Carrier Responds To Me On Whether To Argue About Historical Jesus

In a piece called “Fincke Is Right, Arguing Jesus Didn’t Exist Should Not Be a Strategy”, Richard Carrier agrees with my thesis and my arguments in my post from Saturday. In that post I said that atheists who are laypeople with respect to history should wait for the consensus among history scholars to change before even thinking of centralizing challenges to a historical Jesus existed in our public statements and arguments. Even as Carrier is prepping a book that will argue against the historical Jesus, he agrees that the average atheist should not jump the gun and attack the current historical opinion or, especially, strategically choose to make a big deal out of the historicity of Jesus when there are so much better and more conclusive arguments against Christianity available.

In response to my remark that “if we really find [e.g.] Carrier’s arguments compelling [then we should] still be cautious and qualified in our declarations, acknowledging that we are agreeing with a minority view (and one that even Carrier seems far from certain about)”, Richard adds the following support:

Amen.

In aid of that last parenthetical, I can announce one spoiler: in my book On the Historicity of Jesus(at the publisher now and expected this February, if their production timeline goes to plan) I conclude that, using probability estimates as far against my conclusion as are at all reasonably possible (probabilities I believe are wildly too generous), there could be as much as a 1 in 3 chance that Jesus existed. When using what I think are more realistic estimates of the requisite probabilities (estimates I believe are closer to the truth), those chances drop to around 1 in 12,000.

Note that the first estimate leaves a respectable probability that Jesus existed–it’s merely more likely that he didn’t, not anywhere near certain. And that may well be correct, if my biases are strong and thus my a fortiori estimates (estimates against myself) more accurate. But even if we embrace theother end of my margin of error, we are still not looking at certainty. 1 in 12,000 sounds like certainty, but it’s actually nowhere near. Just ask yourself: would you get into a car that had a 1 in 12,000 chance of exploding right then? If your answer is yes, then you are bad at math.

Supernatural miracles, and disembodied minds, and blood magic, have odds of millions or billions or even trillions or quadrillions to one against. So why would you hang your case against Christianity on a mere 1 in 12,000? You can make a far better case against that religion by granting historicity andthen showing the odds against it are trillions to one. The additional reduction in the probability that Christianity is true that is added by calculating-in the possibility Jesus didn’t exist is relatively so minuscule it’s honestly not worth troubling yourself over.

He then cites psychological research, brought to bear by Valerie Tarico and Jason Long in The Christian Delusion, that if people receive both a weak and a strong argument for a proposition that they are biased against they’ll assume that both are weak as soon as they intuit the one is weak. So, he concurs with me that we should stick to our most devastating and conclusive cases against Christianity rather than focus on the historicity argument. He concludes with this advice, “So please. Learn from science. Dump the strategy of arguing that Christianity (or the New Testament, or this or that teaching, or anything whatever) is false ‘because Jesus didn’t exist.’”

Your Thoughts?

 

 

 

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.

  • Pofarmer

    O.K. So, what are the strongest arguments?

    • wtfwjtd

      Are you asking for the strongest arguments asserting that Christianity is another man-made religion? Mr. Carrier states 3 to start with: …Supernatural miracles, and disembodied minds, and blood magic, have odds of millions or billions or even trillions or quadrillions to one against.
      When you think about it, the miracles that are reported in the gospels that Jesus supposedly performed really aren’t all that impressive; water-to-wine, feeding of the large crowd, walking on water, and various healings and dead-raisings. Even if you were to grant all of these,they sound more like a magic show performed by Houdini, or Copperfield, or even the one-off parlor tricks of a Uri Geller-style “psychic”.
      I’m far more impressed with the inventions and actions of verifiable human beings closer to our own time. The agricultural inventions of John Deere, for example, have literally fed tens of millions of people; Nobel’s invention of dynamite allows man to literally move mountains; Clara Barton’s Red Cross has literally saved hundreds of thousands of lives. And you don’t need to rely on anything unexplained for any of this, whereas, if you take away the (highly unlikely), one-off miracles of Jesus, the whole story falls apart.
      And this is just for starters…

    • Pofarmer

      O.K. I agree with you. Problem is, how do you get true believers to give up on the supernatural? That’s actually the hardest part, in my experience. You can show them the Gospels are Greek Literature written sometime in the late 1st to mid 2nd century, for example, and nothing registers. .

    • wtfwjtd

      Yes, getting the faithful to give up on the supernatural is a tall order. Note that the apostle Paul in I Cor 15:13-14 says that ” If there is no resurrection of the dead, …our preaching is useless and so is your faith”. In other words, no miracles, no Jesus; and of course, no Jesus, then no Christianity.
      Apparently, there were plenty of doubters in even these early congregations, and they were a lot closer to the supposed actual events than we are. I think the trick here is, rather than try to “storm the mountain” with a direct assault, as the argument that “Jesus is fiction” would be(even though it is a pretty good one), the most productive strategy for non-believers to take is to feed those nagging doubts within the framework of the faith itself.

    • Rosie

      I tend to think the strongest arguments against Christianity are its many moral failings. That’s why I deconverted anyway, and why I won’t go back.

    • Pofarmer

      I tend to agree, especially when the lack of morals are in your holy class. However, those arguments are easilh addressed with the “we’re all just sinners” line.

    • Rosie

      If you can show that the morality of the religion is bankrupt even in theory, you can get past that. It can be a hard sell, though. And it depends on which branch of Christianity you’re looking at: the liberal branch’s morality is almost completely opposite that of the conservative branch. Liberals are more likely to note that theirs isn’t straight from the Bible, too, which makes me wonder at times what they get from their “faith” (since it’s nothing at all like I was taught faith had to be, in order to be worth anything)…but at that point if it works for them and doesn’t hurt anyone else I don’t much care that they cling to it.

    • Pofarmer

      The morality of the Roman Catholic church has been demonstrably gone for 1600 years, and that’s probably one of the reasons it’s as large as it is.

    • Greg G.

      Several scholars have traced parts of Mark to Greek, Hebrew, and Christian sources. Individually, these studies are acceptable to other scholars but combined it seems that every event about Jesus comes from the literature of the day and not from oral tradition. The events from Mark that come from other literature are found in all the other canonical gospels. The parts of Mark that don’t correspond to the known literature of the day do correspond to the Gospel of Thomas.

      Those sayings came from somewhere so maybe they came from someone named Jesus. About 6% of the males were named Jesus, according to records and ossuaries. Being descended from David would be common cosidering the number of wives and concubines that Solomon had. The question is whether the Jesus in the GoT is the Jesus talked about in the pre-gospel epistles.

      The Jesus described by Paul was crucified and resurrected. Nearly everything he seems to believe about Jesus can be found in the Old Testament. He doesn’t know anything about a miracle worker or a teacher. He laments that the Jews want works and the Greeks want wisdom but he only can preach Christ crucified.

      The Jews had been hoping for a Messiah to free them from foreign rule and they had clear prophecies of that. It seems that one of the sects began to see verses about suffering as newly revealed prophecy that the Messiah had been crucified in the mythic past but was about to return any time. A generation or two later, after the destruction of Jerusalem, the idea that the rejection of the Messiah was the supernatural cause of the destruction.

      The book of Mark seems to be telling that story. In chapter 11, he hhas Jesus curse the fig tree, throw a Temple tantrum, and later they saw the tree withered. In the decades following the destruction of Jerusalem, there would be only one way to complete that syllogism. In chapter 12, he has Jesus giving the parable of the evil tenants, which seems to come from GoT 65 and 66, which comes from a psalm, and from Isaiah 5, which is also a warning against Israel. Mark ends at 16:8 with the disciples supposed to go meet Jesus in Galilee but the women were afraid to tell. The oldest copies of Mark end there.

      So the epistles don’t support the teacher/preacher model and the gospels appear to be completely fiction.

    • Pofarmer

      Any good examples of contemporary literature that is easily accessible? Also, it kind of seems like the exhortations in Mark to not tell anyone after Jesus has healed someone or performed a miracle is a pretty clear admission that no one had heard of it before that writing.

    • Greg G.

      http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com/art_midrash1.htm

      Add the biblical verses mentioned and you have the heart of Price’s The Christ-Myth Theory and Its Problems.

      I see if I can round up a few more when I get to my computer but that will keep you busy for a while.

    • Greg G.
    • Pofarmer

      Wow, thznks. Some of those I have already seen and read, some not. What’s interesting, is that all of this starts puttjng the Gospels later rather than earlier. Is it possible that if all started out with Pauls imagination,?

    • Greg G.

      You’re welcome. I don’t think Paul made it up but he had his own ideas. In 1 Corinthians 15, he says he was one of the latter followers. But he had his own ideas. Read Galatians with your sarcasm detector calibrated to Gal 5:12. Paul has disdain for the “pillars”. Instead of the standard type of greeting about him being sent by the Lord, he emphasizes that he was not sent by a man. In chapter 2 he points out that James sent people. Keeping both of those verses in mind when you read Gal. 1:19, he was being sarcastic about James being the brother of the Lord. He points out Peter’s hypocrisy in an argument he had in Antioch with him. Chapter 3 opens with mock wonder about who has bewitched them after he spent two chapters criticizing James and Peter. He knew full well who had bewitched them. He then spends the rest of the epistle arguing that faith is more important and works are meaningless.

      Then read the Epistle of James. It is essentially a point by point refutation of Galatians in favor of works over faith. Both epistles quote the Old Testament repeatedly but neither refers to anything Jesus said. James arguments would have been stronger if he would have been citing and quoting Jesus.

    • jjramsey

      There’s a less than flattering review of The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark here: http://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2000/2000-09-16.html It looks like far too many of the parallels are really strained.

      As for Mark using the Gospel of Thomas, this seems exactly backwards, that is, the dependency is the other way round.

      I’ll be blunt. When I read, “every event about Jesus comes from the literature of the day and not from oral tradition,” I translate that as, “If we look hard enough, we can find something in the literature that kinda sorta fit the events described in the New Testament.”

      To be fair, there are parts of the Gospels that are definitely written to resemble parts of the Old Testament. For example, I’m skeptical that the casting lots for Jesus’ clothes is anything more that an echo of Psalm 22:18. On the other hand, the idea that someone could read Psalm 22:16 cold — that is, without having Christianity in mind — and see a crucifixion in it is far-fetched. Rather, it seems like someone already had the crucifixion in mind, searched for support in the Old Testament, and then cherry-picked a verse about hands and feet being pierced as a vague reference to crucifixion. Once Psalm 22:16 was chosen as a proof-text of sorts, though, it’s straightforward to then read down to a later verse and use it as an embellishment to pre-existing crucifixion accounts.

      If the events in the New Testament were just straight-up derived from literary parallels such as the Homeric epics and the Old Testament, then I’d expect to see precise parallels all across the board. Instead, what we have is a mix. On the one hand, there are similarities that look so on the nose as to imply that events
      were either embellished or fabricated to make those similarities happen, but on the other hand, there are also really strained similarities that suggest an attempt to shoehorn pre-existing events to fulfill vague prophecies. A proper accounting of the contents of the New Testament has to take that mixed tendency into account, and the “purely derived from literary parallels” hypothesis fails to do that.

    • Greg G.

      There’s a less than flattering review of The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark here: http://bmcr.brynmawr.edu/2000/… It looks like far too many of the parallels are really strained.

      I agree with that review. There are many places where MacDonald is stretching but there are smoking guns that Mark was drawing on Homer, which makes it likely that some of them are more likely.

      The reviewer is skeptical of the Hermes’ shoes and Jesus walking on water. Which is more likely? Mark getting the idea from seeing someone walk on water or reading about someone who could walk on water in the second most popular piece of literature of the Greek speaking world? Randel Helms shows that the Jesus miracles in Mark coincide with the miracles of Moses, Elijah and Elisha. Mark needed a water crossing miracle to top with the Red Sea crossing. There was such a story in Greek literature.

      As for Mark using the Gospel of Thomas, this seems exactly backwards, that is, the dependency is the other way round.

      Mark’s Use of the Gospel of Thomas makes a case for Thomas being first.

      I’ll be blunt. When I read, “every event about Jesus comes from the literature of the day and not from oral tradition,” I translate that as, “If we look hard enough, we can find something in the literature that kinda sorta fit the events described in the New Testament.”

      But the sources cited would not have been rare. The epistle writers would have known the scriptures and the gospel writers, being fluent in Greek composition, would know Homer.

      Rather, it seems like someone already had the crucifixion in mind, searched for support in the Old Testament, and then cherry-picked a verse about hands and feet being pierced as a vague reference to crucifixion.

      There’s also Isaiah 53 that could be construed to be a crucifixion reference and who wouldn’t have crucifixion in mind who had been to first century Judea under Roman rule?

      If the events in the New Testament were just straight-up derived from literary parallels such as the Homeric epics and the Old Testament, then I’d expect to see precise parallels all across the board. Instead, what we have is a mix. On the one hand, there are similarities that look so on the nose as to imply that events
      were either embellished or fabricated to make those similarities happen, but on the other hand, there are also really strained similarities that suggest an attempt to shoehorn pre-existing events to fulfill vague prophecies. A proper accounting of the contents of the New Testament has to take that mixed tendency into account, and the “purely derived from literary parallels” hypothesis fails to do that.

      Some fit the narrative easily and some had to be altered. Sometimes they blended easily and sometimes they didn’t. The references are not randomly mixed individual coincidences. They come in groups and tend to follow the same sequence in the other works.

      When I first read about the Homer-Mark link, long before I read the book, I read the Legion story then looked up the Cyclops story to see just how close they were. The name of the Cyclops was Polypheus. The “poly” reminded me of “for we are many”. I looked up the name and found that Polyphemus means famous because it literally means “many talk about”. Legion is from “Legio” which is derived from Latin and refers to many soldiers though it usually referred to different numbers through time. (There was also a couple of legions stationed in Palestine, so it could have come from the name of one of them.) “Legio” looks like the Greek word “lego” which means “say”. It’s as obvious as John Goodman’s eyepatch in O Brother! Where Art Thou that the characters are Polyphemus. Mark even puts the words side by side in the Greek so the reader cannot miss the reference – “lego Legio” and adds the “for we are many” to remove any doubt.

    • jjramsey

      The reviewer is skeptical of the Hermes’ shoes and Jesus walking on water. Which is more likely? Mark getting the idea from seeing someone walk on water or reading about someone who could walk on water in the
      second most popular piece of literature of the Greek speaking world

      That’s a false dichotomy. Just because I don’t believe that Jesus actually did walk on water doesn’t mean that I’m obligated to believe that Mark was getting the idea of walking on water from Homer. Actually from what I understood, Mark’s Greek was kinda rough and had several Semitic-style constructs, so I’m doubtful that he’d be all that well-versed in Greek literature.

      Mark’s Use of the Gospel of Thomas makes a case for Thomas being first.

      Well, it tries. There’s one example that makes me particularly doubtful: “in some cases the Thomas version of a saying is undoubtedly in a more primitive form than the corresponding saying in Mark. Examples include Mark’s construction of an elaborate narrative scene (6:1-6) from a simple proverb found as Thomas 31, ‘a prophet is not accepted in his own town; a physician does not heal those who know him.’”

      There’s no reason to think that the bare saying is more primitive. Mark 6:1-6 looks suspiciously like an apologetic story to explain away a failure of Jesus to heal, with the bit about prophets not having honor in their hometowns being an excuse. The saying, then, would be born from the story rather than the other way round.

      (Indeed, the saying given as being from Thomas 31 looks like it is from Luke rather than Mark, since Mark 6:1-6 and its parallel in Matthew lack the bit about physicians healing themselves, while Luke 4:23-24 has both that bit and the one about prophets lacking honor in their hometowns.)

      But the sources cited would not have been rare.

      I think you misunderstood what I meant by “look hard enough.” I did not mean looking hard to find some piece of rare literature, but rather looking hard for parallels between the Gospels and the pieces of literature in which the parallels are allegedly found. To put it another way, I’m saying that many of the supposed parallels look like a literary version of pareidolia.

      There’s also Isaiah 53 that could be construed to be a crucifixion reference

      I repeat what I said about literary pareidolia.

      Some fit the narrative easily and some had to be altered.

      Why would this be? If Mark is supposed to be deriving his work from other literature, then he has the freedom to shape his narrative to make the parallels as close as he desired.

      I read the Legion story then looked up the Cyclops story to see just how close they were.

      And you inadvertently showed me just how far apart they are. We have a cyclops whose name means “many talk about”, and this is supposed to be paralleled by a man possessed by many demons who says he is “many” because of this. That looks like more literary pareidolia.

    • Greg G.

      In Richard Carrier’s review of MacDonald’s book, he says in his conclusion:

      What is especially impressive is the vast quantity of cases of direct and indirect borrowing from Homer that can be found in Mark. One or two would be interesting, several would be significant. But we are presented with countless examples, and this is as cumulative as a case can get. In the end, I came away from this book with a new appreciation for Mark, whose Gospel tends to be derided as the work of a rather poor, simple Greek author. Though Mark’s Greek is extremely colloquial, not at all in high literary style, this itself is surely a grand and ingenious transvaluation of Homer: whereas the great epics were archaic and difficult, only to be mastered by the educated elites, only to be understood completely by those with access to glossaries and commentaries and marked-up critical editions, Mark not only updated Homer’s values and theology, but inverted its entire character as an elite masterpiece, by making his own epic simple, thoroughly understandable by the common, the poor, the masses, and lacking in the overt pretension and cleverness of poetic verse, written in plain, ordinary language. The scope of genius evident in Mark’s reconstruction of Homeric motifs is undeniable and has convinced me that Mark was no simpleton: he was a literary master, whose achievement is all the greater in his choice of idiom-his “poor Greek” was deliberate and artful, as was his story.

      From THE QUACK FROG:

      Once upon a time a Frog came forth from his home in the marshes and proclaimed to all the world that he was a learned physician, skilled in drugs and able to cure all diseases. Among the crowd was a Fox, who called out, “You a doctor! Why, how can you set up to heal others when you cannot even cure your own lame legs and blotched and wrinkled skin?”

      Physician, heal thyself.

      That story comes from Aesop and would have been about 600 years old in the first century.

      You may find this Gospel of Thomas Commentary interesting. Some agree with you and some agree with me.

      I think you misunderstood what I meant by “look hard enough.” I did not mean looking hard to find some piece of rare literature, but rather looking hard for parallels between the Gospels and the pieces of literature in which the parallels are allegedly found. To put it another way, I’m saying that many of the supposed parallels look like a literary version of pareidolia.

      No, I understood but I don’t think you get that I’m not talking about a single parallel here and there. Where there’s a single element in parallel, it’s likely a coincidence. When there are several elements in parallel in the same order or even reversed order, it’s a sign of borrowing. When you see it time and time again, you have a pattern of borrowing.

      In the Polyphemus example I gave, you are attacking one element of the parallels in that story without looking at all the parallels in the story.

      I think Mark wrote to explain the destruction of Jerusalem in theological terms.This starts coming together in chapter 11 when he gets angry with the fig tree on the way to the Temple tantrum. Later, they see the tree withered. In the decade or so after the destruction of Jerusalem, anyone in the Roman Empire would be able to fill in the syllogism.

      At the beginning of chapter 12, there is the Parable of the Evil Tenants which combines Thomas 65 & 66 with the vineyard of Isaiah 5, including the metaphor of the nation and the vineyard.

      In chapter 16, the disciples are supposed to go to Galilee but the women are afraid to tell. That’s where the story ends. Paul tells us the disciples stayed in Jerusalem. It’s like the last straw.

    • jjramsey

      his “poor Greek” was deliberate and artful, as was his story.

      I’m sorry, but that looks suspiciously like a bad attempt to reconcile Mark’s apparent lack of familiarity with Greek with a thesis that requires Mark to have such familiarity. Furthermore, attempting to site Carrier as an authority is a mistake, as seen from his interactions with Thom Stark. Sometimes he’s even ignorant of things that are old news to Biblical scholars. For example, he didn’t realize that critical scholars have understood that there are two anointed ones mentioned in Daniel 9:25-26, spaced hundreds of years apart. Instead, he thought that the evangelical interpretation, which errantly conflates the two anointed ones in an attempt to read the passage as messianic, was correct.

      Where there’s a single element in parallel, it’s likely a coincidence. When there are several elements in parallel in the same order or even reversed order, it’s a sign of borrowing.

      That depends on the quality of the alleged parallels between two works. If nearly all of them are strained, that points to an attempt to force one work to fit into the scheme of the other.

      In the Polyphemus example I gave, you are attacking one element of the parallels in that story without looking at all the parallels in the story.

      Okay, then, why don’t I just describe the two stories. If they are really parallels, then the similarities should be obvious.

      Story #1: The one-eyed giant Polyphemus eats some of Odysseus’ men that have taken shelter in the cave where the giant keeps his flock of sheep. Odysseus tells the giant that his name is “Nobody,” and after Odysseus put the giant to sleep with wine. Odysseus pierced Polyphemus’ eye with a burning stake, causing the giant to wake up and say that “Nobody” was hurting him, which was misinterpreted by his fellow cyclopses in a somewhat “Who’s-on-first” fashion. The remainder of Odysseus’ men hide beneath the bellies of the sheep in order to hide themselves from the groping hands of the blinded Polyphemus, and leave the cave as the flock leaves the cave to graze.

      Story #2: Jesus encounters a man possessed by evil spirits who was unable to bound, not even with a chain, and who spent his days in tombs crying out and cutting himself. Jesus asks the man what his name is, and the demons within him reply, “‘Legion’, for we are many.” Jesus then exorcises the spirits from the man but allows them to possess a herd of pigs, which rush into a nearby lake and drown.

      One supposed similarity is that the demoniac in story #2 says he is many, while the cyclops’ name means “many talk about.” Notice that the “many” part is integral to the demoniac’s story, since he is filled with enough demons to possess a whole flock, but is entirely incidental to the story of the cyclops, who might as well have been called Fred.

      I suppose Polyphemus living in a cave is supposed to be analogous to a man living in and around tombs.

      There is a third arguable parallel that I see, but one that casts doubt on whether the few similarities between the stories are more than incidental: the flock of sheep versus the flock of pigs, but that raises at least one problem. First, the fate of the two flocks is completely different. Second, it would mean that Odysseus has two “parallels” in the demoniac’s story. On the one hand, Jesus defeating Legion is, of course, supposed to parallel Odysseus defeating Polyphemus. On the other hand, Odysseus latches himself to one of the flock of sheep, and each of the evil spirits attaches itself to one of the flock of pigs, so Odysseus then is analogous to an evil spirit as well as Jesus? This is a really strained parallel.

      So we have a vague similarity in naming between the antagonists, a vague similarity in the dwellings of the antagonists, and a third vague similarity that ends up highlighting just how different the stories actually are. This is nowhere near enough to demonstrate a dependence of one story upon another.

    • Greg G.

      Furthermore, attempting to site Carrier as an authority is a mistake,

      Carrier’s PhD is in Classics. He is a more relevant authority for ancient literature than any scholar who specializes in Christian theology.

      That depends on the quality of the alleged parallels between two works. If nearly all of them are strained, that points to an attempt to force one work to fit into the scheme of the other.

      Mimesis is not plagiarism. Look for the pattern of similar elements. If there are a few similarities with no pattern, it’s probably coincidence. If it has similar elements in the same pattern, it is possibly mimetic. If there are multiple patterns, the probability increases. Trans-valuations of elements are also common.

      Robert M. Price discusses Mark’s sources for nearly every pericope, including MacDonald’s input. You can see it at New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash. There is a discussion of the Legion story.

      The following is from a table in The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark:

      Odyssey 9.101-565 and Mark 5:1-20
      Odysseus and his crew, in a convoy, arrived at the land of the Cyclops.
      Jesus and his disciples, with “other boats,” arrived at the land of the Gerasenes.

      On the mountains “nnumerable goats” grazed.
      [On the mountains "about two thousand" swine grazed.]

      Odysseus and crew disembarked.
      Jesus and his disciples disembarked.

      They encountered a savage, lawless giant who lived in a cave.
      They encountered a savage, lawless demoniac who lived among the caves.

      He asked if Odysseus came to harm him.
      He asked if Jesus came to torment him.

      The giant asked Odysseus his name.
      Jesus asked the demonaic his name.

      Odysseus answered, “Nobody.”
      The demonaic answered, “Legion.”

      Odysseus subdued the giant with violence and trickery. [Circe had turned Odysseus's soldiers into swine.]
      Jesus subdued the demons with divine power and sent them into the swine and then into the sea.

      The shepherd called out to his neighbors.
      The swineherds called on their neighbors.

      The Cyclopes came to the site asking about Polyphemus’s sheep and goats.
      The Gerasenes came to the site to find out about their swine.

      (Polypemus usually depicted nude.)
      The demoniac, once naked, now is clothed.

      Odysseus and crew reembarked.
      Jesus and his disciples reembarked.

      Odysseus told the giant to proclaim that he blinded him.
      [Jesus told the healed demoniac to proclaim that he had healed him.]

      The giant asked Odysseus, who was now aboard ship, to come back.
      The demoniac asked Jesus, now aboard ship, if he could be with him.

      Odysseus refused the request.
      Jesus refused the request.

      Odysseus and crew sailed away.
      Jesus and disciples sailed away.

      Have you ever wondered why there are two mass feedings in Mark and the disciples are surprised both times? It makes sense if it comes from the two feasts Telemauchus, Odysseus’ son, attended. Price gives an account of that in the link above.

    • jjramsey

      Carrier’s PhD is in Classics. He is a more relevant authority for ancient literature than any scholar who specializes in Christian theology.

      He may be a better authority than a specialist in theology, but not necessarily a specialist in critical Biblical scholarship, which is not the same thing. Again, look back at Thom Stark’s treatment of Carrier and see how badly the latter flails.

      If there are a few similarities with no pattern, it’s probably coincidence. If it has similar elements in the same pattern, it is possibly mimetic.

      Agreed. Yet look at a couple of your alleged parallels:

      They encountered a savage, lawless giant who lived in a cave.
      They encountered a savage, lawless demoniac who lived among the caves.

      Odysseus answered, “Nobody.”
      The demonaic answered, “Legion.”

      In the first parallel that I quoted, The giant is paralleled with the demoniac, but in the next one, Odysseus is paralleled with the demoniac. Note, too, that you’ve contradicted yourself. Earlier, you had said that the names of the cyclops and the demoniac were parallels. Now the demoniac’s name is paralleled to something totally different.

      Or look at these alleged parallels:

      Odysseus subdued the giant with violence and trickery. [Circe had turned Odysseus's soldiers into swine.]
      Jesus subdued the demons with divine power and sent them into the swine and then into the sea.

      Apparently, there are supposed to be two parallels here, one where Odysseus blinding the cyclops is analogous to Jesus exorcising the demons, and another where Odysseus’ soldiers having been swine is supposed to be a parallel to the swine that Jesus lets drown in the sea. But if Odysseus and Jesus are a parallel, shouldn’t Odysseus’ men be paralleled to Jesus’ men, that is the disciples, rather than the drowned swine? Indeed, in an earlier parallel you did just that:

      Odysseus and his crew, in a convoy, arrived at the land of the Cyclops.
      Jesus and his disciples, with “other boats,” arrived at the land of the Gerasenes.

      There’s no consistency as to which elements are parallel to other elements.

    • Greg G.

      He may be a better authority than a specialist in theology, but not necessarily a specialist in critical Biblical scholarship, which is not the same thing.

      So? Biblical scholarship doesn’t consider Greek literature as a possible source for the gospels. We are addressing Mark as Greek literature.

      In the first parallel that I quoted, The giant is paralleled with the demoniac, but in the next one, Odysseus is paralleled with the demoniac. Note, too, that you’ve contradicted yourself. Earlier, you had said that the names of the cyclops and the demoniac were parallels. Now the demoniac’s name is paralleled to something totally different.

      Yes, here I was quoting MacDonald’s book. He is discussing one thing but never discusses the parallel between the names. The derivation of the name is a different topic and is my own original argument, as far as I know. I learned that “poly” meant “many” in grade school when they taught us about polygons, so the “we are many” line came to mind. I Googled “Polyphemus” and “Legion” to see what they meant and where they came from. Then I looked up the Greek words on blueletterbible.org and looked at the Greek. That’s where I saw that “lego” was translated to “said” and immediately preceded “Legio”. Anybody could do it.

      .

      There’s no consistency as to which elements are parallel to other elements.

      That’s called “transvaluation”. Where one say “Nobody” the other says “a whole bunch of us”. It’s turned on it;s head. Here is what MacDonald says in a paper called My Turn:

      For mimetic transvaluation to work one needs both similarities and differences, and both can be evidence of a literary connection.

      MacDonald also lists the criteria he used for each of his cases:

      (1) its accessibility to the author,
      (2) analogous uses of the model by other authors.
      (3) density (the number or volume of parallels between the two texts),
      (4) order (recognizable affinities in the sequence of the parallels),
      (5) distinctive traits (characteristics found in these two texts and not found widely elsewhere),
      (6) interpretability (why the author imitated the target, which may include emulation or transvaluation).

      My Turn is a response to his critics.

      We should ask where Mark came up with the stories. Unless one accepts it all uncritically as gospel, the stories had to come from somewhere. If they came solely from Mark’s imagination, how likely is it that he came up with so many similarities to the most popular Greek literature of the era? At the very least, it would be accidental plagiarism. It’s really a matter of whether he accidentally absorbed it through the culture or to what degree he intentionally used mimetic methods. Like most of the other authors that came before and after, he was more subtle than Virgil was with The Aeneid.

    • jjramsey

      Biblical scholarship doesn’t consider Greek literature as a possible source for the gospels.

      Not necessarily, especially where critical scholarship is concerned. [ETA: I actually looked at the introductions to the articles of the critics that MacDonald mentions in "My Turn" and found that the question of Homeric influence on early Christian literature, including the New Testament, had at least been considered, so the notion that Biblical scholars didn't consider Greek literature as a possible source appears to be wrong.]

      That’s called “transvaluation”. Where one say “Nobody” the other says “a whole bunch of us”.

      That doesn’t address my point. If Odysseus is supposed to be a parallel to Jesus, then that should be consistent at least through a given narrative, otherwise, one doesn’t have much of a parallel. If one feels the need to not be consistent in order to get “better” parallels, that’s a sign that the parallels weren’t that good to begin with.

      If “transvaluation” allows for inconsistent parallels, then it is little more than a get-out-of-jail card or special pleading.

      how likely is it that he came up with so many similarities to the most popular Greek literature of the era?

      You’re begging the question, since you haven’t done a very good job of establishing those similarities in the first place.

    • Greg G.

      Your objections are answered in My Turn. Like Virgil did with Aeneas in The Aeneid, Mark give the Jesus character the virtuous parts of many characters.

      From that page:

      Od. 10.1-69 (imit. [B]) Mark 4:1-2 and 35-41
      Odysseus’s crew boarded and sat down.
      Jesus boarded and sat down to teach.

      On a floating island Odysseus told stories On a floating boat to Aelous.
      Jesus told his stories to the crowds.

      After a month he took his leave, boarded, and sailed with twelve ships.
      When it was late, he took his leave, and sailed. “Other boats were with him.”

      Odysseus slept.
      Jesus slept.

      The crew opened the sack of winds and created a storm : “[A]ll the winds rushed out.”
      “A great gale of wind came up.”

      The crew groaned.
      The disciples were helpless and afraid.

      Odysseus awoke and despaired.
      Jesus awoke and stilled the storm.

      Odysseus complained of his crew’s folly.
      Jesus rebuked his disciples for lack of faith.

      Aeolus was master of the winds.
      Jesus was master of winds and sea.

      Each of these parallels is congruent, except for the third from the end; whereas Odysseus awoke and was helpless, Jesus awoke and calmed the sea. The difference is strategic and recognizable as a transvaluation.

      You’re begging the question, since you haven’t done a very good job of establishing those similarities in the first place.

      I’ve given you links to Carrier’s review, Price’s explanations and MacDonald’s explanations. Shall I transcribe the book or will you borrow from a library?

    • jjramsey

      Each of these parallels is congruent, except for the third from the end; whereas Odysseus awoke and was helpless, Jesus awoke and calmed the sea. The difference is strategic and recognizable as a transvaluation.

      Actually, there are problems from the beginning. Look at the first two parallels:

      On a floating island Odysseus told stories to Aelous.
      On a floating boat Jesus told his stories to the crowds. [Fixed this to be consistent with the text from "My Turn."]

      After a month he took his leave, boarded, and sailed with twelve ships.
      When it was late, he took his leave, and sailed. “Other boats were with him.”

      In the first parallel, a floating island is paralleled with a floating boat. In the second, a boat is paralleled with a boat. So already MacDonald is playing games to make things look more parallel than they really are. Even the “transvaluation” would only explain the difference between Odysseus’ and Jesus’ responses to the storm. It doesn’t explain why Jesus is mostly paralleled with Odysseus only to be paralleled with Aeolus at the very end. Indeed, if one looks at the actual story of Odysseus and Aeolus, it becomes even more clear how different the stories that are alleged to be parallel really are.

      In the Odyssey, Odysseus meets with Aeolus, regales him with stories, and as a reward, Aeolus gives Odysseus the benefit of a westward wind to get him home plus a bag with all the other winds. While Odysseus slept, his crew opened up the bag, thinking it was full of gold and silver, causing their boat to come right back to Aeolus’ isle. Aeolus then scolded Odysseus as a man the gods hate and told him to leave ASAP.

      In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus speaks to a large crowd from a boat just offshore. After telling several parables, he sets sail to go to the other side of the lake. A storm appears while Jesus slept, and the disciples panicked and woke Jesus up. Jesus then calms the storm.

      Again, some vague similarities if one squints enough but deep structural differences in the narratives.

      I’ve given you links to Carrier’s review, Price’s explanations and MacDonald’s explanations.

      Yes, and they all come off as crackpots here.

    • Greg G.

      Yes, in Mark’s first draft, Jesus was on a floating island, too, but he decided that a floating island in the Sea of Galilee didn’t improve the story so he made it a boat. However, he didn’t remove the superfluous mention of the “other boats” that are never mentioned again.

      Mark consistently uses transvaluation strategically. Where the Odyssey character is brave and virtuous, Mark has Jesus following suit. Where the character is weak and fearful, Mark trumps it by reversing the dialogue or giving the lines, actions or abilities of the strongest character to Jesus.

      Legion doesn’t seem to be just Polyphemus. His description seems to be influenced by Isaiah 65::4, too.

      who sit among the graves
          and spend their nights keeping secret vigil;
      who eat the flesh of pigs,
          and whose pots hold broth of impure meat; [NIV]

      Michael Turton has an online collection of commentary from various scholars for Mark structured verse by verse. Here is Excursus: Chiastic Structures in Mark to show that The Gospel of Mark is more complex than meets the eye and is evidence that the author was trained in Greek composition.

      Turton has an Historical Commentary at the end of the Chapter 4 that shows two sets of five miracles. Randel Helms (in Gospel Fictions I think) relates each of these miracles to Old Testament passages, showing that Mark has Jesus surpassing the miracles of Moses, Elijah, and Elisha.

      I am curious about your overall point of view on Mark’s sources. Do you think Mark did not use any sources? No Greek source? Would you allow that he used the Septuagint? Are the miracle stories invented with the
      non-miracle stories based on true events?

  • John Kruger

    When believers are down to talking about an historical Jesus, they have already abandoned everything that makes him important to the religion. It makes about as much sense to talk about an historical Harry Potter that Rowling somewhat based her character on, it does not have all that much to do with discussing the literary work (much less if it was true or not).

    Christianity needs a supernatural miracle preforming son of god Jesus, a regular old human philosopher is not enough. Pick at the low hanging fruit of the supernatural aspects, the historical part is indeed too hard to establish either way and in the end is not all that important to the parts of Christianity that most need challenging.

    • eamonknight

      True, however it’s still probably worth attacking the standard “Jesus did so exist because Josephus, Tacitus, etc, etc….” arguments, just by way of shaking their faith in the apologetics industry that serves up that potted history. It doesn’t prove that Jesus didn’t exist, only that the case for historicity isn’t nearly as blazingly obvious as advertized.

      Rational argument should be determinative, but in order to gain a hearing it’s sometimes necessary to start by driving a few wedges between one’s respondent and their cultural authorities.

    • John Kruger

      I suppose that if one could actually establish the non-existence of the historical Jesus the supernatural Jesus could not help but topple also. Still, fighting for a position that is way past the point of showing Christianity to be completely false is largely an overexertion, particularly when that climb is such a difficult one.

      I think Biblical contradictions, such as different accounts of the same events being irreconcilable, are far easier to demonstrate and more effective at undermining Biblical or religious authority. Not that such things are always effective, people can always make a grand appeal to faith or keep making up more to the narrative in the way of magic to try and resolve contradictions, but they can do the same swimming in the pool of ignorance about Jesus’s historical existence. It is harder to argue about the existence of words right on the pages of the holy book.

  • busterggi

    “atheists who are laypeople with respect to history should wait for the consensus among history scholars to change before even thinking of centralizing challenges to a historical Jesus existed in our public statements and arguments. ”

    A bit too ‘arguement from authority’ for my tastes.

    Believers certainly won’t shut up about the reality of their god-man no matter how little they know about the position their church of choice promotes or said church’s history. I will not sit back and just take their shit.

  • Pofarmer

    Just an interesting quote I found.

    “Alluding to Christ’s miracles, M. Renan, a reverential admirer of Jesus of Nazareth, says: “Observation, which has never been once falsified, teaches us that miracles never happen but in times and countries in which they are believed, and before persons disposed to believe them. No miracle ever occurred in the presence of men capable of testing its miraculous character…. It is not, then, in the name of this or that philosophy, but in the name of universal experience, that we banish miracles from history” (Life of Jesus, p. 29).”

  • stanz2reason

    I agree with one caveat… Were you able to prove unequivocally that Jesus did not exist, that would be a pretty damning argument to de-bunk Christianity, even were you to suggest that other elements were true and even some of the values presented were worth keeping. Removing Jesus from Christianity is like removing Burgers, Fries & McNuggets from McDonalds. Naturally we can not offer such proof, only offering evidence for and against to people who are compelled one way or the other.

  • stevenjohnson2

    Well, I must disagree again that we can’t deny Jesus’ historicity. I don’t think you can sustain the argument that those scholars who validate the Gospels as historical sources are reasonable whereas we who disagree are not.

    I do agree that our personal theories about how the Jesus story began and spread are likely to be correct largely by accident, and that it is crankish to insist on them. I imagine it is largely boring to even propose them. But I think we need to put the burden of proof where it really belongs. They’re the one who need to justify accepting the Gospels as valid sources. We are not the ones who have to prove a naturalist origin! Letting them off the hook because most of us are not scholars who can prove how Jesus is a myth really seems like a fundamental mistake.

  • Mick

    Discard the miracles attributed to Jesus and what is left? When the scholars talk about an historical Jesus what are they actually telling us? Somebody with that name was born, baptised, and died? Has anybody ever compiled a list of things we definitely know about the historical Jesus? I’ll bet it’s a very short list; uninteresting, and could be applied to almost anyone who lived in Palestine 2,000 years ago.


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