Another Jesus Mythicism discussion


A little while back, I got into a discussion in a Reddit subthread with a poster by the name of MisanthropicScott. It started when MisanthropicScott claimed Jesus was a liar and I disputed the examples he gave (I make no claims for the overall honesty of Jesus, who might have been a liar for all any of us knows, but I found this particular argument wanting and the accusations unwarranted), and wandered rapidly into ‘Did Jesus exist at all?’ territory. So, we ended up with a long and rambling exchange of views, as you do, and, because I was drafting out my answers in bits and scraps of spare time, I eventually arrived at the point where I had a long and as yet unposted answer written to posts of his that had been written a couple of months previously in a long-dead thread.

(Yes, paragraphs like that do indeed make me wonder about my life choices. To which all I can say is: sometimes we all need a break from the serious stuff.)

Anyway… I don’t want to either waste what I’ve written or reawaken a Reddit thread no-one else cares about any more, so I went for Door Number Three; posting my answer on this blog. If MisanthropicScott still has any remote interest in the discussion, he can read it here and respond as he chooses. If not… well, it’s a discussion about Jesus mythicism. Experience tells me that, most likely, someone‘s going to be interested in responding.

Speaking of which, ground rules for any ensuing discussion:

  1. Stay polite. That includes starting with the assumption that the person disagreeing with you is not actually stupid or ignorant just because they hold a different viewpoint.
  2. Keep your comments directed at points actually raised in the post. Given how many points we’ve raised between us, that should give you plenty of scope.
  3. The historicist vs. mythicist discussion is a discussion between two different non-Christian views of Jesus (the belief that he was a human being with a following who was later mythologised, and the belief that he was entirely a mythical figure, like Hercules). If what you want is to have the somewhat different discussion as to whether Christian views of Jesus are actually the correct ones, then by all means do so, but you’re in the wrong thread for it; here is the post for people who want to have religious debates. If that’s what you’re after, read the rules in that post and jump on in.

Quoted portions are usually from MisanthropicScott; on a few occasions I had to include a bit of the preceding exchange for context, so in those cases I’ve indicated which bits are from me and which from MisanthropicScott. If there’s no attribution, that means it’s from Misanthropic Scott. I’ve also thrown in subheadings for the different portions to try to break things up a bit; these weren’t part of the original discussion, and are there purely as my attempt to break walls of text and show where one section of our discussion stops and another starts. OK; let’s go.

 

The NT; does it give us any useable information?

What corroborative evidence do we have of anything in the New Testament?

Not much. Josephus tells us that there was a Jesus called ‘Kristos’ (the Greek translation of ‘Messiah’ and the word we’ve transliterated into ‘Christ’), who had a brother called James who was executed, and that there was a John the Baptist who went round preaching and baptising others and who was put to death by Herod, though not in the way described in the NT. Tacitus tells us that Christianity was founded by someone called Christus who started a movement in Judea and was executed by Pilate. We also have evidence of the veracity of some of the things mentioned in the background setting (the existence of various places and famous people; basically, just what you’d expect if people who live in that place and time are writing about it, regardless of whether they’re writing truth or fiction). Can’t think of any others.

 

[me] Sometimes a particular story or statement seems to be flat-out against the author’s interests, in which case it’s probably not made up.

I disagree. We don’t know the authors’ (plural) interests.

By ‘interests’, I mean the various messages the authors were trying to get across with their writing. Every so often, there’s something in the gospels that they seem to be trying hard to gloss over, or that contradicts what they’re trying to tell us.

Example: It was clearly important to both Matthew and Luke to convince us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, as both of them go to the trouble of making up a complicated and clearly fictitious story explaining why, even though Jesus grew up in Nazareth, he was actually born in Bethlehem. So… why do they put Nazareth in the story at all? They both changed what Mark had to say on other points, so, if they were making up the story from scratch all they had to do was change that point as well, leave Nazareth out of it altogether, and just say that he came from Bethlehem as per the prophecy yadda yadda yadda. Why do we get all this ‘well, he was born in Bethlehem but then they had to flee this mass infanticide I just invented and an angel told them to go to Nazareth’ and ‘his parents came from Nazareth but here is a completely unconvincing reason why they had to go to Bethlehem right at that time’?

If they were making their stories up from scratch, about a totally mythical person, it’s very hard to see why they’d do that instead of just leaving out Nazareth and saying he came from Bethlehem. However, if they were making up stories about an actual founder of their movement who was known to have come from Nazareth, it makes total sense; they had to leave in the bit about him coming from Nazareth and then explain it away, because they couldn’t just ignore something about him that was that widely known.

There are other examples. Why would anyone invent a leader who was a crucified criminal and by all appearances a dismal failure at his mission, when that was so obviously going to be the exact opposite of a selling point? Why, given that the writers clearly wanted to put as much blame as possible on the Jews for Jesus’s death and to gloss over the Romans’ role in it as much as possible, did they not just write the story to portray Jesus as executed by the Jews rather than the Romans? Why, when the writers were painting Jesus as the enemy of the Pharisees, did they cite him as using teachings (such as his teachings on Sabbath healings) that we now know were in fact Pharisee teachings as since recorded in the Talmud? Why did they include the embarrassing detail about Jesus being unable to pull off much in the way of miracles when he visited his hometown?

Sure, you can think of explanations for those, or speculate that maybe there’s some reason we just don’t know. But that does leave us with a lot of points that are really hard to explain away if Jesus was invented, but easy to explain if the authors were working from stories about an actual Jesus and couldn’t completely disregard things that were common knowledge about him among his followers.

 

Problems with a mythical crucifixion story

So, to say that having Jesus die a horrific death is inconsistent with a story line that works really well to sell the religion does not make sense to me.

The ‘humiliating execution’ story line didn’t work well at all to sell the religion. Paul comments in one of his letters on how it’s a problem. The ‘Alexamenos’ graffiti mocks the idea of a crucified god, and that seems to have been the general overall attitude of the culture. Christianity grew very slowly in the first few hundred years, prior to Constantine getting involved and making it the state religion. The fact that it did grow – and eventually struck it lucky with Constantine and took off – was in spite of the crucifixion story, not because of it.

[The founders] had the evidence of the Old Testament having caused people to believe deeply in Judaism. Maybe they figured this would work even better, especially if the stopped telling people not to eat yummy pigs and stopped telling men they needed the tips of their dicks cut off.

Firstly, the original church weren’t telling people that. Paul did, and we know from Galatians and from Acts 21:18 – 24 that this was actually something on which the original group disagreed with him. (They agreed with having Gentiles as part of their group on those terms, because Judaism never expected non-Jews to follow those rules anyway; however, they certainly don’t seem happy to have gone along with saying that Jews could abandon those rules as well.)

Secondly, Judaism has always been much more about action than about belief. Circumcision and dietary rules were key parts of the religion. What you’re essentially describing here is a situation where some Jews decide that the best way to get other Jews to become more Jewish is for them to throw some really key parts of Judaism out of the window; it’s the equivalent of Christians saying “I really want more people to become Christian, so I’m going to start a church in which you don’t have to believe in Jesus so that I can persuade more people to come to it”. I’m not saying that’s impossible, because people do come up with really bizarre justifications sometimes; but it’s certainly improbable.

And thirdly, above all; there is absolutely no way anyone of that time would have thought that inventing a character who was supposed to be the Messiah but had been executed by the Romans would have worked well to sell their religion. A Messiah who died before bringing about the end times was a hard sell for Jews, and an executed criminal as leader was a really hard sell for Gentiles. Yes, we know from hindsight it eventually worked spectacularly; but we also know that was due to factors completely other than the fact that it was based on asking people to follow someone executed as a criminal. If someone at that time was deliberately setting out to figure out what would win over as many people as possible, the answer would not have been ‘Hey, a Jewish Messiah who gets arrested and executed with zero signs of having actually done anything to overthrow the Romans! That’ll definitely do it!’

 

Messianic prophecies and ‘I come to bring not peace but a sword’

(MisanthropicScott) [Messianic prophecies] sure as hell don’t say anything about him starting wars! Please correct me if I’m wrong.

(Me) As I recall, they actually say surprisingly little about the messiah at all, when you read them.

People will beat their swords into plowshares. Nation shall not rise up against nation. Neither shall they know war anymore. (from memory)

Exactly! That’s not describing the Messiah himself or his backstory. It’s talking about what the world is going to be like when that time comes. The prophecies hardly say anything about the actual Messiah. He’s going to be a king of David’s line who rules over Israel in this marvellous future time, and… that’s about it.

Here’s a site for Judaism that explains quite well why Jesus completely and utterly fails to meet the messianic prophesies. There are specifics in there.

No argument from me on that point. Hell, it’s possible to sum up in one sentence why Jesus wasn’t the Messiah: We don’t have the global situation that the prophecies foretold. That’s it. But I find it interesting that that site doesn’t say anything about the ‘come to bring not peace but a sword’ line as a disqualification, so I’m not sure why you think it supports your point here.

(me) They leave a lot of scope for individual interpretation of the details.

(MisanthropicScott) Not enough for the messiah to be a warmonger.

What, you think no-one throughout history has ever believed that the best way to end up with peace is to violently crush all your enemies first? I mean, there are good reasons to disagree with that as a strategy, but your specific claim was that claiming to be the Messiah yet bring a sword makes Jesus (if he really claimed that) a liar. The holding of beliefs with which you disagree, or even of beliefs which are actually incorrect, is not the same as being a liar.

By the way, as far as Messianic expectations in particular are concerned, the belief that the Messiah will take up arms against Israel’s enemies as part of his job description is very common. If you want to read more about that, this page is about military expectations of the Messiah around Jesus’s time, this is an extremely famous rabbi’s list of Messianic expectations, still considered the main go-to list to this day, which clearly includes the expectation that the Messiah will be a military leader, and this page is about one failed Messiah who had a substantial following amongst Jews who were quite happy with his military approach.

And, it is absolutely certain that there must be peace before the messiah’s death.

Actually… no. There is nothing whatsoever in any of the Messianic prophecies saying he can’t be killed and miraculously resurrected prior to bringing peace.

I know, I know. The reason no-one put that in the prophecies was not because anyone actually expected this to happen, but the reverse; because ‘And this will happen within one lifetime, not after a death and resurrection’ is so far off expectations that it doesn’t ever occur to anyone to add that subclause. However, fact remains that there’s nothing at all in the Messianic prophecies saying that this can’t happen. So that left a loophole via which Jesus’s followers could not only keep believing in him after his execution but actually gain new adherents; they’d found a way to give him, as you rather nicely put it in one of your previous statements, a mulligan.

(It also had the probably unplanned side-effect of making Jesus’s messianic claims effectively unfalsifiable. Once you allow for the idea that someone can miraculously come back to get things done after their death, you can go on forever saying that they just haven’t come back yet but are totally going to do it any day now. I mean, here the Christians still are with that line, two thousand years later.)

There was talk recently of Schneerson being the messiah. There may be a small contingent who still think so. But, when he died in a world that still did not have world peace, almost everyone who thought so accepted that he wasn’t the messiah.

‘Almost’ everyone. Exactly. Some people still haven’t accepted that, in spite of his death. There is a small group of people who don’t accept that his death disqualifies him from being the Messiah. Two thousand years ago, that was how Christianity got started.

No peace. No messiah.

Agreed (apart from the get-out clause the early Christians came up with about how he was coming back to do it all after his death). So, since your claim is that Jesus probably never existed, I have a question for you here:

If Jesus was an entirely mythical character invented by his followers, how does that fit with ‘no peace, no Messiah’? Did someone come up with the idea ‘Hey, let’s pretend the Messiah did come to Earth but then got crucified without fulfilling any of the prophecies; we’ll just tell people he was miraculously resurrected and that’ll be fine’? How? Why? What do you think anyone was hoping to gain by that?

I can totally see a situation where a bunch of people had put their faith so much in a real person they thought was the Messiah that they just could not shift gears when he died and accept that he wasn’t. That’s how cognitive dissonance works; people get so sold on believing what they believe that, when evidence comes along disproving it, they find weird ways of explaining that evidence away rather than taking a step back and realising they were wrong in the first place. And, as you pointed out, that’s exactly what happened with Schneerson in modern-day times; a few people could not accept his death and went on thinking he was the Messiah. So it’s totally plausible that that could have happened with a first-century rabbi as well. But, if the movement that would eventually become Christianity didn’t start with a real rabbi but with an invented one, how and why do you think that happened?

 

Reasons to believe in a historical Jesus

If neither of us believes the Bible is accurate, neither of us has any reason to think that a person named Jesus ever existed. […] So, as soon as we say the Bible is unreliable, I fail to see why you say Jesus ever existed.

Because otherwise we need to explain why anyone thought it was a good idea to invent a story about a failed, crucified Messiah when such a story would be highly unlikely to gain followers, why they went to the lengths of naming the person who supposedly crucified him and spreading that story about as public knowledge when it was about the worst advertising you could imagine, why one person mentioned meeting this supposedly imaginary man’s brother and argued about a privilege given to his other brothers, why a historian remembered this imaginary man as having a real brother who was executed, why some of the things he’s claimed to have said are now known to be Pharisean arguments even though the authors were trying to claim he was anti-Pharisee, and why, even though two of the people writing about him clearly really wanted to portray him as coming from Bethlehem, they somehow seemed unable to break free from the idea that he was actually known as coming from Nazareth.

That’s quite a lot of stuff to find explanations for. If you can find explanations for all those things that are better, simpler, and more obvious than ‘the movement actually was started by a real Yeshua and the above stuff about him/his brothers all actually happened’, then be my guest. But they’re going to have to be a lot better then ‘well, maybe they just made it all up’. People make a lot of things up, but it doesn’t make sense that they’d make those particular things up. Occam’s razor -> most likely a real Jesus existed.

Have you considered that it was embroidered from stories that had nothing to do with anyone named Jesus? Maybe a bit of Horus and other myths were all thrown together.

I’m sure other myths did get incorporated into the central story as time went by; but how would it have started out that way? Jesus’s original followers are described as a bunch of poor, rural, Jewish illiterates. That means, in practice, that they wouldn’t have known Egyptian myths, or other non-Jewish myths. It’s not as though they could hear these things on television or pop into the local library for a browse on their way home. (Conversely, if the followers weren’t actually poor illiterates, that raises the question of why the authors consistently present them that way when that, again, only made this new group less attractive to most potential followers.)

 

Lack of extrabiblical documentation

This is one of the big inconsistencies in the story. Was Jesus extremely famous or virtually unknown?

You do realise that those extremes aren’t the only two options? Someone could easily be well-known amongst Jews in Judea/Galilee and insignificant to the kinds of people who were writing things that would survive the next two thousand years.

But, why did the Romans care about some unknown nobody?

Being a nobody in the eyes of the more elite social classes isn’t the same as being unknown, or as not being a problem. Jesus had crowds of Jews calling him Messiah, which meant they thought of him as the king who’d kick out their oppressors (i.e. the Romans) and become their new ruler. That’s the kind of situation that existing rulers are not too happy about and like to get nipped in the bud before it develops into an actual rebellion.

[me] [T]he priestly families were more of a pro-Roman party and might well have collaborated in turning over a Messianic claimant if they thought that might avoid bringing down retribution on the heads of ordinary Jews.

[MisanthropicScott] Why would there be retribution?

If the Jesus-led movement got as far as actually attempting a rebellion against the Romans, then the Romans wouldn’t be too happy about it. At the very least, they’d end up killing off the people who were actively involved in the rebellion, and there was also the risk that they’d then respond by clamping down harder or otherwise making the Jews’ lives more difficult.

And, then it gets harder and harder to explain why no one wrote a thing about him.

Whom would you expect to be writing about a Jewish troublemaker who was arrested and executed for insurrection? Of those writings, which would you expect to have lasted two thousand years?

Jesus’s followers were from a strata of society where literacy levels were very low; even if you were one of the few who could write, not many people around you would be able to read what you wrote. Plus, ink and papyrus were expensive luxuries. If you wanted to get your message out to a lot of people in your part of society, open-air preaching was a much better way to do it than spending time and money on a hand-written manuscript that most other people wouldn’t be able to read. So, little or nothing was going to get written down by his followers. As for the people who weren’t following him… well, if you had to handwrite everything on expensive papyrus, would you spend time doing that just to write about some peasant who was creating a stir among a bunch of other superstitious peasants?

Of course, even with those problems there likely would have been a few things written about him at the time. If we could wave a magic wand and get back every single thing that was written in the early decades of the first century, then somewhere in there there probably would be some mentions of Jesus. But, of course, we actually only have a tiny fraction of everything that was written at the time, because this was two thousand years ago. Even those letters and records that get saved don’t last for that long; the papyrus they’re written on eventually crumbles. For example, we have no remaining copies of the one newspaper that was published in that time.

We do, of course, still have books that were written around that time, but that isn’t because we have the original copies – we don’t – but because scribes copied them over the years. So, if something was considered to be important literature, it was preserved and hand-copied. However, people were hardly going to do that for, say, newspaper reports about some troublemaker from Nazareth getting executed. Having no surviving contemporary writings about you two thousand years later is completely normal, and was the case for people far more important in their own time than Jesus of Nazareth actually was in his. (For comparison, here’s one historian blogger pointing out that the only existing reference to Hannibal that dates back to his own time is one passing mention in an inscription. Not because people didn’t write about Hannibal at the time – they did – but because the writings just didn’t survive. If that was the case for a highly famous and influential general, how much more would it be the case for a rabbi from the backwaters who made a brief stir as a would-be Messiah but was then ignominiously executed?)

So… having a couple of passing mentions from historians several decades later, plus writing preserved by your followers, is actually excellent going for someone from that day and age. Having that amount of writing still preserved two thousand years later isn’t ‘harder and harder to explain’; it’s better than we’d expect.

So, you’re shoe-horning in sort of a Goldilocks theory that Jesus was just annoying enough to get the attention of the Romans but not annoying enough for anyone to write anything about him.

Theudas. First-century Jewish rebel, executed for his attempts. Total surviving contemporary mentions (i.e., dating from the time he lived): zero. Total surviving overall mentions by historians from close to that time: one short paragraph in Josephus.

Athronges. Rebel from the end of the first century BCE, led a rebellion that took the Romans two years to defeat. Total surviving contemporary mentions: zero. Total surviving overall mentions by historians from close to that time: several paragraphs from Josephus.

Unnamed Samaritan. Rebel from the first century, led a mob that required armed Roman warriors to defeat them. Total surviving contemporary mentions: zero. Total surviving overall mentions by historians from close to that time: one paragraph in Josephus.

Simon of Peraea. Rebel from the end of the first century BCE, burned down the king’s palace and many of his other houses, had a mob of followers who had to be defeated by Roman soldiers. Total surviving contemporary mentions: zero. Total surviving overall mentions by historians from close to that time: two paragraphs in Josephus, one line in Tacitus.

Unnamed Egyptian. Rebel from the first century, had a group of followers who were defeated rather rapidly by Roman soldiers. Total surviving contemporary mentions: zero. Total surviving overall mentions by historians from close to that time: two different paragraphs in Josephus.

Jesus of Nazareth. Rebel from the first century, had a group of followers, kicked up some sort of fuss in the Temple, arrested and executed by Roman soldiers. Total surviving contemporary mentions: zero. Total surviving overall mentions by historians from close to that time: one passing mention of his brother’s execution by Josephus, possibly one other short paragraph in Josephus, one line in Tacitus.

Notice a pattern? There’s usually very little surviving information about the people who, two thousand years ago, kicked up enough of a problem at the time to get executed. That’s not ‘Goldilocks’ and doesn’t have to be shoehorned. That’s the normal result of us being two thousand years on from a time that had very poor literacy levels and no printing presses. Lots of things didn’t get written down in the first place, and most of what was written down at the time didn’t survive for two thousand years. Having little in the way of independent information about Jesus isn’t strange; it’s exactly what we’d expect.

What we do have is a mention of a James’s execution from Josephus that identifies the executed person as ‘the brother of Jesus called Christ’, and a mention from Tacitus that Jesus was executed under Pilate (and, yes, the latter might just have been what Christians were saying at the time… but why on earth would they be making it such widespread public knowledge that the leader they followed was an executed, humiliated criminal, when that fact was so awkward and counter-productive for them?) While those are very brief and passing mentions, they’re still mentions that are very difficult to explain satisfactorily if Jesus was entirely an imaginary character, but easy to explain if he was a real preacher about whom some factual details were retained alongside the legends that grew up around him.

Comments

  1. DonDueed says

    Whenever I read or hear discussions of Jesus mythicism, I’m reminded of the scene in “Meatballs” where the Bill Murray character is trying to fire up his team, and gets everyone chanting, “It just doesn’t matter! It just doesn’t matter!”

    The fact is, whether or not a Jesus actually existed, and if so, how closely he matched the Jesus portrayed in the gospels, Christianity is what it is. If it suddenly were proven that Jesus (or Mohammad, or Confucius, etc.) never really existed, it would have little to no effect on their followers, and no effect at all on the events of the intervening 2000 years.

    That said, it is sort of interesting to follow the arguments. I know there are counters to some of the points you’ve made. In the end, it all boils down to what you (want to) believe, right?

  2. StevoR says

    Oh for an actual working time machine ..

    The story that gets me is the one about Jesus cursing the fig tree ..

    http://www.bricktestament.com/the_life_of_jesus/jesus_curses_a_tree/mk11_12-13.html

    What was the point of that and why include it and why that particular poor ficus that did nothing wrong or unexpected? If you were making up a story why make up that one? I guess they really did give a fig about it but beats me why.

    As for the debate here, its kinda interesting but also kinda irrelevant.Christians already have so many different interpretations and versions of this ancient Judaean rabbi (teacher) that its like looking into a kaleidoscope on LSD.

    Its possible Jesus was real, hstorical figure, its possible he was a myth, its possible he was a composite of several historical figures blended with several myths (esp different teachings – like combining the comments of say a blog into one story as a mythical “X said..”) and, again, unless we come up with an actual time machine or find some new long hidden hidden but book or other rancient source that sheds new light on this*, we’ll never really know.

    I think it is safe to rule out the supernatural stuff because, yes, reality doesn’t work that work and science says the things they claim happen can’t. Its also pretty safe to conclude if he existed then Jesus looked like a typical Judaean person of his time not blonde, blue-eyed, white-skinned, etc .. but brown-skinned, brown-eyed,

    * Pretty sure I recall reading a novel based on the premise that Jesus himself had actually written something that was later found – &, of course, fought over. It would be interesting to know what the (esp) Catholic (& other?) churches might be hiding in this regard..

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    … there is absolutely no way anyone of that time would have thought that inventing a character who was supposed to be the Messiah but had been executed by the Romans would have worked well to sell their religion.

    At “that time”, anyone in the hinterlands of the Roman Empire – Judea especially – would have pretty good reason to identify with a symbol of victims of oppression. Certainly that narrative did take off; possibly our contemporary politics of resentment may shed some light on that.

    The exposition of the heroic underdog may stand as the major unique contribution of early Christianism to western culture. Earlier such myths – shepherd boy David slaying a giant and becoming king, shipwrecked Odysseus overcoming perils, forlorn Isis reassembling bits of dismembered Osiris – concern natural-born “alpha” heroes overcoming setbacks/obscurity to claim their inherent magnificence – but Jesus was the first “one of us” loser/commoner protagonist to achieve apotheosis (and ultimate-alpha status).

    This, of course, applies whether the myth had any basis in one or more actual historic persons.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    The following quotation comes from a Jesus-mythicist site I found by a quick search; I can’t vouch for it, but it does summarize what I recall reading from various books that I lack time/energy to go through tonight:

    … no other source confirms that the place even existed in the 1st century AD.

    • Nazareth is not mentioned even once in the entire Old Testament. The Book of Joshua (19.10,16) – in what it claims is the process of settlement by the tribe of Zebulon in the area – records twelve towns and six villages and yet omits any ‘Nazareth’ from its list.

    • The Talmud, although it names 63 Galilean towns, knows nothing of Nazareth, nor does early rabbinic literature.

    • St Paul knows nothing of ‘Nazareth’. Rabbi Solly’s epistles (real and fake) mention Jesus 221 times, Nazareth not at all.

    • No ancient historian or geographer mentions Nazareth. It is first noted at the beginning of the 4th century.

    None of this would matter of course if, rather like at the nearby ‘pagan’ city of Sepphoris, we could stroll through the ruins of 1st century bath houses, villas, theatres etc. Yet no such ruins exist.

    This discrepancy creates a problem for both historicists and mythicists, but especially the former. The same site’s explanation matches my recollection of other mythicists’ analysis:

    The expression ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ is actually a bad translation of the original Greek ‘Jesous o Nazoraios’ … ‘Nazarene’ (or ‘Nazorean’) was originally the name of an early Jewish-Christian sect – a faction, or off-shoot, of the Essenes. They had no particular relation to a city of Nazareth. The root of their name may have been ‘Truth’ or it may have been the Hebrew noun ‘netser’ (‘netzor’), meaning ‘branch’ or ‘flower.’ The plural of ‘Netzor’ becomes ‘Netzoreem.’ … The Nazorim emerged towards the end of the 1st century, after a curse had been placed on heretics in Jewish daily prayer.

    Lots more at the link.

  5. KG says

    In the end, it all boils down to what you (want to) believe, right? – DonDueed

    Wrong. It’s a matter of fact, to be decided on the basis of evidence and rational argument. The consensus of relevant experts (who include atheists, agnostics and observant Jews as well as Christians) is that Jesus was a real person. All but the most fundamentalist Christians among them agree that his life and death have been mythologised.

    Pierce R. Butler@4,
    The “There was no Nazareth” bullshit is dealt with here.

  6. Pierce R. Butler says

    KG @ # 5 – thanks for an interesting but not totally convincing link.

    Just as the source I cited gets overtly jejune, historyforatheists.com descends into name-calling arrogance and emotional attacks all too readily; both rely on selective interpretations and broad assertions about esoteric details beyond the knowledge of nearly all readers (while those few who know won’t waste their time wading into amateurs’ brawls).

    I’d like to see a book by a serious expert without an overriding personal stake in the historicist/mythicist feud reviewing the evidence with enough background that laypersons could follow the details, but just about everything I’ve found so far comes from partisans with axes to grind and usually a lot of other baggage. So far in my reading, G.A. Wells comes closest to an actual scholarly approach backed with relevant erudition, but (I haven’t read all of his pertinent books) seems to work from a primarily linguistic basis without an archeological component, or even a fine-grained historical context. Bart Ehrman also has a lot of insights to offer, but his case for historicity seems uncharacteristically narrow and weak.

    Personally, I remain intrigued but agnostic.

  7. db says

    Pierce R. Butler @5 said: “I’d like to see a book by a serious expert…”
    Much of the previous work by Lataster:  

    Lataster, Raphael (2014a). “The Fourth Quest: A Critical Analysis of the Recent Literature on Jesus’ (a)Historicity“. Literature & Aesthetics 24 (1): 1–28. ISSN 2200-0437
    Lataster, Raphael (2014b). “Richard Carrier: On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2014; pp. xiv + 696.”. Journal of Religious History 38 (4): 614–616. 
    Lataster, Raphael (2015a). “Questioning the Plausibility of Jesus Ahistoricity Theories – A Brief Pseudo-Bayesian Metacritique of the Sources“. Intermountain West Journal of Religious Studies 6 (1): 63–96. ISSN 2155-1723
    Lataster, Raphael (2015b). Jesus Did Not Exist: A Debate Among Atheists. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. ISBN 978-1-5148-1442-0
    Lataster, Raphael (2016a). “Review Essay: Bart Ehrman and the Elusive Historical Jesus“. Literature & Aesthetics 26 (1): 181–192. ISSN 2200-0437
    Lataster, Raphael (2016b). “It’s Official: We Can Now Doubt Jesus’ Historical Existence”. Think 15 (43): 65–79.  doi:10.1017/S1477175616000117.
    Lataster, Raphael (2019a). “Defending Jesus Agnosticism”. Think 18 (51): 77–91.  doi:10.1017/S1477175618000362.

    Is reproduced in his peer reviewed work published by an academic press:

    Lataster, Raphael (2019b). Questioning the Historicity of Jesus: Why a Philosophical Analysis Elucidates the Historical Discourse. Brill-Rodopi. ISBN 978-9004397934.

  8. db says

    Pierce R. Butler, you may also find the following of interest:
    “Jesus_myth_theory §. Agnosticism_scholars”. RationalWiki.
    • Law, Stephen (2011). “Evidence, Miracles, and the Existence of Jesus“. Faith and Philosophy 28 (2): 129–151. doi:10.5840/faithphil20112821.
    Cf. “Jesus_myth_theory §. Philosophy_scholars”. RationalWiki.
    • Godfrey, Neil (14 March 2012). “Would the historical Jesus of Nazareth really have been named Jesus of Nazareth?”. Vridar.

  9. Pierce R. Butler says

    After reading some of Lataster’s work via the above links, I (a) added that final title to my to-read list and (b) must repeat my desire for the apparently impossible: works of scholarly depth but with enough introductory content to orient lay readers, by authors not so embroiled in ivory-tower debates that they write to score points against their opponents more than to share knowledge with their readers.

    Lataster, though professing himself agnostic, comes across as pro-Carrier (his sometime collaborator) and anti-Ehrman; his journal articles – inescapably, given that format – leave me scrambling for other references for both detail and broader context. Historians writing on almost every other topic can achieve the balance I ask for here, reviewing “both sides” where controversy persists; no doubt historiographers will mine this controversy for its illumination of modern times for generations (assuming enough civilization endures for such pursuits, of course).

  10. db says

    • Pierce R. Butler said, “[I] desire for the apparently impossible: works of scholarly depth but with enough introductory content to orient lay readers…”

    Raphael Lataster also had a desire:

    I have long searched for good cases for the Historical Jesus. I sought fairly recent, peer-reviewed academic books or articles, solely/primarily focussed on arguing for Jesus’ historicity, written by secular scholars in relevant fields. Not one source met these criteria. I would have loved the opportunity to critique books focused on this topic written by a James Crossley or an Aaron W. Hughes, and published with Oxford University Press, but such books – perhaps like Jesus – do not exist; so I have settled for two popular books written by Bart Ehrman and Maurice Casey. [Lataster 2019b, p. 29.]

    • Pierce R. Butler said, “Lataster, though professing himself agnostic, comes across as pro-Carrier…”

    Lataster clearly holds and advocates an agnosticism position. Agnosticism scholars are often mischaracterized as “Mythicism scholars” by those who fail to understand that while agnosticism scholars may find some points of mythicism plausible, that does not imply that said scholars are asserting that these points of mythicism are the most probable or that the argument has been resolved in favor of mythicism.

    Why are agnosticism and mythicism scholars producing peer reviewed works in academic presses, while historicity scholars are not? Is it just possible that their arguments/methods are weak and rely on many unevidenced assumptions that are not very sensible?

    Lataster writes:

    Carrier published his academic book in 2014 and I have published mine in 2019. We are still waiting for a proper refutation of my case for agnosticism and his more ambitious case for outright mythicism. I suspect that this will never occur, because ‘at least agnosticism’ is very sensible. [Lataster (August 2019). “When Critics Miss the Point About Questioning Jesus’ Historicity”. The Bible and Interpretation.]

  11. says

    db,
    Why are agnosticism and mythicism scholars producing peer reviewed works in academic presses, while historicity scholars are not? Is it just possible that their arguments/methods are weak and rely on many unevidenced assumptions that are not very sensible?

    For the same reason that biologists don’t currently print works on whether the modern synthesis as true, and geologists don’t print works defending the roundness of the earth against flat-earthism.

  12. Pierce R. Butler says

    db @ # 11 – sounds like others perceive Lataster the same way I did on the Jesus question, just as many (both theists and a~) do with God-agnostics.

    In this case, I base my snap judgment on the articles you linked to, in which he seems to always support the case of mythicists and critique the case of historicists. (I suspect a similar pattern with God-agnostics, but have to admit I don’t follow such arguments much, what with the total-absence-of-evidence problem and all that. Jesus historicity advocates could at least in principle substantiate their case…)

    Why are agnosticism and mythicism scholars producing peer reviewed works in academic presses, while historicity scholars are not?

    Now that’s an intriguing datum, though I don’t have sufficient familiarity with the literature to check it. (Ehrman doesn’t publish pro-level articles to back up his general-public books?) Another of those absence-of-evidence/evidence-of-absence situations.

    [Lataster] … ‘at least agnosticism’ is very sensible.

    My position as well, though I’d welcome a rigorous challenge to it.

  13. db says

    Pierce R. Butler @13 said: “Ehrman doesn’t publish pro-level articles to back up his general-public books?”

    In this case, no. In fact per secular scholars, historicity is the consensus only by assumption. As Carrier writes:

    [There has] been no peer reviewed monograph in defense of the assumption of historicity for over a hundred years—not since Shirley Jackson Case published a now-deeply-outdated treatment for the University of Chicago in 1912 (a second edition released in 1928 isn’t substantially different).
    […]
    Which is why it’s fair to say historicity is only the consensus now by assumption, not argument; because no new defense of it has appeared. Instead, excuses are thrown together here and there for believing that assumption valid, which are all ad hoc, contradictory, contrafactual, or fallacious, and altogether ignore competing theories rather than properly ruling them out. [Carrier (25 May 2020). “Lataster v. McGrath: Jesus Must Be Real…Because, Reasons”. Richard Carrier Blogs.]

    Cf. Van Voorst, Robert E. (2000). ISBN 978-0-8028-4368-5. which is surveyed by Richard Carrier in his 2014 OHJ. And about which Carrier notes:

    “Van Voorst’s treatise is only a reference manual on sources “Outside the New Testament.” It has only a few pages on the historicity question and then simply presumes historicity thereafter. It does not systematically defend the historicity of Jesus or systematically analyze arguments for or against. Moreover, as a reference book, it only surveys various positions on the external sources. But doesn’t address any of the actual evidence for or against mythicism. For instance, there is no chapter on the Epistles or any arguments or evidence regarding historicity from them.””That book is the one I recommend to anyone who wants the closest thing to a defense of historicity there yet is, but it doesn’t really fill that role, with no chapter on the Epistles, no chapter on the Method of Criteria in extracting evidence from the Gospels, no chapter on mythicist views to the contrary of either (a few pages doesn’t count). Contrast this with Case, who wrote his entire book about the historicity question. No such thing has been done since. Not even by Van Voorst.””I use Van Voorst as a source quite a lot in OHJ. But like every other monograph on Jesus, it simply presumes historicity, with only the feeblest effort to justify that (not even five pages). Nevertheless, I survey those few pages in OHJ, pp. 4-6.” [Comment by Carrier—25 May 2020—per “Lataster v. McGrath: Jesus Must Be Real…Because, Reasons”. Richard Carrier Blogs. 24 May 2020.]

  14. Pierce R. Butler says

    db @ # 14 – pretty poor showing by the historicists, then.

    As you probably know, Carrier is persona non non non grata at FtB, though that doesn’t in itself invalidate his scholarly work. Admitting it’s not strictly logical to do so, I consider his and Robert M. Price’s personal nuttinesses among the major weaknesses of the mythicist camp.

  15. says

    Pierce R. Butler,
    db @ # 14 – pretty poor showing by the historicists, then.

    To be clear, there is a total of 1 scholarly proponent of mythicist hypotheses (Carrier), and he is well out of the vision of most hitorians on this subject, so they don’t really see a need for these publications. It’s only we amateurs (and Carrier) that think there is a serious question.

  16. Pierce R. Butler says

    Just for funsies, I went to the Wikipedia articles on “Historical Jesus” and “Historicity of Jesus” – both of which pooh-pooh the mythicist position, in almost-identical phrasing. That doesn’t carry much weight, but a skim through the sources cited generally backs db’s claim.

    Of more than 300 combined citations (I didn’t try to eliminate duplicates), only one that seemed to promote historicity per se was dated after Bart Ehrman’s 2012 book, and that was a factually dubious attack (“I cannot find any evidence that any of them [mythicists] have adequate professional qualifications.”), not a direct defense based on evidence, from 2014.

    A neutral referee would probably have to declare a loss-by-forfeiture against the historicists, at least for this season.

  17. db says

    “Scholars that admit to the plausibility of mythicism”
    • Per Robert W. Funk:

    The crisis in what the church believes about Jesus will not go away. . . . The crisis arises, in large part, from what we can know about Jesus himself. For example, as a historian I do not know for certain that Jesus really existed, that he is anything more than the figment of some overactive imaginations. [Funk (1995). “The Resurrection of Jesus”. The Fourth R. 8 (1): 9.]

    • Per Philip R. Davies:

    What I can see, but not understand, is the stake that Christians have in the unanswerable question of Jesus’ historicity and his true historical self. [Davies (2012). “Did Jesus Exist?”. The Bible and Interpretation. [NOW BOLDED].]

    • Per R. Joseph Hoffmann:

    I no longer believe it is possible to answer the ‘historicity question’. . . . Whether the New Testament runs from Christ to Jesus or Jesus to Christ is not a question we can answer. [Hoffmann (2009). “Threnody: Rethinking the Thinking behind The Jesus Project”. The Bible and Interpretation. [NOW BOLDED].]

    Funk, Davies, and Hoffmann admit to the plausibility of mythicism; but not to its probability, they all believe the historicity of Jesus is more probable. Davies further argues that the plausibility of mythicism should be be admitted as a viable position in biblical scholarship.

    • James Crossley writes:

    [I]nstead of more polemical reactions on all sides of these debates about the historicity of Jesus, perhaps it would be more worthwhile to see what can be learned. In the case of Lataster’s book and the position it represents, scepticism about historicity is worth thinking about seriously—and, in light of demographic changes, it might even feed into a dominant position in the near future. [Crossley ap. Lataster 2019b, p. xiii.]

  18. db says

    Pierce R. Butler @17

    • Per Maurice Casey:

    The most important result of this book is that the whole idea that Jesus of Nazareth did not exist as a historical figure is verifiably false. Moreover, it has not been produced by anyone or anything with any reasonable relationship to critical scholarship. It belongs in the fantasy lives of people who used to be fundamentalist Christians. They did not believe in critical scholarship then, and they do not do so now. I cannot find any evidence that any of them have adequate professional qualifications. [Casey (2014). “ch.8: Conclusions”. p. 243. ISBN 978-0-567-01505-1. (NOW BOLDED)]

    • NB: “It belongs in the fantasy lives of people who used to be fundamentalist Christians”. SEE: Godfrey, Neil. “WHO’s WHO: Mythicists, Mythicist Agnostics & Historicists Who Call for Scholarly Debate (Updated 6th August 2020)”. Vridar. Godfrey originally created this post as a direct rebuttal of the claim Casey made about fundamentalist Christians and mythicism. It has since evolved with successive updates.

    • Per Justin Meggitt:

    New Testament scholars should concede that the kind of history that is deemed acceptable in their field is, at best, somewhat eccentric. Most biblical scholars would be a little unsettled if, for example, they read an article about Apollonius of Tyana in a journal of ancient history that began by arguing for the historicity of supernatural events before defending the veracity of the miracles ascribed to him yet would not be unsurprised to see an article making the same arguments in a journal dedicated to the study of the historical Jesus. [Meggitt 2019, p. 458.]

    •••

    [U]nlike ‘guilds’ in professions such as law or medicine, it is not apparent what members of the ‘guild’ of biblical scholars have in common, other than a shared object of study and competence in a few requisite languages, and therefore what value an alleged consensus among them really has, especially on what is a historical rather than a linguistic matter. [Meggitt 2019, pp. 459–460.]

    Cf. Meggitt, Justin J. (2019). “‘More Ingenious than Learned’? Examining the Quest for the Non-Historical Jesus”. New Testament Studies 65 (4): 443–460. doi:10.1017/S0028688519000213.

  19. Pierce R. Butler says

    db @ #s 20 & 21 – I think we agree about those points. Did you post the Casey quote-clarification for benefit of One Brow?

  20. db says

    @22 Pierce R. Butler said, “Did you post the Casey quote-clarification for benefit of One Brow?”

    • Yes

  21. says

    Pierce R. Butler,
    Robert M. Price does seem to have sufficient credentials to claim some cred.

    He has credentials as a theologian, not a historian.

    We also need to allow for an undeniable bias in hiring practices among schools of theology and religion for this imbalance.

    You mean, the bias toward people that can produce scholarly arguments? I approve of that bias.

  22. says

    Pierce R. Butler says
    A neutral referee would probably have to declare a loss-by-forfeiture against the historicists, at least for this season.

    Compare the number of citations using flat-earth theories on the article for Earthquakes.

  23. says

    Pierce R. Butler says
    db @ #s 20 & 21 – I think we agree about those points.

    As long as you don’t confuse “Biblical scholars” with “historians working on 1st century Palestine”, I agree as well.

  24. Pierce R. Butler says

    One Brow @ # 24 – Do you really deny systemic incentives among both church and public institutions against mythicism?

    One Brow @ # 25 – I went to the wiki page on earthquakes and couldn’t even find the word “flat” there. So it seems the mythicists have made more of an impression in their field than the flatheads in theirs – this disproves mythicism?

    One Brow @ # 26: … don’t confuse “Biblical scholars” with “historians working on 1st century Palestine”…

    The former group, as db points out @ # 21, comprises a motley posse indeed. I suspect the latter tend to prefer focusing on less fraught/messy/unanswerable questions.

    Why do you disregard db’s multiple examples @ #s 20 & 21 of serious recognized scholars who do acknowledge some merit even in arguments they don’t fully accept? As you yourself (or someone posting under your ‘nym) conceded recently at the Pervert Justice blog on this same site, the Jesus-mythicists do have some substance to their case.

  25. says

    Pierce R. Butler,
    One Brow @ # 24 – Do you really deny systemic incentives among both church and public institutions against mythicism?

    Depends on the context. Is the institution a Bible college that requires a statement of faith, religiously funded but supportive of independent scholarship, secular and private, or state-owned? I agree the former institutions have such incentives, but teh latter do not.

    One Brow @ # 25 – I went to the wiki page on earthquakes and couldn’t even find the word “flat” there. So it seems the mythicists have made more of an impression in their field than the flatheads in theirs – this disproves mythicism?

    That’s not the point you were making, nor that I was rebutting. That said, I don’t know of any historians who say Jesus definitely existed, just that it is the best interpretation of the evidence.

    I suspect the latter tend to prefer focusing on less fraught/messy/unanswerable questions.

    You get research grants and tenure for producing interesting work on the more fraught/messy/unanswerable questions, and that is why the historicity of Jesus generates little interest.

    Why do you disregard db’s multiple examples @ #s 20 & 21 of serious recognized scholars who do acknowledge some merit even in arguments they don’t fully accept? As you yourself (or someone posting under your ‘nym) conceded recently at the Pervert Justice blog on this same site, the Jesus-mythicists do have some substance to their case.

    I don’t recall ever saying historicity in the only possible determination, just that it explains the evidence best, and much better than any individual mythicist hypothesis. Don’t forget, it’s not enough to say “we can’t say X for sure”. If you want to push not-X, you need some reasonable alternative Y. The mythicists so far do not have one.

  26. Pierce R. Butler says

    One Brow @ # 28: … teh latter do not.

    Public colleges and universities have to answer to Boards, typically appointed and approved by state governors and legislatures. Exactly zero such institutions actually want to face charges they hired somebody who hates Baby Jezus.

    … I don’t know of any historians who say Jesus definitely existed…

    Please read the aforementioned Wikiarticles on Historical/Historicity of Jesus, and the sources they link to.

    You get research grants and tenure for producing interesting work on the more fraught/messy/unanswerable questions…

    And you get a whole barrel of shit for producing work that gets your bosses’ political patrons attacked. Do the career math. (The authorities db cites above all, I suspect, have secure tenure and well-established reputations.)

    I don’t recall ever saying historicity in the only possible determination…

    Aw, c’mon. You compare mythicism to creationism and flat-earthery @ # 12, and at # 28 you say (in effect) “well maybe”. :-O

    If you want to push not-X, you need some reasonable alternative Y.

    1: Mythicists present a wide (and at times mutually contradictory) range of hypotheses.

    2: Would you likewise claim that Michelson & Morley should not have published their experimental results until they had finalized Einstein’s theories of relativity? Pointing out an anomaly, just in and of itself, can constitute utterly respectable science; why shouldn’t historians exercise the same latitude?

  27. db says

    @29 Pierce R. Butler said: “Aw, c’mon. You [sc. One Brow] compare mythicism to creationism and flat-earthery @ # 12″

    Well that is understandable as a “Evander Holyfield vs. Mike Tyson II” moment. Instead of getting KOed —the alternative is to bite the ear off the opponent.

  28. db says

    Meggitt, J. (2019). “‘More ingenious than learned’? Examining the quest for the non-historical Jesus”. New Testament Studies, 65 (4), 443-460. doi:10.1017/S0028688519000213 {Available Online}:

    The question of the historicity of Jesus is unlikely to go away in the near future, however much some scholars of the New Testament may wish otherwise, and nor should it. The question does not belong to the past and nor is it irrational to raise it. It should not be dismissed with problematic appeals to expertise and authority . . . taking this question seriously may, at the very least, prove beneficial in raising the standard of debate and the wider understanding — indeed, even self-understanding — of what New Testament scholars do and how they do it. [pp. 459–460 (26–27).]

    • One more time:

    Why are agnosticism and mythicism scholars producing peer reviewed works in academic presses, while historicity scholars are not? Is it just possible that their arguments/methods are weak and rely on many unevidenced assumptions that are not very sensible?

  29. Pierce R. Butler says

    db @ # 30: … Mike Tyson II…

    One Brow doesn’t seem quite that mordant.

    … taking this question seriously may, at the very least, prove beneficial in raising the standard of debate …

    Questions of factuality matter much more to history than to religion: the intersection of the two necessitates ambiguity.

  30. says

    Pierce R. Butler,
    Public colleges and universities have to answer to Boards, typically appointed and approved by state governors and legislatures. Exactly zero such institutions actually want to face charges they hired somebody who hates Baby Jezus.

    I actually work for a secular university in my day job, and a public college in the evening. I guarantee you, regarding researchers, the board of directors of public universities care most, #1, about bringing in grant money, and hiring serious scholars with unusual points of view is the best way for a history department to get grant money. Boards have almost zero interest in policing the views of the faculty. Further, once said person has tenure, that can’t be fired for mythicist beliefs, and yet you don’t see the tenured history professors turning mythicist.

    Please read the aforementioned Wikiarticles on Historical/Historicity of Jesus, and the sources they link to.

    In both of the articles you mentioned, I saw only Ehrman, and only in writing a popular book, not a scholarly article. There is the quote from Grant, “we can no more reject Jesus’ existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned.” That’s not the same as certainty.

    And you get a whole barrel of shit for producing work that gets your bosses’ political patrons attacked. Do the career math. (The authorities db cites above all, I suspect, have secure tenure and well-established reputations.)

    Just the opposite. Lataster has not scholarly position, he’s an adjust. None of the others are scholars at all. The historians with tenure and secure reputations are all historicists.

    Aw, c’mon. You compare mythicism to creationism and flat-earthery @ # 12, and at # 28 you say (in effect) “well maybe”. :-O

    Comparisons valid in one context (choice of materials to publish regarding) are not necessarily valid in another (plausibility).

    1: Mythicists present a wide (and at times mutually contradictory) range of hypotheses.

    I agree. None of them are as likely, or as explanatory, or as good a fit for our evidence as historicism.

    2: Would you likewise claim that Michelson & Morley should not have published their experimental results until they had finalized Einstein’s theories of relativity? Pointing out an anomaly, just in and of itself, can constitute utterly respectable science; why shouldn’t historians exercise the same latitude?

    Amonalies are great, and worth investigating, and that’s what scholars do. However, there were many, many experinments and finding that went into overturning Newtonian mechanics, and it was done when a better option was put forth. Mythicists don’t have a better option, they have a dozen worse options. Which mythicist hypothesis do you endorse?

  31. says

    db,
    Why are agnosticism and mythicism scholars producing peer reviewed works in academic presses, while historicity scholars are not? Is it just possible that their arguments/methods are weak and rely on many unevidenced assumptions that are not very sensible?

    Because they have nothing to gain from it, as there is no academic dispute on historicity, and they are looking to write about things people care about.

  32. db says

    The consensus for the historicity of Jesus—now is by assumption only—and not by peer reviewed rational scholarly argument published in an academic press.

    There is no escaping this fact. So why does @35 One Brow throw up the following canard (hoping it will fly I guess): “there is no academic dispute on historicity”. Does he really not know that there are two academic peer reviewed works that challenge the consensus for the historicity of Jesus.

    In a way, One Brow is correct, that “there is no academic dispute”, since no historicity proponent has properly responded to the current challenges while simultaneously producing a peer reviewed work published in an academic press defending the historicity of Jesus.

    But it is more likely that this is a case of trying to bite the opponents ear off.

  33. db says

    @34 One Brow said: “Which mythicist hypothesis do you [sc. Pierce R. Butler ] endorse?”

    • Pierce R. Butler clearly said he holds an agnosticism position. Why do you not know this?

    A common objection is that “ahistoricists” or “mythicists” do not have an alternative explanation for Christian origins. However given Paul’s testimony that he hallucinated a Jesus constructed from the Jewish Scriptures. Then it only need be shown—as Narve Strand asserts—”that the historicist doesn’t have real evidence that would make his purely human Jesus existing more probable than not.” [Strand, Narve (5 May 2019). [1.1 ver]. “Why Jesus Most Probably Never Existed: Ehrman’s Double Standards”. Academia.edu.] Raphael Lataster writes:

    This is similar to the agnosticism over God’s existence. Those agnostics do not need to have evidence that God does not exist. They just need to be unconvinced by the lack of good evidence for God’s existence. In other words, my case for Historical Jesus agnosticism does not need to rely on good alternative hypotheses, though it certainly can be strengthened by them. [Lataster 2019b, p. 131.]

  34. db says

    “we can no more reject Jesus’ existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned.” [Grant, Michael (d.2004). Jesus: an historian’s review of the Gospels. (1977 New York:Scribner). pp. 199–200. ISBN 0-684-14889-7.]

    The original expanded quote begins:”[I]f we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material…”

    So Grant is effectively saying: The same sort of criteria applied to other ancient writings containing historical material should be applied to the New Testament.

    Sounds good right. But what is actually going on?

    • Gager, John G. (1974). “The Gospels and Jesus: Some Doubts about Method”. The Journal of Religion 54 (3): 244–272 (244). doi:10.1086/486389.

    [R]igorous historical method has been subordinated to religious and theological concerns. With dogged regularity, the desire to reach authentic Jesus material has led questers to sacrifice methodological rigor or to minimize the difficulties posed by the sources.

  35. says

    db,
    The consensus for the historicity of Jesus—now is by assumption only—and not by peer reviewed rational scholarly argument published in an academic press.

    Incorrect. The academic press was where the argument was largely settled a little over a century ago.

    Does he really not know that there are two academic peer reviewed works that challenge the consensus for the historicity of Jesus.

    There will always be cranks. There are cranks who question relativity, find some peers to review them, and get books published. The existence of cranks is not proof of controversy.

    Pierce R. Butler clearly said he holds an agnosticism position. Why do you not know this?

    Agnostics are those that criticize both sides of the argument, or say that both sides are insufficient. So far, that does not describe the behavior of Pierce R. Butler. At the very least, an agnostic should find one of the mythicist arguments to be close to as compelling as the argument for historicity.

    A common objection is that “ahistoricists” or “mythicists” do not have an alternative explanation for Christian origins. However given Paul’s testimony that he hallucinated a Jesus constructed from the Jewish Scriptures.

    This is a deception on Paul’s testimony, as he acknowledges that persecuted Christians before his vision. Paul also acknowledges that James, et. al., were Christians before he was. Whatever the origins of Christianity are, the line does not start with Paul.

    What Lataster missed is that God is not need to explain anything, while Christianity is a real thing and therefore has a real explanation for its existence.

    I agree many people don’t maintain academic rigor when discussing Jesus (or many other topics); many people also do.

    By the way, db, in all this discussion, I don’t recall you ever saying: what do you think is the most likely scenario for the creation and development of Christianity? Why is it more likely than historicity?

  36. db says

    @39 One Brow

    Your apologetics are clear enough on this post, but for the sake completeness I also present this gem you posted elsewhere (November 10, 2020).

    “One Brow said:” “[I]f there were multiple Jesuses of sufficient significance that Tacitus and Suetonius could be talking about different men, then there would be evidence of this in Josephus, and there is not.”

  37. Pierce R. Butler says

    Apologies to all (both) for lag in replying: we just had a tropical storm blow through here…

    One Brow @ # 34: … hiring serious scholars with unusual points of view is the best way for a history department to get grant money.

    Not in most of the USA it isn’t (see Parenti, Michael; Churchill, Ward; et alia). Decades ago, the then-president of MIT estimated they’d lost >$1B in grants that came with fire-Noam-Chomsky strings attached (I suspect they took that hit because the other faculty stood behind NC, rather than pure academic-freedom ideals).

    … you don’t see the tenured history professors turning mythicist..

    Again: see db’s # 20 & # 21. How many fully-tenured professors of 1st-C Palestinian history do you think there are?

    … I saw only Ehrman…

    At the “Historicity of J” page, search for the names James Dunn, John P. Meier, and E. P. Sanders, then read the following comments. You’ll find trace amounts of hedging, standard fare for every scholar facing any controversy, but damn little that would count as doubt.

    Lataster has not scholarly position, he’s an adju[nct?]. … historians with tenure and secure reputations are all historicists.

    A token low-ranked dissident and a phalanx of establishmentarians. Go to your economics dept, if your schools have one, and count the pro-corporate, pro-growth professors, then count the pro-socialist, pro-ecology alternativists. Ask members of either camp about academic hiring preferences. Does that prove capitalism works best?

    Comparisons valid in one context … are not necessarily valid in another …

    Didn’t that goal post over here used to be over there?

    PRB: Mythicists present a wide … range of hypotheses. … OB: None of them are as … good … as historicism.

    You just mounted those goal posts on wheels.

    Mythicists don’t have a better option…

    Neither did Michelson & Morley, nor the many who pointed out Mercury’s orbital number were a bit off, or others.

    Which mythicist hypothesis do you endorse?

    As db notes, I avow agnosticism. I generally hold that’s the default position for any non-specialist in any area beyond their credentials – we’re entitled to opinions and questions, whether on ancient history or optimal alloys for jet turbines, and little more. That, sfaict, applies to all in this thread, including our esteemed host. All I claim here is to have disproved your … you need some reasonable alternative Y. The mythicists so far do not have one. assertion.

    More later…

  38. Pierce R. Butler says

    One Brow @ # 39: Agnostics are those that criticize both sides of the argument, or say that both sides are insufficient. So far, that does not describe the behavior of Pierce R. Butler.

    Please review Pierce R. Butler’s # 3, # 4, and especially # 6, # 10, and # 16 above.

    Also, kindly educate yourself on varying definitions of agnosticism supported by actual agnostics.

  39. Pierce R. Butler says

    Huh – my reply to # 39 included 3 links, which probably accounts for it being held for moderation.

    Given our esteemed host’s time zone, that process may take quite a while from now (if she even has the time for such trivialities). So, I’ll try again with the first few lines and a single link:

    One Brow @ # 39: Agnostics are those that criticize both sides of the argument, or say that both sides are insufficient. So far, that does not describe the behavior of Pierce R. Butler.

    Please review Pierce R. Butler’s # 3, # 4, and especially # 6, # 10, and # 16 above.

    Also, kindly educate yourself on the varying definitions of agnosticism.

  40. says

    Pierce R. Butler
    Please review Pierce R. Butler’s # 3, # 4, and especially # 6, # 10, and # 16 above.

    #3 — makes no comment in favor of nor against historicity nor mythicism
    #4 — Favorably quotes discredited information from a mythicist site, saying it is a particular problem for historicity
    #6 — Down plays the site of a person with actual training in the historical method (though not scholar) that puts forth the findings of historical scholars. Cites G. A. Wells as taking a scholarly approach, and downs plays the evidence in Ehrman’s book without noting the even greater paucity of evidence for any mythicist theory, including Wells.
    #10 — Falsely elevates the mythicist position into a controversy, when there is none
    #16 — This is a post by me, so perhaps you meant #15, which does point out the crankiness of Carrier and Price, or #17, which again promoted a false balance between the positions.

    So, where in there was any sort of comment on the weakness of the positions the mythicists take?

    Again, I’m not saying their is certainty Jesus existed. I’m just saying that we don’t have a better explanation for the evidence, so accepting his existence is the working default. It’s not enough to attack existence, you need to have a more likely alternative.

    Also, kindly educate yourself on varying definitions of agnosticism supported by actual agnostics.

    Well, at least you have no lack of arrogance.

  41. Pierce R. Butler says

    One Brow @ # 44 – you read quite selectively.

    # 3: This, of course, applies whether the myth had any basis …

    # 4: I can’t vouch for it… (Whether the information is actually “discredited” remains open to debate: the site cited in opposition clearly has credibility problems of its own.)

    # 6 – criticizes the same site I cited as well as the one KG quotes in contradiction, separately and together; laments lack of sources without axes to grind on both sides; does specifically note insufficiency of evidence from Wells, with note I haven’t read all his relevant works; gives praise to Ehrman.

    # 10 – Aw, c’mon again. There is a controversy. Why else would Ehrman have dedicated a book to it in 2012; why would the Wiki “Historicity” article, which clearly disagrees, cite multiple arguments; why would our esteemed host (who also disagrees) offer a string of posts on the question?

    # 16 – Yes, I did mean # 15. Bringing up “major weaknesses of the mythicist camp” – on my own initiative, not in reply to anyone else – as well as criticizing historicists, would seem to meet your own definition

    Agnostics are those that criticize both sides of the argument, or say that both sides are insufficient.

    of agnosticism (even though I disagree with that as well).

    … we don’t have a better explanation for the evidence, so accepting his existence is the working default.

    No, admitting the picture is unclear and unsettled is the working default.

    … you need to have a more likely alternative.

    Somewhere, I think in his massive translation of The Arabian Nights, Sir Richard Francis Burton makes a comparison to the story of Mohammed destroying the idols at the Kaaba in Mecca and then, for shame, not replacing them with other idols. Do you get the point of that, since you seem to refuse to grasp my Michelson-Morley experiment analogy?

    … you have no lack of arrogance.

    Says the person who concocted (or parroted) a definition of agnosticism at odds with both present usage and Huxley’s original formulation. [sigh]

  42. says

    Pierce R. Butler,
    # 3: This, of course, applies whether the myth had any basis …

    I said this comment “makes no comment in favor of nor against historicity nor mythicism”. Do you feel I mischaracterized your quote here? Does it make a comment for or against historicity, for or against mythicism?

    # 4: I can’t vouch for it… (Whether the information is actually “discredited” remains open to debate: the site cited in opposition clearly has credibility problems of its own.)

    Please list the credibility issues with the historyforatheists.com article on Nazareth. Note being insulting is not an issue affecting credibility, whether being noted of Carrier or of O’Neill.

    # 6 – criticizes the same site I cited as well as the one KG quotes in contradiction, separately and together; laments lack of sources without axes to grind on both sides; does specifically note insufficiency of evidence from Wells, with note I haven’t read all his relevant works; gives praise to Ehrman.

    Perhaps I read more slant into this comment than you intended.

    # 10 – Aw, c’mon again. There is a controversy. Why else would Ehrman have dedicated a book to it in 2012; why would the Wiki “Historicity” article, which clearly disagrees, cite multiple arguments; why would our esteemed host (who also disagrees) offer a string of posts on the question?

    Let’s be clear to distinguish popular/amateur controversy from professional controversy. Ehrman wrote a amateur-aimed book to deal with the controversies as understood by amateurs.

    Regarding #15, for me, “personal nuttiness” does not invalidate (nor validate) the quality of scholarly work, so I read that as saying nothing about mythicism itself.

    No, admitting the picture is unclear and unsettled is the working default.

    Few things in history are completely settled. For example, reading this page, Ceasar is declared dictator in 46 BCE, while this page gives the year as 47 BCE. Historians will pick one to work from. In the case of Jesus, the most sensible explanation to work with is historicity, so that is the default from which they work.

    Do you get the point of that, since you seem to refuse to grasp my Michelson-Morley experiment analogy?

    I understand the analogy, you seem to misunderstand the significance and the history. No one discarded Newton’s Laws until they had a better option. Even today, Newton’s Laws are still being taught.

    Says the person who concocted (or parroted) a definition of agnosticism at odds with both present usage and Huxley’s original formulation. [sigh]

    My description (as opposed to definition) is quite sufficient for identifying behavior indicative of the agnostic.

  43. Pierce R. Butler says

    One Brow @ # 47 – We’re getting to the quoting-comments-quoting-comments stage, which usually means a waste of time. Nonetheless…

    Do you feel I mischaracterized your quote here?

    Compare to your # 39: Agnostics are those that criticize both sides of the argument, or say that both sides are insufficient. So far, that does not describe the behavior of Pierce R. Butler.

    That was the mischaracterization.

    Please list the credibility issues with the historyforatheists.com article on Nazareth.

    A) Flagrant hostility: the topic seems used as a cudgel against mythicists, not as a subject for inquiry or explanation. Compare with, e.g., Panda’s Thumb discussion of creo falsehoods and (not always in the comments) careful exposition of facts.

    B) Incompleteness regarding points raised by opponent, such as purported absence of “Nazareth” in Talmud, etc.

    C) Possible shell game: Finding artifacts (dating not consistently given) at a site later called “Nazareth” does not prove that site was known as “Nazareth” at the time under debate.

    D) Omission of relevant data – look up the story of Constantine’s mother Helena, her pilgrimage to “The Holy Land”, and the frantic scramble to provide her with whatever she wanted.

    Perhaps I read more slant into this comment than you intended.

    Certainly you read more omission into it than I provided.

    Let’s be clear to distinguish popular/amateur controversy from professional controversy.

    Uh, we’re all amateurs here. You still haven’t addressed, never mind refuted, professionals cited by db @ #s 20 & 21.

    … for me, “personal nuttiness” does not invalidate (nor validate) the quality of scholarly work…

    Likewise, as I acknowledged. Nevertheless, the problem of having to cite Carrier and Price gives me pause every time.

    In the case of Jesus, the most sensible explanation to work with is historicity…

    Pls look up “assuming the predicate” in a good list of logical fallacies.

    Even today, Newton’s Laws are still being taught.

    Even today, NASA uses Newtonian math to calculate orbits, trajectories, etc – but with a big asterisk for whenever relativistic conditions apply. Historians, unable to achieve such prompt detailed feedback on the accuracy of their projections, seem still in the process of adding that asterisk in this instance (defining the appropriate conditions for it seems particularly challenging).

    My description (as opposed to definition) …

    Here (particularly # 39), that’s a distinction without a difference – at best.

    … identifying behavior indicative of the agnostic.

    As my links @ # 42 indicate, “the” agnostic is a misnomer when distinct & relevant subcategories roam wild across the land.

  44. says

    Pierce R. Butler,

    I believe we agree you have criticized the position of historicity in this discussion. Until I read you make some criticisms of the mythicist positions (as opposed to the mythicists themselves), my statement that you have not criticized both sides of the argument stands unchallenged.

    A) Flagrant hostility is not evidence of error.
    C) What’s your alternative for a name for that location?
    B) and D) What O’Neill did is present archeological expertise regarding the existence of Nazareth before and after the period in question. Actual existence is more than sufficient to defeat arguments that assume non-existence.

    You still haven’t addressed, never mind refuted, professionals cited by db @ #s 20 & 21.

    What did those experts in 20) and 21) say that you think I disagree with?

    Pls look up “assuming the predicate” in a good list of logical fallacies.

    It does precede “ignoring the evidence”, alphabetically.

    Historians, unable to achieve such prompt detailed feedback on the accuracy of their projections, seem still in the process of adding that asterisk in this instance (defining the appropriate conditions for it seems particularly challenging).

    Of course.

  45. db says

    @49 One Brow said: “What O’Neill did is present archeological expertise regarding the existence of Nazareth before and after the period in question.”

    • Godfrey, Neil (15 November 2020). “Bad History for Atheists (3) — Proof-texting, Circularity, Fake Facts, Insults”. Vridar.

    O’Neill did write a lot of words attempting to demonstrate that Salm had mistranslated and misapplied the work of the archaeologist Hans-Peter Kuhnen, but he got everything about Salm’s treatment of Kuhnen — and Kuhnen’s actual views — flat wrong. O’Neill was clearly unaware that Kuhnen had personally corresponded with Salm and had enough respect for Salm’s views introduce it in his teaching:
    […]
    For those interested in further discussion of Tim’s errors and Kuhnen’s correspondence with Salm, see

    • Tim O’Neill Misreads (Again) the Evidence on Nazareth
    • Salm’s Nazareth Correspondence with Kuhnen Demonstrates O’Neill’s Falsehoods

    Why does O’Neill go to such lengths to publicly humiliate Salm and to write falsehoods about his argument? I think the reason must be the same as that found in conservative scholars who have similarly treated “minimalists”. Niels Peter Lemche explains:

    There are several kinds of name-calling, but in the end, they all tend to impress a readership in such a way that it will simply abstain from reading material written by members of the group characterized by the name-calling.

    . . .

    What is the aim of this labeling? Here it is interesting to compare with the characterization of conservative scholarship in James Barr‘s book on fundamentalism where Barr in his own acid way reviews the tactics of conservative scholarship. We may summarize Barr’s argument in this way: The advice to the novice in biblical studies is never engage in any serious way in a discussion with non-conservative scholars. You should just denounce them as incompetent and not worth reading and continue this tactic until people believe you.

  46. db says

    Pierce R. Butler, do you have any issues with Raphael Lataster’s case for Historical Jesus agnosticism?

    • Per Raphael Lataster:

    The recent defences of Jesus’ historicity by Bart Ehrman and Maurice Casey lack lucid and competent methodologies, rely on highly questionable documents, and further make use of sources that no longer exist, if they ever did. They are polemical, occasionally vulgar, and often resorted to cavilling, focussing on tangential arguments of the more amateurish mythicists. They unquestionably failed, and this may have something to do with my introductory thoughts on just what sort of scholar should be investigating the issue; analytical philosophers seem much more suited to the task. The failure of the self- styled experts seems to justify agnosticism, yet there is still much more to be said. My own case for Historical Jesus agnosticism is primarily grounded in scepticism over the relevant sources that is necessitated by sound historical approaches, and has actually been well received by several critical scholars. [Lataster 2019b, p. 129.]

    Cf. Godfrey, Neil (30 October 2019). “Reviews — past and next”. Vridar.

    I have compiled the ten [Vridar] posts reviewing Raphael Lataster’s Questioning the Historicity of Jesus into a single PDF file and made it available…

  47. Pierce R. Butler says

    One Brow @ # 49 – Are you really that obtuse, or do you just play it on the internets?

    Until I read you make some criticisms of the mythicist positions …

    Go back to my # 6, which alludes to my # 4: … the source I cited gets overtly jejune… both rely on selective interpretations and broad assertions … G.A. Wells … seems to work from a primarily linguistic basis without an archeological component, or even a fine-grained historical context.

    Flagrant hostility is not evidence of error.

    It’s not proof of error, but it is a big red flag.

    What’s your alternative for a name for that location?

    Aw, c’mon. Back in the Paleolithic, it was called _Grunt_.

    What O’Neill did is present archeological expertise regarding the existence of Nazareth …

    He presented evidence that humans had lived there – not that it went by the name possibly assigned to it centuries later.

    What did those experts in 20) and 21) say that you think I disagree with?

    They said the arguments for mythicism merit attention; thereby contradicting your claim that no experts respect such arguments. Or maybe you disagree that they have expertise (One Brow @ #16: It’s only we amateurs (and Carrier) that think there is a serious question.)

    It does precede “ignoring the evidence”, alphabetically.

    Y’know, if you actually want to be taken seriously, even here, you gotta at least play better dodgeball than that.

    As for defining the conditions where the historicism/mythicism debate applies, for a first approximation I’d say 1st-century Palestine studies: for anything beyond/after there/then, everybody was working with oral and documentary materials and the question has become moot. We might even roll that back to circa 70 CE – see (sigh) Price’s recounting of Josephus’s tale of Jesus/Yeshua son of Ananias in the run-up to the Jewish Revolt in The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man.

  48. Pierce R. Butler says

    db @# 51: … do you have any issues with Raphael Lataster’s case for Historical Jesus agnosticism?

    I haven’t really dug into Lataster’s work, but one thing leaps out at me from your quotation:

    … analytical philosophers seem much more suited to the task.

    With all due regard for philosophers, this does look to me like a job for specialized historians.

    Thanks for the link to that pdf; I’m having trouble grabbing it in a usable form…

  49. db says

    @52 Pierce R. Butler said: “Josephus’s tale of Jesus/Yeshua son of Ananias in the run-up to the Jewish Revolt,,”

    • Mark’s reliance on Jesus ben Ananias/Hananiah

    “”[The Markan] sequence of the Passover narrative appears to be based on the tale of another Jesus: Jesus ben Ananias, the ‘Jesus of Jerusalem’, an insane prophet active in the 60s ce who is then killed in the siege of Jerusalem (roughly in the year 70).
    His story is told by Josephus in the Jewish War, and unless Josephus invented him, his narrative must have been famous, famous enough for Josephus to know of it, and thus famous enough for Mark to know of it, too, and make use of it to model the tale of his own Jesus.
    Or if Josephus invented the tale then Mark evidently used Josephus as a source. Because the parallels are too numerous to be at all probable as a coincidence. [citation no. 86.]
    […]
    86. Theodore Weeden, ‘Two Jesuses, Jesus of Jerusalem and Jesus of Nazareth: Provocative Parallels and Imaginative Imitation’, Forum N.S. 6.2 (Fall 2003), pp. 137- 341; Craig Evans, ‘Jesus in Non-Christian Sources’, in Studying the Historical Jesus (ed. Chilton and Evans), pp. 443-78 (475-77).

    —Richard Carrier [2014, pp. 428f.]

    Weeden asserts that the Markan text is reliant on Josephus’ report of Jesus ben Ananias in part due to many obvious parallels between them. Weeden also holds that Jesus-Ananias was not a real historical person active in the 60s ce, but was an invention of Josephus. Thus the Markan text could not have been written before the early 80s ce.

    Cf. Godfrey, Neil (2 April 2019). “Much More Fully Informed History for Atheists — A Scholarly Introduction to the Two Jesus Parallels”. Vridar.

    Tim O’Neill of History for Atheists, Jesus Mythicism 4: Jesus as an Amalgam of Many Figures . . . its [a] take down of “amalgam Jesus” theorists for supposedly uncritically and emotionally concocting excuses to disbelieve in a historical Jesus. O’Neill inferred in his post that there was nothing “scholarly and credible” about parallels between a certain Jesus son of Ananias, a mad-man who Cassandra-like proclaimed doom for Jerusalem at the hands of the surrounding Roman armies, and the Jesus we read about in the Gospel of Mark.

  50. says

    db,
    • Godfrey, Neil (15 November 2020).

    I have no doubt Kuhnen found some of Salm’s ideas interesting. Has Kuhnen since adopted the notion that Nazereth did not exist? No, of course not. Godfrey also uses a lot of weasely language, like:
    O’Neill goes out of his way to personally humiliate Rene Salm for, while being an amateur, daring to investigate the scholarly literature on the archaeological finds at Nazareth and finding that they do not support the traditional Christian viewpoint. Personally ridiculing and demeaning another person is “bad history” by anyone’s definition, surely. (O’Neill later excuses his harsh language by saying he only attacks those who attack him first. That is simply untrue, as his attacks on Salm clearly demonstrate.)

    The only harsh language O’Neill uses of Salm is to refer to him as a “crank”, which is a completely accurate description of an amateur who puts forth faulty, unsupportable hypotheses and refuses to listen to why they don’t work.

  51. says

    Pierce R. Butler,
    Go back to my # 6, which alludes to my # 4: … the source I cited gets overtly jejune…

    Calling something dry and uninteresting does not seem like a criticism of the thoughts behind it.

    both rely on selective interpretations and broad assertions … G.A. Wells … seems to work from a primarily linguistic basis without an archeological component, or even a fine-grained historical context.

    So, did you see any actual flaws, or just feel ne needs to do more work?

    It’s not proof of error, but it is a big red flag.

    Some red flags turn out to be nothing.

    Aw, c’mon. Back in the Paleolithic, it was called _Grunt_.

    Yeah, but we’re discussing the sites excavated from/near 1st century CE.

    He presented evidence that humans had lived there – not that it went by the name possibly assigned to it centuries later.

    That alternative to that would be that it went by another name in the first century CE, and underwent a name change. Which bring us back to what name, and what’s your evidence for it?

    They said the arguments for mythicism merit attention; thereby contradicting your claim that no experts respect such arguments. Or maybe you disagree that they have expertise (One Brow @ #16: It’s only we amateurs (and Carrier) that think there is a serious question.)

    I didn’t see any arguments for mythicism there. I saw statements the historicity is not certain (which I have stated many times by now), and that Lataster has some good input (which is certainly possible even when you disagree with his result). Only someone looking very hard for statements supporting mythicism would see those statements as supporting mythicism. Any supposed agnostic who goes around insulting the displayed intelligence of others should read such statements a little more carefully, lett they be embarrassed.

    Y’know, if you actually want to be taken seriously, even here, you gotta at least play better dodgeball than that.

    I don’t need to dodge, because I’m not playing your game.

    As for defining the conditions where the historicism/mythicism debate applies, for a first approximation I’d say 1st-century Palestine studies: for anything beyond/after there/then, everybody was working with oral and documentary materials and the question has become moot.

    Are you saying that written documentation available to Josephus and Tacitus was unreliable in some fashion? What’s your evidence for that?

    We might even roll that back to circa 70 CE – see (sigh) Price’s recounting of Josephus’s tale of Jesus/Yeshua son of Ananias in the run-up to the Jewish Revolt in The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man.

    The history of Jesus ben Ananias has some parallels to that of Jesus of Nazareth, in that they both have a common name, they both engaged in a common practice of preaching woe during a major festival, both (as expected) get in trouble with the authorities, etc. This also describes what happened to a half-dozen or so other people not named Jesus, as recounted by Josephus. As evidence that one inspired a fiction of the other, it’s very poor, especially considering Paul still precedes this account by more than a decade.

  52. db says

  53. Pierce R. Butler says

    One Brow @ # 58: Calling something dry and uninteresting …

    Funny, my dictionary defines jejune as “naive, simplistic, and superficial”; the usages I’ve seen often insinuate immaturity.

    … did you see any actual flaws, or just feel ne needs to do more work?…

    I made a direct criticism of Wells’s work, exactly what you claimed I hadn’t. Your goalposts must feel pretty dizzy by now.

    Some red flags turn out to be nothing.

    A) I do not expect we will reach the ultimate solution to this question in this thread, so even a tentative concern merits consideration.

    B) The “Bad History” site db cites @ # 50 et seq. makes a pertinent case that we do have some problems here.

    … we’re discussing the sites excavated from/near 1st century CE.

    We’re discussing whether the name “Nazareth” applied to said sites, or was tacked on centuries later.

    … what name, and what’s your evidence for it?

    I don’t claim to have such a name; I do think we have to deal with the assertions that the site was (ahem) christened “Nazareth” to satisfy the demands of St. Helena, who wanted complete corroboration of all the Gospel stories. Do you think the cross they gave her was The True Cross® too?

    Only someone looking very hard for statements supporting mythicism would see those statements as supporting mythicism.

    So you get to define historicism as having a lot of slack (# 28: … I don’t know of any historians who say Jesus definitely existed…), but you also get to define as mythicism as rigid 100% denialism. Isn’t that special…

    I don’t need to dodge …

    Then you need to answer directly about your assuming-the-conclusion ploy.

    Are you saying that written documentation available to Josephus and Tacitus was unreliable in some fashion?

    We don’t have that, just (probably altered) words from J & T. Lataster (see # 54) takes Ehrman to task for relying on unavailable and possibly imaginary documents: you go even further out on that same flimsy limb.

    As evidence that one inspired a fiction of the other…

    As evidence that a remarkably similar story circulated widely before “Mark” & Co. set quill to papyrus, it’s damn near definitive (unless you prefer to deny the historical consensus that the Gospels date from after the Revolt). Note also that (sigh) Price sees the ben Ananias story as an element in an amalgam, not the root, basis, or inspiration for the entire Jesus spiel.

    … Paul still precedes this account …

    And Paul’s version is about as vague as Trump’s “fake ballots!!1!” ranting, if not more so.

  54. says

    db,
    • Your apologetics are clear.

    Pointing out that Salm is an amateur who refuses to accept it when professionals correct him is not apologetics, just plain fact.

  55. says

    Pierce R. Butler
    Funny, my dictionary defines jejune as “naive, simplistic, and superficial”; the usages I’ve seen often insinuate immaturity.

    I looked on line, and it seems both definitions can apply. If you meant that Wells approach and naive and superficial, I accept that a a valid criticism. Thank you.

    A) I do not expect we will reach the ultimate solution to this question in this thread, so even a tentative concern merits consideration.

    B) The “Bad History” site db cites @ # 50 et seq. makes a pertinent case that we do have some problems here.

    As I pointed out above (with the term “weasely”, Godfrey’s account gives inaccurate connotations, while being correct in denotation. For example, he mentions in consecutive sentences O’Neill says he uses harsh language in attacks on those that criticize him (true), and that O’Neill criticized Salm (also true), to leave the distinct impression that O’Neill used harsh language to describe Salm, when the strongest term he uses is “crank” (others include “autodidact” and “piano man”). This is a common use of language use in Godfrey’s posts, and I these constructions seem too frequent to be accidental.

    So, if you really think there is a problem with the language used in the “Nazareth” article, why do you bring forth an example of what you find objectionable?

    We’re discussing whether the name “Nazareth” applied to said sites, or was tacked on centuries later.

    Sites that are in or close to the current city of Nazareth.

    I don’t claim to have such a name; I do think we have to deal with the assertions that the site was (ahem) christened “Nazareth” to satisfy the demands of St. Helena, who wanted complete corroboration of all the Gospel stories

    I have no idea what cross she was shown. What evidence do you have for the assertion St. Helena was shown a location whose name was changed for her visit? Any records of the name change? Did no one think to check the records on the location on her behalf before she made her visit?

    So you get to define historicism as having a lot of slack (# 28: … I don’t know of any historians who say Jesus definitely existed…), but you also get to define as mythicism as rigid 100% denialism. Isn’t that special…

    I have said multiple times that historicity is the best explanation for the evidence, and that this is not the same as certainty.

    Mythicism *is* the denial that a historical Jesus is the best explanation for the evidence we have, it’s a negative position instead of a positive one. If you want to present something that can be affirmed with less than certainty, you’d need to present an alternative you’d consider more likely. Wells has one, Price another, Carrier yet another, none of them are better than historicism.

    Then you need to answer directly about your assuming-the-conclusion ploy.

    I said: In the case of Jesus, the most sensible explanation to work with is historicity…

    Your response: Pls look up “assuming the predicate” in a good list of logical fallacies.

    My direct answer to your claim that I am assuming the conclusion: I say that historicity is most sensible explanation because it best explains the (admittedly meager) comments from Paul that say Jesus was human, what Josephus wrote, and what Tacitus wrote. This is following the evidence, not assuming the conclusion.

    We don’t have that, just (probably altered) words from J & T. Lataster (see # 54) takes Ehrman to task for relying on unavailable and possibly imaginary documents: you go even further out on that same flimsy limb.

    We have sizable amounts of the material of Josephus and Tacitus. To my understanding, they make clear their intentions, their sources, and how they approach their materials (for example, Tacitus explicitly describes using hearsay when he has no better evidence). There is no evidence that Tacitus has been altered, nor that the second Josephus quote has been altered. This is all throwing stuff against a wall and hoping some of it sticks, but none of it does.

    As evidence that one inspired a fiction of the other…

    As evidence that a remarkably similar story …

    Stories, plural, and stories of real people that this happened to.

    And Paul’s version is about as vague as Trump’s “fake ballots!!1!” ranting, if not more so.

    No, Paul is not vague. For Paul, Jesus is “born of a woman” and “a seed of Abraham”, among other things. The details Paul offers are meager, but not vague.

  56. Pierce R. Butler says

    One Brow @ # 62 – you seem to get sloppier and sloppier as this dialog drags on. Pls note that my “jejune” description @ # applied to the mythicist site I cited @ # 4, not to G.A. Wells or his (meticulously scholarly, if I may say that without having read his every word) works.

    If Godfrey’s account gives inaccurate connotations, while being correct in denotation, then that suffices to justify the red flags I saw fluttering above O’Neill’s rants.

    … if you really think there is a problem with the language used in the “Nazareth” article…

    I really think there is a problem with the language used throughout the “History for Atheists” blog. If you can’t see the same, get your semantic sensors recalibrated.

    Sites that are in or close to the current city of Nazareth … may not have been known as such pre-Helena. Encyclopedia Britannica (link omitted to bypass moderation):

    The only site in Nazareth that can be definitely identified as dating back to New Testament times is the town well, now called St. Mary’s Well…

    I have no idea what cross she was shown.

    Look her up. She “discovered” The True Cross®, the burial site of Jesus at Golgotha, and all sorts of other long-lost mysteries during her pilgrimage – gotta wonder why archeologists didn’t pick her for their patron saint.

    Some allege that she also demanded to go to “Nazareth”, which nobody could find – so they took her someplace and renamed that site “Nazareth”. I admit I can’t find a source for such stories online – but if you try the search yourself, you’ll see how much piety and faith, and how little factuality, come up in each page of results. I gave up quickly.

    Mythicism *is* the denial that a historical Jesus is the best explanation …

    Mythicism in the real world involves an array of positions and definitions involving the undeniable accretion of stories and legends belonging to a religious tradition, and the recognition of how little remains once the identifiable overlays get scraped away. At some point there’s no there there – Carrier is the only one who tries to put a number on it (another quirk which makes me cringe to cite his efforts), but few can deny that the fuzziness of the remaining pebble, or grain of sand, or particle of dust, makes rigid 100% historicism difficult to defend.

    … historicity is most sensible explanation …

    It has to receive a lot of the benefit of the doubt to stand up for long. The existing tradition relies too much on authorities-relying-on-tradition and too little on evidence. When you wrote @ # 47 In the case of Jesus, the most sensible explanation to work with is historicity, so that is the default from which they work., you support assuming as a constant what closer analysis indicates should be treated as a variable. This makes no practical difference for working with anything past 100 CE (or maybe even 70 CE), but gets quite shaky in that narrow zone where precision matters.

    By comparison: most OT scholars readily concede that Moses and the Exodus account are fictitious, not least because of the absence of evidence supporting those stories. For a time in the 20th century, many had likewise come to doubt the basis behind the David legend – until in 1993, archeologists found the Tel Dan inscription (link omitted for same reason as above), and “David mythicism” quietly faded away. In neither case does the study of the later impact of the Moses and David legends change one microwhit – though doubts about every detail of the David story rightfully persist.

    I don’t claim much knowledge about the Josephus and Tacitus documents, but have to note that a) professionals seriously debate how much (not whether) Josephus’s works underwent interpolation(s); b) only two copies of Tacitus survived into the medieval period; c) neither J nor T had any first-hand witness of Jesus, nor made any claims to second-hand (interviews with purported witnesses) information; and d) Tacitus in particular dealt only with the Xian movement – primarily Paul’s creation – not with its founding.

    … stories of real people that this happened to.

    I just looked in my copy of Josephus, and found 14 Jesuses in the index. I suspect only one of those has a string of dubious and contradictory narratives attached to his name.

    The details Paul offers are meager, but not vague.

    Aw c’mon yet again. “A seed of Abraham” (himself almost certainly a product of one of the numerous invented genealogies beloved of Hebrew scribes) means only “Jewish”. Why not download the pdf file at db’s # 54 and read Lataster’s “Celestial Jesus” perspective – and give us concrete evidence against it?

  57. Pierce R. Butler says

    Phooey – even two links seem to have put my reply to One Brow into moderation, or maybe just my 777 words did it.

    OB, pls be patient, and with luck Dr Sarah will release my reply mañana.

  58. db says

    @63 Pierce R. Butler said: “If you can’t see the same, get your semantic sensors recalibrated.”

    If I picture this in the context of the the 1987 movie “Full Metal Jacket”, per a dialogue between Gunnery Sergeant Hartman and Private Lawrence (Gomer Pyle)…

    • Absolutely ROFL

  59. says

    Pierce R. Butler,
    One Brow @ # 62 – you seem to get sloppier and sloppier as this dialog drags on. Pls note that my “jejune” description @ # applied to the mythicist site I cited @ # 4, not to G.A. Wells or his (meticulously scholarly, if I may say that without having read his every word) works.

    I thank you for the correction, and the humor at the agnostic notion what Wells constructed passes for “scholarly”.

    Fly all the red flags you wish, they still are not errors. I do appreciate the agnosticism at display in your preference for the misleading insinuations of Godfrey over the straight-forward declarations of O’Neill. I say this as someone who O’Neill has expressed annoyance at more than once. In some ways, he’s not a particularly likable commentator (he seems more affable when speaking), but that doesn’t make him wrong.

    I’m not sure why you have such a bee in your bonnet about St. Helena (your link did not offer anything I could find on her visit to nazareth). Her believing in some relic doesn’t change how Salm’s views disagree with archeology, and offers no support to some claim that the place now called Nazareth once had a different name, and further no support that by “from Nazareth”, people meant anything other than from a location.

    Some allege that she also demanded to go to “Nazareth”, which nobody could find…

    I also looked for, and could not find, anything about St. Helena and Nazareth, except for mythicist sites. I don’t think these “some” rely on historical records that St. Helena, or a member of her party, or a shortly-thereafter historian made about the journey and the difficulties they encountered. More likely, these “some” are living in the 21st century, and using the notion that Nazareth never existed to put forth an explanation for how St. Helena was fooled into believing found it. Would you say that is an example of “assuming the predicate”? Is that considered good practice by agnostics?

    Mythicism in the real world involves an array of positions and definitions involving the undeniable accretion of stories and legends belonging to a religious tradition, and the recognition of how little remains once the identifiable overlays get scraped away. At some point there’s no there there – Carrier is the only one who tries to put a number on it (another quirk which makes me cringe to cite his efforts), but few can deny that the fuzziness of the remaining pebble, or grain of sand, or particle of dust, makes rigid 100% historicism difficult to defend.

    I agree mythicism involves an array of positions. Do you agree the primary common feature, the one that makes them mythicist, is the denial of the historicity of Jesus? Would you agree that any position that disputes the historicity of Jesus is mythicist by definition?

    As I have pointed out before, no one is defending “100% historicism”, at least as I understand the term.

    … you support assuming as a constant what closer analysis indicates should be treated as a variable.

    I’m not sure what that means. Could you define that a little more, or use an example of how that would affect research?

    My understanding of scholarly opinion regarding Moses and David matches yours, except that historians do note there were small groups that crossed the Sinai, and the Biblical Moses may be based on legends from one such group. These were also major legendary figures, and if the legends were true, they would have left significant archeological footprints. By contrast, even by the hagiography Mark creates, Jesus leaves almost no footprint and does nothing of historical note. So, unlike for Moses and David, the absence of archeological evidence is not evidence of absence. In fact, there would be only one person we know of who, among other things happenings in the area, recorded the events around prophets and similar men, and that would be Josephus. If Jesus were absent from Josephus, that would be a problem. However, Josephus mentions him twice.

    Regarding, “a) a) professionals seriously debate how much (not whether) Josephus’s works underwent interpolation(s);”, no professionals contend that the mention of Jesus in Antiquities XX.9.1 is an interpolation (not even Carrier). It is true that there is a minority who say Antiquities XVIII.3.3 is wholesale forgery, but even without it, we have an uncontested, unambiguous reference to Jesus in XX. At least, now you know where to focus among the 14 different Jesuses in you index.

    By the way, Josephus would have been in Jerusalem during the event described in XX, and as a member of the priestly class, would have known about it from first-hand witnesses. Regarding Tacitus, feel free to read up on the subject.

    Aw c’mon yet again. “A seed of Abraham” (himself almost certainly a product of one of the numerous invented genealogies beloved of Hebrew scribes) means only “Jewish”

    Last I checked, being Jewish would make him a human, in Paul’s mind. That’s not particularly vague.

    Why not download the pdf file at db’s # 54 and read Lataster’s “Celestial Jesus” perspective – and give us concrete evidence against it?

    I got 30-40% of the way through the reviews without seeing anything to offer evidence for or against. Could you be a little more precise?

  60. Pierce R. Butler says

    One Brow @ # 67: … the misleading insinuations of Godfrey …

    Such as? (Pls cite sources other than O’Neill!)

    … O’Neill…’s not a particularly likable commentator …, but that doesn’t make him wrong.

    Excitable boy, they all say:

    … he has added outright character defamation and some of the ugliest humiliation to his characterization of Christ mythicists.

    I’m not sure why you have such a bee in your bonnet about St. Helena…

    She seems to have been one of the most influential, and most wrong, of Jesus historicists, with her claims going uncriticized and uncorrected for over 15 centuries.

    … Salm’s views …

    All I know of Salm and his ideas comes from O’Neill on one side and Godfrey on the other, with both in such an emotional dither that I can’t feel confidence in either (see my lament and wish-list @ # 6).

    … no support that by “from Nazareth”, people meant anything other than from a location.

    Which distortion of the etymological argument (made in my final quotation @ # 4) I find it very difficult to conceive you make in good faith. Though I know only a few words of Greek, I find it very plausible that the proposition “o” could mean as many things as the English “of” – including but hardly limited to “from”.

    Do you agree the primary common feature, the one that makes them mythicist, is the denial of the historicity of Jesus?

    That requires a clear definition of both “historicity” and “Jesus” – neither all that easy to achieve. Where does the “composite Jesus” hypotheses fit, for example? Only hardcore fundamentalists – and possibly some of them, if pressed adroitly enough – will deny the present story of “Jesus” includes at least some mythical elements. Does a “historic” Jesus mean just that someone with a name translating to that preached in Palestine roughly 1990 years ago, or does it require that preacher also to have asserted particular doctrines, or to have gotten crucified, or also to have received baptism from another wandering preacher named John, or that he came from a particular obscure village, or what? The more criteria you require of one given individual, the less likely your model becomes.

    Could you define that a little more…?

    I think I just did. We can break apart the “Jesus” concept into a set of attributes – I’ll use the teachings as an example subset. Somebody insisted on following strict Jewish traditions; somebody said picking up sticks on a Sabbath didn’t justify violence; somebody said those with sins of their own should not slaughter an adulteress on the street. The first of these seems incompatible with the latter two – so either one person was inconsistent (hardly improbable) or different ideas were attributed to an individual (even more plausible, imo). The single value (a “constant”) has become multivariate.

    The same applies to some degree to any historical personage; let’s consider another noteworthy JC. If a newfound document shows that some smartass corporal said, “Alea jacta est!”, that makes little difference in our picture of Caesar; if such a document establishes that the general who conquered Gaul hired a ghostwriter to do the book about it, that transforms our image drastically; if further documents convince the classicists that a ne-er-do-well Roman playboy just roamed around drunk while his underlings devised and executed his army’s operations, we’d hardly have any Caesar left (and what difference would it make to learn that the playboy was an imposter who’d hijacked the original Gaius Julius’s identity as a teenager?).

    The difference between the two JCs is that we have enough information to solidly establish a core concept of one, while the other can be peeled open (more like an overwrapped present than an onion) layer after layer, until some start saying we have received a gift of wrapping paper and ribbons.

    … there would be only one person we know of who, among other things happenings in the area, recorded the events around prophets and similar men, and that would be Josephus.

    Well, we do have documents from Pliny the Elder which make it pretty clear that nobody noticed the alleged major miracles supposedly accompanying the birth and death of Jesus.

    Alas, my “Complete Works of Josephus” lists “Jesus Christ” in its index only in “Antiq. xviii, iii” and I have neither the time nor energy to plow through 14 pages of compressed type to find him in Book XX. At any rate, the Josephusan debate does not need any contributions from me.

    … a human, in Paul’s mind. That’s not particularly vague.

    Not even Carrier or Price – or Doherty or Lataster or Godfrey, sfaik – proclaims him a hamster or an asparagus. Paul does not, iirc, pin his Jesus down in time or space; even Hercules has more specifics.

    Could you be a little more precise?

    At least as the downloaded pdf displays on my system, Lataster’s “Celestial Jesus” first shows up on pg 13 (next-to-last line) of the file pagination, or page 2 of the “Review Part 2” section according to the incorporated text.

  61. says

    Pierce R. Butler,

    You seem to get sloppier and sloppier as this dialog drags on. Pls note that at #57 I directly quote Godfey using what I described as weasely words. I certainly don’t need to rely on O’Neill to see how deceptive Godfrey can be.

    “… he has added outright character defamation and some of the ugliest humiliation to his characterization of Christ mythicists.”

    this is another excellent example of true denotation and false connotation. Here Godfrey is using the first definition of defame (damage the good reputation of someone), and O’Neill certainly damages the reputations of people like Wells and Carrier. Normally, we use ‘defame’ here to mean a person is lying about someone’s character; here, Godfrey uses ‘defame’ when referring to O’Neill offering accurate (yet insulting) appraisals of mythicists. Thank you for (likely unintentionally) demonstrating my point.

    I’ll be back soon.

  62. says

    She seems to have been one of the most influential, and most wrong, of Jesus historicists, with her claims going uncriticized and uncorrected for over 15 centuries.

    Do any historians take her seriously now?

    If you want to see Salm from the horses mouth: http://www.nazarethmyth.info/index.html

    To be frank, I remember very little of what people in comments a few days ago, and I had no intention of making fun of or twisting your comment #4. I was referring to a quote from John “can anything good come from Nazareth”? There also Mark 1:9 “came from Nazareth in Galilee”, where the proposition is ‘apo’. With your understanding of Christians, I ask you to consider 1) would the translation of such terms into a descriptor of Jesus behavior, as opposed to city where he lived, affect their faith, and 2) if not, why do they nonetheless universally think Nazareth was a city?

    For me, a “historic” Jesus refers to the brother of James, who was called the Messiah. All the other details of his life can be assigned some sort of likelihood for happening or not, based on how ordinary they are, how they would have been seen to make belief in him more or less attractive, etc.

    Frankly, this whole notion of creating some caricature of “historic Jesus” from the start, arbitrarily adding in elements that are needed for it to be “historic Jesus”, and then weighing the balance of the entire creation seems designed to produce a mythicist position. We don’t create caricatures of “historical Julius Caesar” and decide if the caricature existed, we just try to figure what we can say about Julius Caesar. We should be doing the same for Jesus, brother of James, who was called the Messiah (if you insist on a construction, JBJM). Is it possible that the actions of other people got worked into the stories about JBJM? Sure. Does that cast doubt on the existence of JBJM? No.

    Well, we do have documents from Pliny the Elder which make it pretty clear that nobody noticed the alleged major miracles supposedly accompanying the birth and death of Jesus.

    I thought we were discussing history, not myths.

    … I have neither the time nor energy to plow through 14 pages of compressed type to find him in Book XX.

    Well, I did also offer a chapter and paragraph, XX.9.1, which is nowhere near 14 pages long of ordinary-sized type. However, perhaps your source does offer chapter and paragraph numbering. Here’s one that does:
    http://penelope.uchicago.edu/josephus/ant-20.html

    The relevant quote:
    When therefore Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead; and Albinus was but upon the road. So he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus who was called Christ, whose name was James: and some others; [or, some of his companions.]

    Not even Carrier or Price – or Doherty or Lataster or Godfrey, sfaik – proclaims him a hamster or an asparagus. Paul does not, iirc, pin his Jesus down in time or space; even Hercules has more specifics.

    Cute, but doesn’t really cover how “born of a woman” and “seed of Abraham” would apply to anything other than a human. There are a few other passage in Paul where he mentions Jesus on earth. I agree the details are meager. Again, they are not vague regarding whether Jesus was a person living on this planet (although you could say the picture they drew of his earthly life was vague). That’s also my response to the notion of a “Celestial Jesus”. Paul seems to envision a pre-earthly life for him, but has his ministry here on earth.

    Please keep in mind that Paul mentions persecuting the church in 1 Corinthians 15:9. Unless you think Paul was lying there, this makes any claim that he started the Christian faith highly implausible.

  63. db says

    Pierce R. Butler, I would guess that at some point in your career—Pedagogy was involved. You have certainly taught me a thing or two from your skill set.

    Just a funny FYI: Lataster’s 2016 journal article title was published with all caps: “IT’S OFFICIAL: WE CAN NOW DOUBT JESUS’ HISTORICAL EXISTENCE”.

    I do not think it was over the top 🙂

  64. says

    Pierce R. Butler,
    Pls bring replies of actual substance next time.

    When you are responding to a Godfrey quote, that would be making something out of nothing. However, I assume you posted this before #70 was released from moderation.

  65. says

    db,
    No it would not you petty snot.

    A sad insult from a poster who seems to offer more links and cut/paste then his own thoughts. I am unimpressed.

    There is no way you surveyed the entire corpus of O’Neill’s diatribe against Salm’s views without confirming what Godfrey said of O’Neill. Even if your semantic sensors need to be re-calibrated, which is likely.

    Perhaps you missed the part where I pointed out that Godfrey’s word were true in denotation and false in connotation. Plese re-read #57. Then, if you feel that a a harsher term than “crank” was used, by all means go back to O’Neill’s article and quote it. We all know you are very proficient at quoting.

  66. Dr Sarah says

    @db: Your comment has been deleted. I appreciate that others are pushing their luck somewhat with regard to Ground Rule 1, but insults are definitely over the line.

    (This might put your comments automatically back into moderation; I’m not sure. If that happens, I’ll be happy to clear them if they’re civil.)

  67. db says

    @57 One Brow said: “The only harsh language O’Neill uses of Salm is to refer to him as a “crank”, which is a completely accurate description of an amateur who puts forth faulty, unsupportable hypotheses and refuses to listen to why they don’t work.”

    @59 I posted four links to Vridar posts on Tim O’Neill.

    • Post your comments directly on any of theses Vridar posts and prove me wrong.

  68. says

    Dr. Sarah,

    I have skirted that line, and I apologize. I will behave better.

    db and Pierce R. Butler,

    I promise to treat you with the respect and dignity you deserve as humans, and apologize for failing at that in previous posts.

    db,
    @59 I posted four links to Vridar posts on Tim O’Neill.

    • Post your comments directly on any of theses Vridar posts and prove me wrong.

    So, my comment is incorrect posted on Geeky Humanist, but might be correct if I posted it on Vridar? I don’t understand the logical process there. If I post on Vridar, will I suddenly be convinced that O’Neill used a stronger term than “crank”, or that “crank” now qualifies as a public humiliation?

    Frankly, I’m not even sure what “prove me wrong” means here. Your most recent claim was “There is no way you surveyed the entire corpus of O’Neill’s diatribe against Salm’s views without confirming what Godfrey said of O’Neill. Even if your semantic sensors need to be re-calibrated, which is likely.”, and I have already said that Godfrey’s statement can be defended as literally true, but with a false connotation.

    The previous assertion by you that I can find is in #56: Weeden asserts … the Markan text could not have been written before the early 80s ce. I have no reason to agree or disagree on the opinion of Weeden.

    Before that, I need to go back to #40, where I agree that I made that statement.

    So, I’m not sure what statement of yours you think I would be interested in proving wrong.

  69. Pierce R. Butler says

    One Brow et alia:

    Most of my day went into dealing with a situation which ended up in driving a cat to a veterinary hospital, and I just can’t muster the frame of mind this thread requires tonight.

    Mañana …

    (The cat seems to have a good prognosis, fwiw.)

  70. says

    Pierce R. Butler,

    Absolutely, take care of the cat. My wife loves our cats almost as much as our children, so I understand that completely. I’m glad to hear it is well.

    Also, please don’t feel the need to continue the conversation for any other reason than you get value from it. If and when you want to continue, I will be around.

  71. Pierce R. Butler says

    One Brow @ # 70 (correct, I had not seen this when I posted my # 71): Do any historians take her seriously now?

    Many, along with laypersons, seem to accept the tradition(s) Helena signal-boosted. Vide: the “Stations of the Cross”, still followed down particular Jerusalem streets. Am not sure whether the other “historic sites” now touted in Jerusalem are the ones she “identified” as such.

    As I said earlier, I want to see an informed neutral review of Salm, or nothing at all.

    … would the translation of such terms into a descriptor of Jesus behavior, as opposed to city where he lived, affect their faith, and 2) if not, why do they nonetheless universally think Nazareth was a city?

    I can see why many early Christians would reject the idea that JC belonged to (a branch of) the Essenes and would thus leap to any other explanation of a word associated with him. A lot would depend on whether said Christians spoke Greek fluently; I gather Aramaic predominated then/there, but can’t say which groups spoke which language and for how long.

    For me, a “historic” Jesus refers to the brother of James, who was called the Messiah.

    Which introduces a pair of new criteria, with attendant complications. A) “Brother” then as now could signify close bonding rather than genetic kinship; B) the “Messiah”/”Christos” seems to have been applied several years after the purported life of Jesus. In any case, James did not play much of a role in the bio – why prioritize him for historicality, except for that one-off name-drop by Josephus?

    Is it possible that the actions of other people got worked into the stories about JBJM? Sure. Does that cast doubt on the existence of JBJM? No.

    That depends on whether you define “historical Jesus” as “the guy who did X and Y”. If one person did X and another did Y, “historicality” gets messy.

    … Jesus who was called Christ…

    Unless the original Latin had some fancy usage of tenses, that does not tell us whether Jesus was called “Christ” during his lifetime, or when Ananus busted James, or at the time Josephus wrote his history.

    The relevant remainder of the quotation (thanks for that link!):

    And when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.

    Nothing there concerning anything of religion or dissidence; no reason I can see to reject hypotheses of interpolation.

    … how “born of a woman” and “seed of Abraham” would apply to anything other than a human.

    “Human”, in this context, still fits comfortably into “vague.” No Jew expected any messiah in the form of an angel or other spirit.

    Paul seems to envision a pre-earthly life for him, but has his ministry here on earth.

    But also in the form of “spiritual” revelations: P’s only encounter with the “savior” to whom he devoted the rest of his life.

    … Paul mentions persecuting the church …

    A) “… I persecuted the church of God.”

    A pretty vague target, that; particularly since he was addressing a congregation hundreds of miles away and perhaps a decade or more later.

    B) Believers love to exaggerate their sins when they go into confession mode. If we accept any of this at face value, it means little more than that (then-)Saul helped (probably) Saducees in prosecuting heretics. As (maybe) the first preacher to convey the Jewish concept of an anointed savior in the Hebrew tradition to non-Jews, Paul created at least a new denomination, if not a new “faith” – where and how do we draw that line?

    Apparently the 7th-century Christian church saw Muhammad as having launched a heresy within Christianism; no doubt his doctrine of “submission” reached the status of a separate “faith” at different times in different places. I see no reason to doubt that Christianism emerged from the “Judeo-Christian” melange by a similarly blurry and uneven process (perhaps more so, given the Diaspora and all its complications).

    One Brow @ # 80 – Thanks, the cat continues to recover.

    Dr S’s intervention seems to have lowered the temperature and pressure around here, so I agree that we can continue so long as each gets something worthwhile from this.

  72. says

    Sarah — you stated at the outset that comments needed to be polite. Yet when I read through them I see that while there is by and large an effort to be polite among those in the current discussion, politeness is not required for anyone not yet involved. Thus Salm and others are still called “cranks” and their character is attacked without evidence (“they refuse to accept correction from experts”) and yours truly is said to be the author of “weasely (sic) words”, “deceptive”, and “misleadingly insinuating” .

    After all those insults One Brow says he promises to “treat with respect and dignity” the others he is engaged with discussion here.

    So what room is there for Salm or me to enter the conversation when we have already been insulted with your tacit approval?

    Neil

  73. says

    I was expecting my comment #82 to default to moderation and not be made live because it was directed to Sarah alone. But since I see I am “here” I will begin…

    Comment #5 — the Nazareth argument is described as “bullshit”. That is hardly an opener for a civil discussion.

    Comment #12 — mythicism is compared with flat-earthism (and again at #25). Again, that is not the way to engage in a serious discussion. When a commenter insults other side it is clear that commenter is not open to serious discussion.

    @ One Brow — you say (e.g. comment #16) that it is “only we amateurs … that think there is a serious question”. I think the evidence points towards many in mainstream biblical studies thinking otherwise. Is Dr Sarah opening up this discussion here just for amateurs? There is a clear difference in the way scientists respond to flat-earthers and the way many biblical scholars respond to mythicists. The latter is very similar to the way conservative biblical scholars respond to so-called “minimalists”. There is name-calling and personal insults and misrepresentations — all designed to dissuade their audiences from taking the other side seriously. Scientists don’t need to do that with deniers of evolution. They simply present the arguments and leave it at that, for most part. I have books here by scientists taking creationists to task and their tone and presentation is as different as night from day when compared with biblical scholars reactions to “minimalists” and “mythicists”. Biblical scholars clearly do think the question is serious — serious enough to go on the attacking the characters of mythicists and mocking their arguments through gross misrepresentation.

    Comment #34 — suggesting that public universities would welcome mythicist historians for the sake of attracting grant money and so forth — but it is very evident that few scholars would ever waste their time making their name with mythicism since at least one of the editors, Michael Bird, of the leading scholarly journal in historical Jesus studies has said flat out that no submission arguing for mythicism would ever be published in that journal. That tells you that a mythicist is up against little chance of getting ahead as a scholar by normal means.

    In the same comment you quote Grant. Grant, if you look at his bibliography and citations, is relying entirely on theologians for his book on Jesus. Ehrman, writing a popular book as you say, did say he believed he was the first scholar ever to have systematically sat down to prove the historicity of Jesus, at least in modern times.

    Comment #39 — “The academic press was where the argument was largely settled…”. The evidence itself informs us that the question was never settled. It was simply ignored. The objections to the writings of Shirley Jackson Case and others were simply ignored. That’s not “settling” a question; it is burying it.

    Comment #44 — In response to an earlier comment it is said that O’Neill is “a person with actual training in the historical method.” No, he has not had any formal training in either historical methods or the philosophy of history according to everything he has said about his background as far as I am aware. He never even studied history at university. He writes as if even unaware of the discussions of methods by one of the leading historians of ancient times in the last century, Moses I. Finley.

    One Brow, you also say at several points that one needs to have a generally acceptable alternative to a thesis before taking a position of doubt or scepticism towards the prevailing thesis, if I have read you correctly. That is surely not true. One can legitimately express problems with a prevailing thesis and express a need for it to be revised or replaced some time, without yet knowing what the alternative might be. Such a position is intellectual honesty. Agnosticism is rarely a dishonest position.

    On Comment #57 — On your response to Kuhnen, you appear not to have read in full the correspondence with Salm. It is very clear that Kuhnen had respect for Salm’s views in his book and even shared them with his students. Kuhnen wrote on the archaeology of Greco-Roman Palestine. His interests are broader than Nazareth. There is simply no denying that he held Salm’s views with respect, not “bullshit” as they are called in this discussion. I also posted in depth an analysis of O’Neill’s attempt to demonstrate that Salm mistranslated Kuhnen and misrepresented Kuhnen’s arguments. Salm most certainly did not and O’Neill’s arguments and presentation were clearly flawed as I demonstrated in detail.

    Salm has never simply refused to accept correction from archaeologists. He has criticized some of his critics were are not specialists in Palestinian archaeology and he has demonstrated where they have failed to take serious note of the published literature.

    In Comment #58 One Brow speaks of doubt about documentation being available to Josephus and Tacitus as “unreliable”. Again, this indicates a failure to understand how historical inquiry and treatment of evidence works — at least by those “trained in history”. In my most recent post on historical sources I quote Steve Mason in this respect: “there is never a prospect of declaring any ancient source adequate or “reliable” for our inquiry.” (https://vridar.org/2020/11/20/understanding-historical-evidence-2/)

    In the same comment the parallels with Jesus ben Ananias are downplayed. Theodore Weeden certainly had a different view of the parallels. So one needs to present an argument, not a mere dismissal, when discussing things like this. ( http://vridar.info/xorigins/josephus/2jesus.htm ) What happened to Jesus ben Ananias was not replicated in “a half-dozen or so other people” — unless you can point me to instances that have escaped me.

    Comment #67 — there are too many problems to be addressed here in a couple of paragraphs.

    Comment #70 — “Why do they nonetheless universally think Nazareth was a city?” That’s easy. Because the archaeological evidence as published in the scholarly journals points to Nazareth being (re)settled from the latter half of the first century. If we are going to poo-pooh Salm’s case we should at least read it to know what it is.

    “born of a woman” — again, we need to take a step back and take note of how sound historical method works and not jump on anything we see that looks like a useful proof-text.

    I’d also like to address Sarah’s remarks in her post. I may do that on my own blog so they are not lost down here in the “low 80s” somewhere — or maybe in both places.

    Cheers,
    N

  74. Pierce R. Butler says

    neilgodfrey @ # 83 – welcome. Pls at least drop a note here if you post relevant material at Vridar.

  75. says

    Pierce R. Butler,

    Many, along with laypersons, seem to accept the tradition(s) …

    This could be true regardless of whether these historians took St. Helena seriously or not. Very few people are always wrong.

    As I said earlier, I want to see an informed neutral review of Salm, or nothing at all.

    What would you add to the following qualifications for a “neutral review”?
    1) No vested interest in the existence of Nazareth in first-century CE
    2) No vested interest in the lack of said existence
    3) Ability to read, understand, and relay the current understanding of scholarship

    I can see why many early Christians would reject the idea that JC belonged to (a branch of) the Essenes …

    Please explain it to me, then, as I don’t see why they would care, nor why there would be a confusion between “Nazorean” and “Essene”. Did you mean “Nazarite”? Nazarites. among other things, did not drink alcohol and avoided the dead, while Jesus is portrayed as drinking and touches the dead. Why would he be confused for a Nazarite, assuming Mark even knew what that was?

    Which introduces a pair of new criteria, with attendant complications. A) “Brother” then as now could signify close bonding rather than genetic kinship; B) the “Messiah”/”Christos” seems to have been applied several years after the purported life of Jesus.

    Both terms having been used by Josephus in Antiquities XX.9.1, and there is no reason that Josephus would have referred to Jesus as James’s brother over a non-familial close bonding.

    In any case, James did not play much of a role in the bio – why prioritize him for historicality, except for that one-off name-drop by Josephus?

    Also the very significant name-drop by Paul. Both Josephus and Paul identify James as one of the leaders of the church.

    I’m not “prioritizing” James, I’m using James for identification.

    That depends on whether you define “historical Jesus” as “the guy who did X and Y”. If one person did X and another did Y, “historicality” gets messy.

    I agree that if you frame the argument in a manner designed to support mysticism, then historicity becomes harder to defend. However, since we are not looking at 5 or 6 possible interpretations of Jesus (as if he were some character in a play), but at an actual person, there is no reason to “define” this person, rather, we can only decide how much we can say about them.

    Unless the original Latin had some fancy usage of tenses, that does not tell us whether Jesus was called “Christ” during his lifetime, or when Ananus busted James, or at the time Josephus wrote his history.

    I agree. Regardless of which of those three timelines applies, Jesus existed.

    Nothing there concerning anything of religion or dissidence; no reason I can see to reject hypotheses of interpolation.

    To my understanding, there is no scholar that makes a claim of interpolation. There is a difference between being skeptical and being contrary. Assuming you are not just being contrary, what is your reason for suspecting interpolation?

    “Human”, in this context, still fits comfortably into “vague.” No Jew expected any messiah in the form of an angel or other spirit.

    “Human” is completely sufficient for ‘Jesus is a person from history’.

    Paul seems to envision a pre-earthly life for him, but has his ministry here on earth.

    But also in the form of “spiritual” revelations: P’s only encounter with the “savior” to whom he devoted the rest of his life.

    Yes, both are true.

    … Paul mentions persecuting the church …

    A) pretty vague target, that; particularly since he was addressing a congregation hundreds of miles away and perhaps a decade or more later.

    B) Believers love to exaggerate their sins when they go into confession mode. If we accept any of this at face value, it means little more than that (then-)Saul helped (probably) Saducees in prosecuting heretics.

    Since my only point there was to point out that Christianity preceded Paul’s conversion, that’s more than sufficient.

    As (maybe) the first preacher to convey the Jewish concept of an anointed savior in the Hebrew tradition to non-Jews, Paul created at least a new denomination, if not a new “faith” – where and how do we draw that line?

    A fine discussion for another thread. Here, I’m only discussing the historicity of Jesus.

    One Brow @ # 80 – Thanks, the cat continues to recover.

    Dr S’s intervention seems to have lowered the temperature and pressure around here, so I agree that we can continue so long as each gets something worthwhile from this.

    I am glad to hear it, and wish you many more years of happiness with your cat.

  76. says

    @ One Brow, #86

    Your reference to “ability to read, understand, and relay the current understanding of scholarship” in connection with a request to see “an informed neutral review of Salm” is interesting. One does not have to be a scholar to read or even write works of scholarship and to ask questions and compare feedback from different perspectives. Without appeal to authority or a third party of any kind, can you detail any sections of Salm’s published argument that does not engage critically with the scholarship that was current at the time of publication? Can you also point us to where Salm has refused to accept correction from archaeologists and Salm’s reasons for his supposed “rejection” of their criticisms?

    Both Josephus and Paul identify James as one of the leaders of the church.

    Where does Josephus identify James as a leader “of the church”?

    are not just being contrary, what is your reason for suspecting interpolation?

    The case for some kind of interpolation or gloss has been made often enough. Can you set out the case for rejecting the argument for a gloss without simply saying “no scholar makes that claim”? If we are relying on what most scholars appear to say then we don’t have anything to discuss. Surely this discussion is about the actual arguments, and we are engaged in understanding the reasons for conclusions, etc. There is no discussion if one side simply bypasses the arguments and says, “Hey, I’m on the side of most scholars.” The entire historicity of Jesus debate is about the arguments, not about head-counts of who says what.

    “Human” is completely sufficient for Jesus is a person from history’.

    Thinking back on most fictional characters in literature, I think nearly all fictional persons have been human, or certainly the overwhelming majority. Even in modern times rumours start and spread about people who do not exist.

  77. Pierce R. Butler says

    One Brow @ # 86: Very few people are always wrong.

    Very many people are wrong about the same thing: generations of Americans believing the majority of Columbus’s contemporaries thought the world was flat, e.g. You’re moving from argumentation to sophomorism here.

    What would you add to the following qualifications …

    A clear definition of “vested interest”, and actual scholarship in the field.

    … I don’t see why they would care, nor why there would be a confusion between “Nazorean” and “Essene”.

    The early phases of just about any movement include efforts to differentiate that movement from its antecedents & contemporaries. Early Christians had no need to carry Essene baggage.

    … no reason that Josephus would have referred to Jesus as James’s brother over a non-familial close bonding.

    But a hypothetical interpolator might have reasons to add “brother of Jesus called Christ” in a passage about some James in Jerusalem getting executed.

    … there is no reason to “define” this person, rather, we can only decide how much we can say about them.

    I just can’t buy that. A thing (or person) undefined has no edges and blends into everything/body else.

    … what is your reason for suspecting interpolation?

    Persons who have enough of a “calling” to spend their lives in a monastic cell endlessly copying old documents, experience shows, tend to insert their own “clarifications” into what passes through their hands. neilgodfrey @ # 87 avers that passage may have undergone interpolation (“the case has been made … often enough”); you say nobody has asserted that. Lacking the time & inclination to dig through Josephus studies, I’ll let y’all thrash that out (though he wins if he can cite one or two examples – you’ve boxed yourself into trying to prove a negative…).

    “Human” is completely sufficient for ‘Jesus is a person from history’.

    No, that’s neither complete nor sufficient. Alcmene of Corinth, King Arthur, William Tell, and Aunt Jemima also count as “human”.

    … my only point there was to point out that Christianity preceded Paul’s conversion…

    That only indicates that a “church” preceded Saul’s conversion (into Paul) – not that that church worshiped a specific, recently deceased, local human.

    … I’m only discussing the historicity of Jesus.

    A better dodge than some of your earlier moves, but you can’t evade the issue of Paul’s devotion to a solely hallucinatory (or at most second-hand) experience that easily.

    Ftr, not my cat – a neighbor’s, whom I am allowed to serve while his primary human is elsewhere tending to coronavirus-crisis family needs.

  78. db says

    @84 Pierce R. Butler said: “Pls at least drop a note here if you post relevant material at Vridar.”

    • Godfrey, Neil (22 November 2020). “Once more on investigating the historicity of Jesus”. Vridar.

    An educational presentation would introduce audiences to the reasons for one’s statements and give audiences room to think through the problem for themselves — always, of course, in the light of the reasons (not just the conclusions) of the scholarly majority.

  79. says

    Dr Sarah, I am greatly embarrassed and apologize for my confusing you with Sara Parks. How I came to make that connection I have no idea now. But be assured that I have made a correction to one of my blog posts, have removed another, and posted an apology. Once again, I am sorry for my gaffe!

  80. says

    neilgodfrey,
    Sarah — you stated at the outset that comments needed to be polite. Yet when I read through them I see that while there is by and large an effort to be polite among those in the current discussion, politeness is not required for anyone not yet involved. Thus Salm and others are still called “cranks” and their character is attacked without evidence (“they refuse to accept correction from experts”) and yours truly is said to be the author of “weasely (sic) words”, “deceptive”, and “misleadingly insinuating” .

    Being called a crank is not an attack on character, but an analysis of interactions and tendencies. If someone uses other people’s credit cards to buy things and not pay for them, it is not an insult to call them a criminal. If a person says they lack any belief in any sort of gods, it is not an insult to call them an atheist. Similarly, it is not an insult to call Salm a crank. However, if you have one- or two-word phrase you prefer to describe cranky behavior, I’ll go along with that.

    … and yours truly is said to be the author of “weasely (sic) words”, “deceptive”, and “misleadingly insinuating” .

    So what room is there for Salm or me to enter the conversation when we have already been insulted with your tacit approval?

    You could show where the two instances I pointed out where not examples of being accurate in denotation and inaccurate in connotation (could we call that being ADIC (to be clear, pronouced AD-ik), or would you take offense to me using a mathematical term that referred to a concept in ring theory where small differences (under the usual metric) are treated as large differences and vice-versa?). You could also stop writing in this manner.

  81. says

    neilgodfrey,

    Comment #12 — mythicism is compared with flat-earthism (and again at #25). Again, that is not the way to engage in a serious discussion. When a commenter insults other side it is clear that commenter is not open to serious discussion.

    In terms of the standing and use among present day scholars (which was the point under discussion in #12 and #25), they are equivalent, because neither has relevance.

    Now, just for future reference, because I want to make sure I don’t insult you inappropriately, when I see you miss such an obvious context, would the most polite assumption be that you did not possess the intelligence to see or understand the context, that you are so blinded by your pre-set positions that it escaped you despite your intelligence, or that you understood the context, but did not care enough to represent it properly?

    @ One Brow — you say (e.g. comment #16) that it is “only we amateurs … that think there is a serious question”. I think the evidence points towards many in mainstream biblical studies thinking otherwise.

    Since many in mainstream Biblical studies are amateurs, I will interpret this as you agreeing with me in a highly unusual way (I think this will come up a lot, so I will go with YAMHUW).

    Is Dr Sarah opening up this discussion here just for amateurs?

    Not “just”, but primarily. See any historical scholars around here?

    There is a clear difference in the way scientists respond to flat-earthers and the way many biblical scholars respond to mythicists.

    Many biblical scholars have an emotional component to their interpretations of history, so let’s restrict this discussion to scholars who are not Christian.

    The latter is very similar to the way conservative biblical scholars respond to so-called “minimalists”. There is name-calling and personal insults and misrepresentations — all designed to dissuade their audiences from taking the other side seriously. Scientists don’t need to do that with deniers of evolution.

    Your apparent lack of knowledge regarding the nature of discussions of evolution on the internet is very obvious. Even in forums that try to discourage insults and name-calling, they appear, and they are needed. Some ideas are really just too stupid, or too opposed to the evidence, to treat seriously.

    Comment #34 — … Michael Bird, … That tells you that a mythicist is up against little chance of getting ahead as a scholar by normal means.

    This Michael Bird? If he were to run a scholarly magazine in a fashion that ignored good work, some other magazine would publish it, the publications would get noticed, and Bird’s magazine would slowly lose influence, which would be a good thing. All that’s needed is for a mythicist to do good, historical work.

    Ehrman, writing a popular book as you say, did say he believed he was the first scholar ever to have systematically sat down to prove the historicity of Jesus, at least in modern times.

    Modern meaning in the last 100 years, presumably, since it was a scholarly question before that.

    Comment #39 — ,,,The objections to the writings of Shirley Jackson Case and others were simply ignored.

    Yes, papers that make bad arguments get ignored. If the papers had put forth anything interesting to respond to, they would have gotten responses.

    Comment #44 — In response to an earlier comment it is said that O’Neill is “a person with actual training in the historical method.” No, he has not had any formal training in either historical methods or the philosophy of history according to everything he has said about his background as far as I am aware. He never even studied history at university.

    https://historyforatheists.com/about-the-author-and-a-faq/
    I have a Bachelors Degree with Honours in English and History and a research Masters Degree from the University of Tasmania, with a specialisation in historicist analysis of medieval literature.

    Now you are aware, so I’m sure now you will stop saying he never studied history at university.

    He writes as if even unaware of the discussions of methods by one of the leading historians of ancient times in the last century, Moses I. Finley.

    Which could mean that he is aware and does not feel it is useful, or that he is unaware, or that you misunderstand O’Neill usage of Finley’s work, etc. Why do you think this is relevant?

    One Brow, you also say at several points that one needs to have a generally acceptable alternative to a thesis before taking a position of doubt or scepticism towards the prevailing thesis, if I have read you correctly.

    I have difficulty believing that you do not understand the difference between “thesis” and “theory”.

    That is surely not true. One can legitimately express problems with a prevailing thesis and express a need for it to be revised or replaced some time, without yet knowing what the alternative might be. Such a position is intellectual honesty.

    YAMHUW

    On Comment #57 — On your response to Kuhnen, you appear not to have read in full the correspondence with Salm. It is very clear that Kuhnen had respect for Salm’s views in his book and even shared them with his students. Kuhnen wrote on the archaeology of Greco-Roman Palestine. His interests are broader than Nazareth.

    I noticed you have made no claim that Kuhnen accepted the notion Nazareth did not exist in the early 1st century CE, so YAMHUW.

    Salm has never simply refused to accept correction from archaeologists. He has criticized some of his critics were are not specialists in Palestinian archaeology and he has demonstrated where they have failed to take serious note of the published literature.

    Salm is also not a specialist in Palestinian archaeology, nor archaeology of any sort. Further, when Salm first claims of Alexandre ” But the archaeologist who dug at Mary’s Well (Y. Alexandre) never claimed coins dating before Byzantine times! (I have exchanged emails with the archaeologist on precisely this point.)”, and then later (after Alexander has released dating for the coins) says ” It can be stated here that the treatment of new coin discoveries in that book is replete with errors and particularly suspect.”, it’s pretty clear that he’s not responding to the evidence at all, which is quite in line with being a crank.

    In Comment #58 One Brow speaks of doubt about documentation being available to Josephus and Tacitus as “unreliable”.

    Rather, he asks if there is a reason to doubt that they had access to reliable documentation pertaining to their brief mentions of Jesus.

    Again, this indicates a failure to understand how historical inquiry and treatment of evidence works — at least by those “trained in history”. In my most recent post on historical sources I quote Steve Mason in this respect: “there is never a prospect of declaring any ancient source adequate or “reliable” for our inquiry.” (https://vridar.org/2020/11/20/understanding-historical-evidence-2/)

    YAMHUW

    In the same comment the parallels with Jesus ben Ananias are downplayed.

    Since Paul’s preaching of Jesus precedes the activities recorded for Jesus ben Ananias, I’m sure we can agree Jesus ben Ananias was not the inspiration for Paul’s preaching or understanding of who Jesus was.

    Comment #67 — there are too many problems to be addressed here in a couple of paragraphs.

    So, YAMHUW.

    Comment #70 — “Why do they nonetheless universally think Nazareth was a city?” That’s easy. Because the archaeological evidence as published in the scholarly journals points to Nazareth being (re)settled from the latter half of the first century. If we are going to poo-pooh Salm’s case we should at least read it to know what it is.

    Except that the professional archeologists point to evidence from the first half of the 1st century CE, and before.

    “born of a woman” — again, we need to take a step back and take note of how sound historical method works and not jump on anything we see that looks like a useful proof-text.

    YAMHUW.

  82. says

    neilgodfrey,
    Your reference to “ability to read, understand, and relay the current understanding of scholarship” in connection with a request to see “an informed neutral review of Salm” is interesting. One does not have to be a scholar to read or even write works of scholarship and to ask questions and compare feedback from different perspectives.

    This statement is profoundly anti-intellectual. I can truthfully say ‘one does not need to be a medical provider to read or even write material relevant to to medical charts, ask questions about care, and compare feedback of different perspectives’, as I do this on a regular basis. That doesn’t make me a medical provider, and anyone who took my medical opinions with the same weight as those of medical providers would be making a serious error.

    Without appeal to authority or a third party of any kind, can you detail any sections of Salm’s published argument that does not engage critically with the scholarship that was current at the time of publication? Can you also point us to where Salm has refused to accept correction from archaeologists and Salm’s reasons for his supposed “rejection” of their criticisms?

    Example on Y. Alexandre offered above, and I don’t speculate on Salm’s reasons. A person seldom understands their own reasons, much less those of others.

    Where does Josephus identify James as a leader “of the church”?

    Antquites XX.9.1. I quoted it for you, unless you have a better reason for Josephus choosing to hightlight James in that passage.

    The case for some kind of interpolation or gloss has been made often enough. Can you set out the case for rejecting the argument for a gloss without simply saying “no scholar makes that claim”?

    I can’t make the argument for rejecting ‘Antiquities XV.10.2’s third sentence is a gloss’, either. There are solid reasons for accepting parts of XVII.3.3 which do not exist for XX.9.1. You can certainly take the position that any particular sentence in Josephus is a gloss until it is proven otherwise, but I would not call that serious criticism.

    If we are relying on what most scholars appear to say then we don’t have anything to discuss.

    If we are not relying on the expertise of genuinely knowledgeable people in our discussion, then our discussion has no bearing on reality.

    The entire historicity of Jesus debate is about the arguments, not about head-counts of who says what.

    I have heard parallel statements for over a dozen creationists, AGW deniers, etc. over the years.

    “Human” is completely sufficient for Jesus is a person from history’.

    Thinking back on most fictional characters in literature, I think nearly all fictional persons have been human, or certainly the overwhelming majority. Even in modern times rumours start and spread about people who do not exist.

    Of course, since in this context we were discussing what Paul thought of Jesus, and not engaging in notions about mythological characters generally, YAMHUW.

  83. says

    Pierce R. Butler,
    Very many people are wrong about the same thing: generations of Americans believing the majority of Columbus’s contemporaries thought the world was flat, e.g.

    I’m not sure how this reflects on which historians take St. Helena seriously.

    You’re moving from argumentation to sophomorism here.

    I found the attempt to equate ” accept the tradition(s) Helena signal-boosted” with ‘taking St. Helena seriously as a historical source’ to be sophmoric. There are many historians that accept traditions from faith without using them professionally, and across a wide variety of faiths.

    A clear definition of “vested interest”, and actual scholarship in the field.

    Since I asked about your standards, I await your clear definition of “vested interest”.

    The early phases of just about any movement include efforts to differentiate that movement from its antecedents & contemporaries. Early Christians had no need to carry Essene baggage.

    Just from my knowledge of recent religious history (Mormonism, the JWs, etc.), I’m going to disagree. If there was any strong connection to the Essenes, the early Christians would have been calling themselves the true Essenites, following the real teachings of John the Baptist(?), in order to pull in more converts.

    But a hypothetical interpolator might have reasons to add “brother of Jesus called Christ” in a passage about some James in Jerusalem getting executed.

    There is a difference between arbitrary skepticism and critical thinking. What’s your reason for saying there is an interpolation? If it is the non-existence of Jesus, you would be able to use it against the existence of Jesus.

    I just can’t buy that. A thing (or person) undefined has no edges and blends into everything/body else.

    Don’t we all? Every atom in our bodies existed before us, and will exist after us.

    More to the point, if I were to create a “definition” of Pierce R. Butler, do some examination on this constructed definition, and decide no one matched this precise definition with probability over 1/50, does that mean Pierce R. Butler does not exist?

    Persons who have enough of a “calling” to spend their lives in a monastic cell endlessly copying old documents, experience shows, tend to insert their own “clarifications” into what passes through their hands.

    This particular passage is basically unchanged across all document traditions, according to my understanding. For any other ancient document, that suffices to to think it is original, unless you have good internal evidence otherwise.

    “Human” is completely sufficient for ‘Jesus is a person from history’.

    No, that’s neither complete nor sufficient. Alcmene of Corinth, King Arthur, William Tell, and Aunt Jemima also count as “human”.

    As a reminder, I was referring to the perspective of Paul. Paul thinks of Jesus as human.

    BTW, none of the figures you mentioned have people writing about them as if they are real people and less than 30 years after their death.

    That only indicates that a “church” preceded Saul’s conversion (into Paul) – not that that church worshiped a specific, recently deceased, local human.

    Paul refers to it as the same church he now follows, and Paul follows a specific, recently dead human.

    A better dodge than some of your earlier moves, but you can’t evade the issue of Paul’s devotion to a solely hallucinatory (or at most second-hand) experience that easily.

    Why would I dodge that? I agree that Paul’s devotion came from a personal, hallucinatory experience (from what we can tell). How does that change the church existing before Paul’s PHE?

    Ftr, not my cat – a neighbor’s, whom I am allowed to serve while his primary human is elsewhere tending to coronavirus-crisis family needs.

    That’s being a very good neighbor.

    Of course, that just destroys the model of “Pierce R. Butler, owner of a sick cat”. Do you think you still exist? 🙂

  84. says

    I read the first replies of One Brow to find he justifies calling a potential participant in this discussion “a crank”, and calling me the author of “weasely words”, “deceptive” etc.

    In my mind these replies are clear violations of the request to be polite and not to assume bad faith in a dialogue partner.

    Unless One Brow withdraws his justifications to violate the conditions of the discussion then I see no point in participating any further. One Brow would then not be engaging with me or Salm in good faith and would be without regard for Dr Sarah’s conditions for a discussion here.

  85. says

    Rene Salm is someone I consider an online friend. I have invited him to discussions where his work is being debated. Salm would be more than willing to engage in the details of his work, including criticisms of it, in a scholarly manner. I have no intention of inviting him to a discussion where participants have called him and continue to justify calling him a crank. So far the only online discussions of his work that I am aware of have degenerated into personal insults and complete disregard for addressing any of the details of his argument and responses to critics. Still looking for a civil venue….

  86. Pierce R. Butler says

    One Brow @ # 94 – Another workout of a day (not to worry, cat continues well); I’ll try to muster a reply tomorrow.

  87. says

    neilgodfrey,

    Since my apology, I have not accused you of using “weasely” words, and I have asked you for better terminology for “crank”. I can not withdraw the justifications behind those terms, because I did not create them. It was Salm who criticized the Nazareth Farm Village report based on his misunderstanding of Y. Alexandre’s email, and who has then chosen to attack Alexandre once that misunderstanding was corrected; it is Salm who is claiming there is a conspiracy. I am merely identifying what this behavior represents.

    This represents good faith on my part, because I am being direct and honest with you about the short-comings in your position. If you want to claim I am being rude, I will not dispute that, but I am laying out the truth as seems so very plain to me.

    it’s presumptuous of you to protest on Dr. Sarah’s behalf. After she made it clear people (likely including me) were close to the line, I deliberately pulled back, and will happily do so again if she so says. Her blog, her rules.

    If it is impossible to find a civil place to discuss Salm’s work, perhaps that rests on the person who refers to archaeological findings he disputes as “scandals” and refers to an actual archaeologist as “inept”. Perhaps Salm is just reaping what he sows.

  88. Pierce R. Butler says

    One Brow @ # 94: I found the attempt to equate ” accept the tradition(s) Helena signal-boosted” with ‘taking St. Helena seriously as a historical source’ to be sophmoric.

    We seem to view “respect for religious tradition” through different lenses. Without said respect, historicists would have little indeed to stand on.

    … I await your clear definition of “vested interest”.

    Uh, you introduced the term.

    If there was any strong connection to the Essenes, the early Christians would have been calling themselves the true Essenites,…

    Assuming that the Essenes had a positive reputation among people in general or the Christians’ target market to begin with, and that the two groups had no conflict in doctrine or on the ground. As the E’s were reclusive and exclusive ascetics while the C’s were free-ranging proselytizers, that alone would separate them.

    What’s your reason for saying there is an interpolation?

    The passage as given seems odd, since Josephus does not describe why James and unnamed companions were sentenced to stoning. If Jimmy’s status as Jesus’s brother was worthy of mention, his crime (especially if church-related) would be too.

    … if I were to create a “definition” of Pierce R. Butler…

    You’re clutching at straws here. But, just to humor your whimsy, remember that you’re dealing with a name on the ‘net: anyone who knows about those will tell you that you should start with deep skepticism.

    This particular passage is basically unchanged across all document traditions, according to my understanding.

    Yet neilgodffrey asserts @ # 87: “The case for some kind of interpolation or gloss has been made often enough.” Perhaps if you were to address him less belligerently, he would furnish some examples.

    Paul thinks of Jesus as human.

    Paul thought of Jesus as some sort of manifestation of divinity – see my “celestial Jesus” comment @ # 63. He provides _no_ concrete details of his Jesus living and acting on Earth, though he gets admirably specific about people & places of his own encounters.

    Paul refers to it as the same church he now follows…

    A scattering of urban-underclass Gentile Greek-speaking congregations around the eastern Mediterranean qualifies as “the same church” as a heretic sect of Aramaic-speaking Jews around the Jerusalem area in about the same way as Elvis-mania is “the same” as K-pop fandom.

  89. says

    Pierce R. Butler,
    We seem to view “respect for religious tradition” through different lenses. Without said respect, historicists would have little indeed to stand on.

    I take this to mean something like, “Without the claims of St. Helena, there would be no town we identify as Nazareth”. However, we have a couple of mentions of the current town as Nazareth that precede St. Helena, including a Jewish source.

    Uh, you introduced the term.

    Yes, but it’s your standard I’m trying to meet. How would you identify a reviewer as having a “vested interest” or not?

    Assuming that the Essenes had a positive reputation among people in general or the Christians’ target market to begin with, and that the two groups had no conflict in doctrine or on the ground. As the E’s were reclusive and exclusive ascetics while the C’s were free-ranging proselytizers, that alone would separate them.

    Again, given what we have seen recently with groups like the Mormons and the Russellites, this is just no how religious organizations develop. If the prior organization did not have a good reputation, that’s why this new organization is the ‘restoration’ of the true meaning, etc.

    The passage as given seems odd, since Josephus does not describe why James and unnamed companions were sentenced to stoning. If Jimmy’s status as Jesus’s brother was worthy of mention, his crime (especially if church-related) would be too.

    That’s my fault for stopping the quote where I did. The very next sentences, after my quote in #70, was And when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned. But as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done., which offers what the crime was and why it mattered enough to be included.

    You’re clutching at straws here. But, just to humor your whimsy, remember that you’re dealing with a name on the ‘net: anyone who knows about those will tell you that you should start with deep skepticism.

    Actually, that was my point. There is an actual person with whom I am exchanging ideas, and the probability of some construction of that person or another construction being accurate does not change this.

    This particular passage is basically unchanged across all document traditions, according to my understanding.

    Yet neilgodffrey asserts @ # 87: “The case for some kind of interpolation or gloss has been made often enough.” Perhaps if you were to address him less belligerently, he would furnish some examples.

    Perhaps I have already read some of these examples, and found them wanting. I don’t need to be polite to read what he has written, after all. Frankly, were he as straight-forward, direct, and respectful as he insists others be, I would be less beligerent.

    Paul thinks of Jesus as human.

    Paul thought of Jesus as some sort of manifestation of divinity – see my “celestial Jesus” comment @ # 63. He provides _no_ concrete details of his Jesus living and acting on Earth, though he gets admirably specific about people & places of his own encounters.

    Paul’s detail are meagre, but certainly concrete. He describes Jesus being born of a woman and in the line of Abraham, says he ate a meal with other humans, etc. What would you consider a “concrete” detail that Paul would have included, and in which letter does it belong, and why?

    A scattering of urban-underclass Gentile Greek-speaking congregations around the eastern Mediterranean qualifies as “the same church” as a heretic sect of Aramaic-speaking Jews around the Jerusalem area in about the same way as Elvis-mania is “the same” as K-pop fandom.

    In the same way the Catholic Church of 2000 is the same as the Catholic Church of 1000, sure. How would you separate them?

  90. Pierce R. Butler says

    One Brow @ # 100: … we have a couple of mentions of the current town as Nazareth that precede St. Helena, including a Jewish source.

    You keep making claims without citations…

    How would you identify a reviewer as having a “vested interest” or not?

    Again, that’s your criterion. I want a track record of demonstrated knowledge in the subject area and a neutral exploration of competing claims.

    … this is just no how religious organizations develop.

    According to your interpretation of the history of a few 19th-century US groups – whose ideas and context differ profoundly from the reputed hotbed of sectarianism that was pre-revolt Judea.

    … But as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens… … which offers what the crime was …

    Huh? So, what was the crime?

    There is an actual person with whom I am exchanging ideas…

    Agreed, the odds of a bot wasting its time on this dialog seem pretty slim. But in the context of Jesus-historicism, you’re back to assuming the conclusion.

    Perhaps I have already read some of these examples, and found them wanting.

    The flat assertion that “This particular passage is basically unchanged across all document traditions…” contradicts that. Ret-conning is lazy and disrespectful in comic books; it just has no place in any sincere discussion of actual history.

    … were he as straight-forward, direct, and respectful as he insists others be, I would be less beligerent.

    That’s an interesting blend of ad hominem critique and tone-trolling, but it still leaves you with unsupported assertions and diminished credibility.

    What would you consider a “concrete” detail that Paul would have included…

    “Jesus went to Jerusalem in the year after ___ became high priest…; I was told this by ___, who led the church in ___…; the stories told by ___ are false, because …; the people in ___ still tell the story of ___…; standing just outside the Damascus Gate…; I arrested the preacher ___ and the Sanhedrin gave him twenty-one lashes on my testimony that …”

    … in which letter does it belong…

    All of them. Any of them!

    In the same way the Catholic Church of 2000 is the same as the Catholic Church of 1000…

    Apples and amethysts. The Catholic Church of the latter era still has (some of) the same real estate and the same (plus more) documents and doctrines; the Judeo-Christians of ~30 CE and the Corinthian-Christians of ~50 CE had in common little more than apocalypticism and an idealization of somebody called “Savior” bastardized from vague Septuagint prophecies.

  91. says

    Pierce R. Butler,

    You keep making claims without citations…

    People remember things better when they do their own research. You can find the information on pre-Helena references to Nazareth easily in Wikipedia, with links to authoritative sources.

    Again, that’s your criterion. I want a track record of demonstrated knowledge in the subject area and a neutral exploration of competing claims.

    How do you determine “neutral” here?

    According to your interpretation of the history of a few 19th-century US groups – whose ideas and context differ profoundly from the reputed hotbed of sectarianism that was pre-revolt Judea.

    Humans have changed very little in the past 2000 years, but cultures have changed. However, if you feel you have some handle on the context of first century (CE) Palestine and the position of the Essenes in that culture, please offer it. Right now, it seems like you are assuming some level of ‘Essene rejection’ because you find it convenient.

    Huh? So, what was the crime?

    “… breakers of the law,”. You remember the Law, right? The 613 commandments? We even have confirmation from Paul that the church had decided keeping the Law was no longer needed to be a Christian.

    But in the context of Jesus-historicism, you’re back to assuming the conclusion.

    Since I have started with Antiquities XX.9.1, this is untrue. You should not start pulling out claims of fallacies you can’t support.

    The flat assertion that “This particular passage is basically unchanged across all document traditions…” contradicts that.

    Does it? Please point to a different documentary tradition of XX.9.1. I mean, I’m aware of a different tradition for XVIII.3.3 (one which supports partial authenticity), but that is not under discussion.

    Ret-conning is lazy and disrespectful in comic books; it just has no place in any sincere discussion of actual history.

    Agreed.

    That’s an interesting blend of ad hominem critique and tone-trolling, but it still leaves you with unsupported assertions and diminished credibility.

    Since my assertion was that there is only one documentary tradition for XX.9.1, and I have looked for others and found none, my assertion stands until you can produce a different documentary tradition. I am assuming you did not mean your unsupported assertion that I didn’t look into Godfrey’s claims regarding interpolation.

    BTW, it’s neither ad hominem (since I make no claim of error, much less error related to any characteristic of Godfrey), nor tone-trolling (since I don’t claim he is using harmful language). I am accusing him of hypocrisy (one example being his willingness to exchange ideas with a person referring to supposed conspiracies and scandals of professional archaeology, but drawing the line at referring to that person as a crank).

    By the way, where do you think Salm rates on the crackpot index?

    https://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/crackpot.html

    He’s got to be at least a 50, even without making adjustments for being in a different field.

    All of them. Any of them!

    You ignored the “why”. Why would Paul include these details in (picking the shortest) Philemon? How do they help with what he is trying to do there? If you can’t find a good reason for them in Philemon, try a different epistle. Find a good place for such a detail, and explain how it would have helped Paul in what Paul is trying to accomplish.

    Apples and amethysts. The Catholic Church of the latter era still has (some of) the same real estate and the same (plus more) documents and doctrines; the Judeo-Christians of ~30 CE and the Corinthian-Christians of ~50 CE had in common little more than apocalypticism and an idealization of somebody called “Savior” bastardized from vague Septuagint prophecies.

    Well, there is also the same leadership (Peter and James) and the same center of orgnization (Jerusalem). Where’s the dividing line?

  92. Pierce R. Butler says

    One Brow @ # 102: You can find the information on pre-Helena references to Nazareth easily in Wikipedia…

    As a history buff, I’d enjoy that – but for the last few years, due to certain domestic crises, have kept myself on a fairly strict diet of US history. I project at least two more years of that before I might allow myself to delve back into the ancient eras – more if our national problems don’t ameliorate…

    How do you determine “neutral” here?

    My model comes from a popular-level biology book, Melvin Konner’s The Tangled Wing. It concerns the nature-vs-nurture controversy, and Konner, rather than taking one side and biting at the other, presents the strongest evidence both ways.

    … if you feel you have some handle on the context of first century (CE) Palestine and the position of the Essenes in that culture, please offer it.

    I don’t have anything beyond the contexts given by Ehrman, Burton Mack, introductions to the Dead Sea Scrolls, etc, and I think I’ve summarized that material fairly. Just as few evangelists trying to recruit modern people for Christianism extol the Trappists or the Penitentes as a lure for the curious, I don’t think Judeo-Christians found Essenism a successful marketing ploy (look how much of the just-regular-Jewish baggage Paul had to drop).

    “… breakers of the law,”. You remember the Law, right? The 613 commandments?

    Not quite so vague as “human”, but still damned sloppy reporting. And what Josephus says doesn’t even get that specific.

    I have started with Antiquities XX.9.1, this is untrue.

    You switched quickly to One Brow C.X (comment 100, para 10), a feeble parallel using a dissimilar situation. The assumption that Pierce R. Butler’s online identity compares with Jesus C’s literary existence just won’t float.

    The flat assertion that “This particular passage is basically unchanged across all document traditions…” contradicts that.

    The contradiction lies in your own previous statement that “Perhaps I have already read some of these examples, and found them wanting.” Maybe you disagree with “these examples”, and maybe you’re even right, but to claim no one points to discrepancies = those discrepancies do not exist by hand-waving away such claims adds up to ret-conning yourself – something you also agree is lazy and disrespectful.

    … your unsupported assertion that I didn’t look into Godfrey’s claims regarding interpolation.

    Since he never specified such claims, and seems to have absented himself (hey, I didn’t drive him off), that remains an open question.

    I don’t feel much of an urge to drop everything to excavate Josephusian details, but your self-retconning leaves me unable to accept your unspecified implication that you did look into anybody’s “claims regarding interpolation.”

    … where do you think Salm rates …

    See my # 68 above.

    Why would Paul include these details …

    Paul promoted a cosmic vision based on his own subjective experiences, unconcerned with Earthly actualities except as they involved the maintenance and growth of his followership. None of this lends useful support to historicist claims – something Paul could easily have done in regard to his own actions, and if trying to support his own case to doubters (“This really happened!”) really should have done just in passing. Paul sometimes makes a moral argument that lines up with one purportedly made by Jesus – they both came out of the Jewish ethos, after all – but doesn’t throw in a “as Jesus said that time in Galilee…” remark that would have (to his readership) clinched the case.

    … the same leadership (Peter and James) and the same center of orgnization (Jerusalem).

    P & J had no leadership (or any other) role in Corinth, nor did anybody in Co-town take their orders from anyone in J-burg. I find it increasingly difficult to believe you continue to raise such confusions in good faith.

  93. says

    Pierce R. Butler,

    My model comes from a popular-level biology book, Melvin Konner’s The Tangled Wing. It concerns the nature-vs-nurture controversy, and Konner, rather than taking one side and biting at the other, presents the strongest evidence both ways.

    Here, you are making a presumption that there is a legitimate argument to be on both sides. It’s pretty obvious that the answer to nature vs. nurture is “both, and how could we ever disentangle them”, but not every argument is between two sides with valid points of view.

    In the case of Salm, you are not going to find a knowledgeable observer meeting your definition of neutral, because Salm has no case, and goes against widely accepted archaeological facts. It is very much like asking for a “neutral observer” (as you describe it) on evolutionary theory vs. creationism.

    Not quite so vague as “human”, but still damned sloppy reporting. And what Josephus says doesn’t even get that specific.

    Perhaps if the story had been about James, that would have featured more prominently. As it is, Josephus was discussing Ananus and why he was deposed.

    You switched quickly to One Brow C.X (comment 100, para 10), a feeble parallel using a dissimilar situation. The assumption that Pierce R. Butler’s online identity compares with Jesus C’s literary existence just won’t float.

    It also doesn’t float to assume we can create models of historic figures and judge their existence or lack thereof by our success or failure to fit a model around them.

    The contradiction lies in your own previous statement that “Perhaps I have already read some of these examples, and found them wanting.” Maybe you disagree with “these examples”, and maybe you’re even right, but to claim no one points to discrepancies = those discrepancies do not exist by hand-waving away such claims adds up to ret-conning yourself – something you also agree is lazy and disrespectful.

    In particular, what is stated in Antiquities XX.9.1 is completely compatible with Josephus’s writing style and standards; there is no discrepancy to which Godfrey, et. al., point. Further, my comment, if you will check again, was about the textual tradition. There is no early version of Josephus (not even the early Arabic translation that has a partial Testimonium) missing the “brother of James” reference in XX.9.1.

    For example, here’s a list of Godfrey’s where 1) even Godfrey acknowledges at the start that the list is more apologetic than scholarly, 2) they are trying to cal into question the entirety of the paragraph as oppposed to only the reference to Jesus, and 3) the 6 reasons consist of have nothing to do with the text of Josephus or it’s transmission.

    Since he never specified such claims, and seems to have absented himself (hey, I didn’t drive him off), that remains an open question.

    He has several bogs posts that discuss the Antiquities XX.9.1 passage. I have a pretty good idea of his thought on the matter.

    Nor did I drive him off. I tried to find mutually agreeable terminology, but it seems Godfrey applies very high standards to people with whom he disagrees.

    I don’t feel much of an urge to drop everything to excavate Josephusian details, but your self-retconning leaves me unable to accept your unspecified implication that you did look into anybody’s “claims regarding interpolation.”

    You keep mentioning retconning. Is there some position you think I have changed my rhetoric towards?

    See my # 68 above.

    I offered a link. You must be very disinterested indeed.

    Why would Paul include these details …

    Paul promoted a cosmic vision based on his own subjective experiences, unconcerned with Earthly actualities except as they involved the maintenance and growth of his followership. None of this lends useful support to historicist claims – something Paul could easily have done in regard to his own actions, and if trying to support his own case to doubters (“This really happened!”) really should have done just in passing.

    Paul would only need to rebut mythicist claims if there were mythicist claims in his time. To my understanding, mythicism begins more than 1700 years after Paul wrote.

    Paul sometimes makes a moral argument that lines up with one purportedly made by Jesus – they both came out of the Jewish ethos, after all – but doesn’t throw in a “as Jesus said that time in Galilee…” remark that would have (to his readership) clinched the case.

    Please be more specific about which argument, and where. Personally, I think you will find it difficult to find such a place in the Pauline letters. That’s because 1) he wasn’t interested in proving Jesus’s humanity, and 2) there were no mythicists to defend it against.

    P & J had no leadership (or any other) role in Corinth, nor did anybody in Co-town take their orders from anyone in J-burg. I find it increasingly difficult to believe you continue to raise such confusions in good faith.

    I don’t recall the subject being if Peter and James were monitoring the day-to-day activities of any particular congregation. However, if you are saying the Corinthians of 50 CE did not recognize Peter and James as heads of the church, I’d like to see some proof, especially as Paul describes going to Peter and James in order to have doctrine changed.

  94. Pierce R. Butler says

    One Brow @ # 104: … you are making a presumption that there is a legitimate argument … on both sides.

    Whereas you presume the opposite. Meanwhile, you flatly disregard my answer to your question as to how I like to see a “neutral” analysis conducted.

    … Josephus was discussing Ananus …

    So it appears – and either he adds extraneous detail or omits relevant info. Either way, it weakens the extraneous detail for any other use.

    It also doesn’t float to assume we can create models of historic figures and judge their existence or lack thereof …

    When said existence is itself the point of the question, how else might we proceed? “Nobody’s ever asked that before!” really doesn’t work.

    Okay, you’ve read more of vridar.org than I have, and here you present a clear contradiction to your own claim of unchallenged Josephusian consistency and integrity. I have no idea how seriously to take J. Efron’s doubts about Josephus’s story of Ananus, or Godfrey’s doubts about Efron, but all this only adds to the murk.

    … it seems Godfrey applies very high standards to people with whom he disagrees.

    Funny how you evade the issue of your own acrimoniousness, again.

    … retconning. Is there some position you think I have changed my rhetoric towards?

    This gets ever more tedious. As should be clear from my # 103, you stated at # 67 that “… no professionals contend that the mention of Jesus in Antiquities XX.9.1 is an interpolation …”; later you change that “Perhaps I have already read some of these examples, and found them wanting…”; and @ # 104 you link to a discussion of a book by “a Jewish scholar” calling the whole passage into question.

    You must be very disinterested indeed.

    I am very disinterested indeed in deliberately obtuse evasions. From context, could you really not grasp I meant to refer to my eschewal of all things Salm?

    Likewise, I don’t find much to like in your shift that Paul must have intended to write a denial of Jesus mythicism for his consistent omission of Jesus’s putative earthly life to mean anything. From all evidence, Paul’s Jesus (the one that motivated his actions and epistles) was the one in his head – who managed somehow not to overlap with any material/temporal events or persons even in passing anecdotal mention.

    Please be more specific about which argument…

    As I recall – and I’m too tired, and too frustrated with your disingenuous diversions, to dig up chapter and verse – both Paul and Jesus bitterly deplored divorce. Yet Paul argues against it without citing anything Jesus allegedly said, which he clearly would have done had known anything from J on the topic.

    … if you are saying the Corinthians of 50 CE did not recognize Peter and James as heads of the church…

    I don’t think the local churches of the Pauline era recognized any ecclesiastical hierarchy between their own overseers (“bishops”) and the supernatural, though they would accept occasional guidance, not in any structured or formal way, from Paul and perhaps other itinerant gurus.

    … Paul describes going to Peter and James in order to have doctrine changed.

    In the (7 generally considered genuine) Pauline epistles, only Galatians mentions Peter – and in that text, Paul would have us believe they sorted out that he got the Gentile market and Pete got the Jews. Fairly standard turf-dividing, as seen in pyramid schemes from the Mafia to Mary Kay – except that, peddling pure vaporware, neither had any recourse to any meta-organization. The references to James are even vaguer and more self-serving.

  95. says

    Pierce R. Butler,

    Whereas you presume the opposite.

    Not presume, observe. As in, observe how Salm has not actual archaeologists who agree with him.

    Meanwhile, you flatly disregard my answer to your question as to how I like to see a “neutral” analysis conducted.

    Did I? I apologize for that, that. My understanding was that you were looking for an analysis that would treat the “Nazareth existed near 1 BCE” and “Nazareth did not exist near 1 BCE” as two positions equally worthy of being held, each with pluses and minuses to be examined. If this is not what you meant, could you clarify that? If that is what you meant, I feel I addressed it more than adequately.

    So it appears – and either he adds extraneous detail or omits relevant info. Either way, it weakens the extraneous detail for any other use.

    The only use I have for it is that the Jesus so referred to existed and was James’ brother. Seems pretty useful for that.

    When said existence is itself the point of the question, how else might we proceed?

    We could start with, “Do any reliable parties who do not have a personal interest in Jesus existing none-the-ess report him as existing?”, and see that we have two of them.

    … but all this only adds to the murk.

    From what I can tell, Godfrey likes to deliberately frame everything to be murky here. You can always find ways to throw mud at things. Part of being skeptical is to recognize the difference between careful questioning

    Funny how you evade the issue of your own acrimoniousness, again.

    If it is acrimony to call a crank by that term, then I will be happy to use another one (neither Godfrey nor you have a suggestion, it’s almost as if you would rather complain about language than look at the faults that make the language appropriate), and it’s not acrimony to identify when a person is being ADIC (again, happy to use a better term if you like). Polite conversation does not require one to acknowledge or accept pyrite as gold, nor does it require one to pretend something being done is not being done.

    Outside of that, I have already apologize once for my acrimonious behavior, and have not repeated it.

    This gets ever more tedious.

    For both of us.

    As should be clear from my # 103, you stated at # 67 that “… no professionals contend that the mention of Jesus in Antiquities XX.9.1 is an interpolation …”; later you change that “Perhaps I have already read some of these examples, and found them wanting…”; and @ # 104 you link to a discussion of a book by “a Jewish scholar” calling the whole passage into question.

    I had forgotten that Efron contends that the entirety of Antiquities XX.9.1 is an interpolation (not just the passage about Jesus, but an entire paragraph of a couple hundreds of words, supposedly without there being a single deviance from the style of Josephus.

    I am very disinterested indeed in deliberately obtuse evasions. From context, could you really not grasp I meant to refer to my eschewal of all things Salm?

    I am happy to drop all things Salm from the conversation, from this point forward. Consider it done.

    Likewise, I don’t find much to like in your shift that Paul must have intended to write a denial of Jesus mythicism …

    Perhaps you misunderstood me? I said there was no denial needed, so Paul would not be writing one.

    … for his consistent omission of Jesus’s putative earthly life to mean anything.

    For the omission to mean something, you have to give a place where a more extensive mentioning of Jesus’ life would be useful to Paul in that time at that point in the epistle. Absence of evidence is only meaningful where evidence is to be expected.

    From all evidence, Paul’s Jesus (the one that motivated his actions and epistles) was the one in his head – who managed somehow not to overlap with any material/temporal events or persons even in passing anecdotal mention.

    I agree the evidence is meager. Paul only says what he needs to about Jesus’s earthly existence, which is that Jesus is a human (“born of a woman”), a descendant of David and Abraham, and was killed by the rulers of his time.

    As I recall – and I’m too tired, and too frustrated with your disingenuous diversions, to dig up chapter and verse – both Paul and Jesus bitterly deplored divorce. Yet Paul argues against it without citing anything Jesus allegedly said, which he clearly would have done had known anything from J on the topic.

    Actually, Paul identifies his teaching as coming from Jesus in 1 Cor 7:10.
    1 Corinthians 7:10, NLT: “But for those who are married, I have a command that comes not from me, but from the Lord. A wife must not leave her husband.”. However, I didn’t think that fit your criteria of talking about his earthly life. He mentions Jesus as teaching things a couple of other times.

    I don’t think the local churches of the Pauline era recognized any ecclesiastical hierarchy between their own overseers (“bishops”) and the supernatural, … Fairly standard turf-dividing, … neither had any recourse to any meta-organization. The references to James are even vaguer and more self-serving.

    Galatians 2:
    https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Galatians%202&version=ESV

    There was turf division, but there was still a hierarchy with Paul below the “three pillars”. That’s why Paul went to them to get approval for what he was teaching (note verse 2). Also, it’s not as if Paul was the only/chief person who went out to teach among the gentiles.

  96. Pierce R. Butler says

    One Brow @ # 106: This gets ever more tedious.

    For both of us.

    Let’s wrap it up, then. Neither of us seems to be making any progress, or having any fun.

    See ya ’round…

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