Controversy, Mythicism, and the Historical Jesus
© 2012 R. Joseph Hoffmann
While the New Testament offers the most extensive evidence for the existence of the historical Jesus, the writings are subject to a number of conditions that have dictated both the form and content of the traditions they have preserved. These conditions did not disappear with the writing of the first gospel, nor even with the eventual formation of the New Testament canon. They were expressly addressed by Christian writers in the second and third century who saw an incipient mythicism as a threat to the integrity of the message about Jesus. The history of this controversy is long, complex, and decisive with respect to the “question” of Jesus.
The process through which the memory of Jesus was preserved was a reflexive attempt to relay what was known and what was believed about him, while at the same time separating the received traditions from the corrosive effects of a pervasive salvation myth. The process cannot be established by analogy to the way in which historical traditions were preserved in contemporary histories such as Livy’s (or later, Tacitus’s) books, and it cannot be discounted by reference to antecedent and unrelated mythologies which have influenced the form of transmission.
This essay is in part an attempt to clarify procedural issues relevant to what is sometimes called the “Christ-myth” or “Non-historicity” thesis—an argumentative approach to the New Testament based on the theory that the historical Jesus of Nazareth did not exist. I have come to regard this thesis as fatally flawed and subject to a variety of objections that are not often highlighted in the academic writings of New Testament scholars. The failure of scholars to take the “question of Jesus” seriously has resulted in a slight increase in the popularity of the non-historicity thesis, a popularity that—in my view—now threatens to distract biblical studies from the serious business of illuminating the causes, context and development of early Christianity.
It is my view, simply stated, that while facts concerning the Jesus of history were jeopardized from the start by a variety of salvation myths, by the credulity of early believers, by the historiographical tendencies of the era, and by the editorial tendencies of early writers, the gospels retain a stubbornly historical view of Jesus, preserve reliable information about his life and teachings, and are not engulfed by any of the conditions under which they were composed. Jesus “the Nazarene” did not originate as a myth or a story without historical coordinates, but as a teacher in first century Roman Palestine. Like dozens of other Hellenistic teachers, but lacking sophisticated “biographers” to preserve his accomplishments, Jesus is distinct only because the cult that formed around him perpetuated his memory in ritual, worship, and text, while the memory of other attested personalities of antiquity, even those who enjoyed brief cultic popularity like Antigonus I, Ptolemy I and Demetrius of Macedon are known to us mainly through literary artifacts.
The attempt of “mythicists” to show that Jesus did not exist, on the other hand, has been largely incoherent, insufficiently scrupulous of historical detail, and based on improbable, bead-strung analogies. The failure of the myth theory is not the consequence merely of methodological sloppiness with respect to the sources and their religious contexts; that has been demonstrated again and again from as early as Shirley Jackson Case’s (now dated) study, The Historicity of Jesus (1912). It is a problem incipient in the task itself, which Morton Smith aptly summarized in 1986: The myth theory, he wrote, is almost entirely based on an argument from silence, especially the “silence” of Paul. “In order to explain just what it was that Paul and other early Christians believed, the mythicists are forced to manufacture unknown proto-Christians who build up an unattested myth . . . about an unspecified supernatural entity that at an indefinite time was sent by God into the world as a man to save mankind and was crucified… [presenting us with] a piece of private mythology that I find incredible beyond anything in the Gospels.”
The following remarks are designed as a kind of summary of what we know for certain about the conditions and the process through which historical tradition emerged. It is a preface of sorts to a more ambitious project on the myth theory itself and what we can reliably know–if anything—about the historical Jesus.
The Literary Matrix:
We can acknowledge, first, that the gospels came from somewhere. Scholars disagree widely about the when and where, but the textual tradition, based on when datable writers first use them and quote from them has settled many issues as well as establishing a controversial but adequate relative chronology of Paul’s (and the Pauline) letters. As Helmut Koester has shown, fragments based in oral tradition appear in the Apostolic Fathers (early second century), writers who do not seem to have possessed all four, do not use them authoritatively, and who do not quote from them extensively. The heretic Marcion of Sinope (b. ca. 70 CE, d. 154) was probably the first to attach a gospel to a collection of Paul’s letters.
At the same time, we cannot be sure that Marcion was not acting from a precedent that has been lost to history except through its effects. The “gospel +” pattern is evidenced in the combination of Luke and Acts, and the Fourth Gospel and the Johannine letters. It is not unreasonable to wonder if Marcion was using a pattern developed much earlier in the Pauline circle, in which the “gospel”—which traditionally in New Testament scholarship has been seen as a self-referring term used by Paul to mean his preaching or message—actually referred to a written source to which his letters were seen to be an indispensable addition. That, at least, is how Marcion saw it. The “contest of gospels” referred to by Paul in Galatians 1.11-13 appeals against private preaching, with Paul “boasting” that his gospel was given through divine revelation: Γνωρίζω γὰρ ὑμῖν, ἀδελφοί, τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τὸ εὐαγγελισθὲν ὑπ’ ἐμοῦ ὅτι οὐκ ἔστιν κατὰ ἄνθρωπον·
In refusing to assign title to his own gospel, Marcion does not seem to have challenged but rather preserved Paul’s claim to its uniqueness; but the question of whether Paul’s “preaching” is coterminous with the content of that gospel (normally thought to be an assured conclusion of New Testament scholarship) must remain a live question. It seems clear that Marcion did not share the view of modern biblical scholarship that Paul possessed no physical record called “gospel,” a fact habitually overlooked in New Testament studies, as also is the heretic’s claim that his gospel was older than the ones being circulated in the churches of his day. I regard the reference to (RSV) “perverting” (metastreyai means to alter or to change) the “gospel of Christ” a reference to an established, probably written tradition, as polluting a fluid oral tradition does not seem a sensible way to interpret the fractures in the Galatian community.
The African church writer Tertullian, determined to see Marcion as an apostate, believed he had maliciously “mutilated” the gospel in such a way as to diminish the physical reality of Jesus. We now are relatively certain that Marcion was working not from a canonical gospel but from a lost prototype akin to a synoptic source which lacked, among other things, a birth narrative and significant portions of the resurrection story. Careful and cautious analysis of Tertullian’s description suggests that this source: (a) was an archetype or very early version of a written gospel, and (b) that it is antecedent to the synoptic tradition, judging by Tertullian’s unfamiliarity with the text and his preference for a later more expansive version—a “Lucan redaction.” This lost gospel is significant in Jesus- studies because, unlike the “sayings source” [Q] which is necessarily hypothetical, Marcion’s gospel is multiply attested, was composed very early, and despite Tertullian’s exertions to make it so, is not a Gnostic composition. It also brings Paul’s contribution to the development of early Christian literature into closer alignment with historical traditions, a fact which is often ignored in favor of the standard model of literary development.
Marcion was also an editor and perhaps the earliest collector of Paul’s letters, lacking a number of the “deuteropauline” compositions (some written in direct response to his activity) but possessing one to the Laodiceans which seems to have been a model for a letter like Ephesians and sections of Colossians, now usually reckoned to be secondary to Paul as well. As David Trobisch has suggested, Marcion was challenged by his contemporary and arch-enemy Polycarp of Smyrna by a fuller edition of the gospels and letters (which Trobisch sees as the first “edition” of the New Testament) to prevent his short canon from becoming dominant. Based on linguistic analysis of his work, Polycarp is also the likeliest candidate to be the author of three anti-Marcionite epistles called the Pastorals (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus). The historicity of Jesus is not, as such, at stake in this literary warfare, but historical traditions are.
The primary point of reference in the study of the Jesus question is the controversial context in which a particular interest in the humanity of Jesus first becomes apparent—this against the background of a number of salvation cults, with discrete saviours and myths, where no such historical interest can be documented. As Walter Bauer demonstrated in relation to the development of early orthodoxy, Roman historical interest as exhibited by Mark’s gospel rather than Anatolian eclecticism, as reflected in Paul, would be largely responsible for the shape of this controversy and decisive in preserving its historical components.
It is a major weakness in the argument of the mythicists to point to the Hellenistic mysteries, with their utter lack of historical orientation, as an explanation for the religious environment in which the gospels were formed. Often, their litany of dying- and rising- god cults gives the impression of attempting to create a chain of direct influence through the simple duplication of unconnected traditions. In fact, we have no examples from classical antiquity of a religion that insisted from the beginning on the historical existence of its founder in both explicit and implicit ways and no way of explaining why Christianity would differ so markedly from the cults in this respect.
The Later Second Century
By the time we enter the late second century, Christian bishops like Irenaeus  (fl 176), and later Tertullian himself (fl 205), are working with a fixed set of four gospels and a collection of letters closely resembling what we possess today and which had become standard sources for refuting heretical opinion. Knowing what we know of the controversies of the period, that in itself, combined with the evidence of the gospels having circulated from Gaul (Lyon) to Carthage as an ανθολογία, is an impressive early achievement. Irenaeus quotes from all four (and from 21 of the eventual 27 books), and also is the first to quote indubitably from the Book of Acts, usually thought to originate from the same writer or school that produced Luke’s gospel, which in turn is the one Marcion is accused of mutilating.
Irenaeus’ goal is not to argue that Jesus “really lived,” but to show that a “living voice of tradition,” separate from heretical interference, survived down to his own day—the basis for the more elaborate doctrine called “apostolic succession.” While almost no one ignores the apologetic intent of Irenaeus’ claims about apostolicity, it would be irresponsible to think that he systematically misrepresents the traditions of an earlier period. In fact, the possession of large numbers of Gnostic writings has now vindicated much of what he had to say about the teaching and practices of the Gnostics, lending greater weight to what Irenaeus says about the traditions he claims to represent. While he quotes from written Gnostic sources, he regards the control against heresy not simply oral precedent but “delivered,” graphic tradition, largely because the Gnostics “normatively” appealed to secret oral traditions. 
It is true that the existence of the gospel traditions about Jesus and patristic appeals to them do not prove his existence. What they prove instead is a coordinated effort to prevent a deposit of historical tradition from being eviscerated by the religious mythicizers of the period. The actuality of his existence was not the topic of discussion in the ancient period. It is taken for granted by all ancient commentators, including Paul, whose entire career pivots on the message of the crucified/historical Jesus and the glorified Christ (1 Cor. 1.23; 1 Cor. 15.3-14). 
But viewed against the background of first and second century Latin history-writing especially, the story of Jesus is not as unusual as has been thought, and its “uniqueness” has been more a function of the sacred status accorded to the books by the Church than any essential ingredients in their composition. That is to say, the question of Jesus has been infected with the doctrine of the divine nature of the gospel’s protagonist as well as with the later belief in the inspired authority of the text–both essentially outcomes of patristic discussion–making the issue of “historicity” as the term is normally used, more compelling than it deserves to be.
Book I of Livy’s History does not prove the story of Romulus, or the ruse used against the Sabines, even though he believes it to be factually solid; yet no one doubts the existence of Rome or Augustus, apart from anything credulous Livy might have thought, and got wrong, about Rome’s beginnings. Moreover, we know the gospel writers weren’t writing that kind of history, even though Luke seems to have been challenged to produce something akin to it “from the sources available among us” (1.1-4)—but ends up telling essentially the same story as Mark, with ornamentation and flourishes, and a special tranche of tradition that seems to have been unique to his region. Indeed, Hellenistic critics of early Christianity, beginning with Celsus (ca. 177) carp at the unoriginality of the legendary elements of the gospel without calling into question Jesus’ existence, and this is so, presumably, because the historical literature of the time was fraught with such legends. Take this for example from Livy’s account of the birth of Romulus and Remus:
But the Fates had, I believe, already decreed the origin of this great city and the foundation of the mightiest empire under heaven. The Vestal [virgin, Rea Sylvia] was forcibly violated and gave birth to twins. She named Mars as their father, either because she really believed it, or because the fault might appear less heinous if a deity were the cause of it. But neither gods nor men sheltered her or her babes from the king’s cruelty.
Or this from Suetonius’ account of the return of Augustus to Rome subsequent to the events of the ides of March, 44 BCE—an episode which becomes the later basis for the Christian Aracoeli legends:
When [Augustus] returned to Rome from Apollonia at news of Julius Caesar’s assassination, the sky was clear of clouds, but a rainbow-like halo formed around the sun; and suddenly lightning struck the tomb of Caesar’s daughter, Julia …. 
Celsus presses his main objections against Christian teaching in propria persona as a “Jew” for the purpose of denigrating the novelty of the Christian faith, an objection grounded in the accusation that its founder had appeared “only recently.” He does not challenge the importance of prophecy and augurs, merely the idea that Jesus (as opposed to a hundred others) had fulfilled them. In fact, his choice of persona is almost certainly dictated by the fact that neither Jews nor pagan critics doubted that Christianity had had an historical founder, this despite the muddled nature of so-called “external” sources like Josephus and Tacitus, and the “anti-gospel” Toledot Yeshu, dating from the sixth century CE, but incorporating Talmudic traditions from an earlier period.
While it is fairly common for myth-theorists (as well as others) to point to the unreliability of the external notices, the absence of any suggestion among Jewish and pagan polemists that Jesus was the contrivance of a small clutch of believers—while explicable on other grounds—is as noteworthy as the absence of any tendency among the church fathers to defend against such a “slander.” To explain this away, we would be obliged to say that the Jews and pagans “bought” the Christian story wholesale after it was fully formulated; but passages such as Matthew 28.11-15, elements of the Magdalene tradition, as well as of the controversy-stories render such an explanation implausible and point as well to an early date for competing accounts of the resurrection. The controversies enshrined in the New Testament, as John Fenton recognized two generations ago, bring us very close to the live debates in which the history of Jesus was being compiled, but not created in the churches.
We also know that the gospels, whatever they are, were not designed to convince people that Jesus existed. They were written (eventually) to recall key moments in a brief public life—narrative snapshots based on reminiscences, sayings, and hearsay “traditioned” by various communities, but fairly early in point of time compared, say, to the distance between Livy ( BCE 59-CE 17) and the Roman Republic of the sixth century BCE. As old and inconvenient as this defense of the historicity of important elements of the gospels may be, it is still a detail to be reckoned with.
The tension between the purposes of the gospels—to “bring” the news of Jesus to the Jewish diaspora and the Roman provinces–and the worldview of the gospels is even more important because the (perhaps inflated) apocalyptic fervor of the earliest communities, which cannot have been the same voltage in all sectors of the Christian diaspora, would not necessarily have been friendly to the more mundane aspects of tradition: thus, the delay of the end-time and its corollary—the fact that Jesus did not come again–seems to have set into motion an effort to recover historical elements of the life of Jesus that the passage of time was threatening to occlude—not only the core story of his death and resurrection but information about his teaching and predictions. One of those stories—that of his trial and death—is entirely probable if not a chronicle of events, like the story of the death of Hannibal—and one of them—the resurrection, like the story of Alexander’s conception or the apotheosis of Romulus–is not historical, but does clearly refer to historical outcomes: the belief of Jesus’ followers. It is difficult if not impossible to point to equivalent outcomes in relation to the beliefs of ordinary Greeks and Romans being triggered by events close to their own time. The legendary and the “factual” are comingled in all ancient history, from Thucydides onward. But as an axiom, the incredible in ancient literature does not nullify the credible, or if it did we would know almost nothing about anything before the dawn of modernity. For this reason among others, it is perilous to regard disaggregated analogies to the legendary matter in the gospels as proof against the totality of their assertions and “reports.” As Paul Veyne has shown, in the ancient world the miraculous, the legendary and the historical walked upon a single stage, and our judgments about “what really happened” are imperiled even as we try to view it.
Is Paul’s ‘Silence’ Active or Passive?
Third in sketching the process, there is the “problem of Paul,” or rather Paul’s imputed silence concerning Jesus of Nazareth and his preaching of what Schweitzer called a “Christ-the-Lord mysticism.” Myth theorists have often worked from the general postulate that as Paul’s writing is earlier than the written gospel (a simplistic assumption at best), it is remarkable that Paul seems to know nothing of the historical tradition concerning Jesus of Nazareth. I believe this assumption is grantable to the mythicists only if it is the case that there is no supervening reason in Paul’s career that makes ignorance a more compelling reason for his silence (or virtual silence) than some other explanation. In my view, there is a clear reason for Paul’s unhelpfulness which has nothing to do with him not knowing the Jesus tradition but much to do with his not knowing Jesus of Nazareth.
We have Paul’s letters less because of their literary value and theological significance than because one unusually persistent heretic roamed the provinces from Pontus Bithynia to Rome trying to convince people of the second century that Christianity could be boiled down to believing in a heavenly redeemer who slipped past the archons and became a sacrifice for sin. It may seem surprising that anyone would be persuaded by Paul’s conglomerate of Jewish tradition and Hellenistic theosophy, but Paul was not wedded to a univocal view of Jesus. A propagandist driven by success and a man of many messages, Paul changes course and charts new argumentative paths when he needs to, and he needed to because a great many of his “churches” didn’t like him or what he said. Moreover, a great deal of the Pauline tradition and the need for additional letters in his name is simply graphic confirmation of his obscurity and incomprehensibility.
The battle for Paul’s name and “authority” has been over-stressed, however, and edges on the anachronistic. His reputation is para-canonical rather than original to the tradition. His prestige was not at all guaranteed in the first and second century: it was largely an accidental quarrel over interpretation, forced on church writers by a specific heresiological crisis. Historically, the mythicist view assigns him relevance on the basis of a significance that is contextually untenable—as though Paul and the Jesus-tradition are synonymous “equi-valent” terms: as Paul is an early witness to the tradition (the argument normally runs), where is the tradition in Paul?  In fact, it is a lamentable feature of the mythicists that no single study has emanated from their circle that deals in a mature way with the historical, constructive features of Paul’s thought, as their main interest has been to use his silence about Jesus forensically to “prove a lacuna” in tradition that more careful analysis shows does not exist.
Ernst Käsemann aptly observed more than fifty years ago that most writers of the second century found Paul’s theology unintelligible. In general, Paul does not deliberately contribute anything to a discussion of the historical Jesus and the dating of his letters is work fraught with danger and despair. This disjunction in early Christianity has been recognized since earliest times—first of all by the writer of the Book of Acts, which seems to have arisen, at least in part, in the anti-Marcionite fervor of the mid- second century.. The battle for “ownership” of Paul artificially magnified his importance; but in fact, there would have been no nettle for this quarrel if Marcion had not tried to make the Apostle authoritative to the detriment of the gospels. His theology may very well have sunk without trace and stayed sunken.
It seems to me that this distinction between what early writers called the apostolikon (meaning, almost exclusively, Paul) and the euangelion needs to be reiterated in the appropriate historical context: The survival of Paul’s letters and theology is largely accidental, stems from controversy, theological and political dispute, and is as much polemically charged as it is theologically spontaneous. The existence of the gospels is purposeful, even when specific controversies arising later can be identified within the text. To use the former as a criterion or standard for the historical memory preserved in the latter is to establish a relationship between the two that runs contrary to their separate development. The silence of Paul as a passive matter—based on his ignorance of any historical tradition or a very rudimentary one–is untenable. The reasons for his active silence are considered in the following section.
Competing Christologies and Complicit Silence
And so we are thrown back to the gospels, chiefly but not exclusively on the synoptics. Are they pristine, objective, verbatim accounts of the life of Jesus? Hardly. Are they infused with assumptions about who Jesus is and approximations of what he said? Yes. Can we find “heresiological”, or more properly controversial material in them—material intended to defend a sketchy proto-orthodox teaching about Jesus against less acceptable beliefs? Of course—as John Fenton showed, especially in relation to Matthew’s gospel. These considerations, however, are the surest proof that Jesus really lived and that the preservers of the Jesus-tradition knew what they were defending: they were squeamish about the divine man Christology that dominated in much of the church, and is at least “available” in the gospel of John. The tenuousness of their task is already implied in the phrase “Jesus Christ” though given different prior outcomes, they might have regarded the phrase “Christ the Lord” too extreme–a quiet reason for their general disuse—or rejection–of Paul’s theories in shaping their Christologies. It is remarkable that the gospels use the much earlier descriptions “son of man” (ὁ υἱὸς τοὺ ἀνθρώπου, with its clear rootage in Hebrew and Aramaic passages: cf. כבר אנש) and “(a)son of God” (with meanings ranging from goodness to royalty; cf. Ps. 2.7), in reference to Jesus. Yet unless we can conclude that Paul was actively rejecting or was ignorant of terms he may have regarded as anachronistic, useless to his broader purposes, or pejorative, we are obliged to see these traditions as being in competition by the ’50′s of the the first century CE. Christology is not metaphysics in the first century; it is part of the broader contest of ideas in which historicity is at stake.
When I say that Jesus “really lived,” I mean lived in history, like anyone else. It has to be said this way because the idea of historicity is a construct of the Enlightenment and later, when scholars like Leopold von Ranke, Theodor Mommsen and others turned their gaze on the difference between legend and actual events, defining history, no more and no less, as “what really happened” (“wie es eigentlich gewesen“). In the mid- twentieth century, scholars thought they could answer this question by settling once and for all what “kind” of writings the gospels really were: short stories, encomium, chronicle, tall tale, Kleinliteratur, Hellenistic novel, narrative drama, a script for a mystery religion–Christos Soter? None of the analogies quite stuck, though everyone had a favourite one. In the end however, the safest solution was to say that a gospel grew organically out of the experiences of people who had heard Jesus, or had heard about him, and had come to believe that he was some sort of savior or redeemer, or prophet—or (unhelpfully) all three.
The theological matter of Christology is nothing more than recognition that the gospels are a stew of opinions consisting of what people believed, surmised, and reported–expressed with appropriate irony in the Markan “confession” scenario (8:27-33) where Jesus is given to inquire, Who do men say that I am?  Peter’s response, is not especially telling and Mark does not mean for it to be. That is to say, the gospels are not coherent sources for the life of Jesus, and even when we are brought to the edge of knowing who Jesus really is (cf. Mark 15.2), the gospel writers offer impressions, often attributed to opponents, crowds, onlookers, or followers, rather than “data.” Only in the jesuine discourses of the Fourth gospel is the natural reticence of the synoptics cast aside in favor of bold assertions and self-reference. As they stand, they invite preaching and interpretation (Mark 16.15; Matthew 28.18f.; John 20.31) and that is just how Paul and his associates used them. That these sources also grew in scope as a result of their function is also probable; but the alleged linear development from “kerygma” to “written gospel” (the Dodd-Bultmann uniqueness-hypothesis) is a theologically loaded way to conceptualize the process and stems from over-attention to the intratextual domain of the canonical writings themselves.
Once purged of the mythical and the obviously legendary, the guessing about original tradition begins. Indeed, it begins prior to that because plausible theories exist for belief in the resurrection that do not rely on a supernatural interpretation of an event following the death of Jesus. Just as we have to account for the existence of the Jesus-tradition in the gospels, we have to account for belief in the resurrection of Jesus. That has been the central task of academic New Testament criticism for more than a century while only a literalist fringe have been occupied with defending (and attacking) its “historicity.” Denying that the resurrection was a historical event, using nothing more than textual variants that have been charted for two centuries, does not provide that explanation.
Thus we are required to confront the intentions of the gospel compilers—what they are trying to do: how does this intention reflect the context from which the gospels emerge? Were they inventing a story, repeating one they thought to be true, or adapting such historical traditions as they possessed to a larger frame of reference that included both legendary embellishments and a myth or paragon of salvation?
Using premises that predate the contemporary understanding of myth, myth-theorists have normally held that the gospel writers (or as for Drews and Bauer, an individual, original writer) wrote fraudulent or consciously deceptive tales.  It is important to emphasize that myths do not arise from fraudulent intent; they arise as explanatory stories. For the most part, the gospels (unlike the Book of Genesis) fail as myth because they fail to explain anything. It is true that over time Christian theology educes consequences of enormous importance from the story—doctrines like atonement and salvation—but the stories do not arise as narrative subterfuges to explain how salvation happened. As William Henry Furness, following Renan, observed in the nineteenth century, their authenticity and integrity lay in their artlessness and not artifice.
“Myths” as that term has been used in modern scholarship, especially in anthropology and phenomenology of religion, are typically etiologies of why something is as it is, or how it came about. Genesis is an etiology of the world, the creation of humankind, languages, sacrificial customs, and finally (beginning with Abraham) of the formation of the Hebrew nation. Even when populated by ordinary people, places and names, this etiological function is not far from the surface. Are the gospels etiologies in this sense, and if so, what are they attempting to explain?
In my view, even the most esoteric of them, the Fourth Gospel, remains an unsuccessful hybridized attempt to relate a stubbornly historical tradition to a pre-existing mythological structure. If there are etiological components, like the Prologue in heaven (1.1-16, a creation story), they are not consistently developed and demonstrably false to the historical traditions preserved by the authors in other sections of the work. And the jesuine discourses, even at their most obscure and theologically charged, are “spiritualizations,” as Maurice Wiles has called them, rather than falsifications of these historical traditions. That John was driven by a different agenda was widely acknowledged even among the church fathers—a spiritual gospel according to Clement of Alexandria— and almost all critical church historians and biblical exegetes since the Reformation, not one to be read merely as a history of Jesus.
People of the first and second century did not need to be persuaded that there were gods, omens, miraculous births, and returns from the jaws of death. The stories of gods and heroes routinely used the motif because, after all, it was core to the idea that a god was immortal. If you read the stories of Osiris, Persephone, Heracles, the deaths of gods, the sojourns to the underworld, and their triumphal return, you can be forgiven for saying that Jesus was a hero like that. The fact that one gospel begins by declaring that God became man (ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν) shows the attractiveness of a mythical overlay of events that John (erratically) sees being played out on earth and in heaven at the same moment. Likewise, Paul’s vision of a descent to a lower world followed by a triumphal ascent through the archontic hosts to a higher one (Philippians 2.5-11) encourages the thinking that we have on our hands a garden variety savior myth with historical trimmings. That, of course, is the hub of the mythicist argument.
But what is only partly true of the Fourth Gospel  is flatly wrong with respect to the synoptic traditions, something even a casual reader of the texts can discern by intuition without having to go deeply into questions of date, provenance, and composition. These historical elements, as Harnack realized a century ago, were vulnerable from the beginning to an encompassing myth that threatened to (and in the case of the Gnostics did) overwhelm it.
Rather than being constructed myths, the gospels were, among other things, attempts to bring an existing and unruly mythology under control. I do not subscribe to the view that this process can be expressed in the formula “from Jesus to Christ,” as liberal theology tried to chart its development in the nineteenth and through most of the twentieth century. The gospels reflect partisan struggles within individual communities corresponding to those Paul describes in 1 and 2 Corinthians and Galatians. In some of those, from as early as the fifties, if not earlier, the historical particulars of the life of Jesus had been rendered insignificant by the totalizing attraction of a salvation myth. Paul attempts to take control of this myth with his strange concoction of Jewish and “Hellenistic” additives, but he does not attempt to confront it head on or to challenge it with historical information. Judging from the outlook and practice of the Corinthian church at least, to do so would have been to sacrifice the congregation there entirely. The argument in 1 Cor. 15.45f. rejects a temporal history in favor of a typology (the first and second “Man”) that functions mainly as allegory, but comes as close as Paul ever comes to developing a fully fledged mythology of salvation, one briefly reiterated in Roman 5.12-17.
In its purest form, this encompassing myth is Gnostic and perhaps our closest approximation to it, outside Paul, is the so-called Hymn of the Pearl. It is that mythology, in some form, that Paul knows from his vantage point in ancient Turkey where Anatolian myth blended with Greek mystery ideas to the detriment of all historical interest.
Paul is able to exploit that mythology as a “non-follower” of Jesus (a non-apostle who insists on his right to be called one) because the story for him is not about “flesh and blood” which after all can “never inherit the kingdom of God.”
On a few occasions, to nullify the “judaizing” fraternal claims of the superior apostles (hyperlian apostoloi) who are related to Jesus by blood (as brothers or cousins) or adoption, especially James the Lord’s brother, Paul sometimes generalizes the concept of the brothers (adelphoi) to refer to Christian believers, converts or neophytes symbolized in the mystical body of Christ (the “man from heaven”) though Jesus himself does not become (and is never accounted to be) one of these brothers; he is rather the spiritual sine qua non—The Lord–through which the community comes into being. No one can “boast” because all are one in Christ Jesus. Without understanding Paul’s apologetic motive for this usage, the author of Acts maintains it as a synecdoche for the community (e.g., Acts 1.16; 11.1; 13.26; 20.26 [KJV only]), often associated with believers, listeners, aspirants or “children of Abraham” but also maintains the historical precedent that the apostles are distinguished from the brothers and the unique status of James.
The elimination of James as a “prop” for the historical Jesus has been a priority of the myth theorizers from the beginning of the twentieth century, but has also simply exploited the confusion over the identity of James, or multiple James’s, as an alternative structure of facts. The most familiar example of this is Arthur Drews’s insupportable contention in The Christ Myth (German, 1909) that the easiest way to dispense of the brother-tradition is to recognize that the term “brother” is used equivocally in the sources:
Certainly that James whose acquaintance Paul made in Jerusalem is designated by him Brother of the Lord and from this it seems to follows that Jesus must have been an historical person. The expression Brother is possibly in this in this case as so often in the Gospels a general expression to designate a follower of Jesus, as the members of a religious society in antiquity often called themselves Brother and sister among themselves. 1 Cor. 9.5 runs “Have we not also the right to take about with us a wife that is a sister even as the other apostles and brothers of the Lord and Cephas.” It is evident that the expression by no means necessarily refers to bodily relationship but that Brother serves only to designate the followers of the religion of Jesus.”
Famous for his academic inexactness and sensationalism even in his own time, Drews begins his observation with the glaring mistake that the “followers” of Jesus may here “as is so often the case in the gospels” be referred to as brothers in an honorary or cultic sense. In fact, followers and disciples of Jesus are never once addressed as brother(s) in the gospels in any of the instances where a clear biological relationship is asserted. Then, into the tortured syntax of 1 Corinthians 9.5, he inserts a relative construction missing in the Greek, to justify his belief that “sister” is being used as a circumlocution for “believer.” μὴ οὐκ ἔχομεν ἐξουσίαν ἀδελφὴν γυναῖκα περιάγειν ὡς καὶ οἱ λοιποὶ ἀπόστολοι καὶ οἱ ἀδελφοὶ τοῦ κυρίου καὶ Κηφᾶς; The more obvious meaning of course is “a sister,” [or] “a wife” (i.e., a woman), which has, in fact, become the majority translation. As to the phrase “brothers of the Lord,” it either excludes the higher ranks of “apostles and Peter” or must envisage them as biological brothers (cf. Mk 3.31, Matt. 12.46; K; Lk 8.19; Jn 2.12, 7.3, 5, 10), such as James, who is not mentioned here. Without Drews’s conclusion that the language of the mysteries, absent in the gospels, can be invoked to explain a verse in the epistles, the most obvious translation would be that brothers of Jesus, along with apostles, were seen by Paul as having a right to female companionship or service. The context of the passage, indeed, makes this the only coherent translation: Paul is here talking about the right of an apostle to be served, be paid, and have a share of the earnings (“the fruit’) of his labour, not about “the Christian mystery.” The phrase “brothers in the Lord” in Philippians 1.14 suggests that the author could make a clear distinction between a relational genitive such as Galatians 1.19 (ἀδελφὸs τοῦ Κυρίου) and an instrumental dative (ἀδελφῶi ἐν Κυρίῳ) such as we find in Philippians 1.14.
Yet to assume that Paul’s deliberate and defensive disuse of the tradition nullifies the tradition is abjectly nonsensical. The Christian story as we know it and celebrate it in the Church is basically Paul’s mythos, especially in its Eucharistic form. It is missing in John, who uses Eucharistic images in a different, arguably a more physical and anti-gnostic way (“I am the bread that has come down from heaven”), and works from a slightly different variation on the core salvation story. But it seems clear in both cases (Paul implicitly, the Fourth Gospel directly) that the writers are exploiting a prior tradition and that this tradition was centered on an historical figure named Jesus.
But the Jesus tradition did not begin there. It began simply enough in Roman Palestine with the teaching of a figure named Jesus and his teacher, John the Baptist. The historical moorings are crystal clear and plausible; the prologue in heaven (John 1.1-15) is later. It is manufactured: it is exegesis. Paul’s salvation story is not earlier than the historical elements of the gospel. It is a highly speculative interpretation of the tradition, though not a rejection of it. While Marcion seems to have singled out a pattern of corrupting the gospel, dating back to the apostles themselves, Paul does not polemicize against tradition—just against those like Peter and James, who use it for self-aggrandizement. Both Marcion and Paul, however saw corruption of tradition as a program carried out by “historical” followers of the Lord, not by devils. In asserting this, Paul becomes the first interpreter to place his interpretation of the gospel ahead of its historical embodiment.
In broad outline, the message of Jesus concerning the coming kingdom of God—that is, his eschatological message– is completely plausible. It is both historically credible and fits into most of what we know from other sources about Roman Palestine at the time of Roman occupation. In that story, Jesus does not fall out of the sky or propel himself back into it –he simply lives and teaches and dies, a victim of the raucous age. The question of what he taught and the completely useless attempt of various Jesus seminars and quests to isolate authentic sayings will surely go down as one of the most regressive episodes in biblical-studies history. It seems certain he said some of it and the fact that others said similar things (Nihil sub sole novum) is proof, not disproof, that he said some of it. I have never budged from the view that Jesus was an eschatologist, that he preached judgment and repentance, probably in fairly stark terms. The gospels make no bones about it. What they do in addition to repeating the kerygma in conventional language drawn from a variety of Jewish apocalypses is to make Jesus not only the agent of change but the focus of deliverance.
What the gospels also do is to make Jesus the agent of judgment, the unexpected, unheralded, and finally unrecognized messiah. This is an apologetic stance forced on believers and recorders by the discomfiting events of the later first century. Yet even their rationalization of events is within the domain of the predictable: the belief that Jesus said something specific about dates and times trails off into uncertainty about dates and times (Mark 13.32) like a father’s rash promise to buy a daughter a diamond for her eighteenth birthday and his demurrers on the last day of her seventeenth year. Nothing is more ordinary, more explicable.
But even here, the synoptic gospels are notably sketchy, even circumspect, about the extraordinary or as critics in the post-Enlightenment era would call it, the “supernatural.” And in Mark even the extraordinary is related in matter-of-fact terms using both temporal and geographical markers, a trait of Hellenistic history but not of myth and legend. Mythicists have often pointed to the fact that the gospel writers sometimes get the geography and temporal markers wrong—a feature readily noted by most New Testament scholars–without complaining about the same persistent tendency in secular historiography from roughly the same period. It is difficult to know what historical standard they are invoking, or whether their naivete is simply a result of having a deficient knowledge of the ancient world.
Moreover, the “incredible” elements of the gospels do not form a coherent narrative scheme: the miracles, a dozen healings, a few unlikely wins in debates against “teachers of the law.” Collectively, these do not constitute a myth; they are the legendary bits, though the Jesus-deniers often conflate myth and legend–which in fact serve different literary purposes and have different origins. But the historical Jesus undergirds—and is presupposed by–the legends, in a way distinct from purely legendary figures like King Arthur and Robin Hood whose entire existence is predicated on adventure, feats and tests of stength, and romance. In general, apart from the obviously miraculous and legendary elements of the gospels, such as the birth stories, the story of Jesus is mundane and possesses none of the primary characteristics of pure legend: it is the story of a teacher gone wrong who is killed for his teaching and probably also for some of his displays of magic and healing. Only later, and under the watchful eye of canonists, do stories about Jesus like those contained in the apocryphal gospels achieve fully legendary proportions. Put a bit flatfootedly (though this is not a new argument), the gospels do not show sufficient consistency to be pure legend and are not abstract enough nor sufficiently symbolic to qualify as “myth.”
Saving Jesus from the Gnostics
Fifth and finally: it becomes the job of the early Church to protect the core reality of a flesh and blood Jesus against the second and third century mythicizers, the Gnostic covens. The early writers, known and unknown, do this partly by bringing Paul under control—Paul who virtually disappears from view in the early patristic period. They do this by lambasting Marcion’s attempt to subordinate the gospel to the letters by giving the gospels precedence; they do it also by continuing to write tendentious letters in Paul’s name—especially the so called Pastoral epistles with their transparently anti-Marcion bias. They do it by writing minor texts assigned to other apostles—James, Peter, Jude, and John—to diminish Paul’s standing at a period when his teaching had lost relevance. That these are forgeries, or more politely pseudonymous works, is now widely accepted. That the deuteropauline correspondence is radically different from the same technique in the hands of the heretics is equally obvious. Just as the gospels reflect the real life context of first century Palestine, the canonical letters, authentic and inauthentic, reflect real life situations that have arisen in the later life of the Christian community. In the long run, it is their contribution to the historical life of communities—a certain practical relevance lacking in Gnostic writings–rather than proof of authorship that guaranteed their survival.
This protective reflex is very early, and at least goes back to the time of Polycarp, Ignatius and the author of the pastorals who warns specifically of those who follow the elaborate myths. This “protection” is called for by the worry of a teaching that Jesus Christ “did not come in the flesh.” In its most radical form, that is to say in Gnosticism, human nature is devalued and a doctrine of spiritual elitism more extravagant than anything we find in Paul is put forward. According to Irenaeus who spends years of his life gathering evidence about them and attempting to sort them out (“though they spring up like weeds”) they were not a unified front but a congeries of sects, each with a slightly different salvation story. In their more flagrant but milder form, they stretch back to Paul’s day and to the time of fourth gospel (which may in part have originated in their circles.) Being a “docetist” or a Gnostic was a matter of emphasis, but all would have argued that Jesus was a kind of apparition, not a flesh and blood human being. He was not historical though historical is not a term they would have comprehended. As a revealer, he was preternal, might have come before, might appear again, but never in a time-bound, material sense.
The battle between orthodox writers and the Gnostics (and their forerunners) was foremost a battle over a theory of atonement or redemption: if Jesus did not possess flesh, it was thought, he could not have redeemed flesh. For the Gnostics, flesh cannot be redeemed; thus a true savior could not possess it (cf. 1 Corinthians 15.50).  But the basis for this theory was the bedrock historical material of the gospel: the life and the crucifixion and death of Jesus as real events, not cosmic tokens of salvation available to the τελειότερες– the “perfect ones.” It is an interesting but common feature of most mythicist narrative about the New Testament that they have a very poor grasp of the Gnostic literature, and rely extensively on earlier myth-theorists whose works were written two generations and more before the Nag Hammadi documents were available to illustrate the shape of a fully fledged Christian myth. Perhaps the most odious example of polemic masquerading as scholarship is the work of a certain Richard Carrier, whose vanity published (Lulu, 2009) Not the Impossible Faith manages in over 400 error-strewn pages to ignore entirely the fundamental theological challenge of the New Testament era.
As all New Testament scholars know, or should know, the difference between a Gnostic gospel and a canonical gospel is not only a difference in “style” but in purpose. Joseph Fitzmyer once famously called the Gnostics “the crazies of the second century.” That may or may not be so, but their success is evidence of the general popularity of their cause and seems to have justified the concern of orthodox bishops.
The euphoria that greeted the Nag Hammadi discovery of 1945 and the first publication and translations between 1972 and 1984 encouraged extreme notions that the Gnostics were a liberal heterodox alternative to “male dominated” conservative orthodoxy. But we are in a better place today to judge the threat of Gnosticism as it was seen in its own terms– not by autocratic bishops ruling from their thrones by fiat–that is a Hollywood parody of the second century church–but by leaders of a young religious movement struggling against a tide of religious mythicism. The living tradition that Irenaeus defends is historical tradition; it extends from Jesus to John to Papias and the elders, and even includes references to teachers who had “gone astray” from tradition like Cerinthus and Marcion. Indeed, the standards of historicity were strict enough for Eusebius in the fourth century to call Papias’s judgment into question on account of his chiliasm. It includes before the fourth century a critical element that rivals anything in secular historiography, both in Papias’s comments on the evangelists and Eusebius’ negative feelings (Hist. Eccl. 3.39.13) about Papias’s gifts as a reporter. As to Papias’s dates, we have Irenaeus to thank for identifying him as “a man of old time” (Adversus Haereses V 33.4) and thus a contemporary of Marcion and Polycarp, and perhaps just as significantly an Anatolian from provincial Hierapolis
To challenge every speck of this tradition is certainly possible, but what possible motive would there be for doing so? The simple insistence of the early writers is that the historical tradition about Jesus came first, the “myths,” according to the Pastor, later. Indeed, cumulatively, that is just what the texts as we possess them suggest is the case. The church fathers would have been in a position to distinguish paradosis (what was delivered, and considered authentic) from the “myths and fables and old wives tales,” and what was new from what was received. To impugn their motives moves us away from a methodological suspicion of sources into the realm of master-theories, cynicism and baseless assumptions for which there is no textual support.
The core of Gnostic belief was not that there was no Jesus but a salvation myth that did not require him as a distinct personality. By contrast, for all their legendary embellishments, the canonical gospels want to insist on the historical reality of Jesus, located in a specific corner of the Roman world at a particular moment in time. That corner is Roman Palestine, and the basic details are true to life and credible. In saying this it would be jejune to suggest that I am defending the miraculous; but I would want to defend the historicity of the healing stories. It would be simplistic to say that critical New Testament scholars are still arguing for a physical resurrection; but many, including myself, regard the basic proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus as a historic and defining event in the history of the church, though its form varies from source to source (cf. 1 Corinthians 15,6).
Modern scholarship has unearthed many figures from the period whose careers run roughly parallel to that of Jesus: Judas the Galilean, Jesus Barabbas, Theudas, Shimeon bar Kochba and John the Baptist himself have similar proportions and messages, and inhabited a social world of religious insurgencies, banditry, and political opposition to Rome in a countercultural Judaism that ends with a bang in 70CE. The unveiling of that social world has further solidified our confidence in the portrait of Jesus in the gospels. It is a social context about which the mythicists are largely silent and, given their presuppositions and methods, embarrassingly deficient. The age was an age of radicals, revolutionaries, messianic claimants, and self-styled prophets of the end time. We have investigated targums, pseudepigrapha, ostraca, ossuaries, tombs, and remnants of village life that put us tantalizingly close to a village like Nazareth. The net result of these investigations has not been to push the gospels in the direction of fantasy and fabrication but to establish a probable landscape within which the events described in them plausibly occurred. It does not take a great deal of historical or literary sophistication, for example, to see that the rudimentary nature of their contents places them squarely in the first and early second century, proximate to the events they describe, rather than at a perceptible distance from these events, as the apocryphal and Gnostic writings are.
If the Nazareth tradition embedded in the synoptics and John is more elaborately attested in the gospels than in other literature contemporary to it, the most efficient explanation is that the gospel writers knew about the place because Jesus, in the tradition they possessed, was associated (even if mistakenly) with it, not that they invented it. Matthew’s laborious attempt to find a prophecy to fit it (and various attempts to invent an alternative etymology for “Nazareth” and “Nazarene” based on Hebrew and Aramaic roots) suggest that the village was an embarrassment to the followers, as it was already traditioned in Mark’s famous story of Jesus’ failed attempt to preach there and Luke’s finessing of the older tradition (Mark 9.1; 6.1-7; cf. Luke 4 .16-30). Recent excavations (2008, seq.) led by Yardena Alexandre show that Nazareth (as Bagatti had conjectured) was small (±500), but (as Princeton archaeologist Jack Finnegan argued) a strongly Jewish settlement. The basic picture that has emerged is entirely compatible with what the gospels say about the area being inconspicuous, poor, and suspect (John 1.46; cf. 7.41). Nevertheless, even if the identification of Nazareth could be proved to be mistaken and the name educed from the phrase “Jesus the Nazarene,” there would hardly be a strong case for rejecting the Galilean provenance of Jesus or his actual existence; it would show only that the gospel writers were attempting to sort out a tradition that had come to them unsorted.
Contextually, the gospels are about right, though they get things wrong. Like your grandmother’s stories, they changed over time. Details were lost and some geographical details were modified and forgotten—and others like Bethlehem, invented as a way of doing what every leader since Epirus and Augustus himself tried to do: improve a pedigree or establish a res gestae of their deeds . But the description of Pilate, of Herod Antipas (another casualty of pedigree), the muddled version of the trial, and the mechanism of punishment and death are completely plausible. They were no more written by eyewitnesses than Livy’s descriptions of Republican Rome; nor is that the standard we normally require in ancient history. Once the peculiar nature of the history contained in the gospels is acknowledged, it is useless to try to hold them to a historiographical standard higher than that expected of their secular counterparts—unless the point of the inquiry is not to discover the facts within the sources but to discredit the sources.
Stripped of its theological and liturgical embellishments—which are as masterful in their way as Plato’s fictional mise en scène for the death of Socrates– the crucifixion drama becomes the simple story of the death of a Galilean troublemaker and teacher. Taken as it stands, it is the story of the death of the messiah, or of a son of god, replete with liturgical embellishment from the Psalms and the Wisdom of Solomon, among other sources. Almost all New Testament scholars accept that pious accretions form a heavy emulsion over the bare bones. But likewise, most realize that the simple factual recitation of these events unaccompanied by such interpretation would be false to the story as they rationalized it and understood its significance. If modern literary criticism has taught us anything, it is that there is no such thing as uninterpreted narrative. The gospels do not exist “propositionally”: they exist “hermeneutically.” It has not been the task of New Testament scholarship since the time of Strauss and Feuerbach to answer the question “whether” Jesus rose from the dead, but rather how the early Christians understood this belief, and how it arose within the religiously and politically charged environment of the time. Even if all questions of interpretation could be decided in favor of factual assertions, the gospels would still not exist propositionally.
The Mythicist Position – The Paul Cipher
The cumulative effect of these considerations drowns the mythicist position, which had its beginnings in the excitement of radical New Testament scholarship in Holland, Britain and America at the end of the nineteenth century, and in Germany before that. As a connoisseur of these and later mythicist theories, I can safely say, almost no stone was left unturned in attempting to debunk the gospels. Those stones have now been turned over and over, without much effect and nothing hiding under them.
Despite the energy of the myth school from Drews, Robinson, Couchoud and van Eysinga down to Wells, its last learned, reputable proponent, its conclusions have been rendered wrong by the historical scholarship of the later twentieth century. It remains a quaint, curious, interesting but finally unimpressive assessment of the evidence—to quote James Robinson’s verdict, an agenda-driven “waste of time.” Methodologically it disposes of anything contrary to its core premise—Jesus did not exist—in a quicksand of denial and half-cooked conspiracy theories that take skepticism and suspicion to a new low. Like all failed hypotheses, it arrives at its premise by intuition, cherry picks its evidence in a way that wants to suggest that the ambiguity, uncertainty, and complexity of texts and traditions are meaningless inconveniences invented by the discipline of New Testament studies, and defends its “conclusions” by force majeure. The myth theory, in short, is a dogma in search of footnotes. Most of the ones it continues to exploit in the form of references, problems, and allusions are a century old. While it is untrue to say that the theory is not taken seriously by responsible scholars, it happens to be true that its most ardent supporters, then and now, have been amateurs or dabblers in New Testament studies and those least equipped by training or inclination to assess an enormously complicated body of evidence.
History as a discipline has been in the business of exposing fraud at least since the time of Lorenzo Valla. But the exposure of fraud is not the discovery of factuality or truth—of “what really happened.” History requires a certain patience with ambiguity, sometimes surgical care with delicate sources that have an ounce of reliable data buried beneath the layers of additions and corrections. Harnack believed that the procedure was like peeling husks away from a nob of corn, but it was an unfortunate image, as his critic, Alfred Loisy reminded him. New Testament scholarship has learned more recently to distinguish between event and allegory which are unevenly blended in the story of Jesus. However that may be, the outlines of an historical figure are clear. As the hyperactive Tertullian argues in his treatise on the Flesh of Christ (De carne Christi, ca. 212), against the mythicizers of his day,
Why do you allege that that flesh is celestial which
you have no data for thinking celestial, why deny that that is
terrestrial which you have data for recognizing as terrestrial? It
hungers when with the devil, is athirst with the Samaritan
woman, weeps over Lazarus, trembles at the prospect of death–
The flesh, he says, is weak–and at last sheds its blood. You take
these, I suppose, for celestial signs. But, say I, how could he, as he
said would happen, be despised and suffer, if in that flesh there
had shone any radiance from his celestial nobility? By this means,
then, we prove our case that in that flesh there was nothing
brought down from the skies, and that that was so for the express
purpose that it should be capable of being despised and of
The language is odd to us, because Tertullian is arguing against a renegade disciple of Marcion named Apelles. But the message is plain: Jesus was real.
When I began my work on Marcion at Oxford, I entertained the idea of the non-historicity of Jesus. I was obligated to because Marcion also toyed with the idea–and rejected it. His sole surviving gospel was his lonely concession to that reality, while his project—to give Paul’s theology pride of place over it—was dominant in his thought. His followers like Apelles seem to have assumed the so-what attitude that can be traced back to Paul’s contempt for the hyperlian-apostoloi, the super-apostles, with their boast about knowing Jesus “after the flesh.” “So what if we knew him that way,” Paul sneers, “since we know him that way no longer”(2 Cor. 5.16).
But Paul, writing in the fifties of the first century, says more in that irritated and offhanded comment than he does anywhere else in his letters about the historical Jesus: he tells us why, as a personal matter, he does not “preach” Jesus’ life story, but instead begins with the skandalon of his cross, a usage that means Paul knew at least one piece of information about Jesus, and also that preaching it came at a price among Jews and “Greeks.”
Unfortunately, a standard response to the “opponents” controversy between Paul and the Jerusalem church among the mythicists has been to ignore the controversy, or to deny the existence of the Jerusalem church, or (even) to deny the existence of Paul himself. When Mark Twain felt the plot and character in a novel called Those Extraordinary Twins had become too cumbrous to drive the story forward he decided to drown the surplus in a “poison well.” Loads of surplus information lay at the bottom of the mythicist well. Much of that material concerns our lengthening understanding of the world and context of Paul.
There is no reason at all to doubt the best attested schism in the earliest history of the church (if we discount the ones for which the evidence is less clear). This schism was at least partly about the claim of “certain men from James” (Gal. 2.12) to be physically, perhaps familialy close to Jesus—while Paul “every bit as much an apostle as they are!”—grounds his message in a revelation of the risen Lord. In the bitterest sections of 2 Corinthians, the New Testament’s most complex letter, one which seems to have had special relevance to Marcion judging from Tertullian’s long-winded handling of it in the Adversus Marcionem—we have some insight into the first corporate management crisis in the Christian religion. Unsurprisingly it is a war between executives appointed by the founder and an upstart “idea man” who came on board after the founder’s death. Even “Luke’s” conciliatory prose in the Acts of Apostles, written more than fifty years later, doesn’t succeed in erasing the damage created by the schism. Yet the crisis itself points indubitably past the legend of the twelve to the historicity of Jesus, his disciples, and James.
What mattered in the early church, however, was the significance of Jesus’ unexpected death—its projected meaning as the mysterious conquest of evil, and its consequences, by the powers of God’s grace—not the basic humanity of the sermon on the mount or the (unoriginal) piety of the Lord’s Prayer, or the choosing of preachers to carry on the cause. It was that significance variously construed that created the apostolic community, drove Paul’s missionary work, and the hostility towards it, inspired Marcion’s gospel of love, and Irenaeus’ defense of living tradition. Or rather–what mattered more was the significance of his death, since there is no evidence that interest in the mundane and the super-mundane aspects of the life of Jesus did not arise at around the same time and in some sense as competitive motifs.
For all his speculativeness and infatuation with Paul’s theology as he knew it, Marcion was also something of a literalist, and very probably an Anatolian Jew, where Christianity developed early inroads and was fully fledged by the time of Pliny’s governorship in 110-13—a period when Marcion would have been active as a teacher. A core part of his teaching is that there is a greater and a lesser God, Jesus being the embodiment of the love and goodness of the higher, previously unknown power. But the evolving church could not even accept this much. It risked a kind of theological incoherence (which it seems to me remains long after Chalcedon) in insisting on the total humanity and divinity of Jesus rolled into one.
Further, Marcion detected no literary artifice in the gospel he possessed: he held that the followers of Jesus were poor pupils and finally false witnesses to his teaching. He does not base this finding on a literary “motif” in the gospels (where at least in Luke the apostles are already caught up in a process of rehabilitation) but on a skepticism towards the trustworthiness of the apostles that comes from Paul himself. Was Paul its source, or simply a recipient of the “false apostle” theme? What were Paul’s criteria for his sneering dismissal of the pretense of superior apostles? Is a formerly historical, celestial Jesus, once known physically, who can continue to impart revelation and appoint apostles after his death more relevant for Paul’s odd message not more useful than an historical Jesus who appointed them all during his lifetime? Or can we be myth theorists about it and say the entire conflict is manufactured by story tellers?
A Conclusion among Others
What I have just recited is a lesson plan for why I believe no serious and responsible scholar who makes a thorough study of the discussions of the early church would argue that Jesus never existed.
The gospels alone, even when the unusual circumstances of their composition and their interdependence and differences are taken into account, do not prove him. But the complex of material that survives and tells us the story of Christian beginnings points to conclusion that Jesus existed, when and where the gospels say he did. The core elements, many of the details, and especially the conflicts and controversies that form the stage for the life of Jesus, are still irreducibly clear. They are not the work of a mastermind, or a master-forger, or a duplicitous tale-spinner. They are the work of serious if culturally limited writers who are trying to do their best with collected traditions existing in a variety of what later scholarship would call “forms.” Whether Jesus gave the sermon on the mount in a field or on a hilltop, all at once or in bundles, does not negate the tradition that he gave it at all. Too much has been claimed for the heuristic value of suspicion in probing a naïve literary tradition, not enough attention to the persistence of a consistent frame and the historical coherence of its central character. In their own way, and at a time when Jesus might simply have been gobbled up by a dozen analogous myths and rituals, the gospel writers and their interpreters, the church fathers, insist on this frame.
As I remarked in the Sources of the Jesus Tradition, God- denying and Jesus-denying are different tasks. I do not think the evidence of history is dispositive in deciding the existence of God in the most general sense of that term and apart from its cultural expressions. I think the Bible, both testaments, and all other sacred literature, is collectively unhelpful in settling the question.
But I think the basic factuality of Jesus is undeniable unless we (a) do not understand the complexity of the literature and its context, or impose false assumptions and poor methods on it; (b) are heavily influenced by conspiracy theories that–to use a Humean principle—are even more incredible than the story they are trying to debunk; or (c) are trying merely to be outrageous. To repeat Morton Smith’s verdict on Wells, the idea that Jesus never existed requires the concoction of a myth more incredible than anything to be found in the Bible.
The use of any single “theorem” to deal with the values discussed here beggars the credible. Yet there are self-appointed experts in this camp who lead equally gullible and unwary amateurs down a path of pseudo-mathematical probability based on the absurd notion that the gospels can be approached using true or false modalities, without reference to the recipients who neither accepted nor understood the preaching about Jesus in modal terms. It invites the opposite of careful research because it relies on an anachronistic and “legal” approach to the gospels as a collection of truth claims that can be answered yes or no. But that is not what the textual tradition gives us to decide. The “Jesus Tradition” is so-called because it is less than a history of events as we’d want to know them. Between Jesus and us, the community intervenes, not once but pervasively. It is their voice we hear, not the voice of Jesus. That fact does not entail the conclusion that therefore Jesus had no voice, anymore than repeating a story your grandmother told you entails that you made it up and had no grandmother.
When the Ann Arbor conference Jesus in History and Myth convened twenty seven years ago, the then best-known advocate of the Jesus-Myth theory, George A. Wells, was aboard for the deliberations. I was then a fledgling assistant professor at the University of Michigan.
In my own presentation, “Other Gospels, Heretical Christs,” I commented on the possibility that we need to change our view of the gospels from corroborative to corrective, a fairly unexciting conclusion, I thought, considering what we know today about their interconnections. That is, we cannot use the synoptic writings as mutually corroborative testimony to a single event, as they were regarded once upon a time, in Tatian’s day. But we can regard them as serving independent corrective functions in relation to the traditions they incorporate and each other, a fairly common device among classical historians as well. “What are they correcting?” Wells shot at me when I finished, “since there is no indisputable historical detail to serve as a standard.” At this, the late Morton Smith, who ‘required’ a historical Jesus to serve as the hero of his magician theory, said “Well, they might have flown off in all directions. They didn’t. Their resemblance is pretty strong evidence that they were trying to preserve something and I believe it is historical memory.”
“And while we’re at it,” Smith went on, “what is an indisputable historical detail?”
And this brings me back to the starting point. They preserve something, and I believe it is historical memory as well. They might have gone off in all directions. The apocryphal Jesus story does just this, with tales of ascents into heaven, a divine brat who slays his playmates, and a revealer who descends to hell and puts demons in irons. That is pure legend. It “flies off in all directions.” The Gnostic gospels do it too. But the canonical gospels do not. If a contrived mythology is the sufficient explanation of these literary artifacts, it is the job of the myth theorists to explain why they are such poor examples of the mythic tradition—not why they tell the tale of a man who ascends triumphantly into heaven, in some late accounts, like Romulus in the famous apotheosis of Livy–but why they begin with someone who bothered to touch the ground at all.
In short, the gospels stand as the best refutation of the myth theory of their origins. So indirectly do the theological defenses of the reality and humanity of Jesus. So finally does Paul’s self-confessed rejection of the historical Jesus in the context of his fight with “those who were apostles beforehand.” They are in essence and substance a refutation of a particularly seductive soteriology, the tale of a divine being sent from above to an elect few to whisper the gnosis of salvation.
We cannot say how successfully they domesticate this myth to the historical reality of one man’s life, death and limited teaching. Gnosticism is our surest evidence of how it might have been if the historical contours had been sacrificed to a theory of salvation, and the gospel of John evidences an intermediate stage—a halfway compromise so to speak—between reality and myth. We know what a gospel is, in other words, because we know quite clearly today what failed gospels look like in the form of a prevenient mythology of redemption populated by abstract time-travelling revealers. Yet the preoccupation of the gospels is not cosmic, it is worldly and the teaching of Jesus ranging from advice on divorce to his adumbrations of his impending death—which I take to be commonsensical and plausible rather than prophetic—are the normal concerns of a man whose time is running out.
 Perhaps one of the best examples of bead stringing and analogue-accumulation in lieu of argument is the work of Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, The Jesus Mysteries: Was the Original Jesus a Pagan God? (Three Rivers Press, 2001), which takes its view of gnosticism (not a Hellenistic mystery as such) almost entirely from Elaine Pagels’s book on the topic, and is deficient in understanding the form, context, and workings of the Hellenistic mysteries in general.
 Morton Smith, “The Historical Jesus,” in R. Joseph Hoffmann, and Gerald Larue, eds., Jesus in History and Myth (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1986), pp. 47-8.
 The important studies, without prejudice to their quality and date are: S. J. Case, The Historicity of Jesus (Chicago, 1912), reflecting the state of the question at a relatively early date; F. C. Conybeare, The Historical Christ (London, 1914), a rational defense of the historical Jesus by a leading Oxford Orientalist; Maurice Goguel, Jesus the Nazarene, Myth or History (London 1928; rpt. Amherst, 2008), a clear refutation of the position by one of the leading French exegetes of his era; R. T. France, The Evidence for Jesus (London, 1986), a respectful but uneven indictment of the mythicism of G.A. Wells; and Morton Smith, “The Historical Jesus,” in Jesus in History and Myth, ed. R.J. Hoffman and G.A Larue (Amherst, 1986), who concluded that the myth theory is “almost entirely an argument from silence,” pp. 47-48)
 Issues variously summarized in Charles Horton, ed., Earliest Gospels: The Origins and Transmission of the Earliest Christian Gospels (Library Of New Testament Studies), (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2004). A useful general survey is G.B. Caird, “The Chronology of the New Testament,” Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 1. pp. 599-60; Dennis Eric Nineham, Historicity and Chronology in the New Testament. Theological Collections, No. 6. (London: S.P.C.K, 1965); A.J.M. Wedderburn, “Paul’s Collection: Chronology and History,” New Testament Studies 48.1 (2002): 95-110; and Colin J. Hemer, “Observations on Pauline Chronology,” Donald A Hagner & Murray J Harris, eds., Pauline Studies: Essays Presented to F.F. Bruce (Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1980), pp.3-18.
Helmut Koester, The Synoptic Tradition in the Writings of the Apostolic Fathers (Synoptschen Überlieferung bei den apostolischen Vätern (diss. Marburg, 1953); rpt. Texte und Untersuchungen, 65 (Berlin, 1957). Koester’s view is that there was a free oral tradition paralleling the synoptics until around 150CE. Only 2 Clement and Didache 1.3-2.1 form an exception. Koester’s argument pivots on the idea that orthodoxy and heresy “are not distinct categories before the time of Irenaeus,” though much pivots on the definition of “category” in his assessment. See also T.C. Mournet, Oral Tradition and Literary Dependency: Variability and Stability in the Oral Tradition and in Q, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament, 2 (2005).
 While there are questions concerning the date of the Ignatian correspondence, these have often been pursued most vigorously in the history of scholarship by evangelical and “non-episcopal” theologians who have taken exception to this relatively early endorsement of the authority of bishops. Andreas Lindemann noted, for instance, that Lechner takes for granted the notion that the Ignatian Epistles were a late second century forgery by someone using the antithetical confessions of Noetus of Smyrna. The matter is admirably sorted out in “Paul’s Influence on Clement and Ignatius,” in Trajectories through the New Testament and Apostolic Fathers, ed. Andrew Gregory and Chris Tuckett (Oxford, 2007). An excellent summary of the connections between the controversies that link the earliest Antiochene church and that of Ignatius is Raymond Brown and John P. Meier, Antioch and Rome (Paulist, 1983). Following Lindemann’s statement of the difficulty of dating the correspondence, John-Paul Lotz has provided an interesting study of the controversy surrounding the how the concept of homonoia (concord) was understood in the churches of the second century; see his Ignatius and Concord (Vienna and Oxford: Peter Lang, 2007).
 On Marcion, see generally A. von Harnack, Marcion: The Gospel of the Alien God, trans. by John Steely (Wipf and Stock rpt. edition, 2007); and R. J. Hoffmann, Marcion: On the Restitution of Christianity. An Essay on the Development of Radical Paulinist Theology in the Second Century (American Academy of Religion/Scholars, 1984), p. 31 (on the biographical frame for Marcion’s activity), and Joseph Tyson, Marcion and Luke Acts: A Defining Struggle (Columbia, SC: USC Press, 2006).
 Tert., Adv. Marc. 4.4.2: ‘Alioquin quam absurdum, ut, si nostrum antiquius probaverimus, Marcionis vero posterius, et nostrum ante videatur falsum quam habuerit de veritate materiam, et Marcionis ante credatur aemulationem a nostro expertum quam et editum.’ (‘Otherwise how preposterous it would be that when we have proved ours the older, and that Marcion’s has emerged later, ours should be taken to have been false before it had from the truth material <for falsehood to work on>, and Marcion’s be believed to have suffered hostility from ours before it was even published:’ [Evans trans.]) That is to say, Marcion directly made the claim that his gospel was the basis for later versions of the gospel. Cf. 4.4.1.
Tertullian, Adversus Marcionem, Latin with English trans. By Ernest Evans (Oxford: OECT, 1972), 1.1.
 The literature on “Q” is prolific; a popular general survey is Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel: The Book of Q and Christian Origins (New York: Harper, 1994). Mack’s thesis is speculative and on the fringe of New Testament scholarship. Also see: David R. Catchpole, The Quest for Q. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1993; Adelbert Denaux, “Criteria for identifying Q-passages : a critical review of recent work by T. Bergemann” Novum Testamentum 37 (1995), 105-29; and the still sober discussion of Werner Kelber, The Oral and the Written gospel : The hermeneutics of speaking and writing in the synoptic tradition, Mark, Paul, and Q. (Indiana, 1997); John S.Kloppenborg, Excavating Q : the history and setting of the sayings gospel (Fortress, 2000). Standard skeptical discussions are Austin Farrer, “On dispensing with Q,” Studies in the Gospels: Essays in Memory of R. H. Lightfoot (Oxford: Blackwell, 1955), pp. 55-88 (never superseded); Michael Goulder, “Is Q a Juggernaut?” Journal of Biblical Literature 115 (1996), pp. 667-81; and Mark Goodacre, The Case against Q (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press, 2002).
 Cf. Hoffmann, Marcion (1984), xi.
 For a discussion of my argument concerning Laodiceans-Ephesians/Colossians within the broader context of the Pauline canon, see Stanley Porter, The Pauline Canon (Leiden: Brill, 2005), pp. 132-134. Further, Hoffmann, Marcion, pp. 252-279.
 David Trobisch, The First Edition of the New Testament (Oxford, 2000); see also his Paul’s Letter Collection: Tracing the origins (Quiet Waters, 2001). A credulous reconstruction of canonical origins that greatly underestimates the influence of Marcion is Harry Gamble’s The New Testament Canon, Its Making and Meaning (Wipf and Stock, 2002).
 On the “heresy” behind the Pastoral letters see Hoffmann, Marcion (1984), pp. 281-305; and Joseph B. Tyson, Marcion and Luke Acts: A Defining Struggle, pp. 26-45. Among older works, Martin Dibelius, The Pastoral Epistles: Hermeneia (Augsburg, 1989) and more recently, Paul Hartog, Polycarp and the New Testament: The Occasion, Rhetoric, Theme, and Unity of the Epistle to the Philippians and Its Allusions to New Testament Literature (Mohr, 2001). The study by Kenneth Berding, Polycarp and Paul (Brill, 2002) suggesting that allusions in Polycarp to the Pastorals can be used to prove their early date is not persuasive. The general conclusions of von Campenhausen (1963) and Harrison (1921) especially on linguistic evidence and hapax legomena in the epistles have not been persuasively challenged.
 See the still most reliable survey, Walter Burkert, Ancient Mystery Cults (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1989), and Hugh Bowden, Mystery Cults of the Ancient World (Princeton, 2010).
 See Bauer’s concise epitome of Rechtgläubigkeit und Ketzerei in G. Strecker, ed., Aufsätze und Kleine Schriften (Tübingen, 1967), pp 229-33.
The cult of the healer-god Asklepios is often referred to as analogous. Most descriptions date from the second century of the common era and beyond and are associated with precinct healings by animated statues. See Callistratus, Descriptions 10 (trans. Fairbanks) as well as Plato, Phaedo 118a; Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 21. ; 2. 26. 1; Aelian, On Animals 7.13; Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana, 3,4; etc. Aside from its distinction from the cults, there is the obvious fact that Christianity’s historical interest is as much a reflection of its Jewish and biblical beginnings as of its Hellenistic missionary environment. See Martin Hengel, Judaism and Hellenism: Studies in Their Encounter in Palestine During the Early Hellenistic Period (Wipf and Stock, 2003): “It is not possible to say that Judaism maintained a straight course through the Hellenistic period…Still less can it be claimed that it was completely permeated by the Hellenistic spirit” (p. 310).
 Perhaps the most ambitious if also the most unsuccessful attempt to argue influence by accumulation is the work of Earl Doherty, The Jesus Puzzle (self published by Age of Reason Publications, 2005). An older example of the genre is German controversialist Arthur Drews almost manically disorientated The Christ Myth (Die Christusmyth, 1909; ET 1910), which argued a kind of proto-Nazi paganism based on the theory that the totality of the story of Jesus was drawn from Jewish and Hellenistic cults of the period (see especially pp., 310-315). Drews is significant largely because he created the flashpoints to which many mythicists return again and again, and his conviction that the Christ myth was not an innocent process but a conspiracy perpetrated in the interest of finding support for their beliefs: “As early as the first few centuries of the present era pious Christians searched the Jewish and pagan writers for references to Jesus, convinced that such references ought to be found in them ; they regarded with great concern the undeniable defects of tradition, and, in the interest of their faith, endeavoured to supply the want by more or less astute ‘pious frauds,’ such as the Acts of Pilate, the letter of Jesus to King Abgar Ukkama of Edessa, 1 the letter of Pilate to Tiberius, and similar forgeries.” (Witnesses to the Historicity of Jesus , p. 1, McCabe translation). Without any attempt to discuss the criteria for establishing the spuriousness of these sources, he goes on to indict the gospels for perpetrating a fraud.
 Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, 3.4; ET by Alexander Roberts (reprint edition, CreateSpace, 2012)
This basic function is often overlooked; for example, the Pastor’s advice that “all scripture is inspired by God and is useful for reproof, correction and training in righteousness” (πρὸς διδασκαλίαν, πρὸς ἐλεγμόν, πρὸς ἐπανόρθωσιν, πρὸς παιδείαν τὴν ἐν δικαιοσύνῃ (2 Tim. 3.16) suggests a provenance for the letter within a specific heresiological context that did not exist in Paul’s day. On the Pastorals and Marcion, see Hoffmann, Marcion, pp. 231-305.
 C.N. Mount, Pauline Christianity: Luke-Acts and the Legacy of Paul (Supplements to Novum Testamentum: Brill, 20001) , esp. p, 23: “The obscurity from which Irenaeus rescued the text of Acts reflects the relative unimportance of Acts in the life of early Christian communities, and prevents ant firm conclusions about precursors to Irenaeus’s use of Acts for scholarly debate about the canon.”
 According to Williams, Marcion is accused on numerous occasions of omitting material from Luke’s gospel which does not appear in Luke at all; the most notable example is the accusation that he omits Matthew 5.17, which he charges three times over. Additionally, Marcion’s gospel underwent revision after the death of Marcion himself, though proposed ways of deciding the degree of change have not been persuasive. See Tyson, Defining Struggle, pp. 42-44.
 Irenaeus, Adv. Haer, 3.2.1: “But when we refute these people [the heretics] out of the Scriptures, they turn and accuse the very Scriptures, on the ground that they are mistaken or not authoritative or not consistent in their narrative, and they say that the truth cannot be learned from them by persons who do not know the tradition, and that that was not transmitted in writing but by word of mouth.”
 See Hoffmann, “The Canonical Historical Jesus,” in Sources of the Jesus Tradition (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2011), pp, 257-265.
 A good general study of Irenaeus is Denis Minss, Irenaeus (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1994). There is no outstanding scholarly treatment of Irenaeus’ life and thought. See also Eric Osborn, Irenaeus of Lyon (Cambridge, 2005), p. 180: As Osborne mildly understates the case, “If Marcion first propounded a canon of scripture, then Irenaeus’ canon could be seen as a catholic response.”
 Ecclesiastical Authority and Spiritual Power in the Church of the First Three Centuries by Freiherr von Hans Campenhausen [Hans von Campenhausen] (1969), p. 170, regarding Adv.Haer, 3.2.1); D B Reynders, Paradosis, l’idée de tradition jusqu’a saint Irenée, RTA, 5 (1933), 155-191
 Especially Irenaeus’ arguments in Adv. Haer. 3.4.
 R. J. Hoffmann, “The Canonical Historical Jesus,” in Sources of the Jesus Tradition (2011), pp. 157-165.
 Goguel, Jesus the Nazarene (1926), p. 109. Ultimately the discussion is deadlocked between camps representing one of two views: one that claims Paul’s silence is ignorance and should therefore be construed as not knowing historical “information,” a view that Dunn describes, on the basis of what we know about the sociology if new religious movements, as highly implausible; and another view that sees Paul as essentially an interpreter and not a preserver and reciter of data. As the first clear instance of the controversial context through which the Jesus tradition came into existence and was moderated, it is clear that Paul’s position cannot be interpreted as mere ignorance, and unlikely that it stems from the feeling that the history of Jesus is irrelevant.
 T. Livi, Ab Urbe Condita, Liber I. 1-11; Latin ed., M. Alford (Macmillan, 1941).
See David L. Dungan, Constantine’s Bible: Politics and the Making of the New Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 2007) and John Clabeaux’s review of Hoffmann, Marcion, Journal of Biblical Literature ( Vol. 105, No. 2, Jun., 1986), 343-346. In fact I do not believe that Marcion’s gospel was UrLukas as that designation is conventionally understood, but a prototype existing within Marcion’s community, compiled by Marcion himself. The association with Luke, arguably based on his fictional devotion to Paul (Col 4.1.4; 2 Tim. 4.1-11) gives us some hint of the process through which the third gospel was domesticated. Millar Burrows’s serviceable discussion of “Special Luke” (9.51-18.14) is still useful for the general description of the material: Jesus in the First Three Gospels (Nashville, 1977). The provenance of this tradition is still a matter for speculation. As a thematic concern, it has often been noted that the special section contains a number of stories emphasizing Jesus’ concern for women and the poor. It is interesting circumstantially that Marcion’s gospel is attacked for emphasizing the benevolence of the “alien” God and the high status of women within the Marcionite churches. On the question of Marcion abbreviating Luke, see the discussion by Andrew Gregory, The Reception of Luke-Acts in the Period before Irenaeus (Tuebingen, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2, 2003), which suffers unfortunately from reliance on the hypothesis of Han Drijvers and Gerhard May.
 (Aug. 95); see the discussion in Paul Burke, “Augustus and Christianity in Myth and Legend, “ New England Classical Journal, 32.3 (2005), 213-220.
 Celsus, On the True Doctrine: A Discourse Against the Christians, trans. R. Joseph Hoffmann (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), 116, quoted in E. Komoszewski, James Sawyer, and Dan Wallace, Reinventing Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI.: Kregel Publications, 2006), 313.
 On the last of these, see Hugh J. Schonfield, According to the Hebrews (London: Duckworth, 1937); the Toledoth text (primarily from the Stassburg MS) is on pages 35-61 and the still valuable discussion of Joseph Klausner Jesus of Nazareth: His life, times, and teaching (orig. 1922, Engl. transl. 1925, London, George Allen & Unwin) page 51; 1705 Hebrew version at http://lemidrash.free.fr/JudaismeChristianisme/huldreich.pdf; a superb recent discussion is David Biale, “Counter-History and Jewish Polemics Against Christianity: The Sefer toldot yeshu and the Sefer zerubavel,” Jewish Social Studies 6.1 (1999) 130-145 (evaluated from the standpoint of Amos Funkenstein’s concept of the purposes of counter-history.) Some of the Jewish sources are summarized in R. J. Hoffmann, Jesus Outside the Gospels (Amherst, 1987; 1991), pp. 36-53.
 This was essentially Goguel’s argument against the myth theorists of his day. On the absence of pagan and Jewish skepticism towards the historicity: “The importance of this fact is considerable, for it was on the morrow of His birth that Christianity was confronted with Jewish opposition. How is it possible to suppose that the first antagonists of the Church could have been ignorant of the fact that the entire story of Jesus, His teaching, and His death corresponded to no reality at all? That it might have been ignored in the Diaspora may be admitted, but it appears impossible at Jerusalem; and if such a thing had been known, how did the opponents of Christianity come to neglect the use of so terrible an argument, or how, supposing they made use of it, does it happen that the Christians succeeded in so completely refuting them that not a trace of the controversy has been preserved by the disputants of the second century?” (Jesus the Nazarene: Myth or History, London, 1926, p 72).
 See the discussion of these tendencies in the essays edited by James M. Robinson and Helmut Koester, Trajectories through Early Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress; Wipf and Stock, 2006), and my own discussion of the question in “Other Gospels, Heretical Christs,” in Jesus in History and Myth, ed. Hoffmann and Gerald Larue (1986), pp. 143-155.
 The conversation since Ernst Käsemann first suggested eschatology as a problematical and defining issue has been largely centered on outcomes and inferences drawn from ideal situations, using Paul’s authentic letters and the synoptics as benchmarks in apocalyptic fervor. See New Testament Questions of Today (London: SCM, 1974) and Perspectives on Paul ( London, SCM, 1969). Several useful appraisals of the outflow of apocalyptic thought, which is especially relevant to the development of the canon, are found in Robert Daly’s edited volume, Apocalyptic Thought in Early Christianity (Holy Cross Studies in Patristic Theology and History; Baker, 2009); and Bengt Holmberg, Paul and Power: The Structure of Authority in the Primitive Church as Reflected in the Pauline Epistles (1978).
 The question of how social memory was structured is a matter of heated debate and is interestingly summarized in R. Rodriguez’s revised Sheffield doctoral dissertation: Structuring Early Christian Memory: Jesus in Tradition, Performance and Text (Library of New Testament Studies; London: T&T Clark, 2010). The study contends that oral performances installed the Jesus tradition in early Christian collective memory and “became vital parts of the traditional milieus in which Jesus’ earliest followers lived, and that Jesus in early Christian memory provides the thread of continuity that binds oral performances to each other and to the written Gospels.”
 Cornelius Nepos, Hannibal 12.5; Juvenal, Satires X.164
Plutarch, Alexander, 3.2.
 Livy, 1.16; more elaborately, Plutarch, Numa, 2; Ovid, Fasti 2. 475-532.
 Paul Veyne, Les grecs ont-ils cru a leur mythes? (1983) trans. By Paul Wissing as Did the Greeks Believe in Their Myths? (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983). Veyne’s conclusion is that the ancients regarded the myths as belonging to a different time scale and did not expect “historicity” from them—a concept he finds alien to the conceptual world they inhabited. As the demarcation between “pagans” and “Christians” and to a certain extent “Jews” is highly artificial with respect to their historical predilections in the first and second century it is notable that early Christian literature appeals to the immediacy of the Christian experience and not to a historically uncertain long ago or “in the beginning”—with the deservedly famous exception of John 1-1-2.
 And even after: Howard Zinn has pointed to the use of Columbus’ 1493 description of “Hispanolia” (the Bahamas) as a tissue of lies confected to convince the Spanish court to equip a second voyage. See A People’s History of the United States (Harper, 1980), p. 2, compared to the severe account (ca. 1515) of the treatment of the Indians by Columbus in Las Casas’s History of the Indies.
 The most energetic accumulator of “parallels” was the freethinker John M. Robertson (1856-1933) whose Christianity and Mythology (1900) was a model of indiscriminate piecework. It was roundly rejected by F. C. Conybeare, who was a professor of theology, a member of the Oriental Institute at Oxford, and also a member of the Rationalist Press Association (The Historical Christ: or, An investigation of the views of Mr. J. M. Robertson, Dr. A. Drews, and Prof. W. B. Smith, 1914), accusing the mythologists of being “untrained explorers [who] discover on almost every page connections in their subject matter where there are and can be none, and as regularly miss connections where they do exist.” Conybeare’s final position was radically historical and akin to Schweitzer’s: “Thus the entire circle of ideas entertained by Christ and Paul are alien and strange to us to-day, and have lost all actuality and living interest. . . . Jesus Himself is seen to have lived and died for an illusion, which Paul and the apostles shared.” (Myth, Magic and Morals , p. 357)
 Did the Greeks Believe in their Myths? (Chicago, 1988), pp. 5-27.
 Schweitzer, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1998), esp. pp, 3-36. Schweitzer’s sober approach to both Jewish and pagan sources for Paul’s mysticism and the contemporary assessment of Bousset, Reitzenstein and Deissmann still sets the standard for a historical typology of Paul’s thought. Less convincing is Schweitzer’s discussion of the Gnostic turn in Paul’s thought, pp. 71-73.
 A useful summary of the myth argument concerning Paul is given in P. R. Eddy and Gregory Boyd, The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus (Baker, 2007), especially chapter 5; the book however suffers from a certain degree of methodological naivete and is best viewed as an apologetic response to the myth theory as an “attack” on traditional Christianity.
Three studies can be mentioned of the thousands that have been published: Alan Segal, Paul the Convert: The Apostolate and Apostasy of Saul the Pharisee (Yale, 1990)’; *John Ziesler, Pauline Christianity (1983; 1990\2 ); and Jerome Murphy O’Connor Paul: A Critical Life (Oxford, 19966). The opponent controversy was first extensively treated by Dieter Georgi, in 1964 and in The Opponents of Paul in Second Corinthians (Nashville, 1986). The classic short study in English is C.K. Barrett, “Paul’s Opponents in 2 Corinthians,” NTS 17 (1971), 233-54; and cf. Stanley Porter, Paul and His Opponents (Leiden, 2009). Schweitzerm Nysticism, pp. 75-99.
Discussed masterfully in James D.G. Dunn’s The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids/New York, 2006), pp. 60-67. The defining study of Paul’s opponents remains The Opponents of Paul in Second Corinthians: A Study of Religious Propaganda in Late Antiquity (Studies in the New Testament & its World) (London: T&T Clark, 2000; original German, 1964.
 Dennis MacDonald, The Legend and the Apostle: The Battle for Paul in Story and Canon (Westminster 1983).
 “The Epistles of Paul afford then precise testimony in support of the existence of the Gospel tradition before him. They presume a Jesus who lived, acted, taught, whose life was a model for believers, and who died on the cross. True it is that in Paul are only found fragmentary and sporadic indications concerning the life and teachings of Jesus, but this is explained on one hand by the fact that we possess no coherent and complete exposition of the apostle’s preaching, and on the other hand by the character of his interests. He had no special object in proving what no one in his time called in question—namely, that Jesus had existed. His unique aim was to prove (what the Jews refused to admit) that Jesus was the Christ.” (Goguel, Jesus the Nazarene, p, 109). See the recent mythicist arguments of Earl Doherty, The Jesus Puzzle (Canadian Humanist Publications, 1999) or for a typical version of the argument from silence.
 Ernest Kasemann, “Die AnfängechristlicherTheologie,” ZThK 57 (1960), pp. 162-85. Published in English in Journal for Theology and Church 6, Robert W. Funk, ed. (New York, 1969), pp. 17-46.
I have argued this extensively in “The Reclamation of Paul: The Orthodox Critique of Marcion’s Paulinism,” in Marcion (1984), pp, 233-280 and “How Then Know This Troublous Teacher?” Journal of Early Christian Studies 6.3 (Oxford: 1987-1988), 173-191. On the dating of Luke Acts: I follow F. C. Baur’s placement of Acts and canonical Luke in the second century. A solid and objective assessment is given in Tyson, “The Date of Acts” (2006, pp. 1-11). The following stages of development seem clear: The prototype of the text, already established, originating in Marcion’s circle as an anonymous composition ca. 100; (b) the intercalation of sayings- traditions (Q), independently of Matthew’s use of the same tradition; (c) a second century “Lukan” redaction, including the dedication, an infancy story, editorial additions (e.g., temple-finding) an expanded resurrection account, and ascension story carried over into a still later composition, the Acts.
 Thucydides’ disclaimer concerning the accuracy of the speech he attributed to others, such as Pericles, is apt: “In all cases it is difficult to carry them word for word in one’s memory, so my habit has been to make the speakers say what was in my opinion demanded of them by the various occasions” (History of the Peloponnesian Wars, 1.22.1)
 John Fenton and E. A. Livingstone, Controversy in the New Testament.
Studia Biblica, 3 (1980) 97 – 110.
On the divine man concept, see especially Aage Pilgaard, “The Hellenistic Theios aner: A Model for Early Christian Christology” in The New Testament and Hellenistic Judaism, ed. P. Borden (Aarhus, 1995), 101-112.
 The phrase “Jesus Christ” occurs only in the jesuine discourse at John 17.3 and at the conclusion of the prologue, John 1.17.
 Calvin J. Roetzel “Paul in the Second Century.” The Cambridge Companion to St Paul, ed. James D. G. Dunn (Cambridge University Press, 2003).Cambridge; less satisfactory, M. Bird and J. R. Dodson, eds., Paul and the Second Century (London: T& Clark, 2011).
 Van Ranke, Geschichte der romanischen und germanischenVölker von 1494 bis 1514 (History of the Roman and Germanic Peoples from 1494 to 1514, 1824) and Peter Gay and Victor G. Wexler, eds. Historians at Work (1975) vol. 3, pp 27-29.
 Theodor Mommsen, A History of Rome (London: Routledge, 1996)
 Ranke, “Preface: Histories of the Latin and Germanic Nations from 1494-1514“, in Stern, The Varieties of History (New York: Vintage, 1973), p.57
 John S Kloppenborg, The Formation of Q: Trajectories in Ancient Wisdom Collections (Trinity Press, 2000), pp. 3-5. This is not Koppenborg’s best performance but his assay of the reticence of New Testament scholars to take on the task of genre criticism is brief and precise.
 Charles Talbert, What is a Gospel? (Atlanta, 1984), provides a general survey of speculation concerning the genre of the gospels; see especially “Compositional Procedure and Attitude in Ancient Biographies,” pp, 124-8.
The Christological discussions within Gustav Aulen’s Christus Victor (1969; rept, Wipf and Stock, 2003) are still instructive. See also Gerald Collins, Christology: A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Study of Jesus (Oxford, 2009)
 The Messianic secret as describe by Wrede and his successors explains only a fraction of the ambiguity generated by Mark’s technique; the idea that it was a theologico-literary device was based largely on an examination of references within the gospel. See also A. Schweitzer, The Mystery of the Kingdom of God: The Secret of Jesus’ Messiahship and Passion (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2001 [rpt. Of 1900 ET]) The Marcionite tradition on the other hand, perhaps driven by Marcion’s adulation of Paul and his conflict with the “twelve,” regarded the apostles as fundamentally ignorant, and explained the injunctions to silence as corrections of a “false witness.”Discussion in Hoffmann, Marcion (1984), pp. 75-83.
 The plummeting fortunes of the “messianic secret” since Wrede (1901) as an explanation for the secrecy motif in Mark and the synoptics is reviewed by James L. Blevins, The Messianic Secret in Markan Research, 1901–1976. Washington, D. C.: University Press of America, 1981. There is however nothing to be said for the idea that the theme is cognate to the secrets in the mystery cults since the central mimetic action of the gospels, the Lord’s last supper, is regarded as corporate, public and repeatable and no correlation exists or is asserted between the teaching of Jesus and this ritual act. Moreover, the parables are formally pedagogical not esoteric: their meaning is only “hidden” from the blind (unrepentant, unbelievers) who are equated with the wise of the world.
 Gerd Lüdemann, The Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology, John Bowden, trans. (London: SCM, 1994). An interesting conservative position is outlined by N. T. Wright, using Bultmann’s view that crucifixion and resurrection were not understood separately in the early community; see “The Resurrection of Jesus as an Historical Problem,” Sewanee Theological Review 41.2, 1998.
 An interesting attempt, though finally unsuccessful, to examine the resurrection against the presuppositions of modern critical historiography is Richard R. Niebuhr’s The Resurrection and Historical Reason (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1957). The penchant of some mythicizers to re-litigate the resurrection narratives is one of the most trying parts of their agenda. Both biblical scholarship and academic theology has long come to terms with the legendary components of the resurrection tradition; see especially Helmut Koester, Introduction to the New Testament, ii,: History and Literature of Early Christianity (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2000) p. 64-65 and James D.G. Dunn, Jesus and the Spirit: A Study of the Religious and Charismatic Experience of Jesus and the First Christians as Reflected in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997). Besides these careful studies there are a number of attempts to discredit the accounts in the form of counter apologetics: see especially Robert Price, The Empty Tomb (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 2005).
 The suggestion dates from the dispute between D. F. Strauss’s idea that the gospels were composed by the “half conscious mythic tendencies” of naïve religious writers to Bruno Bauer’s more radical view in Christus und die Cäsaren (1877) that “communities do not write literature”; hence Bauer eventually came to believe that the first gospel writer, Mark, invented Jesus as a complete fiction. See on the evolution of his ideas, D. Moggach, The Philosophy and Politics of Bruno Bauer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).
 R. Joseph Hoffmann, “William Henry Furness and the Transcendentalist Defense of the Gospels,” New England Quarterly, 56 (1983), 238-6
Mircea Eliade, on the phenomenological side explores this level of meaning in Myth and Reality (Waveland, 1998); in anthropology, Homo Necans: The Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth by Walter Burkert and Peter Bing (1986); and in cultural studies, René Girard, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (Stanford, 1987).
Maurice Wiles, The Spiritual Gospel: The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel in the Early Church (Cambridge, 2006).
 Clement of Alexandria (ca. 215-6): “the tradition of the old presbyters”, that the Apostle John, the last of the Evangelists, “filled with the Holy Ghost, had written a spiritual Gospel” (Eusebius, HE 6.14.7)
Kyle Keefer, Branches of the Gospel of John: The Reception of the Fourth Gospel in the Early Church (Library Of New Testament Studies: Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2009), drawing largely from Hans Robert Jauss’s theory of Rezeptionsaesthetik.
 As Henry Wansbrough says: “Gone are the days when it was scholarly orthodoxy to maintain that John was the least reliable of the gospels historically.” The Four Gospels in Synopsis, The Oxford Bible Commentary, pp. 1012-1013, Oxford University Press 2001; and see Douglas Estes, The Temporal Mechanics of the Fourth Gospel: A Theory of Hermeneutical Relativity in the Gospel of John, BIS 92 (Leiden: Brill, 2008).
Harnack regarded this mutation, which he saw as the genesis of dogma, as the “acute Hellenization of Christianity,” (History of Dogma, vol. 1, trans. Neil Buchanan [Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1902], 48ff.) an opinion that while imperfect as stated expressed the vulnerability of history to increasingly esoteric formulations of the significance and identity of Jesus. Karen King’s discussion of the morphology of Gnosticism is also relevant: “Adolph von Harnack and the Acute Hellenization of Christianity,” in What is Gnosticism? (Harvard, 2005), esp. 55-109.
 An example of the usage is Paula Frederiksen’s From Jesus to Christ (Yale, 2000); the model has been taken over almost uncritically from New Testament theology (Martin Kähler, 1900) and the attempt to separate the “Christ of faith” from the “Jesus of history,” is a separation not dictated by the sources but by a theological program arising from critical scholarship. The fundamental flaw is the notion of a linear progression from data to corruption of data. In fact, the traditions from the start were preserved within specific controversial and interpretative contexts reflecting struggles with communities, regional perspectives, ethical and practical conflicts (e.g., marriage and divorce) and social identity. If Gnosticism was the greatest conceptual threat to historical tradition, it does not follow that historical tradition was unmarked by other challenges.
Edward Adams and D.G. Horell, Christianity at Corinth: The Quest for the Pauline Church (Westminster, 2004) brings together some of the scholarship of the last fifty years; C. K. Barrett’s 1964 study, Christianity at Corinth, is still useful; and on social demarcations, Gerd Theissen’s pioneering studies gathered in The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity: Essays on Corinth (Wipf and Stock, 2004), edited by John Schütz, is indispensable.
 “Hymn of the Pearl,” from the Acts of Thomas in Wilhelm Schneemelcher, ed., translation by R. McL. Wilson, New Testament Apocrypha : Writings Relating to the Apostles, Apocalypses and Related Subjects (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1992), pp. 322-411. Trans. by R. J Hoffmann, The Secret Gospels: A Harmony of the Apocryphal Jesus Traditions (Amherst, 1996), pp, 191-194.
 The Anatolian matrix has not received the attention it deserves; it is surveyed in Marcion, pp, 1-28. Not only Paul comes from the region, but Marcion, Polycarp and Irenaeus (from Polycarp’s hometown of Smyrna in Asia Minor, (now İzmir, Turkey) where a variety of non-gnostic dualistic cults thrived.
1 Cor. 15.50: Τοῦτο δέ φημι, ἀδελφοί, ὅτι σὰρξ καὶ αἷμα βασιλείαν θεοῦ κληρονομῆσαι οὐ δύναται οὐδὲ ἡ φθορὰ τὴν ἀφθαρσίαν κληρονομεῖ.
A credible recent survey is the study by John Painter, Just James: The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition (SPNT; Columbia, SC: Univ. of South Carolina, 2004), especially as it concerns his critique of Robert Eisenman’s ingenious but unconvincing identification of James with the Qumran teacher of Righteousness. Puzzlingly, Hegesippus (d. 180?) Comm. 5.1, “After the apostles, James the brother of the Lord surnamed the Just was made head of the Church at Jerusalem.” I consider the “James” and “Mary” traditions instances of doublets that were unsatisfactorily resolved by the compilers, both between the gospels and between the letters of Paul and the Book of Acts. (On the multiple-Mary problem, especially see Jesus outside the Gospels, pp. 41-50). It seems clear that apologetic tendencies govern this confusion. The external evidence is unhelpful and unreliable, causing the difficulty of determining which James is in view, as well as the possibility of pseudonymity and redactional stages, rendering any discussion of the name untidy: James the (obscure) father of Judas (Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13); James the son of Alphaeus (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18; 15:40 [here called James the Younger]; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13); James the son of Zebedee and brother of John (Matt. 4:21; 10:2; 17:1; Mark 1:19, 29; 3:17; 10:35; 13:3; Luke 9:28; Acts 1:13; 12:2); James the Lord’s brother (Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3; Gal. 1:19; called [?] simply James in Acts: 12:17; 15:13; 21:18; and in 1 Cor. 15:7), mentioned only twice by name in the Gospels (Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3). Hegessipus’ conclusions however must be read back into the tradition to secure the identity of James as head of the Jerusalem church as Luke asserts. See also my online comments on the topic, “Faccidents: Bad Assumptions and the Jesus Tomb Debacle,” Butterflies and Wheels 7 March 2007, at http://www.butterfliesandwheels.org/2007/faccidents-bad-assumptions-and-the-jesus-tomb-debacle/ retrieved 7 May 2012. Since 2007 I have come to see Galatians 1, 18-20 as more problematical. While clearly reflecting a key element in the opponents tradition, it seems that 1.16 is in apposition to 1.18-19 as a list of the hyperlian apostoloi, though Paul does not use the language of 2 Corinthians 11.15//12.11; using instead phrases that imply historical priority (πρὸς τοὺς πρὸ ἐμοῦ ἀποστόλους); for that reason, it is entirely possible that the phrase ton adelphos tou kyriou applied to James in Galatians 1.19 is meant to suggest biological relationship and as a term to distinguish James from the dishonesty (Gal 211-13) of Cephas. Rhetorically, in this section, Paul uses himself and Barnabas as a paradigm of faithful preaching of a gospel to the detriment of Peter, James and John (Gal 2.9), who merely “seem to be pillars”: Ἰάκωβος καὶ Κηφᾶς καὶ Ἰωάννης, οἱ δοκοῦντες στῦλοι εἶναι δεξιὰς ἔδωκαν (i.e., of significance). Accordingly, the possibility that Paul is asserting biological relationship between James and “the Lord” in this passage between James and Jesus cannot be ruled out, since he is ridiculing the pretensions of the “reputed pillars,” not affecting to be inclusive.
 1 Cor. 12.27; cf. 1.2; Rom. 12.5.
Acts 1.13-14; Acts 12:17; Acts 15:13–21; Acts 21:17–18; cf Gal 1.18-20; 2.9-10, 12; 15-3-7; 1 Corinthians 9,5): Usually disjunctive as in 12.17, Ἀπαγγείλατε Ἰακώβῳ καὶ τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς ταῦτα. (“Tell these things to James, and to the brothers…”) and at 21.17, adelphoi
is inapposite to presbyteroi
as being believers of different rank.
 Arthur Drews, The Christ Myth, trans. C.D. Burns (London, 1910), pp. 172-174.
 Drews gives the source of his assessment the work of Dutch radical theologians, followed by Schlaeger in his “Das Wort kurios (Herr) in Seiner Bezeichnung auf Gott oder Jesus Christus,” Theol. Tijdschrift 33 (1899) 1. According to Schlaeger, cited by Drews, however, all passages including this one “which speak of Jesus as Lord” are interpolated!
 Mk 3.31, Matt. 12.46; Lk 8.19; Jn 2.12, 7.3, 5, 10
 One mythicist confidently says after missing this simple grammatical point that “Brothers in the Lord” (ton adelphon en kurio) appears in Philippians 1:14 (the NEB translates it ‘our fellow-Christians’). Surely this is the clue to the meaning of the phrase applied to James.” Earl Doherty, The Jesus Puzzle website http://jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/rfset3.htm (retrieved 10 May 2012)
 I do not believe that Paul’s “cosmic” view of salvation presupposes any specific knowledge of the birth or life of Jesus; however, it is unwarranted to deprive Paul of those passages where a historic tradition may be implied based on the prior assumption that he did not now any! Gal 4.4; 1 Cor. 11.23-26; 1 Thess. 4.15 etc. The agreed conclusion that Paul did not write everything attributed to him does not translate into the principle that everything attributed to Paul was written by someone else.
Tertullian, Adv. Marc. 5.4; see Tyson, Marcion and Luke-Acts, p. 38.
 Cf. 2 Cor. 11-12; Considerable work has been done on the question by S. J. Porter,detailed in Identifying Paul’s Opponents, The Question of Method in 2 Corinthians (JSNT Supp, 40; Sheffield, 1990), 15-67 and Paul and His Opponents (Leiden: Brill, 2005). See my “The Pauline Background of Marcion’s Reform,” in Marcion (1984), esp. pp. 75-97.
 But see John 8:37-39; 44-47
 The legend of the ascension appears in the two Lukan compositions and as an addition to Mark (16.19). It is formally a legendary accretion, an apotheosis. It does not reflect a prevenient myth in the way, for example, that John’s prologue does. See on the topic generally Arthur E. R. Boak, “The Theoretical Basis of the Deification of Rulers in Antiquity”, in Classical Journal, 11 ( 1916), pp. 293–297. It is interesting that since earliest times the ascension has been formally less compelling even as a matter of devotion than the core legend, that of the resurrection, suggesting that belief in the former was neither as widespread nor as devotionally central to the communities, and may have been entirely lacking in many regions. The church tradition of The “Golden Legend” linked the ascension, even in terms of chronology (forty days according to Luke) to resurrection as a “certification.”
 The relevance of the Jewish apocalypses for the study of the gospels, especially Mark 13 and Matthew 24, has been settled for over a century; the classic study remains F C Burkitt’s 1913 Schweich Lectures, Jewish and Christian Apocalypses (London: British Academy, 1913).
 On the historical background of the arraignment and trial, see Gary Greenburg, The Judas Brief: Who Really Killed Jesus (Continuum, 2007), pp. 168-179.
Generally speaking, as anthropologists and students of religion came to take a more impartial view of the world, it was recognized that certain Christian stories shared many of the features of myth, and could be called myths as long as the idea that a myth was necessarily false was shed. This is the point d’appui for Bultmann’s program of demythologizing. While a myth gives a religious explanation for “how things began” or “why they are as they are,” a legend is a story which may or may not be an elaborated version of an historical event, but is told as if it were a historical event, usually without allegorical or symbolic intent. See Jane Ellen Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (1903; rpt. University of Toronto Press, 2011).
 Raymond Brown, for example: “Mark 5:1, 13 betrays confusion about the distance of Gerasa from the sea of Galilee Mark. 7:31 describes a journey from Tyre through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee in the midst of the Decapolis. In fact one goes SE from Tyre to the Sea of Galilee; Sidon is north of Tyre, and the description of the Sea of Galilee in the midst of the Decapolis is awkward. That a boat headed for Bethsaida (NE side of the Sea of Galilee) arrives at Gennesaret (NW side: 6:45,53) may also signal confusion. No one has been able to locate the Dalmanutha of 8:10, and it may be a corruption of Magdala,” Christ in the Gospels (Liturgical Press, 2008), p. 369)
 See Michael Grant, Greek and Roman Historians: Information and Misinformation, (Psychology Press, 1995), commenting that the ancient historians not only made mistakes but “rather too many of them. … Individual elements of the tradition were conflated, modified and sometimes invented.” (p. 83).
Jonas Grethlein, Time and Narrative in Ancient Historiography (Cambridge [scheduled],2012), on the use of the plupast as an historical technique; A.H. Merrils, History and Geography in Late Antiquity (Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought: Fourth Series, 2005) on the use of classical description and authority; E T Merrill, “On certain ancient errors in geographical orientations,” Classical Journal (1966), 88-101.
 The view that myth serves a religious purpose has been challenged by a number of scholars; the most pertinent orientation for exploration of the use of myth comes from writers such as Alan Dundes; see “Binary Opposition in Myth: The Propp/Levi-Strauss Debate in Retrospect,” Western Folklore 56 (Winter, 1997), 39–50; for the concept as employed by phenomenologists and religionists, M. Eliade, Myths, Rites, Symbols: A Mircea Eliade Reader, ed. Wendell C. Beane and William G. Doty, vol. 2. (New York: Harper & Row, 1976) and Myth and Reality, trans. Willard R. Trask (NY: Harper & Row, 1968); also see G. S. Kirk, Myth: Its Meaning and Function in Ancient and Other Cultures. Berkeley: Cambridge UP, 1973, which makes the contemporary case that the category of myth extends beyond religion and sacred story.
 See my introduction to The Secret Gospels (1996), pp. 4-28. Harnack wrote in 1900, “Sixty years ago David Friederich Strauss thought that he had destroyed the historical credibility not only of the fourth gospel but of the first three as well. The historical criticism of two generations has succeeded in restoring that credibility in its main outlines… What especially marks them off from all subsequent literature is the way in which they state their facts. This species of literary art, which took shape partly by analogy with the didactic narratives of the Jews and partly from catechetical necessities—this simple and impressive form of exposition was even a few decades later no longer capable of exact reproduction….When all is said and done, the Greek language lies upon these writings like a diaphanous veil and it requires hardly any effort to retranslate their contents into Hebrew or Aramaic. That the tradition here presented to us is in the main first hand is obvious.” (What is Christianity? (Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, rpt. ed, of the original English translation by T.N. Saunders, 1957), pp 20-21.
Michael Bird and Joseph Dodson, eds., Paul and the Second century (London: T&T Clark, 2011); on the usefulness of apocryphal compositions such as the Acts of Paul, see especially Andrew Gregory’s essay, pp. 169-188. On the other hand, a disappointing contribution from Todd Still, “Shadow and Light, Marcion’s (Mis)construal of the Apostle Paul,” shows none of the historiographical sophistication needed to cope with the patristic evidence.
In general the comments of James D.G. Dunn distinguishing pseudonymity as a literary tradition with closer resemblance to classical imitation than to forgery are useful: See The Living Word (Philadelphia, 2009), pp. 53-56.
 References to “Jewish myths” (Titus 1:14), “myths and endless genealogies” (1 Tim 1:4, see 4:7), “what is falsely called knowledge” (1 Tim 6:20), the necessity of ascetic practices (1 Tim 4:3) and the denial of the resurrection (2 Tim 2:18) are interpreted in light of second-century Gnostic beliefs and as evidence of it.
 Polycarp, Phil. 7.1; cf. Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 3.3.4
 On the origin of heresy, see Irenaeus Adv. Haer. 2.14.1 and Tertullian, Praescrptio, 7; 29-31.
 “The mighty Word and true Man reasonably redeeming us by His blood, gave Himself a ransom for those who had been brought into bondage. And since the Apostasy unjustly ruled over us, and, whereas we belonged by nature to God Almighty, alienated us against nature and made us his own disciples, the Word of God, being mighty in all things, and failing not in His justice, dealt justly even with the Apostasy itself, buying back from it the things which were His own” (Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 5.1.1)
 Hans Jonas, The Gnostic Religion (Boston” Beacon, 2001), pp. 189-199.
“The Gnostic Gospels According to Pagels,” America, 16 Feb. 1980, 123.)
Part of the confusion was propagated because of the belief that Marcion’s liberal church policies, castigated by Tertullian, were “Gnostic in character and that these policies therefore were typical of the heretical communities in general; see my critique, “De Statu Feminarum: The Correlation Between Gnostic Theory and Social Practice,” Église et Théologie 14 (1983), 293-304; and ‘The “Eucharist” of Markus Magus: A Test-Case in Gnostic Social Theory,” Patristic and Byzantine Review 3 (1984) 82-88; Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels (Vintage, 1989), pp, 2-18. This popular introduction performed the useful service of alerting ordinary readers to the existence of the Gnostic sources from Nag Hammadi. In retrospect, however, the claims made on behalf of the gospels were extreme, especially as regards the “probative” value of Gnostic Thomas (GnTh) for “Q” See Maurice Casey, An Aramaic Approach to Q (Cambridge, 2005), p. 33. In her discussions, moreover, Pagels seemed to regard the nascent orthodoxy of Irenaeus as an episcopal prerogative exercised against beleaguered and misunderstood heretics, which is at best a liberal description of the conflict between aggressive mythicizers and defenders of historical tradition. See “One God One Bishop,” pp, 28-47. Also, H. Koester, and Thomas Lambdin (translators), (1996). “The Gospel of Thomas” in James M. Robinson, ed., The Nag Hammadi Library in English (Revised ed.) (Leiden, New York, Cologne: E. J. Brill 1996), p. 125; Hoffmann, Jesus Outside the Gospels (New York: Prometheus, 1987), p, 86-88.
 Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 3.11.1; 3.3.4
It is notable that Eusebius, in spite of his desire to discredit Papias, still places him as early as the reign of Trajan (A.D. 98-117). See W. Schoedel, Anchor-Yale Bible, vol, 5 (Doubleday-Anchor, 1992), 140-143.
 John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Anchor Yale Bible Reference Library, 1991-2001, volume 3 (2001). The studies of the social matrix of radical opposition to Roman rule and such topics as banditry and religious radicalism are numerous; see among others J. Massyngbaerde Ford, My Enemy Is My Guest: Jesus and Violence in Luke (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1984); Walter Grundmann, “Kakos, akakos, kakia, … .” TDNT 3:469–487; E J Hobsbawm, Bandits (New York: Dell, 1969) and Primitive Rebels (New York: Norton, 1965); William Horbury, “Ancient Jewish Banditry and the Revolt Against Rome, AD 66–70,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 43 (1981), 409–432 and “Bandits, Messiahs and Longshoremen: Popular Unrest in Galilee Around the Time of Jesus.” Social World of Formative Christianity and Judaism. Edited by J. Neusner. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press), 1988, 50–68; “Christ as Brigand in Anti–Christian Polemic.” Jesus and the Politics of His Day, ed. by Ernst Bammel and C.F.D. Moule (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 183–196;“The Zealots: Their Origin, Relationships and Importance in the Jewish Revolt.” Novum Testamentum 28, no. 2 (1986): 159–192; William Horbury, and John S. Hanson, Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs: Popular Movements in the Time of Jesus (New York: Winston Press, 1985); Jesus and the Spiral of Violence: Popular Jewish Resistance in Roman Palestine (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993).
 The difficulty of establishing an archaeological record for “Nazareth” has been noted since the time of Guignebert (Jesus, 1933/ET 1956, p. 76f.).
 Shawn Carruth, James M. Robinson,“Q 4:1-13,16: The Temptations of Jesus : Nazara,” ed. Chris Heil (Peeters Publishers, 1966), p. 415.
 Y. Alexandre, “Archaeological Excavations at Mary’s Well, Nazareth,” Israel Antiquities Authority bulletin, May 1, 2006
 The Archaeology of the New Testament, Princeton University Press: Princeton, 1992: pages 44-46. Attempts of controversialists like Rene Salm to suggest that Nazareth was not an occupied location in the time of Jesus have now been persuasively discredited by recent excavations of Israeli archaeologists led by Yardena Alexandre. The dwellings and older discoveries of nearby tombs in burial caves suggest that Nazareth was an out-of-the-way hamlet of around 50 houses on a patch of about four acres. See further, Ken Dark, “Review of The Myth of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus“, STRATA: Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society, vol. 26 (2008), pp. 140–146; cf. Stephen J. Pfann & Yehudah Rapuano, “On the Nazareth Village Farm Report: A Reply to Salm”, STRATA: Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society, vol. 26 (2008), pp. 105–112.
 Ναζαρηνε (“Nazarene”) and its variants are at Mk. 1:24; 10:47; 14:67; 16:6; Lk 4:34 and 24:19. Ναζωραιοc (“Nazoraean”) and its permutations are at Mt 2:23; 26:71; Lk 18:37; Jn 18:5, 7; 19:19; and six times in the Acts of the Apostles. “Q certainly contained reference to Nazara,” cited in J. M. Robinson et al, The Critical Edition of Q. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 2000), pp. 42-43; F. C. Burkitt, “The Syriac forms of New Testament names,” in Proceedings of the British Academy, (Oxford, 1911), p. 392.
 See Thedor Mommsen’s edition, Res gestae Divi Augusti ex monumentis Ancyrano et Apolloniensi. Berlin: Weidmann, 1865)
 W.K.C. Guthrie’s survey History of Greek Philosophy (Cambridge, 1975), pp. 74-77. The scene is properly a foundation myth for Plato’s academic cult and functions in approximately the same way as the crucifixion scenario in the gospels; see J. Barret “Plato’s Apology: Philosophy, Rhetoric, and the World of Myth,” The Classical World, 95:1 (Autumn, 2001), pp. 3-30
 See my discussion in the reprint of K. Jaspers and R. Bultmann, Myth and Christianity: An Inquiry into the Possibility of Religion without Myth (Amherst, 2005), 9-22, which also provides a summary of major trajectories in the myth theory.
 A still fascinating look at the early twentieth century reaction to mythicism is Maurice Goguel’s essay, “Recent French Discussion of the Historical Existence of Jesus Christ,” Harvard Theological Review, 19.2 (1926), 115-142.
 Carlo Ginzberg, History, Rhetoric, and Proof (The Menahem Stern Jerusalem Lectures; Brandeis, 1999), pp. 54-71.
The image is Harnack’s favourite: What is Christianity? (rpt of 1901 edition; Martino, 2011), pp. 12, 15, 55, 179, 217.
 Tertullian de carne Christi (Trans. Evans, Oxford, 1956), 9.39.
 Hermann Detering, The Falsified Paul, Early Christianity in the Twilight (Journal of Higher Criticism, 2003); and see J. Murphy O’Connor, Paul, A Critical Life (Clarendon, 1996).
 I do not deal in this essay with the conundrum of multiple Jameses and the redactional gymnastics that have brought them into existence. Dealing only with Paul’s letter to Galatia, it is my view that the James referred to in Galatians 1.18 and the brother referred to in Mark 6.3 represent the earliest strand in the literary tradition. The allusion in 1 Corinthians 15.7 (cf. 5) is a doublet, perhaps representing two different versions of the letter, or two different resurrection traditions, one associated with Peter and the twelve, the other attached to James and the apostles.
 See my extensive discussion in Marcion, 101-133,
 See J. K Elliott, ed., The Apocryphal New Testament A Collection of Apocryphal Christian Literature in an English Translation (Oxford 2005) and introduction to The Secret Gospels, ed. R. J. Hoffmann (Amherst, 1996).