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Old 04-18-2001, 10:22 PM   #1
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Post Putting together the Jesus Puzzle

Inspired by the thread Skepticism about Jesus Christ's Existence?, and considering the fact that we appear to have a fair number of Earl Doherty fans and disciples on this site, I thought it would be a good idea to actually take a look at his views as offered, especially from his web site, which form the basis of the thesis that Jesus of Nazareth is a mythical figure created by early Christianity out of a variety of sources.

I will open the thread by posting the 12 “pieces” of the Jesus puzzle from Doherty’s site found at The Jesus Puzzle, and offer brief refutations of each of his arguments. With luck, we can then examine the ones that any sceptic may wish to defend in more depth. At the end of the thread we will have hopefully come to realize that the arguments offered by Doherty are extremely weak, and better understand why they are universally rejected in the New Testament scholarly community.

Let’s get started (this post will cover the first four "pieces" of the "Puzzle"):

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> Piece No. 1: A CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE
Quote:
The Gospel story, with its figure of Jesus of Nazareth, cannot be found before the Gospels. In Christian writings earlier than Mark, including almost all of the New Testament epistles, as well as in many writings from the second century, the object of Christian faith is never spoken of as a human man who had recently lived, taught, performed miracles, suffered and died at the hands of human authorities, or rose from a tomb outside Jerusalem. There is no sign in the epistles of Mary or Joseph, Judas or John the Baptist, no birth story, teaching or appointment of apostles by Jesus, no mention of holy places or sites of Jesus’ career, not even the hill of Calvary or the empty tomb. This silence is so pervasive and so perplexing that attempted explanations for it have proven inadequate.</font>
This will be the basis of virtually all of Doherty’s future arguments, and as soon as one realizes that one is arguing almost entirely from silence, red flags should be going off. After all, it is always hazardous to build a case on what someone does not say.

For example, Mary, Joseph, Judas and others are not mentioned in the Epistles. But Peter is mentioned by Paul, as is John the son of Zebedee. James the brother of Jesus is mentioned by Paul and Jude (who also claims to be James’ brother). Further, James and John the Baptist are both mentioned by Josephus, leaving no doubt that the latter believed these men actually lived. I will talk more about Josepus’ references to Jesus Himself below.

As for the mention of the name of Calvary or Golgotha, like the names of Jesus’ mother and father, Earl gives us no reasons to expect this name to be mentioned in any of the epistles. He merely calls it odd, raised eyebrow style, and thinks we should treat this with suspicion. Again, we are not told why, although I suspect we are supposed to suspect that some sort of conspiracy is afoot. At the same time, since Doherty merely declares the explanations inadequate, we are supposed to consider the matter settled, and no request for an elaboration on his arguments from silence are to be demanded.

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> Piece No. 2: A MUTE RECORD WORLD WIDE
The first clear non-Christian reference to Jesus as a human man in recent history is made by the Roman historian Tacitus around 115 CE, but he may simply be repeating newly-developed Christian belief in an historical Jesus in the Rome of his day. Several earlier Jewish and pagan writers are notably silent. The Antiquities of the Jews by the Jewish historian Josephus, published in the 90s, contains two famous references to Jesus, but these are inconclusive. The first passage, as it stands, is universally acknowledged to be a later Christian insertion, and attempts have failed to prove some form of authentic original; the second also shows signs of later Christian tampering. References to Jesus in the Jewish Talmud are garbled and come from traditions which were only recorded in the third century and later. </font>
Here Doherty really gets carried away. Tacitus does mention the Christians in the early part of the first century. Here is what he says:

There was a group, loathed for its vices, that the people called Christians. Responsible for the name was Christ; he had been put to death by Pontius Pilate when Tiberius was emperor. This checked the horrid superstition, but not for long; it burst out again, not only in Judaea where it had started, but in Rome, too, a sink into which everything vile and shameful flows and finds its vogue.
Annals 15.44


Tacitus goes on to describe Christian practices that he finds so “vile” and “horrid”, making note that Christians are believed to participate in cannibalism in their secret rites. It is a safe bet that Tacitus is not being redacted or interpolated by later Christians in his words. It would also appear that Tacitus’ exposure to actual Christians is pretty limited, so to claim that he is getting his knowledge from such a source looks pretty weak.

Earl fails to address this question at all, preferring to dismiss it out of hand as too late. Interestingly, no other historian I am aware of has been so cavalier in the dismissal of a source. More on this below as well however (when we take a look at more conspiracy theories from Doherty).

I now want to address the questions he raises about Josephus. Let’s look at the first quote:

[i] About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God haad prophesied these and countless other marvellous things about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.
Flavius Josephus (Antiquities 18.63)


Doherty calls this a “Christian insertion”, and claims that it is “universally acknowledged” as such. At best this is an exaggeration on Doherty’s part, but more accurately, for someone as well read on the subject as Doherty claims to be, it is an outright lie. First, it is not seen as a Christian insertion, but, rather, as an interpolation. The difference is crucial, since the former considers it to be an invention created by Christians, and the latter treats as a passage that has been modified by Christians. Once again Doherty tries to present a view that is almost wholly unique to himself as being not merely a scholarly consensus, but an actual “universal” agreement. The idea is absurd. Allow me to quote from a noted atheist scholar on the subject to help demonstrate my point:

From Jesus and Christians in non-Christian sources:

“…Josephus did probably introduce Jesus here (in the Testimonium) since (a) unlike Christian writers, he identifies Jesus as a sage & assigns responsibility for his crucifixion to the Roman governor and (b) he later presupposes that his non-Christian readers are already familiar with Jesus by claiming Pharisees protested the execution of James "the brother of Jesus the reputed Messiah."
Malhon Smith


Smith is much closer to the scholar consensus on this passage than is Doherty, and it is disingenuous in the extreme for Doherty to claim otherwise.

Now, as to the second reference from Josephus, Doherty flatly states that it “also shows signs of later Christian tampering”. If this is the case, then Doherty is the only one to see these signs, and since he offers no proof to support this ridiculous claim, one is left to wonder at his methods.

Here is the passage in question:

Hanan (II) the younger---who was appointed to the high-priesthood [in 62 CE]...---was rash in temper and exceptionally daring. He followed the sect of the Sadducees, who are in fact more harsh than all the (other) Jews in judicial matters.. This Hanan thought that he had an hour of grace, because Festus [the Roman procurator] had died and (his successor) Albinus was just beginning his journey to Jerusalem. So he convened the Sanhedrin of judges and brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus, the reputed Messiah, and some others. He accused them of having transgressed the Torah and delivered them up to be stoned. Now those who seem to be the most fair of those in the city---those who were strict in keeping the Torah [= the Pharisees]---were deeply shocked by this and sent (a messenger) to king [Agrippa II], to call on (Hanan II) not to do such things. For he was not right in the first thing he had done.
Antiquities 20.199-201


No one claims (except Doherty) believes that this passage has been interpolated by Christians. We should also note that it is universally accepted that Jesus did, in fact, have a brother named James. Interestingly, Doherty doesn’t bother to address this point either.

In addition to the above evidence, Doherty neglects to talk about the brief reference offered by a contemporary of Tacitus:

Since the Jews were in constant turmoil due to the influence of one "Chrestus," (the emperor) Claudius expelled them from Rome [ca. 52 CE].
Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars 5.25


Malhon Smith makes the following comment with respect to this passage:

[NOTE: The imperial biographer apparently had no detailed information about the cause of the Jewish community's agitation other than that it concerned the name of a person. "Chrestus" is probably a Roman misunderstanding of a debate about the Messiah [= Christos for Greek-speaking Jews], since the emperor took unprecedented action against the whole community rather a single agitator. This incident probably preceded the founding of a distinct Christian church in Rome such as that presupposed by Paul's letter to the Romans.]

Robin Griffith-Jones concurs:

Suetonius is almost certainly referring to Jesus the “Christ”, the “Anointed.” The trouble may have arisen with the syngogues, between members who revered Jesus and those who did not.
(R. Griffith-Jones, The Four Witnesses, [HarperCollins, New York, 2000], pg. 49)


Casual dismissal of evidence is not solid historical research.

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> Piece No. 3: REVEALING THE SECRET OF CHRIST
Paul and other early writers speak of the divine Son of their faith entirely in terms of a spiritual, heavenly figure; they never identify this entity called "Christ Jesus" (literally, "Anointed Savior" or "Savior Messiah") as a man who had lived and died in recent history. Instead, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, God has revealed the existence of his Son and the role he has played in the divine plan for salvation. These early writers talk of long-hidden secrets being disclosed for the first time to apostles like Paul, with no mention of an historical Jesus who played any part in revealing himself, thus leaving no room for a human man at the beginning of the Christian movement. Paul makes it clear that his knowledge and message about the Christ is derived from scripture under God’s inspiration. </font>
This part is simply wrong (and I highlighted the worst of it in bold to emphasize the point). Again one is left to wonder at Doherty’s ability to read Paul’s (or the other) epistles.

Galatians 1:19 I saw none of the other apostles--only James, the Lord's brother.

Based on 1 Corinthians 15:7, Galatians 2:9, and Galatians 2:12 we already know that Paul is firmly convinced that James is a real person. To then argue that he does not view Jesus as being equally real in 1:19 is ludicrous.

Romans 1:1-3 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God-- the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David,

Nor is Paul the only NT author outside of the Gospels to see Jesus as having lived and died here on earth.

Hebrews 5:7 During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.

Hebrews 13:12 And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.

1 John 4:2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,

2 John 1:7 Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.

2 Peter 1:16 We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased."


The passages could not be clearer. Jesus lived, in the flesh, here on earth. Once again Doherty prefers to ignore the evidence rather than address it.

Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2"> Piece No. 4: A SACRIFICE IN THE SPIRITUAL REALM
Paul does not locate the death and resurrection of Christ on earth or in history. According to him, the crucifixion took place in the spiritual world, in a supernatural dimension above the earth, at the hands of the demon spirits (which many scholars agree is the meaning of "rulers of this age" in 1 Corinthians 2:8). The Epistle to the Hebrews locates Christ’s sacrifice in a heavenly sanctuary (ch. 8, 9)… </font>
As we have already seen, Hebrews has Jesus crucified outside the gates of the city (13:12), and specifically states that Jesus lived in the flesh (5:7) here on earth. I am starting to think that Doherty thinks black is white, and white is black. As for what Paul thought:

1 Corinthians 15:1-4 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.

Galatians 2:9 tells us that Paul thinks Peter and John are quite real (along with James), and presumably so are the Twelve. Later in this same letter Paul is even more specific:

Galatians 4:4 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law,

Okay, this post is plenty long enough already. I will post the next four parts of the “Puzzle” later (and the last 4 after that). But this at least gives us a place to start. If anyone wishes to comment on, or defend Doherty’s points please do so. If possible, please offer evidence in your supports.

Thank you.

Nomad

[This message has been edited by Nomad (edited April 18, 2001).]
 
Old 04-18-2001, 10:44 PM   #2
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Two more posts this size and you will have your own Bible and I will worship you as Lord.
 
Old 04-19-2001, 12:15 AM   #3
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Why don't you guys get a staff of apologists to help you do your research? Wouldn't it be easier?
 
Old 04-19-2001, 01:47 AM   #4
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Very nicely done Nomad. I look forward to seeing the rest. Childish comments from your opponents are the expected reaction when their arguments have been blown out of the water. I look forward to seeing any reasoned responces from the sceptics.

B
 
Old 04-19-2001, 08:17 AM   #5
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Amen Bede.

Now one begins to see why most good scholars don't take Doherty seriously.

Thanks Nomad.

Ish

[This message has been edited by Ish (edited April 19, 2001).]
 
Old 04-19-2001, 09:17 AM   #6
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Nomad,
Perhaps you would care to post these objections to Mr. Doherty himself, either by feedback at his website, or on the JesusMysteries dicussion board, which he participates in, at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/JesusMysteries
I'm sure he would be glad to answer any questions you have.
 
Old 04-19-2001, 10:50 AM   #7
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Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Ish:
Amen Bede.

Now one begins to see why most good scholars don't take Doherty seriously.

Thanks Nomad.

Ish

[This message has been edited by Ish (edited April 19, 2001).]
</font>
Not that I go along with the Jesus-myth scenario, but I'd still like to know who these "most good scholars" are. Layman keeps talking about "most scholars" or most historians believe this or that in different thread. I'd just be interested in seeing a list of all the scholars (or historians) and personal remarks from them that support this assertion. Oh and if you could provide some objective criteria for "good scholar" that would be helpful as well.

 
Old 04-19-2001, 11:01 AM   #8
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Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by madmax2976:
Not that I go along with the Jesus-myth scenario, but I'd still like to know who these "most good scholars" are. Layman keeps talking about "most scholars" or most historians believe this or that in different thread. I'd just be interested in seeing a list of all the scholars (or historians) and personal remarks from them that support this assertion. Oh and if you could provide some objective criteria for "good scholar" that would be helpful as well.
</font>
I'll give a list and you can check their creditnials on the 'Net.

Michael Grant.
John D. Crossan.
Marcus Borg.
N.T. Wright.
E.P. Sanders.
Graham Stanton.
John P. Meier.
Robert Van Voorst.
Sherman White.
Robin Lane Fox.
Ben Witherington.
Raymond E. Brown.
Wayne Meeks.
Paul Achtemeier.
Shaye Cohen.
John Collins.
John Drane.
Robert Funk.
Rabbi Burton Visotsky
Louis Feldman
Germa Vermes.
Bruce Metzger.
F.F. Bruce.
Paula Fredrickson.

There's a lot more, but are you really disputing this point? Do you really suspect that most New Testament scholars or historians agree with you? Or even a substantial minority of them do?

What is a good scholar? I'd say one that has an advanced degree from a respected institution on the relevant subject matter. One belonging to an respected university or organization focused on historical studies. Accepted by his or her peers in New Testament or historical studies. Other factors would include honors or awards, as well as publications in peer reviewed journals.

There are exceptions, but I think these are the things most people would look for.
 
Old 04-19-2001, 11:03 AM   #9
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Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by MortalWombat:
Nomad,
Perhaps you would care to post these objections to Mr. Doherty himself, either by feedback at his website, or on the JesusMysteries dicussion board, which he participates in, at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/JesusMysteries
I'm sure he would be glad to answer any questions you have.</font>
Hello Mortal

I am an inactive member of that group, but will no longer post there as they banned a number of my friends, and refused to post my own questions and thoughts when I sent them in. I do not consider that board to be a fair playing field (for lack of a better term), and this is why I have requested that someone invite Doherty to this site. Neither his posts, nor my own will be censured here, and I will not have to contend with warnings and deletions by the moderators of the site.

At the same time, if Doherty will not come here to defend his work, then I am hoping that some who agree with him will do so in his place. After all, supporting evidence for a thesis is available to anyone who has the time to do the research.

Peace,

Nomad
 
Old 04-19-2001, 11:16 AM   #10
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Quote:
<font face="Verdana, Arial" size="2">Originally posted by Layman:
I'll give a list and you can check their creditnials on the 'Net.

Michael Grant.
John D. Crossan.
Marcus Borg.
N.T. Wright.
E.P. Sanders.
Graham Stanton.
John P. Meier.
Robert Van Voorst.
Sherman White.
Robin Lane Fox.
Ben Witherington.
Raymond E. Brown.
Wayne Meeks.
Paul Achtemeier.
Shaye Cohen.
John Collins.
John Drane.
Robert Funk.
Rabbi Burton Visotsky
Louis Feldman
Germa Vermes.
Bruce Metzger.
F.F. Bruce.
Paula Fredrickson.

There's a lot more, but are you really disputing this point? Do you really suspect that most New Testament scholars or historians agree with you? Or even a substantial minority of them do?

What is a good scholar? I'd say one that has an advanced degree from a respected institution on the relevant subject matter. One belonging to an respected university or organization focused on historical studies. Accepted by his or her peers in New Testament or historical studies. Other factors would include honors or awards, as well as publications in peer reviewed journals.

There are exceptions, but I think these are the things most people would look for.
</font>

Holy Moley. Thats quite list.
Can I find somewhere (in their writings or whatever) that they have actually looked at Doherty's stuff critically and come out against it? Perhaps there are reviews of Doherty's stuff on the web by one of these individuals.

As for most historians or scholars "agreeing with me" I can only ask, What are you talking about? Agree with me on what? As far as I am concerned, the gospels are enough to give prima facie evidence of Jesus's mere existence. I wouldn't bet a fortune on it mind you, but I'd bet a reasonable sum that he at least existed.

Your criteria for a good scholar sounds reasonable.

Thanks
 
 

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