Does anyone have On the Historicity of Jesus yet?

Discussion about the New Testament, apocrypha, gnostics, church fathers, Christian origins, historical Jesus or otherwise, etc.
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Re: Does anyone have On the Historicity of Jesus yet?

Post by Kapyong »


Carrier on
Acts as Historical Fiction

" The author of Acts also uses features of the John the Baptist narrative to construct Paul's conversion story: (1) the names of John (the Baptist) and Ananias (who restores Paul's sight) mean the same thing in Aramaic (John = io-utmes = yahu-hanan = 'Yahweh Is Gracious'; Ananias = anan-ias = hanan-yahu = 'Gracious Is Yahweh'); (2) John says 'prepare the way [hodos] of the Lord, make his paths straight [euthus]' (Lk. 3.4), and so Paul takes shelter on Straight Street (euthus: Acts 9.11) after attempting to destroy 'the way' (hodos: Acts 9.2), but instead sees the Lord in the way {hodos: Acts 9.27) and takes up the cause of preaching the way; (3) and finally, the initial order of events is almost exactly reversed: God speaks to Paul in a vision from heaven (Acts 9.3-8). then Paul prays (Acts 9.11), and is baptized (Acts 9.18), then goes on to teach the gospel (Acts 9.20); Jesus is baptized, then prays, then God speaks to him in a vision from heaven (Lk. 3.21-22). and then (in this case just like Paul) goes on to teach the gospel (Lk. 3.23).

" Luke has also taken elements from the book of Tobit. When Paul is healed after his blinding vision, by Ananias acting on God's orders, we're told 'immediately [the blindness] fell from his eyes like scales [lepides], and he saw again and rose and was baptized' (Acts 9.18). In Tob. 3.17, the angel Rafael is told by God to 'scale away' (lepisai, the verb of lepides) Tobias's blindness. Literally the text in Tobit says, 'to scale away the white­ness', as Tobias's eyes had become clouded with white (Tob. 2.10), so here scaling away the whiteness makes sense, whereas there is no intelligible reason why Paul's blindness should be described as like scales, except as an allusion to the tale in Tobit, which also involves a story of traveling on a road with a divine being in disguise (in this case an angel), on a mission that would result in saving lives. And just as Paul is given letters from the high priest authorizing him to arrest Christians in Damascus (Acts 9.1-2), Tobias was given a letter from his father authorizing him to claim a deposit of money—also, like Paul, in a foreign city (Tob. 5.1-3). More tellingly, the angel accompanying Tobias poses as 'the son of Ananias" (Tob. 5.12), and provides the means to cure the blindness of Tobias, just as in Acts the anal­ogous divine being (the Lord Christ) provides the means to cure the blind­ness of Paul through a man named Ananias (Acts 9.10-17). Other descrip­tive elements of Paul's encounter on the road also derive, more loosely and creatively, from Ezekiel and Daniel.21

"For this to be history, one has to posit all these agreements and paral­lels are historical coincidences, which is far less probable than that they are inventions, intelligently designed to reflect each other. And when you remove them all, you have no real story left to call authentic. Any one or two or even three of these parallels or coincidental details could be histori­cal (at a stretch), but not all of them together. Maybe there is some historical core to either or both tales that has been dressed up with all these fabricated symbols and coincidences and tall tales, but we have no way of knowing what that core might be, or even if there is one. Therefore these stories can­not be relied upon as evidence of any historical fact, beyond the vaguest of generalizations, such as that Jesus may have originally appeared as a divine heavenly light, or that Christians may have believed God could visit them in the guise of an ordinary stranger; but such conclusions are neither certain nor helpful to the present purpose.

"The same kind of analysis repeatedly destroys every narrative in Acts. I've presented only a few examples.22 But even in general, Acts shares too many features with popular adventure novels of the same period to war­rant trusting it as a genuine history: (1) they all promote a particular god or religion; (2) they are all travel narratives; (3) they all involve miraculous or amazing events; (4) they all include encounters with fabulous or exotic peo­ples (e.g. 'bull-sacrificing pagans of Lycaonia in Acts 14.8-19, superstitious natives of Malta in 28.1-6, and philosophical Athenian dilettantes in chap­ter 17'. as well as fanatical pagan silversmiths of Ephesus in 19.23-41, and so on); (5) they often incorporate a theme of chaste couples separated and then reunited (a token nod to this element exists in Paul's chaste interaction with Lydia in Acts 16.13-40 and his many women followers, named and unnamed); (6) they feature exciting narratives of captivities and escapes (as in Acts 12, 16, 21 and 26); and (7) they often include themes of persecution, (8) scenes involving excited crowds (who become a character in the story, as in Ephesus and Jerusalem, in Acts 18-19 and Acts 6-7 and 21-22), (9) and divine rescues from danger; and (10) divine revelations are always integral to the plot (through oracles, dreams and visions, all of which fea­ture in Acts).23 In fact, Acts looks far more like a novel than any historical monograph of the period.24 If Acts looks exactly like an ancient novel (and it does), are we really going to chalk this up to coincidence?


" 1. See Richard Pervo, The Mystery of Acts (Santa Rosa, CA: Polebridge. 2008): and Richard Pervo, Acts: A Commentary (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press. 2009). for the most thorough accounting of this fact (see especially the latter, pp. 17-18). with substantial support in Thomas Brodie, The Birthing of the New Testament: The Intertextual Development of the New Testament Writings (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix. 2004), esp. pp. 377-445 (on Acts specifically); Dennis MacDonald, Does the New Testament Imitate Homer? Four Cases from the Acts of the Apostles (New Haven. CT: Yale University Press, 2003); and John Dominic Crossan, The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus Became Fiction about Jesus (New York: HarperOne. 2012), pp. 196-217. See also Clare Rothschild, Luke-Acts and the Rhetoric of History: An Investigation of Early Christian Historiography (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck. 2004); Loveday Alexander, 'Fact, Fiction and the Genre of Acts', New Testament Studies 44 (1998), pp. 380-99; and P.E. Satterthwaite, Acts against the Background of Classical Rhetoric', in The Book of Acts in its Ancient Literary Setting (ed. Bruce Winter and Andrew Clarke; Grand Rapids, Ml: William B. Eerdmans, 1993), pp. 337-80. There are conservatives who protest, but not with logically valid arguments.

2. That Luke used Josephus as a source to fill his account with various items of historical color, see note in Chapter 7 (§4). That similar details also appear in his account of apostolic travels outside Judea suggests Luke may have used other historians (of those regions) to color those accounts as well (those historians were simply not preserved for us to detect their influence now).

3. If Luke did not use a source text (a 'Kings Gospel") for the material equating Jesus and Paul to Elijah and Elisha. then Luke obviously had to have invented that material himself. That Luke knew and used (mainly to subvert) the Pauline Epistles see Dennis MacDonald. Two Shipwrecked Gospels: The Logoi of Jesus and Papias's Exposition of Logift about the Lord (Atlanta. GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2012), pp. 50-52: and Richard Pervo. Dating Acts: Between the Evangelists and the Apologists (Santa Rosa. CA: Polebridge Press. 2006).

4. Dennis MacDonald. 'The Shipwrecks of Odysseus and Paul". New Testament Studies 45 (1999). pp. 88-107 (88): with Vernon Robbins. 'The "We" Passages in Acts and Ancient Sea Voyages'. Papers of the Chicago Society of Biblical Research 20 (1975). pp. 5-18: and Henry Cadbury. •"We" and "I" Passages in Luke-Acts'. New Testament Studies 3 (1956-1957). pp. 128-32. It is sometimes argued that the 'we" passages (portions of Acts where the author inexplicably switches from third person to first person plural and back again, without ever explaining why, or who 'we' are) indicate an actual source. Some even argue these prove the author was an actual companion of Paul, but few scholars believe that's likely—it isn't what the author himself ever says, yet it was standard practice of the time to say so. if that is what the author meant to be understood. But fabricating a fictional narrative using 'I' or 'we' is already evident in the pre-Christian book of Jubilees, a made-up rewrite of OT history-adapted from Genesis, passed off as a revelation given directly to Moses, even though it was actually composed around the second or first century bce So the motif has an established precedent in historical fiction. A more famous model for writing fiction in the first person is the Odyssey of Homer, and notably (as MacDonald demonstrates) the 'we' sections in Acts all center on sea travel.

5. Dennis MacDonald. The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark (New Haven. CT: Yale University Press. 2000). pp. 9-14.

6. MacDonald. Does the New Testament Imitate Homer?, pp. 44-65 (with pp. 19-43).

7. MacDonald. Does the New Testament Imitate Homer?, pp. 74-102 (with pp. 69-73).

8. MacDonald, Does the New Testament Imitate Homer?, pp. 107-19 (with pp. 105-106).

9. MacDonald. Does the New Testament Imitate Homer?, pp. 137-45 (with pp. 123-36).

10. Euripides. Bacchae 440-49 (miraculous unlocking of chains), and 585-94 (escape due to an earthquake). Compare Acts 12.6-7 and 16.26.

11. See Randel Helms. Gospel Fictions (Amherst, NY: Prometheus. 1988). p. 21.

12. Robert Price, The Pre-Nicene New Testament: Fifty-Four Formative Texts (Salt Lake City, UT: Signature. 2006). p. 841.

13. For a survey of Luke's methods as a historian compared to his contemporaries: Carrier, Not the Impossible Faith, pp. 173-87.

14. Joseph Tyson. 'Why Dates Matter: The Case of the Acts of the Apostles', in Finding the Historical Jesus: Rules of Evidence (ed. Bernard Brandon Scott; Santa Rosa, CA: Polebridge. 2008). pp. 59-70 (67).

15. On the rate of Christian expansion and growth almost certainly being nothing like what is depicted in Acts, see Carrier, Not the Impossible Faith, pp. 407-48.

16. Burton Mack, 'Many Movements. Many Myths: Redescribing the Attractions of Early Christianities. Toward a Conversation with Rodney Stark', Religious Studies Review 25.2 (April 1999), pp. 132-36 (134).

17. Price. Pre-Nicene New Testament, p. 484.

18. Price, Pre-Nicene New Testament, p. 483.

19. The parallels among these three synagogue incidents are even more numerous and obviously intentional: see Crossan, Power of Parable, pp. 205-207.

20. though in Luke the third man on the journey is Jesus walking along in disguise (Lk. 24.15) he never tells anyone his name: whereas in Acts Jesus appears as a light from heaven, but Paul is accompanied by at least two unnamed men (Acts 9.7).

21. Ezek. 1.26-2.3. Alan Segal. 'Conversion and Messianism; Outline tor a New Approach", in The Messiah: Developments in Earliest Judaism and Christianity (ed. James Charlesworth: Minneapolis. MN: Fortress Press. 1992). pp. 296-340 (331-35). Similarly. Dan. 10.2-21.

22. For many more, see the scholarship cited in earlier notes (esp. n. 1). For example. Pervo. Mystery of Acts. pp. 55-91. 101-40.

23. Price, Pre-Nicene New Testament, pp. 492-93.

24. See the table in Pervo. Mystery of Acts. pp. 168-70. where he enumerates ten different respects in which Acts is notably unlike ancient historiography (yet all ten are commonly encountered in ancient fiction). "
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Re: Does anyone have On the Historicity of Jesus yet?

Post by Bernard Muller »

Paul goes on to say that this James (unless he means a different one) was one of the three pillars of highest repute in the church, 'James and Cephas and John' (Gal. 2.9). The Gospels imagine these three as disciples, not the family of Jesus. In fact, the Gospels uniformly report that this James and John were the brothers of each other, not of Jesus.97 Might Paul have only known them as such, too?
The gospels (still used by Carrier even if they are deemed fiction by him, or are they?) also has a James who is a brother of Jesus. Carrier seems to have tunnel vision here: see one James and not the other.

Now if Carrier would treat Acts just like he does for the gospels (extracting some data --even if imagined!--), he would know that "James", brother of John, (that Paul would have imagined when writing `Galatians` !!!) was executed fairly early (during Agrippa I`s reign, around 42), and the only prominent James left, was one of the pillar at the council (around 52), and the one he met still later before his arrest (around 58) (according to Acts).

If the "James" was not the same one that Paul met in Jerusalem (around 38) after his conversion, Paul would have say it when naming the "James" at the council of Jerusalem.

And because Carrier thinks "brother of the Lord" means "Christians" and the pillars were Christians, and the "imagined" James, brother of John, was Christian, then "brother of the Lord" would not distinguish the "James" of Gal 1:19 with the others.
"So it's just as likely, if not more so, that Paul means he met only the apos­tle Peter and only one other Judean Christian, a certain "brother James'. By calling him a brother of the Lord instead of an apostle, Paul is thus distin­guishing this James from any apostles of the same name
Now, Carrier is talking about a lesser James, a Judean Christian, which just happened to visit Peter during these 2 weeks. I note also than in Gal 1:19 Peter is not named as an apostle as also that "James". Furthermore, Paul never mentioned the "James" of Gal 1:19, 2:9 & 2:12 was/were apostle(s).

But why would Paul mention "brother James" if he was of no importance, an individual who will not be called again in the narration?
That "James" had to be somebody of importance, maybe not at the time, but in the future.
It is strange that Carrier calls that "James" "brother James" when he is trying to demonstrate that lesser Christian had to be called "the brother of the Lord", something rather pompous for a small man if it meant just "Christian".

Cordially, Bernard
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Re: Does anyone have On the Historicity of Jesus yet?

Post by GakuseiDon »

toejam wrote:This is not an argument for or against mythicism or historicism, just an observation that seems to dog both parties...

Carrier's case requires a lot of fluidity and flexibility within pre-Christian Judaism in order to say that there were Jewish groups who were expecting a 'suffering Messiah'. Ehrman and co. typically downplay this and remind us that most if not all Messianic cults were not expecting a 'suffering Messiah' but something more along the lines of a victorious king, priest or general.
From memory, isn't the problem a dying Messiah rather than just a suffering one? Thom Stark argued this with Carrier a couple of years ago, starting from here: ... g-messiah/

Links to responses by Carrier and follow ups by Stark can be found in the above link.
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Re: Does anyone have On the Historicity of Jesus yet?

Post by GakuseiDon »

Kapyong, if you get a chance, can you paste some of Carrier's comments on Osiris (and the other pagan gods if they are part of the same section)? Especially how Carrier uses Plutarch (or misuses Plutarch IMHO). Thanks.
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Re: Does anyone have On the Historicity of Jesus yet?

Post by toejam »

GakuseiDon wrote:
toejam wrote:This is not an argument for or against mythicism or historicism, just an observation that seems to dog both parties...

Carrier's case requires a lot of fluidity and flexibility within pre-Christian Judaism in order to say that there were Jewish groups who were expecting a 'suffering Messiah'. Ehrman and co. typically downplay this and remind us that most if not all Messianic cults were not expecting a 'suffering Messiah' but something more along the lines of a victorious king, priest or general.
From memory, isn't the problem a dying Messiah rather than just a suffering one? Thom Stark argued this with Carrier a couple of years ago, starting from here: ... g-messiah/

Links to responses by Carrier and follow ups by Stark can be found in the above link.
Thanks for the link!
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Carrier on the Mystery Cults, part1

Post by Kapyong »

Gday GakuseiDon,

Here is the section from Carrier's OHJ that is most relevant to Osiris :

Carrier on the Mystery Cults

"Element 14: Mystery cults spoke of their beliefs in public through myths and allegory, which symbolized a more secret doctrine that was usually rooted in a more esoteric astral or metaphysical theology. Therefore, as itself a mystery religion with secret doctrines, Christianity would have done the same.

"The most explicit discussion of this fact can be found in Plutarch's book on the myths and teachings of the mystery cult of Isis and Osiris, which he wrote and dedicated to a priestess of that cult, Clea.121 Plutarch says the highest aim of any religion is to learn the truth behind its stories and rituals, the truth about the gods. And part of that consisted in realizing that the stories and narratives of the gods were only allegories for higher truths:
Clea. whenever you hear the mythical stories told by the Egyptians about their gods—of their wanderings, dismemberments, and many experi­ences like these—you must remember what I said earlier and not think that any of these things is being said to have actually happened like that or to have actually come to pass.122
"He then goes on to summarize what is essentially the 'gospel' of Isis and Osiris, a typical mythic narrative of events transpiring on earth leading to Osiris's death and resurrection.123 He then closes by repeating the point that Clea knows better than to really believe these stories, that 'in fact, you yourself detest' those who take them literally, and that she (like all true believers) sees them as 'but window dressing' that points us to something else more profound.124

"Plutarch then goes on to survey what this underlying truth might actu­ally be. He first brings up the theory of Euhemerus that all such tales are the mythification of past kings into current gods, but then he rejects this as impious and absurd.125 Instead, 'better', he says, is the theory that these earthly tales are of the 'sufferings' (pathemata) not of gods or men, but of 'great divinities' (daimonon megalon, 'great demons" in Christian ver­nacular), divine beings with incarnate bodies capable of suffering and corruption. This, he says, was just as in other mystery cults (he alludes definitely to those of Dionysus and Demeter, meaning the Bacchic and Ele-usinian mysteries, of which Clea was also a participant), where there are also 'mythical stories" told of the wanderings and sufferings of those gods, but 'all is concealed behind mystic sacraments and initiations, not spoken or shown to the multitude', thereby preserving the truth. Plutarch says the stories of Isis and Osiris 'have the same explanation'.126 Hence it's import­ant to note that Paul also speaks of 'the sufferings' (pathemata) of Christ, just as Plutarch says 'the sufferings' of other savior gods were spoken of in other mystery cults.127 As Plutarch explains, the true story is that Isis and Osiris are celestial gods engaged in a war in outer space between good and evil demons.128 The tales that relate their adventures on earth are just an allegory for this higher reality, which is actually going on in heaven (see Element 37).

"Plutarch also explores another explanation, in which a god's narrative myth is reduced to purely naturalistic and mystical allegories, and thus not about actual beings at all—but he indicates this is not the view he shares.129 He prefers the demonological theory, and accepts the other more thorough­going allegorization as only a supplemental explanation at best, concluding that 'individually these theorists are wrong, but collectively they are right" because all the things they describe are a part of the gods in question, not identical to those gods.130 He says these demigods control all the things their myths are said to allegorize; in fact, those who think the gods simply are these natural forces and mystical truths he denounces as atheists or idolators.131 Thus, Plutarch continually returns to and defends the demonological theory (in which cosmic good and evil beings, and their struggles and battles, lie behind it all) as being 'the wisest' view (just as Paul calls the secret teachings of Christianity the real wisdom, a wisdom not of this world, in 1 Corinthians 2).132 Plutarch cannot, of course, come out and tell us what the initiates to the Isiac mysteries are actually told. If he knew he would have been sworn to secrecy, and in any event would not offend Clea by exposing them to the public. But we can read between the lines: he would of course prefer of all explanations the one actually in accord with what the highest ranking initiates like Clea were taught. Thus we can infer it accorded most closely with his demonological theory. And as he says all other mystery religions have 'similar explanations', we can infer this was the common trend among them all.

"It was common in fact to see all sacred literature (even revered poetry about the gods) as allegorical, not meant literally, such that one had to 'lift the veil' through interpretation to reveal the true meaning of a text, much as Paul says Christians must approach the OT (2 Cor. 3.12-4.6). Though Paul could imagine actual historical events being arranged to convey the allegory (1 Cor. 10.1-11) it's obvious (as with Plutarch) that this would not always be a necessary understanding, even among Christians. For instance, Paul clearly does not regard the historicity of the tale of Sarah and Hagar to be relevant to his allegorical understanding of it, which he assumes his Christian congregations will readily accept (Gal. 4.22-31: see Chapter 11, §9). And anyone who welcomed the reading of sacred stories as allegory would welcome the writing of sacred stories as allegory. Obviously, since Paul believed the OT was so written and endorsed as such by God.

"The same had already occurred among the pagans. Homer, for exam­ple, came to be increasingly read (even from as early as the time of Plato) as allegorically representing deeper cosmic truths through his superficial narratives of the gods, and as such Homer was treated as divinely inspired scripture.133 The Jews had already caught the same bug and were treating their scriptures the same way before Christianity arrived on the scene. And as Paul attests, Christians adopted the same practice. All simply embraced the same way of reading divine secrets out of sacred texts. The Jewish theologian Philo, for example, a contemporary of Paul, interprets the tale of Lot's wife turning into a pillar of salt as an allegory for spurning a teach­er's instruction and locking one's gaze instead on what one knew before.134 Thus such a story did not have to be historical to be 'true'.

"Not all myths and interpretations had merit. Philo could simultaneously denounce 'cleverly devised fables' while himself interpreting a biblical text as symbolic allegory and calling that the 'real truth'. It depended, he argues, on whether one saw correctly, being in the right state of mind as one read: "as many as are able to contemplate the facts related' in the stories of the Bible while they are 'in their incorporeal and unclothed state, living rather in the soul than in the body', will see that the true meaning lies in the alle­gory, not 'what are contained in the plain words of the scriptures'.135 Philo thus says the tales of Eve and the Serpent 'are not mere fabulous inventions, in which poets and sophists delight, but are rather types shadowing forth some allegorical truth, according to some mystical explanation', and thus the story is symbolic.136 He regards Abraham's father, Terah, as nonhistorical, merely an allegory, in contrast to Socrates, 'who really existed', and he likewise deems Sarah and Hagar as not real people but just allegorical sym­bols (just as Paul apparently did).137 Accordingly, Philo composed entire books about how to read the scriptures allegorically, and frequently relies on this procedure for understanding what the scriptures 'really' meant.138

"If Philo respects reading sacred stories that way, he would have to respect composing them that way. Indeed, as historical events never in fact work out so neatly as an allegory requires, even if someone believed an allegorical story 'had' to also be superficially true (though it is clear Paul and Philo didn't), an allegorical tale would still have to be invented and then passed off as superficially true. And as Plutarch explained for the mystery religions, this same thing would also be done to conceal the true meaning from the public. He describes the result of this as the multitude 'supersti-tiously' believing the stories are true, while initiates like Clea and himself knew better. For instance:
There is a doctrine which modern priests hint at to satisfy their con­science, but only in veiled terms and with caution: namely that the god Osiris rules and reigns over the dead, being none other than he whom the Greeks call Hades or Pluto. The truth of this statement is misunderstood and confuses the masses, who suppose that the sacred and the holy one. who is in truth Osiris, lives in the earth and under the earth, where are concealed the bodies of those who appear to have reached their end. He is actually very far removed from the earth [i.e., in outer space], being undefiled, unspotted, and uncorrupted by any being which is subject to decay and death.139
"In fact, Plutarch believes, the souls of the dead ascend into outer space, where Osiris will preside over them as their heavenly king.140 This much Plutarch can reveal. The more sacred details he omits.

"What the priests were doing by speaking this way was not deemed lying. For instance, Philo says Moses (whom Philo, like many Jews, believed wrote the Torah) tells no fable when he says 'there were giants on the earth in those days' (Gen. 6.4), but meant only allegorically that there were men of heavenly wisdom. Philo then says Moses would never tell a fable, because he only tells the truth, so, just like Plutarch, anyone who takes that statement about giants literally Philo compares to idolaters and men deceived.141 Thus, for Philo 'the truth' is the allegorical meaning of the text, not its literal meaning. We have to appreciate the significance of this. For us, even as Philo explains it, 'Moses' told a lie, plainly saying what is not true, that giants once walked the earth. But for Philo, as long as this state­ment has a higher symbolic meaning that is true, Moses isn't lying. Those who don't have the holy spirit of wisdom and understanding will only think he's lying—or believe the literal meaning and thus believe what is false. Take note of this. Because people who think this way will both read and write books differently than we expect.142

Part 2 follows ...
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Carrier on The Mystery Cults, part 2

Post by Kapyong »


Carrier on the Mystery Cults,

"The gospel story found in Mark, for example, could have begun as a set of mythic models for common Christian rituals and realities such as baptism and the Eucharist and facing persecution and martyrdom and per­forming miracles of healing, exorcism and prophecy. If that were so (and we'll see how likely it is in Chapter 10), then we would have to conclude it also establishes a model for initiation into the secret teachings of the Chris­tian mysteries (in Mk 4.11-12):
And [Jesus Christ] said unto [his closest followers]. 'Unto you is given the mystery of the kingdom of God: but to outsiders, everything is given in parables, so that seeing they may see, but not know: and hearing they may hear, but not comprehend: lest they should turn and be forgiven.'
"Within the narrative Jesus is speaking of his parables (paraphrasing, or quoting a lost variant of, Isa. 6.9-10). But insiders might have been taught that the narrative itself is constructed the same way, and thus the notion that Jesus is speaking only of his parables is what outsiders are meant to think. Indeed, that the Gospel actually tells the secrets behind his parables suggests the real secrets lie elsewhere in the text, as otherwise they were here being revealed, which defeated the purpose of concealing them in the first place. We'll see evidence of all this in Chapter 10. But here I mean only to establish its plausibility.

"In his early-third-century rebuttal to the pagan critic Celsus (who wrote in the late second century), the Christian teacher Origen says an allegorical understanding of sacred writings is common to pagans, Jews and Chris­tians, and that in fact Christians frequently understand the scriptures allegorically, including their own Gospels. 'The historical parts' of the Bible, Origen declares, 'were written with an allegorical purpose, being most skillfully adapted not only for the multitude of the simpler believers, but also for the few who are willing or even able to investigate matters intelligently'. Indeed, he says, 'what other inference can be drawn than that they were composed so as to be understood allegorically in their chief signification?143 Those who approach the text literally, he says, have 'a veil of ignorance' upon them and thus 'read but do not understand the figura­tive meaning', whereas this veil Ms taken away by the gift of God' from those who have achieved sufficient philosophical perfection.144 Origen thus echoes what is said by Paul in 2 Corinthians 3, that readers of the Bible have a veil over their hearts which prevents them from understanding its true meaning—which, Paul makes clear, is the allegorical meaning. Origen even says that the Jewish and Christian narratives are better because they have been designed to be more morally edifying than the licentious fables of the pagans. Thus 'our narratives keep expressly in view the multitude of simpler believers', just as Plato had commanded be done, as Origen says, by purging all immoral tales from the poets and crafting only acceptable myths in their place (a leading theme of Plato's Republic).

" Origen is clear in meaning that the Gospels were likewise allegorically constructed and not to be taken literally as Celsus was doing.145 Origen cannot mean all the stories were 'also' literally true, as Celsus was arguing that they are in that case absurd, and Origen is responding by saying they are not absurd because they have a sublime allegorical meaning. But that only cancels their absurdity if they are not also literally true. At most, some of them may be true, while for the others their literal meaning only had use in edifying the 'simpler' believers in the way Plato had meant: false tales told in order to trick the masses into doing the right thing. Origen cites Plato's very argument to that effect in his own defense, so he clearly meant the Bible (the NT included) served the same role. Elsewhere he is explicit: when it comes to the actual meaning of what the Gospels say, 'mature' believers are taught one thing, but 'simpler' believers are taught another, and in result, he says, many passages in the Gospels are literally false and only allegorically true; as Origen put it, 'the spiritual truth was often preserved, as one might say, in a material falsehood'.146 And indeed, from extensive analyses of his writings, Joseph Trigg and Gunnar Hallstrom have each found that Origen did indeed believe it was better for the 'simpleton' to believe literally in what the Bible says even when that literal meaning isn't true.147

"This reasoning is most explicitly endorsed by Eusebius (in the early fourth century), who argues that it was necessary to lie like this for the cause of Christianity, and that the Bible thus contained many such lies— Eusebius even claims Plato got this edifying idea from the Bible. In fact, Eusebius's entire treatise on God's Preparation for the Gospel argues that every good idea the Greeks had actually came from Moses. And among those 'good ideas' Eusebius includes the following, under the heading 'that it is necessary sometimes to use falsehood as a medicine for those who need' it:
[As was said by the Athenian in Plato's Laws] "And even the lawmaker who is of little use.. .if he dared lie to young men for a good reason, then can't he lie? For falsehood is something even more useful than [the truth], and sometimes even more able to bring it about that everyone willingly keeps to all justice.' [Then is said by Clinias] "Truth is beautiful, stranger, and steadfast. But to persuade people of it is not easy.' You would find many things of this sort being used even in the Hebrew scriptures, such as concerning God being jealous or falling asleep or getting angry or being subject to some other human passions, for the benefit of those who need such an approach.148
" To understand what Eusebius means, it is important to know how the Platonic dialogue he quotes continues:
Athenian: Be it so: yet it proved easy to persuade men of the Sidonian fairy­tale, incredible though it was. and of numberless others.
Clinias: What tales?
Athenian: The tale of the teeth that were sown, and how armed men sprang out of them. Here, indeed, the lawgiver has a notable example of how one can. if he tries, persuade the souls of the young of anything, so that the only question he has to consider in his inventing is what would do most good to the State, if it were believed: and then he must devise all possible means to ensure that the whole of the community constantly, so long as they live, use exactly the same language, so far as possible, about these matters, alike in their songs, their tales, and their discourses. If you. however, think otherwise. I have no objection to your arguing in the opposite sense.
Clinias: Neither of us, 1 think, could possibly argue against your view.149
"Plato had already had the Athenian argue that justice is the only real road to happiness, and therefore by this argument people can be persuaded to be good. But he then addresses the possibility that the truth will not suf­fice, or that justice is not in fact the only real road to happiness, by arguing that lying is acceptable, and in fact even more effective in bringing about what is desired—that the people will be good—and thus teachers should employ lies for the benefit of the community.

"The added significance here is the distinction being made between the 'young' as the targets of this manipulation: here we have the conceptual parallel to the 'babes' in Christ who need 'milk' because they are not yet ready to receive the real food (the true teaching) of the Christian religion (see Element 13). This is the very point Plato makes, saying that one thing is to be told to 'the mature' of understanding, and another thing told to 'chil­dren' (including adolescents, but metaphorically he means anyone philo­sophically immature), and from the latter the real truth will be kept, such that, he says, only after an initiation into the appropriate mysteries can they receive it.150 The second-century pagan orator Maximus of Tyre attests the same concept, even evoking the 'milk' metaphor.151 Eusebius agrees, as did Origen. This same attitude could thus have been ingrained within the church from its very inception.

"As we saw before (in Element 13), in the early third century Clement of Alexandria also referred approvingly to the letters of Plato in which he makes the same argument, that the common people aren't prepared to understand the truth and thus must be told a superficial lie to conceal it from them, and that it would be concealed within riddles and myths only symbolizing or pointing to the truth.152 Centuries later Augustine would condemn this widely held principle (that 'it is expedient to deceive the people in matters of religion', a view he suggests was also endorsed by the Roman scholar Varro in the early first century bce), yet at the same time still defends allegorical readings of the Bible when the literal meaning clearly could not be true (as when, e.g., it contradicted established science, a specific problem Augustine was apologetically addressing).153 Today we call that hypocrisy. At any rate, even Augustine, for all his protests, only confirms that the view was entrenched and widely embraced—even by himself.

"Origen gives us the most candid discussion of this doctrine within the church: 'Each person understands the Scriptures according to his capacity. One takes the sense from them more superficially, as if from the surface of a spring. Another draws up more deeply as from a well.154 Though Ori­gen thinks literal interpretations can be 'helpful' for edifying the 'simple' believer, they are not the actual truth, which can sometimes even be exactly the opposite. Sometimes Paul himself, Origen says, 'wanted to conceal the forbidden meaning of a passage as something not appropriate for simple folk or for the common hearing of those who are led only by faith to what is better', and yet, 'so we would not mishear his words, he was then com­pelled' to give clues to the real meaning of what he said, so that we would know 'there was something forbidden and secret in that passage'. As for example, when Paul says, 'Behold, I tell you a mystery' about the nature of the resurrection, Origen says, 'this is his way of introducing things deeper and more secret which are appropriately kept hidden from the multitude'. Origen concludes, 'as is even written in Tobit, "It is good to keep the king's mystery a secret", but respectable and fitting "to honorably reveal the works of God" to the multitude with what is conveniently true'.155 Thus, there is a gospel for the simpleton (the 'babes' in Christ) and a gospel for 'grown ups', and Origen explains that the latter is concealed from the 'sim­pleton' because it might turn him away from the faith and thus away from salvation, while only a few people of sufficient maturity are really fit to understand the truth.156 Clement of Alexandria makes the same argument, using Paul's own language of 'carnal' vs. 'spiritual' understanding of the Gospel text.157

"It is in this context that we might better understand Paul's claim that the gospel preached in public appeared to be 'foolishness' to outsiders, a 'stum­bling block' to their understanding (1 Cor. 1.18-25; see Chapter 12, §4), but was not such to those who understood its secret meaning—the gospel not preached in public, but only to insiders (1 Cor. 2.4-3.3). This was quite the same in other mystery cults: when in his own mythic narrative Dionysus speaks in riddles and is called foolish, he responds, 'One will seem to be foolish if he speaks wisely to an ignorant man'.158 Paul is in effect saying the same thing. So, too Origen. Thus it is plausible that, like other mystery cults, Christianity also came to be packaged with a set of earthly tales of its savior that were not meant to be taken literally, except by outsiders—and insiders of insufficient rank, who were variously called even by their own leaders 'babes' or 'simpletons'. "

Notes follow :
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Carrier on the Mystery Cults, Notes

Post by Kapyong »


Carrier on the Mystery cults

" 121. Plutarch. On Isis and Osiris 1.351c and 351 f (this Clea was also the dedicatee of his book on The Bravery of Women 1.242e-f). Another discourse on this topic was delivered by Maximus of Tyre, in his fourth oration. "Poetry and Philosophy on the Gods" (sometime in the second century), which also explicitly links allegorical mythmaking to mystery cult practice.

122. Plutarch. On Isis and Osiris 11.355b.

123. Plutarch. On Isis and Osiris 12.355d-19.358e.

124. Plutarch. On Isis and Osiris 20.358e-359a.

125. Plutarch. On Isis and Osiris 21.359c-24.360d.

126. Plutarch. On Isis and Osiris 25.360d-f.

127. 2 Cor. 1.5 and Phil. 3.10. Likewise 1 Pet. 1.11:4.13:5.1 (on which see Chapters 7 and 11).

128. Plutarch. On Isis and Osiris 26.361b-27.361e.

129. Plutarch. On Isis and Osiris 32.363d-46.369e: 49.371a-80.384c.

130. Plutarch. On Isis and Osiris 45.369a-d.

131. Plutarch. On Isis and Osiris 64.376f-67.378a (see also 70.379b-71.379e).

132. Plutarch. On Isis and Osiris 46.369d.

133. See Robert Lamberton, Homer the Theologian: Neoplatonist Allegorical Reading and the Growth of the Epic Tradition (Berkeley. CA: University of California Press, 1986). For broader analysis of this whole trend among pagans see J. Gwyn Griffiths. Plutarch's De Iside et Osiride (Cardiff: University of Wales Press. 1970). pp. 100-101 and 419-20. and Luc Brisson, How Philosophers Saved Myths: Allegorical Interpretation and Classical Mythology (trans. Catherine Tihanyi: Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004); for pagans, Jews, and Christians see Annevvies van den Hoek. 'Allegorical Interpretation', in Dictionary of Biblical Criticism and Interpretation (ed. Stanley Porter; New York: Routledge. 2007). pp. 9-12: and Jean Pepin, Mythe el allegoric: tes origines grecques el les contestations judeo-chretiennes (Paris: Etudes Augustiniennes. 1976). See also Chilton. 'Commenting on the Old Testament'.

134. Philo. On Flight and Discovery 22.121-22.

135. Philo, On Abraham 41.236 and 41.243. See also Philo. On the Descendants of Cain 7 and On Abraham 98-102.

136. Philo. On the Creation 55.157.

137. Philo, On Dreams 1.58 and On Mating with the Preliminary Studies 6-7.

138. We have three of his books On Allegorical Interpretation; for other examples of his reliance on the procedure, see On the Change of Names 28.152, On Dreams 1.27.172. etc. See Jean Pepin (ed.). La tradition de I'allegorie de Philon dAlexandrie a Dante: Etudes historiques (Paris: Etudes Augustiniennes, 1987).

139. Plutarch, On Isis and Osiris 78.382e.

140. Plutarch, On Isis and Osiris 78.382f-383a (and see Elements 31 and 34-38).

141. Philo, On the Giants 58-60. See also Philo, On Providence 2.40-41 (translated and discussed in Lamberton. Homer the Theologian, pp. 49-51).

142. For discussion of this point see Peter Struck, Birth of the Symbol: Ancient Readers and the Limits of their Texts (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 2004): Bruce Malina. The Social Gospel of Jesus: The Kingdom of God in Mediterranean Perspective (New York: Routledge, 2000); and Bruce Malina, The New Jerusalem in the Revelation of John: The City as Symbol of Life with God (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2000), with Bruce Malina and John Pilch, Social Science Commentary on the Book of Revelation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000). See also John Dominic Crossan, The Power of Parable: How Fiction by Jesus became Fiction about Jesus (New York: HarperOne, 2012); Thomas Thompson, The Messiah Myth: The Near Eastern Roots of Jesus and David (New York: Basic Books, 2005): Thomas Brodie, The Birthing of the New Testament: The Intertextual Development of the New Testament Writings (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2004); and Randel Helms. Gospel Fictions (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1988).

143. Origen. Against Celsus 4.48-49 (see also 1.42). Origen is not alone. The pagan critic Porphyry observed that all Christians and Jews treated their text this way, and Eusebius concurs: Eusebius. History of the Church 6.19.4 (quoting Porphyry. Against the Christians 3).

144. Origen. Against Celsus 4.50. See also Justin Martyr. Dialogue with Trypho 90.

145. Origen. Against Celsus 4.51-52. Thus, Origen asks that Celsus 'seek the help of one who is capable of initiating him into the actual meaning of the narratives" before judging their veracity: Origen. Against Celsus 6.23: that is. he asks that Celsus become a Christian, as then he will be taught these secrets.

146. Origen. Commentary on the Gospel according to John 1.9-11 and 10.2-6.

147. Joseph Trigg. "Divine Deception and the Truthfulness of Scripture", in Origen of Alexandria: His World and his Legacy (ed. Charles Kannengiesser and William Peterson: Notre Dame. IN: University of Notre Dame Press. 1988). pp. 147-64: Gunnar Hallstrom. Fides simpliciorum according to Origen of Alexandria (Helsinki: Societas Scientiarum Fennica. 1984).

148. Eusebius. Preparation for the Gospel 12.31. The passage he quotes is Plato. Laws 663e. Note that the section heading could possibly be by a later editor, though I doubt it. and it accurately describes the argument Eusebius makes nevertheless.

149. Plato. Laws 663e-664b. See also Plato. Republic 2.414-17.

150. Plato, Republic 2.378a-e.

151. Maximus of Tyre, Orations A3.

152. Plato. Letters 2.312d; 2.314a-14c. See Julius Elias, Plato's Defense of Poetry (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1984): Radcliffe Edmonds III, Myths of the Underworld Journey: Plato, Aristophanes, and the 'Orphic' Gold Tablets (New York: Cambridge University Press. 2004). pp. 161-71 (in context, pp. 159-220): Kathryn Morgan, Myth and Philosophy from the Presocratics to Plato (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

153. Augustine, City of God 4.27 vs. Augustine, Confessions 5.14. See also Augustine. On Lying 7 and 24-26.

154. Origen, Homilies on Jeremiah 18.4.2.

155. Origen, Against Celsus 5.19 (see also 5.14-16).

156. Origen, Against Celsus 1.9-10 and 3.45-46.

157. Clement of Alexandria. Who Is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved 5.

158. Euripides. Bacchae 479-480. "
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Re: Does anyone have On the Historicity of Jesus yet?

Post by GakuseiDon »

Kapyong, that's excellent. Lots there for me to mull over. Thanks again!
It is really important, in life, to concentrate our minds on our enthusiasms, not on our dislikes. -- Roger Pearse
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Carrier's Background to Christianity - Context

Post by Kapyong »

Gday all,

I earlier posted about Carrier's Background to Christianity here :

Here is the second part to that series of Elements: the Context as he calls it :
I post a brief summary of each element as before - Carrier goes into more detail in his book.

Carrier's Background to Christianity - The Context

" Element 23 :
The Romans annexed Judea to the imperial province of Syria in 6 CE bringing the center of the holy land under direct control of the Roman government, ending sovereignity over Jerusalem and the temple of the Most High God, along with most of the Holy Land that had been promised by God to the Jews.

Element 24 :
(a) Owing to their vastly greater resources ( in minerals, money and manpower) and superior technical ability (in the training, equipping and supplying of their armies) the Romans were effectively invincible and could never be expelled from Judea by force or diplomacy.

Element 25 :
The corruption and moral decay of the Jewish civil and temple elite (regardless of to what extent it was actual or merely perceived) was a widespread target of condemnation and often a cause of factionalising among Jewish sects.

Element 26 :
For many Jews in the early first century (in accord with the previous element) the Jewish elite became the scapegoats for God's failed promises (in accord with elements 23 and 24): the reason God withheld their fulfilment (and instead allowed the Romans to rule) was imagined to be the Jewish elite's failure to keep God's commandments and govern justly (already a common theme throughout the OT, e.g. Jeremiah 23 and 25, the latter being the very prophecy whose 'mystery' is decoded in Daniel to produce the timetable that was now indicating the messiah would arrive in the early first century: Element 7).

Element 27 :
(a) The temple at Jerusalem most the central focus of most Jewish messianic hope (as, for the Samaritans, was Mount Gerizim), which entailed that as long as the 'corrupt' Jewish elite controlled it, God would continue Israel's 'punishment' (in accord with Elements 25 and 26), and as long as the Romans remained in power, the would maintain the corrupt Jewish elite's control of the temple. Accordingly (b) Jewish religious violence often aimed at seizing physical control of the temple and it's personnel.

Element 28 :
A spiritual solution to the physical conundrum to the Jews would have been a natural and easy thing to conceive at the time.

Element 29 :
Further, what are now called 'Cargo Cults' are the modern movements most culturally and socially similar to earliest Christianity, so much so that Christianity best understood in light of them.

Element 30 :
Early-first-century Judea was at the nexus of countless influences, not only from dozens of innovating and interacting Jewish sects (Elements 2 and 33) but also pagan religions and philosophies (Elements 31 and 32)

Element 31 :
Incarnate sons (or daughters) of a god who died and then rose from their deaths to become living gods granting salvation to their worshippers were a common and peculiar feature of pagan religion when Christianity arose, so much so that influence from paganism is the only plausible explanation for how a Jewish sect such as Christianity came to adopt the idea (again, Element 11).

Element 32 :
By whatever route, popular philosophy (especially Cynicism and to some extent Stoicism and Platonism and perhaps Aristotelianism) influenced Christian teachings.

Element 33 :
In addition to its pagan influences, Christianity was also (obviously) influenced by several Jewish sects (see, in general, Elements 1-5), and can be understood only in this context too.

Element 34 :
Popular cosmology at the dawn of the Common Era in the Middle East held that the universe was geocentric and spherical and divided into many layers (see Chapter3, Section 1), with the first layer of 'heaven' often called the 'firmament' (being the foundation holding up all the others) and consisting of all the air beneath the earth and the moon (or sometimes the same term only meant the topmost part of this: the sphere travelled by the moon).

Element 35 :
Popular cosmology of the time also held that the sub-heaven, the firmament, was a region of corruption and change and decay, while the heavens above were pure, incorruptible and changeless.

Element 36 :
Because of this division between the perfect unchanging heavens and the corrupted sub-lunar world, most religious cosmologies required intercessory beings, who bridge the gap between those worlds, so God need no descend and mingle with corruption.

Element 37 :
The lowest heaven, the firmament, the region of corruption and change was popularly thought to be teeming with invisible spirits (pneuma or psychai) and demons (daimones, or daimonia), throughout the whole space, who controlled the elements and powers of the universe there, meddle in the affairs of man, and do battle with one another.

Element 38 :
(a) In this same popular cosmology, the heavens, including the firmament, were not empty expanses but filled with all manner of things, including palaces and gardens, and it was possible to be buried there.

Element 39 :
(a) In this cosmology there were also two Adams: one perfect celestial version, of which the earthly version (who fathered the human race) is just a copy.

Element 40 :
In fact, the Christian idea of a preexistent spiritual son- of God called the Logos, who was God's true high priest in heaven, was also not a novel idea but already held by some pre-Christian Jews; and this preexistent spiritual son of God had already been explicitly connected with a clestail Jesus figure in the OT (discussed in Element 6), and therefore some Jews already believed there was a supernatural son of God named Jesus - because Paul's contemporary Philo interprets the messianic prophecy of Zech. 6.12 in just such a way.

Element 41 :
(a) The 'Son of Man' (an apocalyptic title Jesus is given in the Gospels) was another being foreseen in the visions of Enoch to be a preexistent celestial superman whom God will one day put in charge of the universe, overthrowing all demonic power, and in a text that we know the first Christians used as scripture (1 Enoch)

Element 42 :
There is a parallel tradition of a perfect and eternal celestial High Priest named Melchizidek, which means in Hebrew 'Righteous King'. We have already seen that a celestial Jesus was already called Righteous and King by some pre-Christian Jews.

Element 43 :
(a) Voluntary human sacrifice was widely regarded (by both pagans and Jews) as the most powerful salvation and atonement magic available.

Element 44 :
In Jewish and pagan antiquity, in matters of religious persuasion, fabricating stories was the norm, not the exception, even in the production of narratives purporting to be true.

Element 45 :
A popular version of this phenomenom in ancient faith literature was the practice of euhemerization: the taking of a cosmic god and placing him at a definite point in history as an actual person who was later deified.

Element 46 :
Ancient literature also proliferated a variety of model 'hero' narratives, some of which the Gospel Jesus conforms to as well; and one of these hero-types was widely revered among pagans: the pre-Christian narratives of the life and death of Socrates and Aesop.

Element 47 :
Another model hero narrative, which pagans also revered and to which the Gospel Jesus conforms, is the apotheosis, or 'ascension to godhood' tale, and of these the one to which the Gospels (and Acts) most conform is that of the Roman national hero Romulus.

Element 48 :
Finally, the most ubiquitous model 'hero' narrative, which pagans also revered and to which the Gospel Jesus also conforms, is the fable of the 'divine king', what I call the Rank-Raglan hero-type. "
Last edited by Kapyong on Sat Jul 12, 2014 11:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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