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.

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.

Kennesaw State Debate with Craig Evans: Did Jesus Exist?

I’ll be debating renowned New Testament scholar Dr. Craig Evans at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia, this April 13 (2016) at 7pm in the Social Sciences building, room 1021 (parking in the West Parking Deck). Co-hosted by Ratio Christi and the Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics at KSU. Q&A will follow. We’ll be selling and signing books in the Social Sciences Atrium afterward. Details here.

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…]

There’s No Time to Explain

Photograph of an American M1 Abrams battle tank rolling down a street.My brother in law, Brian Parra, has launched a groovy new podcast, There’s No Time to Explain. And I was his first interview subject (episode 1). It’s an example of my favorite kind of podcast, where we both chat about all kinds of things that mostly aren’t the usual things I’m talking about over and over.

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Why the Smart Money Is on the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife Being a Forgery

Photo of the Gospel of Jesus's Wife papyrus fragment, a rectangle with seven or eight lines of sloppy writing in Coptic, courtesy of Harvard University.I was going to do a news roundup of several new developments in ancient manuscript studies, until one of them turned out to be a roller-coaster ride down a rabbit hole filled with all manner of twists and turns. The subject? The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife. The other news I’ll post on separately. Because this one. Boy. It needs an article all unto itself.

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Speaking at Darwin on the Palouse (WA)

Banner for the Palouse event. White background. Various nature greens in the lettering and logo. Logo is like a Picaso sleek stylized merger of an abstract finch and the Palouse hills. Text says Darwin on the Palouse, the date, the tagline Celebrating Science and Reason, the location and time and that it's free, the two speakers names and talk titles, and the sponsors.This year the annual Darwin on the Palouse event will be on February 6 (2016). I’ll be a featured speaker. The event begins at 6:30pm and is being held in the junior ballroom at Washington State University. Free to all. Details here. The event is sponsored by the Palouse Coalition of Reason and the American Humanist Association. My talk will be:

Ancient Roman Creationism: Scientific Pagans vs. Armchair Christians

Dr. Carrier will discuss the ancient debate between creationists and natural selectionists, how ancient “intelligent design” advocates were far more scientific than their counterparts today, and what this means for the actual origins of real science. In the process he will survey the achievements and methods of ancient science and how it laid the foundation for modern science, and then examine the rhetoric against it by early Christians and how it hasn’t changed in near 2,000 years.

I’ll be followed by Glenn Branch of the NCSE, speaking on “After Kitzmiller, What Is Next for Creationism?” Which I’m also looking forward to! Description:

Kitzmiller v. Dover, the 2005 case establishing the unconstitutionality of teaching intelligent design creationism in the public schools, was a pivotal event in the history of the creationism/evolution controversy in the United States. Branch will discuss why Kitzmiller was the effective end of the second phase of anti-evolution strategy and what the third phase is going to be like.

Come one come all! I’ll be selling and signing books. And hanging out after. I’ll also be in the area for the day. I don’t know what plans have been made, so I may be busy, but anyone interested in the possibility of hanging out, feel free to let me know, by email or Facebook message.

Tai Solarin: The Greatest Nigerian Atheist & Humanist

Cover of Babalola's book on Tai Solarin, with the title, subtitle, and author in black on white background, with a photograph of a young Tai Solarin in black and white against the background.Do you want to cuddle in with an interesting biography on a subject you probably never imagined reading about? Then I have a book recommendation for you. It’s a little personal. And a lot about humanism as a movement today, and its global importance, not just local.

In 1995 I wrote an essay on Tai Solarin for my African History course, just a year after his death. Which I soon after published on the Secular Web (“Tai Solarin: His Life, Ideas, and Accomplishments“). Because I thought this guy needed way more press. I often did this in my history courses: ask the prof who the most famous atheist was in the culture we were studying, and research and write about them. Because famous atheists in other cultures? Not usually much talked about. In my Ancient China course, this would be Wang Ch’ung, for whose discovery I am forever grateful (thank you, Professor David Keightley!). In my African History course, it was Tai Solarin (thank you, Dr. Ola Washington!).

If you want a quick introduction to the man and his importance to the history of Nigeria, and Africa, and atheism and humanism therein, definitely read or skim my article. There is now of course a Wikipedia entry on him. Which relies a lot on my essay and its research, but adds even more. And now also a website dedicated to his memory and biography.

I researched my article largely through reading archived African newspapers at UCLA. As well as Norm Allen’s interview of him in Free Inquiry. And the few books there were by and about him. And ever since I posted it online, I’ve had a lot of people express their gratitude for publishing it. Both people who knew him or of him, and his work, in particular his co-founding (with his wife Sheila) and running of the most famous secular humanist school in the country…or possibly anywhere (the Mayflower School); and people who had never heard of him and were so pleased to have had the opportunity to.

Now, of course, his memory is everywhere on the internet.

But a new development of note has transpired:

Dr. Dele Babalola (M.D.), though himself a Christian, has written the most admiring and comprehensive and personal biography of Tai Solarin and his school. By a mile. Babalola was a student at Mayflower when Solarin was still teaching there. He has numerous personal memories and recollections of him and his friends and family, and of the school and what it was like, and some of his fellow students there and what became of them. As a historian, I value works like this. This is memory that would have been lost had it not been written down and made available to the world. And that material only enhances Babalola’s general biographical treatment, which is also well-researched and well-informed. He consulted historians and leading lights in African and African-American humanism, as well as all manner of sources besides. Babalola covers Solarin’s whole life, including his path from Christianity to Secular Humanism, and the political and social context of his goals and accomplishments.

This is a great read for anyone curious to get a look into the memory of someone who was there and knew the man, and who gathers the facts well beyond, of a great humanist, atheist, and champion of education, and his creation of a secular humanist academy where one might least expect. Tai Solarin was the most famous atheist and humanist not just in Nigeria, but all of Africa. His fame and influence there can be equated with that of Dawkins or Harris in America or the UK. Though unlike them he co-founded and ran a school that taught humanism and its values. A school that still operates today, teaching some 6000 pupils a year.

Definitely get a look at this book. Get a peak at what’s going on and has gone on in the rest of the world, through the lens of the life and achievements of a great humanist and educationalist: Tai Solarin: Africa’s Greatest Educationist and Humanist by Dele Babalola. Available in print and kindle, hard cover and soft.

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