In PART 1 and PART 2 of my response to Dr. Richard Carrier's arguments that Jesus was a mythical figure we examined his claims of religious syncretism, the belief in a single God as evolving from polytheism, and the alleged similarities between Christianity and other pagan "dying and rising gods." The last charge we will examine is Dr. Carrier's claim that Jesus was originally believed to be a spaceman.

Spacemen

Finally, we get to one of the more bizarre notions that Dr. Carrier proposed, and one on which he spent the most time. He believes Jesus was originally thought to be a celestial being, and the stories surrounding him were originally thought to have taken place somewhere in outer space, just below the moon if I remember correctly. As I said, he actually spent quite a bit of time on this point and offered the following “evidence” for his claim.

First, Dr. Carrier claimed the Egyptian Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, who lived during the same time as Jesus, wrote about “a pre-Christian Jewish belief in a celestial being actually named ‘Jesus.’” This is terribly misleading, if not flat out dishonest. The passage from Philo which Dr. Carrier is referencing states,

I have also heard of one of the companions of Moses having uttered such a speech as this: “Behold, a man whose name is the East!” A very novel appellation indeed, if you consider it as spoken of a man who is compounded of body and soul; but if you look upon it as applied to that incorporeal being who in no respect differs from the divine image, you will then agree that the name of the east has been given to him with great felicity. For the Father of the universe has caused him to spring up as the eldest son, whom, in another passage, he calls the firstborn; and he who is thus born, imitating the ways of his father, has formed such and such species, looking to his archetypal patterns.1

You will, no doubt, notice immediately that “Jesus” is never mentioned in this passage. Dr. Carrier assumes that “a man whose name is the East” is a reference to a cosmic Jesus because, as he rightly notes, Philo seems to be referencing Zech. 6:12, though there are some noticeable differences. Zechariah is prophesying to Joshua (the Hebrew form of “Jesus”), and he says in Zech. 6:9-15,

The word of the Lord came to me: “Take an offering from the exiles, from Heldai, Tobijah, and Jedaiah, who have arrived from Babylon, and go that same day to the house of Josiah son of Zephaniah. Take silver and gold, make crowns and place them on the head of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. You are to tell him: This is what the Lord of Hosts says: Here is a man whose name is Branch;  He will branch out from His place and build the Lord’s temple. Yes, He will build the Lord’s temple; He will be clothed in splendor  and will sit on His throne and rule. There will also be a priest on His throne, and there will be peaceful counsel between the two of them. The crown will reside in the Lord’s temple as a memorial to Heldai, Tobijah, Jedaiah, and Hen  son of Zephaniah. People who are far off will come and build the Lord’s temple, and you will know that the Lord of Hosts has sent Me to you. This will happen when you fully obey the Lord your God.” (HCSB)

This gets a bit confusing, but bear with me. The word “Branch” used in Zech. 6:12 is the same word for “East” used in Philo. It can also be translated as “Rise.” Dr. Carrier interprets the Zechariah passage to be a direct reference to Jesus because he thinks “Joshua son of Jehozadak,” “the man whose name is Branch,” and the one who will “build the Lord’s temple” are all referring to the same person, namely Jesus/Joshua. He also interprets “Joshua son of Jehozadak” to mean “Jesus son of Jehovah the righteous.” Thus, while Philo doesn’t actually use the name “Jesus,” Dr. Carrier thinks he has grounds for making the connection.

It should be noted, however, that Jehozadak is simply a person’s name, not a title (i.e. like "Jehovah the righteous" would be"), and it means “Jehovah is righteous.” Many Hebrew names we see in the Old Testament have meanings like this, and Dr. Carrier certainly doesn’t take all those as referring directly to God. Also, while it is clear that Joshua, the crowns, the one who’s name is Branch, etc. are all symbolic of the coming of Jesus the Messiah, there is not a consensus that the Zechariah passage directly references Jesus, much less a cosmic Jesus of some sort. In commenting on our passage from Zechariah, the writers of A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament note,

Here Joshua is crowned (vv. 9–11), a prophecy is delivered (vv. 12–13), and instructions are given to have the symbolic crown deposited in the rebuilt Temple (v. 14). The relationship of the prophecy to the symbolic action is difficult to interpret. According to some, Joshua is here identified with the messianic “Branch,” who will rebuild the Temple and rule as a king-priest. This interpretation takes the statement “And there will be harmony between the two” (6:13) as indicating a fusing of the priestly and kingly offices in the person of the Messiah. Others prefer to see two distinct individuals here. Joshua’s crowning (vv. 9–11, 14) emphasizes the important role of the priest in the community’s future (cf. 3:7; 4:11–14). The prophecy refers to a royal figure, distinct from Joshua, whose task is to rebuild the Temple. Zechariah 4:9 favors this interpretation for it associates the rebuilding of the Temple with Zerubbabel, not Joshua. According to this interpretation, verse 13 anticipates harmony between king and priest. In this view the Davidic ruler, though not a priest as such, will enjoy the full support of the priesthood.

The context, which consistently distinguishes between the king (represented by Zerubbabel) and the priesthood (represented by Joshua), strongly suggests that Zechariah’s contemporaries would have interpreted the symbolic action and prophecy along the lines of this latter view. Great hopes were probably even attached to the persons of Zerubbabel and Joshua. Nevertheless, in the progress of revelation, Jesus will fulfill the ideals symbolized by these historical characters. In Him a merger of the royal and priestly offices occurs. Jesus, the “Branch” whom Zerubbabel merely foreshadowed, will rule over Israel. At the same time Jesus assumes a priestly function, for He has become the true Mediator between God and His people.2

Of course, such a notion of Jesus fulfilling the symbols, or types and shadows, of the Old Testament is precisely what we see in the books of the New Testament. For example, Col. 2:16-17 says, “Therefore, don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is the Messiah.” Similarly, Heb. 8:3-6 says, “For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; therefore it was necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if He were on earth, He wouldn’t be a priest, since there are those offering the gifts prescribed by the law. These serve as a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was warned when he was about to complete the tabernacle. For God said, Be careful that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown to you on the mountain. But Jesus has now obtained a superior ministry, and to that degree He is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been legally enacted on better promises.” And as we’ll see, these very same New Testament documents all teach that Jesus fulfilled these things through His earthly ministry rather than cosmically.

Ironically, skeptics usually cite Philo’s lack of writing about Jesus as evidence for Jesus’ nonexistence. Dr. Carrier reverses course and goes out of his way to make illicit connections in order to force Philo to mention Jesus. For a more complete understanding of the problems with the Philo passage, please refer to the attached PDF at the end of this post to read a recent conversation about this issue between Dr. Carrier and one of my colleagues.

Dr. Carrier goes on to note that what Philo says about the “celestial Jesus” is the same as what the New Testament says about Jesus. Dr. Carrier notes four descriptions he takes to be from Philo and references the corresponding New Testament texts:

1) Firstborn son of God (Rom. 8:29)

  • NOTE: In context, Romans 8:29 is talking about Jesus being the firstborn “among many brothers” in the sense that He was the first resurrection. Also, the term “firstborn,” when applied to Jesus elsewhere (ex. Col. 1:15), means “preeminent” or “above all” and not first created, as the context indicates. We see this used in the Old Testament as well in Psalm 89:27 where God calls David His “firstborn” even though David was the youngest of his brothers and certainly not a celestial being created by God.

2) Celestial “image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4)

  • NOTE: Paul says nothing in this passage about Jesus being a “celestial” image of God. Paul considered Jesus to be God in human flesh, and therefore He is the perfect “image of the invisible God” as Col. 1:15 notes. Paul clearly refers to Jesus as God when he applies Joel 2:32 to Jesus in Rom. 10:13.

3) God’s agent of creation (1 Cor. 8:6)

  • NOTE: Once again, this shows that Paul believed Jesus to be God, not the Father, but God the Son. Since Paul was extremely familiar with the Old Testament, he no doubt knew the numerous passages, particularly from Isaiah, where Yahweh says He made creation by Himself. Thus, to equate creation with Jesus is to equate Him, yet again, with God.

4) God’s celestial high priest (Heb. 2:17; 4:14)

  • NOTE: The very context of Hebrews 2:17, including the verse itself and several verses prior, put Jesus on earth sharing in “flesh and blood” and being made like Abraham’s offspring “in every way.” This is entirely contradictory to Dr. Carrier’s theory noted in the next paragraph.

He then says that, according to Phil. 2:5-11, the “earliest known Christians believed this preexistent being descended, became incarnate and died, rose again, then appeared to select people to tell them this.” I agree that this is very true, for the most part, and that Christians certainly did believe, and still believe, Jesus existed before He was incarnate on earth. That should be obvious since Christians believe Jesus is God! Dr. Carrier concludes, however, “On the most plausible mythicist theory: This incarnation, death, and burial took place in outer space just below the moon.” This is only plausible, first, because Dr. Carrier dismisses any supernatural claims as being possibly true, and secondly, because Dr. Carrier stretches credulity to make such a theory fit the facts as we shall further see.

Dr. Carrier cites as precedence for his apparently strange theory the Revelation of Moses where, according to him, Adam is said to have been buried in outer space (literally “the third heaven”). The Revelation of Moses, or the Apocalypse of Moses as it is also called, is a psuedepigraphical work that is not considered canonical (i.e. authoritative Scripture that belongs in the collection we call the Bible) by either Jewish or Christian authorities. It was written sometime prior to 70 A.D., most likely in the first century A.D. and most certainly not authored by Moses, and neither Philo nor the first century historian Josephus ever quoted from it (or any other psuedepigraphical works) as authoritative, if they quoted from it at all. In fact, the list of authoritative Jewish Scriptures which Josephus gives contains precisely the same content found in our modern day Old Testament (though some of the books are divided a bit differently).3 The Revelation of Moses, and the other psuedepigraphical works like it, embellish on the accounts of both Old and New Testament history. There is no evidence of which I’m aware that shows that such notions taught in the Revelation of Moses were believed by the majority of Jews, even if certain sects of Jews believed such things, or that they thought the work was inspired, or even true for that matter.

In fact, 1 Tim. 1:3-7 may provide evidence that Paul actually taught against such sects of Jews who believed things contrary to orthodox Old Testament teachings.4 He says, “As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach different doctrine or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. These promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith.” In 1 Tim. 4:7 Paul says, "But have nothing to do with irreverent and silly myths.” Elsewhere we see in Titus 1:13, “So, rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith and may not pay attention to Jewish myths and the commands of men who reject the truth.” Likewise, 2 Pet. 1:16 says, “For we did not follow cleverly contrived myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

The point is, there seems to also be a precedence for the knowledge of Jewish myths that were to be avoided. Furthermore, whether some Jews believed Adam was buried in “the third heaven” or not, I’m aware of no evidence that shows Paul teaching such a notion or that Paul actually believed the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus all happened somewhere in outer space. This absurdity is what Dr. Carrier maintains, and it is the last portion we will focus on in this critique. Stay tuned!

Endnotes:
1) Philo of Alexandria and Charles Duke Yonge. The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995. pp 239-24016 

2) Zuck, Roy B. A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament. electronic ed. Chicago: Moody Press, 1991. p 42517

3) Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999. p 3218

4) Hughes, Robert B. and J. Carl Laney. Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary. The Tyndale reference library. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001. p 635