Dec 302013

ImprovedI’ve been busy extending the timeline of the Early Christian Writings website down to the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. It’s now at a milestone, as the site has gone from having 153 entries to having 200 entries, including several noteworthy writers such as Cyprian and Eusebius.

I still have 26 Nag Hammadi Library texts to add to the site (the rest of the NHL codices) and a few odds and ends (some fragments and quotations that had been overlooked or which have been discovered since 2001). I expect to put some of the archaeological data from the Physical Evidence of Early Christianity post on the website. I also need to improve the existing pages and fill in the “At a Glance” information boxes with good data. After that, who knows what the future might bring?

Here’s the 47 new additions to the website. Continue reading »

Dec 262013

Immanuel: the incarnationRecently Neil Godfrey has been commenting on Brodie’s position that Christian theology does not require the historical Jesus. The whole series blogging through his book Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus is excellent (almost, the book’s publisher might think, too good!).

I am not a Christian theologian, and, simply on a criterion of earnestness, I am ill-equipped to comment on what is or is not capable of being considered sound Christian theology. So that is not the point here. While it is easy to show that Brodie is not alone among Christian thinkers, it is also easy to see that there are some theological concerns in Christianity for which the historicity of Jesus (some might call it the incarnation) is at the center. Continue reading »

Dec 162013

Bertrand Russell’s “Celestial Teapot”

Okay, I’m sure some wonder why I would write a summary of Dharmakirti’s Logic of Debate in my last post. It’s primarily because I want to preserve this information for those interested in Dharmakirti and the history of logic. But it’s got a secondary interest here: Dharmakirti was one of the first philosophers, of whom I am aware, who takes on the question of whether one can make an argument for the non-existence of something, sometimes called proving a negative, even if such a thing isn’t inherently improbable or implausible. His answer is a highly-qualified “yes.”

The qualifications made by the Indian logician are that the object under consideration must be assumed to be nearby in space and time and, further, apprehensible by its self-nature to the one who wishes to know that it does not exist. This is a philosopher’s way of telling his reader to be humble enough to admit lack of knowledge about a specific claim of non-existence unless this reader is speaking of something that should be visible (or otherwise apprehensible) right then and there. If we agree with Dharmakirti, the relevance to the contemporary debate sometimes conducted over the historical existence of Jesus is twofold. Continue reading »

Dec 152013

choedrakDharmakirti was a seventh century Buddhist scholar and a founder of Indian philosophical logic. Dharmakirti taught at Nalanda, an ancient university in India that boasted thousands of students. Part of the curriculum consisted of oral discussion and debate. I found reading his Vadanyaya to be interesting in terms of observing the development of logic outside of the well-known European tradition. Studying logic in general is always profitable whether we are interested in philosophy or in history.

Dharmakirti says at the beginning of his work: “The wicked persons defeat even the one who argues rationally in debates by employing improper methods. We start this (work on the logic of debate) for repudiating them.” Dharmakirti thus believes that the disputant and opponent should not be desirous for victory but should rather want to correct misconceptions, to state the argument rationally, and to refute any irrational argument.

What follows is a description of Dharmakirti’s Vadanyaya, the “Logic of Debate.” Continue reading »

Dec 132013


We can distinguish between nine different and irreconcilable approaches to the subject of Christian origins, characterized by the amount of intrinsic weight given to the two main sources of ideas that could guide and limit the multiplication of hypotheses: (1) statements of tradition and (2) critical reasoning.

Minimal Regard for Tradition Moderate Regard for Tradition Maximal Regard for Tradition
Minimal Regard for Critical Reasoning Conspiracy Theory Novelizations Pious Imagination
Moderate Regard for Critical Reasoning Theories about no-HJ Theories about the HJ Pulp Apologetics
Maximal Regard for Critical Reasoning Minimalist History Bare Historicity of Jesus Academic Apologetics


To be clear, hypotheses derived from critical reasoning could include information derived from reading Christian sources and the tradition therein. It is privileging these sources that characterizes the regard for tradition. However, someone could also argue that “minimal regard” actually means antipathy, and I have left some room for that interpretation in the table above and in the discussion below. Continue reading »

Dec 102013

Josephus (1)Yep, back-to-back posts on Josephus, but I think it’s important to get it right. I did not spend enough time on my effort the other day, but I was rewarded copiously anyway with some fantastic feedback (thank you!). With that help and with still some more time spent on it, I would like to think the essay is getting better. Here are some differences from my former self:

(1) I no longer entertain the idea that Josephus may have written a “lost reference” in the Jewish Wars to the death of James the Just that was the source of Origen’s reference to Josephus pinning the destruction of Jerusalem on James.

(2) I have expanded on the argument that the 20.9.1 reference requires an earlier passage (argument 6 below).

(3) I have decided against the idea that only the words “who is called Christ” were interpolated (argument 1 below) as it appears to be weaker than the idea that the longer phrase “the brother of Jesus who is called Christ” was interpolated.

(4) I have added some examples of references similar to the proposed “one whose name was James” in Ant. 20.9.1 (argument 2 below).

(5) I had previously discounted the argument that the reference to “Christ” without explanation would be unusual for Josephus (argument 4 below) but with somewhat superficial objections. (I had objected that Christ would only have been a “nickname” emptied of significance in the passage when used by Josephus.) I’m not sure if this objection (or a different one) can be restated to be more cogent.

(6) I have taken a different tactic than pretty much everyone I’ve read (as a possible alternative response to arguments 4 and 5 below for authenticity) by saying that the possibility must be considered that a second century scribe who glossed the phrase “the brother of Jesus who is called Christ” may not have been Christian but rather may have been Jewish.

Please let me know what you think. Continue reading »

Dec 092013

josephusFinally rewrote some parts in order to make the article a bit more accurate.

Testimonium Flavianum: Josephus’ Reference to Jesus

Most significantly, I had to write the conclusion again from scratch:

Thus, even though Josephus may not have referred to Jesus, that does not necessarily imply that there was no historical Jesus. While a reference to Jesus would help substantiate the historicity of Jesus, it, by the same token, wouldn’t necessarily settle the question outright, especially when the supposed reference is the subject of such severe textual difficulties. While the appeal to the text of Josephus is often made in the attempt to secure the place of Jesus as a figure in history, the text of Josephus itself is far too insecure to carry the burden assigned to it.

(The old one dodged all the problems involved and concluded that the place of Jesus as a figure of history is therefore secure, period.) Continue reading »

Dec 082013

“Walking on Water,” found at Dura Europos

When studying early Christianity, literature tends to take center stage. Critical editions of texts rule. So much so that knowledge about the physical remains of early Christianity, apart from a few celebrated examples, tends to be overlooked. This collection of links regarding the papyrology, epigraphy, and archaeology of Christianity in the first four centuries AD is presented here with a minimum of editorial comment to facilitate the reader’s exploration of this data.

1. Paleography and Papyrology … 9/mode/2up … 3/mode/2up … 9/mode/2up … 3/mode/2up … us-papyri/ … 7/mode/2up … 3/mode/2up … 5/mode/2up … 9/mode/2up … 4/mode/2up … 90&f=false … OxyPap.htm … 04&f=false … 22&f=false … 22&f=false … d_Straight … papyri.pdf … laeography … -analysis/
http://scribalhabitsofpapyrus46.wordpre … liography/ … sment.html … pyrus-p52/ … 52&f=false … misuse.pdf … apyri1.pdf … raries.pdf

(The rest of this collection of links, below, does not regard paleographical methods of dating manuscripts.) Continue reading »

Dec 052013

historical-jesusI have dusted off this old post to Usenet, with some parts whittled out, for republication.

“Historically, it is quite doubtful whether Christ ever existed at all, and if He did we do not know anything about Him, so that I am not concerned with the historical question, which is a very difficult one.” – Bertrand Russell, “Why I Am Not a Christian” (1927).

I once railed against the ‘mythicists’ as being irrational to the point of absurdity. I am now willing to grant that it is reasonable for someone not to believe the historicity of Jesus.

As there are sometimes ambiguities, I have attempted definition of the “historical Jesus” (as distinct from the “Gospel Jesus”) and what constitutes “the historicity of Jesus.” It does not mean that Jesus was born of a virgin, walked on water, or rose from the dead.  A believer in the historicity of Jesus may affirm these things, but that is not necessary to be a historicist.  Rather, for me to say that Jesus existed means that a sizeable subset of the core mundane claims in the Gospels are authentic with a single historical individual.  These “core mundane claims” include that his name was Jesus, he was baptized by John the Baptist, he was an itinerant preacher in Galilee, his message centered on the Kingdom of God, he performed acts deemed miracles by his contemporaries, and he was crucified by Pilate c. A.D. 30 (non-exhaustive).  I say a “sizeable subset” because not every “core mundane claim” must be true, only enough that we are talking about a person with more substance than, say, Hercules or Robin Hood. Continue reading »

Dec 022013

58423028_640This is not the post for arguing in favor of any of the metanarratives that frame thinking about Christian origins or, indeed, for their disposal. It’s just a little visual representation of the two most dominant ways of organizing Christian origins.

The first is quite ancient, going back to the mid-to-late second century struggle to define Catholic Christianity over against the schools (“heresies”) that were generally characterized as Gnostic. It continues to find adherents and can be considered the most popular metanarrative. Continue reading »