Mythicism: A Story of Bias, Incompetence and Falsehood
Copyright (c) 2012, Maurice Casey
One of the most remarkable features of public discussion of Jesus of Nazareth in the twenty-first century has been a massive upsurge in the view that this important historical figure did not even exist. This view, unknown in the ancient world, became respectable during the formative period of critical scholarship in the nineteenth century, when it was no longer possible for recent Christian opinions to be taken for granted among educated European scholars. Because of its scholarly presentation, with as much evidence and argument as could reasonably be expected at that time, this view was much discussed by other learned people. In the later twentieth century, competent New Testament scholars believed that it had been decisively refuted in a small number of readily available books, supported in scholarly research by commentaries and many occasional comments in scholarly books.
The presentation of this view has changed radically in recent years, led by hopelessly unlearned people. It has two major features. One is rebellion against traditional Christianity, especially in the form of fundamentalism. The second is the massive contribution of the internet. Unlike published scholarly work, the internet is uncontrolled and apparently uncontrollable. Two of the most influential writers of published work advocating the mythicist view, that is, the view that Jesus was not a historical figure, but rather a myth, appeal directly to an audience on the internet.
In Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, Earl Doherty, one of most influential of these mythicists, has commented:
The advent of the Internet has introduced an unprecedented “lay” element of scholarship to the field….the absence of peer pressure and constraints of academic tenure, has meant that the study of Christian origins is undergoing a quantum leap in the hands of a much wider constituency than traditional academia…
Commenting further on his website and his previous book, he added,
The primary purpose of both site and book was to reach the open-minded ‘lay’ audience…
This is as inaccurate as possible. The internet audience is ‘lay’, but it is not open-minded. It has both ‘Christian apologists’, whom mythicists love to hate, and atheists who are determinedly anti-Christian. Both groups consist largely of people with closed minds who are impervious to evidence and argument, a quite different world from the critical scholars among whom I am happy to have spent most of my life, whether they were Christian, Jewish or irreligious. We were not concerned by ‘peer pressure’ or the ‘constraints of academic tenure’, except that we were united by an absolute determination to oppose any threat to the academic freedom of people in our universities, regardless of status, colour, race, religion or creed.
Doherty was born in Canada in 1941. He was brought up as a Catholic. He comments, ‘I became an atheist at the age of 19…’. Doherty claims to hold a B.A. with distinction in Ancient History and Classical Languages, but he does not say at what institution he obtained it, and his ability to read texts accurately seems very limited. When he has read any critical scholarship, Doherty is hopelessly out of date. For example he announces that Mark contains ‘many anachronisms. It is generally agreed, for example, that there is no evidence for synagogues (in which Jesus is regularly said to preach) in Galilee forty years prior to the Jewish War….’ This relies on out of date scholarship, which Sanders saw straight through, and which critical scholars no longer believer in. By 2009, Doherty should have known better, including the archaeological remains of synagogues at Gamla, Herodium and Masada, and the Theodotus inscription (CIJ ii, 1404) which records the building of a synagogue in Jerusalem.
Doherty nonetheless repeatedly depends on later Christian traditions. For example, he comments firstly on the epistles, ‘important fundamentals of doctrine and background, which almost two millennia of Christian tradition would lead us to expect, are entirely missing.’ This ‘finding’ is clearly contrary to the nature of historical research. The last thing we should expect to find in first century documents is the deposit of centuries of later Christian tradition.
Doherty discusses passages which he cannot imagine Luke omitting if he knew them. The appropriate setting for this is not critical, as is obvious when Doherty quotes R. H. Stein, Senior Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:
Why would Luke have omitted such material as the coming of the wise men? Would not the presence of such Gentiles at the birth of Jesus have been meaningful for Luke’s Gentile-oriented Gospel? Why would he have omitted the flight to Egypt and return to Nazareth; the story of the guards at the tomb and their report; the unique Matthean material concerning the resurrection; and so on? Added to this is the observation that if Luke had before him Matthew’s birth account and genealogy, one wonders if he would not have sought in some way to ‘harmonize’ the one we have in his Gospel with the Matthean version.
This is fundamentalism, or simply amateur forensics, not critical scholarship or historical research. Luke was a highly educated Greek Christian. He did not read about ‘wise men’ being ‘Gentiles’ at the birth of Jesus. He read about ‘magoi from the East’ (Mt. 2.1). From his point of view they were something like magicians or astrologers, and the notion that ‘we saw his star in the East’ (Mt. 2.2) probably seemed silly enough, before he got to ‘Behold, the star which they saw in the East, went before them, until it came and stood over the place where the child was’ (Mt. 2.9). Luke will have known perfectly well that not only did such things not happen, but magicians/astrologers told untrue stories in which such things did happen. He was writing for churches in the Greco-Roman world, and he will have known that starting like that would not have been attractive to the sort of people he knew well.
The most chronic comment is the last one. It is fundamentalists who ‘harmonize’ their sacred texts. Luke had good reason not to believe that an ‘angel of the Lord’ appeared to Joseph and not to Mary! What’s more, Joseph found out that she was pregnant and needed the vision to stop him divorcing her (Mt. 1.18-25). Matthew’s gospel was not scripture in a canonical New Testament and lacking such authority, why would the need for harmonisation have arisen at all? It was a Gospel written by one of ‘many (people)’ who ‘set their hand to compiling an orderly account concerning the events which have been fulfilled among us’ (Lk. 1.1), and one which was too Jewish for Luke. Why ‘harmonize’ it with anything? Why not prefer a different story or write his own? The result is infinitely better for educated Greek Christian readers. There are no astrologers, and no doubt by Joseph about Mary’s pregnancy, let alone a threat to divorce her. Instead, we have the birth of John the Baptist as well as Jesus, with the angel of the Lord appearing to John’s father as well as to Mary, the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis. Why harmonize that with Matthew when it is far better on its own!
Doherty uncritically follows Kloppenborg on what some scholars call ‘Q’. Some scholars now regard his view that this was a single Greek document as the dominant theory. The mainstream version of this view has one general problem, namely that the disappearance of ‘Q’ is difficult to explain. Other scholars believe that the ‘Q’ material was not source material used independently by Matthew and Luke, but that Luke copied parts of Matthew, editing as he went along. This is the hypothesis of Goodacre and others which Doherty was so concerned to criticize, because it would leave him without a document from which major aspects of the life and teaching of Jesus were missing. A third view has been widespread among the very small proportion of New Testament scholars who can read Aramaic, the language which Jesus spoke. I call this a ‘chaotic’ hypothesis, because it supposes that the synoptic Gospels had several different sources, some of which were in Aramaic not Greek, and I carried it further myself in a book published in 2002. Doherty shows no sign of having grappled with this work, which issues in results he cannot even contemplate, especially that some traditions in the synoptic Gospels are perfectly accurate. He therefore omits everything of this kind.
Doherty’s ‘original’ work on Paul is equally frightful. In accordance with a regrettable lack of information about conventional scholarship, he shows no knowledge of the fundamental work of the anthropologist E.T. Hall, who introduced the terms ‘high context culture’ and ‘low context culture’ into scholarship. Paul’s epistles were written in a high context culture, which was homogeneous enough for people not to have to repeat everything all the time, whereas American, European and many other scholars belong to a low context culture, which gives them quite unrealistic expectations of what the authors of the epistles ought to have written. This is one basic reason why Paul says so little about the life and teaching of Jesus. To some extent, his Gentile Christians had been taught about Jesus already, so he could take such knowledge for granted. He therefore had no reason to mention places such as Nazareth, or the site of the crucifixion, nor to remind his congregations that Jesus was crucified on earth recently.
Doherty’s examples are especially chronic. One is ‘Calvary’. He makes up a fictional conversation between Paul and his converts. It includes a comment from ‘Julia’ who says how Paul had been to Jerusalem and ‘could stand on the very spot where Jesus was crucified’. He has Paul reply, ‘My dear lady, I’ve never been to Calvary…it’s only a little hill after all.’ Again, on the text of Gal. 4.4f, which is important for establishing that Paul knew perfectly well that Jesus was a historical not a mythical figure, he suggests that Paul somehow should have said ‘God sent his son to die on Calvary and rise from the tomb’.
The English term ‘Calvary’ is a translation, or rather virtually a transliteration, of the Latin calvaria, and would therefore not have been used by Paul either in conversation with his Greek-speaking converts or in a Greek epistle. The Latin calvaria means ‘skull’, so Doherty has Paul say in effect, partly in the wrong language, ‘I’ve never been to Skull’, and supposes that he should have written, again partly in the wrong language, ‘God sent his son to die on Skull and rise from the tomb’. This illustrates how ignorant Doherty is. The Latin calvaria is first recorded as used as a translation of Golgotha by the Latin father Tertullian (Against Marcion, III, 198). Our oldest source says that they, probably a whole cohort, ‘took Jesus to the Golgotha place, which is in translation, “place of skull”’ (Mk 15.22). An Aramaic word of the approximate form gōlgōlthā meant ‘skull’. The idea of it being ‘a little hill’ is not known until the Bordeaux pilgrim imagined it was the place she visited in 333 CE, so this would not be known to Paul either. It is likely to have been called ‘the gōlgōlthā place’ because it was strewn with the skulls of executed people. Why should Paul want to visit such a revolting place? If he went at the wrong time, such as Passover, he might well find not only a site of previous executions, but people screaming in pain as they were crucified too. Pilgrimages to such sites, and the idea they were sacred, appear to date from the time of Constantine onwards, when people were no longer crucified there.
Another astonishing example is Doherty imagining that Paul should have behaved like much later Christians seeking relics. He asks ‘What about the relics? Jesus’ clothes, the things he used in his everyday life, the things he touched?….If the Gospel accounts have any basis we would expect to find mention of all sorts of relics, genuine or fake: cups from the Last Supper, nails bearing Jesus’ flesh, thorns from the bloody crown, the centurion’s spear, pieces of cloth from the garments gambled for by the soldiers at the foot of the cross―indeed, just as we find a host of relics all through the Middle Ages…’ This is an extraordinary muddle which has just one point right: relics were characteristic of Christian piety much later. Otherwise, it seeks to impose upon Pauline Christianity the mediaeval Catholic religion which Doherty is supposed to have left.
Furthermore, Doherty cannot understand why relics of Jesus, pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and shrines there did not begin until the fourth century, and he declares, ‘The total absence of such things in the first hundred years of Christian correspondence is perhaps the single strongest argument for regarding the entire Gospel account of Jesus’ life and death as nothing but literary fabrication.’ Firstly, Doherty does not understand early Christian piety, which had no need of shrines or relics. Secondly, Doherty ignores the political situation. Until the fourth century, Christians were members of a persecuted religion, and neither major pilgrimages nor the foundation of shrines and churches in Israel were practical. In the fourth century, however, the emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Then his mother, the empress Helena, made the first major Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where she founded the first churches and shrines. It was she who guessed at what became the traditional sites of Golgotha and of Jesus’ tomb, and it was her son the emperor Constantine who ordered the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre over both of them.
Doherty’s attempts to understand what Paul did say are equally incompetent. Jesus’ death by crucifixion was historically straightforward, in the sense that crucifixion was a very common penalty inflicted by Roman authorities on slaves and provincials. It was well known as a very cruel form of death. It was a regrettably well known Roman penalty in Palestine. For example, after Herod the Great’s death in 4 BCE, there were a lot of rebellious upsets in Israel, and Publius Quinctilius Varus, the Roman governor of Syria, brought three legions down to Israel. After sacking Sepphoris, he went on to Jerusalem, where he crucified no less than 2,000 people (Jos. War. II, 75//Ant. XVII, 295). It was obvious to everyone that these events took place on earth.
Following his arrest, Jesus was handed over to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilatus, who condemned him to death by this standard penalty of crucifixion. The titulus on his cross said he was ‘king of the Jews’, Pilate’s term for a bandit, and he was crucified between two other men whom Pilate also condemned to crucifixion as bandits. This is the story which would be well known in the Pauline churches, and which Doherty is determined to omit when considering how to interpret Paul’s epistles. In its place, he has a story in which Jesus was mythically ‘crucified’ by evil powers in the sublunar realm.
For this story, Doherty draws on ideas some of which are found in some Neoplatonic texts, but not in the New Testament nor in the Judaism from which early Christianity emerged. For example, Xenocrates (ca. 396-314 B.C.) already divided the universe into the realm above the moon (the supra-lunar) and the realm below the moon (the sub-lunar), and he believed that the sub-lunar realm was occupied by daemons. Scholars generally consider the Middle Platonic period to have begun c. 90 BCE with the work of Antiochus of Ascalon (c. 125–68 BCE). Following Xenocrates, Antiochus also expressed a belief in daemons, which inhabit the sub-lunar realm (the supra-lunar realm being reserved for the divine celestial bodies). There is however no evidence that such ideas were known in Judaism in Israel, the main source of Paul’s ideas, or that they were widespread enough to be generally known to his Gentile converts. Accordingly, it is of central importance that at this point Doherty reverses one of his major points of method. Having argued up to this point that Paul did not believe anything that he does not mention, he imagines that he could take for granted this mythical realm and the quite unparalleled notion of a spiritual crucifixion up there, without mentioning anything of the kind.
Doherty tries to produce evidence which he imagines makes the crucifixion of Jesus in the sublunar realm plausible. The first document which he mentions in this context is The Hypostasis of the Archons, a Gnostic work of the third century CE, which survives only in one Coptic ms from Nag Hammadi, though it is often assumed to have been originally written in Greek. This refers to Paul as ‘the father of truth, the great apostle’, and at 87, 24 it does refer to the rulers (archontes). Doherty uses it to claim that ‘considering that the roots of Gnosticism go back before the establishment of an historical Jesus in the Gospels, we are once again witnessing an understanding of archontic rulers as spirit demons unassociated with any earthly princes, and thus a pointer to the older understanding in the time of Paul.’ This predating of selected parts of a text from the third century CE shows a total lack of historical sense. This document also has Adam created by ‘the rulers (archontes)’ (87, 25ff), and in typical late Gnostic fashion, it has the being who declared himself the one God be a blind being who was sinful, and it does not present the death of Jesus at all. It should be obvious that this source is too late and unPauline to be used to interpret the historical Paul.
Doherty correctly notes that evil spirits come into their own in the apocrypha and pseudepigrapha. He correctly refers to 1 Enoch, which was written well before the time of Paul. Next he refers confidently to the ‘1st century Testament of Solomon’. This is much too early a date. Schürer-Vermes-Millar, in a section primarily the responsibility of Vermes, note correctly that its ‘complex textual history naturally makes it difficult to date.’ There is however good reason to think that ‘it was current in some form around A. D. 400’; further, ‘the archetype of all the full versions (incorporating the demonology) cannot have been put together before the early third century A. D.’ This means that it is quite ludicrous of Doherty to conclude on the basis of this evidence that ‘by Paul’s time they [i.e. the demons] have become vast powers that infest the heavens.’ There is no such idea in 1 Enoch, and the Testament of Solomon shows only that such ideas were believed by some people some 200 years after Paul’s time.
In addition to the Testament of Solomon, Doherty turns to the Questions of Ezra (Recension B). This is an even later document. It survives only in Armenian. The earliest surviving ms is dated to 1208 CE. This has been labelled recension A, and Recension B is known only from the seventeenth century. Stone was unable to determine whether it was originally composed in Armenian, which would certainly mean a very late date, or translated into Armenian from another language. It is not however known anywhere outside the Armenian church. It is evident that it was not written until centuries after Paul’s life and death, so once again this is the wrong cultural background for understanding anything that Paul wrote or might have believed.
The next document to which Doherty turns is the Ascension of Isaiah. This is a composite work. In its present form it is a Christian work, which appears to have been written in Greek, only fragments of which survive. It utilised an older Jewish work, The Martyrdom of Isaiah, which was still known to Origen and the Apostolic Constitutions, but which has not survived except as used in the Christian Ascension of Isaiah. The whole text of this composite work survives only in Ethiopic. This translation was probably made sometime in the 4th-6th centuries. The oldest ms is however from the 15th century. A similar textual tradition is found in the first Latin translation, which survives only in fragments. A different textual tradition is found in the second Latin translation and in the Slavonic version, which contain only chs 6–11, generally known as the Vision of Isaiah, so they attest to its independent existence. The second Latin translation was first published in 1522, on the basis of a ms which is no longer known. The Slavonic translation exists in two forms, of which the second is a shorter version of the first. The earliest ms of the first version dates from the 12th century, and the translation was apparently made in the tenth or eleventh century.
It should be obvious from this that the date of anything resembling the text of what we can now read is difficult to determine. Knibb makes the entirely reasonable suggestion that the Vision of Isaiah ‘comes from the second century CE’, and gives correct reasons for disputing attempts to date it any earlier. Schürer-Vermes-Millar, in a section primarily the responsibility of Vermes, likewise suggest that ‘the Vision of Isaiah belongs probably to the second century A.D.’, while Charlesworth puts it ‘around the end of the second century A.D.’. This document too is therefore too late in date to form evidence of the cultural environment in which Paul wrote to his converts. Doherty, however, simply announces that a community wrote this ‘vision’ ‘probably towards the end of the 1st century CE’. There is no excuse for dating it so early, and it would still be too late for Paul.
I hope it is clear from this brief account that Doherty, despite being thought of as one of the most important of the mythicists, is unqualified, incompetent and hopelessly biased.
Dorothy Murdock, who writes also under the name of Acharya Sanning, has a significant following too. As well as her books, she has a blog. This includes “Who is Acharya S?”. Here, describing herself with typical mythicist modesty as ‘the coolest chick on the planet’, she claims to have a BA degree in Classics, Greek Civilization, from Franklin and Marshall College, after which she completed postgraduate studies at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Nonetheless, when she gets to dating the Gospels, Murdock declares that ‘all of the canonical gospels seem to emerge at the same time – first receiving their names and number by Irenaeus around 180 AD/CE….If the canonical texts as we have them existed anywhere previously, they were unknown, which makes it likely that they were not composed until that time or shortly before, based on earlier texts.’ The criterion of not being mentioned in other texts is an important mythicist weapon. It embodies the fundamentalist assumption that the Gospels should have become sacred texts immediately, and therefore quoted by all extant Christian authors as fundamentalists quote the New Testament.
Fundamentalist belief is expressed for example by someone who calls themselves Paul Timothy, ‘The Holy Spirit has given to us four witnesses to ‘The Holy Spirit has given to us four witnesses to the Life and teachings of Jesus: Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, the compilers and writers of the four Gospels. Each of the four Gospel writers lived while Jesus was on earth. Three of them knew him well, and Luke investigated the facts about Jesus (Luke 1:1-3). Thus, the four gospels are ‘eye-witness’ accounts, the strongest kind. All four writers included in their Gospel some of the same accounts about Jesus, and each one adds some accounts that the others left out. Yet all agree; the four Gospels form a single true story.’
This is fundamentalist falsehood from beginning to end. The Gospels are not eyewitness accounts. Moreover, they are not quoted as such in the relatively few Christian documents surviving from before the time of Irenaeus, whereas the Old Testament is, from which mythicists draw their conclusion that the canonical Gospels were unknown. Justin Martyr, however, writing in the middle of the second century, refers not to the Gospel according to Mark, but to the apomnēmoneumata of Peter. The Greek word apomnēmoneumata is usually translated ‘memoirs’ in Justin, whether or not they are said to be ‘of Peter’, ‘of the apostles’, or ‘of his apostles and their followers’. It has however a somewhat wider range of meaning, and does not necessarily carry the connotation of the person having written the apomnēmoneumata himself. One reference to Peter’s ‘memoirs’ has the sons of Zebedee called ‘Boanerges, which is “sons of thunder”’ (Dial. 106). The word ‘Boanerges’ is otherwise known only from Mk 3.17, where Mark says that Jesus gave Jacob and John, the sons of Zebedee, ‘the name “Boanērges”, which is “sons of thunder”’. This reference is not merely unique. The term ‘Boanerges’ is a mistaken attempt to transliterate into Greek letters the Aramaic words benē re‘em, which mean ‘sons of thunder’. The possibility that two independent sources made almost identical mistakes in the transliteration of these words is negligible. It follows that by ‘the memoirs of Peter’ Justin meant something at least very like what we call the Gospel of Mark.
Mythicists also presuppose that the attestation of the Gospels somehow ought to be similar to the attestation of modern documents written in cultures where writing is normal, and books are printed. This is why, as mythicists try to date the Gospels as late as possible, one of the reasons they use is the date of surviving manuscripts. In doing this, however, they show no understanding of the nature of ancient documents and their transmission, which was very different from the writing of books in the modern world.
There are in fact far more copies of the Gospels surviving from relatively soon after they were written than is the case of most works from the Greco-Roman world, or ancient Judaism. The reasons why fewer survive than might have done in the stories which mythicists invent are twofold: relatively few copies were made of any writing before the invention of printing in the mediaeval period, and there were a number of disasters in the destruction of books when libraries were destroyed, and in the Christian case, in persecutions by the Roman state.
For example, Eusebius helped to build up an excellent library in Caesarea. Eusebius had there a copy of the work of Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis in the early second century, An Exposition of the Lord’s Oracles (Logia), and he quotes important information from it (Eus., H.E. III, 39, 1-7, 14-17). The library was however destroyed. The last reliable mention of it is by Jerome, though it may not have been destroyed until the Arab invasion in the seventh century. In a world where there were not many copies of old books, this destruction was a major disaster, and there should be no doubt that many Christian books were lost in this way. We should contrast the creative fiction of Acharya, who comments on the disappearance of Papias’ work: ‘It is inexplicable that such a monumental work by an early Christian father was “lost”, except that it had to be destroyed because it revealed the Savior as absolutely non-historical.’ This comment has no connection with the reality of the ancient world, and Acharya’s ‘reason’ for its destruction is nothing better than malicious invention.
Another mythicist is Canadian journalist Tom Harpur (1929- ), who says with more mythicist modesty that his ‘books, videos and columns have made him a compelling spiritual leader for every generation and all faiths.’ He was brought up as a fundamentalist Christian, and ordained priest in the Anglican Church of Canada in 1956, in accordance with his father’s wishes and demands. As a journalist on the Toronto Star (1954-84), he did not have to verify everything as scholars do, and he has ended up never offering evidence for what he chooses to believe. He does however pay tribute to his main sources: Gerald Massey (1828-1907), and Alvin Boyd Kuhn (1880-1963). Massey was a second-rate English poet who also became an amateur Egyptologist. Kuhn was a theosophist who therefore held large-scale false beliefs about the modern value of supposedly ancient traditions, many of which were not ancient at all.
Among his many mistakes, Harpur comments, ‘Significantly, both Massey and Kuhn – and other authorities–testify that the surface of the coffin lid of the mummified Osiris (every deceased person was referred to as the Osiris) constituted the table of the Egyptian’s cult’s Last Supper or Eucharist. It was the board on which the mortuary meals were served. The coffin bore the hieroglyphic equivalent for KRST. Massey connects KRST with the Greek word Christos, messiah, or Christ.He says, “Say what you will or believe what you may, there is no other origin for Christ the anointed than ‘Horus the Karast’, or ‘anointed son of God the Father.’” Nonetheless, he notes correctly that ‘Modern Egyptologists dispute this’, which was already true when he wrote it, and instead of giving a good reason for following a scholar who was incompetent when he wrote before the advent of modern critical scholarship and is now hopelessly out of date as well, HarpurHhh quotes his authority as if it were decisive, just like a fundamentalist Christian quoting scripture. Nor is there any excuse for describing Massey and Kuhn as ‘authorities’.
The American Christian scholar Ward Gasque consulted a number of modern Egyptologists, and discovered that the Egyptian KRST is the word for “burial”, so it is a very appropriate word to turn up on Egyptian coffins, and has no connection with the Jewish and Christian term ‘Christ’. This is another illustration of the complete incompetence of both Massey and Kuhn, and of Harpur’s total lack of any sense of reality in what he has taken over from them.
Harpur gives some indication of what he felt he had found in these writers when he comments, ‘Massey’s books and Kuhn’s four chief works….held me spellbound….the more I read, the more I was convinced that what these men were saying had the ring of truth… This appears to be part of Harpur’s conversion process, since he gives nothing approaching evidence supported with argument. When he does quote someone with expertise, he ignores the date of the relevant sources. For example, he quotes the Egyptologist Eric Hornung for the Egyptian fathers, followed in due course by other Christians, taking over imagery of Isis, Osiris and Horus. They did, but this was a real fact centuries after the time of the historical Jesus, not evidence that he did not exist in the first century CE.
This is only one of myriad examples of mythicists creating havoc with supposed ‘parallels’. Murdock put the central point in a nutshell without realising that from a scholarly point of view, it is not merely sinful, but a mortal sin rather than a peccadillo. Commenting on the notion that Horus was ‘baptised’ by Anup/Inpu, she notes that the comparison ‘between Anup and John has been extrapolated for a variety of reasons’, and adds that ‘“Christian” terminology has been utilized to describe what was found in the ancient Egyptian texts and monuments, as well as elsewhere around the Roman empire during the era.’ This is central to the way in which most of the so-called parallels to the life and teaching of Jesus have been manufactured by mythicists. In actuality, Horus was not thought to have been baptised by Anup/Inpu, who was supposed to have been a jackal-headed Egyptian deity, not a Jewish man, and Inpu was not beheaded either.
Murdock also discusses pre-Christian use of the Greek words baptō and baptizō. They both meant ‘dip’, but not in any meaningful sense ‘baptise’, as Murdock alleges. She quotes a passage of Nicander, which is about pickling vegetables, and has nothing to do with baptism, to which it is accordingly irrelevant. She even discusses ‘the act of baptizing the vegetable’ which is as ridiculous as any ‘parallel’ I have come across. Then, as now, people did not baptize vegetables, but they did wash, boil, and immerse them. Nicander was really discussing boiling vegetables and then immersing them in vinegar, to do what we call ‘pickle’ them. This is a striking example of the inappropriate use of Christian terminology to describe all sorts of things, in spurious attempts to make them sound more alike.
The internet, for which these pseudo-scholars write, has become a home of mendacity, including many outpourings of hatred for scholars. One example is blogger Neil Godfrey, an Australian who was a baptised member of the Worldwide Church of God for 22 years, so he belonged to a hopelessly fundamentalist organisation which holds critical scholarship in contempt. He converted to ‘atheism’ later, so he has had two conversion experiences, and this means that his contempt for evidence and argument as means of reaching decisions about important matters is doubly central to his life.
Godfrey claims to have ‘a BA and post graduate Bachelor of Educational Studies, both at the University of Queensland, and a post graduate Diploma in Arts (Library and Information Science) from Charles Sturt University near Canberra, Australia’. He has worked as a librarian. It is extraordinary, therefore, that he seems to be quite incapable of presenting information accurately. One of his statements followed on a shocking earthquake in New Zealand: ‘I’m a librarian, but I never see or touch a book’. Perhaps this is why he seems incapable of gathering information available in books with any semblance of accuracy.
Godfrey condemns biblical scholars as no better than ‘silly detectives’. In a post headed ‘Biblical historians make detectives look silly’, he did not give proper references, and referred back later to his post like this: ‘Biblical historians who research the foundations of Christianity in the Gospels have sometimes compared their “historical research” work with that of detectives or criminal investigators….. Only by lazy assumptions about their sources can biblical “historians” declare Jesus’ crucifixion a “fact of history”….In other words, Paula Fredriksen is but one of a host of biblical “historians” who “do history” according to the analogy of the silly detectives in my earlier post’ [23rd November, 2010].
Godfrey’s earlier post said that Fredriksen ‘is one scholar who did “respond” to something Doherty had written, but her response demonstrated that she at no point attempted to read Doherty’s piece seriously. One might even compare her responses to those of a naughty schoolgirl who has no interest in the content of the lesson, believing the teacher to be a real dolt, and who accordingly seeks to impress her giggly “know-it-all” classmates by interjecting the teacher with smart alec rejoinders at any opportunity.’ Godfrey seems to have no idea that his gross personal rudeness is no substitute for a scholarly response, which is what anyone seriously interested in truth would have provided.
One blogger cited by both Doherty and Acharya is Steven Carr. Doherty cites him to dispose of the evidence that Josephus mentions Jesus at Ant. XX, 200, where he describes Jacob as ‘the brother of Jesus called Christ, Jacob his name’, which is as clear as could be. Mythicists, however, do not wish to believe this. Similarly, Murdock noticed that the mss of the New Testament are not inerrant, as every critical scholar knows. Neither she nor Carr, however, offers a proper critical discussion.
I am well known to some people for my work on Aramaic sources behind the synoptic Gospels, for careful scholarship, and for always telling the truth as I see it. On the internet, however, I have been accused by Blogger Godfrey, Blogger Carr and others of total incompetence, omitting main points and telling lies. For example, Blogger Godfrey, in a blog entitled with his customary politesse, Roll over Maurice Casey: Latin, not Aramaic, explains Mark’s bad Greek, not only drew attention to a certain proportion of these ‘Latinisms’, which would have been reasonable, but also declared that they nullified the evidence of Aramaic influence on Mark. This is quite incompetent, which is why, as far as I know, it had not previously been suggested. Nor is Greek which contains Latin loanwords for Roman objects ‘bad’ Greek, any more than we speak ‘bad’ English when we say we went to a restaurant. Mark’s Latinisms, including loanwords, in no way undermine the importance of Mark’s Aramaisms, which Blogger Godfrey is not learned enough to see, and determined to ignore.
Blogger Godfrey does not refer to any learned scholarship, but to an elementary piece from a second-rate and very conservative American Christian college, formerly Atlantic Baptist College, then (1996) Atlantic Baptist University, now named Crandall University. It does not have any outstanding New Testament scholars on its staff. This is yet another piece of evidence that Blogger Godfrey is quite incapable of leaving his fundamentalist Christian background behind, in spite of his conversion to an equally dogmatic form of atheism. The list of Latinisms provided by Crandall ‘University’ includes loanwords, by which standard it is incomplete, but otherwise satisfactory. They are all included in the more extensive list provided by Gundry in his standard conservative commentary.
Blogger Godfrey does not mention that the Introduction from which he quotes also argues that Mark’s first language was Aramaic. Blogger Carr commented,
‘Casey, of course, knows perfectly well that there are Latin loan words in ‘Mark’….Naturally, he is a True Biblical Scholar so does not inform his readers that there are any Latin loan words in ‘Mark’…As it would detract from the idea that there were Aramaic sources for Greek, detectable by the bad Greek, Casey does not even mention the prescence (sic!) of Latin loan words….A real scholar mentions facts which might seem to other scholars to put his work into question, and attempts to answer those questions…This is what I am used to when I see scientists writing. I naively took it for granted that all scholars in all fields had the same sorts of standards as the lowliest scientific researcher into the memory of mice…. I now have entered a world where True Bible Scholars simply ignore whatever does not fit their ideas.’
Everything is wrong with this. It is not true that I did not even mention the presence of Latin loanwords. I discussed the ones which I thought were of genuine historical significance, and I gave a significant amount of Roman background to some of these, where I thought this was of historical significance. I therefore discussed legiōn and Hērōdianoi at some length, as well as, more briefly, denarius, and centurion.
Blogger Carr’s comments on scholarly practice are irrelevant too, apart from his crude and misleading use of the term ‘bad’ Greek. The idea that Mark’s Latinisms, understood broadly to include his Latin loanwords, somehow negate the evidence of his use of Aramaic sources is not a theory put forward by reputable scholars: it is a mistake by blogger Godfrey. Learned articles on the memory of mice or anything else do not discuss the outpourings of incompetent bloggers. Nor can they discuss anything suggested after their articles were published: blogger Godfrey’s notion that ‘Latin, not Aramaic, explains Mark’s bad Greek’ was not available to me when I wrote, precisely because no-one else had been incompetent and foolish enough to suggest it.
I hope this is sufficient to indicate that the mythicist view is based on ineducable ignorance, prejudice and absolute contempt for anything like learned scholarship.
The only reasonably qualified scholar to become a mythicist is Robert M. Price. Price was born in Mississippi in 1954. After early involvement in a fundamentalist Baptist church, he went on to become a leader in the Montclair State College chapter of the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. He was trained at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. Its statement of faith includes the following: ‘The sixty-six canonical books of the Bible as originally written were inspired of God, hence free from error….’ Its Mission Statement begins, ‘To encourage students to become knowledgeable of God’s inerrant Word, competent in its interpretation, proclamation and application in the contemporary world.’
It follows that after a fundamentalist upbringing, Price was also processed in a fundamentalist institution where critical scholarship was held in contempt. He went on to do a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. This was awarded in 1981. He also read Ph.D. in New Testament at Drew University, which was awarded in 1993. He was listed as professor of theology and scriptural studies at Coleman Theological Seminary and professor of biblical criticism at the Center for Inquiry Institute, as well as a fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion and the Jesus Seminar.
Price is alone among mythicists in that there is no doubt that he was a qualified New Testament scholar. He therefore bears a most heavy responsibility for the falsehoods which he has promoted. Perhaps his most important book is The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man. What is important about it is that it lends an assumption of scholarship to outpourings of falsehood. These include hopelessly late dates for the Gospels, with Mark being pushed into the second century. Price first declares that it must have been written after 70 CE, on the false assumption that apocalypses, which most of it is not, are always written after the events which they are supposed to predict. Mark’s predictions are not however accurate enough to have been written after the event. Price subsequently relied on Detering, who, continuing with the assumption that there cannot be any predictions in the Gospels, noticed that Mark 13 is not accurate enough to have been a prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE after the event, and claimed that Hadrian setting up his statue in the Temple was the reason for the ‘prediction’ of the Abomination of Desolation (Matt. 24.15//Mk. 13.14).
Price’s treatment of New Testament narratives has two other major features conventional among mythicists. One is to continue with conservative or even fundamentalist exegesis. For example, he discusses Mark 9.1: ‘Amen I say to you that there are some of those standing here who will not taste of death until they have seen the kingdom of God come in power.’ Price declares that ‘all interpreters admit that this prediction must have the Parousia in mind.’ All interpreters have not adopted this incorrect exegesis for the very good reason that the saying mentions the kingdom of God, an important feature of the teaching of Jesus, whereas belief in the Parousia was created by the early church after Jesus’ death.
Another major feature of mythicism is to make fun of New Testament stories which they used to believe in, and still take literally. For example, Price discusses the story of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. On that occasion, Jesus heard a voice which he believed came from God, ‘You are my beloved Son, in you I am well pleased’ (Mk 1.11). Price follows the received text, ‘in whom’, rather than ‘in you’, which assimilated to Matthew, but which is not, as he claims, the reading of Luke. He then declares that it is ‘cobbled together from three Old Testament passages’, as if a major prophet could not imagine a heavenly voice speaking in scriptural terms. Price’s scriptural passages, however, are firstly Ps. 2.7, which says ‘My son thou’, the form in which Jesus would have known the text, translated into Greek in the LXX as ‘My son art thou’, as the text would have been known to anyone writing creatively in Greek. Price’s second passage is Isa. 42.1, which says ‘Behold, my servant, I uphold him, my chosen, my soul delights in him’, for which the LXX has ‘Jacob my servant, I come to his aid, Israel my chosen, my soul received him’. Price’s third passage is Gen. 22.12, which has nothing more than God referring to Isaac as ‘your son, your beloved’. He therefore heads firstly for LXX, which is on the same lines, and simply has God say to Abraham about Isaac, ‘You did not spare your beloved son because of me’. Price therefore heads for what he incompetently calls ‘the Targums’, according to which, when Isaac looked up into an open heaven, a voice said ‘Behold, two chosen ones’. Price does not however quote any Targums, but only an essay in English by Stegner!
Price then concludes that Mark’s voice is ‘not historical, unless one wishes to imagine God sitting with his Hebrew Psalter, Greek Septuagint, and Aramaic Targum in front of him, deciding what to crib. Only then does it come to seem ridiculous’. Indeed, but as I commented before, ‘It is Price who has manipulated it to make it seem ridiculous.’ He has not written serious scholarship at all.
It follows that Price has not made good or reasonable use of the New Testament qualifications which he once obtained. The results of his work are no better than those of more obviously ignorant mythicists.
The third and last essay in this series has been written by Stephanie Louise Fisher. Steph came here as an outstanding mature student from the University of Victoria, New Zealand, where she obtained exceptionally brilliant first class degrees including study in history, anthropology, sociology, classics as well as music and other things reflecting her eclectic interests and lateral mind. She worked as a research fellow to Jim Veitch in the history of the Lloyd Geering heresy trial. While in my opinion there was never any question of her not obtaining one, she won the fiercely competitive overseas research scholarship and was offered the Commonwealth Scholarship twice. While she could have chosen to go to any first class independent university on earth, she chose to come to England because of her specialist focus on the Double Tradition. Thus James Crossley, Steph, and I have worked well together, and we have had many debates, while becoming genuine friends over the past few years.
While Steph has been here, she has effectively worked as my research assistant too, without being in any sense subordinate to me. She has been wonderful working both on my last book, Jesus of Nazareth, and on material about mythicists. She is, as the above comments indicate, a scholar with very broad interests, and she works on many projects simultaneously. We do have reputable publishers already interested in her work on the Double Tradition, so we look forward to this task being completed, because New Testament scholarship needs it so much, and she is the only person known to me who can complete it.
Maurice Casey, Emeritus Professor of New Testament Studies, University of Nottingham.
 The major generally available books were S. J. Case, The Historicity of Jesus: A Criticism of the Contention that Jesus Never Lived, a Statement of the Evidence for His Existence, an Estimate of His Relation to Christianity (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1912; 2nd edn, 1928); M. Goguel, Jesus the Nazarene: Myth or History? (1925. Trans. F. Stevens. London/New York: Unwin/Appleton, 1926. With a new introduction by R. Joseph Hoffmann, Amherst, New York: Prometheus, 2006).
 E. Doherty, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man: The Case for a Mythical Jesus (Ottawa: Age of Reason, 2009), pp. vii, viii, referring back to http://jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/Critiquesrefut1.htm, which I can no longer access, and E. Doherty, The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? (Ottawa: Canadian Humanist Publications, 1999).
 Doherty, Jesus Neither God nor Man, p. 413.
 For a summary of the debate, with bibliography, e.g. J. S. Kloppenborg, ‘The Theodotos Synagogue Inscription and the Problem of First-Century Synagogue Buildings’ in J. H. Charlesworth (ed.), Jesus and Archaeology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), pp. 236-82; and for his immediate reaction, Sanders, Jewish Law From Jesus to the Mishnah, pp. 341-3, nn. 28-9.
 Doherty, Jesus Neither God nor Man, p. 15.
 Doherty, Jesus Neither God nor Man, pp. 316-7, quoting R. H. Stein, The Synoptic Problem: an Introduction (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), p. 102. I have not otherwise noted a copy published before 1987: there was a second edn. in 2001.
 J. S. Kloppenborg, The Formation of Q. Trajectories in Ancient Wisdom (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987); J. S. Kloppenborg Verbin, Excavating Q. The History and Setting of the Sayings Gospel (Minneapolis/Edinburgh: Fortress/T&T Clark, 2000).
 P. M. Casey, An Aramaic Approach to Q: Sources for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (SNTSMS 122. Cambridge: CUP, 2002).
 Hall, E.T. Beyond Culture (New York: Doubleday 1976).
 Doherty, Jesus Neither God nor Man, pp. 664, 198: cf. further below.
 Cf. now Casey, Jesus of Nazareth, pp. 445–6.
 Doherty, Jesus Neither God nor Man, pp. 80, 82 (my italics).
 Doherty, Jesus Neither God nor Man, p. 82.
 For a historical account for the general reader, see Casey, Jesus of Nazareth, pp. 425-48.
 For an English Translation by Bentley Layton, with a very brief introduction by R. A. Bullard, see J. M. Robinson (general ed.) and Members of the Coptic Gnostic Library Project of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity, Claremont, California, The Nag Hammadi Library in English (4th edn. Leiden: Brill, 1996), pp. 161-9.
 Doherty, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p. 109.
 Doherty, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p. 109.
 Schürer-Vermes-Millar, vol. III.1, p. 373.
 Doherty, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p. 109.
 M.E. Stone, in Charlesworth (ed.), Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol I, p. 592.
 M.A. Knibb, in Charlesworth (ed.), Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol 2, pp. 149–50; Schürer-Vermes-Millar, vol. III.1, p. 338 n.8; Charlesworth, Pseudepigrapha and Modern Research, p. 125.
 Doherty, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p. 119.
 Murdock, Who was Jesus? p. 82.
 See especially H.Y. Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church: A History of Early Christian Texts (New Haven: Yale Univ., 1995); A. R. Millard, Reading and Writing in the Time of Jesus (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 2000).
 See Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church, pp. 155-60.
 Acharya, Christ Conspiracy, (Adventures Unlimited Press, 1999) p. 227.
 Harpur, Pagan Christ, (Thomas Allen and Son Ltd, 2005) p. 101, with p. 224, n.6, again without any proper detailed reference to the work of Massey: see the regrettable comments of Massey, Ancient Egypt, pp. 186-248. The quotation is from p. 219.
 T. Harpur, Born Again: My Journey from Fundamentalism to Freedom (Toronto: Thomas Allen, 2011), p. 214.
 Harpur, Born Again, p. 215.
 Murdock, Christ in Egypt, (Stellar House Publishing, 2009) p. 233.
 Murdock, Christ in Egypt, p. 245 n. 2.
 Doherty, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man p. 571 with p. 771 n. 221, referring to Carr commenting on Josephus.
 D. M. Murdock, Who was Jesus?: Fingerprints of the Christ (Seattle: Stellar House Publishing, 2007), p. 224, with p. 268, referring to Carr, ‘Textual Reliability of the New Testament’, on Carr at http://www.bowness.demon.co.uk/reli2.htm.
 Cf. James G. Crossley (ed.), Judaism, Jewish Identities and the Gospel Tradition: Essays in Honour of Maurice Casey, (London: Equinox, 2010).
 R.H. Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), pp. 1043-5.
 Casey, Jesus of Nazareth, pp. 242-3, 341, 422-3, 450.
 R. M. Price, The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable is the Gospel Tradition?
(Amherst, New York: Prometheus, 2003).
 Casey, Jesus of Nazareth, pp. 69-71.
 H. Detering, ‘The Synoptic Apocalypse (Mark 13 par): A Document from the Time of Bar Kochba’, Journal of Higher Criticism 7 (2000), pp. 161-200: cf. Casey, Jesus of Nazareth, pp. 33-5.
 Price, Shrinking Son of Man, p. 32; see Casey, Jesus of Nazareth, pp. 34, 212-6, 219-21, 374-7, 384, 389, 484.
 Price, Shrinking Son of Man, p. 120-21; see Casey, Jesus of Nazareth, pp. 36-7.
 See further, Casey, Jesus of Nazareth, pp. 35-8.