Who was the historical Jesus? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
We’re continuing our look at Asher Norman’s book Twenty-Six Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe In Jesus and today, we come to the cream of the crop. Yes. This is the post I have been wanting to deal with because it’s one of my favorite topics to expose. That is the topic of Jesus mythicism.
Yes. Norman is open entirely to Jesus mythicism. Yes. He uses the exact same arguments that have been debunked time and time again. No. He doesn’t deal with the scholarship on this issue at all save Robert Price. (At least we have a work that doesn’t quote Carrier finally)
Norman tells us that according to Price, Jesus fits an archetype of someone who is supernaturally predicted and conceived, escapes attempts to kill him as an infant, has great wisdom as a child, receives divine commission, defeats demons, wins favor and is treated as a king, loses that favor and is betrayed and executed, normally on a hill, and then is vindicated and taken to heaven.
He lists four figures that fit this. Hercules (Because we all know the great wisdom he had where he killed his teacher and had to do twelve labors), Apollonius of Tyana, (Best devastated by David Marshall in Jesus Is No Myth.) Padma Sambhava (An eighth century figure so good luck saying this was an influence on Jesus) and the Buddha (Who we have no contemporary biographies of but hey, we only need contemporaries when it comes to Jesus).
Naturally, he goes to Remsburg’s list. He wasn’t taken seriously in his own day, but conspiracy theorist skeptics take him as Gospel today. We get the usual list of people who never mentioned Jesus. He also says that they failed to mention Matthew’s raised saints (Because, you know, Romans were all about talking about miraculous events in Judea.) Still, let’s go through this list in the footnote of people who never mentioned Jesus.
Apollonius —- Who is this one? There are a number of people with this name. It needs more context. Without that, then we’re left wondering why we should care about this.
Appian — He was indeed a historian, but his interest was in Roman conquests. Last I checked, Jesus wasn’t involved in any of those. What’s Appian to say “And Caesar went and battled his enemies and yo, there was this dude named Jesus who claimed to do miracles in Judea also!”
Appion of Alexandria — He wrote a history of Rome. Again, it has to be asked, why would he talk about Jesus?
Arrian — His area of interest was Alexander the Great. Last I checked, that bears no connection to Jesus.
Aulus Gellius — He was a lawyer. Big shock that he wrote on law. No need to mention Jesus here.
Columella — Someone who wrote about agriculture was supposed to write about Jesus?
Damis — He wrote about Apollonius of Tyana. No desire to mention the competition in this case.
Dio Chrysostom — He was an orator. He wrote on literature, philosophy, and politics. Jesus made no major waves to Rome in this area, so why bother?
Dion Pruseus — He was also an orator. He wrote on how to speak well. No need to mention Jesus.
Epictetus —- He was a second-century philosopher. His main interest was stoicism. Why would he care about Jesus? Besides that, his writings are not his, but rather those of his students. They want to show him as a great teacher, not Jesus.
Favorinus —- He was a second-century philosopher. He wrote on the subject of rhetoric. Why would he mention Jesus?
Florus Lucius — He was a Roman historian. He wrote about pre-Christian history. Nothing there says he should have talked about Jesus.
Hermogones Silius Italicus — Unclear who this is, though he could be a poet who wrote about the second Punic War. I don’t think that involved Jesus.
Josephus — We will cover this later. Norman says both mentions are forgeries.
Justus of Tiberius — We only have a 9th century work saying this doesn’t mention Jesus, but it was a Jewish work interested in writing about kings. Jesus was not seen as a king by most of the Jews. Why mention a failed crucified Messiah?
Juvenal — He wrote satires. No need to speak of Jesus there.
Lucanus — This guy was the nephew of Seneca. We have a poem he wrote and a work describing the war between Caesar and Pompey. Jesus was not a major combatant in that war.
Lucian —- See next part
Lysias — Who? There was someone who lived with that name, but it was from 400-300 B.C. There’s a good reason they wouldn’t talk about Jesus.
Martial — He wrote poetry and satire. Why should he talk about Jesus?
Paterculus — He wrote a history of Rome. His work was published just when Jesus started His ministry and we have no record of Jesus visiting Rome.
Pausanias — His work is Descriptions of Greece. Remember when Jesus went to Greece? Neither do I.
Persuis — Again, a satirist (How many of these historians are not historians?).
Petronius — Wrote works like The Satyricon. His work was often quite vulgar. Why mention Jesus?
Phaedrus — He wrote fables. Again, why mention Jesus?
Philo-Judeaeus — Philo is at least an understandable figure, but Jesus would be seen as a flash in the pan to him. There were numerous figures being put to death. Philo mentions no other Messianic figures. We go to Josephus for those. More of this can be found in my article on how Jesus is not worth talking about (At least to the ancients).
Phlegon — This one is questionable. It could be he did mention the darkness at the time of Christ.
Pliny the Elder — He wrote Natural History. This dealt with science and morality. There was no need to mention Jesus to make his case.
Pliny the Younger — See next part.
Plutarch — This one is another one that could very well have possibly referred to Jesus. Why didn’t he? I’d chalk it up to a bigotry against people like Jews and Egyptians. He was more interested in Greco-Roman heroes.
Pomponius Mela — This guy was a Roman geographer who came from Spain. A geographer has no need to talk about Jesus.
Ptolemy — He wrote the Almagest. His main area of interest was astronomy. No need to talk about Jesus.
Quintilian — He wrote about Greco-Roman rhetoric. Jesus has no need to be mentioned here.
Quintius Curtius — Jesus was supposed to fit into the history of Alexander the Great? Who knew?!
Seneca — This one could have mentioned Jesus, but he probably would have had no interest in what he would deem superstitious nonsense and was more interested in the philosophy he knew well and trying to save himself from Nero.
Statius — He wrote poetry, a story about the seven against Thebes, and the life of Achilles. Jesus played no role in any of this.
Suetonius — See next section.
Tacitus — See next section.
Theon of Smyrna — His work was on mathematics and astronomy. Why talk about Jesus?
Valerius Flaccus — He wrote about Jason and the Golden Fleece. Was Jesus a part of that voyage?
Valerius Maximus — He wrote anecdotes and just when Jesus was getting started. Again, why mention Him?
As we can see from this list, Norman has not done any checking. He just saw the list and went with it. Norman has just reached the point where he’ll believe any argument provided it argues against Christianity.
So let’s look at the more disputed figures.
There is no doubt that Josephus has interpolations in what he said, yet the overwhelming majority of scholars here say partial interpolation. The argument worth mentioning is that Origen says Josephus did not believe Jesus was the Messiah, but that does not show that the whole passage did not exist. It just shows the part that says “He was the Messiah” did not exist. There is also no need for the church fathers to mention this passage. The existence of Jesus was not debated. Norman says nothing about the second reference to Jesus which is even more accepted than the first.
Norman really shows his lack of knowledge here. He says Tacitus never mentions Jesus. He just mentions someone named Christus. Here’s my challenge then to Norman. Find another person named Christus who was crucified under Pontius Pilate and had a group of people named after him and this group’s teachings had reached Rome by the time of Nero and several of them were put to death by him. Go ahead. Find one other figure.
He also says that this information was probably hearsay. There’s no evidence given for this and even when he received information from Pliny the Younger, his best friend, he still treated it with skepticism. Tacitus as a Senator would have access to records now lost to us.
Norman also says Tacitus spoke of pagan gods as if they really existed, to which we could say this could first off be used to argue against the historicity of anything Tacitus wrote if accurate, but second, Norman gives no examples of this. Without that, we cannot comment. All we can say is the again overwhelming majority of scholars of Tacitus have no problem with this reference.
I could understand this one being more questionable. Norman does say the name Chrestus can refer to the good man. This would be too vague for a Roman historian to write about. What good man? It also doesn’t need to mean that this Chrestus was in Rome. It could just as well mean he was the subject of the debate and this would fit in with the expulsion of the Jews from Rome at the time.
Pliny the Younger
Norman is right that he never mentions Jesus but does mention Christians worshipping Jesus, but this is consistent with all that we have as well.
I am skeptical of this claim since it gets a lot of information about Jesus wrong and hence, I don’t use it.
There is no mention of Lucian here nor is there any of Mara Bar-Serapion.
We also issue this challenge to Norman. If you think this is a convincing argument, show where Gamaliel, Hillel, or Shammai are mentioned by these writers. These are Jews you would no doubt hold to be historical figures. Find them mentioned.
So where does Norman think the idea of Jesus came from? Pagan gods. Norman does get something right in that much of the life of Jesus is patterned after the Old Testament, but this is what we would expect. Great teachers would try to reenact the great figures of the past. It would be seen as honorable to do so.
Still, Norman isn’t satisfied with that. He goes with the mystery religions and what a shock that one of his great sources is Freke and Gandy’s The Jesus Mysteries.
Norman thinks showing a god dying and coming to life is sufficient, but that does not equal resurrection in the Jewish sense. (Note the irony of having to explain to Norman the Jewish context) Baal would die and rise, if he did at all which can be disputed, with the vegetation cycle.
As for Adonis, the stories about him come from the second century. If any influence was going on, it was Christians influencing the story of Adonis. Norman is free to try to show us the scholarly support. Again, we want scholars, not sensationalists like Freke and Gandy.
We could just as well say that for all of these claims we want to see the scholarship. Attis was born on December 25th? The NT makes no such claim for Jesus, but can Norman show us the dating on this? Can he show an account of the resurrection of Attis that pre-dates Christianity?
For Isis, Horus, and Osiris, we issue this challenge to Norman. Find one living Egyptologist that will think that this idea is on the right path. They could say “Eh. It needs a little bit of tweaking here and there, but it’s generally right.” Find one.
Naturally, we have Mithras on the list. It’s fascinating to hear what Mithras did after death especially since we have no record of his death whatsoever. Mithras was also supposedly born on December 25th which is also supposedly the date of the winter solstice. I challenge Norman to back any of these claims.
For all of these claims, about the only ones that could have some accuracy are the sharing of a meal and the doing of miracles. Miracles would be the work of any deity and meals were common rituals in the ancient world for fellowship. It should also be known that we have no writings of the followers of Mithras and we learn all we do about them from artwork and the writings of the church fathers.
How about Dionysus? We find more of the same in the list. Again, here’s my challenge to Norman. You make the claim. You back it. Where are these events backed by scholars of Dionysus?
Next, Norman goes to Their Hollow Inheritance by Michael Drazin to argue about Jesus, Krishna, and Buddha. Drazin is not a scholar but another anti-missionary. I have ordered his book from the library, but it looks like he relies on the same 19th century works and not modern scholarship. Mike Licona contacted two specialists on Hinduism and Buddha. I refer you to those here.
Finally, if Jesus did exist, He was likely a zealot. This book was published before Aslan’s work, but Norman again doesn’t make much of a case.
Norman does say Jesus was referred to by titles that implied Kingship. Yes. And? This means that He was a zealot? Where do we see Him actively instigating the conquest of Rome?
Norman also tells us that John the Baptist was likely a zealot also since according to Josephus, Herod put John the Baptist in prison for fear of a military uprising. Strangely enough, we have no record of John’s disciples planning a rescue mission or partaking in any aggression. Ancient kings back then would be wary of anyone being more popular than they.
Paul arrested Christians in Damascus. Obviously, this was for anti-Roman reasons wasn’t it? No. Paul was zealous for Judaism and saw Christianity as a dangerous sect.
It also only makes sense supposedly that the high priest went after Jesus since the high priest had to protect Roman interests. No. It also makes sense if Jesus is gathering honor from the populace and the high priest thinks he’s losing his.
Norman also thinks that Jesus and His disciples, killed fruit trees like the fig tree, plucked corn on the sabbath, and refused to let someone bury their father because they were on the run from Herod. We hope Norman will start writing fiction because he has quite the vivid imagination to think this is a case.
Some of Jesus’s disciples did have nicknames of zealots. Sure. One of them was also a tax collector. Whoops! A zealot would not work with a tax collector would they?
In John’s Gospel, the people want to make Jesus king by force. Of course, it couldn’t be because they had just seen a miracle in their midst and said “This is the Messiah! Let’s make Him king!” One would think a zealot Jesus would welcome that.
Jesus attempted to fulfill Zechariah’s prophecy. Indeed He did. Yet if Norman accepts this, He needs to accept that Jesus went into Jerusalem expecting not to take it over, but expecting to die.
Was Jesus arrested for being a zealot threat? No. Jesus was arrested for being a threat to the honor of the Jewish leaders.
Norman says the large force the Romans sent to arrest Jesus only makes sense if He was a zealot. No. Jesus was not well-known in Jerusalem and the Romans would have no idea how many He would have or what they would do. Other Messiah figures did require an army and Rome just didn’t want to take chances. It doesn’t mean they were right in their assessment. Note that others seeing Jesus as a zealot is insufficient to say He was one, unless Norman wants to say my opinion is sufficient to show that he has no clue what he’s talking about.
The Romans charged that Jesus was the King of the Jews. We Christians no doubt see irony here, but Pilate would see mockery. He wrote this to humiliate the Jews he didn’t care for.
Jesus was crucified between two brigands. Yes. And?
We have already dealt with the sign on the cross.
When Peter was arrested, he was heavily guarded. Sure. What prisoner wouldn’t be?
Paul was arrested because he was thought to be a zealot ringleader. Supposing this is true, what of it? How does Paul present himself? This might be a shock to Norman, but major figures can be badly misunderstood by the public.
Jesus was preached to be another king by Paul. Of course he was. Yes. Paul did challenge Rome, but he didn’t challenge Rome on a military basis. Someone who was challenging Rome would not write Romans 13. Amazing that Norman says Paul was undercover working for Rome and then says Paul was a zealot against Rome. Which is it?
James was executed in 62 A.D. Surely this was because he was a threat to Rome. It’s difficult to understand any other reason! Well, no it’s not. It’s easy to. James was a more popular figure and a threat to the honor.
The final chapter of this book is how the Torah already provides for Gentiles. I have nothing of interest there. The main work is done.
I really encourage any Jew wanting to learn about Christianity to avoid Norman’s work. It’s full of hideous errors. The reason I engaged with it was for the debate he is having with Michael Brown.