When Theories Collide
The proponents of Mythicism and Core Facts are aware of one another: both Martin and Wells have criticized Habermas (see Martin, pp.65-67, 87-97; Wells 1989, pp.22-23, 46-52); Habermas has also attacked both Wells and Martin on the matter of Jesus’ historicity (1996, pp.27-46)(32) and addressed Martin separately on the matter of the resurrection (1993).(33) The present chapter will concern the conflict between Mythicism and Habermas’ apologetics, Core Facts in particular. While Habermas divides his treatment of Mythicism by discussing Martin and Wells separately, much of what he says about them overlaps; Martin bases his Mythicism upon Wells’ presentation of the position, so I will therefore focus my attention on Habermas’ criticisms of Wells.
V.1. Habermas on Wells
Prior to presenting formal objections, Habermas makes some introductory statements, seemingly trying to “poison the well” against Wells:
Very few scholars hold the view that Jesus never lived. This conclusion is generally regarded as a blatant misuse of the available historical data…However, this idea is a persistent one and does appear from time to time. This especially seems to be the case with more popular treatments of the life of Jesus (p.27).
Habermas then examines Wells as an example of such a view, identifying some of his particular writings, namely Wells 1975, 1978 and 1988; he relies almost exclusively on the shorter 1978 article, only twice referring the reader to portions of Wells 1975 and unfortunately never examining Wells 1988 at all.
Frequently, Habermas’ presentation of Wells is not clearly accurate. Consider that at the very beginning of Habermas’ critique he characterizes Wells’ position as being “…that Jesus may be a historical personage, although an obscure one” (pp.27-28). Wells, however, argues that St. Paul and other early Christians thought Jesus was an obscure historical personage; this certainly does not suggest that Wells agrees with St. Paul on the matter. While Wells does not deny the possibility that an obscure earthly Jesus existed — perhaps a few centuries before the common era, e.g. BC 200 — he does not think the evidence can support such speculation.
Habermas next states “[Wells] even asserts the possibility that Jesus never existed at all, but that New Testament authors patterned his story after the ancient mystery religions” (p.28). Both clauses in this sentence are problematic: describing Wells as asserting the possibility that Jesus never existed is an understatement, for Wells clearly argues that Jesus’ nonexistence best explains the available evidence; also, Wells’ thesis has relied less on connections to ancient pagan mystery religions since the publication of his first book on Christian origins, Wells 1971. Consider that in Wells 1988, the author appraised three criticisms against Wells 1971 as “substantially just”, the second of these being that
…[Wells 1971] gave too much attention to (and was not entirely accurate in its representation of) the pagan background of earliest Christianity, thus neglecting some of the Jewish factors in the origin of this undoubtedly Jewish sect (p.ix).
Wells admits his writing of Wells 1975 benefited from this and other criticisms, the penultimate chapter of this book being titled “The Pagan and Jewish Background” (italics mine). In Wells 1988, Wells spends seven pages discussing Paul and the Jewish Wisdom Literature, in which he states:
These earliest Christians were Jews. Early Christian documents accept the God of Israel, the Old Testament, Jewish apocalyptic and angelology, and Jewish ideas about the Messiah. A non-Jewish origin for a sect which embraced all this is out of the question. Hence the Jewish, rather than the pagan, religious background is likely to be of prime importance in explaining the conviction of the earliest Christians that, at some unspecified time past, a redeemer named Jesus had been obscurely crucified (pp.37-38).
Notably, there is no such specific treatment of the pagan influences on Christianity in this book (although Wells does refer the reader to the above-mentioned chapter of Wells 1975). Although he thinks pagan ideas were important to the development of early Christianity, Wells clearly emphasizes Jewish inspiration over the influence of pagan mystery religions. Even Wells 1978, the source Habermas relies upon almost exclusively, clearly emphasizes Jewish Wisdom influences on early Christianity. Ironically, while Wells 1971 is the actual offender regarding improperly focussing upon pagan influences, Habermas neither refers to nor acknowledges this text. Although Habermas does mention that Wells thinks besides “…the mystery religions, Jewish wisdom concepts helped to inspire the early picture of Jesus” (p.29), the substance of his criticisms against Wells never specifically addresses Jewish affects on early Christianity.
These problems aside, Habermas does follow the broad gist of Wells’ position, correctly noting that the chronology of the New Testament documents is crucially important to Wells’ thesis. Habermas also recognizes that Mythicism depends upon a disparity between the Christology of early and later Christian documents to yield the possibility of concluding that belief in a historical first-century Jesus emerged out of a previous Christian tradition that lacked this belief.
V.1.a. Historical Methodology
Taken in reverse order, Habermas’ first of four(34) main criticisms against Wells is an accusation that Wells lacks appreciation for normal historical methodology. He refers to his own appendix on historiography (Appendix 1) in this regard, but his reasons for doing so are rather mysterious. The contents of this appendix are roughly as follows: an introduction to a preliminary notion of history as the recording of actual events in time; a critique of those who question the amount of objective knowledge the study of history can provide; and an overview of the method of historical investigation. In all of this, there is no reference — veiled or explicit — to either Wells or Mythicism; furthermore, there is nothing in this appendix that Wells obviously violates.
Fortunately, Habermas goes on to borrow a more substantive argument from the historian Michael Grant:
…if we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we can no more reject Jesus’ existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned (p.36, citing Grant, Jesus: An Historian’s Review,pp.199-200).
While this is possibly the most promising option available to Habermas’ grief with Mythicism, the point needs serious development before it can be used effectively. Perhaps it is tempting to worry that Wells’ historical scepticism of Jesus opens the floodgates of historical-doubt on a mass of historical personages, but such fear a priori assumes we should not question the historicity of any such persons. More significantly, Grant’s argument assumes that Wells’ historical principles are outside of the realm of propriety and that if they were applied to historically acceptable figures then these figures would improperly be classified as legendary, too.
Unfortunately, I have seen no fleshed-out attempts to show that principles of Wells’ Mythicism lead to historical disaster; the closest I have seen to such an attempt are charges such as Grant’s, namely that if such sceptical conclusions are allowed we must fear similar conclusions elsewhere in unwanted places. I suspect it is easy to conclude intuitively that taking Wells seriously leads straight to denying that, say, Socrates, Plato, or maybe Abraham Lincoln were historical persons, but this line of reasoning requires substantial argument to elevate it beyond the realm of mere “gut-reaction.”(35) In the face of serious criticism, Jesus’ historicity cannot be defended adequately merely by a sense of “historical sacredness” surrounding commonly accepted historical persons; nor can Mythicism be overrun by a completely undefended conviction that its principles, if applied consistently, would also deny the reality of other historically acceptable persons.
In sum, Habermas says nothing substantial about Wells’ historical principles — a very odd omission considering that Habermas titles this main criticism of Wells “Historical Methodology”. It is again ironic that Habermas does not seem aware of Wells 1971, for this text contains a chapter entitled “Criteria of Historicity” (pp.204-222); perhaps an awareness of the points made in this chapter would have provided Habermas with something meaningful to say on Wells’ historiography. I must conclude that: 1) disagreeing with Wells’ historical conclusions and nesting this disagreement inside a discussion of historical methodology is not an effective way to challenge Wells’ historical methodology; and 2) more work is needed to show that the Mythicist’s principles are improper historical methodology.
V.1.b. The Dating of the Gospels
As Habermas notes, the chronology of the books of the New Testament is fundamental to Wells’ thesis. The gospels are found at the beginning of the New Testament and contain the fullest, most colourful accounts of Jesus’s life. Wells states the majority of scholars date these books somewhere between the commencement of the Jewish War with Rome in AD 66 and the end of the first century (see Wells 1989, pp.5-6). He personally dates the Gospel of Mark at least after AD 70, probably as late as AD 90; he dates the remaining three gospels between the writing of Markand AD 110, with the Gospel of John being the last written (see Wells 1996, p.xxi; see also Wells 1988 pp.10-11, chapters 4 and 5).(36)
Habermas objects that Wells dates the gospels too late, asserting such dates “…may have been popular in the nineteenth century, but are abandoned today by the vast majority of critical scholars, and for good reason” (p.35).(37) According to Habermas, most critical scholars date Mark about AD 65-70, Matthew and Luke about AD 80-90, John at AD 90-100. Habermas and Wells roughly agree, then, on the contemporary scholarly consensus on this matter; while Habermas apparently accepts this consensus, Wells thinks it skewed a little too early. Whatever the case, as Habermas admits “…the issue here is not a battle of how many scholars hold these positions, but the reasons behind their views” (p.36).
Strangely, despite this stated concern for evidential reasons behind dating the gospels, Habermas does not think it within the scope of his 1996 book to address this issue in depth. Unfortunately, he chooses the opposite extreme, hardly looking at all.(38) Other than noting the dates preferred by the bulk of scholars, Habermas does very little to substantiate his disagreement with Wells: he refers in a note to Donald Guthrie’s New Testament Introduction and identifies Guthrie as one of a vast number of scholars who disagrees with Wells; he also mentions that the historian Michael Grant disagrees with Wells, referring to Grant’s Jesus: An Historian’s Review.
Such tactics, however, do nothing to support his position; for Wells can simply employ the identical strategy in reverse, citing scholars who agree with his dates and disagree with Habermas. Habermas’ admission that the issue is not to be settled merely by referring to scholarly authority is surprising considering that this appears to be his favoured way of settling this issue. As a field of inquiry, New Testament study commonly exhibits widely diverging opinions, making it extremely difficult to see how particular dates for the gospels can be credibly defended simply by selectively referring to the conclusions but not the reasoning of particular New Testament scholars.
Beyond these ineffectual comments, Habermas only says concerning this matter that Wells’ explanation of how the early church unanimously chose Pilate as the agent of Jesus’ execution is questionable. If this comment is intended to suggest an early date for the writing of the gospels then it is itself quite questionable; it is not clear that the gospels’ choice of Pilate as Jesus’ nominal executioner can only be explained given early dates for the gospels.(39) Habermas has neither shown nor argued otherwise.
Further, it is by no means obvious that Wells’ dating of the gospels is as deviant as Habermas suggests. Wells’ dating is not too far from the range of dates accepted by the scholarly community and — more importantly — he actually defends his preferred dates; Habermas, on the other hand, has not seriously defended his preference for the earlier range of “scholarly condoned dates”, and has done nothing to attack Wells’ reasons for holding the other end of that spectrum.
Fortunately, none of my criticisms of Core Facts require a Wellsian dating of the gospels; for Martin’s abstract of Mythicism is compatible with the gospel-dates favoured by Habermas, given that placing the earliest gospel at AD 65-70 still makes these documents later in first-century Christian tradition than the genuine and pseudepigraphical Pauline epistles, i.e. the earliest writings contained in the New Testament. Consequently, this issue does not require further exploration.
V.1.c. Ancient Mystery Religions Cannot Explain Christianity
As mentioned, Habermas’ focus upon Wells’ references to pagan influences on early Christianity is misplaced. Wells 1996 yet again reinforces this point:
[In Wells 1971] I argued that the pagan mystery religions greatly influenced the earliest Christian thinking about a supernatural redeemer. By the time I wrote [Wells 1975] I had realized that Jewish antecedents must have been of greater importance. The earliest Christians were Jews, and early Christian documents accept the God of Israel, the Old Testament…Jewish apocalyptic and angelology, and Jewish ideas about the Messiah. I was able to show that what is known as the Jewish Wisdom literature could well have supplied Paul and other early Christian writers with the conviction that a supernatural personage had come to earth, only to be humiliated there, and had then returned to heaven (p.xxv).
Consequently, Habermas repeatedly attacks a straw-man when criticizing Wells for relying upon Christian parallels with pagan mystery religions. While Wells does refer to the pagan mystery religions, his use of them is so overshadowed by his dependence upon Jewish Wisdom Literature that Habermas’ comments on pagan mystery religions, as they stand, do not threaten Wells’ thesis.(40)
V.1.d. Early Christian Interest:
Habermas speculates his most important criticism against Wells is that “…the earliest books of the New Testament exhibit sufficient interest in the life of the historical Jesus, especially his death and resurrection” (p.29). As well, Habermas insists these early New Testament documents record eyewitness testimony to the facts of Jesus’ life.
I must point out that Wells does not dispute that early Christians were interested in the death and resurrection of Jesus, rather doubting whether the early Christians believed this death and resurrection had happened in the manner described in much later Christian documents. Fortunately, Habermas exhibits some awareness of this point when he characterises Martin’s formulation of Mythicism: Wells and Martin do not deny that there are some details about Jesus in these early sources. But the issue concerns whether the New Testament writers knew more than a minimal amount of data about Jesus and whether they even knew that he lived during the time traditionally assigned to him (p.38).
Accordingly, the evidence Habermas finds in the early Christian writings must show interest in the details of Jesus’ life in a way that shows that Jesus must have been a relatively recent historical person of the sort described in the gospels. He thinks that this sort of evidence lies in accounts of eyewitness testimony to the historical Jesus. Recall that such accounts formed two of the premises of Core Facts — namely, the appearances of the postmortem Jesus to both his earthly disciples (CF2) and to St. Paul (CF4) — used by Habermas to refute the legend hypothesis against the resurrection (see II.2).
Not surprisingly, Habermas depends upon 1 Corinthians 15:3ff, the main creedal evidence he used to defend CF2 (see IV.2) for reports of the death, burial, resurrection and postmortem appearances of Jesus. For Habermas, the creed links the historical Jesus and the central Christian message of the gospel through eyewitnesses who testified to Jesus’ appearances; he insists these appearances began three days after Jesus’ death. St. Paul, an undisputed historical figure from the middle of the first century AD, claims to have met these witnesses, apparently vindicating his theology by noting the agreement between his own views and these eyewitness testimonial accounts.
Habermas concludes, “It is crucially important that this information is very close to the actual events, and therefore cannot be dismissed as late material or as hearsay evidence” (p.30). Certainly, Mythicism would face a serious anomaly if it were true that this creed established a link between a mid-first century biblical author like Paul and eyewitnesses of a historical Jesus of the sort described by the gospels (namely, a Jesus who lived in Palestine, was crucified by Roman authorities on the order of Pontius Pilate, proclaimed messianic pretensions, irritated the local rabbis, etc.). If Paul had indeed contacted such eyewitnesses of a historical Jesus, it would be difficult to imagine, as Wells maintains, that Paul did not think that Jesus was “…a teacher or miracle-worker, nor active in Galilee, but…[rather] a supernatural personage who had come briefly to earth as a Jew descended from David, had lived obscurely and been crucified in [unspecified] circumstances” (Wells 1996, p.xxiii). While Mythicism has the resources to respond to this objection, this criticism of Wells overlaps with Habermas’ defence of CF2 and so will be addressed in V.2, where Mythicism’s ability to undercut the supports for Core Facts will be considered.
V.1.e. Habermas on Wells: Concluding Remarks
All but one of Habermas’ specific criticisms against Wells have been disarmed. To briefly recapitulate, while Habermas suggests an interesting avenue via historical methodology, he does not substantiate this criticism sufficiently to make it more than an interesting suggestion. Similarly shallow is his reasoning that earlier dates for the gospels (ie. dates earlier than Wells accepts) will vindicate the reliability of the gospels; Habermas does little to either defend such earlier dates or to show that earlier dates would establish such reliability.(41) Nor does one gain confidence that Habermas has taken much time to familiarize himself with Wells’ writings given his repeated chastising of Wells for depending upon pagan influences when Wells clearly emphasizes Jewish sources.
The only point which remains to be undermined is Habermas’ claim of evidence for early Christian interest in a Jesus like the one described in the gospels. Ultimately, this depends upon points also supporting his defence of Core Facts. Accordingly, it is time to examine the Mythicist’s response to Core Facts.
V.2. The Mythicist Response
A quick refresher of Mythicism is in order. Consider the following passage taken from Wells 1996:
…Jesus is not depicted uniformly throughout the twenty-seven books of the New Testament…and the portraits of him in the four canonical gospels are certainly open to question. The gospels make him a teacher and miracle-worker in Palestine when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, that is, some time between AD. 26 and 36, but were written fifty or more years later. They are generally admitted not to be the earliest extant Christian documents. The earliest are those among the letters ascribed to Paul which are genuinely his…They include the four major epistles (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Galatians) and several others, all written by AD. 60–at any rate before Jerusalem began to suffer during the war with Rome which began in AD. 66 and culminated in Jerusalem’s capture and destruction in AD. 70; for Paul mentions current dealings he is having with a Christian community there, which was obviously still untroubled by any such upheavals. The gospels, on the other hand, were written later, but before the end of the first century, and in some of them there are clear indications that the war with Rome was already a thing of the past at their time of writing. Paul never suggests that Jesus had been a teacher or miracle-worker, nor active in Galilee, but portrays him as a supernatural personage who had come briefly to earth as a Jew descended from David, had lived obscurely and been crucified in circumstances which Paul never specifies, but which he does not seem to regard as recent. There is no suggestion that he was a near-contemporary who died at Jerusalem under Pilate. It is not only Paul who depicts Jesus in this way. Other epistles, not by him, but also early, also show no knowledge of Jesus as he is portrayed in the gospels (pp.xxii-xxiii)
This disparity in the New Testament documents provides Wells with his greatest cause for doubting Jesus’ existence; in particular, the abundance of detail in the later texts lacked by the earlier sources seems best explained as legendary embellishment. Rather than reading the more developed specifics of the later New Testament documents back into the earlier, less detailed texts, Wells suggests these two major stages of New Testament Christology reflect radically different ideas of who Jesus actually was.(42) He argues that it is only the later layer of Christian tradition and writings which present Jesus as a historical miracle-worker of early first century Palestine; the early Christians were neither aware of nor interested in such a person namely because there had been no historical Jesus of the sort presented in the later Christian writings.
Recall Martin’s abstract version of this argument, which he summarizes as follows:
The primary historical sources for an existence claim about an individual become doubtful if they are contradictory, report events that are intrinsically improbable, and are based on clearly biased writers who wrote long after the individual was supposed to have died and this claim is not independently confirmed either by other writers both biased and unbiased who wrote earlier than the primary source. Such doubts increase when the major aspect of this individual’s life can be accounted for without making any existence assumption, that is by supposing that the individual’s life and existence is a myth (p.43).
Interestingly, much of Habermas’ apologetic has involved resisting points either very similar or identical to these. Notably, he has emphasized that because Core Facts (as well as the expanded argument) can sufficiently demonstrate Jesus’ resurrection, biblical contradictions are irrelevant. He has vigorously attacked rejections of the resurrection that rely exclusively on a priori probabilistic considerations (see pp.58-59). He insists the gospels were written fairly early and reflect the testimony of eyewitnesses contemporary to Jesus, thereby closing the gap between the gospels and both the early texts and the alleged events themselves. He also maintains there is much independent confirmation of Jesus’ existence, both from non-devotees (e.g. Tacitus, Josephus, Phlegon, etc.) and devotees (e.g. 1 Cor.15:3ff). As for the notion that major aspects of Jesus’ life can be accounted for without assuming his existence, he has denied that Jesus can be explained as a myth via pagan parallels and repeats that there is eyewitness testimony to refute any such suggestion.
Regarding what Davis considered to be the naturalist’s most persuasive argument, while Mythicism incorporates D1 and D2 into its case, Wells’ position is clearly too sophisticated to be reduced to these simplistic objections. The Mythicist primarily notes an evolving Jesus that develops in historical character as one progresses chronologically through the New Testament, an observation not captured by D1 and D2. Concerning D3 — which Davis thought was the naturalist’s best point and Habermas regarded as typical of naturalistic thought — the Mythicist obviously has no need of the concession that the evidence for the resurrection cannot be explained by alternate hypotheses. This aspect of the premise aside, D3 had two interpretations: one in which the current evidence for the resurrection was seen as insufficient to overcome the initial improbability of such an occurrence; and one in which no amount of evidence could overcome reasonable a priori doubt of the miraculous. The former interpretation is more in line with Mythicism’s willingness to confront the evidence and reflects Mythicism’s prima facie compatibility with broadly supernaturalistic assumptions (i.e. S1-S4); the Mythicist objects to the evidence for the resurrection that there is, not any possible configuration of evidence whatsoever.
V.2.a. Mythicism on the Crucifixion
According to Habermas, the crucifixion could be sufficiently demonstrated as historical fact by relying solely on the non-Christian evidence. In terms of Martin’s abstract of Mythicism’s reasoning this would constitute independent evidence for Jesus’ historicity provided by non-devotees; but Martin argued that such evidence is useful only if earlier in time than the primary documents requiring independent confirmation (ie. the gospels). The point of this stipulation is easy to see: these documents need independent confirmation largely because of their temporal removal from the events they describe; evidence that is not earlier than these documents can therefore be equally suspicious. Further, if the evidence is actually later than the documents needing corroboration, this evidence may itself be influenced (contaminated) by the primary documents, making it dependent rather than independent testimony. Without compelling mitigating reason, testimony from one source (N) cannot corroborate another source (G) if the reason for questioning the latter source (G) also applies to the first (N); in this case, late dates for both corroborator and corroboratee prima facie undermine the ability of the one to corroborate the other.
In detailing Habermas’ sufficient case for the crucifixion, I noted his references to two ancient historians, two Jewish sources, two Gentile sources, and one lost work. Although various interesting criticisms could be made against each of these, the simplest way to undercut these evidences is to note their dates of composition in relation to the dates of the sources they are being used to confirm. In other words, when were they written in relation to the gospels?
Ironically, if Habermas’ view of the gospel dates is taken — ie. Mark at AD 65-70, Matthew and Luke at AD 80-90, John at AD 90-100 — then none of these non-Christian documents provide testimony that is temporally prior to the writing of the first three gospels, many not being written until well after all four canonical gospels had been composed. Consider that the ancient historians Josephus and Tacitus were born respectively in the late AD 30s and AD 55, neither writing their relevant documents (ie. Antiquities and Annals) before AD 90. Consequently, these ancient historians cannot independently confirm the gospel accounts of Jesus.
Tol’doth Jeshu was not compiled until the fifth century AD, making its use even more questionable. Habermas tries to mitigate this difficulty, arguing this anti-Christian polemic reflects early Jewish tradition; the tradition he has in mind is contained in Matthew, which records that after the resurrection Jewish leaders disputed its authenticity by accusing the disciples of stealing the body (see Mt.28:11-15). It is not clear how much earlier than Matthew this tradition goes — notably, it is not a concern of any of the remaining three gospels. Furthermore, the existence of this “stolen body” tradition suggests neither that the tradition behind Tol’doth Jeshu dates from that time, nor that this Matthewan tradition is sufficiently prior to the writing of the first gospel, Mark, to enable it to operate as corroboration of Jesus’ crucifixion under orthodox circumstances.
Lucian, as a second-century satirist (ca.117-180) also provides no independent confirmation of Jesus’ crucifixion; and Phlegon, although born earlier then Lucian at AD 80, is still far too late to provide independent confirmation of anything the gospels assert about Jesus’ earthly career in first century Palestine.(43)
The remaining two non-Christian sources considered — a reference from the Talmud and Mara bar Serapion’s letter — are interesting cases. Habermas suggests the former dates between AD 70-200, while he says the latter dates from between late first and third century AD. Notably, he gives no indication of precisely when these documents were written, but if his dates for the gospels are accepted then these documents cannot independently confirm CF1, either.
However, if the gospels are dated later than Habermas allows then these two sources could possibly predate all four gospels. For example, if Wells’ gospel-dates were accepted, then given the low range of dates for both the Talmudic passage and Mara bar Serapion’s letter, they might precede the writing of the primary Christian documents. Granting that dating these texts prior to the gospels (e.g. AD 70) would provide some hope for defenders of a historical Jesus — while keeping in mind that AD 70 is still four decades after the events being attested to — then ironically these two non-Christian references are useful to Habermas’ case only if gospel-dates similar to Wells’ are accepted.
V.2.a.1. Mara bar Serapion
Recall the following letter from a Syrian prisoner to his son:
What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgement for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teachings of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise King die for good; he lived on in the teaching which he had given (Bruce, p.31). Apparently, Habermas determines the low-end date of this passage by suggesting the text refers to and therefore follows the Jewish revolt. Habermas’ source for this information, F.F. Bruce, is somewhat more informative: Bruce places the letter at some “indeterminate” time later than AD 73, also apparently reasoning that it must follow the Jewish revolt (p.30); in a note he also dates the manuscript preserving the letter as 7th century and the letter itself at second or third century (p.32, n.21).
Unfortunately, Habermas never makes clear why he allows for a late first century date when Bruce reveals in this note that the letter dates from between second and third century. Bruce may have chosen his words poorly when writing that the text of the letter dates from an indeterminate date beyond AD 73 only to later provide a somewhat more determinate temporal range beyond that particular date. The confusion over this presentation could have led Habermas to date the letter as possibly late first century; for other than citing Bruce he provides no reason to think the letter dates that early. Given the evidence provided by both Bruce and Habermas, dating the letter closer to AD 73 than the second century is excessively generous.
There are further reasons for dating this letter later than first century. The letter expresses the view that Jesus merely lived on in his teachings, a position that was commonplace in the writings of Lucian and other second century writers who compared Jesus to other philosophers and sages of antiquity. If Mara bar Serapion was in fact influenced by the writings of Lucian and other later critics of Christianity, his letter would necessarily date from at least mid-second century and could not provide independent testimony of the crucifixion.
Additionally, the letter evidences post-AD 70 Christian influence: it suggests the Jews rather than the Romans were responsible for Jesus’ death and it views the destruction of Jerusalem as God’s punishment of the Jews for killing Jesus. According to Wells, after the fall of the temple in AD 70 it was not until a later stage of Christian tradition development that the Jews were specifically blamed for the death of Jesus.(44)
Interestingly, Bruce points out that this letter’s writer possessed very inaccurate information about Samos and Athens. However, he does not draw the conclusion that the entire passage might be therefore doubtful and Habermas actively resists this inference, writing:
As Bruce notes, some of Mara Bar-Serapion’s material concerning Athens and Samos is quite inaccurate. Yet the statements about Jesus do not appear to be flawed and thus add to our extra-New Testament data about him (p.208).
That Mara Bar Serapion’s statements appear unflawed is a very odd claim for Habermas to make, considering that the letter says Jesus lived on in his teachings, conspicuously saying nothing about a resurrection or other miraculous events. Whatever the case, Habermas apparently misunderstands Bruce when he allows the letter to be dated as early as late first century AD. Particularly given the evident influences of late sources — both Christian and pagan — Bruce’s later dating of second or third century for the letter is the dating Habermas should have followed. Of course, this finding disallows the use of this letter to properly provide independent confirmation of the gospel accounts of CF1.
V.2.a.2. The Talmud
Habermas attributes the following passage to an early layer of compilation — the Tannaitic period, AD 70-200 — within the Talmud:
On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, “He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Any one who can say anything in his favour, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.” But since nothing was brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the eve of the Passover! (Habermas, p.203; citing The Babylonian Talmud, trans. I. Epstein (London: Soncino, 1935), Vol. III, Sanhedrin 43a, p.281).(45)
In order for this Talmudic passage to be useful to Habermas’ non-Christian case for the crucifixion, its testimony must be dated significantly prior to the gospels and confirm the details of CF1. Interestingly, few of the specific details described in Sanhedrin 43a are recorded in any New Testament documents, most in fact being inconsistent with the gospel accounts of Jesus’ death. Notably, the gospels make no mention of stoning nor even the threat of stoning and clearly portray Jesus as dying of crucifixion;(46) the gospels give the Romans a major role in the crucifixion drama, while Sanhedrin 43a suggests instead that the Jews were solely responsible for the execution; Sanhedrin 43a suggests Jesus was imprisoned for forty days waiting for someone to testify on his behalf, another detail inconsistent with the gospel narratives.
Further, both Martin and Wells point out that in the few places where Jesus is discussed in the Talmud he is often assigned to a time distant from early first century. Martin notes the Talmud contains references to Yeshu ben Pantera, “…a magician whose mother’s name was Mary Magdala and who was crucified in BC 126”, and to Yeshu the Nazarene who lived during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus, ruler of Palestine from 104 to 79 BC (p.50). Wells points out that when rabbinic documents do begin mentioning Jesus they assign him to times varying by as much as two hundred years (1996, p.46).
These difficulties aside, this text needs an early date for Habermas’ purposes; but both he and Bruce only say the passage originates from a historic period which spanned from AD 70-200, giving no argument for any particular time within this range. The mere fact that Sanhedrin 43a comes from the Tannaitic period is not a compelling reason for dating it at a time convenient for Habermas’ apologetics, i.e. close to the low end of the period’s range. Hinging the historical crucifixion of Jesus upon such a vague dating for this text would be akin to claiming that because a tradition developed in the twentieth century, a conclusion which may follow if this tradition dated from before AD 1910 could be supported. Notably, on the basis of a survey by J. Klausner — Jesus of Nazareth, trans. H. Danby, 1925 — Wells asserts that rabbinic references to Jesus come no earlier than early second century, suggesting the effective temporal range of this passage should be restricted to AD 100-200.
However, even granting Habermas a date of AD 70 for this reference leaves unexplained why there are no earlier Jewish references; if Jesus did live and die in early first century Palestine, there is an inexplicable gap spanning at least forty years in the records of a nation of scribes concerning the life and existence of a Messianic pretender whom they allegedly arranged to have killed. Wells astutely notes that
…If Jesus’ fame had in fact “gone through all Syria” in the late 20s or early 30s (Mt.4:24), and if he had experienced the kind of repeated altercations with Jewish orthodoxy alleged in the gospels, the absence of earlier references becomes very hard to explain (1996, p.46). At best, the gap between rabbinic references to Jesus and the alleged time of Jesus life and interaction with orthodox Jewry is forty years, and wishful thinking cannot establish this best case scenario.(47) Given the deviations from the gospel accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion, the Talmud’s imprecision on when Jesus lived and the likely post-first century dating of Sanhedrin 43a, this text appears to have little worth as non-Christian corroboration of CF1. Wells concludes while Jewish traditions about Jesus are clearly rich and detailed, they contain no independent reference to a historical Jesus.
V.2.a.3. Concluding Remarks on the Crucifixion
At least one conclusion which can be drawn from this discussion of non-Christian sources is that Habermas is far too eager to label an argumentative case sufficient when it is not.(48) If it were possible to demonstrate Jesus’ historical crucifixion as per orthodox Christian belief merely on evidence such as this, the standards of historical acceptability would have to be low indeed. By using only these sources to make his case, Habermas leaves unexplained a huge gap from which there is no non-Christian testimony; while this is a very suspicious absence on Habermas’ view of Jesus’ biography, it is the expected result on the Mythicist’s assumptions. That this is the sort of case Habermas thinks sufficient to achieve his ends gives good reason for scepticism concerning the often-touted “sufficiency” of his other arguments (viz. Core Facts). Perhaps the best advice Habermas could take would be that already implied by Pannenberg: namely, that it is not a terribly good idea to place the stamp of “sufficient” upon intentionally restricted arguments of the sort involved here (see Habermas 1987, p.130). As presented by Habermas, the non-Christian case for Jesus’ crucifixion must be considered a failure.
V.2.b. Creedal Evidence for Postresurrection Appearances
Core Facts purports to demonstrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead given that this hypothesis best explains CF1-CF4. The integrity of this argument, then, depends upon the legitimacy of these assumptions. In the previous section, I undermined the worth of a limited but allegedly sufficient case for Jesus’ crucifixion, casting some doubt on both the historicity of this fact and Core Facts itself.
Of course, Habermas’ abridged apologetic can easily survive this objection; for the failure of the non-Christian case for the crucifixion does not obviously show that Core Facts fails in general. Unless one erroneous application of “sufficient” implies that all others are suspect, Habermas can insist the crucifixion needs to be more thoroughly criticized before he must admit any serious problems with this apologetic.(49) Even granting my criticisms of the non-Christian case for the crucifixion are sound, other resources available to Habermas remain to be considered: a case based on such resources could possibly succeed if the insufficiency of the non-Christian case for the crucifixion does not itself completely undermine the crucifixion’s historicity.(50)
In order for Mythicism to have a significant impact upon Core Facts, a more serious victory needs to be scored. Recall that Habermas has stated CF2 — Jesus’ disciples thinking they were appeared to by a resurrected Jesus — is perhaps the most important ingredient in Core Facts (see Section IV; Habermas 1996, p.163). While Habermas defends this point with numerous evidences, he considers one of the strongest to be contained within Christian creeds, 1 Cor.15:3ff in particular:
The importance of the creed in 1 Corinthians can hardly be overestimated. No longer can it be charged that there is no demonstrable early, eyewitness testimony for the resurrection or for the other most important tenets of Christianity, for this creed provides just such evidential data concerning the facts of the gospel, which are the very center of the Christian faith. It links the events themselves with those who actually participated in space and time. As such, this creed yields a strong factual basis for Christianity through the early eyewitness reports of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus…(p.157).
Habermas notes that Paul agrees with these eyewitnesses about the resurrection, taking Gal.1:18-19 to show that Paul probably received the creed from the apostolic witnesses themselves and Gal.2:1-10 to mean that Paul had “checked out this message with the apostles” (p.156). This creed also fuelled Habermas’ attack against Wells; for contrary to Mythicism, Habermas insisted that the earliest books of the New Testament (e.g. 1 Cor.) show interest in a historical Jesus, even preserving eyewitness testimony to such a figure. Assuming that Paul considered the eyewitnesses he met to be contemporaries of an earthly Jesus, the evidential thrust of 1 Cor.15:3ff is that it presents some of the early eyewitness testimony of those who had seen both the risen and earthly Jesus.
Of course, Wells does not deny that Paul thought the postmortem appearances of Jesus happened recently, nor even that Paul met some of the recipients of these experiences; rather, he denies that Paul thought Jesus’ death and resurrection happened recently. It is crucial to note that the Mythicist’s position is not harmed by merely granting that pre-Pauline Christian tradition espoused recent postresurrection appearances of Jesus. Unless the apologist can connect the creed with a historical Jesus living around early first century AD, 1 Cor.15:3ff presents no difficulties for the Mythicist even if all of 1 Cor.15:3b-7 (ie. the maximum possible pre-Pauline material within 1 Cor.15:3ff, given that vv.3a,8 are considered original to Paul) were a pre-Pauline passage dating back to the AD 30s.(51) Such a connection is also required if the creed is to support CF2; for without a link to Jesus’ earthly existence, Habermas cannot defensibly claim that the recipients of these appearances — recent or otherwise — were Jesus’ earthly followers. Accordingly, only if these appearances were to Jesus’ earthly contemporaries (e.g. Jesus’ disciples) can the creed be used to refute the Mythicist.
V.2.b.1. Does 1 Cor.15:3ff Evidence a Historical Jesus?
Habermas contends 1 Cor.15:3ff establishes that Jesus’ disciples thought they saw a risen Jesus. When considering how to defend the facts of the New Testament creeds, Habermas considers two approaches: 1) validate the NT documents as reliable sources and then argue to the trustworthiness of the creeds; or 2) provide independent evidence for the trustworthiness of the creeds. Habermas has set out to accomplish the latter, writing that
…because of this particular goal, we will endeavor to provide special evidence for the death and resurrection of Jesus by referring to what is perhaps the most important single creed in the New Testament [ie. 1 Cor.15:3ff] (p.152).
In terms of Martin’s abstract, this is a worthwhile endeavour; for working to provide early evidence from Jesus’ devotees to confirm the Jesus of orthodoxy satisfies one of Martin’s criteria for rational belief in a historical person.
Habermas provides the following explanations of how the creed evidences a historical Jesus:
[1 Cor.15:3ff] links the historical life of Jesus, and the central Christian message of the gospel, in particular (vv.3-4), with those eyewitnesses who testified to his resurrection appearances, beginning on the third day after his death (vv.5-7) (p.30 (italics mine)).
Later on, he claims that
…using only the Pauline epistles…there is no shortage of data showing that Paul knew Jesus was an earlier contemporary…Jesus died and was raised, appearing to his followers just three days later (1 Cor.15:3ff). Those eyewitnesses who saw him afterwards included Peter, Jesus’ disciples, 500 believers, most of whom were still alive, James, and the apostles…Paul…was contemporary with these apostolic witnesses (15:9-11, 14-15) (p.39 (italics mine)).
Notice that Habermas clearly thinks the resurrection appearances began on the third day following Jesus’ death. He contends that “The best explanation for the phrase ‘the third day’ (1 Cor.15:3-4) is that Paul had temporal interests in mind, and that these witnesses began to see Jesus three days after he was raised from the dead” (p.31). The actual text of 1 Cor.15:3ff, however, is not so clear in making this point. Consider closely the text of vv.3-5:
3. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,
4. that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures,
5. and that he appeared to Cephas…
While it seems clear that Paul thought Jesus rose from the dead three days after being killed, 1 Cor.15:4-5 lacks any indication of how much time Paul thinks passed between the resurrection and the first listed appearance to Cephas.(52) Apropos of Habermas’ interpretation, Wells writes:
Many commentators…suppose that Paul here [ie. 1 Cor.15:3ff] implies that not only these appearances, but also the crucifixion and resurrection were recent, and that “some of the witnesses of the resurrection” were still alive when he wrote. In fact, however, although he places the resurrection three days after the death, he does not indicate when the death occurred. It is only the appearances that he says are recent, and someone who sees a ghost does not necessarily suppose that it is the wraith of a recently deceased person (1996, p.57).
He adds to this train of thought in another text:
It is our familiarity with the gospels–later documents representing later developments in the tradition–that leads us to assume that Paul supposed the appearances to have followed rapidly after the crucifixion and resurrection, and to have been vouchsafed to men who had been companions of a historical Jesus (1988, p.43).
Further cause to doubt that Paul thought the appearances of Jesus quickly followed his crucifixion is the fact that his Christology completely lacks reference to a saviour who is resurrected and then remains on earth for a time to meet at length with earthly followers before ascending into heaven. Wells observes that when Paul discusses Jesus’ resurrection and subsequent seating at the right hand of God, he never places any interval between these events. Contrary to the postresurrection events described in the gospels, Paul seems to have assumed that the risen Jesus ascended to heaven immediately; therefore, he will naturally have supposed that the subsequent appearances he lists were made by a descent from heaven, as was his own appearance experience (assuming some sort of harmonization of the accounts in the Acts of the Apostles can be trusted, see Acts 9:3ff; Acts 22:9).
Habermas provides other reasons to suggest that Paul thought the resurrection appearances shortly followed the resurrection, but these too beg the question in his favour. For example, when arguing for the ability of the creed to evidence a historical Jesus, Habermas frequently assumes that Jesus was crucified around AD 30; therefore, it is reasoned, if the creed was written earlier than Paul’s text (AD 50s), it is less than twenty-five years from this final event in the life of the historical Jesus. Concerning the precise dating of the creed, Habermas informs his reader that “It is very popular to date this creed in the mid AD 30s” and “numerous critical scholars date [the creed] from three to eight years after Jesus’ crucifixion” (p.154 (italics mine)). Habermas also provides a speculative scenario explaining how Paul received the creed from the leaders of the Jerusalem church; notably, this scenario begins by assuming Jesus’ crucifixion in AD 30 and he concludes that if the creed was written a few years after the crucifixion, then the independent beliefs that composed the formalized creed would then date back to the “actual events” (p.155).
Recall, however, that Habermas insisted that he could derive his desired conclusions from the creed independently of assuming the reliability of the New Testament text; if deliberately handicapped to non-New Testament sources, it is unclear upon what he bases the assumption that Jesus was crucified around AD 30. I have already shown the non-Christian sources cannot reliably show that Jesus was crucified in this or any other time; further, the criterion used to undermine the non-Christian case for the crucifixion — date of composition — similarly undermines Habermas’ Christian non-New Testament sources, the earliest of which is written around AD 95 (see pp.229-242).
The only non-New Testament sources remaining to Habermas of those considered in Habermas 1996 — a text “…largely concerned with pre- and non-biblical evidence for…the life, death and resurrection of Jesus” (p.10) — are archaeological sources and Christian creeds such as 1 Cor.15:3ff. The former, however, are insufficient to independently show Jesus’ crucifixion (see pp.171-186); and if 1 Cor.15:3ff cannot establish Jesus’ historical existence, the situation does not appear hopeful for creeds less capable than this “most important” of creedal evidences.
Certainly, if Paul thought these postresurrection witnesses were contemporary to a historical Jesus, and himself contemporary to these witnesses, then Habermas could establish, among other things, that Paul thought Jesus lived fairly recently. Habermas argues that Paul was contemporary to some of these witnesses, having met Cephas and James, but if, as is commonly charged, James was the brother of Jesus then it is the connection with James that is most interesting for establishing that Paul thought Jesus was a recent historical personage. While Paul does not indicate any familial relationship between Jesus and James in the creed in question, elsewhere in his letter to the church at Galatia he wrote: “Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother” (Gal.1:18-19).
The question, then, is whether Paul thought he had met — and was therefore contemporary with — one of Jesus’ siblings, therefore necessitating Jesus’ recent historical existence. While this point is not technically part of Habermas’ creedal defence of CF2, it is both related to the defence of the creed and itself an independent evidence for a historical Jesus. Therefore, in the context of the Mythicist’s counter-hypothesis of the resurrection, whether Paul thought Jesus had an earthly brother named James whom he had met needs to be addressed.
V.2.b.2. “James the Lord’s brother” (Gal.1:19)
Unfortunately, Habermas does not take very seriously the suggestion that Paul did not think the James mentioned in Gal.1:19 was Jesus’ familial brother; while he addresses both Wells and Martin on this matter, he treats them both dismissively. Notably, Habermas describes Wells’ views on James with the following single sentence:
…Wells actually suggests, in describing James as the Lord’s brother, that Paul is referring not to an actual brother (in the sense of a blood relation) but to a group of individuals in the early church called the brethren of the Lord! (p.32).(53)
He then goes on to criticize Wells’ conclusion without indicating any awareness of the points Wells uses to defend his position.
Habermas’ treatment of Martin is somewhat more detailed, indirectly exhibiting some minimal understanding of one of the reasons used by Wells (borrowed by Martin) to deny that Paul thought James was Jesus’ kin:
Repeating what he terms the “plausible” suggestion of Wells, Martin postulates that, since there were factions in the early church who favored Paul, Apollos, or Peter,(54) “there may well have been one at Jerusalem called the brethren of the Lord, who would have had no more personal experience of Jesus than Paul himself” [Martin, p.55]. Later, Martin confidently asserts that “it is dubious that ‘James the Lord’s brother’ means ‘James, Jesus’ brother'” [Martin, p.92]. Thus, James would have been the member of a Christian faction called “the brethren of the Lord” that had no physical, familial relation to Jesus! (pp.40-41).
Habermas’ counterpoints against Martin and Wells on this matter are identical and his disagreement with Wells concerning James is limited to four objections: Wells does not provide the normal understanding of Paul’s references to James; the gospels, regardless of their dating, agree that Jesus had siblings; Josephus wrote of James, the brother of Jesus in Antiquities; finally, there is no manuscript evidence supporting Wells’ case.
The merit of these criticisms, however, is dubious. That Wells presents a “…far from normal way of understanding Paul” (p.32) merely repeats the obvious fact that Mythicism is not conventional; this objection, however, can only undermine Wells if parroting the theological status quo is a sufficient defence of this status quo — it is not. That all four gospels freely speak of Jesus’ brothers as siblings, contrary to Habermas, means nothing if this agreement is a product of later, theologically motivated tradition not found in the earlier Christian documents (see Wells 1988, pp.170ff). Assuming that Josephus wrote that James was the brother of Jesus around AD 90, this can hardly be thought to independently establish a blood relationship between Jesus and historical persons that Paul met.(55) Finally, merely stating that there is no ancient evidence to support the Mythicist’s position on James is not a sufficiently developed counter to the arguments Wells has presented against a blood relationship between James and Jesus. Nevertheless, on the basis of these points Habermas concludes: “One gets the distinct impression in reading the dubious interpretations of Wells and Martin that the point is not to fairly explain Paul’s meaning, but to say anything in order to avoid the clear meaning of the texts” (p.41).
Habermas’ use of the ad hominem aside, Wells admits that Gal.1:19 is one of the few instances where the evidence prima facie supports a historical Jesus — he calls it, in fact, one of the most striking examples of such a case. Paul does claim personal acquaintance with James, and Wells admits
…that this interpretation of Paul’s words [ie. that James and Jesus were kin] does seem the immediate and obvious one. Here, then, is a case where what seems to be the plain sense of a text does not support me. It has to be weighed against other texts where my theory makes better sense of the evidence. If the only reasonable interpretation of what Paul says implies that James and Jesus were physical brothers, then this passage would weigh very heavily indeed against my view of Christian origins (p.167).
Of course, if this prima facie support were decisive merely for the reason that it was prima facie support, other instances where the prima facie appearances opposed Habermas’ position would be similarly decisive for the contrary view. Not surprisingly, Wells does not think the plausibility of James’ kinship with Jesus extends beyond the prima facie, rather arguing that an investigation that goes beyond Gal.1:19 undermines viewing James this way.
Beginning with the only one of Wells’ points that Habermas alludes to, consider 1 Cor.1:11-13, where Paul complains of Christian factions at Corinth:
For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarrelling among you, my brethren. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
Wells notes the fact that a religious party naming itself after say, Cephas, does not necessarily mean its members had any contact with Cephas personally, but only that they had adopted some views that were identified with Cephas; likewise, a party “of Christ” does not indicate any more personal acquaintance with an earthly Jesus than had by Paul (i.e. no personal acquaintance). Wells continues:
Now if there was a Corinthian group called “those of the Christ,” there could also have been a Jerusalem one called “the brethren of the Lord,” who would not necessarily have had any more personal experience of Jesus than Paul himself. And James, as “the brother of the Lord,” could have been the leader of the group (p.168). Wells notes it was common in ancient times to use the term “brother” to signify something other than blood-kinship and that the term “brother” could in Paul’s day mean “principle servant” (1988, p.168; citing Brandon, S.G.F. The Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian Church, 1951, p.20 n and refs.). Significantly, the phrase used in Gal.1:19 is “James the brother of the Lord”, not “James the brother of Jesus” nor “James, Jesus’ brother”. Of these three possibilities, the first phrasing is the most suggestive of a religious fraternity; notably, those phrases most suggestive of blood-kinship are not used by Paul to describe any relationship between another person and Jesus.
Contrary to Habermas’ suggestion, without relying on traditions exhibited within later Christian documents it cannot simply be assumed that the “clear meaning of the texts” is that Paul’s references to brothers of Jesus (e.g. James), are references to Jesus’ earthly kin; while taking Gal.1:19 in isolation might suggest such a relationship, a deeper look undermines this assumption. Of course, it is true that all three synoptic gospels attribute blood-brothers to Jesus, but while Mark names one of these as James and Matthew accepts and repeats this relationship, Luke-Acts conspicuously does not suggest any such kinship between James and Jesus. In fact, the closest Acts comes to naming James as the brother of Jesus is in Acts 12:17, when Peter asks that a message of the risen Lord be passed along to “James and to the brethren”; by Acts 15 this James functions as the leader of the Jerusalem community (i.e. the James of Gal.1:19) but its text never suggests that this James is Jesus’ sibling. Wells suggests that if the James that Paul met in Jerusalem was actually a brother of Jesus, the author of Acts surely would have said so when presenting a full account of their meeting, an account notably missing from any Pauline writings.
Additionally, when the gospels Matthew and John describe the similar circumstances of Jesus confronting Mary(s)(56) shortly after his resurrection, they both portray Jesus referring to his disciples as his brethren (see Mt.28:8-10; Jn.20:17). Textual analysis strongly suggests the author of John was not directly familiar with Mark, thereby ruling out the possibility that John, the latest gospel, took its information from Mark, the earliest gospel. Given the strong similarity between the two accounts, it appears that both authors relied upon a common tradition for their different accounts of this postresurrection appearance — accounts which are suspiciously never mention by Paul — therefore indicating a somewhat pre-gospel tradition in which Jesus’ followers are referred to as his brethren.
In sum, other than the vague references in Paul’s writings to “James the brother of the Lord” and other “brothers of the Lord” (see 1 Cor.9:5), there are no early details of Jesus’ earthly family life, let alone the idea that the James who led the Jerusalem church was a part of that family. If Jesus had lived and died around AD 30 with the family relations attributed to him in some later Christian documents, it is mysterious why the only early indications of such a family are found in two passages (i.e. Gal.1:19 and 1 Cor.9:5) which can be taken to suggest religious fraternity as well as familial kinship.
In accord with the Mythicist’s hypothesis, only in some of the later Christian documents do concerted efforts to portray Jesus as having an earthly family appear, but motivations more theological than historical can account for these depictions, notably the desire to combat Docetism — i.e. the heretical view that the historical Jesus was totally divine and only appeared as human. Wells concludes that while Galatians and Acts do not require James to be viewed as Jesus’ kin, such would be an easy and natural inference for someone trying to harmonize these texts with Mark and Matthew.
V.2.b.3. Concluding Remarks on Habermas’ Creedal Case
It appears that the creed of 1 Cor.15:3ff is useful for Habermas’ needs only if he is allowed to beg some questions, using the creed to confirm what he has already assumed, namely a historical Jesus. Whether the creed is pre- or post-Pauline will also have a marked effect on its possibilities for Christian apologetics, but this concern aside, the creed does not connect Paul with a contemporary earthly Jesus, rather providing a link with earthly Christians, like himself, who had claimed or were claimed to have had experiences of a postresurrection Jesus.
Wells points out that the apologists’ case is not helped by the fact that Paul, in his statement about the appearances, is reciting an early Christian creed. That the earliest extant mention of the resurrection occurs in a formula handed down from even earlier Christians is readily explicable if the event is in fact unhistorical (1989 p.37), but rather mysterious on the orthodox view presumed by Core Facts. It is of interest that while Paul does not geographically fix the post-resurrection appearances, the gospels assign them to varying inconsistent locales; these major discrepancies concerning a matter of the greatest importance to early Christianity suggest the later appearance stories are legends created to build upon and legitimate the earlier appearance-list. Accordingly, Paul’s list of appearances seems best explained as developing tradition: earliest Christians simply asserted that Christ died and was raised, embodying these convictions in preaching formulas such as “The Lord is risen”. The next stage was to provide the idea of appearances, then descriptions of appearances, then finally descriptions of the resurrection itself such as that found in the non-canonical Gospel of Peter. 1 Cor.15:3ff is unable to establish that Jesus appeared to his earthly followers, therefore being unable to establish CF2.