The Jesus Process

“Born of a Woman”: Paul’s Perfect Victim and the Historical Jesus

by R. Joseph Hoffmann

One of the more absurd aspects of Christ-myth studies is the suggestion that the “neglect” of  the historical Jesus by Paul is at least indirect proof that Jesus never existed.  This absurdity is sometimes compounded by the suggestion that Paul did not exist, creating a kind of literary dittograph of Russell’s famous teapot argument  as it is sometimes argued in the philosophy of religion: If the fate to be avoided is Aquinas’ infinite regress as it applies to finite causality, then What created God?  In this case the question has to be,  Who created Paul, and why?

Implicitly the answer would be, So that “Paul,” in a singular act of farsightedness, could create Jesus (who might have lived at any point in time except when he is supposed to have lived), who would then precipitate the mischief or malice of gospel writers, who may have thought (or not) that he really existed, thus causing the church.  All of these figments live together in a little crooked house.

The myth theory does not get more cowboy than this, shooting at anything that comes across its path with the unarguable logic of a bullet. Mythicism is not so much a conspiracy theory as a mass of cobbled  improbabilities that can only be compared to explaining the existence of a discovery by postulating that the scientist credited with  formulating it was really created by a mad scientist who invented the first and a  third who created the one who created him.  This is comparatively easy to do when all you have is the theory and an opinion about it.  After a dozen mad scientists have been postulated, however, you must ask where reality lies.  For mythicists, it seems, it doesn’t really exist anywhere. It certainly doesn’t exist anywhere near where the evidence points, and to think otherwise sullies your credentials as a skeptic.

In a previous and more formal contribution to the Jesus Process, I gave what I consider to be the strongest reason for Paul’s imputed “silence” concerning the historical Jesus: namely, Paul’s psychological predicament. He is a man obsessed with the death and resurrection of Jesus, not his life and teaching.  That is clear from his earliest letters:  “When I came to you, brethren, I did not come to you proclaiming the mystery of God in obscure words of wisdom.  For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Cor 2.1-2.; cf 1 Cor 1 cor 1.23).

It is superficially clear that Paul understands this crucifixion as a real event, not as an historically ambiguous “moment” that happened once upon a time—his time, or someone else’s time.  Insofar as Paul cares anything about real time, it is God’s time in relation to a historical event he cares about, the pleroma tou kronou (Gal 4.4-7).

As far as we know, or he tells, Paul himself was not affected directly by the death of Jesus.  It was not an event of his biography. When he enters the picture—perhaps as early at the 40’s of the first century—interpretation and meaning have replaced anxiety and disappointment.  So has a rudimentary and developing church structure replaced the informal network of followers and believers.  A rationalized eschatology that borders on uncertainty—and in some cases trespasses on uncertainty–has already arisen in various Christian communities (1 Thes 4.13ff.)

One effect of this is that resurrection has replaced the urgent eschatology of the first several years following the unanticipated death of Jesus, and the “hope” of resurrection has been extended to include a belief that is not highly developed in the gospels:  that all believers who believe in the saving effects of the death of Jesus will experience a resurrection like his ( 1 Thes 4.16; 1 Cor. 15. 1-58; but cf.  Mt 27.51-53).  It is clear that belief in the fate of a believer being linked to belief in the resurrection of Jesus is Paul’s distinctive and appealing contribution to Christian theology.

In effect, eschatology has been turned on its head between the writing of the earliest of Paul’s letters,  which sees Jesus returning in a flurry to finish his messianic mission, and the belief that resurrection of the dead “in Christ” will bring  all those who have died to a new life. Put bluntly, while Paul does not say that the coming of Jesus is not to be expected (cf. 1 Cor. 16.22, Gal 4.1-11 ), the primary expectation is not that but the coming of the resurrection (1 Cor 15.51f).  The “historical” return of Jesus is not what he would prefer to talk about, even if it is on the minds of his (and other) congregations (1 Thes 2.19; & cf. 2 Ptr  3.4)

Paul is obsessed with this “problematic”— something which both theologians and New Testament critics used to emphasize more than they do currently.  The promise of resurrection is the bright side of the threat of judgment, but the death and resurrection of Jesus typifies both (Rom 6.5-11). There is nothing within the gospel tradition, such as it was in his day, that could have solved the problem for Paul–and nothing “biographical” concerning Jesus that would have served his political purposes in relation to the wayward congregations he is trying to keep in tow.  He is reticent to use the phrase logos tou kyriou and when he does (1 Thessalonians 4:15, for example) it seems to refer to dominical tradition rather than to Jesus himself.  The question is not Why does Paul not quote Jesus more?, but whether Paul quotes Jesus at all.

Paul does not exactly “invent” the idea of a general resurrection of the dead—Pharisaism and its outgrowth, rabbinical Judaism,  floated the idea in conjunction with belief in a messianic age—but as far as we know he is the earliest writer to use the belief as a mechanism for shoring up the flagging faith in the immediate return of Jesus, such as we find it expressed in the “half way return” concocted in 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18, a peculiar blend of traditional apocalyptic based on an otherwise unattested word of the lord (4.15) and equivocation (5.1-8), but bolstered by the belief that “Jesus died and rose again” (4.14), which is for Paul an unshakeable historical occurrence.

Paul says all anyone might expect a man with a special agenda to say about a man he knows only by report, considering (a) his evangelical purpose–to interpret the gospel in his own way and  (b) his professional agenda, to defeat the interpretations of others (who may or may not have lived through the events described eventually in the synoptics).  It is not at all clear what more he might say if we grant his own admission that he did not know Jesus according to the flesh, that it is not important to have known Jesus according to the flesh, on his interpretation, and that the saving significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection must necessarily transcend the need to know Jesus according to the flesh. Paul’s disuse of historical tradition while deliberate rather than passive or uninformed, leads him to criticize both the temporal and geographical limits placed on the movement by the superior apostles (Gal 5.12; 2 Cor 11.13ff.)  For Paul the focus is almost entirely on the next performance, not the drama as it was performed the previous evening.

ii 

In my previous essay for the Process I said that Paul’s neglect of Jesus is motivated by a more sinister reason: jealousy.  Jealousy is a human emotion. Its normal coordinates are older-younger, wiser-less wise, power-powerlessness, and precedence-dependence. Those coordinates could easily be a map of Paul’s motifs in the authentic letters.

Paul’s jealousy is not a well guarded secret:  He is transparently jealous of his missionary rivals, who may or may not have known the historical Jesus (but there is no reason to suppose they did: Gal 1.6-10); obviously antagonistic towards those who “were apostles before [him]” (Gal 1.17); spiteful towards what he perceives as the precedence and subsequent hypocrisy of Cephas (Gal 2.6-10; 11-14); and bitter towards the “men from James” who “spied out his freedom” (which may or may not have been rubber-stamped by the superior apostles (Gal 2.12; 2 Corinthians 11.5-20), and even eager to say his preaching is not especially impressive: 1 Cor 4.10; 1.20, apparently directed at his more consequential opponents.  No one who was not really suffering under a yoke of inferiority could have produced such exquisite rancour as the Paul of 2 Corinthians, and it is difficult to imagine why anyone would want to manufacture a record of this fracture in the (later) vaunted unity of the apostolic community as it appears, originally, in Acts.  As if these were not thorns enough to bear, the apocryphal tradition about Paul  was that he was ugly to boot,  “[He was] a man of middling size, and his hair was scanty, and his legs were a little crooked, and his knees were projecting, and he had large eyes and his eyebrows met, and his nose was somewhat long” (Acts of Paul and Thecla).

The mythicist opinion concerning Paul’s “silence” crumbles before the apostle’s puling self-defense of his mission and right to be an apostle on the same terms as those who followed Jesus according to the flesh.  The Paul of 2 Corinthians is at the end of his rope, suspicious of competitiors, insistent on his role, his legitimacy and the specifics of mission—and obvioiusly aware of where the trouble is coming from: the vaunted, self-aggrandizing, intrusive, men of so-called repute in Jerusalem who cause Paul to resort to “boasting”:  “Are they Hebrews? So am I; are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am  a better one” (2 Cor 11.22-23).

It is a general trait of mythicism to cry foul (or interpolation) in those few instances when they cannot prove a point by silence or misuse of analogy.  If this requires overturning by random fiat or uneducated guesswork the conventional wisdom of two centuries of critical study, all the better.  We have already explored the passages where mythicism breaks its bones on the rock of texts that show, beyond any serious doubt, that Paul was aware of the life of Jesus, as much as he was aware of his death (Romans 6.5-6), the manner of his death (1 Cor 1 .23; 11.23-24) and reports and visions of the risen Christ (1 Corinthinas 15.5ff), which he uses strategically to insert himself into the tradition—but within an explicitly historical context that includes Peter, the eleven, and James.  It makes infinitely dim sense to explain that Paul was not aware of an historical Jesus but was at war with those he knew were relations and followers of Jesus and witnesses to his teaching.

Despite the enhancement of the story of Paul’s “conversion” by the author of Acts (9.3-6, 22.4-16; 26.9-18), the conversion itself marks the transition—at least in Paul’s mind and language—between history and meaning (Gal  1.15-16). This “bifurcation” is not especially novel:  Just as there would be no pressing reason to discuss the biography of Plato in order to discuss his ideas, it is not unusual that Paul chose interpretation over details to discuss Jesus–except insofar as the choice to omit the details was forced on him by his own historical situation, by the jealousy he felt, and by a certain petulant quality that made him, probably, one of the most active early missionaries.

I am not suggesting therefore that Paul’s silence means “nothing” in terms of the historical Jesus but that  it means something significant.  Paul’s jealousy, his need to protect and defend his mission, his contempt for rivals and intruders, and finally his verdict on the “ historical” apostles and claims of Jerusalem are not hidden in his letters.  The sheer density of Paul’s theology has tended to obliquate these personal struggles and  their historical derivation.  For mythicism this has made it possible to focus merely on what Paul doesn’t tell us with a resounding and repetitive “Why not?”  For traditional theology, it has meant something nearly as unimpressive: that all we need to get from Paul is his message of faith, grace, love and salvation—or, on the Catholic side, how these things are made available within the Christian church and the sacraments, especially baptism and the eucharist. Paul’s real-life struggles are inconvenient to the former camp, as it brings them to a reckoning with the immediate followers of a historical Jesus, and embarrassing to the latter because Paul’s theology, instead of inspired and authoritative, begins to look contrived, petulant, and exceedingly personal.

iii

Mythicists have special antipathy for Galatians 4.4:  ὅτε δὲ ἦλθεν τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ χρόνου ἐξαπέστειλεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ, γενόμενον ἐκ γυναῖκος, γενόμενον ὑπὸ νόμον, since there is no serious suggestion that it is interpolated or “unoriginal” to the letter.  Its reference to the mother of Jesus as “a woman” (γυνή) rather than a virgin is tantalizingly removed from the nativity and virgin birth legends of the gospels of Matthew and Luke, which seem to have been unknown to the writers of John and Mark; indeed, in John 2.4, Jesus addresses his mother as “γύναι” –“Woman.”  As it is generally agreed that Paul has no special interest in arguing any particular doctrine about the birth of Jesus, this single phrase is unparalleled in his genuine letters.  The question is, Why does he mention it at all?  It will take until the time of the fourth gospel in the late first or early second century before the birth of Jesus acquires theological stature as the “incarnation” of God. With Paul, we are probably two generations away from that shift in thinking.

But we are not far removed from another  theme that would have been relevant to the finer points of Paul’s sacrificial view of the death of Jesus as a “price” for sin.  “Sonship” is on Paul’s mind in Galatians 4, so he seems to permit himself a digression on the birth of Jesus as he knows it.

By the fifties of the first century, Paul’s Jewish opposition included the well-known slander that Jesus himself was illegitimate, that his mother had been a prostitute.  I discussed some of this tradition a number of years ago in a small anthology (primarily designed for the convenience of undergraduates) called Jesus Outside the Gospels.  In even shorter form, the core of the report is contained in  Rab Shabbath, 104b, repeated in almost identical words in Bab. Sanhedrin, 67a. The report reveals confusion over the parentage of Jesus and a bowdlerized tradition that he had been known as “one who had gone astray” (or the son of one who had gone astray from the teachings of Judaism), as the son of an adulteress and a gentile known simply as “Panthera.”

Ben Stada was Ben Pandera. Rab Chisda said: The husband was Stada, the lover Pandera. (Another their own said): The husband was Paphos ben Jehuda; Stada was his mother’ (or) his mother was Miriam the women’s hairdresser; as they would say at Pumbeditha, S’tath da (i.e., she was unfaithful) to her husband.

In JOtG I remarked that clues concerning the “multiple Mary” conundrum of the gospels might be found in seeing the confusion as an effort to write around (or write out) the tradition that it was Jesus’ mother rather than a woman acquaintance—Mary Magdalene—who had the scarlet reputation (keeping in view that the floating tradition of the woman taken in adultery, usually assigned to Luke, is unnamed).   Miriam, “the women’s hair-dresser,” seems to be simply another name-play of the Ben Stada and Ben Panthera variety as we know it from the rabbinical sources.  Miriam, “the women’s hair-dresser,” is in the original Miriam, “megaddela nesaiia”; and Miriam Megaddela, or Mary Magdalene seems to derive  from this murky tradition.

For a Jew the combination “Miriam of Magdala” was equivalent to saying Miriam the harlot, as Magdala Nunayya (near Tiberias and the  sea of Galilee) was notorious  for the looseness of the lives of its women. As far as rabbinical tradition goes, it is likely that we have in the symmetry between the Magdalene and Megaddela tradition the origin of the otherwise strange combination Miriam the women’s hair-dresser and Mary the mother of Jesus.

While the references to this tradition are scattered and at times linguistically ambiguous, our earliest gospel makes no reference to Jesus’ father, and Paul does not mention the name of the mother—if he knew it. Matthew on the other hand seems to struggle against reports that Mary’s pregnancy is a source of scandal and humiliation (1.18), a tradition he obviates by saying that before the couple consummated their marriage Mary was pregnant ‘by the holy spirit,’ but that Joseph was (naturally) skeptical of her story; and that divorce was only averted by a vision that ensured Joseph she was not promiscuous.   Luke turns this scenario, whether independently or not, into a Hellenistic tale of a virgin birth, without any trace of scandal or suspicion.  While Matthew’s focus is on pedigree and legitimacy, Luke’s is on divine sonship.

It is my view that Paul is referring to this contentious tradition in  Galatians 4.4.  Jesus is born of a woman, according to the law ἐκ γυναικός, γενόμενον ὑπὸ νόμον.  This also establishes the  identity of Jesus as a Jew, a fact necessitated by Paul’s distinctive view of the atonement.—What the effect of the death of Jesus is on the power of sin and death depends on his legitimacy and the role of the law. But for this calculation Paul requires a spotless victim, and for that reason it becomes necessary that Jesus is born according to the law, untainted by “unusual circumstances.”  In effect, it is not Matthew or Luke who create the paternity of God, but Paul when he writes “In the fullness of time God sent forth his son.”

But the crucial thing for Paul is to dispose of the historically inconvenient tradition that Jesus was born outside the law–a tradition that would have made his entire theological enterprise suspect:  Only a victim who was born according to the law could die in accordance with the scriptures (1 Cor 15.3; Romans 12.1-2; Rom. 5:12-21), erase the encumbrances brought on by “the first man” and serve as a model for the “resurrection life.”

This almost spasmodic reaching into and beyond history for meaning is one of the more difficult aspects of Paul’s theology, but it seems to me that there is no other explanation for why the “birth” of Jesus intrudes, in just the way it does,  into his letter to the Galatians.

Far from being ignorant of the Miriam-tradition, Paul needs to deal with it.  It is possible, in fact, since he does not reflect anything like a developed apologetic stance toward the polemical Jewish tradition, that the only bit of historical information he knows is the Jewish side.  Paul, in this case, becomes the inventor of the “fatherhood of God”-motif later exploited in the gospels   This however is sufficient to explain why Paul refers to Jesus’ legitimacy “under the law” as a fact believed by Christians, denied by Jews, but absolutely vital for his theological agenda.   If I am right, it means that the notion Paul knew “nothing” about the historical Jesus tradition is false; it means that not only did he know a strongly antagonistic tradition that remained a live issue for the gospel writers, but that his early theology pivoted on sweeping it aside. It is also rather explicit proof of the way in which Paul could dispose of problematical historical tradition in the interest of getting on with his work.

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83 thoughts on “The Jesus Process

  1. 1) Regarding the first point of this essay: it is not quite true,that hypothesizing Paul as the creator of Christianity (or second creator, as Wrede hypthesized), simply passes the buck. That is to say, it does not merely now leave begging the question, why did God create Paul. Thus beginning an infinite regress.

    To be sure, in some ways, that accusation would seem true. However note this qualitative change: as the origination of Christianity moves step by step further away from the first alleged source in Jesus, then the movement appears less and less securely founded, on the bedrock of its eponymous source.

    More and more, Christianity looks like a composite of the work of many fallible men; especially the Apostle Paul.

    2) While Paul is here admitted to be unreliable in many ways.

    Specifically, is Paul’s obsession with the death of Jesus a) healthy? And b) proof that Jesus existed? Throughout history, there have been countless religious fanatics, obsessed with countless gods other than Jehovah. Is that proof that those gods existed?

    While as for the fixation on death? Nothing too unusual there. Likely among other things, Paul was in love with the idea of Martrydom; like any adolescent Palestinian daydreaming about the common adolescent fantasy of being a dying hero. Dying to save your country.

    Nothing here to prove the real existence of Jesus. While worse, it all seems to begin to show Christianity being deformed by a man with maudlin, morbid obsessions.

    3) Other problems here? Next it is admitted that Paul never met Jesus in the flesh – but now it is at times suggest that this as an advantage; in that it allows Paul to “transcend” the flesh.

    So it is better not to meet Jesus in person? Thus rendering the Second Coming and the Day of the Lord superfluous? No need to meet Christ “face to face” any more?

    Then too it is conceded here that in effect, the mythicist argument is NOT just an argument from silence; Paul explicitly and adamantly rejects the importance of the flesh – and of the physical Jesus in effect.

    4) Why? Because he is “jealous”? So great: Christianity is conveyed to us in large part by a man deformed by a false, distortive passion.

    5) Does Paul refer to real, earlier apostles of Christ when he speaks of the legacy of the flesh? That is a very strained reading of Paul speaking of having transcended the “flesh” in general; with no specific mention of previous apostles in that place.

    6) On Gal. 4.4, see Dr. McGrath’s blog comments.

    7) Ultimately, finally, this piece admits that Paul played a very major part in the growth of Christianity. And though this piece chooses to assert an historical Jesus, it a) does not prove it. But especially it b) leaves us in any case with a Pauline Christianity trying to even efface any real historical tradition there might have been.

    So where does Hoffmann really stand in effect, on Historicism? Note that he has Paul dominating what would become Christianity.

    Indeed finally, suppose Paul was quite successful at effacing any historical reality to Jesus, by the “flesh”? Paul having dominated the NT after all, by reputedly writing more than half of it (14 of the 27 books are attributed to him). If so – then we might suggest that whatever historical reality there might have been there, whatever “real historical” Jesus there might have been, was finally all but entirely effaced by Paul, and his successors. The Pauline tradition was soon editing even the Gospels, and so fort. To the point that no “original,” “historical” account at all really remained.

    So that? Even in the Hoffmann account, likely the Christianity we inhereted today, has little or no historical truth left in it.

    And so, even in the “anti-Historicist” case here presented by Hoffmann, CHristianity as most of us have known it, Christ as most of us were presented with him in Church, is seen as a myth.

    Christianity is here seen as a myth. Specifically, a Pauline myth.

    • @Brett: I think your comment speaks for itself, but can we at least define the word myth so that it doesn’t bounce all over the place? Christianity is a real religion, not a myth. It includes believers and ministers and stories and liturgies and ethics; that is to say it is real, a phenomenon. Many Christians also, as part of their essential beliefs, hold to a myth of salvation that dates from when the religion began, modified over time and across cultures. But Christianity is not per se a myth and like any phenomenon it can be studied historically. I assume when you say Paul was a myth, you mean there is only a legend about him and that he didn’t really exist either. Same with Jesus, as mythtics see the case, rather than saying as they might that the historical Jesus was enshrouded in a salvation myth that helped to make sense of his death and significance for people who had come to believe he was the messiah. Paul is largely responsible for providing the details of this way of thinking; someone other than Paul (we can assume this from Gnosticism or from certain extinct Jewish Xn sects) would have framed the case differently. I happen to think based on the evidence that Jesus existed and that Paul existed and that Paul knew about Jesus. I don’t what you mean “read Dr McGrath’s” blog–not that I have anything against McGrath, but what do you suppose I will discover there that is responsive to something I just wrote 24 hours ago? Finally, speaking of “responsive,” your comment isn’t responsive to anything I wrote, which raises the question whether you read it.

  2. Just curious, “Why would anyone use a–let’s call it 4th century, or possibly 6th-certainly not 1st century!!–source to sketch in the details of an early to mid-first century” belief?

    • @Godfrey: What “source” are you referring to–the Talmudic and midrashic remnants of the slander in the rabbinical stories? Who said those were the sources of an oral tradition that even Matthew knows? Be careful: anachronism is a slippery business. I am trying to spare you the embarrassment of turning this into an accusation too quickly and myself the energy of blowing it to smithereens.

      • I think Godfrey and other mythtics have the illusion that a text compiled in the fifth century must necessarily have been created ex nihilo in the fifth century, especially when the evidence for earlier sources is inconvenient. See also for example, the incisive scholarship of Roger Aus, who is an expert in early and mediaeval Judaism and who uses later rabbinic sources with very great care to understand early Christian origins.

      • Er, no, Joseph, I was just curious. I want to know what your rationale is. Why all the mind-reading and innuendo? I certainly do know and respect certain arguments for using later sources for information about much earlier times. I was of course drawing attention to your own denunciation of something like this when Doherty did it and was simply wondering what the different rationales are that you use. Be nice now. Remind yourself of your comment rules or I will have to ask the moderator to ban you.

      • Sorry, mate: I have lost your thread? It seems you were suggesting that Paul could not have been responding to a fourth century “source,” which of course is true. Nor was Matthew. Nor was the originator of the Magdalene tradition. The remnants of this are so muddled because of censorship that we are not certain how vicious the rumour stream ran, but it does seem to have run, and it does seem to have targeted the birth, the activity, the death and the so-called resurrection of Jesus, which were also the main points pagan critics knew from Jews (Celsus, e.g. knew them in the 2nd century). This is not an extravagant hypothesis based on anachronism as Doherty likes to do business, but a clear tradition that we can excavate with some precision.

      • Damnn — first comment slipped out too soon. This is what I meant to say:

        Strange that what you call a clear tradition that can be excavated with some precision and even back to a contact with Paul is one that extremely few scholars have ever considered, yet when Doherty merely cites what is in the scholarly literature as well known you say he is somehow being extravagant.

      • @Godfrey: If you want to litigate Doherty’s comparison of Paul’s oblique references to the powers of the air to later, vivid, probably non-Jewish references to demons you’ll have to do that with him. Calling it strange is not the defense he needs. If you cannot distinguish between an inept comparison and a tradition that runs from apologetic defenses of Jesus’ parentage in the gospels to clear vestiges of the same tradition in rabbinical lore, I am not sure what can be done to help you: perhaps your university runs a course or two in early Christian literature you could audit?

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  4. I enjoyed the piece and find it to be a decent explanation for Paul’s reticence to discuss historical details about Jesus, but just to clarify, are you dating the claim of an illegitimacy smear against Jesus to the 50’s based solely on inference from Matthew?

    If so, I have a couple of questions – why do Mark and John not deal with it, and do you believe the smear was purely responsive and spurious or do you think it could have had an authentic historical basis?

  5. I have found your Miriam argument compelling particularly if the sources from the Talmud are earlier which is completely possible. It makes good plausible historical sense. All your points about Paul are of course completely accurate and self evident. Only far sighted cowboys could ignore such clear demonstration as you have provided here.

    It’s interesting that mythtics are compelled by their delusion to constantly claim victory, in contradiction to the new historical evidence and argument. They seem oblivious to the fact they haven’t convinced anyone beyond their own social sub group. Godfrey irrationally claims victory over at McGrath’s blog and on his own, completely ignoring even the evidence provided here. McGrath dismisses the arguments for Gal 4.4 merely saying they go ‘too far’. This suggests it conflicts with his own theological commitments as he has no supporting engagement or argument.

    It is true that New Testament scholars and scholars in other disciplines, with whom I speak at conferences, socially and elsewhere, don’t take mythtics seriously and are relatively unaware of the recent internet inspired surge among atheists. They are even, it has become apparent, unaware of Bart Ehrman’s (regrettably flawed and again popularist) attempt to engage mythtics, or understandably don’t care for it. However I think there are more far reaching implications of the popular mythtic view in relation to the hijacking of humanism by secular and atheist groups.

    This makes the forthcoming announcement of our Jesus Process group even more necessary – We will be dedicated to promoting the highest standards in the non-parochial investigation of Christian origins. We believe it is critical for contemporary discussion and advancement in knowledge. We will examine afresh, the history of origins with new evidence and arguments and improved methods of enquiry. While this project addresses the question of the historical Jesus only by implication, it is designed to serve as an opportunity to address significant matters of methodology related to the question.

    • Any nonparochial study of Christian origins, should especially be cognizant of the methodology of Mythographers. Especially the structuralist mythography of Vladimir Propp and Claude Levi Strauss.

      Most anti-mythicist remarks I have seen from Historicists, their criticisms of the “beads on a string” approch, reflect a basic ignorance among Religious scholars of fundamental Anthropological/Literary/ Mythological methods. Like structural analysis. Which uses common points (“beads”?) found between myths, to hypothesize an historical relationship between them.

      The attack on “Mythicism” I suggest is actually an aggressive ignorance of … Mythography.

      And indeed, I hereby rename, realign “Mythicism,” as MYTHOGRAPHY.

      • @Brett: I see virtually no awareness of these works in the mythicist literature; odd that you would mention it since in the Process I have specifically accused mythtics of working from an outdated understanding of myth as “fiction” or legend–and even the word “working” is saying too much. Good luck getting the Jeusdidnotexist crew to read structuralists. Or perhaps you have other mythicists in view. Who? ITo add to your list of scholars you say religious studies scholars are ignorant of even though many are structuralists, historical linguists (like me) and anthropolologists themselves, you might read Rene Girard; it will help you understand Paul better than Levi Strauss will.

  6. Between people of our times, and any possible Historical Jesus, are Paul, the Church – and hundreds of unreliable narrators and intermediaries. So is any reliable image of an historical Jesus recoverable ? Or should we just say that we simply cannot say whether there is any real historical jesus or not? Consider the evidence first, of 2 Corin. 11.13 ff.. Where Paul seems to speak of other, corroborating disciples of Christ. Thus suggesting a reliable larger tradition. One seeming to verify, apart from Paul, the real existence of Jesus, and or Jesus Christ.

    To be sure though, first of all, if Paul himself is unreliable, then his references to other apostles in 2 Corin. are likewise unreliable too. While Paul himself often confesses he is the “worst of sinners”; not yet “perfect.” And so forth. Suggesting that he is unreliable, even according to himself. So that Paul’s accounts of other “realities” are themselves, not reliable.

    But suppose we ignore even that? Suppose we still go ahead and look at what Paul says about other things, like the Apostles. To see how real – or how Christian – they really seem to be, even in the often-nebulous Paul. 11.13-26.

    Look very closely at 2 Corin. Under closer inspection, 2 Corin 11 – where Paul seems to be jealous of other disciples – does not actually imply the real existence of any “Christian” disciples. Who indeed, are the “disciples” or religious authorities he is speaking of? Perhaps they are entirely Jewish, priests or early proto-rabbis. Not necessarily the apostles we imagine today. 1) Peter/Cephas he speaks of elsewhere – but accuses him of not being a Christian. Or more specifically, not allowing table fellowship between Jews and Gentiles.

    But note especially that in 2 Corin., 2) Paul claims equality with these mostly mysterious other disciples. But in being “Hebrew,” “Israelite,” and Christians, he merely ASKS if they are good at being Christian. With no implication that they are Christian, and not jewish, in any recognizable sense. To any degree. INdeed, there is nothing in 2 Corin. 11 to a) firmly indicate any RELIABLE religious teachers, b) who are interested mainly in Jesus. Who are not simply religious Jews, following say, the OT God.

    Paul says he is the equal of the others in being Hebrew, Israelite, Christian. But strictly speaking Paul does not attribute any such quality to them, but only asks if they have these qualifies: “Are they” servants of Christ.”

    So that finally with regard to 2 Corin 11? The “disciples” that Paul refers to, may not be a reference to any Christian community at all. Or even, to a Jewish prototype of what would become Christianity. But might simply and entirely refer to wholly and simply Jewish believers, who are all but entirely unaware of Jesus.

    This article above concedes that Paul says little concrete about any concrete predecessors; while indeed it notes that he often attacks the whole concrete material side of existence; including the “flesh” of say, historical realities, any presumed apostles … and even the flesh of Jesus.

    While we add that the referents of his allusions to a “James,” a “Cephas/Paul,” are lost in notorious ambiguities. Though in any case, whoever they were … they are criticized by (a “jealous”) Paul. Indeed, after mentioning them – Paul warns there are many “false apostles,” presenting themselves as “angels of light” in 11.14.

    Likely therefore, many other teachers or apostles around Paul, were not defintely disciples or followers of 1) Jesus, and/or 2) Christ as he came to be defined.

    And so, our main point here: noting finally that Paul was so vague on concrete realities – and indeed, so opposed to them in some ways – that while any Concrete Historical Jesus’ original teachings, if any, were not effectively forwarded by Paul. And indeed, any such hints were almost certainly effectively effaced by Paul and his successors ( if they were next in the chain of editors, after those “apostles.” ) .

    Our conclusion therefore would be that If there ever WAS an “historical Jesus,” all traces of him would have been all but entirely effaced (or at best, invented) in our present-day Bibles. So that at present, we cannot say anything of much significance about such an entity as an historical Jesus; or even whether “he” existed as a real person. And not as just another semi-historical or totally mythical false biography, taught by “false apostles.”

    Previous accounts of Jesus by other apostles were unreliable, Paul suggested. According to say, 2 Corin. 11.13-23, there is therefore no reliable endorsement of earlier, real apostles. Or even of a physical Jesus. Indeed, Paul rigorously condemns “worldly” things, and those who speak of them; while warning of “false apostles” working for Satan, but appearing to speak for the “light” (2 Corin. 11.14-15).

    So as of this moment, what is the difference between your – Hoffmann’s – view of Christianity, and Mythicism? There is actually very little difference. In the articles above, it is asserted that there is such a degree of perversity (jealousy, etc.) in Paul, that he himself probably did not convey any accurate notion of other apostles – or even of an historical Jesus – to us. While to that finding I now add here, that there is so much anti-materialism in Paul, so much opposition to other “apostles,” that it is unlikely that ANY real historical, material sense about Jesus, from any other earlier apostles, got past Paul. In his very influential position as chief “apostle to the gentiles,” and to Rome.

    Amazingly therefore, perhaps you – Hoffmann – and the Mythicists are coming to a sort of partial agreement here, in a kind of Historical Jesus agnosticism. Agreeing that the real historical Jesus, if any, was in any case so totally obscured by unreliable apostles – including not only Peter say, but also Paul himself – that finally, there is perhaps no recoverable reality at all in the New Testament, from which to reconstruct a reliable picture of the historical Jesus.

    [Next? References to various “Mary”s or “Mariemne”s etc.? Jesus as real – but as the illegitimate son of a whore?]

    • “”Amazingly therefore, perhaps you – Hoffmann – and the Mythicists are coming to a sort of partial agreement here, in a kind of Historical Jesus agnosticism. Agreeing that the real historical Jesus, if any, was in any case so totally obscured by unreliable apostles – including not only Peter say, but also Paul himself – that finally, there is perhaps no recoverable reality at all in the New Testament, from which to reconstruct a reliable picture of the historical Jesus.””

      What? It’s intriguing how some people can manipulate arguments to interpret what they wish, or perhaps it’s just a simple case of overlooking arguments and evidence presented here and elsewhere.

    • “So as of this moment, what is the difference between your – Hoffmann’s – view of Christianity, and Mythicism? There is actually very little difference”
      There is a huge difference. Mythicists are all un-intellectual and anti-intellectual and are not doing historical work but instead are pursuing a nutty goal by pushing pseudo-historical conspiracy theories while trying to convince themselves they are “bright.”

    • The point is that Paul cannot be used to deny historicity – quite the opposite. But sources for Jesus are contained under the layers of the gospels. The points made clear here about Paul can be fruitful in sorting this material out. But this is not something the mythtics have the skills necessary to do.

  7. Brett:

    Everything you say leaves me scratchng my head, but I couldn’t get past this:

    “Look very closely at 2 Corin. Under closer inspection, 2 Corin 11 – where Paul seems to be jealous of other disciples – does not actually imply the real existence of any “Christian” disciples. Who indeed, are the “disciples” or religious authorities he is speaking of? Perhaps they are entirely Jewish, priests or early proto-rabbis. Not necessarily the apostles we imagine today. 1) Peter/Cephas he speaks of elsewhere – but accuses him of not being a Christian. Or more specifically, not allowing table fellowship between Jews and Gentiles.”

    What? You think Paul is jealous of people that didn’t exist? Also, nothing Paul wrote had anything to do with Christians, since — and the csholars here can correct me if I am wrong — but Paul did not consider himself to belong to another religion. He was a Jew who believed Jesus was the Messiah.

    Like the thinkers behind most philosophies, he worked backwards in reaction to the facts around him.

    Jesus was the Messiah, but he died. So the Messiah Must have died. The Messiah couldn’t have died for no purpose, so it was to conform to God’s will.

    The Messiah was a fulfillment of Jewish scripture, so the scriptures must have predicted the Messiah’s life and death.

    And on and on.

    Paul fought for legitimacy with other disciples because they lived and worked with the real Jesus and he didn’t.

    These are all simple things that have an infinite higher probability — and are grounded in normal human conduct — than the crazy string of theories that wobble Jenga-like for mythicism to be true.

    • “You think Paul is jealous of people that didn’t exist?”

      We need not be so credulous when reading ancient religious texts. Antithesis was a form of rhetoric taught in the Greek schools that Paul attended. Like any good Greek rhetor and pedagogue, Paul did not need real opponents for his invective, nor should we assume an autobiography for Paul on purely literary grounds.

      “These are all simple things that have an infinite higher probability — and are grounded in normal human conduct — than the crazy string of theories that wobble Jenga-like for mythicism to be true.”

      Fantasy, noble lies, forgery, retrojection, rewriting history, and assuming tradition to be history are equally grounded in normal human conduct, and we don’t even have to leave the New Testament to easily demonstrate all of those in operation. And yet you would have us imagine a safety zone of pious truth and authenticity surrounds the Pauline epistles? Why?

      “The need to think twice in assessing the [Pauline] epistles is particularly well-ilustrated in Paul’s autobiographical passages. These texts first appear thoroughly spontaneous and realistic, springing directly from his own personal experience, prime material for reconstructing history. But comparison with other ancient authors shows that Pauline autobiography is part of a larger literary practice and that the epistles deliberately use material which appears autobiographical for pedagogical purposes.” – Thomas L. Brodie, “The Birthing of the New Testament” (2006)

      • @Blood: “Like any good Greek rhetor and pedagogue, Paul did not need real opponents for his invective. Antithesis was a form of rhetoric taught in the Greek schools that Paul attended….” I’d need to see his diploma. Paul is not Porphyry; Paul probably did not attend school (1 Cor 15.21; Rom 16.22?); and the dubious tradition that he “studied” with Gamaliel would put him in the wrong kind; Paul’s opponents are real and personal, not philosophical giants like the neoplatonists, with real aims…etc. So now we are in the basement shouting up to the people in the real world-The Opponents are made up too! Is that an admission that Paul was real? When you lot sort that out, get back to me on the Jesus thing. Perhaps the less said about Brodie the better, but he is saying in what you cite that Paul is using his own life as a teaching device-not that he is inventing it (though preachers do lie!). How he is using the opponents “pedagogically” is not at all clear, so while Brodie may or may not (I think not, underscored) be right about biography, Paul’s biographical insertions are not good examples: they are reactive, petulant, coercive-the kind of thing you’d get from a Jewish mother whose son doesn’t call home variety–hardly instructive except to let us know his feelings are hurt and that James is very nasty and irritating man.

      • “Paul’s opponents are real and personal.”

        Are Paul’s opponents in 2 Thessalonians real, too? And should we assume autobiography based on that letter? After all, he concludes by sincerely stating, “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the mark in every letter of mine, it is the way I write.” Should we take him at “his word,” as Ehrman insists we should do in Gal 1:19?

        There is no authentic Paul engaged in a diatribe against authentic opponents of his time in texts such as 2 Thessalonians, merely an anonymous writer struggling hard to achieve that impression.

      • @Blood:

        What is the point of using an epistle everyone agrees is a fake to measure the authenticity of the opponents in epistles virtually everyone thinks are authentic? Do you think mythicists “discovered” the fraud? They didn’t. I find this reasoning obscure, at least.

  8. Why is rhetoric (sublimely used i might add) more impor
    tant here than arguing evidence? not judgin just sayin.

    • @ Steve: Odd: since when did “rhetoric” become the opposite of arguing evidence; it used to mean a presentation of argument: check the notes–the evidence is sprinkled everywhere. Not judgin’ but not readin’ either. (I am assuming that like all detractors you mean “empty” when you use the word rhetoric); Challenge: go back to para one and define teapot argument, infinite regress, and Christ-myth studies: if those words and phrases are empty it isn’t my fault.)

  9. Yes it would be illogical for Paul to be jealous of people who did not exist. And indeed, I was not saying that some kind of “apostles” or SOME kind of religious leaders did not exist before Paul, with whom he was in conflict. Rather, I was attempting to establish that whatever religious leaders Paul speaks of, were likely not “Christian” apostles, in any acceptable, recognizable sense.

    In fact, many of Paul’s objections to previous religious leaders, may have been to simply, say, traditional Jews. And Pagans. While Paul at times rejects or overrules the authority of those we might think were rather firmly Christian; like Cephas. (Cf. “The Opponents of Paul in Second Corinthians,” by Dieter Gerogi, 1964; Engl. trans. 1986 Fortress Press).

    [For the moment by the way, my general theoretical orientation is for the moment from Doherty; his contention that there were no real Christian apostles, no Jesus, before Paul. And/or that Paul’s writings, conventionally dated to c. 55 AD, are the first accepted corpus of Christian writing; and because of that, should be given priority, as the first Christian theology. Even though many think the gospels describe an earlier time, they were in actually written in a later period, c. 63-90 AD. And Doherty suggests, their allusions to a pre-Pauline Christ, were simply anachronisms.

    If you by the way, as a modern Occamist, are looking for the simplist explantion for Christianity? The simplist explanation for Christianity, the simple explanation probably is the one-source theory of Bruno Bauer. Or the idea that it all came from one simple, made-up bit of fiction. A model that is quite a bit simpler than the labrythian mess of current religous histories.]

    • @Brett: Do you also believe Elvis is alive, JFK in a vegetative state in a Boston hospital and that the moon landing was faked? What causes you to prefer absurd, complex, and half-baked assessments by amateurs over critical scholarship that is far from being apologetic or “theology.” I find it utterly mystifying.

  10. Isn’t it “made of a woman” not “born of a woman”? Or do historicists use a different Greek text than mythicists?

      • Well, not only have mythicists ceased on this to say that Paul never said Jesus was “born” only “made” but Tertullian took it the opposite way and comments on factum vs natum and says the reason why Paul used factum was to emphasize “the reality of the flesh which was made of a virgin” (On the flesh of Christ, chapter 50). So the question is, does “made” place an emphasis on the reality of the birth, or its unreality? Is that which is “made” of a woman, that which is made in the fictions of her brain? or that which is literally made of flesh in her?

      • @Rey: Even in modern Gk the root is gen- (think of the word generate, generation); as to Tertullian, a whole different ball game: (Et) verbum caro factum est means the word was made flesh in Latin; Tert. is theological enough to use that, sure. I know of no modern English trans from the Gk Test. that translates the term “made of” in Gal 4.4–and Paul certainly isn’t using it that way. It has to correspond to “born under the law” (same verb) and made of the law doesn’t work very well, does it? As to your suggestion that “modern mythicists” translate genomenon as “made”–who precisely, and give me a page reference so that I can show them the error of their philological ways…. In any event, re-translating verses out of their obvious meaning to serve the purposes of a theory seems a long way to go to sustain a bad argument.

      • And we have the obvious question of Paul’s experience of the Law as “the strength of sin” (1 Cor 15:56) and how the Law supposedly made him sin by stirring up his passions (Romans 7) — If Jesus was “born under the Law” wouldn’t that all be the same for him? Did Jesus, if Paul views him as a historical person, share Paul’s weirdo view of the Law? And if so, why doesn’t Paul say so? Why, in fact, must Paul constantly go through all his convoluted arguments about the Law? If Jesus was also against the Law, why not just say “You all know how that Jesus was against the Law too” and move on. Only if Jesus was well known to have been an avid proponent of the Law or if Jesus didn’t exist, would Paul need to use such outrageous illogic and contrived reasoning in his attacks on the Law. But of course, if Paul was merely inventing Jesus, couldn’t he just say “Jesus said X about the Law” — so perhaps the proof of Jesus’ existence is that Paul cannot quote him for his opposition of the Law! Jesus is proven to have existed as a pro-Law Jew by the fact that Paul cannot make Jesus say anything against the Law and must say everything against the Law in his own person. What do you think?

      • @reyjacobs: ‘Did Jesus, if Paul views him as a historical person, share Paul’s weirdo view of the Law? And if so, why doesn’t Paul say so?’ I fail to see how Jesus who was not confronted with the consequences of interpretation effected by his own untimely death could have come up with Paul’s defensive interpretation of it, do you? Plus warning: your last question bordered on hash: I don’t have time for hash, so if there are specific questions we can discuss them, but don’t throw the whole Pauline canon at me and ask, Why?

      • Paul doesn’t present it simply as an interpretation of Jesus’ death but as fact–the Law is bad, the Law is a problem, the Law can’t save, etc. Obviously this belief that the Law could not save had to precede in Paul’s mind Paul’s interpretation that Jesus’ death could. If Paul thought the Law could save, why would he look for something else to save? So, if Jesus really lived, people ought to know what Jesus thought on these matters: Did Jesus agree with Paul that the Law can do nothing but damn? Obviously not according to the Synoptists, for in the story of the rich man he answers the question “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” with the Decalogue. And again, he similarly answers a lawyer in Luke on the same question “What does the Law say?” and approves the answer of the lawyer. If these sorts of sayings are authentic, it would explain why Paul must use such convoluted means to attack the Law. Otherwise, if Jesus is just a myth that Paul is creating out of nowhere, Paul could just say “Jesus said: The Law sucks.” That Paul couldn’t do this shows either that Jesus really lived and was in favor of the Law, or that Jesus was invented by pro-Law Jews–but why would pro-Law Jews invent this guy? Ergo, it is most likely that Jesus really existed as a pro-Law Jew. Or are you the mythicist now?

      • @Rejacobs: “Paul doesn’t present it simply as an interpretation of Jesus’ death but as fact–the Law is bad…” Actually he says, “What then shall we say, that the law is sin? By no means!… the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.” Read the middle bit of Romans 7 and get back to me. I fail to see how, if you cannot follow Paul’s discursive reasoning pattern, you can hope to make these pronouncements.

      • This is part of my point. Paul’s position on the Law is extremely contradictory and incoherent. (I’m sure you’ve read Heikki Räisänen’s Paul and the Law) Why would he use such convoluted arguments against the Law unless he couldn’t quote Jesus for his position because Jesus was against his position?

      • @Rey: You just said his position was incoherent; if he was arguing a different position from what he may have thought Jesus had, why would he use it; if he did not know what Jesus thought, is your inference that Jesus did not exist? (My guess is, your implication is that if he could quote Jesus on the law he would have?–a fairly typical hypothesis contrary to fact used by mythtics–except Jesus was not in the position of rationalizing his own death vis a vis the law, and such comments as we possess from him in the gospels in the controversy stories strongly suggest real-world rather than metaphysical conclusions about it). If, as I’ve argued, his agenda depends on deliberate disuse of historical tradition, with the exception of a few “events,” then his position is completely explicable in terms of that agenda. Paul’s theology is situational–he says so himself. It would only be “incoherent” if you supposed that he sat down to write a systematic theology, which of course can’t be achieved by adding up all of the statements from his letters. Fundamentalists make the error of treating Paul’s letters as an opus; mythtics unfortunately use the same model when they attack it, then accuse him of being contradictory. Of course this can all be avoided if he did not exist. That would make the inconsistency imaginary.

    • @Rey: “Isn’t it “made of a woman” not “born of a woman”? Or do historicists use a different Greek text than mythicists?” (a) I do not know any historicists. (b) Do mythicists use Greek at all?

  11. In much of modern (and ancient?) Judaism, you are not considered Jewish, unless your mother – not father – is Jewish. (The emphasis is on your mother, not your father: since it is obvious at birth who our mother is; but not always so obvious who our father might have been.)

    In any case though, there is a prevailing sense in much of the Old Testament – marked by a few exceptions – that you have to be biologically Jewish, descended from the tribes, to be considered one of the people of God. And specifically, to have had a Jewish mother.

    The whole idea in Gal. 4.4, of a divine paternity to Jesus – born of a woman, but fathered it seems by a spirit – is to indeed, probably in part, to avoid the problems of an illegitimate Jesus, born outside the law. By showing him firmly born of a firmly Jewish woman. Thus making Jesus seem quite traditionally grounded in Jewish DNA. As a true son and heir.

    But by the way? There is also the typically dualistic Platonism of Paul showing here. Which tells us that such biological ties, are not so important; so that gentiles, not born jewish, can be saved too. In effect, Paul is telling us next that being born Jewish according to the flesh, is no longer necessary for our salavation: we are considered “sons,” “heirs,” not according to our DNA or biological links, but according to whether our minds or spirits, take on the ideas, spirit, “faith in,” God.

    This was considered all-important by Paul: because without this, without this release from the demand for biological linkage, no non-Jewish Gentile could ever be considered one of the people of God.

    So the point of Paul appearning to emphasize the biological Jewishness of Jesus … is only to give Jesus just enough authority to next, cast all that off. To cast off the importance of such “flesh”ly provinance. To give Mary and then Jesus just enough authority under the law – to cancel parts of the old law. To say that gentiles, Greeks and Romans who were not born to jewish mothers, might still be considered the “sons” of God, and under God’s protection and covenent. So long as they convert to Christianity, and “faith,” in their minds or spirits, their DNA does not matter; they are still “sons” and “heirs.” (As becomes clear in the section that precredes 4.4: Gal 3.23-29. Which tells Gentiles that they can be considered sons of God, even if they are not biologically Jewish, but merely have “faith” in the ideas of God. An idea likewise confirmed in the very next section, Gal. 4.6-8.).

    But finally note the irony and the reversal, in Paul’s merely apparent and merely momentary emphasis on the physicality of Mary, and then Jesus. Note that Paul raises the possiblity of the physicality of Jesus’ mother and of Jesus himself, their heirship due to biological relation to the tribes – merely as a ploy. Merely as a set-up. Mary and Jesus are given just enough physical, biological validity … to have enough authority – to cancel the importance of such physical ties. Just enough traditional authority – to hand their authority over to the mere spiritual affiliations, of gentile believers.

    Indeed in the end, Paul raised the issue of a physical legitimacy, biological relation to the Jews … but only in order to reject it’s importance. In favor of voluntary, mental affiliations. Physicality is mentioned by the very spiritual Paul … but often, only to be dispensed with. In many writings by the very, very spiritual – almost Gnostic, and certainly Platonic – Paul.

    Making the whole momentary emphasis on the physicality of Mary and therefore Jesus, looking quite … contrived. Something brought up – in order to be conveniently, immediately, shot down.

    • I don’t see how it’s “shot down.” Genetics was never any insurmountable bar to conversion. It was the stuff about cutting off part of the penis that people tended to balk at.

    • @Brett: I cannot agree that what you call physicality is being shot down; Paul’s view of the atonement is physical, and he needs a physical victim and a real crucifixion and, appropriately, a Jewish one. The birth of Jesus gives him that–the victim– but he moves quickly to the last act–the death and resurrection, and pardomn the pun, makes no bones about that being his message.

  12. Mmm . . . again just curious — why is it that pingbacks from blogs that praise and love R. Joseph Hoffmann’s posts appear here but none from a blog that expresses criticism? . . . . mmmmm

  13. One of the funny things about mythicysts is that they ignore big issues and bloviate about obscure interpretations of random passages.

    So for example, ignoring the obvious meaning of a passage about being “born” or “made,” while ignoring the big picture stuff.

    I have brought the issue of Paul’s problems with the apostles a few times in various places, and not one myther has ever responded to it. There is a thread throughout the epistles and Acts which depicts a rivalry between the apostles who lived with Jesus and were part of his ministry when he was alive and Paul, who created his theories without ever meeting Jesus.

    Forget all the other nonsense — how is it possible to interpret that in any other way other than that Jesus was a apocalyptic prophet whose ideas and life were later transformed into a systematic religion by someone he didn’t know? His apostles, as led by James and Peter, tried to maintain the teachings of Jesus, but they eventually lost the struggle.

    It’s not hard to say why. The world didn’t end the way the apostles taught, so their ideas faded away. But Paul found new ways of thinking, as I said before, by working backwords about the meaning of Jesus’ death. For reasons too complicated to get into in a blog post, these ideas caught on and the movement ensued.

    No, Jesus wasn’t the second member of the Trinity who was miraculously generated. But that’s a far cry from never existing, which then takes you to a place where you have to figure out why anybody would invent him and why invent such improbable detailed backstories.

  14. I would agree that Paul’s often-prevailing spirituality is now and then at last moderated by a bit of materialism. And I might agree that Judaism at times demanded a physical sacrifice, in the case of the es’caped goat, and sacrificial lambs.

    But if Jewish thought is at times like this, note that Jews somehow however, often did not accept the specific idea of a God who was physically killed. Most Jews did not accept that – and because of that, they did not become Christians, after all. The bulk of Christians were eventually to come not from converted Jews, but from the Gentiles. And Rome, not Jerusalem, was to become the real heart of Christianity.

    So: are you sure that demanding the physical death of God – was truly Jewish? Doesn’t that look far, far more Gnostic/Platonistic?

    • @Brett: Physical dearth of God? Gnostic? Can’t happen: First Apocalypse of James, Jesus comforts James by saying, “Never have I suffered in any way, nor have I been distressed. And this people has done me no harm.” In the Second Treatise of the Great Seth, Jesus says, “I did not die in reality, but in appearance.” Those “in error and blindness… saw me; they punished me. It was another, their father, who drank the gall and vinegar; it was not I. They struck me with the reed; it was another, Simon, who bore the cross on his shoulder. I was rejoicing in the height over all… and I was laughing at their ignorance.” Paul’s insistence on the sacrifice of Jesus does not extend to contending his death was an illusion. In fact, it can’t ahve been for his theology to “work.”

      • It seems to me that Paul at times seems to emphasize Jesus’ and his own ties to Jewish origins, by the flesh. In order to appeal to the zionists and “Judaizers” in the crowd. But his language consistently indicates that this argument is offered not for its intrinsic worth, or as his main argument; but is only for those who are mistakenly impressed by such things of the “flesh” and the “law.”

        Paul’s arguments for the legitimacy of Christ, and his martrydom, based on material flesh, heirship, his own biological heritage as a Jew, are offered merely to those who are “in the flesh.” And the “law.” And who would therfore value the kind of approach to Jesus, citing a fleshly origin. Yet Paul elsewhere suggests that he has no real conviction in such arguments himself; his emphasis instead, is on the more spiritual arguments and realities.

        To be sure, I will argue elsewhere that finally, even the very spiritual Paul himself and Christianity, come back down to earth, and material realities. Even as Jesus returns to the ‘world” and “flesh” in the Second Coming. But is seems clear to me that Paul for a long time, flirts with violently anti-materialist, Platonistic /dualistic /gnostic /”spiritual” ideas. In which no material thing – or genetic provinance – is important.

        Including even the very physical Jewish mother. (“Woman, what have I to do with you?”, etc.). Indeed, there is a moment when his biological mother is standing outside, asking for him; and Jesus seems to ignore and even reject her status, even as “mother.” Jesus pointing out that his elective new family of believers, all around him, are his true “brothers” and sisters and so forth.

        Often for Paul, his real family is the body of those who have elected to spiritually follow him. While biological/physical ties are for quite some time in Paul, brought up … only in order to be foregrounded, set up for Paul’s Platonistic/idealist/gnostic attack on their importance.

    • @Bret: Paul as a guy of the Hellenistic era knows both popular Judaism with its dabbling in magic, growing fondness for debate and emphasis on sacrifice (the Temple still stood) and some street corner platonism and stoicism-especially stoicism. He also seems to know a fairly “vulgar” view of resurrection that later critics like Porphyry will satirize within Christianity as being ludicrously physical to the point of being grotesque (1 Cor 15). Don’t forget to read the first verse, and when you do remember he is talking about Jewish theology (he didn’t know he was going to be part of scripture ;) ) And just some advice: you often find a way to agree with points that have just abolished your own. It is ok to be wrong; I suspect you get most of your information from the mythtics who are rather like bricklayers trying to do brain surgery. Many of the errors I see in this comment section come from people who have “believed” the mythtic position because they think it stands in contrast to a position they regard as orthodox having bypassed critical scholarship altogether. They have become combative before they know which side of the gun to hold and end up blowing their own arguments apart with predictable regularity. What you said about Paul was wrong-it is not “just what you were trying to say.” Not to mention, it is hard for Paul not to have existed and also been a gnostic.

      • My position for present purposes, would be that possibly Paul did not even exist; but in any case, the character we now think of as “Paul” whether fictional or real, in either case rather clearly appears to be .. quite spiritual and gnostic. And in Denial of the physical world, often.

        Take for example your alleged example of Paul being physical, even ludicruously so, 1 Corin 15. There, typically, Paul indeed BEGINS in a seemingly very physicalistic vein, reciting at least the barest allegations regarding Jesus crucified. And yet? 1) Paul soon, next, begins to issue countless statements that would call the solidity of his first statements, into doubt. Like for example his warning that our faith will help is … unless somehow our faith is “vain” (there having not been any resurrection?; 15.2-14). Suggesting that somehow our “faith” in all this might not be entirely reliable. Then next? See 2) see Paul’s own admission that he himself is not entirely reliable; that he is “the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle” (1 Corin. 15.9). Suggesting that his own narrative is not entirely to be depended upon.

        Then next? 3) At first his discussion seems phrased firmly, as dogma. But then suddenly … it morphs into presenting itself a series of propositions, “if/then” hypothesis, in a debate, or discussion of hypotheticals: “if” this, “then” that (15.16, 12, 29, 35)

        Then? Further deconstructing his own reliability, Paul beings 4) admitting that the particulars of the resurrection are a “mystery” (15.51).

        And 5) then, still worse for your emphasis on physicality? 1 cORIN. 15.35-56 is mostly devoted to showing that the physicalistic life must pass away – in favor of the spiritual. Our physical body or life is a “husk” that must be cast off.

        You assert that Paul portrarys a reliable vision of Jesus; one that shows Jesus as being very, very physical. But over and over again, 6) Paul is indeed, quite spiritual Platonistic; a possiblity you yourself admit (allowing my thesis yourself?): Paul has at least a “street corner” Platonism. While Platonism means – de-emphasizing the importance of material life; as a mere disposable prelude to a spiritual life and Heaven.

        Indeed, 7) the whole idea of crucifixion/death, followed by a spiritual ascention to Heaven, is about the disposibility of this material life, our “corrupt” “flesh.” Leaving this material life … to go to spiritual heaven.

        It seems oddly perverse of you therefore, to frame your assertion of the physicality of Jesus, by way of Pauline quotes. Whose orientation – as you admit – includes at least a “street corner” awareness of Platonism. Platonism – with its disdain for the material world, in favor of spiritual things.

        Finally, 8) it is curious I should have to make these arguments to those who allegedly know Christianity. I don’t know why all this should seem so unexpected to folks around here; somehow, no-one
        here ever heard that high Christianity and religion claim to be not so much about materialism, or even the material life of Jesus, but about being “spiritual”?

        No one here ever heard the common sermon telling us not to be too
        attached to “worldly” things? Was everyone here a “Prosperity Gospel” fundamentalist, in their misspent youth? Nobody ever told yyou that “high” Christianity was “spiritual”? That priests take vows of material poverty, and so forth?

        So you insist on a very, very physical Jesus; even in Paul? If so, likely that is merely an anachronism from the gospels; which were actually written AFTER Paul, and not before him.

      • @Bret: “It seems oddly perverse of you therefore, to frame your assertion of the physicality of Jesus, to by way of Pauline quotes.” I said that Paul was not a gnostic because he required a physical victim for his theology. I do not think that Paul’s need for a physical victim is proof that Jesus was historical and have never said so. Check me. He knows certain events in the life of Jesus which he thinks provide him with sufficient warrant for the real person. If you were paying attention, you would see that my argument about Paul is that his neglect of the Jesus tradition itself-why e.g. he does not quote many or any sayings, etc.–is deliberate and can be located precisely in a context that gets us close to the historical followers of an historical Jesus. Now if you want to say that Jesus was not real, Paul is not real and the apostles are not real either, I think you ought to check your pulse.

    • Ken: I can’t recall where I said Paul thought Jesus was God; could you quote the place?

      In any case, it may be that current scholars suggest Paul might not think of Jesus as God, or even Christ some say (in spite of Paul’s use of the term over and over?). But Paul did somehow think that his own religious movement, offered up in part in the name of Jesus, or Christ – Christianity – had enough authority, in Jesus, or in Paul’s characterization of Jesus, to begin to turn aside, or “fulfill” and discharge, the “law”s of the Jews and the Old Testament. Replacing them with what was to be called a “new covenant.”

      Suggesting an authority to Paul, and his “Jesus,” that would amount to authority equal to God himself.

      • @Brett:

        I was referencing the language you used in relation to Paul and the “physical death of God.” I understood that to be an indication that you thought Paul himself claimed a physical death of God. maybe I misunderstood.

        In any case, beliefs about a crucifixion of Jesus predate the deification of Jesus. Christ evolves chronologically from human to God in all of the extant early literature. I think that this is a problem for mythicism. Why didn’t Paul identify Jesus as God? Why didn’t Mark or Matthew or Luke? That gets us almost all the way up to the 2nd century without Jesus having been promoted to Godhood yet. How does that make sense if (as myther arguments typically claim) the Gospels were attempts to historicize a character who started as a god? Why didn’t Mark know Jesus was supposed to be God?

  15. One of the good points by Doherty and Wells is that there is not only a silence in Paul about the historical Jesus, but much the same silence in many of the early letters, especially in nearly all of the epistles in the NT. Why do we see the same silence outside of Paul, in your opinion?

    Also, what of Casey’s point about high context societies. Does that factor into the explanation?

    • @Don: because letters are acts of interpretation, persuasion, consolation and encouragement, among other things. They are not ideal sources for reconstructing a life because they are not fashioned as biographies. At the risk of quoting myself, I said at the conlusion of Jesus outside the Gospels that it is one of the unfortunate ironies of history that ‘it was the death of Jesus and not his life that saved him from obscurity.” It is also our unfortunate predicament not to have the record we would like to have, and so we register this disappointment by asking, as Wells does more eloquently than most–Why not? But historians can’t think this way: we have to make sense of what we’ve got, as efficiently and parsimoniously as we can. In fact, I cannot fathom why Paul, who appoints himself an apostle, doesn’t live anywhere near Jerusalem, and had never met Jesus should be required to become a biographical source. As to the rest: You’d be hard pressed to find any serious scholars who would maintain that the other letters–the secondary pauline letters and those attributed to other ‘apostles” are deserving of anything but theologicalattention for the “situations” they reflect in their time. And this should tell you something about the willingness of serious NT scholarship to acknolwedge forgeries as forgeries, and the relative sophistication that has characterized NT scholarship over the last century and half, leading to these conclusions. But some is not all, and the “genuine” letters of Paul have stood intensive scrutiny, and even though not by his own hand, Colossians and Ephesians are quite significant as well for piecing together strands of his thinking about a generation after his death.

  16. The concept of Jesus changes over time; this is not an embarrassment to mythicists, since they well know that myths typically do this.

    But in any case, the immediate subject here, is the necessity of a physical victim in Paul.

    I can agree that Paul needs a physical victim, in one sense: in the writings of Paul, the central character known as Jesus must die for various reasons intrinsic to the ascetic lesson Paul wants to teach. Among others, Jesus must die to illustrate Paul’s priestly, spiritual point: to become “mature” adults, we must learn some self-control; we must “die to” our excessive fleshly “lusts” and “passions,” to our greed and anger and fears. We must crucify the demanding, impatient child in ourselves, that wants too much food, too much attention, too much sugar. Or in the older child: a bigger RV, a bigger house with a swimming pool, fifty pairs of shoes, and a hundred lovers.

    In this sense, Paul (cf. James, priests, and the Jesus of Q) is quite Buddhistic and eastern sage-like: to be enlightened, to be good, we simply need to learn to suppress our excessive material lusts or “desires” for more and more material “possessions” (as James would add). And learn to value more, thoughts and spiritual things.

    In this sense, Paul needs a physical victim; as a model of the suppression, crucifixion, of our excessive physical desires.

    • Please. Paul was not speaking allegorically about death and resurrection. He tied the crucifixion and “raising” of Jesus explicitly and repeatedly to the literal, mass resurrection of all the dead at the end of the world. Paul’s “first fruit” language in 1 Cor. makes no sense at all without a physical death and resurrection of Jesus. Even if Paul attached some symbolic or allegorical extensions to the language of death and resurrection, it still stemmed from a central and essential belief, at the very least, in a belief in a literal resurrection of the physical dead at the parousia. Emphasizing Jesus’ role as the “first fruit” for this event only makes logical sense if Jesus himself physically died and resurrected.

  17. “‘Please'”?

    With this mere patonizing, impatient insult, you brush off the whole intellectual and spiritual side of Christianity. You brusquely dismiss the very possiblity of a spiritual, intellectual meaning to essentially all the Bible. With a single dismissive and contemptuous word?.

    This is the strange thing about Historicists; their curious, even rather elementary, anti-intellectual Fundamentalist literalism and physicalism. And their anti-intellectualist insistence on simple physicality.

    Here, you insist that Paul COULD NOT BE using death, resurrection, as a metaphor; but how do you know? Clearly this is no more than your opinion. And it is not a sustainable opinion. Given especially, 1) Paul’s frequent insistence that things that he says are “allegories,” (Gal. 4.24 etc.) of 2) the “spirit”; Paul making it clear that what he says is figurative, 3) a “matter of the heart, and 4) not literal” (Romans 2.29). Finally there is so much allegory in the NT, that 5) Paul’s resurrection of Jesus, as “first fruit,” could easily mean the moment that the spirit of Jesus, is taken into – reborn in – us, when we become CHristians.

    You insist that he must be literal – given the physicality of the resurrection at the end. But how do you know that in TURN, is not ALSO metaphorical? Given 6) the many times Jesus himself told us that he spoke in “figures,” and the number of times were were made to understand that whenver his remarks were delivered to the people, 7) he “said nothing without” a “parable.” Given that, finally our new litealists like yourself take things far, far too literally. And 8) worse, shut off the priestly ascetic message of the Bible entirely.

    9) Historicism pretends to be intellectual. But Historicism is really nothing more than the new, anti-intellectual , and 9)anti-spiritual 10) Literalism; 11) the New Fundamentalism. As it 12) insists that Jesus is historically, physically real; and that the resurrection is likewise, a throroughgoing, literal, physical event; a physical miracle. So that Historicism in some way insists on 13) physical Miracles again, in effect.

    Taking the Bible literally; as being just about physical things and not mental or spiritual ones; expecting physical miracles? Insisting on a realm, physical Jesus? With Historicism, we are simply talking about nothing more or less than … the New Fundamentalism. The new literalism.

    Historicism is not new; it is the same old anti-intellectuality, the same old anti-spirituality. And it is not therefore, something to be admired. 14) Beginning with its thuggishly insensitive, patronizing brush-off of any and all intellectual/spiritual elements, even to Christianity itself.

    • Even after a month loitering here, BC is still reciting the same old anachronistic convictions about scholarship using the erroneous term ‘historicists’ which mythtics love. But all the term does is distinguish mythtics from independent critical scholarship. BC has no concept of historical critical research on Christian origins at all. Sure there’s a problem with conservatives like Hurtado, Dunn, Witherington, Wright, Willie Craig and others but mythtics lack the critical tools to discern the difference.

      • @Steph: I would agree– that mythtics can’t make distinctions between the study of religion and theology, so that every sane statement seems to them to support “orthodoxy” as they seem to understand it. What is more tragic is the infestation of new atheist bully tactics, which make no distinction between the illiterate attacks of people like Kenneth Humphreys which have the attraction of a freak show and the sober efforts to raise critical questions, including the question of the historical Jesus. I think sites like Vridar are especially guilty of turning distinctions into jello, encouraging the adoption of radical and badly reasoned positions simply because they have concluded the scholarship is screwed. It really is a travesty of knowledge, this casting aside of careful consideration of evidence in the interest of a visceral master-theory. In fact, I’d be happy if they would simply (to quote Jesus, or his scriptwriter) unplug their ears and open their eyes.

    • This post seems confused. The classical position is that Paul both believed in a physical Jesus, and believed that it was possible to have a “mystical” union with this Jesus which would in effect create a spiritual transformation within the believer, but this transformation is more than a metaphor. But there is nothing “anti-spiritual” about this position.

      In what sense then is historicism anti-spirituality? An utterly bizarre claim.

  18. I am well aware of critical scholarship, over and above arch-conservatism, and theology too. But my larger point here is that oddly, in spite of its own protestations and critical skills, at the last moment, the Historical Jesus crowd … chickens out. And says something to placate conservatives.

    I.e.: “Yes! It’s true! I said bad things about Jesus EARLIER; but finally I see: there REALLY IS a real, physical, material, historical Jesus! ”

    Maybe critical scholarship utters this as a mere cover story? But prominent as it is, loud as it is, it is really all the public will hear. So that whatever intellectual subtlety there is going on underneath all that, will be cancelled out, by its larger, public effect, its far more accessible message. Which is not only conservative, but even fundamentalist. So that the net effect of all this subtlety … is to cancel out, and encourage fundamentalism.

    To be sure though? In in the above, I AM hearing SOME interesting things in this typification of a jealous Paul. Something which at least partially matches one (of my own?) more cynical theories of Pauline Christianity: that in effect, Saul/Paul really continued throughout his career, even after his name change, in the ROMAN point of view, not the Jewish. And that his emphasis on the Jewish people learning to do with less, was part of what Romans wanted their subjects to believe.

    I see more here than just a personally “jealous” and resentful Paul; jealous for his own reputation: I also see him as a small Hellenized subject of Jerusalem rule, disrespected by Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, and in fact presectued by Jews. A persecuted Hellenist … who therefore in part simply wanted revenge, finally, submission, from them. In the name of in part, Rome. (Accepting parts of Acts here, as actually more authoritiative then many have thought). Paul here, being more of a Greco-Roman, than a Jew. Indeed, he was prosecuted by Jews. And protected by Romans from them. (While his execution in Rome is just a rumor, not in the Bible itself; his jailing more of a protective house arrest it seems in some traditions).

    I see Paul therefore, more as a Romanized Jew, at WAR with the nativist Jews. In spite of his attempts to frame his thought in traditional Jewish/Torah language. And in particular, after reading the above, I am reminded of the Roman view of the crucifixation, seeing bits of it in Paul.

    What was the Roman view of the crucifixion? Finally the Romans simply wanted Jesus and any other Jewish revolutionaries, dead. Hoping that their prominent crucifixion would teach the rest of the inhabitants of Jerusalem to tone down their protests , and their desire for their own kingdom. And their desire to hold on to their own properties, and income; rather than turning over large amounts of tribute, taxes, to Roman occupiers.

    The hope of the Romans was for the death of rebellious Jews that wanted to keep their own kingdom, and to keep their own income and property. And the hope was that by very prominently killing a few prominent Jews, the rest would finally submit. The rest would learn to put aside their rebellious desires for a material kingdom, and prosperity. And would submit, like good “suffering servants,” to Roman rule, and vassalage/serfdom/servitude. Handing over regular taxes, sacrifices, tribute, to the Roman occupiers. While learning to live on mere dreams, hopes, of a future, better kingdom.

    So I might, say, tentatively see Paul as actually rather resentful of Jesus./ Or of any Jewish leader who was trying to rebel against, defeat Romans. And I might see Paul needing the death of any such Jewish leader, out of a complex series of in part jealous, and acquisitive motivations. But also out of specifically, Roman acquisitiveness: a desire to have more of what Jews had. A desire that intended to get it, and hold on to it. By 1) making sure that rebellious home-rule Jews were indeed killed, crucified. And 2) seeing to it that the survivers leaerned to accept “sacrifices” to their Roman “lords.” While 3) learning to do with less, for themselves.

  19. So if I assume for the moment, for the purpose of argument, that Jesus really did exist? Then many might well next think of several reasons why Paul would be rather “silent” on Jesus. In part, out of say “jealousy.” (Or even worse motives). Though all this seems in turn, to begin to attack the authority of all holy men like Paul. Leading one to wonder if the authority of Jesus himself will fall, next.

  20. Out of the collapse of confidence in authority and reverence, comes an increasingly neutral methological orientation. One that is prepared to objectively assess the historical data. And is even emotionally and intellectually prepared to face data that questions the goodness and even the historicity of the parties in question.

    Oddly enough, it might be that Historicists, those who are convinced that an Historical Jesus did exist, might agree however that he did not exist, precisely as described in your corner church. And in a sense, even an ardent historicist might be able to agree to some kind of formulation, like this one: “Jesus, as most Christians know/think of him, did not exist.”

  21. I agree with a lot of this post, and I have a similar but slightly different reason why Paul is silent about Jesus life. What a lot of people miss is that Jesus’ life, as recorded in the Gospels, had a specific purpose. Putting this in the most basic terms, one of the major themes of these Gospel stories is to identify Jesus as the coming Messiah to the Jewish people. There were certain reasons, which I wont go into here, why the Jewish people were given the first chance to accept Jesus as the Messiah. When the Jewish nation as a whole did not accept him, God turned to the people from other nations. However, people of the nations were not expecting a Jewish Messiah, and did not have any expectations of him. In other words, they did not need to be convinced that he was the coming Messiah, just that he was the savior of the world by his death and resurrection. And it should be obvious to anyone who reads the Gospels and Paul’s letters, that the death and resurrection of Jesus was the single most important event in his life. This is where Paul’s theology starts, this is the important message that Paul wants known, because this is what saves people in Paul’s theology. In Paul’s letters, he is writing to fellow believers explaining how this salvation works and how to conduct themselves as believers, these are people who do not need to be convinced that Jesus was the coming Messiah. Obviously, Paul also talked to non-believers and told them of the life of Jesus to convince them. But notice I said talked to, this would have been a face to face discussion, it is unlikely that Paul wrote letters to non-believers to try to convert them.

  22. Many recent scholars like Doherty insist that 1) Paul is very, very sketchy regarding details of Jesus’ life. Even for our host, Hoffmann, Paul focuses on just a very few details on Jesus. And then mainly at best, not on the LIFE of Jesus, but on his DEATH; the crucifixion. While we might add, 2) references to say the resurrection in specifically Paul … are usually not to the resurrection of Jesus, but to our own resurrection at the End of Time. While then too, 3) our own resurrection is described in language that is extremely vague, spiritual, gnostic, and metaphorical. Not physical.

    Paul’s usually quite spiritual/aetherial/cosmic view of resurrection, can be seen particularly say, in 1 Corin. 15.42-51. Where Paul – for a long moment at least – is quite gnostic, Platonistic, dualistic. And disdainful about material things like out material bodies. With regard specifically to the nature of resurrection, he focuses not so much on Jesus’ resurrection – as on our own, at the end of time.

    So what is our own ressurrection like for Paul? For a long and lingering moment, Paul pictures our own resurrection as leaving this gross material, physical life and perishable physical life behind, to become a spiritual being: “What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable…. It is sown a pysical body, it is raised a spiritual body…. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven…. flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.”

    To be sure, even the very, very spiritual Paul will eventually tone down his own excessive spirituality and radically gnostic anti-materialism; even here for example the spirit has a “body.” But for a very long time in this passage, if Paul discusses the details of Jesus, or doctrines like resurrection in any length, his description 1) is not really on the physical resurrection of Jesus per se; it is on our own rebirth. Furthermore, 2 in Paul that resurrection very often (if not always), seems rather fully as over-spiritual or Gnostic. As Doherty recently argued.

    The death of Jesus was marginally important for Paul … but mainly as an heroic martyr model, for our own lives. It was a model which seemed to conventiently explain and justify the new reduced, “suffering servant” status of the Jews of Roman-dominated, heavily-taxed Jerusalem. Explaining the reduced status of Jerusalem residents, as a form of material privation, poverty, submission – but one that however, had alleged moral virtues. As heroic martrydom has. The new poverty being a form of the control of physical “lusts” and “passions” of the “flesh”; a form that might free us from this vain material world, and lead us to a more spiritual “heaven.”

    • Paul’s very spiritual, ascetic attack on material life, prosperity, the flesh therefore, can be seen as 1) a ploy to get new (Jewish and other) subjects of the Roman emperor, to accept their new taxes, and their new financially-reduced lives. And to accept even physical deaths by torture, crucifixion. By learning to see material prosperity as unimportant, relative to the attainment of spirituality; a spiritual philosophicality.

      And/or spirituality, as Dr. Hoffmann seemed to suggest here, could also be seen as 2) an attempt by Paul, to specifically attack his religious rival, Jesus; by denying the importance of his physicality; or by seeing the physical death, the crucifixion of Jesus, as a good thing.

      Yet to be sure I might finally add, 3) Paul’s emphasis on spirituality,the Stoic rejection of material prosperity, did have some objectively useful and neutral benefits. In that each one of us to some extent, needs to learn to control our physical, material “desires” and “lusts” and “gluttony”; to learn some restraint, and selfcontrol, self-denial. To see beyond short-term profits, to some longer-term philosophical goals.

      So while I see clear dangers and negative things, in too much spirituality, too many ascetic attacks on material life? A moderate sense of control over our physical desires, a moderate sense of submission to authority, even with some material privation, serves each of us. As we each attempt to gain control of our raw animal, material passions, our greed and gluttony.

      Still, possibly this thesis as I take it, by Dr. Hoffman – that Paul was rejecting Jesus’ physicality, his physical life, out of jealousy and so forth – has some merit as well. Finally any religion that idealizes death and crucifixion, needs to be looked at very, very carefully.

  23. Pingback: Biblioblog Carnival “according to Mark” « Euangelion Kata Markon

  24. Finally, I feel that Doherty’s thesis should be sustained here: that 1) Paul apparently wrote the first extensive body of work on Jesus, c. 53-58 AD. And 2) Paul might therefore even be the origin of the whole legend of Christ; certainly he is our earliest source it seems to many. While furthermore 3) as many scholars agree, Paul does not have many concrete details about a physical material, biographical Jesus; but 4) instead, Paul focuses on “spiritual” or “cosmic” associations with Christianity. Suggesting as Doherty asserted, that Christianity originated from a spiritual, “cosmic” philosophy, like Platonism. And suggesting that 5) likely Jesus was not a real, historical, physical person. Suggesting to me a real origin of Christianity, in the modification/Hellenization of Judaism, by various Greco-Roman myths, like Platonism.

    Furthermore? 6) I add here that the argument against the physical , historical existence of Jesus, is adamantly not just an “argument from silence.” Because Paul not only did not speak much about the physical side of Jesus’ life (compared to say the gospels); Paul actually consciously, deliberately, and at length (as Carrier noted in his web comments) attacks the very idea of physicality having any importance.

    An argument which in the end amounts to a rejection of the existence and importance, of a physical, historical Jesus. By Paul himself.

  25. Pingback: Hoffmann’s Mamzer-Jesus Solution to Paul’s “Born of a Woman” « Vridar

  26. Above you write:

    “One of the more absurd aspects of Christ-myth studies is the suggestion that the ‘neglect’ of the historical Jesus by Paul is at least indirect proof that Jesus never existed. ”

    Does that suggestion not derive in part from the work of G A Wells? In your Foreword to Wells’ The Jesus Legend, you wrote:

    “It is no longer possible to dismiss the thesis that Jesus never existed as the ‘marginal indiscretion of lay amatuers” (to paraphrase a sentence once imposed on Matthew Arnold’s biblical criticism by his theological critics).”

    The Jesus Legend first appeared in the mid-1990’s. Is it possible once more, in the light of things learned since then, to dismiss the thesis that Jesus never existed, as straying to far from the “agnostic” position? If not, and if you still consider Wells’ work valuable, what is it which distinguishes him from those mythicists whose work you dismiss?

    • I am watching with some (veiled) amusement as my comments over the last twenty+ years are exhumed for examination. Two things can be said: one is that scholarship is evolutionary; that means it works on the basis of recurrent inquiry, reflection, and reexamination–of old evidence, new evidence, conversation, rethinking and re-evaluation. That is also how science works. If the facts don’t fit the theory, you can’t change the facts, but the mythtics won’t revise their theory. Second: George Wells is a good example of someone whose thesis I fundamentally disagree with, but I accept many premises related to what he says, and he has always tried to follow basic scholarly principles. The work of recent mythics and their smorgasbord approach to sources and rank amateurism I do not think will be sustained: I oppose it, and I have said so consistently for a very long time. The difference between scholarship and mythicism is that the mythics approach the historicity of Jesus not as an object of inquiry, not as a thesis but as a debating topic, and debates are not usually characterized by looking at both sides and the betweens. They are characterized by taking sides and by partisanship. If anything, I think I have been supportive of raising questions that few scholars have even thought were legitimate, so it is ironic that my “indecision” amd skpeticsm and caution directed at both sides is being used to mark me out as a poor partisan. And if you ask me, the partisans who vigorously support “non-historicity” have simply assumed the position opposite the fundamentalist literalism they once subscribed to. They have gone from the alpha to the omega position without surveying the letters in between and without changing their habits of thought. In every significant way, they are still textual fundamentalists: what once was absolutely true for them is now absolutely false. That is not scholarship.

      • Thank you for the clarification. I’m rather new to all of this, and I’m trying to remain non-partisan. So far I remain unconvinced either that it is certain that Jesus existed or that he didn’t, and I do hope I shall remain open-minded as I study the subject further, whether my studies tend to weigh more on one side of the scale or the other. Your distinction between scholarly inquiry and scoring points in debate is well-taken.

  27. I was interested in your reference to Paul as the “inventor of the ‘fatherhood of God’-motif later exploited in the gospels”, and wonder if you would be kind enough to clear up something I find puzzling, given my relative lack of biblical literacy — even though addressing my puzzlement would be somewhat off-topic as far as the general thrust of your essay is concerned. (By way of background, I’ve read little of the Bible other than the gospels, and haven’t come across references that clear up my puzzlement in other scholarly, or popular, commentaries on Jesus.)

    First off, does your reference to the “fatherhood of God”-motif solely relate to the idea found in the gospels that God, not Joseph, literally fathered Jesus?

    This question is bound up with other questions that are not clear to me. I’ve always tended to assume that references to “our Father in heaven”, credited to Jesus in the gospels, were commonplace in Jewish thinking at the time, and were not some unique formulation found in the words credited to Jesus alone. Is that correct? If that’s the case, then all male humans here on earth (or at least, all Jewish males) would presumably be able to be described as sons of this father in heaven that we all share, i.e., all males could be described as sons of God . Yet it would seem that the “Son of God” is a specific honorific. Was it seen that way in Jewish thinking at the time (aside from Paul’s thinking, questions of physical fatherhood, and the common views found among Paul’s readership)?

    I find it a bit difficult to reconcile “our Father” with an honorific “Son of God”, though, even today, it’s not particularly unusual to find specific formulations of words taking on a special meaning — and, rightly or wrongly, this is what I’ve more or less assumed to be the case. Unfortunately, simple questions, like the ones I’m posing in this comment, aren’t always addressed in either scholarly or popular writings.

    • I should try googling more often, which readily answered my questions about Jewish thinking 2,000 years ago. Sorry to clutter up the comment stream. : -)

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