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Mar 21 2012

Carrier cold-cocks Ehrman

This is great: Richard Carrier Blogs totally destroys Bart Ehrman’s argument for the reality of a historical Jesus.

Jesus is a legend, like King Arthur or Robin Hood or Paul Bunyan. There may have been some individual in the past who inspired the stories, but he’s not part of the historical record, and the tall tales built around him almost certainly bear little resemblance to the long-lost reality. It’s simply bad history to invent rationalizations for an undocumented mystery figure from the distant past.

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  1. 1
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    I thought Ehrman was totally onside with “probably a myth.” He’s the one who points out that while there are historical records of Christians, there’s no historical record of a Christ except for a rumor in Josephus and a false interpolation somewhere else.

  2. 2
    Walton

    Meh. He might be right – I don’t find the question all that important, and am happy to keep an open mind – but I remain unimpressed with Carrier in general after reading his screed against vegetarianism, which was both poorly-reasoned and irritatingly smug.

  3. 3
    shadow

    look into this site for a more detailed breakdown.

  4. 4
    Zeno

    I have always been sympathetic to Will Durant’s position on the historicity of Jesus. In his massive Story of Civilization, Durant observed that only recently (in his timeframe) had people begun to argue that Jesus was a mythical being. He felt that the historical record would have shown earlier evidence of naysayers if he indeed was only a fabrication. That’s not to say that Durant considered the gospels a historical account of the events of the life of Jesus, but merely a mythologized tale that grossly exaggerated the acts of a small-time itinerant preacher.

    That said, I don’t know why there should be a big fuss over whether or not some carpenter’s kid grew up to become a modestly successful holy man in the Middle East — at least until he got himself killed. The real issue is the lack of substance in the religion(s) that grew up around him (or around the legend of him, a real person or not).

  5. 5
    Ing

    I have always been sympathetic to Will Durant’s position on the historicity of Jesus. In his massive Story of Civilization, Durant observed that only recently (in his timeframe) had people begun to argue that Jesus was a mythical being. He felt that the historical record would have shown earlier evidence of naysayers if he indeed was only a fabrication. That’s not to say that Durant considered the gospels a historical account of the events of the life of Jesus, but merely a mythologized tale that grossly exaggerated the acts of a small-time itinerant preacher.

    LIKE THE JEWS!?

  6. 6
    Anthony K

    I’m told, by people who claim to know religion better than I, that it doesn’t matter: Historical Jesus or non-Historical Jesus, it’s all about the communi—ahem—the Community. [Sound of angelic choirs].

    I certainly hope they’re spending just as much time telling the historicists like Bart Ehrman that the reality of Jesus doesn’t matter; he’s just a metaphor, and that all their scholarship is a big waste of time.

    Otherwise, they’d kind of come across as hypocritical jerks.

  7. 7
    cottonnero

    Weird.

    That article doesn’t sound like Ehrman at all. I wonder if something profoundly weird happened in the editorial process, or if Ehrman just took leave of his senses.

  8. 8
    helenaconstantine

    I have not read the referred to post as yet, But I wanted to get this in near the top.

    1. I am a Classicists professor and did years of specialized work int he New Testament. I am also an Atheist (Since I first thought about in 4th grade).

    2. The idea of Jesus being a fictional creation–or however you want to term is–that is often circulated int he Atheist community is without foundation. Whenever a sustained argument is made, it is effortless to pick it apart. Such efforts are only sustained by bias. If I have time tonight, I will address the posted link. I can be as safe in denying this one without looking it over in detail yet as I would be if I said someone on the internet was wrong about the earth being flat.

    3. Jesus is attested in Josephus (Yes, the passage is interpolated, but the interpolation was attracted by an original mention). The original text can easily be recovered. That is a better attestation, than any but a few thousand individuals who lived before 500 AD have, but no one doubts they exist.

    4. The corpus of NT texts is itself an excellent attestation for the figure of Jesus, better than any but a few hundred ancient individuals have. Even PZ above admits that there was a historical figure, at the same time he seems to suggest, or to want to suggest, that there is no historical figure. Apollonius of Tyana, Honi the Circle Drawer, Vespasian, Pythagoras, and lots of other historical figures have miracle stories attached to their biographies. That does not mean that they did not exist. That’s just the way popular biography worked in classical antiquity. The line between what we would fiction and biography was blurred around the edges.

    5. The historical reality of Jesus, which is perfectly clear from the Gospels if you know how to read them, is that Jesus was a peasant calling for social reform in a society of corrupt landlords and imperialist occupation. He probably made displays of magical power to represent himself as an alternative to the economic and social power of his enemies (he did it the same way modern faith healers do it, by convincing his followers). He worked within a tradition and a social framework where holiness and religious tradition had been seen for at least two hundred years as a form of resistance against oppression. It is hardly surprising that biographers writing 50 years after his execution created a biography out of what little material had been handed down (or rather, grown up, adding to the original facts) among the movement Jesus founded blended together with popular miracle stories (thee is a hilarious passage in Gibbon where he points out how the biographical traditions of Apollonius and Jesus used so many of the same stories), and out of an intertexual conversation with existing scripture.

    6. If Jesus was not a real person, someone has a lot of explaining to do. Who invented him? Not Paul, his Jesus was far different from the Jesus of the Gospels (although the Gnostic Jesus can be traced back to him). Peter? I doubt he could read Greek. And if they were inventing out of whole cloth, why not make themselves the cult leader (a la Alexander of Abonteichos)? The process that would have to be imagined is incoherent and doesn’t have much in the way of parallels in the ancient world.

    7. Did anyone read Saturday Morning Breakfast cereal today? PZ must be reaching the “telling other fields they’re wrong about everything” stage.

    8. Before you start attacking me, ask yourself how you have more expertise about the question you plan to correct me on that several PhDs in NT studies who are atheists or Jews, and who consider the idea that Jesus was not a historical figure to be laughable.

  9. 9
    Aratina Cage

    I really dislike the term mythicist. It’s not a position–it’s not a position. It’s akin to agnosticism if anything. There just isn’t any substantial reason to conclude that Jesus was more than a myth. It isn’t like it’s a denial of something well established, more like a “meh” at the really tenuous historical evidence given the widely disparate retellings of what supposedly happened. We aren’t even the ones making a big deal of it. Do you see us giving a shit if ancient person so-and-so was real or not? No. And we do the same with respect to Jesus.

  10. 10
    Aratina Cage

    If Jesus was not a real person, someone has a lot of explaining to do. Who invented him? Not Paul, his Jesus was far different from the Jesus of the Gospels

    Ahem. Isn’t it obvious that the Gospels created the Gospel Jesus?

  11. 11
    helenaconstantine

    @ing

    “LIKE THE JEWS!?”

    I have to say I’m unfamiliar with Durant, But Jesus was viciously attacked in the 2nd century bt both Greek intellectuals (Celsus) and in the Rabbinic literature. No one every makes any suggestion that he was not a historical figure. There obviously was an accusation that the resurrection was faked by the disciples stealing his body form the tomb (this is already defended against in the Gospels), but such an argument obviously presupposes that he was a real person who was really crucified.

  12. 12
    'Tis Himself

    helenaconstantine #8

    Jesus is attested in Josephus (Yes, the passage is interpolated, but the interpolation was attracted by an original mention).

    There is good reason to think that the passage in Antiquities of the Jews that mentions Jesus was a forgery written by a Christian apologist to provide historical evidence of Jesus’ existence. Parallel sections of Josephus’ Jewish War do not mention Jesus. Also some Christian writers as late as the Third Century who quoted from the Antiquities do not mention the passage.

  13. 13
    Ing

    I have not read the referred to post as yet, But I wanted to get this in near the top.

    I haven’t read your reply yet but I wanted to get this as near to it as possible.

    Probably should do that first and talk second. I’ll read your opinion once it’s informed.

  14. 14
    sqlrob

    Helena, care to take Carrier’s post apart, with citations?

  15. 15
    anotheratheist

    What Ehrman is saying is that Jesus is a legend in the same way that Troy is a legend.

  16. 16
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Jesus is a legend, like King Arthur or Robin Hood or Paul Bunyan. There may have been some individual in the past who inspired the stories, but he’s not part of the historical record, and the tall tales built around him almost certainly bear little resemblance to the long-lost reality.

    I’m not sure whether this counts as a mythicist statement or a historicist statement.

    Honestly I have a hard time telling them apart.

  17. 17
    Martin Wagner

    Helena, while I generally don’t have a problem with the idea that the character of Jesus as appears in the Gospels may well have been inspired by some real-life itinerant rabbi who went around pissing off the establishment, I am more troubled by your casual use of phrases like “read the Gospels right,” without any real explanation as to what you mean by that. Implying that there’s a right and wrong way to read these texts without explaining what you made doesn’t sound like something someone with the scholarly pedigree you boast should say. If nothing else it’s just a sloppy way to make your point. In any case, though you boast complete confidence in being able to dismiss Carrier’s critique without even reading it, I’ll begin to be as impressed with you as you think I should be once you have.

  18. 18
    Aratina Cage

    Is Harry Potter a myth or real? Was there a boy the story was based on? Will we ever know The Truth™???

  19. 19
    'Tis Himself

    Of course Harry Potter is real. I read several books about him with his life described in great detail. I even saw some movies about him. Here’s a picture of him. What more do you need?

  20. 20
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Helena is another presuppositionalist who presumes Jebus actually existed, and must have any and all hints of said existence accept by everybody else. Not happening at this blog, where is the null hypothesis for Jebus is non-existence, and solid and conclusive physical evidence supplied by Helena is needed to get of out of that sand-trap.

    So, we are waiting for that smoking gun…

  21. 21
    evodevo

    He existed, because his brother James existed, and is attested to by Paul – the only reliable written 1st century source we have. The theological schism between James and Paul – and we only have Paul’s side of the argument extant – was real, then the actual religious views of Jesus are FAR different than what your average Xtian today practices.
    The Gospels are a compendium of possibly authentic sayings, larded up with events that may have been devised out of true happenings or just tales concocted out of whole cloth in order to validate supposed “prophetic” passages in the O.T. by people with a definite agenda, 50 to 100 years after the fact.
    You can discover a tiny bit of historicity, through careful scholarship, but the thread is very tenuous. Needless to say, the four gospels have enough self-contradictory material in them to provide “evidence” for almost any of the myriad Xtian sects that now claim them as proof for their theology.
    It’s a fascinating detective story, but not much of a solid basis for a religion. But then what is?!

  22. 22
    Ing

    He existed, because his brother James existed, and is attested to by Paul – the only reliable written 1st century source we have.

    Paul…who never met the man?

  23. 23
    Aratina Cage

    Nerd, I just want you to know that if this is the helena I am acquainted with online, I strongly doubt she is a presuppositionalist. However, I didn’t know she was informed so much on this issue that she had already taken a firm stance like that. Hopefully she will take up the challenge you and others have presented her with and go into her reasoning in detail.

  24. 24
    Martin Wagner

    Ing: Well, in all fairness, I’ve never met Abraham Lincoln, but I’ll be happy to attest to his existence. I’d rather to wait to see what the specific sources that helena says confirms an historical Jesus actually are.

  25. 25
    ibyea

    @Helena
    Err, wasn’t the earliest book of the bible, Mark, written a few decades after the supposed life of Jesus? If so, how can I believe anything that was written in them?

  26. 26
    Ing

    @Martin

    Yes but if you were the BEST source for Lincoln?

    I would doubt Lincoln

  27. 27
    ibyea

    Oops, I meant earliest gospel of the bible. Big mistake.

  28. 28
    andyo

    ooh this is gonna be good.

    But I, as I’m sure many of you, find the question irrelevant. And myself, I find it a distraction, unless you’re strictly talking about history and not religion. Even scholars who are in favor of his existence won’t admit to the miracles and the goddy things. Yet, religionists will still use this crap as an excuse, just as homophobes use the completely irrelevant matter of “natural (genetic) or unnatural (environmental)” when the question too doesn’t matter.

  29. 29
    Aratina Cage

    No one [ever] makes any suggestion that he was not a historical figure.

    Are there other supposedly historical figures from the same time period whose existences were questioned by people of that time period? I mean, were people of the time going around talking about how other Jewish legends weren’t real? Could it have been that the question of whether or not a figurehead is historical just wasn’t something that was considered worth disputing back then? I wonder if at that time, most people were not capable of making a distinction between what is real and what is imaginary as we are today as far as literary characters go?

  30. 30
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Nerd, I just want you to know that if this is the helena I am acquainted with online, I strongly doubt she is a presuppositionalist.

    I could be wrong, of course, but her defense screams believer, and only a presuppostionalist believes. The evidence isn’t that strong, and there is no way to get to jebus existing without some presupposition with that tepid and weak evidence. Too many discrepancies.

  31. 31
    Zeno

    Voris wanks and Carrier cold-cocks. Is there a theme in today’s posts?

  32. 32
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    Considering that Carrier doesn’t find much valid in the bulk of popular mythicist arguments, the takedown should certainly be interesting.

  33. 33
    mnb0

    “There may have been some individual in the past who inspired the stories”
    And how (un)likely is it that that individual’s name is Jesus? It was quite a common name. And Judaea was full of Messianic claimants:

    http://www.livius.org/men-mh/messiah/messianic_claimants00.html

    Don’t forget, like many Jesus-mythologists do, two important points either: absence of evidence is no evidence of absence; there are no contemporary sources for Alexander the Great either – the first known biography was written several centuries after he died.
    I have had the pleasure to read some stuff of Jesus-mythologists. It was a pleasure exactly because many of them use the same strategy creationists are so fond of: parasitizing on main stream research, omitting relevant data, a nice conspiracy theory now and then.
    Specifically for Richard Carrier: no historian in Europe will lose his/her job on this subject.

  34. 34
    anthonyrosa

    I need to write a short story about how, in a couple thousand years, people are doubting the existence of Joseph Smith.

    Not his beliefs. Not his deeds with the golden tablet bs. His existence.

    Thank you, all, for inspiring me! I’ll try to make it funny.

    (In any case, of all the things to argue about, this seems the silliest. Of all the problems with the Jesus narrative, the existence of a faith preacher named Josh who argued against the regime of the time, and used faith-healer tactics in a less sophisticated age, doesn’t seem like one of them.)

  35. 35
    Aratina Cage

    I have had the pleasure to read some stuff of Jesus-mythologists. It was a pleasure exactly because many of them use the same strategy creationists are so fond of: parasitizing on main stream research, omitting relevant data, a nice conspiracy theory now and then.

    There are crackpots everywhere, but that doesn’t make Zombie Jesus any more real than… Zombie Jesus!

  36. 36
    A. R

    Hitch on the subject:
    1
    2

  37. 37
    Aratina Cage

    there are no contemporary sources for Alexander the Great either – the first known biography was written several centuries after he died.

    Is a biography the only way we know about Alexander the Great? Are you touting the Gospels as a biography?

  38. 38
    mnb0

    A bad argument of Richard Carrier:

    “even the Testimonium Flavianum says nothing that could not have simply been read out of a Gospel”
    Wait a minute. The TF is written in 94. An important argument of Jesus-mythologists is that the oldest samples of the Gospels are from a few decades after. RC can’t have it both ways. Either Flavius Josephus has copied and the Gospels are older, in which case it’s up to RC to actually prove that it’s copied, or TF is independent.
    With RC’s logic we can perfectly argue that Alexander the Great and Socrates didn’t exist either.
    As in every scientific field we should prefer the simplest theory that explains the known data best. It seems to me that a historical Jesus, with a lot of myths connected to (about everything from baby-slaughter until ascension) , fulfills this demand best. And that’s a lot less controversial to christians, at least in Europe, as some here might assume.

  39. 39
    mnb0

    “Are you touting the Gospels as a biography?”
    Is this question relevant for my point? Consult a professional historian for this. Like Jona Lendering.

  40. 40
    Aratina Cage

    Were you not making an analogy between Alexander the Great and Zombie Jesus? What biography of Jesus is there I ask of you?

  41. 41
    Aratina Cage

    Wait a minute. The TF is written in 94.

    And we have the original TF manuscript or a copy of it made before the all the Jesus literature began circulating?

  42. 42
    gragra, something clever after the comma

    The historical reality of Jesus, which is perfectly clear from the Gospels if you know how to read them

    How does one do that? Is there a special code we’re supposed to have?

    Having said that, I see no reason not to believe that there wasn’t someone upon who the whole edifice was erected, but that still seems mythology to me. If there is almost nothing of the original person in the gospels it may as well be a myth.

  43. 43
    Menyambal

    By the dog, we’ve done this to death here once before, at least once. I argued as below, and the Christian fellow we were trying to explain things to absolutely could not grasp anybody’s point but his own.

    Statistically speaking, there MUST have been several carpenter’s sons named Yeshua somewhere in Judea, around the year 30. It’s a common name and a common job. Those Yeshuas may have had aspirations toward reform, and phrased things religiously–again, the time and place were conducive to just that. One Yeshua may have even claimed to be the Messiah–the Bible admits messiahs were common.

    (Here’s a modern comparison: Google your own name and interests. Chances are good that you are not the only “Bob Smith” who is into argyle socks. (My first and last names are both unusual, but there’s another me online whose resume I am tempted to steal.))

    So of course there was a Jesus. Dozens, probably. There was–no argument there.

    How much the Gospels are based on the life of any particular Rabbi Jesus is arguable. The Gospels do not agree with each other, and each has problems on its own.

    So, yes to a Jesus, no to historical in any sense of accurate.

    —-

    As for people arguing his reality back in the 200s or so, I’d say that the modern sense of having a documented existence wasn’t in place back then. At that time, even the Emperor in Rome was legendary to most citizens of the Empire. There wasn’t news, there weren’t photographs, everything was rumor (it was all social media). The Bible plays that up with all that nonsense about belief–it doesn’t say to check the records.

    That folks didn’t argue about whether Jesus existed is entirely appropriate for the time. There was no way to check, and no impulse to, probably.

  44. 44
    zerafia

    I just don’t get why people keep debating this subject. What’s the point? Either Jesus was the son of God, in which case he must have existed, or he wasn’t, in which case it doesn’t matter whether he existed or not.

  45. 45
    Sili

    cottonnero

    Weird.

    That article doesn’t sound like Ehrman at all. I wonder if something profoundly weird happened in the editorial process, or if Ehrman just took leave of his senses.

    Iono. He made similar statements in a recent debate with a fella who claimed knowledge of magical, new 1C fragments of Mark (prolly the ones even more recently debunked as forgeries). I wasn’t too impressed then, either. He’s an amazing scholar, but his argument for historicity was as bad as standard apologetics.

    So whatever this is, it isn’t new.

  46. 46
    helenaconstantine

    Below is the post I just made at Carrier’s blog.

    I wish PZ would add a note to this post, explaining or quoting which part “cold-Coked Ehrman” because I couldn’t find it amongst all of the usual denialist distortions.

    ———
    At first I couldn’t tell if this piece of whining quote mining was being written by Ken Hovind or Ben Stein–but I see its Carrier–oh well.

    I wont waste much time:

    If any academic could actually argue convincingly that Jesus never existed, they would not be expelled, but would have their career made–just as if any biologist could actually disprove evolution, it would mean the Nobel Prize.

    1. The text as displayed at the HuffPo is a sentence fragment–clearly there is an editing problem there, so neither you nor I nor anyone except Ehrman and anyone he has shown his original text to knows what that is supposed to say. To call this editing mistake an argumentative or factual mistake is like pointing to yourself and saying, “Come and look at the idiot.”

    2. Q is hypothetical in the same way the big bang is hypothetical (and I could sight web sources that deny the big bang too). The independent Biblical witnesses are Paul, Q, other sayings material preserved in Thomas, Mark, The source of the Gospel of Peter, and a group of sources used by John which used to be called the signs source.

    3. You concede that the point you pick out of Ehrman is correct, but the you claim it argues agaisnt a straw-man. Except it isn’t. I’ve seen plenty of cranks make exactly that claim on the internet. It is especially common to see people claim all of those things about Mithras, and then claim that Jesus was just a myth based on Mithraism, despite the fact that Mithras was none of those things and was founded after Christianity (Dec. 25 was the birthday of Sol Invictus–i.e. the traditional date of the Solstice in the Roman calendar prior to their contact with Greek astronomy–which was later synched up with both Mithras and Jesus).

  47. 47
    Sili

    It’s interesting to study how humans make up myths and make them ‘real’.

    We know that Ludd was a construct, yet people claimed to have known him. It’s interesting to discover how Jesus Christ went from being a concept to a human being in about two generations.

  48. 48
    Sili

    2. Q is hypothetical in the same way the big bang is hypothetical (and I could sight web sources that deny the big bang too).

    And I could likely find books that deny the Big Bang. So what?

    I’ll make no claim to scholarship on the back of having read one book, but you’ll have to present some evidence for Q, if you want us to believe in its existence.

    What’s your Big Bang Nucleosynthesis?

  49. 49
    helenaconstantine

    @no. 12

    Try reading the sentence you quote out again until it makes sense to you.

    @no. 13
    I pretty much knew what it would be before I read it, just like I know what a creationist or a Global Warming denialist is going to say. Compare my before and reading posts and you’ll see I was not mistaken.

  50. 50
    Sili

    mnb0

    As in every scientific field we should prefer the simplest theory that explains the known data best. It seems to me that a historical Jesus, with a lot of myths connected to (about everything from baby-slaughter until ascension) , fulfills this demand best. And that’s a lot less controversial to christians, at least in Europe, as some here might assume.

    So you’re saying everything about him is a myth. But he still existed? I don’t see how that’s the simplest explanation.

    Wait a minute. The TF is written in 94. An important argument of Jesus-mythologists is that the oldest samples of the Gospels are from a few decades after. RC can’t have it both ways. Either Flavius Josephus has copied and the Gospels are older, in which case it’s up to RC to actually prove that it’s copied, or TF is independent.

    We don’t have copies, no. Is anyone saying that Mark is older than 90? It postdates the destruction of the temple, yes. But that still leaves 20 years for copies to get circulating so that they could be quoted to Flavius.

  51. 51
    helenaconstantine

    @no 17

    Good point (right means informed by scholarship by the way, which some might consider self-evident). I’ll remember that next time, and I write a detailed 5000 word essay with footnotes, if I don’t have to feed the baby and make dinner for myself and my husband.

  52. 52
    helenaconstantine

    well, that didn’t work

    @no 17

    “Helena, while I generally don’t have a problem with the idea that the character of Jesus as appears in the Gospels may well have been inspired by some real-life itinerant rabbi who went around pissing off the establishment, I am more troubled by your casual use of phrases like “read the Gospels right,” without any real explanation as to what you mean by that. Implying that there’s a right and wrong way to read these texts without explaining what you made doesn’t sound like something someone with the scholarly pedigree you boast should say. If nothing else it’s just a sloppy way to make your point. In any case, though you boast complete confidence in being able to dismiss Carrier’s critique without even reading it, I’ll begin to be as impressed with you as you think I should be once you have.”

    Good point (right means informed by scholarship by the way, which some might consider self-evident). I’ll remember that next time, and I write a detailed 5000 word essay with footnotes, if I don’t have to feed the baby and make dinner for myself and my husband.

  53. 53
    Sili

    (In any case, of all the things to argue about, this seems the silliest. Of all the problems with the Jesus narrative, the existence of a faith preacher named Josh who argued against the regime of the time, and used faith-healer tactics in a less sophisticated age, doesn’t seem like one of them.)

    But why argue for them? Remember that Jesus didn’t found a religion, Paul did (or perhaps Peter), and noöne’s doubting Paul’s existence. Jesus is the golden plates of Christianity, not the Joseph Smith.

  54. 54
    helenaconstantine

    @25

    Crusifixtion–29-33

    Paul–40-50s

    Canonical gospels–70s-90s

    Q and other sources used by the Gospels–40s to 60s

  55. 55
    Sili

    Good point (right means informed by scholarship by the way, which some might consider self-evident). I’ll remember that next time, and I write a detailed 5000 word essay with footnotes, if I don’t have to feed the baby and make dinner for myself and my husband.

    It’s very nice of your husband to go hungry and look after the baby, while you spend your precious time commenting on impactless weblogs. Thank you kindly for being so generous to us.

  56. 56
    helenaconstantine

    @ no. 30

    I guess you missed the part where I announced myself an atheist. In point of fact, I hate Cristianity and would like nothing better than to dismantle it. But denying the historical existence of Jesus is just nonsense.

  57. 57
    Sili

    Helena,

    How do you date Q? It needs to predate Mark, but is there anything else to go on? It’s not like we can do palaeography. Does the wording and grammar sound like it’s a hundred years older than Luke?

  58. 58
    Sili

    evodevo

    He existed, because his brother James existed,

    Yeah. Brother.

    You know. I can find houses full of brothers. That doesn’t mean they had a clown car for a mother. Incidentally, doesn’t Mark 3:35 pretty much remove the need for any Brother of the Lord to be a brother of the flesh?

  59. 59
    'Tis Himself

    helenaconstantine #49

    @no. 12

    Try reading the sentence you quote out again until it makes sense to you.

    It makes perfect sense to me. I’m sorry you’re too stupid to understand plain English.

    If you sneer at me I’ll sneer right back. If you’re polite I’ll be polite. Your choice.

  60. 60
    Sili

    walton

    Meh. He might be right – I don’t find the question all that important, and am happy to keep an open mind – but I remain unimpressed with Carrier in general after reading his screed against vegetarianism, which was both poorly-reasoned and irritatingly smug.

    I like him better already.

    But, smug, yes. He is that – or at least does come across as such. Comes across as frenetic and rushed in debates as well. Not so bad when delivering talks.

  61. 61
    gshelley

    3. Jesus is attested in Josephus (Yes, the passage is interpolated, but the interpolation was attracted by an original mention). The original text can easily be recovered. That is a better attestation, than any but a few thousand individuals who lived before 500 AD have, but no one doubts they exist.

    This shows the weakness of the “Jesus was a real person” position. It is not a conclusion, it is a premise.
    Much of the other dismissal of the mythicist position is not better, a mixture of ad hominems claims that the arguments were all disproved a hundred years ago and circular logic, assuming the existence of a historical Jesus in order to interpret everything to suggest there was one.

  62. 62
    Sili

    Canonical gospels–70s-90s

    Q and other sources used by the Gospels–40s to 60s

    Well, if Matthew used Moses as template for much of the life of Jesus, his sources were a lot older than that.

    90 seems a bit early for John, but I guess if you mean late 90′s, I guess it works for the early versions. Was Lazarus lifted from Luke in redaction material, or does the story appear in the first stratum?

  63. 63
    Sili

    ‘Tis Himself, OM

    Of course Harry Potter is real. I read several books about him with his life described in great detail. I even saw some movies about him. Here’s a picture of him. What more do you need?

    Of course, there’s a Harry Potter. I’m less certain about this Jesus figure. The resurrection sounds like it’s cripped directly from HP. And of course Jesus and Judas snogging is taken wholesale from the HP apocrypha.

  64. 64
    Ms. Daisy Cutter, General Manager for the Cleveland Steamers

    Sili:

    It’s very nice of your husband to go hungry and look after the baby, while you spend your precious time commenting on impactless weblogs.

    How terrible, a man having to babysit his child. And he certainly isn’t capable of feeding himself, is he?

    I’m not wading into the Jesus debate here, and Helenaconstantine’s household arrangements are her business, but your comment was a splendor of sexist douchery.

  65. 65
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    I’m not quite clear on the terminology here. Where’s the mythicist/historicist boundary located? Is there a recognised intermediate position?

    Is a mythicist someone who says that JC never existed at all? Or someone who says the stories were possibly based on a real person, as PZ does here with the Robin Hood & King Arthur analogies?

    I’m pretty sure that academic historicists don’t say the gospels are all true, so where do they cut off? Which parts of the story can one reject before crossing the border into mythicism? There was a Jewish preacher – did he also have to be named Yeshua, or have disciples, or be crucified, or be a carpenter from Nazareth and/or Bethlehem? If you look at the Nicene creed, which bits can one say no to, and still be a historicist?

  66. 66
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    @ no. 30

    I guess you missed the part where I announced myself an atheist. In point of fact, I hate Cristianity and would like nothing better than to dismantle it. But denying the historical existence of Jesus is just nonsense.

    Gee, you think we haven’t had presuppositionalists come here and lie about being atheists? It has happened. I’m giving you the benefit of doubt due to Aratina Cage.

    What historical existence? I deny the evidence is conclusive and physical, being my requirements. Being a solid 25+ year skeptic and an atheist for even longer. There might be suggestive evidence, but not the conclusive “smoking gun” evidence many of us require.

  67. 67
    robro

    The question of the historical Jesus seems like a moot point…one we can argue endlessly and not come to any conclusion because the evidence in either direction is dicey. Plus, it’s importance is only sort of interesting if you want to argue with Christians, and maybe Classicists.

    Carrier seems to be saying basically that you can’t dismiss the myth interpretation, and I would agree with that…you can’t just dismiss it, even if you don’t take it as absolutely the final word. Even if there was a real live human named “Jesus” (or some version of that name) alive in the 1st Century walking around Galilee and Judea, preaching, performing magic, and whatnot, there are still many layers of myth accreted to the story, perhaps even the bulk of it. Certainly all the truly critical bits (virgin birth, died then rose from the dead, ascended into heaven) are myths.

    I would suggest that the idea that Jesus was a “social reformer” is at best questionable and likely a modern interpretation of the stories. It was certainly a popular idea among theology students when I was in school in the late 60s…of course. There is an argument that what we have here is a pretender to the throne of Herod, a figure largely lost in the discussion of Jesus and who (so I’ve read) envisioned a new “Rome”, a “New World Order.” Or, perhaps Jesus was just a cultist bent on “purifying” Judaism from the influence of the Idumean, a common sentiment in the day, or some combination of these and other facets.

    But then, I wonder about the historical Saul/Paul and the role of this semi-mythical person in inventing the religion we now call Christianity. Everyone seems to take his existence for granted or that they we know what he was all about. I’m not convinced, certainly not on the basis of the very small number of writings attributed to him from an age when attribution was easy to falsify to add prestige to a document.

  68. 68
    tommykey

    I look at the historicty this way. There is a range of possibilities, with one end of the spectrum being that everything the Gospels say about Jesus is absolutely true and the other end the position that nothing the Gospels say about Jesus is true.

    As an atheist, I can dismiss the miracles, resurrection, virgin birth, etc.

    That narrows the spectrum for me to either the Jesus of the Gospels is complete fiction to the Jesus of the Gospels existed and the miracles and so forth were embellishments or fictional accomplishments heaped on him to make him seem more than he really was.

    Now, if Paul was a real person and he really did persecute early Christians before having his “Road to Damascus” moment, then where did this nascent religious movement or sect come from? Was it founded by one or more group of persons who made up their savior out of their own imaginations or was the leader of their sect an actual person who was executed for some reason or other?

    One of the arguments of the Jesus Never Existed camp is that there are no contemporary extra Biblical sources from Judea that mention Jesus, such as say a letter from some literate Jewish or Roman official describing how he had heard some Galilean preacher named Jeshua preaching that the meek shall inherit the Earth and so forth. But should we reasonably expect such a thing? Particularly when just a few decades later the region would be ravaged by war.

    It doesn’t strike me as farfetched that preacher Jesus could have achieved a small, dedicated following and then got snuffed out before he could reach a wider audience so that there would be no existing contemporary extra-Bibilical sources.

    In summary, I think it is possible there was a real, historical Jesus and I don’t see how one can authoritatively dismiss that possibility. On the other hand, since I don’t believe the tenets of Christianity, ultimately it doesn’t matter one way or the other to me.

  69. 69
    Sili

    DC,

    I was not the one to bring up the importance of feeding Mr. Helena and Helena jr.

    I do think it’s impressive that she can juggle a career and family and still find time to make snide comments on the Internet. I certainly can only do the latter. I do think, though, that she would make better use of her time by actually mounting a decent argument. One good post, instead of these several, nearly as bad as mine.

  70. 70
    Sili

    robro,

    Attribution is fickle, yes, but the central seven (our is it six?) letters show a consistent style and theology, so they are most likely written by a single author, and this is the person we call “Paul”, much like we call the single author of the first gospel “Mark”.

  71. 71
    daniel

    What of Tacitus?

    “Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind”.

    And in relation to evidence, it would seem the standards for what is admissable can often have a great deal of non-objective, non-theisitic presuppositionalism embedded within them. Every individual wishes to be judge and jury in their own court of law and drive the verdict to a predetermined end by discarding solid historical evidence and reliability.

    To call into question the historicity of the Gospels’ accounts would be to essentially call into question every other document of antiquity. There are no copies of any event or person from the ancient world where the dates of the manuscripts fall within less than a century after the events/persons they describe, as the Gospels do.

    Even the two manuscripts of Tacitus’ date somewhere around the tenth or eleventh century, something like that.

    Dr. Meyers comments seem to suggest there was a real person somewhere in the historical mix, but how could one even arrive at that particular conclusion if the Gospels are nothing but a contradictory amalgam of highly exaggerated myths? How does one make the conclusion there’s a “long lost” reality to whoever inspired the stories about Jesus? How does one historically separate the wheat from the chaff and prove their own conclusions to be true?

    What’s the standard for what’s acceptable? It would seem presuppositionalism is not limited to Christians.

  72. 72
    daniel

    Correction,

    Dates not of extant “manuscripts” – my error – but of “autographs”.

  73. 73
    consciousness razor

    I’m pretty sure that academic historicists don’t say the gospels are all true, so where do they cut off? Which parts of the story can one reject before crossing the border into mythicism? There was a Jewish preacher – did he also have to be named Yeshua, or have disciples, or be crucified, or be a carpenter from Nazareth and/or Bethlehem?

    The basic idea is that there is evidence that Jesus was a real person. Their argument isn’t necessarily that any particular part of the NT portrayed his life accurately. So they could even say the stories themselves are all fictional, while maintaining that they were still (in some way) about the life of a real person. You could imagine someone writing fictional stories about George Washington, but still have good reasons to believe Washington was a real person (though not necessarily as depicted in those stories).

    If you look at the Nicene creed, which bits can one say no to, and still be a historicist?

    Basically all of it. You’d only have to agree that the word “Jesus” refers to an actual person who was once alive.

  74. 74
    Owlmirror

    What of Tacitus?

    Indeed, what of him?

    Even if you posit that “Christus” is not “Chrestus”, and was not modified by copyists, all the passage means is that Tacitus reports the existence of Christians, and the story they had of Jesus.

    How is that supposed to be in support of Jesus having existed, rather than of people who believed that he had existed?

    To call into question the historicity of the Gospels’ accounts

    Even where they contradict each other?

    Every individual wishes to be judge and jury in their own court of law and drive the verdict to a predetermined end by discarding solid historical evidence and reliability.

    Such as?

  75. 75
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Basically all of it. You’d only have to agree that the word “Jesus” refers to an actual person who was once alive

    … who might have been named “Dave” or even “Zeke”.

  76. 76
    daniel

    And the elapsed gaps of time between extant manuscripts and autographs are unique to Gospels like no other documents of antiquity was also what I was attempting to say rather poorly above @71.

  77. 77
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Basically all of it. You’d only have to agree that the word “Jesus” refers to an actual person who was once alive

    … who might have been named “Dave” or even “Zeke”.

  78. 78
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Basically all of it. You’d only have to agree that the word “Jesus” refers to an actual person who was once alive

    … who might have been named “Dave” or even “Zeke”.

  79. 79
    daniel

    @74

    Start with one example and we can go from there.

    In relation to Tacitus,his treatment of both Christians and Christus/Chrestus it is compelling. Doesn’t obviously prove Jesus existed,sure, but lends credibility to the Gospels. Why would a pagan historian even mention it if something like what he described didn’t actually happen?

  80. 80
    consciousness razor

    … who might have been named “Dave” or even “Zeke”.

    I have to say, “Zeke Christ” does have a nice ring to it.

    But anyway, yes. It is possible that the names were changed … to protect the innocent, or to agree with scripture, or for aesthetic reasons, or whatever. So it’s not that there was a real person named Jesus (specifically the one in the Bible), just that the specific character in the named “Jesus” was a real person (whatever his or her name may have been, assuming he or she had a name).

  81. 81
    consciousness razor

    Why would a pagan historian even mention it if something like what he described didn’t actually happen?

    Because he didn’t know it was based on an unreliable source?

  82. 82
    daniel

    @74

    Solid historical reliability –

    The oldest copy of the Gospels is a piece from John from 125 AD. I think it’s John 18, where Jesus is talking to Pilate.

    With the some 5,700 fragments, pieces and whole copies of the NT in circulation, there is widespread agreement in the texts themselves. Whereas with Herodutus or Thucydides we only have about 95 manuscript copies in existence, separated from their autographs by some five centuries.

    Nothing like the NT exists in the ancient world as far as volume, agreement and proximity to the autographs.

    I grant it this is not solid proof of the veracity of the documents, but it sure gives the believer a level of confidence that the texts in which he places his hope are far and away more plentiful and in agreement than anything else from the ancient world.

    That’s really what I had in mind.

    Hope that helps.

  83. 83
    consciousness razor

    whoops:

    character in the Bible named “Jesus”

  84. 84
    daniel

    @79

    Oh, sure. There are lots of answers to my question. I didn’t really have one I knew for sure. Anything I said about the senator (who was four at the time of the fire), would be based on the historical record he left us and my own presuppositional bias, perhaps.

    Rome did suffer a conflagration of considerable proportion under Nero. But what Tacitus knew and when, we can only guess. I just think the fact that the senator mentions it as he does rather off-handedly is compelling.

  85. 85
    Martin Wagner

    helena:

    Good point (right means informed by scholarship by the way, which some might consider self-evident). I’ll remember that next time, and I write a detailed 5000 word essay with footnotes, if I don’t have to feed the baby and make dinner for myself and my husband.

    Sorry, homey don’t play. You don’t get to call Carrier a shitty scholar and then beg off your own duty to back up your claims with some scholarship by citing mom duties. We all have lives. And in any event, I don’t see why a simple request for you to clarify what you mean by a specific phrase should require a 5000-word dissertation with endnotes.

    Wait till after dinner to comment next time, would be my suggestion.

  86. 86
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    Well, Tacitus proves that Christians existed alright. I think there’s something similar written by one of the Plinies, too. But Christians still exist, and that fact doesn’t seem to me to provide evidence one way or the other for the truth of their stories.

    I have no interest in the argument beyond idle intellectual curiosity plus a dash of ancient history enthusiasm. From that perspective, it seems rather odd that anyone would lay such importance on the distinction between a guy who never existed, and a guy who existed but nothing whatsoever in the stories about him can be considered definitely true.

    Seriously?
    Mythicist: there is no evidence to show Jesus ever existed.
    Historicist: Jesus existed but every single one of the stories about him is probably bullshit.

    Can this really be an issue?

  87. 87
    consciousness razor

    By the way, for all you mythicist naysayers out there, I want to point out that, if you read it very carefully, the Harry Potter series is clearly about George Washington. (He’s Lord Voldemort, obviously.)

  88. 88
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    Hey, if I claim that Jesus existed, but was a woman, would that make me a historicist or a mythicist? What if I say Jesus existed but was a pansexual pangendered space alien or a time-travelling robot?

    (Apart from these things making me a loon, which point I fully concede.)

  89. 89
    Owlmirror

    Why would a pagan historian even mention it if something like what he described didn’t actually happen?

    Because he is reporting what Christians said happened, regardless of whether it actually did?

    The oldest copy of the Gospels is a piece from John from 125 AD.

    P52 is dated only by handwriting style, and its age is thus much less certain than the exact date you offer.

    With the some 5,700 fragments, pieces and whole copies of the NT in circulation, there is widespread agreement in the texts themselves.

    Hm. Then why does the Codex Siniaticus have so many modifications?

    What does “widespread agreement” mean, exactly?

    Just that the texts have roughly the same content?

    I grant it this is not solid proof of the veracity of the documents, but it sure gives the believer a level of confidence that the texts in which he places his hope are far and away more plentiful and in agreement than anything else from the ancient world.

    The problem is still connecting the contents of the texts with the putative person that they are about. Which remains an intractable problem, I suspect.

  90. 90
    daniel

    @84

    Acceptable evidence is in the eye of the beholder. People looked Jesus squarely in the eye and didn’t believe Him. I don’t blame you for lack of belief. Thomas, one of the twelve, if you believe it, doubted.

    I personally believe the Gospel accounts to be the best source documents for what Jesus said and did while He was here on the earth.

    There are far too many copies of NT manuscripts which agree with one another, for me anyway, to think some small band of miscreant religious hucksters got away with the greatest lie ever told for so long. If all of this was fakery, forgery or fraud, I think it would be a rather difficult lot to carry on a scam of that scale throughout the entire Greek-speaking world at that time.

    What? Were there no skeptics, agnostics, doubters, non-religious, unbelieving, non-theistic, reasonable people around back then to cast a pall over the zealous little band of nomadic story tellers and their delusions?

    Again, nothing I think can ultimately prove Christianity in the way people today demand it be proven. But all signs point to a reasonable certainity that something happened.

  91. 91
    consciousness razor

    Mythicist: there is no evidence to show Jesus ever existed.
    Historicist: Jesus existed but every single one of the stories about him is probably bullshit.

    Can this really be an issue?

    Heh. Yeah, I couldn’t care less either.

    To be fair, both are more complicated than that — they’re general categories of many different positions. I was only trying to outline the minimal claim a historicist could make, so the distinction between them would be somewhat clearer. Obviously, most Christians fall under the historicist category, some of whom apparently think every jot and tittle in the Bible is the truth handed down to them from their deity.

  92. 92
    llewelly

    He existed, because his brother James existed, and is attested to by Paul – the only reliable written 1st century source we have.

    The brother of a friend of a man whose original writings are now lost …

    The theological schism between James and Paul – and we only have Paul’s side of the argument extant …

    Well, since we have the Athenian side of the political schism between Athens and Atlantis, I guess Atlantis is real.

  93. 93
    daniel

    @87

    Isn’t historical evidence all about dot connecting? Do we not accept the existence of Plato, of Aristotle and of Socrates? What of Herodutus or Thucydides? There are far less manuscripts of theirs in existence but few people question they were real people. I do not see why the same cannot be said for the Lord Jesus.

    I don’t know why the Siniaticus has so many modifications. Really, I do not. I know the one they found in Sinai was being used by Monks for starting fires in the kitchen oven.

    Maybe scribes who worked on it were rather second-rate. I know my writing ability suffers the older I get.

    I’ve actually seen and TOUCHED a copy of the Vaticanus! It was a neat experience. Proof the manuscript exists, anyway.

    And what is mean by widespread agreement? I don’t know. Goodness. Lots and lots. Most of the textual variations are few and far between, I guess.

    My date for P52 is roughly about what I read. I can do no better since I’m not an archeologist. Still amazing, though. Not but what, maybe thirty or forty years after John’s autograph? Remarkable comparatively speaking to other manuscripts.

  94. 94
    John Morales

    daniel:

    Thomas, one of the twelve, if you believe it, doubted.

    Yes, it’s very credible that an apostle doubted — it totally explains why he was an apostle! :)

    Again, nothing I think can ultimately prove Christianity in the way people today demand it be proven. But all signs point to a reasonable certainity that something happened.

    Christianity needs no proof: its existence is in evidence; and by “all signs” you mean the propaganda of Christianity (the Babble).

    (Weaksauce is weak)

  95. 95
    daniel

    That would be “archaeologist”

  96. 96
    Owlmirror

    Hey, if I claim that Jesus existed, but was a woman, would that make me a historicist or a mythicist?

    Yes.

    (*smirk*)

    Actually, I think the mythicist position, as I understand it, is that a syncretized Savior-myth existing (prior to any putative person that the Gospels are supposed to be about) obscures the entire issue of that putative person’s life, up to and including its very existence as a real sequence of events.

    What if I say Jesus existed but was a pansexual pangendered space alien or a time-travelling robot?

    Yes, but did the myth of a savior come before the person?

    I would find either of those claims to be more probable than Jesus being the offspring of an invisible person with magical superpowers that supposedly exists eternally [*and so and so forth*].

    And both possibilities might well have more interesting fanfic written about them than we currently have.

  97. 97
    John Morales

    daniel:

    What of Herodutus or Thucydides? There are far less manuscripts of theirs in existence but few people question they were real people. I do not see why the same cannot be said for the Lord Jesus.

    We accept storybook Jesus is a character in a story, sure. So?

    (The god-man bits are clearly a fabrication)

  98. 98
    llewelly

    There are far too many copies of NT manuscripts which agree with one another …

    The Four Gospels disagree with each other – and with the epistles of Paul – on almost every particular of the story of any given event in the life of Jesus.

    You know, it’s funny how some historicists argue their position based on similarities between the accounts, whilst others argue their position based on the many discrepancies – the notion being that real people do not fit neat stereotypes and thus have characters full of inconsistencies, and accounts of them are taken down by flawed people with different information, and thus contain inconsistencies too.

    Some historicists seem unaware that people are capable of consistent fiction, while others forget that people are capable of inconsistent fiction.

  99. 99
    joep

    “Jesus is a legend, like King Arthur or Robin Hood or Paul Bunyan. There may have been some individual in the past who inspired the stories, but he’s not part of the historical record, and the tall tales built around him almost certainly bear little resemblance to the long-lost reality.”

    admittedly, i am only about halfway through the book…but, uh, that pretty much IS what he’s saying.

  100. 100
    daniel

    @92

    John

    I am fond of the “no-holds-barred” approach to Scripture when it comes to human frailty.

    If “I” were to make something up, I would start with my own infallible wisdom and divine invincibility. I would then begin to lord it over others in a rather intimidating fashion (with perhaps weaponry, political power and money). I would not allow any room for questions,as I continued hiding my human weaknesses and frailties behind a facade of pious, highminded prose about how wonderful I was.

    But the Gospels don’t do that. If any one of the disciples made it up, they were tremendously self-depricating in their prose, especially toward themselves.

  101. 101
    daniel

    @96

    One example of disagreement, if you please. I would like to see what you mean. Really.

  102. 102
    daniel

    John,

    How does one historically differentiate between “story” and “truth”?

  103. 103
    John Morales

    daniel:

    If “I” were to make something up, I would start with my own infallible wisdom and divine invincibility. [...]

    But the Gospels don’t do that. If any one of the disciples made it up, they were tremendously self-depricating in their prose, especially toward themselves.

    You never heard of spin-doctoring, I take it.

    (BTW, Paul was no disciple — and Christianity is far more his than anyone else’s creation)

  104. 104
    John Morales

    daniel:

    How does one historically differentiate between “story” and “truth”?

    Via the historical method, which (incidentally) is Carrier’s modus.

  105. 105
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Yes, but did the myth of a savior come before the person?

    Nobody yet has mentioned Behold the Man?

  106. 106
    daniel

    Oh, John, sure I have. What I have a difficult time believing is that such “spin-doctoring” would have the historical tenacity of the sort the Gospels do.

    What evidence would you have, one example is fine, of how one could have confidence the Gospels were fabricated? Solid, convincing, historical evidence.

    What would you say?

  107. 107
    Travis

    Like others have mentioned here, I am not that interested in whether the historical Jesus is real or not. I think the beliefs of Jesus followers are much more interesting and are actually relevant in discussing what people believe today. I really enjoy listening to Philip Harland discuss these issues, mostly surround how early Christians thought of themselves and Jesus rather than about Jesus himself. He does have one series about the historical Jesus called “The Historical Jesus in context” but if one looks at the content it is really looking at the historical background of Judea and Galilee in order to understand how Jesus would have fit into his world.

  108. 108
    Owlmirror

    People looked Jesus squarely in the eye and didn’t believe Him.

    Or so it is claimed, in the very stories written about him.

    Thomas, one of the twelve, if you believe it, doubted.

    The entire sequence in John 20, taken as a whole, is a rhetorical attack on those who disbelieve and demand empirical evidence. It’s a paen to gullibility; an implicit condemnation of rational skepticism.

    . . . blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

    Really?

    I personally believe the Gospel accounts to be the best source documents for what Jesus said and did while He was here on the earth.

    Even when they contradict each other?

    Even when Jesus contradicts himself in the same Gospel?

    There are far too many copies of NT manuscripts which agree with one another, for me anyway, to think some small band of miscreant religious hucksters got away with the greatest lie ever told for so long. If all of this was fakery, forgery or fraud, I think it would be a rather difficult lot to carry on a scam of that scale throughout the entire Greek-speaking world at that time.

    Do you believe that Joseph Smith really met the Angel Moroni, then?

    What? Were there no skeptics, agnostics, doubters, non-religious, unbelieving, non-theistic, reasonable people around back then to cast a pall over the zealous little band of nomadic story tellers and their delusions?

    Well, yes. Just as there were and are those who doubted Joseph Smith.

    Again, nothing I think can ultimately prove Christianity in the way people today demand it be proven. But all signs point to a reasonable certainity that something happened.

    Ditto for Mormonism. And Scientology, too. “Something happened”, indeed.

    Isn’t historical evidence all about dot connecting? Do we not accept the existence of Plato, of Aristotle and of Socrates? What of Herodutus or Thucydides? There are far less manuscripts of theirs in existence but few people question they were real people.

    No-one claims that you need to believe that historical figures existed in order to achieve salvation.

    We have works attributed to those authors, with those names attached to their writings. It’s parsimonious to accept that someone wrote them, and that that person had a name. We don’t believe everything they wrote, either. Herodotus had no problem writing down funny stories that people told him, which I suspect that not even he believed.

    I note that Thucydides, for example, was honest enough to write that he did not witness everything himself personally, and some of the conversations and and events he related were imagined reconstructions.

    We have nothing in the gospel indicating such an honest take on the events described.

    I do not see why the same cannot be said for the Lord Jesus.

    You might want to keep the godbotting to a minimum, here.

    I don’t know why the Siniaticus has so many modifications. Really, I do not. I know the one they found in Sinai was being used by Monks for starting fires in the kitchen oven.

    This bizarre and unlikely claim strongly suggests that you don’t know much of anything. I mean, really? The Greek Orthodox monks, who could read Greek, having a book written in Greek, which they could tell was a collection of their Greek holy books, would use it as firestarter?

  109. 109
    daniel

    Linking to Wikipedia?! I didn’t know people still did that!

  110. 110
    John Morales

    daniel:

    What evidence would you have, one example is fine, of how one could have confidence the Gospels were fabricated? Solid, convincing, historical evidence.

    Other than the internal contradictions, historical stupidities (census, anyone?) and miracle-claims?

    Well — basically, the null hypothesis (AKA the burden of proof) indicates it ain’t up to us to disprove the claims. ;)

    (Damn you, Owlmirror, for adducing Joseph Smith before me!)

  111. 111
    Owlmirror

    If “I” were to make something up, I would start with my own infallible wisdom and divine invincibility. I would then begin to lord it over others in a rather intimidating fashion (with perhaps weaponry, political power and money). I would not allow any room for questions,as I continued hiding my human weaknesses and frailties behind a facade of pious, highminded prose about how wonderful I was.

    I understand that that strategy has had its successes as well, in the religion biz.

    But the Gospels don’t do that. If any one of the disciples made it up, they were tremendously self-depricating in their prose, especially toward themselves.

    Many sincere godbots are “humble” that way.

    “It’s not me. I’m just a fallible man. It’s God talking.”

    But sincerity itself is bullshit.

  112. 112
    John Morales

    [meta]

    daniel:

    Linking to Wikipedia?! I didn’t know people still did that!

    So, it’s wrong about the historical method?

    (Weakest of weaksauce, is your objection)

  113. 113
    John Morales

    [meta]

    I guess daniel shan’t be linking to Wikipedia any time soon. ;)

  114. 114
    llewelly

    Do we not accept the existence of Plato, of Aristotle and of Socrates?

    All of the books on Socrates that I have read give some space to the argument that Socrates was a pedagogical invention of Plato. They all lean toward the position that Socrates existed, but admit the arguments against the existence of Socrates deserve to be taken seriously. No one goes around telling Socrates-is-myth people that the question is unimportant, or that they make themselves look bad, or that they don’t deserve to be taken seriously, or that their argument is “… without foundation …” or “… effortless to pick it apart …” (to quote the discoverer of the true cross, above).

    (Plato and Aristotle are written about by many of their contemporaries, so they don’t fall under the same degree of doubt.)

  115. 115
    McCthulhu, now with -25% less fat.

    Shouldn’t the precision and depth of this dissection warrant an honorary biology degree? Carrier didn’t just cold-cock Ehrman, he kicked him in the ribs a few times, mummy-wrapped him in duct tape, tied a boulder around his feet and dumped him in the Marianas Trench.

  116. 116
    llewelly

    daniel | 21 March 2012 at 11:11 pm

    Linking to Wikipedia?! I didn’t know people still did that!

    I wish I could be so stylish as you and be so certain wikipedia was wrong.

  117. 117
    Owlmirror

    What evidence would you have, one example is fine, of how one could have confidence the Gospels were fabricated?

    I think that the contradictions between the beginning and early part of Jesus’ life in Matthew and Luke, offered without any reservations or qualifications, strongly suggests that both were completely fabricating a birth and childhood for Jesus that was meant to be “consistent” with “prophecy”, regardless of whether Jesus was a real person or a myth that they were each contributing to in different ways.

  118. 118
    daniel

    @106

    Tischendorf’s 1844 visit to St. Catherine’s – He was told two basketloads of the manuscript in question were used for kindling. I’m not making that up. You may Google Tischendorf St. Catherines 1844 and find the info.

    One example of a contradiction would be great.

    Your take on John 20. Historically accurate? How do you know that? What proof do you have that your own interpretation is accurate, historically, that is? How do you know what the author was intending, since in fact he was, I’m guessing you believe, making up stuff?

    Do I believe Joseph Smith? Mormonism? Scientology?

    Red Herrings at present. We are talking about the Gospels from the first century, not the Book of Mormon from the 19th or L. Ron Hubbard from the middle of the twentieth.

  119. 119
    consciousness razor

    Linking to Wikipedia?! I didn’t know people still did that!

    There’s a lot you don’t know. It’s useful for people like you, who barely know where to begin on a subject.

    Wikipedia page about Wikipedia.

  120. 120
    daniel

    @115

    Specifically, what is contradictory in the narratives you mention?

  121. 121
    llewelly

    By now, the fundamental principle of the Jesus historicists should be clear: if you classify enough of the details as “myth”, you eventually end up with description sufficiently vague that the law of large numbers comes into play, somebody fits what is left of the description.

  122. 122
    daniel

    @117

    I honestly didn’t think Wikipedia was that credible, given the way people post and write whatever they want sometimes.

    I mean I’ve used it in the past for stuff, but with circumspection.

    Anyone can write just about anything on there.

  123. 123
    Owlmirror

    This bizarre and unlikely claim strongly suggests that you don’t know much of anything. I mean, really? The Greek Orthodox monks, who could read Greek, having a book written in Greek, which they could tell was a collection of their Greek holy books, would use it as firestarter?

    I wish to retract this. Regardless of whether it is true or not, Tischendorf does indeed claim that some of the texts he found in the monastery were originally destined to be burned.

    Sorry about that.

  124. 124
    daniel

    I never said “Wikipedia is wrong” but I might own up to being stylish!

  125. 125
    consciousness razor

    Do I believe Joseph Smith? Mormonism? Scientology?

    Red Herrings at present. We are talking about the Gospels from the first century, not the Book of Mormon from the 19th or L. Ron Hubbard from the middle of the twentieth.

    So you don’t know what a red herring is. Noted.

  126. 126
    daniel

    Owlmirror,

    No worries, mate! Apology accepted.

  127. 127
    strange gods before me ॐ

    What evidence would you have, one example is fine, of how one could have confidence the Gospels were fabricated? Solid, convincing, historical evidence.

    There is the effort on the part of the authors to make Jesus fit their misunderstanding of Isaiah 7:14. If the birth narrative hadn’t been fabricated, the widespread understanding today would have Jesus being born of a “young woman”.

    Whether that more plausible story would have made for a more or less successful church over the centuries, I’m not sure; but in any case it’s an example where we know what a not-fabricated story would have to look like, and what we have ain’t it.

  128. 128
    daniel

    Red herrings are smelly fish that were once used to throw dogs off their original scent, if I’m not correctly mistaken.

    In an argument, it’s a digression, a distraction from the original premise under discussion.

    I think going from the first to the 19th and 20th century was a bit of a red herring as I understand it.

    If I’m radically wrong about that, I’ll stand corrected.

  129. 129
    Owlmirror

    Your take on John 20. Historically accurate? How do you know that? What proof do you have that your own interpretation is accurate, historically, that is? How do you know what the author was intending, since in fact he was, I’m guessing you believe, making up stuff?

    If the gullible are blessed — as the text itself says — then by implication, the doubters are damned.

    Do I believe Joseph Smith? Mormonism? Scientology?

    Red Herrings at present. We are talking about the Gospels from the first century, not the Book of Mormon from the 19th or L. Ron Hubbard from the middle of the twentieth.

    Not red herrings; arguments a fortiori from analogy. If you do indeed agree that religious frauds can gain followers in more recent times, why is it improbable — as you seem to argue — that they should have done so in the past?

  130. 130
    helenaconstantine

    @ no. 66

    So, “Were you there?” pretty much?
    As someone lees helpfully pointed out, we don’t have that kind of evidence for Alexander. Demosthenes does mentions him during his life time, but you’d probably dismiss it as mythicist since he says “If Alexander wants to be a god, he can be a god” and Aristotle dedicated a treatise on rhetoric to him, but, someone like Carrier could argue, that’s a genre that quickly became filled with all sorts of fictions. Then there’s the Alexander Romance that is clearly fictionalized, so that throws doubt on his own existence.

    You see where that kind of special pleading leads you.

  131. 131
    daniel

    Yes, I am familiar with the “young woman” or “alma” in Isaiah, I think the Hebrew is.

    As I’ve read and understood it, it’s something like the way we’d say “teen”.

    In the ancient cultures “virgin” and “young woman” were relatively synonymous, as the young woman, especially an unmarried young woman, would have been assumed to be a virgin.

    In a society that condones promiscuity to the level we do, it’s difficult to imagine. But the cultural context dictates the interpretation by and large. There is nothing problematic with “young woman” being interpreted as “virgin”.

    What other specific contradictions do you think exist?

  132. 132
    helenaconstantine

    @71

    A good point about Tacitus, but unfortunately the most that text proves is that the Roman church had received instruction from Paul. Suetonius establishes that the Roman church existed under the Reign of Claudius (they rioted). Unfortunately the mythicists dismiss these texts by claiming that these were merely fooled by the conspiracy they postualte.

  133. 133
    Owlmirror

    Specifically, what is contradictory in the narratives you mention?

    Where do I start?

    How about that Matthew’s and Luke’s birth dates for Jesus have a ten-year-difference?

    Or that Matthew has Jesus’s family hiding out in Egypt, while Luke has him growing up in Nazareth?

    Or that the genealogies are completely different?

  134. 134
    alexanderjohannesen

    I’ve seen a few question why this mythicist vs. historicist is even important. Well, if you take Christians – as people – seriously (as opposed to their religion), even they admit that evidence and rational thought is important for faith. One of the main underlying tenants of Christianity being true is that Jesus was a historical figure, and from there spring interpretations of the gospels and later Paul. So this is important if you care about the truthiness of Christianity, especially in argument with believers.

    Also, it should be pointed out that Carrier isn’t a mythicist; he’s simply pointing out that Ehrman is misguided in this particular aspect. Carrier has otherwise great respect for Ehrman’s books and scholarship, just not this once. (As I wrote elsewhere, maybe Ehrman’s article was … Forged? *kadoom-bash*)

    There’s a deeper point here, too; if you can’t simply determine mythicisim from historicism, then the grounds of all evidence-based claims to Christianity are bunk. I think this is a bigger deal than some make it, and I’m rather glad Carrier did this to flush out poor apologetics based on evidence.

  135. 135
    consciousness razor

    I think going from the first to the 19th and 20th century was a bit of a red herring as I understand it.

    You were the one who introduced the different timeframes, as if they were relevant, but the problem is that you fail to miss the point. You aren’t using the same criteria when evaluating the Bible as you would for the Book of Mormon or Dianetics (or whateverthefuck scientologists read). Your epistemology, such as it is, is inconsistent. You believe the Bible because you want to believe it, not because you’ve been convinced by some bit of evidence which would be convincing to someone who didn’t already believe and wasn’t trying to rationalize the historicity problem out of their mind.

    Try to look at it from my angle. I don’t give a flying fuck whether Jesus existed or what kind of delusions you have. What evidence is there that would convince a person like me that Jesus existed, who isn’t looking at the Bible with their Jesus-goggles? The answer is not much at all.

  136. 136
    strange gods before me ॐ

    There is nothing problematic with “young woman” being interpreted as “virgin”.

    Except that that’s just not what the word alma means, of course.

    There is another Hebrew word which does mean virgin. The author of Isaiah didn’t use it.

    But there’s a reason the Christian authors went with virgin. That’s what they misunderstood their Greek texts to be saying.

    The result is exactly what we would expect to see if the birth story of Jesus was fabricated.

  137. 137
    daniel

    @127

    John 20 does not say the “gullible” are blessed. It’s my opinion that your interpretation of John 20 is more in line with personal opinion, which is fine, of course, but as far as historically accurate, I’m still wondering how what you’ve said could be established credibly.

    We were discussing the existence of Jesus and the relative confidence one could have in the reliablity of the Gospels as historical and true because of the multipicity of copies and how often these extant manuscripts from various times and places agree with one another.

    I never said it was improbable that deceptive people could gain a following in the past. What I did say was far more stylish and rather dramatic, something like how could such a small band of nomadic religious zealots have perpetrated such a lie for so long without someone or some country or some army coming forth and crushing their paltry, jejune delusions, if in fact that’s what they were? Something like that.

    My point being, it’s very compelling that Christianity has lasted for so long and it’s “parchment” trail is quite impressive when you compare it to all the other papers from roughly the same time period lying around in museums today.

  138. 138
    strange gods before me ॐ

    There is nothing problematic with “young woman” being interpreted as “virgin”.

    Except that that’s just not what the word alma means, of course.

    There is another Hebrew word which does mean virgin. The author of Isaiah didn’t use it.

    But there’s a reason the Christian authors went with virgin. That’s what they misunderstood their Greek texts to be saying.

    The result is exactly what we would expect to see if the birth story of Jesus was fabricated.

  139. 139
    Owlmirror

    In the ancient cultures “virgin” and “young woman” were relatively synonymous, as the young woman, especially an unmarried young woman, would have been assumed to be a virgin.

    “Assumed to be?”

    Why would the writers make such an explicit point that Mary was pregnant without having fucked, unless they were specifically insisting that “virgin” and “young woman” were not synonymous?

  140. 140
    strange gods before me ॐ

    There is nothing problematic with “young woman” being interpreted as “virgin”.

    Except that that’s just not what the word alma means, of course.

    There is another Hebrew word which does mean virgin. The author of Isaiah didn’t use it.

    But there’s a reason the Christian authors went with virgin. That’s what they misunderstood their Greek texts to be saying.

    The result is exactly what we would expect to see if the birth story of Jesus was fabricated.

  141. 141
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    I don’t understand your point, Helena. Nobody disputes that Christians existed. Rome was also quite full of Isis cultists, but that does nothing to prove that Isis existed. And what conspiracy are you talking about? Carrier doesn’t seem to me to be arguing for any conspiracy.

  142. 142
    Wowbagger, Designated Snarker

    daniel wrote:

    I think going from the first to the 19th and 20th century was a bit of a red herring as I understand it.

    Hardly. The point is that people believe stupid, nonsensical shit passed off as religion even in these supposedly enlightened times; why is it hard to believe that people could be convinced to accept rubbish like that in a time of far greater scientific ignorance?

  143. 143
    consciousness razor

    helenaconstantine:

    Oh sure, Alexander the Great was mythical. It’s just a coincidence that all those Alexandrias were mythically built in honor of a mythical military campaign stretching to India, whereby Greek culture mythically propagated. No evidence to speak of that Alexander was real, because we must only rely on contemporary biographical texts. *eyeroll*

  144. 144
    helenaconstantine

    @112

    You know, right underneath the true cross, I found the texts were Aristophanes, Aristotle, and Xenophon independently attest Socrates. It was an amazing cache.

    Actually I’m one of the few people who agrees with Morton Smith that we ought to seriously consider the possibility that Jesus was stoned to death rather than crucified.

  145. 145
    daniel

    Owl

    Where’s the ten year difference of a birthdate?

    I don’t see going to Egypt and growing up in Nazareth as exclusively contradictory.

    I was an infant in two states and spent most of my childhood in one.

    Writing of my life’s story I could say my parents took me to Cleveland and that I was raised in California. No contradiction, just two different vantage points of my upbringing.

    As I understand the listing of familial lines in the Bible, generations are sometimes skipped. For instance, I could talk of my great grandfather who served in both world wars and never mention my grandfather.

    So while one might mention the grandfather and omit the great grandfather, the other might do the exact opposite. Writer perogative and what they chose to emphasize. Matthew had a “bias” toward a Jewish audience and selected those things he felt would be an asset to his writing. Luke was giving his account differently. Again, I think what is often touted as a “contradiction” is really a multi-faceted approach to the same subject.

  146. 146
    Owlmirror

    John 20 does not say the “gullible” are blessed.

    Not in so many words, but by implication.

    Isn’t believing that a magic trick was real an example of gullibility?

    I never said it was improbable that deceptive people could gain a following in the past. What I did say was far more stylish and rather dramatic, something like how could such a small band of nomadic religious zealots have perpetrated such a lie for so long without someone or some country or some army coming forth and crushing their paltry, jejune delusions, if in fact that’s what they were?

    You mean, like the various persecutions that Christians underwent in the Roman Empire, similar to the persecutions that the Mormons underwent at the hands of Americans who did not believe them?

  147. 147
    helenaconstantine

    @139

    You missed my point, I was satirizing the kind of special pleading that Carrier et al have to used in their arguments. Not very well, it seems

  148. 148
    Owlmirror

    Isn’t believing that a magic trick was real an example of gullibility?

    And perhaps more to the point, believing that a magic trick was real without even seeing evidence of the trick having occurred?

    Is that not the essence of gullibility?

  149. 149
    daniel

    Owl

    I could make the suggestion that NOT believing in the resurrection could likewise, evidentially that is, be an example of gullibility.

    After all, you have no evidence it did not happen. There’s more evidence for it than against it.

  150. 150
    consciousness razor

    You missed my point, I was satirizing the kind of special pleading that Carrier et al have to used in their arguments. Not very well, it seems

    Whatever you thought your point was, I don’t believe you know what Carrier’s arguments about this actually are, so it wouldn’t surprise me if you don’t satirize them very well.

  151. 151
    Silentbob

    @ 8 helenaconstantine

    I am a Classicists professor and did years of specialized work int he New Testament.

    @ 54 helenaconstantine

    Crusifixtion-29-33

    Heh.

  152. 152
    daniel

    I admit Cleveland is not a state. Ohio is the state in which one may find Cleveland, but Cleveland is not at state. California IS a state, yes. Just clarifying.

  153. 153
    Wowbagger, Designated Snarker

    daniel wrote:

    I could make the suggestion that NOT believing in the resurrection could likewise, evidentially that is, be an example of gullibility.

    Sure, you could make that suggestion, but to do so would lead most people to the conclusion you either a) don’t know what the word ‘gullibility’ means, or b) are profoundly intellectually dishonest.

    Or maybe even c) both.

  154. 154
    Owlmirror

    Where’s the ten year difference of a birthdate?

    Matthew posits that Jesus was born before the death of Herod the Great, which was in 4 BCE.

    Luke places Jesus’ birth during the census that took place when Quirinius was governor of Syria, which was 6 CE.

    I don’t see going to Egypt and growing up in Nazareth as exclusively contradictory.

    It is when Luke has them going straight to Nazareth, no detours; no hint of fear of being killed by Herod that Matthew relies on.

    As I understand the listing of familial lines in the Bible, generations are sometimes skipped.

    Oh? Any examples of such sloppiness?

    It’s not just skipped generations; it’s an entirely different son of David that Jesus is supposedly descended from.

    For instance, I could talk of my great grandfather who served in both world wars and never mention my grandfather.

    Why would you skip him if you were giving your genealogy?

    Would you really want to look so stupid that you don’t even know your father’s father’s name?

    So while one might mention the grandfather and omit the great grandfather, the other might do the exact opposite. Writer perogative and what they chose to emphasize

    I agree that writers who are making the whole thing up would choose to emphasize different things.

    Matthew had a “bias” toward a Jewish audience and selected those things he felt would be an asset to his writing. Luke was giving his account differently.

    Right, they made up different things.

  155. 155
    Menyambal

    What indications do we have that the Gospels are fabricated?

    First, something I learned here: The birth date of “during the reign of Caesar Augustus and Herod something-something” is bogus, because the two never overlapped. That can be checked by the Roman histories.

    Second, the alleged placard on the Crucifixion cross: This document was described differently in all four gospels. All mention it, all present it as something that the witnesses would have had a long time to look at. And it would have made a nice souvenir for the relic business. It is the one Roman documentation of the event, and it doesn’t hold up.

    Third, after the crucifixion: The sky was darkened, the earth quaked, graves opened and zombies walked. Nobody noticed or recorded this.

    And more, but you can just check Wikipedia. Wikipedia is like anything else, a good place to start, but something to be skeptical of. Pointless slagging of it is pointless.

    You think the Gospels are the best source for what Jesus said? Um, what else is there?

    As for the monks and the fire-starters, the story as I caught it could range anywhere from somebody asking a monk to check over a shelf of papers to see what could be burnt, to a gallant monk fighting to prevent a cruel atheist from burning the gospels. There just isn’t enough information there to decide what happened and what intentions were.

    The same holds for the historical Jesus, or even the gospel Jesus. There is too little info, and too much assumption and guesswork.

    There’s also a lot of believing going on. As I have said before, someone who believes in Jesus may also believe they have good reason too, and that they are making good arguments. Once someone starts believing, there really isn’t anything between them and raving insanity.

    Science and skepticism are defenses against the beliefs and assumptions we all carelessly make.

    Enshrining a tendency to believe as the central tenet of a religion is wrong, and it is what Christianity has done.

  156. 156
    Owlmirror

    I could make the suggestion that NOT believing in the resurrection could likewise, evidentially that is, be an example of gullibility.

    Nonsense. You pervert the very meaning of the word.

    After all, you have no evidence it did not happen.

    I have no evidence that a story about a magic trick being real did not really happen? Think about what you’re writing, please.

    Do you believe all stories about magic tricks being real?

    There’s more evidence for it than against it.

    Because Jesus is still alive in Jerusalem, and anyone can go and talk to him about events that took place 2,000 years ago; put their hands in his side; see the holes in his hands?

  157. 157
    John Morales

    daniel:

    I could make the suggestion that NOT believing in the resurrection could likewise, evidentially that is, be an example of gullibility.

    After all, you have no evidence it did not happen. There’s more evidence for it than against it.

    But of course! Nothing miraculous about that, nosiree!

    BTW, don’t you agree that the resurrection of Lazarus is no less miraculous and no less attested than this one*? ;)

    * Arguably, even more so, what with non-adherents being privy to it.

    PS Any mention of the seismic, meteorological and necromantic events accompanying the purported death by crucifixion and stabbing, outside the NT?

  158. 158
    John Morales

    [meta]

    Owlmirror,

    Matthew posits that Jesus was born before the death of Herod the Great, which was in 4 BCE.

    Luke places Jesus’ birth during the census that took place when Quirinius was governor of Syria, which was 6 CE.

    Ahem.

    [4 3 2 1 0 1 2 3 4 5 6] has 11 elements.

  159. 159
    strange gods before me ॐ

    After all, you have no evidence it did not happen.

    Fuck, this is stupid. I’m disappointed in you, Daniel.

    Consider an alternate world, in which people were frequently confirmed to rise from the dead after several days, and this was a phenomenon well-known to science. Your statement there would have a very different meaning: “you have no evidence that Jesus was not one of the many people who rise from the dead after several days. It happens all the time.” The claim, then, would not be extraordinary; it would only be a question of whether he was or was not one of these ordinary people.

    Now compare that to our world, in which resurrection, after several days and prior to modern medicine, is an extraordinary claim.

    The difference in extraordinariness is evidence against the more extraordinary claim. Is this really so hard to understand?

  160. 160
  161. 161
    John Morales

    [meta]

    ॐ, be fair. That was prefaced with:

    I could make the suggestion that NOT believing in the resurrection could likewise, evidentially that is, be an example of gullibility.

    (The assertion was that “I could make the suggestion that”, not that it was made.

    Weaksauce merchant, this)

  162. 162
    John Morales

    [OT]

    ॐ, I know that.

    (As usual, I had more than one reason to post that. ;)

    (Dispute Owlmirror at your peril, O reader!))

  163. 163
    unclefrogy

    I like reading this blog and sometimes the linked ones.
    I would give anyone fair warning though.

    Don’t come around here and try talking shit. The people who hangout here are professional level shit dissectors and will break it down into small packages and hand it back to you all neat with a bow!

    uncle frogy

  164. 164
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    @Menyambal

    You think the Gospels are the best source for what Jesus said? Um, what else is there?

    There are non-canonical gospels, so these is actually some stuff outside the customary bible. Not necessarily any better as sources, but they do exist.

  165. 165
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    Bugger, bollixed blockquote. Sorry. 2nd para=me.

  166. 166
    Aratina Cage

    Hey, if I claim that Jesus existed, but was a woman, would that make me a historicist or a mythicist? What if I say Jesus existed but was a pansexual pangendered space alien or a time-travelling robot?

    Oh no! Jesus was clearly a blonde hair, blue-eyed White man who spoke English. Duh!

  167. 167
    raven

    Well this isn’t going to end up near the top. Whatever.

    This controversy has been going on for centuries now. I don’t believe the historical jesus question is answerable. Not enough data. It’s been 2,000 years and whatever data there was is lost in the sands of time.

    That is why this game never ends. And never will. The relevant data simply doesn’t exist anymore.

    FWIW, I lean towards a historical jesus myself for good reasons. But really, without any definitive way to settle the point, it is merely a fun thing to think about.

  168. 168
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    Seems about equally likely to me. So, do you call that silly idea a mythicist or historicist position? Helena? Are you still here?

  169. 169
    Menyambal

    Alethea, thank you.

    And Quirinius, governor of Syria, was who I meant when I mentioned Herod earlier. Thanks. I was just going off memory and didn’t check.

  170. 170
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    Again, shoulda quoted. I was replying to Aratina’s silly blond Jesus idea. English-speaking blond blue-eyed Jesus, robot Jesus from the future, who can say which is more foolish?

  171. 171
    Aratina Cage

    Another thing some people seem to be disregarding is that the people pushing this “savior of the selected few” propaganda were Christians. Hello? We know what Christians are capable of. We know that the more fanatical ones are not at all in tune with reality. Their fanaticism isn’t a contemporary thing–just read your Bible FFS! And go look at the Westboro Baptists and then tell me you would believe some tract they published. As Sili noted, Jesus is a golden plate, not a Joseph Smith.

  172. 172
    Menyambal

    “Historical Jesus”. Can we get a clear definition of that term before we go any further, please?

    As I said: In Judea, there were people named Yeshua, or whatever it was, some of whom had fathers named Yoseph, or whatever, and worked as carpenters, and whatever else you want to pick out of the gospel stories. But that doesn’t mean the legends of Christ were based on any of them.

    If I started making up a story now, I’d name my messiah Bob Smith and have him working at a fast-food place, but that doesn’t make the Bob Smith who works at the Fat Wally’s in Fresno into the “historical Bob Smith”. If you want to say “historical Jesus” please be clear what you are intending.

    Words and phrases with multiple meanings confuse the hell out of these discussions. (I’m thinking of the word “religion” right now.)

  173. 173
    Aratina Cage

    @Alethea H. Claw

    So, do you call that silly idea a mythicist or historicist position?

    Heh. Trying to paint a portrait of Jesus from the propaganda we have about him is like trying to draw Muhammad; it’s a free-for-all!

    And it’s not like the people being boxed into the mythicist camp are denying that Christianity happened or that the stories we have weren’t written. Consciousness Razor said that a fictional story about George Washington is still based on a real person, but what if we only had a couple of fictional stories about George Washington and nothing else? So the stories about him mention a few things that match with archeological records, but could we really point to them as containing anything reliable about the real George Washington? Could one even say with confidence that George Washington had existed based on fictional stories like that? I would think that one shouldn’t be so confident with so little to go on.

  174. 174
    Aratina Cage

    And one would have to be quite an idiot to believe that the golden plates actually existed–even if Joseph Smith used some real golden plates.

  175. 175
    Menyambal

    Now see, I just illustrated my own point. I made up the name Fat Wally’s, just to use as an example, then I Googled it and found several eateries by that name. Which one, pray, is the historical Fat Wally’s, and was my use of the name actually based on the existence of any of them? (BTW, I didn’t see one in Fresno.)

  176. 176
    Aratina Cage

    if you classify enough of the details as “myth”, you eventually end up with description sufficiently vague that the law of large numbers comes into play, somebody fits what is left of the description.

    Nice one. I guess that makes me a “historicist”, then.

  177. 177
    Aratina Cage

    helenaconstantine:

    Actually I’m one of the few people who agrees with Morton Smith that we ought to seriously consider the possibility that Jesus was stoned to death rather than crucified.

    And you were accusing so-called “mythicists” of believing in crackpot conspiracy theories? LOL.

  178. 178
    raven

    This daniel creep is lying all over the place about everything.

    I don’t have time to detail them but we have lots and lots of manuscripts that predate anything from the bible. Sometimes by thousands of years, the literature of the Sumerians, Babylonians, Ugarits, Egyptians, and related groups. They even predate the existence of the Jews.

    More recently we have the dead sea scrolls, prexian and related finds.

    daniel the idiot xian:

    What evidence would you have, one example is fine, of how one could have confidence the Gospels were fabricated? Solid, convincing, historical evidence.

    The evidence is so obvious that virtually all scholars who aren’t fundies agree on it. It is the Gospels themselves. Matthew and Luke are rewrites of Mark. Despite that they differ a lot between themselves. John is just a theological treatise.

    We know even today of 60 other Gospels. It was a popular literary tradition. The 4 chosen for the bible were chosen by the early church on theological grounds and the rest suppressed and forgotten.

    Parts of the NT are known to be forged, many of the Epistles.

    The consensus among scholars for the last few centuries is that much of the NT is fiction. The big debates are now whether any of it is historical.

  179. 179
    CJO

    I am a Classicists professor and did years of specialized work int he New Testament. I am also an Atheist (Since I first thought about in 4th grade).

    Now that you’ve enjoyed your cookie, shall we begin?

    The idea of Jesus being a fictional creation–or however you want to term is–that is often circulated int he Atheist community is without foundation. Whenever a sustained argument is made, it is effortless to pick it apart. Such efforts are only sustained by bias.

    The most common opening salvo–or however you want to term it– in this kind of argument between atheists is a string of confident-sounding assertions without foundation. Whenever a sustained argument is made, it is effortless to pick it apart. Such efforts are only sustained by bias*.

    *I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours.

    If I have time tonight, I will address the posted link. I can be as safe in denying this one without looking it over in detail yet as I would be if I said someone on the internet was wrong about the earth being flat.

    Hyperbole is not an argument. History is not science.*

    *Though it can, and absolutely should, apply all applicable scientific methods and conclusions.

    Jesus is attested in Josephus (Yes, the passage is interpolated, but the interpolation was attracted by an original mention).

    So you say. But you must be aware that this is at best a majority opinion among scholars, a consensus if you want but certainly not a unanimous one. As well you might be aware that pre-WWII scholars, mainstream, perforce “historicists” on the topic, generally tilted the other way, and considered the Testimonium wholly a forgery, with Eusebius the prime suspect, as he still is. The arguments for this position are rather better, I think, and a great many of the nominally secular scholarly treatments I’ve read are snow-jobs. For instance, you’ll find the Slavonic or Arabic rescensions of Josephus mentioned as evidence but rarely discussed at length, probably for the reason that they’re translations of a paraphrase written in late antiquity, clearly made after the interpolations were made and perhaps by Eusebius himself. I’m happy to debate the arguments, but for now it will suffice to say for the reading public that helena here is full of hot air, and as we shall see attributes a great deal of certainty to a number of dubious assertions.

    The original text can easily be recovered.

    Blithe falsehoods can easily be typed into a comment box. There’s no unanimity on the reconstruction even among scholars who believe it has an authentic core and have attempted it.

    That is a better attestation, than any but a few thousand individuals who lived before 500 AD have, but no one doubts they exist.

    Who is “they”? Pick one of this arbitrary “few thousand” who are mentioned in passing in a work comparable to AJ in genre and intent and we can talk about it, case by case. There’s always a weird sort of argument from consequences masquerading as a reductio ad absurdum waiting in the wings in these discussions: question the historicity of Jesus, you’ll have to question all of ancient history, and all that is good and holy too! Turn back!

    The corpus of NT texts is itself an excellent attestation for the figure of Jesus, better than any but a few hundred ancient individuals have.

    The corpus of NT texts is anonymous and without established provenance, and as such is not an attestation of any historical fact in advance of those considerations, unless one were to take the absurd position that all narrative texts tell us about one or another actual historical person. The sole exception would be the core of the Pauline corpus, which contains material that has all the appearances of being occasional in intent and stylistically similar enough to attribute to a single hand. To identify this author straightforwardly as the figure of Paul in the canonical narrative of his putative career, Acts, however, is simply the intellectually lazy practice of allowing a more or less continuous ancient account to stand in for the more demanding task of closely interrogating the earlier material.
    When we do look at the narrative texts, the gospels, genre is also an issue. For your “any but a few hundred ancient individuals” these considerations -authorship, sources (known and plausible, or named), provenance, genre- are simply absent or much less troublesome, so quit it already with this stalking horse of these generic “ancient individuals”.

    Even PZ above admits that there was a historical figure, at the same time he seems to suggest, or to want to suggest, that there is no historical figure. Apollonius of Tyana, Honi the Circle Drawer, Vespasian, Pythagoras, and lots of other historical figures have miracle stories attached to their biographies. That does not mean that they did not exist. That’s just the way popular biography worked in classical antiquity. The line between what we would fiction and biography was blurred around the edges.

    Again, genre, authorship and provenance are key. Pop quiz for the classicist*: how do we know about the “miracles” of Vespasian, and how are they portrayed in the narrative? To what genre would you assign the narrative, and what do we know about its author and the nature of his sources? Compare and contrast to the gospel of Luke for extra credit.

    *Of course helena will ignore this entirely or act insulted. But the point here is that it’s a snow-job again. S/he is just dropping names in the conviction that nobody in an informal setting like this is either likely to know the references or to bother to track down the sources.

    The historical reality of Jesus, which is perfectly clear from the Gospels if you know how to read them,

    Do you use Kool-Aid? Magical spectacles?

    is that Jesus was a peasant calling for social reform in a society of corrupt landlords and imperialist occupation. He probably made displays of magical power to represent himself as an alternative to the economic and social power of his enemies (he did it the same way modern faith healers do it, by convincing his followers).

    Seems like a plausible enough sketch, if anthropologically illiterate. But aren’t there other, equally plausible sketches of the historical Jesus? Why don’t we suppose he was a charlatan, a cult leader (a la Alexander of Abonteichos)? You make it seem in your remarks below that such a persona was the more logical path for someone who wanted to invent a religion based on Jesus, so why wouldn’t it be the more probable path to take for the enterprising self-inventing messiah himself? Again, you state a certainty based on your ability to know how to read the gospels (based, in turn, I suppose on your having already had that delicious-looking cookie), but you hardly state a unanimous position, for all the centrist blandness of your ultra-generic hippie Jesus.

    He worked within a tradition and a social framework where holiness and religious tradition had been seen for at least two hundred years as a form of resistance against oppression.

    You’re out of your depth here, and it’s obvious that despite the authoritative front, you’d have to do a lot of catching up to make sense of the concepts you’re hopelessly blurring in your superficial self-declared “picking apart”. How, for instance, are we to differentiate what you mean by “social framework” and “tradition”, or are you just being redundant to snow us? And again, “holiness” and “religious tradition”? Lotsa holy social traditions means Jesus! Have a cookie!

    It is hardly surprising that biographers writing 50 years after his execution

    Assuming there was a bios, and sweeping under the rug considerations of authorship and genre.

    created a biography out of what little material had been handed down (or rather, grown up, adding to the original facts) among the movement Jesus founded blended together with popular miracle stories (thee is a hilarious passage in Gibbon where he points out how the biographical traditions of Apollonius and Jesus used so many of the same stories), and out of an intertexual conversation with existing scripture.

    We’ve jumped straight to “handed down” and “facts” that can be “grown up”. Entirely typical. The whole argument has just been elided. We’re rubbing elbows with Gibbon at the after-party already.

    If Jesus was not a real person, someone has a lot of explaining to do. Who invented him? Not Paul, his Jesus was far different from the Jesus of the Gospels

    Not Paul, because the author of the Pauline epistles is obviously wrestling with a movement in flux, and one focused on a cosmic savior, not an executed social reformer or any sort of teacher or healer. He’s not in the least shy about admitting that he’s late to the game, so shouldn’t we take this glaring difference as evidence that the Christ myth long predates any primitive narrative or sapiential material that might underlie the gospels?

    (although the Gnostic Jesus can be traced back to him).

    You never knew anything about gnosticism that Elaine Pagels didn’t teach you, did you? And I’ll warrant you’ve forgotten that.

    Peter? I doubt he could read Greek.

    Ridiculous. On what basis do you think that you know anything about “Peter’s” linguistic competence? Peter is a foil and a mouthpiece in the gospels and Acts; in Paul that’s not even his name, and it’s hard to imagine that the Cephas of the letters suffered any serious intellectual or educational deficit relative to the author of the letters given the terms of his apparent disagreements with him. It’s an example of the difficulties that are breezily dismissed by this kind of superficial Scholarly Consensus underwritten by JesusBooks Industries: the Peter of the gospels is a fisherman; Cephas in the Paulines is one of the the leaders of a religious movement in Roman-occupied Jerusalem, freely operating in the name of a criminal recently executed by the state.

    And if they were inventing out of whole cloth, why not make themselves the cult leader (a la Alexander of Abonteichos)? The process that would have to be imagined is incoherent and doesn’t have much in the way of parallels in the ancient world.

    Again, here, you’re completely blind to the unwarranted assumptions that entail a certain kind of process. Who’s to say that someone didn’t “make themselves the cult leader” by claiming divine revelation via the risen Christ? Beyond those assumptions, it’s a bare argument from incredulity. The process you imagine is incoherent, and therefore so is it for everyone else in your mind. I’m not claiming to have all the answers, but I don’t decide based on the paucity of my own imagination that no interesting progress could be made.

    Before you start attacking me, ask yourself how you have more expertise about the question you plan to correct me on that several PhDs in NT studies who are atheists or Jews, and who consider the idea that Jesus was not a historical figure to be laughable.

    Bring ‘em on.

  180. 180
    raven

    list of gospels wikipedia:

    List of Gospels[edit] Completely preserved Gospels1.Gospel of Mark (canonical)
    2.Gospel of Matthew (canonical)
    3.Gospel of Luke (canonical)
    4.Gospel of John (canonical)
    5.Gospel of Thomas
    6.Gospel of Truth
    7.Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians
    8.Gospel of Nicodemus (also known as the “Acts of Pilate”)
    9.Gospel of Barnabas
    10.Gospel of Gamaliel[1]
    [edit] Infancy Gospels1.Gospel of the Nativity of Mary
    2.Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew
    3.Infancy Gospel of Thomas
    4.Infancy Gospel of James
    5.Arabic Infancy Gospel
    6.Syriac Gospel of the Boyhood of our Lord Jesus [2]
    [edit] Partially preserved Gospels1.Gospel of Judas
    2.Gospel of Peter
    3.Gospel of Mary
    4.Gospel of Philip
    [edit] Fragmentary preserved Gospels[α]1.Dialogue of the Saviour
    2.Papyrus Egerton 2
    3.Gospel of Eve
    4.Fayyum Fragment
    5.Gospel of Mani
    6.Oxyrhynchus Gospels
    7.Gospel of the Saviour (also known as the Unknown Berlin gospel)
    8.Gospel of the Twelve
    [edit] Reconstructed Gospels[β]1.Gospel of the Ebionites
    2.Gospel of the Egyptians
    3.Gospel of the Hebrews
    4.Secret Gospel of Mark
    5.Gospel of Matthias
    6.Gospel of the Nazoraeans
    7.Gospel of Q (also known as the “Q document”)
    8.Signs Gospel
    9.Cross Gospel
    [edit] Lost Gospels1.Gospel of Bartholomew
    2.Gospel of the Seventy
    3.Gospel of the Four Heavenly Realms
    4.Gospel of Perfection
    5.Gospel of Marcion
    6.Gospel of Basilides
    7.Gospel of Andrew
    8.Gospel of Apelles
    9.Gospel of Cerinthus
    10.Gospel of Bardesanes
    11.Gospel of the Encratites[3]
    12.Gospel of the Gnostics[4]
    13.Gospel of Hesychius[5]
    14.Gospel of Lucius[5]
    15.Gospel of Longinus
    16.Gospel of Manes
    17.Gospel of Merinthus[6]
    18.Gospel of Scythianus
    19.Gospel of Simonides
    20.Gospel of Tatian
    21.Gospel of Thaddaeus[7]
    22.Gospel of Valentinus[8]
    23.The Clementine Gospel

    We know of about 60 Gospels, even after 2,000 years of neglect and suppression. Likely there were more in ancient times. Seems like anyone with extra time and or a theological axe to grind wrote a Gospel. They are known to be literary fictions. The four that made it into the bible were chosen on theological grounds and more correctly, there are only two, Mark and John, and two revisions of Mark.

    People are still writing Gospels even today. I mean it’s only been 2,000 years. The last one to sort of catch on was…The Book of Mormon.

  181. 181
    Ivan

    Frankly speaking, I don’t give a damn about historicity of Jesus. Maybe he did exist, maybe he didn’t. If he existed, the main question is how much was he deluded himself, and how much delusion was added by his followers.

    But still, it seems likely to me that the Gospels are based on the actual events. The main reason is the curious weakness of the Resurrection legend.

    Look at it closely: all four Gospels disagree as to who, when and how discovered the empty tomb; were there angels present; who was the first person to talk to Jesus… But there is one point in common.

    When people met the “Resurrected Jesus”, they did not recognise him at first. It always required some words from him, or persuasion from other people. Take the story of Thomas, for example. He wanted to see the holes in Christ’s body. We are accustomed to this story, so we don’t see how weird the claim is. Why didn’t he simply demand to see Jesus alive? Wouldn’t this prove the resurrection well enough? I think the answer is clear: his friends told him that the guy didn’t look familiar.

    If the Gospels were myth from start to end, there would be no need for this shit. They would just say: ok, Jesus came back from the dead with a bunch of zombie friends and there was much rejoicing.

    But they are not so straightforward. When you strip the resurrection story of all mysticism, here is what remains: Jesus is crucified and buried. A bit later, his body disappears from the tomb. Then a person appears, who claims to be the resurrected Jesus, but looks quite different. After some hesitation, the disciples accept his story. Hell, they want to believe. Who said that resurrection doesn’t change a man?

    I think it’s clear that such events requires no supernatural help. I repeat my point: the authors of Gospels did not need to leave such weaknesses in the resurrection story unless it was based on real facts of human self-delusion.

  182. 182
    raven

    Again, nothing I think can ultimately prove Christianity in the way people today demand it be proven.

    If the xian god existed, he would be as obvious and taken for granted as trees, rocks, or water.

    Jesus could show up any minute and that would end any doubts about xianity, which BTW, 72% of the world doesn’t believe in at all.

    If jesus was really god, he could have left a concise understandable instruction manual instead of the horrible kludgy mess of the bible.

    In fact, we have exactly zero writings from jesus. This is a task a third grader could accomplish. Historical scholars think he was probably illiterate, common among his class at the time. Not unusual for his time but the claim is that jesus is god, the most powerful being in the universe which he created.

    There is a lot of evidence that the whole bible is just something written by humans. One is that there is nothing whatsoever in the bible that wasn’t known by iron age sheepherders. According to the bible the earth is flat, orbited by the sun, and the sky is just a dome with lights stuck on it for stars. This was the cosmology of the time and that is what the ancients believed.

  183. 183
    DLC

    I had a brief read of Richard Carrier’s article, and I have to say, it seemed more a takedown of Ehrman’s rather poor work than a conclusive refutation of historical Jesus.
    While I personally do not believe in a God-made-flesh who took the name Yeshua ben Joseph, I do tend to think there’s enough evidence for a con-artist named Yeshua something-or-other, who was quite the adept at parlour tricks and illusions. Even the famous “water into wine” trick can be reproduced by any competent magician, using a simple, easily obtained prop.

  184. 184
    raven

    My point being, it’s very compelling that Christianity has lasted for so long and it’s “parchment” trail is quite impressive when you compare it to all the other papers from roughly the same time period lying around in museums today.

    Hinduism and its holy books are much older.

    Islam is almost as old.

    That paper trail isn’t all that impressive. The early versions of the NT differ among themselves, often at key points where someone added or revised something. Without a doubt the snake handler ending of Mark is a later addition.

    Ehrman and others tried to reconstruct the earliest versions of the Gospels. They couldn’t do it. They seem to have been constantly revised works in progress from the very beginning.

  185. 185
    stevencarr

    We can easily recover the ‘original’ reading of Josephus before Christians changed it by simply removing everything which is very obviously Christian interpolation.

    Similarly if you have a painting by Rembrandt and some of the paint is still wet, you can easily get the original Rembrandt by removing the wet paint (that is obviously false). What is left must be a genuine Rembrandt.

  186. 186
    stevencarr

    Has anybody read what Paul wrote about the Roman habit of crucifying people in Romans 13?

    He likes it.

    The Romans were God’s agents, who did not bear the sword for nothing.

    Have you seen ‘The Passion of the Christ’? Every time the Romans whipped Jesus, with blood spurting from the wounds, you could see him muttering under his breath, ‘God’s agents, sent to punish wrongdoers. They hold no terror for the innocent.’

    In Aramaic, of course.

    In news just in, Al Qaaeda have issued a statement about the killing of Osama bin Laden. Apparently, the Americans are agents of Allah, sent to punish wrongdoers and who do not bear the sword for nothing.

  187. 187
    raven

    But they are not so straightforward. When you strip the resurrection story of all mysticism, here is what remains: Jesus is crucified and buried. A bit later, his body disappears from the tomb.

    There might not even have been a tomb.

    This was supposedly Joseph of Arimethea’s tomb. There has never been a town of that name in the region that anyone can find. Some scholars think Joseph of Arimethea is a fictional character. And supposedly he had just had a tomb made for himself that he wasn’t using. Pretty convenient.

    Other scholars claim, that as a convicted and crucified criminal, his body was most likely thrown on the trash heap at Gehenna.

    I don’t know how the scholars figure these ideas out so just have to shrug my shoulders.

    I do lean towards a historical jesus though. And one of the points is the crucifixion. My best guess is that jesus the charismatic apocalyptic prophet got himself killed by the Romans. The resurrection OTOH, seems mythological. Considering this is supposed to be the most important event since the Big Boat Genocide, the biblical accounts are remarkably contradictory.

  188. 188
    Sili

    CJO, OM,

    I love you.

  189. 189
    stevencarr

    RAVEN
    My best guess is that jesus the charismatic apocalyptic prophet got himself killed by the Romans.

    CARR
    Very likely.

    After all, as the very earliest Christians said, the Romans were God’s agents, sent to punish wrongdoers and who did not bear the sword for nothing. (Romans 13)

    As far as Christians were concerned, Jesus was just the sort of uppity rebel who basically had it coming to him.

  190. 190
    Ivan

    This was supposedly Joseph of Arimethea’s tomb. There has never been a town of that name in the region that anyone can find. Some scholars think Joseph of Arimethea is a fictional character. And supposedly he had just had a tomb made for himself that he wasn’t using. Pretty convenient.

    Yeah, weird. Might be a small village, though.

    Or else, this whole part may be a later addition. Perhaps, to explain why Jesus wasn’t dumped in the gutter. Missing from the trash pile is not glamorous for God’s son, is it? Sometimes I troll Christians by supposing that Jesus was not only tortured, but raped by Roman soldiers. This is quite probable, in my opinion, and should not even shame the victim; but not a single Christian ever allowed such possibility.

  191. 191
    Nick Gotts

    I remain unimpressed with Carrier in general after reading his screed against vegetarianism, which was both poorly-reasoned and irritatingly smug. – walton

    I agree. I read that post very shortly after he arrived here, and it was so completely irrational that I don’t feel I can trust anything he says in cases where I don’t have personal knowledge.

  192. 192
    concernedjoe

    This is all very interesting to me because I like to be exposed to esoteric scholarship; why not? I have the time I no longer have to work!

    On the other hand, other than rattling a few Christians chains – and visa versa – this scholarship ain’t going to change the price of tea in China if you get my drift.

    This is the salient FACT, and you don’t have to be conversant in ancient languages and manuscripts to know it: there is ZERO, NADA, NULLA evidence or cogent reason to believe the mysticism of Christianity, and that says there is no evidence or cogent reason to believe in the supremacy of Christianity as the so many in the good old USofA would like us all to kow-tow.

    People that are truly dead remain dead, etc. etc.

    Daniel – what is your COGENT and RIGOROUS proof I am wrong about this?

  193. 193
    simbri

    @ walton and KG

    I think there’s a difference though in that he is not an expert in that area, but he is an expert in biblical history. If a maths professor was also a YEC that wouldn’t make me think his maths was suspect.

  194. 194
    Nick Gotts

    As someone lees helpfully pointed out, we don’t have that kind of evidence for Alexander. Demosthenes does mentions him during his life time, but you’d probably dismiss it as mythicist since he says “If Alexander wants to be a god, he can be a god” and Aristotle dedicated a treatise on rhetoric to him, but, someone like Carrier could argue, that’s a genre that quickly became filled with all sorts of fictions. Then there’s the Alexander Romance that is clearly fictionalized, so that throws doubt on his own existence. – helenaconstantine

    I’m inclined to accept the scholarly consensus about Jesus, not being an expert in the area, but the comparison with Alexander III (“the Great”) of Macedon is risible. Apart from the fact that we have coins and at least one inscription, the main facts of his military-political career form part of a coherent and connected historical narrative encompassing his parents (we also have coins of his father) and more remote ancestors, the state he ruled, his successors, and the vast expansion of the Hellenistic world at the right time. Of course, the alleged biographical facts about his personal life and opinions should be treated with great reserve, as none of this evidence relates to them and there, our only sources are indeed considerably later biographies.

  195. 195
    Nick Gotts

    There are far too many copies of NT manuscripts which agree with one another, for me anyway, to think some small band of miscreant religious hucksters got away with the greatest lie ever told for so long. – daniel

    Can you really be this stupid? With fragmentary exceptions, we have no such manuscripts earlier than about 200 C.E, and few before the 4th century, by which time we know that Christianity was both widespread and well-organised. That manuscripts from centuries after a series of alleged events agree with each other is in no possible way evidence that what they say contains any truth at all.

  196. 196
    Louis

    The historicity of Jesus is interesting, and I always learn a lot watching people educated in the relevant fields (unlike myself) batting back and forth. I think a key error is being made, implicitly at the very least, by some of the historical Jesus proponents. That error is that if Jesus was real, we must somehow take claims made in the gospels and in his name seriously. Erm…no. We really don’t have to. Regardless of the historicity of Jesus, those claims stand or fall on their own. Appeals to “Gee golly wow wasn’t he special” are, well, obvious special pleading and derived from common prejudice.

    Another implied claim seems to be that if the historicity of Jesus is real, as opposed to that of say Alexander the Great, then Christianity somehow deserves its current privileged status. The only reason anyone cares particularly about the historicity of Jesus as opposed to that of Alexander is that there are relatively few Alexandrians trying to influence public policy, demanding that people not criticise their Alexandrianism, privilege Alexandrianism in the public square and so on and so forth.

    Since all the other claims within and surrounding Christianity are, when stripped of the inherent bias to believe them and privilege them, are vacuous, the historicity of Jesus is a quaint academic practise as opposed to a serious problem for any atheist or non-Christian.

    Louis

  197. 197
    trondreitan

    I think the talk about null hypothesis and burden of proof is counter-productive in a discussion about historicity vs myth. Neither an unorthodox rabbi named Jesus who got some myths connected to his name, nor the position that these myths accreted around each other are particularly unbelievable. If I was interested in whether one position is more credible than the other, I would collect relevant information that pointed in one way or the other and try to weight the evidence. (I’m showing my Bayesian colors here) Ivan (#177) mentions one thing that points in the historicity direction, and there is other stuff also that I would say points in that direction. But then again, clearly a lot of the stuff in the gospels is mythological, a lot of it has it’s roots from elsewhere and then there are the inconsistencies, all of which are more to be expected if the mythicists are right. But none of these observations can firmly dismiss the one position over the other. It’s not an easy call (at least not for me). I’d like to see someone actually try to weight the evidence both for and against in a dispassionate manner. (I was hoping Carrier would do this and maybe he will, but I feel he went into this particular debate in a too heated manner. Still, he’s claiming to study this in a Bayesian fashion, so there’s hope.)

    But it seems foolish to even try delving into this before addressing Alethea’s comment (#65). The historicity position isn’t that the gospels are 100% correct, but that they are a combination of a historical figure with mythological stuff that gradually was attached to this figure. But this kernel around which the mythological stuff was accreted, how large was it? How large does it need to be before we say the mythologists are right and the believers in a historical Jesus is wrong or vice versa?

    If it could be verified that there was a guy named Jesus, born in Bethlehem by a girl who claimed to be a virgin, grew up in Nazareth (if that town existed), became a small sect leader in his early 30s, said all that which is found of his sayings in the gospels, did some tricks to fool his audience and was cruxified for his troubles during the administration of Pontius Pilate *and* survived this (being taken down while still alive) … then I guess few would refrain from calling this person “the historical Jesus”. On the other hand, suppose we found solid evidence that the narrative of Jesus started with a woman named Jenny. And suppose that all Jenny did that had any relation to the gospels was that she once said “blessed are the peace-makers” (or cheese-makers) around 20BC (and all the rests are mythological accretions to this). Then I would guess most people wouldn’t call this “the historical Jesus”. So before going into the the whole historicity debate, don’t we need to draw a line in the sand?

    For some reason, I find the topic fascinating. But I’m getting the icky feeling that it’s not a meaningful debate.

  198. 198
    Nick Gotts

    I think there’s a difference though in that he is not an expert in that area, but he is an expert in biblical history. If a maths professor was also a YEC that wouldn’t make me think his maths was suspect. – simbri

    It well might if the claims he was making in maths were regarded by most other experts as cranky, but in any case, its evidence that Carrier is thoroughly irrational when his emotions are engaged, as they clearly are in the article linked to.

  199. 199
    trondreitan

    @trondreitan: Note to self. Do spell-checking before posting long comments.

  200. 200
    anarchic teapot

    Deary me, what a lot of comments. The one that wins this thread, as well as all past and future arguments on the subject, is zerafia’s at n° 44.

  201. 201
    Pierce R. Butler

    Richard Carrier Blogs totally destroys Bart Ehrman’s argument for the reality of a historical Jesus.

    Carrier’s timing seems a bit off: the link shows an archive number that’s clearly too high.

  202. 202
    Pierce R. Butler

    helenaconstantine – Quoting Josephus on the historicity of JC requires that one confront this passage:

    An incident more alarming still had occurred four years before the war at a time of exceptional peace and prosperity for the City. One Jeshua, son of Ananias, a very ordinary yokel, came to the feast at which every Jew is supposed to set up a tabernacle for God. As he stood in the temple he suddenly began to shout: “A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the Sanctuary, a voice against bridegrooms and brides, a voice against the whole people.” Day and night he uttered this cry as he went through all the streets. Some of the more prominent citizens, very annoyed at these ominous words, laid hold of the fellow and beat him savagely. Without saying a word in his own defence or for the private information of his persecutors, he persisted in shouting the same warning as before. The Jewish authorities, rightly concluding that some supernatural force was responsible for the man’s behaviour, took him before the Roman procurator. There, though scourged till his flesh hung in ribbons, he neither begged for mercy nor shed a tear, but lowering his voice to the most mournful of tones answered every blow with “Woe to Jerusalem!” When Albinus – for that was the procurator’s name – demanded to know who he was, where he came from and why he uttered such cries, he made no reply whatever to the questions but endlessly repeated his lament over the City, till Albinus decided he was a madman and released him (The Jewish War VI 302)

    The above excerpt comes courtesy of Robert M. Price, The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable Is the Gospel Tradition?, who continues:

    Four years later, his prophecy was fulfilled by the Roman siege, during which Jesus ben-Ananias was killed. … Jesus comes to Jerusalem for one of the great festivals and creates a prophetic disturbance in the temple. He preaches soon-coming judgment, the destruction of the temple, and he says it will spell the end of ordinary life, for example, weddings (Matt. 24:38). The elders of the people haul him before the Roman procurator, who interrogates him but gets only silence for an answer. Puzzled, the procurator asks him where he is from (John 19:9) He decides to have him flogged and let him go (Luke 23:22b). Which Jesus are we talking about here? Both. Yet again, Mark has retrojected the events of the subsequent generation into the time of Jesus.

  203. 203
    julietdefarge

    Suggested reading: James the Brother of Jesus: The Key to Unlocking the Secrets of Early Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls by Robert Eisenman.

    I always thought the problem with Jesus was not that there never was one, but that there were too many, and the gospel Jesus is a mash-up of various real and unreal personages.

  204. 204
    bernarda

    This is enough to make me glad that I never had helenaconstantine as a professor, especially classicist and bible expert,

    “4. The corpus of NT texts is itself an excellent attestation for the figure of Jesus, better than any but a few hundred ancient individuals have. Even PZ above admits that there was a historical figure, at the same time he seems to suggest, or to want to suggest, that there is no historical figure. Apollonius of Tyana, Honi the Circle Drawer, Vespasian, Pythagoras, and lots of other historical figures have miracle stories attached to their biographies. That does not mean that they did not exist. That’s just the way popular biography worked in classical antiquity. The line between what we would fiction and biography was blurred around the edges.”

    The first sentence seems like a parody. Apollonius apparently had more reality than Jesus. She also forgets Hercules who died a horrible death but was resurrected to sit by his father Zeus. Just because it is unbelievable doesn’t mean that Hercules didn’t exist.

  205. 205
    Kevin

    Meta: there was no year 0. 1 BCE goes to 1 CE. No zero.

    Now to the discussion. Seems to me there are three possibilities.

    1. There was an historical Jesus who lived at the time and place, preached widely, was popular for a time, but ran afoul of the Sanhedrin and/or the Roman authorities and was killed for being a rabble-rousing loud-mouthed troublemaker. This man was so exceptional that his disciples created a religion about him after his death that became heavily mythicized by the Greeks, who were into that sort of thing.

    2. There was no single person named Jesus, or there was “a” Jesus, but he was only one of many messianic preachers of the day. The concept of a heavenly intercessor preceded these preachers, and the religion was a syncretic mixture of their adventures and the various cults in that time and place.

    3. There was no historical source at all for the character “Jesus”. He was mythical from the start — like Hercules.

    Of the three options, I think 3 is actually the least likely. And I base this opinion not on the Synoptics, but on John. Those are the actions of real people. He overturns the money-changing tables, then runs away when challenged. He says something others deem blasphemous, who try to stone him — so again he runs and hides.

    But I see no reason to believe in version 1, either, based on the lack of evidence for such a person. There’s just no “there” there.

    I think option 2 is the far-more viable. He’s what’s known in Hollywood as a “composite” character.

    Of course, it’s almost impossible to tell where myth-making begins and history ends in the so-called gospels. And certainly, Ehrman isn’t about to argue that any of the mythic properties of Jesus are true.

    So, I think the entire issue boils down to how much an individual named “Jesus” lent his exploits to the mythic stories, and how much this “Jesus” was either just a concatenation of all of the messianic preachers of the time or one player among many.

    My personal opinion is that there probably was no “Jesus”. He was a legendary figure, like Paul Bunyan. That doesn’t mean that tall tales based on real-life people weren’t incorporated into the mythology. But I think it’s impossible to definitively prove a “single Jesus”.

    I think we also need to acknowledge that none of the arguments over historicity of Jesus being offered by Ehrman or other historians are anything other than an attempt to trace how the religion started. We know Judaism grew from a small tribe that adopted a Sumerian storm god as their primary deity. We know Islam began with Mohammed. We know Buddism began with the Buddha. We don’t know whether or not Christianity began with Jesus, with Paul, or somewhere else entirely. From an historical perspective, it’s interesting.

    To believers like daniel, however, it’s a whole other kettle of fish. If there’s no “real” Option 1 Jesus, then everything he’s been taught is a lie. Because then the mythic stories that grew up around this person become just another set of Bronze Age fables.

    But none of the historians give a crap about the obvious myths. No real person, Option 1 or Option 2, healed the sick, walked on water, created loaves and fishes out of thin air, resurrected a stinking dead corpse, or was resurrected after his own death.

    Of course, with Option 3, everything’s possible — just as Hercules could bear the weight of the world on his shoulders. It’s batshit crazy to believe such things are true, but that’s another issue entirely.

  206. 206
    aaronbaker

    To those who’ve brought up Tacitus, he’s no help because we don’t know where he got his account of the execution of Jesus. Carrier suggests it came to him from his friend Pliny the Younger, who had interrogated Christians while governor of Bithynia et Pontus. But Tacitus had governed a province, too (Asia), and might have interrogated Christians himself. If the source was Christian, it of course has no independent weight.

    “Chrestus,” btw, comes not from Tacitus but from Suetonius, in a passage that might be a garbled reference to “Christus,” but is hardly useful: “As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [the Emperor Claudius, AD 41-54] expelled them from Rome.” This would be, at best, evidence for the presence of Christians at Rome before Nero–it tells us nothing about the historicity of Christus.

  207. 207
    Kevin

    I also want to add that the issue of Jesus’ divinity is an issue that has to be dealt with from the perspective of believers who want to defend his historicity.

    Believers want to have it both ways. They want to claim that this person really existed based on the evidence one would gather and present from other humans of the time and place.

    But this isn’t just a person to them. It’s a god. God on Earth. The one and only time when the omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent creator of everything came down from heaven and took human form (as opposed to appearing as a burning bush or in a whirlwind, as in the OT).

    I think that those who claim the historicity of the divine-human Jesus have a much higher hurdle to clear. This is god we’re talking about. God who demands that we believe in the story of his life and resurrection from the grave or else be eternally damned. One would think that the evidence for the existence of that Jesus would be incontrovertible.

    Indeed, if I were a god-human appearing on Earth and I had the believe-it-or-else requirement AND I wished that everyone in the world should actually believe in this story…well, let’s just say that things would have been done differently. I would have left behind incontrovertible, unassailable evidence of BOTH my humanness and my divinity. Note that I said “evidence”. Myths told in a book of fables and revisionist Jewish history do not count as evidence. Nor are they incontrovertible or unassailable — obviously so, because we’re arguing about them right now.

    Otherwise, we’re talking about not an all-loving god, but a god that gleefully and willingly condemns the vast majority of his special creatures to hell. Because he can’t be arsed to leave behind even one artifact that would attest to his humanness and his divinity.

  208. 208
    aaronbaker

    More interesting as a possible independent source for Jesus is Josephus, whose Jewish Antiquities contains two mentions of Jesus. One (18.3.3) is clearly a Christian interpolation; the other (20:9.1) is more likely (I think) to be authentic.

    As to the latter, Carrier has said on his website (http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/132#comments): “On the James passage in Josephus, I prove the phrase “the one called Christ” is an accidental interpolation that occurred between 235 and 310 A.D. to a copy produced in the Christian library of Caesarea employed by Eusebius, and that the story originally referred to James the brother of Jesus ben Damneus who is appointed high priest when Ananus is deposed for illegally executing his brother.”

    After reading a bunch of Carrier’s posts, I’ve come to the conclusion that “prove” is Carrier-speak for “argue.” Still, his upcoming article on just this subject should be worthwhile. Also good on Josephus are these Wikipedia entries: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historicity_of_Jesus#Josephus; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josephus_on_Jesus. They appear to cover most of the arguments and counter-arguments made regarding these passages.

  209. 209
    ChasCPeterson

    helenaconstantine sez:

    I am a Classicists professor and did years of specialized work int he New Testament.

    I have to kind of doubt that she’s a professor of Classicists, of Classics, or of anything else. Here’s my evidence:

    I wont waste much time
    I could sight web sources
    Crusifixtion
    I found the texts were Aristophanes, Aristotle, and Xenophon independently attest Socrates.
    Carrier et al have to used in their arguments

    If she is a professor, of anything, she ought to be embarrassed.

  210. 210
    generallerong

    helenaconstantine #8

    Having read David Graeber’s Debt: the First 5,000 years, your statement really resonated:

    “Jesus was a peasant calling for social reform in a society of corrupt landlords and imperialist occupation. … He worked within a tradition and a social framework where holiness and religious tradition had been seen for at least two hundred years as a form of resistance against oppression.”

    Guess I have to go back to mining Graeber for some links, but I think this connection between debt slavery and religious belief might be one of those things so totally rooted in the way our brains work that it’s like air – invisible. Marx’s epigram is ‘way too shallow. Religion is a brain parasite, we need to know what feeds it.

  211. 211
    Naked Bunny with a Whip

    At least Pecos Bill was real.

  212. 212
    Aratina Cage

    At least Pecos Bill was real.

    And Pocahontas.

  213. 213
    Aratina Cage

    Looking up Pecos Bill, I was led to the Wikipedia entry on fakelore, which says this about Paul Bunyan:

    He contrasted the genuine Paul Bunyan tales, which had been so full of technical logging terms that outsiders would find parts of them difficult to understand, with the commercialized versions, which sounded more like children’s books. The original Paul Bunyan had been shrewd and sometimes ignoble; one story told how he cheated his men out of their pay.

    Technical logging terms? Ignoble? A cheater? Well, I guess that means Paul Bunyan was a real person! /Historicist

  214. 214
    truthspeaker

    6. If Jesus was not a real person, someone has a lot of explaining to do. Who invented him?

    The authors of the Gospels, or the authors of whatever stories the Gospel writers based their stories on.

  215. 215
    drivenb4u

    This is a subject I wish I knew more about. While I think reasons to believe Jesus existed are sketchy at best, I have a difficult time holding up with theists whose convictions rest on the claims Christ was real. They say things like no serious historian doubts the existence of Jesus and I just don’t know where to start with it all.

    I guess it comes down if there’s any records besides the Bible that support it.

  216. 216
    Ing

    If Jesus was not a real person, someone has a lot of explaining to do. Who invented him?

    Who came up with Heracles?

  217. 217
    scenario

    The problem with the debate of whether or not Jesus ever existed is that otherwise intelligent, methodical scholars go absolutely ape-shit if someone suggests that Jesus never existed. While I believe that there was probably a backwoods preacher who started it all, I can see that the argument that Jesus never existed is a valid arguments. A true scholar should have a logical rather than emotional response to this issue. Something more on the lines of it’s possible but a real life Jesus is more plausible. There is no real proof in either direction and both are valid hypothesis.

    I have two more questions on it. Which Jesus and what determines mythical?

    There are 3 Jesus’s, Magical Jesus, Big Jesus and Small Jesus. Most people here would dismiss Magical Jesus since he violates physical law and there is no outside proof of his existence.

    Big Jesus is slightly more likely but still problematical. If Jesus really had thousands of followers by the time he died and 10′s of thousands shortly after, it should show up in the historical record much more quickly.

    Little Jesus is quite possible. A nobody with 10 or twenty followers at the time of his death who slowly gained followers over the next few decades fits the evidence much better.
    very little documentation at first and a lot more after about 100 c.e. There is little in the record to distinguish between little Jesus and Make Believe Jesus.

    Mythical. How much of Jesus has to be left for us to consider him real. I write a story on my computer when I am 10 years old and save it as version 1. By the time I’m 80, I’m on version 2000. In the meantime, I have changed the plot, the characters names and history, the background and everything else in the story. There is not one sentence in v2000 the same as v1. Is it the same story?

    I can see Jesus’s story being passed verbally from person to person with stuff added and changed along the way. The person who writes it down picks his favorite parts of all of the different versions of the stories he’s heard. How much of the real Jesus must be left before it’s considered based on a real story?

  218. 218
    Naked Bunny with a Whip

    6. If Jesus was not a real person, someone has a lot of explaining to do. Who invented him?

    Certainly nobody with a religious agenda would invent a fictional character wholesale. Xenu and Moroni are based on real beings if you read the texts correctly.

  219. 219
    Aratina Cage

    Really, dealing with people who call themselves “historicists” is like playing a game of poker. Stop bluffing and lay your cards down on the table, historicists! If you don’t have a good hand, don’t act like you do!

  220. 220
    Algonquin on the Bayou a/k/a Sharon

    There are far too many copies of NT manuscripts which agree with one another, for me anyway, to think some small band of miscreant religious hucksters got away with the greatest lie ever told for so long.

    Huh? Ever heard of Mark Hoffman? There’s been a sucker born every minute for the last 100,000 years of human existence. And for every sucker born, there are at least two hucksters competing with each other to feed him lies.

  221. 221
    CJO

    Little Jesus is quite possible. A nobody with 10 or twenty followers at the time of his death who slowly gained followers over the next few decades fits the evidence much better.

    But such appeals to plausibility never seem to take into account the full range of the evidence. To start with there was this rabble-rousing preacher, and later there are some embellished hero-tales about him. What’s so strange about that? Well, nothing, when it’s presented so generically. But this characterization omits the fact that between the lifetime of scruffy preacher guy and the (embellished) narratives ostensibly about his career, we have this other guy from Asia Minor who appears to know nothing about said career but who reveres this figure as an agent of cosmic salvation. If we take his letters seriously, on the Little Jesus hypothesis it would appear that people as far afield from Judaea as Rome and Corinth were singing hymns to an executed criminal who never managed to attract more than the, whatever, 20 or so followers during his lifetime. The discrepancy between the import of the supposed inspiration and the outsized, over-the-top expression of devotion makes it perfectly legitimate to ask if, in fact, such expression had an entirely different origin.

  222. 222
    aaronbaker

    Aratina Cage wrote:

    Really, dealing with people who call themselves “historicists” is like playing a game of poker. Stop bluffing and lay your cards down on the table, historicists! If you don’t have a good hand, don’t act like you do!

    Well, there’s Josephus; and there’s Paul. Not ideal, but not nothing.

  223. 223
    aaronbaker

    And there are the Gospels. That they’re entirely mythical is very easy to assert; I’m not sure yet that it’s been proved.

  224. 224
    jamesmcgrath

    PZ, I have to say that I am very disappointed to find someone who stands for mainstream science against its bogus pseudoscientific critics, cheering on someone who represents the equivalent in the domain of history.

    I’ve tried to offer some explanations regarding why Carrier’s attempt to engage in denialism ought to be found no more persuasive than the similar attempts to sow doubt regarding evolution, climate change, or anything else about which the vast majority of experts agree: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2012/03/responding-to-richard-carriers-response-to-bart-ehrman.html

  225. 225
    stevencarr

    James McGrath is right that Bart is an expert.

    It takes enormous expertise to read documents nobody has ever seen.

    Ehrman ‘‘Where would the solitary source that “invented” Jesus be? Within a couple of decades of the traditional date of his death, we have numerous accounts of his life found in a broad geographical span. In addition to Mark, we have Q, M (which is possibly made of multiple sources), L (also possibly multiple sources), two or more passion narratives, a signs source, two discourse sources, the kernel (or original) Gospel behind the Gospel of Thomas, and possibly others. And these are just the ones we know about, that we can reasonably infer from the scant literary remains that survive from the early years of the Christian church. No one knows how many there actually were. Luke says there were “many” of them, and he may well have been right.’

    I never knew there was so much early documentation about Jesus!

    Why, everybody was writing about him, and our Gospellers had the task of collecting up all these sources for us and putting them in one convenient work, to save us having to remember the names of the authors of all these sources and narratives. Wasn’t that kind of them?

    Bart, being a mainstream Biblical historian, can read the Gospel of Luke, and come up with lots of independent sources in just the one document – a task beyond historians in other fields of history who work on the outmoded paradigm that one document is one source.

  226. 226
    scenario

    CJO @ 217

    A small cult with a great charismatic leader (or better several charismatic leaders) can grow quickly. The quickest way to grow is to steal ideas and members of other cults.

    20 followers at the start, growing slowly at first but some are travelers and charismatic leaders who start small churches all over the place. Some may just take over other existing cults. 20 years later there are two or three small congregations in all of the major cities within a few hundred miles. There are maybe 30 to 50 people in each city who are true followers and they are spread out over a large geographic area. Rome is the center of the empire. Everyone goes there. In this example, people were singing his praises all over the empire but it was ten people here and ten people there. Each group had their own version of Jesus mixed with stories taken from local legends. The stories cross – pollinated with each other and got more popular. At some point, the stories hit the sweet spot and the cult grew quickly and started to get noticed.

    Paul said he prosecuted the early Christians. I can see some local group pissing off a local official and he ordered them all arrested. Paul followed his orders but get hooked on the religion himself. Paul talks about founding new churches. This appears to be the pattern of early Christians. Found a church, move on, found another. After a while Paul developed a following and many of the churches founded by other early Christians started looking to him for guidance. Paul was the catalyst that changed a disorganized group of closely related cults into a religion.

  227. 227
    Aratina Cage

    @aaronbaker,

    Well, there’s Josephus; and there’s Paul. Not ideal, but not nothing.
    And there are the Gospels. That they’re entirely mythical is very easy to assert; I’m not sure yet that it’s been proved.

    It’s not nothing, but it isn’t a very strong hand either. That’s why I find it to be mostly bluffing. Why can’t they just admit that the evidence is too weak to definitively say one way or the other? That the Jesus character reflected in the Bible might not have even existed should be a standard line in the textbook description of him (as it is in Wikipedia). Historical consensus on this issue is worthless if it’s all propped up on a blip and a madman’s rantings with some Swiss cheese placed around the edges to appease the mice.

  228. 228
    scenario

    Cults can grow very quickly. Look up the cargo cults after WWII. At the time of Jesus there were hundreds of cults that were very similar to each other. The Jesus cult was just one of the pack. During the first 30 years or so they spread widely but didn’t have a whole lot of followers in one one place. Their doctrines changed to match local conditions. Finally some of the versions really clicked with people and the Jesus cult absorbed a lot of the other similar cults. To an outsider, this huge cult appeared out of nowhere. Of course there were really several related Jesus cults, as there still are.

    There is little to no record of Jesus or Christians before around 100 c.e. If Jesus had a huge following, he probably would have been noticed more. But if he had a small following that later on absorbed a whole bunch of other cults and grew rapidly, it would explain the pattern of written evidence.

  229. 229
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Steven Carr, do you not even accept the existence of Q?

  230. 230
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Steven Carr, do you not even accept the existence of Q?

  231. 231
    CJO

    In this example, people were singing his praises all over the empire but it was ten people here and ten people there. Each group had their own version of Jesus mixed with stories taken from local legends. The stories cross – pollinated with each other and got more popular. At some point, the stories hit the sweet spot and the cult grew quickly and started to get noticed.

    All well and good, but somewhere in there you need to show that a historical founder-figure is more likely than a religious revival based on revelation from Jewish scripture and ecstatic visions. In your sketch, I just don’t see any necessity for a person named Jesus to have started it all, especially when the more down to earth stories postdate all this furious cult-formation activity that we can all agree must have been going on. In short, which seems more likely prima facie, that mystery-cult enthusiast Corinthians were induced to begin worshipping the disembodied spirit of a shamefully executed insurrectionist from a faraway land, or they were offered initiation into a mystery cult with a cosmic figure of salvation as its focus, untethered to any potentially discouraging mundane biography?

  232. 232
    Sili

    sgbm,

    Carr would be right to doubt Q.

  233. 233
    stevencarr

    Q might have existed, although people like Mark Goodacre doubt it.

    Remind me where Q talks about a historical Jesus of Nazareth.

  234. 234
    Menyambal

    “If Jesus was the Messiah, why are there still Jews?”

    Seriously, I regard the fact that the local Jews did not accept Jesus as the Promised One as being very relevant to discussions on the historicity of Jesus. He must have been unable to impress the people who had been awaiting their messiah.

  235. 235
    concernedjoe

    Jesus fuckin Christ !!! all puns and disrespect intended

    Others have said this herein and I myself tried in #188: the ONLY salient issue regarding the whole Jesus shit is – tah dah – was he divine or not?!

    And campers on that specific issue there are NO connecting dots unless you are into circular reasoning and in this case circle jerks – or are fucking insane or completely daft!

    I think Keven above nails it too. This “god” (myth or real) left us shit other than a group of alternative religion-ists with an agenda that somehow rode the coattails of the Roman Empire into Western World predominance.

    get real – if Constantine hadn’t had a brain-fart that made him realize the financial and power advantage playing the Christian card gave the Emperor we’d all be arguing about Giove or some other made-up shit.

    Jesus – person in the flesh or just on the tongues and pages – was NOT a fuckin god – had no supernatural powers – or any such fantasy. Those claims have NO proof of any worthiness.

    I claim even if he was a god – which he weren’t a lick! – he was one fuckin prick. I mean if I was a god and had a shot at tangibly being amongst my creation I’d at least give them enough info to avoid things like – well – seeing their babies writhe in agony as they shit their brains out.

    Being a casual cultural believer is one thing – being a “scholarly” apologetic for the jebus myth is just fucking insane or charlatan or both.

  236. 236
    Sili

    daniel

    @117

    I honestly didn’t think Wikipedia was that credible, given the way people post and write whatever they want sometimes.

    I mean I’ve used it in the past for stuff, but with circumspection.

    Anyone can write just about anything on there.

    Excuse me, are you trolling?

    Do you really not see the problem with disbelieving WP while accepting the gospels wholesale? They’ve been made exactly the same way. Except, of course, Wikipedia actually gets factchecked occasionally.

  237. 237
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Carr would be right to doubt Q.

    I don’t think that’s obviously right or wrong.

    Remind me where Q talks about a historical Jesus of Nazareth.

    Nothing to do with anything I’ve said, thanks.

    These paragraphs:

    Why, everybody was writing about him, and our Gospellers had the task of collecting up all these sources for us and putting them in one convenient work, to save us having to remember the names of the authors of all these sources and narratives. Wasn’t that kind of them?

    Bart, being a mainstream Biblical historian, can read the Gospel of Luke, and come up with lots of independent sources in just the one document – a task beyond historians in other fields of history who work on the outmoded paradigm that one document is one source.

    suggest that you don’t think there were any other sources on which any of the four canonical gospels were based, and you don’t believe it’s possible to read any of those gospels and determine that this passage is likely to come from a different source than that passage.

  238. 238
    Sili

    daniel

    @92

    John

    I am fond of the “no-holds-barred” approach to Scripture when it comes to human frailty.

    If “I” were to make something up, I would start with my own infallible wisdom and divine invincibility. I would then begin to lord it over others in a rather intimidating fashion (with perhaps weaponry, political power and money). I would not allow any room for questions,as I continued hiding my human weaknesses and frailties behind a facade of pious, highminded prose about how wonderful I was.

    That says more about you, and your psyche than it does about the gospel authors.

  239. 239
    stevencarr

    We know for a fact that the Gospels are based on sources which predate them.

    See http://www.bowness.demon.co.uk/mirc1.htm

  240. 240
    Sili

    suggest that you don’t think there were any other sources on which any of the four canonical gospels were based, and you don’t believe it’s possible to read any of those gospels and determine that this passage is likely to come from a different source than that passage.

    We’re there any sources? Particularly written sources.

    It’s possible that sources existed, and looking for clues through source criticism is necessary. The problem is that it seems more and more that no such (written) sources ever existed. Least of all Q.

  241. 241
    strange gods before me ॐ

    It’s possible that sources existed, and looking for clues through source criticism is necessary.

    Well that’s what Steven Carr seems to be suggesting is impossible.

  242. 242
    strange gods before me ॐ

    It’s possible that sources existed, and looking for clues through source criticism is necessary.

    Well that’s what Steven Carr seems to be suggesting is impossible. And that sounds crankish to me.

  243. 243
    scenario

    226 CJO

    In my first post on this topic I said that Jesus may be totally fictional. I agree there is no evidence to support his existence. If we ever somehow found evidence to prove he never existed, it wouldn’t surprise me. I just think that there were a lot of preexisting cults that ended up getting swept up into the Jesus cult. It wouldn’t surprise me if there is really absolutely nothing left of the original cult figure left in the bible. That’s why I asked how much of the real Jesus need to be left in the bible in order to consider him the founder.

  244. 244
    stevencarr

    I see.

    So any document from ancient history counts as 6 or 7 independent different sources, depending upon how imaginative you are in seeing different sources in a work.

    And you don’t need provenance of any Gospels to accept them as multiple sources in one ‘compendium’.

    History the Ehrman way just got an awful lot easier.

    Why, we even have independent sources saying Jesus was born in Bethlehem….

    If only someone , somewhere in the first century had put his name to a document saying he had ever heard of Judas, Thomas, Bartimaeus, Lazarus, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, Jairus, Joanna, Salome, Mary Magdalene and the cast of other Gospel characters who vanish from history ….

    almost as though they had never been.

    Meanwhile, in the real world, Biblical scholars look at the Gospel and can easily find sources for a lot of the stories.

    The Old Testament!

  245. 245
    strange gods before me ॐ

    So any document from ancient history counts as 6 or 7 independent different sources, depending upon how imaginative you are in seeing different sources in a work.

    Not on the basis of one person’s imagination, no. But the mainstream consensus position, the sum of scholarly debate, is that there are a couple more early sources beyond those which we have now.

    Meanwhile, in the real world, Biblical scholars look at the Gospel and can easily find sources for a lot of the stories.

    The Old Testament!

    Nobody disagrees with this statement, but most Biblical scholars find evidence for other sources as well.

    You do come off like a crank, Steven. It’s just strange.

  246. 246
    stevencarr

    Of course, any earlier sources may have said ‘The following came to Peter in a vision’, in the same way that Acts 10 recounts visions and the Gospel of Luke recounts dreams.

    So unless Ehrman can produce his supposed sources, he cannot use his invisible documents to support his case.

    Which is good, because even the most amateurish historian knows that invisible documents do not count as evidence.

    Some of them even go on to become Bible scholars (and then forget that invisible documents do not count as evidence.)

  247. 247
    stevencarr

    News just in.

    Cranks do not accept invisible documents as sources. Just how cranky can you get?

    I guess I am like these creationists who look at empty display cases in museums and claim the empty display cases are not evidence for evolution.

    Of course, people with real evidence don’t point to empty display cases or invisible documents and call them evidence that only a crank would reject.

  248. 248
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Which is good, because even the most amateurish historian knows that invisible documents do not count as evidence.

    Some of them even go on to become Bible scholars (and then forget that invisible documents do not count as evidence.)

    So it is your position that the entirety of mainstream Biblical scholarship is bogus.

    Huh.

  249. 249
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Cranks do not accept invisible documents as sources.

    So you do believe that it is impossible to find evidence of other sources by textual criticism of current sources.

    Huh.

  250. 250
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    @Chas, Helena might be lying, but her sloppy grammar and terrible spelling need not disprove her claim. It could also be because she’s not a native English speaker. Classics professors exist in other countries, and there are university editorial services to help when professionally writing in another language.

    I must admit that one of the more persuasive parts of mythicism is the OMG MYTHICISM=TOTAL CRANK!!! position of the historicists. (Yes, I know that’s an emotional appeal, not a real argument.) But I am puzzled about what’s supposed to be so cranky about the claim per se. Plenty of religions have mythical characters; it’s not an extraordinary claim. The evidence I’ve seen is not very convincing to me either way.

    Sure, I will accept that there are some daft people making outrageous claims who actually are history cranks. I haven’t looked into it enough to know who or what. But they clearly exist on both sides. OMG historical GODMAN! PRAISE HIM!! is also as unacademic as it gets.

  251. 251
    stevencarr

    Let me see.

    The Quests for the Historical Jesus have crashed and burned so badly for over a century that the failures are now numbered and documented.

    And books are being published by mainstream Biblical scholars themselves about how the criteria they use are doomed.

    Meanwhile, mainstream Biblical scholars (we are told) claim the Gospel of Luke counts as multiple sources, although other historians in other fields have this strange rule of one document, one source.

    And we are told that mainstream Biblical scholars can read invisible documents and claim they are evidence.

    I think your portrayal of how Biblical scholarship works is somebody secretly attempting to discredit them by trying to make them look like amateurs, behind a facade of defending them. Clever….. Wish I’d thought of it.

  252. 252
    stevencarr

    ‘So you do believe that it is impossible to find evidence of other sources by textual criticism of current sources.’

    Nonsense. It is very easy to find evidence of other sources by textual criticism of current sources. We know Matthew and Luke plagiarised Mark and passed off much of his work as their own.

    I have already posted where many of these stories came from. http://www.bowness.demon.co.uk/mirc1.htm

    It is often not difficult to find where stories come from. Plagiarism is easy to detect. Ask any university professor grading essays.

    But Bart’s statement that his invisible documents are evidence of a historical Jesus was stamped on by Richard Carrier, and called ‘almost borderline delusional’ by Tom Verenna.

    Invisible documents are not evidence, especially when they are so subjective that other scholars doubt their existence.

  253. 253
    concernedjoe

    pitbull – I read StevenCarr as saying – you do not get to count as a source yourself – as in I part of the babble and the source of this story in chapter gazillion is the story in chaper zillion. That may be a TRUE statement but it does not make MORE THAN one source – the babble.

    Further I think he is saying “the independent source for the shit I’m saying is the dream I had last night” Nopers – that too is not two – got me?

    But I am just a lowly washed up bloke – and one can justifiably say: what does he know and who should give a shit! Sort of like what I say about historians that test positive for theologian.

  254. 254
    strange gods before me ॐ

    And we are told that mainstream Biblical scholars can read invisible documents and claim they are evidence.

    Claim they are evidence of a historical Jesus? No, I didn’t say that.

    Again, nothing to do with anything I’ve said, thanks.

    If your statements in this thread had amounted to “I don’t think lost sources can each be counted as independent of each other”, I would find that unremarkable. Arguable, but not crankish.

    Instead though you have insinuated that the entirety of mainstream Biblical scholarship is based on entirely invalid techniques. Carrier doesn’t do this; Goodacre doesn’t do this; Farrer didn’t do this. (Because they’re not cranks.)

    Nonsense. It is very easy to find evidence of other sources by textual criticism of current sources. We know Matthew and Luke plagiarised Mark and passed off much of his work as their own.

    I have already posted where many of these stories came from. http://www.bowness.demon.co.uk/mirc1.htm

    Uh huh. But you don’t believe that evidence for any other sources, beyond those already in the Bible, can be inferred.

    Huh. It’s just strange to hear.

  255. 255
    strange gods before me ॐ

    pitbull – I read StevenCarr as saying

    He is saying something like that, which is not in itself objectionable. But he’s also saying something more.

    He apparently finds the very notion that there were other sources which did not end up in the Bible to be self-evidently absurd. Saying the gospel writers copied from other, now-lost sources, is apparently like saying they “had the task of collecting up all these sources for us and putting them in one convenient work, to save us having to remember the names of the authors of all these sources and narratives.”

  256. 256
    cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming)

    generallerong:

    helenaconstantine #8

    Having read David Graeber’s Debt: the First 5,000 years, your statement really resonated

    Ironically, Graeber has recently been called out for historical inaccuracy and dubious hagiography:

    Apple Computers is a famous example: it was founded by (mostly Republican) computer engineers who broke from IBM in Silicon Valley in the 1980s, forming little democratic circles of twenty to forty people with their laptops in each other’s garages.

    [...]

    This is not exactly stuff written in the cuneiform of Mesopotamian diplomacy, [...] but something that occurred in suburban California around the time I was born and concerns the extremely well documented origins of one of the world’s biggest firms. If Graeber gets this wrong, how can we trust him about the stuff that’s harder to check, like all that business about barbarian law codes…

    This is why Debt is on my wishlist, not my shelf, BTW. ;)

  257. 257
    stevencarr

    I think pitbull has lost the plot.

    Ehrman stated we have lots of sources.

    We don’t.

    We have at best inferred sources. Inferred sources don’t count as evidence, no more than empty glass cases in a museum count as evidence of evolution.

    And they are inferred using methods which have crashed and burned for over a century to the extent that mainstream Bible scholars can’t even agree on the existence of Q.

    And not even Ehrman goes so far as to claim that his invisible documents would have any provenance even if he could see them.

    Note to pitbull. People are rushing around to say that Ehrman’s book is much better than the Huffington Post article.

    Try to keep on-message.

    Practice saying ‘The book is better than the article’, and you will soon find it easier than trying to defend Ehrman’s claim that the existence of lots of sources proves there was a historical Jesus.

  258. 258
    CJO

    The problem with Q, specifically, is that it’s a hypothesis. It is a possible explanation of a certain state of literary affairs: that Matthew and Luke share material that is not found in Mark, their (other?) common source. This is known as the Synoptic Problem, and Q features in what is currently the favorite solution, the Two-Source Theory. It is by no means the only solution. And so, while it seems reasonable to me to allow that some such more or less integrated sayings source may have existed in written form, the confidence with which reconstructions of this text are retailed seems entirely unwarranted. Especially so, since scholars then turn around and use the existence of Q as a premise in the argument for historicity: the earlier and less mythologized the source material is, the higher our confidence that some historical kernel was preserved.

    My personal belief as regards the Synoptic Problem and Q is that, first, the author of Luke had access to Matthew and so the problem that the hypothetical text was invented to solve is actually a non-problem, but that, second, it is still possible that much of the sayings material in Matthew not found in Mark came from some kind of text not dissimilar to the Gospel of Thomas and the reconstructed Q, and finally that this text did not in fact predate the narrative gospel tradition, but was, like Matthew and Luke, composed in reaction to and loose imitation of Mark. Given the prologue to Luke, it’s probable that the author was aware of the sayings text as an independent unit as well, but since it’s largely contained in Matthew the point is moot in terms of literary relationships if he had both.

  259. 259
    strange gods before me ॐ

    I think pitbull has lost the plot.

    Ehrman stated we have lots of sources.

    We don’t.

    Nothing to do with anything I’ve said, thanks.

    I’m not talking about Ehrman. I’m talking about you.

    And not even Ehrman goes so far as to claim that his invisible documents would have any provenance even if he could see them.

    Nothing to do with anything I’ve said, thanks.

    I’m not talking about Ehrman. I’m talking about you.

    Note to pitbull. People are rushing around to say that Ehrman’s book is much better than the Huffington Post article.

    Try to keep on-message.

    Nothing to do with anything I’ve said, thanks.

    I’m not talking about Ehrman. I’m talking about you.

    Practice saying ‘The book is better than the article’, and you will soon find it easier than trying to defend Ehrman’s claim that the existence of lots of sources proves there was a historical Jesus.

    You have a bad case of no reading comprehension, Steven.

    But yeah. Nothing to do with anything I’ve said, thanks.

    I’m not talking about Ehrman. I’m talking about you.

    And they are inferred using methods which have crashed and burned for over a century to the extent that mainstream Bible scholars can’t even agree on the existence of Q.

    See, this is crankish of you.

    The existence of this disagreement does not, to Carrier, mean that the methods of Biblical scholarship are bogus.

    The existence of this disagreement does not, to Goodacre, mean that the methods of Biblical scholarship are bogus.

    The existence of this disagreement did not, to Farrer, mean that the methods of Biblical scholarship are bogus.

    They don’t make those kind of claims. You are overinterpreting the scope of their disagreement.

  260. 260
    stevencarr

    Pitbull has totally lost it now.

    I shall put this as simply as I can.

    Not all Biblical scholarship is bogus.

    Only the methods of ‘criteriology’ which have crashed and burned to such an extent that Biblical scholars now number and document the failed quests for the Historical Jesus.

    I’m not the one writing the books bemoaning the inability of mainstream Biblical scholarship to find criteria which actually work.

    They are being written by Biblical scholars themselves.

    Meanwhile, back in the real world, Ehrman’s article was rightly stamped on by Richard Carrier.

  261. 261
    strange gods before me ॐ

    This is known as the Synoptic Problem, and Q features in what is currently the favorite solution, the Two-Source Theory. It is by no means the only solution.

    Yep. Ehrman’s apparent presentation of Streeter’s hypothesis as to-be-taken-for-granted is strange, too.

  262. 262
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Not all Biblical scholarship is bogus.

    But you don’t believe that evidence for any other sources, beyond those already in the Bible, can be inferred.

    That’s what sounds crankish.

    And you apparently find the very notion that there were other sources which did not end up in the Bible to be self-evidently absurd. Saying the gospel writers copied from other, now-lost sources, is apparently like saying they “had the task of collecting up all these sources for us and putting them in one convenient work, to save us having to remember the names of the authors of all these sources and narratives.”

    That sounds crankish too.

    Only the methods of ‘criteriology’

    So mainsteam Biblical scholarship, it’s all bogus to you.

    Even though Carrier does not say this, Goodacre does not say this, Farrer did not say this.

    I’m not the one writing the books bemoaning the inability of mainstream Biblical scholarship to find criteria which actually work.

    They are being written by Biblical scholars themselves.

    You evidently overestimate the scope of this disagreement.

  263. 263
    CJO

    ॐ,
    Well, the priority of Mark seems to me to be all but unassailable, and I think that conclusion gets conflated with the Two-Source Theory largely because of unexamined assumptions regarding the ultimate source of the narrative and its relationship to the putative historical figure. The “problem” is a whole lot less problematic when you consider Mark as a symbolic narrative unconstrained by biographical or historical memory of any kind. Most scholars won’t consider this approach, for obvious reasons.

  264. 264
    PZ Myers

    Ho hum. James MacGillivray and Walt Disney existed, therefore Paul Bunyan was a historical figure.

    I am not at all impressed with people who claim the historicity of a legendary figure in the total absence of any primary documents, and when all the sources are tainted by the self-interest of a religious cult, and the stories are loaded with supernatural bullshit.

  265. 265
    stevencarr

    ‘But you don’t believe that evidence for any other sources, beyond those already in the Bible, can be inferred.

    That’s what sounds crankish.’

    Pitbull keeps repeating this , almost as though it means something.

    Perhaps it does, in his world.

    We can infer, but may be wrong, that Luke used Josephus. See , for example,

    http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/lukeandjosephus.html

    See, we can infer sources from outside the Bible in the Gospels.

    When did I ever say we couldn’t?

    People can and do infer Gospel sources from outside the Bible.

  266. 266
    strange gods before me ॐ

    CJO, I wonder, since the obvious reasons aren’t so obvious in an agnostic or atheist (whichever Ehrman is; I forget), do you have any guess as to what his motivation is?

  267. 267
    strange gods before me ॐ

    ‘But you don’t believe that evidence for any other sources, beyond those already in the Bible, can be inferred.

    That’s what sounds crankish.’

    Pitbull keeps repeating this , almost as though it means something.

    Yes, something like that would explain your distortion here:

    Why, everybody was writing about him, and our Gospellers had the task of collecting up all these sources for us and putting them in one convenient work, to save us having to remember the names of the authors of all these sources and narratives. Wasn’t that kind of them?

    and your categorical dismissal of mainstream Biblical scholarship here:

    Bart, being a mainstream Biblical historian, can read the Gospel of Luke, and come up with lots of independent sources in just the one document – a task beyond historians in other fields of history who work on the outmoded paradigm that one document is one source.

    +++++

    We can infer, but may be wrong, that Luke used Josephus. See , for example,

    http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/lukeandjosephus.html

    See, we can infer sources from outside the Bible in the Gospels.

    Ah, so I misunderstood you.

    Rather, you believe we cannot infer the existence of any lost sources which do not currently exist.

    Still sounds pretty crankish.

  268. 268
    CJO

    Re: Ehrman’s motivations
    I think he says he’s agnostic. It’s a sunk-costs kind of thing with him, I think. This is his career, his identity, and he’s now the poster-boy for JesusBooks Industries. He’s churning out best-sellers on the topic with no sign of letting up, and he basically knows which side his bread is buttered on. I’m not saying he’s being cynical and he doesn’t actually believe it; I’m certain that he does. But being an esteemed member of a specialized guild in whose methods he has been extensively educated exerts a powerful psychological force that keeps him from stepping over a line. On the other side of the question, it must be admitted that when he looks on the other side of that line he sees a fair amount of crankiness and pseudo-scholarship, and that reinforces his conviction that he and his fellow experts (among them his teachers and mentors) could not possibly have been wrong or using invalid methods all along.

  269. 269
    strange gods before me ॐ

    Sunk costs: that’s usually the way it goes.

  270. 270
    aaronbaker

    “Re: Ehrman’s motivations”

    It’s a lucky thing that mindreading has been perfected. Otherwise, we might just be smearing a distinguished scholar.

  271. 271
    Pierce R. Butler

    CJO @ # 262: I’m not saying he’s being cynical and he doesn’t actually believe it; I’m certain that he does.

    Apparently Ehrman’s faith may have run aground on historicity, but it sank on the stones of theodicy. Read God’s Problem for Ehrman’s own account.

  272. 272
    echidna

    . We know Matthew and Luke plagiarised Mark and passed off much of his work as their own.

    No, we don’t know any such thing. We know very little about the authorship of the gospels, and they are so self-contradictory that it’s unlikely they were written at any single point of time, or even by a single author. The “passed off .. as their own” idea is really not one that applies very well in anonymous religious writings of antiquity. The names of the four books don’t constitute an assertion of authorship.

  273. 273
    concernedjoe

    Jesus lived the minute enough people coalesced around and accepted ideas and actions attributed to him – and indeed accepted this attribution – that is made him synonymous with the ideas and actions.

    In this sense Sherlock Holmes lived and lives

    And Spock to some

    And Socrates – and Alexander the Great – and so many other “historical” figures that represent ideas, actions, concepts significant to us

    Whether any metaphor we concoct was not or was as we depict in the flesh is immaterial really beyond some esoteric or, if more recent, perhaps legal interest

    The metaphor – the things coalesced around – the things of real importance – took breath when people made the metaphor significant and will breathe until they destroy its significance

    That goes for metaphors really made of carbon and metaphors only made of imagination and/or clever eclectic synthesis

    So the metaphor of Sherlock Holmes might be useful to us that might want to learn detective concepts – and that of Aristotle for us that may want to learn methods of logic – and that of Jesus or Buddha may have utility for those of us interested in developing a more perfect world.

    But when the followers insist that their metaphor trumps non-metaphoric reality and/or dictates to us or innocents dogmatically and/or dictatorially then we rationalists/freethinkers react

    Far as we can tell there are no gods nor were there – stop saying we must be bound to them – stop making your metaphor so encompassing – so embarrassingly immature and ignorant

  274. 274
    llewelly

    sharon | 22 March 2012 at 2:56 pm :

    Huh? Ever heard of Mark Hoffman?

    Fun Fact: Mark Hoffman shared a cell with Dan Lafferty. For decades.

  275. 275
    andyo

    daniel, #129

    There is nothing problematic with “young woman” being interpreted as “virgin”.

    Hmm, except that a freaking baby dropped out of this young woman’s vagina?

  276. 276
    andyo

    I could make the suggestion that NOT believing in the resurrection could likewise, evidentially that is, be an example of gullibility.

    After all, you have no evidence it did not happen. There’s more evidence for it than against it.

    Wow.

  277. 277
    ChasCPeterson

    I am preparing a list of all the stuff for which I have no evidence that it didn’t happen (and which therefore I would be gullible to disbelieve). I plan on posting it here when it’s finished. Then I’m going to start in believing that shit. Wish me luck.

  278. 278
    concernedjoe

    Let’s play a game.

    I am tramping through the very isolated jungles of Mucky Muck. Because I wanted my complete attention directed to my study of the habits of the Gearheaded Picky Pick I limited my contact with the outside world to my friend Fido via a special and limited 2-way wrist-radio.

    Fido – an intelligent and fine fellow – declares to me in our morning communication that a tornado just occurred yesterday in NYC and the Empire State Building was blown down. He adds that it was like the end of the World there .. the whole subway system rumbled, fissures occurred in in pipes, buildings, and streets, ground was overturned and even some buried bodies seemed to take life.

    Now I made one “HOLY SHIT! YOU’RE MESSING WITH ME!”

    Fido assures me he isn’t and says he’ll let me know more about it when we reestablish communication 3 days from now.

    I go about my business but naturally the thought of the disaster haunts me.

    Yes I accept Fido’s statements on face value. First Fido is my trusted friend, second without much thought (again I am scientifically concentrating elsewhere) I accept the physics of it, third it was NYC and stuff is old and very interconnected so ramifications seem inevitable given a specific major trauma. Nothing seems outside the Laws of Nature – I have no evidence it did not happen – I have no reason to doubt Fido.

    Three days later Fido as scheduled buzzes the old wrist-radio and declares that the most amazing thing happened. The Empire State Building was blown back into its original position and shape, the tangential damage and traumas all back to normal as if nothing happened. Indeed the official sources (Police, Fire, etc.) decided it was a non-event and are ignoring it in their records. He however has joined a club established by some people in Soho to ensure the memory of this marvelous event lives on.

    Again – I have no evidence in my hand to say it did not happen – but I don’t believe now any of it did. Not at all.

    What I now believe is my dear friend has lost his mind or is being held captive by something and is being coerced for some reason to mess with my mind.

    My attention turns to my survival – I begin to doubt my lifeline back to civilization. And if I do make it back I want to stay away from Fido and his new apparently bat-shit crazy friends.

  279. 279
    John Morales

    [meta]

    concernedjoe, careful there; start with allegories, end up with parables…

  280. 280
    concernedjoe

    OK John…

    and verily I say unto you, he who believes via deduction must fully use deduction, and he who believes via induction must also get back to deduction; and sorry is the person who believes without either method and these people should not leave their house.

  281. 281
    Sili

    echidna

    No, we don’t know any such thing. We know very little about the authorship of the gospels, and they are so self-contradictory that it’s unlikely they were written at any single point of time, or even by a single author. The “passed off .. as their own” idea is really not one that applies very well in anonymous religious writings of antiquity. The names of the four books don’t constitute an assertion of authorship.

    Huh? I was only aware of John having been written by committee.

    Mark is almost certainly written by one person, very cleverly modelling his narrative of Odysseus and transvaluing his reputation as the ideal man.

    Matthew with its grand lectures in a consistent style seems to have been composed at once as well, and Luke is an attempt at extending Josephus to cover early Christianity.

    I’d certainly like to here the evidence that these were not the works of singly authors, one-upping eachother.

    As for Mark’s sources, if any, I don’t know. Goulder’s lectionary hypothesis seems unlikely, but the timing of the Passion in Mark does show intriguing hints of being based on some sorta day long vigil with regularly spaced reflections on aspects of the ‘death’ of ‘the Christ’.

  282. 282
    Jake Hamby

    aaronbaker:

    After reading a bunch of Carrier’s posts, I’ve come to the conclusion that “prove” is Carrier-speak for “argue.”

    I also read a bunch of Carrier’s posts after following the link from this one, and I came to a similar conclusion. On this particular topic, Carrier seemed to think highly of the work done by Earl Doherty in his 1999 book The Jesus Puzzle, so I checked out Doherty’s site and ended up buying the Kindle version of his latest book, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man – The Case For A Mythical Jesus, a greatly expanded version of The Jesus Puzzle.

    I’m still near the beginning of Doherty’s book, but it lays out the case for the non-historicity of Jesus with an overwhelming amount of detail pointing towards an alternative hypothesis, which I’ll try to summarize.

    Doherty’s thesis is that there were two completely different and independent traditions that fused together with the Gospel of Mark. The first tradition, called the Jerusalem Tradition, though it was not centered there, was the source of Paul’s writing and all the other epistles (basically everything except for the Gospels and Acts). There’s a huge amount of discussion of Jesus Christ, and what he does and doesn’t want people to do, but it’s just like the Christians of today, with Paul and others arguing their opinions as the correct ones based on Jewish scripture and divine revelation.

    So in the 100′s of thousands of words of the Epistles, there’s no mention whatsoever of any biographical details which we associate with Jesus of Nazareth from the Gospels (which come from the other tradition). Even where there would have been perfect opportunities for Paul, et al, to advance a particular point by referring to some story about Jesus, they never mention him as other than a mythical, divine being.

    Doherty spends several chapters discussing the religious milieu in which Paul and the other early Christians were operating, and a few things stand out. First, the idea of a Platonic God with some intermediary between it and humanity was common in Hellenic thinking, where the spirit was referred to as Logos, or the Word. In Jewish thinking of the time, there was also an idea of God splitting off part of itself as Wisdom, female gendered but considered completely in the spiritual realm and not ever having come down to earth. The cosmology of the time was that there was a multi-layered cosmos with Earth at the bottom, then air, then various realms of angels and daemons, and finally God at the top.

    So the Jerusalem tradition was this diffuse group of competing sects, all sharing this particular notion of Jesus Christ (which just means “messiah savior”) as a divine manifestation of God, imparting wisdom to those who received his (no longer her) visions, being crucified, dying, and being resurrected for our sins, but not as an actual human who lived on Earth in the immediately prior decades. As Doherty points out, if Paul or the other early Christians had tried to tie their Christ concept to an actual human mystic, that would have been a completely blasphemous notion to the Jews they were trying to convert (as well as to Paul), and they would have had to spend considerable time justifying why this particular Jesus preacher should be elevated to such a high level of divinity.

    OTOH, preaching a human/divine Jesus would have probably been a big selling point for converting gentiles to Christianity, as the idea of idolizing humans and mythologizing them was commonly accepted. So the fact that none of them seemed to make any effort towards tying the Jesus Christ of the early Christians’ preaching to any actual person who lived on Earth, makes no sense in terms of preaching to Jews nor to gentiles.

    The second tradition, centered around Galilee, was based around a collection of mythologized stories which we now associate with the Jesus biographical story. I haven’t gotten to that part of Doherty’s book, so I don’t have all the details yet, but basically that’s where the Q stories come from, in multiple layers as the political beliefs of this other set of religious groups evolved. Somewhere along the line, the author of Mark, seizing an opportunity, combined a bunch of the stories that the Galilee group had been preaching (although he apparently didn’t have access to the Q writings themselves, as Matthew and Luke apparently did), attributed them to a single Jesus figure (Son of Man), and cleverly appropriated this completely separate mythical concept of Jesus Christ, Son of God, dying and being resurrected for your sins, from the Jerusalem tradition, and spawned a story which has been believed for 2000 years as having really happened.

    I used to think, as others here have said, that it didn’t really matter one way or the other if Jesus was a real historical figure, and that there probably wouldn’t be enough evidence to make a case one way or the other, but I have to say after reading just what I’ve read so from from Doherty’s website and book, that the theory of two separate mystical schools, one with a non-earthly Jesus Christ and the other with a mythical wise leader who became the Jesus of Nazareth, explains the split personality and many inconsistencies of the Jesus stories far better than any possible explanation involving a historical Jesus who was actually crucified by Pilate, etc.

    In terms of faith (wanting to believe without evidence), if you approach the New Testament in the order it’s presented in the Bible, reading the Gospels first, and then the later books, it’s easy to just assume that Paul and the others are talking about the same Jesus, but if that’s the case, you would think they would make just one mention of him as a recently-living person that others had actually met. Instead, it’s all about what this imaginary Jesus they’re all speaking about from visions and interpretations of (Jewish) scripture wants, just like Christians today can talk about what Jesus wants based on their visions and interpretations of scriptures, without any actual evidence of any real person who could tie the stories together.

    In short, only a mythical figure could have played the role of Jesus. There may have been actual historical figure(s) as inspiration for the Q stories, but there seems to be an overwhelming amount of evidence that even if there were, their “Jesus” was decidedly not who Paul and other early Christian writers were talking about, because they simply don’t even bother to tie their Christ Jesus back into any sort of historical figure whatsoever. It was only in the 2nd century that the historical figure of Jesus of Nazereth, which seems to have been created from whole cloth by the author of Mark, became codified and rationalized as a real historical figure, and as the originator of the religion that Paul and the other Christians were preaching. And then through politics and ruthless suppression of any opposing views, the official biography of Jesus became seen as the only accepted history for Christians.

    In the lack of an strong alternative theory, the idea of a real Jesus preacher founding the religion would seem to make sense, but having read through just a fraction of the evidence he’s accumulated, I’m convinced that Doherty’s theory of a completely mythical Jesus makes far more sense, and I still have 90% of his book left to read. Highly recommended.

  283. 283
    Jake Hamby

    I went back to reading Jesus: Neither God Nor Man (BTW, I’m not associated with the author in any way) that I thought was particularly worth sharing as it speaks to so much of what skepticism is fighting:

    One of the impediments to an acceptance of the myth theory is the apparent incredibility of the proposition that faith in Paul’s Jesus the Son (and by extension, the Gospel Jesus) could have arisen with no historical basis. But we have to realize how much the educated ancient Jew lived within his holy books, as did many of those gentiles who attached themselves to Judaism. The Jewish scriptures offered a universe in themselves, in which the avid scholar and prophet could move and breathe. He governed his life by the writings. Like the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, he could construct whole philosophies from elements of scripture, aided at times by mystical experiences.

    Ancient philosophy as a whole, its view of the universe and of God, was the product of purely intellectual contemplation. Modern principles of scientific observation and experiment were virtually unknown. True reality lay outside the observable world; ultimate truths were reached through the rejection of the world and the abandonment of the body. God was believed to communicate firsth through his scriptures, second–for those fortunate enough to be blessed with such things–through visionary revelation.

    The bible was God’s revelation of himself and his workings. The most important aspect of those workings was the divine plan for salvation. God’s plan had to reside in scripture, for that was how he communicated with the world. All it needed was the right key, the right inspiration through the Spirit to unlock that coded information. Thus the writings of the prophets were regarded not as meant for their own time, not as relating to conditions they themselves had lived through (which, of course, in all cases they were), but as prophecies of the future. Inevitably, that future was taken to the period of those who were studying these writings. God’s prophetic message was meant for themselves. Paul’s conviction that the Spirit was guiding him as he sought meaning from the sacred texts guaranteed he would get the message he was looking for.

    He then goes on to talk about how for most Jews, the agent would be an Anointed king (“Christ” in Greek), who some thought would be a human figure exalted by God, while others thought of in terms of a spiritual agent of salvation. So the whole concept is built on top of this foundation of woo, as it were, arguing over the particular form of this Messiah who simply had to exist because it says so (to them) in their various interpretations of scripture and their own private revelations, with Christianity the end product of the successful state religious form that achieved great political success over the subsequent centuries (continuing until our time, sadly) in slaughtering off the members of the other, heretical sects that were arguing mad beliefs like the crazy notion that maybe Jesus wasn’t a real historical person after all. So we get handed down the belief system(s) that survived down to our time.

    Apologies for the length. I don’t often post on Pharyngula, but when I do…

  284. 284
    aaronbaker

    jakehamby wrote:

    So in the 100′s of thousands of words of the Epistles, there’s no mention whatsoever of any biographical details which we associate with Jesus of Nazareth from the Gospels (which come from the other tradition).

    Thanks, jakehamby, for the detailed treatment of Doherty; another book I probably need to read. I think that “no mentions,” however, should be modified to “very few mentions.” In Galatians, Paul mentions Cephas (Peter) and James, “the brother of the Lord” (also mentioned, with other brothers of Jesus, in Mark and Matthew) and claims to have met both men. Paul agrees with the Gospels that Jesus was a human figure (“born of woman”), not a purely divine figure, a Jew, born “under the law,” who had brothers (plural), and who was crucified. [For a summary, with full citations, this article looks pretty thorough: http://barriewilson.com/pdf/If-We-Only-Had-Paul.pdf Also, for however little it’s worth, Paul shared the view expressed in the Gospels that Jesus was a descendent of David.

    What’s that you say? Thin gruel? Yes, but thin gruel is not the same thing as no gruel. I’m just suggesting that the disjunct between Paul and the Gospels can be exaggerated; I also think it important to the discussion that Paul did not, apparently, regard Jesus as a purely divine being.

    Now in his posting, Carrier addresses the mention of James, “the brother of the Lord,” and contends that the phrase in quotes “can only be a cultic title.” Then, in what is to me the most irritating part of this posting, he proceeds as if he’s proved that this phrase is a cultic title, even though he hasn’t. The closest he comes is to quote Romans 8:29: “For whom he foreknew, he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Well, yes, the word “brother” is used metaphorically many times in the New Testament and other early Christian Greek sources; but it doesn’t follow that adelphos tou kyriou is a cultic title.

    In his response to Carrier’s post, James McGrath jumps on just this failure to provide proof and says it was not the custom among early Christians to refer to Christians, or some subset of Christians, as “brothers of the Lord.” I’m not a New Testament scholar, so I don’t know whether McGrath is right here; but if he’s wrong, Carrier should have helped us by citing the pertinent evidence.

    That’s all; this post is already too long.

  285. 285
    quanta

    Maybe a better title would be “PZ Myers Crocoducks Ehrman”, because other than declaring Carrier the victor, you seem remarkably disinterested in the topic while triumphantly giving us the Truth (in under 230 characters.) The mythicist theory is that Jesus was completely invented. That there was no historical Jesus at all. You concede rather offhandedly that there might have been a historical Jesus and then confidently assert that we can’t know anything about him. You are engaging in indifference, not argumentation. Both Carrier and Ehrman would agree that much of what is believed about Jesus is legend, and certainly there is no evidence of anything that would make him divine or anything like that. But there are techniques that historians can use to sift through highly distorted presentations to get at what probably is a historical core. And that is what Ehrman and other scholars are doing.

    I get why you may be indifferent. There are really so many hours in a day. No one can be an expert at everything and the most pressing concern for a rational person when confronting the claims of Christianity don’t turn on whether Jesus was historical. Sometimes “I don’t know and I don’t care” is a perfectly legitimate answer. But I don’t care and here is the final answer is something different altogether. And when prominent atheists make these types of assertions, it gives the religious a false hope that maybe the reason why they are rejecting their religious claims is just as faulty as why they are cavalierly rejecting historical claims.

  286. 286
    concernedjoe

    Quanta I think you are over reacting.

    I read PZ as saying he thinks Carrier exposes Ehrman’s failings in a specific article that Carrier references. I do not think PZ is wrong to feel that.

    We all infer that PZ accepts Carrier’s critique because it seems to adequately get to the core of Ehrman’s logic and fact failings in that specific article. Nothing more.

    PZ may be wrong in the sense that his expert witness (Carrier) may be wrong. But PZ only can judge his expert witness on credentials and scholarship credibility then on the form and fit of the witness’s logic.

    PZ has a right to use an expert witness and it is neither irrational nor dishonest nor bad intellectually for a NON-expert to tentatively trust their expert based on criteria I just mentioned.

    PZ then goes on to say the issue of historicity in and by itself (that is “was there a real living Jesus person?”) is not germane really to the issue of divinity. But one can infer that definitive certifiable historicity of miraculous events associated with Jesus would peak his interest as would mine.

    Speaking for myself – I can appreciate or disdain scholarship on its form and fit – and even be interested in it as scholarship – and not really be interested in the subject matter. Whether Jesus was a person or not is not important to me nor of interest really – but the scholarship intrigues me as a good detective story might.

    Further PZ senses lots of “scholars” invent primary documents regarding the subject of Jesus. I do not think PZ is saying you cannot connect dots scientifically to form a view of a primary source in part conceptual. But I think he has “proved” to us from his many posts that he feels that process has rules biblical scholars often seem to ignore. One big one is justifying the primacy of a document by referencing that document as its own source – a form of circular reasoning. There are other failings. PZ has a right to react to these failings as a scientist.

    I just do not see PZ as doing a poor job of representing atheists here. He accepts Carrier’s as an expert critique and he has his own very intellectually honest and cogent (whether in final analysis right or wrong) opinions on scholarship. Moreover he has a right to have an opinion as to what is really important in this whole Jesus discussion – that being to us – divinity not person-hood.

    No foul to me.

  287. 287
    strange gods before me ॐ

    peak</strike pique his interest

  288. 288
    strange gods before me ॐ

    well shit

    it’s “pique” though

  289. 289
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    The question seems trivial to me. A Jesus of whom we can claim to know so little* is nearly indistinguishable from mythology. Would it really make a difference to anyone here in how they interpret Christianity?

    *Itinerant religious figure who lived in Galilee and was executed in Jerusalem around the turn of the first millenium. Eschewed wealth mostly. Anything else?

  290. 290
    concernedjoe

    pit – wow – LOL I am getting out of it!!! thanks

  291. 291
    Rutee Katreya

    And that is what Ehrman and other scholars are doing.

    Obviously I don’t have Ehrman’s book, but if you actually look at the article cited, you might find this claim is in doubt.

  292. 292
    victortanner

    Ehrman comes across as such an arrogant ass in this book that he turned me into a mythicist. I was expecting rational arguments, and frankly, they’re few a far between in DJE? Sorry I wasted ten bucks. Now he’s whining like a little bitch when he gets called out on his mistakes.

  293. 293
    'Tis Himself

    victortanner, please don’t use gendered insults.

  294. 294
    dipsao

    Congratulations PZ Myers, you have just made a fool out of yoursefl.
    Carrier is quite smart guy, but the postion he takes on the Jesus existence – mythicism is similiar to creationism, or holocaust, or global warminig denial in the biblical scholarship.

    Bart D. Ehrman made huge contribution to public understanding of human origins of Christianity and its sacred texts. Although he stresses that its not his purpose – he is in fact faithbuster.

    Beat your chest, promise to read any of Ehrman’s book, admit you were wrong because of ignorance, “I’m an biology guy, not biblical scholar” or sth like that ;P

  295. 295
    aaronbaker

    Whether or not Carrier “cold-cocks” Ehrman, his own case is badly flawed. He relies on a deductive argument that (obviously) doesn’t prove what he thinks it does, and on a reading of Paul 1st Cor. 9 that assumes a great deal not in evidence and disregards Paul’s syntax. (See my comments, from no. 53 on, at http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/749)

    When he combines these insufficient arguments with a self-regard that would be disturbing in a Darwin or an Einstein–and he does seem to be completely (and humorlessly) in earnest about his awesomness–a reader ought to wonder how firm his grip on matters of fact is.

  296. 296
    A. R

    This message addressed to the people who’ve been attempting to re-animate this thread: Fuck off.

  297. 297
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    @ A.R

    This message addressed to the people who’ve been attempting to re-animate this thread: Fuck off.

    FIFY: This message addressed to the people who’ve been attempting to re-animate this thread: This thread is dead. Take it to TZT.

  298. 298
    John Morales

    [meta]

    This thread is dead. Take it to TZT.

    Herbert West—Reanimator

  299. 299
    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    @ John Morales

    Hehe…

    But by continuing to post here you are undermining the aims of our TZT revolution!

    Oh wait …

  300. 300
    reggriffin

    You know how you hate it when somebody who isn’t a Biologist comes along & tries to tell you that your wrong about Foetus’s (or similar) etc’? I’m committed Atheist & enjoy Ehrman’s popular & more scholarly books & lectures. I’m convinced Jesus existed, obviously i don’t believe he was the son of any silly God but to wheel out this old “Jesus wasn’t real” chestnut again & in doing question the competency of a fellow Scholar is indicative of how P.Z. is these days. ONE of the reasons i don’t usually follow this blog. Sorry if this upsets people but there it is. I think it’s shoddy!

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