Vision of St Paul; St Paul Church, Rome, Italy
Bock

Working through the Jesus Puzzle: Twelve Points, One Point at a Time – No. 1- Sept 14

Today I received an email that is typical of what I often receive. It deals with a book by Earl Doherty entitled the Jesus Puzzle. In this book Doherty makes 12 points to argue that Jesus did not exist and that Christianity was originally a mythic religion. I will precede through his points one at a time in future blogs. For now, here is his list of points.

Today I received an email that is typical of what I often receive. It deals with a book by Earl Doherty entitled the Jesus Puzzle. In this book Doherty makes 12 points to argue that Jesus did not exist and that Christianity was originally a mythic religion. I will precede through his points one at a time in future blogs. For now, here is his list of points. Hopefully these responses will be helpful to you. Here is the list:

1) Jesus of Nazareth and the Gospel story cannot be found in Christian writings earlier than the Gospels, the first of which (Mark) was composed only in the late first century.

2) There is no non-Christian record of Jesus before the second century. References in Flavius Josephus (end of first century) can be dismissed as later Christian insertions.

3) The early epistles, such as Paul and Hebrews, speak of their Christ Jesus as a spiritual, heavenly being revealed by God through scripture, and do not equate him with a recent historical man. Paul is part of a new "salvation" movement acting on revelation from the Spirit.

4) Paul and other early writers place the death and resurrection of their Christ in the supernatural/mythical world, and derive their information about these events, as well as other features of their heavenly Christ, from scripture.

5) The ancients viewed the universe as multi-layered: matter below, spirit above. The higher world was regarded as the superior, genuine reality, containing spiritual processes and heavenly counterparts to earthly things. Paul’s Christ operates within this system.

6) The pagan "mystery cults" of the period worshiped savior deities who had performed salvific acts which took place in the supernatural /mythical world, not on earth or in history.

7) Paul’s Christ shares many features with these deities. The prominent philosophical-religious concept of the age was the intermediary Son, a spiritual channel between the ultimate transcendent God and humanity. Such intermediary concepts as the Greek Logos and Jewish Wisdom were models for Paul’s heavenly Christ.

8) All The Gospels derive their basic story of Jesus of Nazareth from one source: whoever wrote the Gospel of Mark. The Acts of the Apostles, as an account of the beginnings of the Christian apostolic movement, is a second century piece of myth-making.

9) The Gospels are not historical accounts, but constructed through a process of "midrash," a Jewish method of reworking old biblical passages and tales to reflect new beliefs. The story of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion is a pastiche of verses from scripture.

10) "Q", a lost sayings collection extracted from Matthew and Luke, made no reference to a death and resurrection and can be shown to have had no Jesus at its roots: roots which were ultimately non-Jewish. The Q community preached the kingdom of God, and its traditions were eventually assigned to an invented founder who was linked to the heavenly Jesus of Paul in the Gospel of Mark.

11) The initial variety of sects and beliefs about a spiritual Christ shows that the movement began as a multiplicity of largely independent and spontaneous developments based on the religious trends and philosophy of the time, not as a response to a single individual.

12) Well into the second century, many Christian documents lack or reject the notion of a human man as an element of their faith. Only gradually did the Jesus of Nazareth portrayed in the Gospels come to be accepted as historical.

Now the responses beginning with Point 1: Point 1 is very misleading. We have writings of the apostle Paul from the late fifties that are autobiographical and show his belief in a historical Jesus who was physically raised from the dead (1 Cor 15:1-3). More than that this view of the line of tradition he discusses there has to go back into the mid-thirties at the latest because Paul has to have had enough of the Christian message to have responded to the vision of the risen Jesus he tells us about in Galatians 1. So to leap to the gospels and their reputed dates (more on this to come) is to ignore other important evidence.

Vision of St Paul; St Paul Church, Rome, Italy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

25 Comments

  • Avatar

    Anonymous

    Point 1 Paul
    Paul never mentions a Jesus of Nazareth. He never mentions Pilate, Joseph or Mary. His focus is a ressurected Christ, an intermediary cosmic saviour figure. Not a man who wandered in Galilee with a gang of twelve men.
    Regards,
    Jacob

    • Avatar

      bock

      Point 1 Paul dlb
      You are correct to say that Paul never says Jesus of Nazareth. But what does he say? He uses the term Jesus 206 times. He speaks about his crucifixion in 1 Corinthians 1-2, which clearly is a reference to an earthly Jesus. He notes that he took on humanity in Philippians 2:5-11, which also is an indication of his life on earth. He discusses whether he taught on a given topic (the abandonment of a spouse) in 1 Corinthians 7. In Galatians 4:4-5 he discusses when he was born. Your remarks fall into a common category where a topic is viewed as mentioned or not because particular terms are or are not present. There is no doubt Paul is discussing Jesus of Nazareth. I have not even mentioned the reports of Paul’s vision that Acts presents as from him (which I am sure you would say Luke made up) even though it is a nice corroboration of what Paul says about his experience in Galatians 1. This Acts event the Acts Seminar (an extension of the Jesus Seminar and hardly a conservative group) rated as a quite likely historical event. When your remark forces a choice between a cosmic figure and a man it ignores the very combination he depicts in Philippians 2 or Galatians 4:4-5. Part of what allows a gospel message to come from Paul is that Jesus represents humanity in part because he is a real human person. By the way, none of this nullifies the key point was being made, which was that the dating of these ideas from Paul. We are still in the mid-thirties for these thoughts, given Paul’s experience of seeing the risen Jesus, an experience that so impacted him that he speaks of Jesus as he now is– raised and exalted. Thus Paul has many references to Jesus Christ or the Lord Jesus Christ.

      • Avatar

        Macroman

        emptied

        I have read translations that say Paul thought Jesus made himself a slave/servant (where you say humbled and obedient) and lived in obscurity. Couldn't that be intepreted as shwoing Paul was not thinking of the Jesus we know from the Gospels?

  • Avatar

    Jay

    Twelve points on the Jesus Puzzle
    Dr. Bock,

    Have you considered an online debate with Mr. Doherty regarding his book? I’m fairly certain that he has already addressed the points that you have and intend to bring up in your blog.

    Is your purpose here to try and convince skeptics or is it merely to reassure believers? Either way, it seems best if you would address these points in a forum that provides Mr. Doherty a chance to readdress your points. Otherwise, it seems you will just be preaching to the choir. Forgive me if that is your only goal in this venture. But if your points are valid and will damage the Jesus Puzzle’s case, why not challenge the author in a debate where believers and skeptics alike can see who’s points are most valid?

    Respectfully,

    Jay

    • Avatar

      bock

      Twelve Points dlb

      Jay:

       

      Appreciate the request. The blog allows for responses. So if there is more data, please note it. I am sure there are responses but the question still remains how persuasive it is. When it come to the claim Jesus never existed, be assured Doherty has a big hill to climb.

       

      dlb

  • Avatar

    Toto

    Jesus of Nazareth?
    I fail to see the source of your confidence in the idea that Paul was speaking about Jesus of Nazareth.

    Gal 4:4-5 says that Jesus was born “in the fullness of time” (when?)

    1 Cor 7 does not attribute the advice on spousal abandoment to Jesus, but to “the Lord.”

    Phil 2: [7]-11 talks about Jesus being equal to God and taking on human form and humbling himself , “and [he] became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” a mystical sounding poem that is hard to tie down to history.

    1 Cor 2 “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Crucified when and where?

    How is this clearly about Jesus “of Nazareth”? There is nothing here that indicates Paul is talking about a recently crucified person, or even a person of history at all.

  • Avatar

    bock

    Jesus of Nazareth dlb

    This is an amazing response. Who else would it be given the response of Jews and believers in the disputes that centered around Jesus of Nazaareth, not to mention Paul’s association with Peter, James, and others who were with Jesus? How can Paul speak of we preach "Jesus crucified" if he does not have a historical crucifixion in view of a Jesus who both he and his disputants know the identity of? The "Lord" being discussed in 1 Corinthians is the Lord Jesus Chrsit who is also said to take on flesh (as 1 Cor 1 also shows). If not Jesus of Nazareth, then who else? Remember the debates with Jews that we know about through interaction we see in figures like Justin Martyr or the Talmud (and their agreement that the charge against Jesus included the claim he was a sorcerer-deceiver points also to a known historical figure).

     

    The error is like one I use in my class. Let me illustrate. What is the following sentence about? "The Cowboys are going to the frozen tundra to melt the cheeseheads" If you say football, you are right, but the word football is not there. You can refer to someone or somethign without having a specific term present. How would one know in the case of my illustration? It is by the combination of other features that point in that direction. Yes, the word Nazareth is not in Paul, but there is no other credible candidate for who he is discussing than a historical Jesus of Nazareth.

    • Avatar

      Anonymous

      Interesting post! I’ve long
      Interesting post! I’ve long wanted someone to refute “The Jesus Puzzle”.

      I find it odd, however, that you maintain that this response was “amazing”. The ancients had many cults that did not refer to living historical figures but were undestood to be based on myth. If greeks spoke of Prometheus bound to a rock, they did not imply a living historical figure. If egyptians spoke of Osiris dismembered, they did not imply a living historical figure. What is it in Paul’s epistles that singles out his Christ figure as living and historical? In other words, what is it about Paul’s epistles – taken in isolation from the gospels – that you think warrants a living and historical figure, unlike, say the cult of Dionysus? How can one be sure that Paul did not have a mythical being in mind?

      I would very much like to see some evidence in Paul’s epistles that Paul could not have been referring to anything other than a historical figure, born under Herod, killed by Pilate, etc, etc. Unfortunately, all I find is Paul referring to an other-worldly being that may or may not have been historical. Paul is frustratingly ambiguous. Of course, that doesn’t mean that Paul DIDN’T have someone historical in mind – however I just find him totally ambiguous.

      • Avatar

        bock

        Paul and a Human Jesus dlb

        A fair question and the response to this one is easy. In Romans 1:2-4 Paul speaks of Jesus being of the house of David. This is not a heavenly house, but an earthly one. Thus the remark points to his humanity. The key phrase is "of the seed of David according to the flesh." Gal 4:4-5 says was born of a woman, so again a human person is meant. In addition, the claims about resurrection as a model for our own resurrection in a Jewish context assumes a physical body and humanity for him before he was crucified. These texts belong to the undisputed Paulines. There is another text in the Pastorals, but some do not connect this letter do Paul as I do. It is 1 Timothy 6:13. The key expression here is that "Jesus Christ made his confession before Pilate". If this letter is Paul’s then this is exactly what you requested, but the other texts are really all one needs. Paul is not ambiguous on the point of Jesus being human. There are other texts that speak of Jesus taking on humanity in Philippians 2. Part of what makes this discussion move back and forth is that for Paul Jesus was both a transcendent figure and a human figure.

         The issue of relationship to the mysteries of Osiris and others I have covered in earlier posts and will work through again in the midst of covering the twelve points. 

        dlb

    • Avatar

      Toto

      reply – Jesus of Nazareth?
      If you are amazed at my questions, I am afraid that you are so confined to your particular mindset that it will be difficult for you to relate to Doherty’s Jesus Puzzle.

      Paul’s letters are consistent with the theory that he was originally a Jewish preacher who spoke of a spiritual savior and had conflicts with more established Jewish leaders. Christianity evolved from these Jewish factions and, in the second century, historicized thaat spiritual savior, inventing a first century history for itself. People do reinvent and reinterpret history all the time – look at how David Barton has spread falsehoods about American history which are fervently believed by many Americans.

      The debates with the Jews that you speak about happened in the second century or later, and these Jews so no reason to challenge the invented history.

      Paul speaks of the Pillars of the Church of Jerusalem without tying any of them to a Jesus of Nazareth. He does call James the Brother of the Lord, but not the brother of Jesus, and is quite emphatic about getting his gospel directly from the Lord, not from any man.

      It is only because you have read the gospels, written decades later, that you connect Cephas of the Pillars with the Peter who was a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth in that story, or James the powerful head of this triumvirate with the insignificant James of the gospel stories, Jesus’ brother who didn’t get it. These look like different people, and Paul does not show them the deference you would expect if they had actually known his savior.

      Paul can speak of “Jesus crucified” wherever or whenever Jesus was crucified – it could have been in a Roman play, or 100 years B.C. We don’t know what his readers understood by that.

      “The “Lord” being discussed in 1 Corinthians is the Lord Jesus Chrsit [sic] who is also said to take on flesh (as 1 Cor 1 also shows). If not Jesus of Nazareth, then who else?”

      How about the Lord God? Paul’s usage is often ambiguous, as it would be if his letters were originally Jewish and later edited by Marcionite and orthodox Christians who just felt the need to explain what he really meant.

      I don’t think that it would be at all useful for you to debate Doherty on this issue. Doherty bases his arguments on the consensus of liberal scholarship, which does not regard the gospels as historical, and you seem to reject that scholarly consensus.

      • Avatar

        bock

        Jesus of Nazareth? dlb

        Toto:

         

        Alas, your claim of scholarly consensus is as amazing as your earlier post. I could cite the majority of scholars who believe that Jesus did exist and that Paul argued such. These are not conservatives I am discussing. The "liberals" you cite are not the scholarly consensus on the point of Jesus existing in history. But in the end this debate over who votes how is not relevant, except for the data one uses to make that call. Let’s look at the data.

         

        The conflict Paul had with other Christian leaders out of Judaism dealt with circumcision and issues of the law, not with who Jesus was. According to Galatians and his own testimony, they were agreed on these points. By the way, who else would the pillars be but James and the one we know as Cephas (=Peter)? As for your claim Paul would not respond this way to them, if he thought a central theological principle of the faith were involved he would engage them, just as he says he did. We know Paul had convictions and stood up for them to anyone. They did discuss such matters.

         

        The debates of the second century with Jews you note are part of a tradition stream we can also trace in Judaism to the Talmud (not just in Christianity). Now, if Jesus had never existed why did not the Jews simply argue the person of Jesus was a fabrication. That was never done and the Josephus text indicates otherwise.

         

        As for your attempt to distinguish the brother of the Lord from Jesus (of Nazareth) in Paul, how is that possible when he calls the Lord the Lord Jesus Christ as often as Paul does? Who else would this be? Your claim he is the Lord God ignores the post about a connection to the house of David I already noted in another posted response from today (that text is from Rom 1:2-4).

         

        dlb 

  • Avatar

    Anonymous

    Jistoricity
    BOCK: You are correct to say that Paul never says Jesus of Nazareth. But what does he say? He uses the term Jesus 206 times. He speaks about his crucifixion in 1 Corinthians 1-2, which clearly is a reference to an earthly Jesus.

    JACOB: It is incorrect to use the reference to the crucifixion as evidence of historicity. A godess like Inanna was also believed to have been nailed on a tree yet she was not a historical person.
    Using the term Jesus 206 times is evidence that the term Jesus has been used 206 times: it is not evidence of historicity. Does the use of the name Robin Hood 206 times prove that Robin Hood was a historical person? I think not. You need historical evidence to prove historicity, not word counts.

    BOCK: He notes that he took on humanity in Philippians 2-11, which also is an indication of his life on earth.

    JACOB: Phillipians never says he became a human being: it says he assumed human form – humans dont take human forms, now do they, Dr. Bock? Taking human form is a docetic statement that asserts that the entity in question is actually not human. This argues against historicity.

    BOCK: He discusses whether he taught on a given topic (the abandonment of a spouse) in 1 Corinthians 7.

    JACOB: He does not attribute the teaching to Jesus, but to the lord. Paul uses “the Lord” to mean God.

    BOCK: In Galatians 4:4-5 he discusses when he was born.

    JACOB: Born where and by who? Dionysus, who was also a saviour figure like Jesus was born by Semele. Does that mean he was a historical person?

    BOCK: Your remarks fall into a common category where a topic is viewed as mentioned or not because particular terms are or are not present. There is no doubt Paul is discussing Jesus of Nazareth.

    JACOB: You are importing gospel suppositions into Paul’s letters, whih were written before the gospels. Assume that we dont have the gospels – assume we are reading Paul’s letters in the mid sixties. Paul nowhere mentions that there was a “Jesus of Nazareth” anywhere in his letters. So please lets not introduce extraneous material into his epistles.

    BOCK: I have not even mentioned the reports of Paul’s vision that Acts presents as from him (which I am sure you would say Luke made up) even though it is a nice corroboration of what Paul says about his experience in Galatians 1.

    JACOB: What point would you like to make regarding Paul’s vision that would help your case?

    BOCK: This Acts event the Acts Seminar (an extension of the Jesus Seminar and hardly a conservative group) rated as a quite likely historical event. When your remark forces a choice between a cosmic figure and a man it ignores the very combination he depicts in Philippians 2 or Galatians 4:4-5.

    JACOB: I have addressed both of these passages above. If you have something to say, I would like to read it.

    BOCK: Part of what allows a gospel message to come from Paul is that Jesus represents humanity in part because he is a real human person.

    JACOB: This is what is at issue. You dont help your case by asserting it without adducing supporting evidence.

    BOCK: By the way, none of this nullifies the key point was being made, which was the dating of these ideas from Paul. We are still in the mid-thirties for these thoughts, given Paul’s experience of seeing the risen Jesus, an experience that so impacted him that he speaks of Jesus as he now is– raised and exalted. Thus Paul has many references to Jesus Christ or the Lord Jesus Christ.

    JACOB: He may have a billion references. That is not at issue. What is of interest is whether any of those alleged references can be suffficient proof that a historical Jesus existed, or that Paul believed in a flesh-and-blood man as opposed to a cosmic figure. I invite you to present those that can hold up as evidence that a historical Jesus existed.

    • Avatar

      bock

      Jistoricity dlb

      Jacob:

       

      Texts and people have contexts beyond the literary remains they leave which give content to what they are saying. This is historical evidence. We know that Paul interacted with Peter and James and other believers. We know what they believed about Jesus. We know they agreed on these points. So the letters of Paul I cited belong to a context of relationships that we know about from Paul’s own testimony corroborated by others. Given this, every point you make above is nullified.

      It is one thng to say a text is able linguistically to mean something and to cite a parallel, which is essentially what you have done. It is another to place a text in its historical-cultural context and then read it. Paul was Jewish and believed in a deliverer that God would bring to the earth. Everything about his teaching in that originally Jewish context is against his using the mysteries as a source of his ideas. Where do we see him appeal directly to such sources in contrast to the Hebrew Scriptures he does appeal to about Jesus?

       

      As for Paul’s statement in Philippians 2, it is decidedly not docetic becasue Paul beleives Jesus died a real death (1 Cor 15:3-5). A docetist believes Jesus only appeared to die. In addition, Jesus’ ability to represent humanity in his theology requires Jesus’ humanity (Rom 3:20-5:24). This is why I noted earlier the gospel message requires Jesus’ humanity. His ability to represent humanity requires his humanity in Paul’s teaching. Romans 8:3 says Jesus condemned sin in the flesh.

      Ephesians 2:15 can be added to this list – nullifying the commandments of the law in his flesh (but some do not connect this letter to Paul as I do).

      As for Paul’s vision, we are looking at his claim he had a direct revelation from Jesus, which led to his conversion. Now he had to know enough about Jesus and the message tied to him to convert This is why the evidence can be rooted in the thirties. No importing here, just good historical relationships.

  • Avatar

    Olivier

    “We have writings of the
    “We have writings of the apostle Paul from the late fifties that are autobiographical …”

    Nobody knows who wrote the epistles, nor when they were written. Saul is a fictitious character and the result of a midrash. You know why he was named Paulus, don’t you?

    • Avatar

      bock

      have writings…dlb

      Olivier:

       

      If you are right on this, then we might as well give up doing historical work in the classics. The life of Paul is one of the solidly attested lives of an ancient that we have. We not only have his own writings (with names of the locales to which he wrote), but those of others that discuss him. For example, we have the letter of Clement who worked with Paul writing to the same city (Corinth) that Paul did, citing Paul’s letter in the process. The only way one can get to your conclusion is to argue that all the literature we have about Paul (every bit of it) is made up. Most unlikely.

       

      dlb

  • Avatar

    Nick Norelli

    Historicity of Jesus Presupposed by Paul’s audience…
    I’d just comment that Paul doesn’t go into detail concerning the historicity of Jesus because it was already assumed by his audience. Paul was not a historian or an apologist in our modern conception of the term-

    As Ben Witherington said:

    “he was a pastoral theologian called upon to deal with matters of theological weight and direct bearing on the issues which arose in the churches.” [Ben Witherington, III “Christology” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, (InterVarsity, 1993), 109.]

    It takes a modern low context mindset to ask that Paul would have in his ancient high context culture include details that were simply not necessary to record. It seems that those of the hyper-skeptical persuasion cannot help but to read Paul’s epistles anachronistically.

    Oh, and I’d also point out that 90% of Paul’s use of the title ‘kyrios’ (lord) is in reference to Jesus — it would be special pleading to suggest that Paul could possibly be speaking of ‘the Lord God’ [the Father] when he mentions the Lord who was crucified. The context of 1Corinthians is far from ambiguous on the referent.

    B”H

  • Avatar

    Anonymous

    More
    NICK: I’d just comment that Paul doesn’t go into detail concerning the historicity of Jesus because it was already assumed by his audience. Paul was not a historian or an apologist in our modern conception of the term-

    JACOB: Who were his audience? Demonstrate that they assumed that Jesus existed. This is an unsupported assumption you are making. Further, explain why Paul never attributes any saying or teaching to Jesus. And at the same, why is it that Paul never quotes Jesus as in “Jesus said…” Do you want us to believe that Paul never found anything Jesus taught on earth to be useful as a source of teaching to his audience? Explain please.

    NICK: Oh, and I’d also point out that 90% of Paul’s use of the title ‘kyrios’ (lord) is in reference to Jesus — it would be special pleading to suggest that Paul could possibly be speaking of ‘the Lord God’ [the Father] when he mentions the Lord who was crucified. The context of 1Corinthians is far from ambiguous on the referent.

    JACOB: I knew kurios/kyrios would come up. Let me offer an explanation I got from someone else, who has a better knowledge of Greek than myself:
    The LXX Greek uses an absolute reference kurios to refer to God, but kurios can refer to other figures as well, though not in the absolute. Now, the three different uses of kurios are:

    1) as a title, eg the lord Jesus Christ (another example is in the expression “our lord” );
    2) use in defining statements such as “Jesus is lord”; and
    3) use as a complete reference to an entity, “the lord said…”

    No 3 above is always used by the LXX to refer to God.

    We find very few examples of Paul’s use of #3 that can be guaranteed to refer to Jesus. In two of those cases we find other things to question the originality of the surrounding material, eg we get one of the very few gospel-like pericopes, or we get a phrase like “crucified the Lord of glory” when “glory” is almost exclusively an attribute of the father.
    The argument leads to using those few examples where “the Lord” refers to Jesus as indicating later editing. See Robert Price’s article on 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 as a Post-Pauline Interpolation at http://depts.drew.edu/jhc/rp1cor15.html

    BOCK: Texts and people have contxts beyond the oiterary remains they leave whcih give contet to what they are saying. This is historical evidence. We know that Paul interacted with Peter and James and other believers. We know what they beleived about Jesus. We know they agreed on these points.

    JACOB: We dont know that they (the Jerusalem Pillars) believed in a historical Jesus. We dont know who Kephas (Peter) – a nickname – referred to. And we dont know that James (brother of the Lord) was a disciple of Jesus, or believed in a HJ. You are importing gospel suppositions into the texts again. Assume that you are reading Pauline epistles without the gospels next to you and show us what information about a historical Jesus you can extract from them. What would those names (Cephas et al) mean to you? What Paul says they agreed on is that there was a resurrected Christ. Nothing else. As I have stated, you neednt be a historical person to die and resurrect. gods like Inanna died and rose from the dead. So did Asclepius. That is what devotees believe and historicity is not necessary for that.

    BOCK: So the letters of Paul I cited belong to a context of relationships that we know about from Paul’s own testimony corroborated by others.

    JACOB: Paul says Jesus appeared to Cephas and then to the twelve. What about Judas? Did he not die shortly after Jesus’ alleged death? Who were the twelve if Cephas was not one of them? Is that what you call Corroboration?
    Paul says that demons(princes of this world) killed Jesus, not Pilate and not the High Priest. Is that Corroboration?
    Pauline epistles portray Paul as clashing with enthusiasts and Judaizers (in Galatians and Romans for example) while Luke portrays him in Acts as still a
    Pharisee. Is this corroboration? Gunther Bornkamm, in his book, Paul shows several Acts-Paul colissions. The orthodoxy merely tried to appropriate Paul to serve their own theological agenda.

    BOCK: It is one thng to say a text is able linguistically to mean something and to cite a parallel, which is essentially what you have done. It is another to place a text in its historical-cultural context and then read it. Paul was Jewish and believed in a deliverer that God would bring to the earth.

    JACOB: Hellenistic culture influenced him so we cannot cage his beliefs in a Jewish mindset. Philo, his contemporary, also spoke of the heavenly man, the first Adam. As such, heavenly beings were not alien to Hellenized Jews. The platonic culture entailed envisioning the universe as organized in layers. Hence Paul speaks of the sixth heaven. In any case, as per Jewish beliefs, was the messiah supposed to die? was he supposed to be a cosmic saviour or a political/millitary leader like Joshua? Explain that.

    BOCK: Where do we see him appeal directly to such sources in contrast to the Hebrew Scriptures he does appeal to about Jesus?

    JACOB: Paul relies on revelations in additions to Hebrew Scriptures as a source of his knowledge. Are you disputing that the lord revealed things to Paul?

    BOCK: As for Paul’s statement in Philippians 2, it is decidedly not docetic becasue Paul beleives Jesus died a real death (1 Cor 15:3-5). A docetist believes Jesus only appeared to die.

    JACOB: Paul supports his belief in the alleged death of Christ using the Old Testament (the scriptures), and not eyewitnesses to the alleged life or death of Jesus. Do the Old Testament scriptures talk about the death of Jesus? No. And we know Paul never witnessed the death of Jesus. Paul also said he died and resurrected with Jesus. Therefore how can you claim that this was a real death?
    Please explain.

    BOCK: In addition, Jesus’ ability to represent humanity in his theology requires Jesus’ humanity (Rom 3:20-5:24).

    JACOB: Read about structural Homology in Gerd Theissen and Anette Mertz’s book. One could act as an analogue or a heavenly counterpart without being on earth.

    BOCK: Ephesians 2:15 can be added to this list – nullifying the commandments of the law in his flesh (but some do not connect this letter to Paul as I do).

    JACOB: Ephesians is Deutero Pauline. Even mainstream NT scholars dont regard it as authentic. See Gunther Bornkamm’s Paul for example.

    BOCK: As for Paul’s vision, we are looking at his claim he had a direct revelation from Jesus, which led to his conversion. Now he had to know enough about Jesus and the message tied to him to convert

    JACOB: It doesnt matter. Even you know about Jesus but that does not make you a source for historical information about Jesus. Whatever Paul knew about Jesus was from scriptures and revelation according to him. At best, he learnt about Jesus from Christians. That does not prove that a historical Jesus existed.

    • Avatar

      bock

      More dlb

      I will respond to the parts addressed to me.

       

      JACOB: We dont know that they (the Jerusalem Pillars) believed in a historical Jesus. We dont know who Kephas (Peter) – a nickname – referred to. And we dont know that James (brother of the Lord) was a disciple of Jesus, or believed in a HJ. You are importing gospel suppositions into the texts again. Assume that you are reading Pauline epistles without the gospels next to you and show us what information about a historical Jesus you can extract from them. What would those names (Cephas et al) mean to you? What Paul says they agreed on is that there was a resurrected Christ. Nothing else. As I have stated, you neednt be a historical person to die and resurrect. gods like Inanna died and rose from the dead. So did Asclepius. That is what devotees believe and historicity is not necessary for that.

       

      Bock:

       

      Are you so sure we know nothing about these folks? Peter writes 1 Peter and James is well known and attested in a variety of wources as having led the church in Jerusalem. For Peter, just try 1 Peter 1:10-12 or 2:21 or 5:1- as a witness of the sufferings of Christ. Looks like a crucified historical Jesus to me without any appeal to the gospels. 2 Peter, whoever wrote it somewhere in the first century, argues that myths are not what is present here (2 Peter 1:16).

      I will get to supposed Greco-Roman parallels in a later post on a later point.

      JACOB: Paul says Jesus appeared to Cephas and then to the twelve. What about Judas? Did he not die shortly after Jesus’ alleged death? Who were the twelve if Cephas was not one of them? Is that what you call Corroboration?
      Paul says that demons(princes of this world) killed Jesus, not Pilate and not the High Priest. Is that Corroboration?
      Pauline epistles portray Paul as clashing with enthusiasts and Judaizers (in Galatians and Romans for example) while Luke portrays him in Acts as still a
      Pharisee. Is this corroboration? Gunther Bornkamm, in his book, Paul shows several Acts-Paul colissions. The orthodoxy merely tried to appropriate Paul to serve their own theological agenda.

       

      Bock: The Twelve may well include Matthias who was added ot their number shortly after Jesus’ death and was a part of Jesus’ ministry from the beginning (if it is not merely shorthand for the apostolic group). To see cosmic forces at work does not deny involvement of the Jewish leaders for Paul or a historcial death for Jesus for Paul (1 Thessalonians 2:14-15; so a both-and). Your supposed clash of Paul with Paul in Luke as a Pharisee versus with his distinct opponents in the church ignores that Paul had a different conflict after he became a Christian than before. The issue Bornkamm raises are part of a long debate about Acts studies among NT scholars, with significant holders on both sides, that I have addressed in my newly released commentary on Acts.

       

      JACOB: Hellenistic culture influenced him so we cannot cage his beliefs in a Jewish mindset. Philo, his contemporary, also spoke of the heavenly man, the first Adam. As such, heavenly beings were not alien to Hellenized Jews. The platonic culture entailed envisioning the universe as organized in layers. Hence Paul speaks of the sixth heaven. In any case, as per Jewish beliefs, was the messiah supposed to die? was he supposed to be a cosmic saviour or a political/millitary leader like Joshua? Explain that.

       

      Bock: Paul did think like a Jew in key spots as his Pharisaic background testifies. No one is claiming Paul denies that Jesus was a heavenly figure, It is the either/or that is denied (fallacy of the excluded middle). The gospels are the explanation for the kind of Messiah Christians embraced (but they are not allowed to count as part of the testimony of the community). Cosmic savior or political leader (Either/or again). Jesus claimed to be an eschatological prophet like Moses, which points to a leader-prophet. He also referred to himself as Son of man, a picture of a cosmic-human figure (Both-and again).

       

      JACOB: Paul relies on revelations in additions to Hebrew Scriptures as a source of his knowledge. Are you disputing that the lord revealed things to Paul?

       

      Either/or yet again. If he has revelations does that mean he did not talk with anyone else about his views (not according to Galatians 1:18, surely they discussed their shared experience in those two weeks and later exchanged the hands of fellowship as Galatioans 2:9 indicates).

       

      JACOB: Paul supports his belief in the alleged death of Christ using the Old Testament (the scriptures), and not eyewitnesses to the alleged life or death of Jesus. Do the Old Testament scriptures talk about the death of Jesus? No. And we know Paul never witnessed the death of Jesus. Paul also said he died and resurrected with Jesus. Therefore how can you claim that this was a real death?
      Please explain.

       

      Bock: Sorry, read on in 1 Corinthians 15, where a list of eyewitnesses of various sorts are named (surely pointing to a historical figure since a physical resurrection is the point of the chapter).

       

      JACOB: Read about structural Homology in Gerd Theissen and Anette Mertz’s book. One could act as an analogue or a heavenly counterpart without being on earth.

       

      Bock: Could again does not mean this is necessarily the most likely explanation. This conclusion is not what the evidence from our sources suggests that the early Christians believed. By the way, Theissen and Merz have no doubt Jesus existed. (Pages for their theory, please)

       

      JACOB: Ephesians is Deutero Pauline. Even mainstream NT scholars dont regard it as authentic. See Gunther Bornkamm’s Paul for example.

       

      Bock:

       

      Authorship of Ephesians: Again a very debated point in NT Studies. Hoehner’s commentary on Ephesians has a list of who believes what about authorship and how many (read most!) hold it to be Pauline. But let us assume (for the sake of argument) you are right about non-Pauline authorship. Those who hold this see this as a disciple of Paul (part of a Pauline school influenced by him). So even in that view the teaching is something they received from Paul and thus shows what was believed by the early generations.

       

      [On what Paul must have known to respond to the vision] JACOB: It doesnt matter. Even you know about Jesus but that does not make you a source for historical information about Jesus. Whatever Paul knew about Jesus was from scriptures and revelation according to him. At best, he learnt about Jesus from Christians. That does not prove that a historical Jesus existed.

      Bock: You miss the point. He is responding to a message from the earliest church about a resurrection of an earthly figure (which is what Pharisees- Paul is a believing Pharisees at the time of the vision- believed about resurrection). So he cannot preach about resurrection and believe it without believing it took this form of back to life from an earthly figure! This historical contextual point matters a great deal to understand Paul’s view in His personally attested historical context which he reveals to us directly in his writings.

  • Avatar

    Nick Norelli

    RE: More
    JACOB: Who were his audience? Demonstrate that they assumed that Jesus existed. This is an unsupported assumption you are making. Further, explain why Paul never attributes any saying or teaching to Jesus. And at the same, why is it that Paul never quotes Jesus as in “Jesus said…” Do you want us to believe that Paul never found anything Jesus taught on earth to be useful as a source of teaching to his audience? Explain please.
    _________________________________________

    Take your pick. The Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, or Thessalonians. In none of these epistles does Paul build a case for the *existence of Jesus*. They already believe in Jesus. This is evidence of a shared assumption! But concerning Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, and Philippians, Paul absolutely mentions the real humanity of Christ which Dr. Bock has pointed out numerous times. His reasons for doing so were the proclamation of the Gospel (Rom. 1); a defense against heresy (Gal. 4); an example of humility (Phil. 2); and declaring/defending the resurrection (1Cor. 15).

    There is no ‘assumption’ on my part. Ancient societies shared common beliefs and knowledge of certain events, places, people, etc. There is no need for Paul to go into detail concerning things that were already accepted by his audience. Your need for details is the result of a low context Western mindset — and when reading ancient documents we need to read them on their terms, not ours.

    Paul DOES attribute sayings and teachings to Jesus, for example:

    For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1Cor. 11:23-25 cf. Lu. 22:19-20)
    _________________________________________

    JACOB: I knew kurios/kyrios would come up. Let me offer an explanation I got from someone else, who has a better knowledge of Greek than myself:
    The LXX Greek uses an absolute reference kurios to refer to God, but kurios can refer to other figures as well, though not in the absolute. Now, the three different uses of kurios are:

    1) as a title, eg the lord Jesus Christ (another example is in the expression “our lord” );
    2) use in defining statements such as “Jesus is lord”; and
    3) use as a complete reference to an entity, “the lord said…”

    No 3 above is always used by the LXX to refer to God.

    We find very few examples of Paul’s use of #3 that can be guaranteed to refer to Jesus. In two of those cases we find other things to question the originality of the surrounding material, eg we get one of the very few gospel-like pericopes, or we get a phrase like “crucified the Lord of glory” when “glory” is almost exclusively an attribute of the father.
    The argument leads to using those few examples where “the Lord” refers to Jesus as indicating later editing. See Robert Price’s article on 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 as a Post-Pauline Interpolation at http://depts.drew.edu/jhc/rp1cor15.html
    _________________________________________

    Again, roughly 90% (about 180 out of 200) of Paul’s use of kyrios is in reference to Jesus, not the Father. Contrary to that, Paul almost never uses theos in reference to Jesus but consistently uses it in reference to the Father. The LXX usage of kyrios for God certainly helps the case for Jesus’ divine identity (and remember as Dr. Bock has been pointing out, it’s not an either/or dillemma — Jesus is BOTH human AND divine) — my point was that to contend that: “Paul uses “the Lord” to mean God.” is special pleading. Paul uses ‘God’ to mean God [the Father] and ‘Lord’ to mean Jesus [the Son of God].

    And Robert Price admits to being in the minority on the majority of his views — that should tell you something…

  • Avatar

    Nehemias Monteiro

    Jesus myth: good arguments, bad evidence
    Folks,

    Paul said that Jesus was born of woman (Gal 4.4), descendant of David according to the flesh (Rom. 1:2), had a brother named James, and other brothers who had wifes (Gal. 1.19 and I Cor: 9.5).

    (The brothers of Lord; See Gal 1.3; Paul writes “Grace and peace to you from (…) LORD Jesus Christ).

    Also, “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread” (I Cor. 11:26), Jesus was killed by his countrymen (I Tess. 2.14), and was buried (I Cor. 15:3), and rose on the third day (I Cor. 15).

    And,
    “the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the HUMAN ANCESTRY OF CHRIST, (Rom. 9: 4) .

    So, to me, is pretty clear that Paul was referring to a person who really exist, and sojourned on the earth.

    And first christians, as far as we know, also believed so. We know about dozens of sects in ancient christianity, which ranged from ebionites , who regardes Christ as just a man; to docetics and marcionites, who believed that Jesus’ body wasn’t composed of corruptible flesh, but walked in the earth, made disciples, and perform miracles.

    However, there is no evidency of any “Christ Myth” heresy to be found in the writings of anti-heresy works of the time (Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hyppolitus…), on the Church Fathers, Apocrypha, Nag Hammady Library….

    And, pagan and jew opponents of christianity, alwayr reffered to Jesus as a real person. There no evidence, no indication, that christians believed in mythical Jesus, or that pagans and jews who opossed christianity doubted of Jesus existence.

    Nehemias

    • Avatar

      lepernet

      Good Arguments, Bad evidence
      Hi Nehemias,

      You say that, according to Paul Jesus was “born of woman “.

      The actual phrase he uses could be translated: “made of woman”. This may seem like splitting hairs but he is obviously referring to the allegory of Sarah and Isaac in the same epistle. Christ comes from Sarah through Isaac. The woman to whom Paul is referring is Sarah and not Mary. The birth is allegorical and not real. That explains why Paul uses a less personal form of the verb.

      Your translation of Rom. 9:4-5 is self serving. If the text were as clear as you pretend then we wouldn’t be having this discussion. NAS: “… from whom is the Christ according to the flesh …”

      The term “Christ according to the flesh” is a reference to the messiah whom Paul believes is hidden in scripture. The fact that Paul uses the qualification “according to the flesh” suggests that he is not talking about an actual person. Why does he consistently qualify everything he says about a human Christ if everyone agrees that he is human? Paul is making a distinction between how the scriptures represent Christ and how he and his followers perceive the reality. The distinction is “the flesh”. Everything Paul says about Christ comes from scripture and he nearly always qualifies it with the phrase “according to the flesh”. He does this to distinguish the plain words from what has been revealed to him and his followers in the hidden meaning.

      Your claim that there is no evidence of any “Christ Myth” heresy is not true.

      You are begging the question when you rule out Paul and other first century epistle writers on the grounds that they believed in a historical Christ.

      also…

      “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
      And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.”
      KJV: 1 John 4:2-3 (c.90c.e.?)

      This is in the context of a rival group of Christians who split from the 1 John group.

      It is also worth noting that 1 John gets his information from “spirits” not from Gospels. Reference to historical tradition would have been expected at this point .

      You say, “pagan and jew opponents of christianity, alwayr reffered to Jesus as a real person”.

      As far as I am aware in most cases pagan and Jewish opponents refer to Jesus as a historical person only in the context of repeating Christian claims or accusations made against Christians. I cannot see how we can draw any conclusions from that. If you have a specific instance where a Jew or pagan should be expected to contest the historicity of Christ then I will be pleased to know of it.

      Ironically in one case, the Octavius of Minucius Felix, the Christian author places the accusation that Christians worship a crucified criminal into the mouth of his pagan protagonist. The Christian flatly denies this without any further explanation. Just as he does with the accusation that Christians sacrifice children or worship their own genitals. There is no attempt to correct the misconception that Jesus was a criminal. The whole thing is ruled out completely.

      The Jewish protagonist in Justin Martyr’s “Dialogue with Trypho” (c.130ce) does accuse Justin of inventing his Christ. This accusation was placed into the mouth of a Jew by a Christian. I assume that this is a reflection of what Jewish opponents were saying.

      Best Regards
      Lepernet

  • Avatar

    Anonymous

    Infidels
    Dr. Bock, please be aware, if you are not, that most of the responses and questions you are recieving on this topic are from atheist moderators (eg. Toto) and atheist participants and supporters (eg. Steven Carr) of a website called Internet Infidels.

    I, personally, do not believe that they are looking for “truth” but only to destroy Christianity by any possible means (which I believe includes lies and deceptions, or at the least to obscure a historical Jesus in any way possible in order to sow doubt in the gullible and unlearned). Why do I make this allegation? Because I have been personally told by Toto and other moderators and supporters of that website that their goal and the goal of their website (specifically, I have been told by more than one that the goal is to “destroy” Christianity).

    Whatever points you have will be dismissed by them consistently. There will be no rational “give-and-take” sort of discussion with them. Their goal is to find something wrong, so whatever points you make will simply be dismissed.

    I just want to make sure you are aware that these are people who are blinded by their own beliefs and what you say will mostly be wasted on them. They don’t want to believe anything you say. I wouldn’t say anything if these were just “truth seekers” and real “free thinkers”, but they are neither.

    • Avatar

      bock

      Infidels dlb

      Dear anonymous:

      The reason for engaging and responding is that people are reading these posts and the exchange. one of the advantages of blogs is the public nature of the give and take, regardless of the intention of some. People deserve a response to questions others raise.

       

      dlb