Scholar or Myth maker? Yes! History of Scholarship Amateur Scholarship
Con: J. Z. Smith Con: AD Nock Con: BM Metzger Sourcebooks
Con: Habermas
Scholars & Myth Makers
Not all scholarship is serious scholarship

We affirm that the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, though written by men, was supernaturally inspired by God so that all its words are the written true revelation of God; it is therefore inerrant in the originals and authoritative in all matters
Doctrinal statement, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminar

Dr. Jerry Falwell
Liberty University

The easy way
We'll get to a roundup of the content of Chrisitan origins scholarhsip in a minute, but first let's talk about can we maybe bypass reading the ancient texts ourselves, and just accept the stuff we get from smart scholar people.

Believing what we're told sounds like a good idea. It's what we do for physics and chemistry. And like those sciences, Christian origins is a complicated subject. Lots of people way smarter than me have spent years learning facts about Schrodinger's equation, and stochastic equilibrium, and Jesus. They know buckets of stuff you and I will never know. For quantum mechanics and polymer chemistry the easiest, quickest thing for us to do is find out what the smart fellows say. If we do the same for Christian origins, then the answers we learn will be just as good as science's, right?

Man up

Choosing to believe what we're told, rather than thinking for ourselves, is servile and immoral.

Man up. Read the evidence. Decide for yourself.

As good as this idea sounds—and in Christian apologetics "scholarship" is the coin of the realm—Christian origins is different from science in an important way: Science can be tested.

For example, Greg's equation and Schrodinger's equation both predict Ψ, the quantum wave function describing the kinematics of elementary particles. Smart people might argue over which equation is correct, but they can do more than argue, they can do experiments to check. Those experiments have been done. Schrodinger's equation correctly predicts and describes the results of experiments, Greg's does not. So, although it is possible to develop grand theories of physics based on Greg's equation, no one does—because, again, Greg's equation contradicts observation.

Christian origins are different. Christian origins theories can't be tested by experiment. New Testament scholar Colin Roberts says the writing on papyrus fragment p52 indicates this copy of the Gospel of John was written in the first half of the 100's AD. New Testament scholar Brent Nongbri says the writing doesn't do that. Who's right? There is no straightforward real world observation available to tell. Not only is it possible to spin theologies based on NT scholar Robert's silly claim, people do.

This creates problems for folks trying to decide about Chrisitian origins the easy way.

First, smart people disagree with each other. A lot. Some smart people say Jesus is real and the bible stories about Him are true, cover to cover. Other smart people say Jesus is a myth, and the New Testament stories about Him are reworked legends from Homer. Every imaginable point on the spectrum in between is advocated by some smart person or other, and as soon as I write this, someone smart will come up with a new theory of Jesus that no one has imagined before. There is no consensus.

There is no consensus. It is not possible to find out what all the smart people believe, because, on lots and lots of basic stuff, they don't all believe the same thing.

Second, people make stuff up about what "scholars believe." Chase after "scholarship" a while, and you'll see there's often a distance between what scholars say, and what people say  scholars say. Just because Dr. This or That on Youtube tells you there are four facts about Jesusus's resurrection that all serious scholars agree on, doesn't mean that there really are. There might be. Or there might not be, and the guy telling you there are just made it up, or he's repeating something he heard from someone who heard it from someone who made it up. Which brings us to...

Problem number C:  lots of New Testament scholarship is not distinguishable from mythology. Remember, POCM-wise "myth" means facts somebody made up to fit the answer they already knew is true. Re-read the Liberty University Doctrinal statement at the top of this page. Lots of nice self-styled scholars doing New Testament history pick up their old books already knowing that Jesus was real and the bible is true. As they do what they imagine to be scholarship, they line up each new fact to the conclusion they started with, and if the fit isn't maybe perfect, they invent facts to fill in the empty spaces.

This isn't dishonest. Remember, they already know the answer. They're just filling stuff in the way it must have happened. You think I'm making this up? Here's a true story.

Scholarship by myth makers

P52 Verso
There's another verse'o John on the recto.

In 1935 a New Testament scholar guy named Colin Roberts came out with an article, An Unpublished Fragment of the Fourth Gospel in the John Rylands Library, about P52, an itsy scrap of ancient paperus on which he'd found fragments of our Gospel of John. Ho hum. Recognizing gospel scrap spit-billion three puts you at the back of a long line. The big deal about Professor Roberts' scrap is that he gave it a date—125 AD (± 25 years) —that was generations closer to Jesus than any other known New Testament fragment (about 200 AD, if you're taking notes).

That's how P52 entered New Testament scholarship. To this day Colin Roberts' P52 date, 125 AD (± 25 years), is given out as the received wisdom of settled science in NT Studies 101 syllabuseses, graduate thesisuseses, academic articles, Sunday sermons, and Is The Resurrection of Jesus Real? debates.

P52 comes up a lot because its early date proves Jesus is real. Honest. The Gospel of John dates from no later than 125 AD, maybe as early as 100 AD. P52 proves that. What's more P52 comes from Egypt and Jesus from Galilee, so allowing time for social diffusion probably John must almost certainly have been written decades earlier, very close to the time of Jesus himself, meaning the gospel was probably almost certainly written by a disciple of Jesus, meaning it is first hand, or almost certainly no later than second hand, proving the stuff in the gospel is probably mostly true, meaning Jesus is real.

P52—the date of P52—is a big deal.

"Scholars of the New Testament have used and abused papyrological evidence"   
On account of the date of P52 is way important, you'd figure the science behind the 125 AD date would be heavily investigated by New Testament scholars, right? You'd be wrong.  

Colin Roberts came up with his P52 date with handwriting analysis, "...this claim rests solely upon considerations of paleography," (page 12). Roberts came up with his number by comparing the letters, α-β-γ-etc., on P52 with the letters on five, count 'em five, samples of datable early second century handwriting, and one sample from 153 AD. That's it. His report mentions no handwriting samples from the late 2d century. His report mentions no handwriting samples from the 3d century. On this basis, we know Jesus is real.


In spite of what people tell you scholar-Professor Roberts said in his 1935 article, the 1935 article does not give the date of P52 as 125. He gives the date as in "the first half of the second century." (see page 16). He does not say that AD 125 is more likely than AD 150. Not that this detail matters because...


Professor Roberts does not describe his scientific method. Because he didn't have one. Again, according to his paper what he did was he felt that in a general way P52 looked like a couple undated maybe [!!] early second century documents, and in a general way like four documents datable to 94, 98, 117, and 127 AD. Also, some of the A's looked similar. And in a general way P52, he thought, looked not like one [!] letter from 153 AD. That's it.

In fact Prof Roberts himself wasn't convinced, but he showed a photo of P52 to some chums, and they convinced him to be firm. If these fellows had actual repeatable, testable science guiding their analysis, Prof. Roberts' doesn't mention that either.

P52 dates to the first half of the 2d century AD because Colin Roberts thought it does. Well, actually he didn't, but some friends did and he went along. That is the basis of seven decades of P52 scholarship. I am not making this up.


On the basis of one nice man's invention, unsupported by any scientific method, without any description of what criteria were relied on, or on what basis those unnamed criteria were imagined to be relevant, without any photo or reproduction of the manuscripts P52 was compared with, the "early 2d century" dating of P52 has been accepted by NT scholars for seventy years. Do some scholars argue? Some. But many—most—don't. And nobody checked.

Nobody checked.

For seventy years scholars opined without recourse to the published manuscript evidence--because the evidence wasn't published. NT scholars, fancy ones with big names, used Roberts' result—built theories and theologies on the result—without caring to check whether it was correct. In-fucking-credible.


In 2005 a Yale grad student, Brent Nongbri, wrote. The Use and Abuse of P52: Papyrological Pitfalls in the Dating of the Fourth Gospel. Harvard Theological Review 98:23-52.

Nongbri, get this, published photos of Colin Roberts' comparison texts. Seventy years after the fact. And he included photos of other comparison tests he'd collected himself. Including, get this, texts from the relevant early 3d century.

Nonbri sums up: "...we as critical readers of the New Testament often use John Rylands Greek Papyrus 3.457, also known as P52, in inappropriate ways, and we should stop doing so." [Abstract]




Teacher, teacher, why do they call it "P52"?

Because if they called it, "The Supreme Court of Zimbabwe" people would get confused. Now shut up and listen.


And       >>


...What emerges from this survey is nothing surprising to paleographers: paleography is not the most effective method for dating texts, particularly those written in a literary hand. Roberts himself noted this point in his edition of P52. The real problem is the way scholars of the New Testament have used and abused papyrological evidence. ....What I have done is to show that any serious consideration of the window of possible dates for P52 must include dates in the later second and early third centuries. Thus, P52 cannot be used as evidence to silence other debates about the existence (or non-existence) of the Gospel of John in the first half of the second century. Only a papyrus containing an explicit date or one found in a clear archaeological stratigraphic context could do the work scholars want P52 to do.


Brent Nongbri, 2005. The Use and Abuse of P52: Papyrological Pitfalls in the Dating of the Fourth Gospel. Harvard Theological Review 98:23-52. Get your own pdf copy.

POCM quotes modern scholars

Myth making

Was P52 written in 125 AD, or 225 AD, or 1925 AD? I wouldn't have a clue. The point isn't the date of P52, the point is what Colin Roberts' story tells us about the institutions of New Testament scholarship. The news isn't good.

The date of the oldest gospel is a big deal. New Testament scholar Colin Roberts imagined he'd found a scrap generations earlier than all the others—but he did not, could not say what letters, in what variations, in what frequencies led him to his conclusion. New Testament scholar Colin Roberts concluded the handwriting in P52 did not look like handwriting from the late 2d or early 3d century. But in reaching his conclusion New Testament scholar Colin Roberts did not look at any—any—handwriting from those years. This is so hard to believe, I know you won't believe me till you've read the original article yourself.

But other New Testament scholars did—and still do!— accept New Testament scholar Colin Roberts' sloppy silliness. It's as if in 1935 Colin Roberts' also claimed to have built a perpetual motion machine, but he couldn't say what parts he used, and he didn't actually report any motion. It's as if he did that, and got his research published in the Journal of Physics, and for seventy years physicists around the world accepted perpetual motion, and put papers about it in the high tone journals, and flew in big name speakers for symposia about how perpetual motion would cure disease and power the cities of the future — and no one ever said, "Hey wait a second, lets see if perpetual motion actually works."

Listen, you get to believe and be impressed by whatever you want. I myself find it hard to take seriously New Testament "scholarship" that works on a silly claim for, did I mention seventy years, without thinking it would maybe be a good idea to see the fucking data.

And nowadays when New Testament scholars tell you they still believe P52 is early, remember these guys had the same opinion before someone else bothered to look at the actual facts. As New Testament scholars, they believe what they believe. They don't need no stinkin' facts.


The point of the P52 story is that when the institutions of NT scholarship say "New Testament Scholarship" they include stuff whose facts have been invented and adjusted whatever way it takes to make Jesus real. And that, POCM-wise, is exactly what "mythology" means.

Doing what myth makers do

Colin Roberts made up the "fact" that


P52 dates from the first half of the 2d century.

To get there, he made up the "facts":


Paleography can date materials to within 50 years


Comparing handwriting samples makes it possible to exclude dates for which there are no handwriting samples.

New Testament scholars who repeat, and after Nogbri cling to, New Testament scholar Roberts' P52 dates are doing what myth makers do—uncritically repeating silly impossible tales that confirm what they know to be true.

Notice that modern New Testament Scholar myth makers do just what ancient myth makers did —they make up "facts" that fit the ideas everyone believes in their time and place. Ancient people believed in prophesies, dreams, miracles, and magic godmen, and those are the "facts" ancient myth makers made up. We modern people believe science works and sure enough, the "facts" modern myth makers make up are scientific. Cool, huh?

Doesn't bother me a bit. But let's keep in mind what's going on.


Greggy's Guesses

I don't want you to care what I believe, but I don't suppose I'll damage you much by telling you what it is. Here we go:

I've come to see that scholarship about religion is often religion first and scholarship second. Even smart people adjust their scholarly conclusions to fit the religious ideas they started with. Religious institutions promoting religious "scholarship" have religious agendas.

So, although there are smart people who know lots more facts about Christian origins than I do, trying to pick out who the smart people actually are, and what they really believe, and how much their scholarship depends, or doesn't, on their religious convictions, is harder than just taking a while to read the primary ancient evidence yourself, and coming to your own conclusions.

Are you really surprised?

The New Testament story includes magic dreams, invisible angels, a godman whose magic powers include mind reading, shriveling trees, raising dead people, foreseeing the future, and traveling up and down through the sky.

Are you really  surprised that the "scholars" who tell you this stuff is real are myth makers?

Trying to shortcut the ancient evidence doesn't work. Studying the scholarship is even murkier than studying the primary evidence. POCM's purpose is not to tell you what smart people to believe. POCM's purpose is to help you identify the evidence, so you can decide on your own.


A roundup of the content of Christian origins scholarship


bet you're thinking, if Christianity really had Pagan origins, Greg would just open a college book and copy out the section saying so. And if I can't give you a quote like that, probably Christianity doesn't have Pagan origins. Right?

Things aren't that simple. Sure, I can do the quote authority thing: Scholarship > Yes quotes scholars, Harvardous and otherwise, saying Christianity borrowed from Paganism; and Good Books > Yes links you to scholars' books explaining how it happened. But what I can't do is quote a scholar saying all scholars agree with my theory of what happened, Jesus wise. No one can. Jesus wise, scholars don't agree on much.

The truth is, "scholarship" about Christianity is not a rigorous deal. Scholars won't even agree on basic stuff, like what ancient source materials to take seriously. Is it all ancient writings about Jesus, or just the canonical books? "Scholars" don't agree. Scholars write huge long books about Jesus and Christian origins, hundreds of pages, full of this claim and that claim, on and on, and never a mention of the facts that led them to the claims, or that support the claims, or that confirm the claims. Because, here's the secret, the claims aren't based on facts.

Don't tell, it's a secret

The first point, since you're reading this on the wacky web, is that the Pagan origins of Christianity are not wacky bug- eyed- aliens- at- the- Trilateral- Commission- are- reading- our- mail stuff. The Pagan origins of Christianity are mainstream academic scholarship.

The bug- eyed- aliens- at- the- Trilateral- Commission- are- reading- our- mail stuff—that's true too. Only don't tell. It's a secret.

How come scholars disagree; 200 years of Christian Scholarship in 455 words
From the foundation of the church all the way into the early 1800s, thinking people generally believed that the stories in our gospels were based on real events. The details weren't certain—maybe Jesus was divine maybe He wasn't, but He was a real person; maybe the "miracles" were supernatural, maybe they were natural events misunderstood by naive ancients, but at the core of each gospel story was a real event in Jesus' life. Jesus was a real person. The gospels, however ham-handedly, record actual events. That's what pastors believed. And laymen. And professors. No careful, reasoned analysis asked people to believe otherwise.

By the way

If New Testament miracles were a martial art, David Friedrich Strauss could kick your ass.


Then, in 1835, this German kid (at 27 already a university lecturer, fluent in ancient languages and expert in NT scholarship) genamened David Strauss came out with a book he called The Life of Jesus Critically Examined—"the most pestilential book ever vomited out of the jaws of hell." Professor Strauss lost not just his job but his career. Angry believers never allowed him to teach again.

Dr. Strauss' buch went through the gospels story by story, analyzing the best rationalist explanations of each of them. What his book shows, over and over, is that the rationalist explanations were so contrived and self contradictory and far fetched, they couldn't be believed. That was a very big deal, because everybody now saw that the "history" in the gospels could not be real history. The unavoidable implication of David Friedrich Strauss' The Life of Jesus Critically Examined was that—is that—the gospel writers got their "history" by making it up. The gospel stories are not history, they are myth. Oops.

Here's where the relevance to modern scholarship comes in. Not everyone was willing to accept Dr. Strauss' results.

Stubborn bible literalists couldn't out-reason David Strauss, but they could refuse to think about his ideas. They put their fingers in their ears and insisted the bible is history. La, la, la, la la la la. The nice folks at Liberty, and Biola, and Talbot go here.


Stubborn denial isn't for everyone. Scholarship split. People who preferred reason over comforting results dealt with Strauss' analysis, in different ways.

Jesus is a myth scholars, in the late 19th and early 20th century, worked out theories of the pagan origins of the Christ myth. The bible is myth. The New Testament has no meaningful history. Jesus is a myth explained by His parallels with other ancient myths.

Believing scholars who were not bible-literalists preserved the meaning of Christianity by re-imagining the New Testament as history filtered through the beliefs and circumstances of the ancient church. Jesus was a real person. He can be rooted out by picking through the gospel stories for the historical kernel. Thus the Jesus Seminar and much of 20th century academic New Testament scholarship.

Two Ways Strauss' Life of Jesus changed Christian scholarship—and the world

Irrelevance of Christian stories
In 1800 AD, the origin of the world, and of life, and of man, were found in the Christian bible. Professors interested in biology found their answers in the bible. Professors interested in geology found their answers in the bible. Life of Jesus broke the levy of belief in bible stories. In 2000 AD, taking your geological history from Genesis is a mark of crack-pottedness.

Christian scholarship splintered. Scholars who understand the NT as myth write articles about...the NT as myth. Scholars who imagine the bible is literally true are unimpressed, and uninterested. Ditto the Jesus Seminar historical rationalists. Etc. Scholarship about Christianity's origins is busted into little pieces, everyone with their own wildly different theory about what the most basic facts are. Other than occasional long range sniping, scholars in the various camps don't talk to each other. They can't. The other guy insists on gibbering nonsense.

Splitsville leads to...
"There is more historical evidence for Jesus than there is for George Washington"
I get this email from time to time, from nice, ernest people repeating what they heard in church. It's from a group of silly claims that do the rounds among bible literalist Christians. You can do it yourself. Just fill in the famous person blank. There is more evidence for Jesus than there is for:   Plato / Alexander the Great / Caesar / Washington / your_famous_person_here.

My answer to these emails runs, "Please list exactly the evidence you have in mind. List the evidence for Washington (Plato / Caesar / etc.). List the evidence for Jesus." They can't, of course. Checking the facts has honestly never occurred to them. And that's the point. That's what Splitsville does to "scholarship." It splits the thinking up into little camps of like minded people, camps where fundamental-axiom-wise everyone agrees with everyone else, and no one checks the facts. Or challenges the basic reasons.

The scholarship of Christian believers isn't about whether the Jesus stories are true, it's about how the Jesus stories are true. It's the same for the other side. Fashionable academic scholarship isn't about whether the Jesus People theory is true, it's about how the Jesus People theory is true.

Does this mean Ronald Nash, and Arthur Darby Nock are bad people? Are the Jesus Seminar professors out to cheat and lie? No it doesn't. No they're not. The Christian origins question is a tough one. Honest people disagree, honestly.

What it does mean is that fundamentally none of the scholarship is rigorous, and you can't depend on this scholar, or that one, to tell you what to think.


Good Books for this section

The Life of Jesus Critically Examined
first published 1835
by David Friedrich Strauss
translated by George Eliot

What you'll find:

An 800 page cause-and-effect analysis of the gospel stories, that basically destroyed the possibility of any rational defense of gospel literalism.

A world-changing classical book that's also fun and easy to read.


The The End of Biblical Studies
by Hector Avalos

What you'll find:

Harvard bible Phd Avalos ended up a nonbeliever, His book gives an inside look at the incentives that drain rigor from belief-dependent academic bible scholarship.


The Quest of the Historical Jesus
by Albert Schweitzer

What you'll find:

In 1906 Schweitzer published this detailed account of 19th century's critical scholarship about the New Testament and Jesus.

You can't understand 20th century scholarship NT scholarship unless you read this famous and influential book.


Drudgery Divine
On the Comparison of Early Christianities and the Religions of Late Antiquity (1994)

By Jonathan Smith

You'll find:

A scholar's detailed review of the Pagan-Origins scholarship from the 15th century through the early 1990s.

Details of why the "scholarly" conclusions on each side are agenda driven. For example, there's a nice refutation of AD Nock's linguistic argument.

This book is widely quoted in the academic literature. It's got lots of good information and tons of references to the literature.

But, because Professor Smith thinks obscure is clever, the writing is terrible. This book will not make sense until you've read A.D. Nock's Early Gentile Christianity and Its Hellenistic Background.

Here's a sample >>

Jesus, admits Professor Smith quoting the Christian-borrowing scholar Loisy, was a savior-God like Osiris, Attis and Mithras. He was a god who came to earth, died, and saves, etc. etc.

from which, opines Professor Smith,
"little of value can be learned." [!!]



Professor Smith is famous for his anti-borrowing agenda—which is why he's quoted a lot.

"[Jesus] was a savior-god, after the manner of Osiris, and Attis, a Mithra. Like them, he belonged by his origin to the celestial world; like them, he had made his appearance on the earth; like them, he had accomplished a work of universal redemption, efficacious and typical; like Adonis, Osiris, and Attis he ha died a violent death, and like them he had returned to life; like them, he ad prefigured in his lot that of the human beings who should take part in his worship, and commemorate his mystic enterprise; like them, he had predetermined, prepared, and assured the salvation of those who became partners in his passion." [Quoting A. Loisy, The Christian Mystery, in: The Hibbert Journal, 10(1911 - 12), 51]
Of which Smith says:
From such a parataxis of 'likeness', little of value can be learned.
[pages 42 - 43]

POCM quotes modern scholars


What other people think about POCM

What a delightful site.  I've read recently some of the writings of Tacitus, the Roman historian, who was obviously a non-christian.  He mentions Jesus of Nazareth and his crucifixion. 

What I find stunning is the huge number of early christians that would die at the hands of animals rather than deny an association with Jesus. Based on the innate need to survive and the fact that no one would die voluntarily for something they don't truly believe, I suspect that it might be a little presumptuous on our part to try to 'wash away' this Jesus guy by arranging a comparison between his group and pagans. I don't see history being written by priests either.  Many of the early historians were not christians.  I think Josephus was, but he wasn't even mentioned in the Western civ books I studied in college.

Actually, I think there may be something to this Jesus thing. I'm gonna check it out cause all the people I've met who say they "believe in him", whatever that means, seem to have an inner peace that the rest don't have.    I'll write again after I've learned more about it.  

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