• On The Historicity of Jesus, Part 3a.

    Just so everybody knows, I am perfectly willing to believe in a historical Jesus, but I only require one thing: that we have at least a little bit more evidence for the historical Jesus theory than the Jesus myth theory. That’s it. And I am not yet sure where I stand on this issue, because on the one hand it seems like there is some evidence for an historical Jesus (which I have said myself, and have even stated that I think Paul’s comment about “James, the Lord’s brother” is more significant than Richard Carrier allows, though I also believe it is not as bulletproof as some think, for reasons I carefully explained here).

    Matt Brown has asked questions concerning whether Carrier’s claims about a celestial, pre-existent Jesus in Philo are plausible. So here is the passage from Philo, On the Confusion of Tongues 61-63 (available online here):

    Now, the following is an example of the former kind: “And God planted a paradise in Eden, toward the East,” not of terrestrial but of celestial plants, which the planter caused to spring up from the incorporeal light which exists around him, in such a way as to be for ever inextinguishable. I have also heard of one of the companions of Moses having uttered such a speech as this: “Behold, a man whose name is the East!” A very novel appellation indeed, if you consider it as spoken of a man who is compounded of body and soul; but if you look upon it as applied to that incorporeal being who in no respect differs from the divine image, you will then agree that the name of the east has been given to him with great felicity. For the Father of the universe has caused him to spring up as the eldest son, whom, in another passage, he calls the firstborn; and he who is thus born, imitating the ways of his father, has formed such and such species, looking to his archetypal patterns.

    Here is a short summary of things we see about Philo’s “Man whose name is the East”:

    (a) He is incorporeal.

    (b) He is the same as the divine image.

    (c) He is the father’s eldest son (firstborn).

    (d) He created the species imitating the ways of his father. In other words, he is like a mediator through which God creates.

    (e) He is surrounded by light.

    Strangely, the passage Philo quotes (“Behold, a man who is called the east!”) says this:

    Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua [Note that ‘Jesus’ is a form of ‘Joshua’] son of Jozadak.Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord.It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two.’ [Zec. 6:11-13]

    So, this “man who is called the east” is stated in this passage to:

    (f) be named Jesus.

    (g) he will build the temple of the Lord.

    (h) he will be the high priest.

    Now let us look at what the New Testament has to say about Christ:

    (a) He is incorporeal. (Note that Christ originally had no form, he ‘took the form of a slave’ [Phil. 2:6-8] implying that previously he had no mortal body, also see Timothy 6:16 on Christ being immortal).

    (b) He is the same as the divine image. (2 Cor. 4:4).

    (c) He is the father’s eldest son (firstborn). (Romans 8:29).

    (d) He created the species imitating the ways of his father. In other words, he is like a mediator through which God creates. (1 Corinthians 8:6, also see the numerous other passages, especially in Hebrews, that call Christ a ‘mediator’ like the ‘mediator’ of Platonic beliefs through whom all is created).

    (e) He is surrounded by light. (1 Tim. 6:16)

    (f) be named Jesus.

    (g) he will build the temple of the Lord. (Hebrews 8:1-2)

    (h) he will be the high priest. (Hebrews 8:1-2)

    Also, the Zechariah passage says that Jesus will sit down at the Lord’s throne, Hebrews 8 comes pretty close to this by saying that Christ sat down at the right hand of the Lord’s throne. Moreover, these passages are just the tip of the iceberg, there’s plenty more convergence between Platonic Jewish thought like Philo’s and early Christian belief, and this isn’t a fringe belief: New Testament scholar L. Matthew White notices some similarities between Philo and early Christianity in Scripting Jesus p.47-50. Also note in the Philo passage above that the entity who is spoken of created “celestial plants” indicating he was literally a celestial entity.

    It is often suggested by nonmythicists that Paul’s comments about Jesus being hanged on a tree prove he thought of Jesus as a human on earth. However, there is a counterpart to every earthly thing in the heavens (as it says in Hebrews, which even holds there is a heavenly tabernacle) and the ancients were very literal about that, even to the point of believing in celestial plants.

    In short order, it’s quite possible that Richard Carrier’s overall thesis could be wrong (lots of people are wrong) but I don’t see much room for doubt on the above. Moreover, his 700 page book isn’t anything that has been refuted (not as far as I can tell anyway), it’s pretty well researched. In fact, I’ve been doing my own “fact checking” of the book and have not found anything wrong with it yet.

    That’s all for now. Tune in next time folks.

    Category: Uncategorized

    Article by: Nicholas Covington

    I used to blog at Answers in Genesis BUSTED! I took the creationist organization Answers in Genesis to pieces. I am the author of Atheism and Naturalism and Extraordinary Claims, Extraordinary Evidence, and the Resurrection of Jesus. I am an armchair philosopher with interests in Ethics, Epistemology (that's philosophy of knowledge), Philosophy of Religion, and Skepticism in general.


    1. Some thoughts:

      * Philo’s reference to the “man from the east” is a reference to the Heavenly Adam, made in the divine image, and referred to in the earlier statement “And God planted a paradise in Eden, toward the East” just before in “On the confusion of tongues”. Philo sets up the Heavenly Adam as the pure man from the east, in contrast to Balak, the bad man from the east.

      * Philo often quotes parts of passages from the OT to support his views, without them necessarily being a reference to the surrounding text. To me, his use of “Behold the man from the east” is not a reference to the surrounding text of Zech 6:12. Philo doesn’t use anything from Zech other than quote that line (which he attributes to “one of the companions of Moses”.)

      I think Richard Carrier overplays Philo’s use of Zech. I’m not saying he is wrong; just that apologetic eisgesis should be resisted regardless of the source.

      1. Good point Gakusei. I think Carrier needs to understand the difference between eisgesis and exegesis. Philo is already speaking allegorically in his passage when he says “Behold! the man from the east.” Carrier takes a big jump and assumes this is evidence that a pre-Christian Jesus existed.

        1. Yes. In fact, ironically Carrier is using an apologetics argument (deliberately or not) that is used to show Jesus is pre-figured in the OT. Philo is ‘decoding’ the story of Babel and showing the allegorical meaning behind the OT passages. For the passage “as
          they were moving from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and dwelt there”, Philo explains the allegory behind the words ‘found a plain’ and ‘Shinar’ and ‘from the east’. As he goes through each passage, he pulls out bits and pieces from the rest of the OT to support his allegorical readings.

          1. Even though I do believe that Jesus is prophecised in the OT, I think what Carrier has to realize that Jews didn’t see many OT prophecies about Jesus in the way that he does. For example, Carrier claims that Isaiah 53 was understood by ancient Jews to point to a dying and rising Messiah.

            However, Carrier fails to realize that Deut. 21 mentions that anyone who was hanged on a tree was already a criminal and accursed by God. And this is one of the many reasons why NT scholars and historians of ancient history believe in the existence of Jesus of Nazareth. Mainly because a crucified messiah was a contradiction in terms. Jewish Messianic expectations were that the Messiah was going to be like King-David. He was going to turn over Israel’s enemies and establish God’s kingdom on earth. Instead, Jesus was executed by the Romans and he proclaimed the Kingdom of God in a way the Jews weren’t expecting; many saw his declerations as false or blasphemy. A mythical Jesus would have been much more predictable than the one the Gospels portray.

            1. All of this is answered in the book. I can only assume you haven’t read it. You also aren’t being very logical. A cosmic savior crucified by Jesus obviously would not have been convicted by the Jewish Sanhedrin, so would not be treated as such. He would be treated exactly like the Jewish martyrs executed by Antiochus: valorized.

            2. How am I not being very logical when I’m going with what the historical evidence suggests? Why is it that when mythicists, when confronted with overwhelming evidence agianst their case, have to come up with such extreme and unhistorical reading of the texts? The Jewish Sanhedrin handed over many Jewish people to be put to death. Is it your assertion that Jesus thinking he was the Messiah wouldn’t be seen as a threat to Jews and Romans at the time? Especially when they knew about what the Messiah was going to do to Rome. Mythicism lacks the explanatory scope of the evidence. You aren’t using historical reasoning to support your case but conspiracy. James the brother of Jesus is going to mean something else to the mythicist because of their pre-conceived bias. But you as a historian knows that’s not how historical reasoning works.

            3. Um, dude, the *Jews* valorized the men Antiochus crucified (they even wrote whole scriptures on it). Antiochus was the Big Bad. Just like Pilate (and to Galilean Jews, the Jerusalem Sanhedrin as well). Hence the analogy. You evidently either don’t get analogies or don’t know anything about Jewish history.

            4. But your analogy doesn’t support mythicism Dr. Carrier. No one was claiming that these valorized men started a movment based off their execution. They were mayrtrs for Judaism. And just because a few Jews saw them as that, doesn’t disqualify what Jews and Romans knew about someone who was crucified according to Deu. 21. They weren’t acclaimed Messiahs who were crucified. Jesus was an acclaimed Messiah who was crucified and was considered a threat to both Jew and Greek. You know the Jewish expectations of the Messiah and that didn’t include the death of the Messiah on the cross. No one would valorize their Leader who was crucified under the enemy when the enemy was supposed to be defeated under the leader. So again, a crucified messiah was a contradiction in terms.

            5. The messiah needed to become accursed in order to defeat sin by letting it die with him. That logic works for a cosmic man as much as a real one. Either way, the temple cult is removed, and God’s promise of an atoning savior is realized, the whole point of the Christian religion (Elements 23-28 & 17-18 & 6).

              By Paul’s time, those who were “accursed” by Deuteronomic execution were cleansed of sin (and no longer cursed) by the dissolution of the flesh from their bones (which is why everyone, even executed criminals, could be reburied honorably once their bones were free of flesh, part of the entire ossuary craze). Jesus abandoned his flesh body on the third day and assumed a perfect body. He thus was cleansed. Yet sin stayed dead. The point was not to explain why Jesus died, but to provide a theological excuse to claim Jews no longer needed the temple cult to be free of sin (see the elements above in OHJ from ch. 5).

              Gal. 3-4 also explains the logic, even citing the Dt. psg. in 3:13. Gal. 3:10 explains what is meant, and Gal. 4 elaborates on how Jesus used this to defeat the Devil. At no point does this require a historical man. In fact the theology is so elaborate and cosmic, it hardly makes sense as the exaltation of an unjustly murdered holy man. There were far easier ways to get around the curse aspect (e.g. the crucified Maccabean martyrs were not “accursed” but in fact blessed by God). Instead, the curse aspect appears to be what the Christian idea starts with, not what they used to end-round something inconvenient. They fully embrace it as the whole point: the messiah could not save us unless he became accursed. They therefore needed a cursed messiah (or more exactly, a cursed corpse; the messiah then ditches the corpse, thus ditching the curse). That’s the only way he could defeat all the sin in the world.

            6. But Dr. Carrier, you as well as any historian, knows that wasn’t what Jews thought of. They automatically knew that a criminal who was put to death was already under God’s curse. They were thinking of a Messianic figure who would come from the line of King-David, who would eventually conquer the Romans and establish God’s kingdom on earth. Jesus is portrayed as being executed by the Romans and not bringing in the Kingdom of God the way the Jewish people expected. Even the Romans didn’t crucify their own(Unless for treason) because of how shameful it was.

              Paul described the proclamation of a crucified messiah as an “offense to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23). He used the same Greek word in Galatians 5:11 for the “offense of the cross” (skandalon [σκανδαλον]). The term originally referred to a “trap” or “snare” used by hunters to catch prey. It later acquired the sense of that which offends, scandalizes, is a stumbling block. Why would Paul makes this assertion if it weren’t true?

              Even in the Qumran community which predated the time of Jesus thought there were possibly two Messiahs, one priestly and one royal (1QS 9.11; CD 12.22-23; 13. 20-22; 14. 18-19; 19.34-20.1; CD-B 1.10-11; 2.1; 1Q Sa 2. 17-22). (1)

              Already in the Psalms of Solomon do you get a re-affirmation of what Jews were thinking in and around Jerusalem up until the time of Jesus’ existence.

              “Taught by G-d, the Messiah will be a righteous king over the gentile nations. There will be no unrighteousness among them in his days, for all shall be holy and their king shall be the Lord Messiah. He will not rely on horse and rider and bow, nor will he collect gold and silver for war. Nor will he build up hope in a multitude for a day of war. The Lord himself is his king, the hope of the one who has a strong hope in G-d. He shall be compassionate to all the nations, who reverently stand before him. He will strike the earth with the word of his mouth forever; he will bless the Lord’s people with wisdom and happiness. And he himself will be free from sin, in order to rule a great people. He will expose officials and drive out sinners by the strength of his word.” (Psalms of Solomon 17.32-36)

              ” Lord, you chose David to be king over Israel, and swore to him about his descendants forever, that his kingdom should not fail before you. Undergird him with the strength to destroy the unrighteous rulers, to purge Jerusalem from the gentiles…..to destroy the unlawful nations with the word of his mouth…He will gather a holy people who he will lead in righteousness; and he will judge the tribes of his people…He will not tolerate unrighteousness (even) to pause among them, and any person who knows wickedness shall not live with them… And he will purge Jerusalem (and make it) holy as it was from the beginning.” (Psalms of Solomon 18:4,22,26,27,30)

              The purpose of lying is to convince someone to believe you. If Jews were so desperate in making a Messianic figure wholly from cloth, then why don’t we see them do it in the way of Jewish expectations? It just doesn’t make any sense unless you say that there was an actual messianic figure who did exist.

              If you were making up an atheist movmenet Dr. Carrier, would you claim that your founder was Joseph Stalin? Of course not. What atheist would join your group based on an evil communist and his ideologies?? You would probably pick someone like Hemant Mehta as your leader.

          2. If Philo was doing it, the Christians could’ve done it too. After all, Paul says in Galatians 1 that he got his gospel from revelation and scripture, and, as demonstrated above, the early Christians already had numerous unusual similarities in their beliefs, so if Philo did it, it’d be plausible to think they did it, too. Last but not least such a trend is present in the gospels, as when Matthew applies “out of egypt I have called my son” to Jesus even though it originally applied to Moses. So there isn’t much about this that can be quibbled with.

            1. Sure, I agree. My point though was that Philo didn’t appear to be referencing the Joshua figure in Zech 6, just pulling the part out about “man from the east” to support his allegorical treatment of the passage dealing with the movement of people from the east to the plain of Shinar in the tower of Babel story.

      2. @Gakuseidon,

        He also discusses some evidence that the heavenly Adam was one and the same as the divine logos and that Christ was the apocalyptic Adam (‘from one man came death, through one man came resurrection’ 1 Cor. 15:21).

        The similarities between the figure in Philo and the early church are incredibly remarkable just going on what is explicitly said (letters a to e). I think points f, g, and h are just icing on the cake.

        Nonetheless, though I think this is cause for great suspicion, I don’t think this list of similarities all by itself proves too much concerning whether Jesus was a historical figure, but it does clearly show that Christianity was heavily influenced by ideas floating around at the time.

      3. First, aside from Zech. 6:12, there are already plenty of unusual parallels between Jesus and the figure Philo is talking about. Second, Carrier cites a ton of evidence in his book (that I have not yet checked, but will in the future) that Philo’s heavenly Adam was the Logos, the mediator, etc. A prima facie case can be made that the early Christians thought this (or something like it): After all, in 1 Corinthians 15:21 Paul parallels Adam and Jesus by saying that through one man (Adam) comes death and through one man (Jesus) comes resurrection. Overall, the “it was just a big coincidence” theory is probably not something you would buy into if we were talking about the beliefs of any other group in history.

        1. Sorry, what is the “it’s just a big coincidence” theory? If you mean the similarity of Philo’s views of the Logos and early Christianity’s, then no, I don’t think that is a coincidence. They are clearly coming from a common philosophical root. I’m just arguing Carrier’s association between Philo’s Heavenly Adam and Zech 6:12’s Joshua. Philo uses parts of passages from the OT often in his arguments, even from the Iliad, without too much concern for context. That too is common with earlier Christian writings, esp Paul’s. I just don’t think the association that Carrier sees is that strong. That’s about it.

          1. I find it strange that the figure who was talked about it Philo (who already shares so much in common with the Jesus of the new testament) has an indirect connection with a “Jesus the high priest” of the OT, but I guess I can’t compel anyone else to find it strange.

            1. Ah, the indirect connection I do see as a coincidence, though a little coincidence rather than a big one. My reasoning:

              1. In OtCT, Philo quotes parts often from the OT (and from even the Iliad) without concern for context in many cases. He even quotes from the book of Joshua, FWIW.

              2. Philo doesn’t appear to connect the Joshua character or name to his Logos anywhere else. The Joshua in Zech was supposed to be an actual person on earth, who had parents and children.

              3. In context, Philo is only concerned about the heavenly Adam and his connection to the East. His book is explaining how the tower of Babel led to the “confusion of tongues”, not on the Logos or anything to do with Zech 6.

              I’m not sure how we decide whether Philo’s connection is a small coincidence or a too big of a coincidence. I think a key factor would be how Philo uses the context of the passages he links to.

            2. For example, how is Philo’s point where he references the Iliad affected by the context of the Iliad? Arguably, not at all. Similarly: how is Philo’s point about the man from the east affected by the context of Zech 6? Again, arguably not at all. If the reader didn’t know anything about the context of Zech 6, Philo’s point would not be affected at all.

        1. Thanks for your response, Dr Carrier. I see we both believe that Philo is referring to the primordial Adam, so we at least agree there. The question then is Philo’s use of Zech 6:12. I’ll note that Philo pulls out parts of passages from all over the OT, and even from the Iliad(!), without necessarily concern of context, which is what we see often in early Christian writings. Anyway, I see you have already argued extensively on Zech 6 with someone called fpvflyer on your blog a year ago, so I will point readers there: http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/3103

          1. Under Christian theology, Christ would had to have built the heavenly temple, making him not only a heavenly Adam but a heavenly Jesus too, since Jesus built the temple in the Old Testament.

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