Before Jesus of Nazareth

The first half of the second century was a watershed time in Christian history. By mid-century all four canonical gospels had been written (below), and the bulk of the Pauline epistles were ‘collected’ and published. At the beginning of the second century, however, it seems that only some elements of Paul’s letters (short epistles) were known, and probably not to many people. It is difficult for us to imagine a Christianity without Jesus of Nazareth. But we must do so, for the colossal God-man arrived not before the second century. The Pauline epistles do not know such a Jesus. On the other hand, the gospels do. The period of greatest ferment in Christianity can be dated to the two centuries … Continue reading

H. Detering confronts R. Carrier—Pt. 2

Paul, Mark, and other substitutions: Richard Carrier on The Fabricated Paul by Dr. Hermann Detering Edited and translated by René Salm   I’ve long wondered that Carrier’s responses to higher critical positions give the impression of having been formed through acquaintance at second hand, as would be the case were his learning gained through casual discussions or even hearsay. He routinely (and maddeningly) simply does not substantiate his claims. In any case, what he has to offer regarding higher criticism is usually incorrect. One telling example is his failure to distinguish between the authenticity of the Pauline epistles and the historicity of the Apostle. Carrier treats the two issues as one, seeming quite unaware that the majority of the Dutch … Continue reading

H. Detering confronts R. Carrier—Pt. 1

Paul, Mark, and other substitutions: Richard Carrier on The Fabricated Paul by Dr. Hermann Detering Edited and translated by René Salm For some time now friends have asked me to respond to a certain blog entry by Dr. Richard Carrier, one entitled “The Historicity of Paul the Apostle” (dated June 6, 2015), in which the author expresses himself regarding my book The Fabricated Paul. My response has been delayed due to more pressing work, and also to my natural aversion towards engaging in a confrontation that includes a degree of unpleasantness. Being reminded by some, however, that Carrier’s statements cannot go without rebuttal, I have now acquiesced to the task. From the natural philosophy of the Early Roman Empire to … Continue reading

The Hebrew Gospel—Pt. 5

We have seen that the Jesus-as-spirit view preceded the Jesus-as-flesh-and-blood view. By Late Roman times, however, a text that represented that earlier christology would have been absolutely anathema—completely off the table of discourse. Yet, the Jesus-as-spirit view is precisely the christology presented in the Hebrew Gospel, a text that J. Edwards dates before the synoptic gospels. Thus Jerome: For since the apostles considered [Jesus] to be a spirit or, according to the gospel which is of the Hebrews and is read by the Nazoraeans, a demon without a body, he said to them… (Edwards 284.) This interesting citation suggests several things: (1) the Hebrew Gospel endorsed the Jesus-as-spirit christology, something Jerome seems to view (with disparagement, no doubt) as “a … Continue reading

The early bodiless Jesus—Pt. 3

The spiritual Jesus At an early stage of Christianity, according to the foregoing analysis, Jesus was a spiritual entity. This was a pre-canonical stage, to be dated to the first century CE—before the invention of Jesus the Nazarene and before the writing of the canonical gospels. The spiritual Jesus is evident, for example, in the epistles of Paul, works that do not know Jesus the Nazarene (“Nazarene” or “Nazareth” do not occur even once in the Pauline epistles). As I wrote in NazarethGate (p. 409):           Paul enthuses in his epistles about the spiritual entity he calls singly and severally the “Lord,” “Jesus,” and “Christ.” The entity grants grace, peace, comfort, authority (2 Cor 10:8), will slay the “lawless one” at … Continue reading

Part 3—A revolution in the Synoptic Problem

[Note: This post has been substantially updated.] The so-called Synoptic Problem can be defined as the search for the literary and redactional relationship between the three (obviously) extensively related “synoptic” gospels—Mark, Matthew, and Luke. Majority opinion has long favored the “two source theory”: Matthew and Luke primarily drew on Mark, and they also drew on a saying source not available to Mark known as “Q” (German abbreviation for Quelle, “source”). However, ongoing disagreements among New Testament scholars show that the two source theory is not satisfactory to many. Perhaps the biggest sticking point is that the Q source is entirely hypothetical. Despite a veritable library that has now been written about it (e.g., see John Kloppenborg’s massive works), Q is … Continue reading

Part 2—Paul moves to the second century CE

Powerful headwinds… One has to wonder how it is that, after literally centuries of research, the field of ‘biblical studies’ (encompassing the Jewish scriptures as well as the New Testament) still presents an opaque mass of mutually contradictory conclusions—and, indeed, no universally held conclusions at all! Whenever a promising breakthrough appears—or merely threatens to appear—a chorus of denials predictably rises from the entrenched institutions among us (church, synagogue, and academy) to return to the status quo ante. The correct inference to be drawn is not that (1) people are stupid, (2) researchers are blind, or (3) information is hidden (though a little of all three is probably true), but that in the field of religious studies change is intolerable. Inertia … Continue reading

Part 1—“Paul,” the improbable phantom

While Jesus mythicists have been focusing on the (a)historicity of Jesus of Nazareth, a related scholarly war has been raging behind the scenes, as it were: the (a)historicity of Paul of Tarsus—or, more precisely, the inauthenticity of his epistles. It is now becoming increasingly clear that the two issues are intimately linked. After all, if the Pauline epistles are inauthentic, then what basis remains to posit the historicity of their author? Other than the epistles, all that’s really left regarding the historical Paul is the notoriously contrived text known to us as the Acts of the Apostles. Of the thirteen letters ascribed to Paul in the New Testament (the Letter to the Hebrews is “anonymous”), six are considered even by … Continue reading

Book Review: “Mark, Canonizer of Paul” by Tom Dykstra (2012) — Pt. 4

Deception and power      Dykstra writes that the canonical gospels are “scriptural historiography… The narrative is anchored to known historical facts, it is written to achieve a practical political or religious purpose, and in the furtherance of that purpose the author is free to invent whatever does not unreasonably transgress the bounds of plausibility” (p. 198). Dykstra then flat-out states that the evangelist is “compelled to invent whatever is necessary to achieve his purpose.” Well, that about sums up the situation: the evangelists invented what suited their purposes and that they could get away with (which is another way of saying: “whatever does not unreasonably transgress the bounds of plausibility”).      The closest contemporary genre to the above is probably what we … Continue reading

Book Review: “Mark, Canonizer of Paul” by Tom Dykstra (2012) — Pt. 3

Chp. 5: Presenting Jesus as the Crucified One      Dykstra begins this chapter with an important observation: “Another theme unique to Paul is his emphasis on the cross, or more specifically on the crucified Christ over the resurrected Christ” (p. 93). The terminology “crucified Christ” vs. “resurrected Christ” mirrors the two great models of salvation fighting one another for hegemony in the pre-canonical religion: salvation through faith (the “cross”) vs. salvation through gnosis (spiritual “resurrection”). In Pauline thought, salvation in “Jesus” is through faith in his atoning death on the physical cross. In gnostic thought, salvation in “Jesus” is through the acquisition of spiritual gnosis. These are two different religions and two different Jesuses—one material, one spiritual. Paul’s disputes with both … Continue reading