Apr 26 2012

The air is full of feathers

I can never catch up. You know how that goes.

And I can even less catch up right now because I read one post and then I have to read posts linked in trackbacks and before you know it the afternoon is gone. This will not do! I could have built a cathedral in the time.

I read this self-confessed rant about Carrier on Ehrman (and, somewhat mystifyingly, also on PZ on Carrier on Ehrman). I read Ehrman on Carrier on Ehrman. I’m going to read Vridar on all three and our friend Eric on all three.

I’ll tell you the truth: I’m not reading them to get a better understanding of the scholarship on Jesus. I’m reading them because there’s so much in them that’s funny. That’s also why I’m sharing them with you. Don’t bother with them if you’re interested in Jesus studies, but do if you want a laugh.


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  1. 1
    'Tis Himself

    That Hoffman feller sure gets in a snit about atheists not believing in his favorite pet god and even questioning Jesus’s veru existence. Have they no couth?

  2. 2

    The Jesus discussion is an interesting one, but I notice there seems to usually be one group of experts missing in the discussion – fiction writers.

    As a fiction writer, I can tell you that there are particular tools a fiction writer uses to make their story interesting and readable, and to persuade the reader to suspend disbelief and pretend along with them. These tools are rampant in the New Testament. They usually aren’t utilized that much by history (though I will admit that in ancient times some of their history gets pretty out there as they try to outdo each other…still…)

    Perhaps it’s time to start considering that, when a story reads like fiction, and uses the tools cherished by fiction writers everywhere, it might be time to consider…is it possibly fiction? Intended to be fiction all the time? And then someone took it seriously?

    Sort of like my dad taking The DaVinci Code seriously…and all the people I know who cite the Left Behind series as though it is non-fiction. Bleh.

  3. 3

    iknklast, the mythological parts are clearly fiction–nobody but the fundies dispute that.

    It’s the buried bits of (possible) Jesus-biography that don’t fit the fictional narrative that suggests there may have been an actual person behind the stories.

    Of course, after 2,000 years, there’s just not much evidence left. Hence the ruffled feathers.

  4. 4

    Wow, that Hoffman piece really is a vituperative little rant. The problem is that even if he is able to prove that some mystic rabbi with a name similar to Jesus actually existed, which in itself is going to be difficult given the paucity of the evidence (despite the exorbitantly funded and biased ‘scholarship’ going back almost 2,000 years), he will then have to show that the guy wasn’t just some Bronze Age Ron L. Hubbard.

  5. 5

    *L. Ron*, but you know who I mean …

  6. 6
    Anthony K

    Have they no couth?

    I know, right? Can you believe purported followers of the scientific method ignoring the “complex evidence of textual and linguistic studies as though it weren’t there”?

    These kids today got no respect for nobody…

  7. 7

    I’m pretty much uninterested in this. It doesn’t matter one whit whether there was, or was not, an unknown historical person who may heve been named Yeshue bar Yussef. What matters is that the myth of his divinity has been completely exploded. The myth of his “sacrifice” has been completely discredited. The scriptures of his followers shown to be bogus. The story of his ‘resurrection’ a fable. The evidence shown to be totally non-existent. And his current heirs proved to be a bunch of money-laundering, child-raping mobsters……

  8. 8

    What cracks me up is how Hoffmann practically spits with disgust when he uses the phrase “free thought”.

  9. 9
    Ophelia Benson

    I know; there’s a lot of that. There’s a whole bunch (or should I be elegant and say coterie) of people who generalize wildly about some mythical beast called FTB when the reality is that it’s a collection of [counts] 33 blogs run by different people. It’s not a Party with party discipline, nor is it a single Beast with 33 heads.

    People are funny.

  10. 10

    Brigadista says:

    Wow, that Hoffman piece really is a vituperative little rant.

    The bitterness is drowned out by the plain dishonesty. Since when was mythicism a tenet of new atheism?

  11. 11
    Ophelia Benson

    Not to mention all the showy scorn for Carrier when he published an article by Carrier in an anthology he edited just a few years ago…

  12. 12
    Deepak Shetty

    It’s not a Party with party discipline, nor is it a single Beast with 33 heads.
    Hmm . I always thought you’ll were supposed to be tentacles for some reason.

  13. 13
    Ophelia Benson


    Nah; this is a misconception. PZ and Ed are the behemoths, but they’re not Editors. FTB isn’t one big blog, it’s a group of 33 separate blogs.

  14. 14

    I’ve always thought the Jesus story makes sense, in a way, if you take both the stuff in the Bible and the story of early Christianity and hold them at arms length and sort of squint a bit ;) It’s like those Doomsday cults that don’t get discouraged when the world fails to end, they just change the story a little, believe even more strongly and get really enthusiastic about spreading the word to the unsaved. So, their big hero cult leader didn’t save them from the Romans, but… that’s just because he’s actually saving everybody everywhere in an invisible spiritual way, if they’ll just believe what we tell them! And the way this Jesus guy is described in the Bible, he sounds like prime cult leader material.

  15. 15
    Philip L

    The Hoffman rant over at the New Oxonian is unhinged, and really all the effect of the furore is to make me want to sit back on a nice, comfortable sofa with a large supply of popcorn. It’s obvious that the most people who are getting angry about the historicity question have a vested interest in the answer, which is why as Carrier puts it, “I discovered that the field of New Testament studies was so monumentally fucked the task wasn’t as straightforward as I had hoped”. It really seems about as ultimately futile as arguing over whether the invisible, intangible dragon in the garage has one spike on his tail, or two spikes.

  16. 16
    Deepak Shetty

    FTB isn’t one big blog, it’s a group of 33 separate blogs.
    Preaching to the choir :) – though PZ would probably pay good money for a T-Shirt depicting the bloggers as tentacles.

    On the topic at hand I find it funny that Ehrman says no penis nosed statue of Peter exists he actually means No statue of Peter exists whether or not there is such a statue. In which case he should agree with the statement about Jesus should be No fair skinned , blue eyed, virgin born , resurrected Jesus existed.

  17. 17
    Aratina Cage

    I find it funny that Ehrman says no penis nosed statue of Peter exists he actually means No statue of Peter exists whether or not there is such a statue. In which case he should agree with the statement about Jesus should be No fair skinned , blue eyed, virgin born , resurrected Jesus existed. –Deepak Shetty

    Good point. He’s been hoisted with his own petard.

  18. 18

    I’m currently reading–well, OK, I’ve just started–Carrier’s book, but not because I’m interested in the historicity of Jesus. I want to see how he applies Bayesian methods to historical analysis.

    I’ve never quite understood why non-fundamentalist Christians are so hung up on the historicity question. Do Christian ideas somehow cease to have value if the historicity and/or divinity of Jesus is questioned? I’ve asked moderate believers this question, and almost always get an eye-roll and something along the lines of “You just don’t get it, do you?” Which, of course, I don’t.

  19. 19
    Steven Bollinger

    Ophelia, I don’t find these feuds funny, I find them sad. I think they’re a waste, so much hostility exchanged between people who have so many interests in common.

    I guess I can see how someone would find it all funny. So much energy expended over a chicken.

    ‘Tis Himself, that Hoffmann feller is an atheist. Granted, he doesn’t always go a long way out of his way to point that out. And the fact that he does often go out of his way to sharply criticize “New Atheists” as if they were a clearly-defined group — are they? or, are you? as the case may be — often leads, not particularly surprisingly, to the misapprehension that he is not an atheist, not even uncapitalized and without the “New.”

    And that rant Ophelia linked was not his finest hour.

    sailor, I cannot begin to express how uninterested I am in how uninterested people are about whether or not Jesus existed. It amazes me how often people find it necessary to say this. Do you barge into discussions of theoretical math or Impressionism just to tell the participants that the topic of their discussion moves you not a whit? No! Of course you don’t! Such behavior would be bizarre. And it’s bizarre here.

  20. 20
    Ophelia Benson

    Steven, well I find it sad too, but it is also funny in places, in its way.

    I think regular readers probably know that Hoffmann is an atheist. I published many articles by him on the ur-B&W, so he’s not a total stranger around here.

    Why this post in particular? It’s from last April.

  21. 21
    Steven Bollinger

    “Why this post in particular?”

    When I find a blog interesting I tend to dig around in the older posts. And I’ve been reading some of Hoffmann’s stuff lately. (I hope saying so doesn’t mean that people around here will go all Donald-Sutherland-at-the-end-of-Invasion-of-the-Body-Snatchers on me. Among those who aren’t already, that is to say.)

  22. 22
    Ophelia Benson

    Ah. No, I don’t think anyone will point and hiss!

    There have been a lot of not-his-finest-hour rants. That has to do with organizational needs (and feuds and grudges) probably a good deal more than with his real opinions. It is all pretty sad, you’re right.

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