Friday, 12 July 2013

Tom Holland on the Evidence for Jesus and Muhammad

In the Shadow of the Sword
Photo: Wikipedia

One problem with mythicism is that while mythicists  love to claim that the evidence for Jesus' existence is weak, if you actually take the time to compare the sources we have on Jesus to those we have for comparable historical figures such Muhammad or the Buddha, it's hard to escape the conclusion that the evidence for Jesus as is at least as good, if not better.

One person who is well equipped to make such a comparison is journalist and historian Tom Holland, who has written extensively about the ancient world and the origins of Islam.

In this interview on Australian radio, Holland (who says he is sure that Muhammad existed) points out that:
The gospels you have in the New Testament are actually much closer in time to the life of Jesus than the earliest biography of Muhammad is to the life of the prophet.
Holland goes on to say:
Jesus is elusive, but in a way you'd expect him to be, because he's a criminal in an obscure corner of the Roman Empire, so in a sense it's amazing that we have anything about him at all. We have Paul's letters, which start to be written within twenty years probably of the crucifixion, and Paul clearly thinks that Jesus existed. So in a sense, the evidence for Jesus is kind of stronger than for Muhammad.
 Many thanks to Neil Godfrey for drawing my attention to this.


  1. 'The gospels you have in the New Testament are actually much closer in time to the life of Jesus than the earliest biography of Muhammad is to the life of the prophet.'

    Why does that make them historical?

    The pictures of Ned Ludd are closer in time to the life of Ned Ludd than the gospels.

    The pictures of the Maitreya are on the Internet now.

    This means, using Holland's logic, that Benjamin Creme is not making it up - the Maitreya really does exist.

    'We have Paul's letters, which start to be written within twenty years probably of the crucifixion, and Paul clearly thinks that Jesus existed.'

    Yes, Paul thought Jesus was the agent through whom God created the world- but not the person who appointed apostles or testified to this new righteousness or somebody the Jews had ever heard of before Christians were sent by God to preach about him.

  2. 1) On you first point, Holland is not primarily interested in proving Jesus' historicity (I don't know if you listened to the whole show?), so he's plainly making no such argument. I don't think that an early date for the gospels *proves* Jesus historicity, but I think the relatively early date of the gospels is problematic for some of the claims and comparisons that mythicists make (e.g. comparing Jesus to figures like Moroni or Arthur)

    Incidentally, can you point me towards your reasoning for thinking that the relationship between Jesus and the gospels is more like that between Ned Ludd and his images than the relationship between Muhammad and his biographies?

    2) Can you point me towards your evidence for thinking that Paul did *not* think that Jesus had appointed apostles, or had "testified to this new righteousness", or that no Jews had ever heard of Jesus before Christians started preaching about him?

  3. The first Gospel has no markers of attempting to be history.

    You really want me to cite the passages in Paul where he said God had appointed apostles, and listed who HAD testified to this new righteousness and the whole chapter of Romans 10, which is predicated on the idea that Jews could hardly be expected to believe as they had never heard of Jesus?

    Why not just cut and paste the historicist answer to these arguments?

    Oh, there aren't any. Ehrman, for example, just pretended in his book that no such arguments had ever been made.

  4. What do you mean "markers of attempting to be history"?

    If you could cite the specific passages you're referring to, that would be helpful for me to understand and respond to your point. I'm afraid that I also don't quite get what you're saying about Romans 10. I'm not trying to be obtuse, but hey - you wouldn't want me to give you an Ehrman grade response to your points would you? (I'm reading his book at the moment, incidentally)

    You also didn't respond to my question as to why you think the relationship between Jesus and the gospels is more like that between Ned Ludd and his images than the relationship between Muhammad and his biographies?

  5. Romans 10 is pretty clearly written.

    'How can they believe in the one they have not heard of?'

    Paul is asking this rhetorical question, and answers it by pointing out that Christians have been sent to talk about Jesus to the Jews.

    Obviously they had never heard of him, because Jesus was a figure from scripture. Romans 16 '... Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings'

    'Jesus is elusive, but in a way you'd expect him to be, because he's a criminal in an obscure corner of the Roman Empire...'

    Paul in Romans 13 tells us what he thinks of criminals executed by the Roman authorities.

    'For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.'

    Wait a minute? Didn't the Romans kill the Son of God?

    I'm sure Mr. Holland will be along to tell us how Muslims praised the pagans of Mecca as being God's agents.

    Or he will probably sweep under the carpet this difference between the earliest writings of Christians and that of Muslims.It doesn't fit his story line.

    ' why you think the relationship between Jesus and the gospels is more like that between Ned Ludd '

    That's pretty obvious. The pictures of Ned Ludd are closer in time to the 'life' of Ned Ludd than the biographies of Muhammad.

    You are reading Ehrman's book, are you?

    The one which claims Jesus existed because a story of Jesus raising somebody from the dead has Aramaic words in it?

    1. For Romans 10, the notion that nobody had heard of Jesus is contradicted by Paul himself if you just keep reading.

      For Romans 16, the idea that history has been secretly hidden in scripture is hardly unique to Paul. That somebody claims an event was predicted by scripture, is no reason to think that event was ahistorical and invented on the basis of scripture. For example, I've read a book that claimed (surprisingly plausibly) that a specific battle in World War 1 was predicted in the OT. Or see any books on Nostradamus, the Bible code, etc.

      As for Romans 13 - Paul elsewhere experienced prison as a result of his preaching, which presumably would have been ordered by the authorities (unless you read Philemon differently to me?) By your same argument, that makes Paul a wrongdoer for preaching about Christ therefore it can't have happened.

      Is there a certain inconsistency in Paul's thought. Yup. Is it sensible to start making historical judgements based on somebody's theological inconsistency about the nature of human punishment? Nope.

      I don't see the point of your answer about Jesus/Ned Ludd, so I assume it's not a serious one. You also haven't answered my question about Mark's lack of "markers of attempting to be history"

    2. You still can't show that Mark even attempted to be history.

      And you are producing one confabulation after another now.

      We need evidence, not just ad hoc confabulations made up on the spot.

      It seems that early Christians like Paul were just not interested in Thomas, Mary, Joseph, Bartimaeus, Lazarus, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Simon of Cyrene, Jairus, Judas, etc etc.

      These oral traditions must have been interesting. Lots of people talking about things they had just no interest in.

    3. I've asked you twice to explain your point about Mark lacking "markers of attempting to be history". You seem to be turning your own non-answering of this perfectly simple request into evidence of *my* failure to show something. Are you for real?

      Er... confabulations? What confabulations?

  6. "You are reading Ehrman's book, are you?

    The one which claims Jesus existed because a story of Jesus raising somebody from the dead has Aramaic words in it?"

    Yes that's the one. Finished it last night, I'd give it 6/10. I will respond to the rest of your points as soon as I get chance - though may not be until tomorrow.

  7. Paul may have thought that Jesus existed, but if Paul's evidence was only the visions that he and others had of the risen Christ, that wouldn't be much for us to go on.

    1. It wouldn't be Vinny. But it seems that this isn't how Holland reads Paul.

    2. I'm sure it isn't. I suspect that like many historicists, he simply reads the gospels back into the epistles. If you assume that Jesus was a historical person, then it is indeed amazing how much information we have about a criminal living in an obscure corner of the Roman Empire. On the other hand, if you start by asking whether Paul's Jesus was historical without assuming either answer, you run up against the sticky problem of how you would go about proving the existence of one particular criminal in an obscure corner of the Roman Empire.

    3. Or how on earth early Christians managed to persuade people in Thessalonica and Corinth and Galatia that an obscure criminal was the agent through whom God had created the world.

      Surely, knowing religious people, they must have used the Bible (ie the Old Testament) as proof.

    4. I agree that we should be careful about reading the gospels back into Paul, but I also think that we should be careful not to build a 20ft high wall between Paul and the gospels, dig a ditch around the wall, fill the ditch with acid and add a few guard dogs patrols and machine gun towers for good measure.

      It’s seems to me that when Paul talks about sharing a brew with Jesus’ brother, that this is most likely the same person mentioned in the gospels, Josephus, Hegesippus, and non-canonical works like the protevangelium. I’m quite aware of the mythicist counter-arguments to each of these sources, and yes, I know you can play one source off against another, but overall it seems far more probable that Jesus was a historical human being who had a brother, and that this was a fact that early Christians were perfectly well aware of. It has nothing to do within reading the gospels back into Paul.

      Similarly when Paul makes a statement that puts the death of Jesus within living memory, that this is most likely the same historical event that the gospels refer to, and that is also referred to be early Christians like Justin Martyr, and non-Christians like Tacitus and (potentially) Josephus. Again, I’m quite aware of the mythicist counter-arguments to each of these sources, and yes, I know you can play one source off against another, but overall it seems far more probable that Jesus was a historical human being who died by crucifixion, and that this a fact that early Christians were perfectly well aware of. It has nothing to do within reading the gospels back into Paul.

      I’d also note that mythicists are quite happy to abandon caution about reading things back into Paul whenever it suits them. For example, Doherty asks us why the great characters and places from the Christian story (Mary, Joseph, Calvary etc) are absent from Paul, when it seems obvious that the Christian story as we think of it today (i.e. with 2000 years of ideological baggage, from the Catholic church to school nativity plays attached) simply didn’t exist when Paul was writing. So how could any even remotely competent historian read anything into their absence?

    5. Are you claiming Mary and Joseph and Calvary simply didn't exist when Paul was writing?

      'It’s seems to me that when Paul talks about sharing a brew with Jesus’ brother, that this is most likely the same person mentioned in the gospels,....'

      Of course, 'Mark' has no indication that the James the brother of Jesus went on to be a church leader, and 'Luke' writes out any idea at all that Jesus had a brother called James, almost as though he wanted to demolish any misconceptions people may have had that James the church leader was a relation of Jesus.

    6. No - I'm claiming that the Christian *story*, as we have it today, mediated through nearly 2,000 years of Christianity, Catholicism, advent calendars, Songs of Praise, etc didn't exist. For example, Paul's letters predate growth in the interest/importance in the person Mary, which we can trace quite neatly through Mark, through Matthew and Luke, the later non-canonicals, all the way through to medieval devotion to Mary. In asking why Mary is absent from Paul, Doherty is anachronistically reading later interest in Mary back into Paul's time.

      Simply pointing out cherry picked differences while ignoring consistencies tells us very little. As I specifically said to Vinny above, playing off one source against the other is easy to do (and not just with the Bible).

    7. I have to tell you that the hyperbole makes me think that your case is weaker rather than stronger. It seems to me that when you have a common name like “James” in two different texts, the most natural thing in the world for a historian to ask is whether the texts are referring to the same person. That you would try to equate that question to digging a moat and filling it with acid only reaffirms my conclusion that there simply isn’t enough evidence to answer it with any confidence.

      I would also be more impressed if historicists did not routinely refer to Paul as having met “Jesus’s brother” rather than “the Lord’s brother” as if there couldn’t possibly be any difference between the two. As far as I can tell, to Paul “the Lord” was the exalted risen Christ who manifested himself through revelation, appearances, and the scriptures. It is a possibility that he also thought that Jesus was the Lord during his natural life, but I don’t see much evidence either way on that given how uninterested Paul seemed to be in the pre-Crucifixion Jesus. It also seems to be a distinct possibility that Paul thought that he only became the Lord when God raised him and exalted him. Once again, asking whether Paul intended to designate a biological relationship rather than a spiritual is not erecting a wall, but simply trying to make sense of what Paul writes.

      I don’t think that an account dating to the 630’s concerning a Saracen army led by a prophet with a sword is in any way ambiguous regarding the existence of such a prophet. It may be inconsistent with other accounts of his life, but that wouldn’t give us any reason to doubt that the accounts are talking about an actual person who existed.

      On the other hand, I think that there is a lot of ambiguity in Paul, which results simply from letting Paul speak for himself without the need to build any walls or ditches. For example, I don’t know that we can say that Paul makes any statement that puts the death of Jesus within living memory. He may think of it as a recent event, but it’s far from clear that Paul thinks that any of his contemporaries has any memory of it, rather than, like everything else regarding the risen Christ, it being something that has been made known through revelation and the scriptures.

      If we were to find a story about an ancient general, there are a lot of things we could do to determine whether the character is fictional or historical because we know the kind of historical footprint that military leaders tended to leave. Accounts from foes in battle being a pretty good marker of historicity, I suspect we are on pretty solid ground with Mohammed’s existence, although I suspect that we cannot have a whole lot of confidence in many, if any, details concerning his life. On the other hand criminals in obscure parts of the Roman Empire and itinerant preachers who led small bands of illiterate peasants wouldn’t be expected to leave any sort of historical footprint. As a result, I cannot see much that we can do to corroborate Jesus’s existence. That it “seems” reasonable isn’t a terribly satisfying argument to me.

    8. Equally Vinny, I would be more impressed with historical Jesus agnostics didn’t resort to question begging and methodological double standards to try to justify their position.

      For a start, when you talk about “letting Paul speak for himself”, that assumes that your reading of Paul actually is letting him speak for himself, but what Paul is saying is precisely the question at issue! It’s question begging. And for what it’s worth I think few scholars who are interested in Paul or his thought (rather than those who are interested in using Paul to prove/disprove Jesus’ existence) would find your view of Paul persuasive. (I also suspect there’s a degree of circularity in your “relative historical footprints” argument, since your conclusions seem to be entailed in your starting point.)

      Sure, if you assume that Muhammad was a historical figure, then the DJ might well be about him, but if you’re open to other possibilities – such as that Muhammad was a convenient political fiction designed to unite an empire – then the reference looks much more ambiguous.

      As such, I’m not clear how your reading of the evidence for Muhammad is different from or superior to mine of the evidence for Jesus? So somebody talks about a prophet with a sword but doesn’t name them as Muhammad, and is in any case writing about events taking place *after* Muhammad is supposed to have died, and whose key message seems to be Christian and eschatological rather than obviously Muslim? Why is this less ambiguous than Paul’s reference to the brother of the Lord which doesn’t explicitly name that Lord as Jesus? The DJ nowhere else names this prophet as Muhammad (whereas Paul does elsewhere identify the Lord as Jesus), so how can you argue that this is a reference to Muhammad without reading other sources back into the DJ – which is exactly what you don’t allow historicists to do in the case of Jesus!

      When Paul says he met James the brother of the Lord, the preceding reference to a lord was “Lord Jesus Christ”. Paul doesn’t suggest that he’s now thinking of a different Lord, so why would we think he is? Ignoring 4.1 (where he uses the term in a generic sense in an example), Paul uses the term Lord another 4 times in Galatians, and in 3 of these, that Lord is explicitly named as “Jesus Christ”. Sure, Paul *might* be thinking that James is the brother of a different Lord, but there is no good reason to think that he is, and in what sense is unevidenced speculation about other possible meanings of the word “letting Paul speak for himself”? Sure Paul *might* be using brother here in some other sense than a biological relationship, but where is your evidence that he is? An awful lot a human language is equivocal, but doesn’t there come a point where guessing about the things Paul might have been saying is no longer letting Paul speak for himself, but rather the reverse?

      Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul talks about Jesus dying and being buried – he doesn’t suggest that he thinks this took place in a purely spiritual way, so why would we think he does mean this? He doesn’t imply that any significant gap existed between Jesus’ resurrection, three days after his death, and Jesus’ resurrection appearances, so why would we think there was one? Furthermore, the references to his own experience as untimely and to Jesus resurrection as being the “first fruits” make much more sense if we think of Jesus’ death and resurrection as being recent events rather than things that happened hundreds of years before the first appearance. Given that according to Paul, most of the witnesses are still alive, it makes little sense to think of these events taking place more than 30-40 years prior.

    9. (continued!)

      And even if there are ambiguities, what’s wrong with using other sources to try to clarify what Paul might have been talking about? It’s not as if some huge gap in time, language, or culture exists between Paul and the gospels. If Paul talks about Jesus death in ways that might suggest that it was a recent event or uses words that suggest that Jesus had a biological brother, and these ideas are found expressed clearly elsewhere in Christian and non-Christian sources, what’s wrong with inferring from this that Paul thought about these events in similar ways and that therefore Jesus did indeed have a brother called James and did indeed die sometime a decade or two before Paul wrote.

      The implicit mythicist alternative seems to be to take the assumed ambiguities in Paul and project these doubts onto later Christian writings about Jesus. E.g. Paul doesn’t say that Jesus was crucified by Pilate, so Christian traditions that he was must be confabulations. In what way is this a better methodology or more consistent with how mainstream (non-Biblical) historians actually work?

      If you want to make an argument from silence that says that Paul didn’t know when the crucifixion happened or that Jesus had a brother called James, and that therefore it is unlikely that either of these are historically true, that’s fine – but to what extent do you think that such an argument would meet the cautions and considerations with which mainstream (non-Biblical) historians apply to such arguments. Have you read for example Lange’s essay on the subject (a copy of which I’d be happy to email) and do you think such an argument would pass muster with Lange?

      Actually, I would say that the only way I could become a mythicist or a HJ agnostic valid would be if somebody could show me that it were plausible that Paul were thinking of Jesus in purely mythical terms. But I don’t see how this could be accomplished without reference to other sources (e.g. showing that such a thing might have been natural in Paul’s time), and this is precisely what mythicists do when they refer to Philo, pagan stories, the OT etc. I don’t see anything wrong with such attempts, but I also don’t see how this differs from comparing Paul’s account to the gospels – i.e. the type of “reading in” you are so dismissive of.

      Finally, I seem to remember that you once made a point about Paul not doing much listening when he visited Peter. So I double checked and you wrote to Larry Hurtado:

      “I’m not at all certain what Paul and Cephas discussed during those two weeks in Jerusalem, but I have often thought that it might well have been Paul who did most of the talking. . . . . . After all, Paul was a dynamic and well educated man who had been successfully preaching his message about the region for three years while Cephas was (or might have been) an illiterate peasant who was still sitting around Jerusalem. I would guess that Paul had a very firm idea of the meaning of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus going into that meeting, and given Paul’s reputation for dealing harshly with people who disagreed with him, I can easily imagine that it was Paul’s ideas that dominated.”

      Now, I don’t recall ever reading in Paul’s letters about Peter’s literacy or their relative education levels, so it seems to me that you could only make such a comparison by making use of information drawn from the gospels and/or Acts. So it seems that when it suits your own purposes, you’re quite happy to do the exact same thing that you berate historicists for doing!

    10. I think a big difference is that one account is based on an encounter in battle whereas the other is based on an encounter in visions and revelations. Now it may well be that the prophet with the sword wasn’t named Muhammed, that he didn’t do anything that Muhammed was later claimed to have done, and even that the Muhammed stories are based on someone else’s activities. However, as evidence of the existence of a military leader who was thought to be a prophet, it is overwhelmingly better than Paul’s evidence of the existence of a crucified Messiah figure.

      As far as letting Paul speak for himself, I am merely suggesting the approach that I have heard Bart Ehrman urge for the gospels many times. Rather than artificially harmonizing the accounts, we should recognize that each writer may have his own ideas about what happened and what it meant, and we need to take those differences seriously. There is nothing circular about it because it makes no assumptions about what the correct reading is. Nor does it discount the possibility that different writers actually did agree about particular points. It just starts by treating them individually.

      It has never occurred to me that Paul was referring to any Lord in Galatians 1:19 other than the Lord Jesus Christ who had he had personally encountered through visions and revelation, and in the scriptures. The evidence that Paul might be using the word “brother” there in a spiritual sense rather than a biological sense is simply the fact that this is how he overwhelmingly uses the word throughout his writings. That certainly doesn’t establish the point beyond any doubt, but it seems like more than sufficient to raise the possibility. When I look at Paul’s writings, I see little to suggest that he considered biological relationships to have any theological significance, nor do I see anything to suggest that he had any interest in any relationships that Jesus might have had prior to his crucifixion. All I can see that Paul cares about is the spiritual relationships that are established by the risen Christ.

      I think it probable that that Paul thought of the crucifixion, resurrection, and appearances as recent events. My doubts come as to whether Paul thought anyone he knew had been a witness to anything other than the appearances. After all, Paul never suggests that anyone he knew had been a participant in Jesus’s earthly ministry or that Jesus even had any sort of ministry prior to the crucifixion, so why would should we think that this is what Paul believed?

      The problem with interpreting Paul through later writings is that the interpretation of events can change significantly within a couple of decades even where even where there is a commonality of culture and language. I've read a fair amount about the American Civil War and I know how much politics controlled how history was written in the late nineteenth century. In the north, Generals Grant and Sherman had the clout and they got the credit. In the south, General Lee became the symbol of the Lost Cause and history was written to make him the pure and noble hero. However, as modern historians have gone back to the original sources, they have found a lot of reasons to question many of the stories that were once accepted as fact. The fact that an incident or detail isn't found in the earliest version of events is always a key point to consider.

    11. You are correct that I once made a point about Paul not doing much listening when he visited Peter for the first time, but you apparently didn't notice that I only addressed the point because Hurtado asked me what I thought might have gone on at that meeting. All I was doing was suggesting a different interpretation of what I knew he took as fact. Moreover, I specifically qualified my statement with "or might have been" because I am well aware that this detail comes from a later source.

    12. You'll have to excuse the tardy response Vinny - your most recent comment was a day before my wedding so I've been a bit busy with other things recently!

      Firstly, I'm aware of the context of your comment with Hurtado, and the qualifier you used, but it nonetheless seems that you're happy to use the same approach to evidence that you criticise mainstream NT scholars for using when it could potentially support your own line of argument.

      Secondly, as for the DJ - well, either it's evidence for a historical Muhammad or it isn't, so which is it? Also, you say that the DJ is based on an encounter in battle. Sorry, but I don't see any evidence that this is based on an encounter in battle, are you sure you aren't reading other sources into the DJ? There is a reference to a prophet "appearing", but perhaps this "appearance" is a purely spiritual/visionary and no historical person is implied? If your reading of Paul's reference to Jesus "appearing" is valid, then presumably you'd agree that such a reading of the DJ is equally valid?

      Finally, it seems to me that what you're saying in the case of Jesus is not merely that an interpretation of an event has changed, but that there's a total discontinuity in meaning between Paul's references to "Jesus", "the twelve", "Peter", "brother of", "resurrection" etc, and the way other Christian used those terms.

      I'm sure that you're much better read in the American Civil war than I am (most of my knowledge of American history comes from "Blazing Saddles"), but this seem to be equivalent to claiming that one Civil War source is using terms like "general", "North", "South", "slavery", "war" etc in a completely different, non-literal, sense to pretty much all other sources, and then using that claim about a source to cast doubt on all other sources that might disagree with such a reading.

      Once again, the picture of Paul you paint depends implicitly or explicitly on a number of arguments from silence. Do you consider that these arguments meet the type of criteria that mainstream, non-biblical historians apply to arguments from silence? Adding a few extra things that Paul doesn't seem to know or be interested in doesn't really answer this fairly fundamental question.

    13. No Paul, I wouldn't agree that reading "appear" in the DJ in a spiritual/visionary sense is equally valid, not even remotely close. Although I haven't read all of the DJ, in the part I've seen there is no indication that the prophet came back from the dead. There is no indication that he became a life giving spirit or that he was no longer flesh and blood. The prophet appears with the Saracens rather than to them.

    14. Er... seeing as Muhammad is supposed to have been in his grave for two years before the DJ, I'd say that might be a pretty damn good indication that the prophet came back from the dead!!!

      Some translations have appeared "among" rather than "with", presumably you'd agree that saying "appeared among the Jews" might be an apt way of describing your Moroni-like Jesus?

    15. This is really getting tiresome Paul.

      Does the DJ say that the prophet had been in his grave for two years? If not, then it is not remotely comparable to Paul writing that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again.

      I don't think that there is much difference between "among" and "with," but I might if the account included all the spiritual/visionary descriptors that Paul used.

      Congratulations on your marriage.

    16. Thanks Vinny.

      I can certainly empathise with your feelings. Tiresome is a word I'd use to describe many of my discussions with Jesus mythicists over the last year or so.

      To me, "appear" would seem to be a much more ambiguous description than say, "born of a woman, born under the law", which Paul uses in Galatians.

      I'm not persuaded that the DJ is more compelling or less equivocal evidence for Muhammad than Paul's letters are for a historical Jesus. At best, one might argue, it's a third hand account of a nameless figure whose description, as Spencer points out, conflicts with some of the things we know about Muhammad (chronology, key message). Spencer also notes that the prophet in the DJ looks more like a Christian millenialist than a proto-Muslim.

    17. 'To me, "appear" would seem to be a much more ambiguous description than say, "born of a woman, born under the law", which Paul uses in Galatians.'

      But any schoolkid who can pass a religious studies exam knows that Galatians 4 is rife with allegory and metaphor.

    18. Paul,

      I don't see how either of those descriptions turns a postmortem encounter with the risen Christ into anything but a spiritual/visionary encounter. I don't think that Paul was there to see Jesus born.

      What do you mean by "the things we know about Muhammad"? Isn't the point of this discussion that we are trying to figure out what we can claim to know about Muhammad and how we can claim to know it? Are you just taking the later biographies at face value?

    19. I don't know how many births you've witnessed Vinny, but unless you're a gynaecologist or a midwife, I suspect that the number is at best a very small percentage of the total number of people you feel justified in thinking have been born.

      Paul doesn't mention any spiritual encounters in this passage, or that he only knows that Jesus was born because of a divine revelation. So why would we think that this is what he means? The passage also makes little sense without a Jesus who is known to have been born on earth.

      Again you seem to be taking your purely spiritual Jesus thesis as the self-evident. To me it seems to be based on dubious arguments from silence and a highly selective reading of Paul.

      I'm afraid I don't understand your last point Vinny. I would have thought that if we want to know if a person mentioned in source A is the same person as is mentioned in source B, this is going to involve some kind of comparison between the two sources?

      Stephen, to make life easier for schoolkids taking RS exams, Paul handily points out when he's talking allegorically and exactly what the allegory means: see Galatians 4:24.

    20. And being born of a woman in Galatians 4 is exactly what the allegory in Galatians 4 is about, as Paul explains.

      One wonders why Paul has to explain that Jesus was born of a woman. It obviously has theological significance that Jesus was born of a woman, or else he wouldn't mention it.

      By the way, advanced RS exam students will know that Paul uses the same verb to describe how Adam was 'born' in 1 Corinthians 15:45 (except, of course, that Adam wasn't born, so it is not translated born).

      Paul uses the same verb in 1 Corinthians 1:30 to speak of Jesus being 'born' as wisdom.

      And even in Galatians 4, when Paul talks about real births he uses a different verb to when he talks about Jesus being 'made of a woman'

      It should really be translated 'made of a woman', but English translators feel that is not a natural translation.

      But mythicists really are not impressed by people using slightly inaccurate translations and insisting that the English translation is the only translation possible.

      When it isn't.

      'Made of a woman' is a translation that is more faithful to the text.

    21. 'The passage also makes little sense without a Jesus who is known to have been born on earth.'

      So passages which speak of a woman giving birth in Heaven make little sense, even if early Christians wrote them?

    22. Mythicists aren't impressed by anything that is inconvenient to the central tenets of their unshakeable faith. Most of your argument has been dealt with already by Hoffmann. The mythicist appeal to Adam breaks down because a) you have to ignore the "of a woman" bit, and b) Paul also thinks that Adam existed historically.

      What do you mean by this "One wonders why Paul has to explain that Jesus was born of a woman. It obviously has theological significance that Jesus was born of a woman, or else he wouldn't mention it."

      Or this "So passages which speak of a woman giving birth in Heaven make little sense, even if early Christians wrote them?"?

      ...They both seem more interesting points to discuss.

    23. '. Most of your argument has been dealt with already by Hoffmann. '

      So reverting to argument by appeal to (non)authority.

      Here is what Hoffman had to say (May 15,2009) about Galatians 4

      'It is sometimes pointed out that Paul makes reference (Galatians 4.4) to Jesus having “been born of a woman, under the law,” but it is widely believed that these words are an insertion into the text of Galatians: Marcion, our earliest witness, does not know them, and as Hilgenfeld once noted, if his opponent, Tertullian, could have quoted them against Marcion, a docetist thinker, to prove the essential humanity of Jesus, he would have.'

      How on earth do you think this statement of Hoffman's is a claim that Paul says Jesus had a human mother?

      This is why name-dropping doesn't work against mythicists.

      Because we can read and we know what people actually wrote.

    24. One of the reasons I find it so hard to take Jesus mythers seriously is their willingness to cite completely contradictory bits of evidence to further their case...

      Does Paul mean made, not born, or are these words a clincher for Jesus' humanity, but words that Paul didn't write?

      If Paul meant made, not born, then why wouldn't Marcion use the phrase? Alternatively, if the phrase is an interpolation, doesn't this completely undermine the mythicist use of it to show that Paul's Jesus wasn't born?!

      It's fairly clear where Hoffmann's later writing on Galatians 4:4 differs from his 2009 view and why his earlier position is inadequate. Since your reading skills are that good, I'm assuming you already know?

    25. No, I was not'furthering my case'.

      I was pointing out that *your* chosen authority will say anything that suits him at any time, and that you cited him knowing full well that he was prepared to argue out of both sides of his mouth, purely depending upon whether or not he liked the person he was arguing for or against.

      I notice that , of course, you produced absolutely no reason why what Hoffman said in 2009 was 'inadequate'.

    26. Paul,

      One of the most tiresome things is having to continually explain that I am not arguing a "purely spiritual Jesus thesis." I am quite willing to accept that Paul thought that the risen Christ he encountered through the scriptures and revelation had once been a flesh and blood man who walked the earth. I am addressing the nature of the encounter upon which Paul's knowledge of that man was founded.

    27. Steven,

      I produced no reason because I thought you'd read Hoffmann so already knew the reasons yourself? Hoffmann '09 ignores Origen's use of Galatians 4:4, which predates Tertullian by about 30 years.

      Tertullian also refers to the passage himself elsewhere (on the flesh of Christ), though I think neither version of Hoffmann mentions this. Do you have any other reasons for thinking that the passage is an interpolation?

    28. Vinny - I don't see the nature of your objection, or quite how it addresses my previous comment. If you think that Paul's knowledge of Jesus come solely from spiritual experiences, then isn't a "purely spiritual Jesus" a reasonable description of your view? - i.e. Jesus started out as a purely spiritual being, not a flesh and blood person.

    29. None. I have no reasons for thinking the passage is an interpolation.

      I was just pointing out the level of scholarship of YOUR chosen authority.

      By the way, you still haven't managed to find a single argument against my pointing out the Greek of Galatians 4.

      Other than name-dropping Hoffman, who is not an expert, as you showed.

      By the way, Tertullian died in 220 AD.

      Thirty years before his death makes 190 AD.

      Origen was then celebrating his 5th birthday, and already producing commentaries on Galatians 4:4, (judging by your carefully researched facts....)

    30. My bad - I meant Irenaeus' Against Heresies, written about 180 AD.

    31. PS: "By the way, you still haven't managed to find a single argument against my pointing out the Greek of Galatians 4."

      Except the one a few comments ago, which you completely ignored.

    32. If you really are interested in what Hoffman said about Galatians 4:4, here are his exact words :-

      'Genos in turn is derived from the verbal ginomai which is a prolongation of the middle voice that means cause to be or to assemble (or make) or generate'

      Assemble, make or generate, cause to be. (But not born)

      Hoffman has spoken.

      Why on earth do you think he refuted the claim that Galatians 4:4 doesn't really say 'born'?

    33. a) you still haven't responded to my point

      b) your Hoffman quote is amusingly selective:

      "The Greek verb γενόμενον (genomenon) means “becoming” (from γέγονα, γίνομαι) and is an ordinary koine term for to be born–as in to generate offspring (Gk Matthew 2.1; and the preterits throughout Matthew 1.2ff, where the Vulgate has “natus est.”) Normally, the verb gannao when used of a father means (somewhat archaically) to “beget” and of a woman, “to bring forth.” Luke uses it passively in 2,6 (Ἐγένετο) in the sense of “being delivered of a child,” and also the verb τίκτω, to bring forth, also used by Matthew at 1.25

  8. I'm no mythicist, but it's worth noting that in one respect, the evidence for Muhammad's historicity is considerably better than for Jesus: a number of contemporary references from sources other than his followers.

    1. It's a fair point - and again, Holland thinks that Muhammad was a historical figure (and for what it's worth so do I). The historical Muhammad seems to have taken a political/military role that Jesus didn't, so we should expect him to make a few more historical ripples.

      I would point out however, that some of those references are somewhat ambiguous - if I recall correctly, Holland says that the earliest one seems to be talking about Muhammad leading an army two years after he's supposed to be dead! People who want to question the historical existence of Muhammad play upon those inconsistencies in the same way that Jesus mythicists do. See for example here