Was There No Historical Jesus?
Earl Doherty

Responses to Critiques of the Mythicist Case

Bernard Muller
(with contributions from Richard Carrier)

The Ascension of Isaiah, The Epistle to the Hebrews

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In Part Two of this response to Bernard Muller's critique of The Jesus Puzzle, the material to be covered will include a lengthy discussion of the Ascension of Isaiah, as well as the Epistle to the Hebrews. As in Part One, I am incorporating remarks by Richard Carrier, whose commentary on Muller's critique of The Jesus Puzzle was circulated about a year ago by e-mail.

Bernard Muller's critique of The Jesus Puzzle can be found, in two parts, at:  and

Again, I will be quoting much of Muller's and Carrier's texts, but I will mark hiatuses, and the odd insertion of my own will be in italics in square brackets. (Muller's text, with color scheme preserved, will be indented, while quotes from Carrier will be in red, also indented.)

The Ascension of Isaiah

Carrier's comments on Muller's treatment of The Ascension of Isaiah were extensive, and I have a fair amount to say on my own behalf. Carrier also quoted whole passages of the Ascension, which will serve as reproductions of the text, parts of which I will occasionally repeat. Muller begins:

For Doherty, the main evidence about a descending Son/god is "in a Jewish/Christian piece of writing called the Ascension of Isaiah". He asserts "here we can find corroboration for this picture of a divine Son who descends into the lower reaches of the heavens to be crucified by the demon spirits."
This text appears to be composite, originally Jewish parts recycled with Christian insertions & additions. Here is Doherty's own appraisal: "... the several surviving manuscripts differ considerably in wording, phrases and even whole sections. It has been subjected to much editing in a complicated and uncertain pattern of revision." But later Earl will "guess" which parts are reliable and early! (which happen to be the ones fitting his agenda!!!)

2.5.1 Dating of 'the Ascension of Isaiah':
It is normally dated 150-200 in its final (Christian) edition; that's some three to four generations after Paul's times, and well after the writing of gospels, and during the Gnostic era! This dating is somewhat justified by strong Docetist innuendoes in the Christian parts (except 3:13-4:22). Let's review them:
9:13 "... He has descended and been made in your form [Isaiah], and they will think that He is flesh and is a man."
b) 10:17 to 10:30: the Son keeps changing his physical appearance in order not to be detected when he goes down through the lower heavens and below.
c) Mary gives birth without experiencing labour pain (
11:17 "And I saw: In Nazareth He sucked the breast as a babe and as is customary in order that He might not be recognized." (Jesus does not require food: typical 2nd century Docetism) [Where in this verse does it say that Jesus did not require food? Isn't breast milk food?]

Note: the Christian interpolations look very much dependant on the gospels, more so Matthew's (and very likely Peter's, written in the 2nd century):
a) 3:13 "He should before the sabbath be crucified"
b) 3:14: the sepulchre is watched.
c) 3:16: the sepulchre is open by angels "on the third day".
d) 11:2-5,15 "And they took Him, and went to Nazareth in Galilee."
f) 11:19-20 "... they delivered Him to the king, and crucified Him ... In Jerusalem indeed I was Him being crucified on a tree" (in true Docetist fashion, Isaiah is substituted to Jesus on the cross! For Gnostic Basilides (120-140), it is Simon of Cyrene --Irenaeus, AH, I, 24, 4)
[This is absurd. The text does not say this, especially in the midst of an historicist insertion about a Jesus born and died on earth, with no docetic features. The verse in question is translated: "In Jerusalem, indeed, I saw how they crucified him on a tree..." Where Muller gets the idea
—or the wordingthat Isaiah himself is crucified as a substitute for Jesus is beyond comprehension. I am tempted to compare him with Don Quixote (or is it Connecticut Yankee?), who "dashes madly off in all directions."]

Muller makes a number of basic mistakes here. First, he treats all parts of the composite Ascension of Isaiah as if the document were a unity from the beginning. In fact, they began life as two separate pieces: chapters 1 to 5, known as The Martyrdom of Isaiah, and chapters 6 to 11, known as the Vision of Isaiah. And within the former, 3:13-4:22 is generally regarded as a Christian interpolation. Thus, arguments made in regard to the first portion of the Ascension cannot be applied to the second, and are quite immaterial.

Second, the dating of the document is far more complex than Muller lets on. Again, dating the final composite version (coming at the end of a long and complex history of redaction and additions, with multiple manuscript lines, etc.) to the latter part of the second century, even if it were accurate, is of no value in determining what any given passage might have meant to the original writer or earlier editors. Besides, such a dating is not universal. Michael Knibb, translator and commentator on the Ascension of Isaiah in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (vol.2, p.143-176) dates the Martyrdom around the end of the first century CE, while the Vision, its date being "more difficult to determine," he places in "the second century" [p.149-150]. The joining of the two parts may not have occurred, he suggests, until the third or even the fourth century.

Third, it is by no means necessary to interpret the passages and references Muller highlights as having a docetic significance. In fact, there is a notable lack of any attention to docetism in this entire document. If the descending Son in chapter 9 taking on a human "form" is docetic, then so is the pre-Pauline hymn in Philippians 2:6-11. Moreover, some of the 'forms' taken on by the Son as he passes through the levels of heaven are angelic, which hardly relates to docetism. The principle of a divine being taking on the 'forms' of the spheres he is traversing is an aspect of the descent mythology under discussion. It was a concept that existed quite independently of principles of docetism, and really has nothing to do with it. When the demons of the firmament who hang the Son on a tree "think that he is flesh and a man" (9:13) the issue is his identity, the Son disguising himself so that his true identity is not recognized, not the issue inherent in docetism, that Christ was of phantom flesh rather than genuine flesh, so that he did not really suffer or take on the weaknesses of matter.

Fourth, Muller fails to take into account that 11:2-22 is almost certainly a later interpolation, based on Gospel-like traditions
though at a primitive level. (Carrier concurs, and even Muller at one point identifies the passage as an interpolation, so it's all very confusing.) I argue this in Appendix 4 of my book [p.308f], which Muller seems to ignore. (He may not agree with it, but he at least has to take it into account. To make the sort of snide remarkfound throughout his critiquehe does in accusing me of "guessing" about the reliability of various parts of the Ascension according to my own "agenda" is not only gratuitously insulting, it's unbecoming of anyone claiming to be a serious scholar.) Thus, pointing to Gospel features in those interpolations within both portions of the Ascension is irrelevant to the arguments I make in regard to other chapters of the Vision. Here is a clear expression of the Trinity, which, outside pertaining to baptism(s), became documented only in the latter part of the second century:
8:18 "And there they [angels of the 6th heaven]: all named the primal Father and His Beloved, the Christ, and the Holy Spirit, all with one voice."
Let's note this "Beloved" one is later identified as "the Lord Christ, who will be called "Jesus" in the world" (9:5) (as in 10:7 "... my Lord Christ who will be called Jesus") and also "the Son" (8:25,9:14).

So every occurrence in Christian writings of Father, Son and Holy Spirit within hailing distance of each other is "a clear expression of the Trinity"? Also, I don't know what Muller's latter observation above is supposed to signify. As it is, and as I mention in The Jesus Puzzle [p.107], Knibb voices the opinion that it is possible all entries of the names Jesus and Christ in the Vision are later additions [op.cit. p.170, n.'g']. But even if this were not the case, I fail to see how Muller's "note" affects the issue. In his vision, when in the 7th heaven, Isaiah sees "holy Abel", Adam and Seth (chapter 9). This is very much Gnostic, more so for Seth, a minor figure in the OT, but most important in second century Christian Gnosticism, as evidenced in the Apocryphon of John (120-180). Also in the aforementioned work are the "seven heavens", a belief shared by the many Gnostic followers of Valentinus (120-160). Furthermore, none of the named "righteous" alive in the highest heaven are Jews and the God there has no "Jewish" hints (Isaiah is not even presented to him!). He is like the universal God of the main Gnostics (Basilides, Valentinus, Marcion, etc.). And according to Irenaeus, the doctrine of the Gnostic Ophites & Sethians incorporated a descent through the seven heavens (to earth!) by Christ taking different forms along the way ('Against Heresies', I, XXX, 12).

There are exactly four figures named in two places of chapter 9 referring to "righteous in heaven": Adam, Abel, Enoch, Seth. In what way are these not "Jews" or of no interest to Jewish sectarian writers? The idea of seven heavens is not restricted to gnosticism. As for the treatment of God in the Ascension, it is not unlike the presentation of God in Jewish sectarian and apocalyptic writing generally, such as Daniel and 1 Enoch. The Ascension (10:7) even uses the term "Most High" for God, which is typical of those writings, as in Daniel 7. Sectarian circles, being on the fringes of 'mainstream' Judaism, might also have a certain general commonality of atmosphere with gnostic expressions, given the latter's Jewish component, although I think it dubious that the god of the gnostics is best characterized as a "universal God."
But do the Christian additions confirm that the Son gets crucified "into the lower reaches of the heavens", as Earl contends? Let's look at the evidence.

At this point, Muller launches through a disjointed and very confused survey of various passages (including the clearly Christian insertion in the Martyrdom, and the interpolation of chapter 11) to 'disprove' the Son's killing in the spiritual heavens. I will cut through all of this and let Carrier take over with his own survey of these parts of the document. His quotes from the Ascension of Isaiah are placed in italics. I should clarify for the reader who is unfamiliar with the Ascension and has no handy copy, that chapters 7 to 9 cover Isaiah's ascent, led by his angel guide, through the spirit layers, from the firmament to the highest (7th) heaven. In the midst of what he sees in the latter, the angel predicts the descent of the Son to rescue the spirits of the righteous in Sheol, and within that prediction is a description of how in his descent he will be killed by Satan and his demons (I will be quoting these key verses later). Then in chapter 10, Isaiah witnesses the commissioning of this task, the Father speaking to the Son and directing him how to go about it. (This section is fully quoted by Carrier.) This is followed by Isaiah having a vision of the Son descending through the various heavenly layers; and then, after fulfilling his mission in Sheol, the Son reascending. Between these two parts is the interpolation of 11:2-22, placing the Son on earth. These latter parts will be discussed in some detail, with quotations from the relevant passages.

Neither Muller nor Doherty has a slam dunk case with the Ascension of Isaiah. I will explain in detail. On the one hand, Muller would do well to actually read it:

7.9. And we ascended to the firmament, I and he, and there I saw Sammael and his hosts, and there was great fighting therein and the angels of Satan were envying one another. 10. And as above so on the earth also; for the likeness of that which is in the firmament is here on the earth. ... 6.13. And the angel who was sent to make him see was not of this firmament, nor was he of the angels of glory of this world, but he had come from the seventh heaven. ... 7.13. And afterwards he caused me to ascend above the firmament, to heaven (i.e. the first heaven).

So Doherty is right: the "firmament" is the aer, the space between earth and heaven, and in the firmament there is a parallel for everything on earth (Isaiah ascends from earth to the firmament and sees Satan and his demons fighting there, and Isaiah is told everything on earth has its parallel in the firmament and there are angels of the firmament, etc., and angels are by definition intermediary deities, etc.). To be precise, other texts show that holy things actually have their higher parallels in the levels of heaven (e.g. the Garden of Eden and the New Jerusalem have their parallels in the 3rd heaven, as attested in the Talmud and various Christian texts, while the Throne and Tabernacle of the Temple has its parallel in the 7th heavenbeing the most holy thing on earth naturally its parallel has the highest and thus purest place in the cosmos).

This is well known to scholars of Jewish Second-Temple theology. Genesis 1:6-9 says "And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven..."

Thus, the "firmament" is what divides the waters below (the sea) from the waters above (the higher levels of heaven). So when Isaiah ascends to the firmament, there can be no doubt this is where he is going, and that Doherty's point about parallels between things on earth and in the heavens is explicitly stated here (and is pretty evident from Hebrews as well).


10:7. And I heard the voice of the Most High, the Father of my Lord, saying to my Lord Christ who will be called Jesus: 8. "Go forth and descend through all the heavens, and thou wilt descend to the firmament and that world: to the angel in Sheol thou wilt descend, but to Haguel [Knibb: "perdition/destruction" - probably intended here as the name of the final place of punishment for the wicked] thou wilt not go."

So again Doherty is right: Jesus was to descend to the *firmament*, then Sheol, *not* earth. Earth is never mentioned here (the phrase [that world] refers to Sheol, or at most the whole sphere below the moon, not earth specificallysee below). One might say that "technically" Jesus had to pass earth to get to Sheol, but that does not mean he stopped on earth, and it is certainly not said here that he did or was even supposed to; he is told to go to the firmament and then Sheol. Period. Inanna descends from heaven to the underworld, skipping earth right by. She is incarnated in hell, killed, crucified, raised from the dead (in hell) with the water and food of life after three days, then ascends back to heaven, again skipping earth. This is pretty standard stuff in ancient cosmology and theology.

It continues:

10.9. "And thou wilt become like unto the likeness of all who are in the five heavens. 10. And thou wilt be careful to become like the form of the angels of the firmament. 11. And none of the angels of that world shall know that Thou art with Me of the seven heavens and of their angels. 12. And they shall not know that Thou art with Me, till with a loud voice I have called the heavens, and their angels and their lights, unto the sixth heaven, in order that you mayest judge and destroy the princes and angels and gods of that world, and the world that is dominated by them: 13. For they have denied Me and said: 'We alone are and there is none beside us.' 14. And afterwards from the angels of death Thou wilt ascend to Thy place. And Thou wilt not be transformed in each heaven, but in glory wilt Thou ascend and sit on My right hand. 15. And thereupon the princes and powers of that world will worship Thee." 16. These commands I heard the Great Glory giving to my Lord.

This is unmistakable: Jesus only arrives in disguise among the demons of the firmament, and they are the "princes" he will judge and destroy and who deny God, and from *there* Jesus ascends. The text goes on to describe how Jesus follows his orders and then descends through each level of heaven in turn, transforming himself at each lower stage to take the relevant form there (vv.10.17-28). This is where Doherty gets his thesis, and he is rightabout what this text is saying, at any rate. Whether this text was a development upon an original creed that had once been mapped onto a real man, or whether this represents the original creed which was then euhemerized into a real man, is another issue altogether, and one I have not yet seen resolved. As far as I can see, all are viable interpretations of all the evidence we have. [Here, of course, Carrier and I do not entirely agree.]

Then, finally:

10.29. And again He descended into the firmament where dwelleth the ruler of this world, and He gave the password to those on the left, and His form was like theirs, and they did not praise Him there; but they were envying one another and fighting: for here there is a power of evil and envying about trifles. 30. And I saw when He descended and made Himself like unto the angels of the air, and He was like one of them. 31. And He gave no password; for one was plundering and doing violence to another.

Remember: Isaiah saw this fighting earlier, and was told it had parallels on earth. And he explicitly calls the firmament the aer, and says that is where Jesus ended up (here he says, point blank, he is like angels of the aernot like men on earth.) Now, the following section is widely recognized to be a later Christian interpolation. Doherty is not making that up: most scholars are in agreement about this, and it is pretty clear they are right. As Muller rightly puts it, there is "an interruption in the flow of the narrative, at 11.2-22, which again proves to be an interpolation; it reports on Mary and Joseph, the birth of the Saviour and his crucifixion" (New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 2, pp. 604-605). If you read it, it is clearly not in the same style or flow of the narrative, and adds what is not mentioned in the orders given to Jesus earlier. Moreover, the narrative flow is restored by skipping the interpolation. To wit, 11.1 + 11.23-24:

11.1. After this I saw, and the angel who spoke with me, who conducted me, said unto me: "Understand, Isaiah son of Amoz; for this purpose have I been sent from God." ... [?excised text?] ... 23. And I saw Him, and He was in the firmament, but He had not changed Himself into their form, and all the angels of the firmament and the Satans saw Him and they worshipped. 24. And there was much sorrow there, while they said: "How did our Lord descend in our midst, and we perceived not the glory, which we see has been upon Him from the sixth heaven?"

Then he reascends, repeating the narrative flow of the earlier section. It is clear from these passages that the original text did not have a section where Jesus went *past* the firmament and incarnated on earth (rather than the aer)the surprise of the demons makes less sense otherwise (because they don't mention him passing them, and the earlier orders said he was to judge and overcome *them*, not any powers on earth, etc.).

I am quite certain Doherty is right herehe has the majority of scholars behind him, including the top experts on this very text. [Knibb himself, though, hedges here, and suggests that the 11:2-22 passage was part of the original text, for reasons which don't make much sensesee my Appendix 4 in The Jesus Puzzle.] But Muller is right when he suggests the possibility that the pre-interpolation text might be a later celestialization of an originally terrestrial Jesus, or might have been a pre-Christian Type that was then mapped onto a real Jesus who died under Pilate, etc. The case can't really be decided, in my opinion. Both views are plausible. Doherty does have the edge in that his thesis is a simpler explanation of various bizarre silences in Paul, but the simpler hypothesis is not always true. So if Doherty has anything over the alternative, it is a small lead, as I have said, which is not enough to settle the matter in his favor, in my opinion. It only produces agnosticism. Doherty and I disagree about this, but I can only tell you the way things seem to me.

The degree of hair-splitting here on Carrier's part (and he does this frequently in his review of my book) I have always found curious. I have the edge, but it's only by the smallest of margins, it seems. In this and in other aspects of my case, my "win" has to be acknowledged, but only by the fewest number of points. Moreover, in regard to this particular document, I question whether agnosticism is a viable vantage point, that it is at all conceivable that such a picture as we find here could have been mapped onto a real Jesus who died under Pilate. Carrier has admitted that the only passage suggesting a life on earth for a real man and a crucifixion by Pilate is a later interpolation. Can anyone possibly understand how such a creation as the Vision of Isaiah without that passage could have been composed by a writer who (a) knew of a human Jesus on earth, or (b) was consciously "mapping" his story of the Son operating entirely within the spheres of heaven onto a human Jesus who had recently lived on earth and enacted his redemptive role there? It is all well and good
and I sympathizeto be faithful to the principles of one's discipline and not make commitments to theses that are theoretically lacking in all the proper and sufficient evidence or degree of evidence; but that should not preclude bringing in common-sense approaches to help decide which alternatives are more probable or even certain. It is simply not feasible that the "pre-interpolation text might be a later celestialization of an originally terrestrial Jesus."

It may be slightly more feasible that the original "Vision" was taken from a 'non-Christian' source (though one that would clearly be of a 'proto-Christian' nature, illustrating lines of development) and applied to an existing terrestrial Jesus figure (whether authentic or only imagined). In that case, the interpolation and possibly the insertions of the name Jesus
and perhaps Christcould have taken place at that point. But I similarly question whether such an editor taking over an external document would not have reworked key passages such as those under discussion here, to reflect his awareness of Jesus' life on earth. On the other hand, my judgment has been that when a community already possesses a document which is its own product, and its ideas toward some of the subject matter in it evolve, insertions tend to be made but not wholesale revision of all the earlier material; the latter is simply reinterpreted. (I have argued this in regard to the evolving stages of Q, and in the case of the Hellenistic Synagogal Prayers. For the latter, see my Supplementary Article No. 5: Tracing the Christian Lineage in Alexandria.)

Incidentally, that interpolation is certainly of a primitive nature, and must reflect very early views of an historical Jesus. It would be interesting to speculate whether it is based on some Ur-Gospel piece of writing which the later canonical Gospels have left behind. The "nativity" scene in 11:2-15 cannot be dependent upon those of Matthew or Luke. The infant is born in Mary and Joseph's house in Bethlehem, it arrives unexpectedly (the birth causes "astonishment" to Mary), and there are none of the details we find in Matthew and Luke's renditions. The rest of the interpolation is very brief, making cursory reference to the performance of "signs and miracles in the land of Israel and Jerusalem," and to the crucifixion and resurrection in this way:

11.19. And after this the adversary [Satan] envied him and roused the children of Israel, who did not know who he was, against him. And they handed him to the ruler, and crucified him, and he descended to the angel who (is) in Sheol. 20. In Jerusalem, indeed, I saw how they crucified him on a tree, 21. and likewise (how) after the third day he rose and remained (many) days... 22. And I saw when he sent out the twelve disciples and ascended.

The identity of the "ruler" in verse 19 is not specified, though Knibb opines: "a word normally translated 'king,' but it is presumably Pilate who is meant (cf. Mt 27:2)." It certainly is a presumption on Knibb's part, but it's quite possible this interpolation comes from a time when the earthly crucifier of Jesus was not necessarily regarded by all as having been Pontius Pilate. Certainly, the rest of the material here is decidedly uninformative and very primitive in detail. Indeed, some of its features are barely a step above the pre-interpolation stage, and there are signs of those features simply growing out of features of the latter, as though the latter are being reworked to provide material for the new picture being formulated. We have the "envy" of the children of Israel (compare the envy of the demons), the descent to Sheol immediately after death (fulfilling God's directions for the Son's sojourn to the lower heavens), the crucifixion "on a tree" by the ruler (compare the hanging "upon a tree" by the evil angels of the firmament in 9:14), the motif of "not knowing who he is" now transferred to the children of Israel. There is also a notable disruption of sequence between verse 20 and 21. After crucifixion he descends to Sheol; then the interpolator (or later editor) backs up and speaks further of his crucifixion and gives him a resurrection after three days and a period on earth (which period varies between manuscripts); finally (v. 22) the appointment of apostles and an ascension is added. Curiously, throughout this entire passage, the name Jesus is not used once. Speculation on this would be just that, but one wonders if this is a good indicator that Knibb is right in suggesting that the names "Jesus" and "Christ" were added to the entire document only later, and that this interpolation comes quite early (barely before the mental ink was dry on the idea of an historical incarnation of the "Son"), continuing in the thought patterns of the earlier stage of the Vision of Isaiah. Although it is difficult to postulate what sort of relationship the ideas of the interpolation might have had with the creation of the Gospel of Mark, there is one other connection that could be put forward. I have suggested that there is no way to tell what name the later stages of Q used for the founder figure it introduced into the sayings collection. It may not have been "Jesus" and another name may only have been converted to Jesus when the synoptic Gospels incorporated the Q traditions. Did the earliest ideas of an historical figure not entail the name "Jesus" as the Ascension of Isaiah might suggest?

To return to Muller:

But there is still more evidence against Doherty's assertions. Let's reveal them by answering these questions:
a) In 'the Ascension of Isaiah', is the Son arrested in the firmament?
b) If Satan and his evil angels are involved in the crucifixion, does that mean it was not on earth?

2.5.3. The Son goes through the firmament to earth:
This is according to these verses:
"And again [from 1st heaven] He descended into the firmament where dwelleth the ruler of this world, and He gave the password to those on the left, and His form was like theirs, and they did not praise Him there; but they were envying one another and fighting; for here there is a power of evil and envying about trifles. And I saw when He descended [below the firmament!] and made Himself like unto the angels of the air...."

[Carrier:] Notice that every time before, he identifies the destination, but here he does notexcept when he names only one location: the aer. Earth is nowhere mentioned. The aer corresponds to the lower level of the firmament (it is the last stop above the "lower waters" that God has separated out from the firmament). Still, one can imagine that this was at some point mapped onto an angel who went all the way down to earth (through Docetism).

10:8 "Go forth and descent through all the heavens [that would include the air between earth and moon!], and you will descent to the firmament and that world [earth: see note a) below]: to the angel in Sheol you will descend [after death]...."

[Carrier:] Wrong again. "That world" refers to the whole region (see below) and in particular Sheol (standard forward pronoun). Earth specifically is never mentioned, so it cannot possibly be the object of any pronoun here. Likewise, the descent to Sheol is not "after" death but rather *is* deathit indicates that Jesus is to die, which *entails* descending to Sheol.

a) In the two closest previous occurrences of
"that world", at 9:20 & 9:26, the expression means "earth" only.
- 9:20-23
"Show me how everything which is done in that world [earth, confirmation later] is here [7th heaven] made known." And whilst I [Isaiah] was still speaking with him, behold one of the angels who stood nigh, ... who had raised me up from the world [earth: ch.7:2-3]. Showed me a book, and he opened it, and the book was written, but not as a book of this world [not written on earth]. And he gave (it) to me and I read it, and lo! the deeds of the children of Israel were written therein, and the deeds of those whom I know (not), my son Josab. And I said: "In truth, there is nothing hidden in the seventh heaven, which is done in this world [earth again].""
- 9:24-26
"And I [Isaiah] saw there many garments laid up [in the highest heaven], and many thrones and many crowns. And I said to the angel: "Whose are these garments and thrones and crowns?" And he said unto me: "These garments many from that world [Christians] will receive [in the future!] believing in the words of That One, ... and they will observe those things, and believe in them, and believe in His cross: for them are these laid up.""
All occurrences of "world" from 9:20 to 10:7 are for (only) the earth. Why would the next  "world" (at 10:8) mean the firmament or the air below it? More so when, in the 'Ascension of Isaiah', the firmament (or the air below) is never considered a world on its own!

[Carrier:] First, words must be read in context: a pronoun takes the meaning of the nearest available object. Muller's argument here is like saying every time I say "that man" I mean the same man I referred to in a previous chapter, instead of the man I just mentioned, or will then mention. That is just silly. No language on earth functions that way. Second, 9:20 does not refer to earth per se. Instead, the firmament is alluded to. See 9:14: "the god of that world will stretch forth his hand against the Son..." Where is the "god"? In the firmament, in the aer (this is explicitly stated at 10.29 and 10.10-12, where "that world" is unmistakably the firmament). It certainly does not say it is on earth.

Muller is probably confused by the fact that "this world" is everything below the orb of the moon, i.e. everything under the first heaven. Thus, its contents include the firmament, the aer, and the earth and even Sheol (everything subject to decayand hence Satan rules over all of these as one unitat least until Jesus triumphs over him). That is why one can certainly see ambiguity hereto be in "that world" can mean being in the aer, the firmament or on earth. In that one respect Muller is right, since Doherty's thesis is not entirely proved here. It could be consistent with it, yes, but the text is also consistent with the notion of mapping this celestial story onto a real man (whether the celestial Type pre-existed a real Jesus or not)....

And yet, chapter 9 (which I will discuss in greater detail shortly) does not leave room for the hanging by Satan and his demons to take place on earth.

I am surprised, though, that Muller appears so confused about this, since he seems to understand it. He himself says: "the firmament is never considered a world on its own, but sometimes (only) a part of the one including earth (and the air above)." That isn't exactly true (the firmament was always distinguished from the earthcf. Genesis, and the earlier part of the Ascension of Isaiah), but the phrase "this world" does indeed include all these things as one unit. Why Muller doesn't realize how this undermines his own argument I can't explain....

2.5.4. Satan can kill people on earth also (from heaven!):
The OT book of Job demonstrates the belief that Satan could inflict havoc on earth and have a long reach, with or without leaving heaven....

[Carrier:] Correct. Satan rules over the whole region below the orb of the moon
and that includes the firmament, the aer, the earth, and Sheol (which is why we need Jesus to escape Sheol). See 1 Cor. 15: only at the second coming [Paul never states, here or anywhere else, that Jesus' future coming will be a "second coming"Carrier, like so many others, has read this into the epistles] will this reign of Satan be destroyed. That is why Paul talks about death being an enemy to be completely defeated. He means decay: i.e. the fact that everything below the orb of the moon is subject to decay, which is due to Satan (or allegorically equated as Satan). That very fact will be abolished, because everything in that realm will be destroyedand so Satan will no longer have anything over which to rule. Satan himself will then be subjugated (or destroyedit is not clear). But the fact that Satan rules over this entire region below the heavens does not mean he does not conduct his business from his throne in the firmament, just as God conducts his from his throne in the seventh heaven. Thus, to defeat Satan you have to go to his throne, which the text says is in the firmament, not on earth. So obviously that is where Jesus has to go....

But again, Muller is certainly right that Jesus could be "killed" on earth by a Satan in the firmament. And since everything on earth is paralleled in the firmament, I can certainly see how a Christian could map this celestial battle with Satan onto a historical Jesus
both happening at once. Therefore, Doherty's thesis fits and explains the evidence (contra Muller), but is not thereby proved (pro Muller).

And yet, the document itself virtually rules this out, and Carrier has already presented his analysis of the text in such a way as to indicate this. He says: "So again Doherty is right: Jesus was to descend to the *firmament*, then Sheol, *not* earth. Earth is never mentioned here." This was in reference to chapter 10, in which God gives instructions to the Son as to what he is to do and where he is to go in his descent to the lower world. In 10:12 (quoted by Carrier), the Son's instructions are to "destroy the princes and angels and gods of that world, and the world that is dominated by them." This is hardly a directive to destroy the human rulers on the earth. Verse 13 makes that clear: "For they have denied Me and said: 'We alone are and there is none beside us.' This refers to the evil angels of the firmament who claim that they are supreme and that there are no higher gods than themselves.

Chapter 9 is virtually as clear, and this would be the time to look at some of it in detail. From verse 13 to 17 it reads (taken from the translation by M. Knibb in the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha):

9.13: The Lord will indeed descend into the world in the last days, (he) who is to be called Christ after he has descended and become like you in form, and they will think that he is flesh and a man. 14. And the god of that world will stretch out his hand against the Son, and they will lay their hands upon him and hang him upon a tree, not knowing who he is. 15. And thus his descent, as you will see, will be concealed even from the heavens so that it will not be known who he is. 16. And when he has plundered the angel of death, he will rise [lit., "ascend" notes Knibb] on the third day and will remain in that world for five hundred and forty-five days. 17. And then many of the righteous will ascend with him, whose spirits do not receive (their) robes until the Lord Christ ascends and they ascend with him.

The flow of this passage is somewhat uneven, suggesting redaction somewhere along the line. Knibb is of the opinion that the reference to remaining in the world for 545 days "may be an addition to the text." Both of the other manuscript lines do not have it, and it may have been inserted by a later editor influenced by gnostic sources since, as Knibb notes, the time period fits Valentinian and Ophite beliefs. As in chapter 10, there is no specific mention of earth in these verses. It is the "god of that world" (Satan) and his minions who do the hanging; it is they who do not know who he is. His identity is concealed from "the heavens," no inclusion of earth being specified. The point I made earlier about bringing common sense to one's interpretation of a document applies again here: If the writer of this passage knew of a life on earth for the Son, he could hardly have failed to indicate it in some way. If he knew or believed that human rulers had actually performed the physical crucifixion, in history, it is not feasible that he would confine himself to describing it solely in heavenly terms, at the hands of a heavenly agency, within a context of descent and ascent which never includes earth. The phrase "they will think that he is flesh and a man," if not docetic (and I have argued against that above), indicates that he was not a man in the mind of this writer, relegating the idea to the context of descending deities taking on the forms of each "world," each sphere through which they pass. Even the reference to the 545 days is not specified as on earth, but only "in that world," betraying again that lack of focus on earth itself. Considering that the Valentinians (at least at the time of their Gospel of Truth) seem to have had no sense of an historical Jesus
not even a docetic onethe possible borrowing of this idea from them does not of itself necessarily indicate the concept of a human man.

It might be asked: if this is the firmament, encompassing the first spirit level of the aer, as well as the earth, why did the Son adopt the "form" of a human man and not one of the angels of the firmament, since in all the other spheres he simply assumes the form of an angel of that level? In fact, in 10:30, upon the Son entering the firmament, Isaiah says that "I saw when he descended and made himself like the angels of the air, that he was like one of them." They failed even to notice him, being too busy with their own warring. At some point subsequent to this, the Son adopts the form of a human, and that is when they perceive him and proceed to dispatch him on the tree. Thus, the human form was necessary; Satan would hardly be moved to hang up what he thought was one of his own angels. But there is another necessity involved. The paradigm principle, the homologic parallel I discussed in Part One, reflected in early Christian writings like the hymn of Philippians 2:6-11, required the god not only to descend to the 'fleshly' territory but to assume the form of those linked to him, of those he would "save" (in this case, of the revived spirits in Sheol who would ascend with the Son). Thus the Son's assumption of human form does not require that he actually descended to earth itself. Again, if that was the writer's thought, some indication of that life on earth would have emerged in the text. We can see that it emerged in no uncertain terms when a later editor added twenty verses to chapter 11 to reflect that very idea of an earthly life. These considerations cannot simply be ignored or dismissed in order to hold onto a theoretical principle that the whole thing, with all its focus on the heavens and silence about earth, could still be "mapped" onto a human man. Not only does my thesis explain the evidence, the evidence supports the thesis, and I think Carrier's distinction between the two
while it does existis a little too adamantly pressed at times. Again I will say, we cannot bring in the word "proof" with its connotations and demands in other contexts and hold out for agnosticism while ignoring the balance of probability. And where this document is concerned, I maintain that we are in a position of virtual certainty.

One might press the questions associated with this picture of ancient soteriology even further, and ask, what would a being disguised as a human man be thought to be doing in the firmament, and why would Satan attack him for no good reason? Of course, that's the way those miserable demons are, and the overriding requirement would be that the Son had to be killed while in the form of his believers, and anyway not much in ancient philosophy really makes a lot of sense to our modern minds. I have no idea how any rational person even at that stage could have believed that any of this bore a relation to reality (other than allegorical, as the more sophisticated philosophers tended to view things). No writer ever tries to explain how the homologic parallel principle works
certainly not Paul in Romans 6. But then, we face a similar situation in regard to atonement sacrifice and the forgiveness of sin effected by the shedding of blood, principles at the heart of Christian soteriology, then and now. Does anyone understand how the slaughter of animals and the burning of their blood on the altar served intercessionary purposes for a sanguinary Yahweh, or why the slaughter of the Son of God on Calvary was needed to redeem the world's sins? No writer, Old Testament or New, ever attempts an explanation. It is simply part of the philosophical and ritual landscape, going back to primitive beginnings in the mists of prehistoric times. Too many in our society even in the 21st century are still tied to those primitive beginnings.

Both Muller and Carrier are being picayune over a little detail in 9.14:

Note: in his meandering fuzzy discussion in order to suggest Jesus is crucified on the firmament (despite the clear-cut evidence against it!) Doherty lacks accuracy (purposely?):
a) Earl writes on page 107: "this hanging is something performed by "the god of this world," meaning Satan." But the hanging in question is never said to be done by Satan / the_god_of_this_world, neither in Paul's epistles, nor 'Ascension of Isaiah'. Doherty is therefore misleading here.

This is desperation. And yet Carrier can say:

Muller is right that Doherty is misleading here. It is not literally true that Satan does the hanging (any more than Pilate or Herod or Caiaphas did), but his agents. Muller is at least right that this can mean people on earth. But it can also mean demons. So Doherty is not thereby refuted. Both are possible, and I don't see adequate evidence to decide between them.

So if I say that "Pilate crucified Jesus," I "lack accuracy (purposely?)." I'm sure that this "misleading" statement has been made millions of times over the centuries. Muller invites scorn by reaching for such a petty criticism. And let's consider how Muller thinks to use it by looking again at the sentence in question: "And the god of that world will stretch out his hand against the Son, and they will lay their hands upon him and hang him upon a tree, not knowing who he is." Is this change of pronouns intended to convey a sudden switch from firmament to earth, the latter referring to the Romans, whom Muller claims "could qualify for the 'they' "? This from a writer who never refers to the earth's surface, let alone any "they's" upon it? The change is hardly so dramatic. It simply reflects the change of perspective from one thought to the other: Satan initiates the assault on the Son, his evil angels perform the deed itself. Muller claims:

Note: here, Satan will eventually identify the Son and take action against him; but the "they", who are the ones actually doing the "hanging", do not know him! It does not look Satan and the others belong to the same clique!

There is nothing in the passage that even implies that Satan identifies the Son before the hanging takes place. In fact, in the following verse 15, it is stated that the Son's identify is concealed "from the heavens" which would include Satan himself. And when we get to the other side of the interpolation in chapter 11, when the Son leaves Sheol to ascend the heavens on his return trip, Isaiah says: "And I saw him, and he was in the firmament, but was not transformed into their form. And all the angels of the firmament, and Satan, saw him and worshiped. And there was much sorrow there as they said, 'How did our Lord descend upon us, and we did not notice the glory which was upon him, which we (now) see was upon him from the sixth heaven?" Clearly, there was no identifying of the Son on the way down, including by Satan, before performing the hanging. Now that they know who he is, they "worship" him, not hang him again. This obvious ignorance at the point of killing the "Lord" of "glory" is the exact parallel to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:8, "None of the rulers of this age (which a "majority"
so Paul Ellingworthof scholars take as the demon spirits) understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory."

Apparently it is not only the demons who have failed to understand. On the basis of misread and misinterpreted trifles like these, Muller thinks to hang me on some tree (even if I don't claim the title of Lord of glory):

So all the main arguments of Doherty for a crucifixion in some demonic lower heaven, as appearing in his section "the descent of the Son" in chapter 10, are unfounded. And that goes against the evidence from the ancient text of Earl's own choosing!

I would also question Carrier's concurring judgment in regard to verse 14. Does he, too, think that the change of pronoun is so significant that it could entail a shift of the writer's meaning from the firmament to earth, from Satan to Pilate? I would point out the same considerations that make this highly unlikely. Thus I cannot agree that "both [meanings] are possible," or that there is no "adequate evidence to decide between them."

Muller, from 9:14, suddenly jumps without warning (and without clarity) to chapter 10:

And as we saw, no hanging occurs when the Son is going down through the firmament.

Carrier detects the jump and deals with it:

Probably because the relevant passage was excised when the interpolation was inserted in its place. Unless 9:14 is also an interpolation, we should expect the hanging to take place between 10:31 and 11:23, but all we have is the Christian forgery there now. So we can't say what had been there originally.

In fact, let's take a look again at how the two parts join together when the interpolation is removed. Following on the end of chapter 10 and the first verse of chapter 11, we will jump to the other side of the interpolation, to 11:23...

10.30. And I saw when he descended [into the firmament] and made himself like the angels of the air, that he was like one of them. And he did not give the password, for they were plundering and doing violence to one another. 11.1. And after this I looked, and the angel who spoke to me and led me said to me, "Understand, Isaiah son of Amoz, because for this purpose I was sent from the Lord".... 11.23. And I saw him, and he was in the firmament but was not transformed into their form. And all the angels of the firmament, and Satan, saw him and worshiped.

Clearly, there is something missing between 11.l and 11.23. (The space is taken up now with the interpolation.) The original text breaks off when the Son has just entered the firmament during his descent, and picks up again when he is reentering the firmament (from Sheol) for his ascent back to heaven. For Muller to point to the missing hanging by Satan in this situation, as though this somehow eradicates it from chapter 9 (by homologic parallel perhaps), where there is no interpolation, is crudely disingenuous. In chapter 9, all that takes place between the hanging in the firmament and the rising after three days is the 'plundering of the angel/prince of death,' a reference to the descent into Sheol to claim the spirits of the righteous who ascend with him back to heaven. Since chapter 10-11 is an enlargement on the whole descent and ascent process, we may assume that in the missing portion above, there was a fuller account of the hanging in the firmament and the descent into Sheol to rescue the dead. Accordingly, this is the point where the editor decided to place his interpolation of a life for the Son on earth, and the original material had to be jettisoned.

Incidentally, what do we find at this point in the two other manuscript lines? I'd better mention here that there are three classes of surviving manuscripts of the Ascension: Ethiopic, second Latin, and Slavonic. The first is thought to be based on one Greek text, the other two on a different Greek text. (Note that there are no extant mss. of any earlier Greek versions.) There are notable differences between the Ethiopic on the one hand, and the second Latin and Slavonic on the other. One of the reasons why most scholars on the Ascension (but not Knibb) regard the interpolation as just that, is because it is missing in the Slavonic and second Latin manuscripts. They would hardly have removed this passage if it had been there in the original. However, there is a brief verse in the gap in both the Latin and Slavonic, and it is the same. It runs like this (following on 11:1): " show you all things. For no one before you has seen, nor after you will be able to see, what you have seen and heard. And I saw one like a son of man, and he dwelt with men in the world, and they did not recognize him." Now, neither the Latin nor the Slavonic is considered dependent on the other, so this passage must be taken from an earlier version on which they both depended, but on which the Ethiopic did not. It is interesting that the second sentence of that 'filler' has the look of an insertion itself, but an extremely primitive one. It states nothing more than the basic idea that the Son become "one like a son of man," that is, human, and dwelt in the world. First of all, that this sparse statement was ever substituted for the longer Ethiopic interpolation
—which would seem to be required by Knibb's position—is simply not feasible. What it seems to be is an interpolation somewhere back along the line out of which the Latin and Slavonic grew, even earlier than the Ethiopic which represents a more detailed development of the idea that the Son had been to earth. So we actually have two reflections of the evolution of the thought of this document, and both of them involve the insertion of the idea of an earthly incarnation for the Son. This is the evolution of the historical Jesus before our very eyes, and cannot fit into Carrier's option of the whole thing being mapped onto a figure who was regarded as historical from the very beginning.

But to go on. Muller's confusion and misrepresentation reaches a peak here:

On page 96, Earl places Sheol below earth (as believed in antiquity):
"Near the bottom ... lay humanity's sphere, the material earth; only Sheol or Hades, the underworld, was lower."
But on page 108, when the Sheol of 'Ascension of Isaiah' needs to be above earth (so the Son does not go too far down!), we have:
"Outside of this one passage,
[reference to part of "Chapter 11", according to Doherty. However, relating to earthly surroundings, there is a second one: 3:13-4:22]
the Son's activities seem to relate entirely to the spirit realm, layers of heaven extending through the firmament and including Sheol."
If the location becomes against your theory, change it!

The statement Muller quotes above, coming as a summary at the end of my chapter in The Jesus Puzzle on the crucifixion of the divine Christ and the discussion of the Ascension of Isaiah, hardly implies that I have shifted the location of Sheol from the underworld to the bottom of the firmament. (Which would place it right above the ground, resting on the heads of humans themselves!) No reasonable person would attribute that to me, especially as I had already indicated on an earlier page (as Muller points out) that Sheol lay under the earth. While there may be a technical ambiguity on how I have phrased that sentence (Sheol, being in essence a spirit layer
even though below the earthis "included" within "the spirit realm" for the purposes of what I am saying), only the most obtuse interpreter and dishonorable critic would take such an ambiguity and run with it to the point of insult. Carrier agrees:

This I think is unfair to Doherty, who I do not think was doing what Muller alleges. But Doherty is vague enough here to confuse the likes of Muller, so I would certainly recommend clarity in future editions. I am sure Doherty means just what the ancients imagined of Inanna: that she descends past earth. It does not mean she ever stopped there. And this is entailed by ancient theology: if Jesus went to the firmament and died there, he would *have* to descend to Sheol. For that is what death *means*.... Thus, Muller's critique of Doherty here seems terribly misinformed and confused. Doherty is not saying anything implausible hereindeed, what he is saying follows necessarily from what we know about ancient cosmology. *If* Jesus died in the firmament than he *had* to descend past earth into Sheol....

Before going on, there was an interesting exchange between Muller and Carrier centered on the book of Job:

2.5.5. Satan and his evil angels can also be on earth:
Let's go back to the book of Job:
Job1:7 NKJV "And the LORD said to Satan, "From where do you come?" So Satan answered the LORD and said, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.""....

[Carrier:] Ironically, Muller didn't notice that this refutes his earlier contention that there was no evidence of descending & ascending deities. He is correct here: Satan, before his Fall, was indeed a mediary deity who routinely descended from heaven to earth and ascended back again. The book of Job proves it. The Book of Job, of course, refers to pre-fall Satan. After the Fall (which took place before Christianity but after Job's day), Satan refused to reascend to the hall of the Lord and instead decided to do things for himself below the moon and thus rule there. In ancient Jewish Angelology this is intelligible, since the angels were granted godlike powers and sent below to do God's bidding (since it was vulgar to even imagine God himself taking on a body or mingling with corrupt matter, hence he had to carry out his will through intermediariesindeed, some Jewish sects took the logical step of believing that creation was accomplished by such a mediary). Thus, once an angel decided not to obey God anymore, he could indeed set up rule down here, thus necessitating God's plan of sending another mediary to depose the rebel. it should be clear how the Fall of Satan, a pre-Christian idea, *requires* a descending savior myth. Thus, it is hardly any surprise that several such myths would be formulated. This is a fact routinely overlooked by Evangelicals who think Christianity just came out of the blue and was completely novel and unexpected. To the contrary, it was inevitable. Still, one could map such a celestial event onto a historical manthough one didn't have to. So either is possible.

Not only was it natural and inevitable that the descending savior myth would develop in the context of ancient views of the universe, we would expect it to be natural (and inevitable) that the Christian version of this widespread type of mythology would begin precisely as a reflection of all the others, namely as the descent of a spiritual figure working in the spiritual parts of the world with beneficial affects on humans in the material ("fleshly") realm. And lo and behold, that is exactly the focus we find in the early Christian epistles and the pre-interpolation Ascension of Isaiah, while the concept of actual incarnation into a human, earthly man is missing. If the latter were in the background, such a dramatic departure from the norm would require addressing. A mapping onto an historical man would be so out of character, would raise so many questions, silence and ambiguity could not be allowed to stand. Nor would the human mind function that way.

This exclusive focus on the heavenly realm, with Christ as a heavenly agent and mediary, is especially evident in the Pauline corpus and in Hebrews. The Son is described exclusively in terms of his Platonic character as creator and sustainer of the universe (1 Cor. 8:6, Col. 1:15-20, Heb. 1:1-3), with no identification with an historical man. The Son's prominent role in salvation is through the process of defeating the demon spirits (as in Col. 2:15 and the Ascension of Isaiah) and restoring the unity of the two parts of the universe, which Satan and his evil angels had sundered in this present "age" of the world (Eph. 1:10). One of the major motifs in the epistle to the Hebrews is the superiority of the Son to the angels. The angels were God's intermediaries in the past, the Son is the new intermediary; God spoke formerly through the prophets, now he speaks through the Son. But that superiority is demonstrated solely through scripture; there is no mention of the Son's incarnation to earth or his powerful deeds there. The "voice" of the Son in his earthly ministry is never sounded, only the voice in scripture, which is to say, in the new interpretation of scripture. Revelation and the power of the Holy Spirit, operating largely through scripture, is the sole driving force of the Christian version of the savior myth. Over the context of its time, Christianity with a mythical Christ fits like a glove. Agnosticism
at least where the cultic stream represented by Paul is concernedis not justified.

And Muller doesn't let off beating a dead horse:

...and the 'Ascension of Isaiah':
"... Beliar [Satan] the great ruler, the king of this world, will descend, who hath ruled it since it came into being; yea, he will descent from his firmament [to earth] ..."

[Carrier:] Another universally recognized Christian interpolation (3:13-4:22 certainly did not exist in the Maccabeean original!), and thus useless for making Muller's point. Indeed, chs. 1-5 actually come from a completely different textonly later merged with 6-11. Had Muller actually conducted himself like a scholar, he would know this. It is stated even in standard references! Can't Muller at least consult Eerdman's or the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church or something, anything, before writing his uninformed opinions? I chastise for a reason: Doherty's thesis deserves better scholarship from its critics.

Amen, brother.

The Crucifixion in Paul

Following the lengthy discussion of the Ascension of Isaiah, Muller asks the question,

2.6. Is there evidence in Paul's epistles about the crucifixion on earth? Yes, there is (twice!). It may not be very direct, but this evidence is much more Doherty can offer in favor of his own demonic world!

What follows is an overlong, confused and confusing argument examining Romans 9:31-33 and 11:26-27 which I am going to largely pass over. If this is the extent of the "evidence" in Paul that he envisioned an earthly crucifixion, then the mythicist case will win hands down. First, I'll let Carrier make a few comments about it.

I can't follow Muller's argument here at all. I see no way to get from Romans 9:31-33 that Jesus was crucified on earth. The passage is fully consistent with only the Gospel [Paul's preaching message, which I usually spell with a small 'g'] being on earth, not the crucifixion itself. Muller seems not to understand the difference. The Gospel is a stumbling block, not the literal, historical crucifixion of Jesus. After all, the latter no longer existsit is in the pastso you can't trip over it....You can only trip over the story, the message, about this crucifixion and what it means. Thus, the subject is the Gospel, not the crucifixion itself. Obviously the Gospel was placed in Zion. That does not mean Jesus was. Sure, it is consistent with both possibilities. But that gets us nowhere.

Muller in his argument throws in a reference to the "stumbling block" found in 1 Corinthians 1. Here is its context:

For Paul, the "stone of stumbling" and the "rock of offence" for the Jews is Christ ("For Christ is [the] end of law for righteousness to every one that believes." Ro10:4 Darby)
by his sacrifice on the cross....
This is confirmed by:
- 1Co1:23 YLT
"... Christ crucified, to Jews, indeed, a stumbling-block ['skandalon', also translated as "offenc(s)e" or "scandal"] ..."
- Gal5:11 NKJV
"... the offense ['skandalon'] of the cross ..."

As I argue at length in my Supplementary Article No. 1, Apollos and the Early Christian Apostolate, the scandal, the stumbling-block, is the fact of "Christ crucified," not simply some interpretation of it, and certainly not the significance or divine identity of the man who had supposedly undergone this crucifixion in Jerusalem. What of the even greater scandal that Paul never mentions, either in 1 Corinthians 1 or anywhere else: that a man had been turned into God, that a crucified criminal had been elevated to the status of Savior of the world? That would have been a stumbling block of immensely greater proportions than the idea of a crucified Messiah. The latter idea, which is all that Paul mentions, would have been entirely at home in a mythical setting, like those of the mystery deities or the descending-ascending savior mythology discussed above. Indeed, since this is the only issue Paul addresses in contrasting the wisdom of the world with the wisdom of God (meaning his own message), we can safely say that the spirit-world nature of his Christ is the only one in view. I have argued that a careful interpretation of 1 Corinthians, chapters 1 and 3, with all that Paul says about Apollos in Corinth, makes it clear that Apollos is among those rivals whom Paul associates with the "wisdom of the world" and with the rejection of the fact of "Christ crucified." The only setting in which a Christian missionary could be guilty of such a rejection, and in which Christian converts of Paul could have gone along with it, would be if all concepts of Christ, including the fact of his crucifixion, were derived from scripture and revelation, and thus all such doctrines were competing on a level playing-field. That view is fully consistent with Paul's declarations (as in Romans 1:2 and Galatians 1:11-12) that his gospel is something he has derived from scripture and revelation, not from historical tradition, and that is the way we must interpret the source of his gospel as stated in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. When we add to this picture the several statements he makes that the resurrection of Christ (and even the death of Christ) are articles of faith (as in 1 Thessalonians 4:14 and 1 Corinthians 15:12f), something revealed by God, we have no grounds for agnosticism where the early epistle writers are concerned.

Finally, Muller addresses the significance of the term "Zion" as used by Paul in Romans:

"And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: "the Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob [Israel (Ge32:28)]; for this is My covenant with them [Jews], when I take away their sins."".....
'Zion' in the OT
All over the OT, 'Zion' is referred many times, as indicating an earthly place, either the heartland of the Jews (including or excluding Jerusalem), or the holy city itself, or part of the later: that is the temple mount, also called mount Zion, or the "city of David", on the ridge southwards. Here are some examples (all quotes from the NKJV): [Muller lists close to a dozen examples]....
Note: in the OT, Zion is never described as a (mythical) heavenly place.

So ideas never change, even over centuries. Old scriptural passages are never reinterpreted by new thinkers and sects. When Paul says he got his gospel from the scriptures (kata tas graphas) he only drew conclusions from them which everyone else had.... (Sigh).

[Carrier:] First, Zion has a heavenly counterpart (Heb. 12:22) and in fact Zion was a common name for the Heavenly Jerusalem, meaning the New City that would descend from the heavens and replace the earth[ly one?] when earth (including the Old Jerusalem) is consumed by fire. Second, Zion is also a racial term. To come "out of Zion" means to come from the race of the Jews. It does not always mean coming from any literal physical place....

Enough of this. Let's go on to Hebrews, since that document is my personal favorite after the Odes of Solomon, and I consider it possibly the single most important non-Gospel document in support of the mythicist theory....(unless it be all the others).

The Epistle to the Hebrews

Muller begins:

2.7. 'Hebrews' and the sacrifice in heaven:
On page 120, Doherty valiantly declares: "No other New Testament document so clearly illustrates the higher and lower world thinking of Platonic philosophy as the epistle to the Hebrews." Then he continues: "The writer places the sacrifice in heaven itself, in "the real sanctuary, the tent pitched by the Lord and not by man" (8:2)".
Let's observe the whole aforementioned verse (with the preceding one):
Heb8:1-2 YLT "And the sum concerning the things spoken of [is]: we have such a chief priest [Jesus], who did sit down at the right hand of the throne of the greatness in the heavens, of the holy places ['Hagion'] a servant, and of the true tabernacle [tent, shelter], which the Lord did set up, and not man,"
I do not see here (or in the whole of 'Hebrews'!) a "sacrifice" occurring in heaven (at the right hand of God!). And there is no mention of execution, cross or altar in these two verses. Just that Jesus, as the Lord in heaven, is a servant/minister of the holy places & "true" tabernacle.
And from which translation does "the real sanctuary" come from? "real" is not in the Greek!

Apparently, Muller's proficiency in Greek is as deficient as his understanding of ancient cosmology. Carrier says (and I will dispute his comment that it is my "translation" that has "confused Muller" rather than his own deficiency in Greek, especially since it is not my translation):

Yes it is. Doherty's translation has confused Muller again. The word is alēthinēs ("real, true, genuine"). It is certainly in that versethough, as Muller later rightly notes, it modifies tabernacle, not holy places. This still supports Doherty's lesser point that Jesus is the Heavenly Priest in the "True" Tabernacle (i.e. the real Jerusalem Temple in Heaven), but Doherty's translation is misleading, at least in that it has confused his own critics, and is not relevant to where the sacrifice takes place. On the one hand, Muller is clearly out of his element here. But Doherty, too, needs to be more rigorous....[And] Muller is correct that Doherty is citing the wrong verse in support of his argument as to where the sacrifice takes place.

First, Carrier's final comment (which actually came earlier): I'm not sure of the need for this criticism here. The sentence Muller quotes, 8:2, comes at the very beginning of the discussion (spread over chapters 8 and 9) of the heavenly sacrifice and is introductory in nature. While verse 2 does not yet mention the sacrifice itself, it states the location of the "real sanctuary" (namely, in heaven) and if Muller had fully understood what follows, he would realize that this location will be identified by the writer as the scene of the sacrifice
as he describes that sacrifice. Muller is guilty (as so many are) of bringing Gospel preconceptions into the text, when he notes: "I do not see any mention of execution, cross or altar in these two verses." If he has not understood that the "sacrifice" for this writer is not related to execution and cross, but is the act of Christ bringing his blood into the inner sanctuary and offering it to God, he will never understand what Hebrews is all about. He will also fail to understand the Platonic parallel explicit in these two chapters, in that a comparison is being set up between heaven and earth, between the heavenly ("real" in a Platonic sense) sanctuary and the earthly one, between the actions of Jesus the High Priest in heaven and the actions of the High Priest on earth. If the sacrifice by Jesus were in terms of execution and cross (whether located on earth or in heaven), there would be no basis for comparison. It is the parallel actions of the two High Priests that are being compared, not in terms of execution or killing, but in the ritual procedure of bringing the blood of the sacrifice into the inner tabernacle for offering to God. Jesus does this in the heavenly sanctuary, the Jewish High Priest does it in the earthly one. There may be other elements to the whole process taking place prior to this dual central act, such as Jesus' death/execution and the actual slaughter of the animal in the outer part of the Temple, but they are not introduced by the writer in these chapters. His focus is entirely on the action of bringing the blood into the sanctuary and offering it to God; indeed his language renders this act alone as his definition of Christ's "sacrifice."

With this proper understanding (and I will illustrate it further by appeal to other verses as we go along), one can see that the "sacrifice" which this writer envisions cannot take place anywhere but in heaven. He is hardly saying that Christ brought his own blood into the sanctuary of the temple on earth. Throughout chapters 8 and 9 he is comparing the two acts in the two sanctuaries by the two High Priests, heavenly and earthly. His whole point is that the heavenly one is superior, and that it supplants the earthly one. The "old covenant" is being replaced by a new one (8:7-13). In this, Hebrews shares a general motif found in many Christian expressions of the early period, that Christ's sacrifice, wherever it might be located, has introduced a new era in which old practices are made obsolete and need to be set aside, such as the Temple cult and even the very Law itself. But this particular writer (and he is part of a community which has already adopted such an outlook) has his own special 'take' on the supplanting process; no other surviving document makes such a comparison between the heavenly and earthly Temples or places such exclusive focus on Christ's sacrifice as his act of bringing the blood into the heavenly sanctuary. Commentators often express surprise at this unique approach to christology, wondering "where it could have come from," but they fail to see that this is simply another indicator of the variety of independent development on the Christ-belief scene of the first century, none of it derived from a single point and doctrine of origin (no Big Bang), nothing to constitute a strange "deviation" from an established norm. That the source of this particular interpretation is entirely from scripture, the author makes abundantly clear throughout the whole document.

Because the two "sacrifices" by the two High Priests are located in two different realms, one in heaven the other on earth, we can now see the full import of the verse that comes up almost immediately, 8:4, that "smoking gun" I have often called attention to and which commentators regularly pussyfoot around: "Now if he had been on earth, he would not even have been a priest, since there are already priests who offer the gifts which the Law prescribes, [adding the first part of verse 5:] though they minister in a sanctuary which is only a copy and shadow of the heavenly." [NEB translation] Verse 5 is another indicator of the Platonic viewpoint which saturates Hebrews. Why would the writer say this unless he is locating the sacrifice of the heavenly High Priest (Christ) in the heavenly temple, indicating its superior status
which is the whole point of the epistle? To go back to verse 4 itself, the dichotomy has to be seen as consistent, that is, that the temple High Priest exists and acts on earth, while the heavenly High Priest exists and acts in heaven. (The issue of the exact translation of 8:4 I cover in my book and in my website article on Hebrewssee link belowand will not repeat here.) Here we can see that if this writer's Christ had been on earth at all, this would have presented a big difficulty for his Platonic picture of the parallel between the two High Priests. If any of Christ's redeeming act had taken place on earth (and how could Calvary not be introduced into the picture?), the purity and 'lesson' of his whole exercise would have been compromised, and at the very least would have required clarification. As it is, the writer betrays no hint that anything disturbs his finely drawn contrast between earth and heaven.

As for
alēthinēs, Carrier is of course correct that it can equally be translated as "true" or "real." My translation, "in the real sanctuary, the tent pitched by the Lord and not by man," was taken from the NEB, which is a translation I consistently gravitate to, as it attempts to convey the inherent, common sense meaning of a passage rather than simply adhering to the literalalthough I sometimes find it guilty of reading Gospel associations into certain texts. Here, it is not off the mark (and it illustrates my point about the NEB), since there is hardly a distinction required in this verse between "sanctuary" and "tent," ("holy places" and "tabernacle" are the words used by Muller and Carrier), and thus "real" can, and should, be applied equally to the word sanctuary. "Tent," grammatically speaking, is simply in apposition to "sanctuary." Essentially, the writer is using both words to refer to the same thing. The only other translation I have seen which uses the word "real" instead of "true" is the Canadian Bible Society's Good News for Modern Man, though I doubt that they have done so with Platonic implications in mind. On the other hand, Spiros Zodhiates, in his The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament, (p.122) does recognize the Platonic implications: "skēnē alēthinē (tabernacle) means the heavenly temple, after the model of which the Jews regarded the temple of Jerusalem as built (Heb. 8:2)." Other commentators (whom I will have occasion to mention later), have fully recognized Hebrews' Platonic basis.

Thus, contrary to Carrier, this translation is not misleading, and it is relevant to the location of the sacrifice. Both terms refer to the heavenly temple, and that is where the writer will go on to locate Christ's own sacrifice as heavenly High Priest. (Note that the NEB's "tent" as translating skēnēs
which is its basic, original meaning since the primitive Hebrew sanctuary for the Ark of the Covenant was a portable tentis right on the money. The earthly side of the comparison between the two sanctuaries is not in terms of the Temple in Jerusalem, but rather the "tent" version supposedly set up in Sinai during the Exodus, another indicator that the writer is thoroughly immersed in scripture rather than history or current reality.)

Let's also note 'Hagion' does not necessarily mean "sanctuary" (which can be understood as "temple"!).

But the context is undeniable. Hebrews engages lengthy comparisons between Jesus and the earthly High Priestthere can therefore be no doubt that the Temple is meant here (the use of tabernacle confirms the point). See also below.

Furthermore, sacrifices in the old Jewish system took place always outside any tabernacle.

No, they took place inside it: Hebrews 9:6-8. There is an outer and an inner tabernacle. The sacrifice takes place in the outer and the blood is taken to the inner, where it must be poured on the altar. Only the High Priest can enter the inner tabernacle. See 9:11-21 for how this relates not only to 8:1-2 but to Doherty's entire thesis of parallels in heaven for earthly things, and, incidentally, for the fact that the sacrifice takes place there.

The NEB also helps the clarity in another verse which clearly illustrates that the sanctuary is a heavenly one, 9:11: "But now Christ has come, high priest of good things already in being. The tent of his priesthood is a greater and more perfect one, not made by men's hands, that is, not belonging to this created world." What more could anyone want to demonstrate the location of the sacrifice? Christ as High Priest performing his sacrifice
the duties of his "priesthood" in "greater and more perfect" parallel (and contrast) to the earthly duties of the earthly High Priestdoes so in the tent that does not belong to this created world. What more could anyone need to demonstrate the Platonic nature of the thought of this writer?

I do not see here (or in the whole of 'Hebrews'!) a "sacrifice" occurring in heaven (at the right hand of God!). And there is no mention of execution, cross or altar in these two verses.

The blood of the Lamb must be sprinkled on the altar. All readers would have *known* thatthey didn't need to be told. Hebrews 9 definitely says Christ's blood was sprinkled on the Heavenly Altar. That certainly implies he was sacrificed in the Heavenly Outer Tabernacle. See Hebrews 9:23-24 - Christ is the "better sacrifice" who cleanses the "copy" in heaven of the altar on earth [Carrier's phrasing here is misleading: the heavenly altar is not the copy of the one on earth, but vice-versa], who did not enter the earthly tabernacle but the heavenly one. Indeed, Hebrews 10 struggles to argue from chapter 9 that this is the very reason why Christ only had to be sacrificed once: because, being heavenly, and performed on the *true* altar, it is permanent, unlike the earthly sacrifices. After all, the "better versions" of things are always in Heaven. That is made clear throughout Hebrews, and of course by 8:1-2, which is why Doherty cites it (but also see 9:11).

Again, Muller is wrong. But Doherty can't prove that this was not mapped onto an earthly counterpart. Yes, there is a heavenly sacrifice, but maybe that only paralleled a real one on earth. I don't see any way to decide one way or the other....

The way to decide is not to bring preconceptions from other circles and documents into one's analysis of this one, especially when this one evinces christology and soteriology which is clearly quite different from those other circles and documents. Besides, in this case, that "mapping" would not work at all. A "real (sacrifice) on earth" would hardly be envisioned in terms of the entry into the sanctuary. First of all, 8:4 rejects that: Jesus would not "even have been a priest if he were/had been on earth." Second, any sacrifice on earth would have to be seen as involving the crucifixion itself, and so the elaborate Platonic parallel with the earthly High Priest's actions would not be applicable. A bloody death on Calvary would not cleanse the heavenly sanctuary (9:23), since the act of cleansing is in the application of the blood to the premises itself. If the writer were trying to make such a connection, or to somehow parallel the historical event on Calvary with an entry into the tabernacle (earth or heaven), he would be required to explain it. He would have a complicating second 'parallel' to deal with, not just the one between the entries into the two tabernacles. No, Carrier's studied neutrality is unworkable here. He goes on:

I also have some problem with the fact that Jesus is supposedly killed in the firmament, yet the tabernacles should be in the 7th heaven. So there seems to be different conceptions of what happened to Jesus between Hebrews and the Ascension of Isaiah, and it might be a strain to combine them. That does not mean Doherty's thesis is fundamentally wrongafter all, Doherty argues that there were many different Heavenly Jesus movements, so we should not be surprised to find them developing different doctrines. But it does show what I have said all along: we are much more ignorant than either Doherty or Muller let on. We don't really know all we need to know to decide the question of whether there was a historical Jesus....

There is nothing in Hebrews to indicate what this author's particular view of the layers of heaven was, or of where precisely Jesus underwent death
although he does mention Jesus' passage "through the heavens." There is no specific mention of the firmament (though there is of a "cross" which I will touch on later). Carrier has answered his own query. In the mythicist viewpoint, there is no need to see a commonality of concept across the entire Christian (or 'proto-Christian') movement of the first century. It would be interesting to know something about the points of contact between the Hebrews community and any other ones, but that doesn't mean we don't know enough to make a deductive decisionif only on a balance of probabilityabout the question of Jesus' existence, at least where the Hebrews community is concerned.

But the (bringing of) "blood" is a sign the sacrifice happens before the Son enters the "true" holy places, which, according to the following verse, is heaven itself:
Heb9:24 YLT "for not into holy places made with hands did the Christ enter -- figures of the true -- but into the heaven itself, ..."
Therefore Christ would have brought his "blood" (figuratively) from outside the heavens: "... who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, ..." (Heb4:14 Darby).

On the other hand, I think Muller could be right that Jesus carries his blood up through all the heavens, and therefore Doherty should say that the sacrifice takes place in the firmament here, rather than in the outer tabernacle. But without the ability to interrogate the author of Hebrews, who can say?

I agree, who can say? In any case, I don't claim that the death takes place in the outer tabernacle. The author doesn't tell us, and while the 4:14 reference to a "Christ who has passed through the heavens" is not itself conclusive, it may indeed suggest a death in the firmament, especially since in 12:2 he says in passing that Christ "endured the cross," and I don't think even a celestial crucifixion, with its suffering by a deity, could be regarded as taking place in the 7th heaven. But again, I have to stress that the author does not fail to tell us where the "sacrifice" takes place. It takes place upon the entry with the blood into the inner tabernacle. That is his definition of the sacrifice. (Whether he would hedge and widen his net if we could actually confront him for clarification, who knows?) Thus Muller's statement immediately above, that the bringing of blood is a sign that the sacrifice happens before the Son enters the sanctuary, is to ignore that definition. At least he seems to recognize that a key element of the process involves the entry into the heavenly sanctuary, but I wonder how "figurative" blood would cleanse those "real" premises.

According to the above, "... passed through the heavens ..." (Heb4:14) would require earth as the starting point!...the counterpart of Doherty's "higher world" (the heavens) is earth itself. No other "world" is mentioned (1:10, 12:26).

Muller should certainly know better. As he himself suggests, the firmament, air, earth, and Sheol are all one world (this world) and Hebrews uses the plural "heavens" for a reason (there are many, and they are indeed distinct from "this world")....

I'm not sure what point Muller thinks he is making. Quite apart from Carrier's observation, the counterpart of the "higher world" is indeed earth itself. This is the Platonic dichotomy the writer is presenting in regard to the parallel sacrifices the two High Priests are making, Jesus in the heavenly sanctuary, the earthly High Priest in the earthly one.

c) right after 12:2, where Jesus endured the cross, the next verse exhorts: "For consider well him who endured so great contradiction from sinners against himself ..." (12:3 Darby). Where were these "sinners" opposing Jesus? Considering Heb7:25-26 NASB, "... He [Jesus] always lives to make intercession for them [Christians], ... a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners ...", the sinners are not in the highest heaven!
And sins are never suggested to be committed by demonic powers, those later ones not even acknowledged in the epistle, except for one reference to the devil (singular!): Heb2:14. Instead, sins concern earthly humans.

....The sinners can be the demons or their counterparts and agents on earth.

In fact, there is a third alternative: that the passage is traditionally mistranslated. Usually it is rendered something like: "Consider him who has endured hostility against himself from sinners..." From my "Sound of Silence" feature, I'll reproduce a couple of paragraphs on this verse:

Here, more than one scholar has pointed out the similarity of language and thought to the episode in Numbers 16:38 (LXX). There, Core, Dathan and Abiron have rebelled against Moses and his claim to speak for the Lord, with the result that they all perish in the abyss that opens up beneath their feet. The Lord then directs Moses to sanctify the censers of "these sinners against their own souls" (tôn hamartôlôn toutôn en tais psuchais autôn). The point is, they are sinners 'against themselves.' When we turn to the Hebrews passage, we find a similar phrase, now in the form of "sinners against himself," the latter referring to Christ. But this final word shows variants between manuscripts. Does the parallel in Numbers indicate that the original reading was "sinners against themselves"? Hugh Montefiore (Hebrews, p.216) accepts such a reading. Does the meaning entail the idea that Jesus is enduring hostility for sinners in general, that is, for their sake, not that the sinners are the ones being hostile to him, as in the Gospel portrayal? (This is Jean Héring's translation, Hebrews, p.109.) Jesus 'enduring hostility' may encompass no more than the (mythological) concept that he suffered and died.

Alternatively, if Jesus is said to have endured hostility—or rebellion, if the thought is a conscious parallel to the use of the word in Numbers—on the part of sinners, meaning that he suffered in order to redeem rebellious sinners (whether sinners against himself or against themselves), the whole idea may have been introduced in order to make a comparison to the believers in what the writer now urges upon them. Verse 4 goes on to say: "In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood." Just as Jesus suffered on account of sin, this too is the experience of believers, though their sufferings have not gone as far as his. But they too should endure, just like Jesus. The writer rounds out his little homily by offering words of encouragement. Where are they taken from? Not from any voice of Jesus on earth, but once more from scripture, in Proverbs 3:11-12, a reference to God disciplining his sons.

Muller calls attention to the reference to "sinners" in 7:26: "For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens." This statement seems to imply quite the opposite of what Muller would have: that Jesus was never in contact with sinners, being someone who is exalted in the heavens. The sinners were indeed "separated" from him.

Further on, Doherty declares "He [the author of 'Hebrews'] has said that Christ's sacrifice is "spiritual, eternal and unblemished" (9:14)". If the sacrifice is spiritual & eternal, it has to be mythical, isn't it? But first, let's check the verse:
Heb9:14 Darby "how much rather shall the blood of the Christ, who by the eternal Spirit offered himself spotless to God, purify your conscience from dead works to worship [the] living God?"
Where is the spiritual & eternal sacrifice?...

Again, I think Muller misunderstands Doherty, though Doherty is certainly confusing here. I believe Doherty is not saying the sacrifice is cyclicly repeated like other myths (e.g. Osiris) but that its effect lasts forever....

And further to this exchange:

The spirit is eternal, not the sacrifice. And the later is not qualified as spiritual. And no translation can possibly have the sacrifice as "spiritual, eternal, ...", according to the Greek. If there is no evidence supporting your case, that's not a reason to create some!

I agree. This is not the only place where Doherty is a little muddled. Though his point has merit, he does not always make the best argument for his own caseor perhaps sometimes misuses evidence. This is a good example of that. The context does support Doherty, not Muller. But Doherty is wrong to claim that Heb. 9:14 literally says what Doherty claims.

Well, I hope to demonstrate that I am neither muddled nor misusing evidence, much less "creating" it. Once again, my "spiritual and eternal sacrifice" is a drawing on of an actual translation, namely the NEB (and I should have noted the source in my text). By the time I decided to quote that one, I had read a lot of commentaries on Hebrews, and I came to the conclusion that the NEB had cut to the heart of the meaning, even if it was not a literal translation (much like the example I dealt with above). The NEB says:

9:14. How much greater [than the blood of goats and bulls] is the power of the blood of Christ; he offered himself without blemish to God, a spiritual and eternal sacrifice....

Some of the older commentators on Hebrews (before more recent scholars began to shy away from such insights, perhaps realizing their danger) fully recognized the Platonic nature of the epistle writer's thought. James Moffat, in the International Critical Commentary (1924) says (p.xliii, and I'll quote him at some length as there are several features here pertinent to our discussion):

"When the author writes that Christ 'in the spirit of the eternal' (9:14) offered himself as an unblemished sacrifice to God, he has in mind the contrast between the annual sacrifice on the day of atonement and the sacrifice of Christ which never needed to be repeated, because it had been offered in the spirit and
as we might sayin the eternal order of things [my emphasis]. It was a sacrifice bound up with his death in history, but it belonged essentially to the higher order of absolute reality. The writer breathed the Philonic atmosphere in which the eternal Now over-shadowed the things of space and time, but he knew this sacrifice had taken place on the cross, and his problem was one which never confronted Philo, the problem which we moderns have to face in the question: How can a single historical fact possess a timeless significance?"

The first thing one notices, of course, is that Moffat takes a Platonic meaning from the text itself but imposes the historical dimension which is not taken from the text, but is rather read into it. Of course, every commentator does this. It is amusing that Moffat, here and further on in his Introduction, has to admit that the "problems" inherent in the text relate to issues surrounding the incarnation and presumed historical event: "[H]ow is the Sonship compatible with the earthly life?
these are problems which remain unsolved" (p.xlix); and: "he [the author of the epistle] does not succeed in harmonizing its implications about the incarnate life with his gnōsis of the eternal Son within the higher sphere of divine realities" (p.l). No wonder the author fails to solve these "problems"! He never addresses them. He never shows a sign that they exist for him. They are problems created by the imposition of the Gospel Jesus on documents which don't know of any such figure. In that last phrase just quoted, "his gnōsis of the eternal Son within the higher sphere of divine realities," Moffat inadvertently demonstrates the sum total of the writer's knowledge, the sole basis of his faith and christology: it is the product of revealed gnōsis about a Son who existed in that higher realm of "reality." Once we see and admit that, the entire epistle and all its elements fall into place.

Moffat has also touched (in the long quote above) on the point of the "once" of Jesus' sacrifice, as does Carrier:

... There is no doubt that Hebrews said it only happened once, and that it happened in history, a good long time after the first covenant was established, and prior to our own time in history, and that its effect is eternal. If Doherty thinks otherwise, I don't see why he needs to. His thesis is perfectly compatible with a once and past event. After all, Satan's fall was a once and past event, yet clearly not something that happened on earth. And Jesus' sacrifice is precisely what was necessitated by Satan's fall, so we should expect standard notions of sympathetic magic here: the cure must resemble the disease (a common notion in ancient medicine). Thus, if Satan fell only to the aer, not to become anyone on earth, you would expect that is where Jesus must go, too. That, again, does not prove this was so, but it shows the plausibility inherent in Doherty's thesis.

I suppose I must thank Carrier for regularly providing indications that my view is the correct or logical one, even though he regularly takes a cautionary step back to agnosticism. Carrier claims that there is no doubt Hebrews says that the sacrifice "happened in history." This, of course, is the crux of the matter, and I will devote some space to demonstrating why this is wrong, and how the document tells us so. First, the simple answer is that the sacrifice is "once" because its perfect, eternal nature requires only a single performance (and because it was performed 'in the spirit,' as Moffat puts it); but this eternal sacrifice was not performed in history, rather it was revealed in history, in the present time. The latter point is a motif we find throughout the other New Testament epistles. Paul, pseudo-Paul, 1 Peter, 1 John: they all say that Christ has been "manifested/revealed" in the present time, after a long period of being hidden, that the present time is a time of "the arrival of faith," that apostles have been inspired by "the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven," that the Son of God "is come and given us understanding," that the Son speaks to us through holy scripture, and so on.

Before looking at the key passage (9:24-26), let's glance back to an earlier one which introduces the idea of "once": (7:27) "He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did this once for all when he offered up himself." (RSV). If the reader will recall the argument earlier, this act of "offering" is not the death on a cross (wherever it might have taken place), but the entry of Jesus into the heavenly sanctuary and the offering of his blood on the altar to God. This must be, since (as we see here in 7:27) it constitutes the parallel comparison between the action of the high priest on earth and that of Jesus. The only point of comparison presented is the entry into the tabernacle. Therefore, the offering is the act in the heavenly sanctuary. This is the key to the understanding of this epistle, and if one insists on bringing Gospel preconceptions to the document, one will forever miss it.

That this "offering" takes place in heaven is demonstrated in a further passage, 10:11-12: "And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God" (RSV). There can be little doubt that the writer's horizon here is entirely confined to heaven. Immediately after Christ makes his offering, he sits at God's side. There is no intervening resurrection, no ascension through the heavens (even from the firmament). At the very least, even if such elements cannot be necessarily ruled out as prior happenings, the definition of the offering itself must be confined to a heavenly event, the entry into the heavenly sanctuary. The "offering" is the same thing as the "sacrifice." Understanding what the author has in mind by the act of offering, where it is located, is part of the key, as we shall see.

The main reason why the author has styled the 'event' of Christ's sacrifice as "once for all" is not because it happened in history, but because he is contrasting it with the performance of the high priest's duties on earth. Here and in several other passages (e.g. 9:12, 9:25) he makes a point of noting that the temple priests perform their sacrifices repeatedly; however, Christ has to do this but "once" only, because his blood, his sacrifice, is superior, perfect; his blood has "greater power" (9:14) than the blood of goats and bulls. His sacrifice need be performed only once, and it has eternal efficacy. That translation Muller disputed, "a spiritual and eternal sacrifice," comes immediately after this thought in 9:14, and thus the NEB's attachment of "eternal" to "sacrifice" is justified: it is fully in keeping with the writers "once for all" declaration, because the sacrifice itself is eternal, both in its Platonic performance and in its effects. As at other points and in other contexts in the epistle, the writer is at pains to demonstrate how Christ as High Priest is the superior element, thus supplanting the old systems and readings of scripture. All sects believe they have uncovered the correct, newly inspired interpretation of the truth.

Now we can go on to the key passage, 9:24-26, and again I'll use the RSV: "24. For Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear [the verb emphanidzō) in the presence of God on our behalf. 25. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the Holy Place yearly with blood not his own; 26. for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared [the verb phaneroō] once for all at the completion of the ages to abolish sin by his sacrifice.

With the proper understanding of the writer's concept of sacrifice and offering and where it is located, we can see all the elements of this epistle's thought in the above three verses. There can be no doubt that Christ "enters" a heavenly sanctuary, of which the one on earth is a Platonic copy, and the "appearing before God" is this heavenly entry to offer his blood ("on our behalf"). Most important is what this does for verse 26, that central verse which Carrier and others use to interpret an historical venue for Jesus' sacrifice, taking " the completion of the ages" as a reference to Jesus' incarnation in recent history. But it is not. The act of "appearing" throughout these verses relates to one thing: Jesus' sacrifice, which is synonymous with his entry into the heavenly sanctuary to make his offering to God. The "appearing" in verse 26b is not some sudden shift to a general reference to Christ's birth or life on earth, something which is never touched on when discussing the sacrifice (or indeed at any other point in the epistle). The "appearing to abolish sin" of the latter verse is in the same category as the "appearing before God" of the earlier verse 24 (the two verses use verbs that have similar meanings). All of it takes place in heaven.

And the verb "appeared" in verse 26: "Phaneroō" is strictly a 'revelation' word, in keeping with the standard sort of expression found throughout the epistles when they speak of Christ in the present time: not coming to earth or living a life, but being revealed. To this idea he has attached his phrase "once," which here may not be the same prime fit as in all the other cases, in that elsewhere it is the sacrifice which is performed "once for all," while here it is the revelation. But that this is an anomaly must be accepted in any case, since its application is not to the sacrifice, no matter how one might interpret phaneroō. Perhaps he was led to apply "once" to the present-day revelation because of its singular and unprecedented nature. Few writers are always perfectly consistent in their use of language.

Let's also look at the first part of verse 26, whose significance is usually overlooked in discussing the passage: "
for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world." That this thought could only be applied to heaven should be evident. The concept of dying repeatedly on earth throughout history would have been nonsensical, and he would hardly have introduced it. To style it as repeating "since the foundation of the world" places it in a mythological setting. What he is saying is that Christ would not have to undergo his redeeming act on a regular basis in the spiritual realm. Perhaps he is consciously repudiating the more pagan concept of a savior god's "repetition" of his act of dying and risingthe "always is so," something timeless and constant (à la Plutarch's interpretation of the Osiris myth and Sallustius' similar reading of savior god mythology, all of it ultimately based on the agricultural / astronomical cycle). But the inclusion of the word "suffer" in this sentence indicates that for this writer the entire scope of Christ's actions, the entire redeeming process which has abolished sin, has taken place in the heavenly worldeven the death itself (the "on the cross" of 12:2).

And we can go further. That the writer does not have any earthly event in mind in this entire passage is indicated by the verse coming shortly after. 28a says: "So Christ was offered once to remove men's sins..." We have identified the idea of "offering" as attached to the entry of Christ into the heavenly sanctuary to offer his blood to God. The "once" is back where it belongs. But 28a is also a virtual restatement of 26b: "
he has appeared once for all at the completion of the ages to abolish sin by his sacrifice." The removal or abolition of sin is tied in the latter to the act of sacrifice and in the former to the act of offering. But these are synonymous, for the act of offering is the act of sacrifice. Thus the reference to "appearing" (being revealed) at the completion of the ages is further demonstrated to be a reference to the heavenly event. Nowhere is anything earthly in view.

This passage happens to lead into the one reference (verse 28b) in all the epistles which many claim implies that Christ is "returning" to earth, that he will be coming a "second time" to bring salvation (referring to the Parousia). But the "second time" word can also mean "next," removing any thought of a return. I discuss this in the Epilogue of my article on the Epistle to the Hebrews, and I recommend that the reader investigate the whole of this article for a fuller discussion of the arguments made here, and other aspects of the epistle which demonstrate a lack of knowledge of an historical Jesus or an event of salvation on earth.

Muller and Carrier conclude their attention to Hebrews:

In conclusion, there is no evidence in 'Hebrews' the "sacrifice" happened in the heavens, despite Doherty's best imaginative effort & rhetoric. But there are significant clues pointing to earth....

Neither is true. There is *some* evidence for heaven, but it is vague. And the clues that point to "earth" actually only point to the whole sublunar realm. Thus, the case remains undecided. Doherty's thesis is neither challenged nor proved by Hebrews, taken in isolation.

I hope that the above discussion has demonstrated that both Muller and Carrier are wrong. A proper examination of Hebrews (one without the Gospel-colored glasses) amply demonstrates that the sacrifice
as the author sees and defines ittakes place in heaven. It is anything but "vague." Nor do I think that shifting the "clues that point to earth" to the sublunar realm is all that applicable here. Those earthly "clues" are largely part of the earthly dimension that forms one half of the author's Platonic parallel, although we certainly can conclude, if we read the implications behind the writer's cosmology, that the death of Jesus on the cross would indeed be relegated to the sublunar realm. This, however, is not where the writer places his focus, and it even seems to be an element which is unimportant to him.

The Epistle to the Hebrews demonstrates, perhaps more than any other document, the necessity to remove Gospel preconceptions from one's mind before approaching it.
Muller has shown that trying to impose historical paradigms on it leads to a host of difficulties and contradictions, whereas a mythicist viewpoint imposes only unity and consistency. That this writer and his community could create such a majestic soteriological structure, such a fantastic view of spiritual reality, entirely out of scripture and philosophical concepts, demonstrates the extent such forces and sheer imagination could play in the religious inventions of the era. (We need to carry this realization with us when we go to Paul; it will make it easier to see and accept that he, too, is presenting his view of spiritual reality, from a Son who is "of the seed of David" because scripture tells him so, to a crucifixion in the heavens at the hands of demon spirits, "the rulers of this age.") Once the picture the author of Hebrews is presenting is clearly seen, not only does everything fit into a largely Platonic conception within the religious philosophy of the time, one can see the great void that exists about anything concerning a Jesus on earth. And that void extends throughout the epistle. I'll be delving into the latter area in Part Three.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Muller included in his critique of The Jesus Puzzle some rebuttal to certain points made by Carrier in his review of The Jesus Puzzle for the Internet Infidels, and Carrier responded. I will be commenting on some of that material in Part Three. When Muller returns to The Jesus Puzzle in Part 2 of his critique, he revisits topics such as Romans 1:3, higher and lower worlds, and Hebrews in regard to my claims about the silence on an historical Jesus in that document. He also addresses "born of woman" in Galatians 4, "brother of the Lord" and Josephus. It is in Part Three that I will be bringing in 'fourth-party' comments from posters on the Internet Infidels.

To Part Three

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