Josiah Concept Ministries and the Historical Christ Hypothesis
Josiah Concept Ministries and the Historical Christ Hypothesis
By Rook Hawkins
After my article on the problems of the historical Jesus and the Gospels as fictional narratives, I was worried that Christians would be afraid to refute these positions, and therefore I would not be able to generate the dialog that I so wanted to have. Thankfully, one Christian, Cory Tucholski, has taken up this charge to defend his faith against my articles.
Cory has written a very interesting blog article in response to my positions. He has written to his reader’s satisfaction, and although he makes grandiose claims, he should be applauded by known apologists such as Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel for the erudite quality of his response. But did he really answer the problems or represent my position accurately? I do not think he did, but that can only be shown after examining the article he has written.
He breaks down my two articles into categories which, as to not disrupt the integrity of his article, he sometimes elucidates his points in a scattered manner. He gives my list of contradictions in his first section where he attempts to show that these discrepancies are not really “discrepancies” at all. He writes:
"The dominant apologetic view is that the gospels differ because they were written as independent attestations, not with the four evangelists huddled in a corner somewhere cooking up nonsense."
This is, of course, an ad hoc fallacy. I did not suggest that four Gospel authors were writing nonsense together. In fact I have to question Cory’s reading comprehension. He quotes me above saying exactly what he thinks I did not say – that the apologetic view is that the Gospels are four eyewitness accounts which is why they disagree. One can’t help but feel that Cory was attacking thin air on this one. He even projects his insecurities with his argument here by suggesting I am creating a strawman against apologists, even after he has argued a point which I never made.
I would also never say the Gospel authors were “cooking up nonsense” in the idea that they were writing to deceive. Reinterpreting scripture and creating fictional narrative was not akin to lying or deception. The Jews, and later Christians as well, looked at scripture differently than Christians and Jews do today. Just as the Greeks read the Argonautika as a history, even though it was written by Apollonius of Rhodes during the Hellenistic age, the Jews saw even the most recent fictional narratives as history. Perhaps Cory does not understand these terms in regards to their Hellenistic milieu. I suppose this should also act as a history lesson for Cory as well as a refutation of his criticisms.
Fiction and History were not separate in antiquity, but generally conjoined. A biography to a person in antiquity could exist of fictional characters (by fictional, I mean they never existed) or of real individuals, and even the articles that resemble real individuals usually contain many liberties and plot narrative creative by the authors. A look at Plutarch’s Lives for example will yield many cases of Plutarch’s creative energies being unleashed during the narration of the lives of those he is discussing. Biography did not mean what it means today, which is another reason why your description is inaccurate. Charles Talbert explains the definition of biography in antiquity in his book What is a Gospel (1977). Biography to Hellenized Jews meant “prose narration…presenting supposedly historical facts…with the purpose of affecting the behavior of the reader.” (p. 17) He grants the genre of biography, clarifying that it is “ancient biography” where kerygma is influencing the author. The new definition Talbert gives, while calling it “biography” clearly does not reflect an accurate account of the life of any historical person, which he seems to admit. (p. 133-135) Fiction writing continued to be the number one type of writing in antiquity, especially during the Second Sophistic period, and through the later centuries. Just as the Gospels were considered “scripture” to later Christians who wrote new narratives reflecting these scriptures (such as the Nag Hammadi Gnostic texts), the Jews used their scriptures to reinterpret and create new narrative as well. The Gospels are a part of this process, not separate from it, as much as you would wish it so.
After a review of my short list of contradictions Cory asks, “But do the discrepancies weaken or strengthen the gospel accounts?” He answers that he does not think this is the case. Why not? “The discrepancies are neutral, and to be expected. This just isn’t an issue the way that Rook makes it out to be.” (sic!) Really? How does Cory explain the discrepancies in the Gospels then, especially if these are eyewitness accounts?
"The key to harmonizing the Resurrection narratives is to remember that in the major details, they are in agreement… The minor details, such as when or how many heavenly beings appeared to the women, when Jesus appeared, how many women, etc. are not as important."
Ah ha! So if we ignore the contradictions this solves the problems. But Cory, this is wishful thinking. Especially if we look at your harmonization:
"A group of women followers of Jesus went to Jesus’ tomb. There, they discovered it was empty. They were told by a heavenly being that Jesus had rose from the dead. Later, Jesus appeared to them. They told the disciples, who were skeptical. Jesus appeared to the disciples, and the rest is history."
How accurate is this? Well you have to ignore parts of the narrative in order to make these conclusions. Mark does not have Jesus appearing to disciples, nor does Mark show that the disciples were skeptical. Matthew’s and Luke’s versions of Jesus visiting the disciples are vastly different and gets more comically elaborate at every step. Let’s quickly examine the differences.
In Matthew’s narrative, Jesus appears to the women who are enroute to tell Jesus’ disciples that Jesus has been raised. There is a pause in the narrative as the guards tell the Sanhedrin what they saw. Matthew has the guards inventing an accusation that the disciples had stolen the body. The narrative picks back up with the disciples meeting in Galilee, where Matthew adds that “some doubted.” The narrative ends with Jesus’ commissioning of the disciples.
Luke’s version is incredibly complex and full of very elegant plot points that come right from Hellenistic and Roman literature. First, after Jesus’ resurrection where two men (as opposed to Matthews one angel) tell the women that he has risen, Luke immediately states that the disciples doubted. Peter runs to the tomb to see for himself, where this does not happen in Matthew’s version. Then Luke adds the walk to Emmaus, where two disciples, most importantly the one named Cleopas, are walking and meet Jesus but do not know him at first. This story is remarkably similar to the story of Romulus meeting an important “disciple” on the road to Rome, one Proculus Julianus. (Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, 2.63.3-4; esp. Livy, The Founding of the City 1.16.2-7) Just as Romulus was to redeem Rome and make Rome righteous so to is the message of Jesus to Israel (Luke 24:21). After breaking the bread in Emmaus with the two disciples, who instantly recognize Jesus, he vanishes. The disciples depart for Jerusalem and when they get there, Jesus has already visited Simon. Then Jesus appears to the eleven and eats fish to prove he is resurrected in the flesh just after telling them to touch him as evidence. Then Jesus finally commissions the apostles and ascends into Heaven.
"Given the contradictions, which Rook sees as an insurmountable problem to the Historic Christ hypothesis, he concludes that that Jesus could not have been the Christ. I believe that I have shown, and Holding’s highly recommended series shows, that these are not insurmountable problems."
No Cory, you nor Holding has shown that these are surmountable. You have instead dishonestly ignored the differences. These versions of the story are nowhere near compatible. The similarities are there, sure, but are so out of order, and so much more is added to Luke, that to say this is reconcilable is a test in futility not honesty. The minor details which we are told to ignore are not so minor as they make up 90% of the story! That is only 10% that is similar between Luke and Matthew. I haven’t even added John because that would make them even less compatible. Using J.P. Holding as a source is like using Fox News as an honest, independent and unbiased source. I find it ironic that Cory would suggest I should consult “some credentialed New Testament scholars and seek their opinions” when if he had bothered to read my endnotes would have seen that I consulted quite a few. This is, perhaps, another projection where he consulted J.P. Holding who is not a credible New Testament scholar.
At any rate, he presents the argument that “It is firmly established that the Jewish Scriptures–and all the prophecies therein–predate Christ.” Well d’uh. Nobody is suggesting that scripture was written after the Gospels. But this strawman sets up an additional strawman. “Even modern biographies differ in detail, and sometimes offer contradictory accounts of the same events within a person’s life.” Again…d’uh. But the difference is, modern biographies of Abraham Lincoln, which your friend J.P. Holding uses as a false analogy, do not include supernatural events, and 90% of the story does not conflict. If 10% of the stories of Abraham Lincoln conflict, that does not resemble in any way, shape or form the amount of discrepancies the Gospels have between them. You state that, “There is no examination of relevant inspirational literature from the time–mainly because examining such pieces would invalidate Rook’s entire argument.” Again Cory, this is false. I didn’t include examples in these two articles because I didn’t realize I would have to do your homework for you. But apparently, that is a requirement when dealing with apologists.
Had you bothered to read my other articles, which are more than readily available, you would note that I present a case study of Tobit as an example. But others could be given, such as parts of the ending of Daniel (which date to the Hellenistic Age) such as Bel and the Dragon or Susanna, and also Judith as well as 1st and 2nd Maccabees will easily show how Hellenized Jews reinterpreted scripture to create fictional narratives. Even if 1st Maccabees is considered “historical” scholars will admit that some events are taken from 1st-2nd Samuel and 1st-2nd Kings. 1st Maccabees also contains fictional information as well, such as Abraham being the common descendant between Sparta and the Jews. Jonathan even calls the Spartans adelphoi or brethren. All one really has to do is read Josephus to see that this was prevalent (fiction writing) even in the first century.
In Jewish Antiquities 11.317-345, Josephus creates this elaborate story about Alexander the Great, where, after being denied by the Jewish high priest and king for aide against the Persians, he was so infuriated that he decides to march on the city of Jerusalem with the intent of burning it to the ground and killing all those who inhabit the city. Upon this news, the high priest prayed to God, who then revealed in a dream that he must wear a specific outfit, and tell the rest of the citizens of Jerusalem to wear white robes. When Alexander marched on the city, he was met by the High Priest in his vibrant and blue apparel, only to fall to his knees and weep. He exclaimed, per Josephus, that a God had visited him in hi dreams and told him that he would make it so Alexander would defeat the Persians. And in his dream, the God was wearing the outfit of the High Priest. Of course this story is completely fictitious. We know that Alexander never approached Jerusalem. His journeys took him from Gaza to Egypt then to Tyre. From there he traveled to Northern Syria and Mesopotamia. This story reflects the same sort of falsehood that the Jews shared lineage with the Spartans.
I’ve not even touched the rest of the Jewish Hellenistic fiction, which is quite extensive. But if you have never bothered to read them, you probably do not know they exist (like many apologists). Have you heard of the Testament of Moses? 1st – 3rd Enoch? The Apocalypse of Elijah? The Testament of Isaac? 3rd – 4th Maccabees? I’m sure you haven’t, or if you have, you’re being dishonest in your position. What about the Testament of Abraham, also written in the first century? What of the fictional creation of the Septuagint found in the Letter of Aristeas? Jew’s living in the Diaspora, and indeed in the Hellenized region of Palestine, were not separate from fiction but were deeply rooted in its construction. Your attempt to separate Jews from fiction writing is a testament to your ignorance. Scholars are in complete agreement that Jews participated in, and enjoyed fiction writing and fiction reading; especially when they reinterpreted scripture which is the foundation of most Jewish fiction. Perhaps you should include other Jewish and Hellenized-Jewish narratives in your reading material. Erich Gruen writes:
"The scriptures inspired reverence but also stimulated creative energies. Hellenistic Jews found in them a prod for imagination and inventiveness. The activity went well beyond hermeneutics….writers recast or freely adapted biblical tales in a variety of genres—history, epic, tragedy, romance—that appealed to the Hellenized circles of their brethren…. But such compositions by no means exhaust the Jewish penchant for originality. More striking and more remarkable is the frequency with which intellectuals simply rewrote scriptural narratives, inventing facts or attaching fanciful tales. The (scriptures) here served less as a text for exegesis than as a springboard for creativity."
One look at the Gospel of Mark will conclude that the author is using scripture to write narrative and create plot points. Let us quickly review the first chapter in Mark as an example.
Old Testament Parallels
Gos. According to Mark
Mal. 3:1, “Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me; and suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek, and the messenger of the covenant whom you desire.” (See also: Mal 3:23, Is. 40:3, Ex. 23:20-21)
Mark 1:1-3, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as it is written in Isaiah, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight—’”
Again, we see allegory to Elijah: 2 Kings 1:8, “They answered him, ‘he wore a garment of hair-cloth with a girdle of leather about his loins.’”
John is wearing a camels hair robe and a leather belt around his waste (Mark 1:6)
Ps. 2:7, “I will tell you the degree of the Lord, he said to me, ‘You are my son, today I have begotten you.” (See also: Is. 11:2, 42:1, 61:1, Ex. 4:22-23)
The Baptism of Jesus, where the sky opens up, or is torn open, and the spirit descended upon Jesus and God says, “You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:10-11)
1 Kings 19:8, “And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.” (See also: 1 Kings 19:4-7, Ex. 14:19, 23:20)
The Temptation in the Wilderness – 40 Days
Angels ministered to him amongst the temptations,
Above I make some brief comments, although some more should be made. Notice how Mark does not have a birth narrative; that Jesus appears out of nowhere. Matthew adds to this extensively and also uses scripture to create new narrative. As with the above example, we’ll review the first chapter in Matthew:
Old Testament Parallels
Gos. According to Matthew
Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look! The young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel (God is with us).” As with many names given to important people in the Bible, they reflect the job of the person. The birth of Immanuel is a sign to Ahaz that God is with Israel. In the story of Jesus, Jesus is named so because he is the Savior of mankind, and that is exactly what “Jesus” (Hebrew: Yeheshua) means – “Savior” or “Yahweh saves”.
Matt. 1:18-25 resembles that of the birth of Hezekiah in Isaiah 7:14. Why Matthew chose to use the Greek word for ‘virgin’ (parthenos) instead of the Hebrew word for ‘young maiden’ (‘almah) is probably due to his reliance on the Septuagint over the hebrew O.T. Note also how Matthew changes the verse from present tense to future tense.
The fleeing Moses story is found in Ex 2:11-23, where Moses goes to Midian to wait until the Pharaoh dies, much like when Joseph and Mary wait until the death of Herod to return to Israel. An angel appears to both Moses and Joseph in both stories to bring them back to where they are needed. (Matt. 2:19-21 vs. Exodus 2:23-3:12) A large portion of this section of Chapter 2 in Matthew is from the Exodus story.
The escape and return from Egypt in Matt. 2:13-15, 19-23 allude to Moses escape and return to Egypt in Exodus. The massacre of the infants is the killing of the first born reinterpreted by Matthew as well. Both stories reflect the desire by God to lead his people. God feels pity upon the groaning Israelites in Egypt, and sends Moses. In Matthew, God sends Jesus to bring the Israelites to salvation again – but this time it is a spiritual salvation.
Matthew’s slaughtering of the infants at the birth of Jesus is reminiscent of the slaughtering of the infants at the birth of Moses (another name reflecting the purpose of the character in the narrative; Moses means "the one who draws out" found in Exodus. Luke really elaborates on these narratives and creates a whole new scene, including the pregnancy of John which resembles the story of the pregnancy of Sarah, where Elizabeth takes the place of Abraham and Zechariah takes the place of Sarah. Zechariah becomes the one who doubts and expresses that he and his wife are old in the same manner that Sarah expresses these concerns when she overhears Abraham talking to the strangers. The story of Jesus’ birth in Luke mimics the story of John’s birth earlier in the narrative, but unlike Zechariah, Joseph believes and accepts.
I would also add that Luke admits he is not an eyewitness, “just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very start, to write an orderly account for you…” (Luke 1:2-3) Luke is not recounting what he saw, or from what he heard, but from what he claims to have investigated. He is admitting to creating the narrative in a different form from what already exists.
But I digress. All of the points I’ve discussed in my article you ignored, which I don’t understand. I gave several very good examples of the Gospel authors reinterpreting scripture. You did not attempt to refute one. If they are historical I should assume you would have no problems proving my interpretation wrong. Again, consider the Bar’abbas narrative once more, just as an example. Leviticus 16 needs to be reexamined as a foundation for the creation of the Bar’abbas story.
“Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord and use it as a sin offering, but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel.” (Leviticus 16:7-10)
In the Bar’abbas story, the tent of meeting has been replaced with the Palace, and it is Pilate who presents the two goats—presumably before the Lord—and to those who need to make atonement for their sins; the Jewish people. The two goats have been replaced by two characters: Jesus, Son of Man, and Jesus, Son of the Father. The Jews cast lots, and it is Bar’abbas who is released into the wilderness. It is Jesus Christ who will be given up as a sin offering for the atonement. But what type of atonement? The casting of lots was between the murderer Jesus Bar’abbas and the peaceful savior Jesus Christ. It was only through Jesus, though, that salvation could be made. Crossan is partially correct is suggesting that the Jews had chosen violence. But in another regard, the Jews had also chosen salvation. Just as Judas was intended to turn Jesus over for the good of Israel, Jesus had to be sacrificed for the atonement of sin.
You can claim that this really happened, and that Jesus was fulfilling scripture, but then you’d have to explain how Leviticus 16 predicts the messiah, and that this needed to be fulfilled. You would also have to prove that this event really occurred. I already know you can’t. You just wish that it did. I’m sorry Cory, but I won’t let your blanket statements and ridiculous claims go without challenge.
Cory concludes his long list of “nuh uh’s” with this last projection:
"The truth, as Rook (a historian by his own admission) knows, is that credible historians do not advance the opinion that Jesus never existed. There is simply too much evidence to the contrary. I propose that it is the Christ Myth hypothesis that must ignore evidence and employ dishonesty."
This is all around a dishonest claim. First, it is hyperbole. Credible historians do propose this very thing. Thomas L. Thompson, Richard Carrier, Robert M. Price, R. Joseph Hoffmann, and Earl Doherty are most noteworthy. Second, the claim that we have too much evidence to the contrary is a fiction that apologists would like to believe, but no credible historian that I know agrees with this claim.
What does scholarship have, in terms of data, about Jesus, and how does that shape judgments on the historical Jesus? Foremost, there is not a single piece of undisputed, historical attestation to the life of Jesus, his deeds, or his miracles. There is not even contemporary attestation to his existence; the crowds that followed him, or those who might have seen him, thought nothing of picking up some papyri, and writing an account of what they witnessed. His disciples, his close circle of friends, as well as his family were also negligent in recording the events of his ministry and his life prior to that date. Not even those scribes and temple priests who he irritated thought to write anything negative about him. The earliest attestation we have is Paul, but Paul does not seem aware of the situations, events or miracles proposed by the Gospel authors. In fact, Paul did not believe Jesus had ever walked the earth, as has been argued here. Paul supposedly wrote seven letters, called epistles, and were possibly redacted later by a number of early church fathers who disagreed with their Gnostic usage. It is only after Paul, after the fall of Jerusalem, somewhere in the Diaspora miles away from Palestine that the first Gospel, so dubbed because it was spreading Isaiah’s ‘good news,’ that had been named by later apologists as Mark. Some time after, perhaps decades later, the second Gospel we currently have, named Matthew by later Christians, was composed. This Gospel not only copied from Mark, but reinvented many of the scenes found in Mark. Several decades later, perhaps a generation of people after the Gospel of Matthew was put in writing, the Gospel written in the name of Luke and the book known as Acts of the Apostles were dedicated to a Theophilus—or “lover of God”—possibly Theophilus of Antioch who was writing against heretics at the time. After this or shortly before, as it cannot be determined with any certainty, John was written; again named some time after the composition and displaying only a few similarities to the other three Gospels. Even at their most conservative dating, the Gospels are not first-hand accounts, and only one Gospel can be strained enough to make second-hand. The arguments for placing Mark’s author in the company of the so-called original twelve apostles, or as a companion to Paul, are not convincing. The more the Gospel of Mark is looked at with increasing scrutiny, the more Mark fails to meet the standards of credibility as even a second-hand witness. Once Mark fails the test of eyewitness authority, the rest of the Gospel accounts crumble.
If anybody has ignored the evidence, Cory, it is you. I understand why you have to. I understand why you need to ignore the discrepancies and the legendary embellishments between the Gospels. I get why you have to pretend the Gospels were written by evangelists who knew Jesus, and why you have to go to apologists like J.P. Holding, instead of historians who look at the anthropological and socio-cultural world of the Jews of the first century and before. I get that you have to presume the Gospels are retelling historical events that show Jesus fulfilling the Old Testament, as if he really did, instead of the authors inventing plot and narrative using scripture. I really, truly understand. But, when you attempt to suggest that this is fact, indeed even “incredible facts,” you are lying to yourself, and to those who read your blog and assume you know what you’re talking about.
I want to thank you, Cory, for taking the time to respond to me. It was great to read your comments and know that you have nothing new to offer as a defense of your faith, nor do you have anything to present which destroys my position. I get you don’t agree, but you have not argued successfully or convincingly that I am wrong. I hope you can present a better, more thorough case the next time you respond to my articles.
 I suggest you also read some of the books listed in these endnotes for additional information on this subject.
 Apparently these do not include historical Jesus scholars because they are liberal; that apparently means they are not credentialed in Cory’s opinion. Let’s ignore the fact that these scholars have been through peer review and have established themselves in several academic journals. Where has J.P. Holding gone through peer review? What book does he have out that was published by an academic press? Indeed, none. Perhaps Cory should be the one to check with credentialed scholars?
 Erich Gruen, Heritage and Hellenism (1998), p. 137
 In some early manuscripts, Bar’abbas is known as Jesus Bar’abbas. Bar’abbas means Son of the Father.
 Some may speculate that if they did, early Christians would have probably destroyed them, or hid them away to prevent criticisms of their new religion. This sort of treatment of the evidence would coincide with the actions of early Christians, but it is entirely speculative.
 In the chapter on Paul, the supposition that the seven authentic letters of Paul are in some parts a collection of several letters brought together by later redactors will be discussed.
 Some have concluded that because of the commonality of the name, it could be referring to anybody. Additionally, the name could also be a play on words to mean a general audience who loves God. These are also viable conclusions. However, this perspective needs to be explored further in light of the new dating of Luke-Acts. Especially if Eusebius is to be believed, “And that Theophilus also, with the others, contended against them, is manifest from a certain discourse of no common merit written by him against Marcion. This work too, with the others of which we have spoken, has been preserved to the present day.” (Ecclesiastical Histories 4.24.3) Being as Luke was writing a polemic against Marcion’s gospel which is considered by many to be a proto-Luke (See subsequent chapter on Luke) and also against his use of Paul, it is difficult not to consider this option as plausible.
 Although there are scholars who will accept any early dating, regardless of how unconvincing the arguments may be. The approximate dating of prior to Paul, proposed of by John A.T. Robinson in his book Redating the New Testament, was not accepted by scholarship although it is used frequently in the field of apologetics. See Robert M. Grants review; Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 97, No. 2. (Jun., 1978), pp. 294-296. “The case for placing all the NT books before 70 cannot be made by the methods employed here, and it has not been made.”
 Several works are worth mentioning. Mary Ann Tolbert, Sowing the Gospel (1996); Dennis R. MacDonald, The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark (2000); Thomas L. Thompson, The Messiah Myth (2005). Additional works on other Gospels include Marianne Palmer Bonz, The Past as Legacy: Luke-Acts and Ancient Epic (2000); Charles Talbert, Luke and the Gnostics (1966)