History is hard


One of the more horrible things I can imagine is listening to a debate between Sam Harris and Ben Shapiro, two awful people. It happened. In my vast wisdom, I have simply refused to listen to it. Apparently, they swapped historical arguments back and forth, though, and someone with historical training felt obligated to listen, and ripped them both apart for their ignorance of history.

Contrary to Harris’ silly “bridges” analogy, all of these early scientific thinkers came from a tradition that saw “the Book of Nature” as complimentary to “the Book of Scripture” (i.e. the Bible). This tradition stretched back to the earliest Christian thinkers. This is why Galileo (who was not particularly devout) could quote Tertullian (who was not especially scientifically-minded) as saying “We conclude that God is known first through Nature, and then again, more particularly, by doctrine; by Nature in His works, and by doctrine in His revealed word.” (Adversus Marcionem, I.18). The two elements were intricately and essentially interlinked.

But Harris knows nothing of all this. Just as Harris knows nothing of the causes of the fall of the Roman Empire. Or the place of science in the Islamic world. Or the complexities and nuances of the Galileo Affair. Or medieval universities. Or … anything much about history. And this is why, as with Sagan or Hawking or Tyson or Dawkins, when a scientist speaks about their field of science, they are worth listening to. But when they opine about history they usually have little idea what they are talking about, and that is even if they are not labouring under Harris’ clear ideological biases. His near total ignorance coupled with those crippling biases means what he has to say on these and most other historical subjects is mostly complete garbage.

Well, but, Harris has negligible understanding of science, so there’s not much he has the qualifications to talk about, and Ben Shapiro has even less, so what else can they do but babble ignorantly on topics in which they have no expertise? History is just one among many subjects they can only mangle. But hey, Travis Pangburn will charge $500/head to people who want to listen to them. By libertarian standards of truth, they must be right.

Seriously, though, Tim O’Neill is making an important point. Most of us have expertise in something, but we should be careful about assuming our knowledge of one thing means we have knowledge of all things. Some epistemic humility is always warranted. I’ve inflicted this quote from Augustine on my students many times:

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking non-sense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although “they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.”

I’ve noticed two kinds of Christians: those who insist that the Bible is absolutely true, and therefore evidence that contradicts it must be reinterpreted to conform, and those who recognize that the Bible is not a full description of the world, and therefore if evidence is found that contradicts it, their understanding of the Bible must be reinterpreted. Personally, I detest both, the first for obvious reasons and the second because they’ve ‘mended’ a flawed document to the point where it’s ridiculously threadbare, but at least one can have a rational discussion with the latter.

I had to dig further into this guy’s writings, and came across his criticisms of the Jesus mythicists, in particular his rebuttal to the “argument from silence”, which claims that Jesus should have been mentioned in many historical sources if he had existed, but he isn’t, so he didn’t. Most telling was his listing of the feeble number of brief mentions of the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in classical records — if the Romans didn’t leave us many documents of this colossal disaster in their backyard, why should we expect them to have mentioned some minor Jewish preacher off in some provincial backwater? He also points out how rare it was for any writings to have survived from 2000 years ago, which lit up a lightbulb floating above my head.

This is exactly the same as the common creationist argument that if evolution were true, we ought to be neck deep in tyrannosaur and stegosaur and diplodocid bones, and because the fossil record is so spotty and incomplete, evolution is false. Never mind that taphonomy shows that finding the bones of a dead animal surviving for even a decade is rare and requires unusual conditions.

OK, I have no problem accepting O’Neill’s argument. But now I’m left with confusion; I’ve never delved deeply into the mythicist literature, and now I don’t understand what the “historical Jesus” means. I don’t believe in the existence of a water-walking, fig-tree-killing, fish-cloning resurrection man who died and came back to life and then whooshed up into the sky. My version of Jesus mythicism is that he was, at best, a radical Jewish preacher who was executed and then inspired decades of fan-fiction that got built up into the New Testament.

O’Neill’s explanation for the absence of Jesus in contemporary documents is in part that he was a minor figure in a small, out-of-the-way region who was understandably ignored by the authorities of the time, and lists alternative explanations for the silence about him.

Fitzgerald finds it significant that Gallio did not mention “this amazing Jesus character” to his brother and concludes this means Jesus did not exist. He does not bother to consider alternatives, such as (i) Jesus existed but was not so “amazing” as Fitzgerald keeps assuming he has to have been if he existed, (ii) Jesus existed but a learned Roman official did not regard people like him as very interesting or important, (iii) Jesus existed and Gallio did mention him to his brother but Seneca did not regard people like him as very interesting or important or even (iv) the whole Gallio-Paul trial scene is a piece of fiction reported or even created by the writer of Acts to emphasise Paul’s credibility. Fitzgerald skips over all these quite plausible alternatives and leaps gymnastically straight to the conclusion Jesus did not exist.

Now I have to recalibrate. What does “Jesus mythicist” mean? Apparently, rejecting the idea of the Son of God wandering about Galilee, and thinking that many of the tales that sprang up around him were confabulations, does not make one a Jesus mythicist. I also don’t know what the “historical Jesus” means. If I die, and a hundred years later the actual events of my life are forgotten and all that survives are legends of my astonishing sexual prowess and my ability to breathe underwater, what does the “historical PZ” refer to? Does it matter if my birth certificate is unearthed (and framed and mounted in a shrine, of course)? Would people point to it and gasp that it proves the stories were all true <swoon>?

Jeez, I’m glad I’m not a historian. What a mess they have to deal with.

Comments

  1. OverlappingMagisteria says

    Yea.. the term “Jesus Mythicist” can mean a lot of things. I’ve run into many people online who will say that they think Jesus was a myth, but after some discussion they say that they think there probably was a preacher named Jesus who started the movement, but many of the stories were exaggerations/inventions. Well, that’s what most historians will agree with! The more strict mythicists will say that even the person was invented.

    And I’ve noticed the parallels between mythicists and creationists too. There’s a lot of reliance on non-experts, promoting the ideas of the handful of experts that do take the position while ignoring the vast majority that don’t (Carrier and kinda Robert M Price are the only credentialed mythicists historians that i know of), imagined motivations of experts who don’t agree (“they’re all biased Christians”, or “they’d all lose their jobs if they told what they know is true!) and also a lot of “The truth will be revealed… any day now!” In my opinion, Jesus Mythicism is the atheist version of creationism.

  2. erichaas says

    A Jesus mythicist is someone who believes that Jesus started out as a mythical figure and was later humanized. A Jesus historicist believes that there was an actual flesh-and-blood Jesus (a historical Jesus) who was turned into a miracle worker and son of God in retrospect.

  3. Reginald Selkirk says

    I recommend starting from the agnostic about a historical Jesus position; which might be called “weak mythicism.”

    OverlappingMagisteria #1: I’ve run into many people online who will say that they think Jesus was a myth, but after some discussion they say that they think there probably was a preacher named Jesus who started the movement, but many of the stories were exaggerations/inventions.

    People may think this is true, or that it is not an outrageous claim. But: what is the evidence for it? What is the evidence for a preacher named Jesus? What evidence that he was executed in Jerusalem or anywhere else? There is nothing. Zero. Zip. Nada. Nichts. The ‘evidence’ that is put forward in absence of anything better is hilariously inadequate. A writer who was not born until after Jesus’ alleged death (Josephus), and so writing a full generation later, may have mentioned him 2 or 3 times, if those were not scribal interpolations? Even at its very best, that could be nothing but hearsay. And why are such sickly arguments even uttered? Because there is literally nothing more to go on.

  4. cartomancer says

    To be fair, ancient and medieval history aren’t that hard. If they were then my feeble, addled little brain wouldn’t be able to do them! There is a wonderful get-out to historical investigation – that beautiful phrase “we don’t know”. In fact, an honest historian ought to be using that one a lot – there are a lot of things we can only really speculate on, and for which the evidence is entirely inconclusive. It’s not like people’s lives are at stake, as with medicine or industrial engineering, after all. Though you can get a good book or two out of throwing cold water on the more tenuous tissues of speculation that the historical community comes up with.

    The problem here, though, is that everyone tends to think they understand history. It’s a lot more accessible than most things in the sciences, and since it deals with people’s lives we feel we have an intimate connection to it. We get taught bare, basic outlines of history in school, and tend to figure that there’s not much more to it. Those basic outlines often tend to be quite wrong, particularly where ancient and medieval history are concerned. Largely because our society tends to use the ancient and medieval past as a canvas for its own concerns and self-edification. Broadly speaking we tend to lionise the ancient world and write off the medieval – they were a time of great philosophers and empire-builders on the one hand and a time of idiot monks and narrow-minded kings on the other. We’ve been doing this since the Renaissance. Culturally speaking, that’s essentially what the Renaissance was.

    Scientists are especially prone to this, because the culture of modern science proudly traces its history to the Renaissance and Enlightenment and drinks deep of the anti-medieval prejudices of both periods. Americans are also especially prone to this, because their national story is a defiantly post-medieval story and it feeds inherited prejudices to do down all things medieval when you have no medieval history yourself and want to distance yourself from old-world nations for whom it is important.

  5. cartomancer says

    The fall of the Roman Empire, since it was mentioned, is another one of those historical episodes that people ever since have used as a mythic canvas for their own prejudices. These days a lot of laymen on the subject are just recycling the prejudices of previous generations. I’ve heard plenty of those toxic masculinity atheists accept quite uncritically Edward Gibbon’s 18th Century notion that it was the rise of Christianity that led to Rome’s downfall, because it softened the old Roman traditions of manly virtue and military courage and replaced the rational, logical philosophy of the ancient schools with religious obscurantism.

    But Gibbon’s enlightenment-era prejudices were not the first. Renaissance ideas about the Fall of Rome saw it as a problem of immigration – specifically the immigration of hairy, uncultured Germanic people into the sophisticated, literate lands of Italian influence. That the city-states of Italy were at that time terrified of the expanding influence of the Holy Roman Empire as it came south over the Alps is entirely to the point. I’ve even heard Tory politicians trying to claim that a big part of it was the Roman state’s military pensions getting out of control (borrowing from the very Tory Gibbon again), and bringing that to his own conceited right-wing desire to see the poor of modern England suffer. Boris Johnson decried the fall of Rome in his TV series, for much the same reason, and castigated the EU for not being enough like Rome in its function and propagandising. You will no doubt be familiar with Carl Sagan’s idea that it was the cruelty engendered by the institution of slavery that sapped the ancient world of its vitality, and (from Gibbon again) the rise of Platonism and Christianity that replaced the physical speculations of the Presocratics and the Hellenistic philosophers.

    Needless to say the Nazis made it out to be about race-mixing and the decay of manly virtue. They also borrowed medieval German ideas about a natural “translatio imperii” (Otto of Friesing), where God bestowed prominence first on the Egyptians, then the Greeks, then the Romans, and now on the Germans. I’ve not seen today’s nazis revive this idea, but it’s probably out there under stones I don’t want to turn over.

    The real problem here is that the actual explanation for the “fall of the Roman Empire” is very diffuse, multi-faceted, and differs tremendously from place to place. The very phrase “fall” (or “decline and fall”) is loaded and misleading. We’re really talking about many centuries of gradual social and economic change, political re-orientation and cultural shifts. None of that makes for a good story, particularly a good story that can be put to use as a battle flag to rally people to your ideological cause.

  6. =8)-DX says

    AFAIK the mythicist position (does calling on the name of Richard Carrier bring a pox upon my house?) is that there was a legendary “heavenly king” figure who appeared in dreams and visions and was venerated by various jewish cults who were trying to find mystical enlightenment and later his entire backstory was retrofitted to include the story of a purportedly real person.

    Basically the primary argument for this is that the earliest NT source we have (Paul), can be read as talking about a celestial being not an actual person, and while the later synoptic gospels add in more and more realistic details, there were also a whole number of other documents (Non-canonical ones) which variously mythicise Jesus and were basically rejected for being too silly.

    But what do I know, it’s best to listen to historians talk about this. Personally, my approach is to say the Jesus of the Bible never existed, but there were a lot of crazy rabbis and a lot of people named Jesus gooing around at the time, shouting about redemption and heavenly kingdoms and subversion of the political order and other nonsense, often revolutionary zealots, many such rabble rousers were almost certainly executed and we have no way of telling whether the later fabrications of a host of cults with overlapping and contradictory oral traditions, one of which later became Christianity, had any relation to actual events, originally referred to one or several Jesuses, or none, or John or an entirely ficticious character.

    Bah, what a topic.
    =8)-DX

  7. whheydt says

    This is rather reminiscent of Isaac Asimov’s essay rebutting a major counter-argument of the Velikovsky supporters. To wit…the Velikovsky supporters claimed that scientists criticized his work by pointing to serious problems in fields other than their own. So Asimov said (in essence), okay…good point. Howver–he went on–I am a biochemist and Velikovsky clearly doesn’t know a hydrocarbon from a carbohydrate, so his biochemistry is bunk.

  8. cartomancer says

    I’ve recently been reading Mary Beard’s book on Pompeii though (I’ll be visiting for the first time next year), and she gives a very amusing example of how even historians and archaeologists can let their prejudices run away with them in the assessment of evidence. Pompeii has quite a lot of graffiti, and many of them are of the “I shagged Euphorbia here for 2 asses” kind (with or without stick-figure drawings to illustrate. An as was a tiny Roman coin, negligible pocked change to most). Sometimes you even get lists of women’s names, with numbers next to them. Historians have taken these to be impromptu price lists for a prostitute’s services, and commented on how cheap they were compared to the known costs of many other basic staples like bread and wine.

    Mary points out, however, that if we found a modern piece of graffiti that said “Tracy will suck you off for a fiver”, you wouldn’t rush to conclude that Tracy is a local prostitute and the cost of sexual services in this area is agreeably low. It’s entirely likely that the Roman graffiti were just crude insults, like ours, but our rush to see the Romans as a prurient, sex-obsessed people in the vein that early Christians painted them has obscured our view. Those lists of names are probably just impromptu chore rotas for local bakeries, or some other piece of minor bureaucracy.

  9. Reginald Selkirk says

    scottde #7: PZ, you really should read Bart Ehrman’s blog (http://ehrmanblog.org/) if you want a historian’s perspective on Jesus and the early Christian movement.

    Ehrman is not a historian. He is a “New Testament Scholar.” (Wikipedia) Certainly he has some exposure to history, but I don’t know why you would call him a historian.
    Recent interview of Ehrman

    If you could go back in time, what would you ask Jesus?

    If I could have one evening with Jesus, I would like it to be during his last week in Jerusalem. I would like to find out who he thinks he is, and what he thinks is going to happen in the future.

    Something like, “What are your intentions, young man?”

    Exactly. I don’t think he came to be crucified. I have a very clear view of who I think Jesus was, and it’s a view that’s different from what most people in our society think, but it’s a view that a lot of scholars have had for a long time, and I’d like to know whether it’s correct.

    I’d also like to talk to some of his followers after his death. What did they think, why did they think it, and why did they believe he rose from the dead? I’d love to know how many people actually claimed to have seen him.

    Ehrman clearly buys into many of the non-miraculous details of the Jesus story that are documented nowhere outside the New Testament, a set of religious manuscripts originating decades after the alleged facts. The manuscripts with the most biological details are those appearing later. I am not seeing scholarly detachment here.

  10. brett says

    O’Neill’s Quora essays on both the “Jesus Myth” topic and just about everything else (I strongly recommend his essays on the Middle Ages and technology) are superb.

    Put me in the camp that thinks the reason why Jesus barely got a mention was because (at the time) he was just a minor apocalyptic Jewish preacher who got executed by the Romans for purported rebellion (crucifixion was reserved for a handful of crimes, and one of them was rebellion). He would have just been one of many executed for that by Pilate, a notoriously brutal prefect even by Roman standards.

    @Reginald Selkirk

    Ehrman is not a historian. He is a “New Testament Scholar.” (Wikipedia) Certainly he has some exposure to history, but I don’t know why you would call him a historian.

    He’s a specialist in early Christianity, so yes, he is a historian.

  11. consciousness razor says

    Now I have to recalibrate. What does “Jesus mythicist” mean? Apparently, rejecting the idea of the Son of God wandering about Galilee, and thinking that many of the tales that sprang up around him were confabulations, does not make one a Jesus mythicist. I also don’t know what the “historical Jesus” means. If I die, and a hundred years later the actual events of my life are forgotten and all that survives are legends of my astonishing sexual prowess and my ability to breathe underwater, what does the “historical PZ” refer to?

    Seriously, though … has it really taken you this long to even ask the question? And if so, why? It’s not like this is the first you’ve heard of it.

    To answer your last question, it would refer to the conclusion (with or without any evidential support you like) that you were a real person. You know … in reality, the place where historical events take place and where you are currently reading this comment. That is of course the correct conclusion in this case.

    If you were Tolkien’s fictional character Bilbo Baggins and some people came to think you (Bilbo) were an actual figure in the real world at one time or another, then that is how “Bilbo historicists” would be wrong and “Bilbo mythicists” would be right — the latter correctly think he’s not real/historical.

    If there were some actual person (or perhaps many people) who inspired Tolkien to invent such a character, this is irrelevant. Those people may very well be real, but Bilbo nonetheless remains a fictional character. Wondering about what might have been going on in Tolkien’s head when he proceeded to make up shit for his stories (even if you’re quite sure about it) does not change anything about the fact that it is shit-he-made-up. But that doesn’t stop some people from making pointless claims like “I’m sure there were short people back then” or “no doubt somebody stole a ring around that time” or “I bet somebody else had that name” or blah, blah, blah…. Substitute such sophistry for “no-name Jewish preacher” and the like, and you shouldn’t have trouble seeing the parallels.

  12. =8)-DX says

    Also wanted to just add a link to the really amazing lecture / Q&A by Reza Aslan: The Jesus of History versus the Christ of Faith I saw recently (was it linked on this blog? I can’t remember). In my mind Aslan does a more interesting thing than Ehrman or Carrier’s argumants about historical vs mythical: he takes the vast amount of historical knowledge we have about the time period of Jesus and places Jesus within that framework, and separates him not from myth specifically, but rather better worded the “the Christ of Faith” (the theological, magical, religious character).

    Learning about how people actually lived at the time, the political, cultural and economic realities paints a better story than any gospel ever did.
    =8)-DX

  13. mrquotidian says

    I’m reminded of the case in the 19th century when most experts believed the city of Troy was probably mythical, until it was found by a playboy amateur (although there wasn’t really such thing as a professional archaeologist back then). But this basically re-invigorated the idea that we should take myths seriously insofar as they may contain nuggets of truth. This approach led to many fruits (like the discovery of the ‘Minoan’ civilization), but also ruinous pursuits (like the search for Atlantis and King Arthur)… It seems pretty difficult to disentangle the made-up stuff from myths based in some kind of reality.

    What’s so tantalizing about the historical Jesus is that he is said to have existed at a comparatively well-recorded time and to have supposedly interacted with people known to have existed (John the Baptist and Pontius Pilate). Yet, someone trying to fabricate or inflate a biography would do exactly that: insert them into a known narrative (Like L Ron Hubbard did for himself).

    I don’t find the existence or non-existence of a specific bronze-age preacher to be all that compelling from a theological/philosophical perspective.. It may matter to some I suppose, but the vast majority will not be compelled by epistemology. If they were, they could never follow Scientology or Mormonism, faiths known to have been founded by scam artists. But I do find the search for a historical Jesus to be fascinating, just as it is to learn about the lives of other ancient mystics like Zoroaster or Pythagoras.

  14. says

    Is Spiderman real, or fictional? Or is he based on a real person?

    Makes about as much sense as wondering about Jesus or Buddha or Paul Bunyan or Odin. It’s abrahamocentrism to go around arguing about the reality of one mythical character in particular. Even if Spiderman was a real person, you do not immediately mutate from a radioactive spider bite! It doesn’t happen! And crucifixion tended to be permanent, unless the Romans cut you down.

    PS – Shatner was the One True Captain. That is a fact.

  15. says

    faiths known to have been founded by scam artists

    Old Peter, he was totes not a scam artist. Never occurred to him to cash in on this guy who might have never existed (and if he did, was conveniently dead) or to pass the bowl and collect donations. It was totally different. Not like those other scam religions.

    (Smith was brilliantly creative compared to Peter or Hubbard. I mean he -sucked-, but he looks great in comparison.)

  16. petesh says

    Thanks for the link, “grumpy uncle” (that made me laugh). I guess progressives can be grumpy; in fact, nowadays it’s hard to see how cheerfulness keeps breaking through. Come to think of it, I believe Leonard Cohen said something similar, and Kris Kristofferson wrote a fine song about it, “Here Comes That Rainbow Again.”

  17. consciousness razor says

    Shatner was the One True Captain. That is a fact.

    Alright, the gloves are off now. Janeway was the real deal. She’d kick his ass, then travel back in time to kick it again, before the first one even landed, then calmly savor a fine cup of coffee.

    Maybe it would be closer to a fair fight if it were McCoy versus the Doctor/EMH. But even then…. Everybody knows that eventually the photonics will conquer the universe, as well as the mirror universe (and then they simply destroy the J.J. Abrams one, rather than put up with that bullshit).

  18. says

    Sam Harris is not speaking outside of his field of expertise, he simply doesn’t have a field of expertise. He did a PhD in neuroscience, but his dissertation was published as a popular book on moral philosophy, known as The Moral Landscape. This is highly atypical, and I would not take him for an expert on anything.

  19. cartomancer says

    My favourite Captain of the Enterprise was Peter Davison. Or Lando Calrissian. Whichever one of them it was who collected the Horcruxes and threw them into Mount Doom.

  20. springa73 says

    History tends to be complicated, but lots of people want it to be clear and straightforward, with unambiguous heroes and villains. So, people often invent a version of the past that supports their views of the present, while the complexity and ambiguity of actual history is largely ignored.

  21. says

    We do have a lot evidence but it is weak evidence in a sense, that some things in history are more likely to happen if Jesus was mythical figure humanized earlier and some other things are more likely to happen if there was some historical preacher who started the cult.

    It is also possible that hybrid of both is true. For example Jesus started as mythical figure and some preacher tried to claim he is this Jesus character and followed the footsteps
    Or there was a cult started by some preacher and another cult with mythical Jesus, those cults merged and we have hybrid Jesus
    Or there were many preachers and stories about few of them were later joined, placed among many invented stories and all ascribed to one person.

  22. Reginald Selkirk says

    brett #11: He’s a specialist in early Christianity, so yes, he is a historian.

    Srsly?

  23. springa73 says

    There’s a problem at the heart of every question about the historical existence or not of Jesus. On the one hand, there is no surviving evidence of his existence from the time period he is alleged to have lived in. On the other hand, we can’t reasonably expect that there would be surviving evidence from the period of his life even if he existed, given the limited evidence that survives from the time. So, there really is no way of knowing. Personally, I think that it makes more sense to think that there was an actual historical figure who accumulated legends rather than an otherworldly legend who was later mistaken for someone who lived on earth*, but that’s just a purely subjective judgement that I can’t even pretend to be able to confirm!

    *I also tend to think this about other major founders of religions such as Buddha and Muhammad.

  24. Usernames! 🦑 says

    Previous comments noted, but I found both Ehrman’s books to be enlightening about the historical Jesus (real or imagined).

    *) Ehrman, Bart D. (2007). Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. HarperOne. ISBN 0060859512.
    *) Ehrman, Bart D. (2009). Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them). HarperOne. ISBN 0061173932.

    Essentially, the first decades after Jesus supposedly lived, word of his religion spread orally. Ehrman posits that embellishment and exaggeration of his deeds and sayings necessarily happened: the people relaying the stories were concerned with justifying and spreading their beliefs to others.

    The first few authors were necessarily amateurs; those who could write (even poorly) were tasked with recording the oral stories. Later professional scribes cleaned up and edited these early accounts, and made additional changes over the centuries. (Codex Vaticanus being one notable example).

    The bottom line is there is NO contemporary first-hand (or otherwise) account of Jesus, and there are no first-edition written accounts of oral tradition at all, so knowing what Jesus did or preached is problematic at best.

  25. Pablo Campos says

    It’s true that history is not a walk in the park. That’s why it’s a academic field of study with many branches. The problem with many people today (atheists or not) Is that they think or pretend to know what history is by merely reading a popular book or reading about it on Wikipedia. Harris and the arguably more disgusting Shapiro being idiots on history comes as no surprise. The study of history is much more complicated. Take my experience as a example. I’m a student that’s majoring in Iranian, Central Asian, and East Asian history. For further study I gotta learn Sogdian, Chagatai, Balti and more languages in which some are obscure so in consequence I have to have correspondence with European and Asian scholars as there little to no books on the some of the languages I need to learn. Trips to Asia to learn the language from locals is not easy to do nor is shifting through many libraries or academic journals. All that just to study history. It’s complicated and sometimes I get envious that those in the hard science fields will get paid better than I ever will is disheartening. Even more when you get people like Pinker, Harris or Right-Wing morons demeaning the field. Ok rant over but I was kind of pissed with these dumbfucks.

  26. CJO says

    That guy. Mythicism has been Tim O’Neill’s hobby horse for 15 years, at least. Here’s the thing about “no contemporary sources”: that is just the state of the evidence. There are zero primary sources and zero contemporary secondary accounts for the existence of any individual answering to the description. All that means to me is that mythicism is a live option. It’s not support for it in any strong sense; it’s consistent with it. It’s exactly the state of evidence we would expect if there was no historical person that the obviously legendary and mythologized figure of the New Testament was based on. O’Neill’s schtick has always been a form of Goldilocks argumentation, where a “just right” Jesus (not too popular; not too obscure) manages simultaneously to inspire a fervent following after his death and attract no notice in life from officials or literate elites generally other than a summary execution. The historical problem that I see is that all are agreed that this fellow, whatever he did exactly, was crucified by Roman authorities in Jerusalem. And shortly thereafter, we have his followers openly declaring him the resurrected savior and son of God — in Jerusalem. Leaving aside the propensity of the Romans to round up everybody they can find associated with anything even smelling of seditious activity (making it unlikely that any functioning social group would have survived the initial arrest), are we to imagine that the Romans forgot? Decided not to worry about an apocalyptic (and seditious in its own right) cult instituted in the name of someone they had taken the trouble to rub out? There’s certainly room for doubt.
    The best arguments for mythicism in my opinion can be made on the basis of internal analysis of the NT itself. It really is quite striking how discordant are the (mostly earlier) epistolatory material and the narrative accounts of the gospels. Paul’s Christ is very clearly a cosmic redeemer, and there’s a long and wholly illegitimate tradition in NT studies of reading the (later) gospel accounts into Paul’s letters. The canon of texts itself suggests this practice in its narrative-first arrangement. Finally, because I could go on, just read Mark. Carefully, and with as little baggage as you can manage to bring to it. Few have appreciated just how strange a text it really is, how unprecedented in ancient literature, how misunderstood it was even by its earliest interpreters (the authors of the other two so-called Synoptic gospels and John [the author of which certainly knew it despite the “consensus” that says not]). The texts we have tell the story, and it is not one that has any room for an actual itinerant exorcist or apocalyptic rabble-rouser, or whichever of the Historical Jesus paradigms you would choose. The “biographical” details are all in the service of theology.

  27. mrquotidian says

    Old Peter, he was totes not a scam artist. Never occurred to him to cash in on this guy who might have never existed (and if he did, was conveniently dead) or to pass the bowl and collect donations. It was totally different. Not like those other scam religions.
    Oh yeah, I’m not saying he wasn’t a scammer as well… It’s just that with Smith and Hubbard it’s incontrovertible that they were charlatans. With Peter, the veil of history is such that we just can’t know for sure if he was a true believer, lying, or some crazy combination of the two.

  28. CJO says

    Also re: Ehrman. Not a historian. None of his degrees (from Moody Bible Institute, Wheaton College, an evangelical college in Illinois, and Princeton Theological Seminary) are in History, and his faculty position is in the Religious Studies department at UNC. He’s a fine Bible scholar, and an excellent popularizer of a certain brand of consensus view held by liberal, secular New Testament scholars, but there is no sense in which his expertise is academic History.

  29. deepak shetty says

    I also don’t know what the “historical Jesus” means.

    Why Jesus – Look at a contemporary example. There was a so called holy man – Shri Satya Sai baba in India – He is worshipped by millions of people – The same legends have accrued around him – Born of a virgin, able to pluck holy food from thin air , miraculous cures . He also had a few sexual assault allegations against him. Is itreally so confusing to figure out what the historical part means ?

  30. mnb0 says

    “My version of Jesus mythicism is that he was, at best, a radical Jewish preacher who was executed.”
    That’s to some extent similar to calling Francis Collins and Kenneth Miller creationists because they go to church and pray.
    See, “a Jewish preacher (whether he was that radical remains to be seen as the views as penned down in the Gospels are quite typical for Jesus’ time) who was executed” is the conclusion historians of Antiquity make, opposite to quack mathematicians like Richard Carrier, theologians like Robert Price and exegetes like Earl Doherty. No professional denies that quite some myths are attached to the Jesus character, which was the normal thing authors did back then.
    The non-sequitur JM’s like I mentioned and literalists equally are in love with is “historical Jesus hence divine Jesus”. Do you fall for it as well, PZ?

  31. mnb0 says

    “Jeez, I’m glad I’m not a historian. What a mess they have to deal with.”
    Nope, you only think so because you take JM’s way too seriously.Should I wine that I’m glad I’m not a biologist because you have to deal with vitamine D quacks who make your work look like a mess?

  32. CJO says

    deepak shetty,

    Nobody denies that it can happen, the question is whether that happened in the case of Jesus, or whether he’s a fictional character. You can’t be claiming that it’s impossible he’s entirely fictional prima facie, but you do imply it’s more likely by default that any given legendary figure should have some basis in historical reality. Thinking probabilistically, isn’t it the reverse? A historical figure with legendary accretions requires both a particular figure to have existed and literary activity to have occurred. The fictional character hypothesis requires only the literary activity.

  33. says

    @pz

    If I die, and a hundred years later the actual events of my life are forgotten and all that survives are legends of my astonishing sexual prowess and my ability to breathe underwater, what does the “historical PZ” refer to?

    Obviously “the historical PZ Myers” refers to the PZ Myers with the prodigious hectocotylus who impregnated so many millions of humans of various sexes that, 1) there are no longer any humans not descended from PZ Myers, 2) the mass-spawning events inspired the first tentacle porn, 3) Kinsey had to create a separate “PZ Myers” section of the Kinsey report which has since been lost and 4) drove HP Lovecraft mad, causing him to write his compelling first hand account of your power, though it obviously got mangled by the editors at the various pulp magazines who removed many of the factual and important bits in seeking higher sales.

    I think. I’m sure others will correct me if I’m wrong, though I’m in no way calling for a “historical PZ Myers” writing contest with the prize to be internet immortality. Please don’t think I’m calling for four thousand comments full of descriptions of the historical PZ Myers to be written over the next three days. 666 comments would be fine.

  34. =8)-DX says

    @springa73 #26

    On the other hand, we can’t reasonably expect that there would be surviving evidence from the period of his life even if he existed, given the limited evidence that survives from the time.

    AFAIK there is quite a lot of evidence, information and accounts of major political events from that place and time, the Romans being fastidious in their bureaucracy and scholars throughout history lavishing this period with significant attention. But then the historians here in the comments could probably answer that much better (is this idea of mine another urban legend?)
    =8)-DX

  35. says

    @mnb0

    PZ: “Jeez, I’m glad I’m not a historian. What a mess they have to deal with.”

    MNB0: Nope, you only think so because you take JM’s way too seriously.Should I wine that I’m glad I’m not a biologist because you have to deal with vitamine D quacks

    I think you missed the point. He’s not saying that JM and other historical illiterates talking nonsense create the mess. He’s saying that just the number of confounds and explanations combined with the inherent limitations of the types evidence available create a mess even before you address things such as definitional conflicts that might exist within a particular topic of historical study, and that those definitional conflicts (or at least definitional uncertainties) combine with all the previous difficulties to create a truly complicated and difficult field of study.

    I’m not remotely a historian and didn’t even study history as an undergrad, so I can’t know if he’s right, but I do know that he’s not saying that Sam Harris is a problem for historians or that Harris makes the work of professional historians more difficult.

    Hell, having such an easy target around to occasionally criticize can be a relaxing outlet and an opportunity to introduce otherwise innocent lay persons to some really exciting things that expert humans have learned about history through the more reliable methods of the people who work professionally in the field, just like having a Ken Ham around can provide an opportunity for a biologist to correct common misperceptions about biological fields of study (say, natural selection) or for an atheist to correct common misperceptions about atheism-related thought (say, the burden of proof).

    Heck, though they aren’t professionals, The Atheist Experience makes use of this in spades. Ignorance really isn’t the problem. History as a discipline has enough complex, intractable problems without roping in Sam Harris. That’s what PZ is saying (or at least seems to me to be saying).

  36. chigau (違う) says

    Sometimes one generation’s meticulous records are the next generation’s tinder.

  37. weylguy says

    Great video, PZ, but it gets pretty deep into chemistry and other subjects that believers tend to either ignore or not be aware of even at rudimentary levels, so it’s a lot easier to just say “God did it” and vote into office authoritarians who will then pass laws having people like you chemically castrated or killed. Until then, keep up the good work.

  38. Pierce R. Butler says

    … a tradition that saw “the Book of Nature” as complimentary to “the Book of Scripture”…

    As a copy editor, I take several points off the intellectual cred of anyone who can’t spell “complementary”.

    As a history buff, I lean towards the mythicist/composite-character hypothesis of Jesus – but it disturbs me that the leading (English-language, anyway) proponents of that approach, R. Carrier and R. Price, both show demonstrably horrible judgment about navigating really straightforward 21st-century phenomena. (And that the third such credentialed scholar, G.A. Wells, though sfaik personally sane, after six books very thoroughly expounding the mythicist case, wrote a seventh favoring the historical-Jesus perspective.)

  39. KG says

    My version of Jesus mythicism is that he was, at best, a radical Jewish preacher who was executed and then inspired decades of fan-fiction that got built up into the New Testament. – PZM

    Yeah…no. If we cut out the “at best”, that is precisely the opposite of Jesus mythicism.

    Paul’s Christ is very clearly a cosmic redeemer – CJO@29

    Yep, quite so, when Paul days Jesus was “born of a woman~” he clearly means he wasn’t born of a woman, and when he refes to “James the brother of the Lord” (“the Lord” being Jesus) he obviously means James who wasn’t the brother of Jesus.

    The “biographical” details [in gMark] are all in the service of theology. – CJO@29

    Oh, right, you mean like having Jesus be a Galilean when the Messiah was supposed to be born in Bethlehem (and two later gospels have incompatible and obviously invented stories to explain the discrepancy). And having jesus baptised by John when he’s supposed to be of a much higher status. And having him crucified, when the Messiah was supposed to triumph over his enemies. And not (in the original) having any accounts of post-mortem appearances.

  40. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To repeat a comment from above, I risk bringing a Pox upon me, but I didn’t see it mentioned, and I thought it was worth a mention.

    The interesting point that Carrier makes in this topic is this: We have no evidence for Jesus existing at all except for early Christian sources (i.e. the Bible), and other people who are getting their information from Christians (e.g. not reliable). On this alone, Carrier says that he wouldn’t claim mythicism is probably true. However, there are other details which are very interesting. Offhand, these are what I remember:

    Paul notoriously does not clearly mention any fact about Jesus’s life on Earth. Doesn’t mention that he visited such and such city. Doesn’t mention anything at all that pins Jesus down as a real life person. That’s weird, and that’s unlikely. For example, many of the letters from Paul in the Bible are over doctrinal disputes. Yes, Paul never met Jesus firsthand, but you would think that he might once mention that “Jesus told this person such and such thing” concerning a doctrinal dispute, but he never does that, and moreover, Paul is very clear that the Jesus he knows comes only from scripture and revelation, and Paul is not repeating anything that he learned by talking to other people. That’s really weird.

    Then, there’s the Ascension Of Isaiah. Some early versions of the text describe Jesus living and dying and being resurrected in outer space (in the heavens). This text also predates Paul and Christianity. How curious that the first mention in the available historical texts of Jesus that we have is a mention that Jesus was born and died and resurrected in outer space.

    As a minor point, some of the Bible describes Jesus as being killed by the rulers of our time, or some such. Today, that’s understood by many Christians as referencing the Romans, but that particular phrase in Greek was also a common term to identify demons (demons being the rulers of the Earth until god cleanses the world of sin or some such).

    Moreover, Paul says that the rulers of our time would not have killed Jesus if they knew what killing Jesus would have done.
    https://biblehub.com/niv/1_corinthians/2.htm
    That makes no sense if you think that the rulers of our time refers to the Romans – why the hell would the Romans not want eternal paradise after death? That makes no sense. If the Romans understood as the Christians understood, then the Romans would totally be first in line to kill Jesus. The only way that this bit of text makes any sense is if rulers of our time is a reference to demons, and not the Roman authorities. This also fits well with some versions of the Ascension Of Isaiah which describes Jesus as living in outer space, being killed by demons in outer space, and being resurrected in outer space.

    There’s a lot of other circumstantial evidence, but that’s the bits which really stuck to me. On this reasoning alone (roughly), and on Carrier’s expertise and based on the lack of a solid rebuttal to his points, I’m decently convinced that Jesus probably wasn’t a person, and probably started as a fictional character up in heaven, and the story said that he lived, was killed, and was resurrected up in heaven, and only later gospel writers took Jesus down to Earth in their stories.

  41. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Concerning this:

    Yep, quite so, when Paul days Jesus was “born of a woman~” he clearly means he wasn’t born of a woman

    James the brother of the Lord

    Carrier says that this is where the real argument currently exists, in this and perhaps other bits of Paul (if any) which suggest that Jesus was a real person on Earth. Now, the following excuses might seem like cop-outs, but weigh that against the circumstantial evidence that I gave above.

    “Born of a weapon”. In the broader passage, Paul is clearly making a theological point: Jesus was born under the old law, the Jewish law, but then Jesus fulfilled the law and created a new set of laws, a new covenant. Why this particular phrase? What does it mean precisely to say that Paul was born of a woman? I don’t remember. I’d have to check Carrier’s work, or some other resource online. IIRC, it has some special meaning in their theology. Something to do with how Jesus was the perfect sacrifice to forever atone for humanity’s sins in order to bring about the endtimes and get everyone into heaven, or some such. Also, notice that the word here which is translated as “born” is not the Greek word for “born”. Rather, it’s the Greek word for “made” or “manufactured”. A better English translation is “God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law”. That weakens the historicity case a bit. I’m just saying.

    About James, the brother of the lord. Baptism is the process of becoming an adopted brother of Yahweh. Therefore, all baptized Christians are brothers of the lord. In context, Paul refers to James as the brother of the lord simply as a way to distinguish this James from another James. In effect, Paul is just saying “James, the Christian (and not that other James who isn’t a Christian)”.

    Given that this is among the best arguments I’ve seen scholars make for historicity, and the rebuttals seem reasonable enough, I’m still siding with mythicism.

  42. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Ack:

    Baptism is the process of becoming an adopted brother of Yahweh.

    I meant baptism is the process of becoming an adopted son or daughter of Yahweh, meaning that you become an adopted brother or sister of Jesus. This use of fictive kinship was widespread in Christianity, and IIRC served a nice sociological role in the broader contexts of other religions at a time.

  43. CJO says

    Jewish records from the period would almost certainly have been housed in the temple, which Titus’s troops burned in 70 CE. And yes, in answer to the question, I do think it’s somewhat of an urban legend that the Romans were necessarily so meticulous in their provincial administration that we could reasonably hope for a police blotter with the day’s arrests, schedule of executions, and a death warrant. For the era, the Romans operated a bureaucratic state apparatus. But provincial government was spread thin, and documentation would have been ad hoc and not likely to survive very long (most governorships were not held for more than a few years and administrations were autocratic, meaning bureaucratic continuity may not have been robust). Most of what we know comes from one surviving set of correspondence, between Pliny the Younger, proconsular governor of Bithynia-Pontus in Asia Minor, and Trajan, and the accounts of developments in the provinces from historians like Tacitus. The correspondence is gratifyingly particular but it shows just how ad hoc were policy decisions under the Imperium, and the historical accounts by comparison are highly selective and passed along as praise or condemnation of various personalities involved in what we would call geopolitics today. That is, a particular small-scale scandal or military adventure for good or ill might be narrated, but always with an eye to its place as an example in the type of account the historian is putting across. As always with narrative history, there are some details that inform us about the way things were, but we always have to be aware of the biases and intentions of the author in how they select and frame them.

  44. cartomancer says

    =8)-DX, #37 and Crip Dyke, #39,

    There were, almost certainly, copious records made both by Roman provincial administrators in 1st Century Judea and by local communities, Jewish or otherwise. The problem is that day to day records were generally committed to papyrus, which can be very fragile indeed. Unlike medieval parchment records, which are very tough when compared with modern paper (a lot of legislatures still insist on using parchment for recording laws, because most modern papers tend to last less than a century), ancient papyrus records only tend to survive if they ended up in hot, dry, anerobic conditions – such as buried in a midden in a desert (the Oxyrynchus and similar troves from Roman Egypt originate this way). There was no central archive of provincial documents in Rome itself, and no standardised bureacratic procedure for what records regional governors should keep – this was left to local initiative. Judea was a fractious place, so it was an Imperial Province in the first century – under the control of a Legate dispatched by the Emperor himself, not one elected by the Senate. With the Julio-Claudian dynasty being somewhat unstable in itself, and giving way in 69AD to civil war and infighting, local governors in Judea were fairly independent in any case. Which is one reason the province became so ungovernable at this time that Vespasian had to launch a war to bring it to heel when the civil war had been resolved. The resulting Jewish War would have seen the destruction of bureaucratic records in large numbers on both sides, as the Jewish temple was sacked and its treasures carried off to Rome and the Roman governors’ residences attacked in their turn (the last holdout of the Jewish Zealots – Masada – was originally Herod’s summer palace).

    We have precious few records of local government business from anywhere in the Empire, beyond inscribed constitutions in bronze or stone for Roman colonies. Occasionally we can pick up details of legal cases or the names and titles of local magistrates from tombstones. Even Pompeii gives us only a little to work with, and that’s by far the best preserved site of the period. So if you’re looking for contemporary records of the trial and execution of minor rabble-rousers in first-century Judea, the chances are remote to say the least.

    I must say, though, that as far as I’m concerned the entire question “was there a historical Jesus?” is an absolutely pointless one. The difference between a real person about whom we know nothing, but who was later heavily mythologised, and an entirely mythical person, is so trite and tiny a difference that I don’t think it’s an inquiry at all worth pursuing. Even the “Homeric Question” – was there one “Homer” who composed the epics or was it just a continuous bardic tradition – is of more value, because there we have actual literary works as evidence to interrogate, and an understanding of the answer would affect our understanding of the literary genre itself. It literally doesn’t matter one way or the other whether Jesus was fictional or real.

  45. CJO says

    Hi KG,

    “Born of a woman”. I love this proof-text. Can you imagine speaking of a near contemporary in those terms? Feeling the need to stress that he or she was born? No, it doesn’t mean the opposite, but it sure doesn’t mean “ordinary human being”.

    And “Brother of the Lord”: another proof-text, which, put in its context, is likewise strange. Let’s say you worship the shade of this (in life) totally ordinary fellow human, though you’ve never met anyone who knew him in life. And let’s say you go to the place where the irruption of the divine into history occurred via the execution of this fellow, and you meet his flesh and blood brother. And you have… absolutely nothing to say about this, other than to sarcastically allow (a little bit on) that he “seemed to be important” (a pillar) and that he corrupted this other seeming pillar with false doctrines about table fellowship with non-Jews. Seems odd, but proof-texts never quite do the work they’re supposed to do.

    As regards details “in the service of theology” or not:

    Galilee vs. Bethlehem. Well, the apologetic revision is certainly in the service of theology. It’s strange to derive conclusively from this fact without argument that the original detail was not also. Travels through, and away from, and back to, Galilee in Mark are freighted with significance. I mean, the second to last line is a message from a divine herald to be delivered to the disciples, instructing them to return there, but I’m sure it’s nothing.

    A baptism, by a guy dressed like Elijah, in the wilderness by the Jordan, no, surely not theological, nope, just a totes mundane biographical tidbit.

    He does triumph over his enemies at the crucifixion, it’s the whole godsdamned point of Mark.

  46. says

    @KG, 43:

    Oh, right, you mean like having Jesus be a Galilean when the Messiah was supposed to be born in Bethlehem (and two later gospels have incompatible and obviously invented stories to explain the discrepancy). And having jesus baptised by John when he’s supposed to be of a much higher status. And having him crucified, when the Messiah was supposed to triumph over his enemies. And not (in the original) having any accounts of post-mortem appearances.

    Look, I’m not biblical scholar – I don’t think I’ve ever read the christian “new testament” cover to cover even once (though I’ve read the gospels & Acts and a couple other things). But i still think it’s relevant that here you seem to be arguing against particular theological purposes, not the possibility of a theological purpose at all. Theology is so scattershot, with thousands and thousands of different Christianities (much less non-christian theologies), that there are obviously theological justifications for all of these authorial decisions. You may not like the particular justification, or it may turn out that catholic and mainstream protestant theologies are (mostly) opposed to a particular justification, and you may even have some group(s) of jews or gentiles living in the eastern Med region two thousand years ago who might be less likely to embrace a bit of scripture if it includes one of those particular passages because of (what they saw as) the theological implications. But that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible that the authorial choices you cite were dictated by theology. It just means that certain choices were (probably) not dictated by particular theologies.

    One of the things that makes religion so obviously bullshit is the endless theological splintering, and that’s no more true today than it was two thousand years ago.

  47. hookflash says

    Hey PZ, are you ever going to review or critique something that you’ve actually read, listened to, or watched?

  48. Tim O says

    Thus spake “CJO”:

    “Mythicism has been Tim O’Neill’s hobby horse for 15 years, at least.”

    One of them. Actually, my hobby (no horses involved) has been critiquing fringe, bad history that is driven by ideological bias. So yes, Mythicism falls into that category, along with Holocaust denial, Christian apologetic attempts to smooth out historical errors in the Bible and a whole range of stuff on the history of science.

    “The historical problem that I see is that all are agreed that this fellow, whatever he did exactly, was crucified by Roman authorities in Jerusalem. And shortly thereafter, we have his followers openly declaring him the resurrected savior and son of God — in Jerusalem. Leaving aside the propensity of the Romans to round up everybody they can find associated with anything even smelling of seditious activity (making it unlikely that any functioning social group would have survived the initial arrest), are we to imagine that the Romans forgot?”

    The tactic we actually see used by the Romans and the Herodians in such circumstances is to kill the leader and scatter the followers. The gospels and Acts try to make out that everything we just fine after the supposed Resurrection and Jesus followers boldly preached him as Messiah just days later, but the accounts are garbled and variant forms of the story have them fleeing back to Galilee instead. We also don’t know enough about how and why Jesus was executed and once that Passover was over Pilate would have gone home to Ceasarea, leaving the Sanhedrin to handle things in Jerusalem anyway. You seem to be working from a rather too naive reading of the NT materials – things were almost certainly not as neat as those much later texts make out.

    “Paul’s Christ is very clearly a cosmic redeemer”

    Paul believed Jesus was the Jewish Messiah who had a heavenly pre-existence (a common Jewish belief) and was exalted in heaven after being raised by God. So yes, he focuses on this risen, exalted Jesus and not on his earthly career. But he says Jesus was born as a human, of a human mother and born a Jew (Galatians 4:4). He repeats that he had a “human nature” and that he was a human descendant of King David (Romans 1:3) of of Abraham (Gal 3:16), of Israelites (Romans 9:4-5) and of Jesse (Romans 15:12). He refers to teachings Jesus made during his earthly ministry on divorce (1Cor. 7:10), on preachers (1Cor. 9:14) and on the coming apocalypse (1Thess. 4:15). He mentions how he was executed by earthly rulers (1Cor. 2:8) that he was crucified (1 Cor 1:23, 2:2, 2:8, 2 Cor 13:4) and that he died and was buried (1Cor 15:3-4).And he says he had an earthly, physical brother called James who Paul himself had met (Galatians 1:19). And yes, I’m well aware of the contrived and contorted ways Mythicists “explain” all those references to try to make them fit their “celestial Jesus” idea. They don’t work.

    “just read Mark. Carefully, and with as little baggage as you can manage to bring to it. …. The texts we have tell the story, and it is not one that has any room for an actual itinerant exorcist or apocalyptic rabble-rouser, or whichever of the Historical Jesus paradigms you would choose.”

    This is a weird argument given that if someone with a sufficient grasp of the context and apocalyptic thought does “just read Mark” and subtracts the miraculous stuff, what they find is an account of an itinerant exorcist and apocalyptic rabble-rouser.

    “The “biographical” details are all in the service of theology.”

    Except for the ones that aren’t. Which is why several of those details change in the later gospels to bring them into line with the idea that Jesus was somehow divine and that he was “the Saviour” through whom redemption is achieved etc. Tracing those changes indicates how we can see an apocalyptic preacher who came to be seen as the Jewish Messiah evolved into a god.

    “Ehrman. Not a historian. None of his degrees (from Moody Bible Institute, Wheaton College, an evangelical college in Illinois, and Princeton Theological Seminary) are in History”

    This is a fairly weak gambit by Mythicists to try to discredit Ehrman. The fact is that the fields of New Testament Studies and History evolved along parallel lines in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, informed by the same processes. So the methodologies used by someone like Ehrman and someone studying any other aspect of ancient history are more or less exactly the same. New Testament Studies remains a separate discipline largely for historical and institutional reasons, not because they are somehow totally different types of discipline.

    ““Born of a woman”. I love this proof-text. Can you imagine speaking of a near contemporary in those terms?”

    I can if I wanted to emphasise both their humanity and their non-human aspect, which is what Paul is doing. “Born of a woman” was actually a fairly common expression in Aramaic at the time, so it’s hardly surprising that Paul – a native Aramaic speaker – would use it. In general use it was just a circumlocutory expression meaning “a man, men”, as found in Josephus *Wars IV.460. But it can also be found in Job 14.1, 15.14 and 25.4 as well as Sirach 10.18, Matt 11.11, Luke 7.28 and Thomas 15. Then in the DSS material it’s found in 1QS 11.21a and 1QHa 5.20b. In all those examples it is being used more or less as Paul uses it. It helps to actually know the source materials well rather than making arguments out of ignorance.

    “And “Brother of the Lord”: another proof-text, which, put in its context, is likewise strange.”

    it isn’t “strange” at all – it just says James was Jesus’ brother. Your argument to make it “strange” is based on a naively Christian-style reading of the Pauline material that thinks Paul considered Jesus divine. Except there is no evidence he did. Exalted Messiah, certainly, but not divine. The “brother” reference makes most sense read as saying what it says.

    “Galilee vs. Bethlehem. Well, the apologetic revision is certainly in the service of theology. It’s strange to derive conclusively from this fact without argument that the original detail was not also.”

    It’s not “strange” at all. The contradictory infancy narratives in gLuke and gMatt serve the same main purpose – to “explain” how someone known to be from Nazareth was “actually” born, like a proper Messiah, in Bethlehem. Except they trip each other up in the process. They are clearly trying to solve the same problem though – Jesus was from the “wrong” place. The most parsimonious reason for that problem existing at all is that there a was a historical Jesus from Nazareth and the later gospels are having to shoehorn him into their evolving theology.

    “A baptism, by a guy dressed like Elijah, in the wilderness by the Jordan, no, surely not theological, nope, just a totes mundane biographical tidbit”

    You’ve missed the point. This story is told in four different ways in all four gospels, again all changing it to fit the evolving ideas about who Jesus was. In gMark he becomes the Messiah with this baptism. But that doesn’t fit the theology of the other three gospels so they have to change the story. If this story was so awkward for them, why is it there at all? Because it happened and all four gospels have to accommodate it.

  49. deepak shetty says

    @CJO

    the question is whether that happened in the case of Jesus, or whether he’s a fictional character

    Im merely referring to the so called confusion around “historical” without taking a particular position.

    Thinking probabilistically, isn’t it the reverse?

    Not necessarily. You are assigning the same probability to both literary activities (where Jesus is a real person v/s where he is ficitional) , which is an assumption , not fact.

  50. Tim O says

    @EnlightenmentLiberal

    “Carrier says … ”

    Yes, Carrier says many things and at great length and with vast self-assurance. Yet doesn’t it strike you as strange that the people who are best qualified to assess his arguments think they are crap and his most enthusiastic supporters are people with no background in the material or training in relevant subjects and who get almost all their information on the subject from … Carrier? Doesn’t that ring a slight alarm bell for you?

    “Paul notoriously does not clearly mention any fact about Jesus’s life on Earth.”

    Mythicists notoriously make that claim and then spend vast numbers of words trying to explain away the references to Jesus’ life on earth that he does make. He says Jesus was born as a human, of a human mother and born a Jew (Galatians 4:4). He repeats that he had a “human nature” and that he was a human descendant of King David (Romans 1:3) of of Abraham (Gal 3:16), of Israelites (Romans 9:4-5) and of Jesse (Romans 15:12). He refers to teachings Jesus made during his earthly ministry on divorce (1Cor. 7:10), on preachers (1Cor. 9:14) and on the coming apocalypse (1Thess. 4:15). He mentions how he was executed by earthly rulers (1Cor. 2:8) that he was crucified (1 Cor 1:23, 2:2, 2:8, 2 Cor 13:4) and that he died and was buried (1Cor 15:3-4).And he says he had an earthly, physical brother called James who Paul himself had met (Galatians 1:19). Given that he was writing letters, not accounts of Jesus’ life, it is not strange that he doesn’t go into detail about life events. Compare any other early Christian epistle and you’ll actually find even less biographical reference. This is the case with epistles definitely written by people who did believe Jesus had a historical existence. So we actually get more biographical material in Paul than we would reasonably expect.

    “Paul is very clear that the Jesus he knows comes only from scripture and revelation, and Paul is not repeating anything that he learned by talking to other people. That’s really weird.”

    No, that’s just a misinterpretation of what he says. At several points he has to try to defend his status as an “apostle” despite not having known Jesus himself. So he emphasises his visions of Jesus. In the process of doing this though he is forced to admit that there were others “who were apostles before I was” and, despite protestations to the contrary, that he did consult with them.

    “Then, there’s the Ascension Of Isaiah. Some early versions of the text describe Jesus living and dying and being resurrected in outer space (in the heavens). This text also predates Paul and Christianity.”

    It does not predate Paul or Christianity and not even Carrier claims it does. And you don’t seem to have noticed that the earliest recension of the Ascension DOES have Jesus come to earth: “And I saw one like a Son of Man (Jesus) dwelling among men and in the world, and they did not know him” (Ascension 11.23). Carrier just brushes this aside, but it sinks his whole argument that this text depicts Jesus being crucified in the heavens (it actually doesn’t) and doesn’t depict him coming to earth (it actually does). Carrier is simply wrong.

    “Moreover, Paul says that the rulers of our time would not have killed Jesus if they knew what killing Jesus would have done.
    https://biblehub.com/niv/1_corinthians/2.htm
    That makes no sense if you think that the rulers of our time refers to the Romans ”

    It makes perfect sense if Paul considered the Romans and the priests to be agents of those Satanic powers – a standard view in the apocalyptic thought of the time.

    “Why this particular phrase? What does it mean precisely to say that Paul was born of a woman? ”

    See my reply to “CJO”. It was a common phrase at the time and makes perfect sense in this context.

    “. Also, notice that the word here which is translated as “born” is not the Greek word for “born”. Rather, it’s the Greek word for “made” or “manufactured”.”

    This is wrong. To begin with, there are several examples of forms of the verb γίνομαι meaning “born” – it’s not common but it is used that way. Secondly, γίνομαι does NOT mean “manufactured” and is not used that way anywhere. It means “to become, to move from one state of being to another, to come to pass”. It is a very broad verb with a range of uses, but “manufactured” is not one of them. That’s just Carrier twisting the linguistics and hoping no-one calls him on it. See above about how the people best qualified to judge his work think it’s crap – that’s because of stuff like this.

    “About James, the brother of the lord. Baptism is the process of becoming an adopted brother of Yahweh”

    Yes, another one of Carrier’s contrived arguments and another one that simply doesn’t work. You can find my detailed critique of it here: https://historyforatheists.com/2018/02/jesus-mythicism-2-james-the-brother-of-the-lord/

    Look, I absolutely get the emotional appeal of Mythicism – it seems like a neat solution to the question of Christian origins and it has the very satisfying added advantage of totally pulling the rug out from under Christianity. So I get it. But it is not accepted by almost all scholars because it just doesn’t work. Carrier is glib and verbose and very, very sure of himself and you have to have a fairly deep grasp of the material to catch his fancy footwork. But there is a reason his book has been panned by experts and his thesis is rejected. Mythicism is to atheism what Creationism is to Christianity.

  51. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Let me just address two things to start.

    But he says Jesus was born as a human, of a human mother and born a Jew (Galatians 4:4).

    It doesn’t say “born”. The Greek is better translated as “made” or “manufactured”. There is a perfectly normal Greek word for born, but they didn’t use that word. IIRC, the Greek word used is also the same Greek word that was used when Yahweh created Adam.

    Moreover, the broader passage is making a theological point that depends on Jesus being a Jew / being under Jewish law aka the old covenant. It seems reasonable to read this allegorically instead of literally.

    He refers to teachings Jesus made during his earthly ministry on divorce (1Cor. 7:10),

    I just read that. It doesn’t say anything like that. It just says that Paul is relating information from Jesus. It does not say that Jesus said this in person to others on Earth. Paul overall was very adamant that he only learned about Jesus from personal revelation and scripture. This passage is perfectly with Carrier’s mythicism.

  52. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Sorry – I didn’t read the whole post. Let me get back to you. I didn’t realize you also replied to me at the end of your post.

  53. CJO says

    Thanks Tim. I used to waste my time sparring with you about this a decade ago and I have less of it these days to waste, but I’ll go a couple of rounds. I’ll start at the end:

    I understand the point of the argument regarding the criterion of embarrassment and the baptism just fine. But all we can say without begging the question is that “[the baptism] is there at all” because it’s in Mark. The standard argument is that the later authors would have just jettisoned it if they could, but they were compelled to keep it in because it really happened and that it happened was well known. Thus its apologetic development. The argument becomes completely circular re: mythicism. For if there was no Jesus and Mark is a fiction, it was the only source for the author of Matthew (widely held to be the first revision of Mark); and the baptism is clearly integral to Mark’s narrative, and it would have been known, again, merely because it’s in Mark. How is it that you can be so confident in our ability at this remove to tell the difference? “Because Jesus existed, you moron, and he was actually baptized by John” is the reply, and round and round we go.

    One more thing (I’m only rising to bait here, where you’re being actually insulting, rather than just habitually wrong)

    “Born of a woman” was actually a fairly common expression in Aramaic at the time, so it’s hardly surprising that Paul – a native Aramaic speaker – would use it. In general use it was just a circumlocutory expression meaning “a man, men”, as found in Josephus *Wars IV.460. But it can also be found in Job 14.1, 15.14 and 25.4 as well as Sirach 10.18, Matt 11.11, Luke 7.28 and Thomas 15. Then in the DSS material it’s found in 1QS 11.21a and 1QHa 5.20b. In all those examples it is being used more or less as Paul uses it. It helps to actually know the source materials well rather than making arguments out of ignorance.

    Or at least to have a ready cut and paste of a handful of parallel citations for every proof-text, eh?

    Is that the same way the author of Luke 7:28, almost certainly a native speaker of Greek, uses it? No, it isn’t actually; as you surely know but are keeping mum about for the sake of your crappy argument. Because elsewhere in the NT (your cites) the word for “born” used is a different word. Going outside the NT, the LXX translates from Hebrew (apparently, according to the high and mighty expert here, cognate with Paul’s native Aramaic, even though he’s writing in Greek) the usages in Job (where it’s clearly a poetic circumlocution) with the same word used in Luke and Matthew et al, gennetos, so that is the usual Greek construction of the commonplace Semitic idiomatic circumlocution, not the word Paul uses for “born” in Galatians, genomenon. So, on stylistic grounds, the inescapable conclusion is that Paul is actually avoiding the ordinary idiom, which he undoubtedly knew, and stressing that the Christ was, no shit, “born of a woman”, and that is a strange way to talk about an ostensible near-contemporary. Sheesh.

    Oh, and your assertion that “the methodologies used by someone like Ehrman and someone studying any other aspect of ancient history are more or less exactly the same.” is rank bullshit, and a calumny on the discipline of history.

  54. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Some of your points are just bizarre, and some of your points are far weaker than what you say.

    He says Jesus was born as a human, of a human mother and born a Jew (Galatians 4:4).

    Paul uses an unusual word for “born”, in a verse that’s entirely about the theological importance of this fact for their endtimes theology. I think this is far less clear cut than what you want it to be. This can be read allegorically.

    It can also be read as the “birth” happening in heaven. I don’t know why “births” have to happen on Earth.

    He repeats that he had a “human nature”

    So what? Why does that mean he was on Earth? See above.

    and that he was a human descendant of King David (Romans 1:3) of of Abraham (Gal 3:16), of Israelites (Romans 9:4-5) and of Jesse (Romans 15:12).

    Cosmic sperm bank. Yes, sounds ludicrous. Maybe it is.

    He refers to teachings Jesus made during his earthly ministry on divorce (1Cor. 7:10),

    That’s not how I read it. I read it as Paul reporting his personal revelations (hallucinations) and/or his reading of scripture. Paul is consistently adamant that he reports nothing of Jesus that he learned from another man, and only reports things that he learned from relevation or scripture. I fail to see why this is the one thing that Paul would repeat from a Earthly human eye witness of Jesus.

    on preachers (1Cor. 9:14)

    This is just like before. How you read this as evidence that Paul thinks Jesus was on Earth is beyond me.

    “1Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord? 2Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.”

    “8Do I say this merely on human authority? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing?”

    “9For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.”b Is it about oxen that God is concerned?”

    It seems to me that Paul is clearly relating his own personal experience with Jesus, and not anything that he learned from eye witness testimony i.e. “human authority”. He stresses that he too is an apostle, e.g. he has visions of Jesus. Paul is not claiming to repeat eye witness testimony. That’s contrary to his entire shtick.

    on the coming apocalypse (1Thess. 4:15).

    And again, entirely consistent with Carrier’s mythicism.

    He mentions how he was executed by earthly rulers (1Cor. 2:8)

    No. He mentions that he was executed by rules of the age, which could mean Romans, and it was also commonly used to describe demons, right?

    that he was crucified (1 Cor 1:23, 2:2, 2:8, 2 Cor 13:4)

    Just another bizarre point. Crucixions cannot happen in heaven (or hell)? Why you think this means Paul believed Jesus was on Earth, I don’t know.

    and that he died and was buried (1Cor 15:3-4).

    Ditto. I remember that there’s some apocrypha that Adam was also buried in heaven. Again, why you think that this means Paul believed Jesus was on Earth, I don’t know.

    And he says he had an earthly, physical brother called James who Paul himself had met (Galatians 1:19).

    I read your link:

    https://historyforatheists.com/2018/02/jesus-mythicism-2-james-the-brother-of-the-lord/

    The problem lies in the fact that it is only in this passage that the form “brother of the Lord” is used.

    The problem these examples pose for the idea that all of these references to “brothers” are figurative and simply means “fellow believers” is that in both Galatians 1:18-9 and 1Cor 9:5 the “brother/s of the Lord” are mentioned alongside and separate from other believers. In 1Cor 9:3-6 these “brothers of the Lord” are distinct from “the other apostles” and from “Cephas”, despite them being believers as well. And in Galatians 1:18-19 this “James, brother of the Lord” is somehow distinct from Cephas again, despite Cephas being a believer. So if these uses of ἀδελφός simply mean “a believer”, why this distinction? And why is it only to be found in the two examples where the word is not simply a form of ἀδελφός, but is part of the specific phrase “ἀδελφὸν/ἀδελφοὶ τοῦ Κυρίου” (brother/brothers of the Lord)?

    This seems a lot like Bible code reading, e.g. illegitimate interpretation. I see this commonly by people who argue about the original intent of laws by comparing irrelevant minor differences in diction or grammar between different rough drafts of a law. Sometimes people just use different phrases – we’re not robots. Yes this apparent pattern is interesting, and yes it’s evidence for your side, but this evidence is nowhere near as strong as you make it out to be. Rather, for the James passage, it could just be that Paul needed to distinguish James from another James, and that’s why he added the qualifier only to James – Paul could just be saying “James the Christian, and not that other James”. Why say “James, the brother of the lord” instead of just “James, the brother”? Luck, chance, a whim. Again, you’re assuming a consistency of diction that no human actually has or displays. For the other passage where he describes the apostles differently from the “brothers of the lord”, it could also be that Christianity was like other mystery cults of the time, where there was different levels of initiation, and different levels of initiates were given different levels of information, and different titles. “Apostle” and “brother of the lord” could just be titles. Implausible? Perhaps. However, these two occurances are not enough IMHO to outweigh the other arguments.

    And finally, anything in the Gospels and Acts is completely useless for this debate. They’re complete fiction through and through, and obviously so. The rich storytelling structure, and unbelievable elements (and I’m not talking about miracles, but the unbelievable behavior of people around Jesus for one example), are clear giveaways that the entire thing is fiction. If there’s any resemblance to reality, it’s coincidence only. There is no reliable way to pull out fact from fiction in such kinds of fictional stories.

    Overall, like half of the citations that you claim show Paul believed in an Earthly Jesus do no such thing. This seems like a Gish Gallop.

  55. CJO says

    I will point out, in the light of ensuing discussion, that I am not contending that genomenon necessarily means something other than “born”, I am only making the point that, whatever the shades of meaning, Paul intentionally does not use the standard Greek construction for the commonplace Semitic idiom “born of a woman” to mean, simply “person”. Others more expert in Greek than I have argued that, but I don’t have the knowledge to do so.

  56. Tim O says

    “It doesn’t say “born”. The Greek is better translated as “made” or “manufactured”. ”

    This is wrong. Nowhere is any form of the verb γίνομαι mean “manufactured”.

    “There is a perfectly normal Greek word for born, but they didn’t use that word.”

    The more usual word was a form of the verb γίγνομαι , which Paul uses to mean “born” in two other places. But γίνομαι was also used to mean “born”. Liddell and Scott’s “Greek Lexicon” even gives that meaning as the word’s primary one when referring to people and gives multiple examples of its use in that way.

    “IIRC, the Greek word used is also the same Greek word that was used when Yahweh created Adam.”

    Wrong. The word the Greek translation uses for the creation of Adam is έπλασεν, the third person aorist indicative of the verb πλάσσω, which means “to form” or “to mould”. The passage then says God breathed life into Adam and he “became” (εγένετο – a form of γίγνομαι) a living man, but the verb describing the “manufacturing” is πλάσσω. Carrier tries a convoluted argument whereby Paul’s reference to Adam “becoming” the first man in 1Cor 15.45 means the use of γίγνομαι here means “manufacturing”. But it doesn’t – it means “became, becoming”. Carrier is wrong.
    See what I mean about how you really need to know the material to see where Carrier twists things to fit his theory? His stuff is full of things like this, yet most of his readers are not equipped to detect his fiddling with the evidence.

    “oreover, the broader passage is making a theological point that depends on Jesus being a Jew / being under Jewish law aka the old covenant. It seems reasonable to read this allegorically instead of literally.”

    How is this “reasonable”? How can a celestial being who never even came to earth (according to Carrier) be a Jew and under Jewish law? This only makes sense if Paul knew Jesus had an earthly, human existence “according to the flesh”.

    “It doesn’t say anything like that. It just says that Paul is relating information from Jesus. It does not say that Jesus said this in person to others on Earth.”

    But given we have other references to an earthly Jesus giving this teaching in the gospels and we have no references at all to belief in Jesus as a non-historical, purely celestial being, this reference makes more sense as Paul reporting what he was told the historical, earthly Jesus said. The way he attributes the teaching to Jesus also fits rabbinical formulae whereby a later teacher attributed a saying or teaching to an earlier one in Talmudic literature.

  57. Rob Grigjanis says

    EL @55: Someone who looks a bit more like an expert than Carrier on the topic:

    If you look at LSJ [Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English lexicon], you’ll see that γίγνομαι is very frequently used in the sense “to be born” in the classical era; I don’t know whether it was still common in that sense in the 1st century AD, but I suppose it’s easy to check somewhere whether it’s common in the NT. In any case, it would be strange if it suddenly took on the meaning “made” or ποιησάμενος. As for γεννηθείς, the word seems equally standard for “to be born”, I didn’t mean to say the contrary. However, I thought that used in contrast these two words have slightly different implications, and what I was trying to do was pointing these out. γεννάω, according to LSJ, is “causal of γίγνομαι (cf. γείνομαι), mostly of the father”. So my take on this is that most of the time γενόμενος and γεννηθείς mean just the same, but the slight difference in meaning might be made operative if needed. By “operative” I don’t mean that writer wants to dwell on the naughty bits (I was writing tongue in cheek), just that for a causative verb like γεννάω a causator (i.e. a parent) is implied.

  58. Tim O says

    @CJO

    “The argument becomes completely circular re: mythicism. For if there was no Jesus and Mark is a fiction, it was the only source for the author of Matthew (widely held to be the first revision of Mark); and the baptism is clearly integral to Mark’s narrative.”

    It doesn’t actually fit very neatly with the Marcan narrative either. Obviously John is meant to be an Elijah and/or royal prophet figure, but he doesn’t declare Jesus to be the Messiah and doesn’t anoint him with oil either. So baptism seems to be pressed into service because it’s a bit like anointing (kind of) and gMark has a voice from the heavens do the pronouncement, with no indication that anyone other than Jesus hears this. Then gMatt and gLuke have to change the story a bit more to make it fit their idea of Jesus as Messiah since conception. And gJohn changes it again to fit with his conception of Jesus as divine saviour. They are all having to fiddle with this element to make it somehow work, which does require the question – why is it there at all?

    “Or at least to have a ready cut and paste of a handful of parallel citations for every proof-text, eh?”

    If they are relevant citations that show the expression was common and not somehow “strange”, sure.

    “Is that the same way the author of Luke 7:28, almost certainly a native speaker of Greek, uses it? No, it isn’t”

    Yes, it is. It just means “a man, a human being”. Of course the Lucan use is not using it in exactly the same way, but the meaning of the term is the same.

    “Because elsewhere in the NT (your cites) the word for “born” used is a different word.”

    See my response on this point above to Enlightenment Liberal. Both γίγνομαι and γίνομαι could and were used to mean “born”, so this does not matter. It is quite likely Paul used γίγνομαι when talking about Jesus because he was indeed noting that his birth was preceded by a heavenly pre-existence. But that does not preclude an earthly manifestation and so does not help you much.

    “your assertion that “the methodologies used by someone like Ehrman and someone studying any other aspect of ancient history are more or less exactly the same.” is rank bullshit, and a calumny on the discipline of history.”

    Gosh, what a powerful counter argument. I don’t recall ever encountering you before, but if this is the level of your previous “sparring” I can see why it was a waste of your time.

  59. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To CJO and Rob
    Thanks for the info on the argument over the Greek words for “born” in this context.

    How is this “reasonable”? How can a celestial being who never even came to earth (according to Carrier) be a Jew and under Jewish law? This only makes sense if Paul knew Jesus had an earthly, human existence “according to the flesh”.

    Because that’s Christianity’s whole shtick under Carrier’s minimal mythicism. The idea is that Paul and the other apostles “knew” that an Earthly messiah was never going to come, and therefore they “needed” an invisible, heavenly messiah, and they needed that messiah to be Jewish in order to satisfy the prophesies of scripture. That’s the whole idea. It sounds like you don’t know the extreme basics of Carrier’s hypothesis, or you’re lying. So, I’m looking at gross incompetence, or dishonesty. Neither make you look good as a suppposed expert.

    But given we have other references to an earthly Jesus giving this teaching in the gospels

    As I said, if you think that the Gospels and Acts are useful in any way for this debate, and if you think that you have a method to distinguish any facts from fiction in the Gospels and Acts, then I have a bridge to sell you.

    The Gospels and Acts are so obviously constructed in their literary structure, characterization, and symbolism, that it’s obvious that it’s all complete fiction, and any semblance to reality is coincidental. It’s like imagining aliens trying to figure out whether “New York” is a real place or not, and whether John Jonah Jameson is a real person or not, when they only have access to Spider-Man comics.

  60. CJO says

    Are you really claiming that a Biblical Studies degree and a PhD from a divinity school are “more or less exactly the same” as an advanced degree in Ancient Historry? Are you really claiming that exclusive reliance on the exegesis of a set of unprovenanced texts is “more or less exactly the same” as the methods of history, which always seek primary sources and external controls on secondary narrative sources? You’re flatly wrong, it’s a completely different set of precepts and tools and training, and, yeah, if you don’t know that, arguing is going to be a wate of my time.

  61. Tim O says

    @EnlightementLiberal

    “some of your points are just bizarre, and some of your points are far weaker than what you say.”

    Or I haven’t the time to expand on them so you understand them fully.

    “Paul uses an unusual word for “born””

    Paul uses a word which is used elsewhere to mean “born” and is nowhere used to mean “manufactured”. There’s your problem. Carrier’s contrived attempt to make it mean “manufactured” simply does not work.

    “So what? Why does that mean he was on Earth?”

    Where does Paul explicitly say all this happened in the heavens? Where does anyone say anyone thought it all happened in the heavens? Nowhere. So this whole idea is just a contrivance to keep Mythicism from collapsing. We read it as happening on Earth because we have evidence that this is what people believed and we have no evidence that they believed it all happened in the heavens. None. You can read it that way if you want to, but there is no actual evidence to support the idea that it should be read that way because that is what Paul or anyone else believed.

    “Cosmic sperm bank. Yes, sounds ludicrous. Maybe it is.”

    It is. It is one of the dumbest arguments I have ever seen put into print. Yet again, its a tangled ad hoc contrivance conjured up to try to twist Romans 1:3 into something that can be reconciled with this other “it all happened in the heavens” contrivance. There is no reference to any “cosmic sperm bank” anywhere in Paul or anywhere else. The whole idea is an ad hoc fantasy to keep Mythicism from collapsing. Carrier’s stuff is full of this kind of thing.

    “This seems a lot like Bible code reading, e.g. illegitimate interpretation.”

    No, it’s careful analysis of what the text says and why it can’t mean what Carrier is claiming.

    “for the James passage, it could just be that Paul needed to distinguish James from another James, and that’s why he added the qualifier only to James – Paul could just be saying “James the Christian, and not that other James”.

    I explain why this doesn’t work in my article. The James of Galatians 1:19 is the James of Galatians 2:9. He is not just some other Christian – he’s a leader. And we have detailed later traditions that have James, the brother of Jesus, as a leader of the community in Jerusalem at this time. Occam’s Razor says James is called “the brother of the Lord” because Paul knew that’s what he was.

    “Implausible? Perhaps. ”

    I cover those ideas in my article as well. They simply don’t make sense given the context.

    “And finally, anything in the Gospels and Acts is completely useless for this debate. They’re complete fiction through and through, and obviously so.”

    That’s called assuming your conclusion. Many parts of them are clearly not historical (“fiction” is not the right word here though). Other parts may or may not be. But you can’t just declare them entirely “fiction” because you want to. That’s pretty lazy.

  62. Tim O says

    “Because that’s Christianity’s whole shtick under Carrier’s minimal mythicism.”

    I know the argument, I’m simply saying it doesn’t make sense. Again, how can a celestial being be “a Jew”? How can they be “under the law” (that means a practicing Jew)? This reference simply makes more sense read as refering to Jesus’ status as a human being, as Paul puts it “according to the flesh”.

    “It sounds like you don’t know the extreme basics of Carrier’s hypothesis, or you’re lying. So, I’m looking at gross incompetence, or dishonesty. Neither make you look good as a suppposed expert.”

    Utter nonsense. I know their arguments perfectly well thanks. Better than you in fact, given you’ve made several mistakes in your summaries of them. I’ve read Carrier’s book twice and have been over its key arguments many, many times. So spare me.

    “The Gospels and Acts are so obviously constructed in their literary structure, characterization, and symbolism, that it’s obvious that it’s all complete fiction”

    Strange then that this is not so “obvious” to thousands of expert non-Christian scholars. Stating your opinion as though it is “obvious” fact is not making an argument, it’s just making a faith statement.

  63. Tim O says

    “Are you really claiming that a Biblical Studies degree and a PhD from a divinity school are “more or less exactly the same” as an advanced degree in Ancient Historry?”

    I’m saying they use the same methods and sometimes draw on each others’ work and on other related disciplines.

    “Are you really claiming that exclusive reliance on the exegesis of a set of unprovenanced texts is “more or less exactly the same” as the methods of history, which always seek primary sources and external controls on secondary narrative sources?”

    What historians of the ancient world “seek” and what they are able to get are not the same thing. NT Studies has some unique problems because it is focused on some, in many ways, unique texts. But it is no more divorced from any other form of ancient historical analysis than any analogous field with a specialised textual focus – e.g. Dead Se Scrolls studies. This “Ehrman isn’t a historian” crap is just a weak sneer. Though, oddly, I never saw it from Mythicists until Ehrman began noting how silly he thought Mythicism was. Before then they all loved the guy and held him up as an expert. How strange …

  64. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Where does Paul explicitly say all this happened in the heavens?

    Where does he says that this all happened on Earth? Isn’t that what we’re discussing?

    So this whole idea is just a contrivance to keep Mythicism from collapsing.

    Before this idea was put to Carrier by Dougherty, Carrier thought that there wasn’t a sustainable mythicist position. It’s not a contrivance. It’s the central thesis of the respectable Jesus mythicism hypothesis.

    We read it as happening on Earth because we have evidence that this is what people believed and we have no evidence that they believed it all happened in the heavens.

    We have no such evidence from the first century.

    Other parts may or may not be. But you can’t just declare them entirely “fiction” because you want to.

    Are you denying the whole-text chiasmus of the Gospel of Mark, and the other rich and deep literary structure of the other gospels? For one of the gospels, the entire thing is like an onion, where the beginning is meant to be a story-telling reflection of the end. The other gospels have similar storytelling structure. This is a hallmark that the entire story is constructed. You don’t write a history of any sort in order to fit a meta structure in the narrative.

    We also have characterization that is impossible. For example, in one of the gospels, the disciples follow Jesus, see him magically conjure some fish, then go to a new village, where the people are also hungry, and the disciples are like “oh whatever will we do!?”, and then Jesus conjures some fish again, and the disciples act amazed, as though they didn’t know Jesus could do this. This is not a history. This is someone making an allegorical point.

    More broadly, there are good reasons to believe that Mark is entirely allegory, and there is nothing of history in it. Then, given at least two of the other three gospels are based in large part on Mark, ditto for Acts, and we’re left with zero amount of history. Nadda. None.

    Similarly, the story contains flagrant falsehoods, like resurrections, flying people, walking on water, magical production of fish, and so forth. These are not just background or occasional elements, but instead they’re central elements to the story. The entire thing is farcical.

    For context, are you a Christian? I’d like to know what sort of biases I’m arguing against.

  65. Tim O says

    @EnlightenmentLiberal

    “Where does he says that this all happened on Earth?”

    He doesn’t. But the difference is that we have clear evidence that people believed it all happened on earth and we have NO evidence that anyone believed it all happened in the heavens. So Occam’s Razor says the reading that Paul is talking about things that he believed happened on earth makes the most sense. This is the critical flaw of Mythicism – it’s based on strings of suppositions.

    “Before this idea was put to Carrier by Dougherty, Carrier thought that there wasn’t a sustainable mythicist position.”

    And he was right.

    “It’s not a contrivance. It’s the central thesis of the respectable Jesus mythicism hypothesis.”

    Sorry, but simply declaring that doesn’t make it so. It is a contrivance – it is not supported by evidence and has to be constantly propped up by strained readings and absolutely ridiculous fantasies like the “cosmic sperm bank”. It’s a joke.

    “We have no such evidence from the first century.”

    Wrong. The gospels and Acts all date to the first century and all clearly show their writers thought Jesus did all these things on earth.

    “Are you denying the whole-text chiasmus of the Gospel of Mark, and the other rich and deep literary structure of the other gospels?”

    I’m saying that this does not mean the gospels are wholly “fiction” (to use your word).

    “You don’t write a history of any sort in order to fit a meta structure in the narrative.”

    They weren’t writing “a history”. This doesn’t mean they didn’t use historical elements.

    “For context, are you a Christian? ”

    What the fuck? I’m an ATHEIST. Did you even look at my blog?

  66. Rob Grigjanis says

    EL @68: For context, why the hell would you take anything Carrier writes seriously?

  67. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    EL @68: For context, why the hell would you take anything Carrier writes seriously?

    Because I am still impressed by his academic work on this topic, while being cognizant that he posts crank stuff on other topics outside of his domain of expertise such as on physics.

  68. Tim O says

    @Rob Grigjanis

    Carrier provides something that many ex-Christians don’t find elsewhere: a seemingly coherent account of the origins of Christianity that is absolutist and rejects the key underpinning of all Christian claims – the historicity of Jesus himself. It’s bad history, but it’s great for polemic purposes.

  69. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    But the difference is that we have clear evidence that people believed it all happened on earth and we have

    Wrong. The gospels and Acts all date to the first century and all clearly show their writers thought Jesus did all these things on earth.

    I’m saying that this does not mean the gospels are wholly “fiction” (to use your word).

    Again, more concretely and accurately, I’d compare it to Spider-Man comics. Some things are places. New York is a real place. Earth is a real place. I’m sure that the comics references some celebrities or politicians, ancient or contemporary, by name. It’s still almost entirely fiction, and there’s no way to determine which parts are true and which parts are fiction via investigation of the text with no other historical knowledge.

    If you’re going to rest your case in large part on facts gleamed from Gospels and Acts, then I’m basically done here. I don’t see any point to continuing this conversation.

    What the fuck? I’m an ATHEIST. Did you even look at my blog?

    I saw it was named “for atheists” or something, and I read the linked-to article. I don’t recall you mentioning in the article your religious affiliation.

  70. A Masked Avenger says

    Now I have to recalibrate. What does “Jesus mythicist” mean? Apparently, rejecting the idea of the Son of God wandering about Galilee, and thinking that many of the tales that sprang up around him were confabulations, does not make one a Jesus mythicist.

    Deconverted fundie here, and you’re absolutely right: that doesn’t make you a mythicist.

    Historians interested in 1st century Palestine don’t believe in a water-walking miracle worker. They do have a consensus that Christians are worshipping an actual Jewish preacher who lived at that time and was crucified by the Romans. They consider most of the material in the NT about him to be mythical, but they also consider there to be a small amount of actual biographical information discernible there, especially between the lines. Notably, that his followers thought he was the Messiah, and that he was crucified, and that they massively retconned their theology to explain why he was supposed to be crucified all along.

    Mythicists contend that there was no person in Judea at all around whom those myths accreted. Carrier, in some ways most extreme, claims that early Christians never even thought their Christ was an actual person in the first place: they themselves always believed that he was some sort of transcendent being who lived on another plane of existence, and that “the man Jesus” was actually a massive retcon dating sometime after the first century.

    tl;dr: Historians say Jesus was a real person, about whom almost nothing is known that isn’t a fabulation; mythicists believe that the myths about Jesus were never based on any actual person who ever existed.

    You (and others) seem sometimes to be caught on the horns of a philosophical dilemma: if everything we ever thought we knew about Mr. X turns out to be a lie, can we actually say that Mr. X ever existed? It’s a good question, but there are actually one or two things we know about Mr. Christ that aren’t lies. He preached; he was crucified; his followers rallied; and they started the Christian religion.

  71. Tim O says

    “It’s still almost entirely fiction, and there’s no way to determine which parts are true and which parts are fiction via investigation of the text with no other historical knowledge.”

    Again, that “Spider Man” analogy just assumes your conclusion. Yes, it could be all “fiction”. And yes, parts of it obviously are (e.g. all the miracles). But all ancient works are polemical to some degree and all contain elements or assumptions about the world which we regard as supernatural and so most likely not historical. So the NT material is not significantly different to any most other texts historians of the pre-modern world deal with all the time. That’s why your claim there is “no way to determine which parts are true” is mainly nonsense. Historians can’t and don’t make absolute assessments of truth, but they do make determinations of likelihood. And in this case almost all scholars agree that it is most likely a historical Jesus existed and for very sound reasons.

    “I saw it was named “for atheists” or something, and I read the linked-to article. I don’t recall you mentioning in the article your religious affiliation”

    There’s an “About the Author and a FAQ” link at the top of every page and in a sidebar near the top of every article.

  72. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    For example, I might start here:
    https://www.counter-currents.com/2017/07/is-the-gospel-according-to-mark-an-allegory/

    Mark in particular is all allegory, obviously so, and nothing more. Almost nothing Mark writes makes any sense as history, but a lot of it makes perfect sense as allegory.

    Just off the top of my head:

    Why did Jesus curse the fig tree? It wasn’t the season for bearing figs. That makes no sense. However, when viewed as an allegory for the downfall of the Jewish temple cult, it makes perfect sense. (The fig tree was a symbol of the Jewish temple cult.) It also has a nice chiasmus structure where Jesus sees the fig tree, curses it, then goes to throw out the money changers (thereby destroying the Jewish temple cult), and comes back to see the fig tree is withered.

    Also, Jesus curses the fig tree, even though explicitly noting that it’s not the season for figs. That makes no sense, but it makes perfect sense for Jesus to say that it’s not the season for figs as an metaphor saying that it’s no longer the time of the Jewish temple cult to do their thing, because Jesus is replacing them with a new covenant.

    My other personal favorite is the name of the convicted criminal released by Pontius Pilate instead of Jesus. Barabbas. It’s a transliteration of Aramaic בר-אבא, Bar-abbâ, “son of the father” into Greek bar-Abbas. This is an obvious allusion to Yom Kippur – you take two equal goats, and “put” your sins onto one of the goats and send it off into the wilderness to take the sins of society away from society, and you sacrifice the other goat to atone for the sins. This, with Passover, was one of the central purposes of the Jewish temple cult. One of the reasons for Paul et al to “invent” Jesus might have been to do away with the Jewish temple cult, and more broadly to do away with sin altogether, and how better to do that than take an existing blood sacrifice ceremony to cleanse sins permanently (a requirement to bring about the endtimes). How do you do that? Well, you replace the measly goat with the most perfect sacrifice and powerful that there can be – the son of Yahweh. It’s all blood magic. In this story in Mark, they more or less literally sent away a murder, who was literally named “the son of the father”, and because he was a murderer, he was the symbolic (or literal) carrier of all of their sins away from society, and the the other son of the father, Jesus, was the perfect sinless sacrifice to cleanse away all sin forever. This is perfectly fitting with the Dougherty / Carrier theory, and it makes far less sense on standard historicity. For example, it doesn’t make sense on historicity because Romans did not randomly release convicted murders as described in the story. Rather, this is obvious fiction in order to make an obvious allegorical point.

    As Carrier and other respectable authors say, everything in Mark is a parable or allegory. There are lots of passages that we today don’t understand the allegory, but that’s just because we’re missing necessary cultural background information.

    Mark is nothing but allegory. It’s fiction. Mark didn’t think that Jesus was a person on Earth. He was writing allegory. He was Euhemerizing. And given the rest are inextricably based on Mark, the rest are thusly tainted. The only things that should be relevant to this debate are the authentic letters of Paul, and any other independent evidence (of which we have none outside of the Bible).

  73. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    But all ancient works are polemical to some degree and all contain elements or assumptions about the world which we regard as supernatural and so most likely not historical.

    Yes, but it’s a matter of extreme degree. This contains not just the normal amount of polemic. It’s nothing but polemic. It’s like trying to read between the lines to get real history from the story of Romulus and Remus, or Star Wars. Have you read the gospels? No seriously, have you? I have to assume that the answer is yes, but if you’re an answer, how can you possibly compare the stories of the Gospels and Acts to other histories? They’re nothing alike.

    Yes, It is assuming a conclusion to compare it to Star Wars, Romulus and Remus, etc., but the point is you don’t get to take a farcical magical story like Romulus and Remus, (and there’s far less magic involved in this story compared to the Gospels), and assume that they really existed and were just embellished without some outside corroborating evidence. More accurately, you don’t get to jump to the conclusion that there’s any identifiable truth, and I don’t get to jump to the conclusion that it’s all fiction. Rather, my original and strongest assertion is that it’s useless by itself determining one way or the other, just like a Spider-Man comic is useless about determining whether New York is a real place or not.

    Again, we’re talking about a story that involves walking on water, conjuring fish, resurrections, angels, and disappearance of the sun for hours, just for starters. The Gospels and Acts is a story is about a godsdamned wizard doing magic. It’s not just a little bit of magic. It’s a lot of magic. It’s a whole lot of magic. This is not a history in any conventional or historical sense.

  74. Tim O says

    “Mark is nothing but allegory. It’s fiction. Mark didn’t think that Jesus was a person on Earth. He was writing allegory.”

    You seem to have drunk the Carrier Kool Aid to the bottom of the jug and asked for more.Think about this – all those things in gMark that you detail above are not only well and truly known to me, they are known to pretty much any critical scholar in the field. The only reason your “Dougherty” (it’s Doherty by the way) and Carrier know about them is that other earlier scholars identified them before either of those guys were even born. Yet somehow they manage to accept all of this and … NOT conclude that “it’s fiction”. That is, in part, because they are not labouring under the misapprehension that gMark should be read as “history” and so don’t conclude that if you realise it’s a polemical work with many clearly non-historical elements, it does not follow that it is therefore wholly allegory. You can take historical elements and give them an exegetical spin- in fact Jewish writers did this all the time. You can also include things which you know are not actually historical but still think should be presented because they convey something you believe to be true.

    So what you’ve done is realised that the gospels can’t be read as straight history and then acrobatically jumped to the conclusion that this means nothing about Jesus in them is historical at all. That does not actually follow.

    Let me guess – you used to be a Christian, right?

  75. wzrd1 says

    I see this made, as in manufactured vs out of woman as a potentially meaningless argument, as which source text are you speaking of?
    Some of the more ancient texts were indeed ancient Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic. Others were transliterated once or even twice, introducing errors in transliteration due to linguistic and cultural drift. That confounds any discussion to the point of worthlessness, as one is basing assumptions upon flawed evidence.

    As for Jesus, I’m of the opinion that there were likely hundreds of Jesus figures present at the time. It was a fractious time, lousy with dissidents, doomsday cults, fire and brimstone preachers and notably, Essenes. Whose surviving works reflect many NT teachings, in an Essene lite kind of way.
    After all, people do tend to like their religions with lots and lots of sects.
    It’s just a pity that the Roman Catholic church misheard the word…

    As for PZ…
    If I die, and a hundred years later the actual events of my life are forgotten and all that survives are legends of my astonishing sexual prowess and my ability to breathe underwater, what does the “historical PZ” refer to?

    Do you actually have to ask?
    “PZ Meyers, a semi-mythical figure, who history after the great geomagnetic storm catastrophe, recorded as being the demigod like figure who invented zebrafish and Friday tentacle porn. Unfortunately, real facts about PZ Meyers can never be known, as all magnetic and electronic devices were destroyed by the intense geomagnetic storm that occurred in the year 0.
    Surviving records suggest that PZ Meyers was married to Wonder Woman and had 6.02*10^23 children.

  76. CJO says

    It’s not a smear, it’s just the truth. I like Bart Ehrman’s books. I’ve learned a lot from him. Somebody upthread said flatly “he’s a historian” and he’s not; he’s a Biblical Studies professor, which, despite your dissembling insinuations, are not the same thing. Dead Sea Scrolls scholars are by and large not historians either, the training, skills, and methods are just not the same; though historians of 2nd Temple Judaism are, perforce, also expert in DSS and Qumran studies because those are such rich sources.

  77. Rob Grigjanis says

    Tim O @72: He also claimed Profound Insights in physics which somehow escaped the attention of physicists for the last 100 years or so. Based on a laughable misunderstanding of the basics, but plausible to (some) lay folk. When challenged, he simply gets prickly and obnoxious, without any substantive defence of his views. Some people excuse this – “OK, he got physics wrong, but what about his other stuff?”. But I didn’t see it as “getting one thing wrong”. I saw it as a symptom.

    I’ve seen mathematicians have similar responses to his use of Bayesian reasoning.

  78. Tim O says

    “Somebody upthread said flatly “he’s a historian” and he’s not”

    Yawn. Yes, technically he’s not. Practically, you’re waving around a distinction without difference. Your point is seriously petty.

  79. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    So what you’ve done is realised that the gospels can’t be read as straight history and then acrobatically jumped to the conclusion that this means nothing about Jesus in them is historical at all. That does not actually follow.

    Again, I apologize for speaking unclearly, but my strongest and original point is that you don’t get to assume that Mark believed Jesus was Earthly, and I don’t get to assume that Mark believed Jesus existed up in heaven. You have to demonstrate this. You cannot cite Mark as evidence that Mark believed Jesus existed on Earth. That’s nonsense. You have all of your work ahead of you to show this to be true. Given the extreme amount of allegory that I’ve shown exists in Mark, at first approximation, it seems roughly equally likely that Mark did think that Jesus was Earthly vs Jesus existed only in heaven. You have to show reasons otherwise why you think Mark believed one way or the other.

    I haven’t really made the argument that the Gospels are evidence in favor of mythicism, even though you can on a few points like I did above. I’m primarily arguing that they have basically zero value either way in this debate.

    Again, please explain how you came to the conclusion that Mark believed that Jesus was a real person on Earth. Because he wrote stories about him? Not good enough, and not good enough at all when there are obvious reasons why he would write allegory about it, and we know that a large portion of what he wrote is allegory. We know that other historical authors did take gods from heaven and create entirely fictional lives of them on Earth – Euhemerizing.

    Also, given the exceptionally high score of Jesus according to the Gospels on the Rank-Raglan mythotype scale, we can start to make the argument that the Gospel authors were just making it up. We know of no other historical person who has a score as high as Jesus on the Rank-Raglan mythotype scale. Again, this is not a proper part of a proper argument that Jesus did not exist – it is primarily an argument that the Gospels are not useful evidence in this discussion because they’re just made up fiction (allegorical or otherwise).

    Let me guess – you used to be a Christian, right?

    Not really. I don’t recall ever having a firm belief. I kind of just went along with it. I identified as atheist starting around 18 years old. I don’t recall exactly when.

  80. Tim O says

    @Rob Grigjanis

    “But I didn’t see it as “getting one thing wrong”. I saw it as a symptom.”

    Yes, and a pattern. Physics. Bayesian analysis. Philosophy. New Testament textual criticism. Medieval history. Over and over again Carrier makes strident pronouncements on subjects he has no training in and consistently he is at odds with the consensus of actual specialists in those fields. Then he screams that they are all wrong (and usually that they are “liars” and also “insane” if they dare to criticise him) and that he – the failed academic and unemployed blogger – is right.

    I have noticed lately, however, that mention of his name in atheist circles these days attracts criticism more than praise. I think people are starting to realise that behind his narcissism and histrionics there’s not much substance and a lot of smoke and mirrors. And the way he has attacked the women who accused him of sexual harassment showed many people that he is actually a rather unpleasant character.

  81. Tim O says

    “you don’t get to assume that Mark believed Jesus was Earthly, and I don’t get to assume that Mark believed Jesus existed up in heaven.”

    Sorry, but since gMark depicts Jesus on earth, everything we know about early Christianity indicates they all accepted that he existed on earth and we have ZERO references to ANYONE who believed Jesus existed purely in the heavens, that is the only parsimonious reading we can have.This whole “celestial/mythic Jesus” idea is pure supposition and a contrivance designed try to come up with a way Christianity could arise without a historical Jesus. It starts with its conclusion and then piles up suppositions and fantasies (“the cosmic sperm bank”!) to keep itself from collapsing. It is not a solid foundation for a theory because it’s based almost entirely on wishful thinking.

  82. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    everything we know about early Christianity indicates they all accepted that he existed on earth

    You act as though we have other evidence. Again, we don’t. We have the Gospels and Acts, which are not independent sources. Then we have the letters of Paul. That’s it.

    It is not a solid foundation for a theory because it’s based almost entirely on wishful thinking.

    Then dispute it properly instead of referring to non-existence evidence. I agree that the authentic letters of Paul are relevant. I disagree that the authentic letters of Paul show that Paul believed that Jesus existed on Earth. Ergo, I don’t recognize any other evidence which provides a background for Mark to show that other Christians in the first century thought that Jesus existed on Earth.

    we have ZERO references to ANYONE who believed Jesus existed purely in the heavens,

    Ignoring the obvious fictions of the Gospel and Acts, we also have zero evidence that shows that first century Christians thought that Jesus existed on Earth. You don’t get to claim to be the default position. Stop pretending that your position is the default, and that it should win by default. Stop wrongly shifting the burden of proof.

  83. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Again, if you have other evidence that shows that Christians of the first century believed that Jesus existed on Earth, then you don’t need to bring Mark into it, because you’ve already won the debate.

    However, without that background, you don’t get to use Mark as evidence in your favor. You don’t get to claim out of nowhere that Mark believed that Jesus was a person on Earth just because he wrote it when there’s obviously a lot of other stuff that Mark wrote in the same story which Mark didn’t believe was true, such as when Mark wrote that Jesus cursed a fig tree even though it wasn’t the season for figs, and wrote the whole Yom Kippur allusion I mentioned above, and so on and so forth for many many examples of obviously and undeniably contrived, created, and allegorical examples from the Gospel Of Mark.

  84. Tim O says

    “We have the Gospels and Acts, which are not independent sources.”

    So? They all depict Jesus on earth. Every single source we have supports the idea that they DID believe Jesus existed on earth. And we have NO sources that say ANYONE believed anything else, let alone they anyone believed he only existed in the heavens. So you can’t read any of this material that way without assuming your own conclusion.

    “I disagree that the authentic letters of Paul show that Paul believed that Jesus existed on Earth.”

    And you can only “disagree” with that reading of the Pauline texts by assuming this “celestial/mythic Jesus” stuff. So again we have two alternative readings – one based on an idea which we find in all early Christian material and one which is found nowhere in the source material at all. Occam’s Razor comes into play here.

    Mythicism is just an elaborate game of “maybes” based on wishful thinking and an assumed conclusion. This is why it convinces nobody other than those with an emotional desire to be convinced.

  85. Tim O says

    “You don’t get to claim out of nowhere that Mark believed that Jesus was a person on Earth just because he wrote it when there’s obviously a lot of other stuff that Mark wrote in the same story which Mark didn’t believe was true”

    Again, in the absence of any evidence at all that ANYONE believed in a purely celestial and non-earthly Jesus, you are the one making a “claim out of nowhere”. There is simply no basis for this reading of gMark any more than there is one for the contorted and silly reading of Paul using the same assumption. You can’t start with an assumption that has no basis at all outside of your wishful thinking.

  86. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    “We have the Gospels and Acts, which are not independent sources.”

    So? They all depict Jesus on earth. Every single source we have supports the idea that they DID believe Jesus existed on earth.

    Really? Do you not do basic history? If the sources are not independent, then they count as only one source. That’s how history works. Especially for something as blatant as the Gospels where they heavily copy from the predecessor Gospels. Ergo, we have one (1) source, the Gospels and Acts, which clearly state that Jesus existed on Earth, and these same sources also say lots of other flagrant falsehoods, and so I’m still unable to ascertain why you think that the author(s) believe that Jesus was a person on Earth when they wrote a bunch of other things about Jesus that they knew to be false. I’ve made this point several times now – reply to it already godsdamnit.

    And we have NO sources that say ANYONE believed anything else, let alone they anyone believed he only existed in the heavens.

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

    And you can only “disagree” with that reading of the Pauline texts by assuming this “celestial/mythic Jesus” stuff.

    No. I don’t have to assume it to be true in order to come to the conclusion that the authentic letters of Paul are nominally consistent with the hypothesis. You’re getting the order of deduction backwards.

    one based on an idea which we find in all early Christian material and one which is found nowhere in the source material at all.

    This is not honest arguing. We have at most two sources that might claim that Christians of the first century believed that Jesus was a person who existed on Earth: 1- the authentic letters of Paul, and 2- the Gospels and Acts. You portray it dishonestly as a mountain of evidence against nothing, but it’s not a mountain of evidence. It’s a molehill. And if you dismiss the reliability and honesty of the Gospels and Acts, and you should, that leaves you with Paul. And I still do think that Paul can be read to be consistent with the Doherty hypothesis. And then you have to ignore stuff to the contrary, like the Ascension Of Isaiah (and specifically the Vision Of Isaiah), which can be read to indicate that Jesus was killed and resurrected in heaven. Convenient that, you ignoring this piece of evidence.

    Again, you are not honestly arguing here.

  87. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Again, in the absence of any evidence at all that ANYONE believed in a purely celestial and non-earthly Jesus, you are the one making a “claim out of nowhere”. There is simply no basis for this reading of gMark any more than there is one for the contorted and silly reading of Paul using the same assumption. You can’t start with an assumption that has no basis at all outside of your wishful thinking.

    Is “Jesus was a person on Earth” the default position? Why? It really does seem that you are asserting that this is the default position which must be assumed to be true absent all other evidence. Why is this? It seems that it is you who is projecting, and it is you who is assuming the conclusion.

    The proper way to do something like this is to go in without preconceptions, with biases, but with all of your other background knowledge. You don’t go in assuming that Mark believed that Jesus was a person on Earth or assuming that Mark believed Jesus existed only in heaven. Barring arguments from background knowledge, neither one of these positions should be assumed. It really does seem like you believe that we should assume one over the other – barring extreme evidence to the contrary. That’s simply not how history, nor rationality, works.

    The questions that you should be asking, which Carrier makes, is – “What are the remotely plausible hypotheses that can explain the evidence? For each bit of evidence, making no assumptions about how likely to be true each hypothesis is, is the hypothesis consistent with the evidence? And how consistent is it? To what degree of consistency / likelihood?”. This is how you do history, and this is how you do all empirical investigation. You don’t get to assume that one conclusion is the default conclusion, or the “null hypothesis”, and place the burden of proof on your opponent to show otherwise.

    In the absence of other evidence, we should read the texts neutrally on both hypotheses, and see how well the texts fit each hypothesis, and judge accordingly in a neutral fashion without preconceived conclusions or biases.

  88. Tim O says

    “If the sources are not independent, then they count as only one source.”

    Leaving aside the fact that most scholars believe gJohn to be independent of the synoptics, this still doesn’t matter. The gospels still depict Jesus on earth and you still have NO evidence that anyone regarded this as pure allegory and actually believed in a wholly celestial Jesus. So your whole reading of these texts is based on an assumption without foundation, as I keep explaining to you.

    “And then you have to ignore stuff to the contrary, like the Ascension Of Isaiah (and specifically the Vision Of Isaiah), which can be read to indicate that Jesus was killed and resurrected in heaven. Convenient that, you ignoring this piece of evidence.”

    I dealt with that in a previous comment. The claim the Ascension depicts Jesus being crucified in the heavens is factually wrong – it does not. And the claim it never depicts Jesus living on earth is also factually wrong – it explicitly does (in Ascension 11.23). You have no evidential basis for your weird readings of Paul and the gospels. None.

  89. Tim O says

    “Is “Jesus was a person on Earth” the default position? Why?”

    Because that is how he is depicted and there is no basis for the idea that this was purely allegorical and that they actually believed in a purely celestial Jesus. There is no evidence ANYONE believed that. As I keep explaining to you. How many more times before you understand?

  90. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    You have no evidential basis for your weird readings of Paul and the gospels. None.

    Again, this is such a wrong-headed thing to say. Neither do you. That’s the point. Neither position should be preferred by default. Yet, seemingly you still assert that I’m wrong, because – I don’t even know. I have no other way to describe what I’m seeing except to say that you are saying something like “Jesus existed as a person on Earth is the null hypothesis, and you have to show evidence to overturn it, and you have to show (how?) that it’s reasonable to read the texts in this way before trying to argue that texts are consistent with the alternative hypothesis”. Doing that is just rigging the game.

    It’s just such a weird thing to say. To say that one must have evidential basis for a reading of a text is to imply that the text itself has a zero (or reduced) evidentiary value. To suggest that there is such a thing as an evidentiary basis for a reading of a text in this way is akin to assume the conclusion before you read the text. What you say just makes no sense to me. You really are projecting your own faults of assuming the conclusion onto others.

    I dealt with that in a previous comment. The claim the Ascension depicts Jesus being crucified in the heavens is factually wrong – it does not.

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

    So, I take it that you assert that the details of Jesus descending down through the heavens disguised as an angel in the Ethiopic version is some kind of forgery? It’s no mere interpolation, and so the only remaining option available to you seems to be forgery. What is your position?

  91. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    How many more times before you understand?

    Well, I think that will be fine. You’re just really bad at historical and empirical reasoning. I suppose I’m done.

    Sorry to everyone else for bringing a Pox upon me by defending a position held by the obnoxious and odious Richard Carrier.

  92. Tim O says

    “Neither do you. That’s the point.”

    Nonsense. The gospels depict Jesus as a person on earth. There is nothing in them to say this is purely allegorical and they actually considered him to be a purely celestial who never had an earthly existence. And there is no basis for reading them this way because there is NO evidence ANYONE thought this about Jesus. So we can only go with what the texts say they believe about Jesus.

    “It’s no mere interpolation, and so the only remaining option available to you seems to be forgery. What is your position?”

    What? I don’t need to resort to any “forgery”. Nowhere does the most likely original form of the text say Jesus was crucified in the heavens. And Ascension 11.23 explicitly refers to him coming to earth: “And I saw one like a Son of Man (Jesus) dwelling among men and in the world, and they did not know him”. So the claim that this text reflects this “celestial Jesus” stuff is wrong. And I’m working purely from the parts of the text that Carrier accepts as the earliest elements.

    Again, you have NOTHING to prop up this fantasy that any early Christians believed in a purely celestial Jesus, so you have no basis for reading any early Christian text with that idea as your assumption. And the whole Jesus Myth hypothesis fails right there.

  93. jack16 says

    I read somewhere that Pilate was awakened in th night to pass judgment on a Jewish religious fanatic. The guy who would have been crucified was the man who had the temerity to wake the governor!

    jack16

  94. says

    This whole “celestial/mythic Jesus” idea is pure supposition and a contrivance designed try to come up with a way Christianity could arise without a historical Jesus.

    No. It’s a significant amount of supposition designed to come up with a way Christianity could arise WITH a historical jesus OR without a historical jesus but WITHOUT an actual god leading zombies on a walking tour of Jerusalem, since that obviously did not happen.

    The gospels lie about certain events: a large number of zombies walking through Jerusalem would have caused a hell of a lot more notice than a single body missing from its tomb. To my mind, it’s inconceivable that such an event happening in the real world in the company of a historical jesus would not generate tremendous comment throughout the empire, some of which would have survived because which classical writings survived to the present day had everything to do with which writings medieval christians wanted to survive. The multiple confirmations of the zombie parade would have done a lot to boost the credibility of this otherwise completely unbelievable account of a set of books that contain many books of happenings that are simply not credible.

    Given that the gospels (or at least Mark) lie about Jerusalem’s zombie parade on the night of jesus’ death, why should we believe any of the other things that violate natural law but weren’t necessarily so prominent, public, and (supposedly) well witnessed?

    The problem isn’t trying to figure out how christianity derived from a historical jesus – we know that didn’t happen. The problem is trying to figure out how christianity derived from either 1) nothing stories that have any basis in reality, but plenty of stories that have echoes in earlier jewish writings and non-jewish mythologies, or 2) stories that have some small basis in reality, but nothing that resembles a truly historical god incarnated in a truly historical human form working truly historical miracles.

    Maybe you don’t like the “other plane” explanation, heck maybe you can even thoroughly disprove it. But it’s still a fuck of a lot more facially reasonable than the idea that there was a historical jesus.

  95. says

    In that last sentence I’m using “historical jesus” differently than in my first paragraph – in the last sentence I mean “historical jesus” meaning “person who really did all those miracles including calling a bunch of zombies out of their graves on some Friday night a long time ago” and in the first one (I should have clarified) I mean some random human being whose real life included a few details in common with the fake-ass story concocted by the gospels.

  96. Tim O says

    “It’s a significant amount of supposition designed to come up with a way Christianity could arise WITH a historical jesus OR without a historical jesus but WITHOUT an actual god leading zombies on a walking tour of Jerusalem, since that obviously did not happen.”

    This makes no sense at all. Again, we have stories that depict Jesus as a historical person, regardless of any elements in those depictions which are clearly not historical. But we have no indications that this depiction of Jesus as an earthly, historical person was a complete allegory and these writers actually thought he was purely celestial. That’s because we have no evidence that ANYONE thought that about Jesus. So the most reasonable reading of the gospels is that they did think he had been a historical person. And also believed other non-historical and possibly allegorical things about him and his life (e.g those “zombies”).

    “Given that the gospels (or at least Mark) lie about Jerusalem’s zombie parade on the night of jesus’ death, why should we believe any of the other things that violate natural law but weren’t necessarily so prominent, public, and (supposedly) well witnessed?”

    Because lots of ancient texts have supernatural elements in them which we dismiss as being obviously not historical despite being about people we know WERE historical. So that kind of element doesn’t mean we can conclude the whole story is wholly allegorical.

    “Maybe you don’t like the “other plane” explanation, heck maybe you can even thoroughly disprove it. But it’s still a fuck of a lot more facially reasonable than the idea that there was a historical jesus.”

    That’s nonsense. Given that it is based on the assumption that ANYONE believed in this purely celestial Jesus, despite there being zero evidence for this, it is not reasonable at all. On the other hand, we do know there were apocalyptic preachers who taught the kind of things Jesus is depicted as preaching in the earlier gospels, who had followings that survived their deaths and who even seem to have been thought to have risen from the dead. So the idea that Jesus was one of these makes perfect sense and IS based on actual evidence. The “celestial Jesus” stuff is based on nothing but wishful thinking.

  97. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Sorry – can’t help myself.

    That’s nonsense. Given that it is based on the assumption that ANYONE believed in this purely celestial Jesus, despite there being zero evidence for this, it is not reasonable at all.

    Are you really saying that the historical existence of a god-man wizard Jesus, with the Gospels being more or less literally true, is more likely than Doherty’s mythicism hypothesis? More than that, you seem to imply here that it’s way more likely. Jesus. Take the stick out of your ass already.

  98. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Take the stick out of your ass already.

    Ack, sorry. I realized as I posted it that I should be more careful, especially around here. I uhh, is that a gay-slur kind of insult? Sorry about that. My bad. I apologize.

  99. Tim O says

    “Are you really saying that the historical existence of a god-man wizard Jesus, with the Gospels being more or less literally true, is more likely than Doherty’s mythicism hypothesis?”

    What? Where the hell did you get the idea I was saying anything remotely like that? Try reading more carefully.

    “Take the stick out of your ass already.”

    Perhaps if you calmed down you could manage to read properly.

  100. Rob Grigjanis says

    EL @101:

    That’s nonsense. Given that it is based on the assumption that ANYONE believed in this purely celestial Jesus, despite there being zero evidence for this, it is not reasonable at all.

    Are you really saying that the historical existence of a god-man wizard Jesus, with the Gospels being more or less literally true, is more likely than Doherty’s mythicism hypothesis?

    Sorry mate, but sometimes I wonder about your ability to read simple English. I have no idea how you got from the quoted text to your question.

  101. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Rob
    Uhh. Did you read the broader context? Thanks for being so polite, but I think I have to turn this back on you and question your particular ability to read in this case. I just re-read the history myself, and I’m pretty sure that I’m right. Here’s the relevant context:

    Crip:

    The problem isn’t trying to figure out how christianity derived from a historical jesus – we know that didn’t happen. The problem is trying to figure out how christianity derived from either 1) nothing stories that have any basis in reality, but plenty of stories that have echoes in earlier jewish writings and non-jewish mythologies, or 2) stories that have some small basis in reality, but nothing that resembles a truly historical god incarnated in a truly historical human form working truly historical miracles.

    Maybe you don’t like the “other plane” explanation, heck maybe you can even thoroughly disprove it. But it’s still a fuck of a lot more facially reasonable than the idea that there was a historical jesus.

    […] I mean “historical jesus” meaning “person who really did all those miracles including calling a bunch of zombies out of their graves on some Friday night a long time ago”

    Tim O:

    “Maybe you don’t like the “other plane” explanation, heck maybe you can even thoroughly disprove it. But it’s still a fuck of a lot more facially reasonable than the idea that there was a historical jesus.”
    That’s nonsense. Given that it is based on the assumption that ANYONE believed in this purely celestial Jesus, despite there being zero evidence for this, it is not reasonable at all.

    So yea, it really does look like Tom O is saying that a wizard god-man Jesus is more likely than Doherty’s mythicism hypothesis. Having time to reflect back on it, I think the more likely explanation is that he was just very poor at reading, just like what happened to you. It’s a common theme in this thread (at least for him, not you Rob, <3.)

  102. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Tim O and Rob
    Look, I know that I’ve been guilty many times of reading too fast, skimming, and not reading for comprehension, and so I won’t complain too much and won’t be mad about it now. However, I think in this case, I am right, and both of you need to slow down, read for comprehension, and re-read the comment thread (and specifically the portions that I quoted above). It’s pretty obvious that Tim O is on autopilot and not actually reading for comprehension. My chances of getting through to him seem to be about zero, and I don’t want to get any more invested in this admittingly very unimportant and obscure academic discussion.

  103. Rob Grigjanis says

    EL @105: No, I got the context. “A is more reasonable than B” is nonsense if A is not reasonable, regardless of the reasonableness, or lack thereof, of B. And calling it nonsense doesn’t mean I think B is more likely than A. “Likely” doesn’t even come into it.

  104. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Rob
    Ok. If you get that, I don’t understand your previous post. If you get that, why I wrote what I wrote should have been obvious. Maybe you disagreed with it, but you seemed to indicate that you didn’t understand how I took that meaning from what he wrote, but now you seem to indicate that you do understand how I took that meaning from what he wrote. I’m really lost, or I have to make ungenerous assumptions about you, and I don’t want to do that (e.g. lying e.g. backpedalling to save face).

    I also disagree with this assertion:

    “A is more reasonable than B” is nonsense if A is not reasonable, regardless of the reasonableness, or lack thereof, of B.

    It’s entirely reasonable to discuss the relative likelihoods of two unlikely hypotheses.

    I simply don’t get you right now.

  105. Rob Grigjanis says

    An empty glass has more water in it than an empty jug. Discuss. And good night.

  106. Tim O says

    “So yea, it really does look like Tom O is saying that a wizard god-man Jesus is more likely than Doherty’s mythicism hypothesis.”

    Please show me anything in the quoted material or what I actually said that indicates I’m talking about any “wizard god-man Jesus”. I responded to her (?) before I saw that she has chosen to mean two different things by “the historical Jesus”. The term is usually used to mean a historical person, minus the magic powers. The “wizard god-man Jesus” is, by contrast, usually referred to as “the Jesus of faith”. I’m talking about the former and assumed originally she was as well.

  107. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Tim O
    Yeah, that’s fine. Just a simple misunderstanding on that point. Just checking though. You’re still unfairly and shifting the burden of proof though.

    To Rob
    Ok. Now I do have to call you an ass. Either you did understand what I was responding to in the first place, which means you lied later when you initially said that my reading comprehension is bad, or you lied in the second place when you said you knew all along what I was getting at and the context of what was posted. You’re also being an incredibly obstinate ass for making the absurd claim that two small things cannot be compared, or that it’s foolish to compare them, or something. I don’t even. I didn’t expect to say that Tom is actually looking like the more reasonable one.

  108. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Tim
    I just mean in general. You’re demanding evidence that I show that Christians in the first century thought that Jesus existed only in heaven before I make any arguments about the Biblical texts, and you’re claiming that “Christians in the first century thought that Jesus existed on Earth” is the default position which we should accept by default unless it’s overturned, but that’s rigging the game. You’re using those Biblical texts as evidence in your favor while denying me the use of the same texts unless I pass your ridiculous double-standards. As I said before, the only honest way to do this is to look at how well the texts fit each hypothesis relative to all other alternatives (e.g. relative to each other). That’s how you do historical methods, and more broadly that’s how you do empirical reasoning in general. You know, Carrier’s whole Bayesian reasoning shtick. That’s the proper way to evaluate evidence and evaluate historical hypotheses.

  109. Tim O says

    “You’re demanding evidence that I show that Christians in the first century thought that Jesus existed only in heaven before I make any arguments about the Biblical texts”

    Given that you are trying to make “arguments about the Biblical texts” based ON the assumption they “thought that Jesus existed only in heaven”, you need to first demonstrate that they did. So far your only attempt, using the Ascension, failed totally. Unless you can show they held this belief, any “arguments about the Biblical texts” based on it are not valid. I’m running out of new ways to try to explain this very simple fact to you.

    “you’re claiming that “Christians in the first century thought that Jesus existed on Earth” is the default position”

    In the absence of any reason to read the evidence any other way, it is. See above.

    “You know, Carrier’s whole Bayesian reasoning shtick. That’s the proper way to evaluate evidence and evaluate historical hypotheses.”

    You don’t have a valid historical hypothesis to evaluate. You have some wishful thinking about an idea that you can’t substantiate and yet you keep trying to assume.You can’t do that. See above.

  110. says

    First: TimO, can you please use block quotes? They make your contributions far more readable – or would, if you ever used them.
    <blockquote>Type stuff here.</blockquote>

    yields:

    Type stuff here.

    It’s pretty easy if you try it.

    Now let’s get to what you’re saying:

    SOMEONE ELSE: “Are you really saying that the historical existence of a god-man wizard Jesus, with the Gospels being more or less literally true, is more likely than Doherty’s mythicism hypothesis?”

    YOU: What? Where the hell did you get the idea I was saying anything remotely like that? Try reading more carefully.

    Because you’re not defining your “historical jesus”.

    There is the idea of some somebody, whose name is uncertain though more likely Joshua than most other names, did some preaching or something at some point in time post-Maccabees and pre-70 AD, probably he said at least a couple of wise things, and maybe he had some followers but maybe not, and someone decided to write some old testament prophecies up as current events starring this uncertainly-named person.

    Is that the historical jesus you’re talking about? Because that’s no historical jesus at all. Jesus has the power to offer salvation to human beings after death – that guy never did. So in what way is this afterlife-salvation bringer “historical” if the “real” person never brought afterlife-salvation to anyone?

    On the other hand, there’s the jesus that magically conjured mountains of fish and got people drunk at a party, then got them even more drunk after the alcohol ran dry. In his spare time he worked a little magic here & there, gave impactful lectures/sermons, withered fig trees that acted like fig trees, prophesied the end of the universe within a generation, handed out afterlife-salvation like it was candy to anyone who would believe in him, and also cast a Mass Animate Dead spell with his dying breath so zombies could have a party weekend in the City of Peace during passover.

    Did that jesus exist “historically”.

    The real problem here is that you can’t even begin to assess whether or not something is “historical” until you define your terms.

    I can say that Bukteptuflakken is historical, but unless you know what the fuck or who the fuck Bukteptuflakken is, you cannot possibly evaluate as true or not true the claim that there is a historical Bukteptuflakken.

    So: there’s clearly no “historical jesus” that we can accept as having existed without first defining what “historical jesus” is.

    Other figures – “historical Julius Caesar” for instance – have definitions such that we can evaluate the existence or non-existence of “historical Julius Caesar” entirely apart from the question of whether or not Julius Caesar did magic. It’s pretty easy, just define Julius Caesar as a human being, probably male, who ruled a thing called “the Roman Empire” at/near its inception. If there are magic stories, they don’t bear at all on whether there was a human being ruling “the Roman Empire” at and near its inception. They don’t matter, because they have nothing to do with the definition.

    But what is the definition of “the historical jesus”? The entire reason jesus matters to people is because he’s a magician and a god. If you define “the historical jesus” as a normal human who couldn’t do magic, then there’s no overlap with the definition of the Christian jesus.

    If you define “the historical jesus” as some guy who cast animate dead spells during moments of stress then there’s overlap with the definition of the Christian jesus, but that guy didn’t exist.

    I hate these debates because people arguing for a historical jesus are so slippery – I’m sure many are downright dishonest. Everyone already concedes that humans existed a couple thousand years ago, and that the name which is now transliterated “jesus” was a fairly common one in Judea at the time in question. That means that there were many historical jesuses. MANY. But the question is, do any of them share any of the relevant characteristics in common with the god-magician jesus?

    Many of the people who bore that name circa 2kya were born in or around Galilee. Many – some born in/around Galilee, some not – were not from Bethlehem but visited there. Many would have been born in Bethlehem, and some of those might be to mothers who weren’t in town all that long. Many would have studied the torah and talmud. Many would have talked to rabbis at some point during their childhood, especially as they approached their bar mitzvoth.

    Is any of those Joshuas “the historical jesus”? If so, which one? If you can’t point to a particular one of those Joshuas, in what sense can it possibly be said that there is a historical jesus?

    Seriously. It’s like you haven’t thought this through at all.

    Provide a definition of “the historical jesus” and then we can talk. Until then, why would I concede the existence of something you can’t even define?

  111. Tim O says

    Because you’re not defining your “historical jesus”.

    I assumed people here would understand how that term is used by scholars – “a historical Jewish preacher of the early first century AD who became the focus of a sect after his execution and is the subject of later accounts in the gospels”. Whether this person did all the things attributed to him is a separate set of questions, but that is how the term is usually applied. It is not applied to the “wizard god-man Jesus”, who is usually referred to as “the Jesus of faith”.

    Is any of those Joshuas “the historical jesus”? If so, which one?

    See above. Any other Jesus who did some similar things but didn’t get crucified and became the focus of an ongoing sect is not relevant here.

    Seriously. It’s like you haven’t thought this through at all.

    Keep responding and you’ll soon see how much I have thought this through.

  112. says

    You have some wishful thinking about an idea that you can’t substantiate and yet you keep trying to assume. You can’t do that.

    And you have some wishful thinking about something that isn’t even an idea yet, because you can’t define it (or at least haven’t yet defined it).

    To borrow the phrase of someone who must be very wise: You can’t do that.

    What are the essential characteristics of “the historical jesus” that define him as a specific, unique person? What are the characteristics of “the christian jesus” that make the christian jesus a reasonable being to worship?

    Then: Do the two definitions have any characteristics in common? If not, then “the historical jesus” doesn’t exist in any meaningful sense, because the historical jesus is entirely lacking the attributes inhering to godhood or to any being worthy of worship, which means that “the historical jesus” has nothing of defining importance in common with “the christian jesus”. Therefore “the christian jesus” has no historical counterpart. There may have been people named “jesus” but they simply aren’t counterparts to “the christian jesus”. And so in every meaningful way that most people intend, the idea of “the historical jesus” as integral to the birth of christianity is refuted.

    If there are common characteristics in the two definitions, Have you proven the existence of a particular person who possessed all of those characteristics inhering to “the historical jesus” and necessarily including (since the definitions overlapped) those qualities that are the distinct property of gods (or beings worthy of worship)? If you haven’t proved the existence of a specific person and proved that person possessed each of those defining characteristics, then it may or may not be possible that a “historical jesus” existed, but there’s as yet no reason to believe that any “historical jesus” existed.

    Your work is only done after you’ve defined the theologically relevant attributes of the Christian jesus, proved that some of those attributes overlap with some of the attributes included in your definition of the historical jesus, and then proven the existence of a specific person with all the historical jesus attributes and some of the godly attributes of christian jesus.

    No one is insisting that the name “jesus” was in use 2kya in Judea. We’re claiming that there is no definition of “historical jesus” that has meaningful overlap with “christian jesus”. This is trivially true up until the moment you provide rigorous definitions for each (and thus an anti-historical jesus position is justified at least until hard definitions exist), but even then you’ll have to take up a burden of proof on your existential claim, one attribute at a time, until you’ve proved a christianity-relevant historical jesus.

  113. Tim O says

    And you have some wishful thinking about something that isn’t even an idea yet, because you can’t define it (or at least haven’t yet defined it).

    Scroll up slightly.

    What are the essential characteristics of “the historical jesus” that define him as a specific, unique person?

    Scroll up slightly.

  114. says

    @Tim O:

    If you really have researched this, you know that scholars define their historical jesuses quite differently at times. That’s not our problem. That’s a problem with the field of “historical jesus” researchers.

    a historical Jewish preacher of the early first century AD who became the focus of a sect after his execution and is the subject of later accounts in the gospels

    And here we have a “historical jesus” that has no attributes that cannot be found in any common, non-divine human being, nor any attributes that cannot be found in any common, non-worship worthy human being.

    The existence of Jewish preachers is not in dispute. The existence of early christian sects is not in dispute. But the existence of a historical god-wizard is in dispute and is certainly false, while the existence of some person with qualities that cannot be found in random human beings today but fall desperately short of god-like qualities is in dispute and is almost certainly false.

    When you assert that there was “a historical jesus” you must know that what people generally hear is that there existed a person whom other human beings had good reason to worship, whether or not that person had every characteristic of the later christian jesus.

    Your historical jesus has no characteristics that justify worship.

    You might or might not be describing a historical person, but if you are describing a historical person, then you’re still describing someone about whom every single reason to worship that person was made up. Poof!

    In that case, there’s no historical basis for the christian jesus, even if there might be some historical person named jesus. “No historical basis for the christian jesus” = to every reasonable person, “no historical jesus”.

    This is why definitions are so important. Your definition is utterly banal and useless. Even if proved, you’ve got nothing worthwhile at all.

  115. says

    @Tim O, #118:

    yeah, I’ve covered this, but you still have no definition of the christian jesus. If you don’t have a definition of the christian jesus, then we can’t even begin to do our work.

    You can go about looking for “a” historical jesus at that point. But you can’t go about beginning to look for “the” historical jesus unless that jesus has attributes in common with the christian jesus that are not shared with any other human being.

    “The christian jesus” is a myth up to the moment you have overlapping definitions and you prove every element of “the historical jesus” where the overlapping qualities shared with the christian jesus are not shared with any other human being.

  116. Tim O says

    If you really have researched this, you know that scholars define their historical jesuses quite differently at times

    No, they see the historical Jesus differently and come to different conclusions about who he was or what he said etc., but I know of no scholar who defines what the term “the historical Jesus” means differently to what I gave you above. Can you cite a scholar who uses some fundamentally different definition?

    And here we have a “historical jesus” that has no attributes that cannot be found in any common, non-divine human being, nor any attributes that cannot be found in any common, non-worship worthy human being.

    There are several elements in that definition that make this person distinct – primarily their being the focus of a particular sect after their death. That kind of narrows the field. Whether he was divine or not or even considered so is a separate question, as I said. But you asked what is the baseline definition of the historical Jesus and so I told you.

    But the existence of a historical god-wizard is in dispute and is certainly false

    You’re getting very confused. Again, whether this person was a “god-wizard” is a separate question.

    Even if proved, you’ve got nothing worthwhile at all.

    Historians don’t “prove” things, they just make assessments of likelihood. And a Jewish preacher who was the point of origin of the sect that became Christianity is somehow “not worthwhile”. In what way?

  117. Tim O says

    but you still have no definition of the christian jesus. If you don’t have a definition of the christian jesus, then we can’t even begin to do our work.

    You still seem very confused. What has “the Christian Jesus” got to do with me or anything I’ve said? Try to understand – the historical Jesus is the man who the later stories were told about. Whether any of those later stories were true is another question entirely.

    you can’t go about beginning to look for “the” historical jesus unless that jesus has attributes in common with the christian jesus that are not shared with any other human being.

    That is complete nonsense. The whole issue is whether “the Christian Jesus” was based on a historical man. As I keep explaining to you, whether the supernatural elements that make that historical man “the Christian Jesus” are true or not is another question entirely. I suggest you go find a Christian to argue with about that.

  118. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Tim

    Given that you are trying to make “arguments about the Biblical texts” based ON the assumption they “thought that Jesus existed only in heaven”, you need to first demonstrate that they did.

    I’m not, and this conversation will go nowhere as long as you refuse to try to understand my and Carrier’s actual position.

    To Crip Dyke:

    When you assert that there was “a historical jesus” you must know that what people generally hear is that there existed a person whom other human beings had good reason to worship, whether or not that person had every characteristic of the later christian jesus.

    Crip Dyke, I think you’re in the wrong here, mostly. “Historical Jesus” is AFAIK a term of art among historians which usually refers to a “minimal” historical Jesus – that there was a itinerant Jewish preacher with the name Joshua / Yeshua which formed the starting point, the core kernel of truth, of the later Christian Jesus myth. The idea is that Christianity started with a real guy, and then stories about the real guy, maybe exaggerated or stories about “card tricks”, and which likely became embellished and exaggerated over time. The main competing scholarly alternative is that Paul and the other founders of Christianity envisioned their savoir Jesus as not a guy on Earth, but a guy in heaven. That’s the debate Tim and I were having. That’s the debate that Richard Carrier is also having between himself and other respectable (and sometimes not so respectable) members of academia.

    While I’m sure most scholars do this, I also appreciate the lengths to which Richard Carrier did in his book to do expressly this – to define terms clearly, and to put forward clearly the two main hypotheses, roughly as I did here.

    As such, the debate here is really dry, and not important at all, except as an academic curiosity. Everyone involved in this debate already accepts that the god-man wizard Jesus did not exist. Instead, we’re just arguing about a really pedantic, obscure, unimportant aspect of history. Even Richard Carrier will be the first to tell you this – this debate is not useful, and it should not be useful as anti-Christian apologetics. There are much better arguments to use against Christians than a fringe academic hypothesis such as the Doherty mythicism hypothesis.

    PS: I do think that Carrier’s overall work is very useful for all of the other information that it provides, and that other information is very useful for anti-Christian apologetics. For one example, his scholarly paper that shows that one of the passages in Josephus which refers to Jesus is an interpolation. IMHO, his book is a veritable treasure trove of awesome information, both for historical curiosity, and for anti-Christian apologetics.

  119. says

    First, thanks for using blockquote. It really does help your readers.

    Moving on:

    the existence of a historical god-wizard is in dispute and is certainly false

    You’re getting very confused. Again, whether this person was a “god-wizard” is a separate question.

    No, I’m not confused. I’m quite clear that the existence of a god-wizard is a separate question from the existence of the historical jesus you’ve defined. The existence of a historical god-wizard may not be advocated by you, but thousands if not millions of people do advocate the existence of a historically factual god-wizard. Billions of people disagree. This is a point in dispute. I didn’t say whether or not you & I were on different sides of this dispute. Frankly, I have no idea. I said it was in dispute and it is.

    For someone who wants others to separate different questions and consider them individually, you sure seem to have a problem allowing the individual statements of your conversation partners stand as individual statements with their own straightforward and obvious meanings. Don’t try to find the hidden meaning in my statements that make them wrong or weird. My statement makes sense on its face because it’s true. Why twist it so that it somehow isn’t true? What does that get you?

    However, the real problem here is that you still haven’t provided any definition of the christian jesus. You also do this:

    And here we have a “historical jesus” that has no attributes that cannot be found in any common, non-divine human being, nor any attributes that cannot be found in any common, non-worship worthy human being.

    There are several elements in that definition that make this person distinct – primarily their being the focus of a particular sect after their death.

    I’m not talking about whether the definition is specific enough to admit a set of no more than one person. I’m talking about whether or not the definition includes any supernatural and/or worship-worthy characteristics. That’s probably vagueness in my writing, but I had thought that was clear from context because I’ve been repeatedly asking for a definition of the christian jesus’s unique attributes that aren’t shared with any human beings (or I guess more than 1, depending on how you define jesus’ humanity).

    Qualities of a god that are possessed by ordinary humans (e.g. jealousy) are irrelevant here. Since ordinary persons possess jealousy and ordinary humans aren’t gods, there’s nothing in the jealousy that makes jesus theologically significant.

    What is your definition of christian jesus? Does the historical jesus share any attributes with the christian jesus that are not shared by any other human? If not, then there is no meaningful way in which “the historical jesus” and “the christian jesus” are connected, and “the historical jesus” is theologically insignificant: all the worship-worthy qualities of the christian jesus came from somewhere else entirely.

    The fact that somebody unworthy of worship and with no supernatural qualities existed in Judea 2kya is a trivial claim, and uninteresting.

    Now, if that figure founded a particular early sect of christianity, then THAT might be interesting, but the gospels don’t say anything about what “the historical jesus” did to create the structures of any of the original sects. The gospels talk about him doing magic, and the gospels talk about the magic as making jesus worthy of worship. They don’t get around to talking about jesus assigning different territories to different apostles and whether or not he set recruitment goals.

    but really, until you define a historical jesus that shares qualities with the supernatural christian jesus that are not shared with any other human, you’ve got a problem with no value even if solved.

    Why aren’t you willing to define the christian jesus and engage in critical thought about areas of overlap between the two definitions.

    ==============

    As an aside here, there’s no guarantee that your definition of “the historical jesus” even narrows the field to a maximum of one person. If more than one Joshua preached in Judea 2kya and at least one early adopter of christianity thought the religion was inspired by a different Joshua than at least one other early adopter, then you have 2 (or more) different “historical jesuses”.

    Don’t you see that as a problem?

  120. Tim O says

    I’m not, and this conversation will go nowhere as long as you refuse to try to understand my and Carrier’s actual position.

    Yes, you are. You keep trying to “interpret” Paul and the gospels through the prism of this “celestial Jesus” idea, but you keep failing to show that ANYONE ever actually held this idea. For about the 20th time – you can’t read any of these texts that way until you can demonstrate that such a perspective existed. Otherwise you are simply assuming your conclusion.

    For one example, his scholarly paper that shows that one of the passages in Josephus which refers to Jesus is an interpolation.

    Yes, another crappy argument by Carrier. And another one that requires a contrived and convoluted set of suppositions about how this alleged interpolation appeared and about why the three quotes of the passage by Origen with the supposedly “interpolated” element somehow don’t matter. Oh, and the arguments he uses don’t work because they contradict the consistent patterns of how Josephus used personal identifiers. This is why that article is cited by no-one and has convinced no-one in the field – as per usual with Carrier’s stuff. Yet again, you demonstrate that you don’t know enough to be able to make an informed assessment of the worth of his arguments.

  121. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Tim
    Wait. Are you seriously arguing for the historical reliability of the whole of the Testimonium Flavianum, or just part of it?
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josephus_on_Jesus#Testimonium_Flavianum
    Like, are you arguing for a semi-respectable position that there were some interpolations? Or are you arguing for the ridiculous position that common version reported by Origen has no interpolations at all? I really hope you’re not arguing that it’s interpolation-free, because that’s ridiculous.

    Have you read Carrier’s peer-reviewed paper on this topic? If not, it’s available in his anthology “Hitler Homer Bible Christ”.

    Yes, you are. You keep trying to “interpret” Paul and the gospels through the prism of this “celestial Jesus” idea, but you keep failing to show that ANYONE ever actually held this idea. For about the 20th time – you can’t read any of these texts that way until you can demonstrate that such a perspective existed. Otherwise you are simply assuming your conclusion.

    As as long as you are going to tell me what my argument is even though I disagree, then I see no reason to say anything more on this matter. This is usually one of my bright lines in a debate where I choose to stop it. “I know your argument better than you do, and you’re wrong about what you think your argument is” is one of the most obnoxious things that someone can do in a debate, and that’s what you’re doing right now. It’s no better than when a Christian says “you’re not a real atheist because you have morals and therefore you have to believe in god”.

  122. Tim O says

    First, thanks for using blockquote. It really does help your readers.

    I tried several other tags, none of which worked. I figured someone would let me know what to use eventually.

    The existence of a historical god-wizard may not be advocated by you, but thousands if not millions of people do advocate the existence of a historically factual god-wizard. Billions of people disagree. This is a point in dispute.

    It is not a point in dispute here. If you understand that the the existence of a “god-wizard” is a separate question from the existence of the historical Jesus I’ve defined, why do you keep coming back to the “god-wizard”? That has nothing to do with anything I’ve said, as I’ve pointed out to you repeatedly.

    I’m talking about whether or not the definition includes any supernatural and/or worship-worthy characteristics.

    And, as I keep telling you I have no interest in this “Christian Jesus” so I have no idea why you keep coming back to this stuff about “supernatural and/or worship-worthy characteristics”. People came to believe he had supernatural attributes and (much later) even came to worship him. But the question of whether he actually was in any way supernatural or worthy of worship is one for Christians to discuss with you.

    The fact that somebody unworthy of worship and with no supernatural qualities existed in Judea 2kya is a trivial claim, and uninteresting.

    If the sect that survived them went on to become the biggest religion on the planet, no it isn’t.

    If more than one Joshua preached in Judea 2kya and at least one early adopter of christianity thought the religion was inspired by a different Joshua than at least one other early adopter, then you have 2 (or more) different “historical jesuses”.

    I suppose that is possible, but I can’t see any evidence to indicate that’s what happened. I can’t see how it makes much difference.

  123. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    If the sect that survived them went on to become the biggest religion on the planet, no it isn’t.

    No, it’s mostly trivial. There wasn’t anything special about the historical Jesus, if such a person existed. They just “got lucky”. Right time, right place. Maybe a little bit of skill. However, the growth of Christianity wasn’t particularly rapid compared to the growth rate of other religions, and the idea that a religion can spring up around a fictional messiah in a generation or two is incredibly well documented by the Peloponnesian cargo cults. They show very fast legendary development of a whole religion, and for this conversation, of a whole lengthy backstory of several messiah figures, very detailed, except that the messiahs don’t exist. John Frum is not a real person, and never was. At best, there was a guy named John, who introduced himself as “John, from America” or something like that, and the rest was just created in a generation or two.

  124. Tim O says

    <

    blockquote>Are you seriously arguing for the historical reliability of the whole of the Testimonium Flavianum, or just part of it?

    <

    blockquote>

    Carrier’s paper isn’t about the TF. It’s about the second Josephan Jesus reference – the Jesus-James reference in Ant. XX.200.

    Have you read Carrier’s peer-reviewed paper on this topic?

    I’ve read it and responded to it in detail here: https://historyforatheists.com/2018/02/jesus-mythicism-2-james-the-brother-of-the-lord/ My critique of that paper starts at the heading “Josephus on James”.

    As as long as you are going to tell me what my argument is even though I disagree, then I see no reason to say anything more on this matter.

    This is absurd. You’re trying to argue that the Pauline material can be read as referring to a celestial Jesus. Similarly, you’re trying to argue that we can read the gospels and Acts as allegories, also written by people who didn’t really believe he did these things described on earth but actually also believed in a purely celestial Jesus. So please explain how you can read the texts this way without actually showing that any such belief in a purely celestial Jesus existed. To do that is to assume your conclusion.

    If none of the above is your “real argument” then you need to state what your “real argument” is. Otherwise it seems you are just trying to slide away without conceding anything, which seems more than a little tricksy.

  125. says

    @EL:

    “historical jesus” may be a term of art in specific academic circles, but it is also used outside those circles. Ken Ham is one who – insisting that every word of the bible is literally true – demands belief in the historical fact of a god-wizard.

    If Tom O wants to debate outside his typical academic circles, it’s not beyond reasonable to ask Tom O to define his terms for those few billion of us who don’t keep up with his academic speciality.

    Further, the historical jesus definition he provides – a preacher who inspired early christians – isn’t in any way limited to only one person. The early christians could easily have been inspired by multiple preachers, and story telling can as easily merge different persons into a composite before euhemerization as it can merge a single person with one or more fictional characters (say, a prophesied messiah) before euhemerization.

    Even if it’s as simple as revising the definition to be “the preacher who inspired the largest percentage of the jesus narrative found in Mark as compared to any other preachers who might have inspired some smaller percentage”, you still have to have a definition that limits us to one person. Tom O’s definition is sloppy enough that it doesn’t do that.

    But however Tom O wants to go about it, there is now a burden of proof that there was some preacher who specifically inspired at least some details of the later jesus narrative.

    So… which details were inspired by that one person? If you can’t name a single detail that was inspired by a corresponding life-detail of a single, specific person, then you don’t have a “historical jesus”.

    And if the jesus doesn’t have any godly qualities, then the really interesting stuff would be the logistics of how the early church was organized and how belief in this non-existent god-wizard was spread. The actual jesus narrative found in the gospels doesn’t tell us that – specifically because they authors are interested in convincing us that jesus wasn’t a normal human doing the normal organizing work that any human being promoting a cult might do.

    So we’ve got a “historical jesus” with no specific proven qualities. (Yes, he might have been born in Bethlehem, we can’t disbelieve that just because Matthew talks about zombies, but do we know he was born in Bethlehem?) The specific proven qualities of “the historical jesus” compose an empty set.

    Moreover, the “historical jesus” doesn’t appear to have any qualities at all of the christian jesus who is a being worthy of worship – so whether or not “the historical jesus” exists when defined by Tom O, the christian jesus still has no historical antecedent.

    No info about how an original sect-proponent went about sect-building, no qualities antecedent to the christian jesus’ worship-worthy or godly qualities, and no specific qualities of a life story known to correspond to any specific qualities of the jesus narrative = no “historical jesus” in any meaningful sense.

    Sure historians can investigate Tom O’s definition. Maybe the question of such a jesus is even answerable to some meaningful degree of certainty, but at the end of the day, there’s no there there.

  126. Tim O says

    No, it’s mostly trivial.

    If the largest religion in the world came to worship a failed apocalyptic preacher as a god through a series of historical happenstance then that is hardly “trivial”. It may not interest you, but I and many others find that idea fascinating and want to examine how that happened.

    “the idea that a religion can spring up around a fictional messiah in a generation or two is incredibly well documented by the Peloponnesian cargo cults”

    And many other religions spring up around non-fictional, totally historical supposed messiahs who have supernatural and even divine status bestowed on them, sometimes even in their own lifetimes and despite their protestations. Ask Haile Selassi.

  127. Tim O says

    it’s not beyond reasonable to ask Tom O to define his terms for those few billion of us who don’t keep up with his academic speciality.

    I defined it for you as soon as it became clear you didn’t understand what I meant.

    The early christians could easily have been inspired by multiple preachers

    They could have, but there is just no evidence that they were. I’ve been asking people who insist on this “could have” if they can actually back it up with anything in the source material that indicates this and no-one has ever been able to do so. The sources all seem pretty clear that there was one guy and unless something turns up to indicate otherwise that is the most reasonable thing to accept.

    So… which details were inspired by that one person?

    The ones most scholars agree on as being most likely are (i) he existed, (ii) he came from Galilee, (iii) he was a preacher and (iv) he was crucified. There are a couple more that could be added to that list, like him having a brother called James, being baptised by John the Baptist and coming from Nazareth. We are only discussing (i).

    So we’ve got a “historical jesus” with no specific proven qualities.

    You keep using the words “proof” and “proven”. As I’ve told you before, historical analysis is the determination of what is likely, not “proving” things.

    no “historical jesus” in any meaningful sense.

    Once again you’re confusing the question of whether he existed with the separate questions about who he was and what he did.

  128. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To do that is to assume your conclusion.

    You know absolutely nothing about how to properly evaluate evidence. It’s really quite fascinating.

    Again, in simple terms. The only way to evaluate the truth of one empirical hypothesis is to compare it against another empirical hypothesis. Empirical hypotheses have meaning in what they predict and in what they don’t predict, and consequently how the hypotheses differ from each other. I don’t know the exact philosophical lingo, but I’ve heard this philosophical position various described as “logical positivism” and “post-positivism”. ~Cue Rob to come in and tell me that I’m wrong, and that it’s been discredited, and blah blah blah …~

    For example, I flip a coin, and hide the result from both of us. Consider what it means for me to claim “it’s heads”. That’s meaningful only to the extent that we can compare it to something else, e.g. “tails”. This is but a simple truism that scientific hypotheses must be falsifiable, and historical claims are just one kind of scientific hypotheses. In other words, to be falsifiable, there must be at least some possible observation, some fact, which would contradict the hypothesis in some way, however minor.

    Now, consider an absurd but illustrative example. Suppose we’re investigating a murder, and we find a surveillance camera that clearly shows Bob performing the murder. “Aha”, I say. “Clearly Charlie committed the murder”. You might ask me what nonsense I am saying. I explain “my hypothesis is that Charlie framed Bob for the murder, and I predicted that Charlie would create this excellent forged video to frame Bob, and we found it, thus verifying my prediction”. That’s wrong, and you would be right to say that this is wrong, but to really understand why this is wrong, it’s best to bring out Bayesian reasoning to explain why.

    In some abstract sense, evaluating the hypothesis “Charlie framed Bob for the murder”, it is true that the video is evidence in favor of the hypothesis. The flaw is that you should never evaluate hypotheses on their own, and particularly you should never evaluate evidence while considering only one hypothesis. That’s simply wrong.

    The correct answer is something like a combination of:

    1- “Yes, your model that Charlie framed Bob predicts this evidence, but we know that the typical rate of framings for murder is rare relative to the typical rate of murders, and so it’s still more likely that Bob was the murderer instead of Charlie framing Bob”, and

    2- “Yes, your model that Charlie framed Bob predicts this evidence, but it only weakly predicts this evidence. There’s a lot of ways that Charlie could have framed Bob. He might have planted other kinds of forensic evidence, such as blood samples, or fingerprints, etc. Not all framings involve a video. Whereas, if Bob did kill the person here, then this video must exist. If Bob did commit the murder in this room, (and if there was a hidden surveillance camera there), then there is only one way that the video footage could be, and that was footage of Bob committing the murder. Therefore, the footage is more likely to exist on the simple murder hypothesis compared to the framing hypothesis.”

    #1 is just invoking our background knowledge. #2 is the key part – that’s understanding the expected rates of occurrence of the evidence at hand under each hypothetical model. The differential rates is what makes some fact into evidence into one model or the other. Practically every model can be stretched to accommodate practically every piece of evidence, but every stretch, every ad-hoc alteration of the model to accept seemingly contradicting evidence, should cause us to lower our estimate of the likelihood of the truth of the model.

    Again, what I’m trying to say is that the proper way to evaluate the historical Jesus on the basis of the texts is to come in without preconceptions, without the assumption that Jesus did exist or that Jesus did not exist. Then, we need to evaluate how well the evidence, the text, fits hypothesis 1, and how well it fits hypothesis 2, and crucially, then compare the relative “expectedness”.

    For example, both models predict that we should find documents talking about a Jesus that died for our sins and gives us everlasting life. Both models strongly predict that we should find such evidence, with roughly the same strength of prediction. Therefore, the simple fact that we found this narrow piece of “evidence” is in fact not evidence for either model.

    We need to look at the individual facts of this matter which are more likely to exist, or more “predicted” to exist, on hypothesis 1 vs 2, and vice versa. That’s the part that matters. Then, we need to sum it up in some fair way, in order to see which hypothesis is in totality more likely than the other.

    You’ve already done a great job at identifying features of the text, some individual passages, which are more likely to exist on the hypothesis of minimal historicity. We also need to estimate how likely they are to exist on the hypothesis of Doherty mythicism.

    We also need to identify features of the text which are more likely to exist on the hypothesis of Doherty mythicism. I think that the complete lack of reporting of eye-witness testimony by Paul about what Jesus said in doctrinal disputes is one such feature. I think that the complete lack of mentions of any place that Jesus ever visited (and other such lack of information) is another feature which is more likely to exist on Doherty mythicism compared to minimal historicity.

    We should also take into account our background knowledge. That is, the facts and knowledge that we have which comes from other facts, evidence, experience, etc., outside of the particular facts of this case. For example, we should consider our knowledge that gods don’t exist, and that people cannot conjure fish, or rise from the dead, etc. Some of this background knowledge will make one hypothesis more likely than the other.

    For example, based on the Rank-Raglan mythotype data, we know that practically every historical character in a historical story which meets a certain scoring number on their criteria has been a literary creation. We know that Jesus scores very, very high on this scoring criteria. This should suggest – to some degree – that Jesus didn’t exist. Now, of course we can argue about how likely or not likely this particular fact should adjust our final conclusion, and there’s where reasonable people can disagree. Maybe you think that this barely matters. However, this is a brute fact, and we should take this brute fact into account.

    We should also take into account other information, such as the relative lack of information in other extra-Biblical contemporary sources. I would argue that there are precisely zero, and seemingly you would argue that there are a few, such as at least one of the passages in Josephus. Doesn’t matter if we call such things “background knowledge” or “evidence particular to the models”, as long as we account for it fairly.

    I happen to think that the (near) complete lack of extra-Biblical evidence is more likely on the Doherty hypothesis, but only slightly. The minimal historicity hypothesis can accept this data without too much unlikelihood – perhaps Jesus was just really obscure with very few followers who didn’t merit a mention in any of the histories which survived.

    I also think that the fact that, curiously, years 29-31 are missing from some histories from that time is a very curious fact. I think this is more likely on Doherty mythicism compared to minimal historicity, but again only barely. Perhaps there was something embarassing about Jesus which Christian scribes didn’t want to save. Or perhaps Jesus was entirely absent and the Christian scribes didn’t want that to be known to later audiences. (Or perhaps there was an even more innocent explanation for why these particular volumes of the histories were not saved.)

    I can go on for a while, but this is the sort of reasoning that one must do to honestly answer the question, and it seems that you outright reject this proper methodology in favor of … gods know what.

  129. says

    If the largest religion in the world came to worship a failed apocalyptic preacher as a god through a series of historical happenstance then that is hardly “trivial”. It may not interest you, but I and many others find that idea fascinating and want to examine how that happened.

    It would interest me greatly if anyone could construct a coherent narrative of how it happened backed with evidence that brought us to a reasonable level of confidence in the narrative.

    But right now we don’t have any details that concretely distinguish the scenarios
    1. A specific failed preacher was euhemerized
    2. A composite of various specific humans was euhemerized
    3. A composite of at least one specific person and at least one fictional person was euhemerized
    4. A god was made up without being inspired by any specific person.

    Or, at least, I don’t know of any such details. I’d be happy to be proven wrong. I’ve read popular accounts here, but I’m not trained in any of the relevant fields.

    Moreover, I’m completely confident that shit was made up. If it turns out that everything except being born in a barn was made up, that doesn’t really change things much for me. It’s interesting. But it’s hardly significant.

    What would be significant is a specific enough account about how at least one of the fictional jesus’ life-details came to be attributed to a character asserted to have actually lived. But the most interesting parts of the subsidiary questions can be investigated through analysis of how modern religions spring up around both fictional and non-fictional people.

    Yes, the story of the birth of christianity would be interesting if it could be reconstructed, and I’m all for professionals asking the questions necessary to making the attempt. But we don’t have such a story that includes enough background to discern interesting details about a single, specific jewish preacher.

    There is no historical jesus that has any known (to a reasonable degree of certainty) qualities that aren’t in the definition of historical jesus. We can’t even be completely sure any historical jesus existed at all, even by Tim O’s definition. So we certainly don’t have any confidence in the existence of any meaningful historical antecedent to the christian god.

    Given that, I don’t know why anyone would bother asserting the existence of any “historical jesus” at all, unless you’re a Ken Ham follower.

  130. snuffcurry says

    Wow, some of the regulars here are embarrassing.

    No info about how an original sect-proponent went about sect-building, no qualities antecedent to the christian jesus’ worship-worthy or godly qualities, and no specific qualities of a life story known to correspond to any specific qualities of the jesus narrative[.]

    Congratulations, you’ve just described the same present-day dearth of knowledge that applies to many historical figures, including saints and prophets, who posthumously emerged from obscurity many years, in some cases a thousand or more, later and who collected a lot of contradictory apocrypha, literal and figurative, along the way. Being frustrated is understandable, but you’re blaming historians for a relatively common phenomenon, including gaping holes and a relative weakness in the historical record itself. If you think there is no method to extrapolation, that historians don’t have tools to overcome insufficient documentation, that there is nothing credible outside of direct evidence, that there is no use analyzing past constructed histories or subjecting historical authorities and historical reporting, consistent or otherwise, to scrutiny and verification where possible, you are very clearly out of your element, Donny.

  131. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Crip Dyke
    Sure. Sounds good to me. Let me get the book off the shelf and see how Carrier defines it himself. It’s in chapters 2 and 3 of his book – chapter 2 to define minimal historicity, and chapter 3 to define minimal mythicism aka Doherty mythicism. For the record, that’s a lot of pages that he dedicates to this problem of definition of competing claims.

    After a lot of build-up and explanation, Carrier gives his definition for minimal historicity: (all of the following must be true)

    .1. An actual man at some point named Jesus acquired followers in life who continued as an identifiable movement after his death.
    .2. This is the same Jesus who was claimed by some of his followers to have been executed by Jewish or Roman authorities.
    .3. This is the same Jesus some of whose followers soon began worshiping as a living god (or demigod).

    After even more build-up and explanation, Carrier gives his definition for minimal mythicism: (all of the following must be true)

    .1. At the origin of Christianity, Jesus Christ was thought to be a celestial deity much like any other.
    .2. Like many other celestial deities, this Jesus ‘communicated’ with his subjects only through dream, visions, and other forms of divine inspiration (such as prophecy, past and present).
    .3. Like some other celestial deities, this Jesus was originally believed to have endured an ordeal of incarnation, death, burial, and resurrection in a supernatural realm.
    .4. As for many other celestial deities, an allegorical story of this same Jesus was then composed and told within the sacred community, which placed him on earth, in history, as a divine man, with an earthly family, companions, and enemies, complete with deeds and sayings, and an earthly depiction of his ordeals.
    .5. Subsequent communities of worshipers believed (or at least taught) that this invented sacred story was real (and either not allegorical or only ‘additionally’ allegorical).

    Richard Carrier then claims that these two models capture all plausible ways that history could have happened. In other words, I guess that he’s dismissing as very unlikely the notion that it was multiple Jesus-s who happened at the same time to start separate movements that joined together or worked together (accidentally or purposefully) to create a single movement. Maybe you think that’s a plausible explanation. Maybe you think that thee’s some other plausible explanation. But that’s at least where Richard Carrier sits.

  132. says

    @Tim O

    You keep using the words “proof” and “proven”. As I’ve told you before, historical analysis is the determination of what is likely, not “proving” things.

    Apologies for the sloppiness: I should have stated that I’m not attaching any specific standard of evidence to the word “proof”. I’m perfectly comfortable with the phrase, “proved to a standard of the preponderance of the evidence” and many similar phrases. Colloquially, I agree that “proof” connotes certain epistemic certainty that is unwarranted here. I’m not engaging in that epistemic certainty, but I should have made clear that I was not.

    no “historical jesus” in any meaningful sense.

    Once again you’re confusing the question of whether he existed with the separate questions about who he was and what he did.

    No, I’m not. I’m asserting that if your definition of “the historical jesus” doesn’t include anything about doing anything, then the existence that you’ve established isn’t meaningful.

    If I assert that there was a woman, born in Galilee two thousand years ago plus or minus a decade, who was more eloquent than average, then I “prove” nothing more than the qualities in this definition, have I proven anything meaningful?

    YES you can address existence as a separate question from any list of accomplishments. HOWEVER, if all you establish is “Some woman named Alex existed” and literally nothing else, then your result is pitifully uninteresting.

    So, sure, prove the existence of “the historical jesus” if you like (to some reasonable standard of evidence) before you establish any of the qualities or accomplishments of “the historical jesus”, but I find that a dishonest dodge unless and until the defining qualities you set out to prove actually include some meaningful and interesting ones. “The historical jesus” is a meaningless character with no historical importance beyond somehow being known to someone who took one or more unknown qualities of that jesus out of the context of a human life and slapped those qualities onto an upstart god.

    In this scenario, the person slapping the qualities onto the upstart god is actually the person who contributed significantly to human history. I could define “the historical jesus” as “some person who once washed the feet of a woman named Ruth”. But even if I prove that such a person existed, what does that add to our body of knowledge regarding christianity, the significance of that religion being the motive for investigating this question in the first place? If it adds nothing to our body of knowledge about christianity, then you’ve achieved something, but it’s a meaningless result until you press further and learn more.

    Right now I’m not convinced that anyone has managed to press further or to learn more. Let’s take your own statement, for example.

    Here are your four established qualities of “the historical jesus”.

    (i) he existed, (ii) he came from Galilee, (iii) he was a preacher and (iv) he was crucified.

    Existence was weird to include, because you were asked to define the qualities of the historical jesus so that we could go about determining if the historical jesus existed. This seems like assuming your conclusion, but let’s just assume that your definition was actually the other 3 qualities and existence of a person with those 3 qualities was later established.
    Lots of people came from Galilee.
    Lots of people “preached” – even some from Galilee.
    Lots of people were executed by crucifixion, probably including multiple preachers and multiple people from Galilee.

    So, the real question here is: have you established that only one person has all three of these qualities: from Galilee, preached, crucified.

    If you haven’t established that only one person has those three qualities, then this isn’t the definition of a specific historical person.

    What, then, can it possibly mean when someone says – according to this definition – that “the historical jesus” existed? Which historical jesus would she even be talking about?

    Anyway, I’m likely done for the night. I’ll check in tomorrow, probably, but it really seems you haven’t thought about the relationship between the historical jesus and the christian jesus might be (since you haven’t even defined the christian jesus), nor do you give any appearance of having thought about the consequences of what it would mean if there’s no connection between “the historical jesus” and “the christian jesus” that couldn’t also be drawn between some other historical person and the christian jesus.

    If there’s no unique connection, then you can fully and believably and proudly assert that you’ve met your burden of proof (whatever burden you chose) for establishing some historical jesus, and at the same time there’s no reason for anyone to recognize this as a meaningful or significant accomplishment.

    Your 3-quality crucified Galilean preacher is just the most relevant case in point.

  133. Tim O says

    You know absolutely nothing about how to properly evaluate evidence. It’s really quite fascinating.

    I’m pretty clear on how the historical method works thanks. One more time – you can’t just decide to read the evidence in a context that you have just assumed and can’t demonstrate actually existed.

    The only way to evaluate the truth of one empirical hypothesis is to compare it against another empirical hypothesis.

    “Empirical”? This is history, not chemistry. There is nothing here that is able to be measured or verified by direct observation or experience. So it’s amusing that I’m being lectured by someone who doesn’t have the first idea how history is analysed and just posted 1,350 words of supremely irrelevant pseudo philosophical waffle.

    what I’m trying to say is that the proper way to evaluate the historical Jesus on the basis of the texts is to come in without preconceptions, without the assumption that Jesus did exist or that Jesus did not exist. Then, we need to evaluate how well the evidence, the text, fits hypothesis 1, and how well it fits hypothesis 2, and crucially, then compare the relative “expectedness”.

    That is certainly more or less what historians do. Unfortunately for you a “hypothesis” that has no foundation at all doesn’t even get considered. That’s why your “celestial Jesus” idea isn’t even a “hypothesis”, it’s a mere supposition. “What are the NT writers saying when they describe Jesus as a historical person” is supported by the idea that they mean … he was a historical person because that is what texts usually mean when they say someone was a historical person. Your alternative idea that they are purely allegorical because they actually believed he was a purely celestial being simply doesn’t work because there is NO evidence anyone believed such a thing. None. So your supposed “hypothesis” doesn’t even get considered.

    How many more times do I need to explain this? You have to establish that anyone believed in this purely celestial Jesus first. You’ve failed to do this.

  134. Tim O says

    It would interest me greatly if anyone could construct a coherent narrative of how it happened backed with evidence that brought us to a reasonable level of confidence in the narrative.

    Since you keep wanting to get assessments not just of whether he most likely existed but also about all kinds of other things about him, that would requite a book length treatment. I’ve spent most of my day patiently writing over 50 responses on this thread, but I’m afraid I’m not going to write a book for you. Luckily, several excellent introductory books on the subject have already been written. Try Bart Ehrman’s Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, E.P. Sanders the Historical Figure of Jesus or Paula Fredriksen’s From Jesus to Christ.

    I’m asserting that if your definition of “the historical jesus” doesn’t include anything about doing anything, then the existence that you’ve established isn’t meaningful.

    It does include doing several things – e.g. existing and being the focus/founder of a particular sect. As I keep telling you, everything else you talk about are separate questions. I’m getting really tired of repeating myself.

  135. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    You’re doing a common creationist mistake – creating a demarcation between “historical knowledge” and “experimental science”. If any of the regulars were still paying attention by this point, I’m sure that they – and PZ himself – would join me in ripping you apart for such a childish notion.

    What’s next on the chopping block after history? Geology? Cosmology? Common ancestry? I’m sure that PZ would be happy to know that you think that modern biology – which is inextricably rooted in evolutionary theory, including common ancestry – is not a science.

    You would be the worst murder juror in the world. At least a random person off the street can be reasoned with and taught by other jurors, but not you. You are both wrong about the basics of evaluating (historical) evidence, and also firmly convinced that you are right even though you are wrong.

  136. says

    @EL:

    Thanks for the Carrier info. It’s interesting that Carrier’s definition of historicity is very different from Tom O’s definition yet Tom O claimed earlier that there was no disagreement on the basic definition of a historical jesus.

    Notably, Carrier’s definition requires that the historical person actually be named “jesus”, where I’d be comfortable with a fuzzier definition where enough other details matching would allow for the name to have been transmitted incorrectly (either on accident or on purpose, e.g. if they were trying to code-name their leader something innocuous so their sect couldn’t be connected with a convicted criminal).

    Notably, Carrier’s definition does not require that the historical person be a “preacher”. Someone mute who wrote everything down to be read by someone else could still have been the first to articulate central precepts of proto-christianity. It’s just weird. Maybe I’d like his explanation for choosing that set of criteria, but right now they strike me more as useful criteria than necessary criteria.

    @snuffcurry:

    Being frustrated is understandable, but you’re blaming historians for a relatively common phenomenon, including gaping holes and a relative weakness in the historical record itself.

    I’m not frustrated at lack of knowledge.

    I’m frustrated that historians have chosen to name this historical figure “jesus” as if s/he is a historical antecedent to the christian jesus without bothering to include any qualities in the definition that would make the person reasonably describable as a historical antecedent to the christian jesus.

    If Betty the church secretary is responsible for making sure proto-christianity gets going, and if some of the stuff Betty first said later gets attributed to a man (a phenomenon all too familiar to women even today), is there a historical jesus, yes or no? How much of the stuff attributed to jesus has to come from a single source before that source is even considered as a possible historical jesus?

    The problem here is the choices of the historians, not the lack of evidence. If they asked a meaningful question and then came up with the answer, “Don’t know, sorry!” I’d have little complaint.

    instead historians seem to be defining “historical jesus” down to the point that the “historical jesus” doesn’t need to have any qualities in common with christian jesus’s fictional narrative other than, 1. from Galilee, 2. preached some, 3. executed on the cross.

    That’s it. That’s a pitiful definition. It’s not the lack of info that’s the problem, it’s that historians seem to be unwilling to say, “I don’t know,” and instead are defining “the historical jesus” more and more narrowly in order to make sure that the answer is, “yes, the historical jesus existed” whether or not that “historical jesus” has anything meaningful in common with the christian jesus.

    If a mathematician asks whether or not any spherical rocks have ever existed or could ever exist – this mathematician being our Ken Ham analog – and a lot of people recognize that thousands if not millions of mathematicians are making significant decisions about, say, abortion policy based on their assumptions about the best answer to the spherical rock question, then a geologist who defines “spherical rock” down to “any rock without any particularly sharp edges or corners” can prove that according to that definition “spherical rocks” exist.

    But is it fair to boil the definition down that far? What are the practical consequences of saying that spherical rocks exist according to that definition when you know that there are fanatics out there who think that if the surface area of the rock isn’t equal to 4 π r^2 it’s not a spherical rock? Especially if the fanatics are going to legalize or outlaw abortion based on your answer?

    I really don’t give a fuck how something is defined for a specific academic paper so long as everyone in the academic discipline knows it’s a working definition for the purposes of the paper only. But I think that there’s something not entirely kosher about all executed Galilean preachers being set equal to “the historical jesus”. I think that the professionals investigating historicity are being less than honest with themselves if they think that “executed Galilean preacher” is a definition specific enough it could only apply to one person. This is a methodological problem and my concerns are with present day investigators making what appear from the outside to be methodologically unsound decisions.

    That’s not a concern about the limitations of available evidence. My concerns have nothing to do with an unwillingness to accept “I don’t know” or “our certainty is poor”.

  137. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Crip Dyke
    This is a huge complaint that Richard Carrier also makes about mainstream scholarship. Fact is, there are about as many historical Jesus hypotheses as there are Jesus scholars. Richard Carrier cites other scholars who have done surveys of the state of Biblical studies, and they all reach the same conclusion – that the methods are crap and the conclusions are wildly contradictory – and the situation is a giant mess.

  138. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Notably, Carrier’s definition requires that the historical person actually be named “jesus”, where I’d be comfortable with a fuzzier definition where enough other details matching would allow for the name to have been transmitted incorrectly (either on accident or on purpose, e.g. if they were trying to code-name their leader something innocuous so their sect couldn’t be connected with a convicted criminal).

    I don’t think that Carrier means that the person’s given name or birth name must be Jesus. Rather, I think he would probably endorse a broader notion of “name” to include nick names, code-names, titles, and the like. Simply, he must have been known during his life to his followers according to the name “Jesus” (possibly one name of several, i.e. a code-name).

    I’m not personally endorsing this as the best criteria that there can be. I don’t know. I’m just offering them as some criteria, from a man that I still respect in this particular narrow academic discipline, in spite of his severe flaws and shortcomings in other areas.

  139. lotharloo says

    Sorry guys but what I’m seeing is a bunch of amateur graduates of google university debating an expert. And very typical of these types of one-sided debates, the discussion fizzles down to trivial, basic, and rather philosophical points instead of going deeper into the details; because amateurs have little depth and they cannot keep up with nuances and they prefer to bring up general trivialities (e.g., EL dismissal of texts as “pure fiction” thus erasing them from scrutiny. An expert would like to delve deeper where an amateur wants shortcuts).

    Thanks for the information Tim, I’ve not made up my mind yet but this information is clearly useful.

  140. Tim O says

    You’re doing a common creationist mistake – creating a demarcation between “historical knowledge” and “experimental science”.

    What? So where is the “empirical” data we can use here? Words have meanings.

    You are both wrong about the basics of evaluating (historical) evidence, and also firmly convinced that you are right even though you are wrong.

    Oh the irony of this coming from the guy who thinks we’re doing “empirical” analysis here. Historical evidence has to be read and analysed in an established context. That’s why you need to establish that anyone DID believe Jesus was purely celestial before you can make the case that any of the texts should be read in that context. You’ve failed to do this. Carrier at least understands this, which is why an early part of his book is devoted to an attempt at establishing this via his arguments about the Ascension etc. Unfortunately, that fails for the reasons I’ve noted.

  141. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Sorry for multi-posting, I just keep going back and seeing things that I think are important to comment on. I’ll try to wait longer before posting individual posts.

    To Crip Dyke.

    Notably, Carrier’s definition does not require that the historical person be a “preacher”. Someone mute who wrote everything down to be read by someone else could still have been the first to articulate central precepts of proto-christianity. It’s just weird. Maybe I’d like his explanation for choosing that set of criteria, but right now they strike me more as useful criteria than necessary criteria.

    I just remembered something I just read while skimming through the chapter to find his “formal” definition. He spent a lot of time setting up the difficulties of the definition, and something very much like this came up. He spent a great deal of time talking about Rastafarianism.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rastafari
    He mentioned that this religion is centered around the worship of an Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie. Haile Selassie is very clearly the origin person of this religion. However, he wasn’t a preacher. He didn’t do any of the magical things that his followers attribute to him. During his life, he remained a devout Christian, and he was horrified that he was being worshiped as a god, and he went out of his way time and time again to tell his followers that they were wrong and that he was not a god. And still, the religion popped up.

    I think that this is an important reason why Carrier did not include “preacher” in his definition of minimal historicity. This modern-day example shows that we can meaningfully identify the origin person of a religion with a central god character even though the origin person in no way encouraged or enabled the movement, and moreover, in this case, the origin person spent a great deal of their time fighting to stop the movement dead and to dispel the myths about his own purported godhood.

  142. neilgodfrey says

    The mythicism post by Tim, “Jesus Mythicism 3: “No Contemporary References to Jesus”” has been addressed at https://vridar.org/2018/08/14/on-the-no-contemporary-references-to-jesus-controversy/

    Tim’s arguments against mythicism are essentially grounded in the same flawed methods and assumptions as most historical Jesus researchers themselves. It is a pity the prominent minimalist biblical scholar Philip R. Davies died before his stated hope to apply normative historical methods (that is, best practice historical methods as espoused by “non-biblical” historians like Moses I. Finley) to the question of Jesus’ historicity. It is pointless to try to prove Jesus did not exist. The historical question is to test hypotheses that best explain the evidence, and if the best hypothesis requires a historical Jesus then so be it.

    Meanwhile Tim has made many points in comments above that are open to doubt among both serious scholars but are conventional wisdom among those who begin with the assumption that the gospels must have originated in “historical memory” — failing to notice that such a starting position involves a circular argument when it comes to treating them as evidence for the historical Jesus. Yeh, strip away the myth and we supposedly get something plausible — but the myth is the whole point of the stories. Strip away the myth of Red Riding Hood and we get a plausible history, too.

    No, the mythical character of the gospels does not prove that Jesus was a myth. But it is more flawed to merely assume they support an HJ when in fact they are very unlike other histories of the day and very like Jewish midrashic-like stories.

    Neil

  143. says

    I’m asserting that if your definition of “the historical jesus” doesn’t include anything about doing anything, then the existence that you’ve established isn’t meaningful.

    It does include doing several things – e.g. existing and being the focus/founder of a particular sect. As I keep telling you, everything else you talk about are separate questions. I’m getting really tired of repeating myself.

    Then don’t repeat yourself. Also, by the by, “being the focus/founder of a particular sect” wasn’t in your four qualities that you tell us have been established. I’ll accept that as an oversight and you really mean to claim 5 qualities have been established, but it does show a sloppy attention to the details of the argument.

    As for everything else being separate, you don’t need to tell me twice. I’ve already told you that I accept that as a methodological necessity different questions must be investigated separately.

    The problem isn’t that you’re willing to investigate separate questions separately. The problem is that your definition sucks. Even if you establish everything that you incorporate in your definition, you don’t end up knowing anything useful except maybe the crucifixion thing.

    Obviously some actual human being has to be the first official worshipper of a sect which assigns officialness to worshippers (as christianity does). Obviously someone is going to have to spread the doctrine of any new sect if it is going to spread (which christianity did). Spreading doctrine is called preaching so long as it is done at least partly through oral communication.

    To say that some human being got credit for the initial teachings of a sect AND that the person getting credit was a preacher is redundant. Galilee is at least specific and non-redundant, but I fail to see how that tells us anything. Existence is what you’re trying to prove AFTER you get the definition, so again, it’s weird that’s even in there.

    Unless someone got robbed of credit, any starting sect is going to have an 1. existing 2. preacher 3. who got credit for getting the sect rolling.

    You’ve only got 2 things in there that aren’t trivially true, and they don’t tell us anything at all about any potential connection to the christian jesus.

    I have no problem addressing separately whether someone is from Galilee, but without proving that early christianity was non-syncretic, there’s still the possibility that you’ve got multiple founder-persons of the several smaller proto-sects which would eventually become early christianity. Of those founders some could be from Galilee and others might not.

    So go through each element of the definition. Address each as a separate question. But announcing “We’ve found the historical jesus,” when your criteria are so scant that they can be met without anyone playing any important role in anything at all before death (and, indeed, without even being sure that the criteria are only met by one person) then I question whether your definition is a good definition.

  144. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    EL dismissal of texts as “pure fiction” thus erasing them from scrutiny. An expert would like to delve deeper where an amateur wants shortcuts).

    If you want a proper treatment of the many reasons why the Gospels are almost useless in this discussion, I strongly suggest “On The Historicity Of Jesus” by Richard Carrier. I am not equipped nor do I have to properly do all of his arguments on why we should discount them. I briefly gave some of the reasons as best as I understand them. However, we all recognize that there are many, many facts which are important to know in this discussion, and very few people, even among the “experts” in academia, know them all.

    This is one of the reasons that Carrier wrote his book, just to get all of the facts in one place, so that hopefully other experts will read the book and learn the facts. Carrier comments that every expert he talks to knows many of the facts, but is missing some of them, and curiously each expert is usually missing different facts from every other expert.

    Yes, Carrier is full of himself, but in this specific case, I think it’s warranted.

    That’s why you need to establish that anyone DID believe Jesus was purely celestial before you can make the case that any of the texts should be read in that context.

    This is still transparently asinine. I can trivially turn it back on you: You need to establish, without using the texts, that people thought that he was a person on Earth before you can make the case that any of the texts should be read in that context.

    Basically, you’re just rejecting the proper methods of historical investigation, and more broadly any empirical or scientific investigation, as laid out by Richard Carrier in great detail in his other book “Proving History”.

    You never did answer my questions – Is geology an empirical science? Cosmology? Evolution, common ancestry, and modern biology? How about certain facets of modern theories on star evolution – those things have never been “directly observed”, and instead we rely on “historical evidence”. The demarcation that you set up between “historical methods” and “empirical science” is unsustainable. You have a wrong-headed view of science, evidence, and epistemology itself.

  145. Tim O says

    ,blockquote>Thanks for the information Tim, I’ve not made up my mind yet but this information is clearly useful.

    No problem. I think I’ve spent enough time here and your comment has at least made me think it wasn’t totally wasted. Cheers.

  146. lotharloo says

    @EnlightenmentLiberal

    Carrier is exactly the kind of expert that I would like his opinions and arguments be backed up by at least a few other experts before I give them any consideration. Academia is full of such “experts”. Coincidentally, two days ago a colleague was talking about quantum effects in the brain w.r.t consciousness and I had to correct him that the notation comes from an “expert” without being accepted widely by his peers to it must be treated with skepticism. An expert coming up with a sexy theory and writing popular books about it, does not mean jack shit in my opinion. My primitive understanding is that Carrier’s theories and such are considered fringe by his peers. I’ve not made up my mind yet because I personally have not tried to invest enough time to figure out which opinion is fringe and what not but at least in the first glance Carrier seems to be the one who is fringe.

  147. John Morales says

    Tim O @54:

    Look, I absolutely get the emotional appeal of Mythicism – it seems like a neat solution to the question of Christian origins and it has the very satisfying added advantage of totally pulling the rug out from under Christianity. So I get it.

    Well put (and I concur) — but then the converse is its emotional repugnance for Christianists.
    It’s kinda definitional that a true believer wouldn’t believe that, regardless of the weight of evidence. Not that there’s much of that, as noted it’s essentially a fringe theory.

    (Not impossible, but neither plausible)

    Anyway. Seems to me this whole discussion about Jesus’ putative non-historicity, vaguely entertaining as it is, is both irrelevant to the perniciousness of the Christian mindset and a digression from the point made in the OP about pontifications from ignorance.

  148. Enkidum says

    Huh, I haven’t posted here in a long-ass time (though I’ve kept up reading posts for the most part) and now I remember why I gave up on the comments section, because behaviour like this from regulars is treated as normal. @Crip Dyke and @EL, you’re fucking embarrassing yourselves. Seriously, this was appalling, and you should be ashamed.

    More specifically:

    @Crip: you could condense the entirety of your exchange with Tim to about three tweets worth of meaningful information. The default historical jesus position includes the four claims Tim gave, and also, as you helpfully pointed out, the claim that he was the the leader of a particular sect that ended up becoming the focus of a religion. That position is what Tim is arguing for. It’s unfortunate that he neglected to put the fifth claim in his pithy summary for you, but that’s life, and perfectly understandable given that this was after several thousand words of frustrating argument with people who were clearly arguing in bad faith. He also mentioned it numerous times both before and after his summary for you.

    Now… you apparently don’t think the validity of this position is an interesting question. Tough shit, it’s the question being addressed, and all the stuff about whether Jesus was actually God is irrelevant to it. Most of Tim’s posts have been defending this position. If you think it’s unlikely, we all invite you to provide any kind of evidence for that unlikelihood. We’ll wait. Otherwise, please, chill the fuck out and accept that maybe you should, you know, read some of the widely-available material on this subject and not be a total jackass to people who know a lot more about this topic than anyone else here.

    @EL: Jesus fuck, just stop. Your argument in a nutshell: There are lots of contemporary texts about Julius Caesar doing all sorts of stuff, but none of them specifically mention that he had lungs. HOW CAN WE THEN JUST ASSUME THE VALIDITY OF THE CAESAREAN LUNG HYPOTHESIS IN THE FACE OF THE ALTERNATIVE HYPOTHESIS THAT HE HAD GILLS? CHECKMATE, HISTORIANS!
    Yes, no one writing about Jesus specifically mentions “and he did all these things ON EARTH AND NOT IN SPACE”. Because that would be fucking stupid.

    @Tim O, thanks for your patience, I can assure you a lot of lurkers got something out of this. FWIW I used to take Carrier seriously, even reading pretty much everything he wrote here, and this has gotten most of the residual respect I had for his historical work out of my system.

    @CD and EL, it’s pretty unlikely I’ll respond to any responses. You’ve both shown yourself to be utterly incapable of sensible discussion on this topic. Just stop.

  149. rietpluim says

    Re: Augustine

    Who said “If it is true, it can’t be heretic” or something similar?

  150. A Masked Avenger says

    Cryp Dyke, #99

    In that last sentence I’m using “historical jesus” differently than in my first paragraph – in the last sentence I mean “historical jesus” meaning “person who really did all those miracles including calling a bunch of zombies out of their graves on some Friday night a long time ago” and in the first one (I should have clarified) I mean some random human being whose real life included a few details in common with the fake-ass story concocted by the gospels.

    Neither is the relevant definition for historians. The relevant definition is, “The human being whose followers created Christianity and deified him in the process.”

    The evidence indicates that this person existed, even though we know almost nothing about his life, because the sources we have (including biblical and extra-biblical texts) are so heavily fictionalized. But we know a few things about as well as we know many things about history: he was a Jew; he was probably from Galilee and was almost certainly crucified; he was probably named Joshua; etc.

  151. A Masked Avenger says

    Enlightenment Liberal, #101:

    Are you really saying that the historical existence of a god-man wizard Jesus, with the Gospels being more or less literally true, is more likely than Doherty’s mythicism hypothesis?

    See the footnote on my #74. Nobody is claiming the water-walking, demon-casting-out, dead-raising Son of God existed. None of that is coded in the statement “Jesus existed,” or variations thereon. It’s a meaningful, coherent statement to say, “The person Jesus, referenced in the gospels, existed, but practically nothing factual is known about him and practically nothing in the gospels about him is true.”

    You seem, like many, to be hung up on the philosophical question, “If everything I know about Mr. X is false, in what sense can it be said that Mr. X existed at all?”

    The question is interesting, but tangential, and I’m not sure what makes it such a tarpit for some. If I, a historian of ancient Greece, suggested that the labors of Hercules were based on an actual mentally handicapped man named Heracles, known to the playwright, who was repeatedly taken advantage of to provide free labor because he was gullible and had a strong back, would this be similarly confusing? If I said, “Hercules actually existed,” would you be convinced I was claiming that there was a were-lion in Nemea who could take the shape of a sexy woman to lure its prey closer?

  152. Rob Grigjanis says

    EL @111: Call me whatever you like. If I’m teaching a class in Special Relativity, and you put your hand up and say “luminiferous aether is more reasonable than the Flying Spaghetti Monster playing silly games with light waves”, I’d certainly feel justified calling that nonsense*. And throwing a piece of chalk at you, And asking you to leave the class if you persisted in that sort of nonsense.

    *Maybe you’d prefer “irrelevant bullshit distraction from the topic at hand”? Either way.

  153. rq says

    CD
    It had to happen someday. But for the first time, I’m finding your arguments less convincing and more than a little wtf. (Excepting your initial requests for definition of terms.)

    Thanks, Tim, for your efforts.

    It’s been quite a read, all in all. Including EL, but that’s just wtf all the way down. Going to put some time in to bring my eyebrows back down to their anatomical positions now (and as a bonus, now you all know I have eyebrows! for history!).

  154. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Jesus fuck, just stop. Your argument in a nutshell: There are lots of contemporary texts about Julius Caesar doing all sorts of stuff, but none of them specifically mention that he had lungs. HOW CAN WE THEN JUST ASSUME THE VALIDITY OF THE CAESAREAN LUNG HYPOTHESIS IN THE FACE OF THE ALTERNATIVE HYPOTHESIS THAT HE HAD GILLS? CHECKMATE, HISTORIANS!
    Yes, no one writing about Jesus specifically mentions “and he did all these things ON EARTH AND NOT IN SPACE”. Because that would be fucking stupid.

    That’s not my argument at all. That argument would be “fucking stupid”. The argument is that there is a lot of interesting circumstantial evidence fof mythicism, plus the Ascensian of Isaiah, plus arguably no concrete evidence that Jesus existed on Earth in the authentic letters of Paul. Could you ateast not blatantly straman please?

  155. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    And also, just for clarity, this is the way that I should have addressed the Gospels and Acts. The Gospels and Acts are not typical stories about a real person. Rather, when you try to classify them, you should find that they will be classified not as history, but rather as fiction. I’m basing this off the Rank-Raglan heroic myth archetype criteria. Jesus in the Gospels and Acts scores really high on that criteria. IIRC, even from Mark alone, Jesus scores so high that we know of no one else from history who actually existed who had “stories” written about them that would cause them to score as high on the Rank-Raglan heroic archetype criteria as Jesus scores from Mark alone.

    This is just a formal way of expressing the lax statements: The Gospels contain so much magic, contrivances, and unbelievabilities, and artificial story structure, that it’s obviously not intended to be history at all, and it’s just a fan-fiction, and real people generally do not have such stories written about them.

    In other words, when addressed formally, the existence of the Gospels and Acts is actually evidence against historicity. Arguably, it’s weak evidence, but the Gospels and Acts are definitely not evidence in favor of historicity as many here are arguing.

  156. CJO says

    Tim O:

    “Somebody upthread said flatly “he’s a historian” and he’s not”

    Yawn. Yes, technically he’s not. Practically, you’re waving around a distinction without difference. Your point is seriously petty.

    lotharloo:

    Sorry guys but what I’m seeing is a bunch of amateur graduates of google university debating an expert.

    If we’re done fellating Tim, might I have a word?

    What Tim is an expert in is not a great deal more than the content of an introductory course in the New Testament and (maybe) a couple of semesters of New Testament Greek. He’s peddling a consensus that has formed over about a century following the so-called First Quest for the Historical Jesus in the 19th c. and proceeding through Form Criticism and Redaction Criticism to our modern era of postmodern anthropological and sociological approaches like Memory Studies. As you can see from his 4-point historical Jesus checklist, this consensus has settled on a minimal figure indeed, nothing like the Christ of faith, so despite his (highly typical for the guild) preening assertiveness about his expertise, you can kind of tell it’s not a risk-taking enterprise.

    And as you can see by his dismissal of the methodological differences between this discipline and academic history, he thinks this specialized field of literary analysis is as good as doing history. That is, he thinks anyone can do history, that training in the methods and tools of the historian is not a necessary qualification. Shit, he’s practically a historian himself!

    As Neil Godfrey (proprietor of the excellent blog Vridar weighed in above, many of the methods of these specialized literary critics-cum-historians are illegitimate, full stop. They are the tools of literary analysis. They are not used in academic history, they are the tools of literary critics, and they delimit the answers they will return and encourage circular reasoning. (I could get into the methodological and epistemological problems, and I will, if anybody’s interested, but I’d recommend a perusal of the great many articles available at Vridar on the topic.) Furthermore, the Historical Jesus industry which the discipline of NT studies has spawned has, as its aspiring best-selling authors and the vast majority of its audience, confessing Christians who have a prior commitment to a certain type of answer to the question. Even those nominally non-Christian practitioners, like poster-child Bart Ehrman, were once devout, still admire the Jesus of the NT in some form, and, most importantly, were educated within the paradigm that insists Christian origins absolutely require a Galilean prophet/sage/exorcist/healer/whathaveyou.

    Now, you may dismiss this as well-poisoning, or conspiracy-theorizing, or just sour grapes on my part if you like. But if that’s your impulse, please ask yourself if what I’m saying is in the least implausible. NT Studies is by and large hidebound. The Historical Jesus publishing industry has gatekeepers like any other publishing enterprise, and there is very little incentive for the editors and publishers at places like Eerdmann’s and Fortress Press to award a contract to an author whose thesis is going to alienate their audience. The academic journals in the field can afford to be a little more wide-ranging, but even there, there is a “this far, but no further” attitude toward skepticism regarding historicity (not just of Jesus, but other non-negotiable items of devotion).

    TL;DR, NT Studies experts are literary critics, not historians, their training in historical methods other than command of relevant languages and the analysis of secondary narrative texts is notional, and they labor under certain mostly implicit external constraints imposed by the dominance of practicing Christians in their field for a century. Per the title of the OP, History is hard, especially, as here, where evidence is lacking. But please don’t go along with Tim and accept that any old methods can be drafted into service in the absence of evidence, for all that you find his command of NT scholarship impressive. Sometimes we must simply allow that strong confidence in either position is unwarranted. (I am not confident in mythicism, I just see big problems with the methods and assumptions used to forge the current consensus.)

  157. Pierce R. Butler says

    Even Tim O’s minimal criteria for a historical proto-Messiah may reach too far.

    In Robert Price’s The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man (which I do not have to hand, alas), he cites (from Josephus, I think) the story of a man named Joshua/Yeshua bar Ananias, a country boy who went to Jerusalem a few years before the Revolt and made a nuisance of himself running around repetitively prophesying a big disaster, for which he was beaten by a mob and hauled before Roman authorities who declared him mad and (iirc) sent him away.

    He sort-of fits the minimal HJ profile, except for being a generation too late and having no followers and very little doctrine – but seeing as how the sky did virtually fall and validate his claims not much later, he might well have stuck in peoples’ memories and contributed a bit to the J Christ legend gestating in the minds of the Gospel authors-to-be.

    Was the son of Ananias then the, or a, “Historical Jesus”?

  158. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To Pierce R. Butler
    Very interesting. Thanks very much for bringing up that idea. It may not be probable, but it’s definitely not so improbable that I personally can discard the possibility as impossible.

  159. John Morales says

    CJO,

    What Tim is an expert in is not a great deal more than the content of an introductory course in the New Testament and (maybe) a couple of semesters of New Testament Greek.

    Let’s grant this. But that’s more than other commenters (perhaps excluding yourself?).

    (It ain’t the absolute level, but the relative level of expertise that’s relevant)

    He’s peddling a consensus that has formed over about a century following the so-called First Quest for the Historical Jesus in the 19th c. and proceeding through Form Criticism and Redaction Criticism to our modern era of postmodern anthropological and sociological approaches like Memory Studies.

    OK. He advocates (“peddles”) for the consensus. Again, granted.

    And as you can see by his dismissal of the methodological differences between this discipline and academic history, he thinks this specialized field of literary analysis is as good as doing history.

    Again, granted. Lowers his overall credibility, but not about his particular field of expertise.
    And I do find it hard to distinguish between historical research and literary research, where the two basically draw on the same dataset, as I see it.

    Now, you may dismiss this as well-poisoning, or conspiracy-theorizing, or just sour grapes on my part if you like. But if that’s your impulse, please ask yourself if what I’m saying is in the least implausible.

    I don’t find it implausible, but I do doubt its relevance to the subject at hand.

    TL;DR, NT Studies experts are literary critics, not historians, their training in historical methods other than command of relevant languages and the analysis of secondary narrative texts is notional, and they labor under certain mostly implicit external constraints imposed by the dominance of practicing Christians in their field for a century.

    This observation would have much more weight if it were contrasted to the opinions of historians, but it isn’t. Is there a significant discrepancy?

    Sometimes we must simply allow that strong confidence in either position is unwarranted.

    As I noted above, neither position is relevant to the fact of Christianity’s history or its perniciousness. And the point is more that, since Tim supports the current consensus, it’s up to those who dispute that to adduce good reasons to dispute the consensus, rather than the personal attributes of those who support it.

    So yeah, playing the man, not the ball, there. Though I should add I respect and pay attention to your own expertise and opinions, as I have for many years now.

  160. CJO says

    Thereupon, the magistrates, supposing, as was indeed the case, that the man was under some supernatural impulse, brought him before the Roman governor; there, although flayed to the bone with scourges, he neither sued for mercy nor shed a tear, but, merely introducing the most mournful of variations into his utterances, responded to each lashing with “Woe to Jerusalem!” When Albinus, the governor, asked him who and whence he was and why he uttered these cries, he answered him never a word, but unceasingly reiterated his dirge over the city, until Albinus pronounced him a maniac and let him go.

    That’s the translation of Josephus on the wiki page for Jesus ben Ananias. Recall that at the trial before the high priest and the Sanhedrin in Mark 14, the false witness offered against Jesus was that he said he would destroy the temple and build it again in three days, and of course the silence before Pilate is reminiscent of this figure’s monomaniacal intransigence. An interesting resonance.

  161. CJO says

    This observation would have much more weight if it were contrasted to the opinions of historians, but it isn’t. Is there a significant discrepancy?

    Most historians faced with a paucity of evidence prefer to stay mum. So, ask a historian about the existence of a literary figure like Jesus and they’ll generally answer as cartomancer did upthread: it doesn’t matter (which I take to mean, we can do history on the period, but an answer to that question won’t be forthcoming; by the same token, the figure in question won’t get any lines, either).
    And, it must be said, most historians who write books for the retail trade would refer to the work of their NT studies colleagues as specialists, if in the course of a popular historiography they wanted to include a narrative of Christian origins for instance.
    So I shouldn’t be taken to be actually speaking for historians on this particular point, although I do think that professional historians would agree that analysis of literary texts alone is insuficiently constrained to reconstruct events.

  162. Enkidum says

    The Gospels contain so much magic, contrivances, and unbelievabilities, and artificial story structure, that it’s obviously not intended to be history at all, and it’s just a fan-fiction, and real people generally do not have such stories written about them.

    Thinking is harder than this. You know perfectly well that all sorts of real people have such stories written about them, and could, without breaking a sweat, think of half a dozen examples from the past two centuries alone.

    arguably no concrete evidence that Jesus existed on Earth in the authentic letters of Paul.

    There is also no concrete evidence that Caesar did not have gills. What the hell would “concrete evidence” amount to?

  163. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    You know perfectly well that all sorts of real people have such stories written about them, and could, without breaking a sweat, think of half a dozen examples from the past two centuries alone.

    My apologies. I missed an important qualifier in my statement. I meant something like “no such historical person”, as in “from ancient history”, e.g. “from before the printing press”. There are little to no persons from ancient history that 1- existed, and 2- score as high as Jesus does from Mark alone on the Rank-Raglan criteria. If you are aware of one, please let me know.

    There is also no concrete evidence that Caesar did not have gills. What the hell would “concrete evidence” amount to?

    Could you please not strawman my argument? This is basically dishonest. The answer is from the exact same sentence that you snipped in your quote! I wrote:

    “The argument is that there is a lot of interesting circumstantial evidence [for] mythicism, plus the Ascensian of Isaiah, plus arguably no concrete evidence that Jesus existed on Earth in the authentic letters of Paul.”

    I am unaware of any circumstantial evidence which would show that Caesar had gills. Compare to: Paul doesn’t mention a single obvious concrete fact that Jesus existed on Earth, which is unlikely if he was talking about a real person, and Paul never uses any eye-witness testimony of what Jesus said on Earth to settle doctrinal disputes and even goes out of his way to say many times that he never uses eye-witness testimony of what Jesus said from others, and instead only uses personal revelation and scripture.

    I am unaware of any historical text which outright states that Caesar has gills. Compare to: the Ascension Of Isaiah.

    That makes your example categorically different, a non-sequitir.

  164. deepak shetty says

    @Enlightment liberal

    Compare to: Paul doesn’t mention a single obvious concrete fact that Jesus existed on Earth

    Quit embarassing yourself. Tim already covered this in #54 to you.

  165. KG says

    “Born of a woman”. I love this proof-text. Can you imagine speaking of a near contemporary in those terms? Feeling the need to stress that he or she was born? No, it doesn’t mean the opposite, but it sure doesn’t mean “ordinary human being”. – CJO@49

    Of course Paul didn’t think Jesus was an “ordinary human being”. But he clearly did think, despite all the mythicist crapola you and that numpty EL take seriously, that he lived a life on Earth and had a brother called James.

  166. KG says

    A baptism, by a guy dressed like Elijah, in the wilderness by the Jordan, no, surely not theological, nope, just a totes mundane biographical tidbit.

    He does triumph over his enemies at the crucifixion, it’s the whole godsdamned point of Mark. – CJO@49

    I concede your point about John the Baptist, as for gMark, apparently, that was the point at which Jesus became the Messiah. As for “He does triumph over his enemies at the crucifixion”, srsly? If the story was made up out of whole cloth, why on earth subject the alleged Messiah to a humiliating and shameful death, and then have to invent reasons why this was in fact a “triumph”?

  167. KG says

    EL @68: For context, why the hell would you take anything Carrier writes seriously? – Rob Gtigjanis@68

    Because I am still impressed by his academic work on this topic, while being cognizant that he posts crank stuff on other topics outside of his domain of expertise such as on physics. – EL@71

    That really is fucking hilarious. I’m sure you can’t see why, because it’s long been obvious you have absolutely no sense of humour, but take it from me, it is.

  168. KG says

    When you assert that there was “a historical jesus” you must know that what people generally hear is that there existed a person whom other human beings had good reason to worship – Crip Dyke@119

    Only if they’re as fucking ignorant on the issue as you evidently are, or are pretending to be. It’s noticeable that the mythicists on this thread have by this point largely abandoned the actual dispute in favour of misdirection. Neither Tim O, Rob Grigjanis, me, or anyone else arguing with you believes in Jesus’s miracles, or that he was supernatural, or worthy of being worshipped, or anything of the kind, and this has been obvious throughout. It’s absolutely clear what “the historical Jesus” means: a Jewish preacher of the early 1st century CE who preached in Galilee, got something of a following who came to think he was the Jewish Messiah, came to Jerusalem and was crucified by the Romans, after which some of his followers continued his cult. The mythicist claim is that such a person never existed. The consensus of relevant experts is that he very probably did. How else would you refer to the subject of the dispute?

  169. KG says

    If we’re done fellating Tim, might I have a word?

    What Tim is an expert in is not a great deal more than the content of an introductory course in the New Testament and (maybe) a couple of semesters of New Testament Greek. He’s peddling a consensus that has formed over about a century following the so-called First Quest for the Historical Jesus in the 19th c. and proceeding through Form Criticism and Redaction Criticism to our modern era of postmodern anthropological and sociological approaches like Memory Studies. As you can see from his 4-point historical Jesus checklist, this consensus has settled on a minimal figure indeed, nothing like the Christ of faith, so despite his (highly typical for the guild) preening assertiveness about his expertise, you can kind of tell it’s not a risk-taking enterprise.

    Now, you may dismiss this as well-poisoning, or conspiracy-theorizing, or just sour grapes on my part if you like. – CJO@162

    Yup, that’s just what I’ll do. Because it exactly parallels the claims of creationists, climate change deniers, Holocaust deniers, anti-vaxxers, etc. ad nauseam. What I, as a non-expert, have to do is ask myself “Do I provisionally accept the consensus of relevant experts in the field (who include quite a number of non-Christians, not just atheists and agnostics but also practising Jews), or do I go with the likes of Trump fan Robert Price, narcissistic uber-crank Richard Carrier, Neil Godfrey (who I’ve been mightily unimpressed by when seeing him arguing with James McGrath), and pseudonymous bloggers CJO and (absence of God help us!) “Enlightenment Liberal”, none of whom, to the best of my knowledge, have come up with a remotely plausible alternative to the consensus?”.

  170. says

    It’s fascinating the emotional commitment many people have to the notion that the origin of christianity started with an ‘historical Jesus’ whose real life biography vaguely resembles the many Gospel tales. Could it be true? Sure. Is it ‘proved beyond a reasonable doubt’? I don’t think so.

    Even if there was an historical Jesus, he was quickly subsumed by the babblings of religious fanatics, becoming the least influential person in the development of christianity. Subsequent authors, not one of whom seems to have any first-hand knowledge about this guy, feel free to invent incidents and dialogue to suit their agendas.

  171. neilgodfrey says

    PZ wrote:

    Most telling was his listing of the feeble number of brief mentions of the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in classical records — if the Romans didn’t leave us many documents of this colossal disaster in their backyard, why should we expect them to have mentioned some minor Jewish preacher off in some provincial backwater?

    This is a misreading of Tim’s article. Tim actually lists (by ancient standards) numerous references — five — to the eruption of Vesuvius. What he says is missing from the record is the explicit naming of the two major urban areas destroyed by the eruption: Pompeii and Herculaneum.

    Fossils are preserved where rare special conditions are met. Ditto for the preservation of ancient manuscripts and references to specific types of topics. Unfortunately Tim has straw manned David FItzgerald’s arguments. Always read both sides of any crticism, I have learned, in this topic.

  172. annotate says

    Tim O’Neill said on post 85 said:

    “This whole “celestial/mythic Jesus” idea is pure supposition and a contrivance designed try to come up with a way Christianity could arise without a historical Jesus.”

    Isn’t that how religion and God got started?

    “God doesn’t even have to exist to rule supreme”
    Paraphrasing and I don’t know the author.

  173. annotate says

    Tim O’Neill said on post 88:

    “So? They all depict Jesus on earth.”

    So? They also depict Jesus doing all of that supernatural stuff. A tall, tales story teller is a tall, tales story teller. Or are you just believing the stuff you want to be true to support your argument?

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