It was an excellent (if lengthy!) discussion but well worth it. Just wanted to offer my take on some issues.
The Talmud and other Jewish sources (and one Christian source) discuss a Jesus of 100 BCE (who is definitely the Christian Jesus since he is portrayed alongside familiar characters like Cephas and Judas) and a sect of such believers is characterized as heretics by Epiphanius. Neal’s explanation of this was that the Jewish sources did this to somewhat conceal Jesus’ identity as a way to avoid punishment for blasphemy (I suppose Neal thinks the difference of date was so they could have plausible deniability and claim they were talking about someone other than the Christian Jesus if discovered). As Adair points out, that is refuted by Epiphanius’ testimony to the existence of such a sect. But it is also refuted by the fact that enough identifying characteristics of the Sepher Toledoth and Talmudian Jesus are there as to leave no one with any doubt over whom they are about (think back to the previously mentioned Cephas and Judas, crucifixion as well as a mother Mary leave no doubt, and a writer who meant to avoid detection surely could not have done this). As revealed in Frank Zindler’s ”The Jesus the Jews Never Knew” Jews have been persecuted for the Sepher Toledoth Yeshua, and it was never believable
Moreover, context changes for Jesus occur well beyond even this example. The second century gospel of Peter has Jesus put to death not by Pilate, but by Herod. The murderous Herod himself is a case of context change; since he appears in Mark to kill John the Baptist (an evident doublet of Jesus who is thought to be raised from the dead as Jesus actually was); In Matthew he attempts to kill the infant Jesus but fails (just like Satan tries to kill the infant Jesus in the sky but fails in Revelation 12); in Luke’s gospel Jesus is passed between Herod to Pilate for sentencing (this is historically implausible). The common theme I see in all these radically divergent murderous Herod stories is an attempt to use Herod as a kind of symbol of Satan on Earth. Thus, the contradictory stories indicate attempts to allegorically terrestrialize ”great powers in the air.”
At one point in the discussion Adair talks about how celestial mythicism offers a strong explanation of the ”twin traditions” of Jesus in the first centuries BCE and CE whereas historicism does not have a good one. Fascinatingly, the book of Revelation designates its only mentioned and contradictory earthly contexts for Jesus as ”allegorical” (‘Sodom and Egypt’) but speaks of a heavenly location for Christ’s birth without qualifying this celestial setting as being allegorical, as we’d expect if he believed that was the real location of Jesus’ life. Of course, there is no reason to think Jesus’ post-resurrection life in the sky was exclusively metaphorical (which detracts from the plausibility of asserting the mentioned birth in the sky was only metaphorical) and no evident or even known reason to assign a symbolic explanation to Revelation 12.
But it does make sense if the author believed in a celestial Jesus who had his lifetime high in the sky. Moreover, if the author of Revelation was a euhemerist, believing his god had a life on earth, he would be compelled to say something to distinguish that view and not to be misunderstood as being believing in a celestial God who was never on earth; but instead he seems to be writing exactly what we’d expect if he was a celestialist like Plutarch. Plutarch explicitly designates terrestrial narratives as allegorical fiction and says the gods are ’really’ ”great powers in the air.”
Thus, we have two independent streams of information (Revelation and Paul/Gospels or Earth Narratives) that both exhibit the same pattern of apparent ambiguity or heavenly existence with wildly divergent earthly details. Let us consider how historicism and mythicism account for all of the previously mentioned data.
- Does not theorize the author believed anything more than what he said (no theorized qualification of Revelation 12 as non-literal).
- Does not theorize the author believed Jesus was crucified literally in another earthly location.
- Does not theorize that Paul meant the “archons of the eon” worked through human agents; only that, just as Paul stated, he believed to be the “archons of the eon” who killed Jesus.
- Can explain and perhaps even predicts contradictory earth narratives in which the earthly killers really represent Satan.
- Theorizes the author meant 12:1-5 nonliterally.
- Theorizes that the author believed literally in a crucifixion in Jerusalem.
- Must theorize Paul knew about Pilate and believed he was at least indirectly responsible for Christ’s death.
- There is great difficulty in imagining any explanation of contradictory earth narratives, at least two separate hypotheses must be conceived for the context change to 100 BC and the central detail change of Pilate being replaced by Herod; whereas mythicism already accounts for both.
Ask yourself which of these hypotheses is least speculative explanation of the data.
Neal brings up what I call the ”Argument from Silence Against Mythicism,” that no ancient critic of Christianity said Jesus was a myth. But no critic from whom we have testimony was in a strong position to know with reasonable certainty whether Jesus was a myth or not. Moreover, it is also the case that Porphyry calls the gospels ’Mythoi’ and notes similarities between Jesus and Aristeas while Josephus (commented upon by Valentino Gasparini) seems to compare Jesus with the mythological Egyptian god Anubis and the Sepher Toldoth subtly compares Mary to the mythical pagan goddess Isis (Plutarch says she is a hairdresser, just like Mary in Sepher). All of which suggests a mythical Christ, especially absent good evidence for historicity (which none of these authors report having).
Regarding whether there was a pre-Christian angel named Jesus in Philo, I have written previously with citations that Philo evidences belief in angel with many names, one of which was Jesus.
Aaron and Neal go back and forth discussing examples and counter-examples to whether historical figures score high on the 22 point Raglan Hero Scale; one of the key arguments apparently being that the Raglan scale is too broad. But this article from Florida Anthropologist demonstrates how there is much more correspondence between the archetype and Mediterranean / Mediterranean influenced heroes versus those from other cultures. The majority of high scorers are also mythical. At some later point I will add to this that there is (I believe) an African or Asian hero who scored highly on this list who is known to have a story about taking his mother as a lover (like Oedipus, upon whom the archetype is based) thereby cementing the archetype correctly tracks Mediterranean influence; not bad for something critics allege is too broad to be useful!
All in all it was a meaty, lengthy discussion and both participants are to be commended for it, I hope to see more debates like this from those with expertise in early Christian history or ancient history generally. Aaron correctly notes that Neal is engaging the ancient sources at a deeper level than most experts; and while this reflects well on Neal it is a shame that discussions of this detail are found only between laymen and not between experts who would be more likely to tease out the truth on the matter.