New Book Critiquing Jesus Mythicism

Another bad day for the Zeitgeist crowd.

Prof. Larry Hurtado (Emeritus, University of Edinburgh) alerted his blog readers to a new book by Prof. Maurice Casey (Emeritus, Nottingham University). The title is Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths?

Hurtado writes:

It will be apparent from the title that Casey (along with practically every scholar who has considered the matter) doesn’t buy the “mythicist” case.  He is a long-time acquaintance and a well-published and noted scholar in NT.  Because identifying a person as a traditional Christian is sometime invoked (by self-styled “sceptics”) as an excuse to ignore whatever he/she says about Jesus or anything to do with Christian origins, I’ll also mention that this hardly applies to Casey.  He doesn’t argue with a view to trying to protect Christian belief or believers.  Whatever the strength of his arguments, he’s not doing apologetics!


From the publisher’s website:

Did Jesus exist? In recent years there has been a massive upsurge in public discussion of the view that Jesus did not exist. This view first found a voice in the 19th century, when Christian views were no longer taken for granted. Some way into the 20th century, this school of thought was largely thought to have been utterly refuted by the results of respectable critical scholarship (from both secular and religious scholars).

Now, many unprofessional scholars and bloggers (‘mythicists’), are gaining an increasingly large following for a view many think to be unsupportable. It is starting to influence the academy, more than that it is starting to influence the views of the public about a crucial historical figure. Maurice Casey, one of the most important Historical Jesus scholars of his generation takes the ‘mythicists’ to task in this landmark publication. Casey argues neither from a religious respective, nor from that of a committed atheist. Rather he seeks to provide a clear view of what can be said about Jesus, and of what can’t.


Mythical Canon Fodder on Bible Secrets Revealed

Hope you caught the pun.

Except for football, I don’t watch TV, so I sadly (!) missed this latest round of Bible secrets nonsense. I let others suffer in my place, like the author of “Bible Secrets Revealed?: A Response to the New History Channel Series (Part 3).” The author is a New Testament scholar (PhD University of Edinburgh). Honestly, “Bible Secrets Revealed” ought to be titled “Bible Secrets Contrived.” Same old uninformed claptrap about the canon, Jesus, and Mary Magdalene. It’s like the researchers they put on the show to spout the conspiratorial nonsense have never read any of the primary source material and scholarship on anything they comment on.

Did I just stumble onto their method … ?

Actually, that’s only part of it. Dr. Kruger already outline what these shows do to mislead their audience.

Joseph Atwill’s Josephus Code

I’ve blogged this subject over at my Naked Bible blog, but it also belongs here at Paleobabble. What follows is borrowed from that post and appended with reviews and updates.

Joseph Atwill, self-proclaimed (and credential-less) biblical scholar has recently busied himself with a new PR campaign to promote a rehashing of his 2006 book, Caesar’s Messiah. It was supposedly a bestseller — but have you ever heard of it? Well, he’ll make sure you do this time around.

The basic thesis is, from the Amazon description, that:

“Was Jesus the invention of a Roman emperor? The author of this ground-breaking book believes he was. ‘Caesar’s Messiah’ reveals the key to a new and revolutionary understanding of Christian origins. . . . The clues leading to its startling conclusions are found in the writings of the first-century historian Flavius Josephus, whose ‘War of the Jews’ is one of the only historical chronicles of this period. Closely comparing the work of Josephus with the New Testament Gospels, ‘Caesar’s Messiah’ demonstrates that the Romans directed the writing of both. . . . Atwill noticed a series of parallels occurring in sequence between the military campaign of the Roman Caesar Titus Flavius and the ministry of Jesus. His findings led him to a startling new conclusion about the origins of Christianity – that a Roman imperial family, the Flavians, had created Christianity to pacify the Jews’ rebellion against Rome, and even more incredibly, they had placed a literary satire within the Gospels and ‘Wars of the Jews’ to inform posterity of this fact.”

Basically, Atwill is doing something of a Dan Brown, giving us The Josephus Code. For sure that would have been a sexier title. No doubt the media would have pumped it more the first time around had the word ‘code’ been in it.

So what do we have here? Instead of the Zeitgeist conspiracy we get the notion that the NT gospels were written by Romans. And boy, were those Romans ever clever. They decided to mimic Josephus’ accounts of Titus Flavius in their presentation of Jesus. . . . Now wait a minute. . . . So, the Jews were influenced to pacificism by a guy who didn’t really exist . . . but who were they following around?  Not really . . . the gospels were written later, after the fact . . . Gullible people (and of course subsequent early Christians) just read about him and accepted what they read about the guy’s existence . . . in accounts that were patterned after the chronology of a Roman emperor’s life . . . who lived in the past a little later than the guy didn’t exist. . . . as clever propaganda. So the Jewish or Christian readers of the later gospels wouldn’t really have known Jesus didn’t exist. They just took it on faith because the Roman-generated gospels told them that guy existed. . . . And so no later Christian or Jew who believed in, or didn’t like, Jesus would ever have known Jesus wasn’t actually real . . .  because they’d never see the parallels between what Josephus wrote and the gospels that Atwill did . . . because . . . well . . . they didn’t read Josephus . . . no, they did that. . . . It has to be because Atwill is so much smarter. . . . Yeah, that’s it . . . because the early Christians and any of their opponents could have read Josephus. They just didn’t see the coded messaging that would have made the case that Atwill sees. Even Josephus experts haven’t seen that. . . . Or experts in the gospels. . . . Gosh, Atwill is smart.

Clear now?

Many real scholars of the New Testament, the gospels, and the historical Jesus (from varied theological persuasions) have weighed in on Atwill’s thesis:

Acharya S and Bart Ehrman

I recently came this post on Ben Stanhope’s Remythologized blog: “Bart Ehrman Spanks Acharya S’ Christ Conspiracy.” It really does reflect the attitude of mainstream scholars toward the über skepticism of the Jesus-myther school (the wacky Zeitgeist conspiratorial hermeneutic). Ehrman of course describes himself as an near-atheist agnostic, so he’s no friend of conservative thinking about Jesus. But he knows nonsense when he reads it.

I’ve had the personal experience of being at academic conferences and dropping specific names of PaleoBabblers that multitudes out there on the internet presume know what they’re talking about only to have scholars laugh (literally). Real scholars are aware of the nonsense out on the web about Jesus being an amalgam of pagan gods, ancient astronauts, and [fill in the blank with some other point of nonsense]. They think it hilarious, not threatening. They don’t write about it because they consider it beneath them or a waste of the time they want to devote to publishing.

It’s just something you should know.


Shroud of Turin Double-Take: Yep, It’s Easter

This headline caught my eye today: “Turin shroud makes rare appearance on TV amid claims that it is not a forgery.” Why, you ask?  Because last year at precisely this time — Easter — basically the same sort of story ran. I blogged it here under the title, “Is ‘Jesus Archaeology’ Becoming Like Professional Wrestling?

Answer: Yes, but without the steroids.

So, for your reading entertainment, we have in one corner, Simcha Jacobovici’s latest attention-grabbing claim of a couple days ago, the “Templar Terror.” In the other corner, hailing from parts unknown, the “Turin Titan.” Maybe next year the History Channel can take some time off from its commitment to ancient aliens to have Hulk Hogan narrate a special on Jesus archaeology. He could tear up some manuscripts instead of T-shirts. Or head-butt some archaeologists.

Welcome to ringside.


Shape-Shifting Jesus: On the Sins of Marketers and Media

[Addendum; 3/24 - some have noted that another passage in the article linked below other than the one I note does have Jesus shape-shifting. It doesn't. Change of appearance is not shape-shifting as those religious traditions who talk of such things have in mind - e.g., changing into animals. It's the wrong description, and is designed, in my view, only to generate traffic. In short, it's misleading. Maybe I'm just over-sensitized by all the weird stuff I read in alternative religions and stuff for this blog. MSH]

I’ve had a lot of people over the past couple of days send me links to articles such as this one: “1,200-year-old Egyptian text describes a shape-shifting Jesus.” Readers kind enough to send me the news thought it a good candidate for this blog. It is and isn’t.

On the one hand, the story (not the text) bears the marks of archaeo-porn we’ve come to love: sensationalism (“shape-shifting”) and timing (Easter is right around the corner – will Simcha Jacobovici find something to sell in time?). But on the other hand, the text is a genuine item and published by a respected scholar by a notable (and expensive) academic press, E. J. Brill. (Brill publishes wonderful stuff in biblical and ancient Near Eastern studies, but their prices force you to sell body parts.)

Let’s dispense with the silliness first. The text doesn’t describe Jesus changing shape, like some CGI morphing scene out of Twilight. Rather, the text says: “Pilate, then, looked at Jesus and, behold, he became incorporeal: He did not see him for a long time …” In other words, Jesus disappeared. Zowie Batman  . . . you mean just like the New Testament has him doing in Luke 24:30-31 (the ending of the “Road to Emmaus” story)? Yep. The point? This isn’t new, and so it isn’t revelatory. But how how would the story have ranked on Google? How much talk would have been generated with a headline like “Recently deciphered text has Jesus disappearing like he did in the New Testament”? Ah, marketers and media.

While the text is newly-published, it has been known for some time. At least the article doesn’t obscure that:

About 1,200 years ago the New York text was in the library of the Monastery of St. Michael in the Egyptian desert near present-day al-Hamuli in the western part of the Faiyum. The text says, in translation, that it was a gift from “archpriest Father Paul,” who, “has provided for this book by his own labors.”

The monastery appears to have ceased operations around the early 10th century, and the text was rediscovered in the spring of 1910. In December 1911, it was purchased, along with other texts, by American financier J.P. Morgan. His collections would later be given to the public and are part of the present-day Morgan Library and Museum in New York City.

What’s actually noteworthy about the text is that it has a scene where Pilate offers to swap his own son in Jesus’ place on the cross. And sorry, this isn’t some “lost” portion of the “real” story. The text is attributed to Cyril of Jerusalem, who lived in the 4th century AD. As the publishing scholar notes (in the book the sensationalist article is hawking), these and other homilies (sermons) attributed to Cyril show no indication they were really authored by Cyril.”1 The text dates to roughly 800-900 AD, or nearly a millennium after the actual time of Jesus (note the “1200 year-old” part of the article title and do the math). That means that these texts are not like the Gnostic gospels, which are within a couple centuries (and perhaps earlier) of the NT era.

In short, this isn’t a Christianity-shattering find. And the publishing scholar never claims anything of the sort. In fact, if you want the professor’s own description of the material and his book (with a nice photograph of the manuscript), you can read this brief essay. I recommend it over the MSNBC piece.

  1. Roelef van den Broek, Pseudo-Cyril of Jerusalem on the Life and the Passion of Christ (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2013), p. 72. No, I don’t have the book (I need the kidney I still have) — a lot of it is available for viewing on Google Books.

Bart Ehrman Smacks Down Jesus Mythicism

New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman, well known to non-specialist readers as a critic of evangelical views of Jesus (Ehrman is an atheist1) recently published a book entitled Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. Ehrman’s answer is that he did. His book therefore provides a succinct overview of the evidence for a historical Jesus. It also serves as a succinct critique to the “Jesus Mythicists” (think Freke and Gandy here2), folks who, in the spirit of the Zeitgeist movie (is that a tautology?), deny Jesus ever existed. Needless to say, they aren’t happy that a scholar of Ehrman’s stature would dare affirm the historicity of Jesus, even if (perhaps “especially since”) he has no faith in what the New Testament writers say theologically about Jesus’ divinity or Savior status. The same can be said for the way Jesus Mythicists have turned apoplectic over the Jesus Family Tomb controversy (if it is the tomb of Jesus, they’re wrong — he existed).

Ehrman’s book was recently reviewed by a scholar named Richard Carrier. Carrier’s review is exceptionally nasty and, frankly, not befitting intelligent discourse. (One would have thought the review was by Don Rickles — dating myself there, I know — or Bill Maher). At any rate, Ehrman has responded at length to Carrier. I recommend his response (and it is indeed very long) to PaleoBabble readers. It’s clear and unpretentious.

(Hat tip to Tim for this item).


  1. This is my estimation. Ehrman actually isn’t clear on whether he’s atheist or agnostic — but he’ll answer that if you pay him. I’m not paying for the answer. I’m not sure what bit of sophistry would allow one to deny the existence of God and yet not be an atheist. Even if one opts for some sort of “consciousness” position as God, that is a naturalistic view and results in a non-personal non-deity. That isn’t “God” in the understanding of anyone who’d ask the question. But I’m guessing since I’m not forking over any money for clarity.
  2. The Jesus Mysteries: Was the “Original Jesus” a Pagan God?

Testing of “Jesus Wife” Coptic Fragment Ongoing

CNN’s religion blog recently posted that testing of the Coptic fragment that includes Jesus referring to his wife has delayed publication of an article by Karen King on the fragment in the Harvard Theological Review. The short piece is a useful one, as it asks some needed questions about the fragment in a concise way for readers.

I’m not sure what the hubbub is about testing the actual fragment. I expect the material itself is very old, but that proves nothing about the authenticity of the text, since all one would need to do to create such a forgery is access to the same material and the “recipe” for ancient ink.  Irving Wallace showed us how to do that decades ago in his novel, The Word. But maybe other scholars don’t read novels. Additionally, genuine physical material won’t answer the syntactical irregularities and borrowed vocabulary in the text that led scholars to think it a fraud in the first place (see here and here).

New Book on Zeitgeist/Jesus Mythicist Nonsense

I’m currently in Chicago attending the annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature (along with satellite meetings by scholarly organizations like the American Schools of Oriental Research). These meetings are also attended by dozens of major academic publishers. Consequently, there are hundreds of books available here at “once a year only” discounts that help those of us who care about data and coherent thinking battle paleobabble. I came across what apparently looks to be an important one today, “Jesus: Evidence and Argument, or Mythicist Myths” by Maurice Casey (T & T Clark, 2013).

Yes, that’s 2013.

You won’t find the title in Amazon in any form. However, Professor Casey has published other items on Jesus as a historical figure. I’m guessing this work will be something of an update or perhaps fuller presentation. The book will be important because Casey is not what anyone in the academy would call an evangelical or “Bible believer” in the pop religion sense. He’s a high profile scholar of New Testament and Christian origins.

For those Zeitgeist fundamentalists out there, Casey’s work will likely take its place alongside that of atheist New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman (Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth), who also thinks the claims of Zeitgeist are nonsense.