Dykstra on Ehrman & Brodie

Rene Salm has clued me in to another important new peer reviewed journal article, by Tom Dykstra (M.Div.; Ph.D. in Russian History), who is best known for his critically acclaimed book on how the Gospel of Mark is built out of the Epistles of Paul (Mark, Canonizer of Paul: A New Look at Intertextuality in Mark’s Gospel, reviewed by Neil Godfrey at Vridar). His new article is “Ehrman and Brodie on Whether Jesus Existed: A Cautionary Tale about the State of Biblical Scholarship,” published in volume 8.1 of the Journal of the Orthodox Center for the Advancement of Biblical Studies in 2015.

Comparing the books pro and con historicity by Thomas Brodie and Bart Ehrman, Dykstra makes many remarks critical of both authors, but especially Ehrman, and like Philip Davies, argues for greater caution and humility from historicity defenders. He also dismantles Ehrman’s arguments for historicity. Not always effectively (his treatment of the “Brothers of the Lord” argument is conspicuously weak; and he is, IMO, too sympathetic to the all-Paul-as-forgery thesis), but still often illuminatingly.

Dykstra also opens with a good brief on the Thomas Thompson parallel (which ended in the field’s acceptance of OT mythicism), illustrating how Ehrman’s (and McGrath’s) threats to destroy the career of anyone who even tries arguing against historicity in the field have a frightening precedent in biblical studies that scholars today are still embarrassed by. Even more material on that comes up later as well (pp. 20-21).

Two Interesting Observations

But what I noticed the most about this thirty pages (almost all of it well worth reading) are two things in particular worth calling special attention to.

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The Richard Carrier Exists Tour: Stop 4, Omaha!

Publicity photo showing the tall buildings of downtown Omaha over a lake at dusk.I’ll be announcing the events along the Richard Carrier Exists Tour as they are finalized. Second in is Omaha, Nebraska. That’s my fourth stop on the move across country. And that’s Friday night, May 27. Come verify my historicity! Pictures & signatures welcome.

Sponsored by the Omaha Coalition of Reason, I’ll be speaking on Science as Philosophy in Ancient Rome. In which I’ll talk about “how ancient science evolved from Western philosophy, and set the foundations for modern science, whose remaining connections with philosophy remain nearly the same. What did they accomplish back then? And what has changed?”

Starts at 7:30pm at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, CPACS Building, Room 101 (6001 Dodge Street in Omaha). The CPACS Building is located immediately southeast of the iconic UNO clock tower.

I’ll also be doing Q&A and selling and signing books after.

Tickets $5 in advance, $8 at the door.

Tickets here. More details and updates here.

Appearing at UCLA Next Week!

As I announced earlier, I’m speaking for CFI in two locations this Sunday in Southern California, on why a Jesus was invented at all. But the following Wednesday (April 20 at 5pm), I will be speaking on simply what evidence there is for a historical Jesus, at UCLA, for the Bruin Alliance of Skeptics and Secularists (BASS). Ironically named given my recent debate. But no relation. :-)

Details here.

We’ll be meeting in the Ackerman building, room 3516. Which is the Student Union, at 308 Westwood Plaza, Los Angeles, CA.

This will be a straightforward listing of the evidence that’s been offered (“The Historical Jesus: What Evidence Do We Have?”), and what the status of it is in the field and why, and what merit I think it has and why (I may also comment on some of the attempts at evidence made by Craig Evans in last night’s debate, which was…interesting). I will of course be selling and signing my books and doing a Q&A.

This supplements the Sunday talks well, so if you are intrigued by what you hear Sunday, you might want to make this talk, too. They won’t have very much overlap. But they address different angles of the same issue. Sunday will be about why they’d make Jesus up. Wednesday will be about what evidence there is that Jesus existed instead.

Brief Note on Euhemerization

This is just a brief note for those interested in my thoughts on Tim Widowfield’s article “What Is Euhemerism?” about what he thinks are confusions regarding the terminology of “Euhemerization.” For the context, see my article “Euhemerization Means Doing What Euhemerus Did.”

Widowfield is confusing what Euhemerus did, with why he did it. This is a basic mistake of Aristotelian categorization. The efficient cause is the act itself that brings about the effect. The final cause is the reason why, the goal being sought, by doing that. Those are two different things.

Aaron Adair, the astronomer who wrote the best book ever on the Star of Bethlehem (seriously, I highly recommend it, for all who want the definitive take-down of that miracle claim), will be presenting an equally well-written paper at the upcoming national meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature on this point that documents what I’m saying extensively, but it will be awhile before that will be available to cite.

TL;DR, Euhemerization is doing what Euhemerus did: convert a non-historical deity into a deified historical man (in contrast to deification, which is when an actual historical man is converted into a deity). Why he did that is actually widely debated. We don’t actually have the text in question, only hostile reactions to it, which quote selectively from it or paraphrase it (how accurately we can’t tell). But whatever his reasons for doing it, his reasons for doing it are not what he did, but why. And as Adair shows (and as do I, though less directly, in OHJ, e.g. in my discussions of Romulus and Osiris), many people did the same thing (used the same process) to accomplish different things. Some wanted to rationalize cosmic myths. Some wanted to hide them from the uninitiated. Some wanted to polemicize against them. But what they all did in common, is the same one thing: convert a non-historical deity into a deified historical man. A trend begun by Euhemerus. And thus so called.

This is the problem with trying, as Widowfield does, to create an analogy between Darwinism, which is by definition not teleological, with an actual goal-oriented human activity. The latter differentiates between the act itself and its purpose. And as such, the same act (smelting steel, say) can be turned to many more purposes than its originators intended or imagined (you can smelt steel to make swords, plowshares, or literal flying machines). What you create is different from how you use it. Euhemerus did not invent his idea, but he popularized it. How people thus inspired then used that idea varied, as each user had their own goals, which his idea could be turned to accomplishing.

And this is demonstrated in the historical record.

On the Gullibility of Bart Ehrman & the Asscrankery of Tim O’Neil

As someone recently clued me to, the indomitable asscrank Tim O’Neil had posted a comment on Ehrman’s blog back in 2013 lambasting my peer reviewed article on the James passage in Josephus, to which Ehrman responded “Terrific comments!! Many thanks.”

Hmm. In the comment Ehrman gullibly praised, O’Neil, who has no relevant qualifications but claims to know more than the peer reviewers for the prestigious Journal of Early Christian Studies, told Ehrman that my paper they published (which you can find reproduced, along with my peer reviewed papers on the Thallus and Tacitus passages, among other items, in Hitler Homer Bible Christ) was “riddled with problems,” yet never discusses any of my paper’s actual arguments, or any of my paper’s actual evidence, and instead spews his own lies and mistakes.

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Did the Apostles Die for a Lie?

Photo of a medieval wooden diptych with twelve frames, six on each side, showing in paintings the legendary martyrs deaths of all twelve Apostles (Paul substituted for Judas).Do we have good evidence that Paul or any of the original twelve Apostles died for their belief in the risen Jesus? Nope. Nevertheless, Justin Bass claimed so in a lecture you can view online (Evidence of the Apostles’ Martyrdom).

I may eventually write a commentary on the whole Carrier-Bass debate, now that it’s available for viewing online.

But first I want to post my observations of that previous lecture he gave that pertains to the subject. I viewed and annotated that in preparation for our debate, and had all my notes ready at the table. And yet, though Bass leaned on this claim in our debate (the famous “No One Would Die for a Lie” gambit), I didn’t need to get into much detail to refute his argument against the clock.

As I noted in the debate, he couldn’t establish that they died for anything more than a vision, and visions are ubiquitous across religions—even now, but then especially. He couldn’t even establish that they could have avoided their deaths by recanting. Or even that what they died for was their belief in the resurrection, rather than their moral vision for society, or (I could have added) some other belief they wouldn’t recant—such as their already-Jewish refusal to worship pagan gods, the only thing Pliny really ever killed Christians for (the resurrection was never even at issue); and that’s the only explicitly eyewitness account we have of any Christians being killed for anything in the whole first hundred years of the religion.

But there is a lot more to be said.

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Speaking on Ancient Science & Christian Fascism in Florida This May!

Ad for the event, with pictures of David Silverman and Richard Carrier, and the details described in the post.An amazing double bill event with David Silverman and myself is going down in central Florida this coming May (2016). Hosted by the Central Florida Freethought Community. Silverman is headlining with a survey of his case for firebrand-style atheist activism in his excellent new book Fighting God. I’ll be speaking on “Ancient Science & Christian Fascism.” 

The more elaborate title of my talk could be “The Wonders of Ancient Science, and Why Christianity Blocked Scientific Progress for a Thousand Years (and Could Do It Again).” I’ll be drawing on my chapters on this subject in The Christian Delusion (on ancient science) and Christianity Is Not Great (on the Dark Ages and on democracy). The fullest description of my Florida talk:

Conservative Christians are fond of rewriting history to make Christianity the hero, from claiming America was founded as a Christian nation, to claiming the KKK was founded by godless liberals. They also claim Christianity gave us science, that our pagan ancestors were too clueless to accomplish it; the Scientific Revolution becoming like their idea of the American Revolution: something that could never happen without Christianity. This whitewashing of the truth, which was quite the contrary, is nefarious, because it sets the stage for letting conservative Christians control and limit democratic and scientific progress. They don’t want you to remember that it was going against dominant Christian values that made democracy and modern science possible.

In this illustrated talk, Dr. Richard Carrier (with a Ph.D. in ancient history from Columbia University) lays out what the ancient pagans actually accomplished in the sciences, and why they failed to reach their own scientific revolution, which ultimately had to do with Christian opposition to it. The arguments Christian leaders then used to stifle scientific progress for a thousand years, are being used by many Christian leaders today. If we are not vigilant, the same political and economic circumstances could arise that would empower a Renaissance of Christian fascism that would stifle democracy and scientific progress for another thousand years.

Sunday, May 15th, from 1 to 4pm, at the University Club of Winter Park (841 N Park Ave., Winter Park, Florida 32789). Details here. There is a $10 suggested donation at the door to help fund the event. We’ll be selling and signing our books of course!

There may be a VIP fundraising dinner as well. And I may speak on other topics at other times in the same region. Stay tuned.

Appearing in Los Angeles & Costa Mesa

I will be speaking on Jesus mythicism in Southern California this April.

  • “If Jesus Didn’t Exist, Why Did They Invent One?”

The theory that there was no actual Jesus at the dawn of Christianity is starting to impact academia. But if there was no Galilean minister from Nazareth riling up the Jerusalem elite and getting himself crucified by Pontius Pilate, why did Christians invent such a character? How did his existence then become a central dogma of the Church?

That will be the focus of my talk this time. Not so much why we might believe that’s what happened (I’ve spoken on that, too, of course, and will again on other occasions), but the meta-theory: what was going on in the minds of the people responsible for creating the historical character, and then those who later started selling that character as the truth?

Photo banner of the CFI Los Angeles venue against a blue sky, with the words in white outlined in black Los Angeles.I will be speaking on this (and taking Q&A and selling and signing books) on Sunday April 17th (2016) at the CFI Los Angeles venue at 4773 Hollywood Blvd. (Los Angeles, CA 90027) at 11am. Small door fee for non-members (discounts for students with ID). Details here. I will then do the same again down in Costa Mesa, in the Costa Mesa Community Center at 1845 Park Ave. (hosted there by the CFI Community of Orange County) at 4:30pm (ditto).

Mythicist Milwaukee Interview with Carrier & Lataster

A podcast interview of Raphael Lataster and myself has just gone up in advance of the Bass-Carrier debate happening this weekend, also sponsored by Mythicist Milwaukee, the same organization as runs the podcast in question.

The episode is “The Jesus Myth Theory w/ Richard Carrier and Raphael Lataster” (also available on iTunes). The official description:

Richard Carrier and Raphael Lataster join us for a discussion that covers the arguments for and against the mythicist position. We touch on many topics that relate to why we believe Jesus is purely a myth and was not an historical figure. If you are interested in the information that surrounds the Jesus myth theory, make sure to listen to this interview!

Cover of Raphael Lataster's book Jesus Did Not Exist, A Debate Among Atheists, with Richard Carrier. Shows an annular solar eclipse.We discuss Lataster’s book Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate among Atheists, which analytically compares the cases for historicity made in the only two books so far defending it (by Bart Ehrman and Maurice Casey), with my case to the contrary in On the Historicity of Jesus (which appears to be the only one of the three that was actually peer reviewed and published by a university-based biblical studies academic press, which is ironic considering how much Ehrman and Casey winge about mythicism not being peer reviewed). I discussed the reception of Lataster’s book before. And a similar question comes up in the interview as came up there: why there is so much resistance to the theory that Christianity really began with belief in a heavenly demigod who was mystically revealed, and not an earthly Rabbi worshipped after his death.

Can Paul’s Human Jesus Not Be a Celestial Jesus?

Fake science fiction book cover showing all kinds of Buck Rogers style action scenes, and in the middle a Buck Rogers style Jesus pointing a blaster and gollowed by a similarly armed woman companion, title says the Amazing Adventures of Space Jesus. Image I believe was made by a guest blogger at The Friendly Atheist.James McGrath wrote a couple of years ago about Paul’s Human Jesus as an argument against mythicism—in particular against the Doherty thesis, which in stripped down form is what I find most likely to be true in On the Historicity of Jesus. I have noted before how McGrath makes armchair assertions without fact-checking them. Yet he represents his opinion as authoritative, giving the impression that he researched it and knows what he is talking about. As such he is deceiving his readers.

The most glaring example of this was McGrath’s face-palm-worthy assertion that only state officials commissioned inscriptions in the Greco-Roman era. Which he used to argue that Christians would never have produced inscriptions. Wow. This not only illustrates how he deceives his readers (by representing his unchecked assumptions as researched and authoritative facts), and how he is neither an expert (since he didn’t know the truth in this case, he cannot claim to be well versed in ancient history or its sources) nor reliable (since it didn’t even occur to him to check his claim before asserting it, how many other times has he done that?), but also how emotionally invested he is in dissuading people from considering even the possibility that there was no historical Jesus. Because he jumped immediately to this ridiculous, unchecked, factually false argument. Instead of just making the far more competent and level-headed argument that the earliest Christians were too poor or expecting the apocalypse too imminently to bother erecting inscriptions. A point with which I have agreed (it’s why I don’t count the absence of such inscriptions as evidence against historicity: see Chapter 8.4 of OHJ).

Instead McGrath just ran with the first thing that came into his head. And asserted it as a fact. And instantly believed it was true without even knowing if it was.

This is how a Christian apologist behaves. Not a competent and reliable expert in the matter.

He did this again in Paul’s Human Jesus. [Read more…]