Jesus Always Existed

a place for the best evidence of the historical Jesus

The Life Markers Of Jesus

How do mythicists handle the several seemingly clear and indisputable references to Jesus as a man of history in the NTE? The answer varies according to what brand of mythicist thesis is being advocated. In this chapter, we will look at some of the ways in which mythicists deal with what could be called “life markers” of Jesus in the NTE. (We have already seen how they attempt to dispose of references by secular writers, in a previous volume.)

Flesh, Blood, and Men

Many references in the NTE speak of Jesus’ “flesh,” or “blood,” or refer to Jesus as “man,” or as being “crucified” and “buried” and “raised.” For Wells, operating under a thesis that the Jesus of the NTE lived hundreds of years before, these references are unproblematic in and of themselves; they are simply shifted back in time, as it were. To that extent, they are answered by addressing Wells’ version of the “silence” argument as we have previously and require no further treatment.

Doherty’s version of the silence thesis is somewhat more contrived in dealing with these references. Simply put, Doherty merely re-interprets all such references to cohere with his premise that Jesus existed only in a spiritual realm. For example, concerning references to “flesh” he writes:

…”Flesh” seems to be, in the minds of the early Christian epistle writers, a shorthand way of referring to that state which Jesus (and other savior gods) assumed during their mythical activities, when they approached the world of matter and took on a “likeness” to material characteristics.1

Likewise, references to Jesus’ blood, or to Jesus as a “man,” are dismissed as “spiritual.” Admittedly, Doherty may build a plausible-sounding case for many of these references as workable within his thesis of Jesus’ life in a “spiritual” realm. For example, “blood” clearly appears in the book of Hebrews as an element in Jesus’ activity at the heavenly Temple. Of course, despite Doherty, such references hardly exclude an earthy Jesus, but they do permit the mere appearance of a plausible re-interpretation of such references in a “spiritual” sense, once one is convinced that Doherty has otherwise made his case. So in that sense, as with Wells, it is once again the reputedly problematic “silence” of the NTE that is the support for Doherty’s premise. If that underpinning is removed, the case for references to “flesh” and “blood” and so on as “spiritual” becomes far less persuasive, if not completely unsupportable.

It would be much more difficult to “spiritualize” these references if they were connected to some concrete, earthly element. There are several examples of these in the NTE which mythicists must expend considerable effort to explain away, and we will now look at these.

Seed of David

One such example is Romans 1:3, which says that God’s Son “was descended from the seed of David according to the flesh.” For Wells, again, this is not as problematic. He is able to admit to Jesus living hundreds of years before, and so he simply replies that Paul “does not say in which of the many centuries since David he supposes Jesus to have lived.”2 So once again, Wells’ interpretation is predicated on the validity of the thesis of silence; and once that is overturned, there is no argument to be had.

But what of Doherty’s version of the silence thesis? Could a Jesus of the “spiritual realm” be regarded as descended from an earthly being? Doherty first tries to defuse this reference by saying:

Paul says that he got this information from the prophets. It was part of God’s gospel about his Son, as announced in the sacred writings. The scriptures, of course, contained several passages prophesying some future king and anointed one who would be descended from David, and they had to be applied to any belief in a Christ/Messiah, no matter what his nature. Paul makes no reference here to an historical tradition, nor is any link made with a recent human man.3

As we have already noted, however, that information of this sort may appear in Scripture does not render it ahistorical; indeed, if anything, it would presuppose that something historical had occurred. At the same time, we may ask how one can thereby ascertain the difference between someone who is actually descended from David the historical figure (or claims to be), and someone who is actually non-existent because the data of their ancestry was “got from the prophets.” Did not Jews consider the genealogies of the Old Testament to be historical? If they looked to these for information on their ancestry, did they become “not a reference” to a historical tradition with no link to a “recent human” – or any human? It seems quite clear that Doherty’s explanation is a strained one in which there is no concern for consistency, and that the elements are merely contrived. Significantly, while Doherty resorts to the idea that Paul supposed Jesus to have a “spiritual relationship to David,” it is a rebuttal to his own theory inasmuch as Paul does not describe the relationship as “spiritual” – Doherty must add that word to the description.

Indeed, the depth of contrivance is made clear in that Doherty cannot even explain how it is that Paul could have supposed a person in the “spiritual realm” could have actually been descended from David. He merely supposes Paul “may not have fully understood how” Jesus was related to David spiritually! It seems that this is an ad hoc answer designed to explain away the lack of details which Doherty would, within the parameters of his own thesis, consider fatal for a historicist position.

There is also the matter of the use of the phrase “according to the flesh” (kata sarka) in other contexts. This phrase is clearly used to indicate physical descent from another human person (Acts 2:30, Romans 4:1-2, 9:3; 2 Cor. 11:18-22). It is also used at times to indicate human weakness (e.g., 2 Cor. 1:17), but clearly, when paired with a concept such as the “seed of David,” this meaning would hardly be the one intended; and in any event would still refer to earthly, human flesh. Despite Doherty, this phrase is neither “vague” nor “cryptic” – its meaning is quite clear, and he can produce no usages of the phrase that support his thesis.4

Finally, Doherty argues that even in an earthly sense, Jesus could not be regarded as descended from David “according to the flesh,” because he was born of a virgin and “ancient royal lineage was not through the female.”5 But Paul hardly needs to speak of royal lineage here, any more than Jews claiming to be blood descendants of David would have to.6 In addition, the Old Testament offers clear precedent for inheritance to be passed on via female lineage when there is no male descendant available: The five daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 27) were permitted to be given their father’s holdings when he had no son to carry on his lineage. So it is far from clear that a female could not pass on royal lineage as well, under exceptional circumstances.

Similar passages referring to Jesus’ lineage, such as Hebrews 7:14, which refers to Jesus as sprung from Judah, are dismissed using the same type of argument.

On the Night Betrayed

1 Corinthians 11:23-26 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. (NASB)

This passage would seem most difficult for a mythicist to explain, mirroring as it does the account found in Luke of Jesus’ final meal with his apostles; but do not underestimate a mythicist’s gifts for ad hoc explanations! Wells7 contrives from whole cloth a scenario in which rival Christian teachers connected the Eucharist with Jesus’ “presence and all his power” rather than his death, as Paul did; and so what Paul offers is said to be “not historical reminiscence but an attempt to discredit a rival interpretation of eucharistic efficacy.” Why such an alleged “attempt” cannot be based on a historical reminiscence (or at least, what Paul regarded as one) is not explained. Nor is Wells’ story of a rival group with such a teaching validated, even though we are told it is “likely” such a group existed. The most Wells can offer is a comparison to Mark’s version of the Last Supper, which he claims does not imply the institution of a recurring cultic act.8 Wells’ reading here depends upon presuppositions beyond our scope, such as the priority of Mark among the Gospels and the late-dating of all of the Gospels. Beyond that, however, it is tenuous and ad hoc in the extreme to suggest even with only Mark’s account – wherein Jesus clearly parallels the bread to his body, and the wine to his blood – that there is no connection to the practice of the Eucharist as described by Paul. It also speaks for itself that Wells found it necessary to invent a group (teachers who celebrated a Eucharist based on Jesus’ “presence and power”) out of nothing in order to explain away references to this event as historical, as found in a present text with plainly recorded events (Luke).

Doherty’s approach to this passage is somewhat different. He tries to put Paul’s knowledge of this story into the realm of personal revelation by making much of the phrase, “For I received from the Lord” (apo tou kuriou in Greek). According to Doherty, these words indicate that the source of Paul’s knowledge about this event is personal revelation, rather than apostolic tradition or any other human tradent, and in turn, the event must have occurred not in history, but in the spiritual realm.

Of course, we may ask why it is that a purely historical event cannot be the subject of a revelation; certainly Jewish prophets saw themselves as predicting actual history via their revelatory experiences. Doherty’s connection between “revealed” and “ahistorical” is simply a contrivance. That said, there is more to the argument, having to do with the preposition used in this passage. Doherty explains, and then responds:

In the Greek of the time, when someone speaks of information received from another as the immediate, direct source, the preposition “para” is most often used. On the other hand, the preposition “apo” is most often used to signify the remote, or ultimate source of a piece of information. Thus Paul, they say, if he had meant to say that Jesus had delivered this information to him personally, would have used para. As it is, in using apo, he is referring to Jesus as the originator of these words, as if to say, “these words came ultimately from the Lord himself.”

Unfortunately for this argument, these different usages were not strict. (See Moulton: A Grammar of New Testament Greek, vol. 1 Prolegomena, p. 237.) Even the New Testament contains apo used in the opposite sense (Colossians 1:17, “as you learned from Epaphras,” and Matthew 11:29, “learn from me.”) Thus, there was no guarantee that the Corinthians would have understood such a “remote antecedent” meaning, or that Paul intended it.9

Unfortunately, Doherty fails to report the content of his source material properly. Moulton’s grammar indicates that there is evidence showing that “in daily speech” the preposition was not used with exactness of distinction. Paul, having the precise and intelligent mind of a rabbinic student and rhetor, would be unlikely to suffer from such inexactness of speech, regardless of how the Corinthians may have understood him.10 In the final analysis, while most scholars have not been so bold as to engage this “battle of the prepositions” so directly - preferring instead to say that the use of apo neither proves nor disproves any argument – Doherty still fails inasmuch as he arbitrarily connects revelation with ahistoricity.

Doherty also tenders this objection:

Besides, if Jesus were being referred to only in the sense that he is the ultimate source of the words, this gives Paul’s statement another less than logical cast. If he is going to go on to say that Jesus spoke certain words, why preface it with a separate statement which identifies Jesus as the source of these words? This is at best a very awkward redundancy.11

Doherty’s clarity is somewhat lacking here, but we will presume that his point is that this statement would be awkward in the same sense that an English phrase like “Here’s what I heard about Joe: That Joe said...” would be awkward. True enough: That phrase might earn a red mark on an English paper according to modern stylistic notions; but then again, Paul was obviously not an expert in modern English style. We may suggest, though, that if Paul is quoting a formulaic tradition here starting with the words “The Lord Jesus...”, then the “awkward redundancy” is quite explicable. Whatever the case, there is no support for Doherty’s notion of a non-earthly tradition; and then again, even if Paul were indicating a direct revelation from the Lord, then the redundancy remains quite as “awkward” as it did otherwise.

Then there is this remark:

We might also note that the Greek shows a curious use of tenses. The verb “was handed over” (paredidoto) is in the imperfect, which literally makes the meaning “on the night he was being delivered up.” This implies that the act of surrender was going on all through the Supper! It seems that Paul could hardly have had the Gospel scene in mind, and scholars who have noted this (e.g., Robertson and Plummer, International Critical Commentary) suggest that Paul is “taking a broader meaning,” perhaps of surrender by the Father as in the Romans passage. Curious, indeed.12

The matter is ended there, with not the slightest indication of what is “curious” about this situation, or how it might support Doherty’s thesis. It fits in just fine with the historicist view: The Gospel record would indicate that Judas’ plot was in motion from the very beginning of the Supper; certainly the idea of betrayal did not begin in the middle of this event.

A final note on this passage, in conclusion, which exposes the extent to which Doherty and other mythcists will resort to ad hoc explanations: Even the setting of the event at night does not prevent Doherty from imposing his interpretation, for “there is nothing to prevent a mythical story from being set at night.”13 If this is so, then one wonders why details Doherty makes so much of being missing – references to Nazareth, to Joseph and Mary, and so on – would not also be relegated to the world of myth. After all, the New Testament speaks of a heavenly Jerusalem; why would there not also be a heavenly Nazareth for this non-historical Jesus to live in? If Jesus can be “crucified” and “born of a woman” (Gal. 4:4) in the sublunar realm, then what stops Doherty from saying that any other life markers took place there as well – that mother Mary and father Joseph were also residents of the sublunar realm? Doherty’s contrivances such as these make it abundantly clear that theory, not evidence, drives his arguments.

Oh, Brother!

Galatians 1:19 and other passages, as well as the Jewish historian Josephus, speak of James as a “brother” of the Lord or of Jesus. Here the mythicist resort is most inventive: Both Wells14 and Doherty15 appeal to the use of the word “brothers” to refer to male fellow Christians to argue that there existed a sectarian group called the “brothers of the Lord” of which James and others were a part. Wells readily admits that this is not the most natural reading and offers references in which the word “brother” was used to mean a servant or member of a certain society. His one specific reference is to Strabo’s Geography, 16:4, 21, which reads:

Petra is also ruled by some king from the royal family; and the king has as Administrator one of his companions, who is called “brother.”16

The obvious difficulty is that this is not the same thing as referring to someone as the “brother of” someone else. The “of” indicates a certain possessive relationship that the above quotation does not. It is the burden of the mythicist to explain why such texts should be under- stood in any other way than they have been translated.

Doherty’s one argument in support of the mythicist interpretation is the petty observation that he, himself, would suppose “brother of Jesus” ought to have been used instead by Paul. Why this is necessary is not clear. For Paul, Jesus is the Lord; there is no reason why he would not use that title when referring to the Lord’s brothers. However, since Josephus does use the designation “brother of Jesus,” Doherty is compelled to resort to such idle speculations as late Christian interpolations or changes, for which there is no evidence.17 So even if Paul had used “brother of Jesus,” it is clear that Doherty already had some method of explaining it away.

Return of the Archons

1 Corinthians 2:7-8 No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

While most would think that the “rulers of the age” here refers to Pilate or the Sanhredin, both Wells18 and Doherty19 will ask for another way, in which they are “the spirit and demonic forces...which inhabited the lower celestial spheres” in which Jesus was crucified.

The word for “rulers” is archon in Greek. There is no question that this word is used of earthly rulers; even Doherty freely acknowledges this, and that it is so used by Paul. (Rom 13:3).20 However, he adds that: is also, along with several others like it, a technical term for the spirit forces, the “powers and authorities” who rule the lowest level of the heavenly world and who exercise authority over the events and fate (usually cruel) of the earth, its nations and individuals.

This, then, is the argument: In our passage, Paul is referring to a spiritual sort of archon group that crucified Jesus in the sublunar realm. Does this assessment bear out under scrutiny?

Not at all. First, Doherty appeals to majority opinion, stating that: “ tally indicates that over the last century a majority of commentators, some reluctantly, have decided that (Paul) is referring to the demon spirits.” This is an interesting observation, but hardly reflects anything in and of itself: What was the “score” of this tally? How did the arguments fare pitted against one another? Are members of the “majority” simply following previous views uncritically? Simple appeals to alleged majority views mean nothing. Wells, too, claims that it is “admitted by most commentators” that spiritual rulers are in mind here. My own informal tally, however, indicates the balance for this century is in favor of the “earthly” interpretation.

Second, Doherty makes much of the use of the word “age” (aion). Doherty asserts that this term, either in the singular or in the plural, “was in a religious and apocalyptic context a reference to the present age of the world, in the sense of all recorded history, since the next age was the one after the Parousia, when God’s kingdom would be established.” This can be true, but it offers no argument in favor of interpreting our verse in terms of a non-corporeal Jesus. The word “age” by itself tells us nothing about the location of the rulers. Paul several times uses aion in a plain and temporal sense (e.g., 1 Cor. 1:20, 3:18), and we are left wondering how the “religious and apocalyptic context” of this particular passage requires some sort of reading of our word that thereby changes the meaning of archon. As we are not told, there is little that can be said.

Third, Doherty appeals to what are supposed to be parallel Pauline passages, although they do not actually use the word archon. For example, Ephesians 3:9-10:

...and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authori- ties in the heavenly realms...

“Here the rulers are clearly identified as the ones in heaven,” we are told. Yes indeed: That is quite obvious from the use of the word “heavenly.” This is exactly the sort of “clarity” that is missing in 1 Cor. 2:8. Clarity is found, however, in Ephesians 2:2, the only other place besides Romans 13 and 1 Corinthians 2 where Paul does use archon: which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.

Here again Paul adds modifiers – “of the kingdom of the air”; “spirit” - which differentiate this ruler from an earthly ruler. Where is the modifier in 1 Cor. 2:8? In fact, none specifically is needed, for as we shall see shortly, the entire context of Paul’s argument indicates that earthly rulers are intended.

A second example is offered from Colossians 2:15 -

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Here we have no specific modifier, but Paul uses this phrase “powers and authorities” in Colossians (1:16, 2:10) to designate powers that include the supernatural. Similarly quoted is Ephesians 6:12 -

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Once again, we have clear modifying words and phrases that indicate that Paul is referring to supernatural rulers. This, again, is lacking is 1 Cor. 2:8, and thus these three citations by Doherty actually serve as counter-evidence to his position, for they tell us that Paul was careful to indicate when he meant cosmic rulers as opposed to earthly ones. (Though one might add that Doherty does not believe that Ephesians or Colossians were actually written by Paul, so that his appeal to these usages is quite inconsistent.)

Fourth, Doherty appeals to an argument from ancient authority. We are informed:

Scholars who balk at (a supernatural) interpretation of Paul’s words and declare that he simply means the earthly powers which the Gospels specify, are bucking even ancient opinion. Ignatius uses the term archon a thoroughly angelic sense (Smyrneans 6:1). Origen regarded the archonton of 2:8 as evil spiritual beings, and so did the Gnostic Marcion.

I find it curious that Doherty, who so often rejects ancient opinion when it suits him, here makes an appeal to it! However, Ignatius, in the citation offered, does not have any reference to 1 Cor. 2:8, and he, too, offers specific modifiers:

...even heavenly powers and the glory of angels and the rulers, both visible and invisible...

As for Origen and Marcion, the former, with his tender mysticism and penchant for allegorization, and the latter, with his tendency towards Gnosticism, are hardly authoritative sources on the matter. They would be inclined to interpret any passage in a mystical sense if possible within their own paradigms. But was their interpretation actually correct?

There is little need to go beyond the data offered in 1 Corinthians itself to find out. Consider the fuller context, 1 Cor. 1:17-2:16:

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”— but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolish- ness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment: “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Note that the repeated emphasis both before and after our verse of concern is on human wisdom. The context, then, indicates that a reference to some sort of heavenly or spiritual archon would be out of order. A reference to human rulers, however, would be especially important for Paul in this context: Earthly rulers, by the thinking of Paul’s age, “were those most often assumed to be gatherers and purveyors of the sophia (i.e., wisdom).”21 Paul is thus offering a contrast between the wisdom of God on one hand, and the wisdom of humans - including those supposedly the wisest: scholars, philosophers, rulers - on the other. Or, as Hays puts it:

Paul’s straightforward and rhetorically telling: the human power-wielders were so completely clueless about God’s way or working that they actually crucified the Lord of glory. Why, therefore, should we pay attention to human notions of wisdom and power?22

Therefore, Doherty’s interpretation of the archon as above-earthly powers utterly fails. It is supported neither by the context of Paul’s arguments nor by Paul’s usage of the word itself, both of which clearly indicate a reference to earthly rulers who crucified an earthly, non- mythical Jesus.23

In one of his few attempts to reply to my material, Doherty took special notice of this argument:

In his own defense, Holding quotes a long passage, 1 Cor. 1:17-2:16, highlighting all the phrases which have any reference to things ‘human’ in them, as though these, by some form of osmosis, render the “rulers” phrase automatically human, too. Unfortunately, he has failed to find, in Paul’s discussion here about the wisdom of the world vs. the wisdom of God, any reference to a human Christ and the elevation of a human man to divinity. Rather than “supernatural rulers (being) out of order here,” human wisdom, in the field of religion, has always been concerned about divine and heavenly things…24

Osmosis? No: Context. At least a dozen times in the passage, Paul refers to human wisdom; what reason, other than for the sake of supporting his theory, can Doherty give for suggesting that Paul suddenly switches gears and in the phrase in question, in the midst of a discourse on human wisdom and its inadequacies, now wants to plug in a word on the wisdom (viz., the lack thereof) of unearthly, non-human beings?

Have I failed to find reference to a human Christ and the elevation of a human man to divinity? Not at all: Paul refers in the passage to the crucified Lord of Glory, crucified as a human by earthly rulers; if this is not the same crucified Christ that he refers to as crucified and as divinity elsewhere in his letters, who is it? It is there, provided we do not beg the question of Doherty’s theory being correct – and the “elevation” portion in particular is something that would have been in the high-context background, taught to the Corinthians as converts years before. That issue is well past being dealt with by the time of Paul’s letter.

Finally, what of the “field of religion”? It is hard to see what the point is. Is Paul speaking here as a specialist in the field of religion? Not at all. And Paul is just as arguably concerned with the relevance of “divine and heavenly” things under our interpretation: That is, how human wisdom is unable to comprehend the divine and heavenly. Doherty’s answer is no answer at all.

Thessalonian Interpolation

1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 For you, brothers, became imitators of God’s churches in Judaea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last.

Both Wells25 and Doherty26 appeal to the idea that the critical portion of this passage, refer- ring to the death of Jesus at the hands of the Jews, is an interpolation. Because of this, it is worthwhile to lay a little groundwork about textual preservation and interpolations.

To charge that any selection is a late interpolation is quite serious. Textual critics will seldom, if ever, identify any selection as an interpolation without hard, textual evidence - e.g., a manuscript of early enough provenance without the text in question. This is especially important in the letters of Paul, for the literary conventions of the day would suggest that Paul himself was the first to collect his letters.27 Custom further dictated that Paul would make a copy of any letter he sent for his own personal reference - a safeguard not only against loss of the letter in transit, but also a guarantee that he possessed an authoritative copy, should any misfit church or person decide to make their own changes to the text.

Now of course some person may well have made changes in the text of Paul’s letters; but such a person could not by any means take the whole of the textual tradition under his influence. Only Paul himself, with the authoritative collection he had assembled of his own works, had any chance of doing that. It is quite nearly impossible that someone or some group could insert new material and at the same time wipe out all contrary textual witnesses. (Although this may not stop some from making rampant speculations about various widespread conspiracies

- charges which, being unreasonable, have no reasonable answer.)

It is therefore, ultimately, the only true test of interpolation that hard, manuscript evidence be found in favor. All other considerations, if they are to overcome this lack of data at all, must do so in strong cooperation.

There is no such evidence that this passage has been interpolated. Nevertheless, Doherty insists that there is an “obvious interpolation,” and there is (or has been) some scholarly support for this quaint notion; Doherty and Wells both use several standard arguments on the subject. However, there have also been answers given to these arguments, and neither Doherty nor Wells deal with these at all.

The first argument sometimes appealed to on behalf of interpolation, is that this passage, referring to the wrath of God coming on the Jews at last, contains “an unmistakable allusion to the destruction of Jerusalem in verse 16, an event which happened after Paul’s death.” But is there indeed any reason to see this verse as referring to the destruction of Jerusalem? Could there be another event in Paul’s mind?

Some have suggested that the expulsion of the Jews from Rome by Claudius is what is in view. Doherty rejects this suggestion, however, saying that this “gleeful, apocalyptic statement is hardly to be applied to a local event which the Thessalonians may or may not have been aware of several years later.” He adds that, since verse 14 refers to persecution by Jews in Judaea, “…[o]ffering a local event in Rome as a punishment for either crime (i.e., the persecution or the Crucifixion) seems somehow inappropriate.” Finally, Doherty alludes to assertions by Hare and Pearson that “question whether any such persecutions of Christians took place prior to 70” A.D., which would support the idea of an interpolator who did not know he was being anachronistic. There are several flaws in this approach.

First, Doherty has not interacted with arguments on all sides. The assertions of Hare and Pearson that there was perhaps no persecution of Christians by Jews prior to 70 is widely disputed. Indeed, it is countered by the evidence of Paul himself, who admits in his own letters that he was once a persecutor of Christian churches. As Schlueter notes, quoting Sanders: “The best-attested fact (for such persecution) is that Paul himself carried out such persecution.”28

Hare and Pearson have correctly counteracted the notion that persecution of the church was always of the same sort as highlighted in Acts - e.g., Stephen’s martyrdom was an unusual case, rather than the rule. (As Acts itself, with a careful reading, tells us: For Luke indicates that there were extended periods of peace for the church as well! - cf. Acts 9:31.) Their arguments do not, however, support the idea that there was no persecution at all; the testimony of Paul of his own actions (cf. Gal. 1:13, Phil 3:6, referring to his “zeal” in persecuting the church), the persecution he himself suffered after his conversion (cf. 1 Cor. 4:12; 2 Cor. 11:24,12:10), and the reference to the death of James found in Josephus, by themselves are sufficient evidence of the church’s early difficulties at the hands of their Jewish brethren. But it would be

correct to say that the overwhelming majority of the persecutions were of a much lesser nature than the stoning of Stephen.

Second, re: a “gleeful, apocalyptic statement” – This is simply Doherty reading his own emotive values into the text; the tone within the context of the letter, as we shall see, offers an entirely different interpretation. However, let us grant the “gleeful” interpretation for the sake of further argument.

What event, first, is Paul referring to? It may indeed be the Claudian expulsion; despite Doherty’s assertion, this was hardly a “local” event, since the Jews in question undoubtedly scattered to the four winds (Priscilla and Aquila went as far as Corinth, for example). Some indeed may have settled in Thessalonica, and the disgrace associated with being a member of a group expelled from Rome may well have had repercussions on Jews throughout the Empire. The key, however, is that in an apocalyptic or eschatological context, any event of any sort that caused harm to the Jews as a group would or could be seen by Paul as a demonstration of God’s final wrath. Schlueter, referring to Jewett, notes the expectation of the parousia in 1 Thessalonians (1:10, 3:13, 4:15, 5:2, 5:23) and writes:

...(G)roups which expect an imminent end to the age and various catastrophes to signal that impending event, would interpret any fateful happening, however small, as part of the beginning of the end.29

Jewett adds that there is, in the argument to see a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem: unmistakable quality of retrospection...From the perspective of those who know about the Jewish-Roman War, it is surely the most appropriate choice. But to someone who lived before that catastrophe, several of the other events could easily have appeared to be a final form of divine wrath.30

Let us use two examples to further clarify the matter. Suppose that the Essenes – a Jewish group of Jesus’ time — learned of a Roman military disaster in Germania which caused the loss of several legions. This would be a “local” event, and would not be connected to any event local to the Essenes, but they would undoubtedly report it with glee. Would they not have seen such an event, disconnected as it logically was to their own situation, as an example of the “final wrath” of God on the hated Romans?

To use a more modern example: Suppose that during the Branch Davidian siege, an FBI office in Bangor, Maine had collapsed and killed several agents. Would not the Branch Davidians have gleefully cited this as evidence that God was displeased with the FBI and was dispensing His final wrath upon it?

Thus, whether the Claudian expulsion, or a riot (referred to by Josephus) in 48 A.D. in which 20,000-30,000 Jews were massacred; or a famine particularly afflicting Judaea — any one of these or a combination thereof, or any given event of some seriousness, may have been thought of as the beginning of the “final” wrath upon the Jewish persecutors from Paul’s perspective. Paul may have even been speaking proleptically of the wrath he knew was coming due to the rejection of Jesus, without having a past event in mind.31 To see in this citation a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem is a wish fathering a thought.

The next objection offered: “It does not concur with what Paul elsewhere says about his fellow countrymen, whom he expects will in the end be converted to Christ.” This is a remark- ably misinformed statement regarding human nature. Is it to be supposed that Paul never got angry, even at his countrymen? As Jewett remarks, “only those desiring a sanitized picture of Paul and the early church” could accept this argument.32 Williams adds: “A frank recognition of guilt does not preclude love for the guilty.”33

To put this in perspective: Romans was written some 7-10 years after 1 Thessalonians, according to the general dating schema. Even if Paul’s sentiments in these letters are so incompatible as to be impossible to be held at the same time - and we would say that they are not - does it not occur to Doherty that Paul is capable of having conflicting thoughts on a subject, especially if he is being subjected to conflicting responses? At the time 1 Thessalonians was written, it appears that Paul had reason to be angry at the Jewish establishment: Acts reports that he had been chased out of several cities by Jewish persecutors; 1 Thess. 3:3 notes that other trials were taking place. Is it not possible that Paul here is venting his frustrations? Would such venting preclude the love he has for his countrymen as displayed in Romans 11? Is it not possible that Paul is experiencing some cognitive dissonance as he wrestles with the multi-fold problem of the persecution of the Thessalonian church, the need to bond with the Thessalonian community and give it support, and his own troubled feelings regarding his personal, incomplete break with traditional Judaism? Anyone who says no simply lacks insight into the complex and dynamic motivations of human personality. Conflicted feelings, changes in attitude, are part of everyday life, and Paul was no exception, not even as an apostle of the Lord.34

We may add that Paul’s condemnations here are no more serious or “hateful” than that found regularly in other Jewish or Greco-Roman writings. Condemnations of Jews killing the prophets, as Doherty admits, are found in works penned by Jews (cf. 1 Kings 19:10; Neh. 9:26; Jer. 2:30), even if he denies (without any justification given) that the condemnations have any historical basis. The charge of the Jews as “hostile to all men” is used by the pagan authors Tacitus, Juvenal, and Apion - and is not surprising in Paul’s mouth, in light of his confrontation with Peter in Antioch. The association of a small segment of contemporary Jewish persecutors with past Jewish persecutors is found elsewhere in the New Testament (cf. Acts 7:52a; Luke 13:34//Mt. 23:37). Weatherly points out: “One need not look far in Jewish sectarian literature to find examples of Jewish groups that excluded opponents from the benefits of the covenant.”35 Johnson offers a comprehensive study of Jewish “slander” written by Jews, to Jews.36 Scott demonstrates that Paul’s “slander” directly parallels condemnations offered in the Deuteronomic tradition of the Old Testament.37

Finally, we refer our reader to the thorough study of Schlueter, who has demonstrated that Paul’s words here are perfectly in line with Greco-Roman and Jewish hyperbolic/polemical conventions of the day; and that Paul made use of such polemic on very specific occasions that were similar in urgency to the Thessalonian situation. Schlueter cites the examples of 2 Cor. 11:13, Gal. 3:1 and 5:12, and Phil. 3:2. If Paul would call brothers in Christ, the Galatians, “foolish” and refers to fellow apostles as “false” and wishes emasculation upon them, then where could there be an objection to his language in Thessalonians towards the Jews, especially as much as it is similar to condemnation already made against the Jewish people in their own sacred writings?

Consider the nature of the Thessalonian problem: At this time of trial Paul must show unity with his beloved church, and he who said that he “became all things to all men” would certainly use every resource at his disposal to their benefit. Schlueter sums up the picture nicely:

...(T)he symmetry of Paul’s statements, the urgency of the current opposition the Thessalonians were facing, and the eschatological nature of the letter would induce readers to assent to the climax of the passage. To gather such assent seems to denigrate the opponents and to lead to the identification of the readers as among the suffering righteous. 38

Thus, Paul intends to encourage his congregation by identifying them with himself and the righteous prophets, the churches in Judaea, and the Lord Jesus, who were killed and persecuted by hostiles of the same affiliation. It is Paul’s way of saying: I empathize. And it is in precisely such “hardship” situations that Paul resorts to polemical language:39 The defense of his apostle- ship in Galatians; the problem of the “false apostles” in Corinthians; the persecution of the Thessalonians; his use of “bipolar” language that drops out any possibility of middle ground, in several places (1 Thess. 5:5; 2 Cor. 11:23; Gal. 4:31; Phil. 3:15; Rom. 6:16-18, 9:22-3). Rather than being unusual for Paul, his statements in 1 Thess. 2 are actually reflective of his normal way of writing, showing Paul to be a child both of the Judaistic and the educated Greco-Roman literary conventions of his day.40

Significantly, Doherty offered no response to my material on this subject, other than this:

His arguments against the claim that 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 is an interpolation are not entirely without merit, but that this is a “quaint notion” is belied by the long lineup of modern critical scholars who support it-many of whom I quote in my article.41

It seems rather clear that Doherty is not able to provide any answer to these arguments.

Read the full chapter in Debunking the Jesus Myth Part 3.