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Michael Paulkovich and why internet atheists make bad historians

Michael Paulkovich is an easy target because his ‘research’ is so poor, I’d never heard of him before the internet started fanning the flames of his terribly historically inept work on the historical Jesus. You can find one such article here and it even made it to the lofty heights of the Daily Mail. I can’t find out any information but I truly doubt that he has any historical training whatsoever, in fact I’ll close my blog if he has a PhD in History!

Please have a read of the article I linked to and see if you can spot some of the obvious problems with his conclusion (and premises) about Jesus not being mentioned in the sources he examines. I tend not to respond to such tripe but Paulkovich has the rare talent of making me both laugh and cry at the same time so I wrote a brief comment pointing out just a couple of problems with his hypothesis. What is more frustrating is that the press give such silly ideas space, for goodness sake at least present the strongest argument for the mythicist position, alas something you have to get used to as a Christian.

It seems all too popular today for many atheists to think that they can undermine the historical method because…well..they are atheists, training… smaining. However, at least some atheists are willing to pull others up on their bad arguments and sources, see a great short article here! Let Paulkovich show you how it’s done.

Here was my comment.

Just a few points in response so we can all see how poorly researched this piece of work is.

‘The few mentions of Jesus in The Jewish Wars, Paulkovich argues, were added by later editors, not by Josephus himself.’

No, there are no mentions of Jesus in ‘The Jewish Wars’, what you meant was his book ‘Antiquities of the Jews’! This is basic stuff so it doesn’t give me confidence regarding the rest of the article.

‘Paulkovich says that only one of the 126 texts he combed through contains any mention of Jesus — and that, he says, is a forgery. That text is the first-century history book The Jewish Wars by the Roman historian Josephus Flavius, who wrote his work in the year 95 CE.’

You can carefully comb through the whole book mate he ain’t in there, wrong book son.

‘Advocates of the “Mythical Jesus” theory have been around for years, arguing that the story of Jesus bears a close resemblance to numerous other mythological stories of ancient gods who were born of virgin mothers and performed miracles.’

Yeah and serious historians have demonstrated it to be nonsense, that’s why only one trained historian, Richard Carrier advocates it and why someone like Bart Ehrman who is no friend of Christianity can write a whole book defending a historical Jesus against such inept tripe. It’s like saying Holocaust deniers have been around for ages saying their thing, but now we ought to take them seriously. The author is alluding to alleged parallels such as Horus and Mithras which although stated ad infinitum don’t actually exist off the internet, please quote a primary source? A deathly silence follows.

So what about those sources in Josephus that mention Jesus? Well in Book 20, 9, 1 (Antiquities not Jewish Wars) the execution of Jesus’ bother James is mentioned which is almost universally accepted as authentic. The key passage also known as the Testimonium Flavianum is where we find Jesus mentioned, most scholars admit that there has been some alteration to the text by a misguided scribe but very few would argue that the originally didn’t include any mention of Jesus. Actual historians have discovered that different and independent transmissions of the text in Arabic and Syriac have helped scholars to observe what the original text would have included, which still included Josephus mentioning Jesus!

‘The Dead Sea Scrolls, also known as the Qumran texts, also contain no mention of Jesus. Even the Apostle Paul, the New Testament figure credited with spreading the new religion that came to be called “Christianity” shortly after the supposed death of Jesus, never says that Jesus was a real person — even in the Bible itself.’

Great, except most of the dead sea scrolls predate Jesus so it’s not a surprise there is no mention of Jesus there, there is a reason no trained historian would attempt to make such a historical inference.

“When I consider those 126 writers, all of whom should have heard of Jesus but did not…”

Yeah but the vast majority have no reason to mention him, it’s like looking at nineteenth century gardening books and not finding Abraham Lincoln mentioned and arguing that he therefore didn’t exist.

Soranus was a gynaecologist, so why would we expect to find Jesus mentioned in his writings lol? Yes he is one of the 126 ancient writers he examined. Lesbonax died before Jesus was even born, so how could he mention Jesus? With some difficulty I imagine!

Please go and read a proper historian and go to a library, tripe like this is only taken seriously because some atheists think an internet connection makes them a historian. I could go on but this is a serious hack article as is the writings it’s based upon.


About @Nicodemus

I'm a Holmesian Christian, a former atheist, university lecturer and a husband of one wife.


9 thoughts on “Michael Paulkovich and why internet atheists make bad historians

  1. The “War on the Jews” reference is not a mistake. He meant Jesus should have been in “War of the Jews” as well as “Antiquities”. The quote from “Antiquities” is certainly spurious since it would its existence would constitute the death of Jesus as a “sad calamity that put the Jews in disorder” rather than the Jewish massacres mentioned immediately before it. Why would the death of a single peasant be a “sad calamity that put the Jews in disorder”?

    The reference to James in Josephus makes no sense as proof of a historical Jesus. How does an illiterate Galilean peasant such as James become a high priest in Jerusalem? Why would the people of Jerusalem riot over his death after demanding the death of Jesus? If you take out the reference to “Christ” (this being only the second reference to the word “Christ” after the Testimonium Flavian in a book focused almost completely on failed Christs), it makes it pretty clear that the James being mentioned is the brother of Jesus son of Damneus, which makes far more sense considering that the priesthood was hereditary.

    Bart Ehrman’s book is absolutely terrible. He obviously did not really read most of the books and the “gotchas” he attempts only prove his own ignorance, such as accusing authors of making up the Kitos war just because he is such a bad historian, he has never heard of it.

    If you want primary sources of death and resurrection gods who are born from a virgin and provide a communion of bread and wine, you can check out Part 3 of my Bart Ehrman review or the other two links below it.



    Posted by Jeff | October 29, 2014, 1:37 pm
    • Thanks for stopping by. It is a mistake, he was saying in the article I read that the references to Jesus, John the Baptist and James were interpolations found in ‘The Jewish Wars’ which is the wrong book, even if they were interpolations it’s still the wrong book.

      The quotes found in the Antiquities are not obviously spurious. The vast majority of Josephean scholars don’t doubt the passage mentioning John the Baptist, the James passage or that the Testimonium Flavianum originally still mentioned Jesus. As far as I’m aware ‘…and brought before them the brother of Jesus, *who was called Christ*, whose name was James, and some others…’ is found in all existing manuscripts which seems like an obvious problem with your suggestion that Josephus is not talking about the leader of the Jerusalem Church.

      I’ve got no interest in defending Bart Ehrman (he’s more than capable of defending himself), he’s helpful in some areas, not so much in others. Regardless, Paulkovich is an extremely poor attempt at being a historian.

      I’ll have a read of your articles.


      Posted by @failedatheist | October 30, 2014, 9:37 am
  2. The article you linked to says:

    “Critics also highlight how Paulkovich took special note of the first-century history book Antiquities of the Jews by the Roman historian Josephus Flavius, which contains a section often referred to by historians as the Testimonium Flavianum.”

    So it appears to me that he knows the Testimonium Flavian is in Antiquities.

    Also, there actually is an interpolation about Jesus in the “Jewish Wars” from the thirteenth century known as the “Slavonic Josephus”.

    It’s true that most modern scholars accept the the Testimonium Flavian, but most scholars from the last century dismissed the entire passage. There is good reason to think the passage has been edited rather than added because of the weirdly short sentence structure (I think it was added then edited), but most modern scholars have never addressed the problem of how Josephus could be so positive about this “wise man” who presumably would have been best known for interrupting the Temple sacrifices when he has nothing but scorn for every other rabble-rouser in his Big Book of Failed Messiahs, nor do they address how his death could have been a “sad calamity that put the Jews in disorder.” If Jesus was this important, how could he devote so few words to him? If you have an explanation for that, I would be glad to hear it.

    I agree that Jesus not being mentioned by most of the first century authors does not amount to much evidence, but his absence from Philo, who did focus on religious movements of Galilee, is striking. John Chrysostom, writing a century after Eusebius, fails to cite the Testomonioum Flavian, yet in in his 13th homily to the Gospel of John, he writes that Josephus imputed the war to John the Baptist’s death, indicating that he possessed a copy different from both Origen’s and the surviving copies.

    In the ninth century, Photius I of Constantinople wrote two reviews of Antiquities, yet not only did he not mention the Testimonium, he complained that the now-lost writings of Justus of Tiberias, a Jewish historian writing in Galilee around the year 80, “does not make the smallest mention of the appearance of Christ, and says nothing whatever of his deeds and miracles.”

    John Dominic Crossan has pointed out the problem with James the illiterate Galilean peasant becoming a high priest of Jerusalem, though he did not point out the “coincidence” about Jesus son of Damneus taking the position after him (as if they were brothers) to appease the pro-James crowd.

    You seem to agree with the scholarly consensus that the passage identifying Jesus as the Christ is an interpolation since Josephus elsewhere says that Titus was the Messiah. That passage, or a very similar one, is also in every copy of Josephus so I do not think you can immunize the James passage based on the argument that it’s in every surviving copy we have. It is also notable that the Testimonium and the James passage are the only two uses of the word “Christ” in a book about failed Christs. If the first “Christ” is an interpolation, as most scholars agree, is it really only a coincidence that Josephus uses that word only once in the whole book and for the exact same person?

    You say Paulkovich is a bad historian because he links Jesus to the dying and rising gods. Although I agree Osiris and Mithras are not the best examples to use, it has been my experience that it is the people who cast doubt on this link who are the ones who are completely clueless about the ancient Middle Eastern and Hellenistic religions. Have you studied this subject at all or have any reason to believe the Biblical scholars you have read have done so?

    Unlike most mythicists, I do not think this link between Christianity and the dying-and-rising gods necessarily disproves the historicity of Jesus (although I later came to the conclusion that the gospel Jesus is fictional and the real Jesus lived in the first century B.C.), but I have always found it astounding that so many people can look at the parallels and deny there are any links at all, or dismiss mythicists as cranks while having no problem with the idea of a mythical King Arthur or the fact that Zoroaster may not have lived in the time he is most famously dated to. Does skepticism towards these figures make you anti-Arthur or anti-Zoroastrianism?


    Posted by Jeff | October 30, 2014, 8:15 pm
    • The quote in the article I was referring to was this one, which is wrong. ‘The few mentions of Jesus in The Jewish Wars, Paulkovich argues, were added by later editors, not by Josephus himself.’. He isn’t referring to the Slavonic Josephus there, if he is even aware of such a thing, which I doubt he is!

      ‘It’s true that most modern scholars accept the the Testimonium Flavian, but most scholars from the last century dismissed the entire passage.’

      That might be the case but modern scholars reject the German higher criticism of the last century that concluded that Jesus didn’t exist, for good reason, most of it had serious methodological flaws and was based in a poor reading of ancient history.

      I’m sure you are aware of the Arabic manuscript that present Josephus’ comment on Jesus look less favorable?

      For a serious response to the questions you raise that directly interact with some of the mythicist claims against the authenticity of the TF see here >>> http://www.bede.org.uk/Josephus.htm

      A number of your other claims are simply arguments from silence, they would be stronger if we didn’t have the gospels and the letters of Paul but unfortunately for your conclusion that isn’t the case.

      I have read around the surrounding ANE cultures that are directly relevant to some of your claims surrounding dying and rising gods but I will be the first the claim I’m not an expert as my degree is in the History of Empire’s so I’m a little too late!

      Obviously you know that it isn’t only Christian scholars who think the mythicist arguments are poor in relation to the claims of other dying and rising gods which often end up being nothing of the sort.

      Are you aware of the dating of the picture on the background of your website, one of the links you sent me? The Amulet picturing Dionysus on a cross is dated more than three centuries after Jesus’ resurrection, so it’s of little historical use, if any borrowing occurred it was likely the other way round.

      What book do you think presents the best case for the mythicist position on Jesus? Read Carrier already.


      Posted by @failedatheist | November 2, 2014, 6:59 pm
  3. Given that every other review says he refers to Antiquities and that the article you are quoting does not amend the error, doesn’t it make more sense that the error is with the author of the article and not Paulkovich?

    All of the other versions of Josephus still make him out to be a “wise man” who is beloved by Jews and Greeks and is executed for no reason, which Christopher Rice describes as a “neutral account”. I read this word “neutral” a lot and it seems to me to be the result of the subconscious affirmation that a Flavian should be reacting pretty negatively towards a peasant who tried to take over the Temple grounds but somehow leaves that part out.

    First Christopher Price gives a quote that creating the Testimonium out of whole cloth would be “an act of unparalleled scribal audacity”, despite the fact that it happened again in War of the Jews but then says that if they did invent it out of whole cloth it would have to have been larger like in Slavonic Josephus. I think it depends on how much the individual forger wants to balance between authenticity and instructive theology.

    Christopher Price himself uses the exact same kind of argument from silence in regards to Amborse/Pseudo-Hegesippus, so I can only assume you will discount that part of his argument as well.

    The Talmud and the Toledot Yeshu date Jesus to the first century B.C. The earliest version of the Toledot appear to be redacted version of a much simpler Jewish gospel in which Jesus has five disciples and is stoned to death and hung on a tree.

    Mark 8:18-21 makes it clear that 5 to 12 and 7 to 7 holds special numerological significance. The Toledot provides the answer: the Five Disciples were martyred, but were replaced by the Twelve Apostles. The Seven Evangelists (Acts 6:5, 21:8-9) would then get replaced by seven other missionaries when they are martyred. This provides gospel evidence that the concept of the Five Disciples predated the concept of the Twelve Apostles.

    Mara Bar Serapion says that the death of the “wise king” brought about the end of the Jewish Kingdom in the first century B.C., not the fall of the Temple in the first century A.D., as many believe he really meant to say.

    Epiphanius likewise promotes a tradition that Jesus inherited the Jewish Kingdom from Alexander Jannaeus without realizing that he was in effect dating Jesus to the first century A.D.

    None of the epistles, both canonical and apocryphal (with the exception of the Pastorals which most scholars date tot he 180s), identify Jesus as a peasant teacher who was crucified by Romans. Blame is either placed on “archons” (ambiguous “powers” that could be powerful men or demons) or the Jews alone under Jewish law (as does Mara and even the Talmud and Toledot). He is always referred to as being “hung on a tree”, which is what happened to both the first century B.C. Jesus and many dying-and-rising gods such as Adonis and Dionysus.

    The earliest dying-and-rising god is Dumuzi, or Tammuz. Ezekiel complained about the women of Jerusalem “weeping for Tammuz” over his death at the Jerusalem Temple, the same god Daniel calls “the one beloved by women.” The name Dumuzi itself means “True son,” he is often referred to as a shepherd, and in one kingly incarnation, he is called a fisherman. The Sumerian love poem “The Marriage of Inanna and Dumuzi,” a genre which directly inspired the Song of Solomon, speaks of a sacrament involving Inanna serving Dumuzi bread and water. This would be more convincing if it were bread and wine, but Dumuzi’s sister Gesthinanna, who helps him escape from the demons chasing him, was herself a wine goddess.

    In Inanna’s descent to the nether world, Dumuzi’s wife went down into the netherworld to confront her sister Ereshkigal and was “turned into a corpse. And the corpse was hung on a hook. After three days and three nights had passed, her minister Nincubura… made a lament for her in her ruined (houses)” Dumuzi’s father, the Promethean god Enki, sends spirits to bring her back, but she must provide a substitute, which turns out to be Dumuzi, who is sitting on his throne beneath “the great apple tree in the plain of Kulaba.” The demons attack and Dumuzi gets away when the sun god turns him into a snake, but the demons eventually bring him down to be hung as substitute for Inanna. Inanna weeps for Dumuzi, matching the ritual weeping of the women at the Jerusalem Temple, but then is able to find him and work out a deal where he would return to life for half the year. “You for half the year and your sister for half the year:” that is, Dumuzi would go to the netherworld on the Winter Solstice (Christmas) when all the vegetation died, and would rise during the Spring Equinox (Easter) when the vegetation returned. The story, which goes back to the third millennium B.C., has a direct parallel with the Greek myth of Aphrodite (Inanna) and Presephone (Ereshkigal) taking turns with the Adonis after he dies.

    In the Myth of Adapa, the Kassite Adam has to sympathize with the death of Dumuzi in order to gain access to the gates of heaven. Because Adapa listened to Enki, who was represented by the ancient Ubaid culture as a snake-man, he did not eat and drink the bread and water of life and so was not granted immortality.

    In the Epic of Ba’al, found in Ugarit just north of Galilee and dated to around the 1400s B.C., the god Hadad is called “Rider of Clouds,” equal to that of Yahweh in Psalm 68:4, crushes the sea god Yamm just as Yahweh crushes Leviathan in Psalm 74:14, enjoins a festival of bread and wine, then ascends a mountain and establishes his temple just as Yahweh does in Psalm 68:18-29. Mot, the god of death and sterility says of Hadad that “I shall put Him in the grave of the Gods of the earth.” After that, “Baal is found dead in the fields of Shechelememet, in the land of Deber. The news reaches the ears of El, Father of Shunem. First the father god El and then Baal’s wife, the “Virgin” Anath cries out: “Baal is dead!” Like Inanna, Anath “weeps for him and buries Him. She puts Him in the grave of the Gods of the earth.” She then seeks out Mot, who tells her “I met Aliyan Baal; I made Him like a lamb in My mouth. Like a kid in My jaws was He crushed.” But after a dream she realizes that “Aliyan Baal is alive” and the sun goddess Shapash “descends into the underworld. She enters the relm of Sheol. Upon her return to the world above, she carries Great Baal with Her” so that “Baal returns to the throne of His kingship.” Thus, Baal escapes the god of death just as Psalm 68:20 reads: “This God of ours is a God who saves; from Lord Yahweh comes escape from death;” (NJB).

    Mettinger and others agree that the god descending and ascending are connected to the seasonal changes, but try to make a distinction between “dying” and “descending to the underworld” as well as “resurrecting” and “rising to heaven,” yet even this literalist diversion by semantics does not hold up to the primary sources. Ritual mourning was for the dead, not the hidden. Sumerian iconography of Dumuzi clearly shows him rising from the grave. “Hadad is dead” and then “alive.”

    Jerome writes that “From Hadrian’s time [135 A.D.] until the reign of Constantine, for about 180 years…Bethlehem, now ours, and the earth’s, most sacred spot…was overshadowed by a grove of Tammuz, which is Adonis, and in the cave where the infant Messiah once cried, the paramour of Venus was bewailed.” Jerome makes no mention of the fact that Adonis or Tammuz are death and resurrection gods and claims that pagans profaned the originally Christian grove and replaced it with their own god. More likely, the reverse was true and that it had always been a shrine to Tammuz. The name Bethlehem itself can mean either “House of Bread” or “House of Lahmu.” (Lahmu was Enki’s temple gatekeeper.)

    Then there’s the 2,000-year-old necropolis accidentally discovered in 2006 underneath the Vatican’s foundations showing a mosaic floor of Dionysus and sarcophagi exhibiting carvings of both Christian and pagan iconography, such as an egg symbolizing pagan rebirth in one and the carving of man praying like a Christian on another.

    The Victorian scholar Reverened Sabine Baring-Gould wrote in his book “Curious Myths of the Middle Ages” that the tenth century Mesopotamian named Ibn Wahshiya “the Chaldean” confirmed that the Nabataeans, who controlled Damascus when Paul was said to have had his vision on the way there, were still “weeping for Tammuz” up until they adopted Christianity in the 300s. The Arabic Book of Rolls describes the mourning ritual of Tammuz as still being practiced in the city of Harran during the month of Tammuz in the 900s A.D.

    Sumerian statues of Inanna also have unmistakable artistic qualities – large breasts held by tiny hands, huge hips moving down to pinprick feet, and a beaded, faceless head – that connects it with the Venus of Willendorf and other primordial mother goddesses who have been dated as far back as 29,000 years ago.

    In my opinion, the best argument made for a first century B.C. Jesus is G.R.S. Mead’s “Did Jesus Live 100 B.C.?”. I think the majority of mythicists would tell you the best modern argument for a completely mythical Jesus is Earl Doherty’s “The Jesus Puzzle”.


    Posted by Jeff | November 4, 2014, 12:52 am
    • I was just re-reading your comment again and was wondering if you could let me have the references to the primary sources that relate to the above claims? I’ve been pretty busy with the birth of first daughter.

      I think your last paragraph says a lot about the mythicist view, relying on outdated scholarship that no one takes seriously in (…the impartial Theosophist) G.R.S. Mead and then Earl Doherty who makes his whole case based upon said outdated scholarship.

      Happy new year!


      Posted by @failedatheist | January 8, 2015, 1:25 pm
  4. Steven Bollinger aka The Wrong Monkey here, thanks for mentioning my blog. You write: “tripe like this is only taken seriously because some atheists think an internet connection makes them a historian” Please allow me to make a distinction between all atheists on the one hand and New Atheists or movement atheists on the other. The latter include readers of, contributors to and the publishers of periodicals such as Free Inquiry, which published Paulkovich’s list of 126, and which apparently doesn’t feel the need to fact-check articles on historical topics — or perhaps it’s just that they can’t, that they simply don’t know how to. Free Inquiry is published by the Council for Secular Humanism, which has many eminent scientists on its board of directors, but no historians, unless one is inclined to be generous and call Nat Hentoff an historian of jazz.

    That’s New Atheists or movement atheists: often quite strong in the natural sciences (like Richard Dawkins), but spectacularly weak in history (again, like Richard Dawkins). It’s certainly not all atheists. Many leading historians and even some Biblical scholars have been atheists. Although it seems that some of us (understandably, if regrettably) have become so embarrassed by the New Atheists that they now deny that they are atheists, preferring instead to call themselves skeptics, as if there were a difference, as if “atheist” ever denoted anything more than someone who doesn’t believe that God or gods exist.

    Liked by 1 person

    Posted by stevenbollinger | March 20, 2015, 5:52 pm
    • Hey Steven, thanks for stopping by. I really enjoyed reading your blog posts. I had exactly what you said in mind which is why I was careful to say ‘some atheists’ but I appreciate that I should have been clearer in my remarks.

      I didn’t know Free Inquiry had no Historians on their board, why do you think that is? It’s not like there is a shortage of competent atheist Historians.


      Posted by @failedatheist | March 21, 2015, 9:35 pm
      • First off, on the Council for Secular Humanism masthead, Nat Hentoff is listed as a professor of history. so from their point of view, they’ve got 1 historian, not zero.

        Now as to your question: quite right, there is no shortage of atheist historians. For that matter, there’s no shortage of atheist Biblical scholars or even atheist theologians. But as far as I know there are no New Atheist historians. (Unless you’re inclined to be so generous as to agree that Nat Hentoff is not a jazz critic, but actually an historian.)

        Among New Atheists there is a hostility toward the humanities. When I was a child in the 1960’s and 1970’s there was this unfortunate feud, at least in academia in English-speaking areas, between scientists on hand and the humanities, including history, on the other. I had thought that that unfortunate schism had been healed, but the New Atheists, very many of whom are scientists, demonstrate that it still exists at least to some degree. They are hostile, generally speaking, to the entire academic discipline of history, with the exception of a few figures such as Gibbon who are safely dead and gone and unable to criticize their historical illiteracy. Their hostility to Biblical scholars is much more extreme still, especially since Ehrman made it very clear, with Did Jesus Exist? that he is not one of them.

        Paulkovich accuses historians of being a part of the religious Plot. He sees evidence of this when they do not characterize the mentions of Christians in Tacitus and Suetonius and other authors as Christian interpolations and/or misreadings. (Such as when historians and Classicists assume that “Chrestus” in Suetonius is a misspelling, and refers not to Christ, but to another religious leader who was actually named Chrestus.)

        The novelist William Gaddis (author of The Recognitions and JR) defined stupidity as ignorance combined with the determination to remain ignorant. The New Atheists are stupid about history. I see no reason to be more generous to them than that.

        Liked by 1 person

        Posted by stevenbollinger | June 1, 2015, 6:33 pm

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