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The crucifixion is worse than nonsense

I was on another show with this odd New Covenant group — these are people very deeply steeped in Christianity, and it shows in their modes of thinking. Not all of them call themselves atheists, but they’re definitely freethinkers, and so I chattered with them for two hours. The topic for this one was on the crucifixion, and I argued that it was more than just false, this myth of sacrifice by proxy is abhorrent poison.

The other thing that makes them different from scientists and atheists is they’re just too nice — I’m really put on edge by compliments.

Comments

  1. says

    The thing about the crucifixion is that it portrays God as willingly dying and putting himself through agony, but seriously it was more like just a bad weekend.

    The major problem I have is that Jesus would have known (by being God) that he would come back from the dead. If he had no knowledge of his coming resurrection, it would have clearly been a much greater sacrifice than it supposedly was.

    People who lay down their lives for someone else, knowing they’ll never see the light of day again, sacrifice so much more than any Chrsitian God every had.

  2. says

    I don’t have a problem with the crucifixion story itself, but I DO have a problem with the relentless fetishization of Jesus’ bodily suffering. Using torture-porn to intimidate and manipulate kids? Since when was that the mark of a wise religion?

  3. thumper1990 says

    Crucifiction: The idea that omniescent God placed an evil tree in the Garden of Eden knowing full well Eve would eat from it so he could banish her and her partner from said garden and impose the pain of childbirth on women everywhere as punishment for eating from the tree He put there knowing full well she would eat from it, thus gaining knowledge (because apparently up until that point they were unaware they were naked) all so that years later He could subject His only son, who is also Him, to a horrible and painful and humiliating death in order to cancel out said sin and bring Him(self) back to life three days later; all so future Christians had something to use to guilt trip people into believing in Him.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    But the whole point of the thing was to lift the Curse!

    After Jesus died on Skull Hill, no man ever again sweated doing field work, and no woman ever felt pain during childbirth!

    Right?

  5. wpjoe says

    @thumper1990 #3
    I agree. The whole thing is a house of cards, and it is silly to use it as a world view to build your life around. Furthermore, the idea that we are all inherently evil is wrong and pernicious.

    I kind of enjoy the Genesis creation myths as a tale of humans becoming sentient. A talking snake set up as the villain but who really tells the truth – how cool is that? The gods sitting around talking to each other worried about whether humans will become gods like them – also cool. Fun story, but to think that it is the story of individual, real people and that somehow their actions reflect on you and that therefore you are evil and women are extra evil is laughably ludicrous.

  6. anne mariehovgaard says

    a bad weekend

    Are you sure about that? Yes, he was tortured – but it was clearly consensual. Read Mark 14:36: “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” That sounds suspiciously like a man begging “please, Daddy, stop” but making it perfectly clear that he is not withdrawing consent.

  7. drjuliebug says

    I have no difficulty believing that an ancient society (like many modern ones) would torture and execute a peaceful dissident. I will never understand nor accept the idea that this was somehow good for the rest of us.

    Of course, I don’t accept the idea that soldiers die for us either. It’s really easy to guilt-trip people with “He died for you” when the real story is “He was a soldier in a war that neither he nor you had any say in starting. The outcome of the war might — or might not — have had anything to do with the safety of the people he was told he was protecting. He was ordered into a situation where everyone present had to be willing and able to kill or be killed, and unfortunately, he was killed.”

    Minus the weapons and plus a lot more free agency, you have the story of people who become nonviolent dissenters at great risk to themselves. In that sense, Jesus of Nazareth (or at least our folkloric version of him) wasn’t much different from the unarmed people who faced down the tanks at Tienanmen Square. Dying in that situation makes a statement about the power of human conscience, but even without introducing any supernatural trappings, why wouldn’t it have been much better if no one at all had been killed?

  8. David Marjanović says

    But the whole point of the thing was to lift the Curse!

    After Jesus died on Skull Hill, no man ever again sweated doing field work, and no woman ever felt pain during childbirth!

    Right?

    How stupid of me never to have thought of this myself!

  9. thumper1990 says

    @wpjoe

    A talking snake set up as the villain but who really tells the truth

    That right there, along with the fact Adam and Eve were kicked out for gaining knowledge, is really quite revealing of the Abrahamic religions as a whole…

  10. bajoelsol says

    About the choise of language for the new testament, one must not forget that not all christians were jews.
    There were too major sects : panago-christians, and jew-christians. We have many written traces of their existens and how they fight for power in this new religion (and how the constructed the new testament).
    In the end, the pagano-christians mostly won ( this is why you don’t find that much taboos about what you’re allowed to eat or not), so this may be win they ended up with latin instead of hebrew.

  11. Pierce R. Butler says

    bajoelsol @ # 10: … so this may be [why] they ended up with latin instead of hebrew.

    Actually, the entire (surviving) early Christian canon was written in Greek, and wasn’t rendered into Latin until about three centuries later.

  12. anteprepro says

    lighten up, y’all!

    i have a word for u: allegory.

    I have a few more words for you: allegory for what ? An allegory for how sacrifice by proxy is good and noble?

    The problem with defending Biblical nonsense and atrocities in that fashion is that it winds up making the entire religion into metaphors all the way down. Or, at best, turning it into the world’s largest and most convoluted fortune cookie. At worst, it is just a blatantly obvious attempt at misdirection: Having the same exact foul beliefs that we criticize but getting the opportunity to smugly pretend to be better than those literalists.

  13. markr1957 says

    Oddly in the Epic of Gilgamesh humans were created to labor on behalf of the minor gods, and the snake was a god friendly to the human side, and who helped them gain the knowledge to throw off the yoke of slavery to the other gods and escape from Eden.

    As Pierce R. Butler says; if Jesus sacrifice ‘saved us’ why do we still have to do manual labor, and why is childbirth still painful?

    bajoelsol – don’t forget that the earliest Pauline Christians were convinced that the end of the world was coming, and they weren’t supposed to have children, so the sect most likely to survive has to have been the worst possible adherents to the faith.

  14. FossilFishy(Anti-Vulcanist) says

    A shit allegory for a shit message.

    “I’m going to sacrifice myself to myself, to change the rules that I set up.” as an allegory for how all humans are capable of evil? This is the best an omnipotent god can do? Even if you could prove such a god existed I wouldn’t worship the thing on the grounds of extreme incompetence.

  15. Akira MacKenzie says

    i have a word for u: allegory

    Well, I, have seven words for you: Proper English grammar and spelling. USE THEM!

    UUUUUGH! I fucking HATE this “allegory” bullshit! Whether its Genesis, Exodus, or the Gospels, when these stories were conceived, they were not written to be simile meant to convey some sort of moral, they were believed to be fact! You were supposed to believe that there was was talking snake. It is worth your life to believe that the Angel of Death killed all the first born of Egypt. If you didn’t believe that God sired himself to sacrifice himself to himself for a condition he created, then horrible things were going to happen to you in this this life and the supposed next!

    Now, thousands of years later, in a desperate attempt to stay relevant in a far more knowledgeable world, liberal and moderate Christians ham-handedly try to whitewash over the barbarism, demonstrable falsehoods, and utterly insanity of the perfect, reviled word of their supreme being by claiming it’s all allegory?

    Sorry, you don’t get to to that, especially if you expect me to take anything you’re religion is pushing seriously.

  16. mnb0 says

    @11: that’s exactly the problem. As soon as I try to find a deeper meaning behind the crucifixion story, ie read it as an allegory, I realize it sucks.

  17. Akira MacKenzie says

    Also, I better start heeding my own advice about grammar. I tend to forget to proofread when I’m all worked up.

  18. mnb0 says

    @Akira: that’s not correct. The Ancients didn’t give a damn about separating fact and fiction. Google Greeks and The edges of the Earth.

  19. says

    Besides being symbolic, theological, and metaphoric nonsense, the crucifixion story suffers from major historical flaws.

    Crucifixion was a Roman punishment that was primarily reserved for runaway slaves. Common thieves (who shared the story with Jesus) would have either just had a hand chopped off, or they would have been run through with a sword. No need for all that other mess.

    Jesus’ crime also was a religious crime brought by the religious authorities (I’m speaking here as if this scenario might have happened — I think the entire thing is a myth, but bear with). The religious authorities did not need Roman consent to execute Jesus. And bringing a “blasphemer” before the Roman authorities makes as much sense as bringing the Pope before a Muslim tribunal and accusing him of being a Catholic. Pilate wasn’t a Jew. He could care less about “blasphemy”. He was in every sense of the word a “blasphemer” as well. And an idolator. And just about every other religious “crime” you can think of. Bringing Jesus’ case before Pilate is absolutely nonsensical.

    And even if Jesus had been brought before Pilate for a crime of sedition — Pilate found him innocent. What authority figure declares a man innocent and then executes him? Pilate didn’t kowtow to the religious authorities. They kowtowed to him. If he said “this man is innocent of the charge of sedition”, then we’re back to square one — the religious authorities should have and could have executed him on the basis of the blasphemy charge. But without Roman interference, and most certainly not using a Roman method of executing slaves.

    And the entire details of the crucifixion itself are wrong. The whole point of crucifixion was to set an example for others. They wouldn’t have scourged him — that would merely shorten the time to death. Oh no. They would have wanted him healthy and unmarked when they put him on the cross.

    Crucifixion usually takes days to kill. Most often by dehydration; but also by pulmonary edema. It kills slowly. Painfully. Extremely painfully. The word “excruciating” is based on this practice. But the point is that the “excruciating” part comes in the long hours of dehydration, of the extraordinarily painful “up and down” movements inherent in the process. You either hold yourself up so you can breathe — which leads to muscle fatigue/failure — or you collapse, leading to an inability to inhale.

    And that’s the way the Romans liked it.

    Then, there’s this whole incredibly unbelievable bit about the body being lovingly taken down and buried in a rich man’s tomb. WHAT?!?!? The Romans would no more allow that than they would allow someone down from the cross before they were dead.

    The point of the cross was that it was public. And that it lasted a long time. And that the body stayed up there until it rotted. Until the birds had gotten done with it. (This is a practice that continued in Europe until very, very recently. It was known as the gibbet. The body stayed on display until it rotted away.) Then the bones would have been dumped in the garbage dump. There would have been no burial allowed for this person. The entire thought of it is laughable. Passover or no. You want him dead on the cross, he’s staying on the cross until the crows have eaten his liver and his stinking flesh falls off of him.

    Oh no. There are way more problems with the story than just the theological.

    TL:DR: It didn’t happen.

  20. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    The Ancients didn’t give a damn about separating fact and fiction. mnb0

    A gross over-generalization:

    The absence of romance in my history will, I fear, detract somewhat from its interest, but if it is judged worthy by those inquirers who desire an exact knowledge of the past as an aid to the understanding of the future, which in the course of human things must resemble if it does not reflect it, I shall be content.
    In fine I have written my work not as an essay with which to win the applause of the moment but as a possession for all time.
    ― Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War

  21. says

    @ Kevin

    Oh no. There are way more problems with the story than just the theological.

    Or that is was not a crucifixion in the sense we have come to think. There has been some research into what is even meant:

    ‘The problem is that descriptions of crucifixions are remarkably absent in the antique literature,’ says Samuelsson. ‘The sources where you would expect to find support for the established understanding of the event really don’t say anything.’

    Consequently, the contemporary understanding of crucifixion as a punishment is severely challenged. And what’s even more challenging is that the same can be concluded about the accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus. The New Testament doesn’t say as much as we’d like to believe’, says Samuelsson.

    Link : Gunnar Sammuelson (a goddist!) -What do we really know about the crucifixion of Jesus?

    (This was discussed on Pharyngula about a year ago. Here my own tawdry attempt to blog (linky) about it.

  22. says

    @ mnb0

    The Ancients didn’t give a damn about separating fact and fiction.

    Introductory note to (Gutenberg) “An Account of Egypt”, by Herodotus:

    Yet Herodotus is not a mere teller of strange tales. However credulous he may appear to a modern judgment, he takes care to keep separate what he knows by his own observation from what he has merely inferred and from what he has been told. He is candid about acknowledging ignorance, and when versions differ he gives both. Thus the modern scientific historian, with other means of corroboration, can sometimes learn from Herodotus more than Herodotus himself knew.

  23. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    Kevin,

    The religious authorities did not need Roman consent to execute Jesus.

    Wrong: the Roman authorities, in areas under Roman governors such as Judea (as opposed to areas such as Galilee, ruled by subject allies) jealously guarded their monopoly of the death penalty.

    And even if Jesus had been brought before Pilate for a crime of sedition — Pilate found him innocent. What authority figure declares a man innocent and then executes him?

    None: but one that’s being misrepresented in order to focus the blame onto someone else may easily be said to have done so. The early Christians were keen to blame Jesus’s death on the Sanhedrin (the Jewish religious authorities), not on the Roman civil authorities, as they wanted to avoid any charge of sedition, against either Jesus or themselves.

    And the entire details of the crucifixion itself are wrong. The whole point of crucifixion was to set an example for others. They wouldn’t have scourged him — that would merely shorten the time to death. Oh no. They would have wanted him healthy and unmarked when they put him on the cross.

    The details varied, and sometimes included preliminary scourging, sometimes the deliberate hastening of death – the soldiers would have had to guard the cross at least as long as he was alive, and were probably keen to get home for tea.

    Then, there’s this whole incredibly unbelievable bit about the body being lovingly taken down and buried in a rich man’s tomb. WHAT?!?!? The Romans would no more allow that than they would allow someone down from the cross before they were dead.

    The point of the cross was that it was public. And that it lasted a long time. And that the body stayed up there until it rotted.

    See here. According to this article, which is by a Christian, Byron R. McCane, but which I find convincing, the most likely scenario is that as Jesus was crucified on the eve of the Sabbath and even more, of Passover, the Sanhedrin would have wanted him buried before sunset: there was a very strong religious prohibition against leaving any Jew unburied, and particularly at such a time. Probably one of them asked Pilate to allow this, and Pilate would not have wanted to risk outraging Jewish religious feeling at such a time and risk a riot. Some of the details in the gospels indicate that Jesus’s burial was a shameful one, although the later gospels increasingly added stuff – such as the rich man’s tomb – to disguise this. If this is correct in outline, then as McCane puts it:

    probably no single individual was in a position to know fully the exact course of events that night

    Which (this is my inference), provides an obvious explanation for the “empty tomb”, assuming it wasn’t a later invention: the women who went to tend the body went to the wrong place (they were Galileans, not residents of Jerusalem, and if they saw the burial at all, probably did so from a distance), and found an empty tomb because it was one where no-one had been buried.

  24. Uncle Ebeneezer says

    Enjoyable discussion and nice group of people. One thing that I’m surprised PZ didn’t mention in regards to why he doesn’t believe the story of Jesus to be true, is the fact that almost every significant element of the Jesus story (virgin birth, miracles, sacrifice for sins of humanity, resurrection etc.) can be seen in prior and contemporary myths. If Robin Hood, Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan and John Henry are all widely considered to be legends/myths, why would a story about a character who was like all of them rolled up into one, not be viewed as an obvious myth as well?

    Also, I wish this show would bring Richard Carrier on to add historical perspective. At one point the lady (I forget her name) made a claim about witness accounts of the crucifixion (or reports of witness accounts.) Carrier recently argued (on his page there’s a link to a talk “Why I Don’t Think Jesus Existed”) that the stories in the gospels were not even generationally removed witness accounts of events, but stories that Jesus relayed to the disciples by appearing to them in visions. Anyways, I think he would add much to the discussion.

  25. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    I’m not sure that it’s relevant that JC was really crucified, or the details of that event. It’s really the resurrection that matters most to Christians. And this sure as shit did not happen.

  26. raven says

    That right there, along with the fact Adam and Eve were kicked out for gaining knowledge, is really quite revealing of the Abrahamic religions as a whole…

    It’s worse than that.

    The god was afraid of humans.

    There were two magic trees in the garden. The Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life. Eating fruit from both makes humans into gods and the old monster said he was afraid they would find the other tree.

    Same thing with the Tower of Babel. The god was afraid of humans cooperating.

    And he does have a point. When humans stop believing in gods, then they are dead.

    PS The whole garden of eden story is fascinating but doesn’t make much sense. Just why were those trees in the garden anyway? You don’t need omniscience to put them on Jupiter or Kpax IV, 50 million light years away.

  27. Esteleth, the most colossal nerd on Pharyngula says

    The biggest strike against the crucifixion happening at all according to the description is the fact that the Romans, when it came to capital crimes, were obsessive record keepers.

    Were the crucifixion to have happened, then there would be a record of it, listing the date, Jesus’ name, place-of-origin, and profession, and the crime for which he was condemned (i.e. “March 15, 783 ab urbe condita, Joshua son of Joseph, carpenter of Nazareth, condemned for sedition”). Also, given that the account also clearly says that he was executed together with a pair of thieves, that is a further requirement: on the day that he was executed, two thieves would have had to have been as well.

    An examination of the records from Jerusalem and the area of the years around 29 AD show nothing.

    Of course, this hole in the record is the least of the issues confronting the veracity of the Gospel account.

  28. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    Esteleth@31,

    Really? Do we have records of all the tens of thousands of people the Romans crucified or otherwise executed? Where are they?

  29. unclefrogy says

    johnny appleseed was a real person so may have been the others mentioned and others not mentioned. We as people like to tell stories about everything and in the telling the events grow in description until sometimes it is impossible to tell them from “pure fiction”
    the religious stories of this discussion have taken on the attributes of tyrannical political and social power and use them. That is the main problem above and beyond any truth that may be at the heart of them.
    uncle frogy

  30. CJO says

    The Ancients didn’t give a damn about separating fact and fiction

    Think about what you’re saying. There has never been a cognitively normal human being who didn’t care about discerning the truth. Ancient persons were perfectly able to adopt a skeptical or rationalist stance, and just like everyone today, they did so in order to navigate their social and material existences.

    The difference, if you want to make a broad statement about it without saying something obviously false, is that before the widespread adoption of modern empirical epistemology (the “scientific worldview”), the rationalist approach was not obviously superior, in all circumstances, and was not considered even applicable to many questions that are for us straightforward, if complex. The mythic past and the cosmic present and one’s relationship to these, mediated by present social circumstances, were not “phenomena” that one could investigate in any kind of empirical sense, and so systems of thought surrounding these were usually non-rational. But this did not entail any suspension of one’s ability to separate fact from fiction generally; there were simply matters about which no facts were available, and these extended well into subjects about which we now have a great many facts available and so are able to reason about them.

    Kevin:
    Crucifixion was a Roman punishment that was primarily reserved for runaway slaves.

    Crucifixion was a punishment for crimes perceived as affronts to the power of the Roman state or intended as direct challenges to the state. Slaves were valuable property; the owner of the slave was the wronged party, not the state. Of course, any organized effort by a group of slaves to escape servitude could be construed as sedition and the ringleaders of any such action could well have been crucified on that charge. But the owner of an ordinary runaway slave would not likely seek execution if he or she could recover the property. For a recidivist runaway, the more likely course of action would be to cut off a foot and give the wretch work he could do while seated or to try to recoup the loss by selling the slave to the state for mining or agricultural work.

    Crucifixion was “the ultimate penalty” because it was a shameful death, not because it was exceptionally more cruel than many other forms of corporal and capital punishment. It was shameful for its public nature, yes, but even more abhorrent to the ancient mind was the prospect of being deprived fuenrary rites, which most often would have been denied the deceased. Making the whole rich man’s tomb bit suspect as you say, but it appears not to have been an ironclad rule: at least one set of remains found in an ossuary from Roman-era Jerusalem shows clear evidence of crucifixion.

  31. says

    Nick Gotts # 26:

    Kevin

    The religious authorities did not need Roman consent to execute Jesus.

    Wrong: the Roman authorities, in areas under Roman governors such as Judea (as opposed to areas such as Galilee, ruled by subject allies) jealously guarded their monopoly of the death penalty.

    So why, then, does Acts tell us how they put Stephen to death in the religiously mandated way, by stoning, just a short time later?

  32. says

    The thing that most bothers me about the crucifixion is that it is supposed to atone for the sins of the world, an explanation parroted ad nauseum with never a thought as to what that entails.

    That all people are “sinners”. That even the tiniest step out of line is a “sin”. That even that little “sin” deserves death. That death as a punishment includes an eternity of torture. That every single one of us, therefore, deserves nothing less than death and suffering.

    No wonder Christians are so prone to wish for death and destruction for others; it’s what we all deserve, anyhow, according to the theology.

  33. David Marjanović says

    The point of the cross was that it was public. And that it lasted a long time. And that the body stayed up there until it rotted. Until the birds had gotten done with it.

    That’s why when 6000 slaves were crucified after the Spartacus uprising, the crosses were put along the biggest available street, the Via Appia.

    Common thieves weren’t crucified. Even the Romans, who had anxiety of American proportions, knew common thieves weren’t a threat to public safety.

    Which (this is my inference), provides an obvious explanation for the “empty tomb”, assuming it wasn’t a later invention: the women who went to tend the body went to the wrong place (they were Galileans, not residents of Jerusalem, and if they saw the burial at all, probably did so from a distance), and found an empty tomb because it was one where no-one had been buried.

    Please pretend I’m baking you an Internet from lavender cookies. :-)

    It’s really the resurrection that matters most to Christians.

    Depends. To Catholics and Orthodox it matters more than to Protestants; Paul the Apostle seems to have been mostly about the redeeming death.

    Same thing with the Tower of Babel. The god was afraid of humans cooperating.

    Heh. Perhaps he was aware of what had happened to the Klingon gods.

    PS The whole garden of eden story is fascinating but doesn’t make much sense. Just why were those trees in the garden anyway? You don’t need omniscience to put them on Jupiter or Kpax IV, 50 million light years away.

    The Boy God Hypothesis

  34. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    Susannah@35,

    Interesting point. The description in Acts 7:54-60 is as follows:

    54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

    Sounds like a lynching to me.

    In any case (and I know this is not relevant to your point), by the same token, if it had been the Sanhedrin (the high priest and the “council”) and not Pilate who executed Jesus (which would have been for blasphemy, not sedition), he would presumably have been stoned. And in that case, given the enmity to the Sanhedrin expressed in the gospels, why say he’d been crucified, which everyone would have known was a punishment imposed by the Roman authorities?

  35. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    Susannah@35,

    It looks as if I’m not quite right: the Jewish authorities could carry out executions, but had to get the sentence confirmed by the Roman authorities – so in that sense, the Romans maintained a monopoly: see comment #20 here. But that makes it even less plausible that Jesus was executed for blasphemy at the instance of the Sanhedrin.

  36. says

    If Robin Hood, Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan and John Henry are all widely considered to be legends/myths, why would a story about a character who was like all of them rolled up into one, not be viewed as an obvious myth as well?

    Did you just say Batman is a myth? I think you did! HERETIC!

  37. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    Depends. To Catholics and Orthodox it matters more than to Protestants; Paul the Apostle seems to have been mostly about the redeeming death.

    Summing up Protestant teaching is pretty difficult given the lack of unifying orthodoxy, and the tendency toward modern sectarianism. You’re right in that Catholics and the Orthodox extend the bodily resurrection to every last one of us…when King Jesus returns, he’ll yoink the bodies of the faithful from the ground, or reassemble their most recent molecular configuration, and then reunite them with their soul, etc. I don’t imagine that this would make sense unless Jesus was also resurrected bodily.
     
    The Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church adopts the same view officially, although I don’t think it’s been a mainstay of Lutheran teaching across the board. I can find Anglicans, Evangelists, and Prebyterians. Calvin also seemed to think it evident, and wrote of Jesus’ resurrection:

    “Wherefore, he alone has made solid progress in the gospel who has acquired the habit of meditating continually on a blessed resurrection.”

    Bodily resurrection is also official LDS teaching.

     
    Paul is actually kind of heavy handed in dealing with the resurrection. The entire I Corinthians 15 is devoted to that topic.
    It’s a little bulky to repeat in toto, but the 14th verse says:

    14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.

  38. says

    In any case (and I know this is not relevant to your point), by the same token, if it had been the Sanhedrin (the high priest and the “council”) and not Pilate who executed Jesus (which would have been for blasphemy, not sedition), he would presumably have been stoned.

    I think it was a bit of both. Both Jewish and Roman authorities were afraid that Jesus’ religious teachings would lead to (more) unrest; and the former, in addition, feared both loss of religious power (if Jesus’ teachings caught on) and Roman interference in their secular power (if they didn’t handle the unrest themselves). Also, many people were screaming about Jesus’ “heresy,” so everyone got to use that as their excuse to crucify him and (they hoped) end the unrest, in such a way that both sides shared the blame for it: the Romans could say the locals wanted it, and the locals could say the Romans actually did it.

  39. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    the fact that almost every significant element of the Jesus story (virgin birth, miracles, sacrifice for sins of humanity, resurrection etc.) can be seen in prior and contemporary myths. – Uncle Ebeneezer

    That doesn’t include any of the elements that are agreed on by the great majority of scholars (including non-Christians) who’ve studied the matter: that he came from an unprivileged social stratum, spent most of his life in Galilee, was baptised by John the Baptist, preached and gathered followers, went to Jerusalem and created a disturbance, and was crucified at the command of Pontius Pilate. None of which, AFAIK, “can be seen in prior or contemporary myths”. Of course, historical figures readily get mythical elements appropriate to their time attached to them, like Johnny Appleseed and for that matter Winston Churchill and Albert Einstein. Until mythicists come up with a much more convincing account of how a purely mythical figure could come to be considered real so shortly after his supposed lifetime than I’ve seen so far, I’ll go with the expert consensus, just as I do with evolution, the dangers of smoking tobacco, and anthropogenic climate change. As it is, I’m inclined to put mythicism down to a (no doubt unconscious) desire to be “athier than thou”: “I don’t just disbelieve in God, I disbelieve in Jesus!”

  40. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    the Romans could say the locals wanted it – Raging Bee

    Why would they need to do that? Some non-citizen hick from the sticks creates a disturbance, near to Passover what’s more, always a politically delicate time in Jerusalem. Crucify him just to be on the safe side.

  41. consciousness razor says

    Enjoyable discussion and nice group of people. One thing that I’m surprised PZ didn’t mention in regards to why he doesn’t believe the story of Jesus to be true, is the fact that almost every significant element of the Jesus story (virgin birth, miracles, sacrifice for sins of humanity, resurrection etc.) can be seen in prior and contemporary myths.

    You can accuse them of plagiarism, but that doesn’t entail that what they plagiarized isn’t true, or didn’t hint at the truth in some way. Why steal something which isn’t valuable?

    This strategy gives them an opening to claim these even more ancient people had some “distorted” understanding of what the nature of god or the world is, then Jesus (or the gospel authors) came along to improve or perfect it. What it doesn’t address is whether anything in them is even remotely valuable factually, logically, ethically, aesthetically, historically, etc.

  42. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    Raging Bee,

    Further to #45, I don’t think there’s any evidence that the Roman authorities were particularly concerned: there was no obvious attempt to round up Jesus’s followers, as there would have been if the Romans had thought he was leading a serious challenge to their authority. Jesus had apparently only just come to Jerusalem, from Galilee, which was not under direct Roman rule, and so probably had little or any following in the city. (Galilee was ruled by the tetrarch Herod Antipas, who had John the Baptist beheaded, but didn’t apparently feel sufficiently threatened by Jesus to do the same to him while he had the chance, although Luke gives him a role in Jesus’s trial.)

  43. consciousness razor says

    Until mythicists come up with a much more convincing account of how a purely mythical figure could come to be considered real so shortly after his supposed lifetime than I’ve seen so far, I’ll go with the expert consensus, just as I do with evolution, the dangers of smoking tobacco, and anthropogenic climate change.

    The “expert consensus” in this case hardly merits the same degree of confidence as the others.

    As it is, I’m inclined to put mythicism down to a (no doubt unconscious) desire to be “athier than thou”: “I don’t just disbelieve in God, I disbelieve in Jesus!”

    I’m agnostic on the subject, mostly because I just don’t care enough to reach a conclusion.

    But maybe Richard Carrier’s books would disabuse you of that notion. Or is it just an inclination, which you don’t quite have?

  44. Aratina Cage says

    That was surprisingly enjoyable to listen to. Good points and ideas from many of the people. And great job of representing the atheist point of view, as always.

  45. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    I’m agnostic on the subject, mostly because I just don’t care enough to reach a conclusion.

    Jesus is not only ill-defined as a theological entity, but also as a historical entity. Most of what was written about him (within, like, a reasonable historical timeframe following his purported demise) is in the synoptic gospels and the sayings gospel of Thomas. There is really very little consensus there. As a young adult, he was a disciple of John, he was an itinerent preacher who conducted his ministry largely within the confines of of Galilee, and he died in Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans. I’m willing to believe that a guy like this existed, but that doesn’t mean much, because we don’t have consensus about the important stuff, like what he said, or if he believed that he was the son of God, or whether he believed the kingdom of god was imminent, or what the KoG was like (barring a very sloppy metaphorical framework), or whether he was pretty content to be crucified or not.
     
    So what’s to believe?

  46. CJO says

    Nick,
    As it is, I’m inclined to put mythicism down to a (no doubt unconscious) desire to be “athier than thou”: “I don’t just disbelieve in God, I disbelieve in Jesus!”

    I think you could characterize a great deal of the sort of superficial treatment of the idea found on blogs and such this way, but that says nothing about the quality of the case to be made when the idea is taken seriously. Speaking for myself (not a commited mythicist but a sympathizer), it wasn’t until after I’d thoroughly educated myself on the consensus of experts and investigated its foundations that I came to give the idea serious consideration.

    Until mythicists come up with a much more convincing account of how a purely mythical figure could come to be considered real so shortly after his supposed lifetime than I’ve seen so far, I’ll go with the expert consensus

    Well, when did he “come to be considered real” and on what terms? The (presumably unconvincing) mythicist sketch is that a pervasive religious idea went through several iterations over a couple of centuries as a mythical figure of greater or lesser sophistication and detail before someone wrote a narrative in the realistic mode (what we call the Gospel of Mark) and some time after that, the purpose of the narrative was obscure to its readers and redactor/editors so that the persons and events portrayed came to be considered real. But it’s possible (I’d say near certain) that the author and original audience of that first narrative knew full well that it was an allegorical* exposition of what today we’d call a myth.

    The author of Matthew, though educated, was, frankly, a stupid person with an incredibly literal cast of mind, and he simply could not understand what he was reading. What he could understand, he didn’t like how it was being presented and so he rewrote it along his own, stolid and hyper-literal lines. This was toward the end of the 1st century, two or three generations removed from the putative events of the gospels. Take a look at how little knowledge or interest is preserved in the rabbinical literature about the early (1st century) sages whose legal opinions comprise the foundation of those traditions. It was an era of profound ignorance of the recent past, urban elites’ interest in historiography aside, so, given the audience of the early Christian texts, I’m surprised you think it so implausible that a myth could be given the shape of a man over the course of decades.

    *it’s not the term I want, but I’m trying to keep it brief so, close enough

  47. ChasCPeterson says

    The author of Matthew, though educated, was, frankly, a stupid person

    love it.

  48. Azuma Hazuki says

    Sometimes I think the fundies just suffer from a lack of what a programmer would call stack space. I’d like to see them explain this:

    Your God has to sacrifice himself to himself to stop himself from throwing his own creations, whom he knew would sin and exactly how before he created them (omniscient, remember) into the Hell he created (but didn’t mention once in the Old Testament…) for the sins he knew they would commit before he created them.

    Oh, and he was incapable (an omniscient being, incapable!) of creating for Adam and Eve (whom we now know did not exist) a state or place where free will obtains and sin does not. Despite, in actuality, proving himself quite capable of creating such a place/state, called Heaven, before making the physical universe.

    Uh huhhhh…

    Sometimes I think we nonbelievers take Yahweh far, far more seriously than his partisans do.

  49. says

    @ Nick Gotts

    that he came from an unprivileged social stratum, spent most of his life in Galilee, was baptised by John the Baptist, preached and gathered followers, went to Jerusalem and created a disturbance, and was crucified at the command of Pontius Pilate.

    Which details are rather arbitrary. We might also have been left details that he picked his teeth or wiped his arse.

    The more important tales about him are the one’s that are patently false. Issues such as his crucifiction having cosmic significance, as part of the plan of an omniscient, omnipotent intergalactic being. Issues such as his rising from the dead. Both these key elements of the tale (as opposed, to trivial matters – such as his “unprivileged” social status, rollicking about Galilee and the like) are obviously total bollox. But importantly, they are also rehashings of jaded old fables concerning year gods (Adonis/ Tammuz in the Levant (of which Galilee is practically the epicenter)).

    The very word “scapegoat” refers a Jewish tradition of transferring the sins of the community into another living creature and then dispatching it. (In Jesus case: ritually purification by scourging, then sacrifice.) This is primal and ubiquitous superstition concerning the “infectious” nature of The Bad. There is certainly nothing new, nor unique, about these tropes.

  50. says

    @ CJO

    To add to what you say. We have the example, in recent history, of Joseph Smith being mythologised by his acolytes, contemporaneous and later.

    He was little more than a common charlatan, this much is well documented. Yet to his followers he is something very different to what the facts show. If they were ever given the opportunity for a more thorough reworking of the record (they must be most frustrated that this is no longer possible), we would end up with a situation were people in the future would be left with only the sanitised, LDS version of their founder.

    This “Orwellian-style history” is also to be found in Islam (they destroyed texts not conforming to Othman’s committee’s approval.) Unfortunately for Joseph Smith, he arrived when the shear scale of dissemination of information meant that the cat could not be returned to its bag.

  51. Azuma Hazuki says

    @55/56, Theophontes

    But importantly, they are also rehashings of jaded old fables concerning year gods (Adonis/ Tammuz in the Levant (of which Galilee is practically the epicenter)).

    Carrier is very loud about being careful not to over-extend the similarities. I just watched a lecture of his and he only drew parallels to Salmoxis, Osiris, and Romulus. Are you sure you’re not talking about things that got added to the Christ mythos later, rather than being an early part of it?

  52. says

    Carrier is very loud about being careful not to over-extend the similarities.

    They are there, plain and simple. These were bog-standard religious tropes. Even prior to formal religions, the inherent concepts (sacrifice, scapegoat, transfer of “evil” to another…) were already common in mere savage superstition. How contrived all these things were, stands in stark contrast to our scientific knowledge of how the world works. We see these things for what they are. They lack uniqueness, whatever Carrier warns. (Born of complete ignorance, there is surprising similarity between such basic superstitions throughout the world. The consistency likely speaks of commonalities in the human condition. As such they are virtually inevitable, and inevitably similar.¹)

    Don’t expect all of these tropes in every religion, but as sure as they are wrong, many will be there. (There are an infinite number of ways to be wrong. Why would biblical hogwash (such as scapegoating, sacrifice and return from the dead) be so much the same as hogwash from other contemporaneous and supposedly “different” religions?

    In more contemporary terms: In “Star Trek“, I see the old cowboy movie tropes. Do you? Do you think that all the narratives we are discussing just spring forth, fully formed, “ex nihil”? (Such uniqueness would perhaps be a hallmark of true revelation.)

    I just watched a lecture of his and he only drew parallels to Salmoxis, Osiris, and Romulus.

    I would suggest that he rather extends his search closer to the biblical time and place – and rather research Adonis/Tammuz that I mentioned earlier.

    Are you sure you’re not talking about things that got added to the Christ mythos later, rather than being an early part of it?

    It is not so important whether Jesus was or was not a real historical figure. What is important is that his followers believe, and act upon, shit about him that simply cannot be true (like the “rise from the dead” codswallop prefigured by Tammuz). Hell, it doesn’t even matter when they started with these brainfarts. They are with us in the here-and-now, polluting our culture.

    ¹ Some examples:
    “Likeness” ( example: Tigers are strong, therefore eating tiger flesh will make me strong.)

    “Transfer”. (example: Transfering the wickedness of a tribe into an unblemished goat and driving it our, will remove the wickedness.)

    “Infection”. (example: Poor people in the community will infect the entire community with poverty.)

  53. Azuma Hazuki says

    Hm, well-said. I’m going to do more research on the subject; at this point it seems like someone would need to be very ignorant to be an orthodox believer any longer.

    There’s a lot of ignorance out there, i guess :(

  54. says

    Interesting thing on the subject of mathematics. While its true we may not use plane geometry in a 3D system, and similar things, you can bridge them. One thing they bridged a few years back as the “assumption” that, say, a box is physically consistent, in terms of surfaces, to a sphere. I.e., that if you sort of inflated a box, so it became a sphere, it really will be a sphere. This was assumed to be true, but… it wasn’t actually mathematically proven.

    Beyond that, while some things like angles may not seem to add up the same, this isn’t entirely accurate. You can do some stuff using quaternions, which I still don’t quite comprehend, to avoid what is called “gimble lock”, a condition that arises when you try to use 2D math, to compute 3D rotations (basically, if you spin something on 2 axis, you don’t have a problem. If you try to add the third, the math goes bananas).

    So, yeah, some translation between systems can become complicated, or not work, but, in a lot of cases, this invariable comes down to, once you figure out the bigger picture, that both as true, but one of them is a “simplified” form, which leaves out things that you don’t need, in a specific situation, but which if then “reapplied” to the more complex situation fall apart, because they end up missing some of the variables, which alter the apparent behavior of the equations. Well, at least that is the best I can explain my own observation. The trick is, much like physics and field theory, if you don’t know all the variables, or the right math, you can’t derive the correct complex equation. coming at it from *any* of the simpler versions that get used in specific cases. And, that ends up being the rub of the whole thing – what is the missing bit in between, to connect them, even when its obvious they must be connected (as with transforming a box into a sphere).

  55. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    consciousness razor,

    The “expert consensus” in this case hardly merits the same degree of confidence as the others.

    Why not? As I said, it includes non-Christians (Vermes, Ehrman), and the claim that it’s a matter of academic self-interest holds no more water than it does in the other cases, without specific evidence. As in the other cases, we find effectively all the professionals actively publishing in recognised journals on one side, mostly people without specialized knowledge (plus, in each case, a few who are more knowledgeable) on the other. Moreover, there’s nothing inherently implausible in the consensus aspects of the story.

    CJO,

    Well, when did he “come to be considered real” and on what terms?

    The scholarly consensus is that he was real, so that’s begging the question. 1 Corinthians is usually dated to the early 50s CE, and the early part certainly appears to be talking about a real person, not an allegorical one. I know the mythicists deny this, as they have to, but I don’t find those denials at all convincing. The gospel of Mark (apart from the last bit, 16:9-20, describing the resurrected Jesus’s appearances to the disciples) is usually dated 60-70 CE, well within living memory of Jesus’s alleged lifetime; it includes the baptism by John, the Galilean setting for gathering followers and teaching, the disturbance in the Temple, the crucifixion under Pilate.

    The (presumably unconvincing) mythicist sketch is that a pervasive religious idea went through several iterations over a couple of centuries as a mythical figure of greater or lesser sophistication and detail before someone wrote a narrative in the realistic mode (what we call the Gospel of Mark) and some time after that, the purpose of the narrative was obscure to its readers and redactor/editors so that the persons and events portrayed came to be considered real. But it’s possible (I’d say near certain) that the author and original audience of that first narrative knew full well that it was an allegorical* exposition of what today we’d call a myth.

    If it was allegory, why set it in a backwater like Galilee? Notice that Matthew and Luke, usually considered later, insert obvious retcons to have Jesus born in Bethlehem as per prophesy, so why not set the whole thing around there? Why the baptism by John, since the myth says he’s a far greater figure than John? Why the names and professions of so many disciples? Why would the author(s) of Mark write it “in the realistic mode”, and why set it so close to their own time? What’s it an allegory of? But in any case, a sketch isn’t good enough: where is the evidence for any of the “several iterations over a couple of centuries”? I repeat: there’s nothing implausible in the basic outline of the story without the miraculous elements: charismatic preacher and faith-healer from the back-country comes to the big city and falls foul of the local powers-that-be. After his death, as is routine for disappointed cultists, his followers seize on anything they can to avoid admitting they were deluded, starting with dreams andor hallucinations of their dead leader, and possibly the “disappearance” of his body (I’ve suggested one explanation for the latter above, which I haven’t seen suggested elsewhere, but theft of the body – by family who were not followers but wanted him buried at home, enemies who wanted to throw his body to the dogs, a drunken platoon of Roman soldiers having a laugh – is another obvious possibility).

    theophontes

    Which details are rather arbitrary. We might also have been left details that he picked his teeth or wiped his arse.

    That he picked his teeth and wiped his arse would not distinguish him from anyone else, would it? Why add the “arbitrary” details of where he preached, who baptised him, who followed him, under which governor he was executed, etc. – which do – if it was all myth or allegory?

    It is not so important whether Jesus was or was not a real historical figure.

    Tell that to the mythicists.

  56. says

    John Henry was real. He really did drop dead of a heart attack after racing and beating a tunneling machine. I think the only part left out of the original telling was that he had coworkers, removing the debris so he could concentrate on breaking the rock. He’s rather the model case, imo, of how workers are damaged by the threat of unemployment. He didn’t race the machine for fun, but rather, because he and his co-workers were worried the tunneling machine meant workers would be replaced by machines and they thought that proving their productivity would help keep their jobs.

  57. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    Samantha Vines@63,
    I’m amused that two of the “mythical” figures cited by Uncle Ebeneezer@27 to support the mythicist position (Johnny Appleseed and now John Henry) turn out to be real people (I’d scarcely heard of either, not being American).

    Now if only Sherlock Holmes was still alive, we could ask him to investigate The Case of the Crucified Faith-Healer.

  58. says

    @ Nick Gotts

    if it was all myth or allegory?

    No, I don’t think this. I have raised the case of Joseph Smith. We know a lot about this person as a real flesh and blood historical figure. This has not stopped his followers from creating a whole set of fabrications contrary the historical facts. He wasn’t (by their lights) arrested for being a charlatan. “He was a man of virtue who fulfilled an extraordinary calling.” & “Even though Joseph was often persecuted and sometimes imprisoned on false charges.” This, even though we have the newspaper articles and court documents of the time, that undermine this mormon revisionism.

    In Jesus case, we have little other than the cultists word to go on. Yes, some aspects may even be historically true (compare my mormon example), but likewise, where it counts to the xtian: The metaphysical fairytales,are just accretions on a more down-to-earth, and supposedly credible, substrate. If selling the lie involves telling some truth, why would the writers be averse?

    Tell that to the mythicists.

    Perhaps they should consider this from the perspective of an the amalgam of truth and lie, rather than that of purely plagiarised lies.

  59. says

    Even if Jesus of Nazareth, yet allegedly born in Bethlehem, was a real historical figure, and even if he was crucified by the Romans, and even if he was resurrected and walked the streets along with all the dead people of Jerusalem (ask David Hume about that one), that still does not mean that there is a god, or that what he taught is good or true or that he taught anything in the first place, or that he is the son of a man in the sky.

    This is the thing. I’m willing to give Christians the crucifixion and that Jesus was a historical figure. But so what? That doesn’t prove anything in the Bible.

  60. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    Perhaps they should consider this from the perspective of an the amalgam of truth and lie, rather than that of purely plagiarised lies. – theophontes

    Agreed – that’s exactly what looks most plausible to me. There are lots of complicated arguments among NT scholars and historians about exactly what events and sayings are authentic (as I’m sure you’re aware), but that some are and some aren’t is common ground. Literalists of course claim every word of the NT is true, tying themselves in knots to deny the obvious internal contradictions, but they are taken no more seriously than mythicists.

  61. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    Trying to catch up, with only a little time to spare, but, Theophontes

    …the cat could not be returned to its bag.

    Daddy like.

    And

    If I may respond to a quote with another. Nick Gotts

    If it was allegory, why set it in a backwater like Galilee? Notice that Matthew and Luke, usually considered later, insert obvious retcons to have Jesus born in Bethlehem as per prophesy, so why not set the whole thing around there? Why the baptism by John, since the myth says he’s a far greater figure than John? Why the names and professions of so many disciples? Why would the author(s) of Mark write it “in the realistic mode”, and why set it so close to their own time?

    Dan, don’t you agree that truth, if only a pinch, must season every falsehood, or else the palate fucking rebels?

    –Albert Sweringen, 1876

  62. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    Well, shit. This has already been dealt with. Apologies for barging late.

  63. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    Even if Jesus of Nazareth, yet allegedly born in Bethlehem, was a real historical figure – rorschach

    As you’ll see from my #62, I think this inconsistency is a point in favour of him being a real person. The Messiah was prophesied to be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), but Jesus, if real, was a Galilean, so two of the gospels (Matthew and Luke, the middle two in order of writing, dating from 75-100 CE according to most experts), stuck in phoney birth-narratives set in Bethlehem. I’ve seen it suggested somewhere that Mark was written too close to Jesus’s lifetime for such a claim to have been made – too many people around who remembered his birth – while by the time the gospel of John was written, Jesus was perceived not as the Jewish Messiah, but as divine*, and most of his followers were Gentiles, so the prophecy was no longer very relevant.

    But so what? That doesn’t prove anything in the Bible.

    Quite. So why are mythicists so insistent Jesus wasn’t a real person (to whom mythical elements got attached), when there’s nothing implausible about the basic story minus the miraculous elements?

    *Though still not the equal/alternate personality of his old Dad – that came a lot later.

  64. thumper1990 says

    Truthspeaker #29

    Johnny Appleseed was a real person, but there was also a sort of mythology built up around him.

    This is basically what happened to Jesus, in my opinion. We all know the events depicted in the NT must be almost entirely bollocks, but I find it hard to believe no such person ever existed. I suspect there were many such wandering preachers with a few “miracles” to their name, Jesus was a particularly famous one and as time went on and he became a more and more revered figure the acts that were previously attributed to others were also attributed to him. So Jesus went swimming, which amazed desert people, and before you know it Chinese Whispers have it that he walked on water. Some wandering preacher/healer comes up with a herbal cream to cure a nasty rash and before you know it people are running around claiming Jesus healed a leper. He re-breaks and properly sets a leg that healed badly, and before you know it he’s cured a paraplegic. That sort of thing.

  65. says

    @ Nick Gotts

    Is there a possibilty that Jesus (as a real-life popular charismatic cult figure of the times) was hijacked by a different religious undercurrent? Sacerdotal cuckoldry, in other words.

    [gumby]“Close enough, patch this one up and get it out to the masses!”[/gumby]

    I often wonder what drives a person to invent a new religion. Mohammad I can partially understand as the outcome of a desire for a specifically Arabic (religious) identity to rival that of the Jews and xtians. L.Ron Hubbard as a means to make cash. Joseph Smith for sex and ego but perhaps simply in amazement that people actually started falling for his lies – he just went along for the ride. In Jesus case, perhaps a group with an agenda saw the likely substrate onto which they could graft their new narrative. In each case the initiative would keep going indefinitely if it could just suck in new blood.

  66. thumper1990 says

    Joseph Smith for sex and ego but perhaps simply in amazement that people actually started falling for his lies

    I don’t think he set out intending to start a religion. I think he saw being an acknowledged prophet as a way to con some money out of people (look at todays Fundiegelical Preachers and prophets) and when people start believing him he began inventing rules etc. to add to his credibility, and when they still believed him he just ran with it. Most of the “turning it into a religion” thing was done by his followers after he died.

  67. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    @theophontes,

    That something like that happened is widely accepted among scholars, I think, although in this case a lot of non-literalist Christians don’t buy it: there’s considerable internal evidence that Jesus considered his message (whatever it was exactly) to be for the Jews (and as a pious Jew, would have been horrified at the blasphemy of identifying himself with God), and there was a big early split over whether to take the message to the Gentiles, with Paul’s faction, in favour of doing so (as a Roman citizen he’d presumably have been a lot more multicultural than the Jerusalemites, and have had influential Gentile contacts), winning out – and in the process, sucking in a lot of Greek and other pagan ideas. But I doubt whether any of this was conscious.

    As for Mohammad, I’ve just read Tom Holland’s In the Shadow of the Sword, which deals with the early history of Islam, in the context of the development of rival monotheisms in late antiquity, and suggests that although he was a real person, he wasn’t the inventor of Islam as known from the 8th century onward – that coming half a century after his death, as part of the struggle between his successors. I’m not entirely sold on this, as Holland, by his own admission, doesn’t know the most relevant languages, but his work in this area seems to be based mostly on that of Patricia Crone, who does.

  68. says

    @ thumper1990

    and when they still believed him he just ran with it.

    I think you may be right. (Sex and ego, as driving forces in his life, were there either way). He felt the same way as you describe wrt his role-model, Mohammad. It took one to know one, and he was deeply impressed by where it all could go.

    Next question: Is the desire to spread one’s genes perhaps a component in the driving force to spread one’s memes? The compulsion to proselytise is underlain, quite simply, by lust.

  69. says

    @ Nick Gotts

    suggests that although he was a real person, he wasn’t the inventor of Islam as known from the 8th century onward – that coming half a century after his death, as part of the struggle between his successors.

    I have read several books relating this issue, and they are in broad consensus (even if this was not their focus). Most recently “Destiny Disrupted – A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes”, by Tamim Ansary. (Though he is not a historian, but an writer of history textbooks, his style is engaging and accessible and underpinned throughout. He is certainly a good starting point for people wishing to get into the subject.)

    Tamim illustrates quite clearly how Abr Bakr (later also Omar and Othman) had to step in and create new rules (the strict rejection of apostasy for example – in spite of Mohammad’s “No compulsion in Islam”). After Mohammad’s death, there were many who had been inspired to follow his example. But as mini-Mohammads. (“Hey! Why didn’t I think of that!?”). These, obviously, had to be ruthlessly crushed. He shows how this form of “mission creep” inevitably occurred in the absence of the founder-charismatic.

    (I have Tom Holland’s “Millenium”, itself very engaging.)

  70. Esteleth, the most colossal nerd on Pharyngula says

    Even if we grant all of the following:
    (1) There was a guy in first-century Judea whose name was Yeshua. He was a mystic who wandered around the area preaching and conducting faith healings.
    (2) He was a carpenter by trade, grew up in Nazareth, and was born in Bethlehem.
    (3) He went to Jerusalem, pissed off both the Sanhedrin and the Romans, and was crucified around passover in or around the year 29 AD.
    (4) After he died, there was some business with his ostensible tomb being found empty.

    Which, I think, is at least semi-plausible, even though we lack primary documentation.

    That still does not prove that
    (1) He was an actual prophet,
    (2) He was divine,
    (3) That he conducted miracles,
    (4) That the reason why the tomb was empty was because he was resurrected.

    Also, even if we grant the second set, that does not prove that Christianity as practiced today is true, correct, valid, or anything other than a pile of shit.

  71. David Marjanović says

    the 14th verse says:

    Oh. Yeah. Good point.

    Until mythicists come up with a much more convincing account of how a purely mythical figure could come to be considered real so shortly after his supposed lifetime than I’ve seen so far

    Elvis and Nero. Nero never died, you know, he’s still hiding out in Parthia and will return. He was really popular.

    I would suggest that he rather extends his search closer to the biblical time and place – and rather research Adonis/Tammuz that I mentioned earlier.

    The late Hellenistic world was apparently quite familiar with the sophisticated theology that the death and resurrection of Osiris had been turned into. And of course, the Romans – and the name Marcus is exclusively Roman, no wonder there are Latin mistakes in his Greek – knew their Romulus!

    But in any case, a sketch isn’t good enough: where is the evidence for any of the “several iterations over a couple of centuries”?

    There seem to be interesting similarities to the “Teacher of Righteousness” of the Essenes. Unfortunately I haven’t read up on that.

    Abr

    Abu.

  72. ChasCPeterson says

    John Henry was real. He really did drop dead of a heart attack after racing and beating a tunneling machine. I think the only part left out of the original telling was that he had coworkers, removing the debris so he could concentrate on breaking the rock.

    Come on. This is far from established “fact”.
    It’s folklore, which may indeed have a basis in a real event, but the details (e.g. who and where and when) are not a matter of record.
    [Plus, he was hammering a rock drill (for placing explosives), not "breaking rocks", and he raced a steam-powered drill, not a "tunneling machine".]

  73. says

    [Jesus, Essene]

    I have heard of this theory before. It would cast quite a different pall over the babble if shown to be true. We’d be talking vegetarian diets, enemas, healthy living etc. The babble would be more like the guide to a health spa. “Your body is a temple” – in the here and now – would carry far more weight than perfection only after death.

    Hippy Jeebus would be the order of the day, man.

  74. CJO says

    I’m willing to give Christians the crucifixion and that Jesus was a historical figure.

    In light of the various charges against mythicists, e.g. Nick’s surmise that it’s all motivated by the desire to appear “athier than thou” I find the implied anti-intellectualism of approaching a historical question with this kind of horse-trading mentality incredibly disheartening. What could be more stifling of honest debate on a (to me, anyway) fascinating point of ancient history than the notion that it doesn’t matter in an intellectual sense to come to a justified belief on the question one way or the other, except insofar as it might impact one’s ability to score points in the interminable and futile atheist vs. fundie internet war?

  75. Azuma Hazuki says

    The point about Mark vs. Matthew and Luke (and John) is an important one though. We are seeing the story evolve, as we have with so many more recent religious and historical figures.

    IMO, that, right there, is the best proof of historicity. There’s also too much in the Synoptics, specifically in Mark itself, that reflects badly on Jesus and the disciples, for it to be pure hagiography. Which makes it all the more obvious that Matthew and Luke (and John, especially) are writing for propaganda purposes.

    The larger point here is that the religion we now have was never, ever intended to exist. Jesus didn’t come to start a new religion; he came to warn about the impending end of the world. When Paul got his grubby hooks into this and introduced Hellenistic elements, and then when his successors pseudepigraph-ing in his name decades later started writing apologia like 2 Peter, that’s when things started to go bad.

    And by Nicaea in 325 AD, we had a purely political motivation to coalesce all the competing threads and create a new religion. Constantine did it for the sake of peace in his realm, never knowing what kind of a complete mess of, oh, at least two thirds of the world that little bit of jockeying would make.

    And yet, there are hundreds of millions today whose faith “lives in their hearts” (I’m getting lambasted on the book of visages by a few now). And they don’t. Know. Shit.

  76. CJO says

    IMO, that, right there, is the best proof of historicity.

    It’s just how illogical these supposed “best proofs” are that makes mythicism attractive as the edge that slices the intractible knot that is Christian origins.

    You’re telling me that a freewheeling narrative tradition in the service of propaganda, inspired by (really, utterly dependent on)an original that is symbolic and typological to its core and derived largely from exegesis of scripture, that is seemingly unconstrained by any considerations beyond theological acceptibility, is good evidence that the central figure was a historical person?

    I don’t get it.

  77. Beatrice (looking for a happy thought) says

    We are seeing the story evolve, as we have with so many more recent religious and historical figures.

    IMO, that, right there, is the best proof of historicity.

    Or, you know, made up stories. Stuff we call myths, legends and folk tales. All those change as they are told and retold. It doesn’t make them true.

  78. CJO says

    If it was allegory, why set it in a backwater like Galilee?

    I wasn’t aware that a bustling crossroads is universally regarded as a superior setting for allegorya typological and symbolic narrative. One reason, right off the top of my head, is that “the desert” looms large as a symbolic concept or meta-setting if you will. The prologue garbles a quotation from Isaiah about a voice crying aloud in the desert (which turns out to belong to JtB), and straightaway after the baptism, Jesus is possessed by The Spirit and driven into the desert (that’s really what it says), whereupon Jesus prevails in a contest with the powers of evil. A sparsely populated landscape mirrors the spiritual desolation of Israel forsaken by God, for which Spirit-possessed Jesus is to be understood as the only possible agent of renewal.

    Notice that Matthew and Luke, usually considered later, insert obvious retcons to have Jesus born in Bethlehem as per prophesy, so why not set the whole thing around there?

    There are two unwarranted assumptions that underpin questions of this sort. One is that the mythicist contention entails a conscious, deliberate attempt on the part of the authors of the earliest texts to craft an edifice entire in order to deceive. The other is that the earliest communities constituted an entity that can usefully be conceived of as The Church, such that we should expect everyone involved put the same weight on the exact same texts, prophesies, and messianic expectations.

    Quite simply, the author of Mark had no biographical interests whatsoever, and doesn’t need a birth prophesy. Jesus the Annointed, Son of God, is for his purposes “born” at his adoption and Spirit-possession, at the baptism.

    Why the baptism by John, since the myth says he’s a far greater figure than John?

    See above; also, JtB is an Elijah figure, an expected precursor to the coming of the messiah.

    Why the names and professions of so many disciples?

    Names in Mark are a curious thing. Toponyms too. (Why so many Simons? Where the hell is Arimathea?) It’s an interesting study to look closely at which figures and places are given names and which remain anonymous. And there aren’t “so many” professions: only Simon Peter, his brother Andrew (fishermen), and Levi (tax collector)are given professions.

    Why would the author(s) of Mark write it “in the realistic mode”

    Why wouldn’t he? In my estimation, the overall force of the presentation is an imitation, or maybe more accurately an evocation, of scripture. Not the somewhat elevated mimesis of Septaguint Greek found in parts of Luke and Acts, but an atempt to evoke the narrative immediacy of texts like 1 and 2 Kings. The seeming lack of good Greek style, much commented on, is entirely intentional in my view, and likely had an effect on its earliest hearers that is lost to us.

    and why set it so close to their own time?

    Because, you figure, if he’s lying, why isn’t he afraid to be found out? He isn’t lying, he’s writing a story. And I wonder if you exaggerate the perceived proximity. It’s difficult for us moderns to conceive of a world with such close horizons in time and space as the world the average ancient person inhabited. Particularly if, as many scholars believe, Mark was written post-Jewish War, because a catastrophic upheaval of that sort could act as an eraser of even what historical memory had been preserved of one’s grandparents’ time. The gulf between a Syrian Jew of say 80 CE and an urban Judaean under Tiberius was potentially total.

    What’s it an allegory of? But in any case, a sketch isn’t good enough

    I’m going to use the second sentence as my excuse not to sketch for you what I think the author was trying to acheive by writing his typological and symbolic narrative. I recommend Binding the Strong Man, by Ched Myers and Sowing the Gospel, by Mary Ann Tolbert, for views along the same lines as mine. (Neither of those authors are especially concerned with the Historical Jesus per se, certainly neither of them are mythicists.)

    where is the evidence for any of the “several iterations over a couple of centuries”?

    Begin with Daniel. Continue with the earliest strata of 1 Enoch. Check out the Psalms of Solomon, cruise through the Dead Sea Scrolls on your way to the later Enochian texts and the Apocalypse of Ezra (contained in 2 Esdras), spend some time with Philo and top it all off with the Shepherd of Hermas (pre-Christian strata).

  79. says

    @ CJO

    memeogenesis

    I don’t know if that is even a word. I would be looking for something like the “abiogenesis of a memeplex” that is called “Christianity”. How we go about finding the very start, the spark, that set off the whole development of this religion. The evolution thereof, thereafter, may be a lot easier to research and understand.

    Would you suggest that the idea of hijacking a charismatic cult leader to graft the narrative onto is not viable? I am currently reading up on the very early days of Islam and I see that I shall have to face the very same conundrum. I could just accept the Islamic founding narrative as is, but am concerned that this only raises many unanswered questions. Not least whether Mohammad actually existed and (if that is the case) what his true intentions were. Certainly the impression is given (even within the Islamic narrative) that his idea has been hijacked by later players.

  80. Azuma Hazuki says

    @CJO

    …that was amazing. It was a little much for me to digest in one fell swoop but wow. I say this in all seriousness: if you have a newsletterblog I want to subscribe.

    This hits especially hard today because I’ve been harassed on FB by some fundies, and one well-mannered but slightly insane-sounding man in one thread insists that he’s using historical-critical methods and coming to “conservative” conclusions.

    I can only surmise he’s studying the texts more or less in vacuum, no? Here’s what he says:

    I am a good historian and critical thinker and come to many “conservative” conclusions. Sound scholarship is being done by Craig Keener, Cherith Fee-Nordling, N.T. Wright and a host of others that carefully evaluate evidence and draw conclusions quite different from the mainline academy. The emotional appeals and mistakes of our previous affiliations must not color our current efforts. I am insulted to hear that I do not have “method” or that “real scholarship” means ouster from Evangelical schools. Fortunately, there are the Thomas Odens and others that have honestly found their way to orthodoxy while keeping sharp minds and tender hearts. I did excellent work at GTU and UCSC and the more I studied, the more my biblical affirmations held up. I think Paul wrote the Pastorals (and I am egalitarian). I think the Gospels really do bring us the very words of our Lord. I think miracles did/do happen (see Keener’s new two volumes). The entire Canon is trustworthy in all it affirms and the more I learn, the more I trust its veracity. I am not clinging to anything but Christ.

    I don’t know what to make of this as I’m not a biblical scholar, but he’s not the usual frothy fundie maniac. I do think he’s much too narrowly focused; he can believe what he wishes but genetics and evolution has thoroughly driven Adam and Even, and original sin, into the ground. But am I missing something? What do you think of him?

    For reference my own response was:

    So…so you don’t see the problems with Mark being obviously written by someone with a Roman education, or how Matthew and Luke copy it verbatim in places and “correct his errors?” You don’t see an issue with the varying accounts to be found in the Synoptics, let alone what happens when John and Acts are added to the mix? You don’t see a problem with the missing gospels like Thomas or books like the Didache not being included? You have no problems with the KJV purposefully backporting Christian ideas into Jewish scripture?

  81. David Marjanović says

    I am not clinging to anything but Christ.

    He’s still clinging.

    To do science, he must (vaguely Buddhist-like) let go. He must let go of his opinions, he must let go of everything he thinks he knows, he must let go of everything he thinks is probable, and start at the facts, at nothing but the facts.

    Want that with more poetry, and with a comparison to Christianity (Islam would also work) instead of Buddhism? Here goes:

    “Science seems to me to teach in the highest and strongest manner the great truth which is embodied in the Christian conception of entire surrender to the will of God. Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing. I have only begun to learn content and peace of mind since I have resolved at all risks to do this.”
    – Thomas Henry Huxley in a letter in reply to Charles Kingley (via Wikiquote)

    he’s not the usual frothy fundie maniac

    He’s not frothy, alright.

    Mark being obviously written by someone with a Roman education

    There are even (as mentioned above) mistakes in Mark’s Greek that make sense in Latin. And then there’s his name, exclusively Roman.

  82. says

    @ Azuma Hazuki

    I am a good historian and critical thinker

    Right off the bat I start to cringe. Why is it that frothy fundies feel such a compulsion to preface everything they say by shoving a narcissistic argumentum ad auctoritatem clause like that in? We’re supposed to quiver?

    (Actually, ask the person that.)

  83. says

    @ David Marjanović

    Science seems to me to teach in the highest and strongest manner the great truth which is embodied in the … conception of entire surrender to the will of God.


    Kewl.

    But let me throw this into the mix. Mohammad (pace “Sir” Sayyid Ahmed Kahn) embodied this very principle. Humankind had developed to a stage (ie in his times) that would let us persue the highest truths unaided by the guidance of religion. Science and reason would set the new path and mankind would no longer need the guidance of prophets. This is what he meant by saying he was “the last of the prophets”. Once he had set his community on the path to rational thinking they could face their problems by themselves.

    Of course, as we have discussed, this was hijacked by more cynical forces who misrepresented the message in order to keep human understanding in an infantile and dependent state. They could, and did, then hold sway.

  84. CJO says

    David Marjanović:

    There are certainly Latin terms in Mark, but I’m unaware of any that are unambiguously mistakes. Do you know what the examples are?

    Also, understand that the name is just a designation; there’s no particular reason to believe that the gospel was written by a Marcus. It’s an ancient attribution, usually to the John Mark mentioned in Acts as a companion of Paul and the cousin of Barnabus. But all such “apostolic” connections are questionable. Anyway, the very fact that there was a John Mark running atound Asia with Paul and Barnabas (according to Acts) is enough to dispel the notion that the gospel must have been written in Rome or by a Italian-born citizen. Slaves were given Roman names by their Roman masters, and would have retained them if made freedmen.

    Azuma:
    I don’t have a lot of time at the moment, but I’ll try to weigh in later.

  85. gravityisjustatheory says

    Esteleth, the most colossal nerd on Pharyngula
    16 May 2013 at 10:53 am (UTC -5)

    Even if we grant all of the following:

    That still does not prove that
    (1) He was an actual prophet,
    (2) He was divine,
    (3) That he conducted miracles,
    (4) That the reason why the tomb was empty was because he was resurrected.

    And?

    This is an atheist blog, populated almost entierly by atheists. I don’t think anyone here is arguing that the supernatural aspects of the gospel are true, or even plausible. Nor have I seen any of the mainstream historians who support the existance of a historical Jesus do so either.

    What is being debated is whether the whole story was made-up, or if it was derived from a real account of a preacher/rabble-rouser/cult leader who fell foul of the authorities and subsequently had a load of myths/propoganda/folktales grafted on to his life.

    The “Jesus didn’t actually exist” claim isn’t one I had encountered before I came to Pharyngula a couple of years ago. It’s certainly made me think about the the issue, and realise how little reliable evidence there is about, well, anything to do with his alleged life. But as far as I can see, “there was a real Jesus” seems to be the consensus among mainstream historians, and as I’m not a historian (and certainly not an expert on the history of 1st-century Judean religious movements), I think I’ll have to accept (for now) that consensus. The mythicist argument, while intreguing, in many cases looks like smart people commenting on things outside their area of expertise, and we know that often leads to mistakes.

    We know there are, have and will be many people who belive and/or claim to have contact with God (Joseph Smith, Joan of Arc, etc). Some are con-artists, some are hallucinating, some probably both. From what I have read about the history of that time and place, Jerusalem and the wider area seems to have long been awash with messiahs, Kings of the Jews, prophets, rival high-priests, and even occasionally Gods (or Sons of God). That there was a Jesus who claimed some or all of the things attributed to him (and later had more added to his story) seems no more implausible than that Joseph Smith existed and claimed some of the things attributed to him. That after 2000 years we have less evidence of him than we do for Smith is hardly surprising.

    And that the Christian story rips off other myths is not evidence that Jesus himself didn’t exist, any more than it is the case for Smith. If he genuinelly believed when he was preaching, then he would undoubtably been influenced by what the rest of his society believed and preached and brought him up to believe. And if he was a con-artist, then it is presumably bother easier and more convincing to preach a varient of the common mythology than to make something enierly new (and less likely to get you stoned for blasphemy as well).

  86. Azuma Hazuki says

    @95/Gravity is Just a Theory

    The “Jesus didn’t actually exist” claim isn’t one I had encountered before I came to Pharyngula a couple of years ago. It’s certainly made me think about the the issue, and realise how little reliable evidence there is about, well, anything to do with his alleged life. But as far as I can see, “there was a real Jesus” seems to be the consensus among mainstream historians, and as I’m not a historian (and certainly not an expert on the history of 1st-century Judean religious movements), I think I’ll have to accept (for now) that consensus. The mythicist argument, while intreguing, in many cases looks like smart people commenting on things outside their area of expertise, and we know that often leads to mistakes.

    (Emphasis mine)

    Thanks for putting the attention on this. My own experience has been, taking Carrier as an example, that while his premises for the mythologist argument make sense, the assumptions he makes don’t always. The mythicist arguments I’ve seen are definitely valid but may not be sound.

    We need to remember that it’s only been a couple of centuries since we had this austere, just-the-facts-ma’am view of history and reality. Which is not to say that ancient historians are unreliable; Herodotos et. al really take more flack than they deserve for that.

    But at the same time, the writers were biased and often had an agends. Scholars of early Biblical texts know how much interpolation and pseudepigraphia went into them; the Johannine comma (the only place in the Bible that even comes close to supporting Trinitarianism), the end of Mark from 16:9 onward, the story of the woman taken in adultery, and so on. Arguably the virgin birth narrative as well, since it doesn’t appear in Paul and you wouldn’t think a woman who was told by an angel her son was the savior of all mankind would then, in his adult years, bring his family with her and try and stop his preaching because they think he’s out of his mind.

    I would guess that there is at least one person behind the literary/biblical character we call Jesus Christ, including an actual Yeshua bar Yousef, but the actual stories are much older. IIRC, the Babylonian god Bel goes through a passion drama consisting of virtually all the same elements (trial, scourging, crucifixion between two malefactors, loss of clothing, social turmoil directly after, mourning woman looking for him) that Jesus does. Which means this is an old, old, ooooold cycle and has been deeply ingrained in the Judeo-Christian mindset.

    We also know there are Sumerian and Babylonian antecedents to the Flood story (which makes sense; at the end of an ice age, you’d see huge floods, and these stories came from cultures that live on the banks of seasonally-flooding rivers, viz. the Tigris, Nile, etc). Moses’ origin story is a copy of that of Sargon of Akkadia. There is a Sumerian version of the forbidden fruit story, set in Edinnu (“plain”), wherein the god Ea (Ea –> J/Yah?) walked.

    It also speaks to certain assumptions about cosmology and the relationship of the creator to the created. I’ve noticed that the most twisted aspects of religion emerge when underlying ideas about this change and the old stories are forward-ported to match the new ideas…which they sometimes do poorly.

    The story of Ruth and Naomi, for example, makes mention that Ruth is getting Boaz to marry her so that he will redeem the land of his dead cousin, “that he may not be cut off from among his bretheren.” But Naomi’s dead husband, Boaz’s cousin, is dead, so this sounds rather strange…unless you know the Mesopotamian view of the afterlife. Ruth was marrying Boaz to keep Naomi’s dead husband in Upper Sheol, as opposed to letting him fall to Lower Sheol and eventually vanish. A judgmental/separation view of the afterlife only appeared in jewish culture during the Exile, whereupon Judaism absorbed large pieces of Zoroastrianism including angel names and the idea of, essentially, an evil deity.

    And with THIS knowledge, the story of Onan makes more sense: Onan’s sin was to refuse to do what Ruth did, i.e., consummate a Levirate marriage, and has little if anything to do with masturbation. And the story of Job also makes sense: no mention of him going “well at least my kids are in heaven,” just moaning that he’ll be forgotten, as well as the rewards in this life for faith in Yahweh. Rewards being another set of kids and livestock and another wife, which were all property and never did Yahweh ever say otherwise.

    There is a 400-year gap between Malachi and Jesus (although we know the Book of Daniel is from Maccabeean times). During those 400 years, Alexander the Great took over much of the near East and his Greco-Persian culture permeated the region. Judaic thought absorbed even more of it in this period, “Pharisee” being “Parsee,” i.e., “Persian.” The Sadducees were Hellenized Jews. Then there’s the Therapeutae, who look to me like Buddhists of all things, and the Essenes, and so on and so on.

    And the important thing is that only now are we realizing this. It’s a very, very new thing, this knowledge, and it means that much of Christian history and doctrine post-Nicaea needs to be tossed. The Church would do well to get back to the earliest teachings, though they’re going to have to keep kosher and accept mediumship if they do.

  87. consciousness razor says

    That there was a Jesus who claimed some or all of the things attributed to him (and later had more added to his story) seems no more implausible than that Joseph Smith existed and claimed some of the things attributed to him.

    Like I’ve said before, I’m pretty much indifferent about the whole thing because it doesn’t matter to me except as an interesting bit of history, so I haven’t read tons of Jesus Books™ to do much “research” on it. Also, I’m honestly not able to determine how much weight to put on the “expert consensus” given how little evidence there actually is and that it’d practically kill their discipline if there’s no historical figure to study. I think they do some good work: they’re not all in it for the money or academic success or to provide support for religious beliefs, but there’s obviously a lot at play here which can undermine mythicism before it ever gets started.

    Anyway, on my more mythicist days, I don’t think the simple fact of him existing and saying stuff is implausible at all. Instead, it’s that the interpretation of the stories in the context of their society (as much as I understand it) still makes a lot of sense when viewed as myth about a non-historical divinity. The way Paul characterizes him comes to mind at the moment, for example, but there are lots of other internal and external discrepancies that also factor into it. If I weren’t in a society where basically everyone assumes a historical Jesus as a given (as well as having been indoctrinated in childhood into believing the religious aspects), and if I just looked at it as a text, and if I were in the mindset of some group 2000 years ago in that region, it’s just a little bit hard to say which kind of interpretation would seem to fit naturally. But all I really get out of that is ambiguity — I just don’t see any reason to take historicism more seriously than mythicism.

  88. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    Azuma Hazuki,

    Arguably the virgin birth narrative as well, since it doesn’t appear in Paul and you wouldn’t think a woman who was told by an angel her son was the savior of all mankind would then, in his adult years, bring his family with her and try and stop his preaching because they think he’s out of his mind.

    The birth narratives in Matthew and Luke are obvious retcons, designed to show that Jesus was born in Bethlehem as required for the Jewish Messiah (Micah 5:2).

    the Babylonian god Bel goes through a passion drama consisting of virtually all the same elements (trial, scourging, crucifixion between two malefactors, loss of clothing, social turmoil directly after, mourning woman looking for him) that Jesus does.

    Interesting. Do you have a citation? (The pfft of all knowledge doesn’t mention it and says “Bel” is a title, “Lord”, rather than a name, and was applied to various gods.)

    Pharisee” being “Parsee,” i.e., “Persian.”

    Again, citation? The pfft says:

    Pharisee is derived from Latin pharisæus, -i; from Hebrew פְּרוּשִׁים pĕrûshîm, pl. of פָּרוּשׁ pārûsh, meaning “set apart”, Qal passive participle of the verb פָּרָשׁ pārāsh, through Greek φαρισαῖος, -ου pharisaios

    It’s a very, very new thing, this knowledge, and it means that much of Christian history and doctrine post-Nicaea needs to be tossed. The Church would do well to get back to the earliest teachings, though they’re going to have to keep kosher and accept mediumship if they do.

    Oh come off it. They couldn’t possibly do any such thing, kosher was abandoned by the group that became the Christian church in the 1st century, and do you have to drag your nonsense about spiritualism into everything now?

    consciousness razor,

    it’d practically kill their discipline if there’s no historical figure to study.

    This is exactly the same claim climate change denialists make about climate science. It’s complete bullshit in both cases. If it could somehow be shown definitely (to any reasonably objective observer) that Jesus was a myth (e.g. by discovering one securely-dated 2nd century BCE text containing a Messiah-virgin-birth-in-Bethlehem narrative, another unconnected one from the 1st century BCE with most of the parables, and a third from the 4th century BCE with the crucifixion and resurrection), the whole area would undergo a huge expansion academically.

    But all I really get out of that is ambiguity — I just don’t see any reason to take historicism more seriously than mythicism.

    Because only decades later, people clearly did believe Jesus was a real person, with a specific location in time and space, too close to the present for mythicism to be plausible. It’s easy enough to see how a real Jesus could attract lots of mythical elements in that time. I’ve not seen any even vaguely plausible mythicist account. If you know of one, do tell.

    CJO,

    I don’t buy it. Galilee wasn’t a desert, Jesus is said to have preached in specific small lakeside towns. Even if Mark was written in 80CE, there would still have been plenty of people around who would remember Galilee in the 20s. And Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, generally dated to around 55, looks to be talking about a real person.

    Because, you figure, if he’s lying, why isn’t he afraid to be found out? He isn’t lying, he’s writing a story.

    But you won’t say what you think the point of doing so is, because I’ve provided you with a convenient excuse. Then you refer me to a couple of books which are not by mythicists, when it’s a plausible mythicist account I’m asking for, if one exists. This is the sort of thing I expect from sophistimacated theologians explaining why they can’t outline their solution to the problem of evil or how the human and divine bits of Jesus fit together here and now.

  89. Azuma Hazuki says

    @Nick/98

    the Babylonian god Bel goes through a passion drama consisting of virtually all the same elements (trial, scourging, crucifixion between two malefactors, loss of clothing, social turmoil directly after, mourning woman looking for him) that Jesus does.

    For more on Bel, see here: http://www.bobkwebsite.com/belmythvjesusmyth.html

    The tablet is Assyrian, not Babylonian, and dates to ca. 700 BC. Now, one other interpretation I’ve heard of this is that it has to do with the capture and retaking of a statue of Marduk, as believed by Professor Wayne T Pitard at University of Illinois.

    Pharisee is derived from Latin pharisæus, -i; from Hebrew פְּרוּשִׁים pĕrûshîm, pl. of פָּרוּשׁ pārûsh, meaning “set apart”, Qal passive participle of the verb פָּרָשׁ pārāsh, through Greek φαρισαῖος, -ου pharisaios

    Maybe it’s a pun? Remember, in Daniel, “Mene mene tekel upharsin,” i.e., “You have been weighed and found wanting, you have been weighed and found wanting, and will be judged by the Persians.” At the very least there should be some connection, especially because we know the Jews assimilated Zoroastrian beliefs.

    “Set apart” is also a fairly good rendering of the concept of “holy” as understood by the Jews too, IIRC. Though wouldn’t that be Qaddash/Qaddash’im?

    Oh come off it. They couldn’t possibly do any such thing, kosher was abandoned by the group that became the Christian church in the 1st century, and do you have to drag your nonsense about spiritualism into everything now?

    Kashrut was abandoned by all the proto-Christians? I seem to remember Paul being the one to say the old law didn’t apply; Jesus said “Not one jot [yod/iota, the smallest letter] or tittle [vowel mark?] shall pass from the Law.”

    And this isn’t “my” nonsense, it’s something the early church fathers wrote about. Tertullian, in “De Anima,” has a passage concerning what would get called materialization mediumship today. Not saying I believe it happened, just pointing out that the passage is there.

    Jerome, who was secretary to Pope Damasus and produced the Latin Vulgate, was the one who told the mediums, “prophets” if you will, that:

    We tell them that we do not so much reject prophecy, as refuse to receive prophets whose utterances fail to accord with the Scriptures old and new

    Quite apart from what anyone today does or does not believe about this, it was a fixture of apostolic pre-Nicene Christianity. That is my point in bringing it up. Whether the phenomena are real or not, the early churches believed in them. Could be mass hallucination for all I know or care.

    I would say the Vulgate, Jerome’s work, was a similar work of political expediency as Constantine’s decree, in that it tried to compress a lot of disparate beliefs into one orthodoxy.

  90. consciousness razor says

    This is exactly the same claim climate change denialists make about climate science.

    Again, with that ridiculous comparison. I don’t think it’s valid, but I’m sure you find it effective rhetorically. The mountain of evidence showing climate change is real is both substantially different in kind (comparing history/literary criticism to climate science?) and is so much more substantial in degree that it’s way beyond a reasonable doubt. And I’d be really surprised if you thought it was such an important issue that I have the same sort of responsibility to toe the line of the consensus, so it’s not as if you do climate science any favors with this bullshit.

    I’m not even sure what I’m supposed to be “denying” anyway, since I haven’t denied a thing as far as I can tell; just expressing my general attitude and uncertainty toward it is enough apparently. Do you think the stories were modeled after one person, or an amalgamation of several (perhaps in very different settings), or a mix of the two approaches with a primary focus on one in particular … or what? Would all of those count as “historicism” to you?

    the whole area would undergo a huge expansion academically.

    There would be a huge backlash culturally from belligerent Christians, some of whom are in academia already. I’m not saying it would disappear as a discipline, but it would get the same treatment as studying Homer or Vergil, invalidating a whole lot of research which focused on his historicity. Perhaps that’s an exciting possibility to some, the way some physicists are eager for “new science” which proves them all wrong, but I doubt many have such a healthy attitude.

    Anyway, I don’t think “it could somehow be shown definitely (to any reasonably objective observer)” that Jesus was a historical figure either. Where does that leave us? With some nebulous consensus that has barely any evidence to work with?

    Because only decades later, people clearly did believe Jesus was a real person, with a specific location in time and space, too close to the present for mythicism to be plausible.

    Who are you talking about, and how do you know this?

    As CJO mentioned above, “time and space” were much more distant then, as far as communication was concerned. So are you taking that into account when you talk about plausibility? Even now, I probably wouldn’t know know what happened to a random person decades ago, or whether they were invented for a story, political reasons, etc. I wouldn’t know where to begin looking, and it probably wouldn’t even occur to me to check that kind of thing in the first place if the story fit well enough into the worldview I already had.

    Then you refer me to a couple of books which are not by mythicists, when it’s a plausible mythicist account I’m asking for, if one exists.

    Don’t be silly. CJO referred to the kind of interpretation he makes of some of the symbolism, and that wouldn’t need to come from a mythicist. There’s no rule anywhere which says “historicists must be wrong about everything if mythicism is right.” But why bother trying to figure out what CJO has in mind, when you have a cheap excuse to make a rhetorical point?

    Not to mention all the primary sources he used to give you an outline. Do those not count now?

  91. David Marjanović says

    Science and reason would set the new path and mankind would no longer need the guidance of prophets. This is what he meant by saying he was “the last of the prophets”.

    Interesting zinger.

    There are certainly Latin terms in Mark, but I’m unaware of any that are unambiguously mistakes. Do you know what the examples are?

    I forgot them. But a link was once posted on Pharyngula…

    Also, understand that the name is just a designation; there’s no particular reason to believe that the gospel was written by a Marcus.

    Oh, sure, but why would anyone choose a Roman name for that? Why not one of the 12 Apostles?

    Anyway, the very fact that there was a John Mark running atound Asia with Paul and Barnabas (according to Acts) is enough to dispel the notion that the gospel must have been written in Rome or by a Italian-born citizen. Slaves were given Roman names by their Roman masters, and would have retained them if made freedmen.

    Good point. Is it possible that he was a convert from Rome? (Converts to Judaism, as I’m sure you know, were fairly common in Hellenistic times.)

    at the end of an ice age, you’d see huge floods

    Uh, that was several thousand years earlier.

    Moses’ origin story is a copy of that of Sargon of Akkad

    (Or, rather, an exact inversion. Almost reads like a parody. :-) )

    Ea –> J/Yah

    That part sounds rather unlikely to me.

    “Pharis[...]” being “Pars[...]”

    That seems blindingly obvious… except for the i. The Pffft! of All Knowledge says it’s simply Hebrew for the ones that are set apart or have set themselves apart.

    But if you’re looking for a Greek word, I can offer apiqoro, “infidel”, from Epikouros.

  92. Azuma Hazuki says

    @David M/101

    at the end of an ice age, you’d see huge floods

    Uh, that was several thousand years earlier.

    Oh, I know. I am a geologist by education, if not by trade. But think about it: the Mediterranean could have burst its banks, sweeping away entire towns there, and forcing people to migrate…they would keep this in their oral tradition, and not be too surprised when their rivers did it too. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the river-people were inland-sea-that-suddenly-hit-puberty people at some point, though I haven’t read enough to confirm this yet.

    “Pharis[...]” being “Pars[...]”

    That seems blindingly obvious… except for the i. The Pffft! of All Knowledge says it’s simply Hebrew for the ones that are set apart or have set themselves apart.

    As I said above: Mene mene tekel upharsin, “[You have been] found lacking, found lacking, and will be judged, by the Persians.” Upharsin meaning Persians, right? Is it so impossible to think a schwa or short-i sound would have wormed its way in there eventually?

    Moses’ origin story is a copy of that of Sargon of Akkad

    (Or, rather, an exact inversion. Almost reads like a parody. :-) )

    Parody it may be, but do you think the same thing of the Flood narrative? The story of Moses doesn’t appear to be parodying Ut-Napishtim at all; it looks more like a straight retelling with a few changes.

    Abra[ha]m did come from Ur, right? All of this would have to have been in the proto-Hebraic collective tradition.

  93. David Marjanović says

    “Bel” is a title, “Lord”

    Specifically, it’s the exact same as “Baal”. Regular sound shift: the consonant I haven’t written here really did vanish in the East Semitic languages and got blamed on the nearest vowels.

    tittle [vowel mark?]

    No.

    who told the mediums, “prophets” if you will, that:

    How do you get “mediums” out of that quote? Isn’t it clearly about people who believed they had received divine revelation?

    There would be a huge backlash culturally from belligerent Christians, some of whom are in academia already.

    As always, the closer you get to humans, the worse the science gets.

    But think about it: the Mediterranean could have burst its banks, sweeping away entire towns there

    …Are you sure you’re a geologist? Or perhaps it’s geography that’s your weak point?

    Sea levels don’t suddenly jump up when an ice age is over. The inland ice in Canada and the Baltic Sea area takes thousands of years to melt. There was a fairly sudden level increase that came from this, but that was the Black Sea; and that happened too early to tell if people from there ever migrated to Mesopotamia or had strong contacts to that area.

    Is it so impossible to think a schwa or short-i sound would have wormed its way in there eventually?

    It’s simply an unnecessary hypothesis.

    Now, if you can show that the beliefs of the Pharisees had a lot more Persian influence than those of the Sadducees (good luck) or the Zealots or the Essenes, you’ll have a point.

    do you think the same thing of the Flood narrative?

    No, why?

    Abra[ha]m did come from Ur, right?

    Assuming he ever existed…

  94. consciousness razor says

    at the end of an ice age, you’d see huge floods

    Uh, that was several thousand years earlier.

    Oh, I know. I am a geologist by education, if not by trade. But think about it: the Mediterranean could have burst its banks, sweeping away entire towns there, and forcing people to migrate…they would keep this in their oral tradition, and not be too surprised when their rivers did it too.

    They kept an oral tradition for four or five thousand years?? That’s an awfully long long time.

    There’s no real need for it to have such catastrophic proportions anyway, assuming there is some particular flood in their history which actually influenced it. People see normal flooding all the time with bad things happening as a result, and poof, you get a super-sized myth built around that basic concept. You can make it big and scary to really hit the point home, make it a better story, connect it with other beliefs/practices, etc.

  95. Amphiox says

    There’s no real need for it to have such catastrophic proportions anyway, assuming there is some particular flood in their history which actually influenced it. People see normal flooding all the time with bad things happening as a result, and poof, you get a super-sized myth built around that basic concept. You can make it big and scary to really hit the point home, make it a better story, connect it with other beliefs/practices, etc.

    Yeah. Pretty much any civilization arising by a river with a floodplain (which makes for excellent agricultural land) would have plenty of formative experiences with big floods.

  96. ChasCPeterson says

    And of course on average every 1000 years there’s always the Biggest Flood In 1000 Years.

    But so wait, back in Moses’s time this Yahweh-god punishes those Israelites pretty severely for worshipping this Baal character, IIRC, and then he just goes and blatantly rips off the plot for Act II? Not cool.

  97. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    consciousness razor,

    it’d practically kill their discipline if there’s no historical figure to study. – you

    This is exactly the same claim climate change denialists make about climate science. – me

    Again, with that ridiculous comparison. – you

    What I was complaining about was specifically the charge that the consensus is held in place by the material self-interest of the experts concerned, as can be clearly seen above. So all the stuff about the difference in the strength of evidence and the importance of the issue, which of course I agree with, is completely irrelevant. Why did you write it?

    the whole area would undergo a huge expansion academically.

    There would be a huge backlash culturally from belligerent Christians, some of whom are in academia already.

    Of course. Which would make the area even more active!

    Because only decades later, people clearly did believe Jesus was a real person, with a specific location in time and space, too close to the present for mythicism to be plausible.

    Who are you talking about, and how do you know this?

    I’m talking about Paul, and about the synoptic gospels, which (and here again I’m going with the consensus rather than with Carrier and CJO) appear to talk about a real person. With regard to Paul’s letters, the earliest source, the wikipedia article on mythicism says:

    Regarding the Pauline epistles, mainstream scholars have presented multiple arguments to refute the hypothesis that Paul considered Jesus as living long before himself, or that Paul saw Jesus as a cosmic creature, given that Galatians 4:4 states that he was “born of a woman”, in Galatians 1:19 Paul refers to the “Lord’s brother” who was alive at the time of Paul; and in 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 Paul refers to the Jews “who both killed the Lord Jesus” and “drove out us” as the same people, indicating that the death of Jesus was within the same time frame as the persecution of Paul

    Also that:

    1 Corinthians 15:3-8 refers to those who had interacted with Jesus as Paul’s contemporaries

    The synoptic gospels, particularly Mark, are also generally dated a few decades after the alleged events. If Mark wrote a kind of historical novel based on OT models, as CJO suggests, why do the other two have material in common, but not found in Mark? What’s the supposed sequence of events here?

    There’s also Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews, from the 90s CE, where again the consensus is that the references to Jesus, and to John the Baptist as historical figures (do mythicists consider him a myth too?) are partially authentic. (Of course here he is reporting the beliefs of Christians at the time, but that’s what you asked about.)

    Don’t be silly. CJO referred to the kind of interpretation he makes of some of the symbolism, and that wouldn’t need to come from a mythicist. There’s no rule anywhere which says “historicists must be wrong about everything if mythicism is right.” But why bother trying to figure out what CJO has in mind, when you have a cheap excuse to make a rhetorical point?

    I’m not doubting that a lot of the stories told in the gospels are symbolic or typological – I’ve pointed out myself that the birth narratives are obviously not historical. It’s not a cheap rhetorical point, but sheer frustration. CJO says he has an idea why Mark would have written in the realistic mode about an unreal Jesus, but explicitly uses a remark I made as an excuse not to say what it is. Why should I play guessing games about what he has in mind?

    Not to mention all the primary sources he used to give you an outline. Do those not count now?

    What do you mean, “count”? Yes, the list of sources is the beginnings of an answer to a specific query I made, but it doesn’t begin to outline a coherent mythicist hypothesis. When, where and how did accounts supposedly written and generally recognised as wholly “symbolic” and “typological” – fictions, in brief – come to be regarded as referring to a real person?

  98. Owlmirror says

    1) I am pretty confident that a global flood myth does not result from stories dating back to the Ice Ages. I am weakly confident that they don’t have much to do with local floods, even (local floods may have informed the mythmaking process, though).

    I have my own hypothesis about how the myth arose.

    2) I am strongly confident that all of the stories about Abraham — including the line about him coming from Ur — are all made up.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/essays/let-the-stones-speak-part-1/

    Note also that genetic studies contradict any single male ancestry for the population of Jews and other Mideastern peoples.

    I suspect that the “patriarchs” were made up to explain why so many people in the region spoke similar languages.

    3) I am strongly confident that there is no linguistic connection between “Pharisee” and “Persian”.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_friend

  99. Azuma Hazuki says

    @108/Owlmirror

    Would love to hear your hypothesis about the flood stories, then. Also, i will read what you just linked; that blog Daylight Atheism is amazing. Have been there before :)

    Still disagreeing with you there about Pharisee/Persian though. I’m not a linguist, I fully admit that, but are you sure there’s no punning or second meaning here that would link the two? Upharsin = Persians. Jews absorbed some Zoroastrianism during the Exile. There’s no link at all, not even a trace?

  100. CJO says

    Galilee wasn’t a desert

    Greek eremos is the term that is usually translated as “desert” or “wilderness” at Mark 1:3 and Mark 1:12, and also occurs several more times in the text. Its primary sense is social, not ecological or climatological, in keeping with ancient geographical typology generally. It means “a desolate or uninhabited place,” more plausibly situated in “a backwater” (your characterization of Galilee) than near a bustling crossroads.

    when it’s a plausible mythicist account I’m asking for, if one exists

    But you’ve pre-judged the matter by saying “a sketch won’t do”. I’ve got a comment box to work with here, not a dissertation. The books I suggested are about Mark, and the kind of symbolic interpretations that I’m talking about, which only fit into the mythicist case to the extent that if there was no actual person for it to be about, perforce Mark is about something else. The fact that I can point to book-lenghth treatments of what I have in mind probably means I can’t make a sufficient case myself in a paragraph. I will maintain that Mark is a puzzling and fascinating text regardless of where one ultimately comes down on the question of the historicity of its protagonist, and so perhaps there was some value in mentioning good books about it to anyone who might be curious.

  101. CJO says

    Also, I should point out, in connection to the question “If it’s an allegory, why set it in a backwater like Galilee?” that the thrust of the narrative of the ministry is inexorably toward the Passion, in Jerusalem. And another symbolic motif in the text is that of “the way”. The structure is a journey into Judaea, to Jerusalem, and so it is necessarily set somewhere else at the beginning.

  102. says

    I only skimmed the “False Friend” link, so maybe I missed something in there, other than the one mention of Persian, and a completely unrelated work, which happened to be Persian in there… But, yeah, there is, I think, some plausibility in Azuma’s idea. Words don’t appear in a vacuum, and rarely end up having the same basic structure and sound, but entirely different meanings, unless there is distance between the groups using it, and thus no trading of concepts. What happens, with close neighbors, is that they appropriate each other’s words, and distort them. Its still possible that they came up with Pharisee entirely out of more or less nothing, but, its not implausible that, since it refers to a people, it could refer to a specific people, and been distorted over time. Heck, it might not even had needed to have the same meaning originally, and lacked the negative aspects, until something took place to shift the perspective on the people described, and turn it less.. congenial.

    Short of having some way to trace the origin clearly, it is, however, purely speculative, though interesting.

  103. Azuma Hazuki says

    @111/CJO

    What i find weirder than that is that the basic form of the Passion already existed well before this. The Bel tablet, from Assyria ca. 700 BC, has all the essentials. I don’t know enough comparative religion to comment on other gods’ passions (and am rather afraid of drawing parallels which aren’t there; don’t want to be an Acharya S!), but we have at least one example that dates all the way back to pre-Exilic times.

    CS Lewis is said to have opined that in the case of Jesus myth became reality, which strikes me as a modern version of the “those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter” defense or “the Devil knew about Jesus and made lots of fakes!”

    @112/Kagehi

    Thanks for chipping in a “Hey, Hazuki’s not completely insane” here. I feel a bit out of my depth so some encouragement is helpful!

  104. Owlmirror says

    Still disagreeing with you there about Pharisee/Persian though. I’m not a linguist, I fully admit that, but are you sure there’s no punning or second meaning here that would link the two? Upharsin = Persians. Jews absorbed some Zoroastrianism during the Exile. There’s no link at all, not even a trace?

    First of all, “Upharsin” does not =”Persians”. Yes, there’s a play on words being made, but that’s all that’s going on. “Hare” ≠ “hair”, no matter how many puns were made in Bugs Bunny cartoons.

    [I went and found some academic papers to skim on the Judaism-Zoroastrianism question, which is why this is so delayed.]

    The question of whether Jews absorbed “some” Zoroastrianism appears to still be an open question. I can’t say that an influence is impossible, but a careful analysis of Jewish sources shows a rather pervasive indifference to the religions of other peoples. Reactions to Zoroastrian ideas may be present in some texts, but even that is debatable, and requires some rather extreme close reading. Some unconscious absorption may have occurred, but it also isn’t impossible that what is promoted as being Zoroastrian-like actually rose independently, or from other sources.

    Getting back to the point of whether “Pharisee” has anything to do with “Persian”: Given that lack of interest in non-Jewish religion, it seems very highly unlikely that the Pharisee sect would have called attention to a non-Jewish origin or influence, even if they were in any way influenced by Persian beliefs.

    So I am even more strongly confident that there is no linguistic connection between “Pharisee” and “Persian”.

  105. David Marjanović says

    Would love to hear your hypothesis about the flood stories, then.

    Seconded!

    Thanks for chipping in a “Hey, Hazuki’s not completely insane” here.

    …Of course you’re not insane. You just happen to be almost certainly wrong on this one point. :-|

  106. Owlmirror says

    There was no influence through the whole “Babylonian Episode”? I would have thought otherwise. Cyrus got some good publicity mileage in the babble.

    Sure, but that doesn’t support the claim that Zoroastrianism influenced Judaism. Just because you like someone doesn’t mean you incorporate bits of his religion into your own. It’s certainly a possible result, but there needs to be more of an effort in showing that it happened than saying that it’s plausible.