Taking the "Jesus Puzzle" Apart
"As a final note, we might ask: where are the writers
(for we might expect there to be some) who openly
and in umistakable words reject the figure of Jesus,
with no possibility of ambiguity?"-Earl Doherty
A Critique of Earl Doherty’s book The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity begin with a mythical Christ?: Challenging the existence of an historical Jesus:
- The critique of The Jesus Puzzle will occur in the order in which the book is organized. Click the various links listed in the column to the right to go to a discussion of a particular chapter of The Jesus Puzzle.
- However, it is really only necessary to refute one portion of Earl Doherty’s theory since each portion represents a piece of a puzzle that should form a coherent picture when assembled properly.
1. Earl Doherty’s own evidence does not stand up to Doherty’s standard of evidence that he utilizes to reject the existence of an historical Jesus:
- No contemporary reference to a “brotherhood of the Lord” that Doherty uses to explain away the documentation indicative that James was Jesus’ brother.
- No reference at all to a “brotherhood of the Lord” that Doherty uses to explain away the documentation that James was Jesus’ brother.
- No contemporary reference to a “Q Community” that Doherty argues created the Gospel picture of Jesus over time.
- No reference at all to a “Q Community” that Doherty argues created the Gospel picture of Jesus over time.
- No manuscripts of “Q” have ever been discovered.
- The manuscripts of the Ascension of Isaiah, which Doherty argues demonstrates that the early Christians believed Jesus was not killed on earth but was killed in “the higher world” by demons, are extremely late.
- Doherty relies heavily on manuscripts and sources that date in and beyond the 2nd century C.E. in attempt to argue for events that occurred/did not occur in the first century C.E., in general.
- Doherty concedes that there is no known ancient source attacking the concept that Jesus was an historical figure (TJP:292).
2. Earl Doherty misinterprets the words and phrases contained in the epistles written by Paul in order to make the epistles indicate Paul believed Jesus was not crucified on earth, but by demons in a layer above the earth. All of Doherty's non-Pauline primary sources post-date Paul's epistles.
3. Earl Doherty fails to provide a comparison between the historical documentation for a historical Jesus with the historical documentation for the historicity of other ancient historical figures and events.
The documentation for a historical Jesus is actually much more compelling than the documentation for Confucius, Buddha, Livy, Honi the Circle Drawer 1, and Alexander the Great, which will become evident during the critique of Chapter 3 of The Jesus Puzzle. As historian Michael Grant wrote: “But above all, 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” (JAHROTG:199-200).
4. Earl Doherty classifies the Gospels in the genre of midrash instead of ancient biography, and the majority of New Testament scholars today place the Gospels in a sub-genre of ancient biography.
5. Earl Doherty does not mention the early Christian documents that contain references to and indications of apostolic tradition.
OTHER CRITIQUES OF EARL DOHERTY'S ARGUMENTS:
1. Honi the Circle Drawer: “Even Josephus was writing over one hundred years after Honi’s day, and the Mishna is dated over one hundred years later than Josephus. This should be contrasted to the mere forty or so years between Jesus’ life and the composition of the earliest Gospel, Mark” (TJQ:111).