An Excellent Review of Doherty's Book

My friend Kevin Rosero has posted an excellent Amazon review of Earl Doherty's The Jesus Puzzle. He focuses on the argument from silence that is the pink elephant in the Jesus Myth room. No, not Paul's supposed failure to refer to things he may or may not have had reason to. Rather, Kevin points out the simple but devastating fact that Earl Doherty believes there were "Christians" in the first and second centuries proclaiming the fact that Jesus never existed on earth, but we have no record of any "orthodox Christians" mentioning this particular perspective.

It is not as if the "orthodox" were quiet about sects with whom they disagreed. Indeed, they wrote at length to combat heresy after heresy. The goal was to refute, not ignore, perceived heretics. The offended "orthodox" assailed "lesser" heresies that claimed that although Jesus existed on this earth, he was not really human. How much more response would claims that Jesus never existed on earth in any form have garnered? As Kevin puts it:
It is hard to believe that Christian institutions and individual writers were silent about what would have been the most radical and provocative of all the heresies -- silent about an idea that, per Doherty's central thesis about how religions work, would have threatened the Church's power to a greater degree than any of the other heresies, some of which were already regarded by Church Fathers as mortally dangerous to the Church.
Read the whole thing and give him a helpful vote on the way out.


Kevin Rosero said…
Much appreciated words, Chris.
Jason Pratt said…
Maybe E.D. is thinking of radical docetists? They could be said to have believed that Jesus never existed on earth (literally, no footprints etc.) And based on Johannine evidence, the canonical author could have been pinging against people of that sort on occasion, in the second half of the 1st c. ('If someone denies that Jesus has come in the flesh', etc.)

I think the super-docetists were going that route due to philosophical pre-constraints about what was possible and impossible; but I can imagine a Jesus-Myther wondering if it was supposed to be a rationalization (or even a coded claim) about Jesus being fictional altogether.

(Haven't read ED's book, though, so that's purely a tentative speculation. {shrug}{s})

Jason Pratt
Steven Carr said…
On a related subject , in 2 Corinthians 11:4, Paul rails against people who are winning converts by preaching a 'different Jesus' to his Jesus (Paul preached Christ crucified). Does Paul ever describe these different Jesus's that some Christians were worshipping?
Jason Pratt said…
In 2 Cor 11 (and afterward, through the end of the topic so far as I can tell), Paul isn't contrasting his message to those who preach something other than Christ being crucified (the phrase doesn't seem to appear in that section, nor in the introduction which precedes it.) Based on the details he _does_ give (in vv12-15, 22-23), all we can say is that they were claiming to be apostles of Christ, and also that they were claiming to be very Jewish.

True, the crucifixion of the King Messiah (handed over to pagan execution by their own religious authorities due to charges of religious blasphemy) would naturally be (as it still very understandably is) an offense to Jews (as in 1 Cor 1:23) as much as it would be (for partly different and partly overlapping reasons) foolishness to the Greeks.

But a super-Jewish Christian trying to get around that somehow (if these were; and there is no positive evidence I can find, yet, that the 2 Cor 'false apostles' were trying that), would not of all people be trying to present themselves as apostles to someone whom they also were claiming did not exist in the first place.

(I can't decide whether super-Jewish deniers of the crucifixion, if there could be any such in the mid-50s CE, might not go the route of radical docetism, though; that Jesus was a real manifestation of God but not physically present in the world. Doesn't seem likely to me, but I can imagine some tentative arguments in that direction. {shrug})
Tenax said…
One thing I'll say for ED, he turned a website into a book; I am impressed with that.

Kevin's review is very strong. It is entirely appropriate to look at the larger historical context as he does.

From my own perspective, I've found Doherty's theory (from the website, granted, not the book) very creative (though he borrows from others also) but still unconvincing. The NT strikes me as so deeply Jewish any pagan/hellenic reading is troubling. There are scores of direct references to the Jewish scriptures and culture and zero direct references to the pagan gods or texts. Paul's letters are not always precise, but what I find there is a Jew who believes his sin-debt has been paid. A man in awe of the actual-historical fulfillment of the Law he once was ruled by. As a Jew, a man who understood temple sacrifice in the real world and believed in an actual human/divine substitute. A man who met human beings who knew Christ personally and who found confirmation for his Jesus-experience there. To believe that an ex-Pharisee would have taken the pagan concept of a god sacrificed in the non-material world and applied it (before the end of the temple cultus no less) to his own personal sin-debt would be one of the greatest anomalies of history. To believe the Jewish peasant-disciples before Paul, believing to the point of death, would have done so is even more remarkable. Of course, Paul was prosecuting Christians before his own conversion; they were already holding a faith (the Way) which Paul, as an orthodox Jew, found heretical.

And wouldn't the Jesus stories look different, the entire synoptic process, all of it, if Jesus left no historical mark whatsoever. And the source for John is a liar: he did not see the crucifixion or take Jesus' mother into his home. He did not see the empty tomb. He was faking the entire historical what end if the myth-Jesus was working so well?

I can see no way that Paul can be read as believing in a non-historical/physical Jesus. It would take substantial later alterations to his letters for which we have zero textual evidence. But then, some of the mythicists believe Paul was also a gnostic. The tragic train rolls on.

And in the ancient pagan world, there is nothing like the Jesus story. There gods were quite remote in most cases, capricious and unpredictable, living lives which only tangentially touched on human life. Sacricicial offerings for help which might or might not be answered; foggy oracles (for a fee). The entire feel is different from the confidence and sense of liberation I find in Paul.

Why does Doherty get a hearing? Because the gospels are hard to understand, to believe, to admit. They truly are a puzzle, but a different kind of puzzle.

But then I'm saying nothing new. The mythicist theory makes another interesting piece in NT studies; we certainly must continue to examine all possible angles.

My thanks to all of you here who continue to wrestle with these questions.
Steven Carr said...
"On a related subject , in 2 Corinthians 11:4, Paul rails against people who are winning converts by preaching a 'different Jesus' to his Jesus (Paul preached Christ crucified). Does Paul ever describe these different Jesus's that some Christians were worshipping?"

Yes I think it's pretty clear the "different Jesus" is the one he is discussing that his oppents put forword in that book; one whose sacrfaice was not sufficent to ensure salvation and not extended to all people and social classes or both genders.

That would seem to be the whole point of mentioning it.

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