Fascinating new research on Jesus studies

Well, besides this 🙂

Anyone interested in the latest scholarly research on Jesus should run – don’t walk! – over to Richard Carrier’s blog and read his take on the recently concluded Amherst conference which the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion (CSER) conducted in order to evaluate the evidence for a historical Jesus.  Scholars are making some extremely interesting advances which may upend traditional theories that have dominated the field of Jesus studies up to now.  Like the Jesus Project before it, what the attendees had to say will not sit will with Christians, but even more so.  For example, Gerd Lüdemann, professor of New Testament Studies at Georg-August-University, Göttingen, concludes that Paul’s epistles evince no knowledge of a historical Jesus – a conclusion that to him was unexpected.

Of main interest I think to professional and lay students of religion is the fading of the Q hypothesis.  If you recall, the hypothesis has been popular in explaining the Synoptic Problem, positing the existence of a lost and unknown source document which the authors of the gospels of Matthew and Luke used in conjuction with the Gospel of Mark to write their works.  Instead, another document, the Dominical Logia, may have been the source of all three gospels.  Such is the view of Dennis McDonald, professor at Claremont School of Theology and author of The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark.

Carrier relates the observation that the more scholars study Jesus, the less certainty there is surrounding him.  Both historicists and mythicists will find this discomforting, but it should sit well with those who take an agnostic view on the question of a historical Jesus.  Christianity, again, is a major loser here, for controversy over the words and deeds of its founder can only split the faith further, as well as undermine its claim as the true religion of a creator-deity.  Expect attacks on the work of the CSER from the usual conservative Christian suspects, but liberal Christians will find their faith just a bit more untenable.

29 thoughts on “Fascinating new research on Jesus studies

  1. What are your thoughts on the methods of this conference? They are clearly biased toward scientific methodology vs. historical methodology. Do you think that this can be a good way to ascertain the past?

  2. I’ve tried submitting this twice. Wonder what’s happening?

    Jeremy Killian, I am uncertain as to the distinction you are making between “historical methodology” and “scientific methodology” but I can still give some thoughts regarding methods proposed and whether this is a good way to ascertain the past.

    First of all, it should be noted we ALL make some differentiation between stories about Jesus that are historical and stories about Jesus that are not. We all have a point where we say, “That is not true; that didn’t happen.” Why we make that determination is often not recognized, even in the person making it. That “why” is what the conference is attempting to determine.

    For example, some Christians hold the canonical Gospels are 100% historical. Every single word, breath and piece of bread actually happened. Yet they determine the Gospels of Thomas (Infancy & Sayings) are not historical. Or the Gospel of the Hebrews. Or the Gospel of Judas, of Andrew, of Magdalene, of Peter..etc. etc. (And even canonical Gospels have lost portions of historicity among even the most conservative evangelicals—e.g. The Adulterous Woman and ending of Mark.)

    In looking at all the gospels, each person places the historical claim regarding Jesus in one of three piles: “History,” “Not history” and “We Don’t Know.” Arguably, we could branch out more piles, with “Most likely, Likely, Probable” and other, finer distinctions. Whether you have three or thirteen different piles, you are making a determination as to what historically happened. The conference, in part, looks at how each person is making that determination.

    Second, I appreciate the guests giving a specific, detailed criteria. Not just, “I think…” or “Seems reasonable to me…” but something we can dig our hands in, review, critique and even apply elsewhere. For example, Dennis MacDonald (I downloaded the first few chapters of his book) gives six (6) criteria for determining whether one writing “borrowed” from another.

    Now, one may not agree with his criteria, but at least we have them before us to inspect. We can see whether he applies those criteria equally. Whether he utilizes them consistently. We can see how they play out when applied to Mark and Luke. We can even attempt to use his criteria on our own.

    Third, I like the fact they are attempting to convince. Rather than an Inerrancy Pastor, speaking to an Inerrancy Congregation, after the Inerrancy Choir has sung, who says, “I think this is inerrant” to a rousing course of “Amens!”—they understand their audience is skeptical. The audience is NOT willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. The audience may believe quite dramatically different.

    With that understanding, the speakers present arguments and evidence in support of their position, rather than summary assertions presumably already adhered to by the audience. The speakers expect people to question their conclusions and prepare to address those questions; they are not aghast someone dare question.

    Fourth, I am greatly impressed with their use of the culture. They read the Gospels in Greek; not the KJV version and then “smashing” what they want it to say by looking up alternative meanings in “Strong’s.” (Yuck and Double Yuck.) They work at understanding other writings of the time, from other venues and other non-Christian authors to see how the recipients would have perceived these writings.

    They don’t treat them as a 21st century “defense of Christianity” to the 21st century skeptic, but look at how authors of First Century Mediterranean would write to people of the First Century Mediterranean.

    Is this a “good way” to ascertain the past? I find it a more honest way. Since, to me, honesty is of highest virtue, I would consider it “good.” There is respect for the lack of certainty, and the possibility of new information modifying one’s position. There is understanding we could possibly be quite wrong about a number of things, and to re-evaluate based upon another’s argument.

    There is an attempt for objectivity and consistency (gotta love those qualities!) to find out what actually happened, not what we “think” happened—and a growing realization the more we know, the less certain we can be of what actually happened.

  3. Jeremy, I’ll have to read the papers when they come out, but Carrier, who is trained as an historian, seemed to approve of the contributions of non-historians.

    His talk really sold me on the idea of including philosophers and other academics in the Project, not to act as historians, but to help raise and frame issues in a way historians need but often overlook.

    In any case, where did you get that the conference was biased toward scientific methodology?

  4. Jeremy Killian, I am uncertain as to the distinction you are making between “historical methodology” and “scientific methodology” but I can still give some thoughts regarding methods proposed and whether this is a good way to ascertain the past.

    First of all, it should be noted we ALL make some differentiation between stories about Jesus that are historical and stories about Jesus that are not. We all have a point where we say, “That is not true; that didn’t happen.” Why we make that determination is often not recognized, even in the person making it. That “why” is what the conference is attempting to determine.

    For example, some Christians hold the canonical Gospels are 100% historical. Every single word, breath and piece of bread actually happened. Yet they determine the Gospels of Thomas (Infancy & Sayings) are not historical. Or the Gospel of the Hebrews. Or the Gospel of Judas, of Andrew, of Magdalene, of Peter..etc. etc. (And even canonical Gospels have lost portions of historicity among even the most conservative evangelicals—e.g. The Adulterous Woman and ending of Mark.)

    In looking at all the gospels, each person places the historical claim regarding Jesus in one of three piles: “History,” “Not history” and “We Don’t Know.” Arguably, we could branch out more piles, with “Most likely, Likely, Probable” and other, finer distinctions. Whether you have three or thirteen different piles, you are making a determination as to what historically happened. The conference, in part, looks at how each person is making that determination.

    Second, I appreciate the guests giving a specific, detailed criteria. Not just, “I think…” or “Seems reasonable to me…” but something we can dig our hands in, review, critique and even apply elsewhere. For example, Dennis MacDonald (I downloaded the first few chapters of his book) gives six (6) criteria for determining whether one writing “borrowed” from another.

    Now, one may not agree with his criteria, but at least we have them before us to inspect. We can see whether he applies those criteria equally. Whether he utilizes them consistently. We can see how they play out when applied to Mark and Luke. We can even attempt to use his criteria on our own.

    Third, I like the fact they are attempting to convince. Rather than an Inerrancy Pastor, speaking to an Inerrancy Congregation, after the Inerrancy Choir has sung, who says, “I think this is inerrant” to a rousing course of “Amens!”—they understand their audience is skeptical. The audience is NOT willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. The audience may believe quite dramatically different.

    With that understanding, the speakers present arguments and evidence in support of their position, rather than summary assertions presumably already adhered to by the audience. The speakers expect people to question their conclusions and prepare to address those questions; they are not aghast someone dare question.

    Fourth, I am greatly impressed with their use of the culture. They read the Gospels in Greek; not the KJV version and then “smashing” what they want it to say by looking up alternative meanings in “Strong’s.” (Yuck and Double Yuck.) They work at understanding other writings of the time, from other venues and other non-Christian authors to see how the recipients would have perceived these writings.

    They don’t treat them as a 21st century “defense of Christianity” to the 21st century skeptic, but look at how authors of First Century Mediterranean would write to people of the First Century Mediterranean.

    Is this a “good way” to ascertain the past? I find it a more honest way. Since, to me, honesty is of highest virtue, I would consider it “good.” There is respect for the lack of certainty, and the possibility of new information modifying one’s position. There is understanding we could possibly be quite wrong about a number of things, and to re-evaluate based upon another’s argument.

    There is an attempt for objectivity and consistency (gotta love those qualities!) to find out what actually happened, not what we “think” happened—and a growing realization the more we know, the less certain we can be of what actually happened.

  5. First page of letter sent to Dr.Hoffmann.

    James M. Robinson, named senior consultant fro TJP, wrote in a recentarticle of the CSER Review: “The Jesus Project is not to launch into endless new,but ultimately unconvincing arguments that Jesus never lived, but to better understand that oldest layer of tradition and hwo it can be made a more influetial force in our society”. Given the level of his participationin TJP, one must conclude that this implies responsible recognition of his special status as a fellow critical historical scholar and to thus accept his conviction as “a value to non-prochial religion scholarship”.

    The conviction that Jesus in fact lived forces a pharaphrase of a sentence from the last paragraph of your first article “Introducing the Jesus Project”. The sentence reads: “- – the project is aiming at a probable reconstruction of the events that explain the begnning of Christianity – a man named Jesus from the province of Gailiee whose life served as the basis for the beginning of a movement or a sequence of events that led to the Jesus story being propogated throughout the Mediterranean.”
    The paaphrase: ” – – the project is aiming at a historical reconstruction of the events that explain the beginning of two movements both purporting to explain the significance of a man mamed Jesus. Chronologically the first movement: a man named Jesus from the province of Galilee wose life, defined by his words, serve as the basis for the beginning of the Jesus Movement; the other movement which soon followed: a sequence of events that led to the man Jesus becoming transformed into “a god become man” the Christ Movement story being propogated throughout the Mediterranean”.

    The meaningful period of origins for these two movements is 30CE-65CE, before the Gospels and before Christianity. The term “Christian” was first applied to the Pauline Christ Movement just before 70CE when it became the “winners” in the struggler for dominance. As “winners” it could label the Jesus Movement heresy to effectively remove it from the pages of history. Robinson wrote: “Fortunately, the Jesus Movement Sayings Gospel Q did not fade from history with the community whose Gospel it was. Rather, it survuved in the gentile church’s Gospel of Matthew and Luke”. The term “Christian” was never applied to the Jesus Movement. Thus “Christian Origins” is a misnomer, properly origins is about the Origins of the significance of Jesus. The Jesus Movement remained a sect of Judaism while the domain of the Christ Movement was Gentile. The Christ Movement became orthodox Christianity. Both Movements are documented in Scriptural sources, the source of the Jesus Movement is located in “the oldest layer of the tradition”, the source of the Christ Movement is the writings of the N,T.. Of the two only the Jesus Movement has claim to apostolic witness to the historical Jesus.

    There were three more pages which are necessary to make this a complete statement. So much for now, for what it may be worth.

    1. The Letter to Hoffmann constitutes a reconstruction of the Jesus Tradition. It is based on sufficient quotes from the works of three of our top longestest standing critical historical New Tesament scholars to make the claim that it reflective of their thought. I believe it connects the crucal dots to make it a credible frame of reference for reconstructing the real Jesus.

  6. This is the 2nd page of the letter to Dr. Hoffmann.

    I take Schubert M. Ogden to be the real prophet of the Quest for the HJ. He writes: We now know that none of the O.T. writings in prophetic witness to Jesus in the sense in which the early church claimed them to be, but also that none of the writings of the N.T. is apostolic witness to Jesus as the early church itself understood apostoliity. The sufficient evidence of this point in the case of the N.T. writings is that all of them have been shown to depend on sources, earlier than themselves, and hence not to be the original and originating witness that the early church mistook them to be in judging them to be apostolic – – all appropriate ‘Christian’ faith and witness area must be aostolic, one believes and bears winess with the apostles, solely on the basis of their prior faith and witness – the witness of the apostles is still rightly taken to be the real ‘Christian’ norm, even if we today hae to locate this norm not in the writings of the N.T. but in the earliest stratum of ‘Christian’ witness (“the oldest layer of tradition”) accessible to us, – the first step one must take in using (Scripture) as a theological authoity is historical, rather than hermeneutical. Specifically, that is the step of reconstructing the history of tradition, of which the first three Gospels are the documentation, so as to thereby identify the earliest stratum in this tradition which is the real ‘Christian’ norm.

    Hans Dieter Betz, the expert on “the oldest layer of tradition”, identifies it to be the Sermonon the Mount (Matt. 5.3-7.27, the SM). (Robinson writes: “The first and most importand collection of Jesus’ sayings in Q grew to become the Sermon on the Mount). Betz writes on the required level of involvement before a scholar may come to recognize the special significance of the SM: “– a task to which specialized knowledgein the areas of philology, form and redaction criticism, literary criticism, history of religions and New Testament theology necessarily applies”. These are areas of knowledge necessarily restricted to the disciplne of the critical historical theologian.
    I make note of a statement from “Memorandum to Myself” which reads in part: ” – – what was happening at Claremont – – seemed robust and real – -“, during the years of your PhD, 1976-1980. My impressin is that for much of this time Robinson and Betz were “what was happening at Claremont” which must say that as a fellow scholar you are knowledgeable of Betz’s essay and commentary on the SM and his important hypothesis that the SM was a pre-Matthew source composed by a redactor, to free the SM from the limitations and distortions of its Matthean context. Betz writes: “This source presents us with an early rorm (deriving from the Jesus Movement) of the ‘Christian’ faith as a whole, which had direct links to the teaching of the historical Jesus and thus constituted an alternative to Gentile Christianity as known above all from the letters of Paul and the Gospels, as well as later writings of the New Testament. If the SM represents a resonse to the teaching of Jesus critical of that of Gentile Christianity, then it serves unmistakenably to underline the well-known fact, frequently forgotten today, of how little we know of Jesus and his teaching. The reasons for our lack of knowledge are of a hermeneutical sort, and connot be overcome by an excess of good will (Apologetics). The Gentile-Christian authors of the Gospels transmitted to us only that part of the teaching of Jesus that they understood, they handed on only that which they were able to translate into the thought categories of Gentile Christianity, and whch they judged worthy of transmissin. By contrast, the SM stands nearer to the Jewish thought of Jesus, and manifests its charcteristic affinity and distance over against later Christianity.”

    3rd page later.

  7. 3rd and last page of lettr to Dr. Hoffmann.

    A brief reconstruction of the history of tradition of the two communmities.
    The Jesus Movement: After the crucifixion the disciples fled to their native Galilee. Emboldened by Perer’s and others aberration experiences, the key disciples Peter, James and john soon thereafter, returned to Jerusalem to again take up the message of Jesus to begin the Jesus Movement, the Jerusalem church with a community in Galilee under its council. Betz writes: “A truly disturbing problem arises for the community only when they discover that there are other Christians who have drawn very different conclusions from the teachngs of Jesus (the Gentile Christ Community). It is not only their task to maintain and defend the teachings of Jesus, but to establish, first of all, what Jesus taught and desired of others and what he did not desire. The strange fact that such conflicting interpretations of the teachig of Jesus could arise so soon constitutes the profound delimma of the SM in relation to the historical Jesus”. Robinson writes: “Perhaps it was the Roman war in the 60’s, which devasted Galilee before reaching Jerusalem that finally forced the remnants of the Q community to join the refuges fleeing north to Antioch. Here facing the relentless pressue of more successful Gentile church, the Jesus Movement gave way to the Gentile church with its Gospel of Mark. – – It is Betz who deserves credit for calling our attention to the unavoidable fact that the SM is something special, not only as the classic statement of Jesus’ teaching, but also the way it came to be – – when one turns to Matthew, the contacts with the Sayings Gospel Q are so striking that one has to realize that the Gospel of Matthew was written in a congregation that itself had been part of the Sayings Gospel’s movement.”
    The Christ Movement: Talk of Jesus rising from the dead resonated with a group p Hellenist Jews with their traditions of dying and rising heroes or gods, together with the Jewish animal sacrificial system, to suggest the notion that Jesus’ death and resurrectiom constituted a proper sacrifice for the sins of mankind whch abrogated the Torah. For Temple authorities this was an act of treason. The Acts story of the stoning of Stephen, a Hellenist Jew, seems to document a put-down by Temple authorities driving the group out of Palestine, they ended up in Damascus. Paul is named a participant, holding the garments of those casting the stones, It was this Hellenist group that Paul was pursung ass persecutor when he had his “vision” experience on the road to Damascus. It was from this group that Paul receivd his gospel. Only later,is there evidence that Paul was aware of or concerned with the Jerusalem Jesus Movement. Paul was never a member of the Jsus Movement nor did he proclaim or know Jesus’ message. Only after developments resulting from challenges by missionaries from the Jerusalem Jesus Movement, which threatened the very existence of his Gentile mission, does Paul turn to the Jerusalem disciples seeking their acceptance of his Christ myth gospel, for only the Jesus Movement had claim to apostolic witness. During the apostolic period the Jesus Movment was dominant. By 70 CE the Gentile churches became dominant, now identified as Gentile Christianity which became orthodox Christianity. Throughout all of its twists and turns Christianity’s basic tenet remained Christ’s salvific death and resurrection (the passion kerygma).

    My concern for TJP might be expressed in Lao-tzu’s famous definition of the baffling paradox surrounding the term Ultimte Concern: “Those who know don’t say, and those who say don’t know”. It is apparent that a number of the real authentic critical historical scholars who “know” will not be a part of TJP nor will they speak out. Perhaps from some position like that exxpressed by Betz in a letter to me giving his resons for not participating in the Jesus Seminar, sating in effect: “My position has been made clear in my works which are public to anyone concerned to know”. Might not Jesus with his idiom the kingdom of God have been about Ultimate Conern – the ultimate solution to the human condition, hence our problem with Ultimate Concern (God-man relationship – Mysticism) may be the real cause of our difficulty with knowing who Jesus was, even if he was. The End.

  8. I am indeed grateful for your significant highlighting of my comments making them more accesible, particularily in light of how they seem to counter prevailing discussions on TJP.
    I apologize for the typo’s, I post under the pressue of tying up my single phone line which limits editing.

    My real concern is to better introduce the three named scholars and their works which I feel are crucial to the success of TJP.
    Lised below are some of their pertenant works:

    Article: Faith and Freedom by Schubert M. Ogden. Of historical inerest the last part titled The Question of the Christian Norm.

    Article: The Real Jesus of the Sayings Q Gospel by James M. Robinson. Of historical interest the last half beginning with the section titled How Can One Get from the Sayings Gospel to Us?

    Essays on the Sermon on the Mount by Hans Dieter Betz, also his Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount (Hermeneia).

  9. The two named articles: Faith and Freedom, by schbert M. Ogden and The Real Jesus of the Saying’s “Q” Gospel, by James M. Robinson are online, Just click on the title and author.
    I add one more, also online: “Begining From Jerusalem ,, ,” “

  10. The two named articles: Faith and Freedom, by Schbert M. Ogden and The Real Jesus of the Saying’s “Q” Gospel, by James M. Robinson are online, Just click on the title and author.
    I add one more article of interest which is also online: “Begining From Jerusalem ,, ,” Re-examining Canon and Consensus, by Merrill P. Miller.

  11. Quote from <Merrill Miller, “Beginning From Jerusalem . . .”:
    Re-examining the Conceptions of Unitary Origins

    In this paper I have argued that modern scholarship has followed the canonicallead on unitary origins but ignored any actual political implications of the canonical account of the execution of Jesus an the canonical account of the origins and identity of the Jerusalem church. Surprisingly, that holds true especially for those who wish to take the political context of Christian origins most seriously into considerstion. In the remainder of this paper, I want to raise as matters for an agenda several other reasons why the scholarly consensus on the unitary origins of Christianity needs to be re-examined.

    First, it leaves out of account studies that are important because they do not support and may prove to be important with the dominant paradigm of Christian origins. Recent studies on the genre and literary history of Q, on apocryphal Gospels, especially the Gospel of Thomas, and on the pre-Markan gospel tradition have shown that there are early Jesus traditions that cannot be accommodated within the Easter kerygma and which do not evidence an apocalyptic context or persuasion. However, that is only a minimal statement of the significance of this recent work. An alternative piture of Christian origins has already been argued on the basis of it, namely, that Christian communities were at first fromed in the name of a founder teacher. The teacher-sage was invested with the authority of Wisdom’s envoy to enhance the significance of the teaching as various Jesus movements confronted challenges and sought a place in the social landscape of Galilee and southern Syria. Along these lines, a continuing wisdom trajectory can be traced into second century Christian gnosticism. On this view, the resurrection of Jesus is not the common center of all expressions of early Christianity. Moreover, the communities whose foundation myth was the kerygma of Jesus’ saving death and resurrecion do not represent the dominant basis of association from the beginning and arose in circunstances different from those of the Jesusmovement. These are the pre-Pauline and Pauline congregations of the Christ located at first in northern Syris and Asia Minor.
    As a consequence of this recent work, it is now possible to pursue the question of community formation in Jerusalem by followers of Jesus, without assuming the model of the kerygma-oriented Christ congregation as the only possible model.”

  12. Virm, Whatever the authenticity of Dennis MacDonald’s theories thast Mark took material from Homer and turnes it into stories of Jesus with no basis of history, Schubert Ogden argues the nonhistory of Mark on the irrefutable historical fact that none of the writings of the NT is apostolic witness to Jesus, hence not reliable sources for HJ reconstruction. See my comments above. Read the quotes fom the work of Ogden those of Betz. Comment?

  13. Thanks Robert. In reference to my reconstruction, I have received several favorable comments on another site – cannot resist asking if you might dare a word, pro or con?

  14. The above reconstruction of post-Easter Jesus traditions contained in my letter to Hoffmann, based largely on extracts from three of our top theologians, I have reason to claim that it touches on just about every question raised about the reliability of NT writings, yet it goes unnoticed.
    Just wondering.

  15. Robert,
    You might be interested in what Neil Godfrey is doing with my letter to R. Joseph Hoffmann. Click on Ed Jones Dialogue – Vridar.

  16. Robert, I recently reread your probing essay: Fascinating New Research on Jesus Studies to which I have extensively commented. On the chance that you might find it to be of interest I post the following:
    Our most certain sufficient historical evidence for knowledge of Jesus, who he was, what he said and what he did rests “solely on the basis of the original and originating faith and witness of the apostles”. (Schubert M. Ogden). Over against this initial fact of history, one must take account of The FATEFUL HISTORICAL MISTAKE which took place in the earliest apostolic period 30 CE-65 CE at the very beginning of post-execution Jesus traditions. This period was marked by two distinctly different movements, the Jerusalem Jesus movement having claim to this apostolic witness, soon followed by the Pauline Christ myth movement (the enemy of the Jesus movement) which developed in the Gentile world, meeting with ready success, to become Gentile Christianity, finally to become orthodox Christianity. Becoming the winners in the struggle for dominance, Gentile Christianity was able to place this original movement under a conspiracy of silence; to even at a later point, have it declared a heresy, to effectively remove it from the pages of history. Under these Gentile conditions some 40 years later, the writings of the NT took place, to mistakenly be named the official canon, the apostolic witness to Jesus. Only since the 80’s have certain of our top scholars under the force of our present historical methods and knowledge fully come to a real objective historical understanding of this mistake, not only to say none of the writings of the NT are apostolic witness to Jesus, but to understand the how and the why of this fateful mistake. This is a human mistake, one of those ultimate mistakes related to the issue of God-man relationship, which bears testimony to unknowing mankind’s pervasive fallible mistake prone history. (Developing eyes that cannot see.)
    A brief history of this fateful mistake: In this apostolic period there were two movements each with its own interpretation of the significance of the Jesus event. Chronologically the first, the Jerusalem Jesus Movement which began (within weeks) with the key disciples, having fled to their native Galilee, overcome with grief and utter disillusionment , emboldened by Peter’s and others vision (some form of extrasensory cognition), at great risk, returning to Jerusalem, purposing to again take up the teaching of their revered Master. This was soon followed by a group of Hellenist Jews hearing talk of Jesus rising from the dead (as the visions began to be interpreted), with their traditions of dying and rising gods together with Jewish animal sacrificial rites, took up the sense perceived (not revelation) notion that the significance of Jesus was the salvific effects of his death and resurrection which abrogated the Torah. This was in effect treason for temple authorities. The Acts story of the stoning of Stephen, the leader in this Hellenist group, seems to reference a put-down by temple authorities of some kind of anti-Torah demonstration. Paul is named as a participant holding the garments of those casting the stones. Next we find Paul having his “vision” experience on the road to Damascus, to where the Hellenist fled, as persecutor, then converting to this group with their Christ myth beliefs. It was from this group that Paul received his Christ myth kerygma. In taking his Christ kerygma to the Gentile world, meeting with ready success, becoming Gentile Christianity as known above all in the writings of the New Testament, the letters of Paul, the Gospels, as well as the later writings of the New Testament, the source for orthodox Christianity, becoming winners in the struggle for dominance, to declare the Jerusalem Jesus Movement heresy to effectively remove it from the pages of history. Only because Matthew included the Q material, which contained the Sermon on the Mount, do we have an alternative source which contains our sole original and originating faith and witness of the apostles, our certain source of knowledge of the real Jesus.

  17. Comment on Eric Zuesse’s The Event that Created Christianity: “The historical probe documents that the Gospel accounts of the words and actions of Jesus were written decades after Jesus by followers of Paul, not Jesus, and that their writings placed into the mouth of Jesus the agenda of Paul. Paul thus became, via his followers, Christ’s ventriloquists”. Thus we have at least one “outsider” to credibly document the present understanding of certain of our top NT Studies scholars to the effect the Gospel accounts are not reliable sources for knowledge of the historical Jesus. (http://www.viewzone.com/ventriloquest.html):

  18. A viable historical solution to Earl Doherty’s “Jesus Puzzle” has taken place within the Guild of NT Studies, the only discipline capable, not only of identifying our primary Scriptural source of apostolic witness, but of appropriately interpreting this source as well, “few are they who find it” even among well-known NT scholars. Finding it, this historical solution, is “a task to which specialized knowledge in the areas of philology, form and redaction criticism. literary criticism, history of religions, and New Testament theology necessarily applies”. (Hans Dieter Betz). “Over the last two centuries, there gradually emerged a new access to Jesus, made available through historical research”, (James M. Robinson). Under the force of present historical methods and knowledge this new access was brought into a highly creditable understanding during the 1980’s.
    Schubert Ogden: “We now know that not only that none of the Old Testament writings is prophetic witness to (Jesus) in the sense in which the early church assumed them to be, but also that none of the writings of the New Testament is apostolic witness to Jesus as the early church itself understood apostolicity. The sufficient evidence for this point in the case of the New Testament writings is that all of them have been shown to depend on sources earlier than themselves, written or oral, and hence not to be the original and originating witness that the early church mistook them to be in judging them to be apostolic. [“the sufficient evidence” without the agonizing detail of what they do contain which supplies the grist for the blogosphere mythicists mill]. The witness of the apostles is still rightly taken to be the real “Christian” norm, even if we today have to locate this norm, not in the writings of the New Testament but in the earliest stratum of Scriptural witness accessible to us given our own methods of historical analysis and reconstruction.” Betz identifies this earliest stratum to be the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3-7:27). “This source presents us with an early form – deriving from (the Jerusalem Jesus Movement) which had direct links to the teaching of the historical Jesus and thus constituted an alternative to Gentile Christianity as known above all in the letters of Paul, the Gospels, as well as the later writings of the New Testament. [All are written in the context of imaging the Christ of faith, not the man Jesus]. If the Sermon on the Mount represents a response to the teaching of Jesus critical of that of Gentile-Christianity, then it serves unmistakably to underline the well-known fact of how little we know of Jesus and his teaching. The reasons for our lack of knowledge cannot be overcome by anexcess of good will (apologetics). The Gentile Christian authors of the Gospels transmitted to us only that part of the teaching of Jesus that they themselves understood, they handed on only that wich they were able to translate into the thought categories of Gentile Christianiity, and which the judged to be worthy of transmission.” (More to the point, they include no more than they felt to be sufficient to lend historical credence to their Pauline Christ of faith myth). This calls for a new reconstruction of post mortem Jesus traditions. (My comment to News From the Freethought Ghetto – The New Oxonian. Hoffmann’s comment: “Ed: Thank you so much for this – filled with wisdom and understanding, like Job!”.)

  19. Hi Ed! Your name is corrected. Thank you for keeping this discussion going, and I apologize for my inexcusable silence. Truth is, I don’t have much to add to your replies; they’re obviously well-informed and show more insight than I can hope to muster on the subject. Nonetheless, I enjoy reading your commentary and periodic updates. 🙂

  20. The Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount. (Extracts from Essays on the Sermon on the Mount by Hans Dieter Betz):
    “Jesus is revered by the community of the Sermon on the Mount as the teacher of the proper interpretation of the Torah and the correct praxis of piety, as well as practical philosophy in general. Christological titles are not used at all.” In simple fact: the SM, the classic texts of the teaching of Jesus, sets forth our most certain path (consciousness training) to becoming conscious of the Presence of God.
    “A truly disturbing problem arises for the community only when they discover that there are other “Christians” (Pauline Christ Myth followers) who have drawn very different conclusions from the teaching of Jesus. It is not only their task to maintain and defend the teachings of Jesus, but to establish, first of all, what Jesus taught and desired of others, and what he did not teach and did not desire. The strange fact that such conflicting interpretations of the teaching of Jesus could arise so soon constitutes the profound dilemma of the SM in relation to the historical Jesus.”
    “As a general statement of its historical situation, one can say that the SM belongs, both theologically and in terms of history of religions, within the richly diverse Judaism of the first century.”
    “If the (Jerusalem Jesus Community) of the Sermon on the Mount represent a response to the teachings Jesus of Nazareth, critical of that of Gentile Christianity, then it serves unmistakably to underline the well-known fact of how little we know of Jesus and his teaching. The reasons for our lack of knowledge are of a hermeneutical sort, and cannot be overcome by an excess of good will. The Gentile-Christian authors of the Gospels transmitted to us only that part of the teaching of Jesus that they themselves understood, they handed on only that which they were able to translate into the thought categories of Gentile Christianity, and which they judged worthy of transmission. By contrast, the Sermon on the Mount stands nearer to the Jewish thought of Jesus of Nazareth, and manifests its affinity and distance over later Christianity. – – we must leave open the possibility, and even the probability, of an image of Jesus which is completely different from that of the synoptic tradition and its Gentile-Christian redactors.”

  21. Crucial new understandings of the “Jesus Puzzle” made possible by present historical and scientific methods and knowledge.
    Ogden: “We now not only know that none of the writings of the OT is prophetic witness to Christ, we also know that none of the writings of the NT is apostolic witness to Jesus.” This is a historical judgment based on historical evidence determined by an insider. Eric Zuesse : “The religion of the NT actually has nothing to do with the person of the historical Jesus.” This is a scientific judgment based on scientific evidence determined by an outsider. Hence we now have conclusive evidence, both from the methodologies of historicity and science, that the writings of the NT, Paul’s letters, the Gospels, as well as the later writings of the NT, are not sources for knowledge of Jesus. Our best historical evidence can only come from within the Guild of NT Studies, even as our best scientific evidence can only come from outside. No evidence, historical or scientific, is presented to question that we have NT apostolic witness to Jesus. Only from within the Guild of NT Studies might a scholar have acquired sufficient competence in its areas of special knowledge, which necessarily applies if one is to have access to full historical evidence necessary to identify this NT source of apostolic witness to Jesus. As Eric Zuesse’s probe demonstrates, full historical details of origins of Jesus traditions during the years 30-65, can only be accessed by historical scholars from within the Guild. E.g., Eric’s probe fails to recognize that there were two distinctly different denominations, each with its own understanding of the significance of Jesus. Both were pre Christian, pre Gospel, partly pre Pauline. Paul was never a member of the first, the Jerusalem Jesus movement. He was persecutor of the second, which soon followed the first, a pre Pauline Hellenist movement which introduced the notion that Jesus’ significance was the salvific effects of his death and resurrection, which abrogated the Torah. Paul is introduced as persecutor of this group, having his “vision” on the road to Damascus, resulting in his conversion to this group from which he received his Christ myth gospel. All of these developments are sufficiently documented in the NT.

  22. The maxim which defines methodologies and their related conclusion in New Testament Studies: If you begin with Paul, you will misunderstand Jesus. If you begin with Jesus, you will understand Paul differently.
    To begin with Paul is to begin with the writings of the NT, the letters of Paul, as well as the later writings of the NT, all of which are not apostolic witness to Jesus, thus not reliable sources for knowledge of Jesus. “The sufficient evidence for this point is that all of them have been shown to depend on sources earlier than themselves and thus not to be the original and originating sources that the early church mistook them to be in judging them to be apostolic”. (Schubert Ogden). Without a readily identifiable alternative apostolic source, there has in effect been no evident way to “begin with Jesus”. Thus the writings of the NT are widely taken to be our primary if not our sole NT source for knowledge of Jesus. Both believer and secular critic seem bound each to his/her own particular bias: the believer, with the conviction that conflates the NT Christ of faith myth with the HJ or that a credible Jesus lurked behind the texts, and the secular critic, with the conviction of the Mythicis argument or at most a Jesus of no or little historical significance.
    Only since the 80s have certain of our top NT Studies scholars, under the force of present historical methods and knowledge, become confirmed in their recognition that indeed we do have an alternative NT source containing the original and originating faith and witness of the apostles in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3 – 7:27, the SM). Although the SM is located as a front-piece in the Gospel of Matthew, its identity and significance has been effectively obscured by a widely held consensus which claims that the evangelist Matthew composed the SM out of Q traditions and his own composition, to fix the SM to the context of the Gospel of Matthew.
    On the history of this development: “For over the last two centuries there gradually emerged a new access to Jesus, made available through objective historical research. To be sure the Evangelist themselves have already tailored their narrations of Jesus’ sayings to focus on the (Pauline) kerygma, making the gospel of cross and resurrection the quintessence of the whole ministry of Jesus. Yet for modern people, a person who remains historically inaccessible is somehow unreal, – – indeed a myth. The result was in the Nineteenth Century, the quest for the historical Jesus. It was no coincidence that a century and a half ago, as the rediscovery of Jesus was just getting under way, there came to light a collection of Jesus’ sayings used by Matthew and Luke in composing their Gospels. Matthew and Luke updated the sayings so that they made clear what Jesus must have meant, namely what Matthew and Luke meant, and embedded the sayings in their copies of the Gospel of Mark, making of Matthew and Luke hybrid gospels, partly Mark and partly the sayings collection. Then, after Matthew and Luke used it in their enlarged and improved Gospels, that primitive collection of Jesus’ sayings was no longer copied and transmitted by Christian scribes, since the church of course – unfortunately – preferred those more up-to-date and complete (from birth to death) Gospels. The more primitive text was itself lost completely from sight. In fact it ceased to exist, no copies of Q survived. It was never heard of again, after the end of the first century, until, in 1838, a scholar in Leipzig, Germany, detected it lurking just under the surface of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. – – scholars came to call it simply the “source”, in German “Quelle”, abbreviated ”Q”, we have come of late to call it the Sayings Gospel Q. This document was just primitive enough to contain many of the sayings of Jesus without the (Pauline) kerygma overlay. Here the real Jesus who really lived in history has his say.” (The article, “The Real Jesus of the Sayings Gospel Q”, by James M. Robinson, online).

    1. The problematic of the writings of the New Testament which produces the “Jesus Puzzle” with its many Jesuses, even the Mythicist’s no Jesus, can all be psychologically sorted out by the maxim which defines the methodologies and their related conclusions in New Testament Studies: If you begin with Paul, you will misunderstand Jesus. If you begin with Jesus, you will understand Paul differently.
      To begin with Paul is to begin with the writings of the NT, the letters of Paul, the Gospels, as well as the later writings of the NT, all of which certain of our top NT Studies now know are not apostolic witness to Jesus, thus not reliable sources for knowledge of Jesus. “The sufficient evidence for this point is that all of them have been shown to depend on sources earlier than themselves and thus not to be the original and originating sources that the early church mistook them to be in judging them to be apostolic”. (Schubert Ogden). Without a readily identifiable alternative source which might have claim to apostolicity, there effectively has been no evident way to “begin with Jesus”. Thus the writings of the NT are widely taken to be our primary if not our sole NT source for knowledge of Jesus. Scholars both within the Guild of NT Studies and outside secular critics seem bound each to his/her own particular bias: the NT scholar, with convictions that conflate the NT Christ of faith myth with the HJ or that a credible Jesus yet lurks somewhere behind these texts; while the secular critic, with convictions of the Mythicist argument or at most a Jesus of no or little historical significance.
      Only since the 80s have certain of our top NT Studies scholars, under the force of present historical methods and knowledge, become confirmed in their recognition that indeed we do have an alternative NT source containing the original and originating faith and witness of the apostles in the texts of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3 – 7:27, the SM). Although the SM is positioned as a front-piece in the Gospel of Matthew, its identity and significance has been seriously obscured, even to credible NT scholars, by a widely held redaction-historical claim that the evangelist Matthew composed the SM out of Q traditions and his own composition, to fix the SM to its secondary context the Gospel of Matthew. Betz dispels this claim with his important hypothesis that the SM is a pre-Matthean source composed by a redactor that has been transmitted intact, dating it mid-first Century.
      James Robinson’s history of this development: “For over the last two centuries there gradually emerged a new access to Jesus, made available through objective historical research. To be sure the Evangelist themselves have already tailored their narrations of Jesus’ sayings to focus on the (Pauline) kerygma, making the gospel of cross and resurrection the quintessence of the whole ministry of Jesus. Yet for modern people, a person who remains historically inaccessible is somehow unreal, – – indeed a myth. The result was in the Nineteenth Century, the quest for the historical Jesus (began). It was no coincidence that a century and a half ago, as the rediscovery of Jesus was just getting under way, there came to light a collection of Jesus’ saying used by Matthew and Luke in composing their Gospels. Matthew and Luke updated the sayings so that they made clear what Jesus must have meant, namely what Matthew and Luke meant, and embedded the sayings in their copies of the Gospel of Mark, making of Matthew and Luke hybrid gospels, partly Mark and partly the sayings collection. Then, after Matthew and Luke used it in their enlarged and improved Gospels, that primitive collection of Jesus’ sayings (which grew within the Jesus Movement to become the SM) was no longer copied and transmitted by (Gentile) Christian scribes, since the church of course – unfortunately — preferred those more up-to-date and complete Gospels (from birth to death, written in the context of Pauline Christ kerygma in the Gentile world some 40 years after the crucifixion, becoming winners in the struggle for dominance, could label the Jesus Movement heresy, to effectively sever Jesus from his sayings and his Jewish roots). This more primitive text was itself lost completely from sight. In fact it ceased to exist, no copies of Q survived. It was never heard of again, after the end of the first century, until, in 1838, a scholar in Leipzig, Germany, detected it lurking just under the surface of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. – – scholars came to call it simply the “source”, in German “Quelle”, abbreviated ”Q”, we have come of late to call it the Sayings Gospel Q. This old Sayings Gospel was not like the canonical Gospels so colored over with the (Pauline) kerygma of cross and resurrection that the historical Jesus, though embedded therein, was actually lost from sight by the heavy overlay of golden patina (royal titles with the passion kerygma). Rather this document was just primitive enough to contain many sayings of Jesus without kerygma overlay. Here the real Jesus who actually lived in history has his say. ” (The Real Jesus of the Sayings Gospel Q, by James M. Robinson, second half of an article online). For what the real Jesus did have to say see Essays on the Sermon on the Mount by Hans Dieter Betz.

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