What Abe finds wrong with "The God Who Wasn't There" -- Episode 1: Hebrews 8:4
The God Who Wasn't There on YouTube
The trouble begins on 13:17, where Flemming introduces the Pauline epistles.
These documents represent almost all we have of the history of Chrisitanity during this decades-long gap. And here's the interesting thing: if Jesus was a human who had recently lived, nobody told Paul. Paul never heard of Mary, Joseph, Bethlehem, Herod, John the Baptist, he never heard about any of these miracles, he never quotes anything that Jesus is supposed to have said. He never mentions Jesus having a ministry of any kind at all. He doesn't know about any entrance to Jerusalem, he never mentions Pontius Pilate or Jewish mob or any trials at all. Paul doesn't know any of what we would call the story of Jesus, except for these last three events [Christ put on the cross, the resurrection and the ascension], and even these--Paul never places on Earth. Just like the other savior gods of the time, Paul's Christ Jesus died, rose and ascended all within a mythical realm.
There are many problems with this set of assertions (some of them are correct, others are bald-faced falsehoods). But, the real trouble comes right after that--a Bible verse then flashes up on the screen (emphasis his):
"If Jesus had been on earth, he would not even have been a priest." Hebrews 8:4
Like any good docugandist, Flemming never explains his point, but, presumably, the argument is that Paul himself implied that Jesus never walked the Earth.
- The main problem is that Paul most certainly did not write Hebrews. If we are talking about the writings of Paul, then we should be focusing on the writings of Paul, not all of the traditional epistles. Six of them were apparently forgeries, and Hebrews was one of them. If you include all of the traditional epistles among the letters of Paul, then even more of the above listed assertions become falsehoods. For example, 1 Timothy 6:13 mentions Pontius Pilate (1 Timothy is also a forgery).
- The second problem is that the Greek wording is not necessarily past tense. If the author was writing about a hypothetical scenario of the present, then how would he write it? Answer: exactly the same way. Almost all English translations use the word, "were," not "had been" ("were" is more commonly used in English for a present-tense hypothetical). ALL of the English translations--and that includes the NRSV, the translation preferred by critical scholars. Except one--the Bible in Basic English. It uses "had been." The Bible in Basic English was written by one guy in 1941 for people with limited eduction or for people who speak English as a second language.
- Finally, if Flemming uses Hebrews to advance his point that the author did not believe that Jesus ever walked the Earth, then he must also include for consideration the times with the Epistle to the Hebrews where Jesus clearly is an Earthly figure. Here is an especially troubling example
Hebrews 5:7 -- "In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission."
Flemming is trying to have us believe that the author of Hebrews (Paul?) believed that Jesus was never on Earth, and at the same time the author claims that Jesus once had days in his flesh when he offered up tearful supplications to God.
Am I picking at straws? This particular point matters, because there are mythicists (i.e. Earl Doherty) who make the claim that the earliest Christian belief was that Jesus never walked the Earth. It is an extraordinary claim, and there is no direct evidence for this assertion.