Mythicists and Creationists

In the comments on a recent post, some mythicists are showing how their perspective is similar to that of creationists. (I once compared their viewpoint to inerrancy, but young-earth creationism in this instance provides a greater resemblance). For those who may not have encountered this particular viewpoint, mythicists claim that Jesus was not a historical figure around whom legends and mythology developed, but rather was a purely-invented figure, created from scratch in the imagination of early Christians.

What are the similarities between mythicism and young-earth creationism? How about these:

(1) Both show a lack of familiarity with the basic data in a field, yet criticize the conclusions of academics in that field.

(2) They blame the fact that they aren’t taken seriously on a conspiracy among scholars rather than their own ignorance of the relevant scientific or historical methods and of the relevant raw data.

(3) They quote people without the relevant qualifications but whose websites they have read, while not reading mainstream scholarship (or at least, if they read it, they either misunderstand it or are so shaped by their preconceived notions that they are impervious to its influence).

(4) They are apologists for their viewpoint, and are interested in defending it at all costs, not in seeing where the evidence leads once one is familiar with it and has studied it critically.

Do you see other resemblances? Are there important dissimilarities?

If there is an important lesson in this, it is the following: Just because you oppose views on the opposite end of the spectrum from yourself, whose proponents take an uncritical, pseudo- or anti-scholarly approach, this does not mean that you yourself are being critical and scholarly. Scholarship is all about the method and a critical approach to the subject, not about situating yourself at a certain point on a spectrum of views.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10813579215350909230 Chris Zeichmann

    There also seems to be a tendency to use a fact-versus-lie/falsehood dichotomy with little room for ambiguity, multiplicity of truths, or uncertainty.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10813579215350909230 Chris Zeichmann

    Also: Bradley, James V. “Overconfidence in Ignorant Experts.” Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society 17, no. 2 (1981): 82-84. Because of their myopic focus on the fields, they lack awareness of discursive assumptions and thereby lack the meta-cognition to know that they don't know much about their pet project in respect to its larger academic context.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10813579215350909230 Chris Zeichmann

    Ugh. Last post: Kruger, Justin and David Dunning. “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 77, no. 6 (1999): 1121-1134. http://www.apa.org/journals/features/psp7761121.pdf

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00565212411446092552 smijer

    Similarity – 95% of each argument is carried out on the intertubes.Also, something about echo chambers.

  • Bryan

    I think Mythicsts and Creationists are similar in some ways. They hold views that the overwhelming consensus of experts in the respective fields disagree with and use the rhetoric of conspiracy to explain that. But from this outsiders perspective, there seem to be a couple differences that make it enough of a false analogy that I wouldn’t use it. First, to compare the historical investigation of early Christianity to the biological, geological, and physical sciences that support evolution and the age of the earth, seems to overstate the quantity of data involving the life of Jesus, the confidence we can place in historical conclusions, and the objectivity with which we can do ancient history – particularly with regard to religions, where we know that myth and history are intertwined to some extent. Second, the analogy seems to overstate the case against mythicism. Objections to creationist arguments are well organized, readily available, number in the thousands, and are understood in the same way by tens of thousands of scientists. Look at Talk Origins for example. Are such objections to mythicist arguments so plain? And are they shared by all the scholars in the field? If they are, it is not obvious to us outsiders. Put another way, if the evidence for evolution and a 4.55 billion year old earth were of the quality and quantity of the evidence for a historical Jesus, then I highly doubt any scientist would accept evolution or an old earth with any confidence at all.The idea that Chris Zeichmann noted, that amateurs are too unaware of their own shortcomings and the complexity of the field in question to notice their own shortcomings certainly does apply here, especially to those who argue for mythicism on the internet. And I know that it applies to me, when I read about the history of Christianity, because I do not work in that field. But I wonder if it might also apply to people who compare biblical scholarship to such a successful, systematic, predictive and reproducible process as science.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Bryan, you are certainly right that history deals with specific events in the past, and thus doesn't have the "repeatability" aspect that most scientific investigations have. But some areas (such as cosmology for instance) face at least somewhat similar challenges, inasmuch as we can't simply (at least at present) create a new universe to test a hypothesis about the origin and development of our own. All we can do in many such "historical" fields is to study the impact of what happened in the past. And just as in the case of modern-day forensics, it is possible to prove some things "beyond reasonable doubt" – and it is also possible for what seemed proven to that standard to be overturned by evidence that later comes to light.Historical study only deals in probability. There is no doubt that, with sufficient effort, one can interpret the data we have from early Christianity in terms of a conspiracy to invent a heavenly savior. But what actual academic historians try to ask is not simply "Can I argue this case?" but "Will this scenario do better justice to and explain the evidence better than alternatives?" And it is at that point that talk of Jesus as a crucified Messiah, talk about the genealogy of a person who was later said to have had no human father, mentions of Jesus' brother(s), all are explained far more simply in terms of a scenario in which there was an actual historical human figure named Jesus from Nazareth to whom the later Christian movement looked back. This is not claiming that all or even much of the claims made about him in various sources are historical. There are many things that most historians would judge unlikely to be historical. But when one tries to formulate a scenario in which Jesus is invented from scratch, or from pre-existing mythologies, the result is not impossible but involves far more special pleading and is on the whole far less likely than other scenarios in which there is an actual historical person at the historical core of what was developed later around him, and in some cases overshadowing and obscuring him.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    Or maybe we've seen highly flawed presuppositions at work and therefore have more than enough reason to question the interpretations of the data and the conclusions drawn therefrom.Peace,Rhology

  • Bryan

    James I think you are further making the case against your own analogy. Yes some sciences such as cosmology or forensics study the effects of one-off events, but you used the analogy of young earth creationism. Evolution is not a one time event. Arguments against creationism are hardly limited to studying a one-time event. Evidence supporting evolution and the age of the earth is overwhelming and the processes are ongoing, data is being acquired regularly, predictions are being made and verified, etc. So maybe a better analogy would be between Mythicists and JFK Conspiracy Theorists or something like that? I do understand that historians deal with probabilities (incidentally shouldn't historians use a word like "plausibility" instead since there actually isn't any probability that can be calculated?). I gather you would not say that the case for a historical individual that inspired the Gospel stories and preached much of its message is "proven beyond a reasonable doubt." Correct? But that is exactly what we would say about evolution and a 4.5 billion year old earth!The historian can say, as you did, that the historical Jesus hypothesis better explains the data available to us than the mythicist hypothesis does, and with less special pleading etc. But really, that is just not the same thing as the number and magnitude and type of errors that Creationists make. Just my opinion. Cheers,Bryan

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Thanks Bryan. On the one hand, I think that if I were to try to reverse the analogy and liken historical study to evolutionary biology, I'd confront the problems you mention. But my analogy was simply between the pseudoscholarly opponents of both, who seem to me to have more in common than the disciplines themselves.That said, it does seem that the same approach works in both cases. It is certainly not impossible that an intelligent designer created ex nihilo and decided to play a trick on his creations by making it appear as though they had evolved. It is just that the actual scientific explanation provides a much simpler and straightforward account. Unless one is committed to simplicity and rationality, anything goes – and that's the common problem of both young-earth creationists and mythicists, I still think! And however much an impartial look at the evidence might suggest that the evidence for biological evolution is far more overwhelming, that doesn't stop people from denying it. The issue is not the amount of evidence (in both cases it is sufficient, even if not in identical quantities) but having one's mind made up beforehand.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Rhology, I didn't take you for a mythicist what a surprise! :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08955726889682177434 Vinny

    Dr. MrGrath,I think that there is much in your comparison of mythicists to creationists that rings true, particularly in their inability to acknowledge the evidence that does not support their position. For example, I cannot see the point in disputing that Galatians 1:19 points towards a historical person with flesh and blood relatives who knew him and interacted with him in the earthly plane of existence. I am also struck by the way they will embrace things like the Nazareth myth theory as an irrefutable fact when it may be nothing more than an interesting hypothesis worthy of further investigation.On the other hand, I cannot help but be struck by how few references there are in the epistles or other early Christian writings like 1 Clement that would lead me to believe that the Jesus Christ discussed therein is necessarily anything more than a theological construct. While I don’t think that the mythicists have proved their case, I am still puzzled by the fact that the itinerant preacher named Jesus who wandered around Galilee teaching in parables is barely visible outside the gospels.Although I am not convinced of the non-existence of a historical Jesus, I can easily imagine such a person who is only very loosely tethered to the message that Paul was spreading.

  • Zeus

    Two different questions: one, are the mythicists and the IDers comparably goofy? Two, what is the state of the evidence and argument for Jesus’s historicity v. the state of that for the case for the non-intelligence of design. You may be right about the first question. (I know the mythicists scarcely at all.) But I think I’m with Bryan on the second–though not on the same grounds. It’s not that historical events, even ancient ones, can’t be well established. I think it’s well established that Julius Caesar was emperor of Rome. Further, that he crossed the Rubicon. I believe that there exist hundreds, maybe thousands, of documents that attest to both events. There’s also steles and statues and such. I think we know for sure not only that Caesar lived but know also the major events of his life and even his appearance.I take it that the evidentiary standards that are appropriate to the questions about Jesus are historical, not the sort of standards that apply to the question of the origin of the species. I assume there’s some considerable distinction should be made. (I guess I’m implying that the distinction you make is a hard one–apples and oranges like. Whereas one that’s both more appropriate and easier to make is the stay on historical ground and compare various events and occurrences.So then, applying historical standards: maybe I have to rely on the testimony of others to say I know Caesar lived and crossed the Rubicon. But Moses Finley or Adrian Goldsworthy–people familiar with all the evidence (in the case of ancient history, literally all)–can I take it assert they know perfectly well, with great certitude, that Caesar existed. It would be crackpot absurd or preposterous to say he didn’t. It’s beyond reasonable doubt Caesar lived and that he crossed the Rubicon, married Pompeia, was assassinated by Brutus, Cassius, etc.Well,then, does what we know about Jesus satisfy this same high evidentiary standard? The best evidence is Paul’s, the second best the synoptic evangelists and Josephus’s. Paul’s is the best because it comes a generation or two earlier, and within a decade an a half of the crucifixion. Josephus rates high as a non-member of the Jesus movement. But he comes sixty years after the events, and his account has to be reconstructed by removing later emendations. Now certainly there was a Jesus movement. And certainly its members accepted the historicity of Jesus. That’s hundreds of believers from an early time. The issue is whether they might somehow have been mistaken in THEIR belief in the historicity of Jesus. Or, more precisely, whether the notion they were mistaken is significantly more reasonable than the notion that Caesar never lived and that the major events of his life didn’t in fact occur.I’m not at all sure that it is more reasonable. But I am also sure that the existence of Jesus and the events of his life are less–even much less–well attested than those of Caesar. It seems that the mythicists’ mistake is to set the threshold of credibility too high. But in their defense one might say they are more like those who accept that there’s been a recent sighting of an ivory-billed woodpecker than they are the IDers–except that they set the standards too high and reject an existence hypothesis that happens to be true.Whereas the IDers (who could in principle accept all the facts as they have been established) have rejected a sound theory.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    What pushes the brute fact of Jesus' existence firmly into the "beyond reasonable doubt" category is the fact that (1) Paul left us primary sources and he seems to have been around Jerusalem at the appropriate time to be able to check on Jesus' existence; (2) Paul refers to someone who was appealed to by his opponents as an authority greater than Paul's own as Jesus' brother, without challenging the claim, much less the existence of the brother; and (3) no one in their right mind would invent a crucified Messiah, and then have to go through the trouble of explaining that counterintuitive concept. Dying and rising gods who mirrored the cycle of the seasons were quite common, but to his earliest followers Jesus was not a god, and a dying Messiah, crucified by the enemies the Anointed one was expected to defeat, was another kettle of fish.Is the scientific evidence generally more clear-cut than the historical evidence in any given case? Yes, usually. So I'm making an analogy, not making the case for the two being identical.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15112057471953902453 kilo papa

    James McGrath said- "(Mythicists) show a lack of familiarity with the basic data in the field,yet critisize the conclusions of academics in that field". And of course you would ascribe those traits to Dr. Richard Carrier,Dr. Robert Price,and Dr. Thomas Thompson? Mr. McGrath,tell me what "basic data" that you possess that Richard Carrier does not? Tom Verenna may not have the "relevant qualifications" but he has shown himself to be easily a match for you in the debates that you've had.I hope everyone who reads this blog will read those for themselves over at his website. I know these men are a minority in their field but that by itself does not make them wrong. I think you would agree that Carrier ,in particular, is a worthy scholar in this field even if you greatly disagree with him. I see no need for the snobbery that is so apparent in your post.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Sorry for sounding like a snob! If the vast majority of mythicists were like Richard Carrier and followed his advice, I wouldn't characterize them as a I did. But alas, the vast majority are following the Bill Maher line more than the Richard Carrier one. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08955726889682177434 Vinny

    Dr. McGrath,I do not wish to argue Steven’s position although I think he has implicitly admitted that the term “brother” is used differently in Galatians 1:19 than it is used elsewhere. I, on the other hand, would explicitly concede that point. However, I would still view that usage as something of an outlier because the rest of Paul’s writings don’t seem to have much in the way of references that point to the existence of a historical Jesus any earlier than the night before his crucifixion. That would cause me to leave open the possibility that “James, the brother of the Lord” is still some sort of symbolic designation rather than a literal one, perhaps indicating James’s status within the community rather than his biological relationship with Jesus.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I don't think it is a stretch for a historian to assume that someone who existed as an adult and was crucified had a prior historical existence!The reason so much attention is paid to the death of Jesus by early Christians is, for a historian, self-explanatory. The strongest argument against the movement was that a crucified Messiah was a contradiction in terms. If they could not find a positive interpretation for that event, the movement was finished. And so the attention given to it is not surprising – and a solid piece of historical data precisely because it is hard to imagine any proponent of Christianity making it up.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08955726889682177434 Vinny

    Dr. McGrath,Does it concern you that the “hard to imagine someone inventing this” argument is the same one that apologists use to prove the historicity of the women finding the tomb, Joseph of Arimathea, and a host of other New Testament stories? I think we might simply rephrase the proposition to “it would take a person of great imagination to invent a crucified Messiah.” It may well be that the idea would have been extremely counter-intuitive for any first century Jew, but it nonetheless proved to be incredibly appealing and inspiring to a great many of them. Although it may be hard to imagine any particular person inventing the idea, it seems just as much a stretch to me to declare that no one could have invented it. (I am reminded of the "All About Mormons" episode on South Park where the townspeople all say of Joseph Smith, "Why would he make that up?") BTW, I just finished reading your “Mythicism and Inerrancy” post and I listened to the Richard Carrier interview. I find the arguments on both sides fascinating. Personally, I think I lean towards historicity but I sure cannot get anywhere near “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03232781356086767207 AIGBusted

    I know this post wasn't aimed at me, nevertheless I wanted to look at how I, as a Jesus agnostic, measured up:(1) Both show a lack of familiarity with the basic data in a field, yet criticize the conclusions of academics in that field.I've tried to become as familiar as I can with arguments for and against Jesus' historicity, whether it be from passages in the Pauline epistles or the works of Jospehus.(2) They blame the fact that they aren't taken seriously on a conspiracy among scholars rather than their own ignorance of the relevant scientific or historical methods and of the relevant raw data.The consensus that Jesus existed makes me very hesistant and concerned for the Jesus myth hypothesis (that it might not be true).(3) They quote people without the relevant qualifications but whose websites they have read, while not reading mainstream scholarship (or at least, if they read it, they either misunderstand it or are so shaped by their preconceived notions that they are impervious to its influence).I do read Earl Doherty and Tom Verenna, but I also look at what has been written by experts.(4) They are apologists for their viewpoint, and are interested in defending it at all costs, not in seeing where the evidence leads once one is familiar with it and has studied it critically.This does not describe me at all. If it did, I wouldn't be admitting to so much personal uncertainty on the issue!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Yes, I certainly didn't have you in mind, and I'm glad you knew that. Your humble agnosticism, familiarizing of yourself with opposing viewpoints, and the rest, definitely set you apart from the apologists of ajesusism. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Vinny, your point is a good one, but in the case of Joseph of Arimathea, I'd say we're dealing with a piece of historical data, and Jesus was indeed buried – dishonorably, as Brown, Evans, McCane and myself have argued. In Mark's Gospel Joseph isn't yet turned into a disciple, and so here too a historical-critical approach gets us back behind the developing trajectory of the tradition to what is probably another good piece of data.As for the women finding the tomb empty, I'm something of an agnostic about that. But one reason why I'm not persuaded by the "no one would make this up" argument in that case is that I can think of a reason why the early Christians might have made it up – namely, in order to cover the fact that a group of men (who might have been arrested) as well as women went to the tomb hoping to move the body, and give Jesus the honorable burial they believed he deserved. (I explore this in detail in my book The Burial of Jesus).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    And then they claimed that Jesus had really risen and died horrible deaths for something they'd have known was a lie? That's stretching it!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Rhology, I really wish you'd read what I write before commenting. If the group of men and women went to the tomb intending to steal the body, they clearly were too late. If they had managed to give Jesus an honorable burial, they would have told that story. Indeed, much later John rewrote the story in order to do just that – contradicting the earlier accounts in which women anoint Jesus before and try to anoint him afterwards precisely because he didn't get the pomp and circumstance when he was buried that John later claimed.But ultimately, the empty tomb is not the foundation of Christian belief in the resurrection. When the disciples find the tomb in the Gospel stories, their reaction is always "someone moved the body". It is visions and other such experiences that persuade them that Jesus had been raised. And even if, as John Dominic Crossan once argued, Jesus' body had been devoured by wild dogs, I don't think the early Christians would have felt that made resurrection impossible.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00763792476799485687 J. J. Ramsey

    Also, women being the first supposed witnesses to the empty tomb isn't that big an embarrassment, since male disciples were nonetheless supposed witnesses to the resurrected Jesus, and one appeal to the male witnesses even if one's audience doubted the reliability of women. Contrast this with a story like this:"Hey, you know the Messiah, that guy who is supposed to free Israel from Roman oppression and usher in a new order? Well, Jesus got killed by the Romans instead of overturning them, and, uh, the world hasn't changed much. But he's still the Messiah even though he hasn't yet done all that stuff that the Messiah is supposed to have done. I mean, he didn't stay dead, and he'll come back real soon to do all that Messiah stuff."Inventing a Messiah is one thing, but inventing a failed Messiah and the rationalizations for that failure is quite another.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08955726889682177434 Vinny

    I can see how the unreliability of women could be a reason for Mark to have them find the tomb. If Mark invented the story, his audience might wonder why they had never heard it before. Mark could say, “We did not find out about it for a long time because the silly unreliable women ran away without telling anyone.” Although I doubt that this was actually Mark’s purpose, it seems to me that there is always a chance that the problematic element that seems unlikely to be invented might look much bigger in the rearview mirror 2000 years later than it did to the author at the time.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    Of course, mythicists can point to lots of mythical people who founded things, like William Tell, Ned Ludd, and the Maitreya.Even perhaps 'The Teacher of Righteousness' mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls.You still get people convinced that William Tell, Ned Ludd and the Maitreya exist, as they cannot concieve of how a movement about a historical person can start without a historical person being present.Historicists cannot produce a historical Jesus, as shown by their repeated documented failures to find one.Just how many quests for the Historical Jesus have to crash and burn before historicists stop preening themselves on their amazing scholarship which can never be questioned?Creationists get literature bombed whenever they question evolution.Please literature bomb me with convincing explanations of why Paul says in Romans 10 that Jews cannot convert if they have not heard of Jesus, and they would not have ever heard of Jesus , if it were not for Christian preachers preaching about him.Of course, creationists question the existence of transitional fossils and then get swamped with evidence for them.Please produce the evidence for the existence of Judas, Thomas, Mary Magdalene, Joanna,Salome, Nicodemus, Bartimaeus, Lazarus, Martha, the other Mary, Simon of Cyrene, Jairus, Joseph of Arimathea etc.There is as much evidence for these people as there is evidence for Olive Oyl, Bluto, Wimpy, Swee Pea in the stories about Popeye Incidentally, Popeye the Sailor Man is an historical character as he was based on a real person, which as any Historical Jesus scholar will tell you ,is all that is needed for a character in a book to be historical.If Popeye the Sailor Man was based on a real person, he becomes as historical as the Jesus of the New Testament……

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    You make the same tired claims, just the way creationists do, even after they've been answered time and again.If you knew as much about historical study of Jesus as you seem to about Popeye, you'd know the difference. The various quests failed to reach agreement on key aspects of his teaching. They didn't fail to discover evidence for a historical Jesus.But of course, the facts will not matter to you, just like they don't matter to young-earth creationists. You "know" the truth, and so all the facts in the world won't persuade you otherwise.Now if you'll excuse me, I have actual historical research I'm otherwise engaged in…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    Creationists get swamped by proofs of common descent from ancestors.If mythicists ask why not one Christian ever produced a true story about Jesus which stemmed from his alleged brother James, they are not going to be swamped by stories descending from James.James was the alleged brother of the Lord and Saviour of humanity, and no Christian made an attempt at a biography of him?Pull the other one.James was the alleged brother of the Lord and Saviour of humanity, and no Christian ever said 'James told me this about Jesus'?Amazing.Compare that to Islam where there are so many hadith about Muhammad and his companions, and yet oral stories about Jesus just vanish from Christianity, and all we are left with is basically a story about Jesus founding the cultic meal where the cult can obtain access to the body of the founder.Until the Gospels appear, of course.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    JAMESThey didn't fail to discover evidence for a historical Jesus.CARRHow many did they find? 12?Apocalyptic prophet? Cynic preacher? Messianic candidate? Rabbi?I see that there is no literature bombing of convincing explanations of Romans 10.Creationists get literature bombed. Mythicists don't…Take Romans 3, where Paul explains that the big advantage the Jews had was that they had been entrusted with the very words of God.I thought Jesus had given his teachings to Jews.Yet Paul never thinks Jews have been entrusted with the words of Jesus.I bet I don't get literature bombed with explanations of why Paul thinks the appearance of Jesus among the Jews was less of an advantage to Jews than their being entrusted with the Book of Obadiah.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    JJ Ramsey makes an excellent point that Jesus was killed by the Romans.As Paul writes in Roman 13The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.Boy, Paul really lays into those Romans for crucifying the sinless Son of God.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    JAMESVinny, your point is a good one, but in the case of Joseph of Arimathea, I'd say we're dealing with a piece of historical data, CARRIs that because nobody has found a town called Arimathea?Or because not one single Christian in the first century put his name to a document saying he had heard of Joseph of Arimathea?Joseph of Arimathea is as well-attested as the second gunman who shot JFK.He appears out of nowhere, buries Jesus and disappears again – never to be heard of.All attested to by an anonymous, unprovenanced work.How does he differ from the second gunman, who appears from nowhere, shoots Kennedy and disappears, only to appear in later conspiracy theories?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Stephen, bombarding a blog with multiple comments, prooftexting and misconstruing verses taken out of context are old tricks, but the crowd that tends to read this one is an intelligent bunch, many of whom are familiar with those tactics when used by fundamentalists and young-earth creationists and the like. Just because you are a mythicist doesn't mean they won't catch on to what you are doing.You try to obscure things by making specious comparisons to fictional characters and individuals whose existence has been and continues to be debated in recent times. I suspect for some, your statement about another gunman will have the opposite effect to what you intended. But anyone who takes the time to look at comparable figures from antiquity will get a better sense of how things really stand and what is involved in this sort of historical investigation.You wrote a lot of falsehood and a lot of nonsense. Let me just give one example. You wrote "not one single Christian in the first century put his name to a document saying he had heard of Joseph of Arimathea". Does this mean you are dating all the Gospels to later than the first century? Do you really expect anyone who knows anything about the Gospels to find that persuasive?You are welcome to continue to jump from subject to subject, and keep asking in essence "Where is the clearly dated historical individual who said he saw all these things and signed it in his own blood which we can authenticate using DNA samples from his clearly-marked grave." But the fact remains that this is not an all-or-nothing game. It is not either an open-and-shut historical case with no room for counterarguments, or a pious fraud arising in someone's imagination. As in so many other cases, not only ancient but modern, there is room for uncertainty. But those who actually stick to one subject, read whole ancient texts and familiarize themselves accurately with their contents (not to mention their names) continue to find the evidence strongly on the favor of the historical existence of a Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph, whose impact gave rise to a wide range of views about him, both positive and negative.If you are interested in engaging in genuine historical discussion, let me know. Otherwise I'll just stand back so that onlookers can get a good view of your next spam-rant. But one final comment: when opposing voices become silent, it can mean that you've won the argument. But when it involves spouting the same nonsense over and over again in multiple comments, the silence is more likely to indicate that people feel like talking to you further would be a waste of their time. But I'll be quiet now, and we can see what happens next…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    JAMESYou wrote "not one single Christian in the first century put his name to a document saying he had heard of Joseph of Arimathea". Does this mean you are dating all the Gospels to later than the first century? CARRJames calls this a falsehood, although he knows better than fundies that the Gospellers did NOT put their names on those documents.Perhaps if James calmed down, this discussion might get somewhere.I think he is too het up and just fires off accusations of falsehood before thinking.But I cannot engage in discussion with somebody who thinks the Gospellers put their names on the Gospels, and claims that people spout nonsense when they say otherwise.To use the creationist/mythicist analogy, this is like an evolutionist telling a creationists that fossils come ready labelled with the species name written on the bones.James, James, calm down!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    Oh and James still has not literature bombed me the way creationists get literature bombed when they ask their questions about data.I said he never would. And he didn't.Earl Doherty says much the same things. He points out that historicists always claim that all these points have been refuted, but never give the actual refutation, preferring instead to repeat the chant that all these points have been refuted.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    OK, I admit I didn't notice the "put their names to". But few doubt that the attributions to Mark and Luke are likely to have some value – why ascribe Gospels to nobodies? Be that as it may, I honestly don't see why this has any relevance. If Joseph of Arimathea was invented (perhaps, as Crossan suggested, to give Jesus a better burial than he really got, although I think the opposite is the case), that doesn't show Jesus to have been invented. My point stands: this is not an "all or nothing" discipline. When I present an argument for the existence of Jesus, you can't simply respond by saying "but I don't see sufficient evidence for the existence of Joseph of Arimathea, therefore Jesus didn't exist either". That argument doesn't work.I'm not sure what literature-bombing is – if it is the same as the "comment bombing" you engage in here from time to time, then I don't think I want to be a part of it. But if you are asking for citations of some excellent mainstream historians who have responded to the likes of Doherty, then here are a few (you can, in fact, read almost any detailed book by a historian writing about Jesus and find at least some treatment of this issue):James D. G. Dunn, The Evidence for Jesus[explicitly addresses mythicists]. See also his Jesus Remembered.Jesus: A Colloquium in the Holy Land by Daniel J. Harrington, Elizabeth A. Johnson, John P. Meier, E. P. Sanders.Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.There are also discussions in E. P. Sanders' The Historical Figure of Jesus and volume 1 of John P. Meier's multi-volume series A Marginal Jew, Geza Vermes' Jesus the Jew (or one of the other books in that series).There are also all the arguments for relatively early dates for some of our sources (some of which are not that convincing, but the fact that they can be made shows that late dates are often guesses rather than certain) or for the sources that were used by our written sources. For instance, Crossley's work on Mark, Robinson's redating the NT, DeConick on the original Gospel of Thomas, and too many people to name who've worked on Q.And finally, here's a quote I found online that I'll finish with, since it is from someone who was no friend of conservatives and who didn't think we could know much if anything about Jesus apart from the brute fact of his existence: Rudolf Bultmann, Jesus and the Word p. : "Of course the doubt as to whether Jesus really existed is unfounded and not worth refutation. No sane person can doubt that Jesus stands as founder behind the historical movement whose first distinct stage is represented by the oldest Palestinian community. But how far that community preserved an objectively true picture of him and his message is another question." If anyone wants to know what sort of evidence persuades mainstream scholars and historians in detail, and how that evidence is evaluated and used in the context of a scholarly argument, then I recommend reading actual books, and not simply asking for sound bites and snippets on blogs. Blogs are great places for discussion, but they are not a substitute for scholarly books and articles.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    JAMES No sane person can doubt that Jesus stands as founder behind the historical movement whose first distinct stage is represented by the oldest Palestinian community.CARRJust plain abuse. I guess no sane person can doubt that Nedd Ludd founded the Luddites or that Benjamin Creme is referring to a real person when he says the Maitreya is living in the East End of London.Guess what? I cannot find the word 'Doherty' in Dunn's 'The Evidence for Jesus' , although James assured people that the book addressed mythicists like Doherty.Guess what? Dunn's book does not address the question I raised about Romans 3, although James assured people that this was a book that addressed mythicist arguments.Guess what? Dunn's book does not address the question I raised about Romans 13, although James assured people that this was a book that addressed mythicist arguments.Mythicist arguments are NEVER answered, no matter how many times James assures people they have all been addressed.A quick glance at the books historicists tout are refuting mythicist arguments show at once that they do not address mythicist arguments.And James still cannot find a single person prepared to name himself as having seen Joseph of Arimathea.Please produce the evidence for the existence of Judas, Thomas, Mary Magdalene, Joanna,Salome, Nicodemus, Bartimaeus, Lazarus, Martha, the other Mary, Simon of Cyrene, Jairus, Joseph of Arimathea etc.There is as much evidence for these people as there is evidence for Olive Oyl, Bluto, Wimpy, Swee Pea in the stories about Popeye.These people did not exist. Not even Christians had seen them.There is as much evidence for Joseph of Arimathea as there is for the second gunman who shot JFK.This gunman appeared from nowhere, shot Kennedy and Connolly and disappeared from history, only surfacing in conspiracy theories later.Just like Joseph of Arimathea appears from nowhere , buries Jesus, and then disappears even from Christian history , only to appear in anonymous, unprovenanced works.Even the town Arimathea disappears from history.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Thank you, Steven, for doing exactly what I predicted. Your notion of proving that Jesus' existence is more likely than his being invented is having someone address every bizarre misreading of every text you cite. This is exactly what creationists do. They are presented with extensive evidence for biological evolution, yet object that "This guy didn't even address NASA and the missing day" or (to quote Ben Stein) "Evolution doesn't explain gravity". As I predicted, rather than discuss the evidence under consideration, you try to shift the discussion to Joseph of Arimathea. But the existence of Joseph of Arimathea is not the same question as the existence of Jesus. Why does this seem so hard for you to understand? No mainstream historian doubts that there is stuff in the Gospels that was made up. That doesn't prove mythicism. To prove mythicism, you have to show that everything is more likely to have been fabricated than reflect some actual historical reality. To make the case for a historical Jesus, on the other hand, all that needs to be shown is that even a very small number of pieces of data are implausibly considered fabrications, and the existence of Jesus becomes more probable. What else if anything we can know about him is another question.I'm sorry if you felt insulted, but I'm an educator. If your feelings are hurt when I give you a low grade for your failure to understand historical methodology or to keep on topic, then perhaps it is time to move your soapbox to someone else's classroom?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    James still cannot distinguish his Jesus from Popeye, who was also based on a real person.Or his Jesus from Sherlock Holmes, who was also based on a real person.An entire cast of Gospel characters are missing from history – as missing from history as the second gunman who shot JFK.Until he shows that his Jesus was more historical than Sherlock Holmes or Popeye, mythicism will still be going strong.His claim has changed from 'mythicist arguments have been refuted' to 'mythicist arguments are not worth refuting'Strange. Creationists get refuted, but mythicist questions are apparently not even worth refuting.No wonder searches for the Historical Jesus crash and burn so badly , when historicists cannot bring themselves even to address such questions as why Paul does not write that the Jews had been entrusted with the words of Jesus.Or why Paul thinks Jews have never heard of Jesus, apart from Christians preaching about him.But that would involve historicists doing real research into religions, asking why all religions are based on frauds and lies, why people like Benjamin Creme simply invent founders of their religion, why people like the Angel Moroni get made up by religious founders.Instead, historicists prefer to ask why their second gunman buried Jesus and then was made by other Christians into an actual disciples of Jesus.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    JAMESTo make the case for a historical Jesus, on the other hand, all that needs to be shown is that even a very small number of pieces of data are implausibly considered fabrications, and the existence of Jesus becomes more probable.CARRAnd this is just plain ignorance of how religions work.Is it plausible that there is a Muslim living in the East End of London?Does this mean that mythicists are crushed when they point out that Benjamin Creme's Maitreya does not exist? That this Maitreya is a myth, even if it IS more plausible than not that there is a Muslim living in the East End of London?There is not one single genuine story about Jesus, sourced by early Christians to this alleged brother of Jesus, James.If James was the real brother of Jesus, surely one Christian in the first century AD would have said that James told me some story about the life of Jesus. But not even Paul does that.What sort of brother was this?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    no doubt the angel Moroni has hidden Steven's medication

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    Jesus: A Colloquium in the Holy Land by Daniel J. Harrington, Elizabeth A. Johnson, John P. Meier, E. P. Sanders.Nope , still question begging on a great scale.Dunn's chapter in particular is a great example of simply assuming that the Gospel stories were transmitted orally, and backing this up by saying 'no doubt' a lot.Rather than producing a shred of evidence.No wonder quests for the Historical Jesus crash and burn as Biblical scholars have no methodology which works.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    I see that the abuse has started.Evolutionists tend to produce evidence to refute creationists, rather than claim that angels have taken their medication.But abuse will have to suffice if there is no evidence.If only those Gospel characters were not so elusive as that second gunman…..

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    StevenHow can you expect anything but abuse? You rant on and on, upset that nobody see the obvious truth in all your arguments. You compare Jesus to a cartoon character as if there might be any resemblance at all between a figure who has established a worldwide religion reaching as far back into history as his purported existence and a fictional, spinach-eating, sailor whom not even a 5 year old believes is "real".When you make outrageous, supercilious caricatures like that….how can you expect anyone to take you seriously.You never admit even the slightest possibility that you might be wrong…or that someone makes a good point. You just demand everyone bow to your superior reasoning and arguments.You don't want discussion….you want everyone to tell you you're right.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    RhologyI think that was a different Steven…username Steven Shark…not Steven Carr

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    Holy crap, you're right. Now deleting my comments, except for this one, to bear witness to how dumb I can be.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I think Steven's post says more than I ever could, for most readers at least. But I will make one small observation. Steven pointed out that creationists have been refuted. Yes, but young-earth creationists don't accept that they have been refuted.Anyone see a parallel?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    Are you claiming that Popeye the Sailor man was not based on a real person?That is all historicists need for somebody to exist, isn't it?If a character is based on a real person, then that character existed.If that logic works for Jesus of the Gospels, then it works for Popeye.But there is no discussion. James cannot discuss why Paul thinks Jews were entrusted with the scriptures, when Jesus was supposed to have preached to Jews.James cannot discuss why Paul claims Romans punish only wrongdoers.James cannot discuss why Paul writes in Romans 10 that Jews had not heard of Jesus, apart from Christians preaching about him.There is no discussion.James refuses to discuss such things. He just calls them 'bizarre misreadings', with no explanation as to why.Of course, evolutionists swamp creationists with evidence for common descent, but all James can do is call mythicist questions 'bizarre misreadings' and refuse to discuss them.And then write blog posts where he insults people by comparing them to creationists.James cannot discuss these things. His emotions run too high.Historical Jesus studies might actually make progress if people took pains to address the words of Paul.Why does Paul hear alleged stories of Jesus preaching to Jews, teaching them, setting Jews an example of how to live and then write 'What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.'This would be an ideal topic for Historical Jesus studies.But it is out of bounds.Shame. All you get is a mouthful of abuse for even raising the topic.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    JAMESSteven pointed out that creationists have been refuted.CARRAnd that sort of literature bombing of creationists does not happen to mythicists.Abuse, yes.Citing of books which don't even mention mythicist questions, yes.But mythicist questions are not refuted because they are out of bounds for Historical Jesus studies.I sit here, totally un-literature bombed.If I were a creationist, loads of fossils and DNA evidence and isotope datings would have been pointed out to me.Instead, I get abuse.I can spot the difference.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    You haven't raised topics, Steven. You've introduced Popeye into the discussion. Well let's talk about Popeye for a moment. If your point is that Popeye was based on a real individual, then are you acknowledging that there might be an actual historical individual upon whom the later portraits of Jesus were based? If so, we're making progress. The next step is to take each piece of evidence about what Jesus is supposed to have said and done, and evaluate it on its merits.What you've offered from Paul's letters is prooftexting, quotes taken out of context. You haven't explained how you relate those supposedly difficult texts to the places where Paul mentions "Christ crucified". If you were engaging in this as an academic discussion rather than an apology for mythicism, I'd have been very interested in the conversation, since the relationship between Romans 13:3 and the crucifixion of Jesus is interesting.But as for the point about misreadings, the issue is that I cannot and don't have the time to go through the Bible, quote whole works at length, and show point by point how you've misunderstood and/or misconstrued them. You clearly don't understand what Paul was talking about a lot of the time. And that's a useful point to note. Simply reading bits of the Bible, without an understanding of the wider historical, political and literary context, often results in readings that can become quite popular in certain circles but which would never occur to someone with the sort of historical knowledge academics in this field are expected to bring to the text. Once again, I commend to you an actual reading not of what one commentator has to say on one verse that you think is relevant, but of whole works of scholarship that, when you've read them all, may give you something like the equivalent of having taken a university-level course on the subject.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    StevenYou don't get the answers you want becuase you're asking the wrong questions. In fact, your questions are not only wrong, they are based on huge misunderstandings about Paul and his writings. They're not even good enough to labeled "wrong"."why Paul thinks Jews were entrusted with the scriptures, when Jesus was supposed to have preached to Jews."and? how are the two things contradictory?"cannot discuss why Paul claims Romans punish only wrongdoers."Completely out of context. While Paul knows that Jesus was crucified by the Romans, they are seen as being the instrument of the Jewish leadership at the time, and bear the responsibility in Paul's mind."why Paul writes in Romans 10 that Jews had not heard of Jesus, apart from Christians preaching about him."uh…maybe because there were Jews everywhere and no telegraph, telephone, or internet to give them daily updates on Jerusalem and everything happening there. The only way to find out something would be for someone to travel to your area and let you know about it.It is questions like these that make me doubt how seriously you have read the entire New Testament. If you actually read all of Paul's letters from beginning to end, without simply skipping from proof-text to proof-text maybe you would have a better handle on Paul's personality and some context for the things he says.As it is….you usually misrepresent HIm and his writings.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    oops…posted at the same time as James.Didn't mean to be redundant.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Terri, nothing you wrote was redundant!Steven, creationists get refuted. When they refuse to accept that they have been refuted, then they sometimes get abused in the comments sections of the blog in question. While I don't think anyone here has been abusive, the analogy to creationists seems all the more apt with every additional comment you leave here…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    JAMESIf your point is that Popeye was based on a real individual, then are you acknowledging that there might be an actual historical individual upon whom the later portraits of Jesus were based? CARROf course there might be.But that does not make Jesus of the Gospels any more historical than Popeye.TERRImaybe because there were Jews everywhere and no telegraph, telephone, or internet to give them daily updates on Jerusalem and everything happening there.CARRNice try. Which scholar did you read that in?Paul makes no differentiation between Jews inside Jerusalem and Jews outside Jerusalem.Paul says 'Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness.'Well, yes, but when did these people reject Jesus?Nor does Paul say any Jews rejected the preaching of Jesus, rather than the preaching about Jesus.Nor does Paul say in Romans 10 that any Jew came to faith by seeing Jesus perform miracles or being called by Jesus.'Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.''Of Christ' means the word about Christ. It is what Doherty calls a objective genitive, Christ being the object of the preaching.So which Jews came to faith through seeing Christ? TERRIWhile Paul knows that Jesus was crucified by the Romans…CARREvidence please.Paul writes that the governing authorities punish only wrongdoers.The innocent had nothing to fear from them.Other than being flogged, beaten , spat on, mocked, stripped , crucified and killed, of course.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Steven, it sounds like you might be beginning to understand! The question of whether Jesus existed at all is not the same as the question of how much, if anything, that is said about him in the Gospels or Paul's letters or anywhere else is authentic. Historical study is not an all-or-nothing game. Do you get that now?Paul's own experience of being lashed and punished by authorities is itself in tension with Paul's statement that only wrongdoers need to fear the authorities in Romans 13, and so the tension with the crucifixion is clearly not decisive.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08955726889682177434 Vinny

    Steven, it sounds like you might be beginning to understand! The question of whether Jesus existed at all is not the same as the question of how much, if anything, that is said about him in the Gospels or Paul's letters or anywhere else is authentic. Historical study is not an all-or-nothing game. Do you get that now?One of the similarities between hardcore mythicists and creationists is that every favorable hypothesis must be presented as unequivocal fact and every contrary hypothesis must be opposed as if it were utterly empty speculation. If you can get past the hyperbole, it often turns out that they recognize that some or their theories are weaker than others and the other side has some that are stronger than others. I understand why the creationists take this approach since the defense of biblical literalism really is an "all-or-nothing" game for them. I don't understand why the mythicists do this, however, because there is not that much difference between a purely mythological Jesus and a historical Jesus who is effectively irretrievable due to mythological accretions.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05377158305586280009 Gareth McCaughan

    Here's another possibly-significant difference between mythicists and creationists. Both, indeed, appeal to what's basically a conspiracy theory to explain the fact that scholars in the relevant fields are solidly against them. But the mythicists have a much better candidate explanation for *why* there should be such agreement among scholars: the great majority of scholars concerned with the origins of Christianity are themselves Christians, which provides an obvious motivation for them not to look too objectively at any evidence for the mythicist position that might turn up. Creationists like to pretend that evolutionary biology is a "religion", precisely (I think) because it makes their conspiracy theory look more plausible; well, Christianity really is a religion…(The mythicists' theory arguably requires less actual conspiracy, too.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Gareth, I'm not actually persuaded. There are plenty of agnostics and atheists, many of whom lost their faith as a result precisely of historical study and the challenge it raised to their religious assumptions. But more importantly, I don't think that Christian religious convictions can explain the consensus of historians about Jesus any more than the alleged predominance of atheists in the natural sciences can explain the dominance of evolution. In both cases, we're dealing with an academic discipine, and ones in which challenges to the prevailing consensus are precisely how scholarship thrives and knowledge advances. The only fundamental difference I see is that our knowledge in biology is grounded in a much larger amount of data, and processes that can be observed in the present, and so its conclusions are that much more certain.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    But there is no consensus about Jesus.While scientists have a ton of data about evolution, you can now make a decent living documenting the way various quests for the Historical Jesus have failed.The other difference is that evolutionists are continually challenged by creationists and are forced to defend their consensus with research, while historicists just ignore mythicists. And, of course, mythicists can point to contemporary religions founded on mythical people.Creationists cannot point to any global floods.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    VINNIEI don't understand why the mythicists do this, however, because there is not that much difference between a purely mythological Jesus and a historical Jesus who is effectively irretrievable due to mythological accretions.CARRYes, such a Jesus is a mythical Jesus,just as Popeye the Sailor Man is a mythicised version of a real person.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Steven, there is indeed a consensus that Jesus existed. Please don't try yet another standard creationist ploy, and claim "the issue is hotly diisputed among experts" when that simply isn't the case.The difference between the two scenarios you mentioned may be unconsequential to you, but for historians it makes a difference whether an individual is completely invented (what mythicists claim) or a historical person so surrounded by mythology that it makes it hard to say much if anything about the historical individual in question other than the bare fact of their existence. Are you saying you're in the latter category, and hold a view closer to Bultmann than to Wells? If so, you certainly gave a different impression so far!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00565212411446092552 smijer

    CARR: The other difference is that evolutionists are continually challenged by creationists and are forced to defend their consensus with research, while historicists just ignore mythicists.Yes, I see numerous papers in every issue of Nature defending evolution specifically against "polystrate trees" and "irreducible complexity". CARR: …you can now make a decent living documenting the way various quests for the Historical Jesus have failed.And among all of those failures – each quest seemingly more flawed than the last – the one element you won't find is a failure to demonstrate the essential historicity of a figure named Jesus associated with Jerusalem and Galilee, crucified by the Romans, who had siblings personally known to the authors of epistles written 20 years after his death. MCGRATH: Are you saying you're in the latter category, and hold a view closer to Bultmann than to Wells? If so, you certainly gave a different impression so far!I hope SC will clarify his position. I doubt it is as radical as you've appreciated. I've followed him on internet discussion boards for several years, and I remember a quick and analytical mind and a sharp tongue that I've admired consistently.I'm guessing that he mainly wants recognition for the view that the historical Jesus is almost entirely obscured in the available witnesses – that the only "Jesus" that we have significant access to is a mythical one. I think he is mistaken to a degree on that point as well, but it is more respectable than the notion that there was no historical Jesus at all. I don't know if he takes the position that the mythical Jesus represents an amalgamation of a large variety of legendary figures among which several real individuals could equally well (or equally poorly) be identified with the "historical" Jesus. If so, I would be disappointed… Like I said, I would like to see him clarify his position. But I guess I should shut up & let him speak for himself.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08955726889682177434 Vinny

    Steven,I understand the conceptual difference between a mythical person and a mythicized person. I'm simply not convinced that we could expect much difference between the evidence for each after two thousand years.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    I don't understand why the mythicists do this, however, because there is not that much difference between a purely mythological Jesus and a historical Jesus who is effectively irretrievable due to mythological accretions.I think the reason Mythicists are loath to concede the historical person of jesus is that it opens up a slew of questions.If Jesus exists, we have to explain how Christianity developed the way that it did. Messiahs don't pop up without being a part of their own story. There's always the Lord, Liar, Lunatic argument a la Lewis. I know some think it's facile, but there is some truth in it.If Jesus existed, then he must have made certain claims about himself. Mythicists would like to side-step the messiness of trying to figure that all out.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Terri, on the one hand I think you're probably absolutely right that a motivation forr mythicism is precisely the desire to circumvent the messiness of historical study.On the other hand, Lewis' classic 'trilemma' faces a similar if opposite accusation, since (as usually formulated) it assumes Jesus spoke of himself in the way John's Gospel presents – and most historians consider that highly unlikely.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08955726889682177434 Vinny

    The difference between the two scenarios you mentioned may be unconsequential to you, but for historians it makes a difference whether an individual is completely invented (what mythicists claim) or a historical person so surrounded by mythology that it makes it hard to say much if anything about the historical individual in question other than the bare fact of their existence.Hmmmm? I wonder. It seems like it would be hard to get to the bare fact of someone’s existence without being able to say something with some reasonable degree of certainty.One way of reasoning might be that there are a number of factors that point toward historicity such as Nazareth as his birthplace and James as his brother. For each one of these, there is some probability that the tradition is symbolic or mythological rather than factual. However, in order to believe in a historical Jesus, only one factor has to be historical whereas mythicism only works if every factor is mythological. Suppose there were five such factors and the odds of each one being mythological were only 25%. The odds that at least one of them is historical are approximately 99.9% while the odds that they are all mythological are only .1%. Would you concur with that kind of reasoning Dr. McGrath?If so, I wonder whether it doesn’t require an unwarranted assumption about the independence of the factors. Suppose, for example, that archeologists were able to demonstrate with reasonable certainty that Nazareth did not exist until the third century C.E. Wouldn’t that cause historians to rethink the odds that Paul was using “brother” in a metaphorical sense?Historicists only need one factor to go in favor of their position and they find it hard to imagine that every single factor could go the other way, but I wonder whether it is really so unimaginable if the dominos were to start falling.Regarding scholarly consensus, I cannot help but think of Thomas Kuhn’s theories about scientific progress. When a new paradigm takes hold, it is not because the majority of scientists decide that the old paradigm is no longer valid. In general, the scientists who learned the old paradigm continue to accept it while the newcomers embrace the new paradigm as it proves its superiority in practice. Eventually, the old paradigm is supplanted as it ceases to be supported. If mythicism were to take hold, it might be because new scholars recognized its explanatory power rather than because extant scholars became convinced.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I'd say that's largely correct, Vinny. Unless one has an undubitably authentic graffiti of the sort "Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth was here", then the only way to assess historicity is to assess evidence for specific things that he is supposed to have said or done.In the case of Jesus, the one piece of bedrock that seems unlikely to shift is the crucifixion. The main way mythicists explain it is to point to dying and rising gods, but without ever providing a plausible reason why a pattern from such deities would be adopted by Jews who affirm something akin to "monotheism", who don't yet regard Jesus as divine, and who claim he is the Messiah and that he was nonetheless crucified by the foreigners that Jews hoped the Anointed one would defeat. The biggest flaw in the reasoning of most mythicists I've conversed with on this subject is the question of motive. It is not that theoretically people could not have invented a Messiah that did few of the things a Messiah was expected to do. But rarely do they ever try to explain why someone would do so. Anyway, if one were to come up with a plausible reason why someone would have invented a crucified Messiah, and how a supposedly originally purely heavenly figure then gets mistaken for a human being in the Synoptic Gospels, only to get turned into a heavenly figure again thereafter, then I suppose the cause of mythicism could be said to be making serious progress!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08955726889682177434 Vinny

    Dr. McGrath,Having watched many episodes of Law and Order as well as having graduated from law school, I can tell you that motive is not normally an element of the crime (at least it wasn’t before the advent of “hate crime” legislation). I am not saying that motive is irrelevant. I am simply saying that history is chock full of actions and events driven by volitional choices by individuals about which it is almost unimaginable in hindsight that anyone could have thought they were a good idea at the time. The fact that I cannot imagine why Joseph Smith invented the angel Moroni, the golden plates, and the umum and thumum doesn’t lead me to believe that any of them were real. Understanding his motive would be helpful but not determinative.I can only say that I believe, as a general rule, that people embrace religious beliefs in an effort to make sense of their existence and to give meaning thereto. I doubt that anyone consciously invented a crucified Messiah, but I could believe that some first century Jew who was longing for the restoration of Israel and the defeat of the Romans might have some sort of visionary experience of God exalting some apocalyptic prophet that the Romans had crushed. I might even be able to believe that the apocalyptical prophet could have been a type rather than any specific historical person that the visionary had known prior to his vision. This might be enough to start a small cult. Then along comes Paul who has his own visionary experience in which he comes up with the idea of the crucified Messiah as atoning sacrifice and Christianity is off and running.I have not actually read much mythicism and I have no idea how close this is to anything that anyone has proposed, however, it is the kind of scenario that I think about. There might have been a range of opinions about the extent to which the crucified Messiah was identified with any specific historical person. Even if Paul’s Jesus was purely mythological, those he converted might have invented stories to make him more real as they spread the gospel to others. If a flesh and blood Jesus was found to be more effective for purposes of evangelism, I think that it could easily come to dominate a purely mythological one.As I have said, one of the things that puzzles me is why the flesh and blood Jesus doesn’t appear more clearly in other first century writings like the canonical epistles and 1 Clement. Even if the consensus dating for the writing of the gospels is correct, might it not be that the stories of the flesh and blood Jesus did not gain wide acceptance until a date long after Paul and Cephas and James had passed from the scene? I humbly admit to my lack of familiarity with much of the scholarship in the field. If you could direct me to any resources that might address these kinds of questions, I would be most appreciative.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00565212411446092552 smijer

    Not taking the mythicist position, but I tend to agree with Vinny here. One motive I can imagine for inventing a crucified messiah is the persecution of Christians. A savior who underwent the same passion the early Christians were subject to would help to explain their own experience. That said, the crucifixion is the one element of Jesus life, more than any other, that every witness agrees on, whether hostile to or favorable to Christianity. Crucifixion is a flesh-and-blood artifice. "Death" can easily be metaphorical, but the "cross" is a pretty concrete instrument of execution. And Paul's earliest witnesses describe a surety in "Jesus Christ, and him crucified". That's not to mention the hymn of Col 1, which also ends in a testament to the cross and likely dates before Paul.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05377158305586280009 Gareth McCaughan

    James, re conspiracy theories: do you really not think that being a Christian gives stronger motivation for believing that Jesus existed than being an atheist gives for believing that the world is billions of years old, life on earth has a common origin, etc.?(An irrelevant aside: In an earlier discussion, I said something that you interpreted as an accusation of stupidity and dishonesty on your part. That wasn't my meaning at all — it was practically the opposite of my meaning — as I then tried to make clear, but I don't know whether you actually saw that. I would not want you to think that I hold any such view of you; I don't.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Oh yes, on that I'd agree completely. I was persuaded to change my mind about the age of the earth and other such scientific matters while still a conservative Christian. And despite what some people claim, the age of the earth doesn't really have any relevance to the question of whether God created (although it certainly may have implications with respect to how).As for the other matter, I've completely forgotten what the insult/misunderstanding was, and prefer to leave the matter like that rather than go refresh my memory. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00769117142960558423 Northlander

    And despite what some people claim, the age of the earth doesn't really have any relevance to the question of whether God created (although it certainly may have implications with respect to how).Nothing we believe we know about the earth suggests that it was created at all. It simply formed.I was watching a show on the tube about the origins of the universe a few weeks back, and I was struck by a throwaway line from one of the scientists being interviewed — it might some day be possible for us to create universes in a laboratory. Should that come to pass, would that make the folks in the white lab coats "gods"?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05377158305586280009 Gareth McCaughan

    James, re earlier misunderstanding: Works for me. As for the on-topic bit, I think you may have misunderstood me (not that I disagree with what you're agreeing with me about, I'm just not sure it's the same as I said). Doesn't particularly matter, though.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03126711689901268060 Quixie

    terri: "I think the reason Mythicists are loath to concede the historical person of jesus is that it opens up a slew of questions."I have no problem recognizing BOTH the historical Jesus AND the mythical Jesus. I guess I'm kind of a mythicist with an asterisk, which is to say that I make a distinction between two different Jesuses, one a real person who was almost certainly Judean and maybe some kind of martyr (anything more than that modicum is a conditioned guess) on the one hand , and a mythical Jesus whose story's every passage seems to be an exegetical para-diddle, a tendentious brushstroke (in other words. the Jesus of the NT). THAT Jesus, I would dare say, is entirely fictional. That Jesus sufficiently fleshes out his namesake's thin wireframe for those who require a life-like model in their religious ruminations, and that's cool, if you need your faith to be about history. I don't think that Jesus is about history, though. And neither do I think the he need be. Jesus is a symbol, merely a splinter of a continuing myth . . . the myth of Israel.McG: You point regarding Richard Carrier's … umm . . . 'higher criticism' is well taken and everyone should listen to that podcast you linked to, to hear what a "good" mythicist sounds like. ok . . .. . . back to occasional lurking . . .Ó

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Vinny, I've been wanting to reply to your comment for a while but got caught up in other threads. On the one hand, there is certainly some interest in the life of Jesus in the second century and beyond, as this is the period that gives us, among other things, the infancy Gospels. These show a tendency to increase the miraculous element, and some wrestling with notions of Jesus as God-man, but they still do have Jesus born and live in human history.On the other hand, your depiction of how Christian thought developed sounds like the mainstream scholarly view, if you posit Jesus as the apocalyptic prophet crushed by the Romans. On this understanding, Jesus lived, and his disciples held out hopes that he would be the Messiah (whether he encouraged such hopes is debated). When he was crucified, one would have expected them to conclude he wasn't the Messiah. But some sorts of religious experiences (presumably including dreams and the like) persuaded them that he had indeed been the Messiah, and that God had vindicated him beyond death.


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