|Was There No Historical Jesus?
Responses to Critiques of the Mythicist Case
GakuseiDon "Book Review of Jesus: Neither God Nor Man"
This is a response to Internet apologist GakuseiDon's (hereafter, Don) review of Jesus: Neither God Nor Man posted early in 2011 at the following site:
|PART TWO - PART THREE - PART FOUR|
This response was first posted in instalments on the Freethought Rationalist Discussion Board. Minor changes have been made here for the Jesus Puzzle website.
Don's writing and reasoning displays a mixture of a certain degree of clarity on the one hand, and misunderstanding/misrepresentation on the other. I found this to be the case in our earlier debates which he occasionally quotes in the present review. In those earlier debates, I called him an "atomist," since he sometimes takes terms or statements out of context and applies them in a fashion unsupported by that context. He also has an occasional habit of ignoring clarification and rebuttal argument I have made along the way—either in our past ongoing debates or between the earlier and later books—and virtually restating his original criticisms and objections. Since his review is about my later book, clinging to earlier criticisms of The Jesus Puzzle and ignoring any progression made on such subjects in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man I consider invalid and self-serving.
After an efficient capsule summary of the book and its case, Don begins his review proper by itemizing four of my case's "disagreements with common consensus" which he considers particularly radical, and which he rightly suspects are "not even on the radar of modern scholarship." The latter is hardly surprising, since a radical paradigm shift such as denying the historical existence of the Gospel Jesus is going to entail elements which traditional scholarship would hardly have thought of, let alone examined for possible validity. Then he says:
Doherty presents his views in such a matter-of-fact way that it is easy to miss that his views on the above topics are quite radical and, frankly, often unsupported by anything but speculation.
This makes it sound as though I make radical declarations (simply 'matters of fact') in an utter absence of supporting evidence or argument. Radical, yes, but argued thoroughly. And even if speculation can sometimes be involved, it is, shall we say, argued speculation. So Don has certainly overstated his objection here. He does admit that mine "is a cumulative case" and that, moreover, the reader needs to have a fair bit of knowledge about ancient documents and ideas (which the average layperson does not possess) in order to evaluate many of its elements. But this is inevitable. I can hardly limit myself to those things which the layperson knows of. The way around this is to present those ideas and the texts of those documents, with logical analysis and application to the case being made, accompanied (where possible) by supporting academic agreement. If the latter is sparse, and relates perhaps only to certain details, that too is inevitable given the radical nature of the new paradigm being presented. Knowledgeable critical scholars can respond and rebut in any way they see fit or are capable of. I certainly haven't tried to keep the book out of their hands. Don has somehow managed to imply that these 'problems' spell some kind of dishonesty on my part, or at least a deceptive end run around the contrary 'consensus.'
He focuses on one example (one that has always been a bit of a bugaboo for him):
...is Doherty correct that Tatian at one stage didn't believe in a historical Jesus? I find this an incredible assertion, and to me this weakens the strength of his argument from silence.
As stated, this is quite misleading. An "incredible assertion"? Obviously, incredible to him and no doubt others, but it is hardly an anchorless "assertion." Not only do I spend time arguing such a conclusion from Tatian's own work, it is presented as part of a larger picture of most of the 2nd century apologists who demonstrate that they too, for similar reasons based in their texts, show no sign of believing in an historical Jesus. By the same token, that demonstration is not limited to being a simple argument from silence, a term usually employed by dissenters in a derogatory fashion. We will see later whether Don actually addresses and rebuts my case for arguing Tatian's non-belief in his extant "Address to the Greeks."
This, too, is typical of Don:
In my view, JNGNM provides little evidence to support Doherty's conclusions. There are too many adhoc arguments, too much speculation portrayed as established conclusion. I find that a more complete analysis shows that not only is there little evidence to support his theories, but the evidence we do have goes against him.
Again, we will see later whether he actually demonstrates how my arguments are "adhoc" or offers a "complete analysis" which shows that the evidence is not only not supportive but goes against me. Such bare remarks as the preceding quote are too often used by historical Jesus supporters, whether professional or amateur, to dismiss rather than rebut the mythicist case.
Don briefly remarks on our past internet debates regarding the second century apologists:
My opinion was that Doherty is dead wrong in his views that Second Century writers like Tatian were members of a Christianity that had no Jesus Christ—either historical or mythical—at its centre. In fact, I found it a bizarre claim, since there are examples of 'historicist' Christians that also didn't include details of a historical Jesus. Why hadn't Doherty included them in his book? To me, it was a one-sided presentation of the evidence.
First of all, note the "either historical or mythical." I have said, and make it clear in the new book, that Tatian's (and the others') Jesus (or rather Son/Logos, since they don't use the name Jesus) was not mythical in the sense of Paul's sacrificial Christ, but that the Logos idea itself was nevertheless a form of mythicism, since it related to heavenly mythology about the nature of God and his emanations and involved consequent salvation. So here, too, he has gotten it wrong. Moroever, his counter-example involves only a claim for an "historical" figure on some other apologist's part.
And who is that apologist? He doesn't name him at this point, but those cognizant of our earlier debates may remember that it was Tertullian. Now, I argued until I was blue in the face that the comparison was hardly a legitimate one. The atomist in Don pointed to a couple of specific passages in one piece of writing where Tertullian neglected to introduce the name of a founder figure for his faith despite the fact that Tertullian clearly believed in an historical founder Jesus. Yet how do we know that? Because Tertullian elsewhere does introduce such a figure. We know it from Tertullian's own words, and the fact that he clearly subscribed to and called upon the Gospel story. Is any of this the case in Tatian's "Address" or in the apologies of Athenagoras, Theophilus or Minucius Felix? No, since they nowhere enlighten us. We have to read Jesus and even the basic Gospel events into them, whereas no such exercise is necessary for Tertullian. Moreover, Tertullian is not offering a comprehensive picture of his faith which misleadingly leaves out any human founder (crucified anywhere) at all. Did this have any effect on Don's appeal to Tertullian as 'evidence' against my stance on earlier apologists? Apparently not, for here again he is faulting me for not including Tertullian. Moreover, Tertullian was not a 'second century' (up to 180, as I defined it) apologist, lying outside the case I was making. It was thus not "one-sided," and I did include Justin who was an historicist.
Now we reach my biggest bone of contention with Don in regard to debates we have had over the last few years. Yes, I have admitted that my statement in The Jesus Puzzle he never stops quoting, the one about the placement of Hellenistic savior-god myths in the upper Platonic world, was too "matter-of-fact." I subsequently, long before the new book, qualified and nuanced it in a way that was needed and missing earlier. And Don has admitted that I have admitted it. Yet he still has the tendency to treat the point as though nothing has changed, he continues to criticize my views as though I am still making that "stark" (his term) unqualified and un-nuanced statement:
(Doherty) does this again in JNGNM. For example:
The second resemblance was to a wide range of pagan savior gods found in the 'mysteries', the dominant form of popular religion in this period, going back to ancient roots. Like Paul's Christ, these savior gods were thought of as having performed acts in a mythical world, acts which brought sanctity and salvation to their believers. These cults had myths and rituals very much like those of the Christian movement. (Page 4)
Well, I do not. First of all, this quote from Page 4 of Jesus: Neither God Nor Man is in an introduction in which I lay out the case I will make in the body of the book; I make no attempt to 'evidence' it at this point. That evidence is addressed at great length in later chapters, something Don does not point out, let alone deal with here. Second, even in the above quote I introduce nuances which step away from the accusation that I state that every pagan in every context placed the savior god myths in the heavens (something I didn't even do in The Jesus Puzzle, though I've admitted that it was too easy an impression). Above, I place my statement entirely in the realm of the mystery cults themselves, in the effects their beliefs had on the devotees; and the final statement is indeed accurate. We have reasonable grounds to think that within the cults and their interpretations of the myths such mythology was affected by Platonism and migrated to a great extent to the heavenly world, and this is argued extensively in JNGNM, something Don does not address.
He appeals to Bart Ehrman:
Ehrman: Recent scholarship, however, has been less inclined to call Christianity a mystery cult, or to claim that it simply borrowed its characteristic ideas and practices from previously existing religions. In part this is because we do not know very much about what happened during the mystery rituals, especially in the period when Christianity began. For example, did they typically partake of a meal, commemorating the death of their savior god? We simply don't know.
So how did Doherty know?
Well, either Ehrman is overstating the case, or Don is misleadingly presenting him. I have done no more than what scholars of the mystery cults have themselves concluded. (And it is well known that most New Testament scholars these days—even the so-called critical ones—are very reluctant on principle to see Christianity as in any way a mystery cult.) Taken literally, Ehrman's comment on sacred meals is nonsense. On p.139 I quote Helmut Koester: "On the cult of Sabazius…There apparently were common cultic meals which—judging from the painting on the Vincentius tomb in Rome—seemed to symbolize one's acquittal before the judge of the dead and reception into the everlasting meal of the blessed." I quote Martin Nilsson noting that the Dionysos mysteries had a cultic practice of "eating the flesh from a living animal and drinking wine (which) could be understood as incorporating the god and his power within." Mithraic reliefs clearly depict a mythical meal shared by Mithras and the Sun god Helios, something which automatically points to an imitative sacred meal within the cult itself. All these things are scholarly deductions based on evidence of one sort or another. (Besides, we have admissions by early Christian apologists like Justin that the cults did practice sacred meals similar to that of Christianity and that such meals predated the Christian version—the devils had established them ahead of time, says Justin, to confuse Christians when the real thing came along!) That's how Doherty "knows." And do Don's readers know enough to realize that his implication that I have simply made this stuff up out of the blue is inaccurate?
Once again Don has recourse to quoting my 'stark' statement from The Jesus Puzzle, and again quotes from Jesus: Neither God Nor Man a statement also made in advance of my providing the discussion and justification for it. He states: "Once again, there is no source for this," making no reference to the later chapters where I provide all sorts of indicators justifying the feasibility of such a conclusion—within the circle of the mystery cults themselves, as I have stated, and which his next quote from me acknowledges: "We have virtually no writings of the period on the subject to reflect those conceptions." I have admitted this from the beginning, while at the same time pointing out why, and that we cannot expect to have the same kind of documentary evidence from the cults to peruse as we do with Christianity. But the near lack of source writings doesn't mean we have no evidence at all on which to base our deductions. I have just referred to some of it. And in the book there is a lot of careful examination of that evidence. We may indeed be "groping in the dark," as Don quotes me, but a lot of information can be gleaned even in the dark, since we do have other senses if we are willing to give them credence.
But now Don gives us something so confused that one must question his ability to formulate a logical presentation.
After swapping many posts with Doherty on FRDB on the topic, I noticed that there was a pattern in his replies: whenever I questioned Doherty on Paul's beliefs, he pointed me to the mystery cults. And whenever I questioned him on the beliefs of mystery cults, he pointed me to Paul. Finally, in one post, I said that he seemed to be relying on circular arguments. Doherty responded (my emphasis):
You recently said that you felt I was arguing in a circular fashion, and while I don't think I laid out my material in Part Four [of TJP] in a way that should have indicated that, you may have come away with that impression. I get the idea that you have interpreted me as though I were saying: the pagans placed the myths of their savior gods in the upper world, therefore we have good reason to interpret Paul that way. Actually, my movement was in the opposite direction. I have always worked first with the early Christian record, and come to a heavenly-realm understanding of it through internal evidence (supported by the unworkability of an earthly understanding of that record). My interpretation has not been governed by an a priori Platonic reading of the mystery cult myths, although I was of course familiar with them and Platonic cosmology in general and could recognize that my findings within the early Christian record would fit into the latter scheme of things. They were mutually supportive.
This was an extraordinary admission, and to me cut to the heart of the matter. Despite Doherty's stark comments about how pagans thought back then, he wasn't getting this information from pagan sources. Doherty was using his controversial readings of Paul and early Christianity to interpret pagan beliefs, and not the other way around.
That is a complete misrepresentation. This part is particularly egregious: "whenever I questioned Doherty on Paul's beliefs, he pointed me to the mystery cults. And whenever I questioned him on the beliefs of mystery cults, he pointed me to Paul." Not to mention nonsense, and his quote from me shows that, since it categorically denies this. First of all, I don't think I have ever "explained" the mystery cults by pointing to Paul, certainly not in the sense of arguing that the pagan cults thought such-and-such because Paul thought something similar. And in that quote I categorically state that I arrived at my interpretation of Paul through the Christian texts themselves, not by interpreting the epistle writers on the basis of an interpretation of the mysteries. At the same time, I arrived at an interpretation of the mysteries along Platonic lines, something arrived at internally, not by imposing an interpretation of the Christian epistles on the mysteries. If Don wants to claim that I have actually done so, whether consciously or unconsciously, he has to demonstrate that, not twist passages from me which actually declare the opposite.
Naturally, one arrives at an interpretation of texts such as the epistles by investigating the entire range of the thought of the period (since, like anything else, Christianity was a product of its time), something which traditional scholarship has to a great extent been unwilling to do, or simply denied. And if the internal evidence of the Christian texts bears indication that it conforms or owes a debt to the broader thought of the time, then yes, there is a certain amount of crossover influence in interpretation. There is a mutual corroboration. But to call that circular is not only ridiculous, it is fallacious, because crossover influences due to 'in the air' concepts of the period do not mean that there is no evidence on either side. Circular argumentation comes into play when one side has no evidence but relies on a conclusion from the other side which equally has no evidence but has in turn relied on the conclusion of the first side which has no evidence but has relied on the conclusion from the second side….
But both sides do have evidence indicating the salvation theory common (which is not to say that everything is exactly common) to both the pagan mystery cults and Christianity insofar as it can be styled a mystery cult. In that way they become mutually supportive, mutually providing insight into the ideas behind them and how to interpret the texts and artefacts. There is nothing illegitimate or circular in such a system. The way and extent and detail in which I have followed that methodology is, of course, arguable and debatable, which means that such things in the mythicist case have to be taken apart and addressed. In the process, Don would leave himself open (as do I) to having his analysis of my procedure questioned.
We certainly can't rely (as Don does to such a great extent) on the opinions of traditional scholarship as to whether Christianity has similarities to the mysteries, whether they can be said to have borrowed from the mysteries, or whether it can legitimately be styled a mystery cult in a specifically Jewish-type setting. And I repeatedly point out in both books, and certainly in the latest, how scholars bend over backwards, with fallacy and special pleading, to avoid having to acknowledge even the possibility that Christianity bears any such relationship. As it is, I am willing to suggest that it was rarely a case of conscious borrowing rather than simply being influenced by the going concepts of the day.
So Don's "extraordinary admission" on my part, with his accompanying accusation in italics (above), is completely unfounded and false. He further suggests that "clear-cut evidence on the Christian side…is missing," but he seems to have set the bar so high that in his mind it is unattainable. In any case, he dismisses whatever evidence I have provided. Even styled as "indicators," as I did to soften things for him, he labels them "ad hoc rationalisations." All of this is debatable, yet he states it much more 'matter of fact' than anything I may have been guilty of. Perhaps we'll be able to cast more light on all this as we proceed through the pages of his review.
But now comes a notable failure of interpretative logic on Don's part:
One point that Doherty stresses is that we need to be wary of bringing modern concepts to the ancient record, of imposing our own standards on what it meant, on what we decide could have been believed or not believed by early Christians. As Doherty writes: We cannot judge their use of language by our own use of language. "We cannot determine what constituted the original Christian belief according to what we today would be led to accept." (Page 11) This is a good point. We should not evaluate their writings by what we would expect.
Well, that's not quite what I said, at least not in the way that Don goes on to apply it. I talked about imposing on the ancient mindset our modern concepts, our tendencies to believe or not believe in certain things. In the relevant chapters of the book, I clearly spoke of whether the ancients could believe that crucifixion, for example, could happen in the heavens, as opposed to our pretty definite belief that it could not. I spoke of ancient concepts like paradigmatic parallelism in which a heavenly act by a heavenly entity could have automatic effects and guarantees on earthly entities, something we would hardly envision today. I spoke of the concept of blood sacrifice as not having any acceptability in any system of modern thought (except, of course, in regard to the Christian dinosaur) whereas in the ancient world blood sacrifice of animals, and occasionally humans, to gods was a natural and acceptable part of the universe's scheme of things. And so on.
I think most people would agree that my caution against transporting such modern negative viewpoints to the ancient world for the purpose of 'disallowing' such viewpoints as native to early Christianity is valid. But Don took that cautionary stance on my part as not only being the same as, but contradicted by, the following, in which he commits a rather glaring category error:
"We should not evaluate their writings by what we would expect". And yet, Doherty himself does just that throughout his book. (my emphasis):
If this were the view of Paul and his contemporaries, that their Jesus had at some time lived on earth, we would expect a degree of speculation as to when and where he had lived, whether or what he might have taught, the role of other people in his life, especially those who had crucified him; we would expect an interpretation of him in terms of his possible earthly circumstances. We would also expect to find questions about these things put to apostles like Paul, and efforts by Paul to answer them as best he could. (Page 110)
I agree that we would expect those things. But as Doherty insists, it is not our expectations that are important. Would they have expected that?
Here the two semantic similarities are hardly to be regarded as equivalent. The expectations quoted just above are things we have no reason to think would not be timeless and universal; they would be part of human nature, and Don has not suggested how the ancients would not be susceptible to such tendencies, justifying our expectation of them. My previous argument against a different kind of expectation, on the other hand, related to modern concepts resulting from advances in science and critical thinking and our understanding of the world, which the ancients had not achieved yet. Moreover, in the face of evidence that would lead us to conclude that the ancients did indeed believe in such things as heavenly cities and activities going on in the spiritual world by heavenly entities, etc., we should be very cautious about trying to overrule that evidence by imposing what we would believe could and could not go on in the spiritual world they envisioned or how the universe functioned. The one category has nothing to do with the other.
Finally, I confess to some perplexity about the fuss that is being made regarding my addressing of 'apologetic' viewpoints vs. those of critical scholarship. First of all, the former encompasses traditional Christian beliefs held not only by the Church but by the average believer. These are hardly topics that should be shunned or considered unnecessary to address by someone arguing the mythicist case, especially someone who is not directing his work solely at the field of academia. Nor should the critical scholar be shocked if in reading the book he or she finds me seeking to discredit something which he or she has already rejected, much less feel justified (as Don apparently does) in dismissing on that account the whole book as somehow an illegitimate or unworthy exercise.
Don brings up a couple of examples of how critical scholarship holds different views to mine about certain interpretations of Paul and other epistles, and my alleged failure to deal with them. Of course, he fails to note that beside these few stand dozens of other differing interpretations which I do address, often in great detail, such as the nature of the sacrifice in Hebrews, or the dating of the Gospels, or the pattern of the evolution of Jesus in the Q document.
But let's consider the ones Don brings up. He rightly points out that a good segment of critical scholarship questions the early Christian (as represented in the epistles) view of the nature of its Jesus and the meaning of his designation as "son of God." He quotes scholars like Dunn who point out that the term itself could be used of persons that are clearly not held to be divine, let alone literal sons of the Jewish God. Those scholars often point out how the phrase is used in the Hebrew bible, as though this automatically determines its meaning in the New Testament—which is hardly being "critical." Don is equally guilty in quoting certain usages of the phrase in Paul, since every one of these is clearly applied to a human being and not Jesus himself. Moreover, and most important, these human "sons of God" are nowhere given the attributes that are given to Jesus, the Son of God: creative agency and sustaining power of the universe, a sharing in God's very nature, his direct image. Contrary to Don's implication, I do indeed address in a few places (if not in an exhaustive fashion) today's tendency in NT scholarship to downplay the view of Jesus in the epistolary corpus as a divine being, a divine emanation of God Himself. This is a tendency which, as far as I am concerned, is clearly falsified in many passages of the epistles (such as 1 Cor. 8:6 or Hebrews 1:3 or the Philippians and especially the Colossians hymn), and all of this disagreement with critical scholarship's view can be found in my books.
Perhaps I could have spent more time discrediting critical scholarship's recent preference for the adoptionist interpretation. (There are bound to be a few things even an 800-page book will be short on.) But I happen to disagree with Ehrman's representation of it, quoted by Don. I find it self-serving and a good case of special pleading:
Ehrman points to the following passage in Paul, as an indication that Paul believed that Jesus was initially a man who was appointed 'Son of God':
[Christ Jesus. . .] who came from the seed of David according to the flesh, who was appointed Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead (Rom 1:3-4).
There is an ambiguity here. Is the appointing meant by the writer that of being Son of God per se, or is it an appointment to the position of being "in power"? Considering that this element in Romans 1:4 is clearly derived from Psalm 2:8 ("And I will give you the nations as your inheritance, and the ends of the earth as your possession."), we can legitimately postulate that it is the "power" element that is in view here. Besides, if this is the appointment of a man as the Son of God, why would that not be made clear, made a part—as important and as dramatic as this would be—of this statement? Why is the source of this information, including verse 3's "from the seed of David kata sarka," declared to be derived from God's gospel of the Son in scripture (verse 2)? What "man" supposedly foretold in scripture itself would not be placed in the forefront and identified, with some appeal to history? Why would God be said to announce beforehand (see the NEB translation) this gospel about the Son, rather than the appointed son—the historical man—himself? Why at so many other points in Paul's epistles, let alone those of several other writers, is the Son spoken of as something revealed, rather than as an historical man who had been appointed and transformed? (I suppose Don will claim that these 'expectations' are an imposition of ours on the ancients who would not at all have expected such things!)
In short, nothing in the immediate and wider context of that Romans passage justifies preferring Ehrman's interpretation of the Pauline son over that of a pre-existent divine entity. The same goes for the Philippians hymn, which tells us that the name of "Jesus" at which every knee bows (another example, by the way, of the "power" motif being bestowed on the Son upon his resurrection to heaven) did not belong to a human man prior to that death and resurrection. Nor is a human Adam christology to be derived or supported by the "spiritual vs. physical" argument by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:35-49, another extended discussion in my new book which Don seems to have taken no notice of.
Again, I see no problem and no fault in addressing both conservative/orthodox Christian views as well as those of critical scholarship, and there is plenty of the latter in the book, though that extends to general mainstream scholarship as well, not always focusing specifically on the most "critical" end of that spectrum. Nor, as I said, should this provide an excuse for critical scholars to turn up their noses at the work as a whole, as their 'critical' acumen surely extends to recognizing what I am doing. Besides, I am hardly going to occupy a position of confining myself to the world of critical academia when it has traditionally failed to give the time of day to any case of mythicism, usually with every sign of ignorance of that case, a refusal to investigate it seriously, and with the weakest of counters accompanied by virtual derision at the very thought of it. With the rarest of exceptions, and with the example of The Jesus Project before us, even critical scholarship has abdicated its responsibility to engage in full and impartial historical research and any assumed right to be accorded some kind of preferential, let alone exclusive, treatment.
It's not surprising that Don saw fit to quote Jeffrey Gibson, whose rabid diatribes against me suffered from everything but any familiarity with the actual arguments of my case, let alone included substantive counter-arguments against them. And since receiving a complimentary copy of my new book a year ago, there has been nothing but silence from him. Gibson may be an example of the worst elements in critical scholarship in its visceral animosity toward mythicism and mythicists, but his silence on any substantive rebuttal is equalled across the whole range of established scholarship.
Don also quotes G. A. Wells, who has regrettably garbled my presentation of certain Platonic principles (something which Don himself recently did on a thread of the FRDB). From my principle that Platonism envisions that "things on Earth have their 'counterparts' in the heavens," both Wells and Don have taken it that this is saying that a crucifixion of Christ in the heavens had to have an exact replica on earth: "But, if the 'spiritual' reality was believed to correspond in some way to a material equivalent on Earth, then the existence of the latter is conceded." This is carrying the Platonic principle to unwarranted (and unclaimed by me) extremes. One is hardly saying (nor did Plato or Platonists) that every detail and event on earth had a corresponding detail and event in heaven. In regard to crucifixion, I was stating that as crucifixion in general could take place on earth, it could also take place in the heavens (a principle stated in the Ascension of Isaiah 7), not that every individual crucifixion did. Unfortunately, Wells has been unable to support my 'celestial Christ' conclusion apparently because he has been led to interpret the few 'human-sounding' phrases in the epistles (Rom. 1:3, Gal. 4:4, etc.) as capable only of referring to earthly things, a short-sightedness many on various discussion boards are equally guilty of.
If Chris Zeichman, as quoted by Don, is of the opinion that my case can only succeed among the ignorant, then it follows that among the educated and knowledgeable its discrediting ought to be a piece of cake. Elsewhere, Don has referred to those who "question" my theories. But where are those who will undertake to rebut them? (And hardly with only "Josephus and Tacitus"—whom I have thoroughly discredited in JNGNM.) So far, it would seem that among all those who would deem themselves qualified to rebut The Jesus Puzzle and Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, the only one to undertake any extensive rebuttal (or even any rebuttal at all) is Don himself, even though he has said, and I quote him from the FRDB thread "The overwhelming case for an historical Jesus":
I'm an interested layman only, with no training in the subject and no real understanding of the ancient languages involved. People shouldn't take my word for anything on this subject.
In Part Two of his review,
Don goes into considerable detail on two main subjects: the second century apologists (with effects, as he sees it, on the first century epistles), as well as non-apologist writings like the Ignatian epistles and the Shepherd of Hermas; and the question of the evolution of a founder figure within the Q tradition.
Don focuses on the second century apologists chiefly for one reason: he considers that if he can satisfactorily explain the apparent silence in them on an historical Jesus while still managing to maintain that they have such a figure in their background, he can carry over that argument and conclusion into the first century epistles which also contain an obvious silence on an historical Jesus.
Don first appeals to a couple of points which actually obscure the issue of the apologists' silence on an historical Jesus. He notes that the literature of the first and second centuries "contains little historical details about anything," making many of the epistles and other non-canonical works difficult to date. And he suggests that this "certainly isn't what we would expect." The first observation carries virtually no weight. Historical data about the founder figure supposedly at the root of their faith, the faith they are giving a description of in what is often claimed to be minute detail, is altogether different from providing historical details on incidental matters of present and past. Besides, since writers like Athenagoras and Theophilus are describing heavenly divine figures (God and his Logos), incidental historical detail would hardly have much opportunity to come up.
His second declaration I don't agree with. In the context of a non-historical figure and their faith's evolution, there would be no historical detail to expect. Even in regard to the progress of their faith movement, my presentation of what the second century apologists were all about—based on the texts themselves—does not fall into any notable historical sequence of events. At best we can say that the movement arose as a religious philosophy based on an interpretation of the Jewish God and scriptures along lines we can see in Philo, who represents an early phase of that evolution. It reflects the development of the intermediary Son concept and an imagining of the latter's role in salvation as the revealer and redemptive agent of God. In other words, it was essentially a Logos religion, evolving over the previous two centuries. It had no anchors in any particularly noteworthy historical events, and thus none could be expected to be forthcoming in the writings of those apologists.
Don himself expects those things because he is bringing a Gospel-based mindset to them. He regards my whole presentation of the second century apologists not being believers in an historical Jesus as something "quite fantastic." Despite my careful examination of the texts which at every turn suggests that very thing, he regards as unwarranted my opinion that their silence on an historical Jesus would be "bizarre" in an orthodox context. As much as anything, this seems due to an inability to conceive of an early Christian movement which entailed this sort of diversity and complex evolution of ideas (I'm sure poor Occam is turning over in his grave). Not that I haven't laid out such an overall picture. At the conclusion of my chapter on the apologists in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, building on many of the observations throughout the book concerning the great variety of thought in the early documentary record (including in the NT), I presented an almost five-page (498-502) scenario which took all these factors and diverse witnesses into account, creating a comprehensive and coherent picture. Apparently it had no effect on alleviating Don's sense of the fantastic and bizarre. He certainly never addressed that picture, and if he is dissenting from a case which he declares is not only fantastic but inconceivable on any sensible level, he ought to address and rebut a presentation which belies such a claim.
Doherty's conclusion that second century apologists like Tatian, Theophilus, Athenagoras, Minucius Felix and even Justin Martyr (whom Doherty claims subscribed to a non-historical Jesus early in his Christian life) were not believers in a historical Jesus is quite fantastic. Even scholars who lean towards mythicism do not hold this view. G.A. Wells notes that, for all their unexpected silences, they nevertheless betrayed an acquaintance with the Jesus of the New Testament. Richard Carrier notes that many of the Second Century apologists who were silent on the Gospel Jesus appear to be familiar with one or more of the books of the New Testament.
Don is being woolly here. What is Wells claiming—that the second century apologists as a whole (not just Justin) are acquainted with an historical figure who is a part of their faith? Wells would be reading such a thing into them, just as Don is. Yes, Minucius Felix seems to be acquainted with a crucified criminal, but rejects him as the basis of his faith; and Tatian suggests he knows of "stories" like the Greek myths which may include a Gospel-Jesus character, but he hardly gives them any perceivable credence. And Don knows full well that my discussion of such apologists envisions that at least some of them (not just Justin) knew of certain writings which may in part have corresponded to our Gospels, but that such a familiarity did not extend to regarding the character within them as an historical figure who was the founder of their faith. As for Carrier, Don is being ambiguous: are the New Testament books the apologists are familiar with epistles or Gospels? In any case, I am again willing to acknowledge that some of them know of some form of Gospel writing. Tatian, as I said, puts them on the level of certain Greek "stories."
All this, as I painstakingly lay out, fits a scenario in which the Gospels, throughout the second century, are gradually intruding into a diverse faith movement, until by the end of the century their misinterpretation (carrying along with them the misinterpretation of so much else in the early documentary record) had taken over the self-image of that diverse movement and imposed an historical founding figure upon it (whether human, docetic or Christian Gnostic).
Don now embarks on his case for demonstrating that the silent apologists don't have to be seen as apologists rejecting or ignorant of an historical Jesus. That case is dependent on one Christian writer and one of his documents, and here I am in danger of tearing my hair out once again, for all of this is old hat. I have dealt with it more than once in past debates, and all my protestations are repeatedly ignored. Don declares, "I won't cover the same material here," but he proceeds to do just that.
His case is based on Tertullian, and specifically on his Ad Nationes. I touched on this above in regard to the first part of his review. The basics in my objection to Don's approach are three:
(1) Tertullian writes in the 3rd century (a couple of his early works fall a couple of years back in the 2nd century, but not Ad Nationes). He is writing at a time when there is no question that everyone accepts the existence of an historical Gospel Jesus, quotes from the Gospels and regards them as history.
(2) Tertullian elsewhere makes it clear that he believes in an historical Jesus based on the Gospels, and shows no compunction about referring to him and championing him.
(3) Tertullian in Ad Nationes is not presenting a comprehensive picture of his faith and its development—not even close—which is what all the 2nd century apologists are doing.
I'll post here an excerpt from the first instalment of the website debate between Don and myself back in 2005.
But there is a huge difference between a writer who nowhere in his work betrays knowledge or acceptance of an historical Jesus and those who do, but happen not to mention him in a few specific places. Such later authors as Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria do not deny the human Jesus in their works as a whole, and to interpret a silence in one particular document as such a thing borders on the dishonest; it is certainly a misapplication of the concept. Nowhere does Clement or Tertullian say something like, 'I have gone into every aspect of our religion' while failing to mention Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnation, the resurrection and so on. Nowhere do they give us disparaging remarks about a crucified man such as we find in Minucius Felix, or an outright ridicule of the concepts of gods being born or coming back from the dead such as we find in more than one writer. Silence in a particular spot or document, when balanced by open presentation in others, is not 'concealment''.
It matters little if the name of this founder is not actually stated in Ad Nationes (something which Don makes a big issue of), or if no details of his earthly career are mentioned in a treatise which is wholly devoted to countering the calumnies levelled by the pagan against the Christian, and to a critical condemnation of the pagan gods.
Now, Don seizes on this:
Interestingly enough, Doherty's response (and Wells' also) is similar to that used to explain the silences in Paul's epistles: that these were 'occasional' letters, written to address a particular topic, so there was no need for Tertullian to refer to historical details.
Don fails to take into account the differences here. Regardless of the term "occasional," the only question that matters is: should we expect to find such references? In Ad Nationes the subject matter does not require it. In the apologies of Athenagoras, Theophilus, Minucius Felix, which claim to be comprehensive descriptions of the Christian faith itself, we have every right to expect it and to require it. We can make similar arguments in Paul, not from the point of view that he is laying out his faith in its entirety (though he does deal with various aspects of it at many individual points), but that he deals with subject matter, disputes, recommendations, etc., to which we have every right to expect he would introduce the historical figure and historical data, at least some of the time. This is simply not the case with Tertullian's Ad Nationes.
This comment by Don is a transparent attempt to slant the situation: "Tertullian appears to be hiding an earthly existence of Jesus." Hiding? Why would he hide such a thing here and yet not do so anywhere else in his writing, even in his contemporary Apology? Why impose 'concealment' in one document, when it is not to be found in any other?
Let's look at the key passage (though it's given short shrift by Don in his review). Book I, ch. 4 opens:
But the sect, you say, is punished in the name of its founder. Now in the first place it is, no doubt a fair and usual custom that a sect should be marked out by the name of its founder, since philosophers are called Pythagoreans and Platonists after their masters; in the same way physicians are called after Erasistratus, and grammarians after Aristarchus. If, therefore, a sect has a bad character because its founder was bad, it is punished as the traditional bearer of a bad name. But this would be indulging in a rash assumption. The first step was to find out what the founder was, that his sect might be understood, instead of hindering inquiry into the founder's character from the sect. But in our case, by being necessarily ignorant of the sect, through your ignorance of its founder, or else by not taking a fair survey of the founder, because you make no inquiry into his sect, you fasten merely on the name, just as if you vilified in it both sect and founder, whom you know nothing of whatever.
Tertullian here is speaking in principle about a category, about attitudes toward a "founder," with no need to specify that founder's name. To suggest that this is some kind of avoidance of that name is simply ludicrous. Nor do we have to find a parallel with Paul in this being an "occasional" writing (which it hardly is in the same sense), to explain why the founder's name isn't given. Don accuses me of not taking the context into account, but that is exactly what I have done. The context is a discussion of founders in general and what ought to be attitudes and approaches toward them. While Tertullian is applying his 'moral' to a particular founder, the actual name of that founder isn't needed. Tertullian is certainly not "hiding an earthly existence of Jesus," as Don suggests. After all, Tertullian has declared what the pagans ought to do:
The first step was to find out what the founder was, that his sect might be understood, instead of hindering inquiry into the founder's character from the sect.
This is hiding an earthly existence of that founder? And Don really reaches here:
Tertullian does urge the pagans to investigate 'the founder'. But does a 'founder' have to be a historical person, or even an earthly human? Paul describes Jesus Christ as 'the foundation' in 1 Cor 3:11. Hebrews 12:2 asks us to look to 'Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith'. As Doherty believes that those are 'ahistoricist' texts, there is nothing stopping us from thinking that Tertullian believed 'the founder' was a mythical being along those lines as well.
First of all, Don's comparison of terms is hardly exact. Paul's "foundation" of our faith is a much looser and more abstract term than a "founder," which must refer to a figure. Hebrews' terminology fits the spiritual "originator" and "perfecter" that is conveyed by the rest of the document, whereas in Tertullian, there is no doubt that what he means by "founder" is a human historical one. What stops us from thinking he believed his founder was a mythical being is (a) having other writings by Tertullian which present that founder as a human being on earth, as well as (b) a reading of the very passage itself, which would never suggest that the Christian founder was something categorically different from the other founders he refers to: Pythagoras, Plato, Aristarchus. He speaks of the founder's "character," the idea of a founder's "school," at which he mentions Socrates.
Don suggests other examples of Tertullian 'concealing' something about Jesus. In Bk. I, ch. 3, in the context of lamenting that pagans judicially condemn Christians not for their actions but simply for bearing their name, Tertullian says:
The name Christian, however, so far as its meaning goes, bears the sense of anointing. Even when by a faulty pronunciation you call us "Chrestians" (for you are not certain about even the sound of this noted name), you in fact lisp out the sense of pleasantness and goodness. You are therefore vilifying in harmless men even the harmless name we bear...
This is hardly a case of Tertullian 'concealing' the name of the founder Christ. Rather, he is playing up the word's root as a demonstration of how the name itself is harmless, an idea he supports by pointing to a similar harmless meaning—in fact, a pleasant one—entailed in the pagans' faulty pronunciation of it. Giving the name of the founder would not have served Tertullian's purpose here; he is not "hiding" it.
Elsewhere, Don thinks to make a comparison with Theophilus' similar remarks in To Autolycus [I, 12]. In response to some disparagement by Autolycus (not quoted), Theophilus says, "Wherefore we are called Christians on this account, because we are anointed with the oil of God." But here Theophilus is defining the meaning of the term in regard to his faith, and it does not include any reference to "Christ"; nor is there anywhere else in that writer a counter-balancing reference to such a figure or to an alternate or additional meaning for the name. The situation in Tertullian has been shown to be quite different, in that he is not defining it, but rather taking advantage, for his argument's sake, of a more basic meaning in its semantic root. There is no question of misrepresentation or concealment here as there would have to be in Theophilus, who presents a definition of his faith's use of the name "Christian" solely in terms of anointing. Don's comparison here fails miserably.
He calls attention to other passages in which Tertullian refers to the "name," claiming further examples of concealment. In Bk. I, ch. 7:
This name of ours took its rise in the reign of Augustus; under Tiberius it was taught with all clearness and publicity; under Nero it was ruthlessly condemned, and you may weigh its worth and character even from the person of its persecutor...Now, although every other institution which existed under Nero has been destroyed, yet this of ours has firmly remained...righteous, it would seem, as being unlike the author (of its persecution). Two hundred and fifty years, then, have not yet passed since our life began.
Remember that Tertullian has been speaking of the Christians being persecuted solely on the basis of their name, not their alleged activities. The last sentence in the above quote shows that he using the term—"this name of ours"—to refer to the Christian movement, the "life" of that faith. This is not an avoidance of the name of the man who supposedly gave rise to it, which is irrelevant to Tertullian's discussion. Continuing that language is in keeping with the first introduction of the term "name" in chapter 4.
Why he says it took its rise at the time of Augustus we don't know, but perhaps Tertullian perceived that certain roots lay prior to his supposed founder, in messianic agitation which he may have seen embodied in someone like Judas the Galilean. And the "name" itself could precede Christ because he saw the movement as rooted in that Messiah/"Anointed" expectation, which is the aspect of meaning he has been focusing on. Why not mention Jesus himself in the reference to the time of Tiberius, when the movement was taught publicly? Yes, he could have done so, but again, his focus is on the content of that "name"/movement, the latter illustrated by his subsequent terms of "institution," with "this (institution) of ours" remaining in existence. The absence of a specific reference to Jesus here is hardly a slam-dunk case of concealing the man, or hiding the incarnation, much less a denial of them.
Don also sees it as an avoidance of Jesus in Bk. II, ch. 2:
For example, when (Tertullian) wants to talk about wisdom and knowing God, he quotes Solomon:
Now what wise man is so devoid of truth, as not to know that God is the Father and Lord of wisdom itself and truth? Besides there is that divine oracle uttered by Solomon: 'The fear of the Lord,' says he, 'is the beginning of wisdom.'
Why not, Don asks, quote the "founder" himself? "Wouldn't this be the perfect opportunity to promote, or at least rehabilitate, Jesus in the eyes of the pagans by demonstrating the wisdom of Christianity's founder?" But this is to ignore the context. Tertullian has been criticizing the pagans for traditionally failing to discover God and his nature, for their inconsistent philosophy and incompatible portrayals of him. His counter is to quote Solomon, not because Solomon was preferable to Jesus or in order to conceal the latter, but because Solomon was attributed with the oracle that Tertullian wishes to put forward. The pagans unsuccessfully sought wisdom about God, but Solomon had cut to the real truth: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Solomon had the sound bite Tertullian wanted; avoiding Jesus had nothing to do with it. There are no parallels here to the second century apologists.
Don simply does not pay enough attention to context. Like the atomist I have labelled him, he seizes on some piece of the text and makes of it what he would like it to be, investing it with the significance he is looking for, usually with little or no justification.
Don searches for parallels between criticisms made by Tertullian concerning pagan mythology and those made by earlier apologists such as Minucius Felix, in both cases with no allowance made for allegedly similar situations in the Christian faith. But closer examination reveals that things are not so clear-cut. Take this line from II, 7:
A regard for truth is not, of course, to be expected of poets. But when you say that they only make men into gods after their death, do you not admit that before death the said gods were merely human?
The context is that pagans themselves state that the gods of the poets were originally men and only made into gods after their deaths. Tertullian rightly takes this as an admission that before their deaths they were simply humans. No Christian would have presented Jesus in this way, and thus there was no need for a qualification in regard to Christian faith; the parallel was not there. Tertullian's jibe is hardly equivalent to the stark ridicule of Minucius Felix's "Men who have died cannot become gods, because a god cannot die." Or Theophilus' ridiculing of the pagans for believing that Hercules and Asclepius were raised from the dead.
Or this (II, 12):
They, therefore who cannot deny the birth of men, must also admit their death; they who allow their mortality must not suppose them to be gods.
This is in the context of a discussion of what amounts to euhemerism. In other words, a given admission that these divine figures are acknowledged to have been mortal before they were turned into gods. Again, no such assumption was made of Jesus as far as Christians were concerned.
Tertullian may indeed have been flirting with statements which to some might seem uncomfortably reminiscent of Christian parallels, but again, his context is not that of a declaration and defence of the faith and a need to protect every aspect of it from potential attack. In Ad Nationes his primary concern is to defend the integrity of Christians themselves and the superiority of their way of life, and condemn their persecution. And it remains the case that we cannot doubt that Tertullian believed in an historical Jesus.
But the following is quite unconscionable:
It is worth emphasizing that Ad nationes is not an individual case. There are other Second Century writers who even Doherty acknowledges as historicists that also give no details about a historical Jesus. (See my website articles at the link above.) None of those particular writings are evaluated in JNGNM.
And just who are these writers (in the plural, moreover)? Don doesn't even give us a "such as…"! I don't know who would fall into such a category—second century writers I do not address who are acknowledged (by whom, incidentally?) as historicists who give no details about an historical Jesus. And Ad Nationes is not, as I repeatedly state, a second century writing.
(If I pulled something like that, I'd never hear the end of it!)
Don also notes my contention that Christians of the time would have been horrified at allegedly orthodox Christian apologies which made no mention of an historical Jesus in describing the nature and genesis of their faith. He answers:
But were Christians horrified by this 'gutting of Christian doctrine'? No. In fact, the record shows quite the opposite reaction. Carrier notes that the respect that Athenagoras' defence of Christianity earned among orthodox Christians contributed to forming decisions on canonicity based on whether they accorded with works like it. Tatian's 'Address to the Greeks' was described by Eusebius as 'celebrated' and regarded as 'the best and most useful of all his works'. Even Doherty believes that Tertullian borrowed, or at least used as inspiration, passages from Minucius Felix (page 497). So, far from 'horrifying believers' and being regarded as 'betrayal', these writings were praised—and possibly were even borrowed—by later generations of Christians. But Doherty doesn't appear to have looked at the literature in this regard.
What literature? Whose record? Certainly not from the second century itself, or anywhere close to it. As I say in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man (p.481-2):
Athenagoras and his work went virtually unnoticed throughout the early centuries of Christianity (possibly because it never mentioned any Jesus). His apology seems to have been unknown to Tertullian, Eusebius and Jerome. He was quoted only by Methodius (4th century) and Philip of Side (5th century), with a couple of others quoting Methodius' fragment.
So who exactly that we can perceive was granting respect to Athenagoras? Not even Eusebius mentions him, much less accorded canonicity on the basis of him. Carrier's statement is in fact rather indistinct, bringing in "others like it" in addition to Athenagoras. Anyway, it is no surprise that later commentators like Eusebius, a good distance from the situation of the second century, could reinterpret Tatian and Theophilus in ways that simply assumed what they believed according to their own picture of the past (just as the entire Church did with Paul). One would hardly expect them to see that Theophilus' or Athenagoras' silence on an historical Jesus should be regarded as puzzling or suspicious. As for Tertullian using Minucius Felix, there is no way of telling whether, as I suggested, he felt a need or desire to rework the latter because of Felix's silence on so much about the faith. Considering that in Apology 21 he declares that "none may give a false account of his religion," there is no necessity to think he felt any "respect" for Felix.
Don, here and elsewhere, has claimed that I have not surveyed all the literature of the time. I think my ongoing debates with him, even before Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, put the lie to that claim. He concludes this section with:
We don't know for sure why they were silent, but hints and allusions within the text indicate an awareness of the Gospels and/or the letters of Paul. This is the view held by nearly all scholars, including G.A. Wells. It is here that the reader needs to decide: Is Doherty correct about the Second Century writers? If he is correct, then he has discovered a form of ahistoricist Christianity in the Second Century that is otherwise unknown in the record and passed unnoticed by the heresiologists, including some that were contemporaries or near-contemporaries. It is a remarkable discovery that cannot be understated. It would revolutionize our understanding of how Christianity developed.
We certainly don't know for sure. And many of those "hints and allusions" have been so forced, they hardly serve to counter-balance the silence—often an exclusionary silence—let alone eliminate it. If all these apologists were so thoroughly conversant with the Gospels, why are they so loath to present them? Why are they so meticulously, and misleadingly, avoided and excluded, even when writing to the emperor to present a 'full account' of their faith? Common scholarly 'explanations' simply don't hold water.
I have pointed out to Don that the heresiologists were fully preoccupied with the great and widespread threat posed by the Gnostics, with their docetist claims of an historical Jesus. It is not surprising that what were possibly a relatively small group of Logos religionists (explaining why a writer such as Athenagoras remained in the dark for so long) fell underneath their radar or did not compel refutation. After all, would Irenaeus have regarded Philo as a heretic and attacked him for not seeming to regard his Logos emanation as a human being? (Actually, later Christians of Eusebius' time solved the problem Philo presented by rendering him a Christian and a chum of St. Mark!) Bringing these Logos devotees within the radar of us moderns, bucking two millennia of forcing them into an orthodox mold, would indeed be a remarkable discovery and would revolutionize our understanding of how Christianity developed. No apologies from me there.
As I said at the opening, Don's 'case' involving Tertullian and the second century apologists is now turned to supporting a legitimacy for the silence on an historical Jesus in the first century epistles and other, non-canonical, works.
First, however, he has a related point to make about the Gospels:
This pattern can also be found in the Gospels. While the Gospels do contain a few historical markers, Sanders notes that the events depicted are often linked together by phrases such as 'at this time' which, though implying a chronological setting, was probably used to link individual pericopes together. As many have noted, the Gospels surprisingly tell us little about Jesus. How long was his ministry? One year, or three? What did he look like? Was he short or tall? Married or single? Even if the Gospels were fiction or the details were pulled from Scriptures, if they had been important to the author's audience the authors should have been able to include them.
As I hope some readers can recognize (Don apparently cannot), there are problems here, including a case of begging the question. The Gospels do in fact contain key historical markers, mostly relating to figures in the history of the time. The markers they tend not to contain are the ground-level ones relating to the picture of Jesus' ministry, no doubt because the authors simply didn't know any; they had inherited no picture or sequence of events in regard to a ministry. In fact, aside from individual sayings and types of activities derived from Q-type traditions in the Synoptic background, they were essentially making everything up.
And the Gospels include "little about Jesus" because such information could hardly be produced by someone who didn't exist, someone who was created or imagined as an originating figure. Don is right that such biographical/personal information should have been important to the authors' audience, not to mention to any author purporting to be writing a biography of the man who was God on earth; yet it was not included. This more reasonably spells the conclusion that it wasn't available to them because traditions cannot preserve such information about a non-existent figure. But Don seems to prefer the much more unreasonable suggestion (one of question-begging) that they did have such information available but chose not to include it, providing him with an alleged example (which he will then seek to apply to other documents) of historical detail being known to a writer but left unspoken.
Don approaches the silence in Paul this way:
The silence in Paul is baffling. We would expect that Paul would have included details about an historical Jesus if he had known them. We would expect that his readers would have been eager to hear details about Jesus, what he did and what he taught.
His emphasis on the "we" is supposed to imply that, whereas we would have such expectations, this is not necessarily the case with people of the time. But Don makes no effort to explain why this would not necessarily be the case. Human nature is pretty universal and has been around for longer than two millennia. He fails to perceive that this is not the same as his earlier complaint about my suggestion that we should not impose our thinking on the ancients. In that argument, it was related to topics about which modern thinking had changed because of our advances in knowledge and science and social enlightenment. These things are not in play when an apostle comes into town, preaches a savior god who had been a recent man back in Judea, executed as a common criminal and risen from the dead to be God's sacrifice for sin, and yet has no interest or need in saying anything about that man to his audience. They are not in play when debates over doctrine and practice are tearing apart the movement, yet not a word is said about what that man may have taught on earth in regard to such issues. We have every reason to assume that what we would expect in these regards would also have been expected by a first century audience.
Don raises one question which, while admittedly intriguing, is pretty much beside the point. He asks, if Paul could receive instruction from the spiritual Christ on those two matters in 1 Corinthians, both relatively minor (prohibition on divorce and paying apostles for their work), why did he not claim other revelatory instructions from Christ in heaven on other matters, especially those that were considerably more important, such as the cleanness of foods, or his pet theory that the Law was no longer applicable? It may be a good question (to which I have no answer), but I don't know what he thinks it proves. The paucity of Paul's appeal to Jesus' instructions hardly indicates that he gave those instructions on earth; the quandary still exists whatever the source location. The only thing we might ask is: which is more likely? That Jesus taught many things on earth but Paul knew of or chose only to present these two minor ones? Or that Paul was selective and cautious about claiming personal contact with his heavenly Jesus and making pronouncements on that basis?
Don points to a couple of passages in Paul which speak of God appointing prophets, apostles and bestowing various gifts of the Spirit. I have claimed that this would be unusual and perplexing if Jesus had had followers in a ministry on earth, since inevitably these sorts of appointments and gifts would have been accorded to him as part of his historical role. Don tries to suggest that such a silence would have an equal in mythicism, in that this role should then have been accorded to the spiritual Christ, yet Paul never specifies such a thing. I'll leave it up to the reader to decide if in fact the impulse to do the latter would be as strong as in the case of the former. The epistles are full of the idea of actions taken by God (it is even God's gospel that Paul preaches rather than that of Jesus, God who has taught us to love one another, God who has revealed Christ). The absence of an historical Jesus in these scenes is a far greater problem for historicism than is the absence of a heavenly Christ for mythicism.
Don asks why such things as the appearances listed in 1 Cor. 15:5-8 were not detailed in regard to time and place, or why references to miracles performed by apostles like Paul, such as in 2 Cor. 12:12, were not itemized or described. I'm not sure what he thinks to be demonstrating here. What time and place would he expect? Dates, hours? Moreover, Paul doesn't relate them in time to his Christ's death and rising (15:3-4), and that's because, in the mythicist view, they bore no temporal relation at all. The salvation events were mythical, revealed in scripture (kata tas graphas), whereas the experiencing of Christ, his 'showing himself' to them (nothing specifies it was in flesh or immediately after the death and rising), was a series of events in the recent history of the sect. As to why Paul never describes those "signs and wonders" on his part which he occasionally reminds his readers of, could it be that they were not very dramatic (certainly not on the scale of Jesus' Gospel miracles), little more than indicators in the experiences of the group that God was working among them?
In conclusion to this part of his review, Don says:
I think there are too many similarities between the silences found in the writings of the First Century epistle writers and the Second Century apologists for this to be coincidence. Perhaps the similarities are because both groups didn't have a historical Jesus at their core, as Doherty believes. But if the evidence points to the 'silent' Second Century apologists being 'historicists', then we need to rethink our expectations on what we would find in the First Century writers.
I fully agree with Don's first sentence here. There is no coincidence involved. The similarities are due to the absence of an historical Jesus in the thinking of both groups, something Don acknowledges could be a possibility. His problem—his "if" is a big one—is that there is no evidence pointing to the second century (i.e., up to 180) apologists being historicists (other than Justin and probably Tatian in his later career, judging by the Diatessaron), certainly not on the basis of one document by a third century apologist. The void on an historical Jesus in the former is traditionally filled by reading him into them, even in the face of what the texts themselves clearly present. Don adamantly rejects my reading of Tatian's Address to the Greeks as representing a faith that has no historical Jesus; he calls it incredible, but he has failed in any way to address the arguments I put forward in that direction based on the texts. To conclude this section, I will quote some paragraphs from Jesus: Neither God Nor Man (p.484-9) on the topic of Tatian…
But while still in Rome, some time around 160, he wrote an Address to the Greeks, urging pagan readers to turn to the truth. In this description of Christian truth, Tatian uses neither "Jesus" nor "Christ," nor even the name "Christian." Much space is devoted to outlining the Logos, the creative power of the universe, first-begotten of the Father, through whom the world was made—but none to the incarnation of this Logos….Resurrection of the dead is not supported by Jesus' own resurrection. Eternal life is gained through knowledge of God (13:1), not by an atoning sacrifice of Jesus.
In the Address we find a few allusions to Gospel sayings, but no attribution to Jesus and no specific reference to written Gospels. Instead, all knowledge comes from God himself. Tatian says he was "God-taught" (29:2). If he knew of any Gospels, he never appeals to them for support. He does, however, make a revealing comment about mythical stories, to be seen in a moment….
A clue to the solution of this puzzle [not referring to the passage above] lies in Tatian's Address. In chapter 21 he says,
We are not fools, men of Greece, nor are we talking nonsense when we declare that God has been born in the form of man. You who abuse us should compare your own stories [muthous] with our narratives [diēgēmasin]…
He goes on to describe some of the Greek myths about gods come to earth, undergoing suffering and even death for the benefaction of mankind.
….So take a look at your own records and accept us merely on the grounds that we too tell stories [muthologountas]. We are not foolish, but you talk nonsense [kai hēmeis men ouk aphrainomen, phlēnapha de ta humetera]…. [Translation by Molly Whittaker, Tatian, p.43]
Tatian's "narratives/stories" may well be the Christian Gospels, and his "born in the form of man" is no doubt a reference to the content of these "stories." But if Tatian can seemingly allude to the incarnation in passing this way, why does he not deal with it openly and at length when expounding on the Logos? His comment is hardly a ringing endorsement, or a declaration that such stories are to be accepted as history. The way Tatian compares them to the Greek myths implies that he regards them as being on the same level. Certainly, he does not rush to point out that the Christian stories are superior or, unlike the Greek ones, factually true. Nor can we get around the fact that he pointedly ignores those Gospel stories in the rest of his Address. Furthermore, he ignores them even though his language seems to imply that the pagans were familiar with them.
I think these features of Tatian's document help to illustrate the progress of the Gospels through the course of the 2nd century: intruding upon earlier forms of belief within a very broad and diverse Logos-Christ philosophical and salvation movement, imposing an historical Jesus on them until he dominated and unified the entire religious phenomenon. It certainly is a much more complex picture than nearly two millennia of Christian tradition has envisioned, but it is demonstrable nonetheless from the record. The difficulty is getting that tradition to open its mind to seeing it. The view from inside the box can be very confining and deceptive.
Continuing on within his Part Two, Don deals with my views on the Q document, then on Hermas and Ignatius.
Naturally, Don takes exception to my interpretation of the layering and evolution of Q, in which I trace the development of a founding Jesus figure within the thinking of the Q community, a figure who was not there from the beginning. Unfortunately, he rarely if ever addresses the actual evidence I draw from Q itself to justify this interpretation, let alone shows how that interpretation is faulty. As he notes, my discussion of Q covers a lot of material, but almost nothing of substance is presented by Don to deal with it. It actually boils down to him asking his readers whether they think my interpretation is to be preferred (implying that it is not), something he does at several points in his review. However, such a thing does not constitute rebuttal or counter argument. It abdicates that responsibility.
Once again, Don is quite good at summarizing my presentation, but he creates a misleading impression at one point:
Again, although scholars do see sayings attributed to Jesus in Q2, Doherty argues against this conclusion (Page 354). It is only in Doherty's proposed Q3 layer that the name of Jesus starts to appear (page 386).
This makes it sound as though I would locate all sayings containing the name of Jesus as having been formulated only in a Q3 layer. Rather, certain sayings usually slotted by Q scholarship into a Q2 layer (apocalyptic/prophetic) may be left there, but only in original versions which did not yet identify them with a Jesus figure. To the extent that such sayings can be argued has having undergone later amendment to make such an identification—by creating new episodes constructed out of earlier pieces, or simply by changing references/pronouns relating to the speaker—such stages of amendment should be seen as belonging to a Q3 stratum, expanding on what traditional scholarship usually includes in such a stratum. I have co-opted the "Q3" term to include such a stage of amendment.
Where Don runs into the most difficulty is with my contention that, in the course of adopting the concept of a founder figure, the people producing the Q document seem to treat him like a symbolic one doing no more than representing themselves. In other words, they know and can say no more about him than they can say about themselves. This is not to declare that the Kingdom sect which produced Q never came to envision that this figure actually existed, although the question has some uncertainty about it. But what we can certainly say is that for the purposes of how they portrayed him he could serve no more than as a representative of the sect itself, which is why he never accumulated a personality and significance of his own, and why so much is missing that is to be found only in the later Gospel enlargement on him.
In that regard, we can look at Don's appeal to William Arnal, an important Q scholar today. He refers to my quote (p.340) of Arnal, who says:
Jesus is in theory not qualitatively different from any other teacher; he is not explicity invested with any supernatural qualities or unique titles...Jesus stands—here as in later stages of Q—as a primus inter pares [first among equals], the most important exemplar of activity (in this case, wisdom teaching) that others can and do undertake as well, including those actually responsible for Q.
What I took this admission to indicate (and to corroborate my own observations) is that Jesus as a personality, as a distinct individual responsible for distinctive activities of his own, cannot be discerned in Q, much less associated with many important features which we can see in the Gospels. Arnal makes further admissions in this direction. He claims that Jesus' death "does seem to be taken for granted," and notes that "Jesus' resurrection…is not referred to explicitly….The personalized, unique character of the resurrection of Jesus is nowhere to be seen, just as the individual, exceptional and salvific notion of his death is absent." Despite this admission that there is no sign of such things in Q, Arnal has nevertheless chosen to read them into the background.
In short, the fate of Jesus is an aspect of the collective experience of rejection on the part of divine Wisdom's emissaries; thus is Jesus' death assimilated to and deployed within the framework of Q's deuteronomistic theology [that Israel has long rejected and even killed prophets sent from God], and its singular, once-and-for-all character not asserted.
On this I commented (p.350):
There can be no better example of the scholarly recourse of reading into a document something which cannot be accepted as absent. An evident omission is explained by finding—or rather constructing—a backdoor by which to introduce it. Jesus and his experiences are present in Q in the persons and experiences of the Q preachers. He is one of a "collective". He is "embedded" in,"assimilated to'' the "broader ethos of the Q group". He thus becomes something which is undifferentiated from a symbol for the Q community; and in fact we now have no way of telling the difference between the Q mind with a Jesus and the Q mind without a Jesus. He is no longer recognizable on his own.
Arnal does the same in regard to Jesus' miracles in Q:
In no instance does Q seem to have an interest in miracles as such, and while it takes for granted Jesus' reputation as a healer, it does not develop this motif or treat it as central to his agenda. Nor are Jesus' healings unique: the Q people themselves are enjoined to heal the sick as part of their proclamation and demonstration of the kingdom of God.
Once again, any uniqueness in Jesus' activities, and personality, has been subsumed and buried in the activities of the Q preachers. No distinctive portrayal of them is in evidence. In fact, in only one case is such a miracle even narrated; usually they are simply mentioned in principle, to make a point about Jesus' position and authority. But is this simply a refinement of an earlier stage of Q evolution, in which such things were the activities and self-image of the Q sect itself, supporting its own claimed position and authority? Can we say that the Jesus figure, once introduced, served as a symbol of such things, focusing the record of the sect on a representative individual? When we take various aspects of Q into consideration, this becomes a very feasible postulation, and is certainly supported by observations like those of Arnal.
First, we can introduce an alternative suggested by Don:
There is no impediment to postulating any number of things, including that earlier sayings in Q embodied a group reference that were (later) assigned to a Jesus figure, but... exactly how does this lead to a symbolic figure being a likely alternative? The same situation would arise if there were a person who actually rose to prominence within the group. Group sayings might well start to be assigned to such an individual; indeed, as a member of the group, he would actually be using those sayings himself. (In fact, even accepting Doherty's views on the development within Q, I would suggest that this later option is still the more plausible.)
This, to Don's credit, is at least a partial concession to the possibility that no founder or person of prominence existed at the beginning of the sect. Perhaps this is just for the sake of argument, but it does acknowledge that the evidence could be interpreted as pointing that way, just that the Q 'founder' emerged in the course of the sect's history, and he was historical, not entirely imagined. But this entails its own problems which hardly take us much further. First of all, such an actual person (hardly to be equated with the historical Jesus of tradition) would have come into prominence in the middle of things, and for that to be forgotten in his transference back to the starting point might be difficult to envision. Whereas the imagining of a founder from scratch, to whom originating teachings and practices were assigned, is an easier sell, particularly since we have quite a few examples in world history, such as Confucius (now doubted as an historical figure), Lao-Tzu, Lycurgus of Sparta, and—closer to Christianity's home—Ebion and Elchasai of 1st and 2nd century sects.
As well, if a real person emerged as the sect was evolving, we would expect that some aspects of his real life and personality would be carried back to the beginning along with him; that such a person, presumably charismatic and influential, would have generated some focus upon him as an individual, the very individual whom Arnal admits cannot be identified in Q. We would expect that in the course of altering earlier sayings to place them in his mouth, or focusing the group's general activities on him individually, elements of his personality and activities would be injected into those reworked sayings, and indeed into other sayings than he presently inhabits, such as the wisdom teachings of Q1 which, with one exception I deal with, do not even contain a name for their source.
If, however, no such person existed, not even one emerging partway through the sect's history as Don suggests, there would be no memories or traditions to incorporate, and it would take sheer invention to inject an imagined figure's character into the body of sayings already existing at the time of his introduction.
In any case, I doubt that Don's suggestion would be considered either feasible or acceptable by traditional scholarship on Q. I suspect he has offered it simply to put up an alternative to my own reading of things, and may not represent something he would be willing to subscribe to himself. Also, I would ask whether he thinks my reading of an entirely imagined founder figure is more difficult to accept than Arnal's reading of an historical Jesus (one with ties to the Gospels) who has been entirely subsumed within the picture of the sect itself, given no greater role and significance than that of the Q preachers. That they would not hold him up as a powerful, influential individual, as the greatest example of the deteronomistic theology of the killing of the prophets, as more than a mere "first among equals," is almost impossible to envision.
As I noted above, I had no hesitation in saying that it was not completely clear from what we could see of Q itself (filtered through Matthew and Luke) whether the community regarded this new founder figure as historical, or whether he reflected the beginnings of an allegorical trend: newly portraying the sect in terms of a representative not necessarily regarded as historical. In any case, he was not raised any higher than a symbol of the Q sect itself and its claims, producing Arnal's observations about the "collective" and Jesus' inability to be differentiated from the sect.
The key consideration, of course, in which that inability serves as corroboration, is the actual demonstration from Q itself that no founder Jesus can be detected in the early layers. None of that internal evidence I offer is dealt with by Don in his review. I point out a couple of sayings referring to the beginnings of the sect in which no Jesus figure has a role: the Baptist's opening speech in which he prophecies the coming of the Son of Man, with no indication that this entity was already on earth in the form of a human man, and whose description bears no resemblance to any wisdom teacher; or Lk./Q16:16 which identifies the turning point between the older period of scriptural study and the new Kingdom preaching by sects like that of Q to be the preaching of John the Baptist, not of Jesus himself.
I examined Lk./Q 11:49, which has "the Wisdom of God" itemizing those prophets and messengers of God who have been prosecuted and killed, without including Jesus himself. This reference to personified Wisdom is only one of several indicators that, prior to assigning the teachings of Q to a founder Jesus, the body of teaching was assigned to that heavenly entity, an idea with a long history in Jewish scribal thought. In fact, some pronouncements of Jesus sometimes assigned to a Q3, such as 10:22 and 13:34, have been identified as being in the nature of Wisdom oracles; thus, they may well have been assigned to her before they were transferred into the mouth of a Jesus.
I spent some space in pointing out the absence of any reference to a Jesus as speaker attached to the wisdom sayings of Q1 (with one exception). Here we have the greatest void on any biographical or personal data in sayings reputed to be by a founder figure. This has led to pronouncements by scholars like John Crossan that the early community chose to place an emphasis solely on Jesus' words and not on his person, an 'explanation' which I argue is so unlikely as to be rejected. Arnal argues that the purpose of the early community which used the Q1 sayings was to promote the teachings of Jesus. It thus makes little sense that he himself, as an historical personality and with details of his circumstances, would not be included in the record of those teachings. Ironically, Arnal later offers a contradiction to this in his observation that Jesus as an individual has been entirely subsumed within the community's picture of itself, belying his claim that one of the features of the Kingdom sect was "an interest in Jesus."
That one exception I referred to adds further fuel to the fire. The set of three chreiai (questions and answers) in Lk./Q 9:57-62 is the sole occasion in Q1 in which the name of Jesus can be seen to be mentioned. But, by a comparison with the Gospel of Thomas, this set can be shown to have been artificially constructed at a later time out of previous sayings which would have existed separately in Q1, with no attribution.
A similar situation exists in some of the sayings of Q2, in that (as in Q1) there is no sign that any context to those sayings was present in Q, since Matthew and Luke never place them in the same context in their Gospels or provide them with the same set-up lines. (The one exception is the Temptation story, whose similar placement and context in both Matthew and Luke has been determined by Mark's very brief reference to such a thing.) And while such sayings can sometimes include within themselves a self-reference to the speaker, these can now be seen as representing that stage of amendment in which group sayings were converted to the personal sayings of the new founder. In more than one case, as in 'the sign of Jonah' of Lk./Q 11:29f about something greater than Jonah being here, the language betrays that earlier group-preaching stage, a point even the Q scholar John Kloppenborg acknowledges.
Don points to "one writer" (David Seeley) who suggests that the oft-appealed-to Q14:27 ("whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me"), suggests that Q may have an awareness of Jesus' death. But Don fails to deal with the opposite scholarly opinion I point to that no such awareness need be read into something which, on its surface, is not a reference to Jesus' own cross and may well be a current proverb. Even Seeley has admitted that "not one of the passages in which prophets are mentioned refers to Jesus' death. Such a reference must be assumed." Right.
I also, guided by recognized scholarship, take apart specific pericopes such as the Dialogue between Jesus and John (Lk./Q7:18-35) to demonstrate that these in their extant forms have to be seen as constructions out of earlier discrete elements, making those forms an expression of Q's later evolving beliefs. Other indicators in Q, such as the treatment of the anticipated Son of Man, add to the picture of the lack of any Jesus figure in the early layers.
As I say, nothing of all this is addressed by Don, who prefers to simply declare that "with regards to Q, Doherty's case appears to be built on speculation, with a fanciful conclusion."
It is unfortunate, but neither does Wells seem to have considered any of this evidence before deciding on his view of a possible historical sage (though no one to do with Paul) at the root of Q.
Don quotes a priceless argument by Bart Ehrman about the issue of the lack of any Passion narrative, or elements associated with it, in Q.
Even if Q did lack a Passion narrative, Ehrman believes that the Gospel of Thomas offers a 'precedent' of a sayings document lacking a Passion narrative:
Many scholars have been particularly impressed by the similarities evident between Q, insofar as we can reconstruct it, and the Gospel of Thomas. Interestingly enough, prior to the discovery of Thomas one of the principal arguments sometimes used against the hypothetical existence of Q was that early Christians could not possibly have created a collection of Jesus' sayings without much interest at all (if at all!) in his death and resurrection. And then Thomas turned up—a Gospel comprised exclusively of Jesus' sayings without an account of his death and resurrection!
So Ehrman (seconded by Don, apparently) holds up the example of Thomas as another document lacking a Passion narrative, which is meant to demonstrate that there was nothing unusual about a Christian writing lacking something which (in true question-begging fashion) is presumed to have existed. A silence in one document serves as corroboration about a silence in another—as 'proof' that despite the common silence, one is somehow allowed to conclude from this that the object of the silence nevertheless existed! Heaven forbid (and I'm sure it does) that this multiple silence could more sensibly indicate that the thing being silent on did in fact not exist. Another example of New Testament math, in which 0+0 adds up to a quite definite and secure number.
It is not quite clear what Don thinks he is accomplishing in his section on The Shepherd of Hermas. He offers a number of quotes from Richard Carrier about the document, but none of them seem relevant to my contention that the Shepherd contains no knowledge of an historical Jesus, not even buried in its obscure symbolism.
The Shepherd is generally thought to be an adoptionist text. Christ was a pre-existent being that descended on the man Jesus, though the names themselves are never used in the text. For the protagonist in the story, everything is shrouded in symbolism. Fortunately a helpful guide interprets the symbolism for him.
Don cannot actually quote anything in the text which would justify anyone thinking it to contain an adoptionist theory, let alone anything as definite as "Christ was a pre-existent being that descended on the man Jesus." Such a man is never mentioned, and in fact "the Son" about whom the document does speak is variously identified with the Torah and with the archangel Michael, so who this "man" is certainly remains obscure. Nor is it clear in what way the "guide" is helpful in revealing such a man behind the symbolism. There is certainly no elucidation of the symbolism in terms of anything resembling an historical Gospel Jesus. Don quotes from the text:
"First of all, sir," I said, "explain this to me: What is the meaning of the rock and the gate?" "This rock," he answered, "and this gate are the Son of God." "How, sir?" I said; "the rock is old, and the gate is new."
"Listen," he said,"'and understand, O ignorant man. The Son of God is older than all His creatures, so that He was a fellow-councillor with the Father in His work of creation: for this reason is He old."
"And why is the gate new, sir" I said. "Because," he answered, "He became manifest in the last days of the dispensation: for this reason the gate was made new, that they who are to be saved by it might enter into the kingdom of God."
If the Son of God is a heavenly figure, which the text as a whole strongly suggests, then such symbolism is quite understandable. The Son is the spiritual channel between God and humanity, an expression of the concept of the "intermediary Son" (as in the Logos) common in the Hellenistic era. I have presented the early Christian Son throughout the book as an entity who is conceived of as the emanation of God, bestowing saving knowledge of Him and only occasionally being a sacrificial figure. There is certainly no helpful guide in the text of Hermas to any symbolic representation of an historical man, who never appears. And note the language in the final part of the above quote: "(The Son) became manifest in the last days…" Not came to earth or lived a life or was incarnated in a human Jesus. Rather, this is the same language of revelation that we find throughout the epistles, as in 1 Peter 1:20 (NIV): "He was revealed [the ever-recurring verb phaneroō] in these last times for your sake." (I can't check the Hermas verb in the Greek, as Don has not identified the passage in this longest document of the extant literature, but the translation indicates a revelation verb.)
Once again, Don has failed to even take note of, let alone address, key elements of my presentation on The Shepherd of Hermas, even though it covers only two pages (p.270-2). I'll throw in a couple of those observations here:
The central section of the Shepherd discusses a great list of moral rules, some resembling the teachings of the Gospels, but no attribution is made to Jesus. A passage in the Fifth Parable (6:3) has the Son "cleansing the sins of the people," but this precedes his "showing them the ways of life and giving them the Law"' and the former is never presented in terms of sacrifice or atonement. The "giving of the Law" is through spiritual channels, for a later Parable states that the angel Michael (who in Parable 9 is yet another figure equated with the Son of God) has "put the Law into the hearts of those who believe." There is no preaching by an historical Son in evidence anywhere in this work.
In the same Fifth Parable, scholars think to find a reference to incarnation (verses 5-7) by making a link between the Son and "the Holy Spirit (which) God made to dwell in the flesh which he willed." But this link is not an obvious one, and in fact the text shows that the "flesh" in which the Spirit was sent to dwell does not refer to the Son, but to believers, who do not defile the Spirit while it dwells in them; such "flesh" is given a reward in heaven ("all flesh in which the Holy Spirit has dwelt shall receive a reward if it be found undefiled and spotless"), which is hardly a reference to the Son himself...
...As Charles Talbert puts it (op.cit., p.432), "'the Savior is described basically in terms of an angelology which has coalesced with the categories of Son and Spirit." The word "category" is apt, for Hermas is dealing with philosophical concepts here, not an historical figure who was God's incarnation.
Once again, Don throws the decision to the readers, asking if I should be followed in seeing Hermas as yet another example of a Son of God Christianity that had no historical Jesus at its core. Considering that such examples lie all around us in the record, and that Don has done little to discredit my interpretation of that record but appeals to his own personal incredulity which he hopes to foist on his readers, I would suggest that I have indeed marked out the preferable path. Once again, too, he appeals to Tertullian's Ad Nationes as an example of a document which makes no specific mention of a founder's name even though Tertullian is known to have been an historicist. Well, I've already dealt with that countless times. We know no such thing of the author of The Shepherd, who nowhere gives us a counter-balancing knowledge of an historical Jesus, or refers to a "founder" even if not mentioning his name in the same breath.
When he gets to Ignatius, Don has recourse to the same dubious approach which inhabits much of his review. After quoting me on what the Ignatian letters (whether authentic to him or not) contain or do not contain—such as basic historical data about Jesus but no appeal to a written Gospel, no sign of an apostolic tradition going back to Jesus, no miracles, no sayings of Jesus, no apocalyptic prophecies—he says:
All this is very reminiscent of Paul. Other than a few explicit references to historical details (which are lacking in Paul), Ignatius displays a silence on elements that Doherty finds remarkable in Paul. And if Ignatius—who even Doherty doesn't doubt believed in a historical Jesus—is silent on many of the same things that Paul is silent on, what does that do to our expectations about what we should expect to find in Paul?
Well, no, it is not very reminiscent of Paul, for Paul contains no such historical details as Ignatius offers: birth by Mary, baptism by John, crucifixion by Pilate, raised from the dead in a human body to appear to some followers. If we had these things from Paul, mythicism would probably be quite unable to rise from its own dead. At every turn, Ignatius appeals to the idea that Jesus' sufferings took place in real flesh—this in a dispute over the new docetism of the time. In other words, in whatever type of debate he addresses (some historical, some docetic) throughout his letters, he places a physical historical Jesus at the forefront of his arguments, something which Paul consistently fails to do.
And somehow, because the same 'remarkability' about certain silences in Ignatius has a parallel in Paul, Don expects us to dismiss it in Paul just as we would dismiss it from Ignatius as being evidence that he didn't know of an historical Jesus! Well of course we dismiss ignorance of an historical Jesus from Ignatius, because he contains clear evidence of believing in such a person, something Paul does not provide. Our disappointed expectations in Ignatius do not relate to his belief in an historical Jesus, but to whether that belief is only a very recent development, with yet no knowledge of things like sayings, miracles and apostolic tradition; whereas our disappointed expectations in Paul have to do with the question of any knowledge on his part of an historical Jesus. I don't know what to call Don's brand of fallacious argument here. Maybe the "smoke and mirrors fallacy"?
As to my contention that we can assume that Ignatius (or his forger) has not encountered a copy of a written Gospel, since he never appeals to one to support his contentions about Jesus, Don offers some quotes from Richard Carrier, serving to make the point that Ignatius, in his journey to Rome for execution (which assumes authenticity), would have had no copies with him and didn't want to rely on his memory. Well, his memory should surely have served him well enough to recall that the biographical data he offers could be found in a written document. Nothing would have prevented him from at least mentioning the existence of such a document, as Justin would later do in referring to his "memoirs of the apostles."
Carrier is quoted (and bolded by Don) as saying: "Likewise, he borrows phrases or ideas which are found in Matthew and John, and on one occasion something that appears to be from Luke." Well, Don shows that he knows of the common scholarly judgment that Ignatius is simply using oral traditions that were also used by the evangelists, so what is this supposed to prove? Similarly, Carrier's suggestion that at least some of the Gospels were in existence before Ignatius wrote proves nothing either, since there is no necessity that everyone in the Christian world knew them at that time—something, in fact, which seems not to be the case in so many instances, even later than Ignatius. It thus becomes somewhat ludicrous to point out (quoting Carrier) that in the time of Ignatius it seems that none of the New Testament was regarded as an authority. (Of course, it's pretty hard to give authority to something one shows no sign of being aware of!) Even given such a situation, Ignatius hardly needed to regard a written Gospel as on the same authoritative level as the Old Testament in order to point to it as containing an historical account that corroborates the very things about Jesus he is promoting in adamant opposition to those who are not. None of these arguments have any weight, and it is an indication of how little Don has to throw up as rebuttal that he presents them at all.
Part Three of GakuseiDon's review of Jesus: Neither God Nor Man,
is devoted essentially to interpreting various aspects of Paul's and other epistolary writings in such a way as to discredit my own interpretations of those writings.
The first question he examines, a brief one, is "When did Paul write?" He admits, as I contend as well, that Acts is now regarded by critical scholarship as not at all reliable as a means to date and follow the course of Paul's career, although, as most here will know, I do accept a core authenticity within the Pauline corpus and accept that we can date that core to roughly the middle of the 1st century, using both historical markers in the epistles and the wider picture of the development of the Christian movement. More precise dating is not possible given the nature of Acts, which was written somewhere around the middle of the 2nd century.
In passing, one sticky point I constantly find it necessary to question is the common statement that 1 Clement (ch.5) refers to Peter and Paul's martyrdoms at Rome, and that these took place "in our generation," meaning not too long before 1 Clement was written (assuming authenticity of date). I will quote from Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p.600:
While chapter 5 is often appealed to as early evidence of those apostles' martyrdoms in Rome, the text actually does anything but tell us that. Verse 4, for example, is frustratingly vague: 'Peter, who because of unrighteous jealousy suffered not one or two but many trials, and having thus given his testimony went to the glorious place which was his due.' Neither is Paul explicitly said to have been martyred in Rome, but simply 'passed out of this world (after) bearing his testimony before kings and rulers.' (And this from a writer who is speaking from Rome itself, later famed for both martyrdoms!) In fact, it is not even explicitly stated that they were martyred. Verse 2 says that they 'were persecuted and contended until death' (ediēxthēsan kai heōs thanatou ēthlēsan). Another translation (by M. Staniforth, in the Penguin Early Christian Writers) renders the line, "and had to keep up the struggle till death ended their days." The meaning of the latter could be natural causes, for all it tells us.
Don's first major topic is "When did Paul's Christ Die?" Certainly this is a question that lies at the very heart of the mythicist case, and especially mine. Don draws on a list of indicators from Ben C. Smith's "textexcavation" website that Paul regarded Jesus as having lived recently.
A couple of principles here. First, nowhere in the first century epistles (setting aside 1 Thess. 2:15-16 as a commonly regarded interpolation) is the time of Christ's life or death specified as an historical time; nowhere is such an event given a specific time or place, or supplied with an historical marker. Second, when Paul focuses on key moments of his own time period relating to the genesis and development of the faith movement he is a part of, it is always in terms of the activities of apostles like himself, or actions and scriptural revelations by God (sometimes it is the voice of the Son himself in scripture); or when it involves Christ in the present period it is virtually always using revelation language. But there is never a clear association of Christ with Paul's own time.
In the face of that astonishing lack of association, Don is going to need some pretty strong and direct indication that Paul conceives of Jesus as a contemporary. I suggest that he does not have it.
He first asks, when did Jesus rise from the dead? As is quite common, the main passage appealed to in this regard is 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. Don says:
There is, for Paul, no generation gap between the death of Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus (1 Corinthians 15.4). Furthermore, there is no generation gap between the recipients of the resurrection appearances and Paul himself; he is personally acquainted with the first recipient of a resurrection appearance (1 Corinthians 15.5; Galatians 1.18). Is there a gap between the resurrection and the first appearance? The flow of 1 Corinthians 15.3-8 would certainly not suggest one.
As I have said many times, if the events of Jesus' salvific actions are placed in a heavenly time and place, something derived from scripture, as the "kata tas graphas" taken in conjunction with his "gospel from no man" of Gal. 1:11-12 makes feasible, then Paul has no concept of a gap between those events and the experiences of various believers in "seeing" Jesus, including himself. They inhabit two different worlds. Don breaks down 1 Cor. 15:3-8 in the traditional way, but on my website and in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man (p.78) I point out the problems in seeing this passage as all of a piece. That analysis Don gives no attention to, let alone discredits it. Furthermore, I have often made the point that an argument based entirely on fine, ground-level wording coming from extant manuscripts two centuries later than the autograph have to be regarded as unreliable at best. (Even mythicists have to take care.) The "kai hoti" ("and that") at the opening of verse 5, linking the gospel with the appearances, may create a certain impression on those looking for it, but even that, if it was authentic to the original, is readily explainable by seeing it as following on the "delivered" of verse 3; Paul is repeating something (the "seeings") he had told the Corinthians previously, continuing on from the gospel which he also told them previously. Such an understanding, entirely justified from the text, solves any problem and sets aside any need to see this passage as implying a Pauline view that Jesus had died and risen recently.
Don has said further on this passage:
If we presume that, for Paul, Jesus was raised in the distant past [to this we need to add: or in another dimension] but only recently revealed to the apostles, we must take pains to account for this gap; why, for Paul, did Jesus die in order to end the law and justify humans but then wait indefinitely before making this justification available to humans? If, however, we presume that, for Paul, Jesus was raised recently, shortly before appearing to all the apostles, all is explained.
Well, it might be, if we had clear evidence that this is how Paul thought, although I don't know what Don has in mind by the "all" in "all is explained." (This passage in itself? The whole of the epistles?) But really, all that Don is doing here is stating the orthodox, preferred interpretation of the passage, an interpretation with almost two millennia of unquestioned tradition behind it. But the mythicist interpretation also gives us an "all is explained," so we're not any further ahead if we take this passage by itself.
But Don's question imbedded in the quote above is odd. He wonders why Paul would consider that Jesus died at some unknown time in the past, or in another dimension, to justify the human race, but then wait (or God did the waiting) only until Paul's time to bring that justification into effect. Should one think that such a puzzlement would override the determining factor in Paul's mind? Namely, if it had happened sooner, Paul would have missed out! No new Son to be preached by him and fill his need to be an apostle, no being the one to get the true message buried in scripture (as he saw it). One might as well ask modern-day evangelicals why Jesus would wait two thousand years to return. The simple—and only—answer is, that's the way our evangelicals want it to be. They would hardly be willing to say, oh, you're right, Christ wouldn't have waited 20 centuries, so our conviction that he is coming soon must be misguided!
Even so, one might think that there could be some disquiet in Paul's mind about the long wait if G. A. Wells were right and Paul believed Jesus had lived and died on earth in some distant past, in a time unknown, perhaps centuries earlier. But what if he believed that Jesus had died and risen in heaven, in a 'time' essentially unrelated to a specific historical point? In that case, there would be no meaningful 'gap,' no puzzling time span between action and consequence, saving act and its application. It was all God's secret, and it was He who chose the time to reveal it to self-appointed apostles like Paul. In fact, Paul seems to have no worries about a span between act and actual justification. The revelation came 'in the fullness of time," "at the proper time." Nor are such phrases ever seen to apply to the time of Christ himself, the time of his life and death, not even in Galatians 4:4, as Don should know having read my chapter devoted entirely to that Galatians passage.
In fact, that such ideas as the "fullness of time" apply to the recent events of revelation should be clear from the idea expressed more than once in the Pauline corpus, that the secret of Christ has been something hidden "for long ages" and only now made known through scripture, as in Romans 16:25-26. Obviously, such a 'gap' did not cause any problem to such writers. The Epistle to the Hebrews also presents a picture in which salvation comes into effect only as a result of the present time of reformation (9:10), triggered not by Jesus' recent life and actions but by revelation in scripture at the formation of the sect. All this is the dominant if not exclusive way in which the epistle writers describe the present time, and it shows no sign of including a recent historical Jesus.
The other major passage Don appeals to is a little more complicated.
He also calls Jesus the firstfruits of that resurrection [1 Cor. 15:20/23]. Since the firstfruits of the harvest precede the main harvest itself by only a short time, the very metaphor works better with a short time between the resurrection of Jesus and the resurrection of the rest of the dead, implying that the resurrection of Jesus was recent for Paul.
This is quite a bit to hang on a single word, especially when used in a metaphor to illustrate something unrelated to growing and reaping. Besides, the Greek aparchē can have a broader meaning than our usage in English. Bauer's Lexicon notes that it can be used in a sense which is not tied to the firstfruits of a harvest. In defining this sense of the word, Bauer says: "The original meaning is greatly weakened, so that aparchē becomes almost equal to prōtos ['first']," and 1 Cor. 15:20 is given as an example: "of Christ…the first of those who have fallen asleep." Without that close tie to a harvest meaning, "firstfruits" in the Greek creates no necessity at all to locate Christ's resurrection in the recent past in Paul's mind.
Don quotes my remarks about the passage in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, where I argue from the point of view of revelation:
Nor need the use of the term 'firstfruits' in 15:20 and 23 imply that Christ's resurrection is the first of the End-time harvest and thus took place recently. Once again, the fact that these things have been revealed in the present may simply be leading Paul to treat them in terms of the present time. Since it is only now that people have learned about Christ's death and rising, the revelation and the effects it has produced become part of the present picture.
To this, he can only suggest that we read over 1 Cor. 15:20-23. Does that sound like revelation to you? he asks. This misses the point. The passage taken by itself may not, unlike many other passages in the epistles, suggest a context of revelation. But it is all those other passages, and the language of revelation which permeates the early Christian record, which strongly suggests that we ought to see a context of revelation behind 1 Cor. 15:20-23, and thus that the reference to Christ's resurrection does not entail the assumption by Paul that it took place on earth, recently or otherwise. Just as a few paragraphs earlier, in 15:3-8, both the death and rising can equally fit into a mythicist context. And there are supporting indicators in that direction immediately surrounding the 15:20 passage. I spend the bulk of a chapter in the book outlining how 1 Cor. 15:35-49 not only has no mention of a recent resurrection on earth for Christ, the entire presentation of Paul's argument in those verses excludes the very idea of a Christ who lived and died on earth in a physical body, and it neglects to offer an earthly resurrecting Christ as a very natural and useful analogy to the discussion about Paul's claims for human resurrection.
As well, preceding the passage in question we have 15:12-16. As I say in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man (p.79)
There are some powerful implications to be drawn from this passage. Paul expresses himself as though the raising of Christ from the dead is a matter of faith, not of historical record as evidenced by eyewitness to a physical, risen Jesus at Easter....
Moreover, the verb for 'witness' martureō is often used in the sense of witnessing to something, that is, declaring one's belief in an item of faith, not of factual record (though it can mean the latter in some contexts). Compare Romans 10:9:
If (you have) in your heart the faith that God raised (Jesus) from the dead, then you will find salvation.
There, too, Paul seems to be implying that the raising of Jesus is a matter of faith. In 1 Thessalonians 4:14, where Paul says that 'we believe Jesus died and rose again,' even Jesus' death seems to be a matter of faith.
Such a meaning of "witness" in the 1 Corinthians passage above (verse 15) is strongly supported by what follows this verb: kata tou theou, or "against God." Translators often seem uncertain of the exact import of this phrase (the NEB's "we are...false witnesses of God"), but Bauer's lexicon declares it as meaning "give testimony in contradiction to God." The idea that Paul is trying to get across here is that if in fact God did not raise Jesus from death (which would have to be the conclusion, he says, if the human dead are not raised) then, rhetorically speaking, Paul and other apostles have been misinterpreting and contradicting God and lying when they say Jesus was resurrected.
Paul is saying that knowledge about Jesus' raising has come from God, and that his own preaching testimony, true or false, relates to information which has come from God—in other words, through revelation (i.e., in the scriptures). Not history, not apostolic tradition about recent events on earth. In all this discussion about the actuality of Christ's resurrection, Paul's standard is one of faith, faith based on God's testimony—in the sacred writings. The latter is the fundamental source of knowledge derived from God. Historical human witness plays no part.
Jesus: Neither God Nor Man has a host of arguments for the void in Paul's (and other writers') minds about any historical Jesus on earth which Don gives us no glimmer of, let alone any rebuttal to. What he has no answer for he simply ignores.
Don thinks to make an issue of the word "now" in 15:20: "But now Christ has been raised from the dead, firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep." This "nuni" is supposed to indicate a meaning of Christ being raised in the present period of history. He says:
The word 'now' in Greek is nuni, and according to Strong's Thesaurus it means 'now, at this moment', and is only used of time.
But this actually works against his argument. If Paul is writing about something that happened a couple of decades or more earlier, that resurrection has hardly taken place "now, at this moment." Clearly, the 'at this moment' idea has to apply to a condition existing at Paul's present time, namely that 'we are now in a state of Christ having been raised.' This does nothing to place the raising in the recent past. The present state of the "now" can equally be the result of knowing about it through recent revelation. There is no limit to the gap that may exist between the raising and the "now" situation; or there may be no idea of a gap at all if the death and rising took place in a spiritual dimension, in a different sort of 'time.' And what happens if we put the sentence in context? Paul has just led his readers through a rhetorical declaration of how he and other believers will have believed in vain and be lost if Christ has not been raised from the dead. The sense of the "now" serves to imply that that declaration is false. 15:20 should thus be understood as: "But the fact is (nuni), Christ has been raised from the dead."
My own twist? No, for Don has overlooked this very meaning as given by Bauer. Definition 2b.: "introducing the real situation after an unreal conditional clause or sentence but, as a matter of fact." And among the passages listed is "1 Cor…15:20". Most translations make this clear. The NIV: "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead." The Translator's New Testament: "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead." The NAB: "But as it is, Christ is now raised from the dead" (the second, gratuitous, "now" referring to the present condition). RSV: "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead." The KJV and NASB keep the less precise "But now Christ has been raised…"
Don needs to check more translations, be more careful with contexts, rather than pounce on words atomistically.
Don next takes a look at Paul's view of the end-times, which he (and others) see themselves living in. He quotes my example of Romans 8:22-3, on which I comment:
Here Paul's orientation is squarely on the future. The whole universe is groaning, waiting. Where is the sense of past fulfilment in the life and career of Jesus? Were some of the world's pains not assuaged by his coming? 'Up to now,' says Paul, has the universe labored to give birth, leaving no room for the dramatic pivot point of Christ's own birth and acts of salvation. (Page 55)
To which Don answers:
But here Doherty is reading modern orthodox views into Paul. For Paul, Christ is "the first-fruits" of the general resurrection about to come. Paul and the early Christians are waiting for God to adopt them as Sons. The "whole created universe groans" because the general resurrection is just around the corner. And the general resurrection is signalled by the resurrection of Christ—not just the revealing of Christ!—who is the 'first-fruits' of the harvest shortly to come. It may be a problem for orthodox Christians that Paul doesn't feel a sense of past fulfilment in the life and career of the Gospel Jesus, but there are more options on the board than just the Gospel Jesus and Doherty's mythical Jesus.
As far as I can see, this paragraph says nothing. I have pointed out how Paul's focus is entirely on the future, as though nothing in the recent past has had any effect on the pain the world finds itself in. I fail to see what this has to do with "modern orthodox views"; it is simply a reading of the text itself, what it says and what it doesn't say. Don turns around and defends his position by saying that Paul's focus is entirely on the future—which is exactly what I have said. He in no way explains why Paul would not also attach a significance, some effect on the world's misery, to the recent life of Jesus and his very acts on earth which had bestowed salvation.
And why would it be only "modern orthodox views" that would expect to find in an early Christian like Paul some reference to "a sense of past fulfilment in the life and career of the Gospel Jesus," especially in the context of portraying the course—past present and future fulfillment—of salvation history? What sort of Christian, past or present, would not? Don does not enlighten us.
Moreover, it is not the case that "the general resurrection is signalled by the resurrection of Christ – not just the revealing of Christ!..." Don reads his own preference into the text of 1 Cor. 15:22-3:
As in Adam all men die, so in Christ all will be brought to life; but each in his own proper place [lit., order]: Christ the firstfruits, and afterwards, at his coming [parousia], those who belong to Christ. [NEB]
Nothing here specifies a place or order in which the one "signals" the other in the sense of immediacy. In fact, the general resurrection is signalled by Christ's coming, in the future. On the surface, the words actually imply that Christ's resurrection, too, lies in the future (though we know, of course, that this is not how Paul thought).
Then Don brings up the "now" again, after quoting me on what Paul does focus on in recent history:
Moreover, when Paul does refer to present or immediately past events, what are they? Only the giving of the Spirit, the revelation by God which has enlisted men like Paul to preach Christ and his coming. We have here no deviation from the traditional two-age picture.
But that is clearly not the case. As above, Paul explicitly states that 'NOW is Christ risen from the dead, [and] become the firstfruits of them that slept (1 Cor 15:20).' Given that Paul also explicitly has placed Christ's death in the past, the 'NOW' would appear to indicate a recent event. Doherty has to read 'revealed' into the text here, as he does in other places. But does he not complain that we shouldn't read our own ideas into the text, and that we should read Paul for Paul?
Clearly, this does not work at all. The "now" meaning Don reaches for has been shown to be invalid, an idea he himself has "read into the text." And it is not the case that I read "revealed" into the text, as though I am saying that "Now is Christ risen from the dead" means "Now it has been revealed that Christ has risen from the dead." I am saying that this kind of faith statement is based on revelation (from scripture), not because that passage states it but because the entire literature points in that direction, and even occasionally states it, and this passage is best understood in that context.
Don quotes me on another Pauline passage about the end-times and how past and future relates to it:
Go on to Romans 13:11-12:
Remember how critical the moment is...for salvation is nearer to us now than it was when we first believed. It is far on in the night; day is near.
Was there no dawn at the incarnation of the Son of God? Had Jesus' recent presence on earth failed to dispel any of night's darkness? Even salvation itself is something which lies in the future; its only point of reference in the past is not Christ's act of redemption itself, but the moment when Christians first believed. (Page 56)
And again, this is Doherty trying to read orthodoxy into Paul. For Paul, Christ is the 'first fruits': an important indicator, to be sure, but NOT the main event. The main event is the general resurrection that Paul believes is just around the corner.
What the heck is this 'reading orthodoxy into Paul'? These are natural questions and puzzlements when encountering the lack of any sense of an historical Jesus in Paul's presentation of how the past moves through the present and into the future in his picture of salvation history. There is nothing amiss per se with Paul focusing on the future and the coming general resurrection. But when he does that in a context of surveying the past state of the world and its long pain and search for salvation, yet ignores any role for an incarnated Jesus in the recent past in the alleviating of that pain and the fulfilment of that search, pointing solely to the future coming of Jesus (not a "return"), this is a distortion of orthodoxy that invites only one explanation. For Paul, that future may be the "main event" (though even that would be curious), but surely the incarnation of God on earth, during which the very acts of salvation took place, ought to merit some small mention and perceived effect!
Within this distorted picture, Don moves on to two aspects of the language used in it: the term "parousia" and the verb "erchomai" ("coming"). I have pointed out that the language never presents the specific idea of a "return" rather than a "coming" which seems to be for the first time. (That is directly conveyed in Hebrews 10:37, a passage which Don fails to address.)
"Parousia" is used in the general literature, especially non-Christian, to mean "appearance" in the sense of a king, dignitary, etc. putting in an appearance on a given occasion, with no intended meaning of having been there before, even if he has. It also can be used of a god revealing himself during some rite or epiphany. Again, 'returning' has nothing to do with it. Don questions whether the use of this particular term in relation to Christ's coming appearance at the end-time should be considered unusual, and that I haven't provided support for it being unusual. In fact, he appeals to its usage in the Gospels as rendering it not unusual, since this is in a context in which 'return' is clearly an understanding.
First of all, in regard to "parousia" itself, I have not declared the term itself unusual, even in the Gospel context. By the time the Gospels were written, the term was established to refer to the expectation of the imminent arrival of the Son and the Kingdom. The evangelists were not about to change the term simply because it did not entail the idea of return and should thus have been considered unsuitable. But taking the Gospel context, in which 'return' is a valid understanding, and thinking to transport it into the epistle context in which such an understanding is anything but clear and is the very issue under debate, is to beg the question by reading the Gospels into the epistles, a common strategy. Don accuses me of making "no attempt to analyse the usage of the word in the wider literature," by which, of course, he means the Gospels. It is true that I did not in the book make the point I have just made about the use of "parousia" in the Gospels, but the argument still stands that in the epistles there is no necessary implication of "return" in any of its terminology.
The other piece of that terminology is the verb "erchomai" (to come, to go, to pass). It's a general verb of movement which relies on its context for more specific meaning. Don says:
As Doherty himself notes above, the word erchomai can incorporate a meaning of 'return'. So it is odd that Doherty points out that 'nowhere does any writer attempt to convey the sense of 'return' by using a simple word like 'palin'. If the context supports it, why would we expect them to use it? Again, there is no attempt by Doherty to examine the wider literature to determine whether the use of erchomai is odd or not.
Again, the "context supports it" only in the Gospels. Claiming the same thing for the epistles is to beg the question. Don provides examples in which the context of having been on the scene before is a given; it is plain to see. These situations also have much less import than the situation in the epistles. If Jesus in Mark's Gethsemane scene "comes" twice to his disciples and finds them sleeping, rather than "returns" to them, we can see this as simply Mark's preference for language. Whereas, in an entire body of literature by early Christian writers who regularly point to the future 'coming' of Jesus as a long-awaited event, as something which will transform the world and finally assuage its pain—especially in conjunction with other language which speaks of Christ as a long-hidden secret only now revealed in scripture in the time of these writers—this is a much more significant silence than if Luke in a parable has a nobleman 'coming' home to his servants after an out-of-country trip, rather than 'returning' to them.
Don claims that Gal. 3:19 ("It [the Law] was added because of transgressions, till the seed [Christ] should come [erchomai] to whom the promise was made") makes it clear that Paul regarded Christ as having come already, so everything else he says has to imply 'return.' He does admit that I explain Christ's 'coming' as the coming of the Spirit of the Son, through revelation and his newly perceived spiritual presence in the world, as in 1 John 5:20. His counter to this? Personal incredulity: "I can't see it." He also overlooks all the other times in which Paul and other writers speak of Christ's arrival in their time as a 'revealing' rather than an incarnation or life on earth, all the times that the void on an historical Jesus in their descriptions of the faith and the course of salvation history is plain to see. And right in Galatians 3:23 and 25, Paul specifies that the present time is characterized not by a coming of Christ, but by a coming of faith.
Thus, I would maintain that my analysis of what Paul says and does not say is hardly a case of me forcing the texts to mean what I want them to mean. This is often the plaintive mantra of those who much more determinedly than I, and based on far less textual support, force the epistles to be talking about what they want them to be talking about.
Don next addresses the thorny question of the source of Paul's gospel. Did he get it from revelation, as he seems to state in Gal. 1:11-12, or did he get it, in contradiction to the latter, from other men? Was it a mix? Dissenters will often point to the fact that there were other apostles before Paul, that they preached some of the things he did, and so on, making it strictly impossible that Paul could claim that everything he preached was original to himself. But I have often discussed this issue (including in the book) by pointing out that we cannot expect or bring some kind of mathematical principle to it. Paul is quite capable of fudging, of making a claim which is not entirely accurate, of putting his own self-serving twist on things during an emotional discussion or debate. He certainly felt himself to be the prime apostle of his time, directly in contact with Christ himself, attuned to him, understanding scripture like no one else.
I stand by my reading of Galatians 1:11-12 as encompassing much more than simply the issue of circumcision. Don tries to restrict Paul's "my gospel" to what he has to preach "to the gentiles," to only those things which would apply specifically to gentiles, more or less the application of the Jewish Law to non-Jewish believers. But Don himself refers to Pauline references to his "gospel" which include things much broader than this. Galatians 1:16 has Paul declaring that he has been appointed to teach the gentiles about "the Son" that has been revealed "in him" by God. In 1 Cor. 15:3-4, the essence of his "gospel" is that Christ died for our sins, that he was buried, that he rose on the third day. These are elements not specifically relating to gentiles. Even if others were preaching similar things (which he admits in 1 Cor. 15:11), we are well capable of believing that Paul felt that his own 'take' on the basic beliefs about the sacrificial Son was superior to that of others, and was the product of his own superior understanding and reception through revelation. This indeed, is what he states in 2 Corinthians 11, where those who "preach another Jesus" (some scholars recognize that this cannot be a reference to the Jerusalem apostles) are, like himself, claiming their source in revelation, not in historical tradition. And not only is this not in any context of the Law's application to the gentiles, the phrase itself, "another Jesus," can hardly refer simply to Paul's views about that application of the Law to gentiles.
Thus Don has presented a very weak case for the following:
Doherty believes that 'Paul would hardly be saying that the gospel the Galatians heard him preach about freedom from circumcision is something he received from heaven, while the rest of his gospel content had in fact been received from men.' But I suggest that the evidence shows something along those lines. Paul's revelation had to do with the gentiles' place in salvation.
In order to deflect my contention that it is utterly incredible that Jews could have elevated Jesus to the status of the very Son of God, sharing in his nature and titles, if they had been speaking of a recently crucified human being, Don questions the meaning of the term "son of God." This is a common stance of modern critical scholars (not that I am styling Don as such). To demonstrate that it need not be so lofty a concept, Don quotes a number of uses of the phrase in various epistles. The problem is, they are examples of the phrase applied to human beings whom Paul is addressing or referring to. Such as:
Phl 2:15 That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons [teknon] of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;
Jn 1:12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons [teknon] of God, [even] to them that believe on his name:
Rom 8:14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God [huios].
There is no doubt that the phrase was widely used to apply to human beings who, by virtue of their faith or deeds, had entered into a close relationship with God. But that the phrase could be used of the concept of an actual only-begotten emanation—Son—of God himself is clear from Christian orthodoxy (and even Philo). The question is, in which manner did the early epistolary record regard and speak of Jesus? I have answered this many times. To what "son of God" in Don's sense did anyone ascribe the creation of the universe as in 1 Cor. 8:6, or the sustaining of the universe as in Colossians 1:15-20? To what other human being did they ascribe the salvation of humanity by his death and the subjugation of everything in the cosmos, good and evil, every knee bowing to him? Even when the Gospels came along, the early Synoptics render their symbolic Jesus nowhere near such lofty heights, and it took some time in the melding of epistles and Gospels for Jesus of Nazareth to take on such an elevation, for the Jesus of the Gospels (in large part based on the Q ethos) to catch up with the Jesus of the epistles. In the face of contrary evidence within the epistles, modern scholars have tended to downplay Paul's Christ to make him more in keeping with Mark's Jesus. In the process, they are forced to ignore much of what is said of Christ in the epistles.
Yes, there is a certain degree of what might be styled adoptionism in the epistles, but that has been determined by scripture, especially Psalm 2:7's "Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee," which originally referred only to an anointed Hebrew king or Israel collectively. (Neither was ever given the role of creator and sustainer of the universe.) The early Christ cult, deriving its spiritual Son and Messiah out of scripture, was led to apply certain scriptural passages to him, such as being of the seed of David, or having special status bestowed upon him as a consequence of his death and rising, as in the Philippians hymn. That included Sonship, but only in the sense of his full power and recognition as such, not as previously lacking the nature of pre-existent emanation/Logos of God, something which he always possessed. When Colossians defines the cosmic Son, or when Hebrews 1:2-3 does so in similar language ("made heir to the whole universe" may be meant to reflect that exaltation after death as in Philippians), such things are hardly post-Good Friday and post-Easter developments, hardly the adoptionism of a Jesus of Nazareth.
How, in the face of passages in the epistles like these, critical scholars can declare that the early apostles and writers of the Christ cult did not regard their Jesus as the pre-existent Son/emanation of God, is beyond me. It strikes me as neither critical nor scholarly. It has rather served to get around the difficulties inherent in the epistles and the conflict this creates in the Christian record.
Don appeals to critical scholarship which has been guilty of this watering down of the epistolary Jesus. He quotes James Dunn on the interpretation of Philippians 2:6-11. That interpretation is strained, and moreover has no support in the text itself. It approaches that text from the point of view: how can we give a different cast to this passage? Not surprisingly in the hands of creative theologians, it is read as a form of Adam Christology, despite the fact that there is no reference to Adam here; and this human interpretation of the descending-ascending Jesus in the hymn is notably missing in Paul's chief Adam passage, 1 Corinthians 15:35-49. (Nor can it confidently reside in the term "man" in other places when the latter is, in both Jewish and pagan thought, a widespread component among mythical entities in the heavenly dimension.)
Don says, "Interpreted this way, Phil 2:6-11 is no longer about a divine man." Yes, when one is determined that it will not be allowed to. Dunn makes no reference, let alone deals with, the exalted language descriptive of the Son in other epistolary passages, such as those referred to above. And again, I will raise the all-important question about the epistles: if they are indeed referring to an historical man who was 'adopted' into mundane sonship after his death and rising on earth, how can that man, his personality, his teachings and deeds, his life on earth, be totally ignored as though they no longer or never existed, or could contribute nothing to understanding or justifying his elevation? Why is Dunn's Philippians hymn completely silent on any item to do with that earthly life, while forced to repeat the idea of taking on the likeness of human form three times when the hymnist could have devoted two of those lines to something about an earthly Jesus? Why are all the hymns silent on an earthly life?
We might note that this downplaying of the epistolary Jesus is a relatively recent phenomenon among scholars. It was hardly in view in the early part of the post-WWII phase of New Testament scholarship. Rather, it arose as critical scholarship became more sophisticated, more secular, more aware of the problems in interpreting Jesus across an ever-widening array of early Christian records and the analysis of them. The box has been exploding, but mainstream scholars still insist on rearranging and reinterpreting the pieces from inside its old confines. They resist seeing that the walls of the box have collapsed.
Another example of 'exalted' language can be found in the Gospel of Thomas:
'No matter where you are you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being."
Taken at face-value, Jesus is claiming that heaven and earth were created for the benefit of James the Just. This is hardly credible. The language is used to high-light the importance of James as the successor to Jesus.
Well, at least Jesus didn't say that James the Just had created or now sustained heaven and earth! There is a huge difference here. The Gospel of Thomas is using hyperbole to highlight the importance of a human being, known and accepted as a human being. Passages like the Colossians hymn and the opening of Hebrews are defining the Son and making no identification to a human being. And they can hardly be styled as hyperbole. This is Greek Logos and Jewish personified Wisdom philosophy.
Finally, Don claims that the language used of Moses by Philo of Alexandria is "highly reminiscent of that used of Christ." Well, no it isn't. Philo says that Moses, when he died, was taken up to heaven to put on immortality and take on Godlike qualities. From Life of Moses I, Philo is quoted:
What more shall I say? Has he [Moses] not also enjoyed an even greater communion with the Father and Creator of the universe, being thought unworthy of being called by the same appellation? For he also was called the god and king of the whole nation, and he is said to have entered into the darkness where God was.
Here, once more, Don is being an atomist. First of all, in the second sentence, Philo is not saying that Moses was referred to as "Father and Creator" (which it looks like Don may be wishing to imply). Rather, the "appellation" is in regard to "god and king" which follows. And with whatever degree of metaphor Philo is using those terms (he makes it in relation to the Jewish nation), he is hardly saying that Moses was God, or was begotten of God in the sense of being a part of him; nor does he style him creator and sustainer of the universe. All that would have been blasphemous to Philo. (Which invites the question, why wasn't it so in regard to the early Christ cult if they were speaking of a human man, a point they never address?)
Don rounds this off with his favorite mantra:
Rather than trying to read the text through the eyes of modern orthodoxy when it suits him, Doherty needs to look at the wider literature before deciding on what we would expect.
Unfortunately, Don's appeal to "the wider literature" is usually to something which never seems to prove his point. And it's a handy dismissal, is it not, to simply say that what we would expect of an ancient writer is never valid, as though they were some alien race from another planet having nothing in common with us in the way of expression or circumstance. Don overuses this 'out' with little if anything in the way of justification.
P.S. The following point I meant to address, but lost sight of it along the way. I will tack it on here rather than try to fit it into the above text. This is one of those items Don has taken from Ben C. Smith's textexcavation site:
1. Jesus must have lived after Adam, since Paul calls him the latter Adam (1 Corinthians 15.22, 45).
2. Jesus must have lived after Abraham, since Paul calls him the seed (descendant) of Abraham (Galatians 3.16).
3. Jesus must have lived after Moses, since Paul says that he was the end of the law of Moses (Romans 10.4-5).
4. Jesus must have lived after David, since Paul calls him the seed (descendant) of David (Romans 1.4).
To address this, I will quote from Jesus: Neither God Nor Man (p.260):
It could be maintained that because of the relationship between Christ's actions and the historical precedents which those actions have been designed to follow, correct or supplant, and because of the stated relationships between Christ and past figures in Jewish history, the early Christian mind must have envisioned the sacrifice as taking place within a time frame subsequent to those precedents—even if it were located in the supernatural world. If for Paul Christ is the second Adam, producing resurrection and the conquest of death to counteract the consequences of the first Adam's sin, did his redeeming acts not take place subsequent to that sin? If Christ has effected the demise of the Mosaic Law, did the act which accomplished this not take place subsequent to the enactment of that Law?
One might think so, and perhaps that was indeed the outlook. Yet nowhere (other than perhaps in Hebrews 9:26) is it actually presented in that timeline fashion. As we examine the texts, we have consistently found (even in Hebrews) that Jesus' act is a step removed; what happens 'subsequent' to the Jewish and scriptural precedents is always the revelation of the act, with God or the Holy Spirit performing the revelation. As for Christ's various relationships toward figures in Jewish history, these do not require that they began only following any of those figures. Determined by scripture, they are part of Jesus' inherent nature, and as such could be seen as present even within his state of existence prior to his redeeming acts, since the nature of the Son is regarded as eternal. Christ is the second or last Adam not because he became so following Adam, but because the point at which he fulfilled that role came into operation after Adam. As for being the 'seed' of Abraham or David, it was demonstrated that the former is not presented in terms of historical, physical descent, but is determined by Paul's dubious exegesis of scripture (Gal. 3:16). In Romans 9:6-8, the gentiles are characterized as Abraham's 'seed' in a non-physical way, opening wide the door for an understanding of Christ's relationship to Abraham and David in the same mystical fashion. Such a relationship involving an eternal Son need not have 'begun' at any specific point in time.
Part Four of his review of Jesus: Neither God Nor Man,
is GakuseiDon at his most frustrating. But it is a frustration I have been very familiar with over the years. Whenever Don would come up with a rebuttal argument in his opposition to my mythicist theories, he could sometimes be very loath to let it go, to compromise it or deal with counter-arguments from me. He has preferred to keep repeating himself as though I have had very little if anything to say along the way in response to his criticisms. The business of Tertullian vs. the second century apologists earlier in this review is a good example.
But it has been especially true in regard to certain statements about the location of the myths of the savior gods in The Jesus Puzzle (and on my website) which he very early seized upon. I have admitted since the book was published that such statements were too blunt, too definitively stated, and needed better qualification (though a certain amount of qualification was given, such as on page 122). Subsequent to giving it that more in-depth qualification several years ago, he has nevertheless seen fit to continue to quote them in their original versions, and he has done so again in the present review of Jesus: Neither God Nor Man:
(From the Jesus Puzzle website) For the average pagan and Jew, the bulk of the workings of the universe went on in the vast unseen spiritual realm (the 'genuine' part of the universe) which began at the lowest level of the 'air' and extended ever upward through the various layers of heaven. Here a savior god like Mithras could slay a bull, Attis could be castrated, and Christ could be hung on a tree by 'the god of that world,' meaning Satan.
The last sentence here presents that unqualified, unnuanced version of things. Now, in discussions on the FRDB over the months preceding his review, I have complained to Don that, since he was commenting on my new book, he ought to deal with how I present things in that new book, how I have approached the above-quoted contention in the years since The Jesus Puzzle's publication, and not continue to simply quote from it as though I have never had anything further to say on the matter or to address his objections. So what does he do here? He does not quote the above from The Jesus Puzzle. Instead, he goes to my website, to an article written even earlier than The Jesus Puzzle (and I have admittedly been somewhat lax about bringing certain website passages up to date to reflect newer developments in my theory and its presentation), and quotes an identical statement from there!! I guess this is supposed to be a concession to my complaint about him casting the statement in The Jesus Puzzle in stone, but he just can't let it go, or acknowledge any further development on it, and so he quotes it instead from the website. In a review of Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, this creates a misleading impression and completely skews his comments in this part of his review. It certainly implies that I am still making the same general and unqualified statements even in the new book. I regard that as basically dishonest.
For the first quarter of Part Four of his review, Don gives us his picture of the cosmology of the ancients at the turn of the era. Most of it is irrelevant to his criticism, or simply misses the point, especially in regard to my much fuller analysis of the question in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man. While his description could benefit from a little better clarity of presentation, he locates the "firmament" at the orbit of the Moon. Above lie the layers of the eternal and unchanging heavens (the number and nature of which he admits were not uniform across the philosophies and cultures of the time), while below lie the lower heavens and the earth, subject to change and corruption, the realm of flesh. No problem there, but note that he allows the "realm of flesh" to encompass those "lower heavens" below the moon, not just earth itself. At least, that's how he states it; maybe it just slipped out of him.
Quoting from ancient writers like Plutarch and Apuleius, Don gives us a breakdown of the four elements which ancient philosophers regarded the world as constituting, plus "four species of rational beings," which included daemons, or demons. In the time of early Christianity these "demons" were often regarded as evil. Good or evil, they were 'intermediary' beings, serving as channels between the gods and humanity. They lived in the "air" below the moon (sometimes called the "firmament" in the sense of an area with depth, though Don seems to deny the latter term that meaning, preferring to keep it as simply a demarcation point or barrier between the upper and lower heavens). He quotes Apuleius as giving the demons "bodies" of spiritual matter—though the word "flesh" does not appear. They are, however, very closely related to humans, something which Don apparently endorses:
For they are capable, in the same manner as we are, of suffering all the mitigations or incitements of souls; so as to be stimulated by anger, made to incline by pity, allured by gifts, appeased by prayers, exasperated by contumely, soothed by honours, and changed by all other things, in the same way that we are. Indeed, that I may comprehend the nature of them by a definition, daemons are in their genus animals, in their species rational, in mind passive, in body arial, and in time perpetual.
Considering that we today do not regard demons as real entities, it is astonishing how the ancients were capable of not only inventing beings which show no sign of existing, but of knowing so much about them. (Of course, moderns still do much the same today in regard to God(s) and angels. But I digress.)
It is not clear why Don has provided all this detail, but he immediately follows it, in non-sequitur fashion, with a consideration of where the ancients located the myths of their gods. Note that this is "gods" in general, not specifically the savior gods of the mystery cults; and note that he quotes general authors like Tacitus who were not writing from the point of view of the mystery cult devotee. This is a key distinction, and is an important qualification I have made to clarify my earlier statements about where the salvation myths were thought of in the period of early Christianity. Not even in The Jesus Puzzle did I claim that the general myths of the gods, Greek and Roman, were transplanted to an upper heavenly realm. Moreover, I made it quite clear that ancient myths were originally located in a primordial or prehistoric time on earth, and that such a traditional way of seeing things continued to have an influence even when Platonic cosmology about the heavens brought about a degree of venue change, into the upper world, for certain of these myths. Even in The Jesus Puzzle such a change of venue was restricted to the savior gods, and did not involve the Olympian pantheon in general.
By not taking into account those qualifications, since emphasized not only in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man but in many discussions which have taken place over the years on discussion boards, Don continues to create a misleading impression about my views and to tilt at straw windmills. In fact, Don ends his section on the location of myths having made no point at all, let alone one that addresses my contention about how the cults themselves seem to have shifted their interpretations of the savior god myths from a primordial time on earth to a mythical realm in the heavens. He has largely failed to deal with the indicators we possess (outlined in The Jesus Puzzle, especially in a special Appendix on that subject) that they took traditional myths which had long been based in pre-historical settings on earth, and reinterpreted them into a heavenly setting under the influence of Platonism.
Don and other dissenters of the myth theory have long demanded concrete evidence of how the cults viewed the traditional myths, how savior gods could be regarded as undergoing suffering and death and the events of their mythical stories elsewhere than on earth. I have long tried to explain to them that the discussion of such stories by writers like Herodotus, or Tacitus, or Pausanias, are not done in the context of the cults and their interpretation of their myths and rituals. Thus, this type of literature is largely irrelevant. Such writers discuss things entirely within the traditional context of Greek mythology. Moreover, the subject matter is usually the gods in general, not gods specific to the cults. Where the latter is the case, such as the Egyptian Osiris, the myths being discussed predate the use of them by the later Hellenistic salvation cult. Moreover, I have repeatedly made the point that the only literature in which we could expect to find cultic interpretations of the myths spelled out would be that produced within the cults themselves, but such literature does not exist, because it was forbidden to reveal or record what went on during the secret rites or how those rites were interpreted.
Actually, my 'too stark' statement in The Jesus Puzzle could have been solved by a couple of fairly simple qualifying phrases: "From the evidence we do have, we may conclude that the cults, by and large, reinterpreted their savior-god myths as events that took place in a heavenly dimension, and not on earth." This, with much supporting discussion, is precisely what I have done in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man. But you'd hardly know it from Don's review.
Don has long gotten himself into trouble on two fronts. First, he cannot imagine how the events of those mythical stories could be conceived of as "taking place" in a heavenly dimension. He gets stuck on the literality of it all. This is a good example of the point I made in earlier in this response to his review: namely, that we should not bring our expectations, based on our knowledge of the universe and our advances in enlightenment, to the thinking of the ancients, that what we would not accept or believe should not determine what they would accept or believe. Don finds it incredible that anyone should believe that crucifixion, for example, could take place in the heavens. Where is the wood for the cross, where the nails? he asks. There are no trees in the firmament! he counters. Where did Attis get the knife to castrate himself in the heavens? He is applying his incredulity to the ancients. Well, I gave him an entire chapter in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man addressing this very type of question ("Conceiving the World of Myth"). He counters none of it. Maybe he skipped it, considering that he doesn't believe in the very existence of 'a world of myth.'
Indeed, he has often made (and repeats it in his review) the bald statement that there is no evidence that the world of myth I have presented was believed in by anybody. Now, part of this is a semantic mistake, and he really needs to rephrase himself. I have long talked about a "world of myth," and I thought it was quite plain that by this I mean a general view that many activities of gods and other heavenly entities were seen as taking place in the spiritual world, in those layers of the heavens which Don himself has spoken of in giving an account of Platonic cosmology, spheres both above and below the moon. There are several pages of quotations in my book from writers of the time, from philosophers to Jewish sectarians to gnostics, about heavenly activities, about very human-sounding and literalistic happenings in the various layers of the heavens. For example (p.150):
The Enochian pre-Christian writings envision all sorts of activities in the various layers of heaven. There one can see fire and ice, armies and chariots. In a place that is outside heaven itself, "an empty place...neither a heaven above nor an earth below" (1 Enoch, 21:1-2), even stars that have transgressed God—indicating a belief that the stars were divine entities—are bound and confined. Elsewhere lies a "prison house of the angels" (21:10). According to 2 Enoch 7, in the second heaven there are prisoners hanging and awaiting judgment. Paradise itself is in the third heaven. There are mountains and rivers in these heavens, and trees. 2 Enoch envisions fourth and fifth heavens. The former contains the orbits of the sun and moon (the moon being out of usual sequence); the latter imprisons giants who are the "sons of God" of Genesis 6 who had sex with the "daughters of men." In the sixth and seventh heavens are ranks of angels, with God and his throne in the latter, although one manuscript of 2 Enoch has him in a tenth heaven. We can be sure that none of this is allegorical. These documents are particularly chaotic, but the variety and inventiveness of thought gives us a window onto the conception of a multifarious universe in which just about anything could be envisioned as happening in the spirit world—including the crucifixion or hanging on a tree of a descending Son at the hands of demon spirits.
This sort of thing is the "world of myth" and it can hardly be denied to have existed in the minds of the ancients in the face of primary sources like these. Don seems to be trying to define it on his own grounds, that is, he is using the phrase in one application only, that the mythical stories of the savior gods (as defined by the cults, though he doesn't make that qualification himself) were not seen as taking place in such a world as I have revealed by sources like the above. In other words, as garbled as he is putting it, he is not denying the existence of a belief in such a world, he is denying that one class of divine activities, namely the deaths of the cultic savior gods, did not take place in that world, because, he says:
there is no evidence that any pagans held to a view that their saviour gods acted out in a Platonic World of Myth and higher reality. The concept simply didn't exist, as far as the literature of the day can tell us.
What concept didn't exist? A heavenly world of higher reality? The concept that divine entities could suffer and die in that heavenly world? The primary sources I appealed to prove otherwise. The concept that only the Hellenistic savior gods could not? Don makes no attempt to justify separating out that one class of divine entity as being included, or able to be included, in the general 'world of myth' picture—other than, of course, saying that we don't have direct statements from the cults to that effect. In view of the general picture of the era, I think the burden of proof ought to lie at a much less superficial level than that.
As I said earlier, I have always acknowledged that we have no direct, irrefutable evidence (such as the above), but I have explained why we don't have any such clearly stated evidence: because it was forbidden. What I have done is to demonstrate, through laying out primary sources like the above, and much more, that divine activities were placed in the heavens, including death and suffering and other assorted mayhem (along with trees and earth-type artefacts—dare we include nails?). So on what grounds does Don claim that the deaths of the savior gods could not have been similarly envisioned in the heavens? Such was the nature of my argument: that the entire picture of the world of Middle Platonism and Platonic cosmology created a setting in which the cultic myths could be made right at home. When the writings of the philosophers, like Plutarch and Julian, are added, with their focus on the heavens and the activities of savior gods like Attis operating in the vicinity of the realm of corruptibility (the area of the moon), we have a strong case for postulating a heavenly setting within the cultic interpretations of their myths. Moreover, in Appendix 6 of The Jesus Puzzle, and further discussed throughout Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, I survey actual hints and allusions from the literature of the time about the cults which point in that direction.
When we look at the early Christ cult as in Paul, what do we find? Despite the vast amount of non-Gospel documentary evidence from the first century (unlike the mystery cults), there isn't a single clear placement of Jesus' death and rising on earth, let alone an earthly biography about his life. (1 Thess. 2:15-16 is, of course, widely regarded as an interpolation.) Now, Christianity had no long history like the savior god myths; it had developed no traditional type of story rooted in a primordial time and place on earth. The new religion arose squarely in the era of Platonic cosmology and its focus on the heavens. Consequently, there was no feeding of an earthly dimension into the salvation 'event' undergone by Paul's Christ. Instead, reflecting that contemporary Platonism, the event was entirely spiritual, as in 1 Cor. 2:8's crucifixion by the demons spirits ("rulers of this age"), as in Hebrews' focus entirely on a heavenly scene of sacrificed blood in the heavenly sanctuary, as in 1 Cor. 15:35-49's presentation of Christ as an entity with an entirely spiritual nature and no physical one, as in all those references to Christ being revealed through scripture rather than leaving behind traditions of a life the early writers could appeal to, as in the Ascension of Isaiah's hanging on a tree in the firmament by the "god of that world," and on and on. The new religion was in part a product of a Hellenistic-Jewish absorption of Platonic cosmology and its focus on the heavens, which is why the interpretation of a sacrifice in the heavenly world for Christ Jesus fits so well. The cumulative case as a whole is what determines that conclusion. Don has made hardly a dent in that cumulative case.
Of course, another related influence on the new religion was the mystery cults. But I have tried to stress to Don (not too successfully, it seems) that while there is a commonality between the postulated Platonic interpretation of the myths within first-century mystery cults and the interpretation of the Christ myth as a heavenly event, one is not used to 'justify' the other, in either direction, let alone in circular fashion. But they do provide corroboration to each other, in that the evidence in support of each one arrives at the same conclusion. There is nothing invalid in that.
Following up his general denial, Don goes on to look at individual savior gods. But it is hardly proof against my contention that Attis was castrated "in the air" (as he puts it) that he simply cites the description of the standard Attis myth, which began as a primordial on-earth story and continued on the popular level in much the same vein. As I said, his refusal to take into account my focus on what was the cultic interpretation of that story has skewed his critique.
At his own peril (for he is actually presenting evidence on my behalf), Don appeals to the 4th century Sallustius who was one of those philosophers who rendered the traditional myth of Attis allegorical, just as Plutarch had done. But allegory is still an interpretation, an attempt to find meaning and significance within the mythical tale, something that the cults themselves would certainly have been doing. Whether the cults saw them strictly as allegory or not, we don't know, but they were essentially engaging in a similar exercise for their own cultic purposes. And what sort of interpretation did Sallustius put on the Attis myth? Don does us the favor of quoting it:
Now the Mother of the Gods is the principle that generates life; that is why she is called Mother. Attis is the creator of all things which are born and die; that is why he is said to have been found by the river Gallus. For Gallus signifies the Galaxy, or Milky Way, the point at which body subject to passion begins. Now as the primary gods make perfect the secondary, the Mother loves Attis and gives him celestial powers. That is what the cap means. Attis loves a nymph: the nymphs preside over generation, since all that is generated is fluid. But since the process of generation must be stopped somewhere, and not allowed to generate something worse than the worst, the creator who makes these things casts away his generative powers into the creation and is joined to the Gods again.
Like Don, I have bolded passages I like. How does Sallustius read the elements of the traditional myth? The "river Gallus" signifies "the Galaxy, or Milky Way," an element in the heavens. The Mother gives Attis "celestial powers." The creation of the lower world involves the upper world bestowing its generative powers upon it. Sallustius has elsewhere (I quote him in both books) stated that the myths represent "timeless processes," that the story of Attis represents "an eternal cosmic process, not an isolated event of the past." In other words, it has nothing to do with events on earth. The original myth has been transplanted. While Paul may not have styled the Christ event as something eternal or a timeless process that didn't actually happen (he believes in its heavenly literality), he is offering it as a heavenly thing, just as Sallustius was to do.
Sallustius' comments about demarcation lines involving passion and processes of generation are mirrored in his contemporary Julian the Apostate. In both books I quote him on views such as this, referring to levels of the heavens:
For it is there, they say, that the substance which is subject to change mingles with the passionless revolving sphere of the fifth substance...
and as I paraphrase him (p.114):
Julian describes Attis' descent to the lowest spiritual level prior to matter, undergoing his death by castration to give the visible material world order and fruitfulness; he regards this as a symbol of the annual cycle of agricultural rebirth, the generative power which descends into the earth from the upper regions of the stars. Thus, we have suggestions in pagan literature of the concept of the descending god in the mystery cults' interpretations of their myths.
Again, here we have an interpretation of a cultic savior god myth in terms of heavenly realities, heavenly realities which had their effects on earth, a dual system involving paradigmatic counterpart relationships, as I highlight in salvation systems both Christian and pagan. And yet we are not to envision anything similar in the way the mystery cult rituals applied the myth, nothing that could so interpret them as events in the heavens? None of this is evidence justifying a reading of the cultic myths in terms of a heavenly placement? Don hasn't even come near to presenting a case excluding such a thing. (In fact, this is an echo of his past backpedaling over the issue of whether human-like activities of divine entities were allotted to layers of the heavens (as in my Enochian quotes), by restricting his exclusion of them to the area below the moon. Neither of his attempted exclusions makes much sense, let alone enjoys evidence in its favor.
In regard to his quote from Sallustius, Don says:
Obviously, Sallustius doesn't appear to have "a 'World of Myth' in mind" here. The myth takes place on earth, by the river Gallus in Phrygia. Gallus signifies the stars. All this is clear enough.
My question is: how much of the myth is played out in Doherty's "World of Myth"? Is there a river Gallus in the "World of Myth"? How about shepherds or nymphs?
The same question can be asked about the other myths. Adonis was killed by a boar. Were there boars up there in the "World of Myth"? Or was that part of the myth not represented?
Obviously, there is something seriously amiss here. Sallustius does have "a ''world of myth' in mind". That world is in the heavens. That is where his "timeless spiritual processes" take place which he claims the traditional Attis myth represents. That traditional myth is acknowledged, in its original thinking, to have taken place on earth, by a river in Phrygia. But that myth was in existence long before Attis became part of a savior god cult. Its former state and its traditional reading tell us nothing about what the Attis cult was to make of it, how it came to interpret the myth. Sallustius is one who tells us that, in some circles at least, it underwent a philosophical transformation and transplanting to some sort of reality (those spiritual processes) in the heavens. Nor is the principle disproven in regard to Christianity just because Paul didn't render that spiritual reality as simply allegory for non-literal processes.
A separate issue is involved in Don's other comments above. He questions whether there was a river Gallus in the heavens, or shepherds and nymphs, just as he has thought to discredit a heavenly crucifixion by pooh-poohing the idea of cross and nails in the heavens. Well, I devote a few pages to that issue as well, demonstrating that earth-type artefacts are indeed envisioned in the heavens, though we cannot know exactly how literally or constituting what material the ancients, or any given sect, may have viewed such heavenly counterparts. (None of this discussion does Don attempt to deal with.) I have several times asked Don if he thinks the famous "heavenly Jerusalem" contained buildings, or cobblestoned streets. In all those Jewish sectarian accounts of ascents to the heavens by prophets and the like, wherein the vision contained accounts of things like thrones and crowns, did the writers regard these things as allegories only, as not actually existing in some form—perhaps some kind of spiritual form—in the heavens? What about the heavenly scenes in Revelation, which involve scrolls and mounted horsemen? I never get an answer, probably because Don realizes that in well-known cases like this, it would be difficult to argue that all these writers and their communities took the Plutarch and Sallustius approach: oh, these things don't really, can't really, exist anything like we describe them, the heavenly Jerusalem isn't really an entity in heaven, it has no reality, we're just using the idea as representing some timeless and unknown spiritual process. Yet the line gets drawn on this side of the crucifixion of Christ in the firmament: no wood and nails, you know.
We find the same sort of heavenly reality interpretations (if also allegory) of the myth of the savior god Osiris in Plutarch. One of the features of his Isis and Osiris is that it discusses the myth on both levels, the 'historical' legend of Osiris as a king of Egypt in primordial times, and the 'heavenly' reading which Plutarch gives it. Don seems to think that in pointing to the former in Plutarch's dissertation that he has eliminated the latter from contention. He admits that there is an allegorical dimension in Plutarch's analysis, but he declares that "If the 'average pagan' thought in terms of the myths playing out above the earth in anything other than allegorical terms, then Plutarch didn't appear to know about it." But Plutarch's object is to present the allegorical reading in order to persuade people like the priestess Clea that literal belief in the Osiris legend is the wrong route to follow. The latter clearly is what the average person-in-the-street believes and what Plutarch is intent on countering. Don suggests that if the mystery rites of Osiris had their own interpretation within the cult itself, Plutarch should have addressed that as well. But this would run up against the secrecy rule, and there is no reason why Plutarch should have broken it, or why he would wish to address it for his target readership. Besides, for those in the know, his allegorical rendition of the traditional myth itself would have served to comment on any secret interpretation within the rites.
Don will discuss Plutarch's Isis and Osiris in greater detail later in his review, but now he takes time out to address his favorite document (and mine, too!), the Ascension of Isaiah. On the Freethought Rationalist Discussion Board he recently became fixated on the phrase "in your form" in chapter 9. In his review he had focused on this as an allegedly unmistakable reference to the descending Son being at some point on earth if he was seen as adopting human form, since if crucified in the firmament, he would supposedly have adopted the form of the evil angels of that location. But the Ascension is a document that underwent many editings and insertions over the course of its development, in its several manuscript lines, and to base any allegedly slam-dunk argument based on nitty-gritty wording in such a document is a shaky procedure (as it is in the early Christian record generally). At this very point in the text (in chapter 9), there is an apparent insertion by some Gnostic editor in regard to Christ remaining "in that world for 545 days." On an FRDB "Vision of Isaiah" thread, I had this to say, and I'll let it stand as a response to this part of Don's review:
One assumes (insofar as we can pinpoint meanings imbedded in a document full of editings and amendments that are very hard to pin down in any exact way) that 'in your form' was indeed, in the mind of that particular editor (probably one subscribing to docetism, as in the nearby phrase 'they will think that he is flesh and a man'), a reference to human form and probably a reference to earth. However, not even this is secure, since certain gnostic documents like the Apocalypse of Adam contain descriptions of redeemer figures and their activities which are so fantastic that they seem to inhabit some other kind of reality, one reminiscent of some of the sources I've quoted in my 'World of Myth' chapter in JNGNM, rather than anything down-to-earth. And look at Revelation 12. Virgins giving birth in the heavens, where they are pursued by dragons. Hardly a simple earthly scene, what?
In any case, the 'in your form' tells us nothing about what the rest of the document and its prior states envisioned for the death of the Son.
Yet another example of his review's skewed nature which I referred to earlier is to be seen in Don's appeal to Justin:
'we [Christians] propound nothing different from what you [pagans] believe...' Could Justin have claimed this if the pagans believed that their gods acted in a 'supernatural realm' while Second Century Christians believed that Christ had incarnated on earth?
Well, not too many second century apologists (up to 180) seem to have believed that Christ was incarnated on earth, but yes, Justin was one who did. But what are the gods whom Justin is comparing his incarnated Christ with? In the First Apology passage quoted by Don, Justin mentions Jupiter, Mercury, Aesclepius, Hercules. There is no mention of Osiris, Attis, Mithras, and certainly not any context of the mystery cults. The mention of Bacchus (Dionysos) is to his traditional role as part of the Olympian pantheon, not to his cultic dimension as a savior god. I have never said (not even in The Jesus Puzzle) that the traditional figures of Greek mythology were transplanted to a heavenly world. Moreover, in the context of the point which Justin wishes to make, that certain features of his earthly Jesus paralleled certain features of the Greek gods, he required that the latter took place on earth, even if in a primordial time. Pointing to heavenly events by the Hellenistic savior gods (if Justin were a party to the cults' interpretations of their myths, which is by no means sure) would not have served his purpose.
Now, Don might have had a point to make if he had asked why, on the salvation-process level, Justin did not compare Christ's death and rising role with that of the other savior gods, at which time he might have made reference to the difference in venue for those activities. But he does not. Don also attempts a reverse case in regard to Celsus. But here, too, he fails to make any clear distinction between traditional Greek mythology and the interpretation of the savior god myths within the cults, so it is difficult to know whether Don is aware of such a distinction in Celsus, as preserved by Origen. As in the case of Justin, Celsus is dealing with the Gospel accounts of an earthly Christ, and he too is anxious to demonstrate that the Christians have produced nothing new in the details of that story. The fruits for such a comparison lie in the traditional Greek mythology, not in the mystery cults' use of their mythology, and so the former is what Celsus would have focused on for his own purposes. He, too, like Plutarch, would have avoided delving too deeply into the secret knowledge of the mysteries, if he was even familiar with it on a personal basis. We could also note that Celsus does not highlight a particular and very important difference between the Christians' Jesus on earth and the Greek gods on earth: that the former took place within recent memory while the latter were events of a distant past. That contrast Don would accept, and yet he does not question why Celsus fails to present it.
As a finale to his review of Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, Don takes on Richard Carrier and his 2002 review of The Jesus Puzzle, with special emphasis on Carrier's support for my "sublunar incarnation" theory. This is another of Don's longstanding bugaboos. Let me reiterate once again that I have never, including in The Jesus Puzzle, specifically advocated that Paul and other early cultic Christ-ers believed that Jesus was crucified "in the heavens below the moon." They may have had in mind that specific location, or they may not. They do not say so. What the evidence does indicate, however, is that they regarded Christ as crucified somewhere in a spiritual dimension, not on earth in a specific historical time and place. Given the Platonic cosmology of the era, we can feel pretty secure that this spiritual dimension had something to do with the layers of the heavens (Hebrews even makes a passing reference to them). But there was a lot of variety in exactly how those layers were perceived, their number and nature and what could go on in them, as many of the examples I gave in my "World of Myth" chapter indicate. For some Jewish sects whose documents we possess, suffering and death could go on in layers of the upper heavens, not only below the moon. So we cannot be sure just how Paul viewed the death of the Lord of glory at the hands of the rulers of this age.
The "sublunar" theory is presented as a principle. It is an essential element of the pervasive concept of a division between the perishable and the imperishable and what could go on in both realms. It is a kind of common denominator into which the salvation theories of the day, both Jewish/Christian and pagan, can be understood within the context of Platonic cosmology. The descending god must come down to an area of the universe in which he can undergo suffering and death, to the sphere of corruption and change. In his descent he takes on a likeness to lower forms, including humans. Incidentally, the "in your form" of the Ascension 9 is not necessarily an ironclad reference to human incarnation, even as an editorial insertion. The mythicist reading of other documents, particularly in the New Testament, encounters references to Christ taking on the "likeness of flesh," and similar phrases (as in Romans 8:3, Hebrews 2, the Philippians hymn), with no sign that this is on earth; there are references to a "spiritual body" as in 1 Cor. 15:35f, and to "spiritual flesh" as in the Apocalypse of Elijah.
Don finds fault with Carrier's support:
In Sumerian tablets, we learn that the goddess Inanna 'abandoned heaven, abandoned earth, and descended to the underworld,' crossing seven gates there (Samuel Kramer, History Begins at Sumer: Thirty-Nine Firsts in Man's Recorded History, rev. ed., 1981: cf. p. 162). Eventually she is killed by a demon in Hell: 'The sick woman was turned into a corpse. The corpse was hung from a nail. After three days and three nights had passed,' her vizier petitions the gods in heaven to resurrect her. Her Father gives her the 'food of life' and the 'water of life' and resurrects her, then she ascends from the land of the dead, sending another God (her lover) to die in her place: 'the shepherd Dumuzi' (aka Tammuz, a forerunner of Attis).
And that, disappointingly, is that. No sub-lunar realm, much less an incarnation. In a chapter entitled 'The Sublunar Incarnation Theory', I'm not sure how it is supposed to be 'proof-of-concept'.
Don is being his usual stickler self here, demanding an identical parallel or it's no cigar. First of all, he is being overly literal in regard to the term "incarnation." It is not being used by Carrier or myself (actually, I never use the term at all in regard to the cultic Christ) to have the same meaning as the orthodox incarnation of Jesus of Nazareth, born into a human life. Changing form as one descends into a lower level of the heavens is not incarnation, nor is the descent of Inanna into the underworld. The term is being loosely used by Carrier to signify the descent into a lower world, and the changes that this entails. Nor does it have to be specifically below the moon, in either case. It is the basic set of concepts that is common to both, and in that sense it is indeed a "proof-of-concept." This is yet another case of Don doing his usual thing, setting up straw men he can then reject for not being strictly consistent with the issue.
Now he goes on to Carrier's presentation (and mine) of the 'proof-of-concept' in Plutarch. He quotes Carrier:
Carrier then moves onto his second example. He writes:
A contemporary analogy is Plutarch's 'higher' reading of the Isis-Osiris myth (On Isis and Osiris, composed between the 80s and 100s, the very same time as the Gospels), where he says, using the vocabulary of mystery religion, that the secret truth held by priests is that Osiris is not really under the earth, nor was he ever on earth as a king like popular myths about him claim, but is a God 'far removed from the earth, uncontaminated and unpolluted and pure from all matter that is subject to destruction and death,' where 'he becomes the leader and king' of the souls of the dead (382e-383a). Plutarch also says 'that part of the world which undergoes reproduction and destruction is contained underneath the orb of the moon, and all things in that are subjected to motion and to change' (376d). It is there, in the 'outermost areas' (the 'outermost part of matter'), that evil has particular dominion, and where some believers imagine Osiris being continually dismembered and reassembled (375a-b).
Nowhere in Plutarch's work does he write that it is 'in the 'outermost areas' (the 'outermost part of matter') that 'some believers imagine Osiris being continually dismembered and reassembled.' While the words are certainly there, Carrier has rearranged those words to make Plutarch say something he does not say.
Now, would it not have been the right thing to do to quote Plutarch here, to show how Carrier has "rearranged" his words in some misleading fashion? And why is Don drawing on Carrier's use of these words at all, when the book he is supposed to be reviewing quotes all the same passages (Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p.146-8), in—hopefully—no misleading rearrangement of words?
There are four passages in the same vicinity within Isis and Osiris (sections 373 to 376), and while they are not given in the optimum order for our purposes, there is no confusing Plutarch's handling of the "higher reading" of the Osiris myth. In 376D, he makes the Platonic distinction between the realms of corruptibility and incorruptibility:
For that part of the world which undergoes reproduction and destruction is contained underneath the orb of the moon, and all things in that are subject to motion and to change…
In 375A, he says that Typhon, a Satan-like figure who represents the activity of evil, operates in the area near the orbit of the moon:
But where Typhon forces his way in and seizes upon the outermost areas...
And what are these "outermost areas"? 375B makes that clear:
For this reason the fable has it that Typhon cohabits with Nephthys and that Osiris has secret relations with her; for the destructive power exercises special dominion over the outermost part of matter which they call Nephthys or Finality
The "outermost part of matter" is that contained underneath the orb of the moon. And what does Plutarch locate there? We can expand on the second quote above:
But where Typhon forces his way in and seizes upon the outermost areas, there we may conceive of her [Isis] as seeming sad, and spoken of as mourning, and that she seeks for the remains and scattered members of Osiris and arrays them, receiving and hiding away the things perishable, from which she brings to light again the things that are created and sends them forth from herself.
This is a clear statement by Plutarch that he locates the 'higher' myth of Isis and Osiris in the "outermost part of matter," namely the area below the moon. As for Carrier's remark about the outermost areas being "where some believers imagine Osiris being continually dismembered and reassembled," this is also a reference—particularly in regard to the "continually"—to a passage in 373A:
It is not, therefore, out of keeping that they [the Egyptians] have a legend that the soul of Osiris is everlasting and imperishable, but that his body Typhon oftentimes dismembers and causes to disappear, and that Isis wanders hither and yon in her search for it, and fits it together again; for that which really is and is perceptible and good is superior to destruction and change.
Typhon, who is said to operate in the area below the moon, repeatedly causes the death of the body of Osiris (his soul remains in the upper heavens while his body has descended), while Isis brings about his resurrection in the same location. As I say in Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p.147-8:
In contradistinction to the earlier legendary activities of Osiris as king of Egypt in primordial times, here the acts of the cultic myth itself are said to be repeated, which removes it from any earthly setting. The essence of Osiris, his spirit-soul, inhabits the 'everlasting and imperishable,' the upper heavens, but his 'body' descends to the lower heavens to undergo the death and regeneration, things which can only take place in the realm of 'destruction and change.' Such a 'body,' repeatedly undergoing dismemberment, cannot be regarded as an incarnated human one, and must thus be intended as a heavenly equivalent within that realm of change below the moon. In 364F Plutarch refers to 'the accounts of the dismemberment of Osiris and his revivification and regenesis.' These things, too, are 'events' that are repeated, the latter being tantamount to resurrection, and thus the entirety of the legend is seen as operating in a spiritual dimension. Here we have an almost exact equivalent to the mythicist view of a Pauline Christ who descended to the lower part of the heavens, took on 'flesh' and underwent death and rising.
So what exactly is it that Carrier has done to these various passages which creates Don's alleged wrong impression? "Carrier has rearranged those words to make Plutarch say something he does not say." What has Carrier said (or myself, for that matter) which Plutarch does not say? Don does not enlighten us with any concrete description of the matter.
The extent of what he does provide as rebuttal is as follows:
As Plutarch describes their view, 'the soul of Osiris is everlasting and imperishable, but Typhon oftentimes dismembers his body and causes it to disappear, and Isis wanders hither and yon in her search for it, and fits it together again,' because his body is perishable and for that reason is 'driven hither from the upper reaches' (373a-b). In other words, for these believers Osiris is 'incarnated' in the sublunar heaven and actually dies and resurrects there, later ascending beyond to the imperishable heavens.
Again, nowhere does Plutarch write that believers thought that Osiris is 'incarnated' in the sublunar heaven and actually dies and resurrects there. I have raised Carrier's examples in on-line forums, and generally people agree that Carrier has misrepresented Plutarch. (One mythicist suggested that Carrier had perhaps created his own translation of Plutarch.) I invite interested readers to check this out for themselves.
Well, we have just checked Plutarch for ourselves, and quite clearly Plutarch does say that Osiris dies (at Typhon's hand) and resurrects (at Isis' hand) in the sublunar heaven. And it sounds like Don is again insisting that he won't accept anything but a literal meaning of the word "incarnation." Incidentally, I have used the very same online translation of Isis and Osiris which Don has provided a link to, and as far as I can see, Carrier has used the same one. And I don't know on which forum(s) "generally people agree that Carrier has misrepresented Plutarch." It certainly wasn't the FRDB, from what I recall of those discussions.
Having dealt with Plutarch in the context of Carrier's review of The Jesus Puzzle, Don now approaches Plutarch from his own point of view. He says he will be quoting from Isis and Osiris to "provide some idea of how the myths were viewed in Plutarch's time." He needs to be careful here, for showing how Plutarch interpreted the myths is not necessarily indicating how everyone else interpreted them. After dealing with the 'historical' legends of Osiris and Isis as rulers of Egypt, Plutarch shifts to interpreting the myths on a different level. As Don puts it:
The idea that the myths were created to allegorically represent natural events and forces is a theme that Plutarch comes back to again and again. The myths were but reflections of 'some true tale', though he points out that the more lurid parts can be discounted as against the 'nature of the imperishable', which is the nature of the true divinity above the firmament:
There is nothing unusual about the ancients seeing the savior god myths as representing natural events and forces. The standard way scholarship has always analysed the myths is as a representation of the astronomical workings of the universe and of nature on earth, especially in regard to the cycle of the seasons and agriculture. (More recent scholarship has come up with some alternate proposals by which the myths could be interpreted, but that of the agricultural cycles does not merit abandonment.) Plutarch certainly leans in the direction of myth as allegory of natural events and forces, but lest Don overlook the point, such things are not restricted to earth itself. And in fact Plutarch is constantly referring to "nature" in the heavens, as Don has just noted in the above quote. To illustrate, he quotes Plutarch in 358e:
These are nearly all the important points of the legend, with the omission of the most infamous of the tales, such as that about the dismemberment of Horus and the decapitation of Isis. There is one thing that I have no need to mention to you: if they hold such opinions and relate such tales about the nature of the blessed and imperishable (in accordance with which our concept of the divine must be framed) and if such deeds and occurrences actually took place, then 'Much there is to spit and cleanse the mouth', as Aeschylus has it.
As Don has put it, Plutarch's objections to certain "lurid parts" of the myth are that they impute to Osiris things which go against "the nature of the imperishable," that of "the true divinity above the firmament." In other words, there are elements of the myth which, as Plutarch sees it, relate to Osiris in his higher-heavenly state. In the last of my own quotes earlier, the "soul" of Osiris is regarded as "everlasting" and "imperishable," while his "body" is subject to death and dismemberment. Such distinctions cannot be operative on earth alone. And Plutarch throughout that particular passage is concerned with the cosmological distinctions and relationships between the imperishable and the perishable, and the Platonic principle of the generation of the lower, "sensible and corporeal" world by the higher "good (and) superior" world. Thus they encompass much more than the "natural forces" of the earthly dimension. Clearly, Osiris in Plutarch's view, in the allegory of his myth, operates at least in the heavens as well.
But what of the part about the legend of Osiris in regard to his "body Typhon oftentimes dismembers and causes to disappear, and that Isis wanders hither and yon in her search for it, and fits it together again"? Is Plutarch allegorizing this as representing forces of nature on earth? Not even Don tries to claim this. Plutarch's context is the various interpretations of the Osiris myth which other philosophers have offered. "Thus among the Egyptians such men say that Osiris is the Nile consorting with the Earth, which is Isis, and that the sea is Typhon into which the Nile discharges its waters…" Or, as Don summarizes it, "Osiris is the Nile and moisture, while Typhon is the dry heat that is 'anti-moisture'." Note that these are not Plutarch's own preferred interpretations, though he grants them respectability as the product of wise philosophers. Such passages illustrate that there was a variety of allegorical interpretation of the Osiris myth (just as there was of other savior god myths). It is that very variety, along with the literal approach of the person-in-the-street to seeing the myths as tales of the gods' activities on earth which Plutarch criticizes, which makes it impossible to declare—as Don has often done—that the myths could be seen only one way: as tales set in a distant past on earth.
Don highlights another interpretation of the myth as given by Plutarch:
In the same vein, Plutarch describes how the Osiris myth can be made to represent the actions of natural forces acting on the Moon:
There are some who would make the legend an allegorical reference to matters touching eclipses; for the Moon suffers eclipse only when she is full, with the Sun directly opposite to her, and she falls into the shadow of the Earth, as they say Osiris fell into his coffin. Then again, the Moon herself obscures the Sun and causes solar eclipses, always on the thirtieth of the month; however, she does not completely annihilate the Sun, and likewise Isis did not annihilate Typhon. (368d)
Please note that neither is this "eclipse" interpretation offered by Plutarch as his own. It is yet another put forward by "some" of those wise philosophers, adding another to the list of diverse and current interpretations of the myth. We can also note that this one applies to natural forces in the heavens, even the moon itself.
And where does Don go from here? Back to that passage in my final quote.
Now we come to the part that Carrier uses in his review of Doherty's 'Sublunar Incarnation Theory', dealing with the sublunar realm. I'll be referring to this further below in more detail. But for now, I'll note that as before Plutarch gives the view that sees the Osiris myth as allegorical tales involving natural forces:
It is not, therefore, out of keeping that they have a legend that the soul of Osiris is everlasting and imperishable, but that his body Typhon oftentimes dismembers and causes to disappear, and that Isis wanders hither and yon in her search for it, and fits it together again; for that which really is and is perceptible and good is superior to destruction and change. The images from it with which the sensible and corporeal is impressed, and the relations, forms, and likenesses which this take upon itself, like impressions of seals in wax, are not permanently lasting, but disorder and disturbance overtakes them, being driven hither from the upper reaches, and fighting against Horus, whom Isis brings forth, beholden of all, as the image of the perceptible world....
...it [the destructive force of Typhon] taints waters and winds with pestilence, and it runs forth wanton even as far as the moon, oftentimes confounding and darkening the moon's brightness; according to the belief and account of the Egyptians, Typhon at one time smites the eye of Horus, and at another time snatches it out and swallows it, and then later gives it back again to the Sun. By the smiting, they refer allegorically to the monthly waning of the moon, and by the crippling, to its eclipse, which the Sun heals by shining straight upon it as soon as it has escaped the shadow of the earth. (373a-b)
At the start of the quote above, Plutarch refers back to the Egyptian myth of Osiris's body being dismembered on earth. As can be seen, Osiris is not actually being incarnated nor dismembered in the 'sublunar' realm at all. The 'dismemberment' story takes place on earth, and is the allegorical representation of what happens during an eclipse.
Well, not only is Don here begging the question by declaring that the reference at the opening of the above quote to Osiris' body being dismembered is "on earth," we saw earlier that a consideration of several passages throughout this part of the work would lead us in the opposite direction, to seeing the "dismemberment" story not as taking place on earth but in the heavens below the moon where Typhon operated. Just because Plutarch tells us of other interpretations by other philosophers which tie the allegory to earth does not mean that this one automatically has to as well. In fact, Don wishes to favor the interpretation that it represents what happens during an eclipse, which is an event which does not take place on earth. In the latter half of Don's quote just above, the actions of Typhon in regard to eclipses is entirely portrayed as taking place in the heavens. It thus becomes very dubious and not a little contradictory for Don to declare that the dismemberment story takes place on earth. How can what happens during an eclipse be said to take place on earth? Don has tied himself in knots here.
Moreover, the context in the Plutarch quote about the body of Osiris being dismembered by Typhon (in the first half of Don's above quote) has nothing to do with eclipses. It is, as I pointed out earlier, about the relationship between the spiritual and material portions of the universe; the creation of images from the former being converted into copies in the latter which are not permanent, but 'overtaken by disorder and disturbance, driven from the upper reaches.' These are cosmic events encompassing the entire universe, not merely earthly ones. Plutarch is analysing the myth in the context of this cosmic dimension.
I have placed a gap between the two parts of Don's above quote, because running them together as Don does, separated only by a simple hiatus (…), creates the impression that the second follows more or less immediately upon the first. In fact, there are a couple of dozen lines of text between them, including a clear change of subject. Don seems to be trying to link the eclipse motif of the second part with the dismemberment motif of the first part. (Though to what end, I don't know, as I've pointed out that any 'eclipse' event takes place in the heavens, not on earth, something the quoted text clearly presents.) In any case, that later passage is simply a detailing of some of the mischief which Typhon is guilty of, and is not in any way being related to the myth of Osiris' dismemberment. This is another example of Don's habit of atomism.
Moreover, the passage containing the reference to Osiris' dismemberment by Typhon follows on a previous paragraph which does a couple of things. First, it establishes that Plutarch is now on personally preferred ground. These are the allegorical interpretations which he supports. Second, his focus is not on eclipses, or on earthly events, but on abstract principles basic to the universe's functioning. These may well be styled "natural forces" but they are not in any way tied to the surface of the earth or historical events:
But now let us take up again the proper subject of our discussion. Isis is, in fact, the female principle of Nature, and is receptive of every form of generation, in accord with which she is called by Plato the gentle nurse and the all-receptive, and by most people has been called by countless names, since, because of the force of Reason, she turns herself to this thing or that and is receptive of all manner of shapes and forms. She has an innate love for the first and most dominant of all things, which is identical with the good, and this she yearns for and pursues; but the portion which comes from evil she tries to avoid and to reject, for she serves them both as a place and means of growth, but inclines always towards the better and offers to it opportunity to create from her and to impregnate her with effluxes and likenesses in which she rejoices and is glad that she is made pregnant and teeming with these creations. For creation is the image of being in matter, and the thing created is a picture of reality.
This leads into that key paragraph: "It is not, therefore, out of keeping that they have a legend…" For Plutarch at this point, the focus of that legend is the role of Isis in reassembling the dismembered Osiris, for she is seeking the reestablishment of his former unity and perfection: "for that which really is and is perceptible and good is superior to destruction and change." This follows on that preceding paragraph in which Isis "yearns for and pursues" that "which is identical with the good." This yearning, the "inclining toward the better" is not an isolated event (and certainly not an eclipse), but an ongoing process, something which she repeats. Thus, the tie Plutarch makes in the next paragraph with it being fitting that the legend involves a repetition of the process of dismemberment (the repeated action of evil in the world) followed by the regeneration of Osiris (Isis' repeated quest to establish the good).
The impression Don creates in this concluding part of his review is of a disorganized wandering over the Plutarchian landscape, pointing to this or that feature of his surroundings—usually misinterpreted—in an attempt to back up declarations that are unargued, let alone clinched by supporting evidence: that Plutarch has no thought about a myth given a setting in the heavens, that no sublunar concept is present, that there is nothing here that could provide "proof of concept" for Doherty's theory. Rather, by choosing to focus on this text, he has in fact provided material for examination which does those very things. The sublunar concept is indeed present, and is assigned to the activities of the evil Typhon, including his dismemberment of Osiris. Osiris is a descending god, in that his soul, his pure godhood, resides in the upper reaches, but his body has descended to undergo death and resurrection. Plutarch's rendering of the myth relates to processes on a scale covering both upper and lower heavens, not earthly historical events. Unlike Paul, Plutarch may be envisioning his heavenly myth as allegory only, not literal events taking place in another dimension; we don't have to worry about the availability of dismemberment tools used by Typhon, let alone spiritual nails and crosses. But that is beside the point. We were looking for placement of savior god myths in the heavens, with motifs that were in common with some of those in the Christ myth found in Paul. Whether those processes in the heavens were treated as literal or allegorical does not matter. Plutarch has given them to us.
This ends my response to GakuseiDon's review of Jesus: Neither God Nor Man. While that review suffers from serious flaws, it nevertheless represents an effort to counter the mythicist case in some detail, an effort not yet undertaken in recent times by any scholar within mainstream academia.
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