• McGrath’s Mythicist Gaffes

    The following is a dialogue between McGrath and I that he included on his blog. I suggested that Paul, when referring to James as a “brother of the Lord” (Gal. 1:19) meant this in the same sense that Christ is “the firstborn of many brethren” (translation: all Christians are “brothers of the Lord”). In response, McGrath wrote,
    “If so, then what would it indicate if Paul singled out James as ‘the brother of the Lord’ in a letter in which he also mentions other Christians?”

    To which I responded:

    Paul did that to distinguish James in 1:19 from James the apostle. Alternately, if we assume that James the apostle was the “James, brother of the Lord” mentioned in 1:19, then a biological interpretation is falsified by the fact that Luke-Acts knows of no biological brother James who held an active role in the church.

    McGrath again:

    “This is typical of mythicists – being satisfied with any counterclaim without paying attention to or even giving much thought to the details. In this example, for instance, isn’t it obvious to everyone else, and not only to me, that if ‘brother of the Lord’ means ‘Christian’ then it is no more useful as a way of contrasting one Christian James from another who happens to be an apostle, than it is useful as a way of distinguishing between the James and Peter mentioned in Galatians?”

    I’ve found McGrath’s words confusing, but if he means ‘why didn’t Paul call Peter the brother of the Lord?’ That would be easy: 1) Peter and James don’t have the same name, thus there is less reason for a distinction, and 2) Peter may have been a ‘brother of the Lord’ but he was not merely a ‘brother of the Lord,’ he was clearly a high-ranking leader of the church, so calling him a ‘brother of the Lord’ would be like a talk show host introducing the pope as merely a “Christian.”

    Responding to someone in the comments section who commented on the many possibilities mythicists have concerning Galatians 1:19, McGrath’s circular reasoning becomes apparent:

    McGrath: “then Other options are indeed possible. That’s where the question of evidence comes in… 😉 We have early sources that are close to Paul’s time which view Jesus as a human being with human siblings rather than a celestial figure, much less a purely celestial one.”
    When McGrath is asked how he knows that the gospels refer to a historical man instead of symbolic myths about a celestial being, he refers to Paul. When McGrath is asked how he knows that the Pauline letters refer to a historical man instead of a celestial being, he refers to the gospels. If you want to know why I feel free to disregard the insistent opinions of ‘experts’ who study Christian origins, look no further. Their reasoning is so frequently poor and transparently circular that it is obvious we shouldn’t take them at their word on everything.
    That brings me to Jonathan Bernier. He says,

    “Carrier himself lacks credentials in New Testament studies, however, which is not reason to reject his argument, but does leave one wondering why it is that adequately credentialed New Testament scholars almost universally reject the mythicist position.”

    I don’t know the answer to that question. That’s the problem. So far, Larry Hurtado, James McGrath, and a few others have taken a swing at it only to fall flat on their face, leaving me with no idea why they reject it.

    Jonathan Bernier, like other anti-mythicists, also isn’t very good at logic:

    “The mythicist narrative rests essentially upon a conspiracy theory, namely that New Testament scholars are beholden to disciplinary pressure such that they are unable to see or speak the truth, but that just begs the question by supposing that mythicism is true.”

    First, if you want a good look at how Christian faith assumptions permeate new testament scholarship, look no further than Bart Ehrman’s Forged. From the book’s description: “[T]his book takes on an idea widely accepted by biblical scholars: that writing in someone else’s name was common practice and perfectly okay in ancient times. Ehrman argues that it was not even then considered acceptable—hence, a forgery.” Why did scholars think it was “perfectly acceptable” to write in someone else’s name for so long? Pro-Christian bias. It is not to be found in the ancient evidence. If you can understand that without positing a conspiracy theory, but rather as the shared biases of believers, who are naturally in the majority in biblical studies, then you can understand the Christ myth theory without positing a conspiracy theory.

    Second, it isn’t ‘begging the question’ to see bias in NT scholarship, for that is not a conclusion deduced from the Christ myth theory, it’s just an evident fact the more you look at the field. NT Wright’s book – which argued that a dead body came back to life and that anyone who didn’t conclude the same was a ‘Herod,’ – was the subject of a full issue in The Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus. But that same journal hasn’t been even slightly interested in the question of whether its object of study is even a real thing!

    Larry Hurtado was asked a question regarding whether there is a ‘pre-Christian Jesus’ in Philo:

    “Yes, in another of his writings (NB: contra Carrier, not in the De Confusione passage), Philo can refer to the Logos by the labels you cite. Indeed, he can even refer to the Logos as ‘a second god’ (deuteros theos), but then quickly qualifies this with ‘so to speak.’ The Logos is an ‘archangel’ (remembering that for ancient Greek speakers the word ‘angelos’ = messenger, or spokesman), for the Logos is the expression of the ineffable biblical deity toward the world/creation. One has to study carefully the multitude of Philo’s references to the Logos to put it all together, for he was a complex writer. But the Logos isn’t really a separate ontological being, like we imagine an ‘angel/archangel.’ And, contra Carrier, nowhere does Philo refer to an archangel named ‘Jesus.'”

    Who does Hurtado think he’s refuting by pointing out a difference between Philo and Christianity? That would only be relevant if somebody out there was arguing that Christianity directly stole everything it believed from Philo. Instead, Philo and Christianity both ‘inherited’ their theology from a common ideological ‘ancestor,’ a fact which is undeniable given their deep similarities. Hurtado himself writes:

    I identify ancient Jewish traditions of what I call “divine agency”, distinguishing three types:  (1) personified divine attributes, such as Wisdom and Philo’s Logos; (2) “exalted patriarchs”–Enoch, Moses, and others; and (3) “principal angels” including Michael and others.  I contend that these all are variant forms of what we can call “chief agent” tradition, in which God is pictured as having a particular figure acting as God’s plenipotentiary or vizier.  I further propose that the early christological statements appear to portray Jesus as God’s unique agent, and so likely drew upon these traditions.

    The heavens and Earth were thought to be mirror images of one another (read Hebrews, see what I mean) such that there was a heavenly double of everything on Earth and vice versa. Given that context, if there is an earthly Joshua who builds the temple of the Lord and serves as high priest (Zechariah 6) then there must also a heavenly Joshua who builds the temple of the Lord (“I will destroy this temple and in three days raise it up!”) who will serve as high priest of this heavenly temple (Lo and behold: Hebrews 8:1-2).

    So, Hurtado butchered Carrier’s argument by assuming the Christians borrowed directly from Philo, when Carrier’s argument only assumes that Philo’s and early Christian theologies stem from a common tradition, a conclusion that Hurtado shares and has even published in support of! Unbelievable.

    Lastly, I’ll finish with another quote from McGrath:

    “For atheists to try to use mythicism as though it were an argument against Christianity makes no sense.”

    It’s funny how anti-mythicists nowadays spend more of their time wading into personal attacks on mythicists, extensive psychological speculations about why they hold the beliefs they do, non-stop reminders that all the “real scholars” believe it, but ancient evidence and its interpretation is practically an afterthought. Moreover, this whole accusation is largely false, I personally do not use this as an argument against Christianity: I have debated the resurrection without suggesting Jesus was mythical and written a chapter in my book Atheism and Naturalism refuting common apologetical arguments without once mentioning the Christ myth theory except to make clear that my arguments did not assume it was true. neither do any of the more prominent scholarly mythicists. Thomas Brodie sure doesn’t, neither does Robert M. Price (“There could be a god but no Jesus or a Jesus but no God” and sees his own views on the mythological origins of Christianity as a “working hypothesis” or a “speculation,” with the qualification that “it’s all speculation,” in other words: he’s saying his thesis is at worst no more speculative than anyone else’s). Carrier himself routinely assumes Jesus was a historical figure when debating Christian apologists.

    Category: Uncategorized


    Article by: Nicholas Covington

    I am an armchair philosopher with interests in Ethics, Epistemology (that's philosophy of knowledge), Philosophy of Religion, Politics and what I call "Optimal Lifestyle Habits."