Randel Helms' "Gospel Fictions": A Critique

The main premise of this book is that the writers of the Gospels are creators of fiction; more precisely, it is suggested, they took material from a variety of sources, mostly the OT but a few pagan sources as well, in order to compose fictional stories about Jesus of Nazareth.

Before beginning the by-page analysis, we will lay out general replies to the major thesis of Gospel Fictions (hereafter GF) that the stories of the NT were stolen from the OT (and sometimes other sources). Helms' chief tactic is to search for Greek terms found in NT stories and find what he thinks are parallels in the OT. The secondary key, and what is commonly offered as a strong proof of fictionalization, is that Greek words found in the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the OT, are also found in the NT stories.

Generally our replies are one of the following:

  1. In some cases, Helms simply overstates his case.

    A conclusion is drawn from minimal evidence, a mere fingerful of words in the body of a text. In some cases these words are found in so many places that the correspondence in the two stories is statistically meaningless.

  2. Recasting of stories in terms of previous stories was a normal practice and admired skill in this day.

    Helms assumes that there was no known (or unknown) history of Jesus and that the NT writers scoured the OT (and other sources) looking for material they could turn into a Jesus story. Never considered is the idea that the NT writers had an actual story of Jesus which they proceeded to retell, with skill, using as many allusions to the OT as they could.

    This would have been a standard practice of the era and no point against the historicity of the text in and of itself. Historicity should be determined by the normal tests: i.e., "Is it plausible as history?" -- not by whether it contains imitations of another story.

    Malina and Neyrey report in Portraits of Paul [89-90] that one form of support for testimony was "probabilities" -- verification from general experience. Rhetoriticians noted that when setting forth a statement to a judge or jury, orators should "pay attention to the question of whether he will find his hearers possessed of a personal knowledge of the things of which he is speaking, as that is the sort of statement they are most likely to believe." An appeal to common experience was always helpful to aid in understanding.

    When Bible stories follow typical forms, they do so for this very purpose. Using words and phrases from the Old Testament accomplished a similar purpose. Material is phrased in such a way as to appear verifiable from experience. Of course this again says nothing about historicity, but it gives ancient writers every motive to report what they say, true or false, in terms recognizable from previous experience.

    If the NT imitates the OT, it has every reason to do so, and thereby offer no reason why we should argue for fabrication on these grounds alone. (This relates as well to the ancient prejudice against anything new.) Casting new things in old terms or relating it to the old was a way of trying to gain acceptance for the new.)

    Flemming Nielsen (The Tragedy in History: Herodotus and the Deuteronomic History), in an examination of the histories of Herodotus, notes in that writer a purposeful intention to duplicate the vocabulary, morphology and style of Homer, and the use of "deliberate Homeric quotations", places where Herodotus "deliberately plays upon his readers' awareness of particular passages of Homer" (as indeed Luke does, using a variety of Greek works). Nielsen notes further:

    A particularly marked occurrence of this is seen in the Croesus-narrative, where the many quotations from Homer and the entire Homeric structure are far more than merely an artistic decoration, in that they create a backcloth for Croesus' and Cyrus' speeches by associating them in the readers' mind with Agamemnon and Achilles. The most critical events in the account of the Persian wars are likewise related to the Homeric account. In this manner, the Persian wars are shown no less important than the Trojan war, the Persian-Greek conflict being a repetition of the war between Achaens and Trojans.

    And Albert Lord, a specialist in oral and mythic traditions, had this to say in The Relationships Among the Gospels [39]:

    Traditional narrators tend to tell what happened in terms of already existent patterns of story. Since the already existing patterns allow for many multiforms and are the result of oft repeated human experience, it is not difficult to adjust another special case to the flexibly interpreted story patterns....The fact that the Entry (of Jesus) into Jerusalem, for example, fits an element of mythic pattern does not necessarily mean, however, that the event did not take place. On the contrary, I assume that it did take place, since I do not know otherwise, and that it was an incident that traditional narrators chose to include, partly at least because its essence had a counterpart in other stories and was similar to the essence of an element in an existing story pattern....That its essence was consonant with an elements in a traditional mythic (i.e., sacred) pattern adds a dimension of spiritual weight to the incident, but it does not deny (not does it confirm, for that matter) the historicity of the incident.

    Rhiannon Ash, in the book Tacitus, gives examples of how that great historian -- considered the most reliable in the ancient world -- followed this very system of thought [85]: While modern historians might use footnotes to draw parallels between different events, a historian like Tacitus "embeds such points in the very language which he uses." These allusions crafted through "linguistic echoes and structural similarities" [87] would create points of discussion for the reading (or listening) audience.

    Helms simply asserts that the copying is equal to fiction-making. But this was not the praxis for the ancients, nor for Judaism: Words did not create events, but events called out the words. And what he and others call "fiction" is actually deliberate allusion of the sort Herodotus employs.

    Let's make this more concrete with a hypothetical example that we have already noted: parallels between the Lincoln and Kennedy assassination.

    If a writer about Kennedy wanted to invoke the thought of Lincoln, he might first find events in their lives that paralleled each other, as I did in the link. (This would be easiest if Kennedy himself had been trying to portray himself as a "new Lincoln," just as Jesus portrayed himself as a new prophet such as that of old, or John the Baptist portrayed himself as a new Elijah.) The writer would then seek out a popular and well-known biography of Lincoln (as we have, that one written by Oates, used in our Harmonization essays), just as the NT writers used the OT. (There is of course a break in the analogy here, since no one does such in-depth study of Oates' book, or uses it as a manual for life on a daily basis, or recites long portions of it from memory.)

    They would then look for key phrases that could be taken from the Lincoln bio and used in a Kennedy bio. Thus, a person could take phrases from the Lincoln bio, dealing with Lincoln's assassination: "gunshot rang out," "frozen instant," "enveloped in smoke," "slumped forward," "deranged, incomprehensible terror," "screams, a medley of voices," and so on, and construct a perfectly serviceable (and entirely accurate) account of Kennedy's assassination.

    This is all that the NT writers did, only with much greater artistry...and a subject much more inclined to imitate the past for a purpose, within the context of a society that looked for this kind of thing for authorization. (For more on this art, see my comments on MacDonald's Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark.) It is wrong to claim that imitation proves we "can never know what actually happened" or the like.

    Related to this is another issue:

  3. Deliberate imitation as praxis.

    Skeptics may scoff, but certainly it is taught within Scripture that some of the typological repeats, and other relevant signs, are ordained by God Himself. As Jesus said that the man born blind was born that way not because of any sin of his parents, but so that God's purpose might be made manifest through his healing, so is it not reasonable to suggest that typological parallels find their actions in the will of Deity, for the purpose of our own direction and edification?

    But even without any appeal to the supernatural, in this world of ideas it would also be natural for a Jesus or any prophet to "re-enact" what others prior to them did, in order to create a new message.

    Next:

  4. Oral tradition procedures encouraged patterns of imitation as aids to memorization.

    When there is only a matter of a very few words, it is quite possible to take this tactic too far, as Helms has done. A later historian examining accounts of the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations could easily presume, based on the number of common words between the descriptions and similarity of themes, that much of what is written about Kennedy's death is a "fiction" designed to link him to Lincoln.

    However, the unalterable fact is that similar situations REQUIRE similar words in order to be described - as we note, for example, in our critique of Werner Kelber's evaluation of Mark's healing stories. And in an oral society, where 95% of the people were illiterate, one way to aid in the memorization of new stories was to have each of them follow a given pattern, already resting as a "template" as it were in the brain.

    In this light two stories of healings might be at hand; the newer one could be "shaved" of elements to make it more like the first one and easier to memorize (as well as invoking the praxis of deliberate imitation for reasons stated above). Thus let us say we have two stories:

    Healing Story One

    1. The man was blind.
    2. He came to the prophet.
    3. He asked for help from the prophet.
    4. The prophet agreed.
    5. The prophet laid hands on him.
    6. The prophet healed him.
    7. The man left happy.

    Healing Story Two

    1. The man was deaf.
    2. He went to doctors who were of no help.
    3. He came to the prophet.
    4. He asked the prophet if he could heal deafness.
    5. The prophet said he could.
    6. The man asked for help from the prophet.
    7. The prophet agreed.
    8. The man thanked the prophet.
    9. The prophet laid hands on him.
    10. The prophet healed him.
    11. The man asked the prophet if he could serve him in any way.
    12. The prophet declined.
    13. The man left happy.

    By shaving off elements in bold, we would have Story Two seem like a mere imitation of Story One, never knowing that there was far more in the background unreported. This would also validate a principle of responding to claims of similarity with notes of differences, for the more differences there are between two stories, the easier it would have been for the composer of the later story to draw parallels to the antecedent.

    There is also an interesting contradiction in Helms' methodology and that of Skeptics in general. It is often objected that NT writers badly used or misused OT passages, or used them out of context. As seen here, they did so doing nothing their contemporaries regarded as erroneous or abnormal. Yet if this is indeed the issue, how can it then be objected on the other hand that the NT writers created "fiction"? If they had to "stretch" the meaning of the OT "out of context" then isn't this a pointer to them having to do so to fit a historical situation? Helms is sometimes burning both ends of this candle.

    There is one more related point:

  5. To do things like this was an admired skill and perfectly natural.

    As Malina and Rohrbaugh note in their Social Science Commentary on the Synoptics [293-4], there was a process of oral poetry in the ancient world, and this process offers a far better explanation for such correspondences to the OT text as Helms finds. They write:

    To be able to quote the tradition from memory, to apply it in creative or appropriate ways to the situation of daily living, not only brings honor to the speaker but lends authority to his words as well. The song of Zechariah, the so-called Benedictus, in Luke 1:68-79 is an example. It is stitched together from phrases of Psalms 41, 111, 132, 105, 106, and Micah 7. The ability to create such a mosaic implied extensive, detailed knowledge of the tradition and brought great honor to the speaker able to pull it off. [Emphasis added.]

    Socially, then, the answer Helms offers of "fiction" is off the mark. Rather than arguing, i.e., that Jesus' betrayal and prayer at Gethsemane was divinely prefigured in the life of David, it is contextually more correct to suppose that Jesus, in light of his betrayal, composed a prayer that was stitched together from elements of the OT tradition; and rather than say that the NT writers scoured the Old Testament for events in the life of the important figures, then adapted those stories to fit Jesus, it is contextually more accurate to say that the NT writers, especially one like Matthew who was well-trained in the OT traditions, scoured their memory for OT texts that could be adapted to describe the daily life of Jesus.

    To say otherwise, and to accuse on such grounds the NT writers of inventing history, is to assume Western reportage values upon people with entirely different means of communication.

We now proceed to a page by page critique of Helms' GF. Readers are expected to use this as a reference manual, either having a copy of GF or else knowing the page number a claim is drawn from.


Chapter 1

  • 9-10 -- Helms misuses the material from Apollonius of Tyana
  • 11 -- it is odd that Helms can credit the Gospel writers with so much literary artistry and imagination to produce fiction, yet not credit them with the same gifts which would just as aptly produce a non-fiction report cast in prior terms, per comments above showing that this was a talent of the day that was accorded great honor
  • 11-12 -- appeal to non-canonical gospels is "guilt by association" and no more renders the canonical Gospels "fiction" or points to them being fiction than novels about the Spanish-American War render genuine histories of it fictional; nor does the putative presence of false or heretical information about Jesus in any way prove that any given document about him is false.
  • 12 -- we have noted elsewhere the reliability of oral tradition in oral-based societies. Helms writes, however, that "oral tradition is by definition unstable, notoriously open to mythical, legendary, and fictional embellishment." As those who have read our material know, this statement is substantially untrue, especially in regards to oral tradition in a Jewish socio-cultural setting. Helms has simply assumed this premise without checking into the subject matter.
  • A key to Helms' case is a standard late-dating of the Gospels - all past 70 AD, and as late as 100 AD. This is essential to his case, because the late-dating makes it easier to accept his major premise that the evangelists felt free to create fictions about Jesus - after all, it was too late, so no one could correct them.

    This, of course, is not at all true, even under late-date premises. But what about the pre-70 dates we have suggested? Helms reports in a footnote that he is aware of the case presented by J.A.T. Robinson for earlier dates of the Gospels - but he says that it "does not convince me."

    Does not convince him? That's a very interesting observation on Helms' personal views, but it hardly does the job when it is in regards to a keystone in his arch.

  • 13 -- Helms reads far too much into Luke's preface as saying that literature about Jesus was "flowing"; as Reginald Fuller notes, this is a standard rhetorical line and cannot be unduly pressed into service for an idea of many documents in circulation
  • Helms claims that Paul was one of Luke's "eyewitnesses" with no justification, and his conversion of Paul's testimony in 2 Cor. 12 into "eyewitness testimony" as completely arbitrary. There is no evidence that the early Christians put the words of the heavenly Jesus into the mouth of the one on earth.
  • 14 -- Helms' use of 1 Cor. 11:23 is answered by this and even if correct, makes an illicit jump to assume that if Paul thought this way, then so must have Luke, a method which he broadly defines as that of a "first century thinker" with no documentation that people actually did think this way in the first century.
  • 15 -- on Jesus' words on the cross see here.
  • 16-17 -- Helms' note that Mark gives us "no hint" that Jesus is quoting Ps. 22 on the cross is the objection of a low-context modern. The average Jew would have been quite familiar with the text and not needed the "hint" that a low context modern requires.

    In terms of the difference between Eli and Eloi, Helms' suggestion is overstated. Does Helms suppose that the two very similar words "Eli" or "Eloi", without any contextual clues as was the case with other things said from the cross, would have been found to be any more distinct when said by a man hoisted on a cross ten feet above the ground, suffocating to death, dying of thirst with his tongue swollen, bloodied, beaten and possibly barely conscious? Can we assume that Aramaic was Mark's native tongue and that he wrote as he did to make the words more intelligible to his readers, rather than hypothesizing psychological constructs of i.e., Matthew "self-consciously" changing the text to reflect Ps. 22 better?

    Helms is also in error re languages: Jesus did speak Aramaic, but Hebrew was used in speech as a language of religious matters, and it is far more likely that Jesus spoke Hebrew when he quoted the Psalm.

  • 19 -- Helms shows some awareness of typological thinking, but that the example he uses of Peter using the flood as a "type" of baptism refutes his case for "fiction" in practice is one he misses. Peter certainly believed in a historical flood, so this would be a prima facie example of use of "real history" according to the author to illustrate "real events" in his own time. If Helms' theory were consistent, then he would argue that Peter is "fictionalizing" the practice of baptism.
  • 20 -- there is a difference of no difference between the LXX and Hebrew version of Ps. 16:10 in terms of Peter's use of it in Acts 2:29-31. To be left in Sheol is indeed to be allowed to rot in the grave; "Sheol" was used of the grave figuratively in the OT.

    On invention of speeches in Acts, see here

  • 21 -- a critic claimed this was a "weak" example from Helms, which if true reflects poorly on Helms for putting it first in his book, but I doubt if this is true anyway. Here there is a comparison of the visions of Ezekiel and the vision of Peter on the rooftop of the house in Acts 10. Helms draws four word-parallels as support:

    1. "heaven opened" Ezekiel 1:1, LXX (enoich hoi ouranoi); Acts 10:11 (ten ouranon anegmenon)
    2. "eat" Ezekiel 2:9, Acts 10:3 (phage)
    3. "By no means, Lord" Ezekiel 4:14, Acts 10:14 (medamos, Kyrios)
    4. "uncleanness" Ezekiel 4:14, Acts 10:14 (alcatharton)

    It is fairly easy to see that this case is overstated. Helms must range rather widely in Ezekiel in order to make his point. That's bad enough, but in one case (#1) the parallel is dubious; in most of these cases, the words cited are so commonly used in the OT and the NT, and so regularly in conjunction with events in the Bible overall (the opening of heaven, eating and uncleanness, addressing God as Lord) that they are practically meaningless in terms of what Helms is trying to prove and only support the idea that Luke (or Peter) is making creative application of the OT text in accord with the data above.

    Let's see how:

    1. "heaven opened" Ezekiel 1:1, LXX (enoich hoi ouranoi); Acts 10:11 (ten ouranon anegmenon) -- the same or similar language is found in Gen. 7:11 (of rains), Matt. 3:16, and Rev. 19:11.

      At most for Helms, Luke has adopted a stereotypical phrase signifying the occurrence of a vision, which does not place into question the historicity of the vision itself; more likely, the opening the heavens are a proper mode of operation for such a vision to begin with, especially for someone on a roof (which Ezekiel was not; nor was his vision a thing like Peter's).

    2. "eat" Ezekiel 2:9, Acts 10:3 (phage) -- this word is found only (!) 97 times in the NT and refers to an everyday action. It is also accompanied by a command to rise and kill, with no parallel in Ezekiel, and the word "eat" (found 500+ times in the OT) is used of Ezekiel eating a scroll and there is no similarity in menu or in reason for eating.
    3. "By no means, Lord" Ezekiel 4:24, Acts 10:14 (medamos, Kyrios) -- Only this has any uniqueness, but it is a word used by Luke four times (also Luke 11:36, 12:4). This rather dulls any possibility of connection with Ezekiel, but is just as well Peter using his skill as a religious Jew to model his own refusal. At best for Helms it is Luke rewriting Peter's "no thanks" which hardly puts a dent in the historicity of Peter refusing to eat.
    4. "uncleanness" Ezekiel 4:14, Acts 10:14 (alcatharton) -- not only does Helms ignore that Peter uses two words (koinos, common), he also isn't aware that the word here is used 30 times in the NT, and in a world where ideas of ritual purity, and of cleanness and uncleanness, were dominant. At most again Peter is recalling Ezekiel's words; at best for Helms, Luke adds the word which has a meaning already implicit in the prior word "common".

    Chapter 2


  • 23 -- on Marcan priority see here
  • 24 -- on the "divine man" see here: The process called the 'divine man' motif has very few parallels with the gospel development (see Theissen's Miracle Stories of the Early Christian Tradition, Fortress Press: 1983.), and many doubt if we can speak of a clear concept of the 'divine man' before the 2nd century A.D. --AFTER the NT was written (see David Tiede, The Charismatic Figure as Miracle Worker, Scholars Press: 1972). -- it is false to claim such a broad concept of "mythical biography" existed and Helms gives no example; the example of the angel in Tobit (25) is no more a worthy example that i.e., the Angel of the Lord of Joshua, or the three men appearing to Abraham.

    Regarding the term euangelion; Helms also broadbrushes the word "Savior" similarly with no concern for what these figures "saved" from and "atonement" with no concern for what is being "atoned for".

  • 25 -- there is no justification for the claim that "the beginning of the Gospel" was any sort of "standard phrase" or was "widespread"; Helms gives but one example, of Augustus, and the phrase is actually of "euangelion because of him".
  • 26 -- it is overstatement to claim that the transitional tags in Mark such as "once more" or "one sabbath" mean there is "no historical value" to Mark. There may be no chronological value, but it is clear from these tags that Mark does not intend to impute chronology in these instances (though he may indeed still be reporting events in chronological order and using the tags to express indefiniteness about the time between events).

    In that respect Mark follows the normal practice of ancient biography: Ancient biographies, because they were not strictly history, arranged material either chronologically or topically, depending on the author's purpose.

  • Helms' reasons for regarding Mark as "primitive" are false. Ancient biography also had no reason to mention birth or childhood (since personality was considered static, not developed through time; unusual events might be reported from childhood, but were not required). The lesser amount of teaching is no sign of "primitiveness" and it is not explained how this is so.

    The abrupt ending can only be appealed to fallaciously, since it is probably not the original ending; and moreover, if it were, would make by Helms' reckoning Mark more "primitive" than Paul, who offers a full bodily resurrection 20 years earlier than Mark.

  • There is a presumption of Jesus "rapidly becoming a figure of legend" (with no answer as to how the legend grew so quickly). It is false to state that "accurate information was hard to come by" -- Jews all over the Diaspora regularly returned to Jerusalem for the festivals, and it would be no difficult matter to find out that no one knew of such events as claimed by the missionaries. (More on this issue here.)

    The claim that "modern concepts of historical research did not exist" is simply false. The art was in its infancy, but the concept of reporting that which was true was in existence; see link for page 24 above

  • 29 -- on Mark's use of Malachi and Isaiah see here. Helms believes Mark used Malachi and Isaiah to find out where John did his business; then how is it that the Qumranites applied the text of Malachi to themselves, based on their historical presence in the desert? It is more likely that John did his work in the wilderness in order to purposely invoke Malachi's prediction.
  • The idea that the two feeding stories of Mark are merely duplicates begs the question. Why is it not that Jesus did miracles like this regularly and that Mark and others had a stock of actual incidents to choose from? Helms wants to invoke the second-century account of Jesus' baptism from the Gospel According to the Hebrews as evidence that Mark "may" have had a "variety of accounts of the baptism" to choose from, somehow doesn't consider it an option that it is rather that Mark had a "variety of events to choose from" in the life of Jesus. (More on those feedings later.)
  • 30, 35-39 -- On Jesus' baptism allegedly being problematic: The problems Helms sees as embarrassing do not exist. Mark when properly understood in light of Semitic anthropology does not mean that someone who came to be baptized was being cleansed of sin; they were making a pledge showing that their conscience was clear of sin already -- and if Jesus was sinless, then he was certainly eligible. Moreover the sinlessness of Jesus is an established teaching in the writings of Paul (2 Cor. 5:21), in the book of Hebrews (4:15) and in epistles of Peter (1 Pet. 2:22) and John (1 John 3:5) that are generally recognized as early and authentic even by the most staid critics.

    The first and third are thought by the critics to have been written some 10-30 years before Mark, and some will allow that Hebrews and 1 John were written that early as well. We have proof (from Paul, John and Peter) that the doctrine that Jesus was sinless was promulgated quite clearly and unequivocally within 20 years of Jesus' death and resurrection.

    Few doubt that Mark or anyone else invented the account of Jesus' baptism by John, so this means that the alleged "dilemma" Helms thinks existed, existed already when Paul wrote his second letter to the Corinthians; it means that it existed when Peter wrote his first epistle, and it means that it existed before either of these men wrote, and that it probably was part and parcel of Christian catechism from the very beginning, for we can be fairly sure that neither one invented the doctrine on the spot, and certainly not independently of one another. And Helms would have us believe that this "dilemma" sat around in the pot for some thirty to fifty years before Matthew (or, as some critics prefer, his alleged "community" for which there is not a shred of literary, archaeological, or sociological evidence) recognized the "dilemma," and at once "corrected" Mark's version of events with the little cameo by John the Baptist.

    Then, after this, we are to suppose that Matthew's "community" went on their way, problem solved, while Mark's "community" apparently didn't care about the problem and never did anything about it, at least not in writing, but certainly nothing leaving any evidence. (Or maybe, like Burton Mack's mysterious Q community, they simply vanished off the face of the earth before they could do anything about it.

    Or maybe the critics want to tell us that Peter and Paul didn't know that Jesus was baptized by John, and it only came out later?

    Actually even in Mark the "dilemma" does not exist: "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." In the context of the gospel, this verse -- which appears in some form in all three Synoptics -- is quite clearly supposed to allude to Jesus. Jesus is someone greater than John, more powerful than John, someone so important that John isn't even fit to tie his shoes for him, someone who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.

    Who could possibly exercise such control over the Holy Spirit as John exercises over water? Can someone with sin, or any mere mortal, exercise or be given such enormous control over the Holy Spirit? Would God trust such intimate and blanket control of the Holy Spirit to any old shmoe who had a laundry list of sins in his past? Of course not! And so it is that the sinlessness of Jesus, and the fact that he did not come to baptized because he "needed" it, is clear from the very beginning in Mark to anyone who bothers to read what the text is saying.

    Matthew's John cameo, whether you take it as a genuine recollection of an apostle or a witness, or whether you think he made the whole thing up, serves (in line with Matthew's purpose as a "teaching" gospel) as an explicit explanation of what is already clearly implicit in Mark's Gospel: This person to come isn't someone whom John would consider a candidate for baptism. The only way he would be baptized would be for a different purpose -- which is, as is obvious from the divine voiceover that follows in all three versions, because of obedience: The Father wanted Jesus to be baptized, and this would be in line with the idea that Jesus set an example for others to follow (as in the footwashing episode) as leader of the ekklesia.

  • 31 -- Helms wants to read in adoptionism; it won't work. Note the connection that Paul's epistles and the Gospels make of Jesus with divine Wisdom, thereby including Jesus in what Bauckham calls the "divine identity" and thus identified as an eternal being. Helms even admits (34) that Mark regards Jesus as pre-existent, but finds this contrary to the adoptionism he finds implied at the baptism. The matter is resolved by noting that the declarations of God at the baptism are not a proclamation of adoption on the spot, but rather public proclamations of identity, necessary in a group-oriented society for Jesus' identity to be recognized.
  • 34 -- Helms notes wording similarities between descriptions of Elijah in 2 Kings 1 and of John the Baptist in Mark 1:6. Both are described as wearing a "leather belt" (zonen dermatinen) around their waists (peri ten osphyn autou in Mark; ten osphyn auto in 1 Kings). From this we are apparently to deduce that Mark simply made up things about John in order to match him to Elijah.

    This is too much made of such things. Leather belts were, after all, standard wear in this time for desert-dwellers, and where else would you wear them but around your waist? But under the rubrics first described above, the common inclination in Judaism would be to take purposeful, dynamic and obvious actions in order to draw a purposeful parallel and thereby deliver a message: Jesus purposely chose 12 disciples to represent the 12 tribes of Israel, and stayed 40 days in the wilderness to purposefully parallel the Exodus. Similarly today, a hunger striker may fast 14 hours, one for each of 14 prisoners being held against their will. Symbolic acts such as these, created to invoke a particular point, are part of normal human communication.

    With that in mind, it is not improbable that John the Baptist himself purposefully did things to invoke the "spirit of Elijah." In doing so, he would clearly be asserting fulfillment of OT prophecy. Our own 21st century minds find such demonstrative actions difficult to comprehend - perhaps because we are over-saturated with television advertisements that try to do much the same thing.

    We must, however, look at this from the perspective of the culture of the NT, realizing that such intentional invocation of a given concept was par for the course, and that the "truth" of the identification would be proved by other means - to wit: If John wished to invoke the "spirit of Elijah," then he would be tested to see if he deserved to do so - as indeed he was questioned by the religious leaders of his time. Rather than Mark inventing symbolic history, we have John enacting symbolic history.

  • 38 -- Helms thinks John's Gospel has covered up Jesus' baptism, apparently thinking that when John saw the Spirit coming down (1:32-33) he was just standing around doing nothing rather than doing his usual job of baptizing. In other words, Helms thinks John has Jesus just conveniently walking over to John's area for no reason.
  • 39 -- Helms thinks he found a problem in "Matthew's embarrassed fiction that John, knowing already who Jesus was, tried to dissuade him from baptism..." There is no "embarrassment" here; John was being a normal person in an honor-shame setting who would be tenuous in accepting the honor of baptizing one so great.
  • 40 -- on Mark 4:10-12 see here

    Chapter 3

  • Generally on harmonizing the Nativity stories, see here
  • 43 -- on Mark 3:20-1 and similar verses as alleged precluding events of the Nativity scenes, see here
  • 44 -- Mark 12:35-7 is a rabbinic-style riddle; hearers are supposed to resolve the question and conclude that Jesus *is* the Son of David in question. How Helms gets a denial of a Davidic Christ out of it is not explained.
  • 44-48 -- On the genealogies of Jesus see here and here
  • 45 -- Helms asks why trace the lineage to Joseph; the simple answer is that Jesus obtained legal ancestry via adoption.
  • On the validity of the Ebionite beliefs, see here
  • 48-49 -- Helms misreads Matthew in terms of what Joseph planned to do when divorcing Mary. It is not a matter of the process not being "legal and public" but rather, the reference is to how publicly Mary would be exposed to shame in an honor-shame setting. The certificate before 2 or 3 witnesses was actually a very "quiet" or "private" form of divorce compared to a public taking to court in which Joseph could have demanded his dowry back and made a big public fuss about it.
  • On Is. 7:14 see here -- Helms admits the use of exegetical techniques such as described here, but calls them "foolish" and declares a literal reading "sensible". I wonder if he would be that tolerant if one of his students said such things about the literature of other cultures.
  • 50 -- Helms cites "virgin births" that which are not, but rather divine seed sown. His example of Periktione is not clearly a virgin birth. All it says is that Plato's father tried to make Plato's mother pregnant and failed, and when Apollo appeared to him, he stopped having relations with her, and she had Plato thereafter. The exact quote: And Speusippus, in his book which is entitled the Funeral Banquet of Plato, and Clearchus in his Panegyric on Plato, and Anaxilides in the second book of his History of Philosophers, say that the report at Athens was that Perictione was very beautiful, and that Ariston endeavoured to violate her and did not succeed; and that he, after he had desisted from his violence saw a vision of Apollo in a dream, in consequence of which he abstained from approaching his wife till after her confinement.

    This is far from clearly a virgin birth.

  • 51 -- Helms finds it "puzzling" that Mary, who is about to marry, would wonder at the notion that she would conceive. Answer: The message to Mary indicates no delay in the conception.
  • 52 -- Helms quotes John 7:27, but forgets to quote John 7:42: "Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where David was?" So is refuted his claim that we do not see anyone "eagerly eyeing the village of Bethlehem". As Witherington notes, what we see here is a reflection of multiple traditions within Judaism about the Messiah.
  • On Luke's account of the census
  • 53 -- Helms writes generally as if the LXX gave the Christians ammunition lacking in the Hebrew text, but gives little in the way of examples of how the text was less "helpful" in Hebrew; see more here. It is a false generalization to claim that Christians "specialized" the technique of reading the text oracularly; the technique was in broad use by numerous Jewish parties (see link for p. 49)
  • 54-6 -- with reference to the star, Helms as a Skeptic would of course dismiss the idea of deliberate imitation by praxis, in this case as ordained by God; the original source would be Num. 24:17. As a whole, however, Helms' attempt to find the origins of the whole Matthean complex via a mix and match of elements he finds by hopping all around the ancient literary world is an argument in search of an actual basis.

    Given such license to hop from any story to any story, it would be possible to concoct any thesis of "borrowing" and declare any later element inauthentic. All Helms has to do is find a bare similarity and ignore the differences.

    Helms admits that the Jeremiah passage Matthew uses is "strangely irrelevant" to the Slaughter of the Innocents, which in turn should have told him that it is more likely that Matthew called out the oracle to describe rather than create history.

  • 57 -- re Ex. 4:19: In a work devoted particularly to this issue, Allinson writes in The New Moses that it was Matthew's purpose to draw a parallel between Moses, the greatest Jewish prophet, and Jesus, whom he saw as the fulfillment of Moses. So, for example, Helms' citation of a parallel between Ex. 4:19 and Matt. 2:20 ("All that sought thy life are dead"/"those who sought the child's life are dead") indicates not a purposeful fiction by Matthew, but a parallel drawn from real events and phrased in such a way as to invoke the prior citation, per comments above. The same process was used for Hos. 11:1.
  • 58 -- Helms supposes that the angel has "forgotten to warn Joseph that Judaea is still to volatile for them." Was an angel omniscient to know where Joseph was thinking of going?

    Helms also thinks it odd that having another Herod in Galilee made it as dangerous as Judaea; he obviously is unaware of the fact that Archaelaeus was a much more dangerous ruler than Antipas, the former having to be deposed, the latter ruling with great stability for a longer period. On Matt. 2:23 see here

  • 59 -- Helms repeats the dictum about a journey during pregnancy; see relevant portion here, plus link above on census and here
  • 60 -- the appeal to Is. 1:3 as a "source" for the manger is off; Helms seems to think all he has to do is find the same word in the OT and he has found a "source," so presumably Mary could not have given birth to Jesus in a "bed" without invoking Gen. 48:2. The allusion to swaddling clothes Helms finds reflects a universal practice of the day of swaddling infants (Malina and Rohrbaugh, social science commentary on Luke 2:6-7, 297).
  • 61 -- Helms' understanding of the definition of faith needs to be informed by this. How Helms deduces that descriptions of Jesus as compassionate lead to a conclusion that there is "fiction" at work is a mystery that would also render the descriptions of the likes of Mother Theresa fictitious.
  • 62 -- here again would be an example of deliberate fulfillment by praxis, as Jesus enacted Is. 35:5 and other passages purposely.
  • 63 -- Glenn Miller has analyzed the alleged parallels to Elijah and Elisha here. It would not occur to Helms that Jesus might travel purposely to Nain (near the site of a similar miracle of Elijah, but not the SAME site) to raise a dead person and thus re-enact in a superior way the miracle of Elijah, thus showing himself to be superior to Elijah.
  • 64 -- Does Helms really think that reuse of the phrase "and it came to pass" signifies fiction? This can't be reused for any historical situation? Helms also makes an issue of there having been no archaeological evidence of "gate" at Nain and claims it is fictionally transferred from the OT parallel; presumably he hasn't consdiered that the Nainites kept their animals in the village with a wooden structure that would not survive. He also does not suppose that a miracle would certify ANY prophet.
  • 66 -- see same link above on Jairus' daughter; once again we would see deliberate imitation as a praxis by Jesus, not be the NT writers. Helms also does not suppose that anyone would be "ecstatic with great ecstasy" to have their child returned from the dead.
  • 67 -- healing lepers would likewise be a deliberate praxis of Jesus. Bultmann's comments on Mark 1:40-5 are arbitrary declarations; see here for how such as these have been overturned by further research.
  • 68 -- Helms makes issue of Luke's reference to the "midst of Samaria and Galilee" claiming there is no such place; Evans [Evan.Lk, 25] replies to this charge by noting that Luke's words are literally, "through the middle of Samaria and Galilee" -- which may suggest an erroneous view as the critics suppose, but may also indicate "only that while on his way to Jerusalem [Jesus] was in the general vicinity of both provinces."

    The phrasing is imprecise, but can hardly be considered erroneous. Helms does not suppose that the Samaritan would return to a Samaritan priest and not a Jewish one. Nor does he suppose that someone just might come back and thank someone who healed them.

  • 69 -- where does Helms find a story about "ten blind men"? On Jericho see here, section titled "Luke's Accuracy as a Historian". The healing of the man with the withered hand would again be deliberate fulfillment as praxis by Jesus; note again though that Helms fails to consider vast differences in the stories (king vs peasant healed; in synagogue vs before altar; God withered the hand vs natural disorder, etc.)
  • 70 -- Helms does not see that the act of "heightening" would be Jesus' own prerogative as a way of showing that he was superior to Elijah and Elisha (in the model of "one greater than Solomon is here") and he begs the question when he speaks of "novelizing" to make the story more "realistic," etc. The example of the loss and healing of the servant's ear (otarion) with Amos predicting a rescue of either two legs or an earlobe of a lamb (Amos 3:13, lobon) is yet another example of Helms thinking all he has to do is find the same word in the OT or a similar one, and there is the antecedent.
  • 71 -- see link p. 61 above re allegations of differences in Matthew and Mark concerning Jesus' capability and faith -- there is no such difference as Helms envisions
  • 72 -- Helms thinks Matthew and Luke would have rejected Jesus' use of spittle or ritual as "unthinkable" which is odd given that John, supposedly the Gospel with the highest Christology, does the same (John 9:11). It is more likely that they did not use there stories from Mark because they had other stories they wanted to tell than that there was some conscious effort to remove these sorts of stories. If anything they would be excellent demonstrations of how the natural order served Jesus.

    As for Mark 8:23-5, if Helms thinks this would be embarrassing, why did Matthew and Luke not remove other instances of Jesus' ignorance, like not knowing when the end of the age would be, and who touched him in the crowd?

  • 73 -- Helms sees a story "growing" from Luke to Matthew, even though he aligns himself with those who see Luke written after Matthew or independent of it, which means the story actually did or could have "shrank". On the fig tree see here.
  • 74 -- it is an overread to suppose that Matthew moves the fig tree to the roadside "so that Jesus with his supernatural knowledge will not unknowingly make a needless trip to gather fruit" -- if that were so, why have Jesus walk up to the tree to get fruit at all? How have the "supernatural" Jesus not know the time of the end (Matt. 11:27)? The healing of the centurion's servant -- another "deliberate" act by Jesus.
  • 75 -- see link for p. 63 above on the feedings
  • 76 -- walking on water, likewise by Jesus a deliberate signal of his power, per Ps. 107 and also Job 9:8
  • 77-80 -- on Jonah again see link, p. 63
  • 78 -- what Helms sees as a "rude" remark ("Do you not care?") is no such thing; it is the expected request of a client to their patron in a difficult situation. Hence his claim of Matthew being "unhappy" with the remark is misplaced; it is in fact a request for help, just like Matthew's "Save us, Lord, we are perishing."
  • 79 -- Helms does not see that similar situations allow for similar verbiage. We could say as well that the people on the Titanic were fearful of "perishing" and asked to be "saved" lest they "perish" and that if some god came along and stopped it, they would also "fear".
  • 80 -- the comparison to a story of Buddha is overdone. Helms will need to provide a date of the story, when it is found in manuscripts, and show clear, documented evidence of Buddhist influence in Palestine (simply saying there were such missionaries in the area as early as the 2nd century BC, without backup, is insufficient).

    Chapter 5

  • 83 -- as noted above, Helms' definition of faith is incorrect. There is no difference between John and the Synoptics; both illustrate a client-patron relationship and the "circle dance" of grace and faith (loyalty) -- it is also errant to say that the Synoptics "explicitly reject" John's word for miracles (semeion) for they in no way do so; they merely do not use it by choice
  • 84 -- Helms self-contradicts, at once making light of the low number of miracles in John as though it is significant, then noting, but missing the contradictory point of, John 20:30-1. The lesser amount of miracles is not "strange" once it is understood that the primary purpose of John is as a "resocializing" document.
  • 86 -- on Jesus' alleged rudeness to his mother, see here; on the alleged parallel to Dionysus see here -- Helms again is merely ranging about freely, cobbling together from any story that he thinks might be an antecedent, while ignoring vast differences
  • 88 -- Helms does not suppose that Jesus -- AND perhaps even Rabbi Hanina -- were purposely re-enacting elements of a miracle of Elijah.
  • 89 -- Helms thinks that conversations at a well with a woman are a "type scene," missing the point that it is no more so than gathering around a water cooler -- it reflects an elements of daily life; women daily went to get water at a well, and this was a time for socialization and encounters with others (including potential husbands) with the same need -- water.

    He does not see that to speak of "modifications of the pattern" with Ruth, Saul, and Jesus begs the question of the "type scene" (versus real life) and changes the theory to fit the facts -- scenes that fit he mold are "type scenes"; scenes that do not fit are not considered to be not-type scenes, but rather are "modifications" on the type scene.

  • 90 -- another example of such question-begging as Helms admits there are no "verbal parallels between John's Greek and the Septuagint", so he concludes to preserve his theory that "the story came to him from oral tradition or a written source dependent upon the Aramaic or Hebrew" where he assumes parallels would be found supporting his thesis.
  • 91 -- more of the same, as without so much as a verbal parallel, Helms takes the man with crippled legs in John 5:5-9 and sees it as a version of Mark's man with a withered hand. He adds the description "withered" on his own to make a parallel.
  • 92 -- Helms does not see that opposition to Jesus' works -- which were a clear slap in the face to the powers that be in both cases -- is a natural result in both cases and that the instruction to take up one's mat (standard equipment) and walk would be what would be said to someone healed of such disorders every time. He also suits the theory to the facts by now arguing for a "blending" of stories from Mark 2 and 3 to make the story in John 5. As before, Helms just flits from place to place to cobble together antecedents, which makes his claim of fictionalizing even more difficult to accept.
  • 92-3 -- as is done with the story from Asclepius healing a blind man. It does not occur to Helms that a word form of "see again" or "opened the eyes" would be used for ANY restoration of sight, and he does not see a difference between anointing with clay and anointing with a salve made of blood and honey.
  • 94-5 -- Helms' endorsement of the Secret Gospel of Mark is refuted here and by Stephen Carlson's book The Gospel Hoax
  • 96-7 -- on Osiris see here -- there is no parallel to Lazarus in Osiris' restoration to life; there is no match other than the universals of belief in afterlife and historical Jewish and Egyptian burial practices. Helms once again makes the theory suit the facts: In order to make Lazarus, Mary and Martha into a parallel for Osiris and his two sisters in John, he hypothesizes that Luke's mention only of Mary and Martha, rather than being a pointer towards a historical threesome in John, is actually evidence of John's faulty memory as he combined the two sisters with Lazarus.

    On the anointing women see here.

  • 98 -- Helms connects Bethany with Osiris' burial place, Annu, and locale, the house of Anu, by arguing that "House of Anu" is "readily Semiticized" to "Beth-anu". But there was a historical locale named Bethany and that the name meant "house of dates". The name "Lazarus" he similarly explains as a "semitized" version of Osiris, "El-Osiris," but there is a direct connection to the Hebrew name Eleazar, which means "El (God) protects".
  • 99-100 -- Helms once again expands his database, hopping around utterances numbering as many as 703 to match up with 5 verses in John 11. His parallels involve either universal elements of death and burial (weeping, words like "dead" and "slept") or commonalities of Egyptian and Jewish burial practice (wrappings).

    The vast differences, and the likely inaccessibility of the Pyramid Texts Helms appeals to (to John especially), are not explained; the point that John would hardly record a story he did not believe were historical, are explained away by appeal to the unproven theory that John used a previous source, which only moves the problem back to another person.


    Chapter 6

  • 102 -- here Helms offers a rationale for the facts not fitting his theories. He believes Mark wrote first, and that Matthew copied Mark; yet Matthew and not Mark shows more signs of parallels to the OT in the story of the Triumphal Entry. Rather than conclude, as this suggests, that Mark and Matthew are reporting historical events which were later reflected upon and described using OT passages (as indeed Jesus' entry would have been a deliberate invoking of Zechariah) Helms comcludes that Mark "seems not to have been aware" that the story was created from Zechariah's text.

    In other words, to explain the lack of substantiation for his theory, Helms merely hypothesizes an unknown prior source that WAS informed of the method, then supposes someone forgot or removed this information, and that Mark never knew or noticed, but that Matthew was more "aware" and restored the information Mark lost.

    When does the threshold pass "fiction" and when does Helms' theory actually get disproven by the facts?

  • 103 -- on Mark 11:1 see here. Helms does not specify what "danger and unlikelihood" there is in riding an unbroken and untrained animal and does not possess the zoological knowledge to make such a statement. It is actually unlikely that a foal would be such a danger.
  • 104 -- on the donkeys see here. Helms does not suppose that the people in this type of society (see 5 points above) would not draw from the Psalms to praise a Messianic claimant.
  • 105 -- Helms' list of "common features" (via Robbins) between Mark 11:1-6 and 14:13-16 includes common words like "he said to them", "and", "will", "say," "the", "they,", and "had", words that are certainly not so rare that they would never be used in independent accounts reporting two different historical events.
  • 106 -- again Helms uses a convenient rationale when the data fails to cooperate: It is John who uses Ps. 40:5 explicitly to refer to Judas; Mark does not, but that is because he does not realize "what his source has done".
  • 107-8 -- on the time of the Last Supper see here
  • 109 -- Helms seems to think it a great problem trying to decide whether, i.e., Jesus said "Take this, this is my body" or "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me". Once again, Helms conveniently has his earliest source, Mark, not knowing all the allusions to the OT in the Gethsemane story, while Luke manages to restore what Mark lost. The pointer should be to Mark relating history and Luke, as a man of this culture (see points above) seeing ways to cast the story in light of OT passages, if anything; but to keep the theory alive, it is rather hypothesized that Mark lost what Luke recovered.

    Not that it matters, for Helms' connections to Elijah fleeing Ahab are overdone:

    • "In both stories the prophet knows the rulers seek his arrest and death."

      Is it utterly impossible that any such thing as an arrest and execution could be repeated> Of course since even secular history says that Jesus was executed by authorities (and therefore must have been arrested) it is odd that Helms cannot see this as a parallel made by real history.

    • "In both, the prophet leaves behind his servant or disciples and seeks solitude under a tree or in a garden among olive trees"

      Note how Helms equivocates here; he equates a single "servant" with "disciples"; he ignores that Elijah's servant plays no role while Jesus' disciples accompany him; he equates one tree with many, which are not even mentioned in the text.

    • "where he prays to be delivered" --

      Did Jews seldom if ever pray for deliverance by Yahweh?

    • "In both, an angel appears to strengthen him (telling Elijah to 'arise'; as Jesus tells his followers to 'arise')" --

      The difference in who is told to arise and why (prayer/sleep) is ignored.

    • "the prophet then goes forth to meet his fate" --

      Which Jesus did do historically (see point 1).

    All in all, only the angel giving strength is any sort of unusual parallel, and that is nought but the typical role of angels in the Jewish paradigm.

  • 110-12 -- on witnesses to Jesus' suffering in Gethsemane see here. Helms does not think of Jesus (per his cultural norms) using the words of Jonah and perhaps the Psalms to express himself.
  • 113 -- having decided that Zech. 11 was used to create Judas Iscariot, Zech. 11:17, which is said to speak of the bad shepherd being struck with a sword on his right eye and arm, is said to be "transferred" to Malchus arresting Jesus and being struck on his ear. With this kind of "transferring", literary equivocation, Helms is able to make anything suit or support his theory.
  • 114, 116 -- on Matthew's use of the OT to describe Judas, and Judas' death, see here. In this instance we DO see a probable example of Matthew using an OT text that does not fit well the actual death of Judas, but as argued in the link, we do not see that he intends such a thing. Matthew's reference to the thirty pieces of silver may be of a similar nature, but given that this amount would be sensible for the time, it may also be an accurate historical reflection, or a close estimate (i.e., if Judas were given 28 pieces, why not round to 30 for effect?).
  • 115 -- on Matt. 27:3-10 see here
  • 117 -- Helms finds it difficult to imagine a need for Judas' role, for "Jesus and his movements were well known to the authorities," including presumably his private movements in the middle of the night to a deserted garden, away from the people. Helms sees no need for the kiss either, having not seen either 1) an unnecessary and ingratiating move by a "stool pigeon", or b) a night dark enough to obscure identities from a distance. Helms tries to find the death of Judas in Acts sourced in 2 Sam. 20:10 on the basis of one Greek word (but see our take here).
  • 118 -- on sources of data for Jesus' trial see here. Helms finds parallels in Daniel for such commonplace, trial-necessary words as "sought", "occasion," "against him," "stood up," "false evidence," and "standing up".
  • 119 -- Helms falsely sees confusion between Mark and John on what the false witnesses say. Does he expect the false witnesses to have known that Jesus referred to his body and not the actual Temple? He cannot imagine Jesus purposely fulfilling the role of Is. 53's servant by being silent, and seems to suppose that Is. 53's prediction required Jesus to be silent 100% of the time.
  • 120 -- it is hard to say where Helms gets the idea that the High Priest saying "God" is some sort of blasphemy. It isn't. He sees Is. 50:6 as the source for Jesus being scourged and spit upon and struck. Since these were normal practices for status degradation prior to execution, by this logic, the Romans and Jews must have designed their preliminaries of scourging, and humiliation of all prisoners, by reading Is. 50:6. It is also an error to claim that Matthew 26:64 is ambiguous; see here
  • 121 -- The claim of Simon of Cyrene as a fictional "un-(Simon) Peter" is disproven on the point that the name "Simon" was the most popular male Jewish name of the day, used by a significant percentage of the population (Josephus mentions 20 alone) and thus far from a remarkable coincidence requiring a thesis of symbolic fiction and a response by John to Gnosticism.
  • 122 -- presumably as well, since the Romans actually DID give their victims drugged wine to drink before crucifixion, their practice was based on a reading of Ps. 69. How Helms gets this as an act of "mockery" in Matthew is unknown.
  • 124 -- The thesis that John has the sponge put on "hyssop" to reflect a Passover symbol runs aground on the point that the word used is more likely a corruption of a Greek word for a Roman spear. Presumably also the Roman soldiers, who normally split the possessions of the victims of crucifixion, did this because of Ps. 21. Helms once again declares as fiction something that reflects known historical practice.
  • 125-6 -- on the hour of the crucifixion see here
  • 126 -- presumably, the people who jeered and shook their heads at Jesus, as they did to all victims of crucifixion, created this practice long before Jesus on the basis of Lamentations 2:15?
  • 127 -- If Helms claims Matthew could use Ps. 22 to create fiction, why can't the people have been just as creative and done it for real, considering that such creativity was an honorable activity in their society (see above)? Or, why not also that the people's sentiments were basically the same, expressed individually, and that Matthew used Ps. 22 to accurately sum up their view?

    Chapter 7

  • 130 -- Helms' comments on 1 Cor. 15 lacking information on the Gospel resurrection stories is misplaced. As a creedal statement it is designed for a specific purpose of certifying key witnesses to the resurrection by church leadership figures and by the body at large.

    It is therefore baseless to claim that the Gospel accounts had "not yet been invented" based on what 1 Cor. 15 does not say. Helms is also in error about the nature of resurrection in Paul.

  • 131-2 -- On the meaning of "twelve" to Paul see here. Helms begs the question of whether the prophecy in Hosea 6:1-2 inspired a fictional record or an actual act. He is aware of Jewish exegetical methods and admits they are "bizarre" to "modern eyes". On time in the tomb see here item 12.
  • 133 -- other than the begged question of Marcan priority, it does not occur to Helms that Mark 16:8 could hardly have been unsatisfying to Matthew for the women not telling anyone of of the resurrection, for the mere presentation of the story bespeaks them telling someone.
  • 134 -- Once again for convenience, Helms supposes that Mark "apparently did not recognize" that certain of his Gospel accounts were based on the OT, thus that he lost knowledge that some unknown before him, and Matthew after him, did have. The theory dictates the facts yet again.
  • 135 -- Helms offers the "Paul was unaware of the empty tomb" argument, missing not only to the nature of resurrection in Paul (see link in 130 above) but that Paul's "buried" and "rose" unerringly implies an empty tomb. Helms also does not try to explain how the Gospels invented a prominent figure like Joseph and attributed actions to him he did not perform.

    The comparisons to Daniel in the lion's den are somewhat overdone:

    • "the leader of a nation opposed to a spokesman for God's people (Darius of Persia, Joseph of Arimathea)" -- note again that Helms does not explain how such invented actions could be attributed to a prominent person like Joseph, and how he also adds "of Persia" to Darius in order to create an extra semblance of a parallel not found in the text; furthermore, he has collapsed Darius (a king) and Joseph (a Sanhedrin member) down into the word "leader", thus generalizing to a lower common denominator to achieve a parallel
    • "yet one who in his heart reveres that spokesman" -- here again an illicit collapsing of terms; to describe both Darius and Joseph as "revering" Daniel/Jesus is generalizing to achieve a parallel
    • "though greatly distressed, feels obliged to place the spokesman into a pit in the ground and cover it with a stone" -- there is no sign that Joseph was distressed; the "obliged" in both cases would be a matter of legal/historical record (the Sanhedrin, as noted by Byron McCane, would be obliged to provide a burial place), and next we will hear that the Jewish practice of using stones over graves was done because of what is recorded in Daniel.

      Note the equivocation of prepositions as a Jewish grave is hardly a "pit" and it is not "in the ground". That Helms must equivocate to make a parallel points towards Matthew using real history, whether he is alluding to Daniel or not

    • "an act that clearly meant the spokesman's end" -- as would be with any execution.
    • "In both cases the death of the spokesman is required by law" -- once again, illicit generalization. There is no parallel in Jesus' case to a law of the Persians forcing the Sanhedrin's hand, and if Helms agreed that the historical Jesus was crucified, then he must admit that the "required by law" part is real history
    • "in both, the executor of the law is reluctant to enforce it" -- now Helms must free-range from Joseph to Pilate to make the parallel, but he is wrong about Pilate being reluctant, and his motives were far different from Darius' -- see here
    • "late in the afternoon both heroes are placed in the pit" -- they obviously had to be placed in at some time; if it were different, Dennis McDonald or Helms would claim it was a "transvaluation". Beyond that nowhere does it say it was late afternoon when Daniel was put in the den.
    • "In both stories a stone is put over the opening" -- again, presumably, we will hear that the Jewish practice of using stones over graves was done because of what is recorded in Daniel?
    • ""in both the placer of the stone has hope in the providence of God" -- Helms equivocates with terminology again, for he uses the note that Joseph "looked forward to the Kingdom of God" and this is not said at all in relation to putting Jesus in the tomb; beyond that, every Jew "looked forward to the Kingdom of God"
    • "Early on a subsequent morning" -- note how Helms collapses down the difference between Daniel's next day and the Gospel's two days with the word "subsequent".
    • "the pit is approached by those who care deeply for the hero" -- now Helms free-ranges so that Darius, formerly paralleled by Darius, then Pilate, is now matched by the women. Note as well that a grave is not a "pit" or a den, and "care deeply" is vague and generalizing language that could describe an enormous range of human behavior
    • "Next comes joyful news" -- more vague generalizing, as the content of the news is very different, and in any event the "joyful news" is proclaimed long before the Gospels were published, in Helms' view
    • "the stone is removed" -- by entirely different agencies, of course
    • "death is miraculously overcome" -- by far different means, and Daniel was never dead
    • "deliverance is assisted by an angel" -- no, the angels in the Gospels "delivered" no one -- they pushed a rock, they gave a message. No parallel. If Matthew is using Daniel, it is in such a way that he could use Daniel to report genuine history, as described in our points above.
  • 136 -- it is false that Mark does not make clear that the young man is an angel; Josephus calls an angel a "young man" and the appearance of such a person in a long, white garment signifies "angel", so that this is indeed, despite Helms, "unmistakably angelic".
  • 137 -- on the women's role in Matthew, see here; on the nature of the resurrection body see here. Mark could in no way have conceived of a "resuscitated corpse, who required that the stone be moved" for Jesus to leave, and neither Matthew nor Paul would teach the "spiritual" resurrection Helms hypothesizes
  • 138-9 -- on the tomb guard see here
  • 140-1 -- Helms claims that Matthew has "invented" the instruction by Jesus to go to Galilee, apparently having missed Matthew 26:32. He notes that Jesus draws on Daniel 7 in Matthew 28:18-20, which is intentional as Jesus identified himself with the Son of Man in Daniel 7. Helms does not have the imagination to suspect that Jesus identified himself with this figure rather than it being Matthew who did so.

    On the formula as an interpolation see here.

  • 143 -- Helms does not suppose that confronted with any angel, any person (especially a Jew) would indeed turn their faces to the ground and be able to describe their white clothes as "lightning-like".
  • 144 -- on the disciples going to Galilee see here
  • 145 -- Luke and John are in agreement, for John does not say that Peter and John believed before they got to the tomb, which is in accord with Luke's note that they did not believe what the women told. Mary Magdalene in John does not doubt, but does not know what has happened. Helms inserts a "now" in John 20:17 that does not belong; John does not have Jesus ascend to heaven at once, as he has resurrection appearances in the very next passage.
  • 146 -- Helms falsely connects Jesus' "I am" statements to the book of Tobit -- see here. He is also unaware that "peace by with you" is a standard Jewish greeting and "fear not" a standard word of God and angels in the OT, both equal to us saying "hello" and "goodbye".
  • 147 -- Helms incorrectly sees Jesus imparting the Holy Spirit to the disciples in John 20:22 -- this was not an impartation but a symbolic enactment of the Pentecost event. John also did not need to Tobit for Thomas' "my Lord and my God" -- both overwhelmingly standard titles for God in Judaism.
  • 148 -- on authorship of John see here, including the "Zebedee" issue
  • 149 -- on the return of Jesus see this series

    Conclusion: Helms' arguments carry very little weight, for they are drawn from the slenderest evidence and are uninformed by numerous and relevant sociological considerations. For our critique of Helms' second book, go here.


    -JPH