Interacting with a Jesus Mythicist
By Keith Thompson
In the context of Jesus’ historicity, Carrier asks how Ehrman could trust a gospel story “that cites no sources” (Richard Carrier, The Ehrman-Price Debate, www.richardcarrier.info/archives/11435). He also claims for Jesus “we have not a single named eyewitness source in any of the accounts of him” Carrier (2014), 22). I will therefore say a few words to refute these assertions.
I have already argued Mark used the disciple Peter as his source for his gospel. This is confirmed by Papias and other patristic traditions, the inclusio of eyewitness testimony found in canonical Mark, the plural to singular device involving Peter in canonical Mark, the fact Mark’s gospel follows the structure of Peter’s preachings in Acts, and the fact Luke used Mark as a source and then identified his sources as eyewitness narratives in his preface (Luke 1:1-3). Matthew used himself as his eyewitness source for his gospel, he relied on Mark as an eyewitness source, and he relied on “Q” and “M”. Luke used himself as an eyewitness source in Acts as is evident from the we passages. He also used the eyewitness source Mark, as well as “Q” and “L”. What is more, I demonstrated John used himself as an eyewitness source. This is confirmed by patristic tradition, the literary device of inclusio of eyewitness testimony in the forth gospel, as well as the epilogue. He may have also relied on the synoptic gospels as sources too (two of which are primary eyewitness sources).
It should be pointed out the gospels intentionally named various minor characters as a way to inform readers who their eyewitness sources were for specific stories (Bauckham (2006), 39-55; idem., “Gospel Traditions: Anonymous Community Traditions or Eyewitness Testimony?,” in Charlesworth et al (eds.) (2014), 494-495; idem., “In Response to My Respondents: Jesus and the Eyewitnesses in Review,” in Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, 6 (2008), pp. 225–253). Although there is more evidence, Bauckham summarizes,
“Why is it that in Mark’s Gospel Jairus and Bartimaeus are named (Mk 6:3; 10:46), while all other recipients of Jesus’ healings are anonymous? Why does Luke, in his narrative of the two disciples who meet the risen Jesus on the way to Emmaus, name one of the two (Cleopas, Lk 24:18) but not the other? Why does Mark go to the trouble of naming not only Simon of Cyrene, who carried Jesus’ cross to Calvary, but also his two sons, Alexander and Rufus (Mk 15:21)? Why does Luke name Zecchaeus the tax collector and Simon the Pharisee (Lk 19:2; 7:40)? Given that a very large majority of the minor characters in all the Gospels are anonymous, why do they specifically name some? The only hypothesis I know that accounts for the evidence is that in most of these cases the named persons became members of the early Christian communities and themselves told the stories in which they appear in the Gospels” (Bauckham, “Gospel Traditions: Anonymous Community Traditions or Eyewitness Testimony?,” in Charlesworth et al (eds.) (2014), 494-495).
Naming minor characters as a way to cite eyewitness sources for specific stories was a fairly common practice of ancient historians. Herodotus, Thucydides, and Plutarch engaged in this exercise (Bauckham, “In Response to My Respondents: Jesus and the Eyewitnesses in Review,” in Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, 6 (2008), pp. 227-228).
In Galatians 1:18-19 Paul named Peter and James as eyewitness sources for information on Jesus’ life (Galatians 1:18-19: “18Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to ἱστορῆσαι Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother”). In this text Paul identified James as Jesus’ “brother” and said he met with Peter and James to ἱστορῆσαι. In classical writings and Old Testament Apocrypha, this Greek term referred to gaining an historical account, inquiring, or interviewing someone to get information (Bauer et al (2000), 483; see James Dunn, “The Relationship Between Paul and Jerusalem According to Galatians 1 and 2,” NTS 28 (1982), pp. 463-466 for a good case this is how the word was used in Galatians 1:18. For this use of the word in Old Testament Apocrypha see Licona (2010), 230 n. 130). In the same verse Paul emphasized he was with Peter and James for fifteen days. This was Paul’s way of saying he learned from them for a decent amount of time. Paul would not take two weeks just to get know Peter as a person and not take the opportunity to learn about Jesus. That makes no sense. Indeed, during this time Paul received the historicist 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 creed about Christ from Peter and James. It says,
“3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received. Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:3-7).
As Bruce noted,
“In that list two individuals are mentioned by name as having seen the risen Christ, and two only: ‘he appeared Cephas’ and ‘he appeared to James’ (1 Corinthians 15:5, 7). It is no mere coincidence that there should be the only two apostles whom Paul claims to have seen during his first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion [Gal 1:18-19]. . . . It was almost certainly during these fifteen days in Jerusalem that Paul received this outline” (F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, [Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans, 2000], pp. 85, 86 brackets mine).
When Paul said he “received” this 1 Corinthians 15 creed in v. 3a, he used the Greek word παρέλαβον which was a rabbinic term referring to the passing of oral tradition (Thayer (2009), 484; David Garland, 1 Corinthians, (BECNT, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), p. 683. Garland (2003), 683-684 also indirectly refutes the argument of Carrier (2014), 536 that because Galatians 1:11-12 says Paul did not “receive” his gospel from men but from revelation, that therefore 1 Corinthians 15:3 can not be taken to mean Paul “received” his gospel from Peter and James in Jerusalem. Garland notes, “In Gal. 1:11-12, he does not have in view the historical details of which the gospel is based but the interpretation of what those facts mean. . . . he came to understand the theological ramifications of Christ’s death and resurrection through a revelation from Christ and did not receive it from another’s interpretation, which his limited contact with other apostles proves (Gal. 1:15-2:21). Also, Carrier’s claim that 1 Corinthians 15:3-4’s phrase “according to the scriptures” means Paul may have just been saying he received his Jesus-information from the Old Testament and not eyewitnesses is also erroneous. That is reading too much into the text. According to lexicographers the phrase κατὰ τὰς γραφάς just indicates Paul’s creed was homogeneous, consistent, agreeable, or in conformity with scripture, not that it was derived from it. See Bauer et al (2000), 512; Thayer (2009), 328). This further confirms the argument. I will return to 1 Corinthians 15:-7 later in chapter 11 to respond to the mythicist mishandling of it as regards James being Jesus’ “brother”. For now, it is clear here Paul named and used eyewitness sources for information about Jesus.
The preface of the Gospel of Luke is also important in regard to the question of eyewitness source citation and utilization. It reads,
“1Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1-4).
Luke affirmed “many” (Keener (2012), 173 n. 54: Since the plural and not dual was used, “many” here just meant “at least three”) narrative works concerning Jesus written by eyewitnesses and ministers of the word made their way to him, and that he followed them closely for his own account. As noted, Bauckham has shown Luke also named minor characters as eyewitnesses for his gospel. Hence, Luke in essence informed Theophilus his work was based on earlier eyewitness narratives as well as individual eyewitness oral testimonies. The fact Luke did not provide the names of his eyewitness sources in his preface does not mean he did not possess eyewitness sources. We know he did. Mark was one of them. He also used “Q” and “L” if we accept the two source/four source theory. Despite Luke’s decision to not name his sources in his preface, it nevertheless has clear affinities with prologues of good ancient histories (Sean A. Adams, “Luke’s Preface and its Relationship to Greek Historiography,” JGRChJ 3 (2006) 177-191 refutes Loveday Alexander’s thesis Luke’s preface resembles scientific treatises and not ancient histories. Indeed, he demonstrates Luke’s preface is very similar to those of respectable Greek historians. Alexander did not survey the background material sufficiently. Tarrance Callan, “The Preface of Luke-Acts and Historiography” NTS 31 (1985), pp. 576-581 accomplishes the same; Cf. Blomberg (2014), 27; Bock (1994), 54; Aune (2010), 369). There are preface similarities with ancient histories on matters of style, personal introduction, preface length, dedications, and truth-based intentions, etc. Witherington notes, “Luke’s prefaces also bear some striking resemblances to prefaces by Polybius, Josephus, Philo. . .” (Witherington (1998), 15). Aune has shown Luke’s preface also very closely resembles Plutarch’s preface in The Dinner of the Seven Wise Men (Aune (2010), 371-372). Since Plutarch was a respected and reliable biographer, this comparison is significant.
(This is some research from my forthcoming project refuting Jesus mythicism).