Happy Easter! He Is Not Risen!

Jesus is either dead or never existed in the first place. I don’t know enough of these historical issues at all to have a firm belief about which position is correct. But I do find the arguments Robert Price makes prima facie compelling:

Two new scholarly works out this spring take opposite sides on the question of whether Jesus was an actual historical figure or a purely mythical invention. Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth came out a few weeks ago and argues for the historical Jesus. Richard Carrier’s Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus comes out in just a couple of weeks.

And Ehrman and Carrier have already begun to tangle on the internet, with Carrier taking Ehrman to task over some egregious errors in an article on Jesus’s existence that he posted on The Huffington Post. James McGrath has since come to Ehrman’s defense. And Carrier has replied in detail. And McGrath has responded.

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • John Morales

    He’s pretty knowledgeable about Lovecraftian mythos and literature, too.

  • http://stripeyunderpants.blogspot.com/ silverbuttons

    Jesus’ day of death is calculated as the first Sunday after the first full moon that is on, or immediately after, the spring equinox. REAL people are born on a certain day, and they die on a certain day, and the memorial of their death does not move around based on the equinox and the full moon. This is one way we can know that Jesus Christ was never a real person, but a personification of the sun, like other dying-and-resurrecting gods and half-gods before him.

    • Makoto

      To be fair, my maternal grandfather claimed the first day of spring as his birthday, even though that moves. Even his children didn’t know his actual date of birth (which was partially obscured by the fact that he faked his date/year of birth to get into the military early). So moving dates of birth don’t sound terrible to me.. but yes, I agree, it is very suspicious. Especially if dates of birth/date/resurrection happen to line up with previous dates of pagan rituals and such.

    • machintelligence

      It is also a function of our using a corrected solar calendar for everyday use. On the solunar calendar it is the same “day of the year” from year to year.

    • Erp

      First the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox is the supposed day of resurrection not death (that is two days before). Also both the vernal equinox and the full moon are calculated not observed (one reason the Orthodox church will celebrate it next Sunday not this).

      Second, you do realize that any calendar is a convention. The Julian calendar is not the same as the Gregorian calendar and if your lifespan crossed a century year like 1900 (but not 2000) your birthday after that crossing would be on different days in the two calendars. Different again if one followed the Islamic calendar (which doesn’t even attempt to follow the solar year but is strictly lunar) or the Jewish calendar (which is also lunar but adds leap months every once in a while).

      Third Easter is a commemoration and even in our more secular holidays we don’t stick strictly to the same day (note in the US the official holidays that go to a specific Monday and so vary year to year).

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Robert Price’s comparison of Jesus to Apollonius of Tyana fails to mention that the parallels he cites date from a book written in the 2nd century. There are also dissimilarities in Apollonius’ trial and Jesus’, such as the former being acquitted.

    Dating is also an issue for the the novel Chaereas and Callirhoe, though a mid-first century date is likely. The catch is while that would place it before the gospels, it would place it after the date that Jesus’ execution would be. There’s also the matter that the similarities between it and the Gospels are a bit weak. The strongest similarity is with a part of the Gospel narrative that is highly likely to be fabricated anyway, namely the empty tomb account, and those seem at least as likely to have been inspired by Isaiah 53 as a Greek novel. Also, it’s not Callirhoe who is crucified — which would make the similarity with Jesus’ story rather strong — but Chaereas, who is sentenced to death well after Callirhoe disappeared from the tomb. Judging from the Google preview to which I linked, Chaereas wasn’t even nailed to his cross, making his survival after being taken down from the cross not particularly odd. Need I mention that the cross was hardly an uncommon method of execution?

  • David Hart

    I just find it weird that his supposed birthday is always on a fixed numerical date, but his supposed death and resurrection days are always on fixed days of the week calculated without regard to their numerical date. How did that all kick off?

    • http://aceofsevens.wordpress.com Ace of Sevens

      Early Christians don’t seem to have celebrated either. They celebrated the Lord’s supper, but there is no indication this was annual. It seems to have been more often.

    • http://aceofsevens.wordpress.com Ace of Sevens

      I forgot to make my point. Christmas and Easter were co-opted from different pagan traditions that calculated holidays differently.

    • Jer

      Passover starts on the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

      Easter Sunday is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

      Since Jesus was the Ultimate Sacrifice that made all other forms of sacrifice unnecessary, the tying of his death to the Passover season (when the Paschal sacrifices were being made) is not exactly surprising. The Gospels explicitly make his crucifixion take place during Passover, and therefore making the date of the celebration of the Resurrection coincide with the date of the Jewish Passover makes sense – it’s the only date that’s explicitly mentioned in the text. And since the Resurrection had to be preceded by a death on the immediate Friday, Good Friday is what it must be.

      On the other hand – the date of Jesus’s birth isn’t mentioned in the text at all. There was apparently a lot of argument about it in the early church and eventually the choice of December 25th won out (also the birthday of Sol Invictus and Mithras, IIRC – lots of gods born on the day the days start to get longer, imagine that). To a large degree the day of Jesus’s birth isn’t that important from a theological perspective – his genealogy as a descendant of David is more important than the day of his birth. The sacrifice and resurrection are the core of the early Christian church – the birth is something that had to happen at some point. So it does make some sense that the early Christians wouldn’t have cared much and it was only as the Church moved from a small cult of weirdos into the broader empire that people would really start to care (and want to keep their Saturnalia gift-giving without being overtly pagan about it).

  • J. J. Ramsey

    About Carrier and the mistakes he claimed that Ehrman made:

    Mistake #1: “Ehrman says ‘not even … the most powerful and important figure of his day, Pontius Pilate” is “mentioned in any Roman sources of his day.’”

    To the extent that this is a mistake, this is mainly one of Ehrman failing to summarize an argument that he makes correctly in his book, where he argues against the claim about Romans being really meticulous record keepers and that we should thus have records of Jesus if he had lived. Ehrman then points out that we don’t even know of Pilate through such Roman records, but rather through what Josephus and Philo, a brief mention in Tacitus that happens to also be a reference to Jesus as well, a few coins, and a fragmentary inscription at Caesarea Maritima. (More here.)

    Mistake #2: “Ehrman actually says (and I can’t believe it, but these are his exact words): ‘With respect to Jesus, we have numerous, independent accounts of his life in the sources lying behind the Gospels (and the writings of Paul) — sources that originated in Jesus’ native tongue Aramaic and that can be dated to within just a year or two of his life (before the religion moved to convert pagans in droves). Historical sources like that are pretty astounding for an ancient figure of any kind.’”

    I find Ehrman a bit questionable here, but I can see where he’s coming from. Several of the sources whose extant texts we do have show signs of being based on earlier non-extant sources, and Ehrman and other scholars believe that those non-extant sources can be dated given the extant texts that we do have. I don’t quite share his confidence, but I also don’t share his expertise either. Arguably, Ehrman’s biggest fault here is that he neglects to say in his HuffPo article that these sources are not extant — an error that he does not make in his book.

    Mistake #3: “Ehrman says ‘we do not have accounts of others who were born to virgin mothers and who died as an atonement for sin and then were raised from the dead (despite what the sensationalists claim ad nauseum [sic] in their propagandized versions).’”

    The funny thing is that just after Carrier says this, he admits, “Taken strictly literally, this sentence is true.” He complains that Ehrman is offering a straw man of the mythicist position, but the position that Ehrman argues against is one that has been actually made by several mythicists, such as Freke and Gandy (mentioned in a CNN article that Carrier later comments about), Acharya S, Brian Flemming (who did the documentary “The God Who Wasn’t There”). Among mythicists, these people are no more obscure than Ken Ham or Kent Hovind are among creationists. Indeed, for someone who finds all of mythicism to be pseudohistorical claptrap, this comes off as an old-Earth Intelligent Design proponent complaining that Eugenie Scott is engaging in a straw man attack by arguing against young-Earth Creationists.

    Mistake #4: “This might not be a mistake, so much as an allusion to an argument in his book: he says ‘prior to Christianity, there were no Jews at all, of any kind whatsoever, who thought that there would be a future crucified messiah.’”

    Carrier is not only right to say that Ehrman might not be making a mistake here, but the more one digs into his argument that pre-Christian Jews anticipated a dying Messiah, the worse it looks. For example, he claims that the pre-Christian Melchizedek scroll identifies the anointed one who dies in Daniel 9:26 “as being about the messiah, or at least a messiah who would cleanse the world of sin.” The problem is that the scroll is fragmentary, and its extant text doesn’t contain a quote from Daniel at all. There’s an indication that the scroll’s author was going to quote something from Daniel, and probably something in Daniel 9:24-27, but what the author had in mind is unclear, and the text that is extant is rather triumphal and doesn’t indicate that a messiah is about to die. (I don’t endorse all the content in the web page to which I just linked, but it’s handy, and unlike the translation to which Carrier linked, it indicates where the holes in the scroll are.) I’d go on, but this post is already getting too long, and I’ve already commented elsewhere on the matter.

  • Jack Arden

    Hi – I had the temerity to leave this reply on your old Aquinas on being/evil post a couple of weeks ago. Perhaps you didn’t see it. Perhaps you thought that it didn’t merit a reply – which is fine – you can just ignore it here as well.
    I’m not into doing apologetics and winning arguments.
    Just trying to make sense of the inherent intelligibility of that which I experience and wonder where that comes from. Aquinas, and behind him Aristotle, have been the most enlightening and most cogent guides. And I am a Catholic.
    All the very best in this Easter season.

    Really, interesting read, thank you so much.
    I was taking notes.
    I’ll come back to them, if a discussion ensues between us, as I hope it will.
    But this one statement really brought me up short and even though I took issue with prior statements (and also thought, for many others, “oh, THAT’S interesting, he’s got that’) this one you really did not get AT ALL. (Forgive the capitals, I’m not shouting). Here it is:

    ” He just creates or does not create at arbitrary whim.”

    Now, that’s simply not Thomas’s teaching at all. It’s far closer to William of Occam and will have a profound influence on the Protestant Reformers, and subsequently, on the German Enlightenment reaction to that. So, it’s worth knowing where William of Occam and Thomas Aquinas disagree.
    And this is one of them. God is not arbitrary according to Thomas because, he is the First Truth. He is also wise. These are philosophical categories not theological ones, as the sophia in philosophy should indicate…The wisdom of God – though in this context I think First Being is probably a better expression – therefore precludes a purely arbitrary approach to those beings that he has brought into existence (notwithstanding the place of secondary causes – which I hope we can come back to in another discussion).
    Aquinas would not put God beyond morality – how could he? To be schematic: God is pure act. Therefore God is the absolute good (or rather the complete or supreme good -it’s better in our post-Totalitarian world that’s tainted the word ‘absolute’). Therefore he is the source, origin and end not only of the goodness in the being of all things – but also, ultimately of all actions of moral agents who attain that good under its moral aspect. (Secondary causality comes in here, in another way, too). He isn’t bound by a good which is above him (pace Plato) which would limit his omnipotence. But neither is the good ‘good’ simply by his say so: the Arbitrary God that you evoke here. He IS, that good…
    This has been discussed all over the net, of course, but I like this one – not because it’s well argued and clear, it really isn’t but because it’s charming the way the author re-invents the Thomist wheel but only after dragging himself and us through all kinds of analytical philosopher counter-factual blurb. Take a look. The C.S. Lewis quote is apposite.
    As I said – I’d like to tackle a few other things in your interesting post.
    But it takes two to have a dialogue – so that’s your call.

    One last point/question, though – from a completely different point of view.
    There is something intriguingly pseudo-messianic in the infinitising of possibilities of a world where we ourselves advance the evolution of our own essences, don’t you find? Do the thought experiment yourself and try and hear this phrase as Thomas Aquinas would:
    “I think that we can recombine our powers and restructure our social order… imagining and creating richer, new ways to become more powerful, more effective human beings.”
    I wonder how Dostoevski’s Grand Inquisitor would have put it….

    Mind how you go.