Is There Evidence For Mythicism?

The ongoing conversation has shown yet another parallel between mythicism and creationism.

On the one hand, it seems increasingly clear that there is strictly speaking no “evidence” for mythicism. Positive evidence for mythicism would presumably involve some actual indication that someone somewhere invented the story of Jesus, not merely as the novelistic historical fiction that is common in the ancient world, but as pure fiction.

The discussion keeps returning to the “compatibility” of evidence with mythicism. But evidence is often compatible with more than one conclusion – what makes for an academically rigorous investigation is an attempt to deal as efficiently and persuasively as possible with as much of the relevant evidence as possible.

The evidence from biology is “compatible” with young-earth creationism – as long as you are willing to posit a creator who arbitrarily makes organisms created independently appear as though they are related, and creates rocks with ratios of radioactive isotopes to decay products that “mislead” scientists into thinking the Earth is much older than 6,000 years. Likewise, no evidence is incompatible with mythicism – as long as one is willing to posit an arbitrary mythmaker who invents things for no obvious reason, and who often expresses himself so poorly that one often gets the “wrong impression” that he is talking about a historical figure.

But as it turns out, neither mythicism nor young-earth creationism is about the evidence at all, but is a presupposition which is brought to the evidence and which no evidence can ever counter. In the case of mythicism, it is a presupposition that no details in a narrative such as the Gospels can ever lead a historian to conclude that he or she is dealing with a story based on historical events. And if that is one’s presupposition, then unless different sorts of evidence are found, or unless mythicists show some willingness to deal more plausibly with Paul’s references to Jesus being “born of a woman,” “descended from David according to the flesh,” and crucified, then it seems that time spent discussing the New Testament with mythicists would be better spent discussing the nature of historical inquiry when archaeological evidence and first-hand eyewitness accounts are lacking. That seems to be where the real disagreements lie.

But mythicists have been emphasizing that they are a diverse group, and so I wonder whether there are any mythicists reading this who would in theory accept a textual account as evidence (not providing certainty, of course, but providing a high degree of probability) of something or someone historical. If you could provide an example or illustration, it would be greatly appreciated.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10666074795187377455 JoeWallack

    Your star witness for HJ, Paul, confesses to us that his source for Jesus is God and that his source for Jesus was not historical witness. No fumbling around with third and fourth hand witness here. So, when God is the source, is the information more likely to be history or fiction?Joseph

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

    In what may be one of our earliest letters from Paul (Galatians), he describes meeting with Peter and getting to know or consulting with James. And so he may use the rhetoric of not depending on any other human being for his message as a way of responding to critics who claimed that the Jerusalem apostles and Jesus' brother were better sources of information and thus more authoritative. But historians don't take Paul's claims at face value.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10666074795187377455 JoeWallack

    "In what may be one of our earliest letters from Paul (Galatians), he describes meeting with Peter and getting to know or consulting with James. And so he may use the rhetoric of not depending on any other human being for his message as a way of responding to critics who claimed that the Jerusalem apostles and Jesus' brother were better sources of information and thus more authoritative. But historians don't take Paul's claims at face value."So you do not accept what is explicit in Paul and accept what is implicit. The question stands:"when God is the source, is the information more likely to be history or fiction?"You're the one who says there is no evidence for MJ.This leads to a related issue. You want to categorically dismiss MJ because it reminds you of Creationism. If we are looking for reasons to dismiss a position though, wouldn't it be more fitting to dismiss the argument of anyone who is officially neutral on the supernatural, like most Christian Bible scholars? This is the one area we can be absolutely certain of. What other science accepts the possibility of the supernatural? Oh, right, Creationism.Joseph

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

    Historical study excludes the miraculous by definition, just as the natural sciences do – methodologically, at least.

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

    Dr. McGrath,In Galatians, Paul also describes preaching for three years prior to going to Jerusalem so I would think that he must have had his understanding of who and what Jesus was pretty well worked out before he met with Peter and James. Even if we can't take his claim to having miraculously received his knowledge about Jesus straight from God at face value, don't we have to seriously consider the possibility that, like Joseph Smith's revelations from Moroni, much of it was the product of hallucination and/or his own fevered imagination? I have often wondered whether Paul did not do most of the talking at that first meeting with Peter and James. Given the success he had already enjoyed in spreading his gospel, his superior education, and the way he had treated people who disagreed with him in the past, James and Peter would have had as much reason to accept Paul's understanding as to explain theirs to him.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10666074795187377455 JoeWallack

    "Historical study excludes the miraculous by definition, just as the natural sciences do – methodologically, at least."Let me get to the point. I'm assuming you are officially neutral regarding the supernatural. When Paul makes supernatural claims do you think this hurts his credibility or not?Joseph

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

    Joe, only to the extent that it hurts the credibility of most ancient people and many modern ones. If we excluded all sources that entertain the possibility of the miraculous, we'd have very little left, particularly from the ancient world.Vinny, the issue is not whether Paul had visions or hallucinations but whether he believed Jesus existed as a historical individual without having any human sources involved in the process. Paul is clearly trying to highlight his calling and his equality to the Jerusalem apostles. But are you really suggesting that, as a self-identified former persecutor of Christians, he did so while knowing absolutely nothing about their beliefs?

  • C.J. O’Brien

    But mythicists have been emphasizing that they are a diverse group, and so I wonder whether there are any mythicists reading this who would in theory accept a textual account as evidence (not providing certainty, of course, but providing a high degree of probability) of something or someone historical. If you could provide an example or illustration, it would be greatly appreciated.Well, sure. There are numerous people and events we know about from Josephus and nowhere else. Josephus is often tendentious in his reporting, but in cases where he's recounting an event that happened in Jerusalem while he was there and that would not seem to be of great ideological or material import to him, we have no reason to doubt his general accuracy. But what is the point of this exercise? There's no comparison to the gospels. Josephus is a known, named figure of history himself. The gospels are anonymously composed texts. We have no way to know what the sources were or how the authors viewed the sources or what influences or commitments may have impinged upon the authors as they wrote. It is precisely the coindidence of the complete silence of history and the anonymity of our primary witnesses that makes the synoptic account suspect as historical information. This is not difficult, nor would I think there would be disagreement on this score between a reasonable historicist position and a mythicist one.Positive evidence for mythicism would presumably involve some actual indication that someone somewhere invented the story of Jesus, not merely as the novelistic historical fiction that is common in the ancient world, but as pure fiction.I have a question on this, and I, in turn, would greatly appreciate a non-dismissive answer, as, whatever impression you have formed about these awful mythicists, I am an honest person who is interested in learning what there is to know about the ancient world. How much solid historical information about the events of Jesus's life would we need to attribute to the author of Mark to judge that text as "novelistic historical fiction that is common in the ancient world"? Is there a threshold below which we would have to judge Mark "pure fiction," even if a historical person named Jesus existed, had some kind of itinerant ministry in Galilee and the surrounding area, and was crucified in Jerusalem under Pilate?

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

    Dr. McGrath,No. I wouldn’t suggest that Paul knew absolutely nothing. However, I think history tells us that religious persecutors often do not have a very accurate picture of their victims” beliefs. Wasn’t there a belief among some Roman persecutors that Christians engaged in incest based on the fact that they called one another “brother” and “sister”? There were Christians who persecuted Jews because they thought that they used the blood of Christian babies in rituals. The witch burners in Salem didn’t understand what it was that their victims really believed.So while I am sure that Paul knew something about the beliefs of the sect that he was persecuting, I would think it likely that he possessed much misinformation as well. I don’t know what his methods were, but if he was coercing confessions or using informants, he likely would have gotten some stories based upon what people thought he wanted to hear rather than on factual accuracy. Once he had his experience on the road to Damascus, I would think that everything he knew or thought he knew about the sect’s beliefs, including both fact and fantasy, would have contributed to what he thought was his revelation.I have no doubt that there were unacknowledged human sources for what Paul claimed was his revelation from God. I have a bit more doubt that we can identify those sources or meaningfully assess their reliability.

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

    C.J., that's an excellent question, and I'm not sure an answer is quantifiable in terms of a percentage that distinguishes "history" from "historical fiction" from "impressionistic, ideologically-driven history" from any number of other terms and distinctions we might make.But I do think that once one concludes that there is a historical individual about whom at least a few details are known with reasonable probability (e.g. Jewish man from Galilee, crucified, etc.) then that individual is no longer a mythicist, and can join in the process of what historians are trying to do: sift through the texts we have to determine what, if anything, we can say about that figure, and with what degree of confidence. A mythicist as I understand it views that enterprise as a waste of time more or less by definition.

  • C.J. O’Brien

    Likewise, no evidence is incompatible with mythicism – as long as one is willing to posit an arbitrary mythmaker who invents things for no obvious reason, and who often expresses himself so poorly that one often gets the "wrong impression" that he is talking about a historical figure.And I suppose that the mythmaking we all agree took place was all non-arbitrary in the sense that the beliefs and motivations of the mythmakers in question are perfectly intelligible to modern sensibilities? Aren't you glossing over the fact that in investigating ancient psychologies we must be aware that the potential exists for confusing "opaque" or "alien" with "arbitrary"? And how "obvious" are the reasons for the inclusion of the Lazarus pericope in John where no such story exists in our other sources (as an off-the-cuff example)? As for "poor communications" and "historical figures" can we agree that there's a huge gulf between "a person believed to have existed by an ancient author on no evidence" and "a historical figure"?I can't help but form the impression that you're stressing this huge asymmetry where none exists or where at least the differences between the positions are not as great as you'd like them to be.

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

    It doesn't seem to me that precisely the same dynamics will be involved in claiming an actual human being as God's anointed, and inventing one purely in one's imagination. Nor am I certain that the reasons for legends growing up around genuine historical figures are exactly the same reasons that people invent gods or write fictional novels.

  • Anonymous

    “Positive evidence for mythicism would presumably involve some actual indication that someone somewhere invented the story of Jesus, not merely as the novelistic historical fiction that is common in the ancient world, but as pure fiction.”Huzzah! What a great move! One might take it to be an application of Occam’s razor to mythicism: the mythicist is multiplying entities needlessly by postulating the existence of a fictional story for which there isn’t a smidgin of evidence.Now, if only one of the fastest rising stars of the scholarship of the New Testament would see that the evidence for Q is just as contrived and misbegotten as is the evidence for a fictive story of Jesus!

  • C.J. O’Brien

    James,I suppose not. Forgive me, however, for being skeptical that the mainstream consensus has in all cases correctly identified the differences between those kinds of ideational activity and in which cases one is operative and one is not. There's no denying that the foundational work on the NT texts was conducted in an environment where historicism was an unjustified a priori commitment. My view is that, whatever good-faith attempts have been made to interrogate the starting assumptions (and I can admit there have been plenty), this has nevertheless resulted in a field where "legends growing up around genuine historical figures" is a privileged kind of ancient creativity, to be preferred as an explanation unless disproven as a possibility beyond doubt, perhaps also partly for reasons that I allude to above: it's what we consider reasonable and non-arbitrary from our empirico-rationalist epistemology, a way of structuring the world simply not freely available or obviously useful to ancient persons.I've taken up a lot of your time, and I do appreciate the discussion. After all is said and done, I guess I'd just like to go on my way having at least convinced you that one can arrive at agnosticism about the historical Jesus honestly and that, superficially similar "denialist" attitudes notwithstanding, I, for one, do not take a creationist's attitude toward potentially disconfirming evidence, and that I am genuinely interested in learning. (That I have tended argue from an unwarranted position of confidence is, I'm afraid, an artifact of the medium we're using here, which doesn't favor nuanced positions or heavily qualified expression.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    James, are you suggesting that no Christians in the first century interpreted their faith allegorically? Are you suggesting that nobody could read Paul in Galatians describing a "meeting" with Peter and James — and THEN write a gospel that included those names to give it verisimilitude?Doesn't the primary question end up being — what is the genre of the gospels?If you think the gospels are histories like those of Tacitus, why weren't they given named authors at the time of their writing? If you watched an episode of Battlestar Galactica would you assume it was a documentary or a historical dramatization?Now, there are probably things that happen on Battlestar, or Lost, that are based on real life events of the writers, and some of the names of characters may even relate to real life individuals. But nobody would argue that because there is an FBI and Vin Scully exists that there is a historical core of the X Files.

  • Antonio Jerez

    Anonymous wrote:"Now, if only one of the fastest rising stars of the scholarship of the New Testament would see that the evidence for Q is just as contrived and misbegotten as is the evidence for a fictive story of Jesus!"Anonymous, I really like the thing you wrote about Q. And I find it funny that I had to argue along your lines with another mythicists, Neil Godfrey, a couple of minutes ago on Neil´s blog. You might find part of the conversation between me and Neil entertaining.I first wrote this:"I am not really sure if we can blame Paul or the gospel writersfor the confusion in the historicist camp that give rise to all from a cynic non-apocalyptic sage to an Endtime Prophet. I actually think the cynic sage says more about the scholars who propose it than about picture the NT writers paint of Jesus and his message. Remember that Crossan and the others are all practicing liberal Christians who have no interest whatoever in preaching about an apocalyptic Jesus. And remember that to unearth a cynic Jesus you always have to go by the tortuorous path of grounding your reconstruction of Jesus on hypothetical documents (like Q) plus further speculations which finds further layers in Q such as Q1, Q2, Q3…. I hardly need to repeat again that it is scholarship like this has me say that most Christian scholars doing Jesus research are just in to it to reconstruct a Jesus that is useful for them when they preach to Christian audiences. Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg being prime examples of this trend.As for us others who don´t belong to any of the theological camps in the Jesus search we see the apocalyptic Endtime Prophet right across the board in NT. And we don´t have to use hypothetical documents with further hypothetical layers to unearth him."Then Neil answered:“Antonio, there is evidence for Q and evidence for the various layers of Q1, 2 and 3. You may disagree with the interpretation of that textual evidence and draw different conclusions about what it suggests. But you have not presented any evidence for your historical scenarios. You have only made made hypothetical arguments about what you think motivated the gospel authors to write what they did. Q has more substantial evidence than this with its careful comparisons of words and phrases — not speculative guesswork — that lead many to conclude the existence of Q and its layers.”Then I answered"Neil,have you been drinking too much lately or are you joking with me? I really didn´t expect this kind of answer from you because normally you sound like a sensible person.So you think there is no evidence whatsoever for Jesus but you claim that there is “evidence” for the existence of Q. What evidence? Have you been able to find some magic scrolls that Q supporters like Mack, Kloppenborg and Crossan haven´t been able to show us yet? Or do you think books like “The real Q” count as evidence for the existence of a hypothetical document? And given your penchant for asking me and other historicists for hard evidence I think it a bit laughable to hear from your mouth that there is “evidence” for the existence of a hypothetical document with multiple hypothetical layers."

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

    C.J., it has been a pleasure interacting with you. I hope we'll find another common interest to discuss at some point!Evan, I'm not sure why you seem to be suggesting that we don't know who wrote LOST and Battlestar Galactica, nor is it clear to me why you think those are particularly comparable to the Gospels in terms of their genre.

  • Antonio Jerez

    Another little thought on Q. As far as know there is no other historical discipline outside Biblical studies where historians feel that they can indulge in reconstructions of a supposed historical or non-historical person based on the supposed existence of a hypothetical document which in its turn is supposed to have existed in several hypothetically reconstructed editions. Which just shows that the Bible business runs along with laws of its own. And the fact that mythicists like Doherty and master historians like Neil Godfrey, who thinks he is one of the select few who knows the rules for doing true history, run along in the charade is all the more amazing.

  • Antonio Jerez

    Actually I do recall that a similar process has recently started to be at work in Islamic studies. Works on the origins of Islam from scholars like John Wansbrough and Christoph Luxenberg (a pseudonym) come to mind. But it is obvious that Wansbrough and Luxenberg have learnt their methods from Biblical studies, which just shows that the malicious virus running wild in Biblical studies is contagious.

  • C.J. O’Brien

    Thank you, James. I came here from Loftus's blog, and I will certainly check in from time to time to see what's happening. If nothing else, I can keep up on developments in NT studies. (I like Lost too, but unfortunately I missed all of last season due to other commitments, and so I'm not up on current events or I'm sure I would enjoy discussing that with folks here as well.)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    James, you are not understanding my point, so I will try to break it down.If the gospels were primarily written as allegories of spiritual things, then they weren't written as histories.Nobody who watched Lost or BSG or the X files would consider them histories if they were familiar with entertainment from the 20th and 21st centuries.Nobody who reads a story about a man who comes back from the dead would consider it a history under most circumstances, so the question shouldn't be "Is this text historical, except for the bits about miracles?" Rather, it should be, "Is this text myth or history?"Now you clearly agree that parts of it (the miracles, the resurrection, the obvious allusions to the Hebrew Scriptures, the virgin birth, … I could go on) are mythical. But you insist on there being history in it.It's like a future historian coming to 20th and 21st century studies and suggesting that Lost, BSG and the X files were all fictional, but that My Favorite Martian was based on a real historical Martian who visited earth.What reasons would he have for doing so?Now I think that any story that is incredible (people discovering bizarre things on an island they shipwrecked on, wars between humans and robots happening in the distant past or the FBI agents who deal with space aliens) to be fiction, regardless of whether there may be some events that are related that have their original basis in something that happened.I'm pretty sure you do to.Would you argue that Mel Gibson's movie or a Passion Play are reliable historical documents?Therefore, the first task for the historicist is to establish that the authors of the disputed texts meant to write history first and foremost. Of course, I doubt you believe this.Therefore, following DF Strauss, we establish that they are mythic in character and that there is virtually no non-mythical evidence for their historicity.To quote Tatian:We do not act as fools, O Greeks, nor utter idle tales, when we announce that God was born in the form of a man. I call on you who reproach us to compare your mythical accounts with our narrations. Athene, as they say, took the form of Deiphobus for the sake of Hector, and the unshorn Phoebus for the sake of Admetus fed the trailing-footed oxen, and the spouse us came as an old woman to Semele. But, while you treat seriously such things, how can you deride us? Your Asclepios died, and he who ravished fifty virgins in one night at Thespiae lost his life by delivering himself to the devouring flame.Prometheus, fastened to Caucasus, suffered punishment for his good deeds to men. According to you, Zeus is envious, and hides the dream from men, wishing their destruction. Wherefore, looking at your own memorials, vouchsafe us your approval, though it were only as dealing in legends similar to your own. We, however, do not deal in folly, but your legends are only idle tales.This strikes me (not knowing Greek and relying on translation) as a clear acknowledgment of the genre of the gospels — legend — just not idle legend.Do you interpret this differently?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10666074795187377455 JoeWallack

    "Joe, only to the extent that it hurts the credibility of most ancient people and many modern ones. If we excluded all sources that entertain the possibility of the miraculous, we'd have very little left, particularly from the ancient world."Oh great, another false dichotomy. It's not a matter of accepting or rejecting witness. It's weighing the witness. We should be long on the evidence and short on the conclusions. Paul's credibility is inVersly proportional to his incredulity.If Paul has God as a primary source and has an attitude that Jesus' life is not important but Jesus' after-life is than he must be a witness for MJ. I accept your logical implications that he is also a witness for HJ. The better question is what is the QUALITY of his witness. I have not seen any criteria here to help determine that. Dr. Richard Carrier has a book due/overdue that I have faith will introduce some proper criteria and standards to the issue.Moving forward from Paul, the next witness is Fake Paul, late 1st century. Fake Paul seems dependent on Paul and not historical witness. More evidence for MJ,not very good evidence since we don't know who the witness is, but evidence. The 1st known user of a Gospel is Marcion. Marcion witnesses that his Jesus came down from Heaven and than returned to Heaven. I guess that's HJ evidence but it could be a transition from MJ. Definitely deserves an asterik.Than there's "Mark". The External evidence is all 2nd century and the anachronisms (and there are a lot) suggest the Internal evidence is also. We don't know the who, what, where, why or how of "Mark" yet this is the original Gospel narrative. It agrees with Paul in that it discredits potential historical witness. The other Canonical Gospels either use "Mark" as a base or react to it suggesting they had no access to historical witness. So how does this compare with witness for other ancients? The first witness has a primary source of God and the second witness says the historical witnesses were not witnesses.No, as Bill Murray said in the classic Stripes, "Something is very wrong here."Joseph

  • http://mikew1584.wordpress.com mikew1584

    Arrghh! every time I think I'm out they drag me back in!From Wikipedia ( a dubious source my professors would say)A legend (Latin, legenda, "things to be read") is a narrative of human actions that are perceived both by teller and listeners to take place within human history and to possess certain qualities that give the tale verisimilitude. George Washington crossing the Delaware would be a legend, so would the battle of the Alamo. Many Greeks, particularly in the markets Christians were aiming for believed there myths were in fact legends, that they happened. The fellow here argues that their legends are no more outlandish than his, and in fact theirs are only fictional stories(idle, as in for your amusement) but his are real. You have misinterpreted it.Whether the gospels provide reliable history is a separate subject from whether Jesus is a historical figure. Tacitus' reliability is also questioned from time to time but few feel that he provides no useful information on Domitian. I don't think the future historian would have a hard time not only finding My Favorite Martian to be a work of fantasy set in a real location (America) but that know one took it to be otherwise. (though there are those that believe the premise to be possible, aliens living on Earth) On the other hand there is no evidence to suggest that people thought the Gospels to be pure fantasy. Pure being the operative word if we are still even talking about the mythical Jesus. If I made a porn involving Ron Jeremy and Joseph Stalin on Mars it would be fiction but I couldn't say that Stalin is a fictional person, only that his depiction in the film is.

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

    No modern historian who takes his work seriously would disagree with Tatian. But there is such material in accounts about historical individuals. Plutarch wrote his Life of Alexander some 4 centuries after Alexander lived, and gave indication that there were those who believed him to be of divine parentage via a snake. Strabo likewise is critical of those who tell far fetched tales about ants that dig gold in India. What this shows is that there were those capable of skepticism in antiquity, but also that some were more credulous and believed fantastic tales about historical individuals and real places.Since the miraculous is connected in ancient literature with individuals both historical and mythical, clearly it cannot be used to determine whether a person existed.The story of Jesus, unlike typical myths, is not set in the distant past in time immemorial, nor is it set in the celestial realm (even John and Acts, when including a beginning and an ending in that realm respectively, don't actually narrate anything or set any action there in narrative form).So if miraculous details cannot be used to distinguish between historical and non-historical figures, what can? Joe, I just saw your comment, and what can I say except "be it unto you according to your faith"? :) Hopefully he'll inform you about other figures in the early church who used the Gospels that eventually became part of the New Testament, among other things…

  • http://mikew1584.wordpress.com mikew1584

    On My Favorite Martian, I think you could use it as a source on history, not a good one, but if all the future knew about the 20th century was a collection of MFM DVDs, they could be mined for real information about what America was like then (but probably not Martians). I've been reading the Divine Comedy in a class, and while I find it a tedious work of fantasy fiction, Ive learned a little about the medieval world.

  • Vincent

    All Dr. McGrath has to offer is ridicule of the mythicist position, by constantly trying to compare it to creationism (red-herring argument to me). It's the same Jesus-believing Christians pushing those creationism views, not mythicists. What I've seen in the various blogs here represents fear, biases and prejudice against the mythicist position. The more I learn about the mythicist position, the less impressive NT scholarship becomes.If you're going to attempt to debunk mythicism then it's probably wise to actually be knowledgable about mythicism first. There's much Dr. McGrath and others here seem utterly unaware of concerning the mythicist position. I can only guess you are wilfully choosing to ignore it."Condemnation without investigation is the height of ignorance." – Albert EinsteinThe Origins of Christianity and the Quest for the Historical Jesus ChristJesus as the Sun throughout HistoryAstrotheology of the AncientsChrist in Egypt: The Horus-Jesus ConnectionThe Mythicist PositionZEITGEIST Part 1 & The Supportive EvidenceProfessional NT Historian is taking on the mythicistsReligion and the PhD: A Brief History

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

    Wow Vincent, what an impressive array of well-documented sources created by individuals with relevant expertise. Clearly you are nothing like the creationists who have to rely on web pages full of misinformation and claims of dubious accuracy – not to mention stuff that is just plain wrong. What could make the similarity – er, I mean difference – between mythicism and creationism any plainer for all to see?lolThe funniest thing is to watch the two sides do a parodic dance in a mirror image of one another. One side denigrates universities for their religious roots, the other denigrates them for the secular left-leaning tendencies in the present.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    So Dr. McGrath, you seem to be saying that Strabo and Plutarch were writing in the same genre as the gospel of Mark. Is that your belief?I note you have not weighed in on whether you think Mel Gibson's film was fictional or not … your answer would be most interesting.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Mike, you say:The fellow here argues that their legends are no more outlandish than his, and in fact theirs are only fictional stories(idle, as in for your amusement) but his are real. You have misinterpreted it.Where is he saying their stories are fiction and his is not?I see him making a clear equation.His equation is between Christian stories and those of Athena, Prometheus and Zeus. Where are you getting any other interpretation out of this?

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

    No, Evan, that isn't what I said. I said that both provide evidence of popular views which believed miraculous things about real people and real places.There is no reason why the Gospels could not reflect those sorts of popular beliefs about Jesus.A would ideally like to have someone like Strabo's account of Jesus. But historians make do with what they have, since the available evidence isn't always what one would ideally wish to have.

  • http://mikew1584.wordpress.com mikew1584

    And please Dr. McGrath, if you could weigh in on which of the Lethal Weapon movies is the best.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Dr. McGrath, you state pretty bluntly that: The story of Jesus, unlike typical myths, is not set in the distant past in time immemorial, nor is it set in the celestial realm … John 1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. What time is this set in?1 John 1: That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;What time is this set in?Hebrews 4:14: Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. Is this not the celestial realm? Or are the heavens somewhere else?Hebrews 6:19-20: We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.Was Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem forever? Did he stay there after it was destroyed? Or is this referring to possibly some other place … maybe a celestial realm?What facts about the texts I quote above from Christian scripture — and I have avoided the temptation to quote the Apocalypse of John, suggest they are different than "typical" myths?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Dr. McGrath, I'm glad you think that the gospels aren't histories. That simplifies things.It would be significant evidence if there were later people who were called Christians who considered them to not be historically true, would it not then? Just as you use Strabo and Plutarch as modulating witnesses against the miraculous claims about Alexander, can we also not use later Christians who did not believe in the story of Jesus, Mary and Pilate as counterweight to those that do?

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

    Evan, please don't quote mine me! :) I think the end of the sentence you quote actually includes John's prologue in my point…

  • http://mikew1584.wordpress.com mikew1584

    Evan, it's the part where he says their legends are idle tales. Again legend does not mean myth. Daniel Boon is legendary, Paul Bunyan mythical. I think if you ask around, people will tell you that idle tales aren't lazy tales or tales that just sit there, they are false. As the King James Bible uses the same phrase in Luke 24:11 "and their words seemed like idle tales, and they believed them not." Idle tales are not to be believed. Other translations use the word "nonsense". At any rate Tatian, later in the same work you quoted, also calls those who make the gods allegorical foolish, so I don't think he is speaking of allegorical tales here from Greeks or Christians.

  • http://mikew1584.wordpress.com mikew1584

    Evan, I think its in a book or something that Christians think Jesus went to heaven after he came back from the dead. A bunch of them think he was the second person of the Trinity and became a man on earth.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Dr. McGrath, you simply commented that the setting of the story of Jesus didn't seem mythical and I am giving you counterexamples. I fail to see how I can give you counterexamples that aren't quotes. How is it quote mining to list the beliefs of the people whose mindset we are trying to divine? Can you suggest that a sentence that starts at the beginning of time is really not part of a legendary mise-en-scene? I'd be interested in that argument, if you were to make it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Again, Mike, I don't see the argument he is making that way at all.He is agreeing that the stories are of the same genre. He simply believes that the tales regarding Athena, Prometheus and Zeus are of low quality or idle, compared to the high-quality tale that he is arguing in favor of. If you can show me where Tatian refers to allegories regarding Jesus Christ, I'd love to see that. If he's talking about taking the "gods" plural as allegories, then first, he's implicitly acknowledging that it is possible to take such stories — including the one of a god becoming man — that way. This would suggest there were people alive at that time who did take them that way and be an argument in favor of the genre of the gospels being ahistorical.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Mike, again you say:Evan, I think its in a book or something that Christians think Jesus went to heaven after he came back from the dead. A bunch of them think he was the second person of the Trinity and became a man on earth.Yes, all those things that Dr. McGrath regards as evidence of ahistoricity when we find them in Herodotus, Plutarch, or Strabo.Or are we now suggesting that those things are historical events as well?Now that would be something only a Young-Earth Creationist might suggest.

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

    Is there evidence for mythicism?Well, the first mentions of Christ are as the rock that followed the Israelites in the desert. (Paul was a nutcase, wasn't he)And then we read how the Lord told cult members how to conjure up his body in a ritual meal.Just how much does that reek of mythicism?Of course, historicists dispute that reading of 1 Corinthians 11.They claim the authorities had to pay people to identify Jesus for them.They claim Jesus knew he was going to be betrayed and killed.They claim Jesus knew the people he was speaking to would not be killed.They claim Jesus knew they would need a ritual meal after his death so they could have his body and blood with them.They claim Jesus knew his movement would continue after his death.How could any real historical Jesus know he was going to be betrayed, and that his movement would need a meal to get access to his body and blood?

  • Anonymous

    "How could any real historical Jesus know he was going to be betrayed, and that his movement would need a meal to get access to his body and blood?"Wouldn't intentional martyrdom explain this without having to bring out the big gun (i.e. he was historically God)?

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

    So how did Jesus know his followers would not be killed, and would need a ritual meal where they could get access to the body and blood of a a Messiah who had intentionally martyred himself?Hebrews 9When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation.

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

    'And if that is one's presupposition, then unless different sorts of evidence are found, or unless mythicists show some willingness to deal more plausibly with Paul's references to Jesus being "born of a woman,"…'This is from Galatians 4!'Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.'Just how clearly does Paul have to signal that he is entering the world of myth in Galatians 4, other than actually writing that there is a Jerusalem above us in words that even historicists can comprehend.Surely even historicists will grant that when Paul talks about cities like 'Jerusalem' he is not always referring to historical places.Mythicists are not tied to the wooden literalism of Biblical scholars.

  • Antonio Jerez

    Joe Wallack wrote:"Than there's "Mark". The External evidence is all 2nd century and the anachronisms (and there are a lot) suggest the Internal evidence is also."Which specific anachronisms are you thinking of? And maybe you can interact which scholars like James Crossley (atheist) and Maurice Casey whom I guess know more about 1st Century Palestine than you and whom are less certain than you that Mark´s gospel is so filled with anachronisms that it must be dated to the 2nd century. James Crossley actually dates Mark´s gospel to the 30ies (a position with which I don´t agree).

  • Antonio Jerez

    Maurice Casey is also an atheist and one of the worlds foremost experts on ancient Arameic, the language that the supposed non-existent Jesus never spoke.

  • Antonio Jerez

    Evan wrote:"John 1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. What time is this set in?"Mythical time. But there is no escaping that the main action and all the talk of the word-made-flesh is set in a very specific time in very specific settings, not far from the time the author wrote. Which is why the mythicists usual appeals to myths like Osiris or Tamuz really don´t count for much.Evan wrote:Hebrews 4:14: Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. Is this not the celestial realm? Or are the heavens somewhere else?Yes, it is heaven. Which is the place where all Christians thought Jesus had gone after his death. Which doesn´t exclude that the author of Hebrews like all Christians believed that Jesus had been here for awhile on Earth before flying to heaven. Hebrews 2:5-9 clearly show this. If you can show me some kind of evidence that the ancient Jews (or why not find some Pagan) as understood Psalm 8 as referring to humans then I am willing to listen.

  • Antonio Jerez

    Sorry, a small correction:If you can show me some kind of evidence that the ancient Jews (or why not find some Pagans?) did not understand Psalm 8 as referring to humans then I am willing to listen.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Antonio, perhaps I am missing your references here, but I would say that someone writing about how God created the heavens with his fingers is clearly marking himself as writing about mythical time past and celestial events.Of course I don't read it in the original Hebrew, and I can't say what the LXX says in the translated Greek either. Unless of course you think it's historical that God did create the heavens with his fingers — but that would mark you out as a creationist, right?

  • Antonio Jerez

    Evan,the talk in Psalm 8 about God´s fingers forming the heavens and stars is an allusion to the Creation myth in Genesis. Just as verse 6 is an allusion to Adam and his progeny, men. I have no evidence that one single Jew in Antiquity thought that Adam or men were ruling over cattle, fishes and the birds in some other place than planet Earth. If you can find evidence that one single Jew or Pagan in antiquity thought that Psalm 8 could refer to Adam or his progeny hunting cattle with little green men on Mars or Adam his progeny fishing around by some lake in the sublunar sphere, then show it to me. You are once again proving how right James was when he compared you mythicists to creationists. I am sure you will go to some other blog and shed some crocodile tears about us evil historicists who have never been able or even tried to refute theories from crackpots like Doherty.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Antonio, where are you getting all this animosity from?It is Dr. McGrath who has stated that the early Christian writings aren't histories, but that they don't take place in a mythical framework.He wants his cake and then he wants to have a slice. If the gospels are histories a la Strabo, then they are most peculiar ones. If they aren't histories, which I think we can all agree on, then it is an open question what their genre is. I am simply arguing that this needs to happen prior to analyzing their historical value. If Apuleius was writing a history, we would approach the story of Lucius very differently.The key question to me is why someone would regard a story that includes feeding 5000 people from one basket, people rising from the dead, a man walking on water and spirits going from men into pigs and then those pigs running over a cliff — as history. If someone can enlighten me about this, I'd be eager to look at their data.I would say that routinely caricaturing your opponent's views is something quite typical of Young Earth Creationists.

  • Antonio Jerez

    Evan"Antonio, where are you getting all this animosity from?"Because you evade answering simple questions and think you can make statements (like the one you made about Psalm 8) without propping it up with counterevidence. It just get´s tiresome listening to the kind of non-arguments you and Doherty give on Psalm 8. Doherty´s and your arguments may look impressive at first sight for amateurs but folks who know a little about ancient Judaism know that your theories have just as much going for it as the creationist nonsense.

  • Antonio Jerez

    And Evan, I was not caricaturing or misrepresenting your views on Hebrews and Psalm 8. I was ridiculing it. Your messages to me and James makes it quite apparent that you are arguing along the same lines as Doherty – that nothing in Hebrews indicates that the author has placed his hero on another place than an sublunar sphere or heaven. Maybe I should blame my penchant for sarcasm and ridicule on my spanish blood. We latinos don´t take fools talk as lightly as you anglo-saxons :)

  • http://mikew1584.wordpress.com mikew1584

    Evan, for your edification.idle (comparative more idle, superlative most idle)Positiveidle Comparativemore idle Superlativemost idle 1.(obsolete) Empty, vacant. 2.Not turned to appropriate use; not occupied. idle hours 3.Not engaged in any occupation or employment; unemployed; inactive; doing nothing. idle workmen 4.Averse to work, labor or employment; lazy; slothful. an idle fellow 5.Of no importance; useless; worthless; vain; trifling; thoughtless; silly. an idle story; idle talk; idle rumor legend (plural legends)1.A story of unknown origin describing plausible but extraordinary past events. Also historical legend. The legend of Troy was discovered to have historical basis. 2.A story in which a kernel of truth is embellished to an unlikely degree. The 1984 Rose Bowl prank has spawned many legends. Here's the real story. 3.A leading protagonist in a historical legend. Achilles is a legend in Greek culture. 4.Any person of extraordinary accomplishment. Michael Jordan stands as a legend in basketball. 5.A key to the symbols and color codes on a map, chart, etc. According to the legend on the map, that building is a school. 6.The text on a coin.

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

    Evan, you seem to either be deliberately trying to be difficult, or so unfamiliar with ancient literature that you are having difficulty grasping what is obvious. The history of the Jews which Josephus wrote, for instance, stretched back into mythical material, but we do not assume that therefore nothing Josephus referred to anywhere in his work is historical.The point you seem not to be grasping is that ancient 'historical' writings regularly include mythical components. If you want to engage in historical study, you need to learn to do what historians have, namely ignore those bits and focus on material that might be of historical value.

  • http://mikew1584.wordpress.com mikew1584

    James I think what Vincent wants to tell you are all those PhD waving professors are just a conspiracy to shut out sloppy scholars with sloppy ideas. Are you afraid of what made up facts will do to your precious "truth"?

  • Antonio Jerez

    Mike,who is Vincent?

  • http://mikew1584.wordpress.com mikew1584

    Evan, here is the rest of the chapter from Tatian,.We, however, do not deal in folly, but your legends are only idle tales. If you speak of the origin of the gods, you also declare them to be mortal. For what reason is Hera now never pregnant? Has she grown old? or is there no one to give you information? Believe me now, O Greeks, and do not resolve your myths and gods into allegory. If you attempt to do this, the divine nature as held by you is overthrown by your own selves; for, if the demons with you are such as they are said to be, they are worthless as to character; or, if regarded as symbols of the powers of nature, they are not what they are called. But I cannot be persuaded to pay religious homage to the natural elements, nor can I undertake to persuade my neighbor. And Metrodorus of Lampsacus, in his treatise concerning Homer, has argued very foolishly, turning everything into allegory. For he says that neither Hera, nor Athené, nor Zeus are what those persons suppose who consecrate to them sacred enclosures and groves, but parts of nature and certain arrangements of the elements. Hector also, and Achilles, and Agamemnon, and all the Greeks in general, and the Barbarians with Helen and Paris, being of the same nature, you will of course say are introduced merely for the sake of the machinery of the poem, not one of these personages having really existed. But these things we have put forth only for argument’s sake; for it is not allowable even to compare our notion of God with those who are wallowing in matter and mud.Tatian does not argue that Christianity is allegory, he is attacking Greeks who believe their legends are allegories for realities. Educated Greeks were aware that the old legends didn’t seem very sophisticated, made the gods look immoral, and didn’t jive with what passed for science in the Roman era. Tatian, calling Greek gods demons, says if the legends are true their character is worthless (will one’s soul be judged by someone who has raped as many women as Zeus?) and if the gods are elements, like the air, the sun, water the earth ect then they aren’t really divine spirits. Tatian doesn’t believe the gods made the world and men like the Greek legends say. Those tales are idle. This is not saying that the tales are true but of lesser quality to the Christian account (how could both the Greek gods and Christian ones make the world?) Tatian believes the Greek stories are simply false, and their gods are really demons.

  • http://mikew1584.wordpress.com mikew1584

    For the confused a brief primer on one early Christiology. A good many early Christians seemed to believe that the Christ is a being that is part of God's nature, his logos, whatever that may mean. That logos became the real person Jesus who interacts with such other real people as john the Baptist and Pilate. Jesus died, came back from the dead and resumed his place as the divine logos. For who ever quoted the intro to John, you will find this trajectory right in his book. Why you would use it to support a mythic Jesus when the author of the book presents a real Jesus is unknown to me. When people have funerals it is often said they are in heaven with God now. This does not mean that person in question was only a myth. If people say that God gives babies their soul in the womb, just because the soul was with God before does not mean the fetus is a mythical being. Please, enough of these "idle" arguments.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Dr. McGrath, I'm sorry if it seems to you that I am being deliberately obtuse. I sure am trying to listen to and understand your evidence and arguments, such as you have put them forth.You seem now to be equating Josephus with the gospel genre, is that correct? It strikes me that Josephus writes as if the Hebrew scriptures are historical, yes, and the first part of antiquities is a simple retelling of those same Hebrew scriptures, so that would argue for your position.It would be interesting indeed if you considered the gospels to be the same genre as Josephus' Antiquities. However I think in the case of John's gospel you are dealing with a human character who is said to have pre-existed the earth and created it. This seems much more mythical to me, unless, of course, you think Jesus did pre-exist the world, but that would be thinking like a Young Earth Creationist.As for your continued quote from Tatian, Mike, I don't see how it helps your case much.But these things we have put forth only for argument’s sake; for it is not allowable even to compare our notion of God with those who are wallowing in matter and mud.Yes, Tatian doesn't think his God could ever have wallowed in mire and mud. How on earth could he? He believed that God had incarnated in Jesus Christ, been born of a woman (I imagine he is thinking that Jesus' vaginal delivery was free of the usual feces, amniotic fluid and blood that is associated with non-mythical deliveries) in a stable (that was thankfully free of mud), grown up as a carpenter's son in Nazareth (a mireless, mudless town), wandered around Galilee where I'm sure there was not a speck of mire and mud … perhaps the Romans paved it with marble … and then been crucified without any mire and buried in a mudless tomb.Is that your theory?

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

    I wouldn't simply equate the genres of Josephus' works and the Gospels. As far as we know, Josephus only wrote one account that was focused from beginning to end on one particular individual (himself). There have been a lot of debates about the genre of the Gospels – Richard Burridge's argument that they fit the category of ancient bios has won widespread support. My point was simply that the Gospels and Josephus both include things that to a modern reader seem mythical. If one skips the preface, the first book of Josephus' Antiquities begins the same way that Genesis does, and thus exactly the same way the Gospel of John does. And so my question is why one seems to you to be worth looking to for historical information, while the other you regard as "purely mythical."Moreover, the mythological prologue in John essentially connects the story of Jesus (whose flesh is surely in view in 1:14) not with a new myth (except perhaps at the end, if the notion of Jesus' exaltation to heaven is in view) but with already existing Jewish thought: God and the Word/Logos. And so it seems to most readers that the author is connecting the story of Jesus to already-existing Jewish concepts.Be that as it may, John is usually thought to be written relatively late, and so I'm wondering why John's prologue is getting so much attention, when it is a hymnic introduction, while the other Gospels that seem more promising places to look for historical data seem to have dropped out of the discussion. To state the point once again, myth is found in lots of "historical" works in this period. And so pointing to mythological elements doesn't allow one to assess whether a work may contain actual historical information. Only careful sifting through and examination of the details of the story can allow one to make a stab at doing that.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Dr. McGrath, thanks for that comment, it was very helpful.It does seem to me however that you are admitting that the gospel genre isn't really biography when you don't quite endorse that theory.When I took Jesus and the Gospels in undergrad, our theology professor suggested that they gospels had their own unique genre that had never before been written and would never again be written. I believe the Greek word was kerygma, which can mean preaching.It is my understanding that this remains a live concept in mainstream scholarship. If so, do you feel there are any elements of kerygma in other similar non-Christian texts of the period, or do you agree with my fundamentalist, young-earth creationist professor that the genre of the gospels is sui generis because they were inspired by God?As for Josephus, if he told a story that included things like men walking on water, 5000 people eating from one basket, people routinely coming back to life from death and the like, would that story get high likelihood for historicity from you or low? Would such stories from his era not decrease his value significantly as a historian?

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

    Evan, Josephus covers the material from the Hebrew Bible, which is full of miracles. He suggests that there were portents in the period leading up to the destruction of the Temple. It doesn't detract from his historical value when he talks about people and events in more recent times. As I keep saying, ancient "historians" regularly include such material. Historians set it aside, but it does not lead them to ignore everything else. If historians did that, we'd basically have to give up knowing anything much at all about the ancient world. There were some skeptically-minded historians in antiquity, but they weren't common.

  • http://mikew1584.wordpress.com mikew1584

    Evan, I think he is talking about the Greeks wallowing in matter in mud. I personally don't know Tatian's view of Jesus' interaction with mud. There are some indications he was a Gnostic, and thus wouldn't have believed Jesus wallowed in mud because his presence on earth was like an illusion. He did make a gospel made of bits of the 4, and so he doesn't seem to mind having Jesus in a historical setting. And I don't think he would have found them allegorical after his attack on Greeks who think their legends are allegorical. Josephus does relate stories about voices from heaven and teams of chariots and soldiers riding the sky. He thinks they sound fabulous but doesn't think so many witnesses could be wrong. The tales are in Josephus' "The Wars of the Jews", Bk. VI chp. V.If you want a work comparable to the Gospels, look into Apolonius of Tyana by Philostratus. Apollonius is also a wizard and philosopher. The story has a much broader scope than the Gospels and is way longer. You have to keep in mind that this work was commissioned by and empress and thus Philostratus had the funds to make a large book and to have it copied. We don't know who Theophilus for whom Luke/Acts was written was, but he isn't an emperor so "Luke" has to keep it short, and unless Theophilus was impressed it would have to be copied by the middle class shlubs that made up the top tier of Christianity. Unlike Luke/Acts and Mark, I don't think Philostratus wants us to become worshipers of Apollonius but he is a fan. On to someone's earlier arguments about embarrassment as a criteria, the folks I'm getting my Apolonius info from mention a debate of the existence of a source Philostratus uses and uses the embarrassment criteria to argue for the sources existence, read about herehttp://www.livius.org/ap-ark/apollonius/apollonius06.html#Damis

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Mike, from your link:hardly anything about the sage is certain. However, there are several bits and pieces of information that may help us reconstruct something of the life of this man, who was and is frequently compared to the Jewish sage and miracle worker Jesus of Nazareth.Fascinating.Many modern scholars doubt that Philostratus is writing anything like an accurate history of Appolonius, to the point that they doubt he ever went to India, or that anything can be known about him.This is why they are such lunatics. They sound like young-earth creationists, don't they?In addition you state that Tatian may have been a gnostic. Tatian put together the Diatessaron and was a pupil of Justin Martyr. In his Apology he seems to suggest that God would never wallow in mud and mire, yet he was CLEARLY aware of the four gospels or he could not have written the Diatessaron.How would it be possible for a student of Justin Martyr who had read all four gospels to suggest that God had not become flesh?Dr. McGrath, thanks for your discussion. I still am not clear on what genre you place the gospels in. Do you agree with my fundamentalist, YEC theology professor that they are kerygma? If you believe they are biography, would you consider them biographies similar to Philostratus' biography and worthy of the kind of skepticism that is mentioned above?

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

    Evan, whole books have been written on the question of Gospel genre, but my short answer is that I think the 'lives' which were essentially ancient biographies are the Greco-Roman genre closest to the Gospels (without denying that the latter have some distinctive features).I think the Gospels deserve the same attention and the same degree of skepticism as other works in this genre.Part of such critical investigation must be a consideration of how much time passed between the time the individual lived and the time when the author is writing.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Dr. McGrath, I think the gospels have features that other 1st century and 2nd century biographies do not have.For example, do other biographies begin with the spirit of God descending on the individual at baptism, then him wandering for 40 days in the wilderness only then to argue with Satan?If Josephus mentioned such a story, would that mark him as a reliable historian?While I am familiar with the apotheosis of Roman emperors, are there any other biographies that end with empty tombs and ascensions to heaven?Now you may bring up Philostratus here, but this is how he deals with the topic:Now there are some who relate that he died in Ephesus, tended by two maid servants; for the freedmen of whom I spoke at the beginning of my story were already dead. One of these maids he emancipated, and was blamed by the other one for not conferring the same privilege upon her; but Apollonius told her that it was the better for her to remain the other's slave, for that would be the beginning of her well-being.Accordingly after his death this one continued to be the slave of the other, who for some insignificant reason sold her to a merchant, from whom she was purchased. Her new master, although she was not good-looking, nevertheless fell in love with her; and being a fairly rich man, he made her his legal wife and had legitimate children by her.Others again say that he died in Lindus, where he entered the temple of Athene and disappeared within it. Others again say that he died in Crete in a much more remarkable manner than the people of Lindus relate. For they say that he continued to live in Crete, where he became a greater centre of admiration than ever before, and that he came to the temple of Dictynna late at night. Now this temple is guarded by dogs, whose duty it is to watch over the wealth deposited in it, and the Cretans claim that they are as good as bears or any other animals equally fierce. Nonetheless, when he came, instead of barking, they approached him and fawned upon him, as they would not have done even with people they knew familiarly.The guardians of the shrine arrested him in consequence, and threw him in bonds as a wizard and a robber, accusing him of having thrown to the dogs some charmed morsel. But about midnight he loosened his bonds, and after calling those who had bound him, in order that they might witness the spectacle, he ran to the doors of the temple, which opened wide to receive him; and when he had passed within, they closed afresh, as they had been shut; and there was heard a chorus of maidens singing from within the temple, and their song was this :"Hasten thou from earth, hasten thou to Heaven, hasten."In other words : "Thou, go upwards from earth."Do you know of any gospel that lists alternative stories about the death of Jesus?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12887786896056573371 Neil

    James, I just saw this post of yours and see you once again completely ignore the fact that it is your specialist area of biblical studies that is claiming some sort of right to handle documentary evidence differently from the way it is approached in nonbiblical historical studies. You continue to insist on a certain exceptionalism for biblical studies, and then turn around and accuse those who want to apply the normal historical methodologies of being like "creationists"!I have said before, but it is apparently inconvenient for your argument so you ignore it, that there are times when a historian can find secondary evidence more informative than primary evidence.You seem to insist on misrepresenting the whole discussion about primary and secondary evidence by rephrasing it as your straw man "archaeological" and "eyewitness" testimony.You seem to be comparing me to a creationist because I am asking for some evidence, some method, by which we can decide if we can read a narrative in a document as real history or not. You seem to be insisting that we can just assume certain documents are talking about "history". So can you explain your methodology for the treatment of source documents and how it is justified?

  • http://mikew1584.wordpress.com mikew1584

    Josephus mentions Chariots and soldiers seen in the clouds at sun down on, I think it was a holiday, but I'd have to look that up. I mentioned it in one of my previous post. It makes him a little, I suppose, less reliable historian. But belief in the supernatural was common then and methods of investigating these kind of prodigies were not known or possible then. Modern historians wouldn't mention UFOs that were seen when George Bush went to war with Iraq.While each Gospel has a different account of his death, for all the Gospels that have an account, (many of the sayings gospels don't reference it, and others are to fragmentary to know what they might have said) all the ones with a death narrative present him as crucified by Pilate. Some include the Gospel of Peter, the Nazarene Gospel, and the Ebionite Gospel. Some of the books that are called gospels aren't narratives but teachings about Christ like the gnostic "Gospel of Truth". The canonical Gospels all differ greatly in the account of his resurrection, rather less so in the circumstance of his death. You get a lot more variety concerning the Apostles. All there stories are written later and the same apostle might die in a couple of different locations depending on the legend.

  • http://mikew1584.wordpress.com mikew1584

    Josephus mentions Chariots and soldiers seen in the clouds at sun down on, I think it was a holiday, but I'd have to look that up. I mentioned it in one of my previous post. It makes him a little, I suppose, less reliable historian. But belief in the supernatural was common then and methods of investigating these kind of prodigies were not known or possible then. Modern historians wouldn't mention UFOs that were seen when George Bush went to war with Iraq.While each Gospel has a different account of his death, for all the Gospels that have an account, (many of the sayings gospels don't reference it, and others are to fragmentary to know what they might have said) all the ones with a death narrative present him as crucified by Pilate. Some include the Gospel of Peter, the Nazarene Gospel, and the Ebionite Gospel. Some of the books that are called gospels aren't narratives but teachings about Christ like the gnostic "Gospel of Truth". The canonical Gospels all differ greatly in the account of his resurrection, rather less so in the circumstance of his death. You get a lot more variety concerning the Apostles. All there stories are written later and the same apostle might die in a couple of different locations depending on the legend.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14299188458940897810 Evan

    Mike, my reading of the Gospel of Peter is that it exonerates Pilate and considers Herod the one who crucified Jesus. To quote the Wesley center:"Another characteristic of it is its extremely anti-Jewish attitude. Blame is thrown on the Jews wherever possible, and Pilate is white-washed."And I'm glad you mentioned the Gospel of Peter. It's clearly in the same genre as the other gospels — the ones that Dr. McGrath believes are biographies to a greater or lesser extent.Here's a snippet:"…they saw again three men come out of the sepulchre, and two of them sustaining the other (lit. the one), and a cross following, after them. And of the two they saw that their heads reached unto heaven, but of him that was led by them that it overpassed the heavens. And they heard a voice out of the heavens saying: Hast thou (or Thou hast) preached unto them that sleep? And an answer was heard from the cross, saying: Yea."Does this really sound like something that would be from a sober biography? Yet it really is no more fantastic than a man walking on water, raising people from the dead, arguing with Satan and teleporting around Judea while doing it, having Moses and Elijah return from the dead to interact with him … well I could go on.It seems to me there are some things that mark out a text as *NOT* biography, and I'm specifically suggesting things like suggesting the person being written about had pre-existed the universe, or that his first action as an adult was to have God speak from the heavens about him, and his second action was to go into the desert to argue with Satan.Another marker would be that in this supposed biography he tells his followers how to gain access to his body and blood in a ritual meal.Now I have a lot of friends who believe we can derive history from the gospels. Most of them are creationists though.

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

    Neil, you seem to accept the existence of the hypothetical source Q. And so unless you accepted that without requiring evidence or arguments, then I'm guessing you know precisely how underlying sources are hypothesized and argued for.Now all I have to do is figure out how someone can be more persuaded of the existence of Q than of the existence of Jesus. The former is far more hypothetical than the latter, since Jesus is actually explicitly referred to!

  • Antonio Jerez

    James,as I have said before, the ironic thing is not only that Neil is persuaded about the existence of Q, he even thinks there is evidence for Q1, Q2, Q3. And then he thinks he can teach us historicists the rules for doing proper history :)


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