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Old 08-11-2001, 12:48 PM   #1
boneyard bill
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Post What about Doherty's thesis?

WOW! I just read three pages of bickering about a time-line that wasn't quite up to par. Now the web site is going to change the errors so maybe it was worth it.

But I thought the really interesting part was the link to Doherty's article. Lots of people mentioned it, but no one went anywhere with it. Maybe it's time for a new thread.

I'm not any kind of scholar, much less a Biblical one, but I want to ask what Doherty's thesis implies. If there was no historical person that the word "Jesus" refers to, not even someone who didn't have that name, might not have been born in Bethlehem, and might not have said a word of gospel Q; then the Gospels were made up out of whole cloth.

Not completely, perhaps. There were plenty of Old Testament passages to be quoted, and prophecies to be fulfilled. And there had to be a savior, a Jesus, a "handing over," a crucifiction, and a resurrection of some sort. I think this presents some problems.

Jerusalem is a likely spot for the crucifiction, and Bethlehem an absolutely necessary spot for the birth. But why Galilee for the native province? This creates problems for a Bethlehem birth, and a Jerusalem death. And it makes the Jewishness itself is a bit suspect. From what I understand, the area wasn't even Jewish until the Maccabees forcibly converted it.

Pilate was a damn good choice for the villain, and his name could easily have been handed down in oral tradition in that capacity. Especially in light of the Jewish War. But Caiaphus doesn't seem to have been a household word. We have just recently discovered evidence of his historicity. And he was an in-law. The house of Annas seems to have the really influential party, and the name that would have been remembered in the absence of a historical incident.

The text says that Jesus was buried outside the city walls. There is indeed a mortuary beyond one of the city walls. But a new wall was added to include the mortuary inside the city. How would a detail such as this turn out to be correct if someone writing long after the destruction of the temple didn't have an oral account of the event (however embellished) to go on?

But the really big problem Doherty's work has to overcome is presented by Michael Goulder. I haven't read Goulder's account. I only have Bishop Spong's summary of it. But I think it presents a serious problem for Doherty.

According to Goulder, the crucifiction couldn't have occurred at Passover. There are no palm leaves in Jerusalem at Passover. The details of the passion story in the NT bears a striking resemblence to the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles in the Fall, not the Spring. This feast lasted for 8 days. The same number of days in Holy Week. People flocked to Jerusalem waving palm leaves shouting Hosannas, and repeating the phrase, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord."

It's not hard to imagine that someone writing Midrash would use the crucifiction story for a passover commentary since it would be the event in the still-Jewish Christian sect that related to passover. That is the theme of the liberation of the people. And before long the two feasts could easily be conflated.

But why would anyone, even someone writing Midrash, conflate these two feasts if there was no real event behind them? If you're going to invent a story about passover, whether out of piety or fraud, you would use the details of the passover feast, not tabernacles.

I can't claim scholarly credentials or hide behind them either. Maybe I've got some facts wrong. But these are the things that stand out in my mind as fatal to Doherty's thesis and probably other claims that there was no real person behind the Jesus of NT scripture. Does anyone have any information or arguments against this?
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Old 08-11-2001, 01:57 PM   #2
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boneyard bill: Other than that you just kicked over another can of worms...again.

This topic gets the Christians who visit this site in a total illogical uproar. (Note to Bill - buy another drive for the server... )

Seriously, I'm not completely familiar with Earl's work. I've watched the debates and the rabid apologists go at it. If you look at the old threads, there is even a debate between Earl and Brian (Nomad) that turned into a slugfest.

Here's my take on it, for what its worth -

I personally think there is a historical character (not even necessarily named Jesus) at the root of the Jesus myth. I also do think that the bible in telling the Jesus story is one step removed from historical fiction. In other words, not very darn accurate.

In the resurrection saga itself, a quick glance at the inconsistancies would tell anyone but an apologist that we have a problem. Times don't match, characters don't match, events don't match, and so on. Whats more, there are fantastic events (skies darkening and dead rising) that SHOULD have been mentioned somewhere else...

The external histories are not much help either. Its been fought to death on BC&A about what external histories say and don't say about Jesus. Without refighting those battles, there are basically few sources external to the bible and only one which might be a personal reference to Jesus (Josephus). However, any but the most apologetic of historians will tell you that Josephus has been redacted at some point and to some degree.

Furthermore, multiple translations of the bible lead one to wonder how the hell anyone can claim it as inerrant. As a case in point, early copies of John told the story of the scuffle in the garden...and named the forces present. Specifically a Tribune and a cohort of Roman soldiers. THIS was a force of over 600 men...and not a group of folks that would be wandering around in hostile territory without direct orders...likely from Pilate himself.

So what probably happened goes like this...

At that time in holy land, there was a messanic movement afoot. Just like today, the Jews of that time imagined a savior would come, smite the infidel Romans, and build god's kingdom on earth. Jesus or his lead model was likely the leader of a messanic zealot faction. IF the timing is correct, then they tried to seize power around passover.

I think the story of Judas is sort of accurate (two different fates in the bible) in that he was probably a member in this movement. But he got cold feet, went to the high priests, who then went to Pilate.

Pilate ordered out a tribune and cohort of the best infantry forces on the planet at that time...the Roman Legion. They encountered Jesus at the garden, a scuffle ensued (I bet with fatalities), and Jesus and his main gang members were arrested, tried, and crucified.

A rebellion is the ONLY reason for Rome to get involved that harshly. By and large as long as you paid your taxes, kept your nose clean, and so on, Romans pretty much left their occupied territories alone.

Anyone who tells you "the Jews couldn't execute capital punishment" is disingenious at best. Remember the parable of "he who is without sin can cast the first stone..."? Its clear from this one, that the jews could and would kill people who violated their laws...without the Roman's permission. So which lie in the bible is correct?

Furthermore, what do we know of Pilate? In the bible, he is depicted as a wimp. He's seriously troubled by the death of an innocent man and essentially "washes his hands" of the crime.

Now historically, we know very little. Save for the fact that when Pilate was recalled to Rome, it was for...get this...excessive cruelty in the occupied territories.

Now something is SERIOUSLY out of kilter here. In one depiction, we have a guy who is troubled by the fate of one man. In the other, recalled for excessive cruelty. Hmm...

If you think about it for a moment, the tribune and cohort again make sense. Say there was a messanic rebellion. The Roman tendancy would have been to put it down...and put it down hard. In this case, you have a Roman Legion going essentially against terrorists. And this was in a time period while Rome was very powerful militarily and few if any cultures could match the legion. (Persia could and did later against the Eastern Empire.) My guess would be that it was a pretty short lived rebellion, lots of collateral damage, and the ring leaders captured and many of their followers dead.

And this was a rather long way to say that I think the Jesus in the bible is a myth at best. But the character model for his role was more than likely a real person...somewhere.
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Old 08-11-2001, 06:55 PM   #3
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Hi bb -

Do you have a link or a cite to Spong? I am not sure from the details you give why it is fatal to Doherty's thesis.

There are some past threads on Doherty and related issues, and he debated Nomad in the formal debates forum until he decided Nomad was not worth debating.

Right now, Richard Carrier is going through Doherty's book, and we are all waiting for his opinion before we start again.

The Doherty-Nomad debate is here in Formal Debates. Or you could search for his name using the search engine in BC&A.
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Old 08-11-2001, 08:07 PM   #4
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toto

Quote:
Do you have a link or a cite to Spong? I am not sure from the details you give why it is fatal to Doherty's thesis.
Unfortunately I have neither a link nor a cite. I got several of his books from the library, and I can't remember which one dealt with this subject. I'm pretty sure he cited Michael Goulder but my spelling might be a little off. I got the impression from Spong's book that Goulder is fairly prominent in his field.

Why do I think it's fatal to Doherty's thesis? Because it seems obvious to me that the feast of tabernacles was conflated with the feast of the passover.

If you were a Christian apologist, and you were deliberatly lying, why would you mix up your details so badly? If you were writing Midrash (and I don't know enough about Midrash to say whether this kind of story would constitute deception in that genre), you need a story that illustrates the meaning of passover to the Christian-Jewish sect. For a time early Christians still went to synagogue. A story about tabernacles doesn't do that. Still less does a story that mixes the two up.

How do you explain this conflation without assuming that there was a real event (probably at tabernacles) that got overlaid by another story that served a theological or liturgical purpose?

Do you argue that it's a conflation of two myths? I suppose you could, but it would seem pretty weak to me if the argument has nothing behind it and is introduced just to save the theory.

On the other hand, the Torah was recited in the synogogue once a year and commentaries on it were read. The commentaries were related to the Torah passage. For Christians, the passion story would illustrate the passover story. The liberation of the Hebrews from Egypt under Moses and the liberation of Christians from death through Christ. So it is relatively easy to see how the passion story would get transferred to passover while the details of tabernacles remained.

I suppose it isn't absolutely fatal in a logical sense, but I think it works very strongly against Doherty's thesis.

Thanks for providing the link. Wish I could reciprocate.
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Old 08-11-2001, 09:29 PM   #5
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Doherty bases his thesis on a fact that is not a
fact. On the top of page vii he writes Jesus of Nazareth
and the gospel story cannot be found in Christian writings
earlier than the Gospels, the first of which (Mark) was
composed only in the late first century.
This is not
a fact, it is a hypothesis and he is wrong. The gospel ofJohn
was written first and this book was completed before 37 CE.


In John you find Bethlehem once,
JOH 07:42 Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of
the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David
was?


The problem is, and as Josephus will attest to, the ancient Jews
had pseudo-names for locations. St. Matthew implies the same here;

MAT 02:01 Now when Jesus was born in [b]Bethlehem of Judaea{/B] in the days of
Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to
Jerusalem,


Matthew is telling you that there is another Bethlehem.
There is also another Jerusalem. Jesus was not allowed in the
contemporary Jerusalem. The Last Supper and the Crucifixion
scenario were events held at a private location. How in the
hell could all these things go on unnoticed? Why did it take
so much effort for Pilate and Caiaphas and the boys to follow
Judas to this location (reading JOHN)?

As far as palm leaves are concerned, here is what John
says.


JOH 12:13 Took branches of palm trees, and went forth to meet
him, and cried, Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel
that cometh in the name of the Lord.


It does not say "palm leaves."

thanks, offa
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Old 08-12-2001, 05:51 AM   #6
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Goulder has since rejected the ideas of his which Spong utilized in writing his book on the gospels. Unfortunately I do not know where to find an article on that.

Michael
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Old 08-12-2001, 09:19 AM   #7
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Offa, wait a sec? Wasn't Mark written first, then John last? Everything I've seen on dating the gospels suggests that.
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Old 08-12-2001, 09:42 AM   #8
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boneyard bill

Quote:
I'm not any kind of scholar, much less a Biblical one, but I want to ask what Doherty's thesis implies. If there was no historical person that the word "Jesus" refers to, not even someone who didn't have that name, might not have been born in Bethlehem, and might not have said a word of gospel Q; then the Gospels were made up out of whole cloth.
I don't necessarily think that's a reasonable inference. A story with some historical verisimilitude can still have entirely fictional characters, even the primary character.

The cliched example is that Gone with the Wind accurately portrays the Civil War (e.g. it was not made of whole cloth), yet such verisimilitude is not evidence for the existence of Scarlett O'Hara.

The question goes to the character of Jesus.

A nagging question in my mind is what precisely is meant by "nonexistence"? For instance, suppose there was some mystical Essene preacher wandering around saying some wise things but having no intention of starting a new religion; furthermore, let us suppose that some of these sayings wound up in the canonical gospels. Does such a person qualify as the "historical Jesus"?

I guess we might need more definition on the central question: What sort of a person would qualify as the historical jesus, and does the evidence tend to support the existence of such a person?

Quote:
Jerusalem is a likely spot for the crucifiction, and Bethlehem an absolutely necessary spot for the birth. But why Galilee for the native province? This creates problems for a Bethlehem birth, and a Jerusalem death. And it makes the Jewishness itself is a bit suspect. From what I understand, the area wasn't even Jewish until the Maccabees forcibly converted it.
This is interesting and deserves some elaboration. Why indeed would an entirely fictional character be given an odd biography. More importantly, does this odd biography point to anyone specific?

Quote:
But Caiaphus doesn't seem to have been a household word. We have just recently discovered evidence of his historicity. And he was an in-law. The house of Annas seems to have the really influential party, and the name that would have been remembered in the absence of a historical incident.
...
The text says that Jesus was buried outside the city walls. There is indeed a mortuary beyond one of the city walls. But a new wall was added to include the mortuary inside the city. How would a detail such as this turn out to be correct if someone writing long after the destruction of the temple didn't have an oral account of the event (however embellished) to go on?
...
But why would anyone, even someone writing Midrash, conflate these two feasts if there was no real event behind them? If you're going to invent a story about passover, whether out of piety or fraud, you would use the details of the passover feast, not tabernacles.
Again, I'm not seeing how specific historical verisimilitude within the gospels sheds light on the existence of an actual person. Suppose the person writing a gospel knew some accurate history about Jerusalem (and also had some mistaken facts) and decided to set this entirely fictional character in that realistic setting, i.e. he was writing historical fiction. Such a scenario would seem to explain your points.
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Old 08-12-2001, 01:33 PM   #9
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Doherty has a review of Spong here.

Your argument seems to come down to your assertion that if people had invented the details of Jesus' life, they could have done a better job of it. But that just might mean that they had other values than literal consistency. If Spong is correct that the Gospels were written to fit the Jewish liturgial cycle, the writers may never have dreamed that anyone would subject their fables to modern critical scrutiny.
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Old 08-12-2001, 06:39 PM   #10
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First, I agree that the first question that must be answered is the definition of exactly what it means for there to be "a historical Jesus." I'm personally intrigued by the idea (noted in this month's II Book-of-the-Month) that all of the authentic first century writings viewed Jesus as being "long dead." That would seem to tie in with the idea that the real Jewish savior was Judah, who clearly could have been the "Rightous Teacher" of the Dead Sea Scrolls, or else was at least some similarly important Essene personna. That thesis is expounded in the book by Michael Owen Wise. And all of this seemingly ties in with Eisenman's book asserting that James was actually the then-current leader of the Qumran sect at the time when James and Paul came into conflict (as is at least partly described in Chapter 2 of Galatians).

These are all interesting speculations. But what do we have of facts? The real answer is that the bulk of the actual (somewhat widely accepted) facts we have about Judea and Samaria in the first century comes from what the Christians chose to preserve out of the writings of Josephus. That the Christians redacted Josephus to some extent is doubted only by those whose devotion to their faith will not allow them to admit proven facts. Nonetheless, most atheist scholars accept the vast bulk of Josephus as having the same (or better) value than any other equivalent history that was preserved for us from the days of the Roman Empire. Frankly, most of what we know as factual from first century Judea and Samaria comes to us from Josephus. But what little comes to us from elsewhere comes to us with little conflict when placed along side of the writings of Josephus.

And one of the arguments for a late dating of the various gospel stories is that they seem to demonstrate some degree of familiarity with incidents retold by Josephus in his various books, published in the 70s through the 90s in Rome, and probably not widely circulated outside of Rome. Some sort of "original version" of the writings of Josephus would be a precious find indeed, because it would finally answer the question about just what the Christians chose to leave in or out of their redaction.

One thing to note about your assertion about Caiaphas is that he is not only mentioned in the New Testament (Luke 3:2), he is also mentioned in Josephus (Antiquities 18.2.2-35). It is just such a mention which causes some scholars to assert that the author of Luke cribbed from Josephus. But given that Josephus was a "real historian" (at least, according to the standards of his day), I don't personally find it to be remarkable that the existence of Caiaphas is confirmed through locating his tomb.

As for the remainder of your assertions, I feel that many of these difficulties are best dealt with in the context of Paul imperfectly transmitting Jewish traditions into Hellenic culture (and in fact, the bulk of the New Testament demonstrates that the major transmission was from Hellenism into Christianity, with only minor inputs from Judaism). So, this would account for conflating Passover and the Feast of the Tabernacles.

Anyway, I've gotta go, so I'll quit while I'm ahead (before the Christians have had a chance to attack me on all of this stuff. )

== Bill
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