A Challenge to Mythicists

Having recently witnessed a proponent of mythicism repeat the same old untruth about “Biblical historians” using different methods than the rest of the guild of historians, I thought it might be time to invite mythicists to do a little experiment.

Pick a figure from ancient history – not Alexander the Great or someone similarly poised to leave tangible evidence behind of his existence from Europe to India, but rather someone that is in important respects more like Jesus in terms of the kind of evidence it is reasonable to expect them to have left behind. Let it be someone you believe actually existed as a historical figure.

What I invite mythicists to do then is approach the evidence for that figure in the same way they do the evidence for the existence of Jesus. Ask the same sorts of skeptical, “what if?” and “what about?” questions that you ask in the case of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.

Check the dates of the earliest manuscripts. If someone cites that author or mentions that person, check the dates of those manuscripts to. Ask whether a particular work might not have been read for entertainment like a comic book.

While it is beyond dispute that there are figures from antiquity who are in some respects better attested than Jesus, I am confident that the methods of mythicism can create uncertainty about them as easily as Jesus. Because, on the one hand, everything in history is open to doubt, although not necessarily reasonable doubt. And, on the other hand, the methods of mythicists are the methods of conspiracy theorists and denialists, and I have yet to see anything that such constituencies cannot doubt, and so there is good reason to think that their methods will work just as well in the case of any historical figure, and not only Jesus.

I realize that this undertaking would require significant time and investigation, but there is really no hurry to finish. This post will still be here. I fully expect that if someone does what I am suggesting here, they will either change their mind about the existence of Jesus – or at least become less dogmatic and prone to ridicule mainstream scholars; or they will become more consistent and be agnostic about ancient history in general, and not treat Jesus differently from most other figures in antiquity.

  • Guest

    Lofty, you’re first . . .

  • JoeWallack

    JW:
    This reminds me of the late great Richard Jeni, who use to say in his routine that after a while of doing his routine in the South, inevitably some hick, red-neck, ignorant, good-ol boy, would stand up and say:

    “Ya’ll probably just think we’re a bunch of hick, red-neck, ignorant, good-ol boys, doncha.”

    Jeni would say, “How do you respond to that?.”

    “Pick a figure from ancient history – not Alexander the Great or someone
    similarly poised to leave tangible evidence behind of his existence from
    Europe to India, but rather someone that is in important respects more
    like Jesus in terms of the kind of evidence it is reasonable to expect
    them to have left behind. Let it be someone you believe actually existed
    as a historical figure.”

    Hmmm, how about Bar Kochba.

    You’re still ignoring better questions. Pick someone, anyone else, who like Jesus had two primary witnesses:

    1) One like Paul, whose major source was Revelation and

    2) One like “Mark” who had a primary theme of discrediting supposed historical witness.

    Joseph

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @f856584cf44ea948ffcae876b81e001c:disqus , I don’t understand why you take Paul’s claims about receiving revelation at face value. But will you be doing what I suggested using Bar Kochba?

  • Geoff Hudson

    Don’t we actually have letters written by Bar Kokhba?

  • http://lowerwisdom.com JSA

    @Guest – Lofty isn’t a mythicist, is he?  I thought he was just in the “Jesus is a failed apocalyptic prophet” camp.

  • Anonymous

    Just to be clear, is Bar Kochba considered to have been a comparable figure to Jesus in your mind, Dr. McGrath?

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @GeoffHudson, a Bar Kochba mythicist would not simply trust the experts, who may be subconsciously influenced by the anti-antisemitic agenda in the academy, when they say that these letters come from a historical Bar Kochba. Do we really know for certain that such letters were not forged? Is it really impossible that Bar Kochba was invented as a symbolic figurehead to rally the troops, and only later identified as or with a historical figure?

    If you are going to do this experiment, please take seriously my request that you all come up with the same ad hoc alternatives to treating the evidence at face value that you do in the case of Jesus.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_MUIGGGWVZRPI7DRSO4ENSPPHCQ ConnorO

    If you are going to do this experiment, please take seriously my request that you all come up with the same ad hoc alternatives to treating the evidence at face value that you do in the case of Jesus.

    But you and the secular NT studies field don’t treat the evidence for Jesus at face value at all. This is clearly a “heads I win, tails you lose” challenge if that’s how you set the bar. One of the starting points of mythicism is the recognition that all we have in the case of Jesus is literary texts. This is manifestly not the case for a figure such as Alexander. So to request that we perform this little exercise by “com[ing] up with the same ad hoc alternatives to treating the [literary] evidence at face value” to the exclusion of considering the primary evidence (outside of literary texts) that we have for other figures simply ignores the fact that this other evidence more tightly constrains our alternatives and is determinative of just what exactly is the “face value” of the literary texts that we do have.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @ConnorO, unless you believe that Jesus was an emperor, then I don’t see why you would object to my specifying that Jesus be compared in terms of evidence with the far more ordinary figures in history who were and are the vast majority of humanity. That an itinerant teacher/exorcist will not leave behind the same sort of evidence as a conqueror/emperor, and will probably only be known through texts, should go without saying. That’s part of my point. If one wants to be consistent and be confident only about the existence of emperors and the rich and powerful who could afford the luxury of education and had the influence necessary to leave tangible traces of themselves behind, I have no objection. The whole point is to treat other comparable figures in history the way you treat Jesus, or treat Jesus the way you treat other comparable figures in history. Why is this objectionable?

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_MUIGGGWVZRPI7DRSO4ENSPPHCQ ConnorO

    I see now I was reading sloppily. The only figure you named was Alexander, and I thought you were proposing him as a viable candidate for the challenge, sorry.

  • Anonymous

    I assume then, from the discussion going on, that Bar Kochba is presumed to be a reasonable comparison point for Jesus of Nazareth. This is an interesting challenge.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wilson/1355591760 Michael Wilson

      When you assume you make an ass of u and me. I have the utmost confidence that what you come up with will be both boring and idiotic.

  • Anonymous

    I am curious about the position of Dr. McGrath and other biblical scholars on the historicity of Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wilson/1355591760 Michael Wilson

      Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin is in the Bible?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wilson/1355591760 Michael Wilson

    James: “I fully expect that if someone does what I am suggesting here, they will either change their mind about the existence of Jesus – or at least become less dogmatic and prone to ridicule mainstream scholars”
     
    Only the grave straightens the hunchback.  While I predict a good size chunk of mythicist hold the belief because they thought it sounded right and haven’t investigated its assumptions, the commenters here did not come to this point because of any rational thought process. Only an emotional transformation will dissuade them from the idea. No new evidence will.  It has been pointed out before that the conspiracy nut gains a sense of personal value from being one of the righteous few who know the truth.  To confront the truth that they are in fact less informed than the average person is psychologically crippling, particularly to the mythicist commenters here, who I think have some unhealthy ego inflation issues.  
    On the question of historical method and people who lack indisputable primary attestation, generally most of them slip by into historical works without much comment. Important ones, like Muhammad do get the mythicist treatment now and again because it is an easy way to make a splash if you don’t have anything new and compelling to say.  Minor people and events don’t get that sort of attention, so no one spends time crafting arguments that minor people (wives of kings, random priest, what have you) mentioned in “The History of the Franks”   are inventions of Gregory of Tours, even though he may well have invented them.  
     
    A few people have been beating this drum that nearly all ancient text are virtually worthless as historical sources based on the idea that one has no idea how much and how they have been altered.  I don’t think a historian should fret much though that a source may in the future be found to be unreliable any more than a scientist should refrain from using theories that may in the future be found false.  Just because a history textbook mentions Alexander receiving a prophetic revelation from the priest of Amun, does not mean the reader should accept this as absolutely true. If historical facts were like this, papers challenging them would just be thrown in the trash, what new evidence could overturn it?
     
    On not knowing how much a work has been altered, I think unless one can present a convincing case for alteration, one should not operate on the assumption that the text has been altered and the same goes for authorial dishonesty.  Mythicists tend to be selectively skeptical in this are so that things that support historicism ought not to be trusted but the doubts fade when it supports their view.  For this reason I object to labeling people like Neil “hyper-skeptical,” I in fact see no evidence of skepticism at all. They are simply looking for anything that supports position, its value dependent solely on that criterion. From what we know of variation between manuscripts and the nature of non-fiction writers in general, I think we can be confident that most of the words in a given text are original and most statements are what the author believes to be true.  It is illogical to assume that a text is completely corrupted or full of hogwash.  Exceptions need to be demonstrated with evidence.

  • http://profiles.google.com/eheffa Evan Effa

    Plato comes to mind.  Was he a real person? Probably, with contemporary testimonial etc. 

    Significantly though, unlike Jesus, Plato’s followers do not insist that he was the Son of God Incarnate and that rejection of his historicity will result in one’s eternal damnation and torture.  This raises the bar quite dramatically & prompts the need to be a lot more sure of the historical facts around the person of Jesus than with the person of Plato. If this Jesus was not really who he is described to be in the interdependent, undated, anonymously authored and contradictory ‘Gospels’, then perhaps, until better data is presented, skepticism is the appropriate response.  To assert that the precision freak Omniscient, Omnipotent Creator of the nebula and the genome could not even get his story straight as it pertains to THE most pivotal person in all of human history is not only laughable but it is simply not worthy of any thinking person’s allegiance.  Furthermore, Plato’s followers have also not demonstrated the same willingness to
    forge documents and fabricate history as the followers of Jesus clearly
    have over the centuries. 

    There is a distinct lack of corroborative evidence for this person.  All we have is hagiographies and theological treatises of doubtful parentage.  Was Jesus an historical person?  Maybe, but if he was even remotely like the Gospels describe him, more than a few of his contemporaries should have noticed.  If he was in fact some illiterate, peasant who really didn’t do any of those miracles & simply died in a comically obscure corner of the Roman Empire, it doesn’t really matter much and doesn’t really explain the resulting fervour of his supposed first century followers.  It’s a bag of unanswered conundrums.

    This jury is out & won’t bring in a judgment until we have a bit more evidence – sorry.

    -evan

    • Leonard Budney

      Evan, you’re confusing two distinct things. If the next generation decides to revere *ME* as a god, then you’d be quite right to treat my godhood with extreme skepticism. However, you’d be quite wrong to conclude that since I’m not a god, therefore I didn’t exist. Worse, if you decide to deny that I was ever born, *because* you dislike the kooks’ belief in my deity, you’d be committing rank intellectual dishonesty.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Evan, you might like to read my previous post about Plato.

    One of the most frustrating things about discussing this subject is that people have strong opinions and make confident assertions about what followers of Plato didn’t do (to give one example) when they clearly do not know the first thing about the subject (otherwise they would not make the false assertions that they do).

    • http://profiles.google.com/eheffa Evan Effa

      Confidence is difficult when we have such poor data.

      (I read your other Plato reference.  The difference is that the followers of Plato don’t knock on my door telling me I’m in danger of eternal damnation because I don’t believe in the  historicity of Plato… so yes, the Jesus Followers provoke more opinion & emotional reaction.  (I am still probably damaged goods too with unseemly visceral reactions to pious Christian assertions.   Forgive me… I am still recovering from a life of indoctrination and delusion.  ;-)  )

      We have a number of possibilities though: 

      1. Jesus was a real person as he was portrayed in the officially sanctioned Gospels – kind of along the lines of CS Lewis’ conclusion.  (Solid testimony with only three options open to us: Liar, Lunatic or Lord.)

      2.  Jesus was some sort of obscure but charismatic apocalyptic preacher with small local following that eventually developed into the movement that became Christianity.  He was obscure enough that the many local historians and other interested observers of that era failed to notice either him or his followers until some 70 years later.  His followers thought the end of the world was due any day so didn’t bother to write any thing down until long after the eyewitnesses were long gone. ( This option seems favored by many of the more sophisticated Christians who recognize the paucity of historical attestation for Jesus but still want to keep some version of Christian belief intact.  It’s also an unfalsifiable position and very difficult if not impossible to refute.)

      3. Christianity started out as a variant of a Platonic-inspired Logos cult; worshiping a scripturally-derived celestial Messiah (We see this sort of character in Philo’s writings and much of Paul’s writings &  perhaps most strikingly in the book of Hebrews – “of the order of Melchizadek”  No Gospel Jesus details there to sully the picture.)  Only later, when the author of ur-Mark , perhaps inspired by Pauline themes or as a member of this same cult etc., penned his Midrash,  was the story concretized into a certain geographical location.   Before long, people started believing that the chief protagonist in the Mark story was an actual real person. The appeal of this story inspired many revisions & additions and really
      caught on with those who failed to recognize it’s allegorical spiritual
      qualities.  (This didn’t appear to really get going until the second century though.)

      Option 3 was so successful that people in the 21st century are still arguing about whether this third option should even be considered by anyone other than conspiracy theorists and outright ignorant nutbars…

      Are there other viable options?  Sure.  Christianity shared & appropriated many myths & details from other religions of the era (like Mithraism) & other dying/rising god motifs.  This was so obvious that Justin accused the demons of diabolical mimicry in predating Christianity with their very similar mythemes. 

      So is a real historical Jesus the best explanation for the data we have?  I’m not so sure.  The historical Jesus position is not so secure that alternative hypotheses should be thrown out of court & placed beyond consideration.  There may have been a real historical Jesus, but I don’t think it fits the data as well as option 3 or some variant therof.

      -evan

  • Moewicus The Xty Xth

    Interesting proposal. Since I’m a tentative mythicist I’ll try to meet it. Of course, one of the reasons Jesus is different from many other historical figures is because so many alleged details of his life suffer from various problems, which is what invites mythicism in the door in the first place. Preliminary thoughts, looking at Bar Kochba: he was later renamed Bar Koziba, meaning “Son of the lie” after the failure of the rebellion. Apparently one could try and fail to be a messiah. What if the letters attributed to him were forged? The few I’ve read so far seem pretty mundane to be referring to a symbolic figure. Requests for supplies, political pressure. If they were forged they seem to presuppose an actual Bar Kochba and request supplies to be directed to certain places at certain times. Evidently someone thought he was earthly, and it strains credulity to think that supplies could be requested by someone no one had seen or on behalf of a symbol. Interesting contrast with Jesus: Bar Kochba’s failure was an actual failure. If Jesus was real, why did his defeat embolden his followers and provide a religion in which his death washed away sins and provided eternal life? Are such things somehow derived from earlier jewish martyrdom stories and applied to a real Jesus? It does seem to be consistent with mythicism, thought certainly it doesn’t rule out Jesus being historical, and reminds me of Superman’s death in the fight with Doomsday: a defeat, but also one that showed just how awesome Superman really was. If Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher, why does being killed make him the heavenly Christ?

    Just preliminary questions that occur to me. Bar Kochba seems to well attested to meet the challenge, though. Perhaps I’ll try Rabbi Hillel or Socrates since they’re not kings or emperors.

    Also, Dr. McGrath, I asked a question on the Feb 12 2010 post “Tacitus on Mythicism” and would be interested to see your response.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wilson/1355591760 Michael Wilson

    “Evidently someone thought he was earthly, and it strains credulity to think that supplies could be requested by someone no one had seen or on behalf of a symbol.” maybe they were written to add realistic detail to the letters, like the request for the cloak and parchments in one of the fake Paul letters? Perhaps Bar Kochba was invented to take the blame for the defeat and away from the real leader who may have been to respected a figure to put responsibility for failure on. This is fun, now I know why mythicst like to play this game.

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

    I did in fact recently post how HJ criteria might be applied to the evidence for Socrates: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/07/16/was-socrates-a-man-or-a-myth-applying-historical-jesus-criteria-to-socrates/

    Before I post on this for the umpteenth time, James, explaining exactly how mainstream historians really do work, and comparing this with biblical historian’s assumptions and methods, will you please give a direct, specific answer to a question:

    What other historical figure in ancient history (or any history) has the same kinds of evidence for his or her existence as Jesus? Do give specific names. I think it is fair that you offer such examples, because I fear that any person I select will by knocked down by your simply saying, ‘well, he doesn’t count coz there is this or that difference etc.’

    You select the target and I will take aim.

  • Anonymous

    I have my own question:  Do classicists ever think that they can determine which statements were really made by Socrates and which ones were merely attributed to him by Plato?  Do they use the same tools that historical Jesus scholars use to determine what Jesus really said?  Are there any other comparable situations in the ancient world where historians think they can identify the exact words that a person actually spoke?

  • http://lowerwisdom.com JSA

    The difference is that the followers of Plato don’t knock on my door telling me I’m in danger of eternal damnation because I don’t believe in the  historicity of Plato

    But surely this outcome would be more likely if Jesus were a failed apocalyptic prophet than if he were a myth, right?

    We have disciples of Joseph Smith and L. Ron Hubbard who are behind thriving cults today, and we know that both were real people.  And we don’t see many disciples of Zeus today.

    Or are you just saying that you have strong emotional reasons for rejecting Christianity?  I agree that threats of hell are one of the most common reasons for people rejecting Christianity.  In that case, though, it seems that “failed apocalyptic prophet” is your best option, since it appears more rational and shields you from being criticized for making a choice out of pure emotion.

    • http://profiles.google.com/eheffa Evan Effa

      My emotions may confound things now but I left Christianity because when I finally investigated the origins and merits of the Christian belief system with as open a mind as I could muster, it became very clear to me that it was little more than a man-made pious fiction.  The evil character of the ‘hell doctrine’ only became appalling to me once I was ‘out of the fold’ so to speak. 

      The degree of fervor and enthusiasm of any given group of  believers seems to have little relation to the reality or historicity of their particular worshiped deity.  Joseph Smith and RL Hubbard might be verifiably historical people, but they aren’t very good evidence for the existence of the Angel Moroni or  Xenu.

      -evan

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @neilgodfrey:disqus , a few names that come to mind as candidates just off the top of my head (not because they have exactly the same sort of evidence but because it is comparable in important respects) include not only Socrates, but also John the Baptist, Honi the Circle Drawer, Hillel, Shammai, pretty much any of the early Tannaitic rabbis, Muhammad, and any of the twelve apostles. Some of those are slightly better in terms of evidence, some are slightly worse, but all share the need to rely solely on literary sources and accounts of others.

    Will those do for starters?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wilson/1355591760 Michael Wilson

      It’s funny Neil says “because I fear that any person I select will by knocked down by your simply saying, ‘well, he doesn’t count coz there is this or that difference etc.’”, since he is so fond of that tactic himself. I’ve given him list of people who were thought to be God by people after their death, but if they didn’t go on to found Christianity, it isn’t a fit, but the legend of Hercules or Attis, well what a great analogy of the Jesus situation.  And what qualifies him to lecture people on historical method? If I want to know where the Nancy Drew books are, I’ll call Neil.
       
      I’m a bit lost on his challenge. Like Evan challenges from Neil are like wishes from genies or bargains with Rumplestiltskin.  You could fill a phone book (at least one where I live, small town) with people who are “historical” (mentioned in a historian’s work as a person). If he wants “believed without scholarly dissent to exist” then of course Jesus wouldn’t meet the criteria, as there are at least two who think that (though one is only a theologian).  What do you think he is going for?

    • Anonymous

      How about Thespis, the actor or Thales of Miletus, the philosopher.

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      McGrath: “a few names that come to mind as candidates just off the top of my head (not because they have exactly the same sort of evidence but because it is comparable
      in important respects) include not only Socrates, but also John the
      Baptist, Honi the Circle Drawer, Hillel, Shammai, pretty much any of the
      early Tannaitic rabbis, Muhammad, and any of the twelve apostles. Some
      of those are slightly better in terms of evidence, some are slightly
      worse, but all share the need to rely solely on literary sources and
      accounts of others.”

      Neil: Well I have discussed Socrates several times already and you ignored my argument and responded that I was simply showing some sort of anti-Christian bias by believing philosophers and playwrights more than Christians. I linked above again to another recent treatment of Socrates and you have not replied to that, so don’t you think I would be wasting my time? If you fail to understand that argument then there is no

      I have also discussed Meier’s arguments for the 12, and referred to scholarly debates about the existence of Muhammad. I have also addressed John the Baptist.

      You have also failed to explain what you mean by “evidence” as opposed to (or IF opposed to) “sources”. Don’t you think that in a serious discussion it is important for scholars to carefully define (succinctly, cogently, not in long rambling discussions that leave readers wondering what it all meant at the end) their terms at the outset?

      So it sounds to me — feel free to prove me wrong — that you are simply asking for something that has already been done repeatedly but that you have failed to accept or understand.

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      James McGrath wrote: “all share the need to rely solely on literary sources and accounts of others.”

      Neil: His point is to suggest the evidence for, say, Socrates and Hillel etc is comparable to to that for Jesus.

      James, I have explained over and over to you that my argument is NOT that literary sources are in themselves worthless for establishing historicity. The implication of your sentence here is that you still fail to comprehend my argument completely. I have never said that literary sources alone are inadequate.

      Nor have I ever said that literary sources must be accepted on an “all or nothing” basis.

      If you really are serious in wanting a response to your challenge from me then you will have to demonstrate to me that you do understand what I have written so far. Can you sum up in your own words the gist of what my argument actually is?

      • Mikew

        Does anyone know what this tirade means? What was the point of Neil’s challenge?

        • NateP

          It means, Mike Wilson, that you are dense if you cannot readily comprehend Neil’s post.  It could not be more clear what he’s asking and saying!

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  • Anonymous

    Dr. McGrath, would you accept Simon of Gitta or Rabbi Akiva?

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @beallen0417:disqus  it is just refreshing that you aren’t proposing a figure from a comic book.  :-)

  • http://lowerwisdom.com JSA

    Joseph Smith and RL Hubbard might be verifiably historical people, but they aren’t very good evidence for the existence of the Angel Moroni or  Xenu

    Correct.  And the verifiable historicity of the man Jesus isn’t necessarily good evidence for the existence of the tribal deity Yaweh.

    The point remains; we have evidence that people will believe in fictional deities based on the testimony of real people, but less evidence that they will believe in fictional deities based on testimony about fictional people.  It doesn’t seem plausible that the existence of a cult based on Jesus’s life experiences would be more likely if he were mythical.  It goes against all of our experience — Hubbard, Smith, Aleister Crowley, and any number of other failed apocalyptic prophets all needed to be real people before they could form cults around their supposed revelations.

    • Anonymous

      Yet there are also religions based on non-real people, like John Frum, Attis, Moses and Benjamin Creme’s Maitreya.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wilson/1355591760 Michael Wilson

        You know Moses is non-real? How did you figure that out?

    • http://profiles.google.com/eheffa Evan Effa

      I think that the problem I have with the “Jesus directly inspired a group of people to follow him” assertion is that we actually have no good evidence for the existence of these early Jesus followers until the second century CE.  The only stories documenting the activities of these first century Jesus followers come to us through second century compilations like the Book of Acts.  (Unless you consider the Josephus’ TF to be authentic, Josephus & other first century historians seem to have completely missed the presence of this disruptive and radical group we now call Christians.)

      Even in the the earlier part of the second century, it seems that these calling themselves Christians know very little of the details that are documented in the Gospel accounts.  It almost appears that the details of the story are only just getting fleshed out in the early part of the Second Century – moving from a mystical celestial belief system to a more concrete, historicized flesh and blood Jesus later in the Century.  This is completely backwards from what one would expect from a charismatic founder leaving an indelible impression on his followers – one that gets more diluted and diverse as time moves on.  This in itself is something that begs for an explanation and would seem to contradict the notion that Christianity was started by a charismatic flesh & blood prophet in ~ 30 CE.

      For a more detailed and documented discussion of this phenomenon see Doherty’s discussion of the Second Century apologists:
       http://www.jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/century2.htm

      ( I realize that if you have been reading Dr. McGrath’s scathing assessment of Doherty’s writings you may feel disinclined to go there but it is worth reading on its own merit.)

      -evan

  • Steven Carr

    MCGRATH
    What I invite mythicists to do then is approach the evidence for that figure in the same way they do the evidence for the existence of Jesus

    CARR
    You mean, get very early members of that person’s fan club to write letters to other members of that person’s fan club, explaining how that person was the agent through whom God created the world and go through the letters pointing out the enormous volume of places where we would expect that person to have actually done something worthy of being discussed in those letters?

    Has McGrath actually read Doherty’s book?

    Perhaps McGrath could find another case in history where Jews started to believe that a recently crucified criminal was the agent through whom God created the world?

  • steven

    The point remains; we have evidence that people will believe in fictional deities based on the testimony of real people, but less evidence that they will believe in fictional deities based on testimony about fictional people. 

    CARR
    Well that is obviously rubbish, as even today people believe in the existence of the Maitreya, allegedly a Muslim living in the East End of London.

    We even have messages from him, and pictures of him and testimony of seeing him, although he no more exists now than he did when Benjamin Creme first started claiming he existed.

    Mind you, it is very embarrassing that the Maitreya is a Muslim and so we know that he must exist , by the criterion of embarrassment.

    Who would make up a religion where the Maitreya belongs to another religion?

    And McGrath knows it is true that Biblical scholars use different methods to historians working in other fields. He himself claims Biblical scholars are ‘pioneers’ in the methods they use.

  • steven

    VINNY
    Are there any other comparable situations in the ancient world where historians think they can identify the exact words that a person actually spoke?

    CARR
    That should be easy for McGrath to answer because he uses the same methods other historians use. No, honest, he does. He has said so himself, and that is good enough for me.

    He doesn’t use methods which show that Popeye must have existed because Popeye was based on a real person. No, honest, he doesn’t. He has said so himself, and that is good enough for me.

    After all, Popeye is a character in a comic book, unlike Jesus, whose first biography has him talking to Satan and driving demons into pigs.

    Although Paul scoffed at Jews for wanting to hear about miracles associated with Jesus, which is bizarre, as we know that miracle stories get attached very quickly to real religious figures.

  • http://lowerwisdom.com JSA

    @beallen0417:disqus Benjamin Creme is a real person (if the old bat hasn’t croaked yet), and his real-life “Maitreya” publicly spurned him if you hadn’t seen.  I was engaging with them 20 years ago, and had his kooks commenting on my blog in the past 2 years.  And I’m convinced that John Frum America was a real person — I’ve made similar passionate pledges to savages that I unfortunately was unable to keep, but I might yet keep my promises some day.

    Benjamin Creme might serve as a counter-example to my point in a way you didn’t intend.  Creme might demonstrate that, in some cases, it’s easier to create a fictional person than to pin your mythology on a real-life person who has the option of spurning you publicly and making a mockery of you, as Creme’s Maitreya did.  However, I think this simply bolsters the idea that a failed apocalyptic prophet would best be appropriated by a cult after his death.

    @google-6daf02a4b08a556f1ecf3f7a6a26b400:disqus Ever since they were little, my kids and I have played a game that is a variant of “just so stories”.  I point out a simple factual situation, and we all compete with one another to come up with outlandish explanations for the facts that are at least conceivable and not easily refutable.  The goal is to teach some degree of creativity and open-mindedness while teaching them that not all explanations are created equal.  Some explanations are things you’ve been brainwashed to believe, and some are just bullshit that you made up to win a game — and among the myriad explanations that any person with a mediocre IQ can invent, the hardest part is learning to apply good judgment.

    As a militant atheist, I was peddling Jesus mythicism (and decidedly more creative attacks against Christianity) decades before I heard of James McGrath.  As a connoisseur of “bullshit made up to win games”, I was also interviewing every schizophrenic crackpot I could talk to to learn the specifics of his theory.  I can give detailed accounts of at least 3 schizophrenics who had far more convincing accounts countering Christianity than the account given by Doherty.  A perfect example of the stupidity of the current defenders of mythicism is this gem:

    This is completely backwards from what one would expect from a charismatic founder leaving an indelible impression on his followers – one that gets more diluted and diverse as time moves on.

    See? This fails at rationality, and fails at schizophrenia.  It’s not even the production of a mediocre IQ; it’s just retarded.

    “The story about George Washington and the Cherry Tree was apocryphal, and didn’t leave an indelible impression on anyone who supposedly knew George personally.  The mythical story achieved its height of popularity 100 years later, and hung around for more than 100 additional years after being challenged.  This is completely backwards from what one would expect if George Washington was a real person!”

    That’s just one example; we can fill books with examples of stories of real-life historical figures that become simplified, ossified and “less nuanced” long after their deaths — from Ben Franklin to Lenin.  That seems the immutable rule, rather than the exception.  The idea that cult member stories about a cult founder become “diluted and diverse as time moves on” flies in the face of any sort of common sense.  All of our experience shows that the stories become more singular and caricatured as time moves on, right up until the cult founder is disgraced.

    Now, it’s possible that Jesus was a myth, and I’ve argued as much myself.  But the arguments put forth by current mythicists are offensively stupid and wouldn’t even pass muster in the “just so” games in my car.

    • http://profiles.google.com/eheffa Evan Effa

      Thank JSA. 

      Your erudite genius is so blinding, I’m having trouble typing.   I actually have better things to do than submit to your cheap insults.  (Perhaps you could point out to Richard Carrier & Robert Price how ‘retarded’ & schizophrenic they are when they suggest that the Historical Jesus is a fiction.)

      I’m going to go look for my bottle of Haldol. I’m out of here.

      -evan

  • steven

    JSA~Benjamin Creme is a real person (if the old bat hasn’t croaked yet), and his real-life “Maitreya” publicly spurned him if you hadn’t seen.

    CARR
    Interesting. I had never seen that. What is the name of this real life ‘Maitreya’ who publically spurned him?

    JSA
    All of our experience shows that the stories become more singular and caricatured as time moves on…

    CARR
    So Jesus would not have recognised the characters in the Gospels, no more than George Washington would have recognised the story of his chopping down a cherry tree?

    You have proposed an interesting analogy.

  • http://lowerwisdom.com JSA

    Carr – I have to admire your naive sincerity and tenacity, so here is a bone for you:

    They seemed impressed with each other, with Mr. Creme saying he found Mr. Patel quite intelligent and charming.Mr. Patel had a different impression of Mr. Creme: “Bonkers.”In January, devotees of Mr. Creme’s decades-old prophesies concluded — based on a series of clues and unverified information on the Internet — that Mr. Patel was the earthly manifestation of Maitreya, The World Teacher.

    So far, there are no adherents of Creme’s cult who can claim to identify Maitreya with a real life person.  It’s certainly possible that there will one day develop a belief in a specific historical Maitreya, but such a character might only be identified after his death.  Creme seems eager to accept his Messiah as a living person — perhaps if you adopt a Gujurati surname and claim Islam, you have a chance of being the next Jesus!  But until you do that, it is premature to claim even the slightest equivalence between Maitreya and Christ.

    You also asked:

    Who would make up a religion where the Maitreya belongs to another religion?

    This was the plan all along.  You didn’t realize this?  I suggest you do some research on the origins of Maitreya trust.  Creme and crew documented their plan for world domination even more meticulously than L. Ron Hubbard documented his.  Hubbard at least had the sense to document his plan in works of fiction, while Creme’s crew had the naive sincerity to document it as an actual plan.

    So Jesus would not have recognised the characters in the Gospels, no more than George Washington would have recognised the story of his chopping down a cherry tree?

    You have proposed an interesting analogy.

    If by “interesting” you mean “bloody obvious”, then I agree.  Which hypothesis is more likely — that Parson Weems opportunistically embellished stories told by people who knew George Washington, after Washington was famous enough to make those embellishments seem plausible; or that Parson Weems hallucinated George Washington for purposes of myth-construction?

    • steven

      Nobody could accuse Paul of hallucination, despite his claims to have visited the 3rd Heaven, and to receive revelations from the Lord about Paul’s problems with messengers from Satan.

      Of course, George Washington was a famous President , who was likely to have stories written about him praising his character.

      Jesus was a crucified criminal. Why did he rapidly become the agent through whom God had created the world? 

      JSASo far, there are no adherents of Creme’s cult who can claim to identify Maitreya with a real life person…Creme seems eager to accept his Messiah as a living person

      CARR
      And interesting point.

      So people can write about Messiah’s as a living person, perhaps claiming that they were ‘born of a woman’, and this does not mean they thought of their Messiah as ‘a real life person’. 

      I had never looked at things that way before. I will consider your point very carefully.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wilson/1355591760 Michael Wilson

        “Why did he rapidly become the agent through whom God had created the world? ”

        are you asking why, or rhetorically saying this would never happen? I can’t think of many events like that described in the basic mythicist scenario. Powerful new ideas are rare, radical, and founded by unusual people. Why did nation of Islam take off? Or any number of protestant heresy.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Let me add that, although I gave a list of figures who are in the same ballpark as Jesus with respect to the amount of evidence, I would really like it if mythicists taking up this challenge choose someone who is better attested than any of the people I mentioned. The point of the exercise is at least partly to illustrate that, if one is determined to, one can doubt the existence even of well attested people.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Let me add something else as well, since I should not have framed the issue in terms of doubt. The possibility of doubt is essentially all-pervasive when it comes to the ancient world and history. What I would really like to see is mythicists go beyond the doubt that is a healthy expression of skepticism typical of historians, and try to claim that the individual in question is more likely to be fictional than historical.

  • http://lowerwisdom.com JSA

    Of course, George Washington was a famous President, who was likely to have stories written about him praising his character.

    Jesus was a crucified criminal. Why did he rapidly become the agent through whom God had created the world?

    That question applies doubly to the mythicist.  Why would a myth about a completely fictional crucified criminal be so effective?  Why would some pious 1st century Jews in occupied Judea want to believe a story about a martyred holy man, executed by the occupying Roman force in collaboration with the hated puppet king Herod?  The myth didn’t even involve a “famous President”!  It must be a miracle that anyone believed it!

    Furthermore, why would the subjugated Greeks, resentful of the Romans, find the same myth to be appealing?  IT DEFIES EXPLANATION!!!  Those Greeks would have certainly demanded a myth about a “famous President”!

    Are you really going to argue that the story become easier to sell when Jesus is fabricated out of thin air?

    So people can write about Messiah’s as a living person, perhaps claiming that they were ‘born of a woman’, and this does not mean they thought of their Messiah as ‘a real life person’. 

    That will get you almost to the point of pre-Magi visit in terms of historicity.  

    Now you just need to get Maitreya’s followers to name their Messiah with an identifiable real-world name like “A London Carpenter, Mr. Patel”, and provide genealogies for his mother and father (“Mr. Mohammed Patel, Son of Mr. Carr, Grandson of David”), and start identifying his cousin by name as a martyred prophet, and his brother (Forest Gump Carr?) as a reluctant post-martyrdom convert.  That ought to be pretty easy, and then you’ll have a reasonably good comparison between Maitreya and Christ.  Good luck with that.

    Considering the mental caliber of the folks who are defending mythicism, I’m stunned that nobody has responded to McGrath’s challenge yet.  It ought to be child’s play for a genius like Carr.

  • Anonymous

    It seems that Mr. Creme disagrees with JSA. Perhaps he should investigate this further.

  • Anonymous

    In addition, Moses is a fictional character, Mike. The absence of Egyptian records or any evidence of the Exodus or the conquest of Palestine at the relevant times rules out the existence of a Moses who led an exodus of Jews from Egypt. In addition, the Graf-Wellhausen source-critical theory is a cogent and well-argued theory that explains the data we have the best and rules out a single author of the Torah. If there was a historical man named Moses who left no records, didn’t write anything and didn’t lead an exodus, it’s hard to identify him with the character we have in the Hebrew Scriptures. People who believe in a historical Moses are generally young-earth creationists.
    Finally, JSA, who was John Frum, where did he come from, what uniformed service was he in, and when was he in Vanuatu? Modern historians have access to records that dwarf those kept by ancient historians, or even historians of the 18th century, so those facts should be easily deducible from this distance in time.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Hopefully readers can see illustrated in that last comment how mythicists confuse lack of historical evidence for a figure, or evidence that a story about a figure is unhistorical, for proof that that figure is entirely fictional. 

    • Anonymous

      Dr. McGrath are you implying that Moses is indeed a historical figure?

    • Anonymous

      Dr. McGrath,

      I agree that “evidence that a story about a figure is unhistorical” does not prove that the figure is entirely fictional.  However, “lack of historical evidence for a figure” would seem to be probative.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wilson/1355591760 Michael Wilson

        That would be so if the lack were total.  I think here lack means insufficient. It is true that if there is no evidence for a person historical existence, then we have no reason to suspect that they existed.  The saga’s that Moses is attached to though, are putting forth traditional stories as history of Israel.  Their accuracy has not withstood scrutiny, but most scholars are not convinced that that Moses can be reduced to an invention as Abraham and Jacob. Claims by minimalist fans that this is proven are a reflection of only part of the scholarly community. While we can’t be confident in Moses historical reality and less so about any attributes of him, to say “this is an example of a fictional person” as Evan does, requires proof as does the claim “this is an example of a historical person.”  For people like Moses, Arthur, and Gilgamesh coming to a conclusive result for either position is hard. Remember, if you can’t determine a body was murdered it doesn’t mean they died of natural causes, it just means “cause of death unkown”.

  • Weston Bortner

    I actually believe in a historical Jesus Christ, while I believe his history is about as distorted as that of Lee Harvey Oswald. I go into more detail on an article on my blog the Atheist Literature Club.

    http://theatheistliteratureclub.blogspot.com/2011/07/christ-and-oswald.html

  • http://lowerwisdom.com JSA

    @beallen0417:disqus That article is entirely consistent with the NYT piece I quoted.  Regardless, Maitreya still has less historical attestation than the Great and Terrible Oz, or pre-Magi Christchild.  I don’t expect the Maitreya story to develop anything like what Doherty postulates, so I don’t think it’s a relevant comment.

    @google-6daf02a4b08a556f1ecf3f7a6a26b400:disqus I like Richard Carrier, and consider him to be thoughtful and intelligent.  Carrier’s assessment of Doherty is not bad; Doherty raises more questions than he answers, and could be the basis for much further inquiry.

    My gripe is with people like Carr who think that they have a knockdown argument and then turn every comment thread into a vomit stream of spam, throwing out little turds like we’ve seen here as if they are profound arguments.  Carrier certainly doesn’t work that way, and even Doherty who spent 20 years grinding an axe wouldn’t throw out random turd assaults like Carr does on every comment board he touches.

    McGrath asked an interesting question that could be the basis of some interesting conversation.  But 50% of the comment thread is you three tossing out off-topic idiotic one-liners that you think are profound.  Every time one gets slapped down, you try something else.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Mike, in short it means that Neil Godfrey does not acknowledge or see what others see, namely that he treats the Gospels differently than other texts, and treats those who study them differently than he treats those who study other texts.

    @Neil Godfrey, what I would like for you and others to do is pick someone who you are persuaded existed, and try to be a mythicist about that person, just to see how easily you could change your mind about the individual in question is you approach the question of their historicity in the same way as you approach that of Jesus.

    Conversely, if you consider someone like John the Baptist or Hillel in detail, I suspect that you will be quite happy to say that you are uncertain about their historicity, and not claim that we can be confident that they are more likely to have been invented as fictions and then confused for actual historical figures, as mythicists say about Jesus.

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      But I have done this many times and you have merely twisted or ignored my arguments.

      If you really are serious in wanting a response to your challenge from me then you will have to demonstrate to me that you do understand what I have written so far. Can you sum up in your own words the gist of what my argument actually is?

      If you cannot demonstrate that you understand what my argument is then why should I bother repeating it for you?

      You never give a straight answer to any of my questions. I have asked this question before. Why do you not answer it?

    • NateP

      Jimbo, that is in fact what Neil is suggesting (that John the Baptist’s existence is quite suspect under normal historiographical standards…Hillel wouldn’t be far off).

      What YOU are refusing to do is acknowledge that there’s a standard to begin with.  If you indeed understand the method that Neil leans toward, whether you find it effective or not, you could at least oblige him in a charitable summation of his argument as you understand it, and work cooperatively to nuance the original challenge.  Then it will be a mutually beneficial undertaking when we finally hear the findings/reports of those taking on your challenge.  Neil is just trying to guard against you moving the goalposts, and in a fair debate, you MUST show in good faith that you won’t do that.  INSTEAD, by not even addressing the ways that Neil (and several others) have tried to account for comparable historical figures….you do nothing but muddle up the goal of the challenge itself.  I do think it’s a good challenge, and you potentially have a good point to make with it…but please show some charity in the way you engage any mythicists that might dare to take it on.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    In the past when I have asked you about the gist of your argument, you have sometimes said that you are not making an argument, just sharing a perspective that you think is worth considering. For a while you even denied that your blog is a mythicist blog. And so I think it would make far more sense for you to clarify your viewpoint than for me to try to do so.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath
    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      I do not accept your recollection but that is past anyway and it seems like a red-herring to avoid addressing my comments and questions.

      Why will you simply not answer any of my questions? I have presented the same argument about Socrates again and I am simply asking you to sum up my argument. Now can you do that? I have posted on DC a fuller explanation of my argument. Can you sum it up in your own words?

      I simply want assurance you really do understand what my argument is. It is pointless my repeating it if you do not understand it.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @neilgodfrey:disqus, Here’s what I hear you saying in your recent post, “What is history?” In the case of John the Baptist, where you say that he may have been invented by the Gospel authors based on Scripture, and hint that the mention in Josephus could be an interpolation, your stance indicates that the appropriate response is not mythicism but agnosticism.
    When you say that in the case of Jesus of Nazareth we have “nothing like that” I understand you to mean that we have nothing like the sort of sources you mention in connection with Julius Caesar, where you acknowledge that minor characters do not leave behind the same sort of evidence as emperors, and adopt the methodological principle that such minor figures are most convincingly argued to exist if they appear in historical accounts which can be shown to be reliable with respect to what they say about major persons and events which can be verified through tangible evidence.Among the questions that come to my mind are (1) Do you have any plan to provide evidence for the alleged custom of inventing new figures from Scripture in a manner akin to what mythicists say happened in the Gospels (as well, presumably, as prior to Paul’s letters)? (2) Why, in the case of Jesus, do you feel that the mythicist stance is appropriate and worth defending, when in the case of John the Baptist, you adopt a different one? and (3) Does your view that we do not have a source that provides enough evidence to confirm the likelihood of Jesus’ existence indicate that you not only view Earl Doherty’s interpretation of Paul’s letters as worth considering, but that you find them more persuasive than the understanding of those letters among mainstream scholars and historians of antiquity?

  • Anonymous

    Dr. McGrath, are you agnostic about Romulus, or do you view him as a mythical figure?

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Is Evan ever going to explain why he thinks Romulus and Jesus are comparable in terms of the evidence for them, so that mentioning one is supposed to shed light on the other? Is he ever going to explain why the fact that some material we have about him in ancient sources is legend/myth means that one should feel certain that there was no such figure at all? Is he ever going to start addressing issues rather than continue to illustrate the reasons why I stopped interacting with him? Or should I just be grateful for those occasions when he doesn’t bring up comic books?

    • Anonymous

      So I’ll take the second sentence as an announcement of agnosticism regarding most myth-accreted figures from antiquity in general. Certainly nobody I am familiar with has ever said that we could be certain there was no historical Romulus, Hercules, Lycurgus, Moses etc. And to be additionally clear, that has never been my personal position. 

      What is being asserted generally about these figures though, is that all of the material that we have about them now is mythical and can’t be verified or corroborated externally, and therefore they are not given status as verified historical figures. That is a position I fully agree with.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @NateP, if you know of a professor of logic who has the time to spend on such an undertaking, by all means share our discussions.

    I would much rather that a professor of history read the discussion and chime in and defend their work from Neil and other detractors who claim to be their supporters and yet are convinced that they are all wrong about Jesus.

    There is certainly room for uncertainty in the case of figures known from texts, of whom there are a great many in history. Their existence is questioned and examined from time to time among historians, as it should be. That is not the issue when it comes to mythicism. Mythicists are those who are persuaded that they have disproven the existence of Jesus, have shown that the earliest Christians referred to a purely spiritual and celestial Jesus, and seem unwilling or unable to comprehend why all professional historians think that, while it cannot be called absolute certainty given the nature of the historical enterprise and of the evidence, a historical Jesus most likely existed.

    Let me know if what I just wrote was either insufficiently clear or insufficiently logical, from your perspective.

    • NateP

      not insufficiently clear in this instance, but certainly illogical.  you know full well that nearly no mythicist thinks they’ve disproven Jesus’ existence.  for everyone involved it is a matter of probability.  i dare say that not even you would suggest that you’re 100% certain that Jesus existed.  your number would be high, but let’s think of it as a confidence quotient, maybe CQ for short.  Neil’s CQ would undoubtedly be much much lower, even after examining the same evidence (or lack thereof)…but I know he wouldn’t say it’s anywhere near 0%.  In fact, I’d guess that he’d even offer up a CQ of Jesus’ existence of nearly 20% or so, depending on what actions and properties we’re attaching to the Jesus in questions.  If we’re just talking about a man who preached somewhere in Galilee within the first century, then even a mythicist’s CQ is bound to shoot up a bit.  If we’re talking about a man crucified by Pilate at the behest of the Sanhedrin for claims of divinity, then the CQ number starts to decline (as it does for many HJ-scholars that i know).  And if we’re going to even discuss miracle-working and an act of resurrection (which went unnoticed by all contemporary historians, let’s not forget), then obviously the CQ downright plummets.  so it largely hinges on what sort of Jesus we’re proposing as the historical one.

      but let’s be clear…mythicists DO NOT think they have (or could) disprove Jesus’ existence outright….unless we’re talking about a fundamentalist’s portrait of Jesus.  that one has been roundly disproven, on the basis of internal consistency (i.e. no version of Jesus could have been crucified on two different days at once).  but allowing some literary leeway (as i know you do), we should simply acknowledge that we the participators in this endless debate often see plausibilities in the same chunk of data where an opponent sees utter unlikelihoods.  but still both are suggesting comparative probabilities.  my CQ regarding Jesus is somewhere around 40%, certainly higher than Neil’s but certainly much lower than yours.  does that make me a mythicist?  if it does, than i’d say the term has become devoid of any helpful meaning.

      • http://historical-jesus.info/ Bernard Muller

        To NateP:
        You wrote: “so it [CQ] largely hinges on what sort of Jesus we’re proposing as the historical one.”

        BM: I cannot agree more: right on. Did you check my “sort” of Jesus? I bet it would rate relatively high for you. Here is my (short) webpage which describes HJ: http://historical-jesus.info/digest.html
        For justifications and evidence, you can start from my introduction webpage: http://historical-jesus.info/
        For “historical Jesus”, my extensive website is in 2nd position on Google.com (right after Wikipedia)!

        • NateP

          I’ll check out your page next time I get a chance Bernard.  Thanks for the link.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Why introduce claims for divinity, when we are talking about the historical Jesus? Is it just because mythicists like the “Jesus was a God first” scenario, even though the trajectory in the Gospels is from purely human to the Word become flesh? Why ask about miracles, when that isn’t what historians are discussing or investigating? I think that the sense that the CQ is low is precisely because mythicists, unlike the best historians, simply cannot get the Jesus of creeds and dogma out of their vision. But that is precisely what historians have spent recent centuries doing: getting behind dogma and legend.

    BTW, I did a follow-up post on Jesus mythicism vs. Caesar mythicism to try and take the experiment proposed here further. I would be interested in your thoughts on it.

    • NateP

      i honestly think you should be able to answer your own questions here.  why do i speak of the divinity of jesus?  because that is a non-negotiable facet of his nature according to the new testament texts.  it matters not that mark and the earliest paulines may de-emphasize that divinity and later works like the johannine books emphasize it to the extreme.  the “trajectory” is something you superimpose after looking at the NT canon chronologically.  early readers would have taken them together, not in chronological fashions, and would have undoubtedly surmised that christology (and jesus divinity) is an absolute non-negotiable to the writers of the NT.

      why do i speak of miracles?  not because i can’t conceive of a historical jesus who have embellished stories of miracle working woven up around him….sure i can imagine that.  rather, it’s because belief in the omnipotence of God (and God’s Son by extension) has major theological import, and that influences the question of the genre of the gospels.  we later readers can’t just pick and choose where we ought to expect the evangelists to be meticulous in their historical accuracy and when they ought to take literary license.  that’s a guessing game that no one can win.

      so…become any search for the HJ begins, one should decide which HJ they’re proposing in the first place, and then the available evidence will start to confirm or deny that proposition.  to entertain all possible variation on the character of Jesus simultaneously is to inevitably move the goalposts back and forth to no end.  therefore, we’re back to what i said early about CQ….depending on how grandiose your version of the HJ is, one’s CQ ought to up and down accordingly….ironically with the lowest CQ of them all corresponding to the version of Jesus that we’d call the most biblical.

      • NateP

        *had embellished – not have embellished.
        *before any search – not become any.
        sorry

      • NateP

        let me briefly clarify what i mean by “deciding which HJ you’re proposing”.  basically, i mean determining a set of non-negitiobles that delineate a historical character that qualifies as an HJ, and characters that don’t qualify.

        some quick examples:
        1) if you could prove that someone who matches the gospels’ depiction of Jesus actually existed, but his name was in fact Jonah, and maybe Peter was the name of his father, not his right-hand-man… does this still count as a proper HJ?

        2) If you find a perfect match but this person is shown to have lived in Asia Minor, or Saudi Arabia, is it close enough?

        3) if you found a perfect corroboration of the matthean account of the sermon on the mount, and then a corroboration of the temple-clearing scene, and then a corroboration of a prisoner whom the Jews talked Pilate into crucifying….but these three corroborations were clearly describing three different men…is it ok to call them an Amalgam Jesus?

        in other words, i have no doubt than many of the episodes in the gospels happened at some point, to someone (outside of the miracle stories of course)….but what percentage of these episodes must we trace back to a singular figure named Jesus in order to fairly say we have an HJ to talk about?  i think that current HJ scholars are setting that mark way too low…and…not justifying their decision! 

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    NateP, I actually disagree quite strongly with two of your points. first, I think it is antithetical to historical inquiry to decide in advance what sort of figure you are looking for. Ideally we should find the figure of whom we have evidence. Those who begin with a particular concept in mind usually end up confirming it. Critical tools aim at helping to avoid those natural tendencies in human investigations.

    Second, I would encourage you to read Luke-Acts from beginning to end, and try not to read pre-existence or divinity of Jesus into the text, but only consider what the text itself explicitly says. I think you will be surprised. The only character in the two volumes who is depicted as claiming to be God incarnate is Simon Magus!

    • NateP

      Jim, either you are deliberately playing fast and loose with your own terminology, or you fundamentally misunderstand the common terms in this field.  of course i’m not suggesting that you pick a Historical Jesus to confirm or deny…we’ve all seen where that led in any of the quests.  i’m instead talking about a specified definition of “Historical Jesus”, i.e. what minimal amount of information would constitute a proper demonstration of a Historical Jesus?  why don’t you stop evading this critical step?  i submit that it’s because you want to portray mythicists as something other than what they are.  in case that’s not clear, i’ll be blunt and say that a mythicist obviously knows that there were people in first century palestine that said and did things like the character of Jesus in the gospels.  but they’d argue that these facts don’t add up to a Historical Jesus.  instead, they expect the historian to demonstrate that these many words and deeds in fact culminated in one specific person, and that this person was named Jesus.  when historians cannot demonstrate this, they default to doubting the historicity of this character, and seek other explanations for the gospel accounts.  this is in keeping with the burden of proof standards for all other historical inquiry.

      So, if you’re not making your arguments with an explicit notion of what would constitute a Historical Jesus, then you are unfairly arming yourself with limitless defenses against the inductive burden of proof that you, the historian, have.

      I think the ascension account alone in luke-acts is enough to throw your second paragraph out the window, but in case you disagree, I’d rather not get suckered into a tangent about Lukan themes.  let’s just stick to methodology, and therefore, would you please just clarify what would and would not constitute a meaningful Historical Jesus, and if possible, base it off some of the variables that i mentioned in my previous posts.  that way, we can prevent many useless apples-to-oranges comparisons, which are what typically devolve the mythicist/historicist debate.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    NateP, I don’t understand why you feel the need to delineate an arbitrary minimum. If Paul mentions relatives of his names Andronicus and Junia who were believers before he was, and we are confident we are dealing with an authentic passage in an authentic Pauline letter, then can we not say that there were a historical Andronicus and Junia, about whom we know only the things mentioned in the letter?

    I have heard mythicists talk about combined features from multiple figures, but I don’t see why one would expect that. In the sources we see additions and interpretations based on Jewish Scripture, in particular but not exclusively from passages that were thought to relate to (or could be made to seem to relate to) the expected Anointed One. But you seem to be suggesting that there might have been several figures who lived in the first century whose features might have been combined to make a “super-Jesus” from their various traits. While I am open to the possibility and likelihood of occasional misremembering (someone remembered Jesus having said X, but in fact it was Peter, for example). But the combination of several individuals within the course of a few decades seems unusual, unprecedented, and far more importantly, not something for which we have evidence. So perhaps you could explain why you find this scenario plausible (assuming you do) and why it concerns you so much?

  • NateP

    it’s not an arbitrary minimum…it’s an operational minimum, so you know what constitutes the thing you’re looking for.  it’s like a detective trying to solve a homicide….certain things will collectively form a solid case (the murder weapon with prints on it, plus multiple corroborating witnesses, plus motive, for example).  there’s nothing arbitrary about all this.  the detective knows that any one of those components will probably not be sufficiently convincing to a jury, if not reinforced by the other pieces.  the detective therefore has an operational minimum expectation of the evidence at hand, otherwise he will drop the case (knowing that it would go cold in due time anyway).

    your analogy to Andronicus and Junia is sorta laughable, as they are the focal point of exactly 0% of biblical text.  even if paul would embellish information about them, no one would care, because his motive in doing so would pique the interests of no one.  but with Jesus, the reasons that accounts might be embellished, forged, fabricated etc. rise exponentially, to the point where we ought to ask the historicity question from the get go.

    i don’t want to go a wild goose chase with you about why people would combine facets of different individuals to make a composite character of their own.  let alone the fact that no one’s claiming a NT conspiracy here, as numerous NT authors could have been completely sincere while only a few of the others might have been the culprits of bending the truth.  bottom line, and despite what the writer of Luke claims, historical accuracy was not priority #1 for any of those ancient writers, so a historian should always assume a posture of skepticism when reading about any ancient figure that has folkloric elements surrounding them.  YES, even to the point of considering their non-historicity.  but as i said, i don’t want to go down this road of motive-guessing, when you still have to clarify what you consider to be a minimum expectation for evidence constituting a historical jesus.  failing that, there’s nowhere further for our conversation to go.  stop beating around the bush so much, and step up to the mic with something bold enough worth saying.  this is YOUR field…so say something that the world can actually benefit from hearing!

  • Jonathan Burke

    NateP, I suggest you start with some reading on the historical method, then move on to some reading on what historians say about how they arrive at a historical Jesus. Then you might understand why they reach that conclusion.

    • NateP

      Jonathan, I have a masters degree in this area, with emphasis in historical study of the biblical text.  So thanks for your smug attempt to take the educated high ground on me, but I dare say that I have a stronger background on these issues than 99% of people that troll those blog discussions.  If you did not mean to be smug, then I apologize for the presumption, but would caution you, in future, from suggesting to anyone that they just need to read what you’ve read and they’ll agree.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    NateP, any minimum that is set will be arbitrary, as are the criteria of evidence in criminal cases. They may be pragmatically useful or reasonable, but that doesn’t mean that they are not set by human beings in such a way that setting them slightly higher or lower would be irrational.

    I am glad that we agree that those mythicists who posit several figures being combined to make one Jesus are on a wild goose chase!

    I would like to know how you calculated your figure of 0%. My calculation is slightly higher – not much, but definitely above 0%.

    I feel as though you are still asking the sorts of questions that religious believers might ask, such as whether historical study can provide a Jesus that can be followed, worshipped, and viewed as savior. Such questions are not the questions of historical study. Historical study asks what we can know based on available evidence, and with what degree of certainty. Evidence from antiquity is sparse, and so if we find even an obscure, previously unknown person’s correspondence and business records, they will definitely be studied, translated and published. They will not change anyone’s life, but they will contribute to our understanding of the past, and that is what historical study is about.

    • NateP

      Your first sentence is patently false, Jimbo.  We have to get this nailed down for you here.  I’ll use a different example: Let’s say that, despite the realization that they’ve been considered mythological for as long as anyone can remember, someone in a forest swears to have seen a unicorn.  And let’s just pretend that through various means they actually convince a few others, and a town-wide search of the forest ensues.  If you and I are watching this unfold on the news, and one of us hopes they find a real live unicorn while the other is skeptical…then we have some “methodological” expectations to iron out!

      Namely, we must decide exactly what constitutes a unicorn.  If you were to say “If they find a white horse with something protruding from it’s head, that will count as a unicorn!”, I will retort “NO NO NO, it has to be a biologically grown horn from it’s head…it would just be a horse if it was a twig that somehow got lodged in its skin between its ears”.  Incidentally, I might add “I won’t require that it’s white though…if it’s a real horn, it can be any color and I’ll grant that it’s a unicorn.”

      The major point is…NONE OF THIS IS ARBITRARY, unless you mean in the sense that all language is arbitrary at all times (but I don’t think you’re trying to wander into postmodern linguistics territory).  So if you only allow that semantics are important and full of the meaning(s) that we agree upon, then none of this is arbitrary – rather, it is absolutely essential to make those decisions at the outset of any critical inquiry like this.  It gives shape and parameters for any discussion that will ensue when the search squad pulls something out of the woods to show the public.  Is it a real unicorn??? – that depends completely on what we’ve agreed is the definition of a unicorn!!!

      As fantastical an analogy as that is, it holds in the case of an ancient figure’s historicity (or fictitiousness).  If anything can be found through historical inquiry and somehow tacked onto the empty cork board that says “The Historical Jesus” on the top, then this process is a farce through and through.   In other words, there’s no good reasons to uncover the truth about a historical figure that inhabits an infinitely vacuous context (and only inhabits such a parameterless context SO THAT we rule out the option of mythicism).

      About your 0% question…that is NOT my figure.  Please read that post again, as you seemed to have gotten my point exactly backwards.  And as to your final paragraph, I think you presume too much there as well.  Would you not agree that historical figures garner historians’ attention in proportion to the waves they’ve made on history.  Take ancient rulers….there are countless rulers of the ancient empires, and most of them we don’t give a rip about.  We’ll document all our findings, yes, but we put a special focus on those characters with major impact.  Jesus is studied by many because of the more dramatic and supernatural things he’s said to have spoken/done.  If all that is embellishment, then he rightly deserves as much academic attention as any of the other sages, preachers, rebels etc. of first century Palestine (and how many of those does the average student ever hear anything about?).  So it’s not that I’m pushing a Jesus that would be worthy of worship, it’s rather that you’re suggesting a Jesus that’s not worthy of inquiry even.  That’s all fine and well…but while that increases one’s CQ in his existence, it makes him less deserving of our time and effort….and you and I both know that the edifice of theological studies would come crumbling down if Jesus was relegated to the smaller historical significance of lesser lights like Hanina ben Doza or even Simon bar Kochba.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    OK, a few questions for clarification. First, do you go by “Natebo”? If so, I apologize for not using your preferred nickname. I myself don’t go by Jimbo or Jim.

    Second, if 0% was not your figure, then how did it end up in your comment?

    Third, are you saying that Andronicus and Junia must not have been historical because we do not have a certain minimum number of details about them? Or is it only in the case of Jesus that my statement is allegedly “patently false”? We are not discussing unicorns here, we are discussing human beings who interacted with and were related to other human beings, and none of whom, as far as our sources indicate, had a single horn growing out of their head.

  • NateP

    Learn to deal with a little good-natured ribbing, sir.  You’ll be called Jimbo until you stop thinking like a Jimbo – then we can upgrade you to the name James.  It will be a nice reward for you.

    0% ended up in my comment so that I could use it to say what most mythicists ARE NOT saying (hence you getting it backwards).  If you don’t see the import of that statement, maybe I should explain the whole idea over to you?  I hope not though.

    Asking about Andronicus and Junia in relation to the statement I called “patently false” is just more obfuscation.  If we have to talk about those two, then yes we would set parameters for what constitutes proper evidence of their existence and what doesn’t.  There isn’t much to talk about, whereas with a major figure like Jesus there is.  Same thing with unicorns and other thought-to-be mythological creatures.  It’s not my fault that you don’t find the analogy apt, because it simply is on many levels. The burden of proof is on the person making the affirmative claim: either “unicorns are historically demonstrable” or in your case “the historical Jesus is demonstrable” or something along those lines. I’m not interested in getting you to talk at length about fantastical creatures….just long enough for you to admit that no matter what propositional creature/figure one is discussing, the two debaters have to agree on a minimal set of conditions that constitutes the burden of proof being met (or not).  Otherwise, it’s like playing CalvinBall with Calvin and Hobbes, where the rules change at the whim of one player, or one can redefine the function of the game’s ball on the fly.  Please tell me you see what’s wrong with that arrangement.  Why do you battle so hard against a setup of proper methodology?  There’s not even anything to argue over, until we can even agree on the rules of the task at hand!

  • Jonathan Burke

    //Why do you battle so hard against a setup of proper methodology?//

    Could I ask why you reject the methodology used by professional historians?

    • NateP

      Simply put, you’re misinformed.  Professional historians use the methodology that I advocate, as you will see when you read any mainstream scholarship on historiography (especially historiography that is outside the biblical context or the world of religion).  Hope that’s clear enough for you, cuz I don’t think I can make it any clearer.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    I work in this field, and have no objection to setting up a proper methodology. But you have yet to clarify what is wrong with the methods historians are already using, and why you consider ribbing to be a better route to methodological precision.

    Rather than dig yourself deeper into a hole, you might have done better to have said that the “exactly 0%” figure was hyperbole. At least that might have sounded plausible. It’s too late to salvage the impression you made this time around, but it might be worth keeping in mind for a future occasion.

    • NateP

      Well, I’ll just say that the ribbing is my chosen response to your constant condescension toward and patronization of mythicists, as though they are feeble-minded because they don’t come up with the same conclusions as you.  So take it as a dose of your own medicine, if you like.

      Moving on, I clarified up-front exactly what is wrong with your chosen method (I won’t accept the phrase “methods historians are already using” because I contest that your methods are like most historians’).  If you need to re-read my outline of what’s wrong with your method..I’ll just have to cut and paste:

      1) if you could prove that someone who matches the gospels’ depiction of Jesus actually existed, but his name was in fact Jonah, and maybe Peter was the name of his father, not his right-hand-man… does this still count as a proper HJ?

      2) If you find a perfect match but this person is shown to have lived in Asia Minor, or Saudi Arabia, is it close enough?

      3) if you found a perfect corroboration of the matthean account of the sermon on the mount, and then a corroboration of the temple-clearing scene, and then a corroboration of a prisoner whom the Jews talked Pilate into crucifying….but these three corroborations were clearly describing three different men…is it ok to call them an Amalgam Jesus?

      Concerns like those 3 (I could come up with many more) are examples of concerns that your method is ill-prepared to address, precisely because you haven’t defined operative terms adequately, and you haven’t set forth any sort of rubric that shows agreement on what constitutes what.  You’ve asked me what I find wrong with your method, and here is my repeated answer.  I do hope it’s sufficiently clear at this point.

      On a final note, I still don’t think you’re reading the whole sentence about the 0%.  It’s not hyperbole in the least.  It would be hyperbole to suggest the opposite: that mythicist have a CQ regarding Jesus that equals 0.  That is precisely what I was insisting is NOT the case.  So all I can say is read the whole idea AGAIN if it’s still not sinking in for you.

  • Anonymous

    If I can wander like a lost toddler into a bear pit here. Something in Nate’s comments struck me that I recognize in previous arguments I’ve had on the Historical Jesus.

    When you say there was a Historical Jesus, what you’re doing with the name is to say to your discussion partner: here’s a common referent that we’re talking about. I’m talking about Jesus here, not Bob, not Kyle and not (even) Yeshua. That’s basic communication.

    But a scholar of HJ doesn’t have quite the same reference, if like most they are reasonably minimalist and serious about methodological naturalism.

    I’ve heard Thomas Sheehan lecture on HJ where he deliberately uses “Yeshua” because of this. Explicitly saying “Yeshua was not Jesus – Jesus isn’t historical, let’s find out who Yeshua was”.

    I’ve been frustrated by this lack of willingness for mythicists to concede that we’re not talking about the Jesus of faith or of the prima facia reading of the gospels before. Despite the rudeness of Nate, I sense the same basic point in his argument for a “minimal set of criteria” – i.e. they aren’t a minimal set of criteria for the existence of someone, but they are a minimal set of criteria for using “Jesus” as its referent. Just my reading…

  • Jonathan Burke

    //Jonathan, I have a masters degree in this area, with emphasis in
    historical study of the biblical text.//

    That’s great, would you mind answering my question and addressing what I wrote?

    //So thanks for your smug attempt
    to take the educated high ground on me…//

    I didn’t do any such thing. I haven’t even once referred to my own qualifications.

    //Professional historians use the methodology that I advocate…//|

    Professional historians arrive at the conclusion that Jesus was a historical figure. You don’t arrive at that conclusion. This suggests strongly that you’re not using the same methodology as they are.

    • NateP

      Jonathan, you said:

      “NateP, I suggest you start with some reading on the historical method, then move on to some reading on what historians say about how they arrive at a historical Jesus. Then you might understand why they reach that conclusion”

      I’m not sure what this can mean besides that not already well-read on “the historical method” or not familiar with why (biblical scholars…not historians!) affirm the historical Jesus.  If you meant something besides what I assumed, I apologize for my misinterpretation.  But I do think I’m catching your drift, it’s just that you’re misinformed about the field of history.

      Since you say:
      “Professional historians arrive at the conclusion that Jesus was a historical figure. You don’t arrive at that conclusion. This suggests strongly that you’re not using the same methodology as they are.”

      I can only respond that you’re simply mistaken.  Professional historians DO NOT usually come to a conclusion of a Historical Jesus.  They usually arrive at a sort of agnosticism about him, since there is such scant material to speak to his historicity.  I am not a convinced mythicist, I am thoroughly agnostic about Jesus’ existence, and I get less confident about his existence as the portrait of Jesus gets more and more spiritual/supernatural.  If we’re stripping the proposed Jesus down to the bare minimum just to make it more comfortable to accept his existence….then fine, I’ll grant that Jesus existed in all likelihood, but then he immediately becomes unworthy of our attention.

      Back to your point – you need to accept that “biblical historians”, if they should indeed be called historians (a good number should not), use a very different methodology from mainstream historians.  James McGrath will never admit this, I fear, but this is the key to the whole discussion.  So my conclusions don’t differ from the conclusions of standard historiographical method, they just differ from the conveniently adjusted methods of many NT scholars.

  • Jonathan Burke

    //But I do think I’m catching your drift, it’s just that you’re misinformed about the field of history//

    My drift was that you haven’t demonstrated any knowledge of the methodology used by professional historians. You may have it,  but you haven’t demonstrated it yet. Feel free to do so.

    //Professional historians DO NOT usually come to a conclusion of a Historical Jesus. They usually arrive at a sort of agnosticism about him, since there is such scant material to speak to his historicity.//

    Examples please. I’ll take ten now, and book ten later.

    //Back to your point – you need to accept that “biblical historians”, if they should indeed be called historians (a good number should not), use a very different methodology from mainstream historians.//

    Evidence please.

    • NateP

      my evidence is the same stuff that people like Neil have been posting regularly on for years.  they’ve been providing real quotes and real argument summaries from real historians for who knows how long, and they’re almost always dismissed out of hand, (from what i can tell) only because they hold a mythicist position.

      i’m not going to waste my time parading out the same litany of evidence as they have, only to have it dismissed in the same way.

      if you must have some suggested reading, the book i’d have you start with is “From Reliable Sources” by Howell and Prevenier. if you want to actually take the time to read through that, i’d be happy to discuss it further.  but if you’re going to question my understanding of the general opinions of professional historians, then i’m just going to resort to my confidence in being more well-read than most on this subject (and thus highly unlikely that i’m completely misreading the consensus of historical scholars).

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @aee9bb471c0c1a65c44f2525c7804451:disqus , here are your exact words: “your analogy to Andronicus and Junia is sorta laughable, as they are the focal point of exactly 0% of biblical text.” It isn’t hyperbole? Is it simply an error? What is it?

    If we had evidence for someone who said and did the same things Jesus did, with the same name, at the same time, but in another place, we would probably suspect that one of the sources got the location wrong and that they were speaking of the same person.

    If we had evidence of someone doing the same things but with a different name, we would presumably suspect either that one was imitating the other, or one got the name wrong, or that the person had two names, which was not uncommon.

    If we had evidence of three different people saying and doing things that one other person was supposed to have done, we would probably conclude that either there was imitation, or that some details from one person got associated with another person, or might just admit that it is a puzzling situation.

    What exactly would be concluded would depend on precisely what the evidence was, the relative date of sources, and many other considerations.

    Since none of this seems to be the case with regard to the historical Jesus, perhaps you would care to explain why we are discussing this?

  • NateP

    Jim, I actually thought you were referring all along to a different instance of “0%”, from the post where I introduced my CQ idea.  but even after seeing that this is a misunderstand…I still don’t know why you would call this hyperbole.  Andronicus and Junia are clearly not even the focal point of the NT sentences that contain them.  They are the subject (or direct objects) of those sentences, but certainly not the topical focal point in a single case.  Therefore I think the the 0% figure is dead-on accurate, not exaggerated whatsoever.

    Now you’ve finally provided a response to my three little hypothetical examples…I appreciate you charitably playing along. But I fear that you missed the thrust of the question, since you didn’t comment on which (if any) cases would constitute a verified figure worth calling “the historical Jesus”.  I submit they such a labeling is a waste of time, and apparently unlike you, I think the likelihood of one or more of those phenomena being reality is quite high.  Why would you say “none of this seems to be the case with regard to the HJ” when you know full well that tons of these possible scenarios and considered (and often advocated) by NT scholars all the way back to Reimarus?  We’re discussing this BECAUSE you put the carriage before the horse when you presume to have a bona fide historical figure already in place, from which you can claim imitations and confusions in contrasting sources.  If one source had your figure in Asia Minor, and another figure placed him in Saudi Arabia…how could you begin to determine which material was imitating the other?  You needn’t assume that one of them was bona fide historical – both could be completely fictitious….so you must first decide which sorts of things could help establish historicity, and then decipher the evidence.  You can’t do this the other way around, which you appear to be doing.

  • Jonathan Burke

    //my evidence is the same stuff that people like Neil have been posting regularly on for years.//

    Oh I see, so your response is actually ‘Other people say they have the evidence, and I trust what they tell me’.

    // but if you’re going to question my understanding of the general opinions of professional historians,//

    Of course I am. Until you provide evidence for your claims, why wouldn’t I? Are you not used to having your claims challenged with requests for evidence?

    You claimed ‘Professional historians DO NOT usually come to a conclusion of a
    Historical Jesus’, and ‘They usually arrive at a sort of agnosticism about
    him’. If this is true, it should be a trivial task to provide evidence supporting your claim.

    //if you must have some suggested reading, the book i’d have you start with is “From Reliable Sources” by Howell and Prevenier.//

    I’m not asking for suggested readings on the standard historical method. I’m familiar with it. I’m asking for evidence for your claim that the standard historical method is not the method used by historians of the New Testament. If you make these claims, you will be asked to provide evidence for them.

    If you can’t, or won’t, well you can hardly expect to be taken seriously, and appeals to personal authority such as ‘i’m just going to resort to my confidence in being more well-read than most on this subject’ aren’t going to work.

    • NateP

      I don’t say I simply trust what others tell me.  I say that I’ve done the reading and the critical thinking and come to the same conclusions…so why would I parrot what they’ve said for years now, which are plastered all over these highly-trafficked blogs?  Just read the standard arguments for yourself and critique them if you’d like.  We can discuss your critique…but I’m not going to waste my time typing out a consensus when you can easily read it for yourself, and probably have already if you’ve been a part of this discussion for any length.  Now it seems like you’re trying to grab the rhetorical high ground on me, which is a new technique for you, but equally in vain.  You need to do the work before you challenge the consensus with the backing of a couple others, even if those couple others are professors.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @NateP, if you have been following the discussions of mythicism here then you will have noticed that Howell and Prevenier is a book I mentioned to Neil Godfrey as illustrative of the methods used in historical study, including but not limited to the historical study of Jesus. And so methodologically, you and I should be on the same page – literally! :-)

    Lots of ideas have been proposed down the centuries about Jesus and other figures, and not all of them have withstood the test of time and extended and extensive scrutiny. Do you personally find there to be persuasive reasons to think that Jesus was an amalgam of several figures, or misnamed, or anything else mentioned in the scenarios you gave? Do you have any actual ancient sources that would support such a scenario?

    • NateP

      Jim, did we really read the same book?  I was recommended that book by Richard Carrier, who I doubt you see eye to eye with when it comes to Jesus.  To my reading, Howell and Prevenier could only be said to be agnostic about figures that have only secondary source material available on them.  Therefore, they would be quite agnostic about Jesus, just like Schweitzer was, and I don’t see how you can think those scholars would align with you. Even methodologically, they don’t propose to start an inquiry without parameters of what defines one’s targets.  So I don’t see how you can consider yourself on the same page as them.

      And yes of course I could conceive the Jesus of the Gospels as being a sort of amalgam of other character types, and then unified into one narrative form.  You don’t honestly want me to list other 1st century rabbis, sages, preachers, zealots, enemies of the state, etc, do you?  You can name probably more than me – how is it not conceivable in your mind that these different pieces COULD have melded over time into one figure ultimately names Jesus of Nazareth?  I’m not saying it’s super likely, but more likely than many of the embellished stories in the NT actually happening.

  • Jonathan Burke

    //@NateP, if you have been following the discussions of mythicism here
    then you will have noticed that Howell and Prevenier is a book I
    mentioned to Neil Godfrey as illustrative of the methods used in
    historical study, including but not limited to the historical study of
    Jesus. And so methodologically, you and I should be on the same page –
    literally! :-)//

    Comedy gold! Thread delivers!

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    NateP, I think that is the key difference between mythicists and mainstream historians. The latter care about what is likely, and are less interested in things that could have been but for which there is no evidence. Few things are strictly speaking impossible.

    But at any rate, the book is written by and for mainstream historians, and those who deal with ancient Jewish and Greco-Roman history consistently conclude that Jesus probably existed, using those very methods. Having said that, I cam respect someone who adopts a stance of principled agnosticism. But that is a very different stance from the mythicist like Doherty who thinks that Jesus probably did not exist and that the earliest Christians didn’t think he was a historical figure either.

    • NateP

      “I cam respect someone who adopts a stance of principled agnosticism. But that is a very different stance from the mythicist like Doherty who thinks that Jesus probably did not exist and that the earliest Christians didn’t think he was a historical figure either.”

      It’s a difference, yes, but not that drastic of one.  Just a difference in relative CQ regarding Jesus.  Doherty’s would not be 0%, contrary to what you might think…he’s just diligent enough to pose an explanation that accounts for all the sources if in fact Jesus never lived.  That’s just being thorough in one’s response to the devil’s advocate.  It’s not a declaration that we can be sure Jesus was mythical. No one is espousing that.  Although Earl’s CQ would undoubtedly be significantly lower than mine, it would still not be 0.  The responsibility of explaining the difficulties of one’s theory applies to both ends.  So when you explain contradictions in the Gospel texts with appeal to borrowing and added layers over time….I don’t take that to mean that you’re now more sure that Jesus lived…no, your CQ would remain the same but your theory would be more well-rounded by addressing a hypothetical opponent’s concerns.  It’s the same thing both ways.  In Doherty’s case, if he’s right that Jesus never lived, then it’s virtually obvious that “the earliest Christians didn’t think he was a historical figure either”, unless you posit that there were no real practical Christians until after the first Gospel strands.  So although his theory might sound far-fetched at first blush, you have to allow that this element of it would have to follow from the vantage point of a mythicist.  It’s his arguments for why he is a mythicist in the first place that matter…not so much how he deals with the hardest data to account for. Tournabout is fair play, right?

    • NateP

      “I cam respect someone who adopts a stance of principled agnosticism. But that is a very different stance from the mythicist like Doherty who thinks that Jesus probably did not exist and that the earliest Christians didn’t think he was a historical figure either.”

      It’s a difference, yes, but not that drastic of one.  Just a difference in relative CQ regarding Jesus.  Doherty’s would not be 0%, contrary to what you might think…he’s just diligent enough to pose an explanation that accounts for all the sources if in fact Jesus never lived.  That’s just being thorough in one’s response to the devil’s advocate.  It’s not a declaration that we can be sure Jesus was mythical. No one is espousing that.  Although Earl’s CQ would undoubtedly be significantly lower than mine, it would still not be 0.  The responsibility of explaining the difficulties of one’s theory applies to both ends.  So when you explain contradictions in the Gospel texts with appeal to borrowing and added layers over time….I don’t take that to mean that you’re now more sure that Jesus lived…no, your CQ would remain the same but your theory would be more well-rounded by addressing a hypothetical opponent’s concerns.  It’s the same thing both ways.  In Doherty’s case, if he’s right that Jesus never lived, then it’s virtually obvious that “the earliest Christians didn’t think he was a historical figure either”, unless you posit that there were no real practical Christians until after the first Gospel strands.  So although his theory might sound far-fetched at first blush, you have to allow that this element of it would have to follow from the vantage point of a mythicist.  It’s his arguments for why he is a mythicist in the first place that matter…not so much how he deals with the hardest data to account for. Tournabout is fair play, right?

  • Jonathan Burke

    // I say that I’ve done the reading and the critical thinking and come to the same conclusions…//

    Then I’m sure you’ll be able to articulate them in your own words, and simply cite the relevant evidence.

    This remains a sticking point with Mytherists. When I ask for evidence, I get ‘Neil Godfrey says so’, and when I ask Neil for evidence, I get ‘Earl Doherty say so’, and when I ask Earl for evidence, he just gets angry and rage-quits.

    //To my reading, Howell and Prevenier could only be said to be agnostic
    about figures that have only secondary source material available on
    them.  Therefore, they would be quite agnostic about Jesus, just like
    Schweitzer was, and I don’t see how you can think those scholars would
    align with you.//

    So in other words, you’re just GUESSING about what they believe about Jesus, and you don’t even know! You’ve read them and drawn the conclusion that they would be agnostic about figures only attested by secondary evidence, and then further made the guess that they would therefore be agnostic about Jesus, even though they haven’t actually said this.

    So for all your touted reading, and for all your alleged familiarity with the field, the reality is that you’re simply making things up. You’re drawing your own conclusions and attributing them to professional historians who haven’t actually declared such conclusions. Talk about playing fast and loose. No wonder you’re unable to cite evidence for your claims; the evidence doesn’t exist.

    //You need to do the work before you challenge the consensus with the
    backing of a couple others, even if those couple others are professors.//

    You don’t understand. I’m not challenging the consensus. I’m in agreement with the methodology of professional historians. I’m challenging YOUR claim concerning the conclusions of those historians.

    //You can name probably more than me – how is it not conceivable in your
    mind that these different pieces COULD have melded over time into one
    figure ultimately names Jesus of Nazareth?  I’m not saying it’s super
    likely, but more likely than many of the embellished stories in the NT
    actually happening.//

    Professional historians don’t take the view that they can validly base uncontestable truth claims on what is ‘conceivable’. They deal with what is MOST PROBABLE, and start with that. What you write here demonstrates that you don’t actually take the approach that professional historians do.

    //I’m not saying it’s super likely, but more likely than many of the embellished stories in the NT actually happening.//

    But why would it be more likely than the far less complex, far more mundane, and far less extraordinary event that Jesus was a historical figure? Your argument is simply illogical.

    • NateP

      Jonathan, everything you said is flat out incorrect, and I’m not talented enough of an educator to correct your vast ignorance.  I don’t even have time to itemize the litany of inaccuracies in your last post alone.  Neil does not pass the buck to Doherty…he pulls together many different arguments of his own (his blog is plain evidence of that).  Earl does not rage and quit…his book is nothing but an offer of evidence after evidence.  if you disagree with the evidence that’s fine, but don’t deliberately mischaracterize someone by saying they offer no arguments/evidence.  that’s absolutely absurd.  you can claim that of me if you want, but the fact remains that the arguments are still out there, and you don’t seem willing to engage them even though you clearly know where you can find them.  I have no more time to waste with you.  Please stop interrupting an otherwise decent conversation on this thread.

  • Jonathan Burke

    //Neil does not pass the buck to Doherty…//

    You’re obviously talking about a different Neil. I have yet to see Neil present any independent evidence for specific claims made by Doherty, which I have challenged Neil over.

    //Earl does not rage and quit…his book is nothing but an offer of evidence after evidence.//

    Absolute nonsense. I asked him time and time again for any evidence at all that the Greek word μορφή means ‘essential nature’, or ‘essence’. He failed to provide any standard lexicon giving this as the meaning of the word, and failed to provide even a single Greek text in which the word was used with such a meaning.

    I listed a number of Greek texts in which the word was used with a completely different meaning; he said they were irrelevant. I quoted extensively from the most exhaustive scholarly review of the historical lexical range of the word, over 800 years; he said it wasn’t proof that the word COULDN’T mean what he claimed. I cited all the standard professional lexicons; he said they were all biased.Over several days, despite me asking repeatedly, he failed to provide any lexical evidence whatsoever that the word in question had the meaning he claimed for it.

    Note that, not a single Greek text whatsoever. After I pointed this out, he told me that he would refuse to respond to me in future, and would now ignore any and all of my posts.So don’t tell me about Doherty and evidence. The proof of what I said is right here on this blog.

    //I have no more time to waste with you.//

    Mytherist rage-quit, the standard response to requests for evidence. Chalk up another one.

    • NateP

      Then go back and read again, or else be sure to read more thoroughly.  Neil’s blog speaks for itself, outside of any references to Doherty.  Doherty does not rage-quit, even if you stumped him on a greek word, that is one instance against a steady reputation of composure.  So you’re still talking out of your rear end about these two men, and thus I have no more time to waste with you.  Not that I don’t want to continue talking on this thread about historical methods…I just don’t want to talk anymore with an intellectual mosquito like yourself.

      p.s. There is no such word as “Mytherist”, and I wouldn’t consider myself one even if such a word existed.  So you’ve been attacking a false opponent all along – so go away.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @aee9bb471c0c1a65c44f2525c7804451:disqus , I don’t think you’ve read Doherty’s book, have you? Your depiction of what he is claiming doesn’t correspond to what he actually claims.

    I don’t agree that “turnabout is fair play” in history, science or other academic disciplines. It is absolutely fair for an apologist to do reciprocate in kind to apologists for an opposing viewpoint. But the question of the historical Jesus is not a matter of apologetics but of history and of evidence. And what makes Doherty’s view seem far fetched is not a first impression but a close look at how he twists and manipulates evidence to reach a conclusion drawn ahead of time, no matter how difficult the evidence makes it for him to do so.

    • NatePe

      I have read Doherty’s book.  I dare say it is you, Jimbo, that does not fully read the things he critiques.  I saw your chapter-by-chapter review of Doherty, and nearly broke down and cried at multiple points.  Then I realized that, it needn’t be the case that you’re dense and can’t understand basic arguments….rather it’s more likely the case that you’re reviewing a book that you’ve only skimmed.  One or the other has to be the case.  I can’t go point by point, blow by blow on this stuff like you’ve done with Neil and others.  I actually have other things to attend to in life.  So I apologize that I must always keep my comments in the general like this.

      Not that it will matter, but you’ve missed the point about turnabout being fair play as well.  In fact what you’ve typed in response…I can call it unintelligible.  You have NEVER addressed the myriad of challenges given to you by those who disagree with you.  You launch counter-challenges at best, and at worst simply obfuscate the discussion.  It’s really pathetic to watch.  I don’t know if it was James Dunn or someone else who taught you to hide behind a veil of bad scholarship until someone could prove that the burden of proof is YOURS.  You obviously don’t accept that methodological premise.  That’s your choice, but I won’t consider you a historian until you face up to that burden and that reality like all true historians must.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5AC3V5U22QD75O57XGFDETTNJ4 Nehemias

    “Although work like Carlyle’s is surely naive, it is also a mistake to un-derestimate the effect an individual can have. Imagine what today’s world would be like had Mohammed, Confucius, or Christ not lived, if Marx had not written, if there had been no Hitler! (Martha Howell and Walter Previnier, From Reliable Sources, page 141)

    • NateP

      If you people can’t immediate see what the problem with this quote is, then you are beyond my help.

      There is a clear difference between describing one’s method, and actually applying it to the sources/figure in question.  I brought up Howell and Prevenier precisely BECAUSE they are not mythicists, and in fact because they critique minimalism at many points.  But neither are they Jesus scholars…they are applying a method (which I affirm) to a wide variety of periods and historical genres in this book.  If they are not in fact agnostic about Jesus (notice they called him “Christ” – what does that tell you about their familiarity with HJ issues) it is because they’ve never directly and thoroughly applied their proposed method to all the material surrounding Jesus.  I may have been mistaken to presume them agnostic about Jesus, but my point obviously still stands!  If you apply the the method of evaluating sources from this (non-mythicist) book, and really do the scrutinizing of Josephus, Tacitus, Matthew, Mark, Paul etc. with these methods they advocate, they would undoubtedly have to remain agnostic about Jesus.  I thought they had done that work and shared that conclusion.  I must have been mistaken.  But don’t act like this one obscure quote does anything to undermined my point in referencing the book about consensus in historiographical method.

      Bottom line: it’s all about METHOD, not how faithfully or accurately or astutely the historian in question uses it.  Can we get past this ridiculous and needless roadblock in our discussion here?

  • Jonathan Burke

    Nehemias, thanks for a very useful and highly informative quotation.

    So let’s review. NateP recommends Howell and Prevenier.

    * ‘if you must have some suggested reading, the book i’d have you start with is “From Reliable Sources” by Howell and Prevenier’

    NateP says that according to his reading, Howell and Prevenier could only be said to be agnostic about figures attested only by secondary source material.

    * ‘To my reading, Howell and Prevenier could only be said to be agnostic
    about figures that have only secondary source material available on
    them’

    NateP says claims that Howell and Prevenier would therefore be ‘quite agnostic’ about Jesus.

    * ‘Therefore, they would be quite agnostic about Jesus, just like
    Schweitzer was’

    When we read Howell and Prevenier however, we find they are not ‘quite agnostic’ about Jesus’. On the contrary, they affirm the historical existence of Jesus. Even more than that, they use Jesus as an example of a highly influential historical figure, whose absence from the historical record would have resulted in a very different history to the one we have on record.

    Reasonable conclusion? NateP has not actually read Howell and Prevenier. He is just making things up.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @google-0afc84882ce2bf8bdbede723f1020d0f:disqus , this certainly puts the question about whether he and I had read the same book in a new light! :-)

    I confess that, having read the book before I started encountering and interacting with mythicists, I had forgotten that phrase was in there. Thank you, @yahoo-5AC3V5U22QD75O57XGFDETTNJ4:disqus , for mentioning it!

  • Jonathan Burke

    James, I don’t have a copy of the book myself, so I can’t verify it, but I suggest someone does.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Oh, I have it at home and looked as soon as Nehemias quoted it. I just had forgotten about it until he reminded me. It was ironic, since I pointed to that volume as a good example of historical method, without remembering that it actually mentioned Jesus!

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    NatePe, it was pointed out that you recommended a book, and suggested that I seemed not to have read the same one, which in fact refers to Christ as a historical figure. Now you are going to suggest that I haven’t read another book about which you wish to claim something different than I do? This certainly is entertaining behavior on your part, but not an effective way of making a case for mythicism or engaging in serious conversation.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wilson/1355591760 Michael Wilson

      Jimbo, it is simple to see who is really right and wrong in this discussion. Clearly NatePee is and bad scholars and intellectual mesquites aren’t. Why bring up all these stupid facts? Good to see Charlie Sheen doing something after getting canned from his show.

      • NateP

        You’re a joke Mike…always have been.  If you graduate with a degree in anything, I’ll be amazed.  And by the way, mosquito and mesquite mean different things.  Try looking one of them up, and if you have time, do both ;)

    • NateP

      couldn’t agree more Jimbo….i’m not making a case for mythicism, and this ceased being a serious conversation when you started pretending to be in-line with mainstream historical method, and regularly refused to grant your interlocutors a charitable reading.  that is why i’ve challenged the claim that you’ve actually read these books. when i say “actually”, i mean without your mind made up prior to reading.  scholarship depends on such things.

  • Pf

    Nate just illustrated the mythers’ motto:

    We may be wrong about the facts, but our points still stand!

    • NateP

      Pf, I’m not a myther, or a mytherist, or a mythicist… any of those things.  I simply conclude that such thinkers have more to say than your lot give them credit for.  Furthermore, there are NO facts that I’ve been forced to concede in this discussion.  No one has even put forth an argument to consider, at least since I joined the thread.  I can’t be wrong about something that hasn’t even been presented.  The gang of wannabe historians that I’m debating here has to actually do something besides hide behind outdated methods and centuries-long assumptions, if they want to have an actual discussion.  It’s that simple.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Mythicists keep saying they are not like creationists, and yet adherents of both insist that they have not been presented with any arguments or evidence, that their opponents are just biased and had their minds made up in advance, and don’t admit they are wrong.

    NateP. I would encourage you to put as much effort into understanding why no professional historian agrees with mythicists as you put into claiming that they have something important to contribute.

    • NateP

      and please try to explain why someone like Hector Avalos is not a professional historian, and yet you are?  this is getting more and more laughable by the minute.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath
  • Jonathan Burke

    //Doherty does not rage-quit…//

    But he did, and it wasn’t the first time. He also rage quitted on another poster here who called him out over his interpretation of Philippians. And with me it wasn’t a matter of one word; it was the third time I had caught him out over the Greek, and the second time I had caught him misrepresenting lexical sources.

    //..even if you stumped him on a greek word,
    that is one instance against a steady reputation of composure.//

    Composure? He hurls schoolyard insults, swears at people, makes sweeping claims of bias and ignorance (I was consistently polite to him and never did any such thing myself), there’s no composure about him whatsoever.

    //p.s.
    There is no such word as “Mytherist”…//

    Yes there is, people use it all the time.

    //and please try to explain why someone like Hector Avalos is not a professional historian, and yet you are?//

    I don’t think James said any such thing, did he? Avalos is a professor of religion with qualifications in Hebrew and Near Eastern studies, theology, and anthropology. These are qualifications which Mytherists such as Doherty and Godfrey claim do NOT make you qualified as a professional historian (which is why they typically dismiss New Testament scholars as not real historians), but if they make Avalos accepted as a professional historian within the academy, that’s good enough for me. I’m certainly not saying he’s not a professional historian.

    //There is a clear difference between describing one’s method, and actually applying it to the sources/figure in question.//

    Indeed.

    //I brought up Howell and Prevenier precisely BECAUSE they are not
    mythicists, and in fact because they critique minimalism at many points.
     But neither are they Jesus scholars…they are applying a method
    (which I affirm) to a wide variety of periods and historical genres in
    this book.//

    Yes, this s all understood. The irony is that you claimed they were agnostic about Jesus, while in fact they actually aren’t. You offered them as an example of the conclusion your reading has led you to, namely your conclusion that professional historians are agnostic about the historicity of Jesus.

    To date you have provided no evidence for this claim whatsoever, and the only work you have cited in support of it actually says the complete opposite, indicating that you haven’t even read the book properly (if at all). So your personal assessment of the relevant scholarship is questionable to say the very least.

    //If they are not in fact agnostic about Jesus (notice they called him
    “Christ” – what does that tell you about their familiarity with HJ
    issues) it is because they’ve never directly and thoroughly applied
    their proposed method to all the material surrounding Jesus.//

    This begs the question completely. It is the typical tactic of Doherty and Godfrey, the ‘No true Scotsman’ fallacy; ‘No true historian following genuine historical procedure would come to the conclusion that Jesus is a historical figure, so anyone coming to that conclusion cannot be a professional historian or isn’t following genuine historical procedure’. Once again we see absolutely no evidence provided to support this claim.

    //I may have been mistaken to presume them agnostic about Jesus, but my point obviously still stands!//

    Your original point was that professional historians are agnostic about the historicity of Jesus.

    To date you have provided no evidence for this claim whatsoever, and the
    only work you have cited in support of it actually says the complete
    opposite. To say that your point stands is completely wrong; it hasn’t even been established with a scrap of evidence yet.

    //I thought they had done that work and shared that conclusion.  I must
    have been mistaken.//

    You made a complete fool of yourself by demonstrating that you hadn’t even read properly the very book to which you were appealing in support of your argument. The book contradicted you completely, and now you want to dismiss it.

    //But don’t act like this one obscure quote does anything to undermined
    my point in referencing the book about consensus in historiographical
    method.//

    That one quote doesn’t disprove your claim, but it does highlight the fact that you have yet to provide any evidence for your claim whatsoever. This is where ‘Jesus agnostics’ such as yourself, as well as Mytherists such as Doherty and Goldfrey go wrong; you think it’s valid to present dogmatic arguments without evidence, and then you become enraged when people ask you for evidence.

    //Bottom line: it’s all about METHOD, not how faithfully or accurately or astutely the historian in question uses it.//

    Of course it is, but you have yet to demonstrate that professional historians following the standard historical method properly, come to an agnostic conclusion regarding the historicity of Jesus. That was your original claim, and the only work you’ve even cited in support of it turned out to be no such thing.

    • NateP

      i know you’d love me to go point by point with all this nonsense you’re bringing up, but i just don’t have time to explain that the sky is blue when you keep saying it’s red.

      furthermore, i’ve read a bunch of your theological musings online, johnathan, and i find you laughably unworthy of a dialogue with professionals.  call me an elitist or whatever you wish, but i’ve come to the conclusion that you have no connection to real academic work, and you’re only on these blogs to find added ways to prop up your ad hoc faith.  you can stop quoting/responding to me know.  we need not have a rage-quit on either side…i just plainly don’t want to talk with you anymore.  no offense, but you’re a waste of time.

      • Dave Burke

        NateP,

        >>
        call me an elitist or whatever you wish, but i’ve come to the conclusion that you have no connection to real academic work
        >>

        Jonathan has a BA, a Diploma and an MA, and is currently working on his PhD.

        >>
        and you’re only on these blogs to find added ways to prop up your ad hoc faith.
        >>

        Considering the amount of new material he has brought to this discussion, how do you intend to substantiate this accusation? And on what basis do you claim his faith is “ad hoc”?

        • NateP

          “Jonathan has a BA, a Diploma and an MA, and is currently working on his PhD.”

          –And George W Bush has two degrees, one from Harvard and one from Yale.  If you don’t immediately see the point of that analogy, then you’re as hopeless as your fellow Burke.  Just because he has or will have some letters after his name does not mean he has any “connection to real academic work”.  You’re probably wondering who could be the judge of whether some academic work in question is “real” or not.  The answer is me…I will be the judge in this case.

          “how do you intend to substantiate this accusation?”

          –I do not intend to substantiate it, as I am not obligated to.  I read about 10 minutes worth of his musings online, and nearly vomited, so I’ve seen all I need to see.  Others may choose to interact with him and his worldview on this site, and that’s fine with me.  I’m not asking anyone to boycott a conversation with Jonathan.  I just know that I’ve personally concluded that such a conversation is a waste of my time.  Only Mike Wilson’s style of blog-commenting is more obnoxious, to me at least.

          • Dave Burke

            NateP,

            >>
            Just because he has or will have some letters after his name does not mean he has any “connection to real academic work”.
            >>

            Last time I checked, a PhD usually involved some connection to real academic work.

            >>
            I do not intend to substantiate it, as I am not obligated to
            >>

            Tick a box in the “just like a Creationist” list.

            >>
            I read about 10 minutes worth of his musings online, and nearly vomited, so I’ve seen all I need to see.
            >>

            Tick another box in the “just like a Creationist” list.

            >>
            You’re probably wondering who could be the judge of whether some
            academic work in question is “real” or not.  The answer is me…I will
            be the judge in this case.
            >>

            Tick another box in the “just like a Creationist” list.

            • NateP

              PhD does usually involve a connection to real academic work, but not in the religious studies world, where we give me academic credentials for blathering theological BS all across the internet and in their class papers.  Just curious, Dave: what’s your relation to Jonathan?

              And by the way, I love all these references to Creationists. First of all, I love how you wrongly capitalize the word.  It’s creationism Dave, not Creationism.  And while we’re talking about it….how long ago did you leave that camp?  By my estimation, you and Jonathan were most likely proud creationists no more than 6 or 7 years ago.  And my hunch is that’s why you like to bring up this analogy in the HJ discussion – because you’re so proud that you learned a little bit of respectable science finally, and you think a Christian who understand evolution can’t possibly be blinded to the idiocy of their remaining theology.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    NateP, I know Hector Avalos personally and have asked him about his views. But rather than drag him into this, let me just point out that an appeal to authority is a fallacy. Cdesign proponentsists can appeal to scientists with PhDs who support their view, even though they are few in number. That doesn’t mean they are right. The consensus in a field (if there is one) is where one should look for the curreent state of our knowledge.

    • NateP

      But of course this is not an appeal to authority, man… notice that this is in direct response to your comment that “no professional historian agrees with mythicists”.  I simply responded with Hector Avalos as such a professional historian.  So this is not an appeal to anything…just simply disproving your universal claim which was ridiculous.  So you can either amend your over-generalization, or you can explain how Avalos is not a historian and you are.  Either of these options is fine with me.

      And you’ve still evaded all burdens that the course of the discussion has put on you.  But I expected as much, because this is what you do, time after time. 

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @NateP, Hector Avalos is not a mythicist, at least not in the sense that Earl Doherty is. Hector has never, as far as I am aware, ever twisted the texts of the epistles as Doherty does, in an attempt to claim that Paul and other of the earliest Christians did not think of Jesus as a genuine historical human being.

    • NateP

      Avalos may not be a mythicist if the definition of mythicist is Earl Doherty, but he devotes a whole chapter to the potential non-historicity of Jesus and the ludicrous liberties that HJ scholars allow themselves, in his book The End of Biblical Studies.  it’s a great read, James, you should check it out.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @9713a52d25d9dddda95e7fa15466a627:disqus , let me just point out two things. First, there is an enormous difference between (1) those “Jesus agnostics” who set the bar of evidence at a certain height and then, because the evidence for a historical Jesus does not reach that level, decide that they do not have what they need to determine to their satisfaction whether Jesus existed, and (2) Jesus mythicists like Earl Doherty who try to make a positive case for the early Christians not having believed that Jesus was a historical figure. The distinction is crucial and not at all insignificant.

    Second, Hector’s areas of expertise have never included a focus on historical Jesus research. I could offer my own opinion on some of the areas that he works in – e.g. Hebrew Bible, disability studies – but if someone was looking for expertise I hope that they would turn to someone like Hector and realize that, as someone in the same very broad field but focused entirely on different time periods and topics, my views would not be as well-informed as those of someone whose research focus is or has been on the subject in question. 

    Perhaps I should add that, having spoken with Thomas Thompson about this topic, I do think that there may be a tendency for those working in the field of Hebrew Bible, where there is often an enormous gap between the writing of the texts and the time period in which stories are set, to forget that the time frame for the production of early Christian literature is much shorter, with whatever corollaries one thinks that should have.

    • NateP

      Finally we’re talking sense here.  Of course that distinction is critical…I’ve been harping on it the entire time, man!  I of course represent someone in camp 1, and am arguing that anyone that sets the “bar of expectation” any lower is not doing true rigorous historical method.  Earl Doherty sets the bar even higher for historicity, and subsequently I do not agree with many of his conclusions (i.e. for the umpteenth time, I am not a mythicist).  But I do have in common with Doherty the conviction that we mustn’t lower the bar!  This is what I say you are doing, as do most other New Testament historians.  Schweitzer and many other early HJ researchers would disagree with your approach and your conclusions.  Howell and Prevenier might reach agreement with you on Jesus, but not because they share your same expectation-bar level or whatever, but rather because they analyze the evidence for Jesus with the same method as me but arrive at different conclusions.  Another example of this phenomenon would be the text critical work of Metzger and his student Bart Ehrman.  Same method, same corpus of data…very different conclusions!  It happens.  But you don’t have to keep allying me with Doherty as if I were a mythicist…I’m simply saying that, although he’s not in camp-1 as you laid out above, he’s closer to it than you are, methodologically.  And that’s only because you set the bar way too low.

      I won’t contest the comments you’ve made about Avalos and Thompson – we see eye to eye on that stuff for the most part, and that first distinction was the important thing for me to focus on.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @9713a52d25d9dddda95e7fa15466a627:disqus , if Earl Doherty set the bar higher, or even high, I would not have the sorts of disagreements with him that I do. But the truth is that his treatment of passages referring to Jesus’ birth, Davidic descent, crucifixion, brother, etc. is linguistically and contextually implausible and he doesn’t care. If Doherty actually cared about following the evidence where it leads, rather than attempting to shoehorn it to fit his preconceived theory, then I might still disagree with him, but it would be the sort of disagreement you mention, between two people using the same scholarly method, rather than what it is at present – with Doherty using scholarship and scholarly tools only selectively.

    I really do believe that if you carefully investigate the claims Doherty makes in his book or online, you’ll understand why I draw the conclusions I do about what he is doing and why it is pseudoscholarship. Then you and I can get on with having a more useful conversation about why scholars and historians using the same methods reach different conclusions, or other useful topics!  :-)

    • NateP

      If we’re on the right track here, then let’s not get bogged down splitting hairs.  the “bar” as I thought we were defining it is only lowered when you need less evidence to prove Jesus’ historicity.  So by that definition, a mythicist like Doherty sets it higher than either of us.  But we can probably stop talking about Doherty altogether if all you’re saying is that his analyses are just too implausible.  That’s not a complaint against his method as much as it is a disagreement with his use of logic.  If his conclusions are “linguistically and contextually implausible and he doesn’t care.” , then I would not choose to spend my time defending conclusions that I don’t fully agree with.  But note that you’re not really critiquing method at that point, and you’re not really answering why you allow the “bar” to be so low.

      In other words, you and I both know that no non-christian source mentions Jesus until the second century.  For you, it is evidently quite plausible that this be the case, and yet Jesus was a historical person with a sizable impact on history.  For me, this is rather implausible – in my experience of reading history, when someone makes a major impact (of any kind) on the course of history following them, it does not take 80 years for the outside world to start telling their story.  This is the main reason that my CQ would be lower than yours.  That gap should not be what it is if Jesus of Nazareth was anything worth talking about.  THIS is what makes me agnostic about Jesus, because historians don’t establish historicity on figures that have that much of a gap between their supposed lifetimes and when the outside world started sensing the ripple effect of their lives.

      Incidentally, my hunch on why general historians like Howell and Prevenier accept an HJ unquestioningly: they haven’t had the chance to research the earliest extra biblical sources in detail.  Had they poured over the likes of Josephus, I think they’d agree with most ancient text critics, that these are unreliable sources due to heavy tampering by Christians.  That could make all the difference between a legitimate corroboration with the Gospels’ portrayal of Jesus, and a more confident claim that he was largely legend. Can you honestly disagree with any of this?

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    NateP, I can indeed disagree – the question is whether I will! :-) 

    Here’s how I see things at least slightly differently. First, although I agree that it is best to leave Doherty to one side since neither of us agrees with his position, I do have to say that the standards for reconstructing the history of early Christianity and its beliefs should not be lower than the standard for investigating the matter of the historical Jesus. To the extent that Doherty is happy to put his pet theory above the question of what the evidence supports, I inevitably consider him to be setting the bar low with respect to historical evidence. His argument for there not having been a historical Jesus is not primarily about a lack of sufficient evidence for historicity, but an unpersuasive claim that Paul and others provide positive evidence of ahistoricity, including the claim that Paul didn’t think Jesus had been a historical figure.  On the question of what it is reasonable to expect from a figure who makes a big impact in history, I think it really depends what kind of impact we are talking about. If Muhammad had not been a political as well as a religious figure, we might not have some of the earliest references that we do, but his teachings might still have shaped a major world religion in the longer term. Historians generally consider the existence of a historical Siddhārtha Gautama likely, the issue, like the case of Jesus, being whether any of the actual information about him in later sources is factual and how much of it is legendary.

    On the matter of Josephus, the consensus seems to be that there was some sort of mention of Jesus by Josephus. Even if one tossed out the Testimonium Flavianum there would still be a reference to James brother of Jesus called Christ, the authenticity of which is accepted by most Josephus scholars. But when it comes to the Testimonium itself, the fact that Agapius’ citation of it so closely matches the version scholars reconstructed as likely to have originally been in the text seems to provide strong evidence for there having been an original mention of Jesus by Josephus. It is hard to believe that Agapius would have dropped out precisely the positive things that Christian scribes are thought to have added!

    Be that as it may, the most crucial point of disagreement between us seems to be whether, if a figure turns out to have been an important historical one in the long term, it is reasonable to expect that they would have been mentioned in their own time, even if their historical importance was not yet apparent then. 

    • http://historical-jesus.info/ Bernard Muller

      James wrote: “But when it comes to the Testimonium itself, the fact that Agapius’ citation of it so closely matches the version scholars reconstructed as likely to have originally been in the text seems to provide strong evidence for there having been an original mention of Jesus by Josephus. It is hard to believe that Agapius would have dropped out precisely the positive things that Christian scribes are thought to have added!”

      BM: the overly Christian TF was an embarrassement for some early Christians writers: either they commented only on some of the least controversial part of it (such as Eusebius in “Evangelical Demonstration” and Isidorus Pelusiota in “Scholar of Chrysostom”) or they deleted (or attenuated) some of the most Christian bits (Jerome). So I am not surprised about Agapius’ (very late!) version. Essentially Agapius’ version is similar to what many Christian scholars are doing nowadays: expurgate the TF of blatant Christian stuff that Josephus, a Jew, could not have written. So the concurrences of Agapius’ version and the expurgated one of Christian apologists is no evidence that a TF was initially written by Josephus.
      Furthermore, there are many many items screaming against any part of the TF being authentic (or existing before Eusebius’ times!), which I expose on my webpage about the TF:
      http://historical-jesus.info/appe.html

  • Anonymous

    Agapius version:

    “At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good, and (he) was known to be virtuous. And many people from the Jews and other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after the crucifixion, and that he was alive; accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.”

    So to be clear, Josephus’ original text did not mention Jesus as the Christ, nor did it mention Christians, is that your understanding of the “reconstructed” Testimonium?

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Long-time readers will know that I had to give up on trying to have intelligent interaction with Evan/beallen0417 quite some time ago. More recent visitors to the blog now have an opportunity to see why. Is he unaware that Messiah and Christ are both transliterations of terms meaning Anointed One? Is this a display of ignorance about even the basic terminology in a field about which he makes confident pronouncements, or a deliberate attempt at misrepresentation that he thinks no one will notice? Either way, I think only fair that readers of the blog have some explanation of why I ignore certain commenters, and that it is not a regular practice on my part, but one that is unfortunately necessary in the case of some difficult characters, if I am not to waste my time.

    • Anonymous

      Just to be clear, if Josephus stated in his original, non-redacted by Christians TF that Jesus was “perhaps the Messiah” in 18.63-4 then his reference to James in 20.9.1 as the brother of Jesus called Christ would be totally understandable to his audience as the same person using this argument. Is that correct?

  • NateP

    Yeah I think Evan is making a good point here, and it goes to the reason that most Josephus scholars don’t have the same take on this passage as you do, James.  The Agapius-defense notwithstanding.  The reference to James is hardly a non-biblical reference as it says nothing about Jesus really, can’t be shown to be authentic, and wouldn’t be a clear source even if it could.  There’s a reason why even HJ scholars are avoiding major appeal to Josephus these days, and that’s because there’s just too many problems with his accounts to call them an independent corroborating source.

    But yes, you’ve nailed it on the head that our major disagreement is how much we would expect a major figure of history to be talked about in his contemporary setting. You seemed to suggest that Jesus only had a major impact in “the long term”, but I think this is a convenient twisting of the data on your part.  If even a fraction of the NT is accurate, then Jesus impact was rather immediate, to where he would have been more famous than some of the minor rulers in outlying lands.  Unless the events and the conversions seen in the book of Acts are utter BS, then we can’t let Jesus off the hook as someone with impact only in the long run.  And if you are conceding that Acts is over the top embellishment throughout, then again your job becomes less than a worthy profession.  If there’s no part of the NT account that you are determined to defend, then you are at odds with the theological enterprise (and please don’t simply say that you’re a historian and not a theologian – as if that answers the issue).  You’re a Christian, namely one whose job, if it’s succeeding, is eroding away all ground for his faith to stand on.  Of course this is the greater point that Avalos’ book raises….one that I’ve never seen you really deal with.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PJ6PZMYZVJL4CGQBUYBVMQSDPQ james Harrison

      Somebody’s probably made the point around here somewhere, but the thesis that the Christians were a large group in the first Century comes up against the apparent indifference of the Mishnah to Christianity. The sages of the Talmud were certainly concerned about the new religion, but they belong to a later period when the Christians could hardly be ignored, even in Babylon. 

      • Dave Burke

        James,

        >>
        Somebody’s probably made the point around here somewhere, but the thesis that the Christians were a large group in the first Century comes up against the apparent indifference of the Mishnah to Christianity. The sages of the Talmud were certainly concerned about the new religion, but they belong to a later period when the Christians could hardly be ignored, even in Babylon.
        >>

        Well said. Christians were a very small and insignificant group for at least two and a half centuries. Accounts of mass conversion in the early chapters of Acts cannot be taken at face value, as Stark has shown:

        “For a starting number, Acts 1:14-15 suggests that several months after the Crucifixion there were 120 Christians. Later, in Acts 4:4, a total of 5,000 believers is claimed. And. according to Acts 21:20, by the sixth decade of the first century there were ‘many thousands of Jews’ in Jerusalem who now believed.

        These are not statistics. Had there been that many converts in Jerusalem, it would have been the first Christian city, since there were probably no more than twenty thousand inhabitants at this time – J. C. Russell (1958) estimated only ten thousand.

        As Hans Conzelmann noted, these numbers are only ‘meant to render impressive the marvel that here the Lord himself is at work’ (1973:63). Indeed, As Robert M. Grant pointed out, ‘one must always remember that figures in antiquity… were part of rhetorical exercises’ (1977:7-8) and were not really meant to be taken literally.”

        (Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), p.5).

        Stark estimates that Christians accounted for a mere 0.4% of the Greco Roman population by AD 160, and still only 10% by the time Constantine converted. According to his statistics, Christianity grew by 3.42% per year during the first 300 years. This is not a remarkable figure.

        Stark makes another interesting point here:

        “…it must also be noted that the survival of Christian archaeological evidence would have been roughly proportionate to how much there could have been to start with. The lack of anything surviving from prior to 180 must be assessed on the basis of the tiny number of Christians who could have left such traces. Surely it is not surprising that the 7,535 Christians at the end of the first century left no trace.”

        (Ibid. p.9).

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    NateP, I find your reference to an “Agapius defense” puzzling, and think that you may be confusing Shlomo Pines for a Christian apologist. I also find puzzling your statements about the accuracy of sources and about my profession. While there may be much more in Acts that is of dubious authenticity, all that must be exaggerated are the numbers if adherents, for the mainstream view to be correct. And since numbers regularly are exaggerated in ancient sources, particularly numbers associated with one’s own group, this doesn’t seem like a major problem for mainstream historiography, or a problem at all for that matter.

    Why it undermines my profession, or that of scholars of antiquity more generally, that a historical approach involves honestly identifying some things as of uncertain or doubtful authenticity, is perhaps something you would care to clarify as well.

  • NateP

    What’s at issue is not the numbers in Acts…it’s the miraculous events around every corner, and the surreal reaction by the local politicians and escalating judiciaries of Rome.  None of those things seem commensurate with the events of the Gospels, even less likely with a more minimal HJ.  So either the whole thing is made up to make the Jesus narrative sound more powerful, or Jesus was in fact immediately influential, and majorly so. If the latter is the case, then that goes against what you said about influence down the road.  Both scenarios can’t be true at the same time.  Does this argument make sufficient sense now?

    And what’s puzzling about me saying that your appeal to Agapius does not really recover the TF as a reliable source about Jesus?

  • Jonathan Burke

    //PhD does usually involve a connection to real academic work, but not in
    the religious studies world, where we give me academic credentials for
    blathering theological BS all across the internet and in their class
    papers.//

    My Masters degree was in information management, and my PhD is in industrial management and information management. Of course whether or not you believe this involves any connection to real academic work is irrelevant. You’re simply throwing that out as a personal insult out of frustration to engage my arguments on a factual basis, and because I’ve twice debunked your claims and showed you up as being uninformed on a subject concerning which you claimed to know more than others here.

    //By my estimation, you and Jonathan were most likely proud creationists no more than 6 or 7 years ago.//

    This is a testament to the paucity of your information gathering. Pro tip, punching ‘Jonathan Burke fortigurn’ and ‘Fortigurn and Jonathan Burke’ into Google doesn’t constitute genuine research or proper investigative technique.

    I left creationism behind in my late teens; approximately 20 years ago. I have nothing to prove on that point.

    //…you think a Christian who understand evolution can’t possibly be blinded to the idiocy of their remaining theology.//

    Of course they can.

    • NateP

      Ok Jonathan, I’m sure there’s blogs on industrial science and information science that are missing your contributions right now.  I’m sure you have a lot of great things to contribute in those fields….but you’re speaking way beyond your depth when it comes to ancient historical texts and philosophical theology and the like.  You have no credentials in that area…so maybe just stick to commenting in the areas where you do have legitimate expertise.

      I won’t bother you there, in those arenas, because admittedlyI know nothing about management of any kind.

  • Dave Burke

    NateP,

    >>
    Just curious, Dave: what’s your relation to Jonathan?
    >>

    Brother. (The clue is in the surname). Relevance?

    >>
    And by the
    way, I love all these references to Creationists. First of all, I love
    how you wrongly capitalize the word.  It’s creationism Dave, not
    Creationism.
    >>

    Relevance? And “wrongly” according to whom? As far as I’m aware, the use of a capital for this word is not standardised and never has been. You’re just making stuff up.

    For example, the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy uses a capital “C” for “Creationist” and “Creationism” (http://bit.ly/d7163i) while Stephen Jay Gould used a lower case “c.”

    If it makes you feel any better, I can type “creationism” and “creationist.” No skin off my nose, I couldn’t give a toss.

    >>
    And while we’re talking about it….how long ago did you
    leave that camp?
    >>

    Relevance?

    >>
    By my estimation, you and Jonathan were most likely
    proud creationists no more than 6 or 7 years ago.
    >>

    Relevance? You’re wrong, by the way.

    >>
    And my hunch is
    that’s why you like to bring up this analogy in the HJ discussion –
    because you’re so proud that you learned a little bit of respectable
    science finally
    >>

    I’ve never understood why so many atheists try to psychoanalyse Christians and/or pretend to read our minds. It’s a curious phenomenon.

    You are, of course, wrong again. The reason I like to bring up this analogy is because it’s accurate and it exposes the subjectivity (not to mention hypocrisy) of atheist mythicists. That’s all.

    >>
    and you think a Christian who understand evolution
    can’t possibly be blinded to the idiocy of their remaining theology.
    >>

    No I don’t, that’s complete nonsense. Are you going to address the topic at hand, or can I expect another round of thinly veiled ad hominems in a futile attempt to change the subject?

    • NateP

      you can expect me to stop wasting my time talking with you Dave, as i think you have as few worthy opinions on theological matters as your brother does.  i’ll just process with my conversation with James, and you Burke brothers can have a fun time discussing atheist hypocrisy and whatever else you like.  just stop wasting my time with false data and non-sequiturs that deserve nothing more than so-called ad hominems in return.  thanks.

      • Dave Burke

        NateP,

        >>
        you can expect me to stop wasting my time talking with you Dave, as i think you have as few worthy opinions on theological matters as your brother does.
        >>

        *shrug*

        Off you go then. While you’re at it, help yourself to another box on the “just like a creationist” list (I suspect you were once a Christian yourself, which may explain the similarity).

        >>
        i’ll just process with my conversation with James
        >>

        Please do. I look forward to more of your idiosyncratic rhetorical slapstick.

        • NateP

          thanks…just know that the world thinks you’re a laughing stock.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @9713a52d25d9dddda95e7fa15466a627:disqus , if your point is that Christian tampering with Josephus leaves us unable to use what is there, or what scholars reconstruct, with as much confidence as we might have in the absence of such tampering, then that is certainly true.

    But if your expectation is that Josephus should have at least mentioned Jesus, then it is worth noting that most historians think that he did, even if we cannot be certain of the exact wording of the main mention. 

    • Anonymous

      The question is not what most historians believe but what the evidence supports. If Agapius’ text or something close to it is what Josephus wrote in chapter 18 before Christian redaction, then Antiquities 20′s reference makes no sense, unless it was part of the same redaction process. For Antiquities 20 to be a reference to James the brother of Jesus of Nazareth, Antiquities 18 has to label him Christ so that the reference in 20 would make sense in Greek. Agapius’ text doesn’t do this as I read it (and I am admittedly not an expert and am reading it in translation), and therefore it leaves whatever scholars who support partial authenticity with some ‘splainin’ to do. This argument may have a parsimonious and correct answer, but I have not yet seen it.

    • NateP

      My point, is partially the former, and partially a variation on the latter.  Better to look at it the other way around, I think. If Jesus had done any of the (inevitably influential) acts attributed to him in biblical tradition, then Josephus should have said more about him than what we can reconstruct (after taking out the obvious tamperings).  Moreover, Josephus was far from the only respected historian of his time….so whether or not he spilled much ink on the person of Jesus, a certain number of historians should have.  Expecting such a response from quality historians of the turn of the 1st to 2nd centuries is not at all illogical.  In fact, it would be illogical to expect anything less from the historians at this point in time.  They wasted ink on all kinds of figures and subjects, ones that would have nowhere near the putative significance of the Historical Jesus, if in fact there was a Historical Jesus worth mentioning anything about.

      If you want to counteract this argument “from silence” by saying that the Historical Jesus need not have been significant enough to garner the eye of historians…then we’re back where we started.  We shouldn’t care, and shy of just saying that folks like Earl Doherty go too far in their mythicism, we should simply stop caring to defend such a misty and murky notion of Jesus.  If he’s got to be made inconsequential in the process of making him undoubtedly historical, then he’s not even worth talking about.  Surely you see the Catch-22 that ensues when your only real material about a person is fantastical and propagandistic.

  • Anonymous

    So what does our arch mythicist God[frey] believe?  He has not taken on board the idea that christianity, a religion of anointed ones, arose within Judaism. According to him christianity was created out of mythological stories, of which he has given numerous examples on his site.  He will not publish anything I write, claiming: “I find your rudeness, your lack of ‘netiquette’, over the top, and as bad as any fundie apologist who tries to use my blog for preaching…. It is simply rude and boorish to turn every conversation and contact into a discussion of your own agenda”.  The hypocrisy of the latter statement is obvious to anyone who has visited his blog.   

    There is some reality behind the letters of “Paul”, and Acts and the Gospel of Mark. So God[frey] is on a loser as far as I am concerned.  I am a historist.      

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    NateP, I think a lot depends on which historians and what sort of significant acts you have in mind. If miracles, then obviously a historian is not going to accept those for Jesus any more than Hanina ben Dosa. If it is gathering followers who have messianic expectations, then of the other comparable figures Josephus mentions from the decades after Jesus, how many of them get mentioned by historians from further afield?

    • NateP

      This is really not that complicated James.  We can chuck out miracles, sure.  But the onus is on you to decide why we date our calendars around the supposed birthdate of this man. Is it because he was a eloquent speaker?  Probably not.  Is it because he purportedly walked on water?  Still probably not.  Isn’t it more likely that we do so because of the (relatively) mass following he had and the tradition that his followers believed that he was sent by God?  Do those beliefs have to be categorized under the heading “miraculous”?  I don’t see why.  A following is not miraculous, and unless the resurrection is the only reason that Christologies emerged, then there need not have been a miraculous suspension of nature’s laws to have a man in 1st century Palestine who was sent by God.  So I would say those are a couple of putative claims that we can’t afford to let any would-be Historical Jesus candidates wriggle out of. Those are two things (a multi-national following & followers seeing him as being from God) that, if removed, change the ballgame of HJ studies far too much to call it a real ballgame.  If you’re keeping those claims attached to the HJ, as nearly all historians and theologians have for centuries, then YES we should expect Josephus and his contemporaries to make much mention of them.  And in fact we don’t see such mention from these historians, and yet we see them commenting on lesser rulers and political players who never even got talked about if one simply went to the other side of the mediterranean.

      Please at least speak to whether you find this reality a little disconcerting, even if it doesn’t make you doubtful about Jesus’ existence.

  • Anonymous

    Eisenman has said, in effect, James was Jesus.  This would imply that the death of Jesus (James) occurred in 62 by stoning. The account of the crucifixion in Mark is very much like a stoning. In a traditional Jewish stoning, the punishment for a false prophet, the victim was first pushed from a high place, in this case Golgotha.  If the victim died, breathed his last, the first stone would not be needed. The man forced to carry the ‘cross’, was in reality according to Jewish law forced to carry the first heavy stone which would have been used to stop the heart of the victim if he had survived the fall from the high place. There were two witnesses (the two robbers) who stood one on each side of the victim.  Beforehand they had chosen lots to decide who would push the victim.  

    • Anonymous

      There is no reason NOT to think that the crucifixion of Jesus was made up, by later authors, from the stoning of James by Ananus in 62 which I believe was an original event as described at the end of Antiquities.  The only possible Roman the writer/editor of Mark could have chosen to have Jesus executed was Pilate. He was prefect of police in Caesarea where, low and behold, an inscription mentioning Pilate was found.  All the other procurators from the time of Herod the Great were made up by later authors.

      For the death of James we have, supposedly, “Albinus was but upon the road”, giving Ananus the opportunity to assemble a Sanhedrin.  Albinus was substituted by the writer for Agrippa.  It was Agrippa, the king, who was “but upon the road”, coming back from his visit to Nero, after reporting the troubles back in Judea.  Ananus assembled the Sanhedrin while Agrippa was away.      

  • NateP

    Guess you don’t have much to say in response then, Jim?  Not sure why the thread is coming to a halt at this point, of all places.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    You started off your last major comment with a calendrical innovation that only occurred much later. That didn’t seem likely to get us anywhere. It is akin to saying that Muhammad most likely was or was not significant in his own time because later people expanded far and wide the geographic extent of a faith that was associated with him. Surely we cannot safely assume that someone whose poshumous importance in later times is substantial must have been regarded as significant in their own time. Hillel is significant for the history of Rabbinic Judaism, but how many recognized that in his own time?

    But since Josephus, as far as we can ascertain, mentioned Jesus at least once and perhaps twice, it isn’t clear what you feel is still worth discussing about this.

  • NateP

    let’s be clear.  we cannot ascertain any such thing about Josephus.  rather, most Josephus scholars highly doubt that the TF is worth citing because it is at least partially (if not largely) tampered with, and the comment about James is considered both questionable and   of little value to any real HJ (by virtue of being so indirect among other problems).  so we really have no extrabiblical refs to Jesus to talk about until Tacitus, and even his reference is highly contestable. SO…the SILENCE is what i find worth discussing, and specifically what i think you MUST find a way to counter, otherwise you are failing to meet any of the burdens that lie on your position’s end.

    as for the “calendrical innovation”, i think you stretch the truth on this issue as well.  of course the dating custom was established well down the road from the time of Jesus.  but he couldn’t have been a man of relative unimportance (unless largely legendary) in his own time and then have that same calendrical phenomenon just happen around him.  so when you say “Surely we cannot safely assume that someone whose poshumous importance in later times is substantial must have been regarded as significant in their own time.”, i’m not sure how to respond except: no, we sorta have to assume just that.  you can be famous in your own time but fade down the line into the ocean of world history….but the reverse doesn’t happen (again, unless it’s largely a legend from the beginning).  Hillel is not a reasonable parallel, because at no point was the name and character of Hillel familiar to the world over.  what would be an example of someone that millions of people are organizing their lives around at present, but who didn’t get recognized as influential in the generations immediately following them?  Hillel is not even in the same ballpark…so I’d like to see some legitimate counter-examples to my basic presumption that worldwide influence down the road implies relative influence in one’s contemporary era.

  • Dave Burke

    Vincent Van Gogh produced 2,000 artworks but lived and died in near total obscurity, and couldn’t even earn enough to support himself. His talent was not recognised during his lifetime and his work was not valued until decades after his death.

    Today he is regarded as one of the greatest and most influential painters in history.

    • NateP

      yeah, a couple decades is not a long time for the ripple effect of a unique artist to take effect.  over a hundred years for someone that allegedly embodied the covenant between God and mankind is too far too much though.  the scale of your analogy is nowhere near commensurate.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Not being appreciated during one’s own lifetime is not that uncommon. But since it is not clear that Josephus failed to mention Jesus, and Josephus it the one historian it would be reasonable to expect to have mentioned a Jewish Messianic claimant, then I don’t understand how the difficulties created by Christian tampering with Josephus allegedly provide grounds for concluding that Jesus was not a historical figure.

    • NateP

      “Not being appreciated during one’s own lifetime is not that uncommon”…..I contest this, and you’ve yet to provide any comparable evidence to the contrary.  Hillel is just as far from the level of Jesus as Van Gogh above is.

      And you’re still all confused about Josephus….he’s NOT “the one historian” that we should expect to comment about Jewish Messianic claimants…he’s ONE OF MANY that we should expect to do so.  Even if we could count on Josephus, there’s still a resounding silence from the Jewish/Greek/Roman historians of the age, all that would have heard news of the events of the Gospels, and would have reported on what they heard from their own sources (whether this confirmed or contradicted the earliest Christian accounts).  But they didn’t.  Why are we still arguing about the TF, when even if it is authentic (it’s not), we should have dozens of “testimonia” to rely on if Jesus was a figure worth reporting the history about?  Please stop evading that central issue, James.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @9713a52d25d9dddda95e7fa15466a627:disqus , I still don’t get how the argument is supposed to work. If a calendar centered around Jesus’ life had been made earlier, or if it had never been made at all, then he probably would have existed, but because it was made when it was, he probably didn’t? 

    I don’t see how what someone did to a calendar in the 6th century can make Jesus’ existence less likely, while texts written within decades of when he would have lived supposedly don’t make his existence more likely.

    Could you perhaps set out the steps in your argument, to help me follow your reasoning?

    • NateP

      the calendar thing is only something i mentioned to confirm the influence that the Jesus persona (shall i call it?) has had long term.  it doesn’t make Jesus’ historicity more or less likely.  it just solidifies that this person (whether he was originally historical or legendary) had a massive influence over several societies in the world.  and this would not have happened (in the “Jesus was historical” scenario) without some solid bedrock of contemporary accounts from which the 3rd-6th century influence could grow.  therefore, the more likely explanation of the silence regarding Jesus from contemporary historians, is that he was largely legendary (thus outside the interest of historians), and things like the Anno Domini calendar stemmed out from the eventually sweeping influence of those legendary traditions.

  • Dave Burke

    NateP,

    >>
    yeah, a couple decades is not a long time for the ripple effect of a unique artist to take effect.
    >>

    Really? Then how do we explain the artists who were terrifically successful and deeply influential in their own time? You can’t have it both ways.

    Hans Holbein the Younger, Diego Velázquez, Édouard Manet, Pablo Picasso; all of these men were famous, well respected, and recognised as influential contributors to their field.

    By contrast, Van Gogh’s work only gained posthumous recognition after decades of advocacy and promotion by his brother’s widow. The true impact of his work was not appreciated until almost a century later.

    >>
    over a hundred years for someone that allegedly embodied the covenant between God and mankind is too far too much though.
    >>

    Even assuming your estimate of “over a hundred years” is correct, this begs the question: “Why is it far too long?”

    >>
    the scale of your analogy is nowhere near commensurate.
    >>

    I didn’t claim it was commensurate. But it comes pretty damn close and it meets your core criteria.

    You had claimed:

    >>
    you can be famous in your own time but fade down the line into the ocean of world history….but the reverse doesn’t happen (again, unless it’s largely a legend from the beginning).
    >>

    I’ve just demonstrated that this is not true.

    • Anonymous

      This argument is odd. Because we have Van Gogh’s paintings, Jesus was real seems to be the argument here. What the argument fails to address is the absence of any uniquely identifiable artifacts from Jesus that are equivalent to the paintings of Van Gogh. Art experts can spot a genuine Van Gogh from a fake in seconds. Yet historians argue incessantly about what is genuine to Jesus. 

    • NateP

      “Really? Then how do we explain the artists who were terrifically successful and deeply influential in their own time? You can’t have it both ways.”

      Surely you are not THAT dense, Dave.  These are complete non-sequiturs.  With artists (non-public personae), their influence can be immediate (like the many you listed), or posthumous (like Van Gogh).  What is hard to understand about this?  Neither have any bearing on supremely public figures with alleged mass followings.  The analogy is absolutely idiotic.

      “Even assuming your estimate of “over a hundred years” is correct, this begs the question: “Why is it far too long?””

      Because news travels fast, Dave, even in the ancient world…major political events were known about across the entire empire within a few months…it could not have taken, therefore, ANYWHERE NEAR A CENTURY to get the Roman provinces talking about a figure that stirred up as much intrigue as your version of the HJ.  It’s clearly not possible.

      “I’ve just demonstrated that this is not true.”

      You’ve done nothing of the sort…a couple decades separating Van Gogh’s death from his popularity is nothing like a demonstration of the thing I’m asking for.  Talk sense for once, man.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Again, @9713a52d25d9dddda95e7fa15466a627:disqus  , I don’t understand your line of reasoning. Are you talking about a Jesus who actually did miracles? If you are talking about a historical figure who at best claimed to be the Messiah, persuaded some people to believe him, and was crucified, then the surprising thing is not that he gets little mention but that the movement continued and spread and became a global phenomenon. But the puzzles connected with that scarcely provide a basis for determining Jesus’ historicity.

    Can you please name some other historians that you think would have taken notice of a Messianic claimant in Palestine in this period and whose works are extant? 

    • Anonymous

      This argument seems predicated on the idea that we have a historical source about an ordinary figure who persuaded a small number of people to believe him, was crucified, died and stayed dead. 

      We have no such source from history. It is as much a fiction as any other tale.

      • http://historical-jesus.info/ Bernard Muller

        And why would you expect a historical source about an ordinary figure of the antiquity? How many do we have of those?
        I understand by historical source you mean a matter of fact account about someone who was crucified, died and stay dead.
        And I do not think that Jesus tried to persuade others he was divine or Christ.
        How can we know about that? By a critical & investigative analysis of the gospels and other early Christian texts, more so gMark & Paul’s epistles.
        That Jesus was no more than a link in a chain of events involving others and which (after his death) eventually created Christianities allegedly based on him, even if the participation of that “ordinary man” was accidental and a flash in the pan (a bit like Rosa Parks regarding the Civil Rights movement).

        • Anonymous

          This argument seems to suggest we have no historical sources for Jesus … which is odd. Christian gospels and other texts aren’t subtle about their purpose. They exist to cause people to believe in Jesus, the son of God and the Christ. They certainly aren’t about a “marginal Jew”. Paul’s epistles are about the creator of the universe, who is not a man nor of men. 

          There are parallels to other figures here, certainly.

          There are crazy stories about Alexander III of Macedon. Without archaeology and sober histories that counterweight the legends, we would not have a way of sifting fact from fiction (which is not to say any method is perfect and all we can assign are relative probabilities to stories about any historical character). 

          There are no analogous sober counterweights for the story of Jesus, nor are there for Achilles or Hercules. It is necessary to have a method for determining the truth from accurate sources. 

          We have no accurate sources for John Frum the god of Vanuatu, who was supposed to have served in the US Military, so we discount his existence. We do so because the argument from silence tells us that if he was in the US Military we would have a record of him. 

          Yet nothing proves there wasn’t a US Military impersonator who showed up on Vanuatu. Such a figure would by definition leave no record. Yet this explanation for John Frum is not favored because it is not parsimonious.

          There can be nothing used to show that there wasn’t a “marginal Jew” who had no following to speak of, didn’t do anything remarkable, and then was crucified in Palestine under Pilate. It’s impossible to show that it didn’t happen. But it’s not any more parsimonious to assume that it did, than it is to assume that a military impersonator who called himself John Frum actually visited Vanuatu.

          • http://historical-jesus.info/ Bernard Muller

            I do not think it is odd we do not have the equivalent of a CNN report about an ordinary Jew, even if he happened to be crucified.
            I agree the gospelers had other motives than to describe a humble Jesus of little interest (conflicting with the rosy invented picture of the pre-existent & post-existent “extensions” of him as Son of God and Saviour of Christians!). BTW, I do not think he was a “marginal Jew”, just a rural & illiterate Galilean who went through a 15 minutes fame during his last year, all of that helped by external circumstances.
            Paul did suggest Jesus was the co-creator of the universe (likely influenced by Philo of Alexandria and his logos/word), but he also described Jesus, at one point in his life, as just a man in sinful flesh, a descendant of Abraham, Jesse, David, Israelites and a woman. He also mentioned a brother named James, also featured briefly in Josephus’ Antiquities. He went as far as suggesting he was crucified in Zion. All of that, although all these points are contested by Mythicists (they have to!), certainly can be considered as evidence for the existence of a human Jesus who had a role into starting Christianity.
            For that Frum, I think he was described by the natives as wearing some American stuff AFTER the Americans appeared on the scene during WWII. My bet is he was a native, dress in european clothes, coached by one of the chief in order to entice the folks to retire from the modern world and go back to the old ways. The timing of his appearance was well chosen, the chiefs at the assembly were half drunk, it was dark and anybody could come out from the bushes in order to address them. Furthermore, the ideas heard from that Frum guy, were not new and were already accepted by some.  

            • Anonymous

              Now this argument suggests that he was briefly famous. 

              Yet we are constantly told he was not famous. Jesus is famous when he needs to be but obscure when someone might have noted it. He’s protean. This “just-so” story about John Frum matches perfectly the sort of stories people manufacture about Jesus. 

              But the stories we actually have from antiquity are about a divine being who has doves carrying ghosts that land on him while the heavens split open, he walks on water and heals people with spit, then flies up to the clouds like Superman.Freddy Mercury got it right in “Bicycle Race” — “You say Christ, I don’t believe in Peter Pan, Frankenstein or Superman, ’cause all I wanna do is … “

    • NateP

      At the VERY least, Seneca and Plutarch should have had plenty to say about Jesus*.  I think it reasonable that Philo would have as well, and considering Justus of Tiberias’ proximity to the alleged events of Jesus in Galilee, I think it rather fair to expect a little something from him too.  This is not to mention that Tacitus and Suetonius are liabilities, not strengths to the HJ-cause.  Both of them should have said something more concrete about Jesus, and not the ridiculously peripheral (if not dubiously authentic) comments that they do have. The silence extends to the very historians that apologists often cite to bolster their assurance of an HJ, Josephus included.

      * = Again, I’m not insisting upon a miracle-working Jesus in the least.  I’m really only insisting on an (ostensible) HJ that had a noticeably large following, and whose followers (for whatever combination of reasons) believed him to be sent from God, such that this notion itself caused upheaval in the sociopolitical arena of 1st century Palestine.  Are you denying either of these two claims in your conception of the HJ?  If you are, then you’re further out on the outskirts of HJ scholarship than I had previously understood.

  • Dave Burke

    beallen0417,
    >>
    Because we have Van Gogh’s paintings, Jesus was real seems to be the argument here.
    >>

    No, that is not the argument. Please read what I wrote.

    >>
    What the argument fails to address is the absence of any uniquely
    identifiable artifacts from Jesus that are equivalent to the paintings
    of Van Gogh.
    >>

    The argument does not address this because it is irrelevant to the point being made. Please read what I wrote.

    • Anonymous

      I read what was written. Perhaps the argument is something else, because what was written made no argument, it simply gave the example of Van Gogh to refute the argument that obscure people can become famous later, without stating it explicitly. This may be why I am being asked to re-read it, because it lacks argument.

      But I would say this is certainly the implicit argument being made. If some other argument existed, it was obscure.

      • Dave Burke

        beallen0417,

        >>

        it simply gave the example of Van Gogh to refute the argument that
        obscure people can become famous later, without stating it explicitly.

        >>

        Correct, that was the point being made. It was not “Because we have Van Gogh’s paintings, Jesus was real”, which is what you said earlier.

        • Anonymous

          But the major difference we have to show that the story of Van Gogh is in the main outlines historical is the extant paintings which can be shown to be genuine. So either this is a (now admitted) false analogy, as we have no extant artifacts that are provably traceable to the historical Jesus or it is a non sequitur that is now easily identified as such.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @9713a52d25d9dddda95e7fa15466a627:disqus , I don’t understand why the lack of notice by Roman historians would suggest that there was no historical Jesus, rather than that either his movement was initially much smaller than some of the numbers in the New Testament might suggest, or that he was a figure more like Hillel than you are inclined to admit. If the upheaval were significant, we would expect to find mention of that, would we not? And yet the accounts themselves suggest that the early Jesus movement was such that it was not worth authorities executing its leaders, and that there was little interest in them on the part of Roman authors until Nero chose them as a scapegoat.

    • NateP

      Because this explanation would mean, at the very least, that Paul and the Gospel writers flat out lied about the scope and scale of the developing Jesus movement.  If Paul was writing to Christians in Asia Minor, Greece, Rome, etc. in the 50s and 60s CE, then this is NOTHING like Hillel’s following in terms of scope and scale.  By definition, if Paul’s authentic writings are truly addressed to these various provinces and the capital of the empire, then this is NOT an “initially small” movement.  If this spreading was happening quite rapidly in the later half of the first century, then why do we hear nothing from historians about this phenomenon until well into the second century?  That’s what doesn’t add up.  I don’t know how to make this simple argument any more plain for you.

      • Dave Burke

        NateP,

        How many Jewish and Roman historians refer to Simon of
        Peraea, Athronges, Menahem ben Judah, Theudas, or Judas of Galilee?

        • NateP

          maybe you missed when i replied to this silly question earlier, Dave…I had said that this question is irrelevant once you realize that none of these men had followings that spread to international extents.  Romans would not have reported much about merely local rebels and leaders, but would have on figures with followings IN ROME.

  • Dave Burke

    I think it would be helpful to compare the references to Jesus with references to other Messianic claimants around the same period.

    For example, how many Jewish and Roman historians refer to Simon of Peraea, Athronges, Menahem ben Judah, or Judas of Galilee?

    • NateP

      Before you address that question, Dave…you ought to ask if any of those other Messianic claimants had followings in Greece, Rome, or Asia Minor within 20 years of their deaths?  I think you’ll find that after answering THAT question, your question will then seem quite silly.

      • Dave Burke

        NateP,

        >>
        you ought to ask if any of those other Messianic claimants had followings in Greece, Rome, or Asia Minor within 20 years of their deaths?
        >>

        Why should I do that?

        Firstly, their movements were of a completely different type to the one started by the historical Jesus.

        Secondly, their movements were of the sort which could not maintain impetus without a charismatic leader and ready access to weapons.

        Thirdly, their followers were variously killed during an attempted uprising and/or hunted down and killed after the event.

        Fourthly, they were not believed to have risen from the dead.

        All of this militates against the likelihood of anyone continuing to follow them after their death.

        >>
         I think you’ll find that after answering THAT question, your question will then seem quite silly.
        >>

        Why? You’re not even comparing like with like.

        Simon Magus (a Messianic claimant without revolutionary intentions) provides a reasonable parallel to Jesus, even to the extent of not being mentioned by any historian except Josephus. Can you explain why no other Jewish or Roman historian mentions Simon Magus? How do you account for this deafening silence?

        While I’m on the subject, are you going to answer the original question or not? Here it is again: how many Jewish and Roman historians refer to Simon of Peraea, Athronges, Menahem ben Judah, Theudas, or Judas of Galilee?

        • NateP

          what’s the color of jealousy, Dave?  that’s a more pertinent question than any you’ve raised so far.  you accuse ME of not comparing like with like???  you’re a complete idiot.

          • NateP

            by the way…are you the Dave Burke who is a pastor in the Sunderland area, and who describes himself as “quite stupid” on his own online bio?

  • Dave Burke

    NateP,

    >>
    With artists (non-public personae), their influence can be immediate (like the many you listed), or posthumous (like Van Gogh).  What is hard to understand about this?
    >>

    Absolutely nothing. That’s why I was surprised to see you claiming: “you can be famous in your own time but fade down the line into the ocean of world history….but the reverse doesn’t happen”, which is demonstrably false.

    >>
    Neither have any bearing on supremely public figures with alleged mass followings.
    >>

    Of course they do. They demonstrate that someone can be relatively unknown during their lifetime, but massively influential after their death.

    I am not certain that Jesus had a large following during his life (perhaps a few hundred, maybe a little more?) Even by the end of the 1st Century his followers still only numbered 7,000 persons at most, and they were not conveniently located in a single place, but spread throughout the Empire.

    >>
    Because news travels fast, Dave, even in the ancient world…major political events were known about across the entire empire within a few months…it could not have taken, therefore, ANYWHERE NEAR A CENTURY to get the Roman provinces talking about a figure that stirred up as much intrigue as your version of the HJ.
    >>

    Firstly, do you even know what my version of the HJ is?

    Secondly, news only travels fast when it’s relevant and interesting to the people who hear it. A third- or fourth-hand account of yet another parochial Messianic claimant in one of the Empire’s smallest and most irritating kingdoms does not strike me as the sort of news that makes Roman headlines.

    Thirdly, how much intrigue did the historical Jesus actually stir up? Not much, by the standards of the day.

    He didn’t lead an armed revolt, like Simon of Peraea, Athronges, Judas of Galilee, and Theudas. He didn’t kill anyone. He didn’t ask anyone else to kill someone on his behalf.

    The entire fiasco was a purely local affair with no international implications. Even Pilate tried to dismiss it as an internal matter for the Jewish leaders. Jesus just wasn’t important enough for the Romans to bother with. They only took action when the Jews accused Pilate of disloyalty to Caesar.

    Why is it “not possible” for people on the other side of the Empire to be unaware of these events?

    >>
    a couple decades separating Van Gogh’s death from his popularity is nothing like a demonstration of the thing I’m asking for.
    >>

    But it’s not about mere “popularity.” By your own definition, it’s about major, significant, ongoing, multinational influence. Van Gogh didn’t achieve this within two decades of his death. It took almost a century.

    • NateP

      your analogy with Van Gogh only shows that artists can become famous long after their deaths…it suggests nothing about sociopolitical or spiritual figures whatsoever. and that stands to reason considering the difference between what a painter offers to the world and what a Messianic claimant does.  how do you not see how moronic this analogy is???

      where are you getting this 7000 max idea?  Christians were numerous enough in Rome alone at the time of Nero to be blamed as a social group for the fires that Nero started.  that’s a sizable contingency right there, and that’s not to mention Corinth, Ephesus, Galatia, Thessalonica, etc.  the fact that Christians were spread throughout the empire, PRIOR to the fall of Jerusalem in 70, MAKES MY POINT, not yours.  this was not a small following, and we do not benefit from any of your parallels to artists.

      “how much intrigue did the historical Jesus actually stir up? Not much, by the standards of the day.”

      unless you want to call the entire book of Acts a lie, then this is a ludicrous statement.  your only sources about Jesus are ones from Christians…so if you want to pull out the over-used card of splitting a Christ of faith from the Jesus of history, then you’re shooting yourself in the foot.  you have no other material to study to try to locate a historical person by the name of Jesus in first cent. Palestine.  the sources that are temporally close enough to get you started (Paul and maybe Mark) are the very sources that introduce you to the Christ of faith (and the dilemma that accompanies it).  you have no non-theological material to consult!!!  will you please hang it up, Dave?

      • Dave Burke

        NateP,

        >>
        unless you want to call the entire book of Acts a lie, then this is a ludicrous statement.
        >>

        No it’s not.

        Firstly, I was referring specifically to the impact of Jesus upon the socio-political world of his day, not the exploits of the Christian community in Acts.

        Secondly, Acts shows the Jewish leaders reacting strongly against Christianity while the Romans continue to show little interest in the new religion. As before, it’s treated as an internal matter for the Jews to deal with and the Romans only get involved when the *Jews* are rioting and causing a public disturbance (not the Christians).

        >>
        Christians were numerous enough in Rome alone at the time of Nero to be blamed as a social group for the fires that Nero started. that’s a sizable contingency right there, and that’s not to mention Corinth, Ephesus, Galatia, Thessalonica, etc. the fact that Christians were spread throughout the empire, PRIOR to the fall of Jerusalem in 70, MAKES MY POINT, not yours.
        >>

        Wrong again.

        Firstly, the geographic dispersion of a population is no indication of its size.

        Secondly, as Carrier points out, political scapegoating is not a reliable indication of numbers:

        “It has also been claimed that laws would not have been passed against Christians unless there were a lot of them. But even if that were so, how many would there have to be? Any answer would be a purely subjective judgment.

        Given the fact that Christians routinely engaged in bold and public behavior in several major cities, it would not require many to gain legal attention. Again, Acts shows a mere handful could and did cause several riots, illegal plots, and official charges under Roman law (16:16-40, 17:5-9, 18:12-19, 19:23-41, 21:27-23:25).

        And, again, a hundred per city in seventy cities would be more than visible enough to warrant a government response–yet is still only a total of 7,000 out of 60 million. So, yet again, even with very small numbers they could make a public nuisance of themselves.”

        (Source: http://bit.ly/qUi4hL).

        As noted earlier, social disruption was caused by the Jews’ reaction to Christian evangelism (not by the Christians per se). The Jewish population was small enough to be irritated by a growing Christian presence, yet large enough to cause headaches for the Romans.

        >>
        your only sources about Jesus are ones from Christians
        >>

        Secular scholars such as Bart Ehrman would have a field day with that statement. I’ll dismiss it out of hand, because it’s obviously nonsense.

        >>
        if you want to pull out the over-used card of splitting a Christ of faith from the Jesus of history
        >>

        If you don’t understand the need to separate the Christ of faith from the Jesus of history and the legitimacy of doing so, you’re not qualified to continue this discussion.

        I can’t help noticing that between the two of us, I’m the only one posting evidence to support his position. All I’ve seen from you is an unsubstantiated opinion.

        • NateP

          wow…i didn’t think this was possible, but you’re more of a moron than Jonathan.

  • Dave Burke

    beallen0417,

    The point I am making is that Jesus was locally famous in his lifetime, but not internationally famous until long after his crucifixion.

    This isn’t a case of Jesus only being obscure when someone might have noticed it, but rather a case of people outside his community having little or no reason to notice it in the first place.

    Travelling rabbis were not a remarkable phenomenon in 1st Century Palestine, even if they had some Messianic pretensions.

    For example, Simon Magus gets a bit of free advertising in the book of Acts, but outside the New Testament he is virtually unknown. Josephus gives him a few lines in Antiquities (see Price and Eisenman for confirmation that this is the Simon of Acts) and is the only non-Christian historian to do so.

    As we saw from previous examples, simply being a Messianic claimant was not enough to get your face onto the front page of the Roman newspapers. At the very least, you had to lead an armed revolt of some kind.

    >>
    But the stories we actually have from antiquity are about a divine being who has doves carrying ghosts that land on him while the heavens split open, he walks on water and heals people with spit, then flies up to the clouds like Superman.
    >>

    That’s a parody of the Christ of faith. It’s not the Jesus of history. We’re talking about the Jesus of history.

    • Anonymous

      There is no source for a Jesus of history who doesn’t do miracles and resurrect from the dead. Nobody wrote about such a person.

  • Dave Burke

    NateP,

    You’re still avoiding the question. How many Jewish and Roman historians refer to Simon of Peraea, Athronges, Menahem ben Judah, Theudas, or Judas of Galilee?

    >>
    your analogy with Van Gogh only shows that artists can become famous long after their deaths
    >>

    It shows that people can become famous and influential long after their deaths despite having lived in obscurity. That was my sole point, and you’re the one who raised this issue in the first place. I was not claiming to present an analogy.

    >>
    where are you getting this 7000 max idea?
    >>

    Rodney Stark calculates that the Christian population had reached 7,000 by the end of the 1st Century, representing less than 1% of the Greco-Roman population. This is not a controversial figure, and enjoys widespread support, even among Christian scholars.

    Richard Carrier agrees with Stark’s analysis, and concludes:

    “…there is no plausible case to be made against Stark’s estimate. No evidence counters it. All relevant evidence supports it.”

    He also says:

    “Thomas Finn also agrees with Hopkins and Stark, and adds further corroborating evidence, while Robin Lane Fox surveys every kind of evidence of Christian numbers one could expect to find (especially archaeological), and finds that Christians were practically invisible until the 3rd century.

    We can apparently trust the eyewitness testimony of the Christian scholar Origen that by the dawn of the 3rd century ‘only a very few’ had joined the Christian movement.”

    (Source: http://bit.ly/qUi4hL).

    Obviously, accounts of mass conversion in the early chapters of Acts should not be taken at face value:

    “For a starting number, Acts 1:14-15 suggests that several months after the Crucifixion there were 120 Christians. Later, in Acts 4:4, a total of 5,000 believers is claimed. And, according to Acts 21:20, by the sixth decade of the first century there were ‘many thousands of Jews’ in Jerusalem who now believed.

    These are not statistics… As Hans Conzelmann noted, these numbers are only ‘meant to render impressive the marvel that here the Lord himself is at work’ (1973:63). Indeed, As Robert M. Grant pointed out, ‘one must always remember that figures in antiquity… were part of rhetorical exercises’ (1977:7-8) and were not really meant to be taken literally.”

    Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: A Sociologist Reconsiders History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), p.5.

    Although growth was consistent over subsequent decades, by AD 300 Christians still accounted for ~10% of the Greco-Roman population.

    • NateP

      i suppose you don’t realize what a few thousand are against a few million.  you have problems with simple notions of scale, Dave.  even if the 7000 number is correct (and it may be IF you are not factoring in Jewish Christians in/around Jerusalem that died in the wars and ones that were snuffed out by various Caesars with various scapegoats), that still doesn’t mean that this is a small following.  of course they would seem “invisible” when compared to the throngs of Romans and Greeks who were non-christians.  but relative to the other Messianic claimants you raised, a “mere” 7000 would be a large following indeed.  it all depends on what scale you want to use – or to who/what you want to compare Jesus’ following to.  the bottom line is this, despite all your odd interpretations of Acts and German biblical scholars:

      The purported HJ had a relatively minor following up to the point of his death, but within 20 years of that execution the number had reached several thousands and into most corners of the empire. This is no small phenomenon then, no matter how you slice it.  And it’s noteworthy enough, by ancient standards, to expect Josephus, Seneca, Plutarch, and others to comment on it, especially considering some of the minor events that they did comment at length on.

      Unless you want to stop dodging all the other points I’ve made, or unless you have some better explanation for the set of FACTS in the paragraph above, then I’m done with you.  I’m not going to go round and round, mincing words and splitting hairs about how much presence 7000 people amounts to.  Those basic premises are incontrovertible, your irrelevant appeals to Stark notwithstanding – so either account for them in a better way, or just stop talking.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    I think that some recent comments conflate number of adherents with geographical extent. Obviously if a religion spreads geographically it may as a result increase numerically. But to the extent that the messianic Judaism of Paul and others like him spread further than the Judaism of Hillel in that time, the difference has nothing to do with the impact of the initiating figure but the dedication of those who came later to spreading the message. In fact, the influence of Hillel seems to have been less than that of Shammai in his own time, yet came to define worldwide Rabbinic Judaism in the longer run – in a manner that is not exactly like Jesus, but that should be unsurprising since two figures are as a rule not identical, but at best similar.

    • NateP

      Be that as it may, James, we were asking the question of what sorts of things would attract the attention of non-Judean historians.  I’m sure they didn’t say, “Let’s figure out who has the most followers numerically, and only report on them.”  That would have been impractical even if it had been possible (which it wasn’t). A more likely distinction would have been geographical extent.  Hillel’s following did not increase in this sense.  Jesus’ did.  So it doesn’t matter how the exact numbers of their followings stack up.  Historians would have noticed the spreading of Christians into so many outlying areas because it would have been a topic of local gossip at least.  Then they’d want to know the basics of the story behind this following (even if it still was 7000 in number or less).  If they actually had something historical to track down, they would have reported something about it.  On the other hand, they would have remained silent (which they did) IF they had found a tiny kernel of historicity surrounded by a ton of embellishment. This is what I find likely.  Not a totally mythical Jesus, but an almost-mythical Jesus considering the ratio of obviously embellished material to actually uncoverable facts about him (less than a century from his death).

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @9713a52d25d9dddda95e7fa15466a627:disqus If you don’t find the origin of Christianity to be best accounted for in terms of a totally mythical Jesus, then you agree with me against Earl Doherty and his ilk, and the rest is just details that we can discuss in a reasoned manner.
    The only point at which I’ll emphasize at least a minor disagreement with what you wrote in your last comment is that, particularly prior to such time as the presence of Christians became a nuisance, a threat, or in some other way worth taking a closer look at, I’m not sure that any Roman historian would have considered it worth a trip to Palestine to investigate what the historical basis for their beliefs was.

    • Anonymous

      The primary question isn’t whether Jesus is “totally mythical,” but whether the Christ of the epistles is the same Jesus as Jesus of Nazareth in the gospels. If the epistles and gospels aren’t referring to the same entity, than the gospels are myth, as proven convincingly in the 19th century by DF Strauss.

      Even a historicist like GA Wells has no doubt that they are not the same person. Historicist Gerd Ludemann states unequivocally that the Pauline epistles aren’t confirmatory evidence for the teachings, life or existence of Jesus of Nazareth.

      All arguments equating the two also avoid the evidence of antiquity contained within the epistles themselves, which postulate multiple Jesuses and multiple Christs, a majority of them false.

    • NateP

      Again, you misunderstand where the dividing line is.  This is why I introduced the idea of Confidence Quotient (CQ) a long time ago on this thread.  I said WAY BACK then that my CQ regarding Jesus would be significantly higher than the likes of Robert Price, Neil Godfrey, or Earl Doherty.  I also said my CQ would be drastically lower than yours.  In other words, I don’t see a completely mythical Jesus as likely, but I see it as much more likely than any of the Jesus that are revered by Christians. A Jesus where even 25% of the Gospel accounts are accurate is a Jesus that is historically untenable.  And when you dip much lower than that, he becomes unworthy of a scholarly discussion, because none of the early source material is trying to be anything near historically accurate about him – they’re just trying to turn a relative nobody from Nazareth into something worth investigating.  If they are wrong in what they claim about Jesus (as many (even moderate) scholars maintain), then the search for the “real” HJ is a frivolous one.  That doesn’t make Earl Doherty more right in claiming a completely mythical Jesus, but in a sense it makes him closer to the truth than a large swath of current and former New Testament scholars.  Isn’t that plainly obvious?

      And to your point about traveling historians, you know as well as I that that’s not how many of them operated.  If they worked for the Roman government, sure, they probably went on site.  But other Roman historians, as well as Greek ones, would have simply tried to track down eyewitnesses of reported events, by way of playing the reverse telephone game, if you will.  Just as long as they were spelling out their continuum of witnesses, rather than sophomorically saying “there’s 500 people he appeared to, and you can still chat with a bunch of them today!”, they were performing a reasonable historiographic method for their time.  NO  historians ever did this regarding Jesus, until the era of Eusebius that is, and this is still the most troubling fact surrounding the HJ today.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @9713a52d25d9dddda95e7fa15466a627:disqus , what exactly is it that you believe that you and I disagree on, apart from whether a few pieces of information here and there are more likely authentic or inauthentic? We both agree that there probably was a historical Jesus, that he was very different from the Jesus of later Christian piety, and that there is a substantial amount of non-historical material in the Gospels. The first two points are not accepted by mythicists, who believe that the original Jesus was already heavenly and divine, and that there was no historical human being who ultimately gave rise to the legends, myths and dogmas.
    Perhaps you could clarify why you are so certain that you agree with mythicists more than with me and other mainstream scholars, when my understanding of your position suggests otherwise.

    • NateP

      I see what you’re getting at.  I guess the major difference is how we portray the agreed embellishment.  For me, the world is not interested in hearing about who the “real” Jesus was if they’re also having to accept that the Jesus of the Gospels never existed.  If so little is known about Jesus that a Christians faith is a problematic construal of the historical data at best….I think you and other biblical scholars have a duty to say so, to your students and to the greater public.  Most MDivs that graduated from my same grad school were unaware of the historical conclusions that you’re saying we agree on.  And this was a rather liberal grad school.  MDivs should not be going through three years of theological education, getting ordained and the like, without having to confront the lack of historical corroboration that you’re conceding re: the Jesus of the Gospels.  If they want to construct a theology/faith that needs no historical foundation behind it, fine, that’s their prerogative.  But they mustn’t be deluded at the point of graduation – thinking that historians agree that the HJ and the Jesus of the Gospels were anything near similar.

      My shorthand way of representing this concern was (as I’ve said numerous times on this thread), that any HJ that we can have any historical confidence in is also NOT WORTH investigating…much less for someone’s whole career.  So that way of phrasing it obviously points a direct question at professors like you, James: why is this a worthwhile career for you, when there’s such a scarce corpus of data to work with?  And how do you maintain a Christian faith of any kind, considering this silence from contemporary historians?  How does a man like James Dunn maintain a faith, for that matter?  Did you ever ask him?

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Thank you so much for your comment, which I think makes a lot of important points. I do indeed agree that it is a duty of Biblical scholars to communicate the results of their work. In the case of students for an MDiv, my impression is that the largest part of the coursework for such a degree focuses on pastoral skills, and so I can indeed imagine students graduating from seminary and only getting a vague sense of some of the more serious problems and issues. Bultmann presumably wasn’t required reading.

    As for how people like myself or James Dunn maintain a faith, I won’t try to speak for him, since I am confident that things that he has written will make his own views clear more effectively than I could. As for my own case, I have talked on other occasions about the main reasons why I am a Christian (a profoundly life-changing religious experience on the one hand, and a recognition that I am shaped culturally by the Christian tradition in more ways than I could ever recognize on the other). But I think I have been up front and public about what beliefs I do and do not hold and how that relates to my perspective being labeled as Christian, and so I thought I should link to those from here, since they might help provide some useful information.

    As for why this is a worthwhile career, I thought you said that Biblical scholars have a duty to make their conclusions known. I don’t see how that is compatible with the view you express later, that a career in this area is not worthwhile, so perhaps you could clarify your perspective on this. 

    • NateP

      As I’m sure you know that most current biblical scholars were once MDivs, I’d think you would show more concern for the lack of solid history curriculum that they’re still experiencing, even in the world’s top seminaries and divinity schools. The problem includes, bit goes way beyond, a lack of Bultmannian discussion in class. You seemed to one-off that very important issue.

      As for your faith, I don’t doubt that your conversion experience was quite powerful for you. Mine was too, 15 years ago. But I learned that the experience can be real (in terms of how it shapes me inside) without actually pointing you toward the real God or to a better spiritual practice. For those things, conversion experiences have no merit, you need something of indisputable merit to have as bedrock for the content of one’s faith. I’m suggesting that this necessarily needs some historical component to it, otherwise the AIGbusted article is right to call (liberal) Christianity bankrupt. I did not find your defense of religion as “work of art” convincing at all. I would say that whole blog post of yours was a slick dodging of a real question about adequate foundations for faith. Your other link, about being a “liberal Christian” was good, but it only really said what you don’t believe…contrary to the way you hyperlinked it, it didn’t say anything about what you do believe in. So I’m still wondering that, specifically what is left over to believe about Jesus once you let go of the notion that the Gospels are reliable history.

      Lastly, I think Avalos’ The End of Biblical Studies provides the best clarification on my point about careers in religious studies. To the extent that the field is obsolete (and Hector and I see that extent as increasing) current scholars should be announcing just that to their students. If OT archeology dies a gradual death, so be it. If researching the HJ suffers a similar fate, so be it. Better those things happen then to have college professors trying to purvey their science as some fun form of exploratory artwork, because they don’t want to admit that the implications of their research is making their cherished field obsolete. Hope that clarifies.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    I’m not sure that most Biblical scholars were once MDivs. I suspect that some, particularly in seminaries, did MDivs as well as PhDs, but I know of many like myself who were on an academic rather than a ministerial track from the beginning and never did an MDiv. I am not sure where we could look for data on that. But you are right that it is possible to get an MDiv without being exposed to the full extent of the historical difficulties related to the Bible.

    I also agree that a powerful conversion experience doesn’t allow one to answer historical or doctrinal questions on that basis. For me, it is simply a case of wanting to find a way of doing justice to the fact that such experiences can be a part of human life, and potentially a positive one. In a Buddhist context, the experience of letting go can be transformative and powerful even without (or perhaps precisely because of the lack of?) a deity to cling to. 

    Ultimately progressive Christian faith (at least for me) is about using language poetically and symbolically to point to the big mysteries or life, transcendence, and values, in ways that are evocative and encourage exploration of them, rather than trying to pretend that we have definitive answers to them.

    • NateP

      No need to search for data on that one – I’ve already looked into that one extensively, and at least in America, more than half of biblical scholars got MDivs. I, like you, went the minority route.

      And I can truly identify with your desire to express the transcendent aspects of life in rich symbolic frameworks, and Christianity is one such framework. But the reason I’m not willing/able to be a “progressive Christian” is that too many negative side effects occur when using a framework that others can’t grasp in a progressive fashion. It ends up serving no one but you in the long run, because the majority of folks you encounter are either the type of person that can’t cope with a compromised Jesus (from a potentially errant NT), or the type that benefit from the straight talk of humanism and chafe at the fluffy overlay of religious symbolism & language. I’ve met VERY FEW that fall into a middle ground between those two types. Since progressive Christianity helps neither type of person very much, it seems ultimately selfish of me to indulge in the artsy, carefree world it offers to those, like us, recovering from orthodox Christianity.

    • Anonymous

      Ultimately progressive Christian faith (at least for me) is about using language poetically and symbolically to point to the big mysteries or life, transcendence, and values, in ways that are evocative and encourage exploration of them, rather than trying to pretend that we have definitive answers to them.

      Except for the part about the historical Jesus. He was really real.

  • http://lowerwisdom.com JSA

    But the reason I’m not willing/able to be a “progressive Christian” is that too many negative side effects occur when using a framework that others can’t grasp in a progressive fashion. It ends up serving no one but you in the long run, because the majority of folks you encounter are either the type of person that can’t cope with a compromised Jesus (from a potentially errant NT), or the type that benefit from the straight talk of humanism and chafe at the fluffy overlay of religious symbolism & language.

    I’m pretty much with you on this.  But…

    But I learned that the experience can be real (in terms of how it shapes me inside) without actually pointing you toward the real God or to a better spiritual practice. For those things, conversion experiences have no merit, you need something of indisputable merit to have as bedrock for the content of one’s faith. I’m suggesting that this necessarily needs some historical component to it

    This part doesn’t make any sense to me.  Supposing hypothetically that there is a God, if you go back far enough in history, there will always be a point where there was no historical component to the knowledge of him.  IOW, the historical component has to start somewhere.  And it seems reasonable that the historical component would manifest itself as personal revelation.  So I don’t see how you can say that a person’s “real experience” is opposed to the idea of a historical component.  Aren’t all of the historical components primarily personal experiences?

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    For the benefit of other commenters, I’ll point out once again the reason why attempts at intelligent conversation with @beallen0417:disqus  are alas destined to fail. The use of symbolism in religious faith doesn’t mean that the things in human experience that are drawn upon as symbols were or are necessarily fictional. Using his “logic” you would presumably have to deny that doves exist (since the Holy Spirit gets symbolized as one) and that water, bread and wine exist (since they are used in some traditions as sacraments), to say nothing of human gurus galore.

    While I appreciate that he keeps illustrating the idiotic depths to which some mythicists descend in their irrationality, and their eagerness to be irritating, I still would much prefer to have intelligent conversations.

    The historical Jesus, as has been pointed out time and again, is a problem for religious belief, not an invention to support it.

    • Anonymous

      I think there is a category error in this response. If I state that the dove released by Roy Batty in the movie Blade Runner is fictional, I certainly don’t mean that doves don’t exist. So there is simply no logic to the idea that if one member of a group is fictional, that then all members of that group must therefore be fictional. The discussion of the fictional character of Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin doesn’t entail that all Mexican peasants of the 16th century were fictional.

      For those interested in intelligent conversation, that would be an obvious fallacy. The gospels are obviously largely fictional for someone who is not a supernaturalist. Moreso, we have no reliable secular source that describes a normal historical Jesus who didn’t do any miracles and who stayed dead when he died. So all that can be done is to de-supernaturalize the gospels a la Reimarus.One wonders how someone could self-identify as a Christian if the historical Jesus is such a problem for religious belief, if the argument presented is accurate.

      • NateP

        “all that can be done is to de-suoernaturalize the Gospels a la Reimarus”

        This is really what I’ve been trying to say for a while now. Avalos has come to the same conclusion without being a mythicist. Schweitzer came to the same conclusion without really betraying his personal beliefs either way. Robert Price came to the same conclusion but went an extra step of becoming a mythicist. Whether or not that second move is justified, the first one certainly seems to be completely justified. One should readily understand what is meant by the “shrinking Son of Man” even if you don’t think that the shrinking goes all the way to oblivion. Either way, isn’t progressive Christianity forever having to play defense re: Jesus’ identity, since we seem to “know” less about him historically as the years go on?

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @9713a52d25d9dddda95e7fa15466a627:disqus , I very much understand and appreciate your reservations. In my own experience, challenges to fundamentalism articulated from the standpoint of a different sort of faith can sometimes be effective where criticisms that are very similar but articulated as criticism of any and all sorts of religious perspectives will be resisted at all costs. And so I am not, at present, persuaded that the perspective I have adopted is purely self-serving, and I have at least some anecdotal evidence from my Sunday school class as well as my university teaching and my blogging that others have found this perspective helpful.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @9713a52d25d9dddda95e7fa15466a627:disqus , I very much understand and appreciate your reservations. In my own experience, challenges to fundamentalism articulated from the standpoint of a different sort of faith can sometimes be effective where criticisms that are very similar but articulated as criticism of any and all sorts of religious perspectives will be resisted at all costs. And so I am not, at present, persuaded that the perspective I have adopted is purely self-serving, and I have at least some anecdotal evidence from my Sunday school class as well as my university teaching and my blogging that others have found this perspective helpful.

    • NateP

      While I’m sure you have done some good James, I would venture to say that that’s all you’ll be privy to, because any strife you may have caused won’t be reported back to you. Much of the negative side goes unnoticed in a case like this, despite your certainly good intentions. That’s just the nature of offending the metaphysical sensibilities, if you will, of others.

    • NateP

      While I’m sure you have done some good James, I would venture to say that that’s all you’ll be privy to, because any strife you may have caused won’t be reported back to you. Much of the negative side goes unnoticed in a case like this, despite your certainly good intentions. That’s just the nature of offending the metaphysical sensibilities, if you will, of others.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Well, one of the advantages of blogging is that when you offend someone’s metaphysical (or other) sensibilities, they tend to report back to you (and in the case of one of my fundamentalist Christian blog readers, they contacted the pastor of my church!) But presumably strife over metaphysics is not necessarily a bad thing, if issues are being raised for people that it is important for them to think about.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Well, one of the advantages of blogging is that when you offend someone’s metaphysical (or other) sensibilities, they tend to report back to you (and in the case of one of my fundamentalist Christian blog readers, they contacted the pastor of my church!) But presumably strife over metaphysics is not necessarily a bad thing, if issues are being raised for people that it is important for them to think about.

  • Anonymous

    “Vridar” refuses to publish my comments on his blog.  One comment was in connection with his following statement: 

    Vridar wrote: I am never “convinced” by any speculation. Why would anyone ever expect “speculation” to “convince”? No, “we” are not “all” speculating by any means. You appear to be unable to see the difference between speculation and evidence-based argument.
     Comment by Neil Godfrey — 2011/09/21 @ 6:35 pm | ReplyI wrote: And the difference is: one is speculation without evidence based argument, and the other is speculation with evidence based argument. Your speculation does not satisfy an important criteria. It does not explain how Christianity arose out of Judaism.Comment by Geoff Hudson — 2011/09/21 @ 7:57 pm | ReplyHe admits that Christianity came out of Judaism.  Yet he has no explanation for how it did.  He can only offer a mythical explanation of why he does not believe in Jesus. 

  • Anonymous

    He’s off on his hobby horse again.  This time he’s quoting Charlesworth http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/09/21/15-ways-of-recovering-reliable-information-about-jesus/  When will he learn?  Never mind about Jesus.  He says that christianity came out of Judaism.  He should prove it. In fact both he and I know that christianity had nothing to do with any Jesus. But it didn’t just develop out of myth. He is simply postponing the issue.  What is the point of constantly going over old ground?    

  • Anonymous

    Does anyone know how christianity came out of Judaism?  Vridar doesn’t know, yet he knows everything else.

  • Dave Burke

    NateP,

    I can see we’re not going to make progress while you’re unwilling to address the historical data.

    The point I’ve made several times now is that Jesus is mentioned by non-Christian sources about as often as we’d expect him to be. In fact, he enjoys greater attestation than some other messianic pretenders who caused a lot more trouble and made a significant political impact during their lives.

    For example:

    Simon of Peraea: proclaimed king, burned down a palace at Jericho, led a violent revolt, and died in a battle against Herod’s infantry commander. Historians who mention him: ONE (Josephus).

    Athronges: a shepherd famous for his large stature and prodigious strength; proclaimed himself messiah, led a long and violent revolt against Herod Archelaus, and died with his four brothers in a series of battles. Two thousand people were crucified in the aftermath. Historians who mention him: ONE (Josephus).

    Theudas: declared himself a prophet, gained a following of hundreds, and died in a single confrontation with Roman cavalry under Cuspius Fadus. Historians who mention him: TWO (Josephus and the author of Acts; but they provide conflicting dates).

    Judas of Galilee: proclaimed the Jewish state a theocracy, led a violent and widespread Zealot revolt, presumably died in battle, but his followers continued for a time under his sons, two of whom were crucified by Tiberius Alexander. Historians who mention him: TWO (Josephus and the author of Acts; but they provide conflicting dates).

    Simon Magus: declared himself messiah, performed miracles, gained a huge following in Samaria which persisted after his death, and had some interaction with Christians. Historians who mention him: ONE or TWO (Josephus and the author of Acts; however, most believe Josephus refers to Simon the Caesarean).

    Simon the Caesarean: near identical description to Simon Magus. Historians who mention him: ONE (Josephus).

    Anonymous Egyptian prophet: declared himself a prophet, gained a following of thousands (Josephus claims 30k, which is absurd), marched to the Mount of Olives, but was repelled by an army sent by Marcus Antonius Felix and fled while hundreds of his disciples were massacred. Historians who mention him: ONE (Josephus).

    Menahem ben Judah: declared himself messiah, leader of the Sicarii, led a violent revolt, captured the Antonia Fortress, pushed out the Roman garrison, tortured and killed by Eleazar the Temple Captain.
    Historians who mention him: ONE (Josephus).

    Notwithstanding the tremendous problems they caused for the Romans, the many battles they were involved with, their messianic claims and occasional feats of magic, the only non-Christian historian to mention any of these people IMHO is Titus Flavius Josephus.

    By contrast, Jesus enjoys multiple attestation from non-Christian sources despite his relative obscurity. Viva la difference.

    • NateP

      Except for one thing, Dave…

      Jesus enjoys no such attestation whatsoever. The final sentence of your last post is as flatly wrong as 2+2=5. Sources that refer to someone 100 years prior to them, without a well-kept record of the information that got passed down to the historian, are not worth a damn. So stop speaking of this attestation that no actual reader of the sources in question accepts. And the fact that you can name other nobodies from the ANE, and show that they “enjoy” even less attestation than Jesus, does nothing but waste more of your breath.

  • Dave Burke

    Geoff:

    >>
    Does anyone know how christianity came out of Judaism?
    >>

    Gospels + Acts + Epistle to the Hebrews. Should tell you all you need to know.

  • Anonymous

    Dave, you wrote: “Gospels + Acts + Epistle to the Hebrews. Should tell you all you need to know.”

    Lets start with Acts.  Do you really believe there was a large house in Jerusalem that would hold about 120 people from a poor background?  Such a house was not easily found in Jerusalem, but in Rome, which is the only place where Christianity could have begun.  The poor people of Rome lived in large tenemented buildings –  the remains of one two storey house is in Ostia which was the port of Rome.  In Rome three storey blocks were common (see page 211 of Rome and Jerusalem, Martin Goodman).

    These people were God fearing, an unusual way of describing Jews (Acts 2.5), and a more appropriate description of Gentiles.  They were supposedly staying in Jerusalem.  I suggest that they were in fact staying in the house (alluded to earlier, 2.2) in Rome.  They were, typically for poor Roman workers, from ‘every nation under heaven’.   

    There were some Jewish believers staying in the same house.  It was they who were surprised when these Gentile God fearers started to praise God in their own language.   “We hear them declaring the wonders of God in [our] {their} own tongues!”.  Speaking in tongues is one big laugh.

              

  • Dave Burke

    NateP,

    >>
    Jesus enjoys no such attestation whatsoever.
    >>

    What type of attestation are you referring to here?

    If you’re saying you don’t believe Jesus enjoys any non-Christian attestation whatsoever, or that he doesn’t enjoy any non-Christian attestation within 100 years of his death, you are so far beyond the fringe you may as well be sitting in Earl Doherty’s lap.

    You cannot seriously claim that no reader of the sources in question accepts Jesus received non-Christian attestation within 100 years of his death. That is simply absurd and denies the academic consensus.

    >>
    Sources that refer to someone 100 years prior to them, without a well-kept record of the information that got passed down to the historian, are not worth a damn
    >>

    That rules out a significant proportion of Josephus and probably a stack of other ancient historians as well. Way to go!

    >>
    And the fact that you can name other nobodies from the ANE, and show that they “enjoy” even less attestation than Jesus, does nothing but waste more of your breath.
    >>

    But they weren’t nobodies. That’s the point.

    The Romans didn’t think they were nobodies (you lose an entire garrison to nobodies, you don’t send an army to fight nobodies, and you don’t crucify 2,000 of their followers). The Jews didn’t think they were nobodies (you don’t revolt against the Romans under the leadership of nobodies). Josephus didn’t think they were nobodies (you don’t write the exploits of nobodies into a definitive history of your nation).

    Their lives are not the lives of nobodies, their deeds are not the deeds of nobodies, and history doesn’t record them as nobodies.

    • NateP

      I can’t deal with your idiocy Dave. I just can’t deal with it. I’ll make this simple… Name one non-Christian source referencing Jesus prior to 100CE, besides sources that are obviously tampered with by Christians. You say Jesus enjoys lots of references – I say name one that fits those very reasonable parameters. I dare say I’m sure you will fail at this task, thus contradicting your own words from earlier posts, and revealing yourself as a total idiot.

      And I won’t waste my breath anymore on the nobodies. If they were significant enough to the Romans, fine, that accounts for the details the Romans provide about them. But to the world they are nobodies. I’m not saying that Jesus would have already been as famous in the 2nd century as he is now. BUT if there was anything remotely like the man portrayed in the Gospels, then this person would have been on everyone’s radar much more than he manifestly was, even though his fullest influence would take numerous centuries to unfold.

  • Dave Burke

    Geoff,

    >>
    Lets start with Acts.  Do you really believe there was a large house in Jerusalem that would hold about 120 people from a poor background?
    >>

    I believe it’s possible. There were rich people among the believers (e.g. Nicodemus, who contributed Jesus’ sepulchre) and Upper Jerusalem contained houses large enough to hold 120. But in my view the number is probably not literal, and more likely intended to satisfy the Jewish preference for symbolic figures:

    ’1:13 The wealthy part of Jerusalem was the Upper City, where upper rooms were more common and more spacious. Although upper rooms in many Palestinian homes were nothing more than attics, ancient texts report gatherings of large numbers of sages in more spacious upper rooms…
    1:15 According to a Jewish tradition of uncertain date, 120 elders first passed on the law in the time of Ezra. Then again, the Dead Sea Scrolls required one priest for every ten men, so 120 may be the number of people a team of twelve leaders could best accommodate; other disciples may not have all been present at one time. But Luke’s point may be simply that the upper room is full (see comment on 1:13).’

    Keener, C. S., & InterVarsity Press. 1993. The IVP Bible background commentary : New Testament (Ac 1:13, 15). InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, Ill.

    In any case, this discussion is about how Christianity came out of Judaism. The focus is theology, not rental accommodation in 1st Century Jerusalem.

    >>
    These people were God fearing, an unusual way of describing Jews (Acts 2.5), and a more appropriate description of Gentiles.
    >>

    Let’s see:

    –Acts 2:1, 5
    Now when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place…
    Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven residing in Jerusalem.

    Firstly, we are no longer talking about the people in the upper room. This is now Pentescost and everyone is outside. Secondly, the crowd is described as ‘devout Jews’ (not Gentiles) who are in Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost. Thirdly, they were not Christians; we know this because Peter preaches to them, urging conversion, repentance and baptism.

    >>
    There were some Jewish believers staying in the same house.  It was they who were surprised when these Gentile God fearers started to praise God in their own language.
    >>

    Except this is not what the text actually says.

    >>
    Speaking in tongues is one big laugh.
    >>

    I’ll have to take your word for it. I don’t speak in tongues. Now, are we going to address the question of how Christianity emerged from Judaism?

    • Anonymous

      Dave, I said lets start with Acts.  We are led to
      believe that it was disciples who were filled with the Spirit. (Acts
      2:4) The third person language tells me there was a different story. “All
      of THEM were filled with the Holy Spirit”, that is the Gentile God fearers
      as they burst into worship in their own language (Acts 2:6).   They were
      all RESIDENTS, not of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia (Acts 2:9), but
      RESIDENTS of the house in Rome.  In its
      original form, this is a continuation of what was started, not a sudden switch
      to Pentecost and everyone outside. This was just obfuscation by the editors of Acts.  We have a subliminal answer as to who these
      people were in 2:11 – they were Jews and converts to Judaism.  The Jews
      were observing that the Gentile converts were worshipping God in their own
      language. It is quite clear that we are dealing with a form of text corrupted from the original. One can easily see what was intended.

       

      Belief in the Spirit was a form of Jewish
      religion held to by the prophets.  It had nothing to do with any Jesus.

       

      An interesting fact is that in Pompeii there
      were similar houses to those in Rome, with shops on the ground floor and apartments
      above.  An inscription in a Latin hand,
      CHRISTIANOS, was found in Pompeii, at No. 11, on the Street of the Overhanging
      Balcony. (See Page 4 of Correspondence between Paul and Seneca, Paul Berry).
      This also had nothing to do with Jesus.  It simply means anointed ones,
      that is anointed with the Spirit.  That inscription dates back to before the destruction of Pompeii in AD 79.    

       

    • Anonymous

      The God-fearers must have been Gentiles. (Acts 2.5) They could not have been Jewish God-fearers.  The term God-fearers was reserved for Gentiles. The Gentile God-fearers worshipped God in their own language. (Acts 2.6) – they didn’t use Hebrew or Aramaic. “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?” (Acts 2.7) was a ridiculous interpolation.  Significantly, they spoke in their own language “as the Spirit enabled them” – a natural use of the term Spirit.  This was an on-going activity.  The Spirit had been enabling from ancient biblical times. It didn’t just come at Pentecost. Then there is the house where the visitors were staying – a house for poor folk – Jewish poor folk and their fellow Gentile God-fearers.  These were the CHRISTIANOS of Rome who could well have relied on the words spoken by the prophet Joel.    

    • Anonymous

      Acts was originally an “I” and “we” document – it was written in the first person.  There was no reported speech by an imaginary Luke.  Thus in Acts 2:14, it wasn’t Peter who stood up, it was the writer who stood up.  He explained that everything that was happening to the Gentile God-fearers had been prophesied by the prophet Joel. 

    • Anonymous

      The message was that some Jews had made a universalist break-through, in that God was dealing with Gentiles and Jews by his Spirit.  These Jews believed that sacrifice and the law was useless, but that obedience of the Spirit was essential to cleansing, and freedom from condemnation.    

  • Dave Burke

    NateP,

    Thanks for confirming that your position is not evidence-based. If you’d made this clear earlier, it would have saved us both a great deal of time.

    Unfortunately I can’t discuss evidence with someone whose views are essentially presuppositional because you’ll simply reject anything that doesn’t feed your confirmation bias.

    When you’re ready to take an evidence-based position we’ll have something to talk about. Until then, I don’t see much point.

    • NateP

      Dave your reply is a funny and amusing way to say “you’re right Nate, you’ve stumped me with your challenge to name one such reference, and I love to speak about evidence when in fact the evidence is all on my opponent’s side”. You could have just said that though.

      The challenge still stands – either cite one such historian that refers to Jesus (of which you sId there are numerous), or politely accept your shame as a blathering fool. Thanks :)

  • Dave Burke

    Geoff,

    You are creating distinctions which do not exist in the text. ‘Devout’ (εὐλαβής) is a perfectly normal way for a faithful believer to be described, whether Jewish or otherwise. It was certainly not restricted to Gentiles.

    εὐλαβής occurs four times in the NT:

    –Luke 2:25
    Now there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon who was righteous and devout [εὐλαβής], looking for the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.

    –Acts 2:5
    Now there were devout [εὐλαβής] Jews from every nation under heaven residing in Jerusalem.

    –Acts 8:2
    Some devout [εὐλαβής] men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him.

    –Acts 22:12
    A man named Ananias, a devout [εὐλαβής] man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who live there

    Simeon was a Jew; the visitors from foreign lands in Acts 2 were Jews; Ananias was a Jew. The men who buried Stephen may or may not have been Jews, but probably were.

    Acts 2:7 is universally accepted as a legitimate part of the text. If you have evidence that this verse is a later interpolation, I’m sure all the relevant scholars would be delighted to hear from you.

    • Anonymous

      Dave you wrote: Acts 2:5, Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven residing in Jerusalem.

      I am wondering why the Greek for ‘devout’ of Acts 2:5 is slightly different from that in Luke 2:25.  And why did the scholars of the NIV choose to translate the Greek for your devout in Acts 2:5 to God fearing Jews?  

      The Nestle  /Marshall literal translation is: Now there were in Jerusalem dwelling Jews, men devout from every nation of the ones under heaven. This seems a very awkward translation.  I mean what sort of people would dwell in Jerusalem, if not Jews? 

      The natural form would be: “Now there were dwelling in Rome, God-fearing men from every nation of the ones under heaven”.  The editor had slipped-in the word Jews, but in the wrong position.  You don’t even need the word Gentiles, because it is obvious that Gentiles are intended – they were “from every nation of the ones under heaven”.      

    • Anonymous

      The person who stood up said, “let me EXPLAIN this to you”. (Acts 2;14)  The phenomenon of the Spirit had already occurred.  He then quotes from the prophet Joel: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on ALL people”. He was clearly implying both Jews and Gentiles.  He then continues at verse  39 – “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call”. 

      All of verses 22 (from “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth…) to 38 (“…Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit”) is later editorial fabrication. Originally, there was no mention of Jesus, his death on the cross, resurrection, and being exalted to the right hand of God.        

    • Anonymous

      In this view, those who obeyed the Spirit devoted themselves to fellowship and prayer, shared their possessions, and continued to meet together, not in the temple (Acts 2:46), but in the synagogue which had a gate called ‘Beautiful’ (Acts 3:2).  (This name was unknown for a temple gate).  They ate together.  And they enjoyed the favour of all the people, which was something that was impossible in Jerusalem.

    • Anonymous

      NOT A HOUSE OR THE TEMPLE IN JERUSALEM, BUT A SYNAGOGUE IN ROME – NO MITHYCISM

      “Every day they continued to meet together” (Acts 2:46).  There must have been a point of meeting which they had been using for some time.  It wasn’t a house or the temple in Jerusalem.  It was a synagogue in Rome with a large upper room where at least 120 people could gather together to eat and talk.  

      • Anonymous

        “I had a mind to make trial of the …..that were among us”. Life 2.   In the early first century, the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes, did not exist.  The only other group, apart from the priests, were the prophets, who, like the priests, were everywhere, including Rome.  When ‘Josephus’ says he had a mind to “make trial”, he was referring to initiation into the prophets who “were among us” – “so I contented myself with hard fare, and underwent great difficulties”…. and used no other clothing than what grew on trees, and had no other food than what grew of its own accord, and bathed in cold water frequently, both by night and by day”.  So Josephus’s sympathies lay with the prophets, not the priests.  He was thus a supporter of the Spirit, and against animal sacrifice.  And he was born in Rome, raised in Rome, went to school with Nero, and was noted for being bright by the “principal men of the city”.

        • Anonymous

          “I was myself brought up with my brother, whose name was Matthias, for he was my own brother, by both father and mother; and I made mighty proficiency in the improvements of my learning, and appeared to have both a great memory and understanding.”  Life 2

          Now what does anyone make of this little piece of nonsense?  What does being brought up with one’s brother have anything to do with improvements in learning?  And why should one consider that there was anything special about his mother and father being the parents of his brother?  Clearly, there is jiggery pokery going on here. 

          Rome was a place where Jewish aristocrats received their education, usually in the company of young Roman aristocrats.  ‘Josephus’ followed that tradition, like Agrippa before him. Nero was exactly the same age as ‘Josephus’. 

          Nero’s mother, Agrippina, had named him Lucius at birth.  When she married Claudius, Claudius adopted Lucius, and both mother and father named him Nero. 

          The passage above from Life 2 should have been:

          “I was myself brought up with Nero, whose name was Lucius, for he was named Nero by both Claudius and Agrippina; and I made mighty proficiency in the improvements of my learning, and appeared to have both a great memory and understanding.” 

          Here one can see a definate link between being brought up with someone and improvements in learning.   

          • Anonymous

            Can anyone prove the existence of Josephus?  There seems to be considerable evidence for doubting it.  In which case, who could Josephus have been?  And why would anyone wish to change his name.  

            Can anyone prove the existence of Neil Godfrey?  And why would he choose to use a different name? 

  • NateP

    I’m also wondering, in addition to my unanswered posts, what you (James) think about the overall arguments of someone like Avalos, in claiming that Biblical Studies has nullified it’s own relevance in the way that it operates?  He would claim the same process happened for both OT and NT studies, just in different ways.  Are you familiar enough with those arguments to comment on them and share you reactions?  I guess what I’m doing with this question is extending the scope of the criticism, from HJ studies specifically to the whole enterprise of Biblical Studies/Theological Studies more generally.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    NateP, I have not read Avalos’ book, so it would be inadvisable to comment on specifics about that. But I think that until such time as there is a lack of interest in the figure of Jesus, or in the Bible, or in any of these fields, then it is not obvious that scholarship in these areas have rendered themselves irrelevant. If we ever get to the point that scholarship about the Bible not only changes the views people hold of the Bible but eliminates interest in it, then what I understand Hector to be saying would then be true, but I am not persuaded that we have reached that point, and the number of students who continue to enroll in courses on these topics is probably also a relevant indicator.

    • NateP

      and how many students (maybe by %) would you say are enrolling in these courses because of their already established religious convictions?  and obviously don’t count those that are taking religious studies courses because their university requires them as social science prereqs.  You wouldn’t think the numbers are that high for non-religious students that just happen to have an interest in the Bible and/or Jesus, would you?  and isn’t this figure somewhat telling in the grand scheme of things?

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    NateP, the vast majority of students even at the private secular university in the United States have some sort of personal connection to religion. The sort of religion and the degree of connection varies, but it is still more common for students to have some sort of religious connection, whether personal or merely parental, and the odds are that it will be some form of Christianity.

    Many of the non-religious students who take such a course are likely to be motivated at least in part by a desire to understand this text that is important to others for religious reasons. And of course, I’ve occasionally had students from other religious traditions (such as Hinduism) take the class too, presumably for similar reasons.

    It isn’t a required course, although it can be taken to meet a core curriculum requirement. But there is clearly interest, since there are plenty of other courses that meet the same requirement, and yet as many sections of the course on the Bible we offer in a semester, they fill up.

  • Dave Burke

    I think a more pertinent question is, can anyone prove the existence of Earl Doherty? I am beginning to wonder if he is just a sock puppet for someone else. Perhaps it is time to commence the Search for a Historical Doherty.

    • Anonymous

      Do you mean more pertinent than: can anyone prove the existence of Neil Godfrey, or prove the existence of Josephus?  For me both questions are interesting. 

      Everything about Neil Godfrey tells me he goes under a different name. Earl Doherty is just another alias for that same person.  The same applies to certain other names that Godfrey bounces his ideas from. He quotes his aliases as saying this that or the other, when really its him. Apparently, his excuse is that by using aliases he can make  mistakes without risking embarrassment with other academic colleagues of having to explain himself.  Neil Godfrey, or rather the real character, is in the business of selling books.  

      As for Josephus, his name occurs in Life 19, 27, 39, 45, in the third person.  One might have thought that In a biographical work he would have introduced himself with the rest of his family at the beginning, in Life 1, and then continued in the first person only.  It seems very strange that we have to get to Life 19 before the name is mentioned.    

  • Dave Burke

    Doherty claims he is ‘generally considered to currently be the world’s leading Jesus mythicist’ and that ‘my books and website have had a huge impact on this controversial issue and are known around the globe’ (source: http://bit.ly/oLQQCd). This suggests he is a well know historical figure of great repute. But does the evidence confirm it?

    When you start to scratch the surface, it’s amazing just how little is known about Doherty. Surely a world leader in any field would require relevant qualifications, academic recognition, and peer reviewed publications. Yet Doherty fails to meet any of these criteria.

    Doherty is not mentioned by any recognised professional historian, and does not appear in any historical work of the 20th Century. How do we explain this omission in light of his alleged fame and historical significance?

    Where did he acquire his alleged bachelor degree? Nobody knows and Doherty refuses to say.

    Has anyone met him in person? This is unclear. Neil Godrey has posted an alleged ‘interview’ with Doherty (the so-called Testimonium Godfrianum) but there is no evidence it was a face to face meeting, and in the absence of independent witnesses Godfrey remains the only source. Since he supports Doherty’s viewpoint, his account cannot be trusted.

    Has the TG been interpolated? Undoubtedly. But since none of it can be independently verified, how could we tell where the truth ends and the interpolation begins? It seems more likely the entire document is a pious fraud!

    The content of the TG is also highly problematic. It is not what we would expect from someone who knows Doherty or has actually met him.

    Godfrey tells us nothing about Doherty’s birth or early life; he sheds no light on Doherty’s education or nationality; there are no details to Doherty’s work, hobbies, family, or friends. Godfrey doesn’t even know where Doherty lives, and has no idea of his age.

    Random dates are sprinkled in to give a semblance of reality (1982, 1984, 1996, 2000-2001 and a passing nod to ‘the 1960s’ & ‘the 1980s’) but Godfrey offers nothing to suggest familiarity with the events of these years, and even the words he puts in Doherty’s mouth are devoid of any contemporary references.

    Is Godfrey suggesting his ‘interview’ with Doherty took place outside the mundane world; perhaps in the ‘sub-lunar realm’? It’s a compelling interpretation and corresponds neatly with the details provided.

  • Dave Burke

    Towards the end of the TG, Godfrey blurts out a frank admission:

    >>
    I don’t think anyone in “internet land” has any idea of what you look like, your educational background, what you do or have done for a living. Why is this?
    >>

    (Testimonium Godfrianum, XVI, i).

    In reply, Doherty is made to say that he has ‘kept a relatively low personal profile perhaps partly out of caution but also because I don’t want to intrude my personality or background into the debate’ (Testimonium Godfrianum, XVI, ii). It’s an obvious interpolation, clumsily aping gMark’s ‘Messianic secret’ motif. The suggestion is that Doherty – like Jesus – conceals his identity from the faithless, only revealing it to fellow Mythicist believers.

    But astute readers will notice this vague response does not answer the question posed. Historical Doherty scholars therefore conclude the entire section is the work of a later editor (‘NG2′) attempting to resolve the contradiction between Doherty’s alleged historical fame and the fact that his existence is not admitted by any contemporary historian (the so-called ‘Dohertian secret’).

    Doherty’s disciples have argued the passage is genuine, citing the criterion of embarrassment. ‘Why would an interpolator invent an exchange that undermines Doherty’s historicity and why insert it awkwardly between XV and XVII, requiring two passages to be renumbered?’, they ask.

    But Historical Doherty scholars point out that the TG ends more naturally if we read straight from XV to XVII, skipping XVI altogether. Since the original manuscript was not numbered, the ‘problem’ of renumbering does not arise. XVI was fabricated for the sole purpose of raising a question which should have been presented at the beginning of the ‘interview’, boldly confronting the elephant in the room.

    So why drop it into the second-last paragraph? Precisely because we would expect to find such an interpolation at the start. By squeezing it awkwardly between XVI and XVII, NG2 has tried to give the impression that this was a last-minute, spur-of-the-moment question. A daring ploy, but just a little too clever to sneak under the radar!

  • Dave Burke

    The biggest problem is that we simply don’t have any writings from Doherty himself. All we have is a constant stream of forgeries in his name, every single one of which is either posted on the internet, or conveniently ‘self-published.’ It’s difficult to separate fact from fiction because Mythicists are notorious for historical inaccuracy, literary embellishment, opportunistic interpolation, and downright lying. Gandy & Freke typify this behaviour (source: http://bit.ly/3gERuk) but it is endemic throughout Mythicist literature.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t see things quite as strong as you.  I can see that you have some wit.  Most of what you have said about Doherty could be said about Neil Godfrey, but either you don’t realise it, or you don’t want to say.  Mark Goodacre realises it.  Jim west realises it.  

         

    • Anonymous

      I don’t see things quite as strong as you.  I can see that you have some wit.  Most of what you have said about Doherty could be said about Neil Godfrey, but either you don’t realise it, or you don’t want to say.  Mark Goodacre realises it.  Jim west realises it.  

         

    • Anonymous

      So what do you think about my other point of interest?
      “As for Josephus, his name occurs in Life 19, 27, 39, 45, in the third person.”  And this in an autobiography.

      • Dave Burke

        I think Josephus is just one of many people who have referred to themselves in their autobiography using the third person. It’s not uncommon.

        • Anonymous

          I have no evidence that it is uncommon.  It certainly is strange to me.  What is even more strange that in an autobiography his name in the third person does not crop up until Life 19.  

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Those last few comments were so delightful, I felt I had to try to ensure they got more attention, and so I took the liberty of sharing them (with appropriate attribution, of course) in a separate blog post:  http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/2011/10/14/doherty-mythicism/ 

  • Dave Burke

    Thanks James, feel free to share the love.
    :)

  • Dave Burke

    That’s not correct Geoff. We have far more information about Godfrey than we do about Doherty. Look at Godfrey’s profile here: http://vridar.wordpress.com/about

    We have his real name, photograph, personal views, education, employment history, interests… the whole lot, and all of it independently verifiable. We don’t have anything like that for Doherty.

    • Anonymous

      Independently verifiable?  Who says that apart from you. As for Godfrey’s personal profile, anyone can write a pack of lies. He is a librarian stuck in Singapore, and all his interests are in USA. Tell me another.

      It might interest you to know that I have seen a photo of Doherty.  But that doesn’t prove that he exists because a photo can be anyone.  Why don’t we have more photos of Godfrey? It is always the same old view.

    • Anonymous

      We don’t have a photo of Dave Burke, no details of his education, employment history, interests … and no other independent verifiable information about him.  Perhaps the next book which Godfrey will review will be one by Dave Burke.    

      • Dave Burke

        Geoff, all of this information is openly available on my Facebook page. Strangely, I’ve never seen Doherty on Facebook! :)

  • Anonymous

    “But when I was in the twenty-sixth year of my year of my age, it happened that I took a voyage to Rome, and this on the occasion which I shall now describe.” (Life 3).  What was ‘Josephus’ doing in the years between the age of nineteen and twenty-five?  Life was supposed to have been all about ‘Josephus’. Yet there is a huge gap here. Was the gap even bigger? What was this clever chap ‘Josephus’ doing during this time?  Having people on a piece of string writing under various aliases, like ‘Neil Godfrey’?

    • Anonymous

      There is no evidence that ‘Josephus’ ever practiced as a priest, although he says he was a priest.  So was he a prophet?  Was ‘Josephus’ on his way to Rome in the twenty-sixth year of his life. If he was a prophet being raised in Rome, then one would expect him to be on his way to Jerusalem, not Rome. He says that the reason he was going to Rome was because some friends of his who were supposedly priests had been “put into bonds and sent to plead their cause before Caesar.”  He is said to have wanted to have them set free. Was this an editors device to get ‘Josephus’ going from Jerusalem to Rome. The writer/editor obviously knew that ‘Josephus’ had some influence on Caesar, who I would suggest was Nero. 

      As a prophet he would have had prophet friends in Jerusalem. Were those friends being persecuted by the priests who were more numerous than the prophets. We are told that these friends, “were not unmindful of piety towards God, even under their afflictions, but supported themselves with figs and nuts”. (Life 3) These people were more than likely prophets, not priests.  Now it doesn’t sound as though these were harmful people, or that there was any liklihood of Caesar bringing any charges. People who lived on figs and nuts were vegetarian as distinct from priests who ate meat.   ‘Josephus’ had himself been initiated into the prophets years before with ‘hard fare’. ‘Josephus’ was on his way to Jerusalem, not Rome, to use his influence to help these prophets.   

      • Anonymous

        If ‘Josephus ‘ was on his way to Jerusalem, was it in the twenty-sixth year of his life?  Have we been given some duff information?  Why not the thirty-sixth year?  Then we would have a much bigger gap of approximately 16 years between the age of 19 and 35.  Could ‘Josephus’ have been James who was executed in 62 in Jerusalem?  Suppose James spent  two years in Jerusalem (like the fictitious Paul is said to have spent approximately two years in Rome), James (‘Josephus’), exactly the same age as Nero, would then have been 37.   

        • Anonymous

          Ah, but you say if ‘Josephus’ was James, and James was executed in 62, how could he have written War, or Antiquities for that matter.  The answer is that James (‘Josephus’) didn’t write War.  This was fabricated by later writers under Vespasian.  These writers also interfered with Antiquities which had been written in its original form by James.   

        • Anonymous

          So was the original Acts a part of Life?  Did it tell the story of the beginnings of the early movement of the Christianos in Rome?  And was it written in the first person by none other than James?  Did James write it somewhere between the ages of 19 and 35?   There is that actual gap in Life of approximately seven years, but I have suggested it could have been ten more years.   

          • Anonymous

            If James (‘Josephus’) came to Jerusalem, he came at a time when Ananus was high priest (Ant. 20.9.1) (not “Felix procurator of Judea” as in Life 3).  The sea journey in Life 3 is a complete fabrication.  Life 4 then fits – “And now I perceived that innovations were already begun….”  

            • Anonymous

              Returning to Acts 5.4:

              ‘Didn’t [it] {the land} belong to [you]
              {God} [before] {after} it was sold?  And [after]
              {before} it was sold wasn’t the money at your disposal?  What made you think of doing such a thing?  You have not lied to men but to God.” ‘ 

              • Anonymous

                Following-on from Acts 5:4, Mt.27:6-7:

                ‘The chief priests picked-up the coins and said, “It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.”  So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners.’

                • Anonymous

                  THE ORIGIN OF THE 30 PIECES OF SILVER PUT INTO THE TEMPLE TREASURY

                  Someone sold a ‘piece ‘ of land (you don’t sell a ‘piece’ of property, Acts 5:1).  Ananias (the high priest?) was the selling agent.  His wife was added by an editor to spice-up the story. It was some land probably owned by the temple in Rome. It was bought, probably by James (‘Josephus’), as a one-off. (Acts 4:37).  Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus (Acts 4:36) was a fabrication. So in the lead-up, the general selling of land and property (Acts 4:34) for the common good of the community was also a fabrication to prepare for the edited exaggerated story.  
                  The land was bought for a burial ground for ‘foreigners’ – Jews living in Rome.  There presumably was a pressing need for such a burial ground.  As the temple treasurer, Ananias would have acted as the selling agent.  He tried to profit but was found-out and had to put the money in the temple treasury. This was the origin of the ’30 pieces of silver’.

                  I have puzzled over Acts 5.4.  Clearly it does not make sense as it stands.  Perhaps a better version would be: 
                  ‘The land didn’t belong to you before it was sold.  And after it was sold the money was not at your disposal.’  Ananias couldn’t do just as he pleased with the money. 

                  Acts 4:36 about Joseph, was probably to do with the purchase of the land to help the community.  I can only think that the purchaser was James (‘Josephus’), he coming from a wealthy background. 

                     

  • http://twitter.com/BobOHara Bob O’Hara

    Just a quick question (which needs a long answer). What primary evidence is there that Alexander the Great existed?

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Bob, I think the short answer regarding Alexander is that we have good reason to think that there were once primary sources, but they only survive in the form in which they are quoted, reproduced and/or used by other later sources.

  • Geoff Hudson

    It is interesting to see that mythicists like “Vridar”, and scholars in general, are not prepared to accept that there was a period of Jewish prophetic history immediately before the production of the extanct New Testament.  Yet they are quite happy to make comparisons with the likes of Marcion, Tertullian and others who came after.  This is totally illogical.  The New Testament, or at least some of the books, were a development of earlier documents. 

    • Geoff Hudson

      In its original form Acts was obviously an autobiography.  It was written the first person as an “I” and “we” text.

      The person who stood up in Acts 2.14 was not Peter, but the writer of the text.  He was proclaiming the Spirit, not explaining a phenomenon of speaking in tongues.  Jesus was nowhere in his proclamation. His message  in Acts 2.17 and 2.18 was:  

      “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
      In the last days, God says, ‘I will pour
      out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your
      young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.  Even on my servants, both men and women,
      I will pour out my Spirit in those days ,and they will prophesy.”

      Then in Acts 2.22-38, the editor breaks into his speal about Jesus: “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of
      Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by wonders and signs, which God did
      among you through him, as you yourselves know…..” 

           

      • Geoff Hudson

        The text about Jesus in Acts 2.22-38 was an interpolation into the original text.  It is completely disjointed from the text before.   

      • Geoff Hudson

        I wrote: ‘In its original form Acts was obviously an autobiography.  It was written in the first person as an “I” and “we” text.’
        Acts 2.42-48 (Extant version in the third person)2.42.They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 2.43.Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.2.44.All the believers were together and had everything in common.  2.45.Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.  2.46.Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.  2.47.They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and pure hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. 2.48.And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.Acts 2.42-48 (My version in the first person)2.42.We devoted ourselves to the fellowship and to prayer. 2.43.Everyone was filled with the Spirit.2.44.All of us were together and had everything in common.  2.45.Selling our possessions and goods, we gave to anyone as he had need.  2.46.Every day we continued to meet together in the synagogue.  2.47.We ate together with glad and pure hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the brothers. 2.48.And the Lord added to our number daily.’The apostles teaching’ and ‘the breaking of bread’ (2.42) was a Christian interpolation, as was ‘those who were being saved’ (2.48).  These events happened to Jews and Jewish converts in a synagogue in Rome.  

        • Geoff Hudson

          It should be obvious by now that I think that the first sections of Life were constructed from what was the beginning of Acts.  Josephus was James.  Josephus never practised as a priest, never surrendered at Jotapata, was never a Jewish general in Galilee.   He was created mythical, and these stories are mythical.  James, the writer of original Antiquities practised as a prophet.  Josephus (James) is shown to be a prophet (see Josephus and Jewish Apocalyptism, Bilde, in Understanding Josephus, edited by Steve Mason).  

  • NateP

    guess no one’s added anything of value to this thread of late…sorry to see it die out without Jonathan seeing the error of his ways.  alas.


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