Dec 192015

mythicismThis book is exactly what it says on the tin: a collection of various interviews, mostly with people who identify themselves as “mythicists” regarding Jesus. It’s also a translation; at times it shows, but the translation is fairly good overall. It couldn’t do much better at doing what it set out to do, which is to collect a large number of brief interviews with notable figures (and less notable figures) promoting mythicism or researching aspects of ancient history otherwise, which is why it deserves a good review. The book doesn’t advance the state of the question on this subject, nor does it set out to do so.

Another question to ask might be whether the book is worth reading, and that depends on who’s asking. If someone is keenly interested in the personalities that are discussing the historical existence of Jesus, the book is worth reading. If one is stimulated by a broad-strokes overview of many different ideas regarding the origin of Christianity, the book is worth reading. Otherwise, the book might be passed over with little lost.

None of the individual authors interviewed really get the opportunity to develop their ideas in a very convincing way, primarily because of the requirements of space. Personally I enjoyed reading the interviews with Robert Price, with Earl Doherty, with Richard Carrier, and with Maria Dzielska, an expert on Apollonius of Tyana (and some others). But I would certainly not recommend reading these interviews instead of reading the books themselves. What’s presented here is simply a small literary morsel for those still left with an appetite after enjoying the main course found in such works.

Other comments regarding Jesus Mythicism: An Introduction online.

Dec 182015

latasterThis volume contributes to the burgeoning literature regarding the historical existence of Jesus. It is welcome to have more such books coming from academics, and Lataster has a good point to make when he says that a non-specialist point of view has its own advantages, particularly in being less bound to traditions and vested interest. Hopefully, with time, the discussion will make its way back to specialist circles, as something more than a subject to hack away at half-seriously (which is the attitude that Ehrman, Casey, McGrath, and others unfortunately have adopted, to a man). It is, after all, rather foundational to the study of the New Testament and Christian origins.

The strengths of this book lie with the author’s uncompromising analytic approach. Lataster is able to identify the weak points of other’s arguments quickly. And, in this respect, the book excels. The author also prescinds from the excesses of acerbic polemic, which is welcome in and of itself. If someone were interested in a basic outline of what is deficient with the arguments for the historicity of Jesus as they have been presented by academics in the 21st century, one couldn’t do much better than Lataster’s book.

In terms of the presentation of a hypothesis of the non-historicity of Jesus, the book is derivative. That is not, of course, an issue in and of itself, as novelty for its own sake is far too often pursued in this field, to disastrous results. So it is good that Lataster sticks to a defense of what seems to be the best non-historicity hypothesis available. However, in virtually no particular case does the book advance the state of discussion on any of the questions of interpretation of texts or questions of historical criticism generally. There is generally either a reference to the analysis of Doherty and Carrier or a brief reference to a particular “mainstream” scholar who agrees, almost as if an opinion that is both “mainstream” and congenial to the non-historicity thesis need not be probed further. For a book about a historical question, advancing a thesis academically (rather than just summarizing current opinion), the degree to which it skims on the surface of the historical issues is a little disappointing.

Nonetheless, it is still a good overview of the subject. Lataster hints in the beginning of the book that he intends to withdraw from this discussion, for professional reasons and because of the overt hostility he has seen, and that is regrettable. It’s regrettable that the academy in general does not currently sustain a level-headed conversation with earnest researchers such as Lataster, who ask important questions, and the loss is felt by anyone who is truly curious about the answers.

Other comments regarding Lataster’s book Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists online.

Sep 122015

ideasFor a while, I’ve been putting off writing this. However, instead of trying to make the perfect post, I’ve decided to make the minimal post necessary to explain the idea. The idea of making the perfect, long post is tantamount to attempting to control the outcome of the conversation, something that definitely isn’t going to happen anyway. I could instead just start it and hope that others generate ideas off it, perhaps better ones than I would have thought up alone.

Basically, it could be considered a spin on Doherty’s presentation, in two ways that make it significantly different.

(1) The “Middle Platonism” thought by Doherty to lurk in Paul’s writing is abandoned as an explanation of Paul. Instead, Paul does not have anything but a popular Jewish and/or Hellenistic conception of God, spirits, and the world. Paul’s beliefs about Jesus do not regard them as timeless and ideal but as occurring in time (even recently) and with a body, in places.

(2) Some bits of Paul’s writings are considered to be interpolated.

Let’s unpack this just a little.

(Nota bene: there could be many other differences with Doherty. This discussion focuses only on Paul.)

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Jun 282015

@biblioblognews -

There’s a new website that aggregates, (lightly) filters, and categorizes all the latest news related to the Bible from blogs around the web. You can find it on Twitter at @BiblioblogNews or visit it on the web at

You can also get it delivered daily to your e-mail or add it to your feed reader. The site is in active development, so please let me know what you think so far.

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Jun 092015

featherOf all the techniques that could be used to study ancient texts, there are a few that stand out as being both very important and largely understudied, being either ignored in practice or taken on faith due to the lack of relevant expertise or accessible tools. The ones that come to my mind right now are these:

  • Paleography. Understood in general terms and largely regarded as a matter of deference to the experts, this may not have an abundance of practitioners but is at least widely respected and has a huge impact on historical studies. The other two mentioned may be envious of such wide respect and acceptance.
  • Computer-Aided Textual Criticism. There are those who truly believe that completely-thoroughgoing eclecticism is the only answer, there are those who would like to do something more but have no idea how yet, and then there are the few who come back from their tours through the land of “CoherenceBased Genealogical Method” textual criticism and try to convince the other two that it’s really worth visiting sometime.
  • Stylometry. Of the three, perhaps the most confusion surrounds these techniques, and a large part of it is due to the confusion and unresolved questions that still persist among the experts. Due to a combination of widespread superficial familiarity with the studies and the contradictions from those using some kind stylometric method to reach controversial conclusions, stylometric “results” are most often cited with some degree of skepticism (except, of course, when credulously cited as a conversation-stopper).

The first of these two subjects truly are fascinating in their own right, and there are no doubt some others like these that I didn’t mention. But let’s talk about stylometry.

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May 212015


While not nearly as much ink has been spilled over the reference to John the Baptist found in Antiquities 18.116-119 (Whiston’s chapter 18.5.2), when compared to the case of the Testimonium to Jesus, there is still a debate to be found in the literature over the authenticity of the reference to John the Baptist in Josephus’ text. Several have ventured to postulate that the passage on John the Baptist, as well as the passage on Jesus, represents an interpolation. The arguments have not been surveyed and discussed as frequently as they should be.

One of the people to argue for interpolation in recent years has been Frank Zindler, whose reasons were summarized by Neil Godfrey. Another argument (in “Josephus’ Account of John the Baptist: A Christian Interpolation?”) has been made by Rivka Nir, which has been mentioned by Godfrey and McGrath. There is an older discussion in English from Israel Abrahams, referencing scholars such as Gerlach and Graetz. Robert Price considers an argument for inauthenticity, which is discussed by Maurice Casey. One of the more-detailed presentations, recently, pro-authenticity, can be found by Robert Webb. A review of arguments for authenticity (in an essay sub-titled “The Uncertain Authenticity of Josephus’ Witness to John the Baptist”) has been published by Clare Rothschild. There are also threads from the old Biblical Criticism & History forum from Andrew Criddle (who noted the point I made here in 2005), Toto (on Rivka Nir), ApostateAbe (on Robert Price), and PhilosopherJay (in favor of interpolation).

According to Clare Rothschild:

Unlike the study of its Christian counterparts about Jesus (A. J. 18.63-64, the so-called Testimonium Flavianum) and James (A.J. 20, 197-203), the authenticity of Josephus’ excerpt about John is hardly debated. Without demur, theologians and historians alike rely on this passage for reconstructions of John’s life.

Let’s debate it then.

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May 072015

Gesta_Theodorici_-_Flavius_Magnus_Aurelius_Cassiodorus_(c_485_-_c_580)In a previous post on The Quotable Josephus, we’ve seen that Josephus was frequently used as a source for quotation (including quotation by way of Eusebius, who himself quotes the Jewish historian). In a post on Eusebius, Rufinus, and the Latin Antiquities, we saw (in agreement with Whealey and Levenson-Martin) that the Latin translation of the Antiquities created under the supervision of Cassiodorus made use of quotations from Josephus, by way of Eusebius, based on the Latin translation of Eusebius made earlier by Rufinus. In particular, a hypothesis was considered according to which the quotations from Josephus by Eusebius, in Rufinus’ Latin translation, came to the Latin Antiquities of Cassiodorus from a set of extracts of Josephus in Latin that were already made out of the Latin translation of Eusebius.

In another post on Jesus, John, and James in the Latin Table of Contents to Josephus, an argument was considered towards the probability of the conclusion that, unlike John the Baptist, Jesus was not originally mentioned in the Latin table of contents to the Antiquities.

Here’s a closer look at the passages from the Latin Antiquities based on the Latin translation of Eusebius.

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May 052015
Opera quae extant omnia :  nempe, Antiquitatum Judaicarum libri XX Sigismundo Gelenio interprete, De bello Judaico libri VII interprete Rufino Aquilejensi, Liber de vita sua cum interpretatione Gelenii, Adversus Apionem libri II cum versione antiqua ˆ Gelenio emendata, & De Maccabaeis seu de imperio rationis liber cum paraphrasi Erasmi Roterodami : accedit index locupletissimus : juxta editionem Graeco-Latinam Genevensem ad manuscriptos Palatinae bibliothecae codices castigatam quae nunc ˆ pluribus mendis expurgata & praeterea prolegomenis & appendice auctior redditur. by Josephus, Flavius*

Josephus’ Antiquities, Greek and Latin

In their article on “The Latin Translations of Josephus on Jesus, John the Baptist, and James” (Journal for the Study of Judaism 45, pp. 1-79), Levenson and Martin discuss the fact that four passages quoted from Josephus by Eusebius in the Latin translation of Rufinus appear with very similar wording in the Latin translation of the Antiquities conducted later under Cassiodorus (the passages on Jesus, the one on John, and two others, which mention high priests, including Caiaphas, and the death of Herod the Great). They write:

“In the Testimonium, LAJ makes only two minor stylistic changes in Rufinus’ text (et in place of –que and gentibus for gentilibus). LAJ ’s decision to reproduce Rufinus’ version of the Testimonium so precisely and the lack of any significant textual variation in the manuscript tradition of the Testimonium in LAJ might reflect a special regard for the exact wording of this passage. However, it should be noted that LAJ clearly depends on Rufinus in two other cases (AJ 17.168-170/HE 1.8.6-8 and AJ 18.34-35/HE 1.10.5). In the seven other extended AJ passages quoted by Eusebius there is no significant verbal overlap between LAJ and Rufinus.” (p. 58)

This post offers some quantitative analysis that confirms these conclusions. It goes on to ask why some passages in the sixth century translation of Josephus’ Antiquities into Latin might show this very significant verbal overlap, indicating use of the Latin text of the quotes of Josephus in the translation of Eusebius made by Rufinus, while others do not.

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May 022015

250px-Josephus_flavius,_english_1602The works of Josephus did not survive only in complete editions of his books. Between the fact that Josephus was (and remains) eminently quotable, particularly for his relevance to the times of the New Testament, and the fact that his works were voluminous, there was often occasion for excerpts to be made from his texts.

Excerpta (or florilegia) were a common form of (subliterary) writing activity, from antiquity, through the medieval period, and into modernity. Extracts were made for personal use, in preparation for one’s own composition, for straight quotation or adaptation in other works, and even for publication in their own right. As Goldberg’s helpful web page on the New Testament Parallels to the Works of Josephus illustrates, Josephus is particularly well-suited for this kind of anthologizing.

Thackeray used two texts with extensive excerpts when editing Josephus for the Loeb edition: the Excerpta Peiresciana (excerpts “made by order of Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, cent. x.”) and an epitome “E,” which was, “used by Zonaras, and conjectured by Niese to have been made in cent, x or xi.”

There are, however, many more manuscripts with excerpts from Josephus also known to us.

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Apr 302015

josephusmaybeThe study of the texts of Josephus, even in connection to the ‘hotly contested’ and famous passages found there, is not all wrangling. There is, it will be admitted, a slight amount of mystery as to whether a reference to Jesus originally formed part of the Latin table of contents (falling out of transmission here and there), or whether it came later and proliferated to most (but not all) of the Latin manuscripts. Aside from that, however, there is very little to tussle over here, with some interesting things to observe in the development of the textual witnesses, particularly in connection to the parts where John is mentioned.

This post would be completely impossible without the diligent and much-appreciated efforts of David B. Levenson and Thomas R. Martin, authors of “The Latin Translations of Josephus on Jesus, John the Baptist, and James: Critical Texts of the Latin Translation of the Antiquities and Rufinus’ Translation of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History Based on Manuscripts and Early Printed Editions” (Journal for the Study of Judaism, Volume 45 [2014], Issue 1, pages 1 – 79). Their work here is invaluable, as they have presented a critical edition of these passages (and related matter), in the Latin version, for the first time.

Disclaimer: The English translations are partly based on the Loeb edition, but any errors are my own.

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