purposes), he admits “the Canonical Gospels are indeed extremely biased sources, and their accounts are too often scarcely credible,” hence he approaches them with “deep distrust.”
This is an honest admission even some secular scholars are too afraid to make, although I think it is now the most commonly held view among them (it is thus not even controversial anymore to say, as he does, that “the Jesus (or rather the Jesuses) proclaimed by the evangelists and their present heirs–preachers and theologians–did never exist”). But such pervasive distrust of the Gospels is certainly a view Christian scholars have every reason to fear taking themselves, which is why their opinions in the matter can hardly be trusted. They cannot be honest about this, because to do so would be tantamount to admitting their faith is built on fiction. And one can only do that by abandoning one’s faith first (or at least so radically altering it that it no longer rests on anything the Gospels say, except as metaphors for abstract truths about the human condition: welcome Shelby Spong and Thomas Brodie).
Bermejo-Rubio also agrees “mythicists are right…that some material which is often used as supporting the historicity of Jesus is not helpful for that aim,” such as the passages in Josephus, which he believes may be authentic (I could not more confidently disagree), but rightly perceives are utterly useless, since their most plausible source is Christians referencing the Gospels (by one route or another), so Josephus cannot be used to corroborate the Gospels.
Nevertheless, he maintains the following conclusion: “I think that the (by far) most probable thing is that a single identifiable person named Jesus lies at the root of the Gospel tradition.” So how does he reach that conclusion, having admitted the evidence so pervasively sucks? He gives basically three arguments, and they are in some respects novel, in that they aren’t the legs usually rested on (although neither have they not been voiced before, yet I think never have they been stated so well). He says he has more arguments that he omitted for word count, but I cannot speculate what those would be, so I shall comment on the three he states. Indeed, he intimates that his others are sufficiently weaker than these that if these should fail, so will they.
Argument the First: Bermejo-Rubio starts with “one of my main arguments against the non-historicity of Jesus,” which is “that–after having analyzed sine ira et studio quite a few works of the proponents of the idea, since Bauer to the very present–[I] have found no compelling arguments in its favor” and “although this, of course, is not an argument, I am not alone in this judgment: I know quite a few agnostic and atheist scholars in Europe who do not harbor serious doubts about Jesus’ historicity.”
The latter of course is, by his own admission, not an argument. Every change in the consensus begins with a view contrary to what every other expert thinks. We have a model for this already: the idea that the Old Testament Patriarchs were mythical started as a fringe view against a firm and broad consensus; it is now the mainstream view. Consensus is a valid argument for laypeople to side with that consensus until enough experts disagree with it to represent a serious debate (or there are at least enough to warrant not yet taking sides without examining each side’s best case), but it cannot be an argument for an expert not to side against the consensus, as otherwise that would become circular, and prevent all progress in knowledge. We then are looking at dogma, not a quest for knowledge.
So Bermejo-Rubio’s only argument here is that he has not yet been persuaded. I am not surprised, as so far most mythicist literature is confused, flawed, and full of excessive speculation in place of fact. Although I do wonder if he has yet read Earl Doherty’s works, which in my opinion are far more persuasive (being far more carefully constructed and argued), I have noted before why even his might dissuade experts, by creating his own straw men. For example, in The Jesus Puzzle, Doherty rests his case on a complex and implausible theory (albeit from a mainstream scholar) of the layering of the hypothetical Q document (which I don’t even believe existed), so anyone who doesn’t buy that premise can easily, albeit mistakenly, reject his entire thesis–such is the inherently defective cognitive machinery in every human brain, that the idea of reconstructing his thesis without that premise won’t typically be tried in one’s own mind before rejecting the thesis altogether, even though that is precisely what one ought to do (and I have done: hence my book, On the Historicity of Jesus–from Sheffield-Phoenix: I cast away all unnecessary speculations and premises and build a case solely on what can be strongly demonstrated to be true).
So my response to this argument is simply: let’s see what Fernando Bermejo-Rubio thinks after reading my forthcoming book–and its essential prequel, Proving History, which will challenge his confidence in the method of criteria that he still relies on too much.
Argument the Second: although “the question whether everything in [the Gospels] is to be reduced to myth and legend” is “a possibility that, a priori, should not be discarded,” he still thinks he can find “a core of material that does not seem to have been concocted or shaped according to the mold of older stories” and “the best and most natural explanation for this material is that it corresponds to a historical figure.” My forthcoming book will deeply challenge that assumption, particularly chapter ten, which will likely show him a lot of what he thought was genuine is obviously mythical–and the more one realizes that, the less confidence one retains in the remaining material, as I know from experience: that is precisely what has happened to me. Already Proving History exposes the difficulties, or indeed impossibility, of discerning truth from fiction in the Gospels if even there were any. I would be curious to know if reading even that will weaken his confidence in his premise here.
But he does not rest merely on this dubious premise (that he can “identify” authentic information hidden in the noise of these fictionalized narratives). He gives three corollary arguments:
He claims he is even more convinced by this premise because “the figure which is thereby reconstructed corresponds to a quite concrete, individualized person,” “unmistakably a Jew of his age, and at the same time it is a person with his own personality.” That is a fallacy. The same criteria applied to Odysseus would give us a “figure which corresponds to a quite concrete, individualized person,” “unmistakably a Greek of his age, and at the same time it is a person with his own personality.” But alas, that affords zero evidence that Odysseus was a historical person. He almost certainly was not. So the same reasoning cannot function for Jesus.
A more important error in this thinking is that it is entirely circular: one “finds” a plausible person in Jesus by using criteria specifically designed to discard everything implausible about him. I should hardly have to explain why that method would find every fictional character in the history of literature to be a historical person. Whereas, when we look at Jesus as actually written, he is in fact massively implausible as a person–indeed, virtually none of what he says or does makes any plausible sense on any known human psychology. That’s the character that was written. Does that make his existence more likely or less? I would argue less. But certainly not more. When we read a story about someone who behaves not at all like any human being we know, our proper inclination is not to be persuaded a real person is being described.
His other arguments are equally fallacious:
That a fictional person would be “quite plausibly ascribed to the period in which [he] is supposed to have lived, and faithfully reflects the socio-political, religious and historical circumstances of that period” is exactly what is expected of fiction written near that time and place, about that time and place. And yet, often the stories told of Jesus do not in fact accurately match the time and place, by exactly the degree to which the author is distanced from it. Thus, for example, none of the accounts of the trial of Jesus make any plausible sense in the actual legal context in which they are supposed to have occurred, and the original Gospel author, Mark, can’t even get the geography right, while even Matthew–indeed even the supposed author of the hypothetical Q–doesn’t even use the Bible in Hebrew or Aramaic (not even when having Jesus quote it), using instead, and even basing arguments on, the Greek translation of it. So, insofar as the Gospels in fact do not show accurate knowledge of the time and place they set their scenes in, they refute Bermejo-Rubio, and insofar as they get anything right, that is already to be expected of fiction written within decades of its setting by educated people culturally near to the context imagined. It is the fallacy of selection bias to ignore the misses and count only the hits and then use the hits as an argument for authenticity. By that device I could prove any historical fiction to be genuine history.
Finally, that his imagined portrait of Jesus “is convergent and consistent,” after having used a method designed to cause exactly that result (and thus would do so on any fictional character ever) is enough to show the fallacy in this reasoning. Likewise, that this reconstructed Jesus “does not fit well–in fact, it ultimately debunks–the exalted image of the figure conveyed by the evangelists themselves” is yet more circular reasoning: using a method that casts off all the things that make a figure exalted, obviously what you will always end up with is a contradiction to the exalted figure originally described. You would get that same result for any demigod in history. That doesn’t make them historical; rather, it just makes you good at inventing more believable fictions than the original authors did.
I point out much more along these lines in Proving History, and address Bermejo-Rubio’s other implied arguments (such as intimating that Jesus having named siblings in the Gospels makes him historical–as if mythical heroes never had named siblings in Hellenistic and Jewish literature) in On the Historicity of Jesus.
Argument the Third: Bermejo-Rubio’s best argument is that “a basic rule of method in scientific research is that (all things being equal: the ceteris paribus clause must be respected) the simplest explanation that also covers the largest amount of data is to be preferred,” and therefore, at least prima facie:
…the explanation that an all too-human being named Jesus did indeed exist as a first-century Galilean Jew, that his unexpected failure triggered among his followers a considerable reinterpretation of his fate and that, despite the inflating and divinizing process which was carried out by them, traces of his historic personality and activities remain embedded in our biased sources is, in my opinion, by far the simplest and most cogent explanation for the whole available evidence.
Because “the alternative hypotheses contrived to oppose this solution happen to be somewhat convoluted–and not infrequently far-fetched, often requiring further auxiliary hypotheses and implausible conjectures.” Indeed, I quite agree with him: most mythicist theories suffer this enormous defect (hence my point earlier about how even Doherty straw mans himself). But that is precisely the defect I have removed in my new formulation of the case in On the Historicity of Jesus.
And it’s worth dwelling on the methodological point here. Many complications adhere in any application of Ockham’s Razor (which is what Bermejo-Rubio is talking about here), as I explain in Proving History (index, “Ockham’s Razor”). Bermejo-Rubio is at least aware of this generally (hence his remark about the importance of ceteris paribus). But one has to be more specific, because here many an error is commonly made. An “auxiliary hypothesis” is only ad hoc when it is not independently confirmed in evidence as true or probable. Only auxiliary hypothesis that are posited without that support, posited merely “out of the blue” as it were, reduce a theory’s plausibility (= prior probability) compared to alternatives that rely on fewer such presumptions. That’s why Ockham’s Razor does not tear down the Periodic Table: the theory that there are only four elements is vastly simpler than that there are over ninety, yet a slew of very well confirmed auxiliary hypotheses establishes that the four element theory just can’t explain the evidence anywhere near as well as the Periodic Table can. Thus a vastly complex theory ends up being, in fact, the simplest.
Thus we must admit that the historicity of Jesus also depends on hundreds of auxiliary hypotheses, and not only ones that can be independently confirmed in evidence as true or probable (such as background facts about the ancient world, ancient Palestine, sectarian Judaism, and so on), but also ones that are in fact ad hoc: such as all the assumptions underlying the “criteria” Bermejo-Rubio himself relies upon to “reconstruct” a historical Jesus. Mythicists do not have to adopt any of those assumptions (assumptions for which there is not only no evidence, but often evidence against, and thus are not merely not probable, but are often outright improbable: see Proving History for numerous examples). Thus bare mythicism starts off, in fact, much simpler.
Historicists also need a lot of “out of the blue” assumptions to make sense of a lot of the data: the trial of Jesus makes no sense as-is (Proving History, index “Criterion of Crucifixion”), and therefore one has to devise a complex hypothesis (and I mean complex: no simple hypothesis fits, any more than four elements can fit the evidence of chemistry) about what actually happened and how it got altered into the stories we now have; likewise the betrayal and suicide of Judas (Proving History, index “Judas”); or how a crucified convict could be so immediately quasi-deified by Jews; even more so to explain how Christians east of the Roman Empire believed Jesus was executed a hundred years before the Gospels claim; or how no clear mention of the historical impact of Jesus appears anywhere in Paul’s 20,000 words (Paul appears to know only of a celestial Jesus known only by revelation and scripture); and so on and so forth. In short, historicity is plagued with ad hoc auxiliary hypotheses. It is therefore not a simple hypothesis.
Hence in On the Historicity of Jesus, I show that a minimal mythicism can rest on far fewer ad hoc auxiliary hypotheses than even a minimal historicity, and that all other auxiliary hypotheses minimal mythicism requires are as well established as those historicity depends upon. Mythicism thus becomes the simpler hypothesis, ceteris paribus. That’s why it’s compelling.
Thus, while Bermejo-Rubio claims “we can easily explain Jesus, we cannot so easily explain those people who would have invented him,” this is not actually true.
To begin with, there have been hundreds of mythical persons historicized in history, in fact it was a particularly popular trend for demigods and in antiquity precisely where and when Christianity originated (it was called Euhemerism). So why do we think it’s hard to explain this? It can’t be any harder for Christianity than for any other instance (from the invention of Moses and elaborate biographies of him, to the invention, likewise, of Hercules, Romulus, Osiris, and so on; for a rather good explanation of this, see Noll’s chapter in Is This Not the Carpenter?).
By contrast, explaining a historical Jesus is extremely hard. Too much evidence is simply too baffling. We can imagine simple earthly Jesuses later mythicized, but so too can I imagine simple cosmic Jesuses later historicized. But to get them to fit the evidence is no simple business. Prima facie, it can’t even be done, for either. Bermejo-Rubio would like to use circular logic and just arbitrarily discard all claims about Jesus that he doesn’t find plausible, and then inexplicably declare surprise that what he has left is plausible, and therefore a simple explanation of all the evidence. It isn’t. A mythicist could do the same: just arbitrarily discard all claims about Jesus that he doesn’t find plausible, and then inexplicably declare surprise that what he has left is plausible, and therefore a simple explanation of all the evidence. That the same method vindicates both is enough to prove the method invalid.
Thus, prima facie doesn’t work. We can only reach a valid conclusion secunda facie. We cannot easily explain Paul’s (authentic) letters on historicity, but we can easily explain them on mythicism. We cannot easily explain the incredibly rapid and massive legendary development around Jesus in the Gospels on historicity (as well as, already in Paul, his immediate quasi-deification), but we can on mythicism. We cannot easily explain the complete absence of such a rapidly glorified man in the historical record (outside the cult of mythmakers recording his stories) on historicity, but we can on mythicism. We cannot easily explain how two different branches of Christianity placed Jesus in history in different periods a hundred years apart on historicity, but we can on mythicism. On historicity, we cannot easily explain why Jesus’s entire family (including his mother and all his brothers and sisters, even James) vanish from the entire history of the church in Acts as soon as the cult goes public, whereas on mythicism, that’s exactly what we would expect. And so on.
Historicity might look sound prima facie. But secunda facie, not so much.

41 Reasons We’re, Like, Totes Sure Jesus Existed!

People often ask me about Christian apologist James Bishop’s “41 Reasons Why Scholars Know Jesus Really Existed.” Because it’s the highest number of reasons anyone has attempted to claim (apart from the 10/42 apologetic, which Matthew Ferguson thoroughly annihilated).
This piece doesn’t try that. Thank the Lords of Kobol! But it is still a travesty of being lost in the bubble of Christian distortion, of course. Bishop is in South Africa studying theology at college, and says enthusiastic things like, “I wish to exercise my faith in a powerful manner to reach as many people as possible.” Aww.
I’ll just be brief and explain where everything he says has already been refuted. So here we go…
1. “Nothing to the Contrary”
This argument has a correct Bayesian form: Bishop says, “If Jesus really were a non-existent figure of history it would be expected that some anti-Christian group would make this known.” Translation: if h, then it is improbable that e, so if mythicism, then it is improbable that no one talked about it. That would be sound if we were talking about the 20th century. But alas, all the records of what was happening in Christian history between Paul and the early second century have been erased. Gone. Completely. So we don’t know what any critics of Christianity were saying in those fifty to eighty years. And you can’t argue from evidence we don’t have.
This is the effect of b, or background knowledge, on the probabilities in Bayesian reasoning. Since we know the records are lost (we don’t even have references to them), we can’t build arguments on what was not in them. So the probability of the absence of evidence in this case is already 100% on h, simply because of b (see Proving History, pp. 219-24). If Christians had preserved their records for that half century, Bishop might be in a better situation. Alas, they didn’t. One can only wonder why (On the Historicity of Jesus, ch. 8.4). The first Christian critics we get to hear from are mid-second century, nearly a hundred years after Paul. And they only know Christian history from the Gospels. By then, there wasn’t any way they could know Jesus was made up.
Not only do we not have any reason “it would be expected that some anti-Christian group would” mention Jesus was made up (On the Historicity of Jesus, ch. 8.12), but we actually do have mentions of Christians who didn’t believe Jesus was a historical person (ibid., pp. 350-53), which demonstrate Christians tried very hard to destroy that evidence (doctoring the Ascension of Isaiah, e.g. OHJ, ch. 3.1; destroying all records of the sect being attacked in 2 Peter, e.g. OHJ, pp. 351-53; declaring all Christians who challenge the historicity of the Gospels anathema, e.g. OHJ, ch. 8.6; etc.). Which not only tells us they had something to hide, but that they were actively hiding it (e.g., OHJ, pp. 301-05).
Bishop also naively cites the Talmud here, evidently unaware that Talmudic Jews only knew of a Christian sect that taught Jesus had died a hundred years before Pontius Pilate (and by stoning, and in Lydda, not Jerusalem). This supposedly thorough research of Rabbis into the origins of Christianity…turned up that? This is a serious problem for someone who wants to claim historicity (OHJ, ch. 8.1).
2. “Scholars know that Jesus existed.”
Scholars claim that. But based on what?
The evidence sucks. I mean, really sucks.
So why are scholars saying such absurd hyperbolic things like “the total evidence is so overpowering, so absolute that only the shallowest of intellects would dare to deny Jesus’ existence” (Paul Maier)?
This is cause for very deep suspicion (OHJ, pp. 21-26).
Hence, now that a peer reviewed book has been published by a major academic biblical studies press challenging this consensus, and the emperor has been found to have no clothes, it’s time to address the evidence, and to stop just repeating what past experts have been hyperbolically asserting. The claim that Jesus didn’t exist is now “on the table of historical scholarship.” And it has seven fully qualified experts admitting the historicity of Jesus is uncertain. Even the renowned biblical scholar Philip Davies said, “a recognition that [Jesus’s] existence is not entirely certain would nudge Jesus scholarship towards academic respectability.”
3. “Jesus’s crucifixion is historically certain”
Bishop bases this on his assertion that “there are many independent sources that attest to Jesus’ crucifixion.” That assertion is false. Christian apologists are confusing the word “independent” with the word “different.” A hundred different sources attest to the existence of Hercules. But they are not independent sources. They all derive, directly or indirectly, from the same single source, a myth about Hercules. Who never existed.
There is in fact only one explicit source for the historicity of Jesus: the Gospel of Mark. All other sources that mention the crucifixion of Jesus as an event in earth history derive that mention from Mark, either directly (e.g. Matthew, Luke, John; Celsus; Justin; etc.) or indirectly, as Christians simply repeat the same claims in those Gospels, which all embellish and thus derive from that same one Gospel, Mark, and their critics simply believed them because they would have thought it was too self-damning to make up, and because there was no way for them to check.
When Paul mentions the crucifixion of Jesus, he never places that event on earth. In fact, he doesn’t appear to even know about it having happened at the hands of Romans or Jews at all, but the demonic forces of evil (OHJ, ch. 11.4, 11.7-8), just as was originally said in the Christian Gospel known as the Ascension of Isaiah (OHJ, ch. 3.1).
Hence even if they actually mentioned Jesus (and this is actually doubtful: OHJ, ch. 8.9-10), Tacitus and Josephus are just repeating what Christians told them (or their informants), and those Christians were just repeating what the Gospels told them, and the Gospels are just repeating the story that first appeared in only one place: Mark. That’s not independent evidence. It’s useless.
Note that Bishop naively again cites the Talmud here as well. Which besides double-counting evidence (an obvious fallacy of reasoning), exposes his ignorance yet again, per my remarks about this source above: the Talmud records Jesus was stoned, not killed by crucifixion. He was “hung” only in the manner prescribed by Torah law: in Jewish law the corpse of all executed convicts was always to be hung up for display until sundown. Notably, if you count that as a crucifixion (and well you could), you now have to admit that it may also have been the only death Paul knew of as well, and thus we can no longer establish that Paul was referring to a Roman execution. He could even have been referring to the cosmic one portrayed in the Ascension of Isaiah. We can’t tell. Our only source attempting to tell us is Mark. A purely literary work of outlandish mythography (OHJ, ch. 10.4).
This means the crucifixion of Jesus is no better attested than the labors of Hercules.
That’s a problem. Don’t you think?
4. “The Gospels”
“This should actually count for four reasons to accept Jesus’ existence as each Gospel is an independent account of his life.” Nope. See above. Every Gospel is just an embellished redaction of Mark. Even John (OHJ, ch. 10.7).
Bishop even falls for Ehrman’s ridiculous fabrication of several sources that don’t exist and aren’t even plausible to propose. But I needn’t beat that dead horse further.
5. “The disciples’ deaths.”
There are no reliable sources for the disciples’ deaths. We have, at most, some ridiculous and late legends, based on no identifiable sources. We do not in fact know why or when they died. Or what they died for. This whole argument is therefore hosed from top to bottom.
6. “The minimal facts approach”
This is a double-count. It just repeats items 2 and 3. Double-counting evidence is a fallacy. But it’s even worse, because here Bishop relies on Habermas, who is lying to him.
7. “Creeds”
By which he means the gospel kerygmas reported in Paul’s letters. None of which ever mention Jesus ever being on earth. Ooops.
In fact, they conspicuously omit any mention of Jesus ever being on earth (OHJ, ch. 11.4). For example, according to 1 Corinthians 15, the first time anyone ever saw Jesus was after his resurrection. Which was in dreams and visions (Galatians 1). Corroborating Romans 10:14-17, which says Jesus never ever spoke to anyone except the apostles (OHJ, p. 554). Which means, by revelation (1 Cor. 9:1).
It certainly appears that as far as Paul and these creeds knew, Jesus never had a ministry on earth.
8. “The short time gap between the events of Jesus’ life, and when they were penned down in the form of the Gospels.”
How’s that for a decisive, single word refutation?
Fact is, wild legends grow and win converts very quickly. Even in the face of conclusive debunking! So there is no argument to be had here. Not least because the Gospels only appear forty years after the fact, then almost an average human lifespan (OHJ, pp. 148-52). Which is not rapid. At all.
I thoroughly cover this point in OHJ, ch. 6.7, “Rapid Legendary Development.”
9. “The rise of Christianity”
This is an attempt at an argument for causal-historical necessity. “If Jesus did not exist then we would not have Christianity in the first place.” But, um, that means “If Hercules did not exist then we would not have Hercules cult in the first place.” Or “If the angel Moroni did not exist then we would not have Mormonism in the first place.” Or “If the angel Gabriel did not exist and dictate the Koran to Mohammed then we would not have Islam in the first place.” Etc.
Obviously this argument is down the drain.
Paul only ever refers to Jesus as being just like Gabriel and Moroni: an eternal revelatory being only known through dreams and visions. So all we need to explain Christianity is the widely documented fact that religions routinely originate from purported visions of their founding deities (OHJ, pp. 124-41, 159-63). We don’t need a historical Moroni or Gabriel to explain Mormonism or Islam. We don’t need a historical Jesus to explain Christianity.
10. “The Apostle Paul’s epistles”
Bishop’s only use of these is that Paul mentions Jesus was buried (Paul actually does not specify a tomb burial, although the type of burial doesn’t matter). But people got buried in outer space (OHJ, pp. 194-97 & 563) in the Jewish cosmology Paul adopted (e.g. 2 Cor. 12). So where was this burial? Paul never says. The first time anyone ever heard of it occurring on earth, is that same one source: Mark. Written a lifetime after the fact. By authors unknown. Crafting a patently mythical hagiography (OHJ, ch. 10.4).
11. “Paul met Jesus’ brother James, and Jesus’ disciple Peter”
Paul never mentions anyone being a disciple. The word “disciple” is unknown to Paul. He only knows Peter as an apostle, and only knows apostles as those who received revelations of Jesus (Gal. 1; 1 Cor. 9:1; Rom. 16:25-26). And Paul only ever refers to baptized Christians as brothers of the Lord (Rom. 8:29). He shows no awareness of Jesus having biological brothers (OHJ, pp. 108 and ch. 11.10).
12. “Paul might have even seen and heard Jesus”
In visions (Gal. 1). Just like Mohammed claimed to have seen and heard Gabriel. That no more proves Gabriel exists than that Jesus exists. This is a dead argument.
13. “Paul was familiar with Jesus’ sayings”
By revelation (and hidden messages in the Jewish scriptures). Paul knew of no other way one could learn the teachings of Jesus (Rom. 16:25-26; OHJ, ch. 11.6-7). Just like Mohammed knew of no other way one could learn the teachings of Gabriel—which teachings the Koran is a record of. The existence of the Koran no more proves the angel Gabriel exists than Paul’s commands from the Lord prove that Jesus exists. This is a dead argument.
14. “Paul knew of the tradition of Jesus”
By which Bishop means the Eucharist ritual. Which Paul says he learned not from witnesses, but by revelation (OHJ, ch. 11.7). And accordingly, Paul mentions no one being present at the event.
15. “Luke’s mentioning of other accounts on Jesus”
Which were Mark and previous redactions of Mark. See item 4.
So this evidence is useless.
Bishop also tries to insist here that Luke wouldn’t lie. In fact, we have conclusively documented the fact that Luke lies repeatedly (OHJ, chs. 10.6 and 9.1).
16. “The Gnostic Gospels”
Just more redactions of Mark. Useless.
17. “Historical ripple”
This is just a duplication of point 9. Worse, this time Bishop essentially says you can’t explain the ridiculous fictions like the Infancy Gospels without a real Jesus. He may as well insist Hercules and Zeus existed by this point. There is just no valid argument here at all.
18. “Josephus refers to Jesus, twice”
No, he almost certainly did not (OHJ, ch. 8.9). And even if he did, he used the Gospels as his source. So he can provide no independent evidence.
19. “Cornelius Tacitus refers to Jesus”
Actually, he probably didn’t (OHJ, ch. 8.10). And even if he did, he used Christians repeating the Gospels as his source (ibid.). So, he can provide no independent evidence.
20. “Suetonius mentions Jesus”
No, he doesn’t (OHJ, ch. 8.11).
Bishop also deceptively quote-mines Van Voorst here, a dishonest apologetic tactic, for which Bishop should be ashamed. Bishop claims:
Robert Van Voorst, Professor of New Testament studies, states that there is “near-unanimous” agreement among scholars that the use of Chrestus refers to Christ (Van Voorst, Jesus, 2000. pp 31-32).
Here is what Van Voorst actually said:
Who is Chrestus? The near-unanimous identification of him with Christ has made the answer to this question possibly too settled.
He then goes on to refute the certainty of this equivalence. In fact, he had already done so on page 31 (“Chrestus not only led an agitation [under Claudius, which would be a decade after Jesus was supposedly dead], but was himself an agitator”). Van Voorst goes on on page 32 to point out that “nothing in this sentence or its context explicitly indicates that Suetonius is writing about Christ or Christianity” and that “the simplest understanding of this sentence is that Chrestus is an otherwise unknown agitator present in Rome.” Van Voorst then summarizes many other experts who agree on that point.
Van Voorst himself tries (and using rather illogical arguments at that) to rescue this reference as being to Christ (pp. 32-39), but even he has to admit that it can only be a reference to Christ if Suetonius mistook a riot over the idea of Christ for a riot started by Christ, and therefore “his glaring mistakes should caution us against placing too much weight on his evidence for Jesus or his significance for early Christianity.”
In short, Van Voorst, Bishop’s own authority, concludes that this can only be at best a mistaken reference to a belief in a Christ figure—who could have then been just a revelatory being like Moroni or Gabriel—and not a direct reference to an actual historical Christ. Bishop is deceiving his readers by not communicating that, but dishonestly instead giving the impression that Van Voorst (and ‘nearly everyone else’) agrees this is evidence for a historical Jesus. It is not.
21. “Serapion mentions Jesus”
That’s both disputed and irrelevant. We cannot prove this source was written before even the mid-second century or that it is independent of the Gospels. It is therefore useless.
22. “Pliny the Younger mentions Jesus”
Only as a deity some people worshiped. He says nothing that places him in earth history as a man.
Bishop also says here that no one in 112 A.D. would die for a lie. But there is no way any Christian in 112 A.D. would know that historicity was a lie (that’s almost another average lifespan after Mark would have invented the idea). Nor any way for us to know if these Christians were dying for a historical Jesus, or a celestial revealed Jesus such as Paul was persecuted for. Nor is it true that they wouldn’t die for a lie: if the historical Jesus was an exoteric myth (OHJ, pp. 114-24) and the cosmic truth a sacred esoteric secret (OHJ, pp. 108-14), some would certainly die to protect that secret. As religious believers in other mystery cults would have (OHJ, pp. 96-108).
Although it’s worth noting, that most of the Christians Pliny encountered, were happy to renounce their belief, and many had already done so years before, on their own (Not the Impossible Faith, ch. 18).
23. “Lucian mentions Jesus”
Lucian wrote in the 150s-160s A.D. Far too late to be of any use. And Lucian’s source was his friend Celsus, whose only sources were the Gospels. Therefore, Lucian is not an independent source. This evidence is useless.
24. “Jesus is mentioned in the Talmud”
As having been executed by Jews, through stoning, in Lydda and not Jerusalem, a hundred years before Pontius Pilate. This actually counts against historicity. Not for it (OHJ, ch. 8.1). See items 1 and 3 again.
25. “Celsus attacks Jesus’s character”
Celsus wrote in the 150s-160s A.D. Far too late to be of any use. And Celsus only used the Gospels as his source. He knew no other sources to check. Therefore, Celsus is not an independent source. Nor could he have known the truth of what really happened over a hundred years before his time. This evidence is useless.
26. “Clement of Rome writes on Jesus’s existence”
Not on earth (OHJ, ch. 8.5). Clement seems only to know of a Jesus as a revelatory being who communicates through visions and having planted hidden messages in the Jewish scriptures. Just like Paul. So Clement’s letter actually counts against historicity.
27. “Ignatius of Antioch writes on Jesus’s existence”
Using only Gospels as his source. And nearly a century after the fact. Therefore, useless (OHJ, ch. 8.6).
28. “Quadratus of Antioch writes on Jesus’s existence”
Ditto (OHJ, pp. 274, n. 41).
29. “Aristides the Athenian writes on Jesus’s existence”
Ditto (ibid.).
30. “Justin Martyr writes on Jesus’s existence”
Ditto. In fact, now we are a 130 years after the fact. And Justin’s only sources are the Gospels. This is useless.
Bishop doesn’t think Justin would lie about having checked census records. But, alas, those census records would not likely have still existed for him to consult (if they did, surely Christians would have quoted or preserved them). He was just assuming they existed (because he read Luke) and that the emperor he was writing to would somehow have access to them (if by some miracle they had survived a century and a half of wars, fires, and decay). Indeed, even if by some bizarre means Justin got to dig through Roman government archives (which is impossible), Jesuses born to Josephs were so incredibly common in Judea, how could Justin have known which one was his Jesus?
As I wrote in Not the Impossible Faith years ago (p. 353):
The closest [Justin] comes to citing any sources at all are one casual reference to the census returns under Quirinius, and a confident citation of the Acts of Pilate as a reliable authority. Yet the latter is an infamous forgery, and the fact that he trusts this document reflects very poorly on Justin’s competence to “check the facts” … But Justin doesn’t say he checked the records himself anyway. He doesn’t say where these records were kept or how he could gain access to protected government documents—and there is no plausible reason to believe he could (as explained in [NIF] Chapter 7, the Romans kept most government information secret, and surely did not allow citizens, much less suspected rebels, the opportunity to doctor or destroy official records). Rather, since Justin is writing to an emperor, he was probably assuming this tradition was a fact (his information appears to derive solely from Luke), and therefore assuming the emperor—who certainly did have access to government records—could confirm it. There is no evidence anyone ever actually checked these records, much less confirmed the claim. Indeed, beyond that, Justin makes it quite clear that if scripture “said” it, he believed it was true—period. He needed no further checking as far as we can tell.
In other words, this is not even remotely a reliable source. (I thoroughly document Justin’s bankrupt epistemology in that same book, ch. 13.4.)
Bishop also goofs when he says Justin’s reference to the “Jewish” claim that the disciples stole the body shows that “Justin’s awareness of the rumors concerning Jesus reveals his knowledge of extra-Biblical testimony.” Um, no. It shows that Justin read the Gospel of Matthew (Matt. 27:62-28:15). Conspicuously, no ancient Jewish source (absolutely none, not even one) ever makes this claim. It only ever appears in a Christian source, in a manner that is an obvious Christian fabrication, of a Jewish polemic that was completely unknown to Mark decades earlier, and was obviously invented in response to Mark.
As I summarized in OHJ (p. 355, n. 121):
The one instance of Matthew claiming the Jews were spreading tales that the Christians stole the body of Jesus cites no source, no text, no name of anyone telling such a story (much less that they were present at the time, rather than from a later generation making up a skeptical explanation for what the Christians were by then claiming), and appears in an elaboration of the story in Mark that is certainly a fabrication and therefore never happened: see Carrier, ‘Plausibility of Theft’, in [The Empty Tomb], pp. 359 and 363, with Carrier, Proving History, pp. 199-204. In fact, as Mark shows no awareness at all that any such accusation of theft was being made, that accusation (if it even was made) appears to have been a response to Mark’s invention of a missing body and not to anything being claimed during the previous forty years of Christian evangelizing across three continents: Carrier, Proving History, p. 128.
So, there is no evidence here. This is just more Gospel embellishment on Mark.
31. “Hegesippus writes on Jesus existence”
A century and a half too late, in contexts that are patently ridiculous, and wholly unsourced (OHJ, ch. 8.8).
32. “Q Document/Source”
Doesn’t exist (OHJ, pp. 269-70, 470-73).
And even if it did, for all we know it was just another redaction of Mark.
Contrary to what Bishop claims, there is absolutely no evidence whatever that Q was written before Mark, or even that it didn’t use Mark as a source—that Q was separate from Mark is based solely on a circular argument.
33. “L Document/Source”
Doesn’t exist. See item 4.
34. “M Document/Source”
Doesn’t exist. See item 4.
35. “Pre-Markan source”
Doesn’t exist (OHJ, ch. 10.4). This is nothing but a speculative invention of Christian apologetics.
36. “Q, L, M, pre-Mark were likely multiple sources themselves”
There is absolutely no reason to believe this. Or that any of these sources even existed in the first place. Bishop simply deploys a possibiliter fallacy (Proving History, ch. 2, Axiom 5), arguing from what is merely possible, to what is somehow magically probable.
37. “Pre-John Source”
Doesn’t exist (OHJ. ch. 10.7). John is a free redaction of Mark and Luke. With even more ridiculous embellishments than were attempted by Matthew.
38. “The Gospel of Thomas”
This is just a redaction of Matthew and Luke. See Mark Goodacre, Thomas and the Gospels.
39. “Papyrus Egerton 2”
This is just a redaction of John (or vice versa), which is a redaction of Mark and Luke (OHJ, p. 492, n. 217).
40. “Mentioned in 75 sources”
Useless data. None of them are independent of Mark (all derive directly from and embellish Mark, or indirectly from Mark through embellishing intermediaries). Or they don’t ever place Jesus as a man on earth (e.g. Paul, 1 Peter, Hebrews, etc.; OHJ, ch. 11.3, 11.5, etc.).
41. “This topic is not even up for debate”
The debate has been published under peer review multiple times. I’ve debated it multiple times. Including at the Society of Biblical Literature this very year. Clearly, it is up for debate.

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