Interpolation Inflation in Doherty's Jesus Myth Theory

An interpolation is an insertion into a text of words, phrases, or passages that were not part of the original text. At times, Earl Doherty has seemed defensive about allegations that he relies on interpolations to eliminate evidence that does not support his theory. At first, Doherty was adamant that he entertained only two possible interpolations in the NT letters as part of his Jesus Myth theory. In response to a reader question, Doherty stated: "I appeal to only two interpolations in all the New Testament epistles, one supported by most liberal scholars; the second is not critical to the argument." He seems rather proud of that fact, repeating the claim in many places. In response to J.P. Holding, Doherty states: "When he goes on to examine my two claims for interpolation in the entire Pauline corpus, including the pseudonymous letters...."

Those two interpolations are 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 (describing the Jews as responsible Jesus' death) and Timothy 6:13 (noting that Jesus appeared before Pilate). It seems, however, that Doherty could not hold that line. As his novel translations of early Christian literature became the subject of more and more criticism (though not yet of peer review), the number of appeals to at least possible interpolations has increased. So, we have Doherty raising the number to three, here:

Only two of these passages, possibly a third, would I put down to later interpolation, the first with much support by liberal scholars: 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16, with its reference to "the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus," and 1 Timothy 6:13, with its reference to Pilate.... The third, a possible marginal gloss, is Galatians 1:19's "the brother of the Lord" in reference to James....

But the count actually rises to four after recent debates about Doherty's spin on Galatians 4:4: "As an alternative explanation for Galatians 4:4, I will suggest that there is the possibility that the phrase 'born of woman, born under the law' is a later scribal insertion."

So the number of entertained interpolations has doubled. But there are more. In order to support his argument that 1 Timothy 6:13 is an interpolation, Doherty declares part of 1 Timothy 6:3 (referring to the "wholesome teachings of Jesus Christ") to be an interpolation.

Now the count is five. Yet we are still not done, because in order to support his novel interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Doherty entertains the possibility of two more interpolations.

Writing about Hebrews 13:7 (referring to the "leaders" who taught them the "word of God"), Doherty describes the verse as written by "an early epistle writer (or interpolator)." A few verses later, Doherty makes the following statement about Hebrews 13:20 (referring to the resurrection of Jesus): "in a passage which has in any case been questioned as authentic to the original epistle...." So add two more to the count.

At this point of the analysis, Doherty is up to at least seven interpolations in the New Testament letters in support of his theory. That is more than triple the number he bragged about in the early days. I say "at least" because it seems that Doherty also questions the authenticity of 1 Corinthians 6:9 (referring to the "brothers of Jesus"). He states that the passage is "disputed" and later states, "Which brings me back to the Galatians 1:19 phrase. As with its 'brother' in 1 Corinthians 9, this phrase does not appear in extant documents until at least the 3rd century, maybe the 4th." At the very least, Doherty envisions editing damaging to his theory. At present, therefore, I think it fair to count this among the interpolations entertained by Doherty in support of his theory.

One other possible interpolation entertained by Doherty is Romans 1:3 (noting that Jesus was "born of a descendant of David, according to the flesh"). Doherty does not argue the point himself but quotes Ehrman as noting that this phrase is especially helpful to later Christians combating docetism. However, since Doherty does not apply the argument specifically to Romans 1:3, I will leave this one out of our count for now.

Thus, the running total is eight interpolations in the NT letters entertained by Doherty in support of his theory. That is four times the initial amount he bragged about. Notably, none of the above alleged interpolations is supported by any manuscript evidence.

We should also not forget the non-New Testament interpolations Doherty entertains in support of his theory.

  • 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 have not followed Doherty's arguments closely lately, for a number of reasons. So it is possible that I have missed other interpolation arguments entertained by him. What is clear is that rather than only two interpolations in the NT epistles (as first claimed by Doherty), the present number of interpolations has quadrupled to eight. In addition, there are seven alleged interpolations from other ancient documents that Doherty has entertained as part of his Jesus Myth theory.

Do not be surprised if the list continues to grow.


Larry J. Hooge said…
I would argue that 1 Thess. 2:15-16 could not be an interpolation since it's part of a chiasmus which runs from 1:1-2:20. If 2:15-16 is an interpolation than I suppose it's earlier match would be too, but this seems doubtful since, in my opinion, both sections seem to be integral to the overall chiasmus. If you wish to see the chiasmus, contact me at thehooges at shaw dot ca.
Tim said…
"If 2:15-16 is an interpolation than I suppose..."

Than? You don't know the difference between THEN and THAN? If you get the small stuff wrong, why should anyone listen to what you say on the big stuff?
Layman said…

Thanks for alerting me to the typo.

But what I find most interesting about your critique is that the only problem you could find is the mistaken use of the letter "a."

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