• Inter-Testamental Moral Relativism

    Theists hate moral relativism. They often accuse atheists and secularists of having it. For them, only the pseudo-moral absolutism of Divine Command Theory, where God’s commands decree morality, seems to work in defining some sort of objective morality.

    The problem is, though, that they aren’t very consistent. Because, it turns out, they actually adhere to something which I like to call (via Justin Schieber) Inter-Testamental Moral Relativism.

    Atheist: Hey there, Christian, what’re ya doing eating that there shellfish, whilst wearing mixed cloth? Haven’t you taken on board the 613 odd rules from Leviticus?

    Christian: Chuh, that’s so naive. Haven’t you heard of the New Testament? A testament is a covenant, an agreement with God. With Jesus, the Old Testament, as an agreement, was superseded by the new one. The old rules have been superseded by the new ones.

    Atheist: Really? Wow. Who knew. So Jesus was lying when he said “every jot and title of the Law” would be fulfilled in and by him?

    Christian: Well…

    Atheist: Oh, and that means that what you did believe was good and right immediately became bad or not good and right when, what? When Jesus came to pass away, to die? When the book was released? When it was written? When exactly? Because I remember it mentioning someone getting killed for picking up sticks on a Sabbath. Shall we go and kill all those working in the supermarkets today? Doesn’t your Mum work in ASDA today? Why doesn’t God strike her down? Or what was a sin in that cultural milieu is no longer a sin? I get it! To me, it looks like what was good and right as a moral truth worked for one set of people in a geographical and historical location, but not for another. The second set of geographical and historically contextualised people (yourself included) appear to have a different set of rights and wrongs. Who’s to say that yours won’t be superseded? This looks like, ya know, moral relativism.

    Christian: Um. Yeah, but God said it. Apparently. Or something.

    Category: Biblical ExegesisFeaturedMoralityPhilosophy of ReligionTheology


    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce

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    • Geoff Benson

      This reminds me of a scene from West Wing, one of my favourites in fact. Needless to say I’ve seen apologists attempt to justify and rationalise every point Martin Sheen’s character makes except, of course, they don’t bother re-interpreting the verse regarding homosexuality


    • Roger Cavanagh

      Very good.

      PS Liked the West Wing clip too.

    • Ann

      Well, to be fair, Jonathan ~

      Those are kind of shallow points, and theists are just as tired of reiterating their apologetics about them as we are about fending off once again some wrong-headed idea about atheism or evolution, or “Christian nation,” or Einstein’s or Hitler’s religion …

      It is my understanding that the problems you cite have all been addressed theologically, to the complete satisfaction of theists anyway.

      When they are challenged with them for the ten thousandth time, they are not struck dumb and left standing with egg on their sheepish faces — any more than atheists are by having to explain the “perfect order” of the universe, or any of the other silly challenges which theists throw down as triumphant stoppers to a bunch of dim-witted, gobsmacked atheists.

      • Thanks Ann. Would you care to detail how they have got around these issues, or where such a defence is linked?


        • Ann

          Here’s a disclaimer before I begin:
          I was raised in a family that was entirely slack and indifferent to religion. My family thought it was too silly to think about. I think they would have said they were atheists, but they didn’t like to use that word.
          This means that I have never had any formal training in theology.
          So everything I say is just “ACCORDING TO MY UNDERSTANDING,” and I will retract with apologies the minute I am corrected by a real theologian.

          It is my understanding that Jesus said that he had come not to change the Law but to fulfill it — and that nothing of the old would pass away until “all was fulfilled.”
          I understand that they interpret these remarks to mean that the Law in the OT was for man to obey until the resurrection of Jesus, at which time the old Law was superseded by Jesus’s modeling of how to behave.

          • The defects with the OT were starting to become important at that time — a rigid non-spiritual code of “involuntary sins” and ritual defilement instead of the personal spiritual salvation offered by the mystery religions.

          • In addition, the NT had a good idea (one of the novel ideas which gave it its great recruiting power): Instead of tribal-level thinking, where a group can be guilty of sin, can be punished collectively or wiped clean of sin by a public ritual — instead of that more primitive and non-spiritual concept of sin, Christianity offered a “personal” relationship with Jesus (still emphasized today), with each individual (even women!) having a personal moral career and a personal fate after death.

          • Some parts of the NT were written specifically to appeal to gentiles, so much of the odious stuff from the Israelite tradition was dumped: circumcision, for example, was just dumped on the grounds that the old Law was now fulfilled, superseded by the resurrection of Jesus.

          • A lot of the NT was written in direct refutation of the OT, which Christianity sought to supplant: “You have heard that (so and so from the OT), but I tell you (something else),” Jesus says many times.

          It is with these ideas as the background during the time of the writing of the NT that gave rise to much of the split between the OT and the NT.
          Really, the OT has always been an out-of-focus problem for Christianity, so different in tone and meaning and intent.

          I am sure that early Christianity would have just dropped it completely (like they did all the other religions running around at that time) if it were not for the supposed OT prophecies regarding Jesus, and for the mischance of dreaming that Jesus was supposedly born within that tradition.

          Jesus is unusual among gods because he has a specific life history — a specific time and place of birth, a specific family, even an ethnic identity. The purpose of ascribing these things to Jesus is to create verisimilitude. So Jesus is not like Aphrodite, for example, who may have been born of sea foam, but not on the shore of any specific beach on some exact date.

          So Christianity decided to keep the OT to get the benefits of doing so (ancient prophecies, specific verisimilitude) and then wiggle out of the difficulties with highly sophisticated theological apologetics.

          You must concede that Christianity has had 20 centuries of the best minds in Europe to rationalize any problems that amateurs like you and me can come up with. Any Jesuit can answer our challenges standing on his head.

          • Hi Ann. Thanks for that. Right…

            “The defects with the OT were starting to become important at that time”

            This, indeed, highlights the issue! Your other points highlight WHY there is a discrepancy, but not how to harmonise the two. In fact, Marcion and his Marcionite followers recognised this and saw the OT God as a demiurge, supplanted by Jesus.

            He was a heretic.

            In fact, none of what you say dispels the idea that the OT and NT provide ample evidence of moral relativism.

            So I would still be waiting for the answers of those great minds!

            • Ann

              Well, I will never try to refute what you are calling “moral relativism.”
              Not only am I a moral relativist myself, but I fail to see how the NT or the OT can escape the central issue: “Moral values are personal opinions.”

              I was addressing what I thought was another point of yours — that the contradictions between the OT and the NT were unanswerable challenges.

              Maybe you never intended to make that point after all.

              1) I am not going to do all the homework required to fill you in on two thousand years of Christian theology, particularly since it would be a crashing bore for me because I don’t buy it anyway.
              But consider this: for most of European Christian history, there was no other place for an intelligent person to go but to the Church.
              Here are some Google hits you can browse if you’re interested

              2) I don’t know that the clashes in viewpoint or details between the OT and the NT are really cases of “moral relativism.” They certainly express vastly different cultural attitudes to morality.

            • Having read extensively myself, it is clear there are many attempts to harmonise. However, the point of this post is to show that such contextualisation and harmonisation plays into the hands of moral relativism, which Christians revile.

            • Ann

              Ha ha! Yes, I see.

              I responded to what I thought was a challenge that the conflicts could not be harmonized.

              I disagree that Jesus was a heretic.

              Instead, I think that historically, he was created de novo as a new god in a new religion in the spirit of all the other mystery religions springing up at that time.

              I don’t see that the Jesus god had anything at all to do with Judaism or any of the other old tribal religions.

              And in any case, he could hardly be a heretic since this person certainly never existed in reality.

              But then there arose a complication. The originators of the new invention wanted to give their fictional character some weight. The author of that fascinating messy book The Christ Conspiracy claims that there was a fight between early Church fathers who did not want to create a human biography for Jesus, but they lost the argument to those who did. According to the author, there still exist letters complaining that this mock identity would be a bad idea, and begging the authorities not to go there.

              The final decision was to fake up a biography stating that this god was born into a specific family at a particular place at a particular time. (The evidence for this is the large number of errors in the story — places, times, famous people, geography, famous events, etc are all obvious inventions.)

              But the fact of supposedly being born to a specific woman also entailed a specific ethnic identity, and for whatever reason or chance, Judaism was selected.

              And the consequence of that decision was the embarrassing welding of the un-Christian OT to the NT. Christians were stuck with that horrible collection of (mostly) miserable ideas — profoundly disgusting moral assertions, idiotic naive conceptions of God, and much much more.

              Not everything is equally bad, and some of it is fine. It is mostly redeemed by the beauty of the language rather than the beauty of the ideas (like an absurd Shakespearean plot redeemed by the poetry.)

              Anyway, the reason I am writing all this is to say that Jesus should not be considered a heretic. He is a fable, invented without any reference to the OT, but which got attached to the OT a little later.

            • From the perspective of a retired literature teacher, I would hasten caution on the idea that Jesus is a fable. The vast majority of secular ancient history scholars including Bart D. Ehrman think Jesus was a historical figure.
              One of his insightful books is How Jesus Became God. But there are other scholarly ones as well.
              Of most of those writers who claim Jesus never existed, their evidence is very weak or nonexistent, and they make fairly obvious errors. One book kept making mistakes in literary interpretation and history so that I gave up on it.

            • Ann

              Hi, Daniel ~

              Thanks for this interesting response.

              I have long been fascinated by the self-same phenomenon that you refer to — respected scholars who claim that Jesus was an historical figure, albeit vastly altered in the retelling.

              I can never figure out what is driving them to this position.
              All I can think of is the career-ending morass of bad reactions they would get if they followed a more rigorous standard of evidence.

              I have many times excitedly clicked on “The historicity of Jesus,” expecting to see the evidence laid out so that everyone can examine it.

              But guess what?
              There isn’t any evidence.

              Instead you get tales of how a person would have lived in those days, what clothes people wore, and so on.

              These professions of the historical reality of Jesus are pious or socially conforming — but not scholarly.

              Why don’t they also think Osiris was real? There’s just as much evidence. How about Apollo?

              It has been only recently that scholars could get away with declaring that Christianity is false. Why should these timid historians with jobs to keep dare to take that plunge?

              Something like this was not to be seen a few years ago:

              Science, jury trials, and historical research are the three great places where evidence is king, and each field of study has its own rules about how to verify assertions as factual.

              In science, for example, you must be able to produce demonstrable evidence that anyone can see, with many other safeguards that try to insure accuracy.

              In a courtroom, where the standard of evidence is much much lower, there are still elaborate rules of evidence that govern what the government can offer to the jury (no hearsay, for example.)

              I’m no historian, but I thought I read that for historical claims to be taken as true, there must be at least two contemporaneous references in sources other than the questioned document.

              The two great reasons to sneer at the Gospels as true are these:
              > The utter and complete absence of any supporting evidence, even when it would normally be expected: No census, no slaughter of the innocents, and so on
              > The absurdities and impossibilities within the narratives, mistakes that would be impossible for anyone who was writing from any kind of experience.
              Instead, they are the kind of mistakes that fiction writers from afar make — like saying that to elect President Lincoln, Mayor Curley of Boston walked over to Washington and sat on the riverbank to cast his vote by pitching a white or black stone into a hat.

              For example, Jesus could not have been born in Bethlehem since it did not exist.
              The rulers mentioned did not co-exist at the same time.

              There are too many to mention.
              The factual background is all fiction.
              The places, dates, people, major public events — all are just made up, with no real effort to even try to make them seem real.

              On what grounds, may I ask, do “secular ancient history scholar” conclude that this mess of mangled non-facts is somehow real?

              I cannot find any evidence at all.

              This is as good as it gets:
              2 references from Josephus (discredited)
              1 reference in Tacitus (disputed)

              The so-called “evidence” for an historical Jesus would never stand up even in a court of law, never mind a scientific scrutiny. In fact, it would never even be admissible in a court of law.

              What we see instead is the same effect that makes Muslim scholars assert that the Koran is written in the most beautiful Arabic ever seen on earth.
              No it isn’t, even if every single last Arabic language scholar on earth says so.

              There is NO credible evidence that the tales of Jesus are factually true, even if every single Christian in the entire world says there is.
              There isn’t.

              I think you are mistaken when you say that the evidence that Jesus never existed is weak and full of obvious errors.

              I think the reason that some people have to conclude that Jesus never existed is due to the ABSENCE of any evidence.
              It would be most difficult for even the most rabid atheist to produce “evidence” that something did not exist.

              It is far better to point out that there is no evidence to think it did happen, and that any reasons that do exist to judge its historical accuracy all point to “This is just a pious absurdity.”

            • Well, as I said, I am a retired literature teacher, have read hundreds of books on scholarly history, etc. The general scholarly view is that Jesus is a historical figure.
              That doesn’t prove my view is right.
              However, you do need to check your sources. Don’t necessarily go with Internet ones such as wikipedia.
              For, instance, no historical scholar that I know of thinks Josephus is “discredited.” (What is fairly certain is that Christians inserted Christian phrases in the original paragraph.)

              Again, my suggestion is that you read some of the fine secular historians. Off hand, I can’t think of one who who think Jesus is a “fable.” (Maybe there are some; let me know if you find any.)

              Thanks for the dialog.

            • Ann

              Maybe there is a subtle distinction that literature teachers know between “discredited” and “forged insertions to make it say what it does not.”

              Let me know.

              I know that it is the “general scholarly claim, but based on WHAT???

              Daniel, I would like to ask you a question that often garners an off-topic answer.
              > I’m not asking WHAT you believe. I know that you believe that Jesus was an actual person.
              > I’m not asking WHY you believe that. I have my own opinion about what causes people to believe such things.
              > What I AM asking is this:
              Why do you think this belief is true?

              On what grounds do you repose your faith that it is true? What evidence are you relying on to come to that decision? Why do you think this belief is TRUE? Based on what? What are you going by? What is there in the shared consensus reality that makes you believe that Jesus’s historical existence is an actual fact?

              If you would be so good as to trot out your evidence, lay it right down here on the table where I can poke it with a stick, share it with one and all …

              In short, it is my assertion that the notion that Jesus existed as an actual historical person is a baseless and unfounded fond delusion.

              But I will assume that you are in possession of some reliable evidence to make you think differently. You are not harboring, so I assume, a baseless and unfounded fond delusion.

              So if you would be so good as to show me the evidence, I would be most grateful.

              Consider it sort of like a court of law. You as the DA don’t get to go in front of the jury and say, “Yep. This guy is sure guilty. Ahh .. there won’t be any actual evidence, of course. But I will tell you that I sure opine that he is guilty. Thank you.”

              That’s not you, is it. I know it isn’t.
              So bring on the evidence and let me have a tiny peek.


              Oh noes!
              It just occurred to me that you are abandoning the discussion.
              That’s why you wrote: “Thanks for the dialog,” right?
              That happens a lot when people perceive that they are being bested in debate.
              What a shame.
              If I had known I could drive you from the field so readily, I would have softened my disagreements.

              Well, you were fun while you lasted, and you were always gentlemanly. Thanks for the partial discussion anyway.

            • Nothing subtle about it. No scholar that I’ve read thinks that Josephus’ account of Jesus has been discredited.

              On the contrary, there has been much written pointing out that the Josephus text is valid. What nearly all scholars do agree is that Christians forged insertions.

              But I realize you don’t think I am correct. Please check out Ehrman or any recognized scholar of history and ancient literature for yourself.

              To answer your questions:

              1-5. On what grounds do you repose your faith that it is true? (and related questions)?

              I don’t have any faith that it is true.

              Based on my university education in comparative literature, anthropology, and religious studies at two different secular universities, and many studies, my best educated guess is that Jesus existed, probably was a Jewish prophet/revolutionary.

              But I’m not an ancient textural scholar, but only a rather ordinary literature and writing teacher who used to be a Christian.

              #6 What is there in the shared consensus reality that makes you believe that Jesus’s historical existence is an actual fact?

              Because I respect ancient textural historians, have read some of their books including 4 by agnostic Ehrman. And because, as I mentioned earlier, the writings I read by those who claim Jesus never existed
              were weak and contained glaring errors.

              I am open though to the idea that Jesus might never existed. Zev (some other Jew) might have written the Good Samaritan.

              First, though I would need to see evidence against the agreed upon view of secular scholars.

              #7 If you would be so good as to trot out your evidence, lay it right down here on the table where I can poke it with a stick, share it with one and all?

              Well, as I said, I am a literature teacher. While I took courses in the Jewish Bible, in the Christian Bible at the University of Nebraska, a secular university, etc.,
              I am not a professional historian. I did however link you to several scholars who can give you scholarly reasons and evidence.

              I don’t think “I was bested in debate.”
              Heck, I used to teach debate for years:-)

              What happened is that I took a senior nap; yes, I’m over the hill.

              Also, don’t forget, that professional historians don’t act like a court of law. They study for years ancient texts and then express their best judgments on whether such-and-such took place or whether so-n-so actually existed.

              Keep in mind that in English literature, a tiny number of historians question whether Shakespeare wrote his plays or someone else. But most think he did.

              Ditto for whether other ancient figures lived–Buddha, Socrates, etc.
              That’s another intriguing question.

              Thanks for the dialog is just a friendly way of saying thanks for intellectually stimulating conversation:-)

            • Ann

              What can you be thinking of to cite Josephus as evidence that Jesus really existed if you already know that the references to Jesus are forgeries?
              What are you thinking?
              Do professors of literature have so little regard for facts that it doesn’t impair the credibility of their sources even when they are known to be false?

              There can be no instance of “evidence that is weak and full of errors” demonstrating that Jesus did not exist.
              There can be no such evidence at all.
              You are not being logical here, and I even doubt these mysterious sources of such evidence.

              Would you be so good as to direct me to someone who is claiming to have evidence (of any quality) that shows that Jesus did not exist?

              Daniel, my friend ~
              May I please SEE THE EVIDENCE?

              You are reiterating that you have some, and that it is so powerful that it convinced you in the face of all the indications that the story is fictional.

              May I please see it too?

              My dear old Daniel ~

              You are a charmer, no doubt about that.
              It’s a delight to converse with an intelligent, educated, gentlemanly scholar on line — and a pretty rare opportunity too.

              I’m happy you still remembered to talk to me even after that time lapse. I can picture the demands you have on your time. I cannot be the only one who finds you a great companion.

            • Well, I’ll try and be more clear. (And you don’t need to be sarcastic in tone.)

              #1 I am not a scholar of ancient history, but am a rather average retired literature teacher.

              But I did study under excellent professors including a brilliant Jewish agnostic. And I’ve read some brilliant books on the ancient world and texts.

              I take their measured judgments as reliable like I take the judgments of a scientist such as Stephen Jay Gould or Richard Dawkins as reliable.

              If you want detailed explanations go to Erhman or any one else who has explained why they think that Jesus did exist.

              #2 The reference by Josephus to Jesus according to most historians ARENT forgeries.

              (A few inserted words of Christian theology are.)

              #3 You then wrote, “there can be no instance of “evidence that is weak and full of errors” demonstrating that Jesus did not exist.” There can be no such evidence at all.”

              OF COURSE THERE CAN. Some of those who claim Jesus doesn’t exist, make textural and historical errors. Blantant one. I quote Tim O’Neil, but I referred to you to Erhman one of the present highly regarded ancient text scholars.

              If you aren’t satisfied with O’Neil and Erhman, then try any of the other professional historians. There are plenty.

              And besides what O’Neil wrote in his quote and on his site, I, too, have read The Jesus Puzzle by Earl Doherty.

              Let me repeat, Doherty makes basic errors in the book.

              The errors are there for anyone to see. Check them out for yourself.

              #4 Then you wrote, “May I please SEE THE EVIDENCE?
              You are reiterating that you have some, and that it is so powerful that it convinced you in the face of all the indications that the story is fictional.”

              Did you mean “factual”?
              Secondly, as I already wrote several times, I rely on professional historians. I obviously can’t give you “THE EVIDENCE” they have in their 300-500 page books on a comment post, nor do I have the brain or the education.

              Based on my own education in literary interpretation, anthropology, etc., I’ve concluded that Erhman and others are correct.

              If you meant, factual, I don’t know what you mean? What story?
              I don’t think the New Testament is factual.
              I do think Josephus, up to a point, is factual in his histories. I’ve read some of hundreds of pages of text and I’ve been to Masada when I lived in Palestine/Israel. Josephus is probably as factual as you will get from an ancient historian.
              But most scholars think he was trying to impress his Roman captors, so one has to keep that in mind as well.

              #5 Then you referred to me as a “scholar.”
              I’ve repeatedly told you that I am not a scholar, but that I’ve read scholars.
              Are you being sarcastic?;-(

            • Jim Jones

              > #2 The reference by Josephus to Jesus according to most historians ARENT forgeries.

              (A few inserted words of Christian theology are.)

              1. Name one person who met Jesus, spoke to him, saw him or heard him who wrote about the event, has a name and is documented outside of the bible (or any other gospels).

              2. Why didn’t Philo of Alexandria write about Jesus or Christianity?


            • Jim Jones


              Late in the first century Josephus wrote his celebrated work, The Antiquities of the Jews, giving a history of his race from the earliest ages down to his own time. Modern versions of this work contain the following passage:

              “Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works; a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day” (Book XVIII, Chap. iii, sec. 3).

              For nearly sixteen hundred years Christians have been citing this passage as a testimonial, not merely to the historical existence, but to the divine character of Jesus Christ. And yet a ranker forgery was never penned.

              Its language is Christian. Every line proclaims it the work of a Christian writer. “If it be lawful to call him a man.” “He was the Christ.” “He appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him.” These are the words of a Christian, a believer in the divinity of Christ. Josephus was a Jew, a devout believer in the Jewish faith — the last man in the world to acknowledge the divinity of Christ. The inconsistency of this evidence was early recognized, and Ambrose, writing in the generation succeeding its first appearance (360 A.D.) offers the following explanation, which only a theologian could frame: “If the Jews do not believe us, let them, at least, believe their own writers. Josephus whom they esteem a very great man, hath said this and yet hath he spoken truth after such a manner; and so far was his mind wandered from the right way, that even he was not a believer as to what he himself said; but thus he spake, in order to deliver historical truth, because he thought it not lawful for him to deceive, while yet he was no believer, because of the hardness of his heart, and his perfidious intention.”

              Its brevity disproves its authenticity. Josephus’ work is voluminous and exhaustive. It comprises twenty books. Whole pages are devoted to petty robbers and obscure seditious leaders. Nearly forty chapters are devoted to the life of a single king. Yet this remarkable being, the greatest product of his race, a being of whom the prophets foretold ten thousand wonderful things, a being greater than any earthly king, is dismissed with a dozen lines.

              It interrupts the narrative. Section 2 of the chapter containing it gives an account of a Jewish sedition which was suppressed by Pilate with great slaughter. The account ends as follows: “There were a great number of them slain by this means, and others of them ran away wounded; and thus an end was put to this sedition.” Section 4, as now numbered, begins with these words: “About the same time also another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder.” The one section naturally and logically follows the other. Yet between these two closely connected paragraphs the one relating to Christ is placed; thus making the words, “another sad calamity,” refer to the advent of this wise and wonderful being.

              The early Christian fathers were not acquainted with it. Justin Martyr, Terullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen all would have quoted this passage had it existed in their time. The failure of even one of these fathers to notice it would be sufficient to throw doubt upon its genuineness; the failure of all of them to notice it proves conclusively that it is spurious, that it was not in existence during the second and third centuries.

              As this passage first appeared in the writings of the ecclesiastical historian, Eusebius, as this author openly advocated the use of fraud and deception in furthering the interests of the church, as he is known to have mutilated and perverted the text of Josephus in other instances, and as the manner of its presentation is calculated to excite suspicion, the forgery has generally been charged to him. In his Evangelical Demonstration, written early in the fourth century, after citing all the known evidences of Christianity, he thus introduces the Jewish historian: “Certainly the citations I have already produced concerning our Savior may be sufficient. However, it may not be amiss if, over and above, we make use of Josephus the Jew for a further witness” (Book III, p. 124).

              Chrysostom and Photius both reject this passage. Chrysostom, a reader of Josephus, who preached and wrote in the latter part of the fourth century, in his defense of Christianity, needed this evidence, but was too honest or too wise to use it. Photius, who made a revision of Josephus, writing five hundred years after the time of Eusebius, ignores the passage, and admits that Josephus has made no mention of Christ.

              Modern Christian scholars generally concede that the passage is a forgery. Dr. Lardner, one of the ablest defenders of Christianity, adduces the following arguments against its genuineness:

              “I do not perceive that we at all want the suspected testimony to Jesus, which was never quoted by any of our Christian ancestors before Eusebius.

              “Nor do I recollect that Josephus has anywhere mentioned the name or word Christ, in any of his works; except the testimony above mentioned, and the passage concerning James, the Lord’s brother.

              “It interrupts the narrative.

              “The language is quite Christian.

              “It is not quoted by Chrysostom, though he often refers to Josephus, and could not have omitted quoting it had it been then in the text.

              “It is not quoted by Photius, though he has three articles concerning Josephus.

              “Under the article Justus of Tiberias, this author (Photius) especially states that the historian [Josephus], being a Jew, has not taken the least notice of Christ.

              “Neither Justin in his dialogue with Trypho the Jew, nor Clemens Alexandrinus, who made so many extracts from ancient authors, nor Origen against Celsus, has ever mentioned this testimony.

              “But, on the contrary, in chapter xxxv of the first book of that work, Origen openly affirms that Josephus, who had mentioned John the Baptist, did not acknowledge Christ” (Answer to Dr. Chandler).

              Again Dr. Lardner says: “This passage is not quoted nor referred to by any Christian writer before Eusebius, who flourished at the beginning of the fourth century. If it had been originally in the works of Josephus it would have been highly proper to produce it in their disputes with Jews and Gentiles. But it is never quoted by Justin Martyr, or Clement of Alexandria, nor by Tertullian or Origen, men of great learning, and well acquainted with the works of Josephus. It was certainly very proper to urge it against the Jews. It might also have been fitly urged against the Gentiles. A testimony so favorable to Jesus in the works of Josephus, who lived so soon after our Savior, who was so well acquainted with the transactions of his own country, who had received so many favors from Vespasian and Titus, would not be overlooked or neglected by any Christian apologist” (Lardner’s Works, vol. I, chap. iv).

              Bishop Warburton declares it to be a forgery: “If a Jew owned the truth of Christianity, he must needs embrace it. We, therefore, certainly conclude that the paragraph where Josephus, who was as much a Jew as the religion of Moses could make him, is made to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, in terms as strong as words could do it, is a rank forgery, and a very stupid one, too” (Quoted by Lardner, Works, Vol. I, chap. iv).

              The Rev. Dr. Giles, of the Established Church of England, says:

              “Those who are best acquainted with the character of Josephus, and the style of his writings, have no hesitation in condemning this passage as a forgery, interpolated in the text during the third century by some pious Christian, who was scandalized that so famous a writer as Josephus should have taken no notice of the gospels, or of Christ, their subject. But the zeal of the interpolator has outrun his discretion, for we might as well expect to gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles, as to find this notice of Christ among the Judaizing writings of Josephus. It is well known that this author was a zealous Jew, devoted to the laws of Moses and the traditions of his countrymen. How, then, could he have written that Jesus was the Christ? Such an admission would have proved him to be a Christian himself, in which case the passage under consideration, too long for a Jew, would have been far too short for a believer in the new religion, and thus the passage stands forth, like an ill-set jewel, contrasting most inharmoniously with everything around it. If it had been genuine, we might be sure that Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Chrysostom would have quoted it in their controversies with the Jews, and that Origen or Photius would have mentioned it. But Eusebius, the ecclesiastical historian (I, 11), is the first who quotes it, and our reliance on the judgment or even honesty of this writer is not so great as to allow our considering everything found in his works as undoubtedly genuine” (Christian Records, p. 30).

              The Rev. S. Baring-Gould, in his Lost and Hostile Gospels, says:

              “This passage is first quoted by Eusebius (fl. A.D. 315) in two places (Hist. Eccl., lib. i, c. xi; Demonst. Evang., lib. iii); but it was unknown to Justin Martyr (fl. A.D. 140), Clement of Alexandria (fl. A.D. 192), Tertullian (fl. A.D. 193), and Origen (fl. A.D. 230). Such a testimony would certainly have been produced by Justin in his apology or in his controversy with Trypho the Jew, had it existed in the copies of Josephus at his time. The silence of Origen is still more significant. Celsus, in his book against Christianity, introduces a Jew. Origen attacks the argument of Celsus and his Jew. He could not have failed to quote the words of Josephus, whose writings he knew, had the passage existed in the genuine text. He, indeed, distinctly affirms that Josephus did not believe in Christ (Contr. Cels. i).”

              Dr. Chalmers ignores it, and admits that Josephus is silent regarding Christ. He says: “The entire silence of Josephus upon the subject of Christianity, though he wrote after the destruction of Jerusalem, and gives us the history of that period in which Christ and his Apostles lived, is certainly a very striking circumstance” (Kneeland’s Review, p. 169).

              Referring to this passage, Dean Milman, in his Gibbon’s Rome (Vol. II, p. 285, note) says: “It is interpolated with many additional clauses.”

              Cannon Farrar, who has written in ablest Christian life of Christ yet penned, repudiates it. He says: “The single passage in which he [Josephus] alludes to him is interpolated, if not wholly spurious” (Life of Christ, Vol. I, p. 46).

              The following, from Dr. Farrar’s pen, is to be found in the Encyclopedia Britannica: “That Josephus wrote the whole passage as it now stands no sane critic can believe.”

              “There are, however, two reasons which are alone sufficient to prove that the whole passage is spurious — one that it was unknown to Origen and the earlier fathers, and the other that its place in the text is uncertain” (ibid).

              Theodor Keim, a German-Christian writer on Jesus says: “The passage cannot be maintained; it has first appeared in this form in the Catholic church of the Jews and Gentiles, and under the dominion of the Fourth Gospel, and hardly before the third century, probably before Eusebius, and after Origen, whose bitter criticisms of Josephus may have given cause for it” (Jesus of Nazara, p. 25).

              Concerning this passage, Hausrath, another German writer, says it “must have been penned at a peculiarly shameless hour.”

              The Rev. Dr. Hooykaas, of Holland, says: “Flavius Josephus, the well known historian of the Jewish people, was born in A.D. 37, only two years after the death of Jesus; but though his work is of inestimable value as our chief authority for the circumstances of the times in which Jesus and his Apostles came forward, yet he does not seem to have mentioned Jesus himself. At any rate, the passage in his ‘Jewish Antiquities’ that refers to him is certainly spurious, and was inserted by a later and a Christian hand” (Bible for Learners, Vol. III, p. 27). This conclusion of Dr. Hooykaas is endorsed by the eminent Dutch critic, Dr. Kuenen.

              Dr. Alexander Campbell, one of America’s ablest Christian apologists, says: “Josephus, the Jewish historian, was contemporary with the Apostles, having been born in the year 37. From his situation and habits, he had every access to know all that took place at the rise of the Christian religion.

              “Respecting the founder of this religion, Josephus has thought fit to be silent in history. The present copies of his work contain one passage which speaks very respectfully of Jesus Christ, and ascribes to him the character of the Messiah. But as Josephus did not embrace Christianity, and as this passage is not quoted or referred to until the beginning of the fourth century, it is, for these and other reasons, generally accounted spurious” (Evidences of Christianity, from Campbell-Owen Debate, p. 312).

              Another passage in Josephus, relating to the younger Ananus, who was high priest of the Jews in 62 A.D., reads as follows:

              “But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper and very insolent; he was also of the sect of Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all of the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity. Festus was dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrim of judges and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned” (Antiquities, Book XX, chap. ix, sec. I).

              This passage is probably genuine with the exception of the clause, “who was called Christ,” which is undoubtedly an interpolation, and is generally regarded as such. Nearly all the authorities that I have quoted reject it. It was originally probably a marginal note. Some Christian reader of Josephus believing that the James mentioned was the brother of Jesus made a note of his belief in the manuscript before him, and this a transcriber afterward incorporated with the text, a very common practice in that age when purity of text was a matter of secondary importance.

              The fact that the early fathers, who were acquainted with Josephus, and who would have hailed with joy even this evidence of Christ’s existence, do not cite it, while Origen expressly declares that Josephus has not mentioned Christ, is conclusive proof that it did not exist until the middle of the third century or later.

              Those who affirm the genuineness of this clause argue that the James mentioned by Josephus was a person of less prominence than the Jesus mentioned by him, which would be true of James, the brother of Jesus Christ. Now some of the most prominent Jews living at this time were named Jesus. Jesus, the son of Damneus, succeeded Ananus as high priest that very year; and Jesus, the son of Gamaliel, a little later succeeded to the same office.

              To identify the James of Josephus with James the Just, the brother of Jesus, is to reject the accepted history of the primitive church which declares that James the Just died in 69 A.D., seven years after the James of Josephus was condemned to death by the Sanhedrim.

              Whiston himself, the translator of Josephus referring to the event narrated by the Jewish historian, admits that James, the brother of Jesus Christ, “did not die till long afterward.”

              The brief “Discourse Concerning Hades,” appended to the writings of Josephus, is universally conceded to be the product of some other writer — “obviously of Christian origin” — says the Encyclopedia Britannica.

            • Here is a case where scholars and historians disagree.

              Most scholars’ and historians’ best judgment is that a Jewish figure named Jesus was crucified.

              Based on my own background in literature, and the fairly weak presentations of what I have read by those who claim Jesus never existed, I will–at least at the present time–stick with the nearly unanimous view that Jesus did exist. (Even if he didn’t, someone had to write the Good Samaritan, etc.; maybe the guy’s name was Jacob.)

              Here’s a few quotes from Bart Ehrman, a scholar I deeply respect. I don’t own most of his books, but have read them. So am only supplying quotes.

              Bart Ehrman:

              It is certainly worth knowing that the most prominent
              Jewish historian of the first century knew at least something about
              Jesus—specifically that he was a teacher who allegedly did wonderful deeds, had
              a large following, and was condemned to be crucified by Pontius Pilate. This account confirms some of the most
              important aspects of Jesus’ life and death as recounted in the Gospels.

              Bart Ehrman, Jesus Interrupted

              At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man, if indeed
              one should call him a man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of
              people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both
              among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. He was the messiah. And when
              Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned
              him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so.
              For he appeared to them on the third day, living again, just as the divine
              prophets had spoken of these and countless other wondrous things about him. And
              up until this very day the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died
              out. (Antiquities 18.3.3)

              The problems with this passage should be obvious to
              anyone with even a casual knowledge of Josephus…. He was thoroughly and
              ineluctably Jewish and certainly never converted to be a follower of Jesus. But
              this passage contains comments that only a Christian would make: that Jesus was
              more than a man, that he was the messiah, and that he arose from the dead in
              fulfillment of the scriptures. In the judgment of most scholars, there is
              simply no way Josephus the Jew would or could have written such things. So how
              did these comments get into his writings?

              When Christian scribes copied the text, they added a few
              words here and there to make sure that the reader would get the point. This is
              that Jesus, the superhuman messiah raised from the dead as the scriptures

              The big question is whether a Christian scribe (or
              scribes) simply added a few choice Christian additions to the passage or
              whether the entire thing was produced by a Christian and inserted in an
              appropriate place in Josephus’s Antiquities.

              The majority of scholars of early Judaism, and experts on
              Josephus, think that it was the former–that one or more Christian scribes
              “touched up” the passage a bit.

              Despite the enormous range of opinion, there are several
              points on which virtually all scholars of antiquity agree. Jesus was a Jewish
              man, known to be a preacher and teacher, who was crucified (a Roman form of
              execution) in Jerusalem during the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius, when
              Pontius Pilate was the governor of Judea” (p. 12)

              It is fair to say that mythicists as a group, and as
              individuals, are not taken seriously by the vast majority of scholars in the
              field of New Testament, early Christianity, ancient history, and theology.

              The idea that Jesus did not exist is a modern notion. It
              has no ancient precedents. It was made up in the eighteenth century. One might
              as well call it a modern myth, the myth of the mythical Jesus.

              It is also true…that no Greek or Roman author from the
              first century mentions Jesus. It would be very convenient for us if they did,
              but alas, they do not. At the same time, the fact is again a bit irrelevant
              since these same sources do not mention many millions of people who actually
              did live. Jesus stands here with the vast majority of living, breathing, human
              beings of earlier ages

              Bart Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?

              If an important Roman aristocratic ruler of a major
              province [Pontius Pilate] is not mentioned any more than that in the Greek and
              Roman writings, what are the chances that a lower-class Jewish teacher (which
              Jesus must have been, as everyone who thinks he lived agrees) would be
              mentioned in them? Almost none.

              Bart Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?

              “Sometimes Christian apologists argue that Jesus had to
              be taken off the cross before sunset on Friday because the next day was the
              Sabbath and it was against Jewish law, or at least Jewish sensitivities, to
              allow a person to remain on the cross during the Sabbath. Unfortunately, the
              historical record suggests just the opposite. It was not the Jews who killed
              Jesus, and so they had no say about when he would be taken down from the cross. Moreover, the Romans
              who did crucify him had no concern to obey Jewish law and virtually no interest
              in Jewish sensitivities” How Jesus Became God, 156-57

              It is also true that our best sources about Jesus, the
              early Gospels, are riddled with problems. These were written decades after
              Jesus’ life by biased authors who are at odds with one another on details up
              and down the line. But historians can never dismiss sources simply because they
              are biased. You may not trust Rush Limbaugh’s views of Sandra Fluke, but he
              certainly provides evidence that she exists.

              The question is not whether sources are biased but
              whether biased sources can be used to yield historically reliable information,
              once their biased chaff is separated from the historical kernel. And historians
              have devised ways of doing just that.

              With respect to Jesus, we have numerous, independent
              accounts of his life in the sources lying behind the Gospels (and the writings
              of Paul) — sources that originated in Jesus’ native tongue Aramaic and that
              can be dated to within just a year or two of his life (before the religion
              moved to convert pagans in droves). Historical sources like that are is pretty
              astounding for an ancient figure of any kind. Moreover, we have relatively
              extensive writings from one first-century author, Paul, who acquired his information
              within a couple of years of Jesus’ life and who actually knew, first hand,
              Jesus’ closest disciple Peter and his own brother James. If Jesus did not
              exist, you would think his brother would know it.

              Moreover, the claim that Jesus was simply made up falters
              on every ground. The alleged parallels between Jesus and the “pagan”
              savior-gods in most instances reside in the modern imagination: We do not have
              accounts of others who were born to virgin mothers and who died as an atonement
              for sin and then were raised from the dead (despite what the sensationalists
              claim ad nauseum in their propagandized versions).

              Moreover, aspects of the Jesus story simply would not
              have been invented by anyone wanting to make up a new Savior. The earliest
              followers of Jesus declared that he was a crucified messiah. But prior to
              Christianity, there were no Jews at all, of any kind whatsoever, who thought
              that there would be a future crucified messiah. The messiah was to be a figure
              of grandeur and power who overthrew the enemy. Anyone who wanted to make up a
              messiah would make him like that. Why did the Christians not do so? Because
              they believed specifically that Jesus was the Messiah. And they knew full well
              that he was crucified. The Christians did not invent Jesus. They invented the
              idea that the messiah had to be crucified.

              One may well choose to resonate with the concerns of our
              modern and post-modern cultural despisers of established religion (or not). But
              surely the best way to promote any such agenda is not to deny what virtually
              every sane historian on the planet — Christian, Jewish, Muslim, pagan,
              agnostic, atheist, what have you — has come to conclude based on a range of
              compelling historical evidence.

              Whether we like it or not, Jesus certainly existed.

              These views [claims Jesus never existed] are so extreme
              and so unconvincing to 99.99 percent of the real experts that anyone holding
              them is as likely to get a teaching job in an established department of
              religion as a six-day creationist is likely to land on in a bona fide
              department of biology.

              It is also true that our best sources about Jesus, the
              early Gospels, are riddled with problems. These were written decades after
              Jesus’ life by biased authors who are at odds with one another on details up
              and down the line. But historians can never dismiss sources simply because they
              are biased. You may not trust Rush Limbaugh’s views of Sandra Fluke, but he
              certainly provides evidence that she exists.

              The question is not whether sources are biased but
              whether biased sources can be used to yield historically reliable information,
              once their biased chaff is separated from the historical kernel. And historians
              have devised ways of doing just that.

              Bart Ehrman is the author of ‘Did Jesus Exist?: The
              Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth,’ now available from HarperOne.


              END OF QUOTES

              You cited Cannon Farrar from the 1800’s as an authority, however I don’t see anywhere in the Internet where Farrar is described as an ancient textural critic or historian.
              Would you pass on his qualifications?


            • Jim Jones

              Ehrman is wrong and he knows it.

              And the “other people who might have existed aren’t written about” is a silly argument. Why didn’t Paul make any effort to see Jesus? Is it because he believed ‘Jesus’ was a religious myth?

            • But it is a fact that Romans weren’t interested in the lives of Jewish individuals, except to stamp out any sign of rebellion.
              Why would the leaders of the known world give a rip about some minor Jewish rabble-rouser’s story?!

              There are thousands of religious prophets in African countries that no one in the U.S. has ever heard of. Do Americans care? No.

              Not too long ago, I came across an esoteric journal article about a religious figure down in Mexico who has thousands of followers.

              News to me. Even being the lay historian that I am do I care? Not really, more of a minor interest.

              And until now, I had told forgotten that leader. Why would I continue to think about some Latin American man who people claim works miracles?

              I don’t think miracles happen. I don’t think any human leader gets an inner channel to any god.

              Romans crucified hundreds of Jews at a time. I doubt that Roman historians mentioned any Jewish prophets at all.

              But you would have to check a scholarly historian such as Ehrman to find out. However if you don’t trust Ehrman–doubt his scholarly integrity, check out any known ancient textural historian
              and find out.

            • Jim Jones

              You can’t have it both ways.

              That’s the Goldilocks Jesus argument:

              He was just impressive enough that people wrote books about him – 100 years after his supposed death. Without any information to go on.

              But he was so unimpressive that not one person wrote one scrap about him at the time.

              1. Name one person who met Jesus, spoke to him, saw him or heard him who has a name, wrote about the event, and is documented outside of the bible.

              2. Why didn’t Philo of Alexandria write about Jesus or Christianity?

            • Maybe you missed my question. You cited Cannon Farrar from the 1800’s as an authority, however I don’t see anywhere in the Internet where Farrar is described as an ancient textural critic or historian.

              What were his qualifications to make a judgment on Josephus’ text?

              Starting with number #2
              That’s like asking–

              Why didn’t Philo mention famous Jews such as Hillel, John the Baptist, etc.?
              Why didn’t Roman and Greek and Egyptian historians write about the famous Jewish prophet Honi ha-M’agel?

              How the heck should I know?

              I’m a retired literature teacher who has read a lot of history.

              I depend on historians to fill me end. None have on those sorts

              of “silence” questions.

              Your #1

              That is like saying, “Name one person who met John the Baptist, spoke to him, saw him or heard him who has a name, wrote about the event, and is documented outside of the bible.”

              And that is like saying, “Name one person who met Buddha….outside of Buddhist literature.”

              How do we know Shakespeare wrote his plays?

              We don’t. A few scholars have even written scholarly papers arguing that Shakespeare’s plays were written by Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, etc.

              The scholarly consensus among literary historians is that Shakespeare did, but we don’t “know.”

              Ditto for Jesus that he spoke at least a few of the words in the bible.

              But it’s possible that Jesus and Buddha never existed, and that Shakespeare didn’t write his plays.

              We are at the mercy of professional historians. I try to go with the ones who have impeccable credentials, are tenured professors at reputable secular universities, who don’t have any favorite ax to grind, and whose use of ancient texts shows careful reasoning.

              Based on years of reading and studying, I have come to the tentative conclusion that Buddha, Jesus, John the Baptist, and other lesser studied historical figures such as Honi ha-M’agel did exist.

              But who knows, maybe they didn’t.

              “Goldilocks Jesus”?!:-)

              May I quote you?

              It sounds like the description of another Hollywood Scandinavian Jesus.

              Or Goldilocks Buddha, Goldilocks Shakespeare;-)

            • Jim Jones

              *I have considered the impudent accusations of Mr Dawkins with exasperation at his lack of serious scholarship. He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor’s boots, nor does he give a moment’s consideration to Bellini’s masterwork,* On the Luminescence of the Emperor’s Feathered Hat. *We have entire schools dedicated to writing learned treatises on the beauty of the Emperor’s raiment, and every major newspaper runs a section dedicated to imperial fashion; Dawkins cavalierly dismisses them all. He even laughs at the highly popular and most persuasive arguments of his fellow countryman, Lord D. T. Mawkscribbler, who famously pointed out that the Emperor would not wear common cotton, nor uncomfortable polyester, but must, I say must, wear undergarments of the finest silk.*

              *Dawkins arrogantly ignores all these deep philosophical ponderings to crudely accuse the Emperor of nudity.*

              *Personally, I suspect that perhaps the Emperor might not be fully clothed — how else to explain the apparent sloth of the staff at the palace laundry — but, well, everyone else does seem to go on about his clothes, and this Dawkins fellow is such a rude upstart who lacks the wit of my elegant circumlocutions, that, while unable to deal with the substance of his accusations, I should at least chide him for his very bad form.*

              *Until Dawkins has trained in the shops of Paris and Milan, until he has learned to tell the difference between a ruffled flounce and a puffy pantaloon, we should all pretend he has not spoken out against the Emperor’s taste. His training in biology may give him the ability to recognize dangling genitalia when he sees it, but it has not taught him the proper appreciation of Imaginary Fabrics.*

            • Geoff Benson

              “Again, my suggestion is that you read some of the fine secular historians. Off hand, I can’t think of one who who think Jesus is a “fable.” (Maybe there are some; let me know if you find any.)”

              Richard Carrier


              I also tend to agree with Ann (who made several excellent points) that scholars have been reluctant to come down in favour of the non-existence of Jesus. For example, I suspect that were Bart Ehrman to write his book now he would conclude that Jesus did not exist, but was reluctant to do this at a time before it became seriously mooted.

              In any event, it is difficult to see how someone whose very existence is in doubt can possibly be credited with all the extraordinary cult that surrounds him; even if he really did exist.

            • TBH, I don’t think Ehrman would. His book was an attack on Carrier as it is part of a long running feud between the two over mythicism (which has also involved Joseph Hoffman and Bayes’ Theorem – it all got quite nasty).

              Here is Carrier’s summary: http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/1794

              There might be a later one.

            • Geoff Benson

              I see what you mean. I have to admit that I took the Bart Ehrman comment from a post on a blog elsewhere, and didn’t properly research it. Nor have I actually read books by either author! Even so, there seems to be a lot of scholars now doubting Jesus’ existence.

            • Oh, secular historians don’t credit him with “the extraordinary cult…” They are talking about whether Jesus existed in history, not about any religion.

              Richard Carrier is one scholar who has recently written a huge tome in support of the idea that Jesus never existed. I haven’t yet read it, but have been reading some reviews.

              But as for Bart Ehrman, he just recently again came out again strongly confirming that nearly every serious scholar thinks that Jesus did exist. Check his blog and his many articles on the Internet.

              And his new book, How Jesus Became God which was just published last year. I highly recommend it. My copy sitting right here on the shelf is all marked up with my notes, both where I agree and where I disagree.

              You might also want to check out the views of Tim O’Neil
              http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com.au/2014/01/did-jesus-exist-jesus-myth-theory-again.html And his other comments:
              “Please cite any scholar of Middle Platonism that says things like curcifixions of gods happened in the sub-lunar heaven. Just one will do. The atheist Biblical scholar Jeffrey Gibson
              has engaged Doherty and his followers in online debate and came away scornfully unimpressed. He noted:

              “… the plausibility of D[oherty]’s hypothesis depends on not having good knowledge of ancient philosophy, specifically Middle Platonism. Indeed, it becomes less and less plausible the more one knows of ancient philosophy and, especially, Middle Platonism.

              If you think that this is not the case, please name anyone among the actual and recognized experts in ancient philosophy and/or on Middle Platonism who thinks D’s views on what the ancients thought about the way the world was constructed, and who did what where, has any merit.”

              No-one had been able to take Gibson up on that challenge. That’s because no scholar of Platonism has any conception of the things that Doherty and his clueless followers claim was a commonplace idea in that school of thought. That alone should be telling you something.

              But if the penny hasn’t dropped yet, here is Doherty himself admitting that this “sub-lunar fleshy realm” full of gods being crucified and rising from the dead etc is actually not something found in Middle Platonism after all. Responding to some pointed questions about this whole idea a few years ago, he responded:

              “I get the idea that you have interpreted me as though I were saying: the pagans placed the myths of their savior gods in the upper world, therefore we have good reason to interpret Paul that way. Actually, my movement was in the opposite direction. I have always worked first with the early Christian record, and come to a heavenly-realm understanding of it through internal evidence (supported by the unworkability of an earthly understanding of that record)”

              This is a remarkable admission by Doherty. All through his work he blithely gives the impression that he’s interpreting Paul by reference to Middle Platonism. Yet here he is forced to admit that he has invented the whole idea of a Platonic realm in the heavens where earthly-like events take place and done so working from Paul! In other words, his whole argument is perfectly circular.

              It’s usually at this point that even the most open-minded but objective analyst tends to realise that Mythicism just doesn’t stand up to Occam’s Razor. That there was a historical Jewish preacher who was elevated to the status of Messiah and then, post mortem, to divine status simply fits the evidence better, doesn’t require anyad hoc excision of evidence and doesn’t need to be propped up with evidence-free suppositions and conspiracy theories. It is the most parsimonious read on the evidence.

              I detail the flaws in the Mythicist case and the reasons a historical Jesus makes more sense in my article Did Jesus Exist? – The Jesus Myth Theory, Again. The question of how much of the traditions and stories about Jesus are later accretions, symbolic, allegorical and theological is another question entirely. But a historical Jewish apocalyptic preacher fits the evidence best. A mythic/celestial/fictional one does not fit it well at all.

            • Hey there – can I post that here to stimulate some discussion?

            • Geoff Benson

              Daniel, I haven’t your level of expertise in the subject, but my limited reading of the subject does suggest that there is much more evidence for a mythical Jesus than you imply. For example


              The problem for someone like me, and dare I say most, is that it’s virtually impossible to form a totally independent opinion. I can’t read the original documents (such as they are), I’m not expert in historical context; in short, I’m not a historian and so am at the behest of others. So I hold my hands up and say I don’t know if there was a historical Jesus or not. But what I can say is that Richard Carrier is one of many historians who take the view that he did not exist and, I would suggest, have no stake in the outcome. He is not a ‘crank’, and nor are other academics who share the opinion. So to say it’s an opinion that carries no weight is simply not true.

            • Thanks Geoff, for sharing more of your views.

              You wrote, “He is not a ‘crank’, and nor are other academics who share the opinion. So to say it’s an opinion that carries no weight is simply not true.”

              I don’t think I’e ever said Carrier was a ‘crank.’ In fact I don’t recall even weighing in on his writing, because I’ve not read his huge academic tome.

              Also, as I have said too, I’m not a professional historian, not a ancient text scholar. I was only sharing what I’ve read by such thinkers who are. Nearly all scholars take a very dim view of mythicism.

              My own introduction to the topic (as I already explained) was reading a pro-book on it because someone challenged me to do so.

              From a literary textural standpoint, the pro-book was very weak. It even made basic errors in what it stated about the New Testament text! The author would make some odd statement that made no sense to me; so I would get out a word-for-word New Testament and my Greek Interlinear NT to check and discover he had made a glaring error.
              His broad hypotheses showed weak incorrect thinking I would never have let any of our students commit in their writing.

              However his poor book doesn’t mean that Jesus then must have existed. I don’t know if Jesus existed or not.

              I take the word of the most historians that he did.

              Did you read Ehrman, O’Neil, etc.?

              Regardless, of whether Jesus existed or not doesn’t really keep me up at night anyway. If Jesus didn’t tell the parable of the Good Samaritan, etc. someone else did.
              Maybe his name was Joe;-)

              Thanks for the dialog.

            • Ann

              Geoff —
              What a brilliant mind you have!
              What good judgment!
              What discernment!

              Oh, and one more thing …

            • Jim Jones

              Daniel Wilcox > “From the perspective of a retired literature teacher, I would hasten caution on the idea that Jesus is a fable. The vast majority of secular ancient history scholars including Bart D. Ehrman think Jesus was a historical figure.”

              A claim often made but never supported. There is no such consensus. Actual historians are indifferent to fables except insofar as they affect actual people. If Mohammad can be a myth, why not Jesus?

    • Ryan M

      The only way I see the relativism avoided is if such a theistic morality has propositions with truth conditions that depend on particular descriptive facts such as what the culture is like. In that sense, they can say some moral proposition M was true at some t1 but false at some t2. However, maybe that isn’t available to the Christian. I can’t say I want to read the bible to find out though.

      • That is a really interesting points. I have thought about this before: like the individual context is part of the propositional statement about a moral truth, such that it becomes part of the absolute truth.

        I think this could be an option, though thoroughly unwieldy. Also you would have to ad hoc rationalise that absolutist decrees in the OT/NT have HIDDEN contextual propositional content, which would be stretching things entirely.

      • Ann

        Hi, Ryan ~

        I think that this is exactly what Christian theologians do say:
        “Such and such” was moral and correct at one point in time, but because of supernatural events, “such and such” became outdated and false.

        • Ryan M

          I know at least some will say that. As an example, I have seen apologists defend the notion that forcing a woman to marry her rapist was morally obligatory at some point on account of the culture of the time because the woman would have been ostracized otherwise. So in other words, some have said the culture made it such that a clearly false proposition now would have been true at the time.

          • Ann

            Yes, that’s a good example.
            The background idea is that the feelings of the woman do not matter (or maybe do not exist.)
            That is why a young woman can be detailed off to go warm some old creep’s bed — HER ideas about this plan don’t make any difference, even if she is assumed to have any.

            It is my view that it is not possible even in principle to determine which idea is “correct.”
            I claim that no idea about “right and wrong” can be factually true or false.

            All we can do is state our own opinions.

            This is hidden from us because there are lots of actions which are condemned by everyone you and I know. As a result, we think they must be objectively wrong.

            This is an illusion, however, and that can be demonstrated to fair-minded people.

          • That is such a common claim, and just plays the context (ie relativism) card.

            • Ryan M

              I think so.

            • No that just again shows a failure to distinguish between contextualizing and relativism is.

              Suppose culture A has a moral code which prohibits a person firing dead horses over castle walls in catapults during a siege. The reason they prohibit this is because dead horses are diseased and
              this tactic is both designed to and does in fact result in the population of the beseiged city contracting diseases.

              Suppose culture B, doesn’t contain any prohibition regarding horses or catapults, instead it has a prohibition prohibiting firing dirty bombs civilian populations.

              Now, on your view this would be relativism, because different rules are being applied by different cultures in different contexts.

              However, that’s clearly not relativism, because an objectivist can quite easily accept this claim is true and compatible with his position. He can simply state that there is an objective moral requirement to refrain from using weapons that inflict diseases cancers, plaques and so forth on the civilian population of
              the enemy. The reason for the different requirements is due to different objective facts about the context, in society A, the technological level and techniques used in warfare mean that that in that culture, people use catapults and dead horses to inflict diseases on civilians.

              In society B, they don’t use catapults they use bombs, however in society B, dirty bombs are used for the same purpose that catapults and horses are in society A.

              This is the same kind of thing that occurs when people contextualise” command in torah. In fact it’s the same kind of thing that occurs in normal common law reasoning or any moral reasoning that reasons analogically from cases. To suggest this is automatically relativism is just erroneous.

    • John Grove

      I like the way Sam Harris stated it. “Morality must relate, at some level, to the well-being of conscious creatures. If there are more and less effective ways for us to seek happiness and to avoid misery in this world—and there clearly are—then there are right and wrong answers to questions of morality.”
      The problem is the Christian thinks in terms of cosmic right or wrong. Therein lies the issue. Right or wrong deal with the well being of conscious creatures and ways to avoid misery and seek happiness. So there can be “objective” right or wrongs. Just not on the cosmic level the theists wish for but the human level where it has always been anyway.

      • Of course, it all depends on how you define “objective”.

      • Of course if you go with the Sagan-wing of scientists who think that there are many other worlds in the cosmos where intelligent conscious creatures live, it makes sense that those aliens, too, would value honesty, compassion, equality, justice, and oppose deception, cruelty, slavery, and persecution.

        So objective ethics could exist across the cosmos in various planets in a similar way that mathematics, and reason, and knowledge of science do.

        I suppose, speculatively, there might be an intelligent conscious species that didn’t yet use reason or math or engage in ethics, but eventually, it seems they would.

    • sam

      “Oh, and that means that what you did believe was good and right immediately became bad or not good and right when, what? When Jesus came to pass away, to die? When the book was released? When it was written? When exactly?”

      This reminds me of a somewhat related question: under the xian worldview, what time would be the ideal time to be born? Different biblical authors had different opinions.

      Maybe it is preferable that a person not be born at all (Eccles 4:2-3) & risk betraying the ‘son of man’ (MK 15:20).

      If a person is unfortunately born, maybe it’s preferable that this person be born before Moses gave the Law, when no account of sins was kept (RO 5:13), or maybe before Jesus came, spoke to men & performed works, & thus not be guilty of sin, than to be born after Jesus came & thus have no excuse for their sin (JN 15:22,24).

      Or maybe it’s preferable to be born before yhwh gave proof of his future judgment (the resurrection?), when he overlooked ignorance of yhwh, than to be born after yhwh stopped overlooking such ignorance (Acts 17:30).

      And maybe if a person is unfortunately born after the Law and after Jesus came, spoke, performed works, & was resurrected, it is preferable that this person not escape the corruption of the world by knowing Jesus, & thus risk crucifying him all over again & subjecting him to public disgrace (Heb 6:4-6) by falling away, as this person would be worse off at the end than they were at the beginning (before knowing Jesus). It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it & then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them (2Peter 2:20).

      Very confusing.

      • Sam, this is a really great point. This means, if one time is better and more able for a person to freely love God or access God’s love/greatness/creation, that God allowing people to be born at different times is unfair. It is a problem of evil issue straight from God.

        Let me know if you want to write a guest post to sum that up!

    • Hey Jon, I believe I’ve made the identical point a few years back calling it Covenantal Moral Relativism.

      • Ack, that was it. I had vague recollections, hence why I H/T-ed you. Yes, Covenantal Moral Relativism! – Was that for the Amelakites debate you had on Unbelievable?

    • This post seems to misunderstand both the torah, and the new testament, and also to not grasp what relativism is.

      Taking the first point, and focusing on the example, of shellfish mixed cloth and the suggestion that the NT supersedes or suspends these rules.

      Actually, if you read the Torah you’ll see it doesn’t present God as commanding
      all people to refrain from eating shellfish. It states that the Jewish nation,were prohibited from eating this food as a condition of a special covenant he had made with Israel, the Torah does in fact state that Gentiles have permission to eat meat.

      Moreover, when you get to the New Testament, and look at the context of Paul’s writings ( and the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15) the issue was actually over whether Gentiles, that is non-Jews, had to convert to Judaism to become part of the church. The answer Paul gives is no, and that’s the context in which he argues that people are free to refrain from certain Mosaic restrictions. So it’s actually not a case where a group of
      people were previously bound by a set of rules and now aren’t. Gentiles were
      never required to keep these laws even in the torah. The issue is actually over
      which group is the covenant people.

      Note also that Paul, when he argues that Gentiles don’t have to convert, contends that this answer is actually the answer the Old Testament had always given. He stresses that Abraham had been called as a Gentile prior to the giving of these commands, and that the purpose of the covenant with Abraham was always to “bless the nations” and so the idea that Gentiles are part of Gods people and Gods intention was always to include them.

      (This incidentally is much of what is emphasized by the so called new perspective
      of Paul, proposed by people like Wright, James Dunn, Sanders and so on though
      Wright notes in fact its implicit in the reformed tradition all the way back to
      Calvin. But seeing you state you have researched this issue “extensively” you of course know this)

      As to the second issue of relativism, you write:

      “Or what was a sin in that cultural milieu is no longer a sin? I get it! To me, it looks like what was good and right as a moral truth worked for one set of people in a geographical and historical location, but not for another. The second set of geographical and historically contextualised people (yourself included) appear to have a different set of
      rights and wrongs. Who’s to say that yours won’t be superseded? This lookslike, ya know, moral relativism.”

      This simply misunderstands what relativism is, you seem to be arguing that if the moral requirements of one group of people differs from that of another relativism is true. But that’s just mistaken, whether relativism is true or not will depend on why those moral requirements hold, specifically what makes it true that a given action is required and what constitutes the requirement in question.

      If the reason different moral requirements apply in the different communities is because
      those communities recognize different rights and make different demands, and that’s
      what constitutes these different requirements or makes it the case that they exist, then what you have is relativism. If on the other hand the reason different moral requirements apply is because different factual situations obtain in the two communities, and the fact in question obtain independently of whether the community in question accepts or rejects the requirement in question, then in fact what you have is objectivism, moral requirements are rooted in objective facts of the matter not the subjective preferences of society.

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