Earl Doherty, the Jesus Myth and Second Century Christian Writings


By: GakuseiDon

Last update: 01-Oct-2005

This article looks at Earl Doherty's comments on second century Christian writings and the Jesus Myth in his book "The Jesus Puzzle". Doherty puts forward the thesis that some second apologists subscribed to a Christianity that was devoid of a historical Jesus. I conclude that Doherty's analysis is flawed, and that there is no reason to conclude that those apologists didn't believe in a historical Jesus.


Earl Doherty has responded to this article here.

I examine his response and add new material here (2005)
I review Doherty's latest book "Jesus: Neither God Nor Man" starting here (2011)



Section 1: Themes within Second Century Writings

1.1 HJ references in the Second Century Writers

1.2 Apologists writing to Pagans in the Second Century

1.3 Lack of historical details in the writings of second century apologists

1.4 Reasons for Apologists' silence on the historical details of Christ

1.5 References to Gospel and Hebrew writings

1.6 The LOGOS

1.7 Pagan accusations against Christians in the Second Century

1.8 How the 'MJ' writers were received

Section 2: Doherty's 'MJ' Apologists

2.1 Justin Martyr

2.2 Tatian

2.3 Theophilus

2.4 Athenagoras of Athens

2.5 Epistle of Diognetus

2.6 Minucius Felix






In his book "The Jesus Puzzle" [1], Earl Doherty asks "Did Christianity begin with a mythical Christ?". He examines literature from the first two centuries to support his thesis that that there was no historical Jesus at the core of the Christianity that originated in the first century CE.


His book is divided into three sections. Section 1 looks at the "Son of God" movement that Doherty believes lies behind the New Testament epistles and other early Christian letters. Section 2 looks at the Gospels to identify those traditions that Doherty believes ended up in the Gospels as part of the ministry of a fictional Jesus. [2] Finally, Section 3 examines how the Gospels were constructed, and how they influenced the writings of second century apologists. [3]


This article looks at Doherty's comments on the second century apologists.


Doherty sees in the second century a continuation of the first century in terms of diversity, a lack of common doctrine, no centralized authority and a weak concept of apostolic tradition, as well as a range of silence on the reputed founder of Christianity [4]. According to Doherty, the Gospels were late first century and early second century documents, with the Gospel of Mark written about 85-90 CE, and the Gospels of Matthew & Luke around 100-120 CE. [5] Though not necessarily in the form that we know today, Doherty believes that it is likely Justin Martyr worked with 2 or 3 Gospels that had just emerged into Christian consciousness, though they existed as anonymous documents in Justin's time (150s CE). Doherty believes that the Gospels were in general circulation among the pagans by the 160s, and so pagans knew what Christians believed about their own origins by that time. [6]


While scholars specializing in the second century have characterized the Christianity of the apologists as essentially a philosophical movement, Doherty believes that some apologists gave the appearance of ignoring, and even denying, any historical figure at all. Though the 'Christian philosophy' presented by the apologists as a group had roots in Judaism, Doherty sees some of them deriving their ideas from Platonism, especially the concept of a Son of God, a 'second God' or Logos (Word), a force active in the world and serving as an intermediary between God and humanity. This idea of the Logos could be found in most Greek philosophies as well as Hellenistic Judaism in the second century. [7]


Doherty believes that these apologists subscribed to a "Logos" religion that, especially at the time of their conversions, was lacking the figure of Jesus of Nazareth. [8] But is there any evidence that any apologist in the second century believed in a Christianity that lacked a historical Jesus, as claimed by Doherty?


This article investigates those claims. It is divided into two sections:


Background issues


1. Dating. In many cases there are difficulties in determining precisely when the writings under consideration were published. Clues as to the date of authorship can be found in the content or by citations by subsequent writers for whom we can be more confident in dating. Doherty is generally conservative in this respect, accepting the consensus of critical scholarship.  I have used his dates except when otherwise specified.


2. Questions on the authenticity of the materials. It cannot be simply assumed that the texts that have been passed on to the present day are the same as the original autographs.  During the transmission of the texts, marginal glosses, redactions, interpolations and outright forgeries are all possibilities. Here, Doherty sometimes takes more liberty than the consensus of critical scholarship.  As I will point out, at times he claims the possibility of textual corruption for no other apparent reason than that he finds the text at issue damaging to his theory.  Otherwise, however, I don't differ from Doherty here except when otherwise specified.


3. Terminology. I've used "HJ" to refer to a "historical Jesus". A "HJer" is a writer who makes explicit statements on Christ's historicity, i.e. they believe that Christ lived on this earth and interacted with his disciples as a man. A "HJer" does not necessarily mean an orthodox Christian, but covers any writer who makes statements indicating a belief in a historical Christ. This includes pagan writers like Celsus and Lucian, as well as gnostics who believed that Christ lived on earth as a man, though he wasn't composed of corruptible flesh. "MJ" is used to refer to a "mythical Jesus". An "MJer" is one of the writers identified by Doherty as believing in a Christianity that didn't include a "historical Jesus" at its core. I use "MJ" only to note that these authors are purported by Doherty to disbelieve in a historical Jesus.  I will critically evaluate the basis for his belief below.


4. Materials. Most of the primary sources that are referenced in this paper are available in English translation on Peter Kirby's excellent "Early Christian Writings" website [9]. Richard Carrier, one of the founders of Infidels.org and a PhD candidate in ancient history, provides a good summary of early Christian writings that I use to provide background information on some of the apologists that Doherty discusses in Section 2. [10].




Section 1: Themes within Second Century Writings  



1.1 HJ references in the Second Century Writers


Doherty believes that there is a "telling silence on the reputed founder" of Christianity in the second century. [4] He refers to a number of second century writers to build his case in Part 9 of his part, entitled "The Second Century". But how great is this silence?


I've listed those authors that Doherty draws upon in this part of his book. There are other authors writing in the second century that he doesn't refer to, some of whom I believe are relevant to the question of "a telling silence". I will briefly discuss them below.


Authors referred to by Doherty in "The Second Century" section of his book are:


Author Material Extant? Date HJer according to Doherty?


"Epistle of Barnabas" Yes 95 - 125 Yes
Clement of Rome "To the Corinthians" Yes 96 Ambiguous
Ignatius of Antioch Various letters Yes 108 i, v Yes
Polycarp of Smyrna "Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians Yes 110 - 140 ii Yes
Papias Fragments in Irenaeus and Eusebius No 110 - 130 Yes
Tacitus "Annals" Yes 115 Yes
Marcion Fragments No 130 140 ii Yes
Aristides "Apology" Yes 140 Yes
Justin Martyr Various letters Yes 150s Yes
Lucian "On the death of Peregrinus" Yes 160s Yes
Tatian "Apology to the Greeks" Yes 160s v No
Irenaeus of Lyons Various Yes 175 - 185 ii Yes
Theophilus of Antioch "To Autolycus" Yes 180 No
Athenagoras of Athens 3 letters Yes 180s No
Unknown "The Epistle to Diognetus" Yes 130 0r 200 iii No
Minucius Felix "Octavius" Yes 160 - 250 iv No
Celsus Fragments in Origen No 178 ii Yes
Clement of Alexandria Various Yes 182 - 202 ii, v Yes
Tertullian Various Yes 197 ii, v Yes


(i)         I have used Doherty's date, but many believe that Ignatius could be dated later, around 140 CE

(ii)         I can't find any clear date provided by Doherty, so I have used the date from the earlychristianwritings website

(iii)        There is no clear evidence for either date, but Doherty leans towards 130

(iv)        There is no clear evidence to narrow the date range, but Doherty leans towards an earlier date

(v)                 These authors wrote one or more letters with historical details about Christ, as well as one or more without historical details about Christ.


It's immediately obvious that, according to even Doherty himself, the earliest writers do in fact make references to a HJ. Though they provide few details - as discussed in Section 1.5 they are more intent on justifying Christ through the Hebrew scriptures - they undoubtedly refer to a historical Jesus, and from early on in the second century.


Of those five writers identified by Doherty as believing in a MJ, we can see that four of them arguably wrote between 160 and 180 CE, though "Octavius" could be third century. The fifth writer ("The Epistle to Diognetus") is either 130 CE or after 180 CE.


There are also a number of other authors who make HJ statements, to whom Doherty doesn't refer to in his book. Some of their works are extant, while others exist only in fragments in later writings:


Basilides (120-140) was a Gnostic Christian with unorthodox views of the Logos, and believed that the God of the Old Testament was not the true God:


"He appeared, then, on earth as a man, to the nations of these powers, and wrought miracles" [11]


Heracleon (150-180) was a respected teacher of the Valentinian school in Rome who wrote a commentary of the Gospel of John:


"The words "salvation is of the Jews" are said because he [Christ] was born in Judea, but not among them and because from that race salvation and the Word came forth into the world." [12]


Hegesippus (165-175) was an early Christian historian. Only fragments remain from His Five Books of "Commentaries on the Acts of the Church", including references to a HJ, and the fate of the descendents of Jesus's family. [13]


Claudius Apollinaris (160-180) was the Bishop of Hierapolis, and an early apologist:


"[O]n the fourteenth day the Lord ate the lamb with the disciples, and that on the great day of the feast of unleavened bread He Himself suffered; and they quote Matthew as speaking in accordance with their view". [14]


Melito of Sardis (165-175) was known as an early Christian philosopher:


On these accounts He came to us; on these accounts, though He was incorporeal, He formed for Himself a body after our fashion... being carried in the womb of Mary, yet arrayed in the nature of His Father; treading upon the earth, yet filling heaven... He was standing before Pilate, and at the same time was sitting with His Father; He was nailed upon the tree, and yet was the Lord of all things. [15]


We probably only have a fraction of the materials produced in those times available for study today. The writings that survived, either in relatively complete form or as fragments, survived because they were considered useful, or worth preserving by future generations, or hidden away. The writings that Doherty identifies as expressing an MJ view were nearly all written after 160 CE, and in some cases were praised for their content by later HJer apologists (discussed further below).


It is possible that more explicit MJ writings existed but were destroyed as heretical, but I'm not aware of any evidence to that effect. Nor does Doherty provide any. Contemporaries like Irenaeus and Tertullian wrote about many of the heresies of that century, and they don't appear to have come across MJ views, or noted any controversy on such topics in their denouncements of heretics, whom ranged from those who regarded Christ as just a man (e.g. some Ebionites), or regarded Christ as someone who acted on earth but in a body not composed of flesh (e.g. various gnostic groups).


In conclusion:


We only have a fraction of the materials produced in the second century, but from those that we do have, we can see that there are many references to a historical Jesus in the early part of the century, though these writers don't appear concerned to introduce many details (as discussed further below). There is certainly no "telling range of silence on the reputed founder" of Christianity, as even the evidence by Doherty himself shows. Furthermore, Doherty appears unaware of, or has deliberately left out, other authors who make reference to a historical Jesus.


The writers that Doherty identifies as MJers nearly all wrote after 160 CE, at a time when Doherty believes that the Gospels were in general circulation among the pagans.



1.2 Apologists writing to Pagans in the Second Century


Doherty notes the "astonishing fact [that] of the five or six major apologists up to the year 180 - after that, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria and Origen are all firmly anchored in Gospel tradition - none, with the exception of Justin, introduces an historical Jesus into their defenses of Christianity to the pagan" [16]. Those apologists were: Theophilus of Antioch, Athenagoras of Athens, the author of "The Epistle to Diognetus", Tatian and Minucius Felix.


I'm not sure what Doherty means here by 'major apologists', other than perhaps 'apologists whose works are still extant'. Certainly there were more than 6 apologists of the second century that we know about, either from extant works, or fragments preserved in the writings of later authors.


Concentrating only on the second century apologists writing to pagans, we can see that 7 of 12 refer to a historical Jesus:


Author Wrote to: Extant? Date HJ statements?
Quadratus of Athens Emperor of the day (Fragments) No 120 - 130 Yes
Aristides Emperor of the day Yes 130 Yes
Justin Martyr Emperor of the day Yes 150s Yes
Claudius Apollinaris Emperor of the day (Fragments) No 160 - 180 Yes
Melito of Sardis Emperor of the day (Large fragments) No 160 - 177 Yes
Tatian To "the Greeks" Yes 160s No
Theophilus of Antioch Various ("To Autolycus" only extant) Yes 180 No
Athenagoras of Athens Emperor of the day Yes 180s No
"The Epistle to  Diognetus" Diognetus, "tutor to emperor Marcus Aurelius" Yes 130 or 200 No
Minucius Felix "To Octavius" Yes 160 - 250 No
Clement of Alexandria Various Yes 182 - 202 Yes
Tertullian Various Yes 200 Yes


The earliest apologist on record is probably Quadratus, writing to the Emperor Hadrian around 120-130. Jerome (late fourth century) wrote that Quadratus presented to Hadrian an apologetic work "composed in behalf of our religion, indispensable, full of sound argument and faith and worthy of the apostolic teaching". [17]


The earliest extant writers are Aristides and Justin Martyr. Only the author of "The Epistle to Diognetus" may be earlier than the extant Aristides, though the evidence isn't clear on the date of this work.


In conclusion:


The earliest second century apologists writing to the pagans did indeed introduce a historical Jesus in defense of Christianity. The apologists identified by Doherty as being MJ writers nearly all wrote in the second half of the second century, at a time when the Gospels were probably already circulating among the pagans. (I examine Doherty's purported MJ writers in Section 2).



1.3 Lack of historical details in the writings of second century apologists


Doherty notes the lack of historical details in some of the apologists and concludes that "this blatant suppression of Jesus, the misrepresentation of everything from the name 'Christian' to the source of Christian ethics, amounts to nothing less than a denial of Christ." [18]


However, a lack of historical details is by no means restricted to those writers that Doherty identifies as MJers. There are examples of other writers in the second century and later, who make firm HJ statements in some letters, while not referring to historical details in their other writings. 


Examples from the second century and the period immediately following include:

From the large fragments of Melito's "Apology" (160-177) that remain, the "Apology" possibly falls into this category as well.


Undoubtedly, the most interesting example is Tertullian's "Ad nationes" [20]. Around 197 CE, Tertullian wrote two works: "Apology" and "Ad nationes". There is definitely a literary relationship between these two works (as well as to Minucius Felix, whom Doherty regards as an MJ writer), with both works covering many of the same points.


However, while Tertullian uses the names "Jesus" and "Christ" many times and makes many references to a historical Jesus in his "Apology", Tertullian pointedly ignores using those names, and makes only indirect references to a HJ in "Ad nationes".


Doherty refers to Tertullian several times, and even notes that Tertullian's "Apology" is full of "vivid references" to Christ's incarnation, death and resurrection. In fact, Doherty goes so far as to say that Tertullian "indulges in no such cryptic concealment" of a historical Christ [21]. He is clearly unaware of Tertullian's "Ad nationes".


That an apologist can write two letters in the same year, one containing vivid references to historicity, and the other containing no such references (not even the names 'Jesus' and 'Christ') suggests that Doherty places too much weight on the supposed silence of certain second century apologists when it comes to using historical details of a HJ in their defense of Christianity.


In conclusion:


It is clear that early HJ writers were capable of producing letters and apologies that lacked historical details of Christ, even to the point of not referring to the names 'Jesus' and 'Christ'. While this in itself doesn't prove that the purported MJ writers believed in a HJ, the existence of those letters shows that this criteria alone cannot be used to distinguish between a HJer and an MJer. It certainly casts doubt that they "represent a denial of Christ", as stated by Doherty.


Doherty appears to have no awareness of these letters. It is clear that Doherty hasn't examined all the literature of the period, or has restricted his analysis to just those letters that support his case. In either case his analysis is based on incomplete data.



1.4 Reasons for Apologists' silence on the historical details of Christ


In his book, Doherty stresses that "nowhere in the literature of the time is there support for the standard scholarly rationalization about the apologists' silence on the figure of Jesus". He believes that "nowhere... is it even intimated that these writers have deliberately left out essential elements of Christian faith, for reasons of political correctness or anything else" [22]


However, a thorough examination of the literature does provide evidence for such reasons, which can be grouped into at least four categories:


1. The apologists were more concerned with stopping the persecutions against the Christians of the day than converting their audience: Many of the authors wrote to the Emperor of the day or the pagan public, as a plea for justice against the persecutions taking place, rather than as a vehicle for conversion. We can see this in the writings of HJers like Justin and Tertullian, as well as in Doherty's MJ writers like Minucius Felix. In Doherty's opinion they should have tried to rehabilitate the figure of Christ, but even the HJ writers appeared more concerned with addressing the injustices against the Christians of the day than discussing historical details of Christ (for example Tertullian's "Ad nationes").


2. The names 'Christian' and 'Christ' were hated: Tacitus, at the start of the 2nd C, refers to Christianity as 'a pernicious superstition', charged with the hatred of all mankind. Pliny the Younger punished those who continued to call themselves 'Christians'. Not a few of the apologists addressed letters to the Emperors of the day, decrying this injustice of persecution for 'the sake of a name'. Tertullian in "Ad nationes" notes that Christians were being punished 'in the name of the founder' [23] and wondered what harm there was in a name, all the while refusing to give the name of the founder. Other apologists make similar points, including the MJ writers (see Section 1.7 below).


3. Christianity was viewed as a barbarous new religion: Another charge by pagans against Christianity was that it was a new barbarous religion [24]. New sects were regarded suspiciously by the Romans, and nearly all the apologists to stressed Christianity's 'antiquity' via its Jewish roots, over its more recent origin. As Karen Armstrong points out in her book "The History of God", the Roman ethos was strictly conservative, and Christians were regarded with contempt as a sect of fanatics who had committed the cardinal sin of breaking with the parent faith [25]. The apologists often referred to the ancient Hebrew prophets to try to show a continuation from ancient times.


4. The writer adopted different approaches to different audiences. From the writers with multiple letters still extant we can see that they varied their approach to different audiences. It is noted that Justin Martyr, for example, insists strongly on the theology of the Logos in his "Apology" to the pagans, but much less so in his "Dialogue with the Jew Tryphon" [26]. Tertullian's "Apology" and "Ad nationes" were probably written in the same year, yet the "Apology" contains many direct references to a HJ, while "Ad nationes" has none. There is a danger in trying to extrapolate a writer's beliefs based on one letter to one audience, especially to a pagan one. Had we been left with just the one 'non-HJ' letter by Ignatius, for example, how would Doherty have determined that he was not an 'MJ' writer?


Not only are these reasons intimated in the HJ writers that Doherty ignores, it is not difficult to find them in his purported MJ writers, as noted above. I provide further points of similarities below. It should be noted that these examples of HJ writers sharing these similarities to Doherty's MJ writers is not explored anywhere in Doherty's book.



In conclusion:


Though Doherty has rejected it out-of-hand, there are in fact good reasons to explain the apologists' reluctance to introduce historical details in their defense of the Christians of the day, especially given the persecutions that were then taking place.


It must be stressed that most of the apologists were appealing to the Emperor of the day and the pagan public in an attempt to receive justice in the face of that continuing persecution. Though they tried to put Christianity in the best possible light, their primary aim was not to convert their audience, but to appeal to them to consider Christianity as a valid religion.


A thorough review of the relevant literature is an important part in developing any thesis. It is clear that Doherty hasn't examined all the literature of the period. It is also clear that Doherty hasn't analyzed his MJ writers for points of similarities to the HJ writers of the day (more examples given below). It cannot be overstated enough that these are serious flaws in his approach to the evidence being presented in this section of his book. I suggest that it amounts to a one-sided presentation of the evidence.



1.5 References to Gospel and Hebrew writings


In Chapter 24: The Remaking of Christian History, Doherty discusses references by early Christian writers to Gospel-like writings. Doherty writes


"In the writings of the Apostolic Fathers prior to Justin Martyr we have no clear witness to any use of written Gospels. Those who have studied this matter have concluded that the echoes of Gospel material occasionally found in the Fathers are derived from floating oral traditions or perhaps small collections of sayings; these elements would have found their own way in the written Gospels" [27]


Doherty makes much of the fact that the earliest HJ writers didn't appear to be aware of the Gospels as we know them today, and tended to describe Christ's life by using quotes from the Hebrew Bible. [28] He concludes from this that historical details were being pulled from Hebrew scriptures. This is by no means unreasonable. Whether historical details were recast using parallels found in the Old Testament, or OT passages were used to create historical details is not a new problem. Interestingly, Sanders notes that this process of 'historicizing' from scriptural writings can be observed as late as the 8th C [29], long after Christ had been established as a historical character.


While this tends to cast doubt on how much history was accurately reflected by this 'historicizing', this alone shouldn't be used to suppose that the authors didn't regard Jesus as a historical personage. Even if those authors appeared unaware of the Gospels, if they made explicit HJ statements, then how can this do anything but harm Doherty's case? As G.A. Wells (himself a 'Christ Myth' proponent) notes:


"It is of course true that the source of statements such as 'descended from David' is scripture, not historical tradition. But this does not mean, as Doherty supposes, that the life and the death were not believed to have occurred on Earth. The evangelists inferred much of what they took for Jesus life-history from scripture, but nevertheless set this life in a quite specific historical situation."  [30]


To prove that the Gospel message was valid, and that Jesus was the expected Messiah, the early Christian writers had no choice but to draw upon the Hebrew Bible and 'find Christ' in there. This idea is reflected in the writings of early Christians like Ignatius and Justin Martyr. Ignatius writes on the pressure to find the Gospel message in the Hebrew scriptures:


And I exhort you to do nothing out of strife, but according to the doctrine of Christ. When I heard some saying, If I do not find it in the ancient Scriptures, I will not believe the Gospel; on my saying to them, It is written, they answered me, That remains to be proved. But to me Jesus Christ is in the place of all that is ancient: His cross, and death, and resurrection, and the faith which is by Him, are undefiled monuments of antiquity; by which I desire, through your prayers, to be justified. [31]


Justin Martyr, writing around 150 CE, speaks similarly:


For with what reason should we believe of a crucified man that He is the first-born of the unbegotten God, and Himself will pass judgment on the whole human race, unless we had found testimonies concerning Him published before He came and was born as man [32]


There would have been several advantages to the apologists writing to the pagans to have stressed Christianity's roots springing from the Hebrew Bible:


1. The Hebrew Bible and its central characters appear to have been known to the general pagan audience quite early. Even before Josephus published his landmark histories in 90 CE, Romans appeared to have been familiar with Hebrew history and scriptures. The Roman author Strabo, writing around 20 CE, describes Moses positively as someone who 'persuaded a large body of right-minded persons to accompany him to the place where Jerusalem now stands' and 'established no ordinary kind of government', though the Jewish leaders who followed Moses became corrupted. [33]


2. Judaism (and its writings) had a certain amount of legal standing within the Roman Empire. An edict by the Emperor Augustus around 1 BCE declared that anyone found stealing the Jews' sacred books would have his property confiscated by the state. [34]. Judaism itself was generally (though not always) tolerated throughout the Roman Empire.


The early apologists' letters to the Emperors of their day freely made references to Moses and the prophets in the Hebrew Bible, indicating their expectation that this would carry weight with the Emperors. Even later apologists like Tertullian continued to use the prophets and passages from the Hebrew Bible, well after the Gospels had been established.


While early apologists made few references to Christian Gospels when writing to pagans, it is clear that there were writings (or at least oral traditions being passed down) that were available to Christians from early in the second century. The most famous are the references by Papias (110-130 CE), who refers to Gospels by 'Mark' and 'Matthew' [35], though it is unknown how closely they matched the ones that we know today.


Other early references to Christian 'Gospels' include:


Epistle of Barnabas (90-125 CE)


But when He chose His own apostles who were to preach His Gospel, [He did so from among those] who were sinners above all sin, that He might show He came "not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Then He manifested Himself to be the Son of God.


The 'Gospel' (or 'good news') referred to by 'Barnabas' was probably oral rather than written. However, 'Barnabas' goes on to say that there were teachings attributed to Christ at the time he was writing, even though 'Barnabas' was more concerned with using the Hebrew scriptures:


[B]y preparing a new people for Himself, [he] might show, while He dwelt on earth, that He, when He has raised mankind, will also judge them. Moreover, teaching Israel, and doing so great miracles and signs, He preached [the truth] to him, and greatly loved him". [36]


 Ignatius (108 CE) also writes that this 'good news' is not to announce something new, but the fulfillment of something announced long before:


All these have for their object the attaining to the unity of God. But the Gospel possesses something transcendent [above the former dispensation], viz., the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ, His passion and resurrection. For the beloved prophets announced Him, but the Gospel is the perfection of immortality. [37]


Apology of Aristides (140 CE), writing to the Emperor of the day:


The Christians, then, trace the beginning of their religion from Jesus the Messiah; and he is named the Son of God Most High. And it is said that God came down from heaven, and from a Hebrew virgin assumed and clothed himself with flesh; and the Son of God lived in a daughter of man. This is taught in the gospel, as it is called, which a short time was preached among them; and you also if you will read therein, may perceive the power which belongs to it. [38]


Aristides' comment to the Emperor regarding "if you will read therein [the gospel]" suggests that Aristides believed that a written source was available for the Emperor to consult. Significantly, Aristides is more interested in tying Christ back to the Hebrew bible, despite the obvious existence of a Christian gospel that is available. It suggests that Aristides regarded the quotes from the Hebrew scriptures to be more influential with his pagan audience.


It also seems clear that second century apologists were quoting from Gospel material, though they don't make allusions to specific Gospels. Ignatius almost certainly makes prolific use of the Gospel of Matthew or a common source. [39]. Richard Carrier notes that the 'MJer' Athenagoras of Athens writing around 180 CE quotes or paraphrases from a few Epistles of Paul, and from all the Gospels in a mishmash, suggesting a harmonic gospel source like the Diatessaron. However, Athenagoras doesn't feel it necessary to cite the source of his references. Similarly, Carrier notes that the 'MJer' Theophilus appears to be aware of Tatian's Gospel harmonization. [10]


In conclusion:


Even though these early writers appeared to be aware of 'Gospels', they were more concerned in presenting their case quoting from Hebrew writings. This extended beyond the second century, long after the Gospels as we know them today were available for use.


The free references to Moses and ancient Hebrew prophets to the Emperor and pagan public suggest that the early apologists considered them to carry more influence with the pagan audience of the day.


Finally, even though there are not explicit references to Gospels by some apologists, there is still good reason to believe that those apologists were using Gospel-like materials, if not the Gospels themselves, in the construction of their apologies. The lack of explicit references can't be taken to mean an unawareness of the Gospels or proto-gospels.


1.6 The LOGOS


Doherty believes that the apologists' branch of Christianity that became prominent throughout the empire in the second century was a mix of Platonism and Hellenistic Judaism. In Doherty's view, this 'Platonic Christianity' defined itself in ways which had nothing to do with an historical Jesus, and probably was not an outgrowth of Pauline Christianity, as they had almost nothing in common. [40]


Was there a "Logos" based Christianity separate from a historical stream? There simply is no evidence for it. There are references to the Logos and the Word in the writings of HJ authors as early as Ignatius [41] Justin Martyr and his student Tatian were among the earliest extant apologists to make the Logos central to their writings.


The concept was adopted by orthodox Christianity as well as by streams that were later declared heretical. For example, the gnostics had created their own ideas of how the Logos related to a historical Jesus. One point of controversy was whether the Word had become corruptible flesh, or remained in 'a higher state'. Irenaeus, writing 175-185 CE, says that some believed that the Word was not made flesh, but "descended like a dove upon the dispensational Jesus" before ascending again "into the Pleroma"; others claimed that the "dispensational Jesus did become incarnate, and suffered, whom they represent as having passed through Mary just as water through a tube"; still others that "Jesus was born from Joseph and Mary, and that the Christ from above descended upon him, being without flesh, and impassible". [42] But Irenaeus doesn't refer to any heretical beliefs that Doherty infers that the MJ apologists held, i.e. a Christ that never came to earth at all.


I suggest that it isn't coincidence that the Logos became a popular theme to be used in apologies to the Emperor and pagans in the second half of the second century. The pagans already had some idea of Christian origins by the 160s, and had rejected the Christianity presented in the Gospels as superstition. The Logos would have been a useful concept to Christians trying to re-image Christianity as a philosophical school. The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Emperor from 160-180 CE) discusses the Logos in terms that Christians would have found sympathetic:


Matter in the universe is supple and compliant, and the Reason (Logos) which controls it has no motive for ill-doing; for it is without malice, and does nothing with intent to injure, neither is anything harmed by it.  By its ordinances all things have their birth and their fulfillment. (my emphasis) [43]


In an effort to stop the persecution of Christians, the apologists began to stress its philosophical validity, and attempted to appeal to the philosophers of the day by trying to find similarities between Christianity and pagan concepts (especially Justin Martyr). Athenagoras, for example, starts his apology "A Plea for the Christians" with the following: "To the Emperors Marcus Aurelius Anoninus and Lucius Aurelius Commodus, conquerors of Armenia and Sarmatia, and more than all, philosophers" (my emphasis) [44]


These writings by the "Logos" Christians were considered excellent apologies for the Christian faith by the apologists that followed. Eusebius notes that Tatian's Logos-centric Address to the Greeks "appears to be the best and most useful of all his works". [45]


In conclusion:


The concept of the 'Logos', used early in the second century by Christians, became an even more useful concept from around the time of Justin Martyr for Christians wanting to present their religion along the lines of a 'philosophical school'. This appeal to 'fellow philosophers' came at a time when Christians were being persecuted as a superstitious sect. Irenaeus's references to arguments with Gnostic sects on how the Logos related to Christianity shows that defining the Logos was a hot topic at that time; however, far from being considered heretical, the philosophic "Logos" writings of the "MJ" apologists were considered useful by the Christians that followed.



1.7 Pagan accusations against Christians in the Second Century


Hints of the persecution against Christians can be found at the start of the second century in the writings of Tacitus and Pliny the Younger. From the writings in the 2nd half of the second century, we can get an idea of some of the specific charges being made against Christians. Most of the apologists wrote to the Emperor or the pagan public, asking for justice to be applied to individual cases instead of persecuting them for carrying the name 'Christian'. Interestingly, the MJ apologists and the HJ apologists appear to have addressed the same charges against Christianity.


I've listed common themes in the accusations against Christianity in the second century, and which HJers and MJers addressed them:

Accusation: HJer MJer
The injustice of persecution just for one's name Justin, Tertullian Tatian
Atheism Justin M. Felix, Athenagoras
Incestuous love feasts Tertullian, Celsus Athenagoras, Theophilus
Consuming human flesh, in particular that of an infant's Tertullian M. Felix, Theophilus
Secret rites Celsus M. Felix
Use of a dog in ceremonies Tertullian M. Felix
Worship of an asses head Tertullian M. Felix


I've included some quotes from HJ and MJ authors, and bolded those parts of the passages relevant to the chart above.


HJ writers:


Justin "First Apology":


... we demand that the charges against the Christians be investigated, and that, if these be substantiated, they be punished as they deserve; [or rather, indeed, we ourselves will punish them.] But if no one can convict us of anything, true reason forbids you, for the sake of a wicked rumour, to wrong blameless men... By the mere application of a name, nothing is decided, either good or evil, apart from the actions implied in the name; and indeed, so far at least as one may judge from the name we are accused of, we are most excellent people... if any one acknowledge that he is a Christian, you punish him on account of this acknowledgment.


... Hence are we called atheists. And we confess that we are atheists, so far as gods of this sort are concerned, but not with respect to the most true God, the Father of righteousness and temperance and the other virtues, who is free from all impurity.


Tertullian "Ad nationes":


... and failing to make a full inquiry, which should be gone into by such as sue for a condemnation, it becomes evident that the crime laid to our charge consists not of any sinful conduct, but lies wholly in our name... What crime, what offence, what fault is there in a name?


... Yet who ever came upon a half-consumed corpse (amongst us)? Who has detected the traces of a bite in our blood-steeped loaf? Who has discovered, by a sudden light invading our darkness, any marks of impurity, I will not say of incest, (in our feasts)?... Then he will say (to the applicant), You must bring an infant, as a guarantee for our rites, to be sacrificed, as well as some bread to be broken and dipped in his blood; you also want candles, and dogs tied together to upset them, and bits of meat to rouse the dogs... [it is said that] [w]e begin our religious service, or initiate our mysteries, with slaying an infant. 


In this matter we are (said to be) guilty not merely of forsaking the religion of the community, but of introducing a monstrous superstition; for some among you have dreamed that our god is an ass's head...


Celsus in Origen's "Against Celsus":


The Christians entered into secret associations with each other contrary to law... The love-feasts of the Christians, have their origin in the common danger, and are more binding than any oaths... Christians teach and practise their favourite doctrines in secret, and they do this to ,some purpose, seeing they escape the penalty of death which is imminent [47].


Doherty's "Christ Myth" writers:


Tatian "Address to the Greeks":


Is it not unreasonable that, while the robber is not to be punished for the name he bears, but only when the truth about him has been clearly ascertained, yet we are to be assailed with abuse on a judgment formed without examination?


Minucius Felix "Octavius":


[A pagan accuser says:] I hear that they adore the head of an ass, that basest of creatures...


I know not whether these things are false; certainly suspicion is applicable to secret and nocturnal rites...


Now the story about the initiation of young novices is as much to be detested as it is well known. An infant covered over with meal, that it may deceive the unwary, is placed before him who is to be stained with their rites...


On a solemn day they assemble at the feast, with all their children, sisters, mothers, people of every sex and of every age. There, after much feasting, when the fellowship has grown warm, and the fervour of incestuous lust has grown hot with drunkenness, a dog that has been tied to the chandelier is provoked, by throwing a small piece of offal beyond the length of a line by which he is bound...


Athenagoras "A Plea for the Christians":


If, indeed, any one can convict us of a crime, be it small or great, we do not ask to be excused from punishment, but are prepared to undergo the sharpest and most merciless inflictions. But if the accusation relates merely to our name--and it is undeniable, that up to the present time the stories told about us rest on nothing better than the common undiscriminating popular talk, nor has any Christian been convicted of crime...


What, therefore, is conceded as the common right of all, we claim for ourselves, that we shall not be hated and punished because we are called Christians (for what has the name to do with our being bad men?)


Three things are alleged against us: atheism, Thyestean feasts, Oedipodean intercourse... For presenting the opinions themselves to which we adhere, as being not human but uttered and taught by God, we shall be able to persuade you not to think of us as atheists.


Theophilus of Antioch "Book 3":


For though yourself prudent, you endure fools gladly. Otherwise you would not have been moved by senseless men to yield yourself to empty words, and to give credit to the prevalent rumor wherewith godless lips falsely accuse us, who are worshippers of God, and are called Christians, alleging that the wives of us all are held in common and made promiscuous use of; and that we even commit incest with our own sisters, and, what is most impious and barbarous of all, that we eat human flesh.


In conclusion:


Both HJ and MJ writers appeared to believe that they needed to defend themselves against similar charges. Examples included: worshipping the head of an ass; incestuous love-feasts; eating human infants; and using dogs in their ceremonies.


While not proof in themselves that they must have held similar beliefs of historicity, they suggest that pagans weren't able to distinguish between these two groups. Nor, indeed, did the Christians themselves try, despite the persecution that they were undergoing at the time. Needless to say, Doherty hasn't looked for such similarities between his HJ and MJ writers.



1.8 How the MJ writers were received


Most of Doherty's MJ writers wrote in the second half of the second century, at a time when Christianity was determining which beliefs were orthodox and which were heretical. Challenges by Marcion and Gnostic groups forced Christians to begin to formulate an 'official canon', though this process wasn't completed until centuries later.


Though most of the works denounced as heretical were destroyed, we still have some idea of their contents from the anti-heresy works of late second century writers of Irenaeus and Tertullian. These writers compiled lists of heretical works that give us some understanding of the ideas expressed by those denounced as heretics.


The heresies ranged from Ebionites, some of whom regarded Christ as just a man; to the Gnostics, who believed that Christ wasn't composed of corruptible flesh, but walked the earth in a body formed like the angels that spoke to Lot.


Much of the second century anti-heresy writers' ire was directed towards Marcion and the Gnostics. Strangely enough, even MJ authors like Theophilus wrote against Marcion, though his work is not extant. But in no case is there any mention of heresies involving a group of Christians who believed that Christ never walked the earth.


Doherty briefly notes the lack of writers who openly and in unmistakable words rejected the figure of a historical Jesus, and puts this down to "2000 years of Christian censorship" as well as to the inaccessibility to materials in the ancient world for anyone who might attempt such a thing [46].


But this hardly explains why such views were not noted by the anti-heretical works of the day. At a time when the Gnostic views on the nature of Christ's physical body were being vehemently fought against, the lack of any reference to heretics who believed that Christ didn't walk the earth at all is a significant gap.


How, then, were the MJ writers received?


From the evidence available, they appeared to have been received quite well: Carrier notes that the respect that Athenagoras's defense of Christianity earned among orthodox Christians contributed to forming decisions on canonicity based on whether they accorded with works like it [10]. Tatian's "Address to the Greeks" was described by Eusebius as "celebrated" and regarded as "the best and most useful of all his works" [45]. Even Doherty believes that Tertullian borrowed, or at least used as inspiration, passages from Minucius Felix [48].


In conclusion:


There is no evidence of any "Christ Myth" heresy to be found in the writings of anti-heresy works of the time. At a time when the Gnostics was forcing Christianity to declare which views were orthodox and which were heretical, this is a significant silence. While the works of such writers may have been destroyed, it is difficult to understand why the anti-heresy writers wouldn't have included references to them, as they did to many other heretical writings that didn't survive. 


It should also be noted that at least one of Doherty's MJ writers also composed anti-heresy works against Marcion. I suggest it would have been very difficult for a writer to compose such a work without revealing something of their own beliefs about the nature of Christ.


Finally, from the evidence that we do have, it appears the MJ writers were praised for their contributions, to the point that the anti-heresy writer Tertullian was inspired by one of the MJ writers when constructing his own apology.



Section 2: Doherty's MJ Apologists


This section looks at the apologists that Doherty believes were defending an MJ in their apologies: Tatian, Theophilus, Athenagoras of Athens, Epistle to Diognetus, and Minucius Felix.


In my opinion, the evidence for Tatian being a HJer at the time he wrote his "Address to the Greeks" is overwhelming. As Tatian has general elements in common with the other MJ writers, I have spent more time below on him, and only cover specific points that Doherty raises on the other MJ writers. But first I'll start with some curious comments Doherty makes about Justin Martyr.


2.1 Justin Martyr


Doherty notes the conversion of Justin Martyr in this way: [49]


The Dialogue with the Jew Trypho was written after the Apology, and the latter can be dated to the early 150s. But the action of Trypho is set at the time of the Second Jewish Revolt, in the 130s, and scholars are confident that this represents the time of Justin's conversion, which he describes in the opening chapters.


By the sea near Ephesus Justin encounters an old man, a Christian philosopher. After a discussion of the joys and benefits of philosophy, the old man tells of ancient Jewish prophets who spoke by the Divine Spirit. These prophets, he says, had proclaimed the glory of God the Father and his Son, the Christ. (This was the interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Platonic terms.) Wisdom could come only to those who have it imparted to them by God and his Christ.


At this, says Justin (8:1), "a flame was kindled in my soul; and a love of the prophets and of those who are friends of Christ possessed me." Justin does not even say (despite the best attempts of some commentators) that he felt a love for Christ himself, for in the Christianity to which he was converted, Christ was a philosophical concept. He was a part of the Godhead in heaven, a Logos-type entity. This Christ is a Savior by virtue of the wisdom he imparts (8:2). This is Justin's concept of salvation here, for he goes on to conclude the story of his conversion by saying to Trypho: "If you are eagerly looking for salvation, and if you believe in God, you may become acquainted with the Christ of God and, after being initiated, live a happy life." (Later, under the influence of the Gospels, Justin laid increasing emphasis on the redeeming value of Christ's death and resurrection, but in the basic Logos religion the Son saves by revealing God.)


Where is Jesus of Nazareth in all this? The old philosopher had not a word to say about him, nor about any incarnation of the Son. We are fortunate that Justin did not recast the memory of his conversion experience in the light of his later beliefs based on the Gospels. In those opening chapters of the Dialogue with the Jew Trypho we can see that all the apologists came to the same Christian faith: a Platonic religious philosophy grounded in Hellenistic Judaism which fails to include any historical Jesus.


For Doherty, Justin appears to have converted to a Christianity missing the figure of a Jesus of Nazareth. However, I find it simply incredible that Doherty is trying to draw such a meaning from the silence in one part of a letter, where the rest of the letter contains many details of a historical Jesus.


Justin spends some time leading up to the passage quoted by Doherty to show that he, as a philosopher, was convinced by philosophical arguments. Justin is stressing that he "found this [Christian] philosophy alone to be safe and profitable". This is a theme that we've already seen in the apologetics of that period, and appears to be an attempt to present the persecuted Christianity as a philosophical school.


Some points:


Doherty continues:


Trypho himself may be a literary invention, but Justin puts into his mouth (8:6) a telling accusation, one which must have represented a common opinion of the time: "But Christ-if he has indeed been born, and exists anywhere-is unknown . . . And you, having accepted a groundless report, invent a Christ for yourselves . . . "


I can only assume that Doherty is implying that a common opinion of the time was that it was unknown whether Christ had been born and existed anywhere.


In fact, looking at the context of that passage, it is clear that Trypho is not questioning a historical Jesus, but simply questioning whether Jesus could possibly have been the Christ. As Trypho says, a sign that Christ had come would have been "Elias come to anoint Him". Since that hadn't happened, Christ couldn't have come yet, and therefore the historical Jesus couldn't have been Christ. Doherty has badly misread the source here. Peter Kirby analyses this further in his on-line article 'Note on Trypho'. [50]


In conclusion:


Doherty's conclusion that Justin converted first to a philosophical Christianity devoid of a historical Jesus is nonsensical. To attribute such a view to Justin when the letter is full of references to a historical Christ in the absence of clear-cut evidence to the contrary defies logic. There is no reason to draw the conclusions that Doherty makes regarding the early conversion of Justin Martyr.


Furthermore, Doherty has badly misread the source by implying that Trypho's statement is an inference that supports the existence of a non-historical Christ.


2.2 Tatian


Tatian was a student of Justin Martyr, who later apostatized and joined a Gnostic sect. He wrote many works, including one of the earliest harmonies of the four Gospels. As Carrier notes:


"Curiously, the first "orthodox" Christian move toward canonization begins outside the Roman Empire, in the Syrian church.  Moreover, this canon was ultimately not in Greek, but was a Syrian translation (M 114-7).  The single man responsible is Tatian, who was converted to Christianity by Justin Martyr on a visit to Rome around 150 A.D.  and, after much instruction, returned to Syria in 172 to reform the church there, banning the use of wine, the eating of meat, and marriage (M 115).  At some point in all this (it is suggested c.  160 A.D.) he selected four Gospels (the four we now know as the canon, and which no doubt supported his own ideology and that of his tutor, Justin) and composed a single harmonized "Gospel" by weaving them together, mainly following the chronology of John.  This is called the Diatessaron ("That Which is Through the Four")... The only complete work of Tatian's that survives is his "Oration to the Greeks" which is a scathing attack on Greek culture.  We know he wrote books prolifically on a number of other topics.  He was probably the first Christian to do so, apart from Justin". [10]



Doherty provides this background:


"We turn now to Tatian, a pupil of Justin. He was converted to Christianity, he says, by reading the Jewish scriptures. At a later stage of his career, after apostatizing to the heretical sect of the Encratites and going off to Syria, Tatian composed the Diatessaron, the first known harmony of the four canonical Gospels. But while still in Rome, sometime around 160, he wrote an Apology to the Greeks, urging pagan readers to turn to the truth. In this description of Christian truth, Tatian uses neither "Jesus" nor "Christ" nor even the name "Christian."


Much space is devoted to outlining the Logos, the creative power of the universe, first-begotten of the Father, through whom the world was made-but none to the incarnation of this Logos. His musings on God and the Logos, rather than being allusions to the Gospel of John, as some claim, contradict the Johannine Prologue in some respects and may reflect Logos commonplaces of the time". [51]


Doherty doesn't explain what the contradictions are here, so I can't comment. As Doherty notes, Tatian does indeed make a comment that could very well be a reference to the incarnation: "We do not act as fools, O Greeks, nor utter idle tales, when we announce that God was born in the form of a man" [52] And how does Tatian view God and the Logos? The Logos is described in terms very similar to the beginning of the Gospel of John. And not unexpectedly, Tatian uses the same concepts as his teacher, Justin, in describing the nature of the Logos. I've highlighted some parallels from a couple of passages in both:




Him (the Logos) we know to be the beginning of the world. But He came into being by participation, not by abscission; for what is cut off is separated from the original substance, but that which comes by participation, making its choice of function, does not render him deficient from whom it is taken. For just as from one torch many fires are lighted, but the light of the first torch is not lessened by the kindling of many torches, so the Logos, coming forth from the Logos-power of the Father, has not divested of the Logos-power Him who begat Him. I myself, for instance, talk, and you hear; yet, certainly, I who converse do not become destitute of speech (logos) by the transmission of speech, but by the utterance of my voice I endeavour to reduce to order the unarranged matter in your minds.


Justin Martyr


that God begat before all creatures a Beginning,[who was] a certain rational power[proceeding] from Himself, who is called by the Holy Spirit, now the Glory of the Lord, now the Son, again Wisdom, again an Angel, then God, and then Lord and Logos... For He can be called by all those names, since He ministers to the Father's will, and since He was begotten of the Father by an act of will; just as we see happening among ourselves: for when we give out some word, we beget the word; yet not by abscission, so as to lessen the word[which remains] in us, when we give it out: and just as we see also happening in the case of a fire, which is not lessened when it has kindled[another], but remains the same; and that which has been kindled by it likewise appears to exist by itself, not diminishing that from which it was kindled. [53]


While it is possible that Tatian adopted Justin's terminology and still rejected Justin's view of a historical Jesus, there is no evidence that this occurred. At the very least, the similarities show that Tatian's view of the Logos was not inconsistent with that of the HJer Justin, his teacher. Tatian refers to Justin several times in his Address to the Greeks, and even calls him "the admirable Justin".


There are other parallels between Tatian's Address and Justin's writings that show Justin's influence on Tatian. Tatian also notes his agreement on Justin's views of demons being "robbers".


Doherty continues: "Resurrection of the dead is not supported by Jesus' resurrection".


Tatian's teacher, Justin Martyr, also addresses the question by pagans on the resurrection of the dead, and also doesn't appeal to the resurrection of Christ in his answer [32]. In both cases, the writers are responding to the pagan argument about the resurrection in the flesh at the end of time. Pagans were questioning whether this is possible if the flesh has in fact already been destroyed:


Justin Martyr's response shows that the pagans (not unexpectedly) had probably already rejected the notion of a resurrected dead man. Jesus's resurrection is irrelevant to Justin's and Tatian's argument since it was a philosophical argument concerning whether physical resurrection was possible after the flesh had been dispersed.


Doherty continues: "Eternal life is gained through knowledge of God (13:1), not by any atoning sacrifice of Jesus"


The HJer Irenaeus also discusses "eternal life" without referring specifically to any atoning sacrifice of Jesus, and in terms very similar to Tatian. Eternal life is gained by 'seeing God' and believing in the Son:


Men therefore shall see God, that they may live, being made immortal by that sight, and attaining even unto God; which, as I have already said, was declared figuratively by the prophets, that God should be seen by men who bear His Spirit [in them], and do always wait patiently for His coming.


Since the Son of God is always one and the same, He gives to those who believe on Him a well of water [springing up] to eternal life [54]


Doherty continues: "In Tatian's Apology we find a few allusions to Gospel sayings, but no specific reference to written Gospels and no attribution of such things to Jesus".


I have to wonder what significance Doherty draws from this, since Doherty himself later shows that Tatian all but refers to something like the Gospels. I discuss this below. But we should note that Tatian's teacher Justin Martyr also doesn't specifically name any Gospels, referring to them as "Memoirs of the Apostles". Yet Doherty elsewhere in his book has stated that Justin was probably acquainted with several Gospels. [55]


Interestingly, Doherty seems to grant that it is possible that Tatian refers indirectly to both the incarnation and gospel material. He writes:


"In chapter 21 he [Tatian] says, "We are not fools, men of Greece, when we declare that God has been born in the form of man (his only allusion to the incarnation) . . . Compare your own stories with our narratives." He goes on to describe some of the Greek myths about gods come to earth, undergoing suffering and even death for the benefaction of mankind. "Take a look at your own records and accept us merely on the grounds that we too tell stories. This may well be a reference to the Christian Gospels. But if he can allude to the incarnation in this way, why does he not deal with it openly and at length?" [56]


But surely the primary question here isn't "why does he not deal with it openly", but what is he referring to by "our narratives"? If this is not a reference to the gospels, then what can they be? Are they narratives relating to the Logos? But then, what of Tatian's comment that "God has been born in the form of a man", and his comparisons with gods coming to earth and suffering? Are we to assume that the student of Justin Martyr believed that the Logos came to the earth in the form of a man and suffered, and this is NOT a reference to Christ? Or if these relate to "Logos narratives", why then doesn't Tatian deal with them openly?


If, as Doherty says, everyone knew what Christians believed about their origins by the time that Tatian wrote his Apology (160s), then the Greeks would have understood what "our narratives" to be. Like Aristides, Tatian seems to be assuming that they are available to his audience.


How did Tatian view "those narratives"?


Doherty writes that the way Tatian compares them to the Greek myths implies that he regards them as being on the same level, nor does Tatian rush to point out that the Christian stories are superior or, unlike the Greek ones, factually true.


But, in fact, Tatian does just that:


Wherefore, looking at your own memorials, vouchsafe us your approval, though it were only as dealing in legends similar to your own. We, however, do not deal in folly, but your legends are only idle tales. [52]


Is this not Tatian doing exactly what Doherty says he didn't do? Describing the Greek legends as 'only idle tales' suggests that Tatian's 'narratives' were not. Nor was Tatian the only writer to make this point. Justin Martyr also wrote similarly, stating that the Greek myths were fables created by demons as pale imitations of prophecies regarding Christ in Hebrew scriptures. Tertullian also talked of Greek "fables" resembling Christian gospel stories, except that the Christian claims were true:


This ray of God, then, as it was always foretold in ancient times, descending into a certain virgin, and made flesh in her womb, is in His birth God and man united. The flesh formed by the Spirit is nourished, grows up to manhood, speaks, teaches, works, and is the Christ. Receive meanwhile this fable, if you choose to call it so--it is like some of your own--while we go on to show how Christ's claims are proved, and who the parties are with you by whom such fables have been set a going to overthrow the truth, which they resemble. [57]


To summarise:


(1) Tatian says "We are not fools, men of Greece, when we declare that God has been born in the form of man", which appears to be a reference to the incarnation. 


(2) Tatian notes the similarities of Greek myths about gods coming down to earth and undergoing suffering with "our narratives". However, the Greek myths are 'only idle tales', while 'we do not deal in folly'. This is similar to ideas expressed by Justin Martyr and Tertullian.


(3) Tatian makes apparent allusions to Gospel sayings, though, like Justin Martyr, he doesn't name the Gospels.


(4) Tatian was a student of Justin Martyr, and parallels in their writings are evident. Justin himself associates the "Logos" ("Word") with "Christ" many times in his Apologies. Even if Tatian were an MJer, he had to have been aware of the gospels and the names "Jesus" and "Christ", as well as their association to the Logos at the time he wrote his Address.


(5) Tatian describes Justin as "the admirable Justin" and notes that both he and Justin were threatened with death by Crescens for speaking out about corrupt philosophers.


(6) Irenaeus, a contemporary of Tatian, noted that Tatian didn't express any heretical views until after Justin's martyrdom. He describes Tatian's heretical views on marriage and the significance of his denial of Adam's salvation [58], but nothing at all about any belief in a non-historical Christ. Afterwards Tatian became an Encratite gnostic, and apparently believed that Christ was a historical figure, though only taking on the appearance of flesh. [59]


(7) Tatian's "Address to the Greeks" not only survived but was described by Eusebius as "celebrated" and regarded as "the best and most useful of all his works" [45].


(8) Tatian later wrote one of the first known harmonies of the Gospels called the Diatessaron, which Doherty puts down to a "change of mind" regarding the use of the Gospels, though he offers no proof of this.


In conclusion:


There is overwhelming evidence that Tatian's "Address to the Greek" is the product of a HJer. Tatian almost certainly refers to the incarnation and gospel material, and discusses the Logos in the same terms as Justin Martyr. Like Tertullian, Tatian avoids using the terms 'Jesus' and 'Christ'; however, he was a student of Justin, who had already associated Christ with 'Logos', 'Son of God' and 'Word of God' in his writings. He had to have been aware of Justin's idea of Christ, and his association of the Christ with the Logos, at the time he wrote the "Address". 


Irenaeus, a contemporary of Tatian's, was aware of Tatian's doctrine and discussed some of his later heresies, but didn't note any belief in a non-historical Christ in his anti-heresy works, even though he listed many variations of Gnostic heresies.


Tatian describes Christian "narratives" as being similar to pagan "fables", except that the Christian narratives were not "idle tales". Similar views can be found in the writings of his teacher Justin Martyr and the later apologist Tertullian.


Afterwards Tatian wrote one of the first known harmonies of the Gospels. His "Address to the Greeks" was described by a later writer as "the best and most useful of all his works".



2.3 Theophilus


Theophilus was apparently the bishop at Antioch, and so a successor to Ignatius, who was also a bishop at Antioch. Carrier notes:


"Near Tatian's Syrian church, but across the border in Roman territory (and amidst a decidedly Greek culture) flourished bishop Theophilus at Antioch, around 180 A.D.  (M 117-9).  Theophilus is important for a variety of reasons: he was the second, very shortly after Athenagoras (below), to explicitly mention the Trinity (Ad Autolycum 2.15); he may have composed his own harmony and commentary on the four Gospels chosen by Tatian; and he wrote books against Marcion and other heretics.  He is also a window into the thinking of converts: he was converted by the predictions concerning Jesus in the OT (ibid.  1.14), perhaps the weakest grounds for conversion. But most of all, he routinely treats Tatian's Gospels as holy scripture, divinely inspired, on par with the Hebrew prophets (M 118).  He also refers to John's Revelation as authoritative". [10]


Doherty writes:


"Consider Theophilus of Antioch. According to Eusebius, he became bishop of the Christian community in that city in 168, but one has to wonder. In his treatise To Autolycus, apparently written toward the year 180, he tells us that he was born a pagan and became a Christian after reading the Jewish scriptures, a situation common to virtually all the apologists.


But what, for Theophilus, is the meaning of the name "Christian"? The Autolycus of the title has asked him this question. He answers (I.12): "Because we are anointed with the oil of God." Though the name "Christ" itself means Anointed One, from the anointed kings of Israel, no mention is made to Christ himself in regard to the meaning of "Christian".


The HJer Tertullian also makes much the same comment in his "Ad nationes": "The name Christian, however, so far as its meaning goes, bears the sense of anointing" Like Theophilus, Tertullian in "Ad nationes" doesn't mention the names 'Jesus' or 'Christ' at all, much less use the name to describe the meaning of "Christian". It is obvious Doherty hasn't examined all the relevant literature. [60]


Doherty continues:


"Along with the pronouncements of the Old Testament prophets, he includes "the gospels" (III.12), but these too are the inspired word of God, not a record of Jesus' words and deeds. When he quotes ethical maxims corresponding to Jesus' Gospel teachings, he presents them (II.14) as the teaching of these gospels, not of Jesus himself".


Theophilus actually attributes them to "the holy word". Comments by Celsus, a pagan philosopher of Theophilus's time (around 180 CE) show that they were acquainted with the teachings in the Gospels. As Doherty has noted, pagans after 160 CE knew what Christians understood about their origins, so would have understood Theophilus's reference to the Gospels. Again, I suggest that the primary question isn't "why doesn't Theophilus refer directly to Christ", but "what do we understand from what he is saying"?  Theophilus writes:


(Ch 13) And concerning chastity, the holy word teaches us not only not to sin in act, but not even in thought, not even in the heart to think of any evil, nor look on another man's wife with our eyes to lust after her... And the voice of the Gospel teaches still more urgently concerning chastity, saying: "Whosoever looketh on a woman who is not his own wife, to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart." "And he that marrieth," says [the Gospel], "her that is divorced from her husband, committeth adultery; and whosoever putteth away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery.


(Ch 14) And the Gospel says: "Love your enemies, and pray for them that despitefully use you. For if ye love them who love you, what reward have ye? This do also the robbers and the publicans." And those that do good it teaches not to boast, lest they become men-pleasers. For it says: "Let not your left hand know what your right hand doeth."


Is there any reason why Theophilus couldn't actually be quoting from a Gospel? The avoidance of the names "Christ" and "Jesus" is consistent with Tertullian and (almost certainly) Tatian. Reasons for this were given in Section 1.


Doherty writes that "Theophilus has not a thing to say about this Word's incarnation into flesh, or any deed performed by him on earth". But this is not quite true. Theophilus does claim that the Logos acted on earth:


And hence the holy writings teach us, and all the spirit-bearing [inspired] men, one of whom, John, says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God," showing that at first God was alone, and the Word in Him. Then he says, "The Word was God; all things came into existence through Him; and apart from Him not one thing came into existence." The Word, then, being God, and being naturally produced from God, whenever the Father of the universe wills, He sends Him to any place; and He, coming, is both heard and seen, being sent by Him, and is found in a place.


In that passage, Theophilus is referring to the Word speaking with OT characters, an idea found in other HJ Christian writings of the time. It certainly appears to be an indication of the Word being physically active on earth, and, assuming that he is quoting from the opening lines from the Gospel of John, is almost certainly an expression of the incarnation.


Doherty writes:


"Here he [Theophilus] seems to quote part of the opening lines of the Gospel of John, the Word as God and instrumental in creation, but nothing else. Is this from the full-blown Gospel, or perhaps from the Logos hymn John drew upon? (The name "John", the only evangelist mentioned, could be a later marginal gloss inserted into the text; but see below.) Such writers, Theophilus says, are inspired men, not witnesses to an historical Jesus." [61]


As far as I know, the reference to the Gospel of John is not regarded as a marginal gloss. Doherty gives no support for such a belief that I can find (despite his "see below" comment). As Carrier has noted, Theophilus is almost certainly aware of Tatian's harmony of the Gospels, as well as the Revelation of John. It is by no means unreasonable that Theophilus was also aware of the Gospel of John.


A reference to a named Gospel of John would appear to be conclusive evidence establishing Theophilus as an orthodox Christian. It makes sense that an apologist wanting to give Christianity the credibility of being a "Platonic" based philosophy, would use the most "logos" based statement available in the Gospels.


Other points:


(1) Eusebius mentions other writings by Theophilus which are no longer extant: a work against the heresy of Hermogenes, another against Marcion, and a few books for the instruction and edification of the faithful.[62]. How would an author who believed that there was no historical Jesus have written a work against Marcion without betraying such a view? I suggest that it is highly improbable.


(2) As discussed in the first section, Theophilus is concerned with refuting the same calumnies (accusations) that plagued all Christians of that century.


In conclusion:


1.       Theophilus refers directly to the Gospel of John, quoting the most "Logos" based statement available in the Gospels. Doherty suggests that this is a marginal gloss, but there is no evidence for this that I can find.

2.       Theophilus refers to John's Revelation as authoritative

3.       Theophilus refers to the Logos as appearing and speaking on earth

4.       Theophilus wrote other works no longer extant, against the heretics Marcion and Hermogenes, and a few books for the instruction of the faithful, as noted by Eusebius. I suggest it would have been difficult to write an anti-heresy work against Marcion without describing his own views on the incarnation of Christ.

5.       Theophilus feels that he needs to refute the same accusations that HJ Christians refuted.




2.4 Athenagoras of Athens


Not much is known about Athenagoras of Athens, except the information found in the works he left behind. Carrier notes:


In 177 A.D.  Athenagoras of Athens composed a lengthy philosophical Defense of the Christians addressed to the emperor Marcus Aurelius in which the first articulation of a theory of the Trinity appears.  He quotes the OT and NT several times, but does not name his sources from the NT.  The quotes or paraphrases that he uses happen to come from a few Epistles of Paul, and from all the Gospels in a mishmash (M 125), suggesting a harmonic source like the Diatessaron.  But the respect that this defense, and others like it, earned among orthodox Christians contributed to forming decisions on canonicity based on whether they accorded with works like it. [10]


Doherty raises many of the same issues that have been addressed earlier:


Athenagoras's "Plea for the Christians" to the Emperor is probably the most philosophical of the apologies in that period to the pagans. He makes it clear that he is a philosopher writing to other philosophers. He starts his apology with the following (Ch 11):


"A Plea for the Christians by Athenagoras the Athenian: Philosopher and Christian. To the Emperors Marcus Aurelius Anoninus and Lucius Aurelius Commodus, conquerors of Armenia and Sarmatia, and more than all, philosophers... What, then, are those teachings in which we are brought up? "I say unto you, Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that persecute you; that ye may be the sons of your Father who is in heaven, who causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust." Allow me here to lift up my voice boldly in loud and audible outcry, pleading as I do before philosophic princes." [44]


As noted earlier, Athenagoras has set out to provide a philosophical rather than historical defense of Christianity. While no specific reference is given to the Hebrew Bible or the Gospels, he clearly has knowledge of them, as well as to a few Epistles of Paul, despite his reluctance to use the names 'Christ' and 'Jesus'. Athenagoras defends Christianity from some of the same calumnies as the other apologists, as noted in Section 1.


In conclusion:


Athenagoras fits within the pattern of the apologetics of the day. As Carrier notes, Athenagoras does appear to quote from the Gospels as well as a few epistles of Paul, though without attribution. Like Tertullian's "Ad nationes", he doesn't refer to 'Jesus' or 'Christ'. The apology itself earned the respect among orthodox Christians in the years after it was written.



2.5 Epistle to Diognetus


The author of the "Epistle to Diognetus" is unknown, but it appears to be have been written to the Emperor of the day, either 130 CE or 180 CE. Doherty leans towards the earlier date, though there is little conclusive evidence either way. Doherty writes: [63]


We find an allusion (9) to the Atonement: "He (God) took our sins upon himself and gave his own Son as a ransom for us," but his description of this act is based on scripture. No Gospel details are mentioned, no manner of the Son's death (if that's what it was), no resurrection. All this is in response to Diognetus' "close and careful inquiries" about the Christian religion. The final two chapters of the sole surviving manuscript, which contain a reference to apostles and disciples of the Word, have been identified as belonging to a separate document, probably a homily from the mid to late second century.


In fact, there are hints in the Epistle relating to an incarnation. In Ch 7, the author writes:


For, as I said, this was no mere earthly invention which was delivered to them, nor is it a mere human system of opinion, which they judge it right to preserve so carefully, nor has a dispensation of mere human mysteries been committed to them, but truly God Himself, who is almighty, the Creator of all things, and invisible, has sent from heaven, and placed among men, [Him who is] the truth, and the holy and incomprehensible Word, and has firmly established Him in their hearts. He did not, as one might have imagined, send to men any servant, or angel, or ruler, or any one of those who bear sway over earthly things, or one of those to whom the government of things in the heavens has been entrusted, but the very Creator and Fashioner of all things--by whom He made the heavens... This [messenger] He sent to them. Was it then, as one might conceive, for the purpose of exercising tyranny, or of inspiring fear and terror? By no means, but under the influence of clemency and meekness. As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He Him; as God He sent Him; as to men He sent Him; as a Saviour He sent Him, and as seeking to persuade, not to compel us; for violence has no place in the character of God. As calling us He sent Him, not as vengefully pursuing us; as loving us He sent Him, not as judging us. For He will yet send Him to judge us, and who shall endure His appearing? [64]


It's possible the author means that God sent the Messenger to people's hearts only, but the context doesn't support this. The author echoes the HJer Irenaeus who makes a similar point: that men "who through faith [in the advent of Christ] do establish the Spirit of God in their hearts" are "spiritual" and "living to God". [65] The author says that God will "yet send Him to judge us", which sounds consistent to orthodox Christianity.


In conclusion:


The author of the Epistle to Diognetus, despite no explicit reference to a historical Jesus, expresses himself in orthodox terms. He appears to make a strong inference to the incarnation.



2.6 Minucius Felix


Doherty regards 'Minucius Felix' as his 'smoking gun'. The author, Minucius Felix, wrote his treatise 'Octavius' (the work is generally known by the name of its author) sometime between 160 CE and 250 CE, though Doherty leans towards the earlier date.


Minicius Felix appears to have been modeled on Cicero's De Natura Deorum and De Divinations, as well as on Seneca's De Providentia and De Superstitions. Like Athenagoras, the author wished to offer to educated pagans a defence of Christianity that would be acceptable to them, and written in a literary form that they would appreciate. Thus, the author stresses the ethical and spiritual teachings in a form familiar to his pagan audience. [66]


Doherty raises many of the same issues that have been addressed earlier, e.g. the lack of reference to the names 'Jesus' and 'Christ'. He then writes:


But here is where it becomes interesting. For no other apologist but Justin has voiced and dealt with one particular accusation which the writer puts into the mouth of Caecilius. The list of calumnies in chapter 9 runs like this (partly paraphrased):


"This abominable congregation should be rooted out . . . a religion of lust and fornication. They reverence the head of an ass . . . even the genitals of their priests . . . . And some say that the objects of their worship include a man who suffered death as a criminal, as well as the wretched wood of his cross; these are fitting altars for such depraved people, and they worship what they deserve . . . . Also, during initiations they slay and dismember an infant and drink its blood . . . at their ritual feasts they indulge in shameless copulation."


Remember that a Christian is composing this passage. (The sentence in italics is translated in full.) He has included the central element and figure of the Christian faith, the person and crucifixion of Jesus, within a litany of ridiculous and unspeakable calumnies leveled against his religion-with no indication, by his language or tone that this reference to a crucified man is to be regarded as in any way different from those other items: disreputable accusations which need to be refuted. Could a Christian author who believed in a crucified Jesus and his divinity really have been capable of this manner of presentation? [67]


Doherty presents the author Minucius Felix (hereafter called M.Felix) as appearing to deny that the Christian faith includes a crucified man and his cross. But is this in fact the case? The Latin for the sentence highlighted by Doherty is:


"Et qui hominem summo supplicio pro facinore punitum et crucis ligna feralia eorum caerimonias fabulatur, congruentia perditis sceleratisque tribuit altaria, ut id colant quod merentur".


The key word here is "facinore". In Latin, "facina -oris" has the meaning of "bad deed, crime, villainy". So the sense being expressed is that the man was punished "for bad deeds" or "for villiany".


While not necessarily wrong, the translation that Doherty uses (I understand that Doherty himself translated this passage) is most 'fortunate', as it de-emphasizes the very aspect that any Christian would have found disturbing: that Christians worshipped a common criminal who had committed actual crimes.


A look at some other translations is informative: Roberts-Donaldson:


"[H]e who explains their ceremonies by reference to a man punished by extreme suffering for his wickedness, and to the deadly wood of the cross, appropriates fitting altars for reprobate and wicked men, that they may worship what they deserve". [68]


Rendall and Kerr (Cambridge, Mass. 1931):


"To say that a malefactor put to death for his crimes, the wood of the death-dealing cross, are objects of their veneration is to assign fitting altars to be abandoned wretches and the kind of worship they deserve".



The Roberts-Donaldson translation is a better fit for the context of the passage, which lists the charges against the Christians in Minucius Felix's time. The pagan accusation here is: Not only are Christians wicked because their founder was wicked, they even venerate the actual crosses used to crucify people.


M.Felix's reply to this charge is:


For in that you attribute to our religion the worship of a criminal and his cross, you wander far from the neighbourhood of the truth, in thinking either that a criminal deserved, or that an earthly being was able, to be believed God.


Note that M. Felix is NOT denying that his religion worships a crucified man, as Doherty implies [70]. How do pagans 'wander far from the truth'? It isn't by thinking that Christians worshipped a criminal and his cross, but by thinking that anyone would worship someone who was an actual criminal. Rather than being a denial that Christians worshipped a crucified man, it appears to be an affirmation that the person being worshipped was crucified. I believe that Doherty has badly misrepresented the source here. Given that M.Felix is dated after 160 CE (up to 250 CE), his pagan audience would have almost certainly concluded that this comment was a reference to Christ.


M.Felix continues by stating that, while some men could be chosen to be worshipped as a god, only a good man can inspire love:


The Egyptians certainly choose out a man for themselves whom they may worship; him alone they propitiate; him they consult about all things; to him they slaughter victims; and he who to others is a god, to himself is certainly a man whether he will or no, for he does not deceive his own consciousness, if he deceives that of others. Moreover, a false flattery disgracefully caresses princes and kings, not as great and chosen men, as is just, but as gods; whereas honour is more truly rendered to an illustrious man, and love is more pleasantly given to a very good man.


So, "you wonder far from the truth in believing that a criminal could be worshipped" is followed up by "love is given to a very good man". This appears to be the very defense of “the crucified criminal" that Doherty says is lacking.


As before, Doherty asks how can a Christian be so obscure, but again, the primary question in a thesis regarding the question of Christ's historicity should be: what is M.Felix saying about his beliefs? Given the late date that this was written, his comments as read can only apply to Christ. Again, Doherty doesn't ask: if M.Felix has another version of Christianity, then why doesn't he clearly give that version?


It's been noted that there is a relationship between 'Octavius' and Tertullian's "Apology" and "Ad nationes". In "Ad nationes", Tertullian addresses some of the same accusations against Christianity that M.Felix does (e.g. worshipping an asses head, love-feasts), and also doesn't use the names 'Christ' or 'Jesus' to do so. I've suggested some reasons why in the first section, but it is enough to know that M.Felix follows the same style of presentation used by other HJ writers.


Doherty continues:


As to the accusation of worshiping crosses, he says dismissively: "We do not adore them, nor do we wish for them." And he goes on to admonish the pagan for being guilty of using signs of crosses in their own worship and everyday life. There is not a hint that for Minucius the cross bears any sacred significance or requires defending in a Christian context. [71]


Doherty has badly misread the source here. Far from admonishing the pagan "for being guilty of using signs of crosses", M.Felix is defending the sign of the cross as a symbol of worship, noting that pagans also worship the sign of the cross:


Crosses, moreover, we neither worship nor wish for. You, indeed, who consecrate gods of wood, adore wooden crosses perhaps as parts of your gods. For your very standards, as well as your banners; and flags of your camp, what else are they but crosses glided and adorned? Your victorious trophies not only imitate the appearance of a simple cross, but also that of a man affixed to it. We assuredly see the sign of a cross, naturally, in the ship when it is carried along with swelling sails, when it glides forward with expanded oars; and when the military yoke is lifted up, it is the sign of a cross; and when a man adores God with a pure mind, with handsoutstretched. Thus the sign of the cross either is sustained by a natural reason, or your own religion is formed with respect to it.


So, the sign of the cross is formed when 'a man adores God with a pure mind, with handsoutstretched'. This is a defence of the sign of the cross by any measure. Note that Tertullian makes a similar defense of the shape of the cross in his "Ad nationes" by claiming that pagans also worshipped the sign of the cross:


The frames on which you hang up your trophies must be crosses: these are, as it were, the very core of your pageants. Thus, in your victories, the religion of your camp makes even crosses objects of worship; your standards it adores, your standards are the sanction of its oaths; your standards it prefers before Jupiter himself, But all that parade of images, and that display of pure gold, are (as so many) necklaces of the crosses. in like manner also, in the banners and ensigns, which your soldiers guard with no less sacred care, you have the streamers (and) vestments of your crosses. [72]


What about M.Felix's comment "We do not adore them [crosses], nor do we wish for them"? Doherty says that M.Felix is dismissing the idea of the worship of the cross. But again, Doherty has badly misread the source. In the passage above, M.Felix has defended the sign of the cross. However, the initial charge that M.Felix addresses is that Christians venerate the actual crosses that people were crucified on, and perhaps even use them as altars. So M.Felix is refuting the charge that Christians do not adore nor wish for actual crosses. Note that M.Felix immediately goes on to state that "when a man adores God with a pure mind with handsoutstretched", he naturally forms the sign of a cross - a strange comment if he was dismissing the significance of the sign of the cross.


In conclusion:


M. Felix follows the same style as other apologists of the period. There is nothing there that suggests that the author believed in a non-historical Christ.


Furthermore, Doherty has badly misrepresented the content of M. Felix:

1.       He uses a 'fortunate' translation that de-emphasizes the very aspect that any Christian would have found disturbing: that Christians worshipped a common criminal who had committed actual crimes.

2.       He states that M.Felix dismisses the worship of the sign of the cross, when in fact M.Felix supports it. 

3.       M.Felix doesn't deny that Christians worshipped someone who was crucified as Doherty implies, but that an actual criminal wouldn't be worshipped, since honor is rendered to an illustrious man.




Looking at second century Christian writings as a whole, we can see many references to a historical Jesus from the early part of that century. The writers that Doherty identifies as MJers nearly all wrote after 160 CE, at a time when Doherty believes that the Gospels were in general circulation among the pagans


In an era where non-orthodox views were denounced as heretical, it is difficult to believe that a sect which believed that there was no historical Jesus could exist without notice. Anti-heresy writer Irenaeus listed many different types of gnostics and their ideas on how the Logos related to Jesus, but seems to have missed the existence of a sect that didn't believe in any incarnation on earth. And according to Doherty, not only did that MJ sect exist, but they wrote similar apologies as the HJ Christians to the Emperors of the day, to the extent that they defended themselves against the same charges!


Not only were MJ views not noticed by near contemporary writers like Irenaeus and Tertullian, they were praised and even copied. Furthermore, in some cases Doherty's MJ writers also wrote anti-heresy tracts themselves. Would it have been possible to write an anti-Marcion tract without somehow betraying a non-historicist position? Possibly, but I suggest that it is unlikely.


As for the five apologists that Doherty claims believed in a non-historical Christ: there simply is no evidence that they held a belief inconsistent with the HJ writers of that time. Most of the points that Doherty raise fail due to him misrepresenting his source (e.g. M. Felix); missing internal statements that tell against his view (e.g. allusion to incarnation in “Epistle to Diognetus" and uses of Gospel material by Athenagoras); ignoring external evidence regarding the author (e.g. Theophilus wrote anti-Marcion tracts); or presenting rhetorical questions to make his points instead of analyzing the source (for example Tatian's meaning of “our narrations")..


But by far the biggest flaw is that Doherty clearly hasn't examined all the literature of the period. There are examples of HJ writers producing materials that have all the hallmarks of Doherty's MJ writers. There are hints in the literature for why the apologists of that period wrote their apologies in that style: an eagerness to show Christianity as philosophically similar to pagan ideas; a plea for justice for Christians against persecution; an expectation that referring to ancient Hebrew writings would carry weight with the Emperors of the day.


It is also clear that Doherty hasn't tried to analyze the literature to look for points of similarities between the MJ writers and the HJ writers of the day.


These represent serious problems in his approach to this section of his book, and amounts to a one-sided presentation of the evidence.


That's not to say that Doherty could not still be correct. It is possible that any author who didn't refer to a historical Christ actually believed in a non-historical Christ, though I wonder why the lack of explicit references to a mythical Christ are not considered problematic. If Doherty could find evidence of the following, his case regarding his MJ second century apologists would have some validity:

1.       Statements that explicitly state that Christ was non-historical.

2.       Evidence of the existence of a sect holding a non-historical view of Christianity, perhaps in the anti-heresy writers of that time.

3.       Statements within his MJ writers that contradict the orthodox Christian views of the day with regards to the nature of Christ or the Logos that imply non-historicity.


From the evidence currently available, most of the writers in the second century referred to a historical Christ, and there is no reason to suggest that those who didn't refer to a historical Christ believed in a mythical Christ along the lines that Doherty suggests in his book.




1. Doherty, Earl. The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity begin with a mythical Christ, Canadian Humanist Publications, 1999. (Paperback edition)

2. Reviews looking at topics raised in the first two sections of Doherty's book:

Carrier, Richard: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/jesuspuzzle.shtml. Carrier is sympathetic to Doherty's thesis on the 1st C authors in the first two parts of Doherty's book, though he doesn't look at 2nd C authors.

Bede. : http://www.bede.org.uk/jesusindex.htm. Bede has listed a number of reviews that generally take an anti-mythicist stance.

3. Reviews looking at topics raised in the third part of Doherty's book:

Holding, JP. http://www.tektonics.org/doherty/dohertypatr.html. Apologetics website, looking at Doherty's comments on 2nd C authors.

Pearse, Roger. http://www.tertullian.org/rpearse/incarnation.html. Brief review of 2nd C authors' ideas on the incarnation.

4. Doherty, p. 276

5. Doherty, p. 196

6. Doherty, p.200

7. Doherty, p. 276

8. Doherty, p.283

9. Early Christian Writings: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com.

10. Richard Carrier, The Formation of the New Testament Canon (2000),


11. Basilides, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/basilides.html

12. Heracleon, http://www.gnosis.org/library/fragh.htm

13. Hegesippus, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/hegesippus.html

14. Claudius Apollinaris http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/apollinaris.html

15. Melito of Sardis http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/melito.html

16. Doherty, p.277

17. http://www.catholic-forum.com/saints/stj06119.htm

18. Doherty, p.281

19. Doherty, p. 281

20. Tertullian, Ad nationes, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/tertullian06.html

21. Doherty, p. 291

22. Doherty, p. 291

23. Tertullian, Ad nationes, Ch 6

24. Tertullian, Apology, Ch 2

25. Armstrong, Karen. A History of God. Mandarin Paperback, 1993, p. 108

26. Catholic Encyclopedia, The Logos, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09328a.htm

27. Doherty, p 260

28. Doherty, p. 261

29. Sanders, E.P. The Historical Figure of Jesus, p. 75

30. Wells. G.A. http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/g_a_wells/earliest.html

31. Ignatius, Epistle to the Philidelphians, Ch 8, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/ignatius-philadelphians-roberts.html

32. Justin Martyr, First Apology, Ch 53

33. Strabo, The Geography, Book XVI.ii.34-38, 40, 46, c. 22 CE

34. Edict of Augustus on Jewish Rights, 1 BCE

35. Papias (fragments), http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/papias.html

36. 'Barnabas', Ch 5, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/barnabas-roberts.html

37. Ignatius, Philadelphains, Ch 9

38. Aristides (fragments) http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/aristides-kay.html

39. "Ignatius of Antioch and the Gospel of Matthew", http://christiancadre.blogspot.com/2005/03/ignatius-of-antioch-and-gospel-of_15.html

40. Doherty, p. 283

41. Ignatius, Magnesians, Ch7, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/ignatius-magnesians-roberts.html

42. Irenaeus, Book III, Ch XI, 3, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/irenaeus-book3.html

43. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 6


44. Athenagoras of Athens, Plea for the Christians, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/athenagoras-plea.html

45. Eusebius, Church History (Book 4), Ch 29, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/250104.htm

46. Doherty, p. 292

47. Celsus, Fragments from Origen Against Celsus, http://duke.usask.ca/~niallm/252/Celstop.htm

48. Doherty, p. 291

49. Doherty, p 285

50. Kirby, P., A Note on Trypho, http://www.christianorigins.com/trypho.html

51. Doherty, p. 280

52. Tatian, Address to the Greeks, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/tatian-address.html

53. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, Ch 61, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/justinmartyr-dialoguetrypho.html

54. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 4, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/irenaeus-book4.html

55. Doherty, p. 259

56. Doherty, p.283

57. Tertullian, Apology, Ch 21

58. Irenaeus, Irenaeus Against Heresies 1.28.1

59. Catholic Encyclopedia, Encratites, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05412c.htm

60. Tertullian, Ad nationes, Ch 3

61. Doherty, p 277-278

62. Handbook of Patrology, The Second Century Apologists, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/tixeront/section1-2.html#theophilus

63. Doherty, p. 279-280

64. Epistle of Diognetus, Ch 7, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/diognetus-roberts.html

65. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 5, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/irenaeus-book5.html

66. Handbook of Patrology, The Second Century Apologists, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/tixeront/section1-2.html#minucius

67. Doherty, p. 286

68. Minucius Felix, Octavius, Ch 9, http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/octavius.html

69. Rendall, G. H. & Kerr, W. C. A. (Cambridge, Mass. 1931), http://artemis.austincollege.edu/acad/hwc22/Rome/Pagans_v_Christians/Octavius.html

70. Doherty, p. 290

71. Doherty, p. 289

72. Tertullian, Ad nationes, Ch 12


Back to the Top

30-Jul-05: Slight rewording and typo fixes

22-Sep-05: Added links in summary at top

01-Oct-05: In Section 1.5, called Ignatius an apologist by mistake, so changed 'early apologists like Ignatius and Justin Martyr' to 'early Christians like Ignatius and Justin Martyr'. Also some typos.