David Fitzgerald

David Fitzgerald's Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed at All has been in my kindle for several years now. I've listened to various podcasts and interviews featuring Fitzgerald over the years. I gave the book a quick perusal when I first got it, but because my introduction to New Testament minimalism (a.k.a. "mythicism") was through the work of Earl Doherty and Robert Price, and because I had thought that Fitzgerald's little book was just a bullet-point rehash of the Doherty theory, I didn't feel it necessary to read the whole thing. But now that he has completed his anticipated Mything in Action series, I remembered this former book and decided to read it in its entirety, and I must say that I enjoyed it more than I anticipated.  

The Good

The most famous story in the Talmud concerning Rabbi Hillel describes a request made by a would-be disciple for the rabbi to teach him the Torah "while standing on one foot." Because no one could stand for very long on one foot, what this expression meant was "as simply, as briefly as possible." In other words, he was asking Hillel to condense the teachings of the Torah down to its basics. This is essentially what David Fitzgerald has done for mythicism. He writes in a clear, lucid, and concise style unencumbered by the jargon and the convolutedness that usually characterizes academic writing. He writes for regular folk, not for scholars. What's more, he has a sense of humor that is usually lacking in the field of New Testament studies, without losing sight of the seriousness of the subject. Because of this accessible aspect, Nailed is an excellent introduction for any lay person interested in why some scholars question the historicity of Jesus but who doesn't have either the time or the concentration to wade through 800 pages of Doherty or of Carrier.  I recommend it highly as a gateway book.

The not-so Bad

What criticism I would level at this little book is much the same criticism that I would level at most works in the field of New Testament studies in general, and so Fitzgerald is not alone in these missteps. Namely, I'm referring to a tendency to uncritically accept as given certain "consensus" positions which presuppose what remains to be demonstrated.

To wit (and just cursorily):

1- The dating of the Epistle of 1 Clement to the late 90s CE.

Most people don't realize that the primary (nay, the only) reason for dating this epistle so is the phrasing in the opening paragraph, which includes the line, "Owing to the sudden and repeated misfortunes and calamities which have befallen us, we consider that our attention has been somewhat delayed in turning to the questions disputed among you, …", which commentators (most notably Lightfoot) interpret as referring to persecution during the time of Domitian. But is this necessarily so? If we read it removed from this preconception, doesn't this line sound just like, 'sorry it took us so long to answer you, but, you know, we got tied up; shit came up ... '?
In other words, it sounds like a typical vague and ambiguous opening to any belated letter.  Consider as well that several commentators (including Loisy) date it closer to the time of Justin of Neapolis (Fitzgerald calls him Justin of Caesaria—I'm not sure why).
Moreover, even a cursory reading of this "letter" reveals a hyper-prolix style that reflects a later date than the one proposed.

2-The dating of the Ignatian corpus to the first decade(s) of the second century.

The spuriousness of the Ignatian corpus has been suggested since the time of the Reformation. More recently, Peter Kirby has written a thorough refutation of claims to authenticity for these "letters."

3-  The axiomatic acceptance of "seven authentic letters of Paul" (and their dating to the 50s and early 60s) — (A perennial peeve of mine.) 

F. C. Baur (Tübingen school) only accepted four epistles as genuine. Later, the Dutch Radical school, using similar methodologies (a crucial point) came to the conclusion that it is reasonable to doubt that any of them is a genuine article. I've yet to see a compelling refutation of Van Manen on this.

My point in objecting to these details is not to argue that the datings given by Fitzgerald (and everyone else in the field who asserts those dates) are "wrong," per se, but to argue that such certitude is unwarranted.  Given the nature and scope of the evidence, some hedging is advisable. (Robert Price is usually wise enough to do so, for example.)

The irony is, of course, that the very nature of mythicism is about challenging these kinds of too-easily accepted axioms, such as when Fitzgerald challenges (rightly so) the commonly (and similarly) asserted 125 C.E dating of P52.  I would really like to see more methodological consistency in mythicists.

Somewhat similarly, but worse (if just a tad), ... when he is discussing the likely ahistoricity of Joseph of Arimathea, Fitzgerald says, "Richard Carrier has shown ..." [... that the word Arimathea is a semantic pun].

No. This is an overstatement. Although Carrier's is a good, arguable semantic hypothesis, it is one of several speculations which can be pretty much equally argued. Another, for example, is that "Arimathea" possibly refers to Ramathaim-Zophim. Another is that "Arimathea" could be a botched transliteration of BarMathai (son of Matthai), which has also been proposed. Once again, I am not arguing that Carrier is wrong, per se, but that certitude on the matter is unwarranted.
These may seem like minor points of contention, and, indeed, they don't necessarily affect the main thrust of Fitzgerald's (or Carrier's) thesis, but these inconsistencies, i.e. the misplaced certainty, should be pointed out.

All in all, though, I think David Fitzgerald's Nailed is a great mythicist primer. Straightforward and charismatic, his is a much-needed voice in the N.T minimalism wilderness. I think he will continue to make valuable contributions to the ongoing discussion on historicity. I will very probably get his new three-volume set eventually and review it here.
I look forward to it. 

#mythicism #christmyth


  1. I agree totally about the lazy approach to such topics as the authenticity of any Pauline epistles, dating of 1 Clement, and so forth. The lack of skepticism applied by the mythicists to these and other crucial topics is highly discouraging. The so-called arguments for these topics were all established by 19th century theologians. It's well past time for a totally fresh approach from a purely secular perspective, one that does not use theology as its starting point.


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