The God Who Wasn't There: an Analysis

Update: Comments from Brian Flemming and Richard Carrier    

 

By: GakuseiDon

Last Updated: Feb 2007


In June 2005, Brian Flemming released a documentary DVD on the Jesus Myth, which is the idea that there is no historical person at the core of Christianity. Flemming proposes that Christ was in fact a being that died and resurrected on a mythical plane, sharing similarities with other saviour godmen of the day, like Mithras, Dionysus and Osiris. 

 

I completed an analysis of his movie here: God Who Wasn't There: an analysis

 

In this update, I look at some comments from Brian Flemming and Richard Carrier to my questions about "The God Who Wasn't There" movie. I also review Brian's new "FAQ" on his movie's website. I find that Flemming needs to reveal his sources to back up many of his claims.  

 

As usual, I strongly urge anyone interested in this topic to follow up on some of these points for themselves, rather than take my word or Flemming's word for anything. 


 

Update: Comments from Brian Flemming and Richard Carrier

1.1 Introduction

1.2 Brian Flemming's Interview -- comments on "Beddru"

1.3 Richard Carrier's comments on the movie

1.4 "The God Who Wasn't There" FAQ

Conclusion

Note 1: My 20 questions for Brian Flemming

 


References

 

I refer to links on other pages in this section. I take no responsibility for changes made to pages not under my control.

 


Update: Comments from Brian Flemming and Richard Carrier

 

1.1 Introduction

 

I've created this update section to look at responses I have had from Brian Flemming and Richard Carrier to some of my questions that I've addressed to them regarding The God Who Wasn't There movie. I also have a look at Flemming's FAQ section on his movie's website.

 

In my original review of The God Who Wasn't There, I noted that Flemming didn't give his sources for his claims, which is an understandable limitation of the media. But it has been one year since Flemming released the movie, and he has still yet to give out many of his sources, especially on the "Jesus copycat" claims. He claims that he didn't use Graves except for "Beddru", but then, who did he use? I repeat this request for sources throughout the article below, since it becomes difficult to check his claims without them.

 

I invite Flemming to post at the Internet Infidels Discussion Board, on their Biblical Criticism & History board here: http://www.iidb.org/vbb/forumdisplay.php?f=60. There are knowledgeable atheists on both sides of the "Historical Jesus" debate, as well as theists like myself. The board is well moderated, and I'm sure he would enjoy the experience.

 


 

1.2 Brian Flemming's Interview -- comments on Beddru

 

The "Rational Response Squad" is an atheist website with its own Internet radio program. The website can be found here: http://rationalresponders.com/ They promote rational thinking. Note that for some reason they currently have a large picture of a naked woman named "Sybil" on their main page, so the link is not work-friendly. 

 

The RRS team recently invited questions from listeners for an upcoming interview with Brian Flemming. I submitted a list of 20 questions (see Note 1 below), but the RRS team only had time to put the first one to Brian. The RRS kindly created the following audio clip of Flemming's answer for me: http://www.rationalresponders.com/media/FlemmingAnswersAGdonQuestion.mp3. This is the transcript (Note: slightly edited. Edits are indicated by "..."):

 

RRS Interviewer:

Brian, on the message board we had a question... we figured we'd sneak one question in from GDon who put together a list of questions that hopefully we'll have some historians answer in there. But the question was "Beddru of Japan seems to have been created by Kersey Graves in the 19th C. How did that name end up in The God Who Wasn't There movie? "

 

Brian Flemming:

You know, one thing that I regret, is that the word Beddru -- B-e-d-d-r-u -- I never mention anything about that figure in the movie but unfortunately it's in a background graphic where you can really see it and that's a mistake -- that shouldn't be in there. What I did was I cut and pasted from a list of gods that I was researching to find out "were these true or were they not" and I should not have put that one on the list.

Kersey Graves appears to have made that up. And so people who say, you know, that Kersey Graves is full of crap and this Beddru thing -- he only knows about it [so] its probably false -- they're actually right, and I'm going to change that in the second edition of the DVD.

I do have to clear up this whole, you know, I wish that I hadn't used a word that's associated with Kersey Graves anywhere in the movie, because there aren't any ideas associated with Kersey Graves anywhere in the movie. And Richard Carrier early on in my research actually steered me away and said "don't", you know, "he cheated, he's not anybody to rely on".

So unfortunately what they are doing in this movie that's over an hour long, they take one background graphic that appears for like one second and they blow it up to represent the whole movie.

 

RRS Interviewer:

Right. It's good that at least you admit that, cause there are people who wouldn't even -- they cling to their fundamentalist idea...

 

Brian Flemming:

Yeah, I think that I need to come out with a second edition of the DVD and correct mistakes as well as just remove stuff that people are clinging to that isn't terribly -- it's sort of tangential -- but basically rip -- The kind of good thing is that I can tell right now what all the arguments people are using against the movie are and I can create a second edition of the DVD that says absolutely the same thing in every way but doesn't include any of these sideline issues of these people, and I hope to do that actually soon enough that I can send that DVD to the people who are making the movie "The God Who Was There" -- do you know these fundamentalists are making an answer movie to "The God Who Wasn't There"...

I hope to get a corrected edition out there so that basically all the stuff that these people are doing to try to attack the movie becomes moot, because of the second edition with corrections and I've admitted mistakes that I've made. Which will probably stun them that you know someone can actually admit that they made made a mistake. They won't understand -- they come from a religious standpoint where they can never admit that anything is wrong at all that's in the Bible or anything they've said is ever wrong, whereas I'm rational, I can say "oh I made a mistake here and here and I'm going to correct them".

It is true that "Beddru" is the most glaring example of bad research in the movie. But it is disingenuous to claim that critics "blow [the Beddru issue] up to represent the whole movie" if he is implying that his critics have nothing else to complain about. Reviews from both theists and atheists have pointed out quite a few problems with his claims. My original review listed problems in a few areas: Flemming's use of the "copycat" thesis generally; his usage of Justin; and his shallow understanding of the issues in Paul. I don't need to make the Beddru issue representative of the whole movie; there are lots of problems there already. Flemming seems to acknowledge this himself, since he says that he plans to put out a second edition "with corrections" to the "mistakes that [he] has made".  

 

It's to his credit that he admits to mistakes, but it would be good to have a full list of the mistakes from him. Are his critics correct? If so, then it is petty indeed to make it sound like the main criticism to his movie is his use of Graves' "Beddru". What are his sources for his other claims? Are they any better than Graves?

 

In his reply to my question above, Flemming says, "there aren't any ideas associated with Kersey Graves anywhere in the movie". But in fact, if we look at the list of 17 gods that Flemming uses in that section of the movie, we find quite a few are listed in Kersey Graves' book. Two examples are "Deva Tat of Siam" and Thor. I think we need to ask: how could a god in Thailand have affected Christianity 2000 years ago? What is the evidence that Germanic gods influenced early Christianity? If Flemming didn't get his information from Graves, where did he get them from? We won't know until Flemming reveals his sources.

 

Finally... HOW do we know that Flemming hasn't used Graves indirectly? Graves has influenced modern Jesus Mythers like Acharya S, whom Flemming claims to have read. Since Flemming hasn't revealed where he gets his information about the "copycat" examples from, we can't rule out it out. More to the point, how does Flemming himself know that he hasn't used Graves indirectly

 

(Update) BeastMaster, a fan of Acharya's work, offers interesting comments about the origin of "Beddru" in Note 2 at the bottom of this page.

 


 

1.3 Richard Carrier's comments on the movie

 

Richard Carrier is a historian who believes that there wasn't a historical Jesus, and appears in several interviews with Flemming in the movie. I knew that Richard Carrier had written a damning review of Grave's works, so I was curious to see how Richard himself felt about Flemming's use of Graves. I also asked him about his overall impression of the movie, and about my review of it.

 

Richard was kind enough to respond to my questions on the Internet Infidels Discussion Board here: http://www.iidb.org/vbb/showthread.php?t=165230

 

He noted that he generally supported the movie itself, and felt that there may well be several things in the movie that he disagrees with, but made the reasonable point that it shouldn't be expected that everyone interviewed for a documentary agrees with everything else in that documentary. He mentioned that in his communications with Flemming he was able to correct several blatant errors between the premiere (which was held in San Francisco) and the general release. 

 

On the use of Graves, Richard said that when he saw the movie at its premiere, he wasn't able to see the list of names scrolling through, so missed this use by Flemming. However, when asked at the premiere what he thought on the "copycat" thesis, he felt that "there were disputable elements" but "any argument that started about them would not end well for the Christian apologist, so I saw this as a good way to get debate started and more people aware of the issues".

 

On my review, he was kind enough to say that, though he doesn't agree with everything I argue in it, my review "contains a lot of useful correctives [to Flemming's movie] --if only preachers were providing parishioners with this stuff!" Which I agree with 100%!

 

In the link above, Richard gives his Critical Notes on some of the issues he found in The God Who Wasn't There and that he sent on to Flemming in 2005, which is well-worth looking through. I will refer to his Critical Notes in Section 1.4 below.

 


 

1.4 "The God Who Wasn't There" FAQ

 

Flemming recently posted an FAQ on his movie's website here: http://www.thegodmovie.com/faq.php

 

I will go through each point. Flemming's words are in blue, my comments are in black.

 


ABOUT CHRISTIAN HISTORY

Weren't the Gospels -- Matthew, Mark, Luke and John -- written by actual disciples of Jesus?

No. This is a traditional belief in Christianity, but it is not supported by evidence. The Gospels were written anonymously, starting 40 years or more after the supposed death of Jesus, and the names were tagged on to the Gospels much later. Christian leaders generally do not share this information with their flocks, but it is known to virtually anyone who attends seminary. The false assumption that disciples wrote the Gospels is one of many that Christian leaders allow their congregations to believe out of convenience or a concern that average Christians cannot handle the more complicated truth.

"Average Christians cannot handle the more complicated truth"? This is conspiracy theory, with echoes of Da Vinci Code fantasy. I would like to see evidence that Christian Leaders were hiding this "complicated truth" from Christians out of a fear that this would threaten their faith. 

More importantly, how is this relevant to the question at hand? If there is a historical Jesus, does it matter if Christians know whether the Gospel authors' names were known? And if there isn't a historical Jesus, isn't the question moot? If Flemming's point is that Christians should know more about the origins of their religion, I certainly agree. But I know quite a lot about Christianity's origin, and frankly I can't see the problem. (Then again, maybe I am one of those who are trying to hide the "complicated truth" -- average Christians, please stop reading here!!!)


Did Christianity exist before the Gospels were written?

Yes. The Gospels were written well after Christianity got its start as a small cult. The earliest Christianity we know of appears not to have had a human, Earth-dwelling Christ at its center. The human Christ is an idea that appears in Christian tradition decades into its development. Before the Gospels were developed, Christ appears to have been a mythical figure in a spirit world in Christian literature. This theology would have been consistent with the competing religions of the time.

"Christ appears to have been a mythical figure in a spirit world in Christian literature" is probably from Earl Doherty's version of the Jesus Myth. In fact, there is no evidence of Earl's "spirit world", as I pointed out in debate with him (see Section 4 on Doherty). Nearly everyone who has investigated Earl's ideas have largely rejected them because of the lack of evidence for Earl's "fleshy spirit world" (Richard Carrier has accepted it with some qualifications). I strongly suggest that Flemming has no idea about what he is talking about here. Has he investigated this for himself, or will he just point me to Earl's book, as other Doherty supporters have done when asked to back such statements up?  Again I would be interested in seeing Flemming's sources. 

I am preparing a longer article to look at the "spirit world" idea. But for now, I will note that Earl cannot place this "spirit world" anywhere, because he has no evidence to do so. Before I started to debate him, Earl claimed that Paul held common Middle-Platonist beliefs in a "fleshy sublunar spirit world" where the people of Paul's day believed that the gods carried out "fleshy activities". It was only when I tried to pin him down on the nature and location of the sub-lunar realm by comparing his ideas with the thoughts expressed by Ocellus and others, as well as Theophilus's statements about "birds flying in the firmament", that he started to move away from Paul being consistent with other Middle-Platonist writers. Earl said recently on his website:

"It is admittedly impossible to nail down with any precision the exact viewpoint early Christians held in regard to the death of their mythical Christ, except that it took place in a dimension not our own, in "some other place," as one IIDBer put it."

Yet the sub-lunar realm was presented as anything but another dimension -- the earth and everything below the moon is firmly in the same dimension. I don't know where Earl gets the sublunar realm existing in "another dimension" -- it sounds like he is imposing modern ideas a la Twilight Zone into the text. A "dimension not our own" below the firmament simply didnt exist in the literature as far as I can see. It was all just one dimension from earth to moon. The myths were either placed on earth, or they were regarded as allegorical.

When we look at pagan philosophers, we see the same view. Plutarch also sees the myths as either stories that took place on earth, or they were allegorical and referred to natural forces (which nevertheless were ultimately acts of the gods), thus the myths didn't take place at all.

As far as I can see Plutarch is the "smoking gun" against Doherty. Doherty has stated a few times that Plutarch is the sophisticated philosopher whose ideas didn't represent the "man in the street". Doherty speculates on what the "man in the street" believed, yet Plutarch DOES give us the "man in the street" view:
http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/...Osiris*/A.html

"Therefore, Clea, whenever you hear the traditional tales which the Egyptians tell about the gods, their wanderings, dismemberments, and many experiences of this sort, you must remember what has been already said, and you must not think that any of these tales actually happened in the manner in which they are related... Nor, again, do they believe that the sun rises as a new-born babe from the lotus, but they portray the rising of the sun in this manner to indicate allegorically the enkindling of the sun from the waters."

As I said, it seems to have been either "on earth" or "it didn't happen at all". So, as far as Doherty's favorite rhetorical question goes, "Where did Attis get the knife he used to castrate himself?", Clea's answer would have been "on earth", but Plutarch's answer would have been "he never actually had a real knife". In neither case would the answer have been "in a sub-lunar dimension not our own".

What about Paul? Did he believe that Christ was a Earth-born, human being? Yes. He uses "born of a woman", an expression that is only used of people born on Earth. Earl points out some of the gods were said to be "born of a woman", but those myths take place on earth. In fact, the expression "born of a woman" is used in the Old Testament as well as other writings around Paul's time, and it is used to clearly identify the person as a human being. 

Some examples of "born of a woman" to mean "human being":

In the Old Testament:

Job 14:1 
Man, that is born of a woman, Is of few days, and full of trouble. 

Job 15:14 
What is man, that he should be clean? And he that is born of a woman, that he should be righteous? 

Job 25:4 
How then can man be just with God? Or how can he be clean that is born of a woman

Dead Sea Scrolls c100 BCE http://www.voxdeibaptist.org/anthropology_Pauline.htm

c. 1QH 10.23 What is the spirit of flesh to fathom all these matters and to appreciate your great and wondrous secret? What is someone born of woman among all your awesome works? He is a structure of dust shaped with water, his base is the guilt of sin, vile unseemliness, source of impurity, over which a spirit of degeneracy rules.

Talmud c200 CE http://www.come-and-hear.com/editor/critwords_2.html

Tractate Shabbath 88b
When Moses ascended on high, the ministering angels spake before the Holy One, blessed be He, 'Sovereign of the Universe! What business has one born of woman amongst us?' 'He has come to receive the Torah,' answered He to them.

http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/hl/hl07.htm

Tosephoth asks, "Why was not Eve numbered among these beauties, since even Sarah, in comparison with Eve, was an ape compared to a man?" The reply is, "Only those born of woman are here enumerated."

In these cases, you can see that 'born of woman' is being used to indicate that the person was human. Writers before and after Paul used "born of a woman" to indicate a human being. That Paul is using such an expression, in conjunction with other expressions usually covered elsewhere makes it unlikely that Paul thought that Jesus lived only in a "spiritual sphere". 

There is still the question of the lack of historical details in Paul that needs to be explained, and that is a valid point. It needs to be explained regardless of whether there is convincing evidence that Paul placed Jesus on earth. But, as I explained in Section 3 of my review, given the references that are present in Paul, it is reasonable to conclude that Paul believed that Jesus was a historical person who died in Paul's recent past.


How could Christianity appear without a real Jesus to get it started?

At the time, most religions did not have a real human god figure. Broadly, the theme of death and renewal at the heart of Christianity also lies at the heart of many religions that preceded it. More specifically, the "salvation cult" was a very popular form of religion, with a central god character whose suffering in a spirit realm gave meaning and deliverance to initiates in the salvation cult. Early Christianity appears to have been a Jewish-influenced salvation cult -- an unremarkable development in that time and place.

Flemming would need to show evidence that there were cults that believed that the "central god character" who suffered in a "spirit realm" (what does Flemming mean by that? What evidence does he have on what this meant to the people of Paul's day?) as part of a salvation cult. However, the evidence is against this: they either placed the gods on earth, or they regarded the myths as metaphors. They weren't placed in a "spirit realm". Flemming will need to give his source for this.


Does The God Who Wasn't There claim that the Jesus story was plagiarized wholesale from another god's story?

No. The Jesus story is the product of many influences, literally over the course of centuries. Like the stories of most other god figures, it has no exact duplicate in a previous time. However, there is no single element of the Jesus story that does not appear in a previous god or hero story. Virgin births, miracle working, blood sacrifices and ascensions to Heaven -- to name just a few -- have a rich history in tales that came long before the Jesus story was developed.

"Many influences, over the course of centuries"? If he means influence on Christianity in the first few centuries, then no-one doubts this. Christianity evolved over the first few centuries as pagan philosophers converted to Christianity, as I point out here in one of my reviews of Doherty. http://members.optusnet.com.au/gakuseidon/Doherty2ndC_Review_Part2.htm#1.1

Does Flemming mean the centuries leading up to the First Century CE? Then he needs to be clear about what he is claiming. Christianity was influenced by both Hellenism and Judaism, but is he suggesting influence or copying? 

In his movie, he gives a list of gods and their attributes. The gods included Deva Tat of Thailand and Thor and Balder, and Krishna. But what evidence of influence is there for Germanic gods on Christianity? What evidence of influence is there for Hindu gods? And gods from Thailand, for Pete's sake? It's not that it is impossible, but it seems to be a weird claim to make. What is his evidence?


Does everyone in the movie claim that Jesus is most likely fictional?

No. Only Richard Carrier, Earl Doherty and Robert M. Price make claims in this area. Others in the movie -- including Sam Harris and Alan Dundes -- express no opinion on the historical status of Jesus and are interviewed for their perspectives in other areas.

ABOUT CRITICISM OF THE FILM

Does The God Who Wasn't There rely on the book The World's 16 Crucified Saviors by Kersey Graves?

No. This work is not considered reliable by the makers of The God Who Wasn't There. No expert in the film cites this work or depends on it in any way. For a perspective on why the work is not considered reliable by scholars, read this review by Richard Carrier. Some less-than-ethical critics of The God Who Wasn't There have suggested that Kersey Graves' work was a source for the argument in the film, but it was not. In fact, when Graves' work is mentioned in the DVD's special features, it is to warn the viewer to be wary of that work.

As noted above, how do we know that Flemming hasn't used Graves, at least indirectly? How does Flemming know that he hasn't used Graves indirectly?

Flemming needs to give his sources for his claims about the other gods on that list. The question is: are those sources any better than Graves? We won't know until he produces his sources.


But doesn't the word "Beddru" appear in the film, and isn't Beddru associated with Graves' shoddy research?

Yes. Most viewers of the film probably never notice, but the word "Beddru" appears briefly in a background graphic that was used in the film. This graphic element escaped notice until it was pointed out by Christian critics of the film, who have seized on it as their main point of criticism. The inclusion of that background graphic element was an error and will be corrected in a future pressing of the DVD. No specific claims about Beddru are made in the film, and no expert in the film mentions this figure in any way. The inclusion of "Beddru" in a background graphic element should in no way be taken as an endorsement of the work of Kersey Graves. Beyond Belief Media regrets its error.

To put this in its perspective: when the list of attributes of previous saviour figures and the list of names of gods appears, the narration on the movie stops while that information scrolls past. What is the viewer supposed to do in that situation? There is nothing to indicate "Hey, take a coffee break, this information is irrelevant". If someone saw the list and wanted to follow up on Flemming's research, what else are they supposed to do other than to take note of what is being displayed on the screen?

Besides, as I noted above, it ISN'T just Beddru. That whole section is questionable. Influence from German, Hindu and Thai gods? How much of that section can Flemming support? How can he show influence? We won't know until he releases his sources.


What about the use of an ancient amulet showing Orpheus nailed to a cross?

This amulet is also used only as a graphic element, for eight seconds, sharing the screen with text as well as other representations of ancient god figures. No claims about this amulet are made in the film, and it passes by so quickly that most viewers of The God Who Wasn't There who are reading this probably don't even recall it. The ancient amulet has been used in other works along with the claim that the artwork itself predates Christianity. Christian critics of the film have disingenuously implied that The God Who Wasn't There also makes these claims, so as to falsely associate the documentary with works that are unrelated. However, the documentary makes no claims at all about the amulet or its dating. It is merely an illustration of one of many ancient gods. It should be obvious that the case made in The God Who Wasn't There depends in no way on this graphic element.

To see both of these graphic elements as they are presented in the film, view this QuickTime movie.

I suggest that readers view the movie clip in the above link as well. "The documentary makes no claims at all about the amulet or its dating. It is merely an illustration of one of many ancient gods". Really? A picture of a crucified Christ morphs into a picture of a crucified Dionysus-Orpheus figure. Flemming presumably put it in there because it was a powerful image of the non-uniqueness of the crucifixion. What else could Flemming be trying to say?

Again, as I noted above, if someone was impressed with this and wanted to follow up on his research, what should they do? Ask Flemming what parts of the movie actually are related to his claim before checking his work?

The bottom line is: there are bogus elements appearing in his movie. Flemming doesn't give his sources, so how can viewers check that there aren't others as well? Flemming needs to provide his sources so his research can be checked. Where did he get the image of the amulet from? As far as I know, it is only promoted by Jesus Myth websites. The original source (see Section 1 of my review) declares it a forgery.


Why would Christian critics make such a stink about these two things if they are nearly irrelevant to the case made in the film?

We invite the reader to judge the quality of the Christian criticism of The God Who Wasn't There by its focus on minor graphic elements rather than the claims actually made in the film. It should be noted that those writing in fundamentalist Christian publications know that most members of their readerships will not be seeing The God Who Wasn't There itself. If these writers can misrepresent the film in a review, that's all that most of their Christian readers will ever learn about it. In the authoritarian culture of fundamentalist Christianity, providing ready-made interpretations and steering the flock away from source material is a common strategy.

I think this comment from Flemming speaks for itself. Critics have raised many more issues than these. "Steering the flock away from source material is a common strategy" is sheer hypocrisy. What are Flemming's sources?


Critics of the movie also say you rely on the works of other writers who appear not to be involved in the film. Do you endorse every writer on the subject?

No. There are many writers on the subject of the mythical Christ. No endorsement of any writer by the makers of The God Who Wasn't There should be assumed if the person is not in the film. The experts featured on the Christ myth theory in The God Who Wasn't There include Richard Carrier, Earl Doherty and Robert M. Price. Beyond Belief Media endorses the work of these scholars and encourages the curious to explore their work. No endorsement of any other writer on the subject should be assumed.

I also encourage readers to explore their work. I definitely encourage readers to explore Flemming's movie. But by "explore", I mean "investigate".


In the movie, there are several "on the street" interviews with Christians. How were these Christians chosen and why are the interviews in the movie?

"What do average Christians know about their religion?" is a running theme in The God Who Wasn't There. To answer the question, Beyond Belief Media hired a practicing Christian (a Presbyterian lay minister) to conduct interviews with other Christians outside a Billy Graham revival in Pasadena, California. This minister told each Christian the nature of the questions he wanted to ask, and got permission to use the Christians' responses in the documentary. These interviews are presented in the movie only to illustrate the knowledge that average Christians have about their religion. Their responses are of course not representative of what Christians scholars would know about the religion, and their responses are never represented as such in the film.

So, average Christians are asked about Dionysus, Mithras and Osiris in order to illustrate the knowledge that average Christians have about Christianity???

Of course, Flemming has already assumed that myths about those gods have influenced earliest Christianity. It would be good if he could explain this. Perhaps we need that minister to interview Flemming for his own knowledge of Dionysus, Mithras and Osiris? I suspect that Flemming has picked up his information from sources as invalid as Graves, and it may not be as accurate as he believes. But we won't know until he reveals his sources.


Does Jesus really order his enemies to be killed in Luke 19:27, or does this verse have a different meaning in context?

Jesus does make this statement. In The God Who Wasn't There, Luke 19:27 is held up as an example of Jesus' attitude toward those who disagree with him. In this chapter of Luke, Jesus is responding to his audience's impression that Christ's Kingdom would be coming immediately. In the parable Jesus tells to address their desire for a Kingdom now, the King character (which obviously is meant to be Jesus) ultimately says to his followers, "But these mine enemies, that did not want me to reign over them, bring them here, and slay them before me." Jesus is clearly reassuring his disciples that their enemies will be killed -- he's only saying that it will not be happening immediately. Some critics of The God Who Wasn't There have alleged that because Jesus uses a parable to make this statement, he wasn't making this statement. But Jesus often spoke in parables, and the meaning of this one is abundantly clear from the text.

Flemming says "Jesus is clearly reassuring his disciples that their enemies will be killed" I agree that this is part of it. (The parable is centred on the nobleman's servants and their use of money that the nobleman left behind) But note the difference between what Flemming wrote and "Bring my enemies here and slay them before me". As Flemming shows, Jesus isn't telling his disciples to kill anyone. To reproduce that quote without qualification is misleading.

Why didn't Flemming simply use:

"But these mine enemies, that did not want me to reign over them, bring them here, and slay them before me." Jesus, referring to a character in a parable.

I suggest that the reason is because that would be much less impressive. But not including the qualifier is, in my opinion, deceptive.


Does Hebrews 8:4 really say, "If he [Jesus] had been on earth, he would not have been a priest at all?"

Yes. Christian tradition has altered translations of this passage to be more consistent with Christian doctrine. But the most plausible interpretation from the original Greek is this translation. Beyond Belief Media stands by its decision to use the most plausible translation, not the translation favored by Christian tradition.

Someone once described themselves as "an idiot with an internet connection". I have to confess to being the same. I am an amateur, with an amateur's love of early Christian and pagan writings. Who am I to make comments on what people thought then? But for Flemming to write "Beyond Belief Media stands by its decision to use the most plausible translation, not the translation favored by Christian tradition" left me nonplussed.

 

In fact, Richard Carrier writes on this in the White Paper that he gave to Flemming (see the link in 1.3 above) (my emphasis):

If he "had" been on earth he would not be a priest: an ei...an phrase using the imperfect tense is always a present contrafactual (a past contrafactual would call for the aorist). In other words: "So, then, if he were on earth, he would not be a priest..." is the only correct translation

So Richard disagrees with Beyond Belief Media's translation. Richard doesn't see this as inconsistent with the interpretation that Flemming "stands by his decision to use", but I have to wonder why Flemming believes that his translation is "the most plausible translation". I'm not aware of his qualifications, but I don't think that Flemming's Greek is any better than Carrier's. And if Flemming wants to use his interpretation in Hebrews, he needs to reconcile it against the statements in Hebrews that suggest that Jesus was someone on earth: Jesus arose from the tribe of Judah (Hb 7:14), he had "partaken of flesh and blood" (Hb 2:14) and endured hostility from sinners (after long passages about how others had endured hostility including "mockings and scourging") (Hb 12:3). Now, I suspect that Flemming will point to some Jesus Myther and say "Well, that author solves the problems", but how do we know that that author is anymore believable than Flemming or Graves?

 

The issue with Graves is not just what he claimed, but that he didn't back his claims up with primary sources. And we see the same problem with Flemming's claims. It is all very well for Flemming to stand by his decision on a particular subject, but surely Graves would have said exactly the same thing? The difference is that Flemming still has a chance to prove his case. But we won't know until he produces his sources.

 


 

Conclusion

 

I noted quite a few times that Flemming needs to give us his sources, especially with regards to "Jesus copycat" claims. He says he has done the research, but I strongly suggest that his sources on this topic are simply other Jesus Myth proponents like Acharya S and Freke and Gandy. Most of these claimants are little better than Kersey Graves, and probably have used Graves in the development of their ideas. 

 

While Flemming admits to "mistakes" in his movie, his insistence that his critics are concentrating on a couple of items to discredit his movie is either blindness or paranoia. Critics have brought up a stream of objections to his movie. That he has admitted to mistakes is admirable, but he needs to start supplying sources to address his claims, particularly the "Jesus copycat" claims, so that we can investigate them in more depth.

 

I think Flemming will take a real beating if he continues promoting these claims, unless he can show reputable sources are behind his research. But he certainly isn't going to find them if he believes that gods from Thailand, Germany and India influenced earliest Christianity.

 

His comments about Paul and "the spirit realm" seem to be from Earl Doherty. I have a lot of respect for Earl, having debated him personally several times. He works from primary sources, and he debates clearly and fairly. However, his case is built on speculation, and the evidence (in my opinion) is counter his speculation. I suspect that Flemming believes in Earl's thesis, and I strongly suspect Flemming is ignorant about the issues involving "fleshy sublunar realms" and the "world of myth". In my opinion he simply has no idea what he is talking about in his FAQ when he talks about beliefs in "spirit realms" in the First Century CE.

 

Richard Carrier, a qualified historian, believes that there was a Mythical Jesus. I think that he will be the first to present a peer-reviewed article in a professional journal on the subject, which may change people's minds. But even he indicates that he sees some problems in the movie.

 

As for Flemming... he simply needs to reveal his sources. I invite him to post at the Internet Infidels Discussion Board, on their Biblical Criticism & History board here: http://www.iidb.org/vbb/forumdisplay.php?f=60. There are knowledgeable atheists on both sides of the "Historical Jesus" debate, as well as theists like myself, and I think we would all enjoy putting your views under the spotlight. 

 

It is worth pointing out again that I am a Christian, so I may be biased. I urge interested readers to look into claims for themselves, and not take my word or Flemming's word for anything.

 



Note 1: My 20 questions for Brian Flemming

 

I submitted these questions to the Rational Response Squad to raise with Brian Flemming at their next interview with him. The RRS team asked Brian the first one on Beddru. A couple of the other questions have been addressed above.


 

1. Beddru of Japan seems to have been created by Kersey Graves in the 19th C. How did that name end up in TGWWT movie? 

2. How could a god myth in Japan affect the pre-Christian world of the middle east? 

3. What similarities does Beddru have with Christ? 

4. Who is 'Deva Tat of Siam'? How did he influence earliest Christianity?

5. In TGWWT, some Christians are asked about Mithras, Dionysus and Osiris. What does Brian know about them and their similarities to Christ? Can Brian recount their stories? 

6. What gods were born of a virgin on December 25? Can Brian name a few? And where did he get the information from? Was it the same source that talked about Beddru of Japan? 

7. What gods were visited by Magi from the East? Where did he get the information from? 

8. What gods turned water into wine? Is it only Dionysus? Can Brian recount the story? Does Dionysus actually turn water into wine himself? 

9. Which gods were transfigured before followers? Can Brian recount the stories? 

10. Which god myths contained a story of being betrayed by 30 pieces of silver? Can Brian recount the stories? 

11. Which religions celebrated a Communal Meal which represented the Saviorís Flesh and Blood? 

12. Of the 17 gods listed in TGWWT having similar attributes to Jesus, has Brian actually researched those gods for their stories? Can he explain how, say, Baal and Thor share attributes with Jesus? 

13. In Luke 19:27, Jesus said in a parable, "Those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them - bring them here and kill them in front of me." Why wasn't it pointed out that this was a parable, and not a command that Jesus was giving to his disciples? 

14. Where did Brian get the "crucified Orpheus" amulet image from? Is he aware that it has been identified as a forgery? 

15. Does Brian really believe that Justin Martyr tried to downplay pagan similarities to Christ by claiming that Satan looked into the future to perform "plagiarism in advance"? 

16. When Brian says that "diabolical mimicry" is the explanation "to this day", who is actually using it as an explanation? 

17. Richard Carrier has stated that "we have no reason to expect any historical record of a HJ [historical Jesus]. We are lucky to have any sources at all from that time and place, and those sources do not record every movement or its founder". Does Brian agree? 

18. Has Brian looked at Paul in context of the literature of the day? If it were traditional to write using a timeless rather than a contemporary feel by leaving out distinctly historical events, should that be considered when evaluating Paul? 

19. Later apologists who believed in a HJ also wrote apologies without any historical details about Jesus. Is that surprising to Brian? 

20. Paul and the author of Hebrews say that Christ was an Israelite from the tribe of Judah who "came out of Jerusalem", was crucified, possibly at Passover, and died sometime after Moses and probably in Paul's recent past. How does the fit the Jesus Myth? 

Other general questions (not related to the movie): 

21. In an interview, Brian says that there was no Nazareth during the time of Christ, but Richard Carrier says that there almost certainly was. Has Brian checked this with Richard Carrier? 

22. Brian apparently is a fan of Doherty's Jesus Puzzle. I know quite a lot about Doherty's views, and I've found that few Doherty supporters can coherently discuss where Doherty places the crucifixion of Christ. Can Brian summarize Doherty's view here? 

 


 

End of Update Section.

 


 

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Last update 28-May-2006: Initial article

Last update 06-Jun-2006: Fixed links, some rephrasing

Last update 15-Jul-2006: Added comments on Beddru by BeastMaster

Last update Feb-2007: Removed comments on Beddru by BeastMaster, and some reformatting