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Horus and Jesus: mythological plagiarism?

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William Crawley | 19:33 UK time, Friday, 1 May 2009

horus_1.jpgBill Maher's film Religulous redeploys the claim, often made, that the biblical story of Jesus is a re-run of the Egyptian myth of Horus.

Did the writers of the New Testament 'borrow' from a older myth? Is the gospel account a kind of mthological plagiarism? It's said that Horus, like Jesus -- or Jesus, like Horus -- was born of a virgin, had twelve disciples, walked on water, delivered a 'sermon on the mount', performed mircles, was executed beside two thieves, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.

We'll be exploring the similarities between Horus and Jesus on Sunday morning, with an Egyptologist, a humanist and a Christian theologian.


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  • Comment number 1.

    Uh-oh - I detect a hint of "Zeitgeist". The myth of Jesus in the bible didn't owe that much to Horus, but subsequent theological developments certainly did. The Trinity owes a lot to the various triads in Egyptian religion, principally Amun, Mut and Khonsu. The notion of the "baby Jesus" does stem directly from Horus-Shed (the saviour), and the imagery of various little "cippi" (devotional stelae of Horus-the-Saviour) showing the child Horus trampling snakes is VERY suggestive of the imagery of the son-of-the-woman bruising the head of the snake in Genesis. Is the link direct? Possibly not, but it confirms that such concepts were familiar at the time in the region. Icons of the (alleged) Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus stem *directly* from similar images of Mut and Khnonsu and Isis and Horus. They were first produced in Alexandria, of course. The so-called "Latin Cross" (the now-standard Christian cross) derived from the Egyptian ankh symbol, first used as a "cross" by Coptic Christians, and co-opted from Egyptian religion. The real cross of Jesus would have been a T-bar, not a "cross" as we have it today. Do these link the "historical" Jesus with Horus? Probably not.

    Horus was NOT crucified; he did NOT have 12 disciples. His father Osiris did rise from the dead, kinda, so there may be some link there, although resurrections were as common as dirt in near eastern religions (all the more reason to regard Christianity's version as yet another myth).

    There are therefore extensive borrowings of Christian theology from Egyptian religion, but directly linking Jesus with Horus, at least at the time the *biblical* mythology was forming, is not quite accurate.

    Sorry, Bill.

  • Comment number 2.

    BTW, who's the Egyptologist? Please tell!

  • Comment number 3.

    As they have mentioned,it should be Osiris,not Horus.Zoroastrianism has a similar story.

    I agree with Clement Atlee ref Jesus;beleive the ethics,not the mumbo jumbo.

  • Comment number 4.

    I did a wee bit more research.The same applies to Mithras,and Dionysus.

    The essential message of Jesus stands up even if you take the Resurrection away. It's how he lived & what he taught that matters, not how he died

  • Comment number 5.

    "The same applies to Mithras,and Dionysus."

    These myths of beings having virgin mothers etc. must have come cheap at the time, because I can add a few more with some strong similarities: Attis and Krishna.

    Does anyone know if there is a comprehensive list?

  • Comment number 6.

    It strikes me as an example of early Christianity taking over rival myths,much as they did with Eostre & Saturnalia

  • Comment number 7.

    Well, they did that for sure - my suspicion however is that the *biblical* story was not a Horus re-run (Moses - that's another story - Sargon was in on the bullrushes thing too, and you could argue that the massacre of the innocents was simply that old device all over again - there is no historical basis for it).

    Oddly enough, the name "Mary" derives from "Miriam" in the Old Testament, which is often thought to be a hebraicisation of Meret-Amun ("beloved of Amun") - a common Egyptian name. Funny that the son of Yahweh could be the son of the beloved of Amun, isn't it?

    The problem of course is that the Near & Middle East at the time was a melting pot of all sorts of ideas, myths, tales, etc. It was a brim-full box of religious Lego. It's not surprising to see various elements crop up over and over again.

    Will - ask your Egyptologist whether "Nazarene" derives from "Netjer-ankh" (I think not, but it's worth considering) - living god. Maybe Matthew did get something "out of Egypt" after all!

  • Comment number 8.

    "BTW, who's the Egyptologist? Please tell!"

    Ach, drat, Helio, I was hoping it was you.

    PK, "Does anyone know if there is a comprehensive list?"

    Who cares, all I'm wondering is if there is another Christian who can be arsed having the debate again. Just look up the recent archives.

    Professor, where are you doing your research?

  • Comment number 9.

  • Comment number 10.

    Ok, if we're now down to posting YouTube clips:


  • Comment number 11.

    Peter, I was hoping it was me too, but it's not :-(

    Maybe next time... (anyway, I'm off to Donegal for the weekend, so forget it :-)

  • Comment number 12.


    The youtube clips are irrelevant, but not unknown on this blog.

    What I said was:

    Who cares, all I'm wondering is if there is another Christian who can be arsed having the debate again. Just look up the recent archives.

  • Comment number 13.


    Enjoy your weekend.

  • Comment number 14.

    Maybe Horus in the picture above is tapping the guy in front on the shoulder saying, "And tonight Matthew I'm going to be Jesus."

  • Comment number 15.

    Except of course, you know, that Jesus was a real person, really was a "baby Jesus" and it matters a hell of a lot how he died and rose from the dead. The others were just stories.

  • Comment number 16.

    Quite a comprehensive demolition of the borrowed myth argument on SS this morning. Good stuff!

    The antiquarian in me, however, will be a little disappointed if it ends the rehashing of tired nineteenth century arguments on the blog. (If...)!

    I see little point in searching for spurious connections of the Christ story with other ancient myths when the really interesting point is the one raised by Roddy Cowrie on the blog sometime ago - the incredible meshing of the Christ with human need, the points of connection between the life and living of Jesus and the completion of our being. That point has been the subject of considerale reflection for me since I read it.

  • Comment number 17.

    Portwyne, mccamlyc

    When will Christians on this blog realise that EVERY religion on the face of this earth claims that it is special.
    Somehow or other you seem to think that Christianity has an added dimension which the others lack. They are just 'stories', whereas the Jesus myth succeeds in creating "the incredible meshing of the Christ with human need, the points of connection between the life and living of Jesus and the completion of our being".

    A Muslim could substitute 'Mohammed' for Jesus in this sentence, a Buddhist the Buddha and a Zoroastrian Zoroaster. So what? Would any of you have the faintest idea what it really means?

  • Comment number 18.

    I don't actually think so Brian - I don't think the mythic character of the founder's life is particularly important in any of the religions you cite.

    I am very happy to accept that there are many valid understandings of the path to God. I do feel, however, that Roddy makes a point which requires serious consideration.

    Finally, yes, I do understand the power of myth and have some appreciation of how it plays in the psyche.

  • Comment number 19.

    Brian - well done for missing the point. Muhammud, Buddha and Zoroaster were real people, like Jesus. The mythical characters mentined earlier e.g. Horus weren't real. The reason Christianity, Islam and Buddhism are important is that they are based on real people. The reason Chistianity is most important is that Jesus was also the Son of God and he died for us and rose from the dead. Luckily for you there's purgatory so you might have a chance. Unless you're a protestant atheist who doesn't disbelieve in purgatory.

  • Comment number 20.

    Peter Morrow, Portwyne


    I have posted a response to you on Christianity vs fundamentalism thread.


  • Comment number 21.

    mccamleyc (19):
    Your comment is a good example of dogmatic Christianity (which of course reglarly accuses atheism of being dogmatic). Most atheists do not have the dogmatism of religious faith.

    Horus and Osiris MAY have been based on historical figures, as may have Tammuz, Mithras and Dionysos. If they did exist, then they were later mythologised and god-like qualities were ascribed to them. You missed out Hinduism and Krishna. Hindus believe that Krishna definitely existed, and they MAY be right.

    As for the Buddha, there is no doubt that much myth has been piled on a figure who probably, but not certainly, existed. A word of caution is needed, though. Neither the Buddha nor Buddhism appears in the art, archeology or written record of ancient India until the first century A.D, about 500 years after his alleged lifetime.

    Jesus MAY have been an historical figure too, in which case the same process happened with Christianity as happened with all the others; namely, that a mountain of myth was piled on top of a molehill of reality.

  • Comment number 22.

    Except that the word of caution you offered in relation to Buddha doesn't apply to Christianity, given that the "mountain of myth" was fairly well established within one or two decades of his death.

    You forgot to mention that, Brian!

  • Comment number 23.

    The myth of Jesus as god incarnate was only officially pronounced about 300 years after his alleged death.

  • Comment number 24.

    Who pronounced it Brian?

  • Comment number 25.

    The Council of Nicaea. Mind you, many Christians before and since didn't (don't) believe it.

  • Comment number 26.


    The Word became flesh, John, late 1st century.

    This Word we saw with our eyes, we touched with our hands, John, again, late 1st century.

    Became like men and was born a human being, Paul mid 1st century.

    He (Jesus) shared in their humanity, writer of Hebrews, circa AD70

    Seems the rumours began a bit earlier.

    At least we're now agreed that Jesus wasn't Horace.

    Portwyne, would you like to expand on what it is you have been reflecting on?

  • Comment number 27.


    You know or ought to know that there is no single biblical text in which Jesus claimed explicitly to be God incarnate. Nor is there any implicit text which can be interpreted exclusively to mean a claim of divinity. On the contrary, there are numerous clear and direct texts in which Jesus denies equality with a God or possessing any of a Gods divine attributes:

    John 8: 28-29: As my father hath taught me...
    John 14: 10: and the word ye hear is not mine, but the Fathers which sent me.
    John 14: 31: But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do.
    Mark 13: 32: But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.

    And of course two clinchers:

    Mark 10: 18 And Jesus said unto him, why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God.
    Matthew 27: 46: My God, my God. why hast thou forsaken me?

    Of course, you believe that Jesus was both human and divine. So you wriggle out of it by claiming that he is speaking sometimes as a human and sometimes as divine. He was both omnipotent as god and, at least partly, weak, as a human being. He was both ominiscient as alleged of the Christian god but also ignorant, like all of us. In other words, you believe in a self-contradiction. It is all really rather confusing.

    For example, when he is tempted, which part of him made the final decision: man or god? Did the 100% human and the 100% divine interfere with each other? Did Jesus have a normal childhood? Did he wet the bed? Did he have fights with other boys? And why on earth does the divine one have to have a genealogy going back to David (Matthew and Luke, though they dont agree)? This does seem to be stretching it a bit, if he was really divine.

  • Comment number 28.

    Hi Brian,

    Subtle shift in the emphasis of the debate again I see! :-)

    I know that no one verse of the bible should ever be taken to stand alone; whatever you and I think of the stories themselves, the chapters and verses are definitely inventions. I think Jesus knew a bit about rhetoric too. (Helio pointed that out a while back referring to camels and needles)

    Interesting debate of course, who did Jesus think he was, what does it mean to be God and human, did God die on the cross, was Wesley right, "tis mystery all the immortal dies." Personally I think he got that bit of his song wrong, but there's nothing new in your questions, nothing new at all. And no need for wriggling either!

  • Comment number 29.

    Hi folks,
    Well, had a great time in Donegal; missed the discussion, but caught up with the SunSeqSegment on iPlayer. Bit of a damp squib really, but don't say I didn't warn you at the top of the thread :-)

    My own view is that the Egyptian mythology (the Trinity, the particular cross symbol used, the iconography, particularly of Jesus and Mary, the various "our lady of x, y, z, and even mccamleyc's funny "purgatory", and many other bits & bobs) that suffuses Christianity came *later*, well after the biblical texts had been dreamt up, and during the time that Christianity was being championed and formed in places like Alexandria.

    Of course there are a lot of similarities with other religions - Christianity is just another example of what the fertile human imagination can come up with, and of course it addresses the issues of importance to people at the time - they all do.

    I don't think that drawing *false* parallels is really helpful, though. Horus pre-dates Jesus by about 3000 years, but the mythology surrounding him developed over the centuries until we get these lovely little examples of the healing stelae (cippi) from the 18th dynasty onwards, and particularly in the Late Period. People are people; they are creative. They will fill their religious thought with the issues that matter to them, and religion being religion, there will always be a way to do this.

    Some of us are just that picky that we want to find out what is *true*, and that's where all religions, including Christianity, fall flat.

  • Comment number 30.


    Glad you had a good weekend.

  • Comment number 31.


    Commenting on Prof Cowie's address to Christians in Science I asked the following question: "To what extent might he consider any functional religious myth of a 'Good God' imbuing the universe with meaning/purpose and fostering love as the preferred dynamic of human interaction would work in just the same way as Christianity?"

    The professor, or at any rate his avatar, responded: "There are very few genuinely functional religious myths, and that's surely significant. They have to mesh with a lot of facts about the world and features of the human mind. Those that pass that test deserve respect - there must be some sense in which they give a valid picture. What obviously distinguishes Christianity is the claim that the relationship between humanity and divinity is so intimate that a human could be - and was - indistinguishable from God. If that claim is true, then Christianity is a better picture than others: it includes something critical that they don't. I don't pretend I can prove the claim is true, but all in all, I think it is".

    That Peter is something I have considered worth mulling over for some months indeed now.


    Just interested. How do you define true? How would you know it when/if you find it? Do you expect to find it in/with science? Is truth what science is about? Is it the attainment or the quest that is important, or both?

  • Comment number 32.

    Right, let's deal with the nonsense. Once more, this will be a long post. But all the same, I'd like the arguments dealt with and not skipped over before we return to Dan Brown-lite waffle.

    First of all, the idea that Jesus was only put on the same footing as YHWH in the third and fourth centuries.

    A careful study of the Judaism of Jesus day (Second Temple Judaism as it is known to the scholars) explains how first century Jews could confess Jesus as God, yet also view him as God the Son and not God the father, without lapsing into contradiction.
    For one thing, Jews of the period, like most ancients, did not hold the same concept of individuality as moderns. We tend to think that individuals are defined as separate units, each possessing its own free-will, unique personality, and its own set of desires and abilities. We also consider it a virtue to be self sufficient, and encourage each person to find an identity of their own. The ancients viewed a person in a very different light. No human was an individual in their own right, in separation from others. A person could not define themselves, but rather was defined by the relationships they had with other human beings. Humans were defined by their family, their social connections, and who they associated with. I could not exist without those connections, so those connections were essential in creating me, in making me who I am. They were much more than just a part of me I could not exist without them.
    If I am deeply and essentially connected to those closest to me, at points it will be difficult to tell where my identity ends, and theirs begin. We cannot understand a son without understanding his father, for, in 1st Century Palestine, the son will inherit the fathers way of life, his beliefs, the family name and whatever honour (or shame) that goes with that name. Neither can we understand the father without observing his relationship to his sons. How his sons behave will reflect on who he is as a parent, and as a man. Will they bring honour to his name, or will they shame him? How effective a father has he been? A fathers community would pay close attention to these questions, and judge him on the answers.
    With this in mind in becomes much easier to see how the Father and the Son could both be different in important ways, and yet both be the unique God. Neither is a separate concrete individual that could exist by himself. Each is dependant on the other; neither could be who he is without the other. You cannot understand the Father without understanding the Son, and vice-versa, not because they are the same person far from it- but because they are deeply, intimately and essentially connected. The two may not be the same, but they cannot be separated. And this would have made perfect sense to the minds of Jesus disciples.
    God was certainly unique, unlike any other thing. There was a huge, impassable gulf between Him and His creation. Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. (Deut 6v4, or the Shema as it is commonly known). The faithful Jew recited this daily, promising to serve him with everything they were and had. They also recited the 10 commandments, which viewed God as the only object worthy of worship, and insisted that no human image or creation could reflect who he was. The God of Israel was different from all other gods of the time, in that he and he alone, was the sole creator and ruler of all things. (Isaiah 48 v 12 "Listen to me, O Jacob, Israel, whom I have called: I am he; I am the first and I am the last. 13 My own hand laid the foundations of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens; when I summon them, they all stand up together is but one example of a multitude of verses that could be quoted to illustrate this.) The Lord is God and there is no one like him, is the constant refrain of the Hebrew Bible.
    But God was not only unique, totally other from his creation. He was at work within it, and intimately connected with his people Israel. Judaism saw God at work in his world and people in at least five different ways, and commonly used five related terms to talk about God. They saw his Wisdom and Word at work in creation, his presence (shekinah) in their Temple, his Law guiding his people, and his Spirit watching over the world and Israel. These were five different ways of referring to the one God, of identifying him, and understanding his work.
    God had to be viewed as both infinitely removed from his creation, and intimately at work within it. It was difficult to conceive exactly how God could be both, but it was certainly possible that he could be. It was not self-contradiction to affirm these twin truths. What Judaism was certain of was that this was who God was. He was both unfathomably beyond us, yet at work in this world right beside us. Fail to mention both and you dont see who God is. Abstract speculation was largely left aside, and theorising about God was abandoned as a hopeless project. Judaism just got on with the job of worshipping and preaching the God who was like no other.
    While capable of highly sophisticated argument, the Judaism of Jesus day was, for the most part, not interested in abstract philosophical argument after the manner of the Greek scholars. They did not argue about essences or properties, substances or hypostases, or any other highly abstract theories. What was important was trying to discern how best to worship this unique God, and how to live as his unique people. They were more interested in who God was than what he was. The Gospel writers were convinced that we must speak of God as three whos Father, Son and Spirit precisely because the witness of Jesus Christ forced them to. They were not interested in the metaphysics that made this possible. (The Church was forced to talk about Gods essence and properties, and the all important difference between a substance and a hypostasis, only when it moved into a Greek and Roman culture). They did not set out to explain how this was possible; they just knew that it was possible.
    Simply put they wanted to know how we identify God. And the answer was that if you wanted to know who God was, you must identify him as Father and Son (and Spirit, but it will take a different essay to explain and justify that claim). Take away the Father, and you are no longer talking about God as he truly is. Take away the Son, and youve stopped understanding the creator. Each is essential to making God who he is. You cannot talk about one without talking about the other. They are inextricably linked, and yet different. If it was possible for God to be at once vastly removed from his world, and yet always at work within it, then it was just as easy to believe that he was at once Father and Son. And if it was common sense to view people as deeply connected and inseparable from one another, then it was certainly possible to believe that Jesus was God, that he had a Father who was also God, (and that they sent a Spirit who also was God) for Father and Son defined each other, and could not be without each other. If the one God could work in different but compatible ways within his world (as Wisdom, as Law, as his presence in the Temple etc.) then the one God could certainly be different but complementary persons.

    The Testimony of the Gospels

    Read against the background of the Old Testament, it is strikingly clear that the Gospel writers thought of Jesus as God. Without a careful study of the Old Testament, it is easy to miss these claims (this is why Jehovahs Witnesses interpretation of the New Testament is so disappointing, despite their thorough knowledge of the text).
    Jesus rarely comes straight out with the claim that he is God incarnate (apart from anything else, this would have led people to believe that he was identical to the Father). But we should not expect him to, as that is not how Jesus taught. He taught in parables and allusions, he made hints and gave clues about his mission. He never came straight out and said Im the Messiah, by the way but rather expected the disciples to work this out for themselves (who do people say that I am?. He never gave a point by point sermon that explained exactly what he meant by the Kingdom of God. Rather he taught in a series of parables, a performed a number of miracles that explained what he meant by the Kingdom. He expected his followers to reflect on who he was and what he was saying and doing, and if they were open to Gods guidance, they would form the correct conclusions. In short, he expected his followers to think, and think hard. He demanded effort, and humility. He that has an ear let him hear. So it is not surprising that Jesus never comes straight out with a claim to deity. He never came straight out with a claim to anything else of importance.
    In the gospels how does Jesus claim to be God? First we will look at a series of miracles in which Jesus acts in a way that only God can act. It is important to notice that he does not ask God to perform these miracles on his behalf (like Elijah or Elishah, nor does God talk to him to tell him how to perform these miracles (as he did with Moses). Rather, Jesus performs his miracles on his own authority on every occasion. This alone makes him unique in the Scriptures.
    Nevertheless, it is what Jesus did, rather than how he did it that demonstrates who he is. We will focus on just two examples.

    Mark Chapter 4- Jesus Calms the Storm

    35That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, "Let us go over to the other side." 36Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?"
    39He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
    40He said to his disciples, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?"
    41They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!"

    Why would the disciples be terrified after being saved from certain death? Were the Israelites described as terrified after being led through the Red Sea? The disciples were terrified as they had just seen Jesus do what the Old Testament do what only God could do. Apart from the other quotations we will look at, Jesus has just re-enacted a scenario described in Psalm 107.

    Psalm 107
    23 Others went out on the sea in ships;
    they were merchants on the mighty waters.
    24 They saw the works of the LORD,
    his wonderful deeds in the deep.
    25 For he spoke and stirred up a tempest
    that lifted high the waves.
    26 They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths;
    in their peril their courage melted away.
    27 They reeled and staggered like drunken men;
    they were at their wits' end.
    28 Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble,
    and he brought them out of their distress.
    29 He stilled the storm to a whisper;
    the waves of the sea were hushed.
    30 They were glad when it grew calm,
    and he guided them to their desired haven.
    31 Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for men.

    Only God could save the sailors caught in the storm. And yet the disciples had just been saved by crying out to Jesus, and he had just calmed the storm on his own authority, without praying to God himself, or seeking Gods help ("Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!").

    A few other Old Testament texts should show that Jesus was clearly demonstrating an authority that only the creator possessed. No angel or other divine being could share this authority according to the Old Testament, and the Gospels portray this authority as properly belonging to Jesus. The Father had not delegated it to him for a period.

    Psalm 89
    8 O LORD God Almighty, who is like you?
    You are mighty, O LORD, and your faithfulness surrounds you.
    9 You rule over the surging sea;
    when its waves mount up, you still them.

    Psalm 65
    6 who formed the mountains by your power,
    having armed yourself with strength,
    7 who stilled the roaring of the seas,
    the roaring of their waves,
    and the turmoil of the nations.

    Psalm 93
    3 The seas have lifted up, O LORD,
    the seas have lifted up their voice;
    the seas have lifted up their pounding waves.
    4 Mightier than the thunder of the great waters,
    mightier than the breakers of the sea-
    the LORD on high is mighty.

    Job 38
    "Who shut up the sea behind doors
    when it burst forth from the womb,
    9 when I made the clouds its garment
    and wrapped it in thick darkness,
    10 when I fixed limits for it
    and set its doors and bars in place,
    11 when I said, 'This far you may come and no farther;
    here is where your proud waves halt'?

    It is clear from these passages that God alone has control of the sea, and the authority over the waves. This is part and parcel of Gods rights as creator of the sea. As such this authority can be shared with no other. Jesus, by calming the storm, put himself on an equal footing with the creator. Another miracle, which appears in all four Gospels, that clearly demonstrates Jesus identity with the God of Israel, is Jesus walking on the water. Compare the description in Marks gospel with the two Old Testament texts that follow.

    Mark 4 - Jesus Walks on the Water
    47When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. 48He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, 49but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, 50because they all saw him and were terrified.
    51Immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid." Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed.

    Job 9
    7 He speaks to the sun and it does not shine;
    he seals off the light of the stars.
    8 He alone stretches out the heavens
    and treads on the waves of the sea.

    Psalm 77
    18 Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind,
    your lightning lit up the world;
    the earth trembled and quaked.
    19 Your path led through the sea,
    your way through the mighty waters,
    though your footprints were not seen.

    What is impressive about the miracle of Treading the Waves is not that the miracle merely established Jesus authority over the storm and the ocean, but rather that it identifies Jesus with the God who led Israel through the Red Sea to freedom with Egypt. (Both Old Testament texts allude to this incident). In any case the quotation from Job clearly establishes that Jesus was doing as a man what only God could do as creator.
    Jesus Parables not only outlined his teaching on Gods kingdom, or on Gods love, but on whom Jesus was. For example Jesus told the parable of the Lost Sheep to explain why he fellowshipped with the sinful and not the righteous. Jesus clearly plays the part of the shepherd in the parable. It is those parables that focus on Jesus as the Good Shepherd that we will now focus on. In the Old Testament God describes himself to the prophets in many occasions as Israels true Shepherd (Psalm 23 being the obvious example). In his parables Jesus not only identifies himself as a good shepherd, but the Good Shepherd. By comparing his parables with relevant Old Testament texts, we can see quite clearly that Jesus is identifying himself with Israels unique God.

    Luke 15
    The Parable of the Lost Sheep

    1Now the tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering around to hear him. 2But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."
    3Then Jesus told them this parable: 4"Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' 7I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

    Now as we have said, Jesus is defending his own actions in welcoming sinners, so he is comparing himself to a trustworthy shepherd. Compare the actions of Jesus in this parable with Gods actions in the two texts following.

    Psalm 28
    8 The LORD is the strength of his people,
    a fortress of salvation for his anointed one.
    9 Save your people and bless your inheritance;
    be their shepherd and carry them forever.

    Isaiah 40
    10 See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power,
    and his arm rules for him.
    See, his reward is with him,
    and his recompense accompanies him.
    11 He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
    and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.

    Jesus tells a similar parable in Matthew 18.

    Matthew 18 - The Parable of the Lost Sheep

    12"What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.

    John 10 - The Shepherd and His Flock

    1"I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. 3The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice."

    Again compare Jesus roles in these passages with the description of God as a Shepherd in the Old Testament. What becomes clear is that Jesus describes himself as a Shepherd who performs the same role as God the Shepherd, by searching for the lost sheep of Israel, bearing them in his arms, carrying them home, or leading them along the way. Especially compare Gods words in Ezekiel 34 v11, and Ezekiel 34 v 16 with Jesus words about himself in Luke 19v10, which is also quoted below.

    Psalm 80
    1 Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel,
    you who lead Joseph like a flock;
    you who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth
    2 before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh.
    Awaken your might;
    come and save us.

    Ezekiel 34
    11 " 'For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

    Luke 19 v 9+10
    Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."

    The Old Testament prophets believed that God himself was coming to rescue his people, that he personally would be their shepherd, a better shepherd than the religious leaders who had led his people astray in the past. He would then establish Davids heir, the Son of David as King, a sort of sub-shepherd to keep his people safe. What seems amazing about these texts is that Jesus was not only identifying himself with the Davidic character that the prophets expected to rescue his people. Jesus was clearly identifying himself with God in his saving role as Israels shepherd. He viewed himself as the one who fulfilled the prophets promise that one day God himself would come like a shepherd and rescue his people Israel. Jesus was fulfilling Israels expectations and Gods promises in a way that no-one could have expected.
    It is also instructive to compare the passage in Ezekiel reproduced below, with Jesus parable of the Sheep and the Goats. There Jesus not only compares himself to God the Shepherd, but also claims to be able to do what only God will do in the last day Judge the world. In fact Jesus uses precisely the same imagery for himself that God uses for himself.

    Matthew 25The Sheep and the Goats

    31"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

    Ezekiel 34
    17 And as for you, O my flock, thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I judge between cattle and cattle, between the rams and the he goats.

    So finally we will examine Jesus conviction that one day he personally would return to judge the world. Of course, the Old Testament and Jewish were agreed that this was a right that God alone owned. Yet Jesus not only claimed the right to judge the world, when he described how he would do this he used language that clearly identifies himself with Israels only God. A perfect example of this is found in Jesus description of himself as Son of Man, and more specifically the Son of Man who would come on the clouds to judge the whole world.
    This image is found in every Gospel and in verses unique to each gospel. It was not used by any Jewish text or teacher, nor was it an image that the Early Church referred to much outside the Gospels. (It would not have made much sense to those outside a Jewish culture.) So it is unlikely that the first Christians would invent Jesus saying this sort of thing. It can be assumed therefore that the image was found in all of the sources that the Gospel writer used, and that the image goes back to Jesus himself. Even the most critical scholar should accept some of these sayings as authentic, as they pass the most stringent of criteria for authenticity. Yet many scholars refuse to accept that Jesus said anything like this, simply because they refuse to accept that Jesus could have thought of himself as equal with God. The implications of a Jesus who believed he was identified with God would be too much for many critical scholars to cope with even when their own methods imply this belief.
    It will be helpful, therefore, to compare the coming Son of Man sayings with their Old Testament counterparts. The Son of Man imagery is clearly gleaned from Daniel 7 -13 "In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. When that imagery is combined with the prerogative to judge the nations, and when we see what the imagery of the clouds implies, it becomes quite clear that Jesus saw his identity as being inseparable from Gods.
    As the Old Testament texts that follow make clear and they are only a small sample God, and only God, in the Old Testament scriptures is pictured as dwelling among clouds, and coming on the clouds to judge the whole earth. Furthermore it is important to realise that only God can judge the Earth, for he is the only one who created it. In the texts below we see both Jesus and the God of the Old Testament described as surrounded by clouds and coming to judge the world. The conclusion seems inescapable. Jesus thought that he would fulfil these Old Testament texts as he was God the Messiah, God the King, God the Son.

    Matthew 24v30
    "At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. 31And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.

    Mark 14
    61But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer.
    Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?"
    62"I am," said Jesus. "And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven."

    Deuteronomy 33
    26 "There is no one like the God of Jeshurun,
    who rides on the heavens to help you
    and on the clouds in his majesty.

    2 Samuel 22
    10 He parted the heavens and came down;
    dark clouds were under his feet.

    Psalm 18
    9 He parted the heavens and came down;
    dark clouds were under his feet.

    Psalm 104
    2 He wraps himself in light as with a garment;
    he stretches out the heavens like a tent
    3 and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.
    He makes the clouds his chariot
    and rides on the wings of the wind.
    4 He makes winds his messengers,
    flames of fire his servants.

    Ezekiel 1
    27 I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. 28 Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.
    This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD . When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.

    Ezekiel 30
    2 "Son of man, prophesy and say: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says:
    " 'Wail and say,
    "Alas for that day!"
    3 For the day is near,
    the day of the LORD is near-
    a day of clouds,
    a time of doom for the nations.

    Zephaniah 1
    14 "The great day of the LORD is near-
    near and coming quickly.
    Listen! The cry on the day of the LORD will be bitter,
    the shouting of the warrior there.
    15 That day will be a day of wrath,
    a day of distress and anguish,
    a day of trouble and ruin,
    a day of darkness and gloom,
    a day of clouds and blackness,
    16 a day of trumpet and battle cry
    against the fortified cities
    and against the corner towers

    If there is any further doubt about Jesus beliefs about himself in the Gospels, compare Ezekiel 36 8-9, Jeremiah 24 v 6-7, or Hosea 2v21-21 with the parables that compare Jesus to a sower. Compare Ezekiel 16v8-14, or Hosea 2 to the parables were Jesus describes himself as a bride groom. Compare Zephaniah 1v3 with Matthew 13v41. Read Joel 4 and then read Matthew 25. Ask why Jesus can forgive Sins in Mark 2. Ask why he never once says Thus says the Lord, or goes up a mountain like Moses to receive commandments, but rather teaches on his own authority. And then ask yourself, from a purely historical point of view if every gospel contains passages that strongly imply that Jesus is to be with God, and if every Gospel uses images both in common with others, and unique to themselves - then isnt it highly probable that in every source that was used to prepare the gospels (which would have included eyewitness accounts, remember) Jesus spoke of himself as one equal with God? And if that is the case surely Jesus did speak of himself as one equal with and identified with God? This is hardly the sort of teaching Jews would invent if they wanted to make their Rabbi popular among other Jews. And finally ask yourself, what sort of man makes this sort of claim? A mad man (for a while his own family thought so)? A charlatan and blasphemer (nearly every credible Jewish religious authority said so)? Or some one who is telling the truth.
    It is plain in any case that the Gospels portray a Jesus who considers himself as owning the rights and prerogatives of God, and whose identity is an essential part of the identity of the God of Israel. And we have only scratched the surface of the evidence for example we have not looked at the teaching of Paul, or of the book of Revelation. The New Testament is clear on the identity of Jesus, so long as you are prepared to read it with knowledge of the Old Testament and this is always how it was meant to be read. How did Orthodox First Century Jews, with their firm belief in the uniqueness of God and his superiority to all creation (especially human beings) come to believe that a crucified and shamed man was not only Messiah, but equal to and identified with God? I will leave that question to the reader to decide for themselves. Those who knew Jesus, who memorised his teachings, and passed on the traditions that he had given to them were in no doubt however. That in Jesus Christ God was not only at work God had come down from heaven to be fully human, and take up his place as Israels true king.

    Now that's just the Gospel evidence. Next we have to look at Paul.


  • Comment number 33.

    Early Judaism could personify attributes of YHWH (Wisdom, for example), so it is not as great a leap to Trinitarianism as might be imagined.

    SO examining Paul's arguments

    1 Corinthians 8:6. Notice that in that verse there is a Jewish-style monotheistic argument. Paul adapts the Shema itself, placing Jesus within it: For us there is one Godthe Father, from whom are all things and we to him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and we through him. Compare with the Shema YHWH our God, YHWH is one, and remember that creation is YHWHs task, not the messiahs.

    Philippians 2:5-11 declares that at Jesus name every knee will bow. Paul is drawing on Isaiah 45. Verses 22-23 read 22Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. 23I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear

    Joel 2v32 says And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved. Compare this with Romans 10 9 That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame."12For there is no difference between Jew and Gentilethe same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

    Go through Pauls letters and highlight every time the Day of YHWH is replaced by the Day of Christ. Then highlight every time Jesus is referred to as creator of the cosmos. For example read Colossians 1 16For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Then compare this with his description of YHWH in Ephesians 4 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 3 also notes that the heavenly powers derived their name from YHWH. That is, he created them. But Colossians 1 attributes this role to Christ.

    The "Myth" that Jesus shared in YHWH's unique identity started circulating within Jesus' life time. It was accepted in Pauline, Johannine communities, and communitiesa associated with the Gospels. There is NO evidence of Early Christian communities with a low Christology.

    And I'm only getting started.


  • Comment number 34.

    Yes, Graham, very nice. It does undermine somewhat the claim made (I think by PeterM) that these really observant and inflexibly orthodox C1CE Jewish disciples would have resisted the notion of a resurrection unless it had really definitely happened (we know that the disciples and Jesus were distinctly NOT orthodox, and indeed that would mirror C1CE society at large). None of this happened in a vacuum - in the region at the time there were zillions of religious concepts, some isolated, some integrated into a wider corpus, zinging around all over the place. Saul Paulus, the architect of Christianity, chose the story of Jesus to hang a lot of these onto, and this has been embellished over the years, and cross-referenced back to the various prophets in the OT.

    But Graham, I would suggest that your arguments that Jesus was viewed AS god, as opposed to god's very bestest frend, are weak, and beg the question. You are right to hark back to the earliest gospel narratives, but they do not prove your case, and as Brian says, there are important counter-arguments. The "don't call me good" (see The Gruffalo for more discussion on this point) one is perhaps striking, because in this Jesus is clearly drawing a *distinction* between himself and his god, AND at the same time declaring that he is also a sinner.

    Anyway, we can pick this up elsewhere. I think we've established that the BIBLICAL (as opposed to the later theological) myths of Jesus owe little if anything to the mythology of the Egyptian god Horus.

  • Comment number 35.

    Sorry Graham, one little thing to pick you up on:
    The "Myth" that Jesus shared in YHWH's unique identity started circulating within Jesus' life time.

    Given that we have precisely ZERO records of Jesus that date to his lifetime (indeed, no evidence at all for the existence of Jesus, outside the NT, some of which we know to be fake), and ALL the references come when he had been dead for quite a few years, how do you justify this statement? There is a tendency in some quarters to equate "Christ" with "Jesus", but the relationship of these two concepts appears somewhat more complex in the writings attributed to Saul Paulus.

  • Comment number 36.


    Really? First of all, I'm claiming that the earliest Christians believed that (A)Jesus shared YHWHs unique identity and authority (B) that this explained Jesus who Jesus was (C) to understand YHWH you had to understand Jesus (D) to worship YHWH properly you had to worship Jesus and (E) to follow YHWH you had to follow Jesus.

    Nothing above suggests that Jesus *exhausts* the identity of YHWH - just that he shares in it.

    SO Brian has only one piece of counter-evidence - Mark 10: 18 "And Jesus said unto him, why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God." And in that text we have the Rabbinic strategy of answering a question with a question. It was not intended to be a clear statement about Jesus identity. It was meant to provoke thought. The Rich Ruler claims to be good. Jesus questions what the word good means. It's a problem text, but not an insuperable problem.

    Now I just want to reinforce what I've said about Jesus sharing in YHWHs identity, because it might seem to be a strange way of discussing the issue. But this is how Jews approached discussion of YHWH. They were more interested in identity than metaphysical issues about his nature.

    Now a good example would be YHWHs "Wisdom". Jewish writers reflected a lot on this, as it was one way that a transcendent God could also be immanent within the world.
    SO this attribute of YHWH was obviously identifed with YHWH. It was his *wisdom* at the end of the day. But Wisdom was also personified, and abstracted from YHWH. So Wisdom can almost sound like a Person it it's own right at times. It was a part of YHWH we could draw close to.
    Here's the crunch. Wisdom was part of YHWH. It was *part* of his *unique* identity. But there is more to YHWH than his Wisdom. YHWH also remains radically different from his creation.
    *SO Wisdom was part of who YHWH was, but there was more to who YHWH was than his Wisdom*.
    Now Jews could refer to Wisdom as YHWH's "word" or "logos". Just just transfer the word "Jesus" for "Wisdom" in the sentences above and you'll see how a Jewish mind could see Jesus as YHWH, yet also see that there's more to YHWH than Jesus. SO he could pray to his Father without contradiction in early JEWISH-CHRISTIAN thought.

    Now there's a wealth of evidence that Jesus was worshipped on a par with YHWH *FROM THE BEGINNING OF THE CHURCH* and that can't be explained in terms of Graeco-Roman parallels. SO what's the explanation?


    PS Thanks for the help with Natural Selection.

  • Comment number 37.

    As for your claim that C1st Jews wern't Orthodox. Well, I think there's a bit of a misunderstanding at work here. Judaism wasn't as monolithic prior to Jamnia as it was after the fall of Jerusalem. But there were still common beliefs that marked out all strands of Judaism. These include the Shema, Torah and Temple.
    Various groups in Palestine had added extras. SO the Essenes at Qumran rejected the Temple in Jerusalem as authentic. But they awaited another. The ideal of Temple worship was not rejected. Sadducess and Pharisees could disagree with each other and *amongst themselves* as to what it meant to be faithful to Torah. But they still viewed Torah as a boundary marker.
    Now some isolated Jewish communities (eg at Elephantine) tended to syncretism. But this is long before the NT era. By the time of the NT, polytheism was an abomination to the Jews. A quick reading of Jospehus shows that even votive shields at the Temple could cause a war, and when Caligula wanted to erect an idol of himself in the Temple the Jews of Palestine were ready to revolt, and Philo in Alexandria was horrified. Herod's idolatry meant that the Jews viewed him as an outsider, even though he rebuilt the Temple.
    Those Jewish groups that did believe in Resurrection had set beliefs on the topic, so Peter M was quite correct in what he said.

    The idea that Saul created the Church ignores all the evidence that we have surrounding the importance of James and the Jerusalem circle, and the importance of traditions that preceded Paul (and that Paul defers to), and of Petrine and Johannine traditions that followed.

    I think Ehrman's memes aren't good for you H.


  • Comment number 38.

    Oddly I don't even see it as a problem text - Jesus, seeking to provoke thought as you suggest, may simply have meant - "If you call me good you are calling me God, do you realise what you're saying?". He was not necessarily repudiating the epithet rather illuminating the implications.

  • Comment number 39.


    You seem to conflate Jesus's alleged claims with the veracity of such claims, which of course are two entirely different things. But what is sauce for the goose...

    Lets dispose of miracles first. What about Ezekiel who is said to have raised many more dead bodies than Jesus ever did. Indeed, he is said to have raised a whole city from the dead (Ezekiel 37:1-9).

    If we are looking for miracles as proof of godliness then what about Joshua, who is said to have stopped the sun and moon for one whole day: (Joshua 10:12-13)? Can anyone but God Almighty do this?

    Elisha is said to have raised the dead, resurrected himself, healed a leper, fed a hundred people with twenty barley loaves and a few ears of corn, and healed a blind man: (2 Kings 4:35, 13:21, 5:14, 4:44, and 6:11.)

    Elijah is said to have raised the dead, and made a bowl of flour and a jar of oil inexhaustible for many days (1 Kings 17:22 and 14.)

    There are many references in the Old Testament to similar God Father-son relationships.

    "Israel (Jacob) is my son, even my firstborn"; Exodus 4:22.

    "He shall build an house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son"" (God about Solomon, 2 Samuel 7:13-14)

    "Adam, which was the son of God" (Luke 3:38)

    "I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me (King David, King), Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee" (Psalm 2:7)


    The God of the Old Testament said he was God on innumerable occasions. Jesus never said the three words, "I am God". What he is quoted as saying include:

    "Jesus answered them and said, 'My doctrine is not mine, but His that sent me'" (John 7:16)

    "He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father's which sent me" (John 14:24)

    "For I have not spoken of myself, but the Father which sent me, he gave me a command, what I should say and what I should speak." (John 12:49)

    "Jesus said to them, 'My food is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to accomplish His work'"
    (John 4:34)

    "For I have come down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of Him that sent me" (John 6:38)

    "...saying, 'Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from me; nevertheless not my will, but Yours, be done'" (Luke 22:42)

    "I can of myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is righteous, because I do not seek my own will but the will of the Father which hath sent me" (John 5:30)

    "I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, neither he that is sent greater than the one that sent him" (John 13:16)

    "You heard me say, 'I am going away and I am coming back to you'. If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I" (John 14:28)

    "Jesus said to them, 'If God were your Father, you would love me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; I came not of my own accord, but He sent me'" (John 8:42)

    "To sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father" (Matthew 20:23)

    "So Jesus answered them, 'My teaching is not mine, but His that sent me'" (John 7:16)

    "And Jesus said to him, 'Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone'" (Mark 10:18)

    "And I do not seek my own glory; there is One Who seeks and judges" (John 8:50)

    "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34)

    "Christ sitteth on the right hand of God" (Colossians 3:1).

    "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5)

    4. Muslims, Jews and many Christians (including learned Bishops of the Church of England) reject the notion that Jesus was God incarnate. So too did many of the early Christian sects, such as the Ebionites, the Apologists, the Gnostics, the Marcionites, the Cerinthians, the Basilidians, the Capocratians, the Hypisistarians, the Arians, the Paulicians and the Goths. Presumably, they are all guilty of Da Vinci code-like fantasies, whereas only fundamentalist Christians avoid fantasy and know the truth. Dear, oh dear.

  • Comment number 40.


    The point I am making is about what the earliest Christians confessed about Jesus. We don't find evidence of Gnostics and Ebionites until mid second century. So what explains these Early Confessions?

    The apologists weren't a sect.

    There are miracles in the OT. Wow. Who knew. That must be why the Early Church depends on Horus.

    The texts from John in no way undermine what I said about Wisdom and YHWHs identity. You skipped by that. And all the other evidence that I offered. Dear, oh dear.


  • Comment number 41.


    Contrary to what you imagine, it isn't clear what Paul thought. What other 'earliest' Christians do you mean? You skipped over crucial quotes like the 'why have you forsaken me one', "I am not good, only God is good' and many others above.

    Why are you so certain about what Jesus meant? Or what he did? This is what really gets on my wick about some Christian attitudes. You are forever accusing agnostics and atheists of arrogance and dogmatism, yet you are the ones who seem to know it all here. Any other view is incoherent or ignores the texts. And, of course, when you call in aid of 'scholars' they are always the ones who agree with you, whereas the ones who don't are 'mavericks' or 'discredited' or 'Da Vinci code-like fantasists, or whatever.

    It must be great to have all scholarship and all certainty on your side.

    It seems to me that you need to listen not only to fellow evangelicals but also some of the other Christians who don't share your blinding insights.

  • Comment number 42.


    I've never claimed that all scholarship is on my side, and I have repeatedly pointed to scholars like Thiessen, Crossan, Borg and Sanders, and recommended websites like James Tabor's. I don't find that Ehrman has a lot of interest to say, but that hardly means that I'm ignoring scholars that hold to contrary viewspoints. The pagan parallels don't do any explanatory work, and this has been nearly universally acknowledged in NT scholarship so far as I can see.

    I've never accused you of arrogance or dogmatism. I just feel that there are better arguments [re.the Gospels] on offer to the skeptic, and find it ironic that I'm more familiar with these than many of the skeptics that post.(And yes, that means that I've read the Scholars in question, and not just *about* the scholars in question. And no, that doesn't make me clever or an expert. It just gives me a library card and an Amazon account. And too many free periods, but that's an occupational hazard.)

    As for certainty, I've said that I can doubt. But that's just part of being human. Anyone can doubt anything. I just happen to be convinced by the evidence that Christianity is true. I've also strong religious, existential and experiential reasons for believing the Gospel.(I put it in those terms, because I don't what to start testifying - I doubt you'd appreciate it.)So I'm not going to back down because someone calls me names!! (-:

    But I do find it odd that your skepticism stops as soon as Christianity is refuted - any theory that performs this function isn't subjected to skeptical scrutiny itself. And that *seems* inconsistent. Is it arrogant to point that out? When I've been accused of nothing less than *hatred* on the blog? Ah well, I suppose spite and arrogance go hand in hand.

    As for the texts you say that I've ignored - I actually spent quite a bit of time discussing Jewish Wisdom theology on this thread, so that I could show that the texts you offer don't even come close to refuting the High Christology I've proposed. Only Mark 10v18 offers a problem, but I explained why it was not insuperable.

    Now, how do I know what Jesus thought? Well, I don't know *everything* he thought. Just a few thoughts that he shared in his teaching preserved in the Gospels. And I know what the first Christians confessed (confessions quoted by Paul in , 1 Cor 11 and 15. All un-Pauline language, all confessional language. Also the hymns in Philippians 2 and Colossians 1. Plus the Sermon on the Mount and the Apocalyptic discourse known to Paul, the former to James, the latter to Peter, in versions that were not used in the Gospels. And so forth...) We're looking for information that Paul gives unintentionally; and part of that is his dependence on a prior tradition. Also his dependence on James and the Jerusalem circle.
    So what I think can be reconstructed by historical methods about the historical Jesus is explained by Early Christian confession. SO I think I've good evidence for my belief. And then I've my religious, personal reasons for believing the Gospels. And I put the two together and that's why *I'm* so certain.
    But of course, as in every walk of life, other people will ,intelligently and in good conscience, look at the same evidence and reach different conclusions.
    What I take objection to is the idea that Christianity is obviously false, or has been refuted and idiots like me aren't in on the secret. I'll confess to idiocy. But many who haven't been inflicted with the condition of idiocy are convinced that Christianity is true. And they share a prominent place in the academy with skeptics.


    There's a free period I'll never get back. It's easier when I can copy and paste responses from my notes. Ah well.

  • Comment number 43.

    Come on Brian;
    it's pretty bad form to end an argument with "you people think you know everything".

    This is a debate; an argument; a discussion. It doesn't matter who thinks they know everything, it's who best expresses what they know in the most cogent manner.

    Because Graham cites a number of sources and explanatory hypotheses, it's no good just crying "you think you know everything, don't you!"

    Come on.

  • Comment number 44.


    I thought that might awaken you from your cloistered slumbers.

    It definitely does matter who thinks they know everything, especially about events that allegedly happened 2,000 years ago. It is not scholarly from a historian's point of view to claim definite knowledge of the divinity of a figure whom no contemporary historian even records as having existed as a human being, let alone as a god. A little bit of humility about such claims is called for, surely? Indeed, we could go further and suggest that a true seeker after knowledge would approach such stories with a heavy dose of scepticism. Just as you would about anything else.

    And what is the point about debating or discussing things with closed minds? I am prepared to be persuaded that a man called Jesus existed if someone can give me solid evidence. But I haven't seen any evidence that is not special pleading by believers, whether dressed up in scholarly garb or not.


    I didn't say that you claimed 'all scholarship was on your side". This is misrepresenting what I wrote. We are talking about Jesus's alleged claim of divinity. Name me a single scholar who rejects this claim whom you have 'called in aid' ON THIS ISSUE.

    What kind of statement is: "I do find it odd that your skepticism stops as soon as Christianity is refuted". Are you referring to your particular brand of Christianity or all Christianity? I thought I had already made it clear that I thought the pacifist, compassionate elements of the message of the character called Jesus was a good one. It is primarily his divinity I reject. Are you saying that one cannot be a Christian and reject Jesus's divinity? If so, this is yet another example of the arrogance of evangelical fundamentalists of which I am complaining. They seem to know exactly what 'Christianity' is and those who reject the myth of God incarnate cannot be Christians in their 'infallible' view. I have already pointed out that any belief system is subjective: there is no objective definition of a 'Christian'. Someone who believes that he/she follows the ethical teachings of the man called Jesus is quite entitled to call themselves 'Christian' even if they reject divine claims. But evangelical fundamentalists can't stomach this because they are slaves to the Word, even when it contradicts itself.

  • Comment number 45.

    Helio and Brian are unimpressed with the evidence so far. That gives me an excuse to present more.

    Now whatever else 1st Century Judaism affirmed, it affirmed three things of YHWH. Only YHWH created everything. Only YHWH redeems. Only YHWH can be worshipped.

    Now Paul, a Pharisee, can affirm these of Jesus without blinking an eye. He feels no need to cite the approval of the Jerusalem circle. Yet he had to do this when confronting opponents on other issues at Galatia and Corinth. In other words, there was no controversy about this in the Earliest Churches. All the evidence points to the fact that it was assumed by all.

    Yet Paul can cite a hymn in Col 1: "For by him all things were created... all things were created by him and for him" that not only make Jesus the creator. It paralells what Paul himself says elsewhere about YHWH> Romans 11: 36 "For from him and through him and to him are all things."

    Paul can also pray to Jesus, putting his power to answer on a par with YHWH's.
    So in 1 Thessalonians 3 - verse 11 "Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you." And in 2 Thessalonians 2: 16 "May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word".

    In 1 Corinthians 1: 2 Paul describes Christians as "those who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ".

    "To call on the name of the Lord" is a regular OT formula for worship and prayer offered to God (Gen. 4: 26; 13: 4; Ps. 105: 1; Jer. 10: 25; Joel 2: 32, etc.)

    What is remarkable is that Paul can pray to Jesus *without having to justify his prayer.* These are just throw-away comments. Paulworks under the assumption that his audience can make sense of what he's saying. The presupposition is that the churches and Paul hold this in common. And while we have evidence that Paul's view of Justification and the Torah, (or his views on the end of the World) faced opposition there is not the slightest evidence that any Early Church believed that praying to Jesus was inappropriate.

    Christianity spread through the synagogues of the Diaspora, and the monotheism and morality of the synangogue attracted many gentiles. However those Gentiles would still attend "pagan" temples for social reasons. When James "allowed" Gentiles into Christian communities without circumcision, he insisted that they give up all practices that Jews associated with idolatry. That was a huge sacrifice for Gentiles to make. These temples weren't just social centres, they underpinned society.Now why would fanatically monotheistic Jews who insisted that Gentiles dissociate from idols (not just the worship of idols, but even familial and social activities associated with them)have no difficulty with prayers to *a man?*
    Now this cries out for explanation. And the answer seems to be that it many of Jesus' teachings, Jesus took on the role ascribed to YHWH. We find this in Mark 13 for example. So it seems more economical to believe that Jesus did and said things that caused his followers to attribute YHWHs properties to him, than to believe that cross-pollination with cults most Jews wouldn't have heard of mysteriously produced prayers to Jesus in every strata of the Early Church. That doesn't seem to be an explanation at all. It just seems to be saying that it happened by accident.

    In any case, I hope that it's clear that the first Churches treated Jesus as being on a par with YHWH.


  • Comment number 46.


    With the best will and all the respect in the world - sincerely offered.

    If you still doubt that Jesus existed, then I think you've the very definition of a closed mind on this issue. After GA Wells, no-one in the academy would take that suggestion seriously. I'm sorry to be so blunt. But if the Jesus Seminar and James Tabor can accept this without blinking an eye - and they define the radical wing of scholarship - then it is not the case that *Christians* are offering special pleading.

    Paula Friedrickson would be an excellent example of a Jewish scholar who accepts Jesus existence. Geza Vermes would be another. Jacob Neusner another.

    And if everything is subjective, then why are we bothering? Portwyne will be delighted that you've joined the ranks of the postmodernists, but I'm stunned.
    I've offered arguments and evidence which has been ignored, to be honest, and in response I've been labelled an Evangelical Fundamentalist who wants to impose his definition of Christianity on others.
    Well, no, not really. I think that there are certain essentials. The Earliest Churches agreed. I stand in that tradition. I think that there are good reasons to.
    Now I offered the historical reasons. I specifically refused to preach. As a result I get a bit wordy. But there you are. It seems I can't win. If I offer an argument I'm a dogmatic fundamentalist. If I don't I have a blind irrational faith.
    A few other points.
    I never cited any scholars in my defence on this thread.
    Tabor's website offers contrary points of view ON THIS ISSUE.
    Yes, to be a Christian in the sense articulated by Paul and the Apostles you have to believe certain things about Jesus. Like, "he existed"
    Are you now a Christian?
    Can I be a secular humanist? And contribute articles to your magazine that argue that God exists, and that humans shouldn't seek to live without dependence on him?
    Isn't it awful that some humanists would want to define humanism in such a way that I couldn't do this?

    G Veale

  • Comment number 47.

    If there's no such thing as objective definitions, can I call anyone who disagrees with me a Nazi? Or a serial-killer? Can I call myself a Buddhist? And is Bernard a Hindu under one interpretation?

  • Comment number 48.

    Brian, for the record, I'm not arguing that we should discuss with closed minds, or that Christians know everything and therefore don't need argument.

    I'm only making the point that Graham isn't simply saying "I know and you don't...he's offering a lot of historical evidence, and in my opinion a lot of insight into the mode of thought of those who wrote the New Testament.

    Just saying "you think you know everything, don't you" adds nothing.

    The points that you further make don't seem to add anything either.

    "What kind of statement is: "I do find it odd that your skepticism stops as soon as Christianity is refuted". Are you referring to your particular brand of Christianity or all Christianity? I thought I had already made it clear that I thought the pacifist, compassionate elements of the message of the character called Jesus was a good one."

    I think Graham's point point was that, although you are extremely sceptical about all evidence offered in favour of Christianity, you are willing to accept evidence to the contrary from seemingly any source...gnostics writing 300 years later, Dan Brown, you name it. So I think you completely misunderstood that statement.

    "Are you saying that one cannot be a Christian and reject Jesus's divinity? If so, this is yet another example of the arrogance of evangelical fundamentalists of which I am complaining."

    It is accepted meanings of words, not arrogance. The generally accepted view of Christianity agreed upon by most groups who call themselves Christians is that Christ was divine.

    If people want to hold that Christ isn't divine but that they still follow him, so be it. It just doesn't fit the historically applied term "Christian". That is not arrogant, it is just fact.

    "Someone who believes that he/she follows the ethical teachings of the man called Jesus is quite entitled to call themselves 'Christian' even if they reject divine claims."

    True, they are quite entitled to do so. But if so they are opening themselves up to being confused with the "historically-occuring" Christian....that body of believers that has accepted in common the doctrines affirmed by the church.

    Of course, people can call themselves whatever they like...but if one wants to understand groups, lumping "Christians" who don't believe in Christ's divinity with those who do is akin to lumping, say, in Biology, all invertrebrates together. You can do if you want...it sdoesn't do much for biological understanding though.

  • Comment number 49.

    Graham got there before me on the nonsense issue of definitions.

    People can call themselves what they want. In fact, we Christians are more warranted to call ourselves humanists, given the long history of Christian humanism

  • Comment number 50.

    I can only hope to fouter around by way of response given that so much has been said, but sure, why not!

    Helio. First up, maybe I did say what you think I said, I don't know, I can't remember, sometimes I can't remember what I did this morning; but even if I did say what you think I said then Graham appears to have it covered and I'm happy to accept that I didn't contradict him nor he me. Now I've forgotten what you said you thought I'd said, never mind forgotten what you think I wrote in the first place, are we clear? :-)

    Second, you see this business, "don't call me good" is that actually the quote from Mark 10:18? It's a bit like the "don't go to Galilee" quote/misquote you gave at Easter. That's not really what it said, is it?

    And it is of course the biblical 'myths' of Jesus I am concerned with. It's one of the things makes me a Prod! At least there'll be no more talk of Horace, good.


    The last time I heard so many 'proof' texts I was in a gospel hall, and that was a while back!

    I'll let Graham deal with all the miracle, father son and 'not God' stuff save to make a petty little point. Joshua? I think if you read whole the section (without paying attention to verse divisions, which sometimes split up sentences!) you'll find that it was God who was doing the miracle thingy.

    What really interests me however is what gets on your wick, this doubt certainty business. I've tried to raise this before to no avail, but I'll try again. Christian certainty gets on this wick of yours, yes, we've heard this before. But we've also been told that faith isn't certain enough, that you're all after truth or something like that. So, which is it, are you rejecting faith, or are you rejecting certainty? Do you take anything on faith. Are you sure about your certainty, are you certain about anything?

    However, in a way, whatever; here's the thing I really want to know, and I've never gotten an answer, just accusations of psyco babble - Doubt. Mmmm. OK let's doubt. Let's glory in it, let's revel in it, let's doubt the whole damn lot, ourselves included. Funny, no one wants to seem to go there, but doubting Shakespeare and Jesus is easy, so come on, let's doubt something closer to home, let's doubt our worth our value our achievements, the world view on which we have built our lives. I've already doubted all those things, so come on, I've been waiting a long time, but every time someone mentions doubt and certainty I'm going to bring it up. Can you tell me what is it you really doubt? What you are certain about? As I've said, like I offered before, if doubt is such a great thing then let's really doubt, let's take a walk on the wild side of doubt, I'm ready when you're ready.

    Maybe though doubt isn't as much of a virtue as it's made out to be. Personally I've found doubt to be overrated. And I guess, with that, I've just joined, 'Christian certainty' on your wick.

    And as for listening to other Christians, what weirder, off the wall, cooky, Christain could any of us hope to meet than Portwyne, and I listen to a lot of what he says, in fact Portwyne, having dismissed Horace, I'd like to follow up your thought on Jesus. Hopefully I'll get back to it soon.

  • Comment number 51.


    1. I didn't say that everything is subjective. I said that a belief system is subjective. There is no objective definition of belief systems like communism, liberalism, socialism, Hinduism, Christianity, Humanism etc, for the simple reason that they are concerned with values and visions of the world and philosophies of life and as such are interpreted differently in different times and places by their exponents. They are 'essentially contested concepts'. Isn't that why there are so many sects of Christianity?

    2. Some Humanists have indeed argued that it is possible to be both a Christian and a Humanist. For example, I refer you to an article in the May-June 2008 issue of Humanism Ireland in which Roy Johnson explains why he is a Quaker and a Humanist. Of course, in the Renaissance most humanists - Erasmus, More, Shakespeare, Bacon - were Christian.

    3. You ask: "If there's no such thing as objective definitions, can I call anyone who disagrees with me a Nazi".
    This is really silly. Why be obsessed with calling anybody by any label? Surely it is more important to discover what the individual means and thinks rather than defining them by a label.


    1. You say that I may be extremely sceptical about all evidence in favour of Christianity. By 'Christianity' here, presumably you are referring to belief in the divinity of Christ. Naturally, one is sceptical of evidence in favour of such an improbability? To me, it's on a par with believing that the moon is people with little green men all eating green cheese. Almost anything that argues to the contrary is, well, pretty likely to be on solid ground (though I have never quoted Dan Brown in support of anything!). Frankly, the onus is very much on someone believes that a human being was God incarnate to substantiate such an apparently ludicrous claim.

    2. You say that the generally accepted view of most groups who call themselves Christians is that Christ was divine. This is true, but so what? It doesn't mean that they are right or that their interpretation is the only valid one. Are truth and right determined by counting heads? I would not presume to tell other Humanists what they MUST believe to consider themselves a Humanist. Nor am I overanxious to stick the label on them.
    I prefer to listen to what they have to say.

    3. The divinity of Jesus is a myth but it is neither here nor there. The key question is, as Plato put it, how we ought to live (and don't tell me, please, that belief in a divinity makes it better!)

  • Comment number 52.


    1) You find an idea silly or improbable. What does that prove?

    2) To know that an incarnation is improbable requires a lot of knowledge abou God's nature,God's motives, God's decisions, and the Universe. (Including knowledge about what God *would* be like *if* one exited, if you want to cite your atheism.) How did you come by such knowledge? I'm strictly agnostic about the prior probabilities.

    3) I'm not reasoning to a "religious" conclusion from historical probabilities. I've "religious" reasons for believing in the incarnation. Historical knowledge supports my belief. It does not cause it.

    4) It's much more dificult to explain the rise of Christianity given the falsehood of Christianity than many skeptics would realise. A few parallels with a few myths explains precisely nothing. You have to show causal connections etc.

    That's all I'm trying to say.


  • Comment number 53.

    Of course, Plato needed supernatural forms to explain *and justify* the good life.

    But I guess he was kind of dumb.

  • Comment number 54.

    Brian, as usual, this argument has completely changed tack, and now amounts to very little.

    Is your point that some people call themselves Christian but do not believe in the divinity of Christ? If so, then yes, you're right.

    However, that argument took place a good 1600 years ago....must we rehash the arguments for the trinity again?

    What does this have to do with Horus?

  • Comment number 55.

    Ach, I don't know why I'm bothering, you'll probably change the argument to one about how authoritarian religions are, or how there's no room for dissent.

    Yes, but what about Horus?

    Ah, forget it.

  • Comment number 56.


    1. Precisely what I said about Bernard's assertions. The generally accepted view of Christians is that Jesus was divine. But most agnostics, atheists, sceptics, doubters would take such a claim with a massive pinch of salt, especially when it was a frequent claim beforehand in other myths (Greeks, Egyptians - Horus, Bernard). Was Horus divine? Was Horus god incarnate? Is Jesus a compound of Horus and Osiris?

    2. Yes, the improbability of divinity derives not only from the scientific unlikelihood of such an occurrence but also from the assumptions made about the divinity (that he was perfect, omnipotent, omniscient etc etc - e.g. if he was omniscient, it makes no sense to presuppose that he waited millions of years to decide that man was sinning and something had to be done about it - other than drowning most of them, which was his imaginary previous 'solution').

    3. You mistakenly THINK that historical knowledge supports your belief. It does nothing of the kind. You have not one shred of sound historical evidence that a Jesus existed, let alone that he was divine. Also, stop making out that G.A. Wells is alone. He is NOT. I listed some on another thread: Robert Price, Gerald Massey, J.M. Roberstson, Earl Doherty. "So unreliable were the Gospel accounts that "we can now know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus" - Rudolf Bultmann. "Jesus is a mythical figure in the tradition of pagan mythology and almost nothing in all of ancient literature would lead one to believe otherwise. Anyone wanting to believe Jesus lived and walked as a real live human being must do so despite the evidence, not because of it" - C. Dennis McKinsey: The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy. Niow, I have already said many times that i don't know if McKinsey is correct. I don't know and it doesn't trouble that I don't. That is the way the world works or should work. If there insufficient evidence, don't believe but keep searching.

    3. The rise of Christianity has a lot to with with Mr Constantine and his successors.


    1. "The argument has completely changed tack". Well, is that anybody's fault? And why not redirect it?

    2. The rejection of divinity is an important issue because it means that Christianity as an ethic would no longer be based on a lie. It would mean that dogma has been consigned to the dustbin of history in favour of the ethic. It would be progress. Some enlightened Christians (though not many in Ireland) realise this truth. Here Christians generally tend to cling on to old, outdated and discredited mythologies.

  • Comment number 57.


    "The generally accepted view of Christians is that Jesus was divine. But most agnostics, atheists, sceptics, doubters would take such a claim with a massive pinch of salt"

    Obviously. But why?

    "Yes, the improbability of divinity derives not only from the scientific unlikelihood of such an occurrence"

    Sorry, the scientific unlikelihood of divinity?

    Is that like the scientific unlikelihood of love and friendship, or like the scientific unlikelyhood of order and form?

    and omniscience....by omniscience do you mean "what YOU would have done"...because otherwise, not being omniscient yourself, you are in no position to say whether waiting millions of years makes sense or not.

    "The argument has completely changed tack". Well, is that anybody's fault? And why not redirect it?"

    I've tried....what about Horus?

    "The rejection of divinity is an important issue because it means that Christianity as an ethic would no longer be based on a lie"

    And what WOULD it be based on. An ethic based on a good man? What was so good about him? In fact, you've argued on numerous occassions that, actually, he wasn't that good after all. So what kind of ethic is that?

    The "Christian ethic" is subordinate to a conception of "good" in itself...(which is itself a consideration of divinity)..as is any ethic that actually has any ground other than personal preference.

    So, the christian ethic is "good" because YOU think so?


  • Comment number 58.


    Let me address your first question and then I may later return to the others. Why should I and other sceptics take the divinity of Jesus with a large pinch of salt? Well, let me explain with reference, not to Horus but - since we know more about this myth - to Hercules. Jim Walker in his Did a Historical Jesus Exist? mentions the parallels and I here summarise what he says.

    The mortal and chaste Alcmene gave birth to Hercules from a union with God (Zeus). As with Herod who wanted to kill Jesus, Hera wanted to kill Hercules. Like Jesus, Hercules travelled the earth as a mortal helping mankind and performed miraculous deeds. Similar to Jesus who died and rose to heaven, Hercules died, rose to Mt. Olympus and became a god. Hercules is perhaps the most popular hero in Ancient Greece and Rome. They believed that he actually lived, told stories about him, worshipped him, and dedicated temples to him.

    Similarly, the evidence of Hercules closely parallels that of Jesus. We have historical people like Hesiod and Plato who mention Hercules in their writings. Just as the gospels tell a narrative story of Jesus, so we have the epic stories of Homer, who depicts the life of Hercules. Aesop tells stories and quotes the words of Hercules. Just as we have a brief mention of Jesus by Josephus in his Antiquities, Josephus also mentions Hercules (more times than Jesus), in the very same work (see: 1.15; 8.5.3; 10.11.1). Just as Tacitus mentions a Christus, so does he also mention Hercules many times in his Annals.

    And most importantly, just as we have no artifacts, writings or eyewitnesses about Hercules, we also have nothing about Jesus. All information about Hercules and Jesus comes from stories, beliefs, and hearsay. Should we then believe in an historical Hercules, simply because ancient historians mention him and because we have stories and beliefs about him? Of course not, and the same must apply to Jesus if we wish to hold any consistency to historical scholarship.

    Some critics doubt that a historicised Jesus could develop from myth because they think there was no precedence for it. We have many examples of myth from history but what about the other way around? This doubt fails in the light of the most obvious example - the Greek mythologies where Greek and Roman writers including Diodorus, Cicero, Livy, etc., assumed that there must have existed a historical root for figures such as Hercules, Theseus, Odysseus, Minos, Dionysus, etc. These writers put their mythological heroes into an invented historical time chart. Herodotus, for example, tried to determine when Hercules lived (Euhemerism, from Euhemerus). Even today, we see many examples of seedling historicised mythologies, not least the propaganda spread by politicians which stem from fiction but believed by their constituents.

    We generally consider Hercules and other Greek gods as myth because people no longer believe in the Greek and Roman stories. When a civilisation dies, so go their gods. Christianity and its church authorities, on the other hand, still hold a powerful influence on governments, institutions, the media, education etc. Anyone doing research on Jesus, even sceptics, had better allude to his existence or else risk future funding and damage to their reputations or fear embarrassment against their Christian friends. Christianity depends on establishing a historical Jesus and it will defend, at all costs, even the most unreliable sources. The faithful want to believe in Jesus, and belief alone can create intellectual barriers that leak even into atheist and secular thought. We have so many Christian professors, theologians and historical experts around the world who tell us we should accept a historical Jesus that if repeated often enough, it tends to convince even the most ardent sceptic.

    The establishment of history should never reside with the "experts" words alone or simply because a scholar has a reputation as a historian. Historical review has yet to achieve the reliability of scientific investigation, (and in fact, many times ignores it). If a scholar makes a historical claim, his assertion should depend primarily with the evidence itself and not just because he or she says so. Facts do not require belief. And whereas beliefs can live comfortably without evidence at all, facts depend on evidence.

  • Comment number 59.


    thanks for the lengthy reply. A couple of things stand out in your post.


    "Just as the gospels tell a narrative story of Jesus, so we have the epic stories of Homer, who depicts the life of Hercules"

    there is a demonstrable difference in the types of narrative told by Homer and those of the Gospels. Whether or not you believe them, the Gospels do claim to speak about a person who lived very recently, not in some mythical past. Numerous times they even mention that many of the readers of the Gospels would have known or met Jesus. there are no such stylistic features in homer's epics. That is like comparing CS Lewis's Narnia stories with his autobiography. One is fairly obviously a story while the other is an account of what supposedly happened, in the recent past, within memory of the intended reader.

    You completely refuse to accept that basic feature that must be borne in mind.


    "And most importantly, just as we have no artifacts, writings or eyewitnesses about Hercules, we also have nothing about Jesus. All information about Hercules and Jesus comes from stories, beliefs, and hearsay"

    I'm not sure the first sentence totally squares with the second.

    We have no eyewitnesses about jesus....apart from the many accounts written within years of his supposed death detailing his life, purporting to be from people who knew him. You mean "no eyewitness accounts that you believe"...surely.

    "Some critics doubt that a historicised Jesus could develop from myth because they think there was no precedence for it"

    I've never heard that argument before. What argument I have heard is that it would be extremely difficult for a mythical person to be invented and believed within years of the supposed death by people who supposedly knew him. there is no precedent for that.

    homer's epics were not written within decades of the supposed events, and were not written with many allusions to people still living who had met and known Hercules. The Gospels were, and contain many many references to those still alive who knew him.

    I'm not sure what point your making in your last paragraph. We are discussing the evidence of the Gospels...documents written to be distributed among an already existing community of followers. We can historically locate a group of "Christians" prior to any documents...giving lie to the idea that the documents made people believe.

    We can historically locate a group of people claiming to follow the resurrected Christ within just a few years of his supposed ressurection....

    If Christians only appeared in 400AD making claims about a supposed historical figure of 400 years ago, you may have a point. But Christians existed much earlier, and claimed that, just a few short years ago, Jesus, remember, that carpenter who used to hang about round here, died and was resurrected.

    You may have reasons for not believing that, but I think it's disingenous to claim that they were mythical stories that arose from long years of storytelling and mythical development.

    The fact is that, all of a sudden, people who talking about someone who lived just a few years ago, and whom many people would remember. That is the style of the gospels, and their historical placement fits in with that.

    However, I am more interested in your view of the value of "the Christian ethic" without divinity.

    What is so good about goodness?

  • Comment number 60.


    To address your second question, in the real world people love, have friendships, detect order and form. They have done so, as far far as we know from time immemorial. They are also mortal and die and we have every evidence in support of such an occurrence and none to the contrary. So immortality is on the basis of empirical evidence scientific unlikely, to put it mildly. Would you similarily discredit the claims of immortality for Horus, Hercules, Krishna etc, as I would. Is Jesus the only example of an immortal being, in your view?

  • Comment number 61.


    without wanting to get into trinitarian doctrine too much, I think that God, the transcendent Other, the absolute uniqueness beyond everything in the universe, that we have discussed many times, is beyond time and duration.

    That such a unique Other is the prime analogue of "good" and "love" makes sense, metaphysically speaking.

    That such a wholly "good" and "loving" Other would lower Himself to actually BECOME man in order to achieve salvation and communion with His creation also makes sense.

    In that respect, Horus, Hercukles and Krishna are not in the same league. We are not talking about the possibility of a group of immortal "beings", or the empirical unlikelihood of a "man" being ressurected. We are speaking about the absolutely unique Other, and explanatory and rational accounts of His communion with his creation.

    I hope that answers your question.

  • Comment number 62.

    Okay, let's deal with the existence of Jesus. And why skepticism about his existence has been decisively falsified.

    GA Wells is the last scholar of repute that denied Jesus' existence. Earl Doherty (luckily for him) did not submit his work for peer review. He makes elementary mistakes, and depends on something like conspiracy theories. Even GA Wells challenged his assumption that the Earliest Christians did not believe that Jesus was an historical figure! Bultmanns skepticism is considered too thoroughgoing to be maintained by conservatives - like JD Crossan, Marcus Borg and the Jesus Seminar. You may want to read something published by a NT scholar in the last 30 years before reaching a radical conclusion. If you're working under the illusion that my arguments are derived from apologetics manuals, you'll be diappointed. They are from mainstream NT scholarship.

    Anyway, one objection I recall you making is that we don't know Jesus' Birthdate. Well, we don't know Pilate's. Or Shammai's, or Hillel's, or that of Matthaias Hashmonai. Or Boudicca's for that matter. (What sort of criteria is this anyway?!!)
    We do know that the history of the region is inexplicable without them, and that there is no reason for the sources to mention such individuals unless they existed.
    We know that Form Critics like Bultmann based their history on European examples of oral tradition, and not on oral cultures. So the presupposition that memory of the historical Jesus would inevitably be lost was shaky.
    They assumed, against the evidence, that the Church was only interested in the post -Easter Jesus. They assumed, without evidence AND against all the available evidence that "prophets" in the Early Church could create sayings of Jesus. When those assumptions are challenged, as they have been from the 1950's onward, skepticism about the Historical Jesus vanishes. There are various portraits. They have a lot in common; there are significant differences also. There is no despair over how little we know.
    Let's take the Jospehus' references to Jesus. That we have anything about Jesus from this period outside of internal sources is amazing. This was initially a small movement on the edge of the Roman Empire. There was no major political role for this movement for some time and that is what historians tended to write about. If we go to the early second century, then we begin to see more with Tacitus and Suetonius.
    There is an allusion to "James the brother of the Christ" in Antiquities 20. This remark assumes a previous reference to the Christ earlier in Antiquities. The only place that could be is in Ant 18. So Jospehus said *something* about a Christ in 18. This is why the majority opinion is that the Church added some hagiography to the Testimonium Flavianium. But the whole Testimonium is hardly an insertion.
    But even if it were, the reference to James shows no Christian embellishment. James is only mentioned to denigrate the Temple leadership in favour of the Romans. James the brother of Jesus is the only figure who meets this description. So we have confirmation of Jesus
    existence in Ant 20.
    The Early Christian Movement was a tight knit group centred on Jerusalem, whose leaders we know, and we know that even a charismatic leader like Paul had to refer back to that leadership. It is simply an assumption that Mid-2nd Century diversity was present in the Earliest Church.
    The idea that Jesus never existed begs belief.


  • Comment number 63.

    And anyway, what happened to Mithras?

    Wasn't that the trendy oh-so-devastating comparison to be made, or have I fallen behind the times?


  • Comment number 64.

    Hello Bernard,

    "homer's epics were not written within decades of the supposed events, and were not written with many allusions to people still living who had met and known Hercules. The Gospels were, and contain many many references to those still alive who knew him."

    Could you give me a short summary of when you thought various parts of the NT were written? I thought that parts of it dated from well over a 100 years after jesus' death. Perhaps apart from an indication of when they were written, you could also briefly indicate the sources of those dates? Very brief will do for now, please don't spend any length of time on it.

  • Comment number 65.

    Bernard; Graham, Peter:

    I have wandered away from this blog on a number of occasions recently because you three in particular don't give others sufficient time to respond to your points and it's impossible to keep up, especially when two or three of you are jumping in with imagined 'killer blows' and some of have other things to do. Multiple postings should be kept at a minimum, please, if you expect responses from non-believers. There's no rationale in complaining if your arguments are not answered when you don't give some of us time to consider a fraction of them. I don't want to imply that they are necessarily worth replying to, merely that if you expect answers you will need to ration your questions and your postings.

  • Comment number 66.

    Brian, apologies. I generally tend to do one response at a time...I've only offered one response above, for example, followed by a flippant comment that didn't really warrant a reply.

    Perhaps you means that only one person should make one response at a time?


    no doubt you'll debate this, but as far as I am aware at least one of the written Gospels can be traced to around 60AD....(is it Mark?...I'll admit I'm no expert on it, but I understand that that's the generally accepted view of the historians). Plus, of course, it's reasonable to take into account the high oral tradition of judaism at the time, which means that it's rational to suppose that a number of very similar texts are based on an earlier oral record. .

    Many of Paul's letter can be traced to before that, and, of course, they were letters to already exisiting communities of believers, not made up myths hoping to attract followers.

    The point is that there is evidence that communities of people who called themselves Christians existed very very shortly after the death of Christ. Nero blamed them for torching Rome, when was that, 30 yearsd after Christ.

    So the idea that a story was written down and gradually, over centuries, became accepted as truth, does not account for the already existing communities of believers, many of whom would have been alive when the relevant events are purported to have taken place. As, indeed, would their detractors. Yet, although many argued that Jesus did not rise from the dead, none argued that he never existed. His existence was in the realms of living memory, which is completely unlike accounts of Horus, or hercules.

  • Comment number 67.

    Hi Bernard,

    I'm no expert on the age of the gospels either. The date you mention of one being from ~60 AD does coincide with what I know. It is however also one of the parts that are dated earliest as far as I know. As far as I know, the gospels date from around the date you mentioned to over a century later. What prompted my post was your line 'The gospels were...'. Well, parts of it were afaik, most of it not.

    I know even less about the early christian communities. But do you (or others) know what those people believed exactly? That is important if their presence is to be a means of corroborating the NT. Christians being around, yeah sure. Does that make the NT story of jesus true? I'm highly doubtful about that.

  • Comment number 68.

    Ok, now that's a different question.

    What's at issue here is whether a mythological story could have been taken as truth within so few years of its apparent occurence.

    I'll concede that it is debateable precisely what the early Christians believed of Christ (although clearly very convincing arguments can be made, based on their letters to each other, and the coalescing of authority in that community.

    but the point is that the early Christians obviously didn;t consider Christ, Jesus, the person, to be a made up story. It is equally obvious that it wasn't just fictional, and became considered true in later years.

    That "Christians" existed within decades of Christ's death, and that their letters and documents referred to the person who lived just some years ago, surely strongly suggests that they were talking about a person that they knew, and that their detractors also knew. It is quite clear that they were not talking about a fictional story which, over time, came to be considered true. they were talking about events that happened in the recent past, and that their readers would have actually remembered.

    Again, completely unlike any accounts of Hercules or of Horus

  • Comment number 69.

    Whether or not the narrative of the ressurection as outlined in the Gospels actually happened like that is a different question altogether.

    the point being made here is that the story could not have originated as fiction, and then, over years, been considered true.

    What is clear is that the writers of the Gospels, writing so few years after the event, BELIEVED it to be true.

    It was not written as a fiction, but a true story. Whether or not you believe that it actually IS true is another matter. what is clear is that the story did not begin as myth.

  • Comment number 70.

    Sorry chaps, been away at various things again & kinda lost the thread. Bernie, personally I think Jesus the Nazarene did exist. As an atheist I have no problem with that, or with much of the gospel tales. But reports of miracles and resurrections from this era, even if sincerely believed (and we have no reason to credit the gospel writers with too much sincerity) are not evidence that anything spectacular actually occurred. The gospels are at the start of a long tradition of embellishment, and from a time when virgin births, miracles and resurrections were commonplace elements of stories. It is an unnecessary hypothesis to assume that someone made the *whole* thing up, but even that is more likely than the resurrection.
    As for complete falsehoods in the bible, there are many. We have discussed the amazing double donkey, but you could add the Egyptian snakes (with Moses' staff), "creation" itself, Baalam's donkey, Joshua's "long day", Noah's flood - these are things that no credible scholar maintains any more. The virgin birth is a clear embellishment; the resurrection is too. Whatever the facts of Jesus's life are, one thing is certain: he's still dead.

    Mythology does NOT take long to attach to historical events - Elvis is one example. We know from the letters of Paul that communities of *Christians* did not believe in the resurrection - it had to be drummed into them using some pretty weak excuses, you'll agree.

    And over time, the story accreted yet more myths and parables, and became the Christianity we know and love. Jesus would turn in his grave.

  • Comment number 71.


    Elvis is alive? Ah hu hu, I'm all shook up.

    Probably working in a chip shop in Dungannon.

    BTW I think the point is Jesus did turn in his grave. :-)


    I'm not trying to bombard you with posts, I just what to know how far this doubt thing goes with you?

  • Comment number 72.

    Helio writes: "Whatever the facts of Jesus's life are, one thing is certain: he's still dead".

    What utter, utter tosh! Jesus lives and I know he lives because he lives within my heart. The tritest little chorus can contain the greatest truth.

    Hopkins (to whom LSV refers today on another thread) expressed the same truth more universally and much more elegantly: Christ plays in ten thousand places, / Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his / To the Father through the features of men's faces.

    The same poet, in the wonderful The Blessed Virgin compared to the air we breathe, relates how Mary makes continually New Nazareths in us, / Where she shall yet conceive / Him, morning, noon, and eve. For in that Christ died, he died unto sin once: but in that we live unto God He yet lives.

  • Comment number 73.


    I shall address two points.

    1. ETHICS

    You question an ethic 'based on a good man'. No; I've never suggested that. Not one man but several: Socrates, Confucius, the Buddha, Jesus etc; Hume, Russell, Singer etc etc. And not on the person per se but the teachings ascribed to them. After all, they themselves may not entirely live up to them (the Jesus of the Gospels didn't, as you suggest) or they themselves may be shadowy figures who may not even have existed.

    A modern ethic is eclectic and is based ion the best principles and ideals that have evolved through history, like Lecky's expanding circle of moral concern. An ethic based on one man, or alleged person, is a slave ethic and is also inevitably inadequate. Some of Jesus's ethics is good, but certainly not all of it (I've said this before but am still being misrepresented).


    You say that what is clear is that the Jesus story did not begin as myth. This is certainly not clear at all. Indeed, it is entirely possible that the myth developed first and then a biography was made to fit it. After all, in the Pauline Epistles, which preceded the Gospels, Jesus is precisely that: a spiritual being described in mythological terms, not a real person - not 'that carpenter who used to hang about round here, died and was resurrected' (that is real beyond satire!). Arguably, there was an evolution of belief, starting from a purely spiritual being to a human figure who embodied that spirit. (please don't imply that I am presenting this as fact, but it is possible. Who knows?)

  • Comment number 74.


    "I have wandered away from this blog on a number of occasions recently because you three in particular don't give others sufficient time to respond to your points and it's impossible to keep up, especially when two or three of you are jumping in with imagined 'killer blows' and some of have other things to do. Multiple postings should be kept at a minimum, please, if you expect responses from non-believers. There's no rationale in complaining if your arguments are not answered when you don't give some of us time to consider a fraction of them. I don't want to imply that they are necessarily worth replying to, merely that if you expect answers you will need to ration your questions and your postings."

    So now it feels like Peter, Bernard and I have become the Axis of Evil! Everyone's got the right to an outburst or three or four, but this is getting ridiculous! There's no substantial point in that post. Just insults and bluster - which is all I've been getting from some skeptics recently (Helio is one honorable exception to this rule. We might not agree, but he has obviously spent a lot of time considering counterarguments to his position). We used to have some really good exchanges Brian, and I learned a lot. What on earth happened?
    I can post long replies very quickly because I've been reading about these things for a long time, and keep a lot of my notes on my laptop. And you can't refute some statements (Jesus never existed, you can explain Christianity by the model of Horus)or widely held assumptions (the Gospels are generally unreliable) without giving detailed arguments.
    There aren't urls I can use. My notes are from articles or books. And if people don't reply, I don't assume that I've dealt a killer blow. I assume that they have something better to do (play with the kids, mow a lawn. I don't post at weekends or in the evening because I've better things to do). But at least I've had the opportunity to think an issue through.



  • Comment number 75.


    "There are no substantial arguments in that post". Has Peter's post 71 any substance whatever beyond facetiousness? Or Bernard's post 63?

    I try to make a point, and then I am faced with counter-arguments, screeds of script and a host of questions from you, Bernard and Peter. I am not superhuman, and I too have other things to do. Look back over this thread at the number of questions that Christians keep asking and how often the terms of the discussion are changed, followed by complaints because the earlier questions are not being answered. Let's have ONE question at a time from you folks, PLEASE! Otherwise, your assumption that we non-believers are avoiding issues becomes just a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Of course, the irony in the question is that it appears from them that Christians are seeking the truth when of course you mistakably assume that you have already found it. The historicity of Jesus; the divinity of Jesus; plagiarism from pagan myths; the origin of the universe; the fate of humanity. You Christians have the answers to all these questions, whereas we sceptics don't know the answer to any of them. We are the ones who are still asking the questions!

  • Comment number 76.


    I see you've changed the argument yet again. Or didn't grasp it.

    1. ETHICS.

    I was not asking why you should have an ethics of one man as opposed to many men. I was asking about the basis of any ethic based on any man or group of men. What is good about Socrates, or Confucius, or Hume? why is following those men "ethical"? I know at least one person who would disagree, so you must explain your conception of good. what is "the good"? Why is Leckey's expanding circle of moral concern a "good thing"?


    "After all, in the Pauline Epistles, which preceded the Gospels, Jesus is precisely that: a spiritual being described in mythological terms, not a real person"

    Brian, the letters of Paul are clearly written to communities of believers who follow the risen Christ. Almost the entire purpose of the letters is to attempt to fully express the spiritual dimension of the person, Christ, that many people ALREADY followed.

    Or are you suggesting that Paul wrote some nice stories about a mythological spirit, pretended to send those stories to non-existent communities of believers, in the hope that, in the future, people actually would begin to believe?

    That really is clutching at straws. Still, who knows?

  • Comment number 77.

    sorry if I'm asking too many questions. we all have other things to do, obviously, and you shouldn't feel compelled to answer everything.

    But at the end of the day, some questions neccessarily lead on to others. It is no good you simply talking about ethics as if Socrates and hume are self-evidently "good" if you're not prepared to consider a question about the nature of goodness.

  • Comment number 78.

    I believe Richard Dawkins questions the existence of Jesus (little wonder....His life is such a challenge to atheism!) - and quotes a learned professor in support of that view.

    What he doesn't tell us is that he is a professor of German Literature! We don't seem to be able to find an ancient historian who shares that opinion...perhaps that is because he realizes he would be quickly laughed out of court, and have to take up another discipline!

    People may continue to debate just Who Jesus was, but the reality of His life is well established historically. It seems to me that those who continue to dispute the facts betray a motive other than honest intellectual enquiry.

  • Comment number 79.

    By the way, we Christians do continue to ask the questions....but every question must have a heuristic line of attack, otherwise question will pile on question on question, and, without answers to the first, none of the subsequent questions can be answered. but we find answers to questions all the time, Brian. even you.

  • Comment number 80.


    In Post 57 you wrote: "An ethic based on a good man? What was so good about him? In fact, you've argued on numerous occassions that, actually, he wasn't that good after all". This is specifically about an ethic based on one man, not about the basis of ethics in general. A little more precision might help, Bernard. Or perhaps a better memory of your own posts.

    There isn't only one basis of ethics; that's the point. Our social nature, our rational minds, our ethical evolution are all contributors. Morals evolve as we we evolve. We have no essential nature and are capable of both good and bad actions. This has nothing to do with a 'fall from perfection'.

    Of course, you do know what ethics are based on, i.e. one man! It is you who put all your ethical eggs in one imperfect basket.

    Many of the earlier pagan myths on which Christianity was clearly based began as tall stories (like myths of gardens of Eden, perfect paradises etc) and then later added the flesh and bones, just like Hercules. Christianity is possibly no different in this respect.

    As for straws, well: talking snakes, 900 year-old men, universal floods, sun stoppings, virgin births, water walkings, wine conversions, fish feasts, resurrections, ascensions... The bales are piled up in your barn.

  • Comment number 81.

    Hello pastorphilip,

    I strongly suspect that your post 78 is complete rubbish. At the very least it contradicts very much several statements I've ever heard from Dawkins regarding jesus. I've repeatedly heard him state that he much appreciates some of jesus' ideas as morally innovative. Always talking from a perspective that jesus was a real man. See e.g. his post 'Atheists for jesus' on his own website:


    That leads me to strongly suspect that some dishonest and dimheaded christian made up the story you uncritically posted (or made up yourself?). But I could be wrong. Tell you what pastorphilip, why don't you give us the source of that story? I'm calling you out over posting fabricated bullcrap, that being the best some christians can come up with. But I keep some reservation and you have the opportunity to show me entirely wrong.

    Why don't you let us know which it is pastorphilip?

  • Comment number 82.


    in asking "what was so good about that one man", I really was asking precisely that. Now "why is THIS man good", but "what is good about Him (or any other).

    You have still yet to answer. If we have no essential nature, how ARE THERE "both good and bad actions"?

    What is "good" or "bad" about actions, if not that they conform or digress from some essential nature.


    What is good about one man?
    What is good about many men?
    What is good about a social nature, given that that keeps changing?
    If what is "good" keeps changing, how can the word "good" have any sense at all?

    You say "man is capable of both good and bad actions"...as if that explains what "good and bad" are. Surely all you can say is that man is capable of actions which differ?

  • Comment number 83.


    Post 79 won't do. It's a slippery statement. THe point is that on the crucial questions on this blog, you think you know the answers. Let us list some again.

    I. Jesus was an historical figure.
    2. Jesus was god incarnate (unlike Horus, Hercules, Mithra etc, who were only fictions)
    3. Jesus performed miracles.
    4. Jesus was perfect.
    5. Jesus rose from the dead.
    6. God created the universe.
    7. God is all good.
    8. God is all-powerful.
    9. God created man perfect and he fell from grace.
    10. Man is essentially sinful.
    11. When we die, we shall go to heaven; go to purgatory, or go to hell (although hell seems to be played down these days).
    12. The earth will be destroyed in Armageddon.

    The comments of most Christians on this blog assume certainty of belief in the above 12 propositions - no doubts whatsoever. And it is atheists who are accused of being dogmatic? If there are honest doubts, let's hear them for a change.

  • Comment number 84.

    For the record, Christian Ethics isn't based on the actions of one man.

    It is based on the notion of an objective, fundamental "good"...a prime analogue of the many ways in which different things are "good".

    Just like God provides the prime analogue of the way in which disparate things exist, so He prwesents the prime analogue of the differing ways in which things are "good".

    The term analogy is very important here.

    So the idea that Christ embodies objective good is more a corrolary of the notion that there is an objective good in the first place....not the other way around.

    I do not believe there is an objective good because Christ said that he embodies it. It is because I believe there is an objective good that I believe Christ embodies it.

    How full is a loving goodness if it does not commune with its beloved? The fullness of "good" and "love" implies a complete giving in communion. Even God becoming Man

  • Comment number 85.


    All of those things you listed above....I don't KNOW any of them.

    I think a lot of them make sense. a lot of them seem to be reasonable explanatory explanations of the position of existence as we encounter it.

    I don't know anyone who claims to have absolute certainty about those things....they certainly have faith....and even a rational supposition. But certainty? As Lonergan says, "Formally unconditioned Judgement"?

    not a chance. Rational suppositions and loving faith, that's what I have.

    Why must you always accuse everyone of believing in certainty


    The only thing I have ever tried to claim on this blog it that it is possible to make rational suppositions about the above...indeed, that it is neccessary.

    It is rational to SUPPOSE that the universe has a "cause" beyond it. In fact, in order to accept any kind of causality one has to accept a foundational cause.

    It is rational to suppose that existence itself is "good"...in fact, in order to accept any kind of "good" one has to accept that bare existence is good.

    It is rational to assume that a foundational basis of existence, encompassing all that is good, would be perfectly good. it is further rational to suppose that such a good creator would want to communicate to creation in the fullest way. It is rational to suppose that hundreds of poor uneducated fishermen did not willingly go to their deaths on the premise of a lie that they themselves invented.

    It is rational, given all that we know of the universe, to admit non-physical emotional and loving forces and attractions at work within the universe.

    All of those things are rational suppositions.

    I do not know the nature of the universe. But, given all that i have seen of it, and all the mini-natures, it is rational to suppose that it has a nature.

  • Comment number 86.


    Are you a Jesuit? Your twists and turns do rather suggest so. I don't claim to know exactly what 'good' is, unlike Christians who are sure they know. I am quite happy to be searching for it.

    The Christian concept of 'good' to which you subscribe is, in any case, much too narrow and negative and based on restraint of natural impulses and desires. It's too preoccupied with matters of sex.

    The Greek notion of 'good' is much broader and encompasses appreciation of culture, joy of discovery, search for knowledge, enjoyment of pleasure etc. Part of it of course is the quest for knowledge and the 'good life'. "the unexamined life is not worth living' implies that the search for knowledge and understanding is itself a great good. But Socrates made it clear that he didn't know. When he demolishes Meno's argument about virtue, he says: "Now that you know that you do not know, we can begin to make progress".

    In this respect, Socrates is a much superior model to Jesus. The Delphic oracle had called Socrates the wiest of men, but that, he says, was because he knew that he knew nothing, whereas other men did not understand their own ignorance.

    You can see how the Christian mindset crushes this spirit of inquiry by its closed dogmas and claims to have found answers to questions like: "what is good"? The quest, the life of striving, is important. That I think is part of what 'good' means. And why is it good? Because it makes us happy, content and better behaved towards our fellow humans - and animals.

    The relevance of Socrates to the modern era should evident from the above. It is when the human race succumbs to dogmatic, totalitarian beliefs, whether political or religious, that it puts itself most at risk. This is what Maher was saying in Religulous. Let's have more doubt and less certainty and let's be proud of our ignorance.

    So you asked me what 'good' is. I don't claim to know its essence. But I've briefly outlined one aspect. I'm sure there are many others, but that will do for a start.

  • Comment number 87.


    My point in asking you what "good" was was not to claim that I KNOW what it is.

    We are always searching for good, but where do we go looking? Why is striving "good".

    Marcus, for example, thinks that the examined life is not worth living. what do you say to him?

    I know that we all keep searching for what is good, that there are many aspects, and even that it changes. But what makes anything good? what is the common feature?

    I am not suggesting that I know what the common feature is...but it strikes me that it must involve some kind of fulfilment. What kind of fulfilment do you suggest? The fulfilment of just being a man? Is that good? Why?

    Again, I am not suggesting that i know what "the good" is....
    I am suggesting that there is something for us to look for....an objective good, the object of our striving. again, I don't know what the object of my striving is...had I known that I would have found it.

    You're suggesting that our striving is good, but that it has no object....it is just continual movement and change.

    But what's good about that. That seems to me to be the worst kind of striving...a blind striving that is directed by the wind, and searches here and there, but never finds anything.

    I am suggesting that there IS an objective good. not that we have found it, but that we are striving for it. That is a striving for God.

  • Comment number 88.


    This is the point, isn't it? You're playing word games just as you did with the First Cause. Your insistence on an essential essence or basis of goodness is just the same as your insistence on an essential essence or basis of a First Cause. Of course, while you claim to be searching, you are really searching for God, as you say at the end, so therefore your answer, which doesn't require any further explanation, is always ... God. You pursue me for apparently copping out, whereas your god is really the ultimate cop out because there no further search is needed.

  • Comment number 89.

    So, what are you searching for, Brian?

    Interesting that this "word games" accusation seems to mean no more than "i don't understand!"

    Let me put it in some other words. Why do you believe that some things are good and some things are bad? Is that entirely subjective, so that I can just dismiss it as one person's opinion?

    If that's the case, is there any point in using the words?

  • Comment number 90.

    and anyway, how does "searching for God" involve "no further search".

    I'm constantly searching, Brian. the only thing i know is that what I am searching for is something different to what I have already found. Whereas you seem to be searching for more of the same. Another scientific theory to explain science itself. An evolution of goodness to explain "good" itself.

    And, if all else fails, you can claim that, because I am searching for something different, I somehow think I've already found it.
    Very good.

  • Comment number 91.

    A few points.

    I suppose maybe a Freudian could complain about a pre-occupation with sex in Christian ethics. Then an existentialist could disagree, and say that Christian Ethics hasn't the courage to choose. And so forth...I haven't felt preoccupied with sexual sin. I've my beliefs about sexual ethics, and they are unfashionable but I find them very liveable.
    Now my inability to take up my cross. That's a problem. My idea of the good is found in 1 Cor 13 and the Passion Narratives. There's nothing sexual there, but I've hang-ups because I continually fall short of that standard. So maybe you could argue that my standards are too high, and irrational and unnecessarily burdensome.

    AD68-70 is the ususal dating for Mark. Some put it slighlty before, some slightly after. That doesn't mean that every chapter wasn't committed to writing before 68-70. The Caligula crisis of the 40s gave the Church good motives to get some of the teachings of the Messiah written down. The "Apocalyptic Discourse" of Mark 13 seems to be a good candidate. This theory has been promoted by by non-conservatives like Gerd Thiessen.

    The idea that a mythological Messiah would have meant anything to a Jewish Church is ludicrous. And the Jewish/Pagan polemic would have been - "Jesus did not exist". Not "Jesus was a magician".(In Celsus and the Talmud).

    Now I'd better say nothing else. It isn't fair to reply to arguments with evidence.


  • Comment number 92.

    Oh, and Dawkins does believe that Jesus existed; he just has a very unusual take on Jesus' Ethics in the "God Delusion".

  • Comment number 93.

    And I still have lots of unanswered questions.
    But, in fairness, I think that Brian has hit on a good point here. A lot of Christian preaching and evangelism does convey the message that Christians have *all* the answers, and that they knwo these answers exhaustively.
    That goes against key texts in Paul.
    "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."
    Fulfillment lies in the future. Not now. So I strive towards it. It makes the journey worthwhile, but that doesn't make it easy.
    Paul certainly believed that he had some of the answers("We have the mind of Christ" 1 Cor 2). But *all* the answers?

    Romans 11"Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!"
    In the context of the book of Romans, loosely translated "Look, I'm still trying to figure all this out".

    SO it's clearly a mistake for the Church to preach as if it has *all* of the answers to all of the big questions all of the time. But it does. SO it's not surprising if we don't get heard because we tend to be too simplistic.

    So, in retropsect, cheers Brian, there's actually a very good point behind the grouching. As usual.


  • Comment number 94.

    Dear me, chaps - I've gone and fallen behind again! Graham, you seem to view Saul Paulus as some sort of authority, although it goes against the very text you quote (glass darkly), where Saul (and therefore "the bible") admits that he/it does not know the full picture. This is one area where Saul is in fact correct - he is of course in error in many other areas.

    That being the case, is this not a warning to treat everything Saul says with a certain dose of scepticism? Of course, we freethinkers reject authority anyway (and biblical authority in particular, of course), so there is little enough point in appealing to an ancient text which we know to be error-prone. But it's not even that we are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Where the bible gets things right, and where there is evidence to confirm this, we're happy to accept that, but, like *any* text from ancient times, it contains errors, myths, fabrications, hyperbole, propaganda etc.

    You're right - the church does not have all the answers, and I have argued that some of the answers it thinks it *does* have are flat wrong. This is not a reason to lower the bar for the evidential requirement for some of its fruitier claims (resurrections, miracles, virgin births, salvation, etc), but a reason to view the whole darned thing with a very sceptical eye. People CAN be fooled - look at Islam, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Voodoo, Shintoism etc - people believing silly things is the *natural* state of humanity. The resurrection (for one) is a Silly Thing, and that's pretty much where the whole project should run into the sand. Except for the fact that people want to believe.


  • Comment number 95.

    I see I've become one of a trinity.

    I was sort of ignoring the concerns that I don't give sufficient time for replies, or that I view my comments as killer blows but I got mentioned again in post 75. Now, at times I agree, I've been a bit eager, perhaps even over eager, but I actually thought we were all pretty eager on here, indeed there have been many times I have opted out too, but on this thread? I've hardly posted anything.

    I actually began by suggesting I didn't much want to have the Jesus/Horace debate again, we all did it just a few weeks back. In fact we've had so many variations on the 'I'm Jesus' argument, that I had thought we could rename this thread, 'Whos Spartacus', or 'Who's Jesusacus'. Of course I'm being facetious again, but honestly when Jesus get linked with an Elvis myth, what do you expect?

    As for questions, apart from Nicaea, I have really only asked you one on this thread, and I did so because you raised the issue of certainty again. Indeed you said some Christians were getting on your wick over it all. Now my question, which relates to doubt and certainty, is in post 50, I won't type it again, and yes, having read it again it's a bit curt, maybe even unnecessarily provocative, but I'm still interested in how far you take this doubt thing, why, because it relates to the general attitude of skepticism. In one sense whether you really doubt the existence of an historical Jesus is neither here nor there, doubting these things is relatively comfortable, especially when you don't want to believe anyway, but the extent of one's doubt, the degree to which one is prepared to act on an assumption of skepticism, that is an altogether different matter, I'm just wondering how far you are prepared to go?

    In post 83 you have asked for honest doubts, I've already said what I doubted in post 50 and to that I'll add that I have and at times do doubt, the goodness of God, the faithfulness of God, I've wondered if he is actually a trickster, faith and doubt are not necessarily opposites, sometimes when I pray I tell God I don't trust him. You could also read the last paragraph of my post 92 on the Christianity and Fundamentalist thread.

    Beyond that I've lost track of your conversation with Graham and Bernard.

    On the other hand:

    Helio, my old city of the sun beam (Did you know Jesus wants you for a sunbeam too!)

    Flipping Nora, Elvis? Elvis Smelvis.

    Question. How many donkeys had Baalam, or was he just talking out of his ass?

    Anyway. Elvis? Good grief.

    Actually, you're serious, aren't you. You do really, honestly think that the Jesus story could have arisen (sorry!) in the same way as people think Elly boy is alive and well in Texas or somewhere.


    As for the NT letters and some christian communities believing or not believing stuff, well yes, that was sort of the point of the letters, the letters are, partly at least, about 'correcting', 'guiding' doctrine, like Jude said, "although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you."

    Actually there's been quite a lot of objections raised recently which have already been taken account of in the bible, weird that.

  • Comment number 96.

    Hi Peter,
    I do quite seriously suggest that the Jesus story (resurrection anyway) could have (and did) arise from the much the same psychological foibles that make people believe in Elvis, alien abductions, ghosts, etc. The post-resurrection stories have all the hallmarks of ghostie stories and wishful thinking. Elvis/Jesus/Horus - no big difference. What we are seeing in these stories are manifestations of human psychology. Not divine miracles, but human failings.
    And that's the interesting thing - it's not just that the bible is full of errors - they are *interesting* errors. They reveal how people thought, and how people interpreted events - and this was no different in the century after the death of Jesus the Nazarene from how it is today.

  • Comment number 97.

    Wishful thinking, Helio?

  • Comment number 98.

    And H, what makes you so sure you are not an hallucination?

    It's this doubt thing, isn't it, how far do you take it?

  • Comment number 99.


    I expected comments 88 and 89.

    "Why do you believe that some things are good and some things are bad? Is that entirely subjective, so that I can just dismiss it as one person's opinion?".

    You keep asking this question as if human beings did not live on this planet. Why is there farming? Why is there language? Why are there laws? Why did Elvis exist? Do moonbeamns exist? 'Good' and bad' aere subjective, just like every other f....ing thing we do and exist. There is nothing mysterious and other wordly about. An, yes, there is no objective standard for them. Eating shellfish was an abomination for Jews at one time. It was bad. Now, it's not bad. The rules are usually decided by elected governments (in a democracy) or a consensus. It might be right, it might be wrong, and that's the way it is. But there is no other way. And why should there be. Live with it man!

    As already implied, like most most people I search for happiness, love, truth, justice. Lots of things. The search is part of the joy of living. The point is that you have 'found' God, so everything else has to fit into this divine prism. Your searches are for confirmation of already firmed up certainties: there is a god, he is good, he created the universe, he is the Transcend One et etc. I have no need of such a hypothesis and wiuld feel in any case that it would inhibit the real searches in the real world.

  • Comment number 100.

    Apologies for ignoring your recent posts. Bernard would let me answer!


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