The ontology of historical figures


Hey, I’m awake, mostly. A little later this morning I’m going to be talking with a professional historian about Jesus mythicism, or more generally, how historians define a real historical figure. Tune in! Ask questions!

Check in at 7am Central time, if you’re conscious.

Comments

  1. Ichthyic says

    I’m going to be talking with a professional historian about Jesus mythicism

    special guest appearance by Richard Carrier!

    sorry, sorry, just had to. :)

  2. Sili says

    Ned Ludd is supposedly a more apt case for comparison.

    Also, what does it take to qualify as a professional historian and are any of those actually bothering with the HJ question?

  3. says

    I’ve got a list of problematic “historical” figures like that. This is not something where I’m trying to oppose my guest, though — I’m hoping to learn.

  4. says

    Tim O’Neill of History for Atheists makes much better arguments than this fellow has (although I joined about 55 minutes into it).

    Putting aside the gospels, the evidence for Jesus (son of Joseph, brother of the same James who was an early leader in the Christian Church) is comparable to the evidence for Socrates (perhaps slightly stronger) from what I can tell. I don’t take Socrates Mythicism seriously, and I don’t have any belief in the miracle stories of the gospels.

  5. weylguy says

    “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.”

    I stopped watching the video around the 3:00 mark, when the “historian” claimed that the New Testament is “wonderful evidence.” Perhaps he was only remarking that the Gospels “prove” that Jesus of Nazareth was a real person, but it we are to accept that then everything else — the miracles, the transformation, the resurrection and the forgiveness of sin through Jesus — are also evidence.

    I think it was the early church father Papias who recorded that Judas Iscariot was so obese that he couldn’t fit down a street, and that when he died his pustulated guts exploded and made the area stink for centuries. Is that evidence of Judas’s death? Or are the vastly different stories of his death as related by the Gospel writers to be taken as evidence? Similarly, as others have noted on this blog, is Robin of Loxley and other characters of old to be considered historical persons simply because we have ancient stories about them?

    Nonsense!

  6. consciousness razor says

    One Brow, #7:

    Putting aside the gospels, the evidence for Jesus (son of Joseph, brother of the same James who was an early leader in the Christian Church) is comparable to the evidence for Socrates (perhaps slightly stronger) from what I can tell. I don’t take Socrates Mythicism seriously, and I don’t have any belief in the miracle stories of the gospels.

    They’re comparable. You can also contrast them. We’re not relying on stories of Socrates performing miracles, resurrecting after his trial, etc. Christian communities took symbolic, metaphorical and mythological elements of their scriptures very seriously (as they still do), and accounts of fictional characters can supply all of that satisfactorily. This is more or less what’s going on when people believe the Bible is not “literally true” but is “figuratively true” or some such thing. The story about the character Noah didn’t literally or actually happen at all, they may say, but it’s nonetheless a story which is believed to convey very important theological/moral/political truths. Other believers, on the other hand, who can fit into that same broad community quite comfortably, take it as literally true that there was at some time a miraculous flood, a giant boat full of animals, etc. Maybe they’re just very credulous, confused/uninformed about the nature of the source material, or who knows what. But in any case, notice that you don’t need a “conspiracy” of some believers deceiving others, in order for this kind of thing to happen. They may easily find common ground in their theological/etc. beliefs and take that to be more important than worrying over some fussy details about obscure events (or non-events) in the past.

    Plato clearly gives his own spin on what Socrates was like, what he thought, what happened to him, etc. So of course we shouldn’t be too confidant that he paints a fully accurate (or precise) picture. But there’s no analogous community which was highly motivated ahead of time, to “accept” ideas/myths about him that could’ve been satisfied just as well by a fictional character as by a real person. To react to him simply as a person with interesting ideas worth spreading around, they’re not necessarily buying into anything out of the ordinary. The symbolism of some redeemer coming here to wash away our sins, perform miracles, share deep nuggets of wisdom straight from God, etc., is awfully enticing for some. I bet nearly everyone has at least some experience of this — the underlying ideas of the stories can be the whole selling point for some, who aren’t concerned so much about which things actually happened to material objects in spacetime, because it matters most to them that it is “morally right” or “theologically right” or “politically right” to tell this kind of story. (Not to mention that the more naturalistic notion of reality, things actually happening here/now to some stuff, definitely isn’t shared by everybody even now, much less diverse communities thousands of years ago, who rarely ever found it useful to think so carefully about such things.)

    Take Julius Caesar as another example. The events after his assassination, for example, are not at all likely on the condition that Caesar was a fictional character. When you’ve got lots of independent evidence of those things actually happening, that should boost your credence that he was a real person. When it comes to Caesar, the core ideas contemporaries had about him, which motivated them to act in certain ways and write certain documents and so forth (i.e., the evidence we’ve got now), were not ones that people would normally entertain about what they believe is only a fictional character. The point is that we don’t just know there was a group of people around that time who “believed in Caesar,” because we also know they did all sorts of stuff (e.g., the civil war and empire that followed) which wouldn’t make much sense at all for something like a book club that was mainly interested in the deeper meaning of a Caesar character in a fictionalized setting.

  7. Rob Grigjanis says

    weylguy @8:

    I stopped watching the video around the 3:00 mark, when the “historian” claimed that the New Testament is “wonderful evidence.”

    Yeah, wonderful evidence for what some people believed at the time the Gospels were written. Amazing what a few more seconds will reveal, innit? Your movie reviews would make fascinating reading.

  8. Ed Seedhouse says

    Well, I think that we kind of know that there were people living around those parts at the time. It would not be surprising that one of the itinerant preachers of the time impressed more people than the other ones, nor that he would be executed as a troublemaker. So I think that needs little evidence to be a convincing explanation for the arising of the Jesus myth. I think more evidence is required to believe the alternative explanations than the one person hypothesis. Conflating two or three people into one seems less likely than being impressed by a single charlatan, er preacher.

    It also seems to me that, unlike P.Z., some of the commentators above weren’t listening very well to what the historian was actually saying. I could be wrong.

  9. jester700 says

    Tim O’Neill’s blog at https://historyforatheists.com/ does well in explaining how historians use ancient texts as evidence and claims to reflect the consensus of late antiquity scholarship – and nothing I’ve read refutes that.

    The gospels aren’t proof that the things claimed in them all actually happened, and I don’t think that’s what’s meant by “evidence”. They DO show what people in their time periods actually believed – and those are clues – and evidence. We need to understand that many ancient writings had miraculous bits inserted; it was just how they wrote, and how they believed. But we can still learn about Julius Ceasar’s life from texts that also include miraculous information about him. And the same for Jesus.

  10. Owlmirror says

    If Socrates was a myth, wouldn’t Aristophanes have made a play lampooning those who perpetrated the Socrates myth rather than Socrates himself?

  11. tyro says

    Around the 15 min mark, the expert talks about a scenario where Jesus starts as fictitious and then later stories get grounded in reality. He says that he’s not sure that even extreme mythicists believe this. My understanding is that this is exactly what mythicists are arguing, that Jesus was initially a cosmic being who was accessible via dreams or visions, and then later they were told in contemporary locations.

    Am I wrong about that? It seems like a reasonable explanation and it’s always a little frustrating as a bystander to see these experts trotted out to attack straw-men or theories that seem to have little bearing on what the other side has actually proposed. I mean, I get the general gist of what the historian is saying, but I’m left feeling like it isn’t applicable and it’s just another giant waste of time. Can anyone confirm?

  12. KG says

    Jesus was initially a cosmic being who was accessible via dreams or visions, and then later they were told in contemporary locations… It seems like a reasonable explanation – tyro@15

    No, it doesn’t, to the overwhelming majority of relevant experts (including atheists, agnostics and religious Jews, none of whom, obviously, belive in the miracle stories). Kind of like how “It’s the sun that’s responsible for climate change” doesn’t seem like a reasonable explanation to the overwhelming majority of relevant experts.

  13. tyro says

    KG@15

    I guess I’m still struggling to understand why there’s such a slam dunk case. The expert in the video doesn’t address the mythicist arguments directly and Bart Ehrman (whom he recommends) has also been criticized by mythicists for exactly the same thing. In the end, it appears to me as an outsider, that the conclusion of the relevant experts is not trustworthy since it’s not willing or able to address criticisms.

    The expert does start getting to one good point, that in his evaluation the early Christian communities accepted a real figure. How does he know that? The mythicists are using the early letters and show that they probably did not believe Jesus was flesh-and-blood, so his strongest point seems to be critically undermined. Or maybe the criticisms are garbage, then why aren’t they addressed & shot down?

  14. says

    onsciousness razor@10:
    We’re not relying on stories of Socrates performing miracles, resurrecting after his trial, etc. Christian communities took symbolic, metaphorical and mythological elements of their scriptures very seriously (as they still do), and accounts of fictional characters can supply all of that satisfactorily.

    Both historical and fictional characters can supply that. I am having trouble seeing why this would be an argument favoring Jesus Mythicism. As I said, when you put aside the gospels (i.e., the stories of Jesus performing miracles, etc.), we get about the same amount of evidence for Jesus and Socrates (one near-contemporaneous follower, and a few mentions in other works), none of it written to satisfy the need to commit elements of scriptures into history.

  15. says

    tyro@17,

    If you want to see detailed, direct addressing of the Jesus Mythicist claims, please check out jester700’s link to History for Atheists.

  16. consciousness razor says

    Kind of like how “It’s the sun that’s responsible for climate change” doesn’t seem like a reasonable explanation to the overwhelming majority of relevant experts.

    I’d say you’re doing a great disservice to climate science, because historicity claims are shaky at best. Maybe you think the odds are somewhat in favor of it, but I don’t think that’s clear and couldn’t even say exactly how that argument is supposed to go. There’s definitely no strong case to make that mythicism is wildly unlikely. So you should probably cool down the rhetoric just a bit.

    I’ve only ever looked into climate science at a basic level, but it’s not terribly hard to examine the relevant evidence and follow the reasoning which supports anthropogenic climate change. It’s an extremely complicated subject to be sure, but it can be (and has been) boiled down to a few relatively simple points that suffice to convince me of their conclusions. What I emphatically don’t need to do is be granted the status of “climate scientist who agrees with the consensus” or blindly swallow up whatever people with that status happen to say. Since they clearly and systematically show their work, I have very definite things to point to which genuinely make that case, not the mere fact that they’ve come to some nebulous kind of agreement which doesn’t demonstrate anything of the sort. If you’ve got something like that regarding historicity, then you can do the same. (And if not, then not.)

    In any case, I don’t actually need to adopt your stance that I should simply trust the experts about X,Y,Z, even if that approach does suit your purposes in some cases. If that works for you, fair enough, but shouldn’t your confidence about the explanation go up if you did some actual work to understand the evidence that anthropogenic climate change is real? And if so, doesn’t that mean your confidence should drop down a notch when you’re failing to do that?

  17. consciousness razor says

    Both historical and fictional characters can supply that.

    Just as I said. So on those grounds we don’t rule out fiction. We’ve got independent reasons to think Socrates was real, if you continue reading past the two sentences you quoted. There’s also the point Owlmirror raised, regarding The Clouds (in addition to writings from other people, besides Plato and Aristophanes).

    I am having trouble seeing why this would be an argument favoring Jesus Mythicism.

    I was arguing that the case for historicity isn’t very strong. It’s not too difficult to see how it could come about that a fictional character became an important religious figure, given what people typically want/expect from their religious traditions. Consider Noah again. If you’re going to tell me that there had to be a real Noah, or there was some Noah-like figure, or multiple Noah-like figures … then my question is still why isn’t he a fictional character? What (if anything) made you suspect he was real in the first place? The burden is on you, once you’ve sifted out all of the fantastical elements that you believe didn’t happen (the flood, etc.), to tell me why I should think there is still something that remains.

  18. says

    The burden is on you, once you’ve sifted out all of the fantastical elements that you believe didn’t happen (the flood, etc.), to tell me why I should think there is still something that remains.

    You mean, such as being mentioned by two separate, non-Christian historians as a real person? References to having physically met Jesus’ brother in Jerusalem? The need for two different people to invent (mutually contradictory and individually implausible) explanations as to why Jesus was really born in Bethlehem, yet was known as a man from Nazareth?

    Weighed against that, where are your early references that Jesus was not believed to be a historical being?

  19. R Johnston says

    We’ve got independent reasons to think Socrates was real, if you continue reading past the two sentences you quoted.

    Beyond that, we can define a “historical Socrates” in a reasonable way such that he necessarily existed, i.e., as the founder or an amalgam of the founders of the Socratic school of philosophy. We can define a historical Paul similarly by choosing some critical Pauline epistle and defining “historical Paul” as the author of that specific epistle.

    There is no comparable definition possible for a historical Jesus; Jesus is a character in a story, not a story teller. Characters may or may not be inspired by real life figures, and even if inspired by real life figures such figures may not necessarily reasonably be classified as the historical entity behind the character. If J.K. Rowling based Harry Potter’s personality or looks in part on her son, there still would be no meaningful or reasonable claim that there’s a historical Harry Potter. People draw from the things they know to write stories, but very little in the way of fiction is properly classified as historical fiction.

    Efforts to define a “historical Jesus” are flat-out ridiculous, either falling into the trivial category that would encompass a historical Harry Potter, Darth Vader, and Jehovah, or falling into the category of having no evidence whatsoever in their favor. The claim that there is a “historical Jesus” exhibits the same epistemological failure as solipsism or the assumption that people are rational utility maximizers, in that it is true only in the sense that it is trivial.

  20. jester700 says

    Historicity claims about almost ANYONE in the ancient world are shaky at best; that’s one of O’Neill’s major points. But beyond the gospels are a few clues that are more difficult to explain away than to accept that they refer to a person who lived. Does that mean it’s a slam dunk case? Maybe not. Could the vast majority of relevant scholars (including those with no dog in the fight – atheists, agnostics, and Jews) all be wrong? Sure. Is accepting that Jesus was a real person the most reasonable conclusion based on the evidence we have? Yes, it is.

    The case for Jesus and the case for Noah are quite different, and this is reflected by the fact that the consensus of relevant scholars is that Noah (and Moses) did NOT exist as historical people.

  21. neilgodfrey says

    The historian being interviewed clearly has only a shallow or popular notion of New Testament scholars’ arguments about earliest Christianity and the nature of the evidence — he even admits he prefers to read the trade books by Bart Ehrman than check out the “serious research” being done. His statements about the NT evidence were grounded in assumptions and hypotheses that are simply not facts at all (as any serious look into NT studies will soon show) and his understanding of the very question appeared clouded in circular reasoning. I was reminded of many of Tim O’Neill’s straw man arguments and misrepresentations.

    For what it’s worth I will be posting a series on my own blog dissecting key statements by the historian in the interview. I have often posted on this very topic, addressing the methods used by ancient historians to establish historicity, and will critique this fellow’s statements against the actual works of ancient historians themselves, and against what NT scholars themselves actually say about their evidence.

    PZ — you have had discussions with Tim O’Neill. I have several times now offered to debate Tim O’Neill in any online forum on one condition: that he refrain from personal insult and innuendo in his discussions. He has declined till now. If you were to be a mediator of such a debate I would welcome the opportunity.

  22. CJO says

    One Brow:

    The need for two different people to invent (mutually contradictory and individually implausible) explanations as to why Jesus was really born in Bethlehem, yet was known as a man from Nazareth?

    This argument from embarrassment is always trotted out in this dispute and treated like a slam dunk, but it’s really not a very good argument. Unpacking it reveals that it assumes its conclusion. So: how, exactly, was he “known as a man from Nazareth”? Because Mark (the source text for those two people, the authors of Matthew and Luke) wrote a narrative set largely in Galilee about a man named Jesus whose family lives in Nazareth in Galilee. Now, it may be that the author of Mark and everyone else just knew that and that’s why he wrote that. But it’s not entailed by the fact of a narrative. So why this “need” to write in Bethlehem? Well if you want your messiah figure in a narrative to be a properly Davidic messiah, he’s going to be a son of Bethlehem, the City of David and subject of the prophet Micah as the birthplace of “one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2).

    The argument comes down to: if Jesus were fictional, the narrative in Mark would have just had Jesus be from Bethlehem, since everybody knows that’s where the prophet Micah said the messiah would be born. First of all, the nature of the messiah and Jesus’s identity as a messiah are central themes in Mark. Second, across late Second-Temple era texts, a diversity of messianic figures and expectations appear, some of them Davidic, some of them not. Finally, while the narrative in Mark has no interest in Bethlehem and lacks a birth narrative, Galilee features prominently, and not just as a scenic backdrop; it has its own theological significance within the logic of the text and so it can’t be assumed that the only reason the story would be set there is that the actual figure was from there.

    Another assumption packed into the argument is the independence of Luke from Matthew (“two different people” in One Brow’s comment would seem to stress this). But it is my belief, shared with some though not the majority of NT scholars, that the author of Luke knew Matthew and was in part reacting to it.

    It begins to sound more and more like a game of telephone, where the first whisper is the narrative in Mark, its first interpreter is the author of Matthew and so down the line. It all goes back to Mark, and to make an argument from the embarrassment of its interpreters, you need to show that its author was working with real persons and events, however creatively. It becomes circular when you just assume this.

    From at least this line of argument, you only get a historical figure if you assume that any historical facts constrained the authors of the texts in the first place. That is precisely what the mythicist hypothesis disputes.

  23. says

    This argument from embarrassment is always trotted out in this dispute and treated like a slam dunk, but it’s really not a very good argument.

    I don’t usually put my best argument last in order, where is less likely to be read than the first one.

    Another assumption packed into the argument is the independence of Luke from Matthew (“two different people” in One Brow’s comment would seem to stress this). But it is my belief, shared with some though not the majority of NT scholars, that the author of Luke knew Matthew and was in part reacting to it.

    So, you agree they are two different people, and offer no objection that the birth narratives are contradictory and individually implausible, yet somehow they are connected, as well? What do you see as the influence of Matthew’s birth narrative on Luke? If there is none, what is your objection to the notion of independence?

    It begins to sound more and more like a game of telephone, where the first whisper is the narrative in Mark, its first interpreter is the author of Matthew and so down the line.

    The first whispers would be the oral traditions, as propagated in part by James, who would very likely know where he was born and raised. The notion that the first whispers of Jesus come from Mark is an extremely strange notion.

    From at least this line of argument, you only get a historical figure if you assume that any historical facts constrained the authors of the texts in the first place.

    I agree this is not, and could not be, the sole argument. I think the authors were constrained by the previously existing oral traditions, and these traditions came in part from historical figures who knew Jesus and/or his relatives.

  24. says

    Richard Carrier is a self-styled “Probability Guru,” but even a cursory examining of his writing shows there is no reason to have any confidence in his ability as a historian to determine the likelihood of an historical event.

    For example, on his blog Carrier writes:

    Of course Habermas tries to sell Strobel on the tired apologetic line that “no one dies for a lie.” Surely not, “if they knew it was a hoax,” we hear said. This is a classic straw man. And as such, another lie. It’s one thing to ask how likely it is the resurrection appearance claims were a hoax. It’s altogether another to ask how likely it is they were like every other divine appearance experience in the whole history of all religions since the dawn of time: a mystical inner vision. Just as Paul tells us. Our only eyewitness source. Of course, a case can be made for the apostles dying even for a hoax: all they needed was to believe that the teachings attached to their fabricated claim would make the world a better place, and that making the world a better place was worth dying for. Even godless Marxists voluntarily died by the millions for such a motive. So the notion that no one would, is simply false. https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/12263

    So, above Carrier presents as very likely his theory that the Christian religion began as people having what they thought were revelatory experiences of the celestial Jesus. But then, if you don’t like that, Carrier says it is perfectly reasonable to interpret the evidence to be indicating Christianity began as a conspiracy! And we’re supposed to have confidence in Carrier’s abilities as a historian to determine the likelihood/probability that a historical event occurred?

    Even back in 2015, Dr. James McGrath identified the conspiratorial tone of Carrier’s thought. McGrath cites Carrier as writing conspiratorially that:

    “This appears to be what typically happened to the evidence. It was erased, doctored or rewritten to support a historicity party line against a mythicist one” (Carrier, On The Historicity of Jesus, p.352).

    In response to this, McGrath comments that:

    “Just as distrust of government can foster conspiracy thinking in the political realm, an exaggerated distrust not just for religion, but for all people associated with it, can apparently render conspiracy thinking seemingly plausible in relation to early Christianity.” see http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2015/08/mcg398026.shtml

    I have no confidence in Carrier’s ability to assign likelihood/probability, so his “objective” presentation using Bayes Theorem seems little more than sleight of hand.

  25. says

    Most of what was written in the first couple of centuries about regarding this Jesus is fantastic, contradictory, and unverifiable. If there ever was an historical Jesus he was quickly buried under a mountain of myth. For instance Paul is thought to be one of our earliest sources (very nearly a contemporary), and his Jesus is a very exalted figure with only the vaguest hints of some kind of career. Paul quotes in Philippians 2 a hymn which identifies Jesus as co-equal to God. So in literature Jesus starts out at the highest pinnacle.

    It isn’t until later that we get the familiar narrative about being born humbly, having a career as an itinerant preacher in Judea, gathering Disciples, and so on at a particular place at a particular time. In the now-distant past for the authors. This would be the absolute reverse of the notion that people knew about a charismatic figure who died and stayed dead, and over time a cult developed a High Christology.

    Modern day scholars are continuing this work of trying to turn a god into a man.

    To be honest, what chistians came to believe about about Jesus is mostly miracles, just-so stories, and morality tales. People have been writing such literature for a long time. Adding a mysterious ‘historical Jesus’ is not parsimonious – it adds nothing essential or meaningful to how christian literature developed. It’s like fan fiction. Authors are free to add or delete things to the story, and there is no one fact-checking them, and no authority yet to dictate what is canonical.

  26. neilgodfrey says

    Hi John — If you read Carrier’s arguments you will find he rejects absolutely the conspiracy theory. I fear you have read a snippet of his out of context — as has McGrath.

  27. says

    proudfootz,

    Paul also writes of going to see Jesus’ brothers (as a separate group from the apostles and the other Christians), so the human Jesus is there next to the divine is his writings.

    Also, the text of Phillipians 2 needs a creative translation to see Jesus as co-equal to God.

    neilgodfrey,

    I saw a lot on your site about the Testimonium Flavianum, but I have not seen anything regarding the Jesus mention in Antiquities 20. Do you think that is also a forgery, and if so, why?

  28. neilgodfrey says

    I had assumed the historian interviewed was a professional historian scholar but I have since learned I was mistaken. His highest formal qualifications in history is a BA. I was somewhat gobsmacked by several of his claims about historians and evidence and how he characterized some of their methods. I hope to give a more comprehensive explanation of the questions raised than anything mentioned by Eddie in coming days on vridar.org.

  29. says

    One Brow

    It takes me more effort to see this as an account of a simple backroads preacher than to simply take it as written:

    Who, being in very nature [a] God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage
    ;
    rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
    And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
    even death on a cross!

    Paul does mention something about one ‘Brother of the Lord’. If there are more of these ‘brothers’ do you mean the 500 Jesus is supposed to have appeared to?

    If biologcal brothers and sisters must be assumed, are we to believe incest was rampant among christians?

    Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas? – 1 Corinthians

  30. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    @neilgodfrey,

    I had assumed the historian interviewed was a professional historian scholar but I have since learned I was mistaken. His highest formal qualifications in history is a BA.

    Source? Also, I notice your qualifications are “a BA and post graduate Bachelor of Educational Studies, both at the University of Queensland, and a post graduate Diploma in Arts (Library and Information Science) from Charles Sturt University near Canberra, Australia. I am an associate of the professional library and information services organization of Australia.”

    So if we’re playing the credentials game, why should we trust you more than him?

    I hope to give a more comprehensive explanation of the questions raised than anything mentioned by Eddie in coming days on vridar.org.

    Given that the discussion is going on here, why not present it here?

  31. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    proudfootz@33,

    Yeah, translations of the Bible into English aren’t terribly compelling evidence. At the very least, you could compare various translations, and give us the source.

  32. says

    proudfootz@33,

    It takes me more effort to see this as an account of a simple backroads preacher than to simply take it as written

    Neither “simple backwoods preacher” nor “co-equal with God” is a good descriptions of Paul’s depiction of Jesus. Thereare aother options. If you are going to use the NIV, you get what you pay for (a version translated more with doctrine in mind than accuracy).

    NASB: did not regard equality with God a thing to be [f]grasped
    f: Philippians 2:6 I.e. utilized or asserted

    NABRE: did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.[d]
    d: 2:6 Either a reference to Christ’s preexistence and those aspects of divinity that he was willing to give up in order to serve in human form, or to what the man Jesus refused to grasp at to attain divinity. Many see an allusion to the Genesis story: unlike Adam, Jesus, though…in the form of God (Gn 1:26–27), did not reach out for equality with God, in contrast with the first Adam in Gn 3:5–6.

    I don’t know of a historical source for this, but traditionally Jesus has four brothers (not 1 nor 500), one of whom (James) was a leader of the early Christian congregation.

    Perhaps you should have used a better source for the 1 Corinthians quote than the KJV (also, why change versions in mid-post; was it cherry-picking?).

    NASB, NABRE: Do we not have the right to take along a Christian wife, as do the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?

    Notice how the brothers of the Lord are separately listed from the other Christians?

    See also Galations 1:18-19.

  33. kebil says

    One Brow: Are you suggesting that there was a historical Jesus, but that he was not divine, and that the Bible is not literally true; specifically, that the supernatural nature of Jesus was just an embellishment of a story about a messianic figure? Or that Jesus was the literal Son of God, and that it is the authors of the Gospels who, because they were fallible, made mistakes? It is common knowledge that Jesus was a common name at the time, that their where many men who claimed to be messiahs, and that messiah cults were in vogue at the time, as were many different types of esoteric Jewish sects, as well as various other cults. Would it not be more likely that the oral stories of this time, with many tales of divergent messiahs and multiple Jesus’ be, after several decades, melded into an image of a singular savior preacher of the Jews who they could cling to as the Romans destroyed the second Temple and destroyed Jerusalem in the first century after Christ’s birth. It is interesting in how many of the “fulfilled” prophecies that were ascribed to this Jesus figure are taken from a collection of dispersed verses, many of them which can only be taken as prophesying about the Messiah when you impose that frame on looking at it. I don’t think this “embarrassment” defense points to there being a real person. It just points to their being multiple conflicting stories about the many Jesus’ they were trying to unify.

  34. says

    kebil@37,

    Yes, a historical person named Jesus, who had a brother named James, seems to have existed on the most parsimonious interpretation of the evidence, but I see no more reason to believe the miraculous embellishments regarding Jesus than I do for Buddha or similar figures. Again, the primary evidence that I refer to is the mention of Jesus by two non-Christian historians, plus Paul referring to James as being his brother; the need for a birth narrative is supplementary.

    Could there have been stories of other itinerant preachers from the town of Nazareth in a similar time-frame melded into the story for Jesus, as well as traditions with no historical basis at all? I have no reason to object to that notion, but that is not a reason to say the historical person did not exist.

  35. Ed Seedhouse says

    I don’t see why we require any extraordinary evidence to think that a preacher in 1st century Palestine so impressed the people of the day that after he died they began telling stories about him, which over time given the culture of the day became inflated into miracle stories and a claim that he had risen after death.

    Rising after death seems to have been a common miracle story at the time.

    So a bunch of letters written a couple of decades after the event and some biographies written a few years later seem to be sufficient evidence that a person who was the source of later miracle stories actually existed. They don’t prove he existed of course, but I don’t know why “proof” is required for an ordinary claim. I also don’t know why anyone would bother to waste time “proving” that he didn’t exist, but it’s a free world, more or less.

  36. consciousness razor says

    I don’t see why we require any extraordinary evidence to think that a preacher in 1st century Palestine so impressed the people of the day that after he died they began telling stories about him, which over time given the culture of the day became inflated into miracle stories and a claim that he had risen after death.

    It’s not an extraordinary requirement that your reasoning should be non-circular. What you’ve got here is just a bunch of assumptions. That’s not evidence for the conclusion, because it’s just a statement of the conclusion. Nobody disputes that P implies P. The question is whether or not P (the story you just concocted) is true. And there’s no doubt it’s possible to concoct other similar stories — there are a wide variety of them, among “historicists” or otherwise — but demonstrating the possibility doing such things is not the goal here. I’d like to know what’s true of history, not what you can possibly make up about it.

    So a bunch of letters written a couple of decades after the event and some biographies written a few years later seem to be sufficient evidence that a person who was the source of later miracle stories actually existed.

    You’re apparently talking about the gospels when you cite “some biographies”…. Do they read like things you can honestly describe as biographical, or are they more like the Spiderman comics or the Harry Potter movies? Let’s draw a clear line here: Meacham’s book about Jefferson was a biography. Tolkien’s book about Bilbo Baggins was not. To whatever extent that kind of distinction becomes fuzzier in ancient times, it is to that extent confusing and/or dishonest to characterize such works in that way.

    What about all sorts of apocryphal literature, for that matter? (I should probably ask first if you are even aware of them.) Do we consider those biographical as well? How could we do that, if the accounts contradict one another (or even worse, are internally inconsistent)?

    And what about all of the people around that time who’d have good reasons to mention such a historical figure but failed to do so? Also, it shouldn’t have to be said, but a couple of people mentioning some decades later that there are Christians is not the kind of evidence you needed.

    Do you see how this goes? You don’t just dream up a story and satisfy yourself with it. You first look at all of the real evidence there is, then you ask yourself honestly what you can conclude from it.

  37. says

    And what about all of the people around that time who’d have good reasons to mention such a historical figure but failed to do so?

    In the case of Jesus, who are these people, and why do you believe they should have mentioned Jesus?

    Again, we are looking at two non-Christian historians that mention Jesus, and one contemporaneous follower that describes meeting his brother. What evidence do you have to compare to that?

  38. Owlmirror says

    @One Brow:

    Again, we are looking at two non-Christian historians that mention Jesus

    You keep referencing them without mentioning their names. I suspect you intend Tacitus and Josephus, but I’m not sure. And the reason I’m not sure is because I know there is good reason to reject Tacitus as mentioning Jesus (since Tacitus is reporting what he has been told about Christians (or possibly, Chrestians; followers of someone named Chrestus), not directly recounting knowledge of Jesus), and also good reason to reject what Josephus wrote about Jesus as being a late interpolation and/or a misunderstood gloss.

  39. Tim O says

    @neilgodfrey

    “I have several times now offered to debate Tim O’Neill in any online forum on one condition: that he refrain from personal insult and innuendo in his discussions. He has declined till now. ”

    I can’t recall any offers to “debate” me, though I may have missed them since I pay you very little attention Neil. I have seen some passive aggressive whining about how I won’t “engage” with you – as though I somehow have an obligation to do so. I don’t “engage” with you because I don’t consider you someone who discusses things in good faith. I’ve seen and been on the receiving end of your mealy mouthed nitpicking and misrepresentations and read enough of your faux-“objective” shtick and your encouragement of and indulgence in patently silly contrarianism to consider you a total waste of my time. Your snide nonsense above is pretty typical. Claiming you have offered to “debate” me (where?) then slipping in your weak insinuation about “personal insult and innuendo” means you imply that I have “declined” these grand challenges to “debate” (which, to my recollection, I’ve never seen) because I am incapable to debating without insult. Pathetic stuff, but this is the kind of snivelling crap you pull all the time.

    Then when people ignore you because of it, you chalk that up to the vast superiority of your fringe theories and crackpot contrarianism. Recall how you were laughed off the Atheist Foundation of Australia forum recently, for example? If most people saw about 20 individuals all independently decide they were a miserable waste of time, they might go away and ponder if perhaps they are coming across as a miserable waste of time. But not you Neil. No, you went away to write a chin-stroking blog post about “groupthink”, wondering aloud why so many people could suddenly and collectively, be so stupid and blind to your genius. I can see why you like Carrier.

    As I explain on my blog’s FAQ, I make no bones about insulting those who insult me. That includes people who deliberately misrepresent me Neil – as you first did many years ago when you challenged me on your blog to produce a quote from Carrier and then censored my response when I did so to make it look as though I could not. See above about “bad faith”. My FAQ also explains why “debates” on this subject are fairly pointless exercises in rhetorical puffery.
    https://historyforatheists.com/about-the-author-and-a-faq/

    Now you can go an run my comment above through your silly “pompous argument algorithm” tool and then post 15 blog posts on what a wicked man I am. You really need to get a hobby.

  40. consciousness razor says

    In the case of Jesus, who are these people, and why do you believe they should have mentioned Jesus?

    This article from Neil Godfrey (commenter above) lays it out pretty nicely. It’s from 2014, in the context of O’Neill criticizing Fitzgerald’s book (dubbed TO and DF), but don’t mind all of that for the moment…. The relevant parts regarding the argument from silence come down the page a bit, under the heading “TO’s Jesus is unfalsifiable.”

    Quite a few are brought up there … Seneca, Philo, and so forth. There were obviously a huge number of other people who were also writing at the time, so you are invited to ask yourself whether any of them should be included, rather than expecting me to think about it for you.

    It’s also worth noting that there’s documentation of various other non-Jesus messiahs, healers, spiritual leaders, etc., who were wondering around at this time. They may be minor figures, but they found their way into the record nonetheless. Of course, they pretty much faded into obscurity, as Christianity grew over its first few centuries. But anyway, I think that should address any valid concerns that I might be unrealistic in my expectations.

  41. consciousness razor says

    Err…. “who were wondering around at this time” That too, I guess, but they were also wandering.

  42. Tim O says

    @Owlmirror

    “I know there is good reason to reject Tacitus as mentioning Jesus”

    You “know this? Please cite any recent Tacitus scholar who says so.

    “since Tacitus is reporting what he has been told about Christians”

    He is? Please quote where Tacitus tells us this. Or please tell us how you know this if Tacitus doesn’t actually say or indicate that this is what he is doing. You can’t just state what you’d like to be the case as though it is true. Evidence please.

    “Chrestians; followers of someone named Chrestus”

    There were Chrestians who followed a Chrestus? Okay – please list all the mentions of this sect in ancient sources. And since Tacitus says the founder of the sect he mentions was executed by Pilate in Judea in the reign of Tiberius, please account for the remarkable coincidence of TWO people called “Christus”/”Chrestus”, both executed by Pilate in Judea in Tiberius’ time and both fouding sects with remarkably similar names. Make sure your argument isn’t contrived motivated reasoning and stands up to Occam’s Razor. Good luck.

    And also good reason to reject what Josephus wrote about Jesus as being a late interpolation and/or a misunderstood gloss”

    Most Josephus scholars accept that the Ant. XVIII.63-4 reference is partially authentic and pretty much all of them accept that the Ant. XX.200 one is wholly authentic. The first is debatable, but the second is solid. And no, Carrier’s argument about a marginal note finding its way into the text doesn’t work – it runs counter to the consistent way Josephus introduces people with very common first names, like “Jesus”.

    Perhaps you should ask yourself why you keep referring to fringe arguments that have been rejected as though they are facts.

  43. Tim O says

    @consciousness razor

    “The relevant parts regarding the argument from silence come down the page a bit, under the heading “TO’s Jesus is unfalsifiable.””

    Which means … what, exactly? Plenty of solid ideas in historical analysis are ultimately “unfalsifiable”, because we’re talking history, not physics. The problem with the attempted argument from silence regarding Jesus is that it fails the key criterion for such an argument. It’s not enough to demonstrate a silence in some sources – you have to show that any of these sources SHOULD have mentioned Jesus. This is where Fitzgerald and his ilk fail every time. I discuss this at length here:

    https://historyforatheists.com/2018/05/jesus-mythicism-3-no-contemporary-references-to-jesus/

  44. consciousness razor says

    Which means … what, exactly? Plenty of solid ideas in historical analysis are ultimately “unfalsifiable”, because we’re talking history, not physics.

    First, as I said, I used that heading to direct others to the place on the page where they can start reading. I was not making a claim with it.

    I’ll bite anyway. You’ve of course explained nothing merely by telling me which discipline this is supposed to be. The basic problem with these “solid ideas” is that they are in some sense too solid: they just won’t budge, no matter what. Nothing depends on it, nor does anything lead you there. Nothing works in its favor or against it. It is too slippery, makes it too easy to play that game, like tennis without a net as they say. Rather like theology, or like a lot of Biblical studies (when there’s any difference.)

    I could claim that there was an undetectable ninja-ghost inhabiting central Anatolia during the reign of Trajan. Now, anyone may certainly ask this: is that claim true? Well…. There is no way for anyone to show that it’s wrong. There’s also no way to show that it’s right. It’s just some arbitrary and pointless claim, which seems cooked up to evade scrutiny. Whatever you might say about historical methods in the abstract, do you disagree with that?

  45. Tim O says

    “they just won’t budge, no matter what. Nothing depends on it, nor does anything lead you there. Nothing works in its favor or against it.”

    What is the “it” in those sentences? The likely existence of a historical Jesus? If so, then there is enough “to work in it’s favour” for most non-Christian scholars to accept that he most likely did exist. To begin with, there’s the fact that ALL the sources – Christian or otherwise – say Christianity had a historical founder. Whereas NO sources make any reference to an alternative origin. That alone gives us a powerful prima facie case that there was such a person and means Mythicism starts off with a steep uphill battle to explain the lack of references to the “mythic Jesus” proto-Christianity it has to posit to even get its arguments off the ground.

    “I could claim that there was an undetectable ninja-ghost inhabiting central Anatolia during the reign of Trajan.”

    You could, but since that’s not remotely analogous to anything I’ve ever said, what would be the point? The argument is that there SHOULD be contemporary references to Jesus. I note the reasons that this expectation is not valid, since we have no such references to any other such Jewish preachers, prophets etc. But we do have sufficient later references to them, which is how we know they most likely existed. Ditto for Jesus. That is nothing like your silly analogy above.

  46. consciousness razor says

    I don’t know how you’re confused. I was talking about unfalsifiable claims, in response to you saying that these are just peachy. If you’re walking that back, okay. If you wanted to show it’s false that “TO’s Jesus is unfalsifiable,” even though I wasn’t the one claiming otherwise, then that would be a different argument than something like “unfalsifiable claims are okay outside of physics.”

    Are you making both arguments? I don’t know. It looks like you’ve already volunteered your position that it would not be a problem if your version of Jesus is unfalsifiable, and I have no clue how (or whether) your Jesus is supposed to be significantly different from my ninja-ghost. I just don’t know. You’ll have to untangle that mess, if you want to.

    I’ve only skimmed through your article linked in #48….

    Here Fitzgerald gives breezy assurances about the content of another work which no longer exists. On Superstition survives in just a few sentences quoted by Augustine in his City of God, written four centuries later. So how on earth can Fitzgerald claim that it covers “every known religion” but leaves out Christianity? Given the fact we do not have the work in question, we have no idea what religions it did or did not cover.

    Then why didn’t Augustine have anything to say about it, if Seneca had discussed Christianity? You’re the pro here, so you tell me — wasn’t Augustine that one fellow who was sort of mildly interested in Christianity? Or is it somehow wrong to license ourselves to trivial details like that?

    We modern people don’t know what else was in it, but that doesn’t imply Augustine himself didn’t know (and reacted accordingly, as a more or less normal human being would). We can make some pretty decent inferences in cases like this, not just shrug it off with a silly “we have no idea” and a thin layer of deniability.

    The excuses keep going, one after another…. It’s sort of an interesting pattern, I guess.

  47. neilgodfrey says

    Tim writes:

    Most Josephus scholars accept that the Ant. XVIII.63-4 reference is partially authentic and pretty much all of them accept that the Ant. XX.200 one is wholly authentic.

    In the historian David Hackett Fischer’s words, this is the fallacy of the prevalent proof. We know that the consensus on the Josephus passage about Jesus has changed over time and we would be less than professional to assume it will never change again. Linguist Paul Hopper offers both new perspectives and a fresh look at old ones that weigh very strongly against the consensus. Scholar Ken Olson’s arguments have not been “demolished” yet, either, despite debates.

  48. neilgodfrey says

    Tim O’Neill writes:

    @Owlmirror

    “I know there is good reason to reject Tacitus as mentioning Jesus”

    You “know this? Please cite any recent Tacitus scholar who says so.

    Hi Tim. Again we see FIscher’s fallacy of the prevalent proof. The relevant question to ask here is: What is the “good reason”?

    The arguments are set out by Brent Shaw in The Journal of Roman Studies: Shaw, Brent D. 2015. “The Myth of the Neronian Persecution.” The Journal of Roman Studies 105 (November): 73–100. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0075435815000982.

    There is a response by Christopher Jones: Jones, Christopher P. 2017. “The Historicity of the Neronian Persecution: A Response to Brent Shaw.” New Testament Studies 63: 146–52. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0028688516000308.

    So there is a genuine debate in the peer-reviewed literature.

  49. neilgodfrey says

    Tim O’Neill writes:

    It’s not enough to demonstrate a silence in some sources – you have to show that any of these sources SHOULD have mentioned Jesus. This is where Fitzgerald and his ilk fail every time. I discuss this at length here:

    https://historyforatheists.com/2018/05/jesus-mythicism-3-no-contemporary-references-to-jesus/

    I think you have failed to notice the actual target of David Fitzgerald’s argument in his book Nailed!, Tim. You seem to be saying that DF is arguing that certain silences somehow proves there was no historical Jesus. But anyone who reads that book knows he is addressing the popular gospel version of Jesus as believed in by millions.

    You are correct to say that DF does not in that particular book or section of it disprove the historicity of Jesus per se. But if you have another look you will see exactly what he was addressing.

  50. Tim O says

    I don’t know how you’re confused.

    I quoted you talking about some “it” and asked you what that referred to. You failed to answer. As for “unfalsifiable claims” – they are irrelevant when it comes to historical analysis. Popper’s principle of falsifiability applies to objective scientific statements based on measurement or observation. So I can make the statement that the speed of light is an universal constant of 299 792 458 m/s and someone could potentially falsify this by measuring it as faster or slower in some circumstance. Or I could conclude that simpler lifeforms can evolve into complex ones by observing fossils and geological strata and someone could potentially falsify this by finding vertebrate fossils in Pre-Cambrian strata. But historical arguments are rarely based on objective measurement or observation – they are structured but subjective assessments of likelihood. So historical arguments can’t be “falsified”. You are making a category error.

    Historical arguments can, of course, be countered by other structured but subjective assessments of likelihood that come to a different conclusion and anyone can do that with any of my conclusions about Jesus. My conclusion that we should not expect to find contemporary references to Jesus because we have none for any analogous figures could be countered by someone showing an analogous figure for whom we have contemporary references, for example. Or by arguing that Jesus is a special case and so should be mentioned while other such preachers would not be. But that is not “falsify” my argument, because that is simply not something that we can do in historical analysis.

    Then why didn’t Augustine have anything to say about it, if Seneca had discussed Christianity?

    Who said he discussed Christianity? Not me. The whole point is that Fitzgerald can’t base an argument on the idea that Seneca discussed “every known religion” when we don’t have his work. He could have discussed just some. Or just the ones that interested him. Or just the ones he didn’t like. We have no idea. Fitzgerald makes an argument based on a claim he can’t substantiate.

    The excuses keep going, one after another…. It’s sort of an interesting pattern, I guess.

    What? What “excuses”?

  51. neilgodfrey says

    Oh — and he does indeed discuss his reasons for thinking that those sources SHOULD have mentioned Jesus. Again, you seem only to have read a small section of his book.

  52. Tim O says

    In the historian David Hackett Fischer’s words, this is the fallacy of the prevalent proof.

    Garbage. The person I responded to stated that there are good reasons to conclude Josephus’ references to Jesus are both fraudulent. I simply noted the majority view on one, while acknowledging the opposing idea is valid. Then I noted that pretty much no-one in Josephus studies disputes the Jesus-James reference. Noting these facts is not making any argument, let alone any fallacy.

    Scholar Ken Olson’s arguments have not been “demolished” yet, either, despite debates.

    Why is “demolished” in quote marks there Neil? Did someone say they had been “demolished”? Who? Where? Are you trying to insinuate I have said that by putting that word in quotes? If not, who said this here?

  53. says

    consciousness razor@44,
    In the case of Jesus, who are these people, and why do you believe they should have mentioned Jesus?

    This article from Neil Godfrey (commenter above) lays it out pretty nicely.

    If you continued reading past a simple post, perhaps you would have noticed how unreliable the information was on the neilgodfrey page you just linked. This is the very first example neilgofrey offered:

    Seneca the Younger (c. 3 B.C.E. – 65) . . . Stoic philosopher, writer, statesman, and de facto ruler of the Empire for many years . . . [In] On Superstition, Seneca lambasts every known religion, including Judaism. But strangely, he makes no mention whatsoever of Christianity, which was supposedly spreading like wildfire across the empire. This uncomfortable fact later made Augustine squirm in his theological treatise City of God (book 6, chapter 11) as he tried mightily to explain away Seneca’s glaring omission. . . . (p. 34)

    1) On superstition wasn’t written by Seneca the Younger, it was written by Plutarch.
    2) On superstition is not a historical work, it is chapter of Plutarch’s Moralia, which is devoted to living a virtuous and wise life. Other chapters include topics such as raising children and reading poetry.

    So, the first (presumably best, since it was first) example offered by neilgodfrey is mis-attributed and not in any way a historical work. This is the evidence you have to support there are other historians who should have written about Jesus?

    If you do your homework, you will probably be less embarrassed in the future. I certainly would not trust neilgodfrey to do it for you.

  54. neilgodfrey says

    What a Maroon….. wrote:

    So if we’re playing the credentials game, why should we trust you more than him?

    I have never claimed to be a professional historian. When someone is introduced as a professional historian, and in a setting that indicates that he is to be a representative of how his profession works, we do expect that the person has more than a BA in the field — of if only a BA, to have at least been published in peer reviewed journals.

    It is evident to me that Eddie Marcus has limited awareness of the questions of the philosophy of history and methodology of ancient historians. A BA suggests to me nothing much more than having studied history of a few countries or persons or times of interest, but not the critical stuff that lies behind the “what is history” and “how ancient historians work” questions.

  55. neilgodfrey says

    Jester 700 wrote:

    We need to understand that many ancient writings had miraculous bits inserted; it was just how they wrote, and how they believed. But we can still learn about Julius Ceasar’s life from texts that also include miraculous information about him. And the same for Jesus.

    Correct, but with caveats. We have evidence that stands independently from certain texts about Julius Caesar that establishes his historicity. Some (not all) texts about Julius Caesar that include miracles are written in an entirely different manner from anything we see in the gospels. Ancient historians would express some scepticism, as often as not, when reporting a miracle, and they would often identify their sources for such information in order to establish its credibility. The gospels by comparison read more like ancient Greek novels.

  56. Tim O says

    Again we see FIscher’s fallacy of the prevalent proof. The relevant question to ask here is: What is the “good reason”?

    I’ll choose what questions I ask thanks.

    The arguments are set out by Brent Shaw

    You think I haven’t read Shaw’s paper? Or were you just hoping that no one else here has or will? Because Shaw doesn’t “reject Tacitus as mentioning Jesus”, he just doubts that Tacitus’ connection of Christians with the Great Fire is accurate. Why do you do this stuff Neil? Incompetence? Or something else?

  57. says

    neilgofrey @54

    The arguments are set out by Brent Shaw in The Journal of Roman Studies: Shaw, Brent D. 2015. “The Myth of the Neronian Persecution.” The Journal of Roman Studies 105 (November): 73–100. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0075435815000982.

    You offered this quote as a claim that Tacitus did not mention Jesus. From the abstract to the article:

    Although the passage is probably genuine Tacitus, it reflects ideas and connections prevalent at the time the historian was writing and not the realities of the 60s.

    So, the article confirms that the passage is genuine Tacitus, and does not question it.

    Do you even read the material you link to?

  58. Tim O says

    Oh — and he does indeed discuss his reasons for thinking that those sources SHOULD have mentioned Jesus.

    Yes, and his “discussion” is his usual mix of hyperbole, hysteria and incompetence. I deal with it in detail in my article. Time to go back to ignoring you I think Neil – every time I make the mistake of responding to you I find you haven’t changed. Passive aggressive sneering, distortion, misrepresentation and deceit. Get a hobby.

  59. neilgodfrey says

    Ed Seedhouse wrote:

    Well, I think that we kind of know that there were people living around those parts at the time. It would not be surprising that one of the itinerant preachers of the time impressed more people than the other ones, nor that he would be executed as a troublemaker. So I think that needs little evidence to be a convincing explanation for the arising of the Jesus myth.

    It is entirely plausible that Jesus was one such figure. At the same time there is no evidence that he was.

    Historians who know their craft understand that the way to approach such questions is to ask for the best explanation that accounts for the documents that report or narrate what they do about such and such. If we find evidence that the gospels were developed from weaving together rewrites of other stories in the Old Testament then that is evidence (not proof) that Jesus was a literary figure rather than a historical one.

    And so it goes – it’s about setting out all the evidence and seeing the best explanation. (Of course I have only alluded to one type of evidence; there is much, much more obviously.)

  60. neilgodfrey says

    Tim wrote:

    It’s not enough to demonstrate a silence in some sources – you have to show that any of these sources SHOULD have mentioned Jesus. This is where Fitzgerald and his ilk fail every time.

    And then

    Yes, and his “discussion” is his usual mix of hyperbole, hysteria and incompetence. I deal with it in detail in my article.

    I think readers who compare their reading of Nailed with your critique can decide for themselves if he is guilty as charged.

  61. Tim O says

    Do you even read the material you link to?

    This is pretty typical of Slippery Neil Godfrey. Though since I’m a charitable guy, it could simply be blundering incompetence rather than deliberate deception. With Neil it is always hard to tell.

  62. neilgodfrey says

    Tim O’Neill writes:

    Shaw doesn’t “reject Tacitus as mentioning Jesus”, he just doubts that Tacitus’ connection of Christians with the Great Fire is accurate.

    Brent Shaw writes of Tacitus’s reference to Jesus and Christians:

    In the Annales, Tacitus lays stress on the execution of Jesus by Pontius Pilatus under Tiberius. The origins of a terrible affliction that was to erupt again later and to threaten the Empire are located by him in Judaea and in the reign of Tiberius. Yet in the Histories he had nothing to say about any
    of this. His sole remark, in just three words, is that everything in Judaea was just fine under Tiberius: ‘sub Tiberio quies’. Despite the historian’s different agenda in the Histories, that silence, I would argue, suggests that a different kind of information had come to the historian’s attention in the years after he wrote the Histories.

    The rationale for the mentioning of Jesus is to provide context for the Christian connection to the fire. I suggest it is splitting hairs to suggest that the Jesus reference is untouched by the larger argument.

  63. neilgodfrey says

    One Brow wrote:

    1) On superstition wasn’t written by Seneca the Younger, it was written by Plutarch.
    2) On superstition is not a historical work, it is chapter of Plutarch’s Moralia, which is devoted to living a virtuous and wise life. Other chapters include topics such as raising children and reading poetry.

    So, the first (presumably best, since it was first) example offered by neilgodfrey is mis-attributed and not in any way a historical work. This is the evidence you have to support there are other historians who should have written about Jesus?

    If you do your homework, you will probably be less embarrassed in the future. I certainly would not trust neilgodfrey to do it for you.

    On Superstition is a fairly generic type of title and Seneca the Younger did indeed write a work known as “On Superstition” — of which we have references and fragments. Closest citation that comes to hand: https://books.google.com.au/books?id=Ayf057kcuJsC&pg=PA514&lpg=PA514&dq=seneca+%22on+superstition%22&source=bl&ots=w4XjzWwcin&sig=QToIxbJl9dfulThFm7HQqec1ly8&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiyv47Fy6fdAhUXfd4KHWUVDJgQ6AEwAXoECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=seneca%20%22on%20superstition%22&f=false

  64. neilgodfrey says

    One Brow wrote:

    You offered this quote as a claim that Tacitus did not mention Jesus. From the abstract to the article:

    Although the passage is probably genuine Tacitus, it reflects ideas and connections prevalent at the time the historian was writing and not the realities of the 60s.

    So, the article confirms that the passage is genuine Tacitus, and does not question it.

    Do you even read the material you link to?

    I am glad to know that contrary to some suggestions I do try to include sufficient information to allow people to check for themselves and open up an informed discussion. I am happy to discuss further when you have read the rest of the quote and article.

    I do slip up when I sometimes jump in from faulty memory at times and I’ve had to apologize when I’ve done so. But I do try to get things right, as we all do.

  65. neilgodfrey says

    Tim O’Neill writes of me:

    Passive aggressive

    This reminds me of biblical scholar Larry Hurtado faulting my posts and comments for their civility. He accused me of not showing what I really felt — I felt like I was being faulted for not being as abusive etc as some biblical scholars.

    Tim, I do object to bullying and over-confidence in historical claims in arguments and I do think it not a bad idea to attempt to point out that there are other arguments (even reasonable ones) to consider against some of your points. I think more attention in particular needs to be paid to methods and ensuring validity of argument.

  66. consciousness razor says

    Then why didn’t Augustine have anything to say about it, if Seneca had discussed Christianity?

    Who said he discussed Christianity? Not me. The whole point is that Fitzgerald [blah]

    Don’t tell me what your whole point is regarding Fitzgerald. Respectfully, I do not care.

    Nobody here needs to say he discussed Christianity. It only needs to be something you suppose happened, so that you may follow the logic. If he did write about Jesus and/or early Christians, then it seems doubtful that Augustine would have failed to discuss it. There is no such discussion from Augustine, a person who does not share our pitiful epistemic state of not knowing the many wondrous things contained in On Superstition, and one who certainly did have a strong interest in the topic at hand. That is information we can use. I think it’s a pretty safe bet, given what we know about Augustine, that Jesus and early Christianity wasn’t on Seneca’s radar.

    But do what you will with that information. I just can’t wrap my head around the idea that you weren’t even considering the (apparently) counterfactual case, in which Seneca’s now-fragmentary mystery book did contain some kind of evidence for Jesus. How would things have played out in that situation? I would say that if Augustine happened to be discussing the text anyway, he would’ve said something about that, because that’s just the sort of fucking guy he was.

    If I’m doing history wrong … okay, sure. That’s entirely within the realm of possibility, but I don’t think I’m doing the logic wrong. So you explain how I’ve gone wrong, if that’s what you think.

    Do we need more logicians in the house too, as well as historians?

  67. says

    On Superstition is a fairly generic type of title and Seneca the Younger did indeed write a work known as “On Superstition” — of which we have references and fragments.

    In fact, we don’t have a title for Seneca’s book. All we have is Augustine’s “For in that book which he wrote against superstition,”. We don’t even know if this was written before or after 40 AD. Even dating it as late as 65AD, there is little reason for Seneca to think of the Jews and Christians as different.

  68. says

    neilgodfrey@68

    I suggest it is splitting hairs to suggest that the Jesus reference is untouched by the larger argument.

    This reads to me like goal-post shifting. It’s not an argument Tacitus is an interpolation, or considered Jesus anything other than historical.

  69. says

    @One Brow

    When you take one line from the Philippian hymn and disregard the context you are bound to make the sort of mistake you made here. First it talks about not taking advantage of being equal with God, then follows up with Jesus taking the form of a human instead. It’s a story about some god-like being taking on the likeness or appearance of a man, not actually a man.

    This is evidence which would indicate the trajectory of the Jesus in literature is from a god to a man, not as some prefer a man who came to be worshiped as a god.

    With regard to translating adelphen as ‘sister’ is because that would be a literal translation, like adelphoi is often translated as ‘brothers’. As you point out, many translations recognize that these ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ are not biological relationships. Which was my point. The phrase translated as ‘brother of the Lord’ is ambiguous at best.

    Glad I could help talk you through this!

  70. says

    conciousnessrazor@51

    Then why didn’t Augustine have anything to say about it, if Seneca had discussed Christianity?

    Augustine says he did not discuss it at all. But why would Seneca think of Christianity as separate from Judaism, assuming it even existed when Seneca wrote his work against superstitions?

  71. says

    proudfootz@75,

    First it talks about not taking advantage of being equal with God, then follows up with Jesus taking the form of a human instead.

    I know that’s what Trinitarians want it to say, but in fact there is no indications in Philippians, nor anywhere else in Paul, of Jesus being co-equal with God. You can only use the “context” argument by supplying actual context. Your personal beliefs are not context.

    With regard to translating adelphen as ‘sister’ is because that would be a literal translation, like adelphoi is often translated as ‘brothers’.

    Of course, the point is adelphoi tou kyriou indicates something more than just adelphoi, which is why all Christians are adelphoi, but the adelphoi tou kyriou are separate from groups like the apostles.

    Glad I could help talk you through this!

    Feel free to no longer help me by presenting warmed-over Trinitarian notions and counters that ignore the main point.

  72. consciousness razor says

    But why would Seneca think of Christianity as separate from Judaism, assuming it even existed when Seneca wrote his work against superstitions?

    He wouldn’t need to. Sorry, please don’t be caught up in the term “Christianity,” which unfortunately isn’t really what I meant there. The issue is not whether he distinguishes Christianity and Judaism. Maybe it’s no concern of yours (or it just hasn’t occurred to you), but implicitly, you’re accepting that he’s not talking about any of the events in the gospel narratives. Call them Jews or Christians or whatever you like, there’s still nothing to report about them doing that stuff, as far as he’s concerned. If there was some big ruckus involving a cult consisting of Jesus and his followers, as well as a few decades of aftermath following his crucifixion, that at least seems to escaped his attention somehow. But he was alive throughout that whole period and would’ve been in a position to know about it. As were quite a few others. Philo of Alexandria seems like another good candidate.

  73. says

    @One Brow

    I know that’s what Trinitarians want it to say, but in fact there is no indications in Philippians, nor anywhere else in Paul, of Jesus being co-equal with God. You can only use the “context” argument by supplying actual context. Your personal beliefs are not context.

    I’m just reading what the text says. It’s not my problem or concern what Trinitarians might believe. The text Paul approvingly quotes talks about Jesus taking on the appearance of being a human. The clear inference is that Jesus is not a human, otherwise he could come as he was.

    For those who want citations, check out these many translations of the verse in question:
    https://biblehub.com/philippians/2-6.htm

    Some samples: being in very nature God; he was God; he was in the form of God; existing in the form of God; was truly God; had the nature of God; shared with God equality….

    It would appear your claim that “there is no indications in Philippians, nor anywhere else in Paul, of Jesus being co-equal with God” is bullshit.

    Of course, the point is adelphoi tou kyriou indicates something more than just adelphoi, which is why all Christians are adelphoi, but the adelphoi tou kyriou are separate from groups like the apostles.

    Yes, everyone knows about christians adopting fictive kinships like ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’. That’s how we get Paul’s angelic Jesus appearing to 500 brothers at a time. Why you insist that in this one instance Paul must have meant a biological relationship is anyone’s guess. But I’m not buying into your pretzel logic.

  74. says

    consciousness razor@78,

    Maybe it’s no concern of yours (or it just hasn’t occurred to you), but implicitly, you’re accepting that he’s not talking about any of the events in the gospel narratives.

    I’m not claiming most of the events (certainly not the miraculous ones) occurred, and whatever events did occur historically were probably exaggerated in the gospel narratives (which were all written well after Seneca died). I’m only discussing whether it’s more reasonable to believe that Jesus was a historical preacher, or whether there was no such historical person. Fitzgerald/neilgodfrey offers Seneca as evidence of someone writing about history that should have written about Jesus, had he existed as a historical person (as opposed to the supernatural Jesus of the gospels).

    If there was some big ruckus involving a cult consisting of Jesus and his followers, as well as a few decades of aftermath following his crucifixion, that at least seems to escaped his attention somehow.

    Since we seem to have no clue when Seneca’s book against superstition was written, we don’t know if even one year passed between it’s writing and the death of any historical Jesus, much less decades. At the very latest, when Seneca died in 65AD, the Christian were still a very small group that were not causing any particular large ruckus.

    But he was alive throughout that whole period …

    He wasn’t.

  75. says

    proudfootz@79

    I’m just reading what the text says.

    Your reading what the text says in the NIV, which was translated with doctrinal concerns in mind by Trinitarians. When I offered an alternative translation from both the NASB and NABRE (also by Trinitarians, but with more of focus on accurate transmission), you started whining about how those two translations were out of context. If you really want to read what the text says (to the degree that the actual text of the Bible matters at all), you can look at an interlinear, or go with a more serious translation than the NIV.

    The clear inference is that Jesus is not a human, otherwise he could come as he was.

    Yes, I agreed above the Paul does not think of Jesus as merely human, but of also having a heavenly pre-existence. This does not mean Paul thinks of Jesus as co-equal with God. There are intermediary forms of existence, for Paul. This also does not mean that Paul thinks Jesus had no earthly existence; the Bible has many stories of heavenly beings who take on physical existence in one way or another.

    For those who want citations, check out these many translations of the verse in question:
    https://biblehub.com/philippians/2-6.htm

    Some samples: being in very nature God; he was God; he was in the form of God; existing in the form of God; was truly God; had the nature of God; shared with God equality….

    What a dull game. These are all from different translations:

    did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
    did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
    did not consider to be equal with God something to be grasped,
    did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
    did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped,
    did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped,
    did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,

    What really matters is not just what is translated, but who is doing the translating, what sources did they use, and what their purposes are. To put up the Good News Bible as an equivalent translation to the NASB is laughable.

    It would appear your claim that “there is no indications in Philippians, nor anywhere else in Paul, of Jesus being co-equal with God” is bullshit.

    It would appear you are incapable of dealing with the notion of translator bias directly, or of adapting your argument to the notion. Unless you bring something new to this, I’m done with this particular topic. If you want to swallow Trinitarian revisionism, I can’t think of a reason to I should care.

    Yes, everyone knows about christians adopting fictive kinships like ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’. That’s how we get Paul’s angelic Jesus appearing to 500 brothers at a time. Why you insist that in this one instance Paul must have meant a biological relationship is anyone’s guess. But I’m not buying into your pretzel logic.

    I appreciate your continued inability to adapt to the argument presented. I thank you for the laugh you gave me when, after you scolded me about the importance of context for Phillipians 2 (while presenting no context to support your position, just alternate translations from biased translators), you then completely disregard my argument regarding context in 1 Corinthians 9 (the difference between how adelphoi and adelphoi tou kyriou are used by Paul) as “pretzel logic”. My days get long and tedious, so feel free to respond if you want to give me more to laugh about (or, if you prefer, make an response that actually addresses what I wrote).

  76. says

    @One Brow

    Yes, you are finished. You just have no argument, so you never really started.

    I don’t know or care what so-called Trinitarians teach. It makes no difference to me. I’m just reading the text as it comes: it’s pretty clear that no itinerant preacher is required to inspire someone to write about a god who takes on the appearance of a man. If it was talking about a man then there would be no need to take on the likeness or appearance of a man.

    Parsimony recommends we ditch the historical Jesus hypothesis. It’s not necessary to explain anything.

    Of course I recognize such a thing as translator bias – that is how we get so many versions from Corinthians that put ‘christian’ in place of ‘sister’. Again you miss the point of what I wrote. Apparently these translators – the experts – are capable or recognizing that these texts do include fictive relationships. Perhaps you should think about the log of bias in your own eye when you claim Paul met a biological brother of Jesus?

    When you decide to stop playing your dull-minded games and try and grapple with the evidence that the earliest literature we have about Jesus is as a transcendent divine being who is only much later given an Earthly career in the fan fiction we know as the New Testament, then you will have an actual contribution to the discussion.

  77. consciousness razor says

    I’m not claiming most of the events (certainly not the miraculous ones) occurred, and whatever events did occur historically were probably exaggerated in the gospel narratives (which were all written well after Seneca died). I’m only discussing whether it’s more reasonable to believe that Jesus was a historical preacher, or whether there was no such historical person.

    That’s fine, but you still have to nail down which specific events you are claiming. Otherwise, your historical preacher would be as invisible as my ninja-ghost. It’s not reasonable to believe something like that. It’s a failure (or an outright refusal) to give any such reasons.

    Since we seem to have no clue when Seneca’s book against superstition was written, we don’t know if even one year passed between it’s writing and the death of any historical Jesus, much less decades.

    But this was just one of Seneca’s many writings, and it’s not as if we have him writing about Jesus elsewhere. He’s completely silent about it, as far as anybody can tell. That’s the point. You can infer this about the text on superstition (even though it’s fragmentary), but not only about that. And the larger point is that you can notice this not only about Seneca, but also about everybody else from the time period.

    But he was alive throughout that whole period …

    He wasn’t.

    Seneca’s dates are 4 B.C. – 65 A.D. You’re seriously telling me that none of the events described in the gospels are supposed to be in that time period?
    That just wouldn’t make any sense…. If you somehow got the impression that I was talking about some other time period, you’re mistaken.

  78. says

    proudfootz@83
    Yes, you are finished. You just have no argument, so you never really started.

    Well, no argument you bothered to address.

    I’m just reading the text as it comes: it’s pretty clear that no itinerant preacher is required to inspire someone to write about a god who takes on the appearance of a man. If it was talking about a man then there would be no need to take on the likeness or appearance of a man.

    Is that all you were trying to say? Then I agree, as I mentioned before. Paul does not think Jesus was just a man. I assume you also agree that Paul thinks Jesus has a physical presence on earth, since according to Paul he took the form of a man.

    Parsimony recommends we ditch the historical Jesus hypothesis. It’s not necessary to explain anything.

    Well, except for Josephus referring to a historical person, and Tacitus, and Paul referring to Jesus as having physical brothers, one of whom was also mentioned in Josephus. Of course, none of that is relevant to Philippians.

    Of course I recognize such a thing as translator bias –

    That’s a good start. Now, let’s work on context.

    Perhaps you should think about the log of bias in your own eye when you claim Paul met a biological brother of Jesus?

    Perhaps you could come up with an alternative explanation for why apostles are adelphoi, but a separate group from adelphoi tou kyriou in the two places Paul uses the latter phrase?

    When you decide to stop playing your dull-minded games and try and grapple with the evidence that the earliest literature we have about Jesus is as a transcendent divine being who is only much later given an Earthly career in the fan fiction we know as the New Testament, then you will have an actual contribution to the discussion.

    The earliest literature we have about Jesus (Paul’s letters) mention both his (to Paul) divine being and his having had earthly brothers; the latter is confirmed by a non-Christian historian later that century (in addition to other testimonies of writers in the Christian tradition).

    I do agree the game you started was dull-minded.

    Going back to you@29,

    Most of what was written in the first couple of centuries about regarding this Jesus is fantastic, contradictory, and unverifiable. If there ever was an historical Jesus he was quickly buried under a mountain of myth. For instance Paul is thought to be one of our earliest sources (very nearly a contemporary), and his Jesus is a very exalted figure with only the vaguest hints of some kind of career.

    I agree with those sentiments. Most of the writing is mythical, any historical Jesus did get buried under a mountain of myth, and Paul only offers a few hints as to an earthly career in his writings.

    Most is not all (there are bare, non-mythical references by non-Christians). Being buried under myth does mean you never existed. Paul does refer more extensively to details about a church he joined after it had already begun work; his ideas are not the beginning of the Christian sect.

    It isn’t until later that we get the familiar narrative about being born humbly, having a career as an itinerant preacher in Judea, gathering Disciples, and so on at a particular place at a particular time…. This would be the absolute reverse of the notion that people knew about a charismatic figure who died and stayed dead, and over time a cult developed a High Christology.

    How do you know this? Are there other ancient religions that followed the pattern you seem to suggest should have happened? Do you think it is just common sense?

    Adding a mysterious ‘historical Jesus’ is not parsimonious – it adds nothing essential or meaningful to how christian literature developed.

    Does having a non-historical Jesus add something essential or meaningful to how Christian literature developed?

    More importantly, should we use the effect of Jesus’ existence or non-existence on the development of Christian literature at the standard for determining whether or not there was a historical man upon which the myths are based?

  79. says

    consciousness razor@84,

    That’s fine, but you still have to nail down which specific events you are claiming.

    I believe Tacitus refers to him being crucified under Pontius Pilate, which implies some sort of preaching work beforehand. I don’t claim any other specific event that that. It seems likely that he preached some in Galilee and showed up for about a week in Jerusalem before being killed.

    But this was just one of Seneca’s many writings, and it’s not as if we have him writing about Jesus elsewhere.

    In which book, specifically, can you say that Seneca should have written about some historical Jesus, but did not?

    And the larger point is that you can notice this not only about Seneca, but also about everybody else from the time period.

    The question is, why should we think any of these particular writers would have been interested in some preacher who showed up for a about a week in Jerusalem? Which of those writers would have cared?

    Seneca’s dates are 4 B.C. – 65 A.D. You’re seriously telling me that none of the events described in the gospels are supposed to be in that time period?

    The events in the gospels? You asked me about when there was “… some big ruckus involving a cult consisting of Jesus and his followers”, and as I took pains to point out, that’s not during the period of the gospels. By the time the Christians were a group large enough to cause any sort of big ruckus, Seneca was dead.

    That just wouldn’t make any sense…. If you somehow got the impression that I was talking about some other time period, you’re mistaken.

    Then, to be clear, I don’t see any evidence for any big ruckus from Christians in Seneca lifetime, so I don’t see why Seneca would be expected to talk about it.

  80. Owlmirror says

    At this point, the argument may have gone past this, but I’ll still respond:

    “since Tacitus is reporting what he has been told about Christians”

    He is? Please quote where Tacitus tells us this. Or please tell us how you know this if Tacitus doesn’t actually say or indicate that this is what he is doing.

    This is a reasonable inference given that Tacitus is not a Christian himself, nor did he live in or near Judea in the appropriate time period. He is not reporting first-hand knowledge.

    At the time Tacitus was writing — the end of the first century and the beginning of the second — at least the earliest of the gospels had already been composed, and it’s reasonable to infer that at that late date, knowledge of their contents had circulated outside of the groups of Christians. All of the gospels include the crucifixion of Jesus by Pontius Pilate, of course. So when Tacitus writes of the “extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus”, it is at least possible that he is reporting, at a remove, only what Christians were saying about Jesus Christ.

    Now, you could rebut that it is possible that Tacitus was reporting, at a remove, what Roman records said about Jesus, but there’s nothing that makes that more certain than the other scenario, and it certainly seems that it is less probable, given that the gospels were published widely, whereas any Roman record would have been in an archive many decades old. Would Tacitus dig through those archives, or would he just report what he heard that Christians were saying about their own religion?

    “Chrestians; followers of someone named Chrestus”

    There were Chrestians who followed a Chrestus? Okay – please list all the mentions of this sect in ancient sources.

    Well, there is Suetonius writing about the time of Claudius.

    And since Tacitus says the founder of the sect he mentions was executed by Pilate in Judea in the reign of Tiberius, please account for the remarkable coincidence of TWO people called “Christus”/”Chrestus”, both executed by Pilate in Judea in Tiberius’ time and both fouding sects with remarkably similar names.

    I did think that it is at least possible that Tacitus was conflating two groups with similar names — followers of one Chrestus (who did not live or die in Judea) in Rome, who were persecuted by Nero and expelled by Claudius, and Christians, worshippers/followers of Jesus Christ. Consider how Muslims and Sikhs are conflated by racists on the basis of dark skin and the wearing of turbans. But if you want to invoke Occam’s Razor on this point, by all means, do so.

    Most Josephus scholars accept that the Ant. XVIII.63-4 reference is partially authentic and pretty much all of them accept that the Ant. XX.200 one is wholly authentic. The first is debatable

    Indeed. Why would Origen be silent about Josephus saying something even neutral about Jesus, since he’s so desperate to argue against Celsus that he picks up on that one line about James?

    but the second is solid. And no, Carrier’s argument about a marginal note finding its way into the text doesn’t work – it runs counter to the consistent way Josephus introduces people with very common first names, like “Jesus”.

    Even those who think the line “. . . the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, . . . ” is authentic agree that the wording is unusual for Josephus.

  81. consciousness razor says

    The events in the gospels?

    Or, since you’ve been vague about it, whatever you say happened during Jesus’ lifetime, even if it’s not in the gospels. You’ve now told me the crucifixion is one such event, so we can go with that.

    You asked me about when there was “… some big ruckus involving a cult consisting of Jesus and his followers”, and as I took pains to point out, that’s not during the period of the gospels.

    ((facepalm)) Not the period when they were written, which is obviously much later — the time period in which any or all of the described events supposedly took place. A period after Jesus is dead obviously does not have any groups consisting of Jesus and company.

    By the time the Christians were a group large enough to cause any sort of big ruckus, Seneca was dead.

    If you say so, but this is just your assumption.

    In any case, well before that, Jesus was also dead. We weren’t looking for evidence of just any old group of Christians, doing any old thing. It was supposed to be evidence which supports the existence of Jesus (if that includes any of his followers while he was alive, that’s not probably). If he was real, something or other happened during Jesus’s own lifetime, even if at the very end, as in the case of the crucifixion.

  82. consciousness razor says

    sorry, correction:
    ” (if that includes any of his followers while he was alive, that’s not a problem)”

  83. Rob Grigjanis says

    cr @88:

    ((facepalm)) Not the period when they were written, which is obviously much later — the time period in which any or all of the described events supposedly took place.

    Engaging with you is often like trying to come to grips with a wet bar of soap. It’s obvious from context that One Brow is talking about the period covered by the gospels, not the period in which they were written.

  84. consciousness razor says

    It’s obvious from context that One Brow is talking about the period covered by the gospels, not the period in which they were written.

    He took a quote from me, here:

    If there was some big ruckus involving a cult consisting of Jesus and his followers, as well as a few decades of aftermath following his crucifixion, that at least seems to escaped his attention somehow. But he was alive throughout that whole period and would’ve been in a position to know about it.

    This was denied, simply by saying “He wasn’t.” What’s denied, specifically and directly, in the part from my comment which One Brow quoted and wanted to contest, is the claim that Seneca was alive throughout that whole period.

    Which period? The period that I had just specified: when there was a cult “consisting of Jesus and his followers,” as well as a period afterward. That wouldn’t make any sense, because Seneca was alive then, precisely the time when there would’ve been a group consisting of Jesus and others. So I responded accordingly.

    I suspect One Brow was trying to deny that there was “some big ruckus.” That seems to be the sticking point. But that’s not a denial that Seneca was alive throughout that period, which had been the explicit point of contention. There’s some kind of claim in there, that such things only happened much later, after Christianity grew … although single individuals can make their mark, so increasing the numbers wouldn’t have been necessary. (Perhaps by the time the gospels were written? Seemed like a reasonable interpretation to me, since Seneca was certainly dead then.)

    In any case, it’s not my fault that there was any such confusion…. I wasn’t the one slipping and sliding around. There could have been some actual argument, explaining why we should think there was no big ruckus, as opposed to a vague assertion. But there’s no evidence of this being the case. It’s just the only sort of coherent story to be conjured up, which apologizes for why there is no such evidence.

  85. says

    consciousness razor@88,

    Or, since you’ve been vague about it, whatever you say happened during Jesus’ lifetime, even if it’s not in the gospels. You’ve now told me the crucifixion is one such event, so we can go with that.

    Great, let’s go with it. You’ve got a list of all the crucified people Seneca wrote about? Any reason to suspect he would write about this one particular crucified person?

    ((facepalm)) Not the period when they were written, which is obviously much later — the time period in which any or all of the described events supposedly took place. A period after Jesus is dead obviously does not have any groups consisting of Jesus and company.

    Hopefully, the palm will knock some understanding into your head. There is no big ruckus during the time supposedly covered by the gospels, as far as I can tell. Why do you keep saying there is?

    If you say so, but this is just your assumption.

    Well, me and the mainstream of historians. What’s your estimate on the number of followers of Jesus in 32AD? 33AD? Why do you think there are so many Seneca would notice?

    It was supposed to be evidence which supports the existence of Jesus (if that includes any of his followers while he was alive, that’s not probably). If he was real, something or other happened during Jesus’s own lifetime, even if at the very end, as in the case of the crucifixion.

    We have evidence from Tacitus, Josephus, and Paul himself. Are you saying that because there were no Christian riots, Jesus did not exist? If not, what is your point here?

    If there was some big ruckus involving a cult consisting of Jesus and his followers, as well as a few decades of aftermath following his crucifixion, that at least seems to escaped his attention somehow. But he was alive throughout that whole period and would’ve been in a position to know about it.

    There is no “few decades” of aftermath in the life of Seneca. At most 32 years, and for most of that, there is a very small sect that considers itself to be basically Jewish.

    I haven’t made any claims that a big ruckus was created; you brought that into the conversation with zero evidence it occurred.

    In any case, it’s not my fault that there was any such confusion…. I wasn’t the one slipping and sliding around.

    No one blames you. I am sure this is the very best you can do.

  86. neilgodfrey says

    Tim O’Neill @ #58 wrote:

    In the historian David Hackett Fischer’s words, this is the fallacy of the prevalent proof.

    Garbage. The person I responded to stated that there are good reasons to conclude Josephus’ references to Jesus are both fraudulent. I simply noted the majority view on one, while acknowledging the opposing idea is valid. Then I noted that pretty much no-one in Josephus studies disputes the Jesus-James reference. Noting these facts is not making any argument, let alone any fallacy.

    Appealing to the prevalent view to make your point against an argument is indeed according to well known historian David Hackett Fischer (author of Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought the fallacy of the prevalent proof. Of course we are aware in the debate over the historicity of Jesus that we are re-examining all the standard views of the evidence and of course we are in many cases looking at problems or at least serious questions about interpretations that are the current consensus. Just trying to say that that’s what we are doing is not a relevant argument or point to make at all.

    Tim O’Neill @ #58 wrote:

    Scholar Ken Olson’s arguments have not been “demolished” yet, either, despite debates.

    Why is “demolished” in quote marks there Neil? Did someone say they had been “demolished”? Who? Where? Are you trying to insinuate I have said that by putting that word in quotes? If not, who said this here?

    I think you are being overly sensitive to the use of the quotes. Have you written something on Ken’s arguments? I’m really not the sly sneaky person you keep saying I am. Perhaps you are falling victim to your own well-poisoning (another informal fallacy).

  87. neilgodfrey says

    At #73 One Brow wrote:

    On Superstition is a fairly generic type of title and Seneca the Younger did indeed write a work known as “On Superstition” — of which we have references and fragments.

    In fact, we don’t have a title for Seneca’s book. All we have is Augustine’s “For in that book which he wrote against superstition,”. We don’t even know if this was written before or after 40 AD. Even dating it as late as 65AD, there is little reason for Seneca to think of the Jews and Christians as different.

    One Brow, you were talking about not trusting me to do your homework for you. But I did look up a citation for you to demonstrate that Seneca is known to be responsible for a work that is cited as On Superstition. If you clicked on that link you would have seen it. I did do your homework for you and gave you the correct answer.

  88. neilgodfrey says

    At #74 One Brow wrote:

    I suggest it is splitting hairs to suggest that the Jesus reference is untouched by the larger argument.

    This reads to me like goal-post shifting. It’s not an argument Tacitus is an interpolation, or considered Jesus anything other than historical.

    You are correct and I am embarrassed because it must look like goal-post shifting. It is in fact worse. I misremembered the details of the article I was discussing and on re-reading it I see that I should have limited my point to make it clear that the article points out that there have been numerous scholarly publications arguing for the possibility of interpolation in the past. Even Richard Carrier is cited as one instance of a recent attempt, and a note is made that Richard cites many other scholars who have in the past argued the interpolation thesis. On pages 79-80 Shaw writes:

    The possibility has been frequently suspected and continues to hail forth a fair number of detailed studies. Half a century ago a commentator on the passage was already able humorously to note that the investigators who had devoted themselves to the interpolation problem themselves constituted a multitudo ingens.36

    36. The comment on the massive bibliography was made by Getty 1966: 285. In his Teubner edition of the Annales, Wellesley 1986 brackets the words from auctor nominis eius to conuunt celebranturque as if they were an actual set-aside excursus in the text (although not, I think, suggesting that they were an interpolation). For a recent foray in support of interpolation, see Carrier 2014: 264–83, who cites many of the earlier studies.

    37. For advice and discussion on the problem of the Tacitean Latinity and authorship of the passage, I am especially grateful to A. J. Woodman, Denis Feeney, and Robert Kaster.

    My memory was confusing Shaw’s article with Earl Doherty’s because many of his arguments are very similar to Doherty’s — who came to the interpolation conclusion as per the earlier scholars.

    I suspect the arguments for interpolation are strong and that the change in view (though I don’t know if it is a consensus today) coincides with the shift in consensus on the Testamonium Flavianum in Josephus — and is accordingly related to the emerging dominance of North American (cum a more fundamentalist or conservative biblical scholarship) in studies of Christian origins. Classicists are not biblical scholars, obviously, but we have seen even a few classicists/ancient historians swing over to the methods and views of the more conservative theologians (e.g. Michael Grant). There has been a strong conservative shift in a range of such interpretations so that the old radical schools from Europe no longer have the sway they once did.

    But as for sly intent, I trust you will also recall or at least go back and remind yourself that at the same time I cited how to access Shaw’s article I also linked an opposing view. If you peruse my blog you will see that’s how I do work — I like to address and critique all sides of an argument.

  89. says

    @neilgodfrey

    Thanks for your site – a valuable resource for everyone interested in a disinterested and balanced discussion of the issues involved in the development of early christianity.

  90. neilgodfrey says

    At #88 Consciousness Razor wrote:

    If he was real, something or other happened during Jesus’s own lifetime, even if at the very end, as in the case of the crucifixion.

    Interestingly there is evidence that the crucifixion was not a central point for all early communities we call “Christian”. It was for Paul and the gospels, obviously, and since they became the heart of the orthodox church we easily assume that their central idea, the crucifixion, was a primary focus of all early Christ groups.

    But the community of Q found no place for it in their document, and the Didache (some date this to even prior to the gospels) has a eucharist that has no association with the body and blood of Jesus. It is a thanksgiving meal. And Paul had to contend with “false apostles” who opposed the cross, he said. Some believe these enemies of Paul were possibly of the types responsible for the Book of Revelation and its conquering Christ.

  91. says

    neilgodfrey

    One Brow, you were talking about not trusting me to do your homework for you. But I did look up a citation for you to demonstrate that Seneca is known to be responsible for a work that is cited as On Superstition. If you clicked on that link you would have seen it. I did do your homework for you and gave you the correct answer.

    Well, since you know Seneca’s lost book as On Superstition, and cite it that way, it is trivially true that Seneca’s work against superstition is known and cited that way, and the addition of some other minor scholar who is not a specialist in Ancient languages (given his bibliography) does not make the trivially true into something false. That’s why I did not dispute what you said it was known by. Sure, when you Google “On Superstition”,the field is dominated by Plutarch, but there is no reason to give a similar named to an unnamed work of Seneca, even when Augustine uses “against superstition”.

    I suppose I was not supposed to notice that you did not dispute my points that we don’t know when Seneca’s work was written, nor did you give a reason why Seneca would not think of the Christians as being a Jewish sect. Still, it’s nice of you to hammer home an undisputed point.

    But as for sly intent,

    Rest assured, I have no pinion on your intent. I have seen techniques such as goal-post shifting used with no intent to deceive, often without people realizing what they were doing.

    From your quote of the 36th footnote, it seems that most of the people arguing for an interpolation were prior to 1966.

  92. says

    All empirical evidence shows that Jesus is just a mythical character and never existed. If Jesus had existed, there would be secular and biblical accounts from his time. Not one exists. No known person wrote about him at that time, despite the fact that there were over 20 men who should have, and the Bible claims that he was known far and wide.

    The Jesus story also contains many elements from previous “pagan” religions, showing its mythical roots.

    Paul lived at much the same time as Jesus’ supposed time. He wrote about a celestial Jesus of a nonspecific time, whose life and death had occurred in the heavens. Paul also thought that Peter and James were competing epistle writers. Paul wrote in Gal. 2:6 that the apostles in Jerusalem (including James and Cephas/Peter) added nothing to his message, and in Gal. 2:11 he opposed Cephas/Peter. Neither verse makes sense if Paul thought that they had known a real Jesus. Paul does often refer to the Lord’s brothers, but this is likely just a term for fellow baptized Christians.

    Paul did not write about any of Jesus’ life, disciples, teachings or miracles — which he would have if Jesus had existed. Paul wrote in Heb. 8:4, “If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already men who offer the gifts prescribed by the law.” Paul also wrote (in Rom. 16:25-26, Gal. 1:11,12) that he knew Jesus through revelation, which is another term for fantasy and delusions. We can also tell that people were accusing Paul of lying, because he attempted to defend himself in Rom. 3:5-8.

    The gospels were written by unknown authors in the 70’s and later as stories, not eyewitness accounts. The two birth stories, in Matthew and Luke, differ substantially. Matthew has Jesus born in Joseph’s Bethlehem home, during the time of Herod the Great (who died in 5 or 4 BCE). Luke has the traditional story with the manger, during the census conducted by Quirinius in 6 CE (about 10 years later). They both referred to Bethlehem to fulfill a supposed prophecy in Micah 5:2.

    The gospel stories got better and more elaborate as they were copied and added to over time. Mark (the earliest) has Jesus fearful about his upcoming death. John (the last) has Jesus looking forward to it. Many other stories also change between gospels and even translations.

    Even the term “Jesus of Nazareth” is an artificial construct. The evidence shows that Nazareth was likely uninhabited in the first half of the 1st century, the “Nazareth” part of the mythical Jesus’ name came from a bad translation. In Matthew 2:23, the unknown author got “Nazarene” (a person from Nazareth) confused with “Nazirite” (one who lives apart and has made a vow of abstinence). He was attempting to have the Jesus myth fulfill the supposed prophecy in Judges 13:5.

    The two supposed references (in a paragraph and a sentence) to Jesus by Josephus around 93 CE are often quoted as evidence. The paragraph is an obvious insertion – most likely by Eusebius around 325 CE. The style of the paragraph is radically different from the rest of his writings. It is completely out of context with the paragraphs around it and interrupts their story line. The next paragraph begins, “About the same time also another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder…” This refers to the previous paragraph, where Pilate had his soldiers massacre a large crowd of Jews in Jerusalem. Josephus wrote extensively about many minor people of the time. A single paragraph and sentence for the Messiah is impossible.

    Some people like to refer to Bart Ehrman’s books on Jesus, but they are full of logical and factual failures; he thus fails to make his case that Jesus existed. See the last 3 links below.

    I think that Christians have vested interests in saying that the Bible is more than myths and that Jesus existed. If they were to admit that these are just myths, they would realize that they’ve spent so much wasted time and money. Since this is untenable for many, it’s easier for them to simply not question their beliefs.

    http://www.godlessgeeks.com/JesusExist.htm
    http://www.amazon.com/Nailed-Christian-Myths-Jesus-Existed/dp/0557709911
    http://www.atheismresource.com/2010/jesus-never-existed-at-all
    http://www.rawstory.com/2014/08/did-historical-jesus-exist-growing-number-of-scholars-dont-think-so/
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/1026
    http://nobeliefs.com/Ehrman2.htm
    http://www.jesusneverexisted.com/ehrman.html

  93. neilgodfrey says

    Well, since you know Seneca’s lost book as On Superstition, and cite it that way, it is trivially true that Seneca’s work against superstition is known and cited that way, ….

    It’s how it is cited in all works that address it. My own post and citation was derived from such a work. You have warned people against me doing “their homework” for them: I invite you to do your own serious homework. Maybe start with a librarian if you don’t know how to begin. But I am a librarian so I hope you don’t distrust even that advice.

    From your quote of the 36th footnote, it seems that most of the people arguing for an interpolation were prior to 1966.

    Correct. So it seems. I have no way of knowing what the balance of opinion among classicists is now but the article I cited did demonstrate a scholarly debate and difference of opinion and even cited none other than Richard Carrier in a respectable and scholarly manner. I also pointed to another topic related to early Christian history on which scholarly opinion has shifted in the latter half of the twentieth century and expressed a possible reason for that shift. I am not alone in thinking of that reason but it is also found in the scholarly literature itself.

    But even to ask the question: Did Jesus Exist? is to challenge the mainstream conventional view. Simply saying that most scholars in fields like history assume he existed (or probably a good number have no opinion either way and don’t care) is not a sound rebuttal. That is merely an attempt to shut down asking questions in new ways or asking new questions and asking the powers that be to justify their (often assumed) views.

    That the existence of Jesus is indeed an assumption and not a carefully worked out piece of research we can see from Bart Ehrman himself who even said that as far as he knew he was the very first biblical scholar ever to sit down and write a comprehensive argument for the existence of Jesus. Ehrman writes at https://ehrmanblog.org/did-jesus-exist-as-part-one-for-members/

    New Testament scholars have never taken mythicists seriously, they have never seen a need to argue against their views, which means that even though experts in the study of the historical Jesus (and Christian origins, and classics, and ancient history, etc etc.) have known in the back of their minds all sorts of powerful reasons for simply assuming that Jesus existed, no one had ever tried to prove it. Odd as it may seem, no scholar of the New Testament has ever thought to put together a sustained argument that Jesus must have lived. To my knowledge, I was the first to try it,

    As I have tried to point out to Tim here, simply to sneer at those raising the questions and proposing alternative answers is not a valid response. That is the fallacy of appeal to authority or as a historian O’Neill knows well (Fischer) says, the “fallacy of the prevalent proof”. Tim engages in that a lot, often in an intimidating or bullying manner online. This time I decided it is time I step in and try to point out head on his fallacies.

    Let’s address the arguments themselves and not resort to put-down by demanding to know “what scholar today asks or proposes such a thing!”. Then let’s turn to the scholarship and see their answers, and test them and ask them to justify them. — As PZ himself was doing in his discussion with Eddie.

  94. neilgodfrey says

    Someone on my blog asked a vital question and I have taken the liberty to copy my response to it here as well. The question (after addressing the legends about Davie Crockett)

    Perhaps the question we should be asking about Jesus, is not if the surviving texts about him are purely mythical or if they represent the honest to god unquestionable truth, but if they are hagiography and whitewashing, and if anything historical can be extracted from them.

    That’s an excellent question and one I have written about many times here, often discussing the works of classicists and ancient historians as they themselves inform us how they address that type of question. The second post in this series contains links to some of those posts: https://vridar.org/2018/09/06/how-do-historians-decide-who-was-historical-who-fictional/

    Some of those articles:

    — As for figures about whom we have contradictory records, such as Socrates, we have seen whether and on what grounds his status is determined in Here’s How Philosophers Know Socrates Existed.

    — As for the status of mythical persons such as Gyges we have seen How a Fairy Tale King Became Historical. (In this case the myth is determined to have a historical core.)

    — As for reports of miracles, we see how historians work with the evidence in Even a Bayesian Historian Can Slip Up! (once).

    — On vague rumours, such as stories about the Celts ritually killing their kings, we have considered how historians work at Doing History: Did Celts Ritually Kill Their Kings?

    — When it comes to fictional accounts of something like the Exodus we have critically reviewed one work at Can we extract history from fiction?

    — Or when our only written reports are by enemies, we have seen a historian at work in Doing History: How Do We Know Queen Boadicea/Boudicca Existed?

    We have also looked at general comments about methods by the renowned ancient historian M.I. Finley in An Ancient Historian on Historical Jesus Studies, — and on Ancient Sources Generally

    But to answer your question directly:

    Many ancient historical figures are said by ancient sources to have become gods or were sons of gods, and to have performed miracles, and to have done things that were very like what the myths said gods had once done. How do we know they were real?

    Example: emperors became gods at death, some were said to be gods with divine ancestry while on earth, one Roman emperor healed a blind man in a manner that strikingly resembles a healing by Jesus; Hadrian dressed and acted like Hercules, Alexander the Great followed in the footsteps of Dionysus in conquering the east, etc.

    But in every single case of those historians deem to be historical we have evidence that exists about those persons independently of the myths and legends surrounding them. Further, we can trace the origins and reasons for those myths by comparing them with what we know independently of the real historical figure.

    The ancient authors whom we rely upon know they are writing about historical figures and their works are indeed forms of ancient history or biography. Those authors do know the difference between normal human characteristics and those of the gods and myths, and when they tell us about the mythical tales or comparisons associated with their historical subjects they nearly always either give their sources for the information or express some sympathy with their readers who may be reluctant to believe the tales. In other words, they do not tell the stories as tall tales because they want to inspire credibility in their accounts.

    On the other hand we have other stories about ancient persons (some of these tales actually include genuine historical characters as part of the plot) that are told for entertainment or to convey moral or philosophical lessons and historians always call the main characters of these stories fictional. They do so because they are told just like the novellas or short stories of the day: none of the cautions and trappings of reliability of account as for the historical persons are to be found in these narratives. They are told as if the reader is expected to suspend all critical imagination and just accept or even believe their stories of miracles and nymphs and talking with gods, etc.

    If we strip away the mythical trappings of Alexander and Plato and Pythagoras and Davy Crockett, we still find a real person there.
    If we strip away the mythical trappings of stories of Achilles and Adam and Jesus we are left with no body to examine at all.

    You might also like to consider the following posts addressing the methods of ancient historians:

    Can we extract history from fiction?

    and The Bible: History or Story?

    See also How a Historian Establishes “What Happened” when “we only have the words of the text”

  95. neilgodfrey says

    One Brow:

    Rest assured, I have no pinion on your intent. I have seen techniques such as goal-post shifting used with no intent to deceive, often without people realizing what they were doing.

    Do you really think I was goal shifting? If the passage in Tacitus about Christ is smack bang in the middle of a discussion about Nero’s persecution of Christians and is a part of that account, is it really shifting the goal posts to argue that if the larger passage is argued to be an interpolation then it follows that a couple of sentences in its middle are part of that interpolation?

  96. lpetrich says

    I watched that video, and I was VERY disappointed. That historian did NOT address the question of the historicity of Jesus Christ. Instead, he ducked the issue and claimed that the Gospels are evidence of communities that the writers of those documents had belonged to. It’s as if he was invited to discuss whether or not Romulus was historical, and instead talked about Rome, the city which he had supposedly founded.

    I was hoping for some discussion of the likes of Julius Caesar and Socrates and Pythagoras and Romulus, but I never got it.

  97. says

    Regarding Seneca, I had written this in response to the assertion: “In his book on Superstition, Seneca the Younger took aim at every known religious sect of his time, pagan and Jewish.”-

    Issue #1 Unless you are physic (but given your association with several skeptical societies I think not), or you have secretly discovered Seneca’s lost essay you just cannot know what you just claimed. The text is heavily, heavily, fragmented (you can see the 14 remnants in F. Haase’s L. Annaei Senecase Opera quae supersunt III), and no writer tells us what its overview was. All we know is that he critized several foreign cults and the Jews- which was a common practice in Roman intellectual circles to pick a few groups and -rhetorically- spear them. Presenting Seneca as offering an extensive (indeed you claim every known!) list of religions and sects might function to establish your argument’s relevance to your readers, but it is bogus.

    Issue #2 You seem unaware that a commonly assigned dating for Seneca’s De Superstitione is 31 C.E. [see L. Hermann “Seneque et la superstition” 1970 389-396; although others have suggested perhaps 41 C.E] So, depending on your dating of Jesus’ life, he had either just begun or just ended his ministry. Given that Christianity wouldn’t have had the chance to fledge into a religious movement when Seneca was writing, I find the rest of your argument, and flights of imagination about monks selectively removing books, rather superfluous. But there are other problems that arise in your discussion that I think deserve an airing.

    You claim: “Remarkably, Augustine’s quotation is all that survives from this particular book. It is very curious that it wasn’t saved, since nearly everything else Seneca wrote was preserved. Christians should have loved a text that attacked Jews and pagans…It is also the only Senecan text we would expect to mention Christianity, the disappearance of this particular book out of well over a hundred surviving writings of Seneca seems suspiciously like the work of snubbed Christian monks.”

    There are two rather blatant errors with this argument:

    1) If you want to try and suggest someone who would have removed Seneca’s work the likely candidate would have been under someone like Emperor Julian, who would have objected to work, that any Christian, who, as you say, would have presumably been delighted with the work and have just removed or redacted the section on Christianity. You even mention a fact that should have precluded you from assuming that Monks destroyed it. Indeed, your argument seems to hang on assuming the medieval process of producing books. But if Augustine testifies in the early 400’s that his work didn’t include a section on Christian then this was still when the book trade and manuscript tradition was controlled by the a free market of book traders, public libraries, and scribes. You have to wait for centuries before the Church’s monks were responsible for preserving and producing of manuscripts.

    2) “Your argument that so anamolous is the lack of this work of Seneca that it is suspicious is a conspiracy of your own making. The numerous lost works of Seneca include his 1) Aegyptiorum; 2) Exhortationes; 3) De Immatura Morte; 4) Libri Moralis Philosophiae, 5) De Matrimonio, 6) De Forma Mundi; 7) De Situ Indiae, while the 8) De uita beata and the 9) De Otio are lacunosed. I mean there is even a book by Dionigi Vottero that collects the fragments from lost books from Seneca! Conte, Fowler, Most, and Solodow, in their history Latin Literature (p.422) even state: “a number of his [Seneca’s] philosophical works that were most popular in antiquity have not survived.”

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