New Testament -- which are the mythicist texts? Analysis of Carrier OHJ

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GakuseiDon
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New Testament -- which are the mythicist texts? Analysis of Carrier OHJ

Post by GakuseiDon » Sat Dec 01, 2018 7:54 pm

Below I've given an analysis of the 27 books in the New Testament, examining them from the perspective of whether they support mythicist or not, and the differences between texts that do support mythicism and texts that don't. The data has been taken from my notes compiled when reviewing Earl Doherty's and Dr Richard Carrier's works on mythicism.

Notes:
  • I've used quotes from Carrier's "On the Historicity of Jesus" and his conclusions on texts where I can.
  • There have been other books that have been thought as scripture like the Shepherd of Hermas (which Doherty believes is a text by non-historicist Christians) that I haven't included. But they might be useful to add.
  • I've used the words 'mythicist' and 'historicist' below, but with the caveat that Carrier uses 'earthly' to imply 'historical', which skews the odds in my opinion. In a broader context, 'mythicism' doesn't mean 'celestial Jesus' nor 'earthly' mean 'historical Jesus'.
  • I'm not arguing for H or M here (though I clearly come down on the H side). I think if it was proven without a doubt that there was no historical Jesus, it would change the debate on what is happening in early texts and why rather than stop the debate.
Key:

'M" = Mythicist text, i.e. a text written by a 'mythicist' Christian, i.e. the author didn't believe in a historical Jesus
"H" = Historicist text, i.e. the author believed in an earthly Jesus who actually lived on earth.
M? = Could have been written by a 'mythicist' Christian
M?? = May have been a 'historicist' author, but using non-historicist materials so that the text contributes towards 'mythicism'. (Added category thanks to criticisms by Giuseppe below on the Gospels and Acts
H? = Could have been written by a 'historicist' Christian

Book Myth?Hist? Notes
Gospels
Matthew M??H? Author may be historicist believing that gMark was about an actual historical person
Mark MThe Gospels contribute to Carrier's Rank/Raglan score, and are 2 to 15 times more likely on M than H
Luke M??H?
John M??H?
Acts
Acts of the Apostles M?? H OHJ, p 386 “The content of Acts is therefore evidence against the historicity of Jesus.“ It is up to 5 times more likely on M rather than H
Paul Disputed letters are marked with an asterisk (*)
Romans M
1 Cor M
Galatians M
2 Cor M
Ephesians* M
Philippians M
Colossians* M
1 Thess M OHJ p 566 “1 Thess. 2.15-16… has long been recognized as an interpolation”
2 Thess* M OHJ p 594 “Other canonical Epistles: Best 4/5, Worst 3/5”
Pastorals Epistles are known as the Pastoral epistles except for Philemon
1 Timothy* M?H? OHJ, p 538 “Even the gospel declared in 1 Timothy is odd: though the author of 1 Timothy may have been a historicist… the gospel he summarizes (in 1 Tim. 3.16) looks pre-historicist in origin”
2 Timothy* M? No historicity details
Titus* M? No historicity details
Philemon M? OHJ, p 261 “Philemon contains no data relevant to the historicity of Jesus, so it can be disregarded anyway.”
Others
Hebrews M
1 James M? OHJ, p 529 “That this letter [James] looks more in agreement with minimal mythicism than minimal historicity is therefore noteworthy....”
1 Peter M? OHJ, p 528 “The epistles of James and 1 Peter are also oddly silent about a historical Jesus...” OHJ, p 530 “1 Peter 1.10-12 describes the actual process by which facts about Jesus were discovered: scripture (vv. 1 0-l l ) and revelation to the apostles (v. 1 2). Jesus having ministered to the public and been known to anyone in person is again conspicuously absent here. This is practically minimal mythicism in a nutshell.”
2 Peter H OHJ, p 351 “2 Peter is attacking some Christian heresy we know nothing else about and have no documents from. Instead, we get a forged 'eyewitness testimony' cleverly designed to refute the claim that the Gospel was a myth...”
1 John H OHJ, p 528 “… the forgery of the Epistles of John (since 1 Jn 1 . 1 -3 seems to serve a similar purpose as 2 Pet. 1 . 1 6-2. 1 , indeed it even appears to protest too much...”
2 John -- Not discussed, very short letter. No historicist or Gospel details. Contains “For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.”
3 John -- Not discussed, very short letter. No historicist or Gospel details.
Jude M? OHJ, page 528 “Following them is the Epistle of Jude (lit­ erally, Judas), which also makes no reference to the historical Jesus”
Revelation M

Analysis:

Of the 27 texts in the NT:
  1. 23 texts could have been written by Mythicists. These include texts that seem to support mythicism strongly according to Carrier, to texts that don't offer any details about a historical Jesus, or any Gospel details.
  2. 4 epistles were probably written by 'historicists', though 3 of the Gospels could have been written by 'historicists' as well.
Of the 4 texts considered not written by Mythicists:
  1. Acts of the Apostles seems to have included Mythicist material, to the extent that Carrier considers that Acts supports mythicism rather than historicity. Best/worst case according to Carrier: 18/25 to 1/5 (e.g. Acts is 5 times more likely to support mythicism than historicity). It contains few statements supporting an 'earthly' Jesus.
  2. The single 'earthly' statement in 1 Tim may be an interpolation. If that is the case, then 1 Tim would fall into the pattern of 'mythicism' (e.g. no historical details about Jesus, no Gospel details, vague statements not supporting time and place such).
  3. 2 Peter contains a single 'earthly' statement about being 'eye witnesses' to the glory of Jesus. If that is an interpolation, then 2 Peter would fall into the pattern of 'mythicism' (e.g. no historical details about Jesus, no Gospel details, vague statements not supporting time and place such).
  4. 1 John contains a single 'earthly' statement 'we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life'. Otherwise, it seems to fall into the pattern of 'mythicism', as above.
Of the 4 Gospel texts:

Even in the Gospels, there are surprisingly few details about Jesus. Was Jesus married or single? Tall or short? How long was his ministry? Carrier uses the contents of the Gospels based on Rank/Raglan scale for his prior probability, and gives the Best case/worst case as follows: 2 to 15 times more likely to support mythicism rather than historicism. However, only Mark may be by a 'mythicist'. The other Gospel writers may have been 'historicists' who used Mark and other sources in order to 'flesh' out their Jesus stories. (Updated thanks to Giuseppe's criticisms below)

Of the 23 non-Gospel texts:

There is very little difference in style or content between the 19 possible mythicist texts and the 4 'historicist' texts. The historicist texts are also vague about details around the historical Jesus and lack Gospel details and an earthly setting for Jesus. Removing one 'earthly' statement -- usually nothing more than 'we were eye-witnesses!' would move the text over into a 'mythicist' written one.

Looking at later literature, we see the same vagueness: Carrier writes (in OHJ page 315) the following about the Epistle to Barnabas, which was considered scriptural at an early state (my bolding):

The Epistle of Barnabas (which assumes the historicity of Jesus) could conceivably date around this same time, but it has not been any more precisely dated than 70-130 CE, and in my opinion it surely dates to the period 130-132 CE... What few things Barnabas says about Jesus are rarely specific and never sourced anyway-its content thus can't be ascertained as having any source independent of the Gospels or Christian tradition influenced by the Gospels. It could reflect an early example of historicist theology, but as such it is no less expected on myth as on historicity and thus makes no difference to their consequents.

Going onto the Second Century apologists, Earl Doherty writes in his "Jesus: Neither God Nor Man" when he compares the Second Century Christian apologists writing to pagans with the First Century epistle writers:

Another aspect is the fact that in almost all the apologists we find a total lack of a sense of history. They do not talk of their religion as an ongoing movement with a specific century of development behind it, through a beginning in time, place and circumstances, and a spread in similar specifics. Some of them pronounce it to be very "old" and they look back to roots in the Jewish prophets rather than to the life of a recent historical Jesus. In this, of course, they are much like the 1st century epistle writers. (Page 477)

And I agree! There is a pattern there. I am an amateur with no knowledge of the ancient languages involved, just someone who has read a lot of early literature in its English translation. But it does seem to suggest to me that a common writing style that is vague on historical details is at play here, and that should be taken into consideration when evaluating whether a text is 'mythicist' or 'historicist'.

I welcome any comments. Should I move any text from one column to the other? Or something I've missed here? The results are based on the works of Carrier and Doherty, so I'd like to keep it consistent with their ideas if I can.

(Comments updated thanks to Giuseppe's criticisms below)
Last edited by GakuseiDon on Sun Dec 02, 2018 1:13 am, edited 9 times in total.
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Re: New Testament -- which are the mythicist texts? Analysis of Carrier OHJ

Post by Giuseppe » Sat Dec 01, 2018 11:14 pm

'M" = Mythicist text, i.e. a text written by a 'mythicist' Christian, i.e. the author didn't believe in a historical Jesus
I am surprised to read that 'John', 'Luke', 'Matthew' (authors) and even the author of Acts were 'mythicist' authors.
I remember somewhere that Carrier wrote that these Gospel texts are so enigmatic, that we can't infer from them if their authors were secretly mythicists or historicists. Surely, under the Mythicist paradigm, at least the author of the Earliest Gospel, Mark or proto-Mark, was secretly a mythicist.

I personally think (and I know that prof Robert Price would agree with me: read his Ehrman Interpreted) that the Gospel authors (even ''Mark'' as editor, and not the author of proto-Mark) were all strongly historicists. I think that they loved and hated in the same time proto-Mark: this mix of hatred and love had lead them to correct that text (but also to concede their minimal point: that a Jesus existed in the recent past on the earth), otherwise a total rejection by them of that text would have provoked the rapid end, just at the beginning, of the process of euhemerization started by ''Mark' (and only by him).

Two words on Acts of Apostles: when Carrier says
OHJ, p 386 “The content of Acts is therefore evidence against the historicity of Jesus.“ It is up to 5 times more likely on M rather than H

surely he isn't meaning that the author of Acts was secretly in the mythicist field (if he argued this, then I would be partially deluded by him). Only that the his ignorance of the Gospel tradition reflects the inevitable 'memory lapses' that are strongly expected during the process of euhemerization of a hero on the earth.
Nihil enim in speciem fallacius est quam prava religio. -Liv. xxxix. 16.

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Re: New Testament -- which are the mythicist texts? Analysis of Carrier OHJ

Post by GakuseiDon » Sun Dec 02, 2018 12:28 am

Giuseppe wrote:
Sat Dec 01, 2018 11:14 pm
'M" = Mythicist text, i.e. a text written by a 'mythicist' Christian, i.e. the author didn't believe in a historical Jesus
I am surprised to read that 'John', 'Luke', 'Matthew' (authors) and even the author of Acts were 'mythicist' authors.
I remember somewhere that Carrier wrote that these Gospel texts are so enigmatic, that we can't infer from them if their authors were secretly mythicists or historicists. Surely, under the Mythicist paradigm, at least the author of the Earliest Gospel, Mark or proto-Mark, was secretly a mythicist.
You're right. Since those authors added to the items used in Dr Carrier's Rank/Raglan scale, I put them as 'M'. But that isn't necessarily so. I'll update that part.
Giuseppe wrote:
Sat Dec 01, 2018 11:14 pm
I personally think (and I know that prof Robert Price would agree with me: read his Ehrman Interpreted) that the Gospel authors (even ''Mark'' as editor, and not the author of proto-Mark) were all strongly historicists. I think that they loved and hated in the same time proto-Mark: this mix of hatred and love had lead them to correct that text (but also to concede their minimal point: that a Jesus existed in the recent past on the earth), otherwise a total rejection by them of that text would have provoked the rapid end, just at the beginning, of the process of euhemerization started by ''Mark' (and only by him).
Yes, that's one issue that the discussion would move towards if the consensus changed to accept that there was no historical Jesus.
Giuseppe wrote:
Sat Dec 01, 2018 11:14 pm
Two words on Acts of Apostles: when Carrier says
OHJ, p 386 “The content of Acts is therefore evidence against the historicity of Jesus.“ It is up to 5 times more likely on M rather than H

surely he isn't meaning that the author of Acts was secretly in the mythicist field (if he argued this, then I would be partially deluded by him). Only that the his ignorance of the Gospel tradition reflects the inevitable 'memory lapses' that are strongly expected during the process of euhemerization of a hero on the earth.
No, IIRC Carrier believes that Acts was probably written by a 'historicist'. But the author (either intentionally or unintentionally) received some of his/her material from 'mythicist' sources, thus contributing to the score positively towards 'mythicism'. I've updated the OP to make that clearer. Thanks for your feedback!
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Re: New Testament -- which are the mythicist texts? Analysis of Carrier OHJ

Post by Irish1975 » Sun Dec 02, 2018 10:13 am

Thanks for this analysis of Carrier and Doherty. I imagine you would agree that we can ask two different questions about NT texts.

1) Do they provide evidence, strong or weak, that a human/historical Jesus existed?
2) Did the author(s) believe that a human/historical Jesus existed?

It's possible that James 5:6, "You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you," provides inconclusive evidence of the death of a historical Jesus. Whether it does or not has little to do with the author's beliefs about a historical Jesus. That is because the issue of historicity does not arise in any way in the epistle of James. Does it arise in the NT as a whole? There is the issue of docetism here and there, as in 1 John 4: 1-4, and 2 John 7. But these are hardly debates about historicity:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God: for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God...
I think the H vs. M debate is our modern debate, but that it cannot be usefully ascribed to the NT authors. On the mythicist hypothesis, euhemerism happens, but not necessarily because of what we know about authorial intentions or beliefs.
"Jesus tricked everyone" ~the gospel of Philip

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Re: New Testament -- which are the mythicist texts? Analysis of Carrier OHJ

Post by GakuseiDon » Sun Dec 02, 2018 6:15 pm

Irish1975 wrote:
Sun Dec 02, 2018 10:13 am
Thanks for this analysis of Carrier and Doherty. I imagine you would agree that we can ask two different questions about NT texts.

1) Do they provide evidence, strong or weak, that a human/historical Jesus existed?
2) Did the author(s) believe that a human/historical Jesus existed?
Sure, but that wasn't the point of my OP. The analysis is: what differences, if any, are there between NT texts marked as M and texts marked as H? I think that there are very little differences, except that the H texts have about one fairly unambiguous statement supporting an 'earthly' Jesus.

Take 1 Timothy as a test case. Dr Carrier marks it as probably a H text because of one passage. But if that one passage is an interpolation or can be re-interpreted, then the text could well be a M text. From Carrier's OHJ:

(OHJ p 538, Note 43) Even the gospel declared in 1 Timothy is odd: though the author of 1 Timothy may have been a historicist (as suggested, e.g., by 1 Tim. 6.13; although see note below), the gospel he summarizes (in 1 Tim. 3.16) looks pre-historicist in origin (see discussion in Chapter 8, §6).

(OHJ p 566, Note 71 ) The opposite is said in 1 Tim. 6.13, which declares that Jesus 'testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate ', thus claiming (supposedly) that the Romans killed him (and that, contrary to the Gospels, Jesus preached the gospel to Pilate). Although the Greek here could be read as saying only that Jesus 'testified to the good news in the time of Pontius Pilate'. However, 1 Timothy is a late forgery, and therefore useless as evidence-so what it may have meant here doesn't matter.

The significance of this is great IMHO: the styles between the two types of texts are very similar, so that we can't tell from those styles which text is M and which is H. For example, a difference might be that the H texts have lots of historical markers while the M texts do not. Or the M texts have more theologically driven statements than H texts. But both sets have vague statements around people and events. The texts are identical in style and content AFAICS. The only difference is the H texts have about ONE statement suggesting historicity. And even that statement is vague; i.e. "we were eye-witnesses".
Irish1975 wrote:
Sun Dec 02, 2018 10:13 am
It's possible that James 5:6, "You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you," provides inconclusive evidence of the death of a historical Jesus. Whether it does or not has little to do with the author's beliefs about a historical Jesus.
Right, but why is James so vague on who 'the righteous one' is? Why is there a general lack of historical details about ANYTHING regarding the early church in those letters? There are a few scraps, to be sure, and lots of significance is hung on those scraps -- because that is all we have.

This is a question for both mythicist origin theories and historicist origin theories. If mythicism wins the day, the debate over what happened in the early church wouldn't stop, it would continue.
Irish1975 wrote:
Sun Dec 02, 2018 10:13 am
That is because the issue of historicity does not arise in any way in the epistle of James. Does it arise in the NT as a whole? There is the issue of docetism here and there, as in 1 John 4: 1-4, and 2 John 7. But these are hardly debates about historicity:
Leave aside the question of Jesus for a moment. We all know there was an early church. What does the epistle of James tell us about the early church, if anything? What historical details about places and events are given? James doesn't mention Jerusalem, time frames when things happen, etc. This is similar to many of the other letters. There is something similar in the writings of the Second Century, as noted by Doherty.

I came across in interesting review of Plutarch's writings on the Bryn Mawr Classical Review website here:
http://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2004/2004-04-32.html

But again we return to the problem that Plutarch rarely adverts directly to the contemporary world (the allusion to Domitian at Publicola 15, discussed by Stadter, is a rare and striking exception). For two contributors to this volume, his writings are notable not for their engagement with issues of contemporary currency but for their avoidance of them... Schmidt's conclusion is that Plutarch's approach is entirely traditional and reflects nothing of the contemporary world: he is wholly insulated by literary confabulation from contemporary politics. Chris Pelling, meanwhile, argues that the Caesar is carefully written to avoid the many resonances it might have had, so that the text might have a timeless rather than a contemporary feel; overall, he suggests, the Lives strategically aim for an immemorial rather than a time-specific feel.

I suspect we see something similar in the writing styles of the epistles in the NT. It's not that the epistle writers are deliberately being vague, but that they wrote in a traditional style where such vagueness is part of 'good writing'. Discussions around what passes for good writing in high context societies would fit in here.
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Re: New Testament -- which are the mythicist texts? Analysis of Carrier OHJ

Post by Irish1975 » Mon Dec 03, 2018 10:35 am

GakuseiDon wrote:
Sun Dec 02, 2018 6:15 pm
Irish1975 wrote:
Sun Dec 02, 2018 10:13 am
Thanks for this analysis of Carrier and Doherty. I imagine you would agree that we can ask two different questions about NT texts.

1) Do they provide evidence, strong or weak, that a human/historical Jesus existed?
2) Did the author(s) believe that a human/historical Jesus existed?
Sure, but that wasn't the point of my OP. The analysis is: what differences, if any, are there between NT texts marked as M and texts marked as H?
But I'm asking, on what grounds do you (and/or Carrier) think it's possible, in the first place, to classify NT texts as M or H?
  • With a lot of difficult texts, the concept of authorial intention (or belief) is problematic if not meaningless.
  • We do not know anything about the individuals wrote the vast majority of the NT, and even Pauline authorship is controversial nowadays. What they believed or intended is just a way of talking about how we read the text (often not a useful way, IMO).
"Jesus tricked everyone" ~the gospel of Philip

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Re: New Testament -- which are the mythicist texts? Analysis of Carrier OHJ

Post by Secret Alias » Mon Dec 03, 2018 10:47 am

I think he's trying to demonstrate that the process Carrier used was subjective
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Re: New Testament -- which are the mythicist texts? Analysis of Carrier OHJ

Post by Irish1975 » Mon Dec 03, 2018 12:25 pm

Secret Alias wrote:
Mon Dec 03, 2018 10:47 am
I think he's trying to demonstrate that the process Carrier used was subjective
I don't know what anybody here is trying to do, lol.
"Jesus tricked everyone" ~the gospel of Philip

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Re: New Testament -- which are the mythicist texts? Analysis of Carrier OHJ

Post by FransJVermeiren » Mon Dec 03, 2018 2:20 pm

GakuseiDon wrote:
Sat Dec 01, 2018 7:54 pm


Key:

'M" = Mythicist text, i.e. a text written by a 'mythicist' Christian, i.e. the author didn't believe in a historical Jesus
"H" = Historicist text, i.e. the author believed in an earthly Jesus who actually lived on earth.
M? = Could have been written by a 'mythicist' Christian
M?? = May have been a 'historicist' author, but using non-historicist materials so that the text contributes towards 'mythicism'. (Added category thanks to criticisms by Giuseppe below on the Gospels and Acts
H? = Could have been written by a 'historicist' Christian
I believe your M/H key is too rough (or is it Carrier’s or Doherty’s key you use?), in two ways:
1. It considers texts as a whole, while we should look at smaller units.
2. The M/H division (even with the ?’s)
In the OP you give some comments like ‘vague’, ‘interpolation’ or ‘few details on Jesus in the gospels’ yourself, which shows that a more refined key is necessary.

In the discussion about historicity or mythicism, IMO opinion we should at least distinguish between the following types of text:
• Historical texts (H)
• Encrypted historical texts (EH)
• Fiction (F)
• Texts forged by altering the chronology (FAC)
• Texts forged by interpolation (FI). When these interpolations change the chronology, there is overlap with the previous category.
• Texts forged by suppressing the circumstances (FSC) (your ‘vague’ or ‘few details’). This intervention also reinforces chronological forgery, as bringing the circumstances to light would uncover the chronological forgery.

Just a few examples:
• Revelation is basically a historical text, but the historical information has been encrypted: EH
• The letters of Paul are pre-Jesus, but have been ‘Jesufied’ by interpolation: Basis = H, plus FI. A forged chronology is the result.
• The Passion narrative contains a lot of fictional elements: F
• The chronology is forged in the gospels in their entirety (FAC), but in almost every story there is also forgery by suppression, as the war circumstances of the events have been concealed. The cleansing of the temple for example is historical (H), but not around 30 CE (FAC) and not as a small scale personal action of Jesus but as a civil ware action of the Zealots with Jesus as one of their leaders (FS), so three elements are present in this small fragment, the historical and two types of forgery.
• Within the gospels with their fictional elements and their forgery by altering chronology and by suppressing circumstances, there is one EH-section: the synoptic Apocalypse.

As apocalyptic writings provide historical information, I suggest you add the Didache to your list, especially the apocalyptic last (16th) chapter, which gives encrypted historical information in line with Revelation and the synoptic Apocalypse.

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Re: New Testament -- which are the mythicist texts? Analysis of Carrier OHJ

Post by GakuseiDon » Mon Dec 03, 2018 4:12 pm

Irish1975 wrote:
Mon Dec 03, 2018 10:35 am
But I'm asking, on what grounds do you (and/or Carrier) think it's possible, in the first place, to classify NT texts as M or H?
In my OP I am working from Dr Carrier's conclusions or suggestions about what he regards as M or H. My analysis is then to look at the texts more broadly, and from that I argue that there is very little difference between the texts that he marks as M or H. Both exhibit a vagueness towards dates and locations, to the point that a H text would 'flip' if one passage could be shown to be an interpolation or a mistranslation. I think that this is significant when setting expectations about what should be seen in H texts.

For those who have seen me posting on this over the years, it's something of a bugbear for me. I did a similar analysis on Doherty's conclusions about Second Century writings, and since I had the notes together after my review of Carrier's OHJ, I thought I'd do the same for Carrier's ideas on NT texts.
Irish1975 wrote:
Mon Dec 03, 2018 10:35 am
  • With a lot of difficult texts, the concept of authorial intention (or belief) is problematic if not meaningless.
  • We do not know anything about the individuals wrote the vast majority of the NT, and even Pauline authorship is controversial nowadays. What they believed or intended is just a way of talking about how we read the text (often not a useful way, IMO).
Though important issues when trying to determine historicity or not, AFAICS those are peripheral matters to the point of my OP. I'm working from Carrier's conclusions. For my analysis it doesn't matter who wrote the texts or why. I think that for us amateur participants in the M/H debate, we get caught up in the one passage that seems to suggest M or H. That's a valid approach, but I think a broader analysis of the texts is also important as background information.
It is really important, in life, to concentrate our minds on our enthusiasms, not on our dislikes. -- Roger Pearse

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