CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

In August, neilgodfrey posted on a question: "Do mythicists read Paul's references to Jesus's humanity as interpolations or metaphors?" As for interpolations, which is the focus of this post, Neil helpfully answers "No." Indeed, Neil claims "This is another misinformed assertion advanced by some who appear never to have read mythicist publications. " He then notes one interpolation from Thessalonians for Dr. Price and does not mention Earl Doherty at all. He corrects himself in the comments, noting one interpolation entertained by Doherty. Ultimately, Neil claims, "The only interpolations singled out in Paul’s letters by anyone who advances a mythical Jesus (at least from my readings) are those that are strongly argued to be interpolations by scholars who have expressed no interest in mythicism, and who almost certainly would accept a “historical Jesus”."

Earl Doherty

Doherty himself seems sensitive on this point. In a response to JP Holding, Doherty referred to his "two claims for interpolations." I blogged on how that number kept growing the more reader responses and articles on his old website that I read, here. It appears the Doherty has changed the links so they do not work anymore, but I quoted his position on most of the examples.

Here are the interpolations in the NT epistles that Doherty has entertained in support of his theory:

  • 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 (getting rid of a reference to Jewish involvement in Jesus' death)
  • Timothy 6:13 (getting rid of a reference to Pilate).
  • Galatians 1:19 (getting rid of a reference to Jesus' brother, James).
  • Galatians 4:4 (getting rid of a reference to Jesus being "born of a woman, born under the law").
  • 1 Timothy 6:3 (getting rid of a reference to the "wholesome teachings of Jesus Christ").
  • Hebrews 13:7 (getting rid of a reference to "leaders" who taught them the "word of God").
  • Hebrews 13:20 (getting rid of a reference to Jesus' resurrection).
  • Corinthians 6:9 (getting rid of a reference to the brothers of Jesus).
  • Romans 1:3 (getting rid of a reference to Jesus being "born of a descendant of David, according to the flesh") (As I note on my blog, Doherty kind of punts to Ehrman on this but leaves the possibility hanging).
But why are we limiting this to NT epistles? Doherty racks up the interpolation count when we turn to troublesome passages in non-New Testament writings:
  • Doherty rejects the two passages in Josephus' Antiquities which refer to Jesus: 18 (the Testimonium) and 20 (reference to "James, the brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ"). 

  • Doherty has argued that Tacitus' reference to Christians in Annals may be an interpolation. 

  • Doherty argues that 11:2-22 in the Ascension of Isaiah is an interpolation. 

  • Doherty appears to argue that all references in the Ascension of Isaiah to "Jesus" or "Christ" in Chapters 6-11 are later additions. 

  • Doherty has argued that the reference to John as the author of the Gospel of John by Theophilus of Antioch, Book II, ch. 22, is an interpolation.
  • Doherty suggests in footnote 83 of his book that Pliny the Younger's reference to Christians could be an interpolation.
I think that easily puts us over 15 suggested/entertained interpolations for Doherty's Jesus Myth case. And note that this is not just a general survey by Doherty looking for interpolations in relevant writings -- as is the case with William Walker, who Neil references -- but are just the passages that are most obviously troublesome for Doherty's mythicist case. Obviously, as Neil notes regarding the one Doherty interpolation to which he concedes, Doherty usually has back up arguments; but my evaluation is a much more realistic picture of how often this prominent Jesus Myther is willing to play the interpolation card.

I suppose Neil might argue that some of the above is not in the Pauline Corpus, which is true as far as it goes, but I am skeptical that artificially reducing the sample size helps his main point. I found these examples over three years ago, so I am skeptical about Neil's "trust me" assessment on whether the mythicist proponents resort to interpolations to buttress their case. The passage of time also means that the number of interpolations entertained by Doherty may have increased (or, that he has withdrawn some from consideration). In any case, I find it unlikely that all of these interpolations are "strongly" argued by a significant number of New Testament scholars to be interpolations. Not even Walker agrees with the Romans and Galatians suggested interpolations (and I don't know that he has addressed Hebrews and 1 Timothy at all).

Robert Price

Regarding Robert Price, I have not done a similar overview of his interpolation appeals. I have responded in an article and on the CADRE blog to his argument that 1 Cor. 15:3-11 is an interpolation. When Dr. Price responded to my posts (I posted the e-mail exchange, here), he claimed that William Walker agreed with him that 1 Cor. 15:3-11 was an interpolation. I then e-mailed Dr. Walker to ask him about this, and he denied making this assertion or concluding that 1 Cor. 15:3-11 is an interpolation (he hasn't opined either way). Dr. Price also noted that others had concluded that this passage is an interpolation, but I was unimpressed with his references to G.A. Wells and Arthur Drews. He also referred to J.C. O'Neill, who was a New Testament scholar but was also famous for being interpolation-happy. Interestingly, Richard Carrier rejects the idea for the most part. So, while I cannot gauge the number of interpolations Dr. Price appeals to in support of his mythicist case, I am confident that this particular one is not "strongly" argued by a significant number of New Testament scholars to be an interpolation.


Registering for comment tracking.

Also, Neil responds to the Doherty details in this comment of the linked post.

Ball's back in Chris' court.


Much of Neil's rejoinder is that Doherty does not argue that these are interpolations but that mainstream scholarship does. At best, this is an unsupported half truth. Of course Doherty argues for their being interpolations, and perhaps -- also -- other scholars agree with him. It appears that it is enough for Neil that any other "scholar" believes that one of these passages might be an interpolation. I hardly think this excuses Mythicists from the charge that they rely on interpolations to support their theory.

Neil also argues that many of the examples are "fall backs" that Doherty argues would not be fatal to his theory. True enough, which I acknowledge. But this, again, does not excuse mythicists from the charge that they advance interpolations in support of their theory.

Neil also appears to be skeptical that some of the examples I provide were argued by Doherty. Apparently he has not read this post, which explains the sources (and the fact that the original links don't work). They are not just from his book or main online articles, but to the vast number of responses Doherty put up on his website to criticisms and emailed questions.

And I have responded to Neil at his own site. Not sure if I'll have the time or inclination to move any of that discussion here.

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