Age of Reason PublicationsThe Jesus Puzzle

Challenging Doherty:

Critiquing the Mythicist Case (including a response to Dr. Paula Fredriksen's comments on my first website article).

It should come as no surprise that the "no historical Jesus" theory is unpopular in many circles. Mythicists like myself have long been subjected to criticism, ridicule and ad hominem attacks; or we are simply ignored, with an audible disdain in the silence. We are not genuine or legitimate scholars. We have agendas, usually nefarious ones. Our stance is determined ahead of time and we twist the evidence to suit our ends. We reject the supernatural and the miraculous a priori and rely instead on those shaky foundations known as science and rationality. To some, we are sons of Satan, headed for eternal fire.

But rather than judge the demerits of a case by the amount of ordure that is thrown at it, or by the appeal to authority regularly indulged in by critics, the mythicist position ought to be evaluated, in part, in the light of the counter-suits presented by those critics. In other words, how effective are the cases brought against it?

On the older Jesus Seminar web page attached to Rutgers, under "Reactions/Critiques," a link to the Jesus Puzzle website stood at the head of the list for a number of years. (The link is still there but is now dead, as the last webmaster, Seminar member Mahlon Smith, ignored the notice that the URL had changed.) These were stated as "critiques...that raise substantive issues that merit an intelligent response." None of the members of the Seminar, or any other scholarly visitor to the Rutgers site, took up the suggestion. Critics of my second book, Challenging the Verdict: A Cross-Examination of Lee Strobel's 'The Case for Christ', monotonously accuse me of unfair tactics, even dishonesty, in dialoguing with quotations from Strobel's interviewed scholars as though in a courtroom, presenting my counter-arguments by means of this literary device. Dishonesty, because I didn't give them a chance to respond to my 'cross-examination'—right in the book, I guess. In response to that, I posted a notice on my site offering to give a forum to any of Strobel's scholars who wished to interject a rebuttal at any point in the book's text, and I would post it, unedited, on the site. I called the feature "Court in Session." Judge and jury waited, but none of the defendants showed up.

Several of those who have expressed dissatisfaction with my views have declared that any professional New Testament scholar could shred the mythicist case in general, and mine in particular. (I would be "roasted," one said.) As yet we don't know that, because none have undertaken to do so. Later in this article, I will look at some comments made by a well-known New Testament scholar to my first website article, "A Conspiracy of Silence." While brief and informal, those comments are quite telling.

Reader Feedback

Many reactions to my books and website come to me personally, and many are posted in the Reader Feedback. The positive ones are encouraging, and show that my arguments and presentation are strong enough to change many people's viewpoints and even their lives. The majority of both my books are sold through It is there that the general public has a forum to praise or condemn The Jesus Puzzle and Challenging the Verdict. I value these reviews, both positive and negative, because my primary target audience is the layperson with an interest in historical questions and a willingness to examine the tenets of Christianity. I make no secret of being biased toward a rational view of life and the world, and a rejection of the supernatural. The positive reviews show that this outlook is spreading, and that the case for the non-existence of Jesus is gaining legitimacy.

But I'm also encouraged by the negative reviews. I have a website feature which quotes most of the Amazon reviews on Challenging the Verdict, especially the negative ones, some with remarks added by me. Most are little more than rants, full of accusations that the book is "bizarre, amateurish, insipid and poorly executed"; it contains "fanciful conspiracy theories, historical misstatements and corruptions of logic"; its methodology is "outrageous". Similar accusations are made in negative reviews of The Jesus Puzzle. What is curious about this type of review—and they run into the dozens—is that hardly a single one of them contains a concrete counter-argument or attempted refutation of any of the terrible flaws, misstatements, illogicalities or invalid methodology I am accused of. Bob and Gretchen Passantino of "Answers in Action" submitted a review stating that Challenging the Verdict "is littered with logical fallacies, misstatements of fact, faulty interpretations, pseudo-scholarship, and wholesale ignorance of history, literature, and philosophy." Quite a litany. Regrettably, they failed to provide a single example of any of these sins, even though Amazon allows a generous limit of 1,000 words for a review, which the Passantinos came nowhere near reaching.

A few months ago, someone named Kerry B. Colling wrote the following review on Amazon:             

The Case for Ignoring this sad case, February 13, 2003
Reviewer: Kerry B. Colling  from Victor, New York
    I was asked by a popular apologetics organization to help work on a response to this latest attempt at discrediting the Gospels and in turn the very foundations of Christianity.
    What perhaps troubled me more than Doherty's work was the way in which many Christians responded. After reading Challenging the Verdict I can confidently say to all those alarmed Christians "calm down." With all due respect to Mr Doherty and all those who took this attempt so seriously it is just not worth it. I would recommend this book to NO ONE - Skeptic or believer. It is not only dry but drab. Doherty advocates an extreme view which even the majority of unbelieving scholars do not hold. It is a tiring read and the writing style is horrendous. Doherty would have gained more respect if he had personally interviewed the scholars Strobel had. Christians seemed more upset that Doherty chose to attack one of their latest apologetic "stars" rather than with the arguments themselves.
    I debated even bothering writing this review. Sorry to bore you even more than Strobel or Doherty already has. 

Mr. (Ms.?) Colling doesn't say who this "apologetics organization" is that asked for his assistance, but he has clearly failed to give them anything of substance to allay their fears. Even in the face of an obvious plea from those who are disturbed at the content of my book, not a single counter-argument has been put forward. All he can serve up is a litany of insult and dismissal, appeals to authority, and a condemnation of my writing style which goes against much opposite opinion. It's a poorly disguised admission that he was able to come up with nothing to challenge Challenging the Verdict. The review is simply a cop-out.

More recently, a "william1125 from Europe" began his review with these remarks: "Full of assumptions. Way too many Illogical and False Analogies. I found an average of 1 good argument in every 50 bad ones." Would it not have been natural to include at least one example of any of these things? Then he goes on: "Man, I thought I would be able to use Doherty's points in real life - No way! They'd laugh me off the street if I tried using his arguments in ad hoc conversation much less try to use his stuff in debates." Is there something wrong with this picture? Was "william" really looking for material to use in defense of the things I've advocated, as he seems to be implying? I hardly think so, in view of sentiments like these: "Come on Doherty - what is this a joke? Very very sad and a deeply incorrect use of socalled 'cross-examination.' No wonder Doherty had to self-publish this thing - no publisher worth their weight in flies would have touched it. I mean what kind of strategy is this puppet manipulation of the statements??? Where's the Beef?! Where's your attack platform? I need stuff that's usable, not a comedic script suitable for sitcoms."

That "william" is really from "Europe" I very much doubt, as I do that he has in any way correctly identified himself. In fact, the entire tone of the piece (and there's more along the lines of what I quoted) is quite familiar, very reminiscent of over-the-top material we all know too well on the apologetic circuit here in North America. A companion reviewer called the book "another futile attack on the Christian faith...satan vs. God." He recommended "buying a Mounds bar instead. You know—the one without the nuts."

Many reviews betray a strong indication that the reviewers have not actually read the book in question. They are reacting to its theme, or to someone else's condemnation of it. Some misrepresent its content. For example, more than one reviewer of The Jesus Puzzle has claimed that I date the Gospels in the middle of the 2nd century. Well, at more than one point, including right in the Introduction, I make it clear that I date Mark, the first Gospel, around 85-90, and regard the other three canonicals as being in existence by 130, even if further edited later to reach their canonical state. Is this a deliberate misrepresentation or an indication that they have not read the book?

Is any of this an example of "honesty" (as opposed to my own 'dishonesty')? Do these reviewers really regard this as bona fide methodology to critique a viewpoint that has been around for two centuries, championed by many competent scholars both professional and amateur (in the technical sense of the word) over the course of that time? Or is it rather the response of fear, anger and bigotry, a closing of the mind to new and threatening ideas and a lashing out at those who put such things forward? The question, of course, is rhetorical.

Internet Discussion

The situation is somewhat better on some discussion boards, such as The Jesus Mysteries or the Internet Infidels. The anti-mythicist constituency on such venues may be vocal, and has done its share of ranting, but serious attempts are often made to offer reasoned and scholarly challenges to aspects of the mythicist case. If there's a problem with this approach, it is that it's piecemeal. It does not address the case as a whole, and leaves entire areas untouched. There is little to be accomplished by arguing such points as that "brother of the Lord" must mean sibling of Jesus, or that "born of woman" can only mean a human birth on earth, or that 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 cannot be securely labeled an interpolation, or that references in Josephus have a reliable core, all the time ignoring the elephant—or elephants—in the room. As it is, none of those piecemeal arguments can be proved; some are completely ineffectual, easily countered by others on the board. What is needed is a comprehensive, all-inclusive paradigm which will deal with those elephants in a better way than the mythicist case does: explanations for the pervasive silence on the Gospel Jesus in the epistles, for the exclusive focus on scripture and revelation in all the early writers, for the great dichotomy between the Galilean and Jerusalem traditions, for the immediate elevation of Jesus to cosmic levels in a Jewish-style milieu, for the Platonic saturation of early christology, the blatant parallels in thought and ritual to the mystery cults, the picture in the 2nd century apologists, and on and on. No systematic refutation such as this to the mythicist case in general, or mine in particular, has been forthcoming from anyone.

I will take the liberty of appealing to Richard Carrier's review of The Jesus Puzzle on the Secular Web. In its section on "The Argument to the Best Explanation" Carrier has given my book the 'win' in regard to the degree of success in meeting the various criteria of the ABE. "In several ways like these, Doherty shows how his theory is a better explanation of all the evidence than the SHT [Standard Historicist Theory]." "Doherty's theory very easily accounts for the peculiar features of the passages he singles out, while historicists must struggle harder to explain them, introducing ad hoc assumptions..." Carrier admits he has been drawn further than before toward the mythicist conclusion, but he does not commit to it. Where I think he hesitates too much is in arguing that the mythicist case cannot be considered triumphant because, in theory, an historicist scholar could one day produce a rebuttal that would overcome it. I have said that I find this verging on a fallacy, since we can only deal with what we have in both evidence and cases made, and cannot postulate what might come about or be uncovered, much less introduce it into the argument. But it does highlight the point I am making here. The mythicist theory does provide the better explanation for the beginnings of Christianity as reflected in the record, and it is incumbent upon the 'orthodox' side to discredit it or come up with something better—something they have not yet done, or perhaps even attempted. Appeals to authority won't do. We all know the reasons why "99%" (or whatever the declared figure) of biblical scholars accept the existence of Jesus. Nor can critics have it both ways. If my case is so abysmal and so riddled with flaws and fallacies, it should have no credence whatsoever and could be demolished with little effort. If nothing else, it should be easy to ignore. Yet they do everything but ignore it; they do everything but provide that demolition.

Scholarly Opinion

Why is it that no individual scholar or group of scholars has undertaken a concerted effort in recent times to discredit the mythicist position? (The brief addresses that have been made to it in various publications are outlined in my Main Article "Postscript".) In the heyday of the great mythicists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a few valiant efforts were offered. However, both mainstream scholarship and the mythicist branch itself have made dramatic leaps since then. Biblical research has moved into bold new territory in the last several decades: unearthing a wealth of ancient documents, arriving at a new understanding of elements like Q, the sectarian nature of early Christianity, the Cynic roots of the great Gospel teachings, and so on; an almost unprecedented "critical" dimension to New Testament scholarship has emerged.

And yet the mythicist position continues to be vilified, disdained, dismissed. We would condemn any physicist, any anthropologist, any linguist, any mathematician, any scholar of any sort who professes to work in a field that makes even a partial bow to principles of logic and scientific research who yet ignored, reviled, condemned largely without examination a legitimate, persistent theory in his or her discipline. There are tremendous problems in New Testament research, problems that have been grappled with for generations and show no sign of getting closer to solution. Agreement is lacking on countless topics, and yesterday's theories are being continually overturned. There is almost a civil war going on within the ranks of Jesus study. Why not give the mythicist option some serious consideration? Why not honestly evaluate it to see if it could provide some of the missing answers? Or, if it turns out that the case is fatally flawed, then put it to rest once and for all.

Doing that would require one essential thing: taking it seriously, approaching the subject having an open mind that the theory might have some merit. Sadly, that is the most difficult step and the one which most critics have had the greatest difficulty taking. It is all in the mindset, whether of the Christian believer whose confessional interests are overriding, or of the professional scholar who could never consider that their life's work might be fatally compromised.

As an example of that mindset, I will draw on the only 'critique' undertaken of my own work by a professional scholar in the field, and that only on the first article in my Main Articles series, called "A Conspiracy of Silence." I will offer an apology of sorts to Paula Fredriksen in advance, in that these were remarks made not to me, but to a third party who sent her a copy of the first site article and asked her to give that party some feedback. However, she was also urged to communicate directly with me and might have expected that her comments would find their way to my desk. As well, those comments were made to my article, which gives me the right of response. As far as I know, Dr. Fredriksen did not visit the site and read further, and thus was exposed to very little of my overall argument. Her remarks were informal and off-the-cuff, with evidently little time or effort put into them (for which, under those circumstances, I don't especially fault her). Nevertheless, they are revealing, and I am taking the liberty of reproducing and commenting on them here to illustrate the issues under discussion. (Paula Fredriksen is a professor in the Department of Religion at Boston University, with a number of published books on the historical Jesus.)

Comments by Paula Fredriksen

Dr. Fredriksen interjected her comments within the full text of my "Conspiracy of Silence" but I will quote only those portions of the article (in italics) directly related to those comments, and insert my own response after each of them. I will include virtually all of her comments, except for a couple which were very minor and not consequential.

Around the year 107, the Christian bishop of Antioch made a last, doleful journey. Under military escort Ignatius travelled by land from Antioch to Rome, where in its brutal arena he was to die a martyr's death. Along the way he wrote to several Christian communities.

P.F. (Paula Fredriksen): These letters are now dated c. 98-100....Interestingly, he actually visited these communities—which meant that a) while he was travelling w/ this escort, he was not actually confined; and b) simply being a Xn wasn't illegal, or enough of a reason to get arrested, or else these other folks whom Ignatius visited would have been busted too.

E.D. (Earl Doherty): I would be a bit leery of drawing these conclusions. The traditional interpretation has been that Ignatius was confined, but that visitors from the churches were allowed to see him when he passed through their cities. If he was on his way to Rome under sentence of death, it is not too likely that he was going along on some kind of honor system and allowed to leave his military escort to visit friends. And although tradition doesn't state the exact reason for Ignatius' condemnation, there is no reason to think that it did not have something to do with being a Christian. Other documents around the same time, such as Pliny's letter to Trajan, indicate that simply being a Christian could lead to persecution and arrest. On the other hand, some aspects of the situation surrounding Ignatius—such as the allowed visitation and the apparent immunity to arrest enjoyed by those visitors—ought to lead us to question the reliability of tradition and the authenticity of the letters, rather than draw the problematic conclusions expressed above. This is a good example of how scholars tend to work entirely within established paradigms, drawing up both assumptions and conclusions within their confines. Stepping outside them may lead to solving the inherent difficulties and opening up new vistas on the larger picture.

And yet when we step outside those Gospels into the much more rarefied atmosphere of the first century epistles, we encounter a huge puzzle...

P.F.: I assume that this means "apart from the gospels." Ignatius is generally held to have been writing after some of them had been written.

...Before Ignatius, not a single reference to Pontius Pilate, Jesus' executioner, is to be found.

P.F.: Is to be found where? I'm not certain of what he's trying to say here.

E.D.: I had said in the opening part of the first sentence above, "when we step outside those Gospels into...the first century epistles" and she correctly, if reduntantly, inferred, “I assume this means apart from the gospels." It is difficult to see how the application of "to be found" in the second sentence is uncertain.

This strange silence on the Gospel Jesus which pervades almost a century of Christian correspondence cries out for explanation. It cannot be dismissed as some inconsequential quirk, or by the blithe observation made by New Testament scholarship that early Christian writers "show no interest" in the earthly life of Jesus. Something is going on here. In Part One, we are going to take a close look at this "Conspiracy of Silence" to which Paul and every other Christian writer of the first century seems to be a party.

P.F.: What if these writers are not familiar w/ the gospel traditions that we have? Also, some of them (like Barnabas, or Hermas) aren't addressing issues of Jesus' hagiography/biography. Finally, "conspiracy" sounds like a loaded word.

E.D.: This is a good example of the standard kinds of rejoinder that are often given to elements of the mythicist case; in many cases, they are not thought out. How could any Christian of the first century, whether possessing written Gospels or not, be ignorant of all traditions about the human Jesus? How could all Christians of the first century be so ignorant, or uninterested? What would have led to their conversion in the first place? How could they have been preached to and converted without acquiring some such traditions? Why is Ignatius early in the 2nd century the first to mention even the most basic of these? (Of course, outside the Gospels.)
    Dr. Fredriksen's remark about biography misses the point. First of all, it is true that epistles of the first century are not written to address issues of Jesus' biography—and not just some of them, all of them. The very fact that none of them do is suspicious in itself and may invite the explanation that no such biography was current to be written about. But the point here is that virtually all of them contain elements and occasions which do relate to things that would be relevant to Jesus' biography. The fact that we never get any reference, any appeal, to such biographical elements is highly significant and cannot be dismissed in this manner.
    As for her specific mention of the Epistle of Barnabas and The Shepherd of Hermas: Barnabas is most often dated early in the second century, and it does show a concern for a basic biography of Jesus (claims that he had taught the people of Israel and had worked wonders—although these are things of which he never gives examples). I regard it, as I discuss in my Supplementary Article No. 12, Part Two, one of the earliest documents which has crossed the threshold in the development of the concept of an historical Jesus. And yet, the writer of Barnabas is clearly ignorant on a whole swath of basic data about Jesus which should have been known to him in some form, such as any details about the historical crucifixion. He appeals instead to Isaiah 53, and several times intimates quite clearly that he still relies on scripture for information about Jesus' presumed life on earth. Hermas, it is true, is not concerned with anything biographic. Its Jesus is entirely a mythological, heavenly Son, and in fact the document never uses the names "Jesus" or "Christ". And yet a key passage in the Fifth Parable indicates that this writer has no concept of a life on earth. This is an allegorical parable which has the Son "cleansing the sins of the people" before his "show[ing] them the ways of life and [giving] them the law which he received from his Father." Since "giving them the law" is elsewhere assigned to the angel Michael, who is also equated with the "Son," no human biography of Jesus can possibly be present in this writer's mind. Moreover, there is a complete silence on a death and resurrection anywhere in this lengthy work. Dr. Fredriksen, like many others, needs to delve more deeply into the documents and arguments commonly appealed to against the mythicist case.
     And I must say I find it surprising that so many people fail to see the tongue-in-cheek irony in my use of the term "conspiracy" in "A Conspiracy of Silence." It can hardly be intended non-ironically, as this would mean I was implying an actual, universal plot by all these writers not to talk about an historical Jesus they all knew. Perhaps her comment is another example of literalism being carried too far.

Christianity was allegedly born within Judaism, whose basic theological tenet was: God is One. The ultimate blasphemy for a Jew would have been to associate any man with God.       

P.F.: This is not so. Monotheism in antiquity is not so austere, and lots of second temple writings that are not canonical make elevated claims for figures like Enoch, or Moses, or Solomon.

E.D.: A subset of the category "half-truth" ought to be the "half-comparison." Is Dr. Fredriksen saying that figures such as Enoch, Moses and Solomon were in any way turned into God, that they in any way compromised the Jewish God's monotheistic nature? The difference between any "elevation" of Enoch or Moses and the presentation of the cosmic Christ in the first century epistles constitutes a quantum leap. Enoch may have been taken up to heaven without having to pass through death, but he was not made God's Son in a literal way. (Not even in the pseudepigraphic literature.) Moses in Philo's thought possessed the Logos, but he was not the Logos. No Old Testament personage was regarded as sharing in God's nature and preexistent with him from all eternity. None of them were given the title "Lord" with power over all in heaven and earth, none (except for the mythological "Wisdom") were made agents of creation and the sustaining power of the universe. In no second temple writing do we find passages like Colossians 1:15-20 or Hebrews 1:1-3 applied to Enoch, Moses or Solomon.
    I have seen arguments like this offered before. They turn a blind eye to the unprecedented nature of the early Christian Christ as portrayed in the epistles and the questions that attend to him: how could Jews create or accept this 'blasphemy' about a recent human man, how could such an elevation proceed out of a wisdom sage no matter how charismatic, so soon and so widespread that Paul can travel about to huge numbers of communities all over the eastern empire that already believe in "the Christ"? How could the epistles not be full of a record of challenges to apostles such as Paul for preaching a faith that elevated a man, a crucified criminal, to part of the Godhead?
    This shocking incongruity is so anomalous that scholars have been known to deny it, to state that Paul and his fellows did not believe in Jesus as divine and a part of God, even in the face of passages like 1 Corinthians 8:6, Colossians 1:15-20 or Hebrews 1:1-3. How often do we hear that Jesus of Nazareth was only gradually divinized, following the evolution from Mark to John? Long before Mark and John wrote, Jesus had reached the zenith in the earliest surviving Christian epistles, and it seems to have taken place from the very beginning of the movement. This is the great elephant in the Christian documentary room, and ignoring, misrepresenting or dismissing it will not make it go away.

And yet there is a resounding silence in Paul and the other first century writers. We might call it "The Missing Equation." Nowhere does anyone state that this Son of God and Savior, this cosmic Christ they are all talking about, was the man Jesus of Nazareth, recently put to death in Judea.

P.F.: He's exaggerating the disconnect between Paul and the historical Jesus. If you go to Amazon, you can access my Jesus book electronically: ch. 3, from pp. 74-153, reviews coincident material.

E.D.: One of the primary positions of the mythicist argument is that tradition and scholarship have read all sorts of things from the Gospels into the epistles. If they are not explicitly there, we have no right to assume they lie in the background. "Coincident material" won't do. Coincidences such as finding teachings in the epistles that are attributed to Jesus in the Gospels, yet are never so attributed in the epistles, do not constitute proof. One is begging the question by simply declaring that references to moral teachings paralleling those in the Gospels constitute an unstated reference to the Gospel Jesus as their source, something that is regularly done. The fact that no one ever identifies such a source (Paul's two "words of the Lord" in 1 Corinthians are from the spiritual Christ, not a recent human preacher, as I argue in several places including the article under review—and see below) is in fact the paramount consideration, and should alert us to something dreadfully wrong in our traditional assumptions.

Nowhere is there any defense of this outlandish, blasphemous proposition, the first necessary element (presumably) in the Christian message: that a recent man was God.

P.F.: The emperor Constantine, in his capitol city, was worshiped as hos theos, "a god", by Xns in the 5th c. This author seems to be taking modern views of monotheism and retrojecting them. In antiquity, divinity was on a gradient: only one High God, but lots of other divine personalities below him, too—whether you were pagan, Jewish or (eventually) Xn.

E.D.: Again, respectfully, Dr. Fredriksen is offering a counter-argument which does not directly address the point. It ought to be clear from the context and even from the statement itself, that "God" refers to the Jewish God. Not simply "a god" or some divine personality, especially in a sense that might be at home in both pagan and Jewish outlook. In a second temple writing such as 1 Enoch (in the Similitudes), the Messiah/Son of Man/Elect One is a heavenly figure, perhaps possessing some kind of divine nature (depending on how one defines "divine"), but he is never referred to as God or a part of God. As for worshiping Constantine as a god, this was simply in the context of Roman practice of 'deifying' the emperor, and is nowhere near equivalent to what the earliest Christians allegedly did to Jesus of Nazareth.

Paul and other early writers, however, seem to speak solely of a divine Christ.

P.F.: According to Paul, Jesus was "born of a woman, born under the Law," (Gal. 4:4); and he was "son of David according to the flesh" (Rom 1:3).

E.D.: Dr. Fredriksen offers the usual passages with the usual interpretation, but it is unfortunate that she did not read further on my site to discover how such passages can be interpreted within the mythical setting. I recommend Main Article No. 2, "Who Was Christ Jesus?" (a brief look) and Supplementary Article No. 8, "Christ As Man" (an extensive one). The most recent Reader Feedback (No. 22) also contains an extensive discussion of Galatians 4:4 and related passages.

He is the starting point, a kind of given, and is never identified with a recent human being.

P.F.: Cf. verses I just cited.

E.D.: And yet, this is precisely not the case. None of the handful of passages such as those Dr. Fredriksen appeals to contain any identification with a recent historical man. This is a striking aspect of those passages, one often ignored or overlooked: they make no connection whatever to an historical time or place, nor to the individual familiar from the Gospels. The "kata sarka" often found within them is a perplexingly vague phrase open to different interpretation.
     On this point, I will quote from Richard Carrier's review of The Jesus Puzzle: "The actual phrase used, kata sarka, is indeed odd if it is supposed to emphasize an earthly sojourn....It only takes on the sense 'in accordance with' in reference to fitness or conformity...and thus can also mean 'by flesh,' 'for flesh,' 'concerning flesh,' or 'in conformity with flesh.' it is unconventional to translate it as most Bibles do (a point against the usual reading and in favor of Doherty's). Even the 'usual reading' is barely intelligible in the orthodox sense, especially since on that theory we should expect en sarki instead....In short, all of the common meanings of kata with the accusative support Doherty's reading: Jesus descended to and took on the likeness of flesh. It does not entail that he walked the earth."

Spiritual beliefs are stated about this divine Christ and Son of God. Paul believes in a Son of God, not that anyone was the Son of God.

P.F.: I don't understand this sentence.

E.D.: Perhaps her copy did not show the emphasis on the two words, which helps the meaning. The sentence sums up the fundamental difference between the old paradigm and the mythicist one. Paul is going about preaching Christ Jesus. But rather than this being the risen or exalted version of a recent man who had walked the earth in his own lifetime, one known by memory and tradition (things he never gives any indication of), Paul's Christ is a divine being known through revelation and scripture. Paul believes "in" Jesus the same way many people believe in God: they postulate his existence, not from having seen him bodily, or from talking to those who knew him on earth, but through religious faith. Paul, in fact, never raises the point that a certain man "was" the Son of God. Despite all that he says about faith, he never urges that one must have faith that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God and Messiah; the idea is never expressed anywhere in the epistles.

Consider another great silence: on the teachings of Jesus. The first century epistles regularly give moral maxims, sayings, admonitions, which in the Gospels are spoken by Jesus, without ever attributing them to him. The well-known "Love Your Neighbor," originally from Leviticus, is quoted in James, the Didache, and three times in Paul, yet none of them points out that Jesus had made this a centerpiece of his own teaching.

P.F.: ??? Perhaps he did not, and that was an evangelical tradition. Paul writes one to two generations before the evangelists—though he quotes Lev 18 also.

E.D.: Dr. Fredriksen's suggestion would be surprising on two counts. One, since the command "to love one another" (not always meant in a universal sense) so pervades the early Christian movement, it would be hard to fathom why or how Jesus would not have taught it. Two, since we find a silence on Jesus' teaching of the love principle (indeed, on teaching anything) in all non-Gospel (and Acts) documents, including well into the 2nd century, we have to wonder how it was that so many communities could have gone so long without attributing the principle to him. I have argued that one of the commonest features of a sect which follows the teachings of a founder is that all sorts of material of interest and importance to the sect very soon gets attributed to him. We see this in the Gospels and even in Q, as the Jesus Seminar analyzes it. Why would the Pauline and other epistles, some of them written many decades after Jesus' presumed passing, not show any sign of such a tendency?

Both Paul (1 Thessalonians 4:9) and the writer of 1 John even attribute such love commands to God, not Jesus!

P.F.: ? But the Jesus of the Gospels also attributes it to God, since he's quoting Torah when he "says" it.

E.D.: But would we expect Jesus to attribute it to himself? For him, the source would have been God, through scripture. It is not the same for communities that supposedly derived their existence through a response to Jesus' life, teaching and death on earth. Both 1 Thessalonians 4:9 and several places in the Johannine epistles say outright that the reader was taught "by God," that the love command comes "from God." Why would the thinking of whole communities skew in this direction, bypassing the Son on earth who had supposedly taught these things and adopting the bizarre convention of calling God the immediate source? (J. P. Holding has offered the same strained rationalization—though in a less polite context.)

When Hebrews talks of the "voice" of Christ today (1:2f, 2:11, 3:7, 10:5), why is it all from the Old Testament?

P.F.: Perhaps because for the first several centuries of Xnity, Xn "scripture" = Jewish scripture, and the gospels, letters, and other specifically Xn writings were not considered scripture by Xns themselves.

E.D.: Christian writers should not have been restricted to quoting from scripture, to illustrating their arguments by examples that could be drawn only from the Hebrew bible, which is what we see throughout the early epistolary record. If a writer is discussing something that has a direct link or parallel to a Gospel saying or event, and the natural impulse would be to appeal to it and point out this link or parallel, would the fact that the source writing containing it was not officially "scripture" bar him from mentioning it? Would he be unlikely to appeal to something in oral tradition because it wasn't in written "scripture"? How can the author of Hebrews introduce the basic principle of "the voice of Christ today" and totally ignore the voice that was sounded on earth, to pass up pertinent sayings of Jesus in the oral tradition in favor of ancient scriptural quotations that have to be assigned to him in some mystical sense? How could he fail to mention the Eucharistic covenant or Jesus' reputed words at such an event when he is discussing the first covenant under Moses? And so on.

When Paul, in Romans 8:26, says that "we do not know how we are to pray," does this mean he is unaware that Jesus taught the Lord's Prayer to his disciples?

P.F.: Possibly. Or that prayer (phrased differently in Lk and Mt; it's not in Mk or in Jn) was not universally known.

E.D.: Possibly. But if any pronouncement of Jesus should have come to the attention of Christian communities generally, and have been learned by them, it would surely have been the Lord's Prayer.

In passing, it must be noted that those "words of the Lord" which Paul puts forward as guides to certain practices in his Christian communities (1 Corinthians 7:10 and 9:14) are not from any record of earthly pronouncements by Jesus.

P.F.: The no-divorce stuff in 1 Cor 7 resonates immediately w/ instructions in Mt's Sermon on Mount.

E.D.: If the teachings attributed to Jesus in the Gospels have as their source some of the moral and prophetic maxims of the day, then such a resonation is going to be present. By itself, it does not mean that any appeal to that teaching comes from the Gospel Jesus, especially when it is unattributed to him. The proscription against divorce is sufficiently general, even mundane, that finding it in both Paul and the mouth of the Gospel Jesus does not mean that the latter is the source of the former. Commentators constantly point to the so-called "echoes" of Jesus' teaching in Paul and other epistles. We can certainly hear the echoes. What we're missing is the original sound which produced them, so that we can identify the genuine source, since the echoes themselves never supply this.
     In regard to the two "words of the Lord" in 1 Corinthians (7:10 and 9:14), the context does not commend itself as implying something Paul knows through traditions about Jesus' teaching on earth. Consider the wording. In both instances, Paul says that the command is the Lord's, but no context in a teaching career is mentioned, no suggestion that the community in general possesses this teaching because it exists in memory and tradition. In fact, in 7:25 Paul says in regard to celibacy that "I do not have a command of the Lord." The implication is not that such commands are taken from a general tradition, but rather are part of Paul's own revealed directives from the Lord himself. This is in keeping with a common scholarly perception (referred to as "sayings of the risen Lord") that the early prophetic movement had a practice of making pronouncements which the prophet claimed he had received through direct personal revelation from Christ in heaven.
     Those two little directives in 1 Corinthians, the only instance we can identify in which any New Testament epistle writer appeals to a 'word' by his Jesus which bears any resemblance to Gospel teachings, are paltry compared to the great ethical teachings recorded in the Gospels, on which all attribution is missing in the epistles. When one considers how often Paul appeals to the scriptures for instruction and guidance, or how often he is engaged in crucial disputes but fails to draw on far more important teachings of Jesus to settle the matter, one can say that Paul has little or no sense of Jesus as a source of moral guidance. That such teachings would have been part of Jesus' career and yet Paul have no knowledge or interest in such a thing, while often suggested, is not plausible.

In the epistles, Christ's anticipated Coming at the End-time is never spoken of as a "return" or second Coming.

P.F.: But that's what the word "parousia" means.

E.D.: This is an outright case of begging the question. Surely Dr. Fredriksen knows that the Greek word "parousia" does not imply return or second coming. It is the act of putting in an appearance, a coming, arrival, advent, often of a high-ranking person. (It is used in the Greek cults for the coming of the god, the revelation of his presence.) It is the Gospels that have conscripted the word to apply to the idea of Jesus' return. That's what the word parousia means in the Gospels. The whole point of this particular argument is that the word's use in the epistles does not imply this meaning, that there is no evidence from the context that it implies such a meaning—in fact, quite the opposite. Passages like 1 Corinthians 15:23 or 1 Thessalonians 4:15 are devoid of any suggestion that this is a return, while other passages about Christ's coming that do not use the word parousia, like Philippians 3:20 and 1 Peter 1:7, definitely convey the sense that this will be Christ's first coming to earth.

In both Paul and in the synoptic tradition the impression conveyed is that this will be his first appearance in person on earth. [I don't know how the phrase "in both Paul and in the synoptic tradition" got in here. It's not in the site article. The reference to the synoptic tradition would be inaccurate.]

P.F.: I disagree. Paul's got all this blood imagery in Romans connected with the crucifixion—that certainly requires a first, earthly, embodied appearance, doesn't it?

E.D.: Dr. Fredriksen is saying that when Paul speaks of a "death" for Jesus, of the "blood" of Christ, this can only apply to blood and death on earth. Was the blood of the bull shed by Mithras regarded as historical as well? Did the blood symbolically drunk by the devotees of the Dionysus cult during this period belong to a god who could only have lived on earth and not in some mythical setting? Did Attis undergo castration and die in history? Dr. Fredriksen ignores the Platonic principle of elements in the material realm having their primary reflections in the higher spiritual world, and how this Platonic atmosphere is reflected through much of the early literature, such as in the epistle to the Hebrews, which has Christ presenting his blood in a heavenly sanctuary for sacrifice. Her response here is perhaps a prime example of the dearth of understanding of the mythicist case among mainstream scholars, and by extension, of the mythological thought world of the mysteries to which so much of Christianity's mindset belongs.

No first century epistle mentions that Jesus performed miracles.

P.F.: Lots of people work miracles, of all denominations—see my discussion in INRI.

E.D.: I cannot see how this explains why the Christians never mentioned the reputed feats of their own miracle worker. Because they were 'ashamed' of them or regarded them as 'trivial' because everyone claimed to do them? If so, how were they preserved, to be collected and put into print by the evangelists? The reconstruction of Q shows that such traditions were circulating before the first Gospel was written, so some people must have been mentioning them. Perhaps the genuine Jesus never worked miracles and such traditions had not developed in the time of Paul. Yet we cannot find any tradition in the epistles, canonical or otherwise, that Jesus worked miracles before the epistle of Barnabas, and even there, no examples are given. The more reasonable explanation is that a miracle-working Jesus first developed in Q and the Gospels, and only spread gradually from there. (Q's miracle-working Jesus grew out of the miracle working of the Q preachers themselves, whom their invented founder Jesus came to symbolize.)
    But something is being overlooked here which would lead one to the opposite conclusion from that implied by Dr. Fredriksen. If everyone else was claiming the performance of miracles, this would surely lead the Christians to claim the same for their Jesus, since they would not want him to suffer by comparison. Paul would not need to be familiar with specific miracles to know that Jesus had worked them. Besides, miracle working was a necessity if Jesus had been the Messiah heralding the Kingdom, since that was an essential part of the expectation.
    Miracle exorcisms such as are found in the Gospels would have been of particular interest to the writers of Colossians and Ephesians who focus on the struggle with evil spirits. Regardless of authenticity, such miracles could not fail to be attributed to Jesus in such communities, since they would show that he had full power over the demons. The complete silence on miracle working outside the Gospels and Q is best explained by concluding that the epistle writers had no human Jesus to which they could attribute such things.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is anxious to convince his readers that humans can be resurrected from the dead. Why then does he not point to any traditions that Jesus himself had raised several people from the dead? Where is Lazarus?

P.F.: Paul writes before John writes. The resuscitations of dead people are NOT what Paul is talking about with cosmic transformation in 1 Cor 15.

E.D.: My reference to Lazarus was meant to represent the body of traditions about Jesus raising dead people throughout the Gospels. I fully agree with Dr. Fredriksen's clear implication that the story of the raising of Lazarus is sheer fiction, and by extension all of the others. But I have to disagree that Paul is not talking about the raising of dead people in 1 Corinthians 15. This is his whole purpose in the rather elaborate series of arguments presented from 15:12 to the end of the chapter: convincing his Corinthian readers that there is a resurrection from the dead, that they can look forward to a life after death when they enter the Kingdom of God. Yes, Paul does not see it as a physical resurrection but one to a transformed state—cosmic, if you like—of which Christ's own state, a spiritual one, is the prototype. And to that extent, Lazarus or any other resuscitation in the Gospels does not constitute an example of such a resurrection. But my argument was that it might have been natural for Paul to point to Gospel-like traditions of raising the dead—Q indicates that such traditions were circulating—to show that, in principle, death was not final, that life could be restored. (He asks in 15:12, "How can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?") If one wants to argue that he would not have done so, since the parallel was imperfect, I would argue in the other direction. The fact that Paul was offering a theory of resurrection which was not in keeping with the type of resuscitation performed by Jesus in the Gospels, might have led to some confusion on the part of his readers, and he would have had to clarify. They might have asked, "Are we not to be resurrected like Lazarus was?" (Paul's concept of resurrection here also indicates that he knew of no raising of Jesus in flesh—as does his failure to deal with such a thing in his picture of 15:44-49. Nor did his readers, or they would have queried the difference.) As well, if Paul was so focused on the guarantee of resurrection, how could he have been unfamiliar with, or failed to appeal to, traditions about Jesus' own promises of resurrection, as in Luke 14:14 and John 11:25?

Nor is there any concept of apostolic tradition in the first century writers, no idea of teachings or authority passed on in a chain going back to the original Apostles and Jesus himself.

P.F.: It's a later tradition, retrojected back.

E.D.: Dr. Fredriksen is simply restating my point. One can see how such a tradition would have arisen at the later time, in the 2nd century, if that was the time when the idea of an historical Jesus was first spreading. The fact that such a tradition does not show itself earlier would indicate that at the earlier time there was no thought of an historical Jesus to which such an idea could attach itself. Dr. Fredriksen's remark overlooks the question in my statement. What reason could there have been for first century Christian communities not to trace beliefs and practices back to Jesus, and to appeal to them in the disputes that were often raging over subjects like the cleanness of foods, the ongoing applicability of the Jewish law, the legitimacy of conflicting 'spirits' from God? If communities were in contention over differing viewpoints, as we see all through the first century, would not the natural result have been the development of claims that Jesus had taught this or that position? We see this very process taking place in the Gospels.

As for Jesus' great appointment of Peter as the "rock" upon which his church is to be built, no one in the first century (including the writers of 1 and 2 Peter) ever quotes it or uses it in the frequent debates over authority....The agency of all recent activity seems to be God, not Jesus. Paul speaks of "the gospel of God," "God's message". It is God appealing and calling to the Christian believer. 2 Corinthians 5:18 tells us that "from first to last this has been the work of God" (New English Bible translation). In Romans 1:19 the void is startling. Paul declares: "All that may be known of God by men...God himself has disclosed to them." Did Jesus not disclose God, were God's attributes not visible in Jesus? How could any Christian—as so many do—express himself in this fashion?"

P.F.: He seems to be presupposing a coordinated movement in which everyone knew all of this literature, and therefore their not alluding to it is some sort of significant "conspiracy of silence." I assume the movement was various, multiform, poorly coordinated, and producing a lot of different literature, a lot of which we've lost.

E.D.: First of all, whether Paul and his readers knew of specific traditions or not, the focus on God as the source of the gospel, as calling the believer, as doing all the work, is puzzling to say the least, because it betrays the absence of any outlook that it was Jesus who had done all these things. Such an absence makes no sense if the movement began out of a response to Jesus himself, a belief in and commitment to him in reaction to what he had done and what was reported about him. These things would not simply evaporate in the Christian mind. If Jesus had taught about God—and how could he not, or not have been regarded as doing so?—Paul could never have said that everything known about God came from God himself (namely, by scripture and revelation), regardless of whether Paul had been exposed to specific sayings of Jesus on the subject or not. He would assume the idea of Jesus teaching about God simply in principle.
    Dr. Fredriksen's response seems to imply that Christians could know specific traditions about Jesus only through written literature. This clearly has no foundation, because it ignores the reputed role of oral tradition, especially in the early period. It ignores the logic of oral tradition being preserved and spread precisely in those situations where it was advantageous. My point about the "Peter as rock" saying has nothing to do with whether people like the writers of 1 and 2 Peter knew of Matthew's Gospel. If they—or the epistles' later editors (assuming the possibility that the ascriptions were added later)—belonged to the Petrine circle, as the pseudonymous appeal to Peter as author would indicate, then if the Matthean tradition about Peter's appointment existed in oral circulation, they would have known about it and appealed to it. Even in the absence of written literature circulating across the Christian world, traditions about Jesus would have to be present, attitudes toward him as the fount of the movement's teaching and practices, and these things would be mentioned. Nothing else makes any sense.

In all the Christian writers of the first century, in all the devotion they display about Christ and the new faith, not one of them expresses the slightest desire to see the birthplace of Jesus, to visit Nazareth his home town, the sites of his preaching, the upper room where he held his Last Supper, the tomb: where he was buried and rose from the dead. These places are never mentioned. Most of all, there is not a hint of pilgrimage to Calvary itself, where humanity's salvation was consummated. How could such a place not have been turned into a shrine?

P.F.: Pilgrimage is a late third-fourth century phenomenon. This just is not odd.

Is it conceivable that Paul would not have wanted to run to the hill of Calvary, to prostrate himself on the sacred ground that bore the blood of his slain Lord?

P.F.: Yes: he was not a fourth-century, relic-conscious Christian.

E.D.: The reader will perhaps sympathize with me for being taken aback by these responses. The absence of the phenomenon in the first and second century is not odd because it's a phenomenon of the third and fourth century. The absence of relic-conscious Christians in the first century is not odd because the relic-conscious Christians come from the fourth century. Do the latter preclude the former? Does their presence in the fourth century explain, much less dictate, their absence in the first? At best, her statements would have to imply that significant conditions were different in the later centuries from those in the earlier. But this is not demonstrated, and there would be difficulty doing so. If Christians of Constantine's time felt a desire to know of the sites of Jesus' career, to visit the places of salvation, to collect relics of Jesus life, why would Christians of Paul's time not have felt the same desire? Those places and relics would be far better known and accessible in the earlier time than the later. The immediacy of their happening would be far stronger. If it were argued that there may have been some danger in visiting the holy sites, there would be no danger in showing an interest in them, a knowledge of them, in working them as motifs into their christology and soteriology. Christ's sacrifice on Calvary. His preaching of God and a new ethic in Galilee. The power of Jesus and the intervention of God shown by the empty tomb just outside Jerusalem. There would surely have been apostles and Christians who would have felt drawn to such places so rich in importance and sacred power. They would surely have disregarded any danger in visiting them, or found ways to circumvent it. Paul himself hardly avoided dangerous activity. Instead, we have a disembodied salvation myth in writers like Paul, an 'event' unattached to historical time and place. We encounter a void on all the great figures of the Gospel story: Pilate, the Jewish authorities, Barabbas, Simon of Cyrene, Joseph of Arimathea, the two crucified thieves, the women at the tomb, not to mention details about the passion such as Gethsemane, the scourging or the crown of thorns. We have a focus on the realm of the evil spirits and Christ's actions within that realm rather than on earth.
    The only difference in conditions that could exist between the first and fourth centuries and make any sense is that the historical Jesus and a career on earth did not exist in people's minds in the first century, but had established itself in Christian consciousness by the third and fourth centuries.

Is there indeed, in this wide land so recently filled with the presence of the Son of God, any holy place at all, any spot of ground where that presence still lingers, hallowed by the step, touch or word of Jesus of Nazareth? Neither Paul nor any other first century letter writer breathes a whisper of any such thing.

P.F.: I'll bite: so what?

Nor do they breathe a word about relics associated with Jesus. Where are his clothes, the things he used in everyday life, the things he touched? Can we believe that items associated with him in his life on earth would not have been preserved, valued, clamored for among believers, just as things like this were produced and prized all through the Middle Ages? Why is it only in the fourth century that pieces of the "true cross" begin to surface?

P.F.: It has a lot to do with the Constantinian church. This isn't a huge mystery: it's been treated in many studies.

E.D.: Further to my previous remarks, demonstrating why a phenomenon exists in one time and place does not explain why it does not exist in some other time and place. One has to examine the factors in the second case before pronouncing upon it. A study of why secularism and even atheism has become a major expression in Europe over the last half century does nothing to explain why the United States has moved more toward religious fundamentalism during the same time. Conditions in the latter case have to be studied before such an answer can be arrived at, and it will be determined by those conditions. The scholar who would declare that the absence of atheism in North America can be explained, much less dismissed, by its occurrence in Europe would have everyone scratching their heads and be readily discredited.

What could possibly explain this puzzling, maddening, universal silence?

P.F.: It's only a "universal" silence if you bracket out the gospels—and there were many more than the four that made it into the canon.

E.D.: The stated parameters of my article are the content of the first century writings outside the Gospels. That's what the "universal" refers to. It is legitimate to examine a particular segment (especially a broad one) of the overall Christian record, in order to evaluate the nature and authenticity of the story found in the Gospels, especially when there is such dramatic difference, even contradiction, between the content of the two categories of documents. We are seeking to determine whether one minority portion of the documentary record is being read into all the rest, and whether any reliance on the Gospel story can be justified by the larger record. (And it is even moreso a "minority portion" in view of the argument that all the Gospels derive their basic story from one source, the first Gospel, Mark.) There are many people, scholars and laypersons, who simply don't seem able to grasp this concept.

P.F.: I have no summary comment on this. He seems to be working very hard to create a straw man that he can then begin to knock down.

E.D.: The pertinent definition of a "straw man" reads as follows in the latest Random House Webster's College Dictionary: "A conveniently weak or innocuous person, object or issue used as a seeming adversary or argument." In this case, what is the straw man that I have allegedly set up? In this first article, "A Conspiracy of Silence," I am examining the silences in the non-Gospel record and asking why and how they could be present if Jesus existed for these writers. There is no artificial object that I have created to attack through presenting and questioning such silences. If I am attacking anything, it is the figure of an historical Jesus, and the belief in such. The historical Jesus is hardly a straw man. Is the concept of "no historical Jesus" the straw man? No, because I am not attacking it; it is the conclusion of the argument (though much more argument is brought to bear on the question in other articles). If Dr. Fredriksen means that the straw man is my stated position that we ought to expect to see those things in the epistles that they are in fact silent on, this too is invalid, because that position is part of the argument. In each discussion of a silence, an integral part is the reasoning as to why we should expect to find the missing reference, at least some of the time. (This reasoning is an extensive part of my website feature "The Sound of Silence" which examines in detail 200 examples of missing references to the Gospel Jesus in the early Christian epistles.) Therefore, there is no straw man being set up conveniently ahead of time.
    In this remark, Dr. Fredriksen is implying that I am somehow being dishonest in my methodology. But it has no application here that I can see.

As I said at the outset of this exchange, Dr. Fredriksen read only one small portion of my website, and a lightweight one at that. It contains no explanatory material on what early Christianity really constituted, how the silence in the epistles is complemented by the other side of the coin: the positive picture of the faith and practice of the Christ cult as presented by these writers. Too much tends to be made by critics of the use of the Argument from Silence in the mythicist case—at least in mine. It is to a great extent merely a prelude, an attempt to wipe the epistles clean of their overlay of Gospel preconception, so that we can better detect what they really say. As Carrier says in his review: "Doherty...uses arguments from silence only to support his thesis. He does not base it on such arguments, but rather on positive evidence, especially a slew of very strange facts that his theory accounts for very well but that traditional historicism ignores, or explains poorly. By far most of the criticism or even dismissal of Doherty's work is based on the criticism or dismissal of the Argument from Silence, or his (often supposed) deployment of it. This completely misses the strongest elements of his case: evidence that Christianity did in fact begin as a mystical-revelatory religion." (I do, however, regard the argument from silence as being a not insignificant component of the overall case, as my remarks in this article have indicated.)

The readiness of Dr. Fredriksen's dismissal and her apparent inability to give the mythicist case serious and reasonable thought is largely typical of the field. And yet, there is surely some scholarly element out there that could approach the subject in a thorough, competent and professional manner, according to critical principles. (It goes without saying that J. P. Holding's apologetic and vitriolic rebuttal doesn't fill the bill; a couple of others in the same genre posted on the web are not much better.) I have long invited such an undertaking and continue to do so.

The purpose of the present article was not to be unkind to Paula Fredriksen who, as I said, was responding under very informal circumstances. Nor was it to 'get back' at the negative reviewers on Amazon. But it was, in part, a defense against the many accusations and even taunts that frequently come my way. There is an impression 'out there' that mainstream New Testament scholars (as well as historians per se) are familiar with the mythicist theory and its components; that they understand how it works and are readily able to refute and dismiss it; that their decision to accept an historical Jesus is a well-considered one, on the basis of superior knowledge and interpretation of the evidence. I think nothing could be further from the truth.

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