On the Historicity of Jesus by Richard Carrier Part 11 of 12

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Chapter 11: The Epistles

In his authentic epistles, Paul only answers questions about doctrine and rules of conduct. If Jesus existed, it’s very bizarre that no one would ask him about the life and death of Jesus. Also, it would have made sense to mention things Jesus said in life to help answer some of the doctrine questions, but Paul never does this.

Paul only talks about Jesus as a celestial figure, never as a historical person. Paul never mentions Jesus’s baptism, his ministry, his trial, his miracles, what he was like, what he did, where he was from, or any people he knew. Paul never mentions Galilee or Nazareth, Pilate, Mary, or Joseph. He never places anything Jesus said in an earthly context. No one asked Paul about any of these things. None of them ever came up in any dispute Paul had.

The only sources Paul gives for his knowledge of Jesus are private revelation and hidden messages in scriptures. Paul has no knowledge of anyone knowing Jesus in real life. Many scholars now think the sayings of Paul were incorporated into the gospels rather than both of them drawing upon an oral tradition.

Paul never even mentions disciples, only apostles such as himself. Cephas (Peter), James and John are referred to as being the same status as Paul, which is improbable if they knew Jesus in life and he didn’t. If this were the case, Paul would also have to defend against detractors who brought this up. Why would Cephas, James, and John accept Paul as one of them unless they are the same as him, only knowing Jesus through revelation?

In Galatians 1-2, Paul insists his knowledge comes from revelation and not from human witnesses. The Galatians he was writing to evidently didn’t trust anything but revelation. Paul shows no anxiety at not being an eyewitness despite what some modern scholars say. When he uses the phrase super-apostles, he doesn’t mean they knew Jesus, he just means they were better at proclaiming the gospel than him, perhaps because Paul had a speech impediment. He considered himself their equal in every other respect.

Paul speaks of people preaching other Jesuses, receiving a different spirit and thus a different gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4) which doesn’t make sense if Jesus existed, but does make sense if Jesus was a figure who only appeared in visions.

Paul isn’t the only epistle writer who seems not to have heard of a historical Jesus. James and 1 Peter are likewise silent about the historical Jesus. 2 Peter discusses a historical Jesus, but this is a later forgery. The forged epistles of John also say a historical Jesus existed, although 1 John 1:1-3 seems to protest a bit too much.

Jude, supposedly the brother of Jesus, introduces himself only as the brother of James and never even mentions a historical Jesus. According to Jude, the words of Jesus were only known through the revelation-receiving apostles (not disciples who knew him in life, see Jude 17). There is no mention of Jesus having disciples or preaching to the public.

James, in his epistle, doesn’t say he’s the brother of Jesus either. James 5:11 says all Christians have ‘seen’ Jesus die, and implies Jesus hasn’t come to earth yet (James 5:7-8 says he will come one day). Some things James wrote (James 1:12, James 5:12) were later considered sayings of Jesus by the time the gospels were written, but James isn’t aware of these being Jesus’s sayings. James the epistle writer is likely the brother of John (not Jesus) since he defends Torah-observant Christianity as Paul implies in Galatians 2:9-12.

1 Peter only knows of Jesus through scripture and revelation and doesn’t quote Jesus even when it would be natural to do so. He also tells us Jesus will only come in the future. His knowledge of the crucifixion comes from Isaiah 53, not from eyewitnesses. He also insists earthly authorities only punish evil doers with no awareness of the later gospel story that Jesus was punished by earthly authorities. He says Jesus preached to spirits after his resurrection, but there’s no mention of him preaching to men.

The anonymous Epistle to the Hebrews could have been written in the late 40s to early 60s. Many scholars date it after the gospels, but it’s written as if the temple is still around and shows no knowledge of the gospels, so it’s most likely earlier than them. Hebrews is all about Jesus, but never mentions an earthly life for him. Jesus is only described as a celestial high priest, which fits with the Jesus described by Philo and the Jesus found in the Ascension of Isaiah. Hebrews 8:1-5 says Jesus performed his sacrifice in the celestial temple and it wouldn’t have worked if he’d performed it on earth. When Hebrews quotes Jesus, it’s just quoting scriptures.

To return to Paul, he sometimes says things that sound like the Gospel Jesus, but he isn’t quoting Jesus here, the Gospel writers are quoting from him. In fact, Paul says in Romans 10:14-17 that no Jew ever heard Jesus teach, that the only way to know what he said is to speak to an apostle such as himself who receive revelations about Jesus. Turning the other cheek and loving your neighbor as you love yourself are Paul’s sayings. They later got attributed to Jesus.

The Gospel Eucharist is based on Paul’s and Paul got it from revelation. It doesn’t make sense for it to go back to a historical Jesus anyway, since this entails he predicted his own death. According the Paul, the point of the Eucharist is to “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” It’s not about the resurrection. It’s not looking forward to a second coming, but rather to a first appearance. Also, why would Jesus’s death be something that needs to be proclaimed if it was something that happened in reality?

1 Corinthians 2:6-10 says Jesus was crucified by “the rulers of this age”, a phrase most likely signifying demonic rulers as in the Ascension of Isaiah. It’s possible it refers to earthly rulers, but this is much less likely. 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 says the Jews (not the Romans) crucified Jesus, but most scholars (even those who believe Jesus existed) agree this is an interpolation not written by Paul, but added by a later Christian. Paul never elsewhere blames Jews for the death of Jesus. He never says God’s wrath has already come (he believes in a future judgement). Paul teaches that the Jews will be saved, not destroyed. Also, the wrath of God wouldn’t have come upon the Jews until after 70 AD  and Paul was dead by then. The passage doesn’t make sense in context. Also, Paul repeatedly refers to himself as being a Jew, so him condemning Jews wholesale doesn’t make sense. 1 Timothy 6:13 says the Romans crucified Jesus, but this is also a late forgery.

Everything we’ve looked at in the epistles so far are more likely on mythicism than historicity. However, in the next post (which will also be the last covering this book), we’ll turn to the best evidence there is for the existence of a historical Jesus.

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