I have debunked a video by the Godless Engineer a while back in where he was arguing that Christianity is not about Jesus (a blog entry he even liked on my Facebook page) and now more recently he released another video spilling all kinds of mythicist errors. In this video he’s debunking Christianity with one fact, but in between he is giving all sorts of mythicist arguments as to why Jesus never existed in the first place. You can watch the video right here.
Paul and the Historical Jesus
Early on in the video, the Godless Engineer says the following:
“It’s coming from a source that doesn’t actually think that Jesus existed on earth. I mean, any vision that he has had of him has been Jesus after he supposedly died” – The Godless Engineer
This is a warhorse argument given by the Godless Engineer, he uses it over and over and I have already debunked it in my refutation of his other video. So I’ll debunk it again and add some extra weight to my argument I haven’t used before.
The argument that Paul doesn’t place Jesus on earth is a weird one because Paul obviously does place Jesus on earth:
“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law” – Galatians 4:4
Last time I checked, being born meant you were psychically present here on earth.
Another argument regularly used by the Godless Engineer is that Paul tells us he only got is information through revelation and scripture. Where does Paul do that for instance? Well, for instance in the letter to the Galatians:
“I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” – Galatians 1:11/12
But Paul almost immediately follows up with the following:
“But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.” – Galatians 1:15/17
So what to make of this? Here’s what actual scholars have to say on the matter:
“Paul is quite empathic in the epistle to the Galatians that after he had his vision of Jesus and came to believe in him, he did not go to Jerusalem to consult with the apostles (1:15/18). This is an important issue for him because he want to prove to the Galatians that his gospel message did not come from Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem but from Jesus himself. His point is that he has not corrupted a message he received from someone else; his gospel came straight from God, with no human intervention.” – Bart Ehrman – The New Testament (p. 337)
Professor Dale Martin from Yale University says the following:
“Paul never “saw” Jesus except in visions (Gal 1:16). Paul says he “received” the sayings “from the Lord”, which is doubtless a reference to Jesus. Either Paul is claiming to have received this directly from Jesus in something like a vision, or he is just using a manner of speaking to acknowledge that Jesus was the ultimate source, even though Paul may have been taught these things by people who were followers of Jesus before Paul was. The latter is the more probable explanation.” – Dale Martin – New Testament History and Literature (p. 19)
Paul was setting up churches all over the map and in order to get his point across he needed to rely on some sort of authority and what greater authority was there than Jesus himself? Paul indeed most probably got his information about Jesus from Christians following Jesus before Paul himself did. Remember that Paul was a Christians persecutor so he must have known a thing or two about Jesus, why else persecute Christians?
According to the Godless Engineer the letter of 2 Peter supports the mythicist theory.
“For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.” – 2 Peter 1:16/18
This should be evidence that there were mythicists going ’round in early Christianity claiming that the stories of Jesus were myths. The author of 2 Peter (Peter most probably didn’t write 2 Peter) is obviously trying to convince his readers of the authenticity of his message. But why mention that he did not follow cleverly devised stories? There is an explanation.
Jews by and large rejected the messiahship of Jesus because the Jews didn’t expect the messiah to suffer and die. The promised messiah would be al kinds of things, but he would not suffer and die, let alone get nailed to a cross, the lowest of punishments by the Romans. Paul doesn’t call the crucifixion of Jesus a stumbling block to Jews for no reason.
“But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” – 1 Corinthians 1:23
About the coming messiah Bart Ehrman says:
“First century Jews by and large rejected the idea that Jesus could be the messiah. For most of them , the messiah was to be a figure of grandeur and power, for example, a heavenly being sent to rule the earth or a great warrior king who would overthrow the oppressive forces of Rome and renew David’s kingdom in Jerusalem. Jesus was clearly nothing of the sort . On the contrary, he was an itinerant preacher who was executed for treason against the state” – Bart Ehrman – The New Testament (p. 186)
Professor Dale Martin from Yale University says:
“Christians, and even other people who know anything about basic Christianity, simply assume that part of what it meant for Jesus to be “the Christ” was that he would suffer and die for the sins of humanity. But the Jewish concept of the “messiah” in the ancient world did not include the idea that a messiah would suffer and die at all. The messiah was expected to be a kingly figure, perhaps a priestly figure, or perhaps a combination of priest and king. Some people seem to have expected that he would be a human being; others, that he might be some kind of superhuman figure, much like an angel. But he was expected to arise from among the population or come on the clouds of heaven as a conquering commander of heavenly forces. He was never expected to suffer and die – especially not in a manner as humiliating and servile as Roman crucifixion, a despised , low form of punishment. Crucifixion was reserved for the lowest. and Jews would never have expected such a thing to happen to a messiah.” – Dale Martin – New Testament History and Literature (p. 85)
If you wanted to convince the ancient Jews that Jesus was the messiah, why make up a suffering and dying one? That would convince almost no Jew as all. The crucifixion therefor is historically probable because it passes the criterion of dissimilarity and the criterion of embarrassment and in order to be crucified, Jesus had to actually exist.
Jesus and the Copy Cat Theory
The Godless Engineer then goes on claiming Jesus is based on other dying-and-rising-gods. There are huge problems with this theory. For example: Jesus’ earliest followers didn’t think he was God.
“There are two major problems with the view that Jesus was originally invented as a dying-rising god modeled on the dying and rising gods of the pagan world. First, there are serious doubts about whether there were in fact dying and rising gods in the pagan world and if there were, whether they were anything like the dying and rising Jesus. Second, there is the even more serious problem that Jesus could not have been invented as a dying and rising god because his earliest followers did not think he was God.” Bart Ehrman – Did Jesus Exist? (p. 222)
Jesus as a Pre-Existent Being
An argument often used by mythicists to disprove Jesus as a historical figure is to claim that there was a Jewish tradition of a pre-existent being.
The Gospel of John
The Gospel of John is the latest of the four canonical Gospels, written somewhere around 90 CE. Somewhere between Mark, Matthew, Luke and John and transition has taken place regarding Jesus’ divinity. Bart Ehrman says:
Some Christians were not content with the idea that Jesus was the Son of God only at his resurrection, however, and came to think that he must have been the Son of God for his entire public ministry. And so we have traditions that arose indicating that Jesus became the Son of God at his baptism. That may be the view still found in our earliest Gospel, Mark, who begins his narrative with Jesus being baptised and hearing the voice of God from heaven declaring him his Son. In Mark Jesus is certainly not God.
Eventually some Christians came to think that Jesus must have been the Son of God not only during his public ministry but for his entire life. And so began telling stories about how he was born as the Son of God. We find this view in Matthew and Luke.
As time went on, even this view failed to satisfy some Christian, who thought that Jesus was not simply a being who came into the world as the Son of God but someone who had existed even before being born. And so we come to our final canonical Gospel, the Gospel of John, which indicates that Jesus is the Word of God who existed with God from eternity past, through whom God created the world , who has now become human” – Bart Ehrman – Did Jesus Exist (p. 238/239)
Also, the Gospel of John is the only Gospel where Jesus claims a divine status for himself.
The Gospel of Mark
“You have Mark that doesn’t start until the messiah inhabits Jesus’ body at his baptism” – The Godless Engineer
Let’s see what Mark actually has to say about this occasion.
“At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” – Mark 1:9/11
The “spirit” talked about in Mark is the Holy Spirit of God, nowhere does Mark mention a messiah coming down from heaven inhabiting Jesus’ body, in fact, Mark nowhere talks about anything inhabiting Jesus’ body. What happened here at Jesus’ baptism is that Jesus became the Son of God. He became the messiah from this moment on. The Son of God (there were many; David and Solomon for instance) was to be anointed and one could see the baptism of Jesus as a sort of anointment.
Paul and his Letters
I already went over Paul and the Historical Jesus but the Godless Engineer says something different here which we need to address.
“You’ve got Paul who doesn’t focus on Jesus’ birth or really anything like that” – The Godless Engineer
Besides the fact that Paul does mention facts about the historical Jesus, this whole argument is based on a misunderstanding Paul’s letters. Paul’s letters are occasional letters, they’re addressing certain (theological) problems encountered in various churches. The letters doen’t serve the purpose of telling everyone about the life of Jesus.
Philo and a Pre-Existent Figure
“Philo’s concept of the messiah matches Jesus perfectly and he was around 40CE” – The Godless Engineer
This argument most probably comes from mythicist guru Richard Carrier. The following text, I borrowed from a blogger called “Boxing Pythagoras”, because he wrote it down more eloquently than I ever could:
One of the major points that Carrier alleges, in his presentation, is that we have evidence that there was a pre-Christian, Jewish belief in a celestial being which was actually named Jesus, and was the firstborn son of God, in the celestial image of God, who acted as God’s agent of creation, and was God’s celestial high priest. I have seen Carrier present this information numerous times, in different talks, including the one which I linked, and he always presents it without actually quoting from the sources which he cites.
Carrier’s primary source for his claims about the pre-Christian Jesus Myth comes from the works of a prolific and highly respected Jewish philosopher and theologian, Philo Iudaeus of Alexandria. Carrier cites several passages from Philo, but the most important one– the only one which Carrier can use to support his claim that this proposed pre-Christian celestial being was actually named Jesus– comes from a work known as On the Confusion of Tongues, sections 62 and 63. The passage reads as follows (from the Yonge translation):
“I have also heard of one of the companions of Moses having uttered such a speech as this: “Behold, a man whose name is the East!” A very novel appellation indeed, if you consider it as spoken of a man who is compounded of body and soul; but if you look upon it as applied to that incorporeal being who in no respect differs from the divine image, you will then agree that the name of the east has been given to him with great felicity. For the Father of the universe has caused him to spring up as the eldest son, whom, in another passage, he calls the firstborn; and he who is thus born, imitating the ways of his father, has formed such and such species, looking to his archetypal patterns.”
Having read that, you’re probably wondering precisely the same thing which I wondered when I first started researching Carrier’s claim. Where is the name, “Jesus?” The passage which Carrier cites to show that there was a pre-Christian belief in a celestial being named Jesus doesn’t actually mention anyone named Jesus, celestial or otherwise. So, why does he cite this passage? The answer is in Philo’s statement that, “I have also heard of one of the companions of Moses having uttered such a speech as this: ‘Behold, a man whose name is the East!’” This is a reference to a Biblical passage, Zechariah 6:11-12, which says:
“Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest Joshua son of Jehozadak; say to him: Thus says the Lord of hosts: Here is a man whose name is Branch: for he shall branch out in his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord.”
Now, chances are pretty good– unless you’ve actually studied this passage and the linguistics behind it, before– that you are now even more confused than you were previously, but allow me to explain. First, let’s establish why we think the Philo passage is a reference to Zechariah, since Philo’s quote clearly says something different than the Biblical verse. Philo gives the quote as, “Behold, a man whose name is the East!” while the direct quote of Zch 6:11-12 (NRSV) reads, “Here is a man whose name is Branch…” There’s certainly a similarity, there, but why do we think that Philo is quoting from Zechariah? The reason is that Philo generally utilized a Greek translation of the Scriptures called the Septuagint, rather than reading directly from the Hebrew. The word which is translated as “Branch” in the NRSV is צֶ֤מַח (se-mah). In the Septuagint, this word was translated using the Greek word Ἀνατολὴ (Anatolē), which can carry the same connotation of “branching” intended by צֶ֤מַח, but which was very commonly used by Greek-speakers to refer to “sunrise” or “the East.” This is why it seems fairly clear, to scholars, that Philo’s clause, “Behold, a man whose name is the East,” seems to be a reference to Zechariah 6:12.
Now that we’ve established that Philo is referring to this Biblical passage, where does the name “Jesus” fit into things? That’s actually an easier thing to see. Zechariah 6:11 explicitly mentions “the high priest Joshua son of Jehozadak.” The Greek language didn’t have all the same sounds which Hebrew had, so when names were being written in Greek translations, they had to undergo a process called “transliteration.” This is when we take a word, in one language, and try to reproduce it phonetically using another language’s alphabet. So, the Hebrew name יְהוֹשֻׁ֥עַ is transliterated into Greek as Ἰησοῦς. Later, the word Ἰησοῦς was transliterated into Latin as “Iesus,” which then found its way into English as “Jesus.” Thus, it is clear that Zechariah 6:11 actually is talking about a person named Jesus.
Given all of this, why do I think that Carrier is wrong to claim that there was a pre-Christian, Jewish belief in a celestial being named Jesus?
Let’s assume, for a moment, that Carrier is correct when he asserts that Philo had a belief in a celestial being named Jesus. Even if Philo actually believed in a celestial being named Jesus, this does not indicate that such a belief was, at all, widespread in Judaism. The context of the passage seems to indicate that it is simply the musings of a single Jewish philosopher in Alexandria, Egypt. There is no indication in any ancient evidence that any other Jews held a pre-Christian belief in a celestial being named Jesus, let alone that Jews from Tarsus or Jerusalem or Capernaum or Antioch, which were greatly separated from Alexandria both geographically and culturally, would share such a belief.
However, I don’t think that Carrier could even be justified in claiming that Philo, himself, held a belief in a celestial being named Jesus. Contrary to Carrier’s commentary, Philo is not talking about a celestial being named Jesus, in this passage from On the Confusion of Tongues. Rather, this passage appears in the middle of a discussion on the nature of the human soul. Philo spends a great deal of time discussing wicked men, especially men who act first and then attempt to justify their actions by God, afterwards. During this discussion, and immediately before the passage Carrier cites, Philo says that “there is a twofold kind of dawning in the soul.” The good kind, he says, is “when the light of the virtues shines forth like the beams of the sun,” while the bad kind is when those virtues are in the shadows so that vices show, instead. For an example of the good kind of “dawning in the soul,” he refers to the Garden of Eden which was “toward the East,” which Philo claims contained “celestial plants” which sprang up from an incorporeal light.
It is at this point in his discussion about the soul that Philo writes the passage which I quoted at the beginning of the article. Rereading that passage now, in context, presents a very different picture than the one Carrier has intended. When Philo makes note of “a man whose name is the East,” in the context of the passage, he is very clearly referring to Adam– not to the Joshua son of Jehozadak found in Zechariah 6:11. Just as the plants in Eden were not terrestrial plants, but celestial ones, so too was Adam not a terrestrial man, but a celestial one. It is to Adam that Philo refers, when he says, “the Father of the universe has caused him to spring up as the eldest son, whom, in another passage, he calls the firstborn.”
So, if Philo meant to talk about Adam, why is he quoting a passage from Zechariah which refers to Joshua ben Jehozadak?
The answer is that while the reference seems to be referring to Zechariah 6:12, it is certainly not quoting that passage. Instead, Philo remembers having heard the phrase “Behold, a man whose name is Anatolē!” as having come from Scripture; and since he is now making reference to “dawnings,” and the “beams of the sun,” and “the East,” he misunderstands this phrase, thinking that it is referring to a man whose name is the East. Notice that Philo does not say something like, “as the prophet Zechariah said,” when he introduces this saying, but rather states, “I have also heard of one of the companions of Moses having uttered such a speech as this.” Quite clearly, Philo is remembering something he has heard, and not quoting directly from a book he has at hand.
Furthermore, when Philo says, “Behold, a man whose name is the East!” his original Greek phrasing for this is Ἰδοὺ ἄνθρωπος ὁ ὄνομα Ἀνατολὴ, while the Septuagint translation of Zechariah 6:12 instead renders this passage as Ἰδοὺ ἀνήρ Ἀνατολὴ ὄνομα αὐτῷ. Even if you don’t read Greek, you can fairly easily see that the former is not a direct quote of the latter. Of course, it’s possible Philo utilized a different translation into Greek of Zechariah; however, I know of no other Greek manuscript of Zechariah which phrases this passage in the manner Philo does. Furthermore, it is fairly clear and explicit from elsewhere in his work that Philo utilized the Septuagint, extensively. It would be fairly peculiar for him to switch to another translation solely for this passage.
In addition, if Philo had read Zechariah 6:11-12 for himself, he would have been very aware that the word Anatolē used in that passage has absolutely nothing to do with “dawning,” “beams of the sun,” or “the East,” which is his entire purpose for utilizing the quote. The “man whose name is Anatolē” from Zechariah 6:12 makes no sense at all in the context of the “dawning of the soul” which Philo intends to discuss. In contrast to the hypothesis Carrier tries to put forward, it seems fairly clear that Joshua ben Jehozadak is not being discussed by Philo, in the least.
Richard Carrier claims that stories about Jesus of Nazareth were most likely an attempt to euhemerize a pre-Christian, Jewish mythology about a celestial being named Jesus. In order to support such a claim, Carrier knows that he must show some evidence that there was a pre-Christian, Jewish mythology about a celestial being named Jesus. For this, he points to the works of Philo Iudaeus. However, it seems fairly clear that Carrier needs to take Philo entirely out of context in order to support this claim. A plain reading of the primary sources shows that Philo never makes mention of a celestial being named Jesus, in any of his works; and that Philo’s paraphrase of Zechariah 6:12 in On the Confusion of Tongues has nothing to do with Joshua son of Jehozadak. I cannot see how Richard Carrier’s particular mythicist hypothesis can stand without a pre-Christian, Jewish belief in a celestial being named Jesus, and Carrier has not successfully demonstrated that such a belief actually existed.”
Again I think I have demonstrated that the arguments presented by the Godless Engineer are not good. He relies heavily on arguments presented by mythicists like Richard Carrier and those arguments are totally unconvincing to the vast majority of relevant scholars in the field. If one wants to refute the resurrection as a historical event, there are better ways to do so without appealing to the weak and irrelevant claims made by mythicists.