My Criticisms of Mythicism Must Be On Target

My criticisms of mythicism must be on target. At least, that seems to me to be the best explanation for why one of its well-known internet supporters, Neil Godfrey, has written a post offering accusations which are so off target that I regard them as laughable rather than genuinely slanderous, and asked me to “honorably step down” from the discussion.

Godfrey has in the past even stooped to name-calling, and yet when someone offers substantive criticism of mythicism, he regularly resorts to accusing them of not being civil.

He is either an extremely adept and cunning individual who knows what to try in order to try to gain sympathy for his views, or he is out of his mind. I am not in a position to offer a diagnosis one way or another. All I can say is that I do not recognize myself in his accusations, and I believe that his post is simply yet another example of the ploy of conspiracy theorists to blame their critics and detractors, rather than the unconvincing nature of their own claims, for the fact that those claims fail to persuade. What do others think?

For those who want some useful insights into how scholarship of a variety of sorts works – from physics to biology to history – here are some useful posts I’ve found around the blogosphere.

Science Could Have It All Wrong, But.. (on assumptions in the natural sciences)

One person’s crap is another person’s treasure (on archaeological discovery)

Conversations on methods in historical criticism:
On the contradiction between “multiple attestation” and “embarrassment” in Historical Jesus Research
Why the Criterion of Embarrassment is Inadequate
Where single attestation is preferable to multiple attestation

John Hobbins and Scott Bailey have an exchange around words of Alvin Plantinga.

And specifically on mythicism, see Tom Verenna’s response to my latest installment in my review of Earl Doherty’s book. John Loftus has a post that is also relevant: some evidence may seem to support this view or that, and so it is disconfirming evidence that is usually the crux of the matter when it comes to the plausibility o otherwise of a point of view.

Unreasonable Faith discusses the fact that the internet unleashes an undifferentiated flood of information both reliable and bogus on its users. Ted Herrlich shares AiG’s response to a recent Doonesbury cartoon. Hemant Mehta highlights a new institution in Idaho that probably needs two sets of scare quotes inserted into its name, around “science” and “museum.”

Finally, see Pat McCullough’s question on whether “Biblical scholars” is the best term for people in our field.

  • http://tomverenna.wordpress.com/ Tom Verenna

    Great roundup James, Thanks.

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

    Yeah, he’s been staying up to late. The appeal to the academy that your scholarly in you dismissal of Doherty is hilarious. Next he will be petitioning the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science over the injustice done when Crocodile Dundee was not considered for best movie; “why not just put a disclaimer at the begging of the show, “We Hate Australian Cinema”.

  • Brad Matthies

    fyi that first link goes to a “page not found”

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

      Does it work now?

  • Pingback: Dispraxis

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

    McGrath wrote: “He is either an extremely adept and cunning individual who knows what to try in order to try to gain sympathy for his views, or he is out of his mind. I am not in a position to offer a diagnosis one way or another. All I can say is that I do not recognize myself in his accusations, and I believe that his post is simply yet another example of the ploy of conspiracy theorists to blame their critics and detractors, rather than the unconvincing nature of their own claims, for the fact that those claims fail to persuade. What do others think?”

    Neil: This illustrates the point I made in my post. James, if you cannot avoid imputing sinister motives or insanity to me then maybe it is time to have a think that you just might be not giving me a fair chance. Which of your actions and words that I listed do you not recognize as yours? We have a long weekend coming up and I might be able to attach hyperlinks to each one to refresh your memory.

    Since my original post I have posted one more to help anyone disinterested to get a handle on what you are saying about me and your failure to conform to professional expectations.

    You have said you know you will find Doherty’s arguments implausible before you even read them, yet have ridiculed me when you admitted I made a particular argument sound plausible. You have made many accusations about Doherty’s arguments, but have justified your refusal to explain or address them by saying they are mere “wrapping” for something else. You have declined to respond to criticisms where I or others — including Doherty himself — quote you the evidence that you have made false assertions about what Doherty has written. How do you justify any of this? How do your colleagues remain silent or even mutter approval when aware of such conduct on your part?

  • Anonymous

    My criticisms of mythicism must be on target.

    Can the validity of an argument really be inferred from the animosity it inspires?  

  • http://atheisticgod.blogspot.com/ Tommy Baker

    I am sorry but while I have seen plausible mythicist presentations that does not mean I find them probable,.  I would love to see one that actually carries all of the disrupted factors into some meaningful theory or interpretation. What I see are the unified pieces of known facts held together in a typical biblical critical presentation.  When a mythicist makes a claim it is typically to a core element such as that Jesus never lived,. The texts are not as old as claimed.

    Known dependencies of the gospels and the theological justification for those dependencies go out the window.  The grounding of eschatology into a Second Temple Judaism is ruined by the mythicist  positing the origins in a second century Hellenism.  The ties of the  Ebionites to the early Jewish Jesus Movement is left hanging in limbo along with their very historical portrait of Jesus, a human being that obviously was made a myth a hundred years after his death.

    The anterior motive that are seen and determined long as fact in Acts suddenly must be seen as an attempt to historicise jesus rather than make the Jewish followers look like they accepted a divine character invented by Paul.  I would love to see how all the nice elements of history that are tidied up by a common historical critical analysis and hopelessly jumbled by the time frames of the mythicists are somehow meaningfully alligned by a view that lacks coherence of its on hermeneutic and contextualization of its narrative in a real world Second  Temple hotbed that seems the natural oven that cooked up the story and is still warm from the coals that evidence the Jewish flavor of the Christian loaf we still examine.

    A later applied Judaism of the mythicist theory gives us an unrealistic diaspora that feigns an origin of before the Temple’s destruction, that created worn out eschatology and made it seem older than it was to such an extent that it must create a hermeneutic to justify a failed second coming though which just recently invented was placed in the dark ages of a previous century. We must revision Paul as a lier at best with no real followers of Jesus in Jerusalem to make war.

    We must wonder why such a story would look back a century to find characters like Pilot, Herod and the Baptist. Surely a docetic and Gnostic Jesus would have done the trick for a mythicist Jesus for better than  some bumbling Nazarene from an area not well liked and whose accents were more of a comedy relief if not factual.  I would really love to see a theory carry all of the diverse buts of history to the workshop of a mythicist construction crew.

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

    @Neil Godfrey, I don’t understand what you are getting at with your claim that I supposedly aid I know I will find Doherty’s arguments implausible before I read them. When and where did I say this? Are you suggesting that I should not have read his Internet materials before reading his book, because they gave me an initial impression? You have been willing to accept and quote praise for Doherty offered by someone who had not even read that much. I really don’t get what your point is, but if you are claiming that I have judged Dohery’s views before encountering them, then that is false. I reject them because I find them unpersuasive having encountered them, and not for any other reason.

    • http://atheisticgod.blogspot.com/ Tommy Baker

      The basis of information for the proposition that Jesus is the Christ is suspect. Unlike the mythicist’s view of a mythological origins we find a movement from human to legendary. The intentional re-workings of the Gospels by their authors are responses to historical events. The mythological elements are the later work of Paul and those that influenced him attached to the legendary aspects that are reflected in the Gospels. While the Gospels are later in writing than the authentic Pauline Epistles, they have a closer geographic and ethnic origin to Jesus and his followers than Paul and the Hellenistic mythological language.

      The discrepancies in the Gospels can be analyzed for motivation by the authors. For example John changed the time of the crucifixion reflected in Matthew so that esus’s death in his Gospel would coincide with the slaughter of the lambs. This in turn builds the theological theme that Jesus is the Passover Lamb and proposing that Jesus is a sacrifice for sin. These dependencies are often minor but are cumulative and add up to significance.

      Looking at the various re-workings of Mark by Matthew and Luke shows that they had an agenda to overcome;
      the idea that Jesus was a disciple of John the Baptist, to create an apology for why he would have been baptized for the remission of sin, and to subordinate the Baptist to Jesus as a precursor. Matthew drops the statement from Mark that John’s baptism was for the remission of sin. Again we see the human Jesus of Mark elevated in the later gospels’ re-workings.

      Looking at the way Matthew handles various texts one can see the elimination of normal human behavior from
      Mark’s presentation to a more supernatural figure. Mark’s “Why do you call Me good? There is none good but God.” is reworked to “Why do you ask me about the good?” For now with the addition of the virgin birth Matthew presents Jesus with supernatural powers and born with the Holy Spirit. He knows the thoughts of others unlike in Mark 5:21ff, when he questions, “Who touched my garment?” Like God in Matthew, Jesus is now good. The Gospel of John will make Jesus the very incarnation of God’s reason as Logos, the Word.

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

      McGrath, here is what you wrote in your “review” of chapter 9: “I know that Doherty will later in the book offer his own implausible attempt to eliminate any trace of a historical Jesus from these passages.”

      You “know” that what you “will” read “later in the book” will be “implausible”.

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

      McGrath continues with his unscholarly ad hominem and misrpresentation. He accuses me of having “been willing to accept and quote praise for Doherty offered by someone who had not even read that much.” This is not only a slur against me but also against Steven Davies who, McGrath might note, is not a mythicist, and who expressed some disagreements and questions — in a professional scholarly manner without ad hominem. Davies had followed a lot of discussion and engagement with Earl Doherty and actually knew most of his core arguments.

      McGrath has not yet demonstrated that he has understood any argument by Doherty yet.

      So seeing McGrath is still insisting on using insult and personal attack I ask him once again what his position is on Lester Grabbe’s thoughts about ad hominem in scholarly debate: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/07/16/pseudo-scholarship-such-comments-do-not-belong-in-scholarly-writing-or-debate/

      • http://atheisticgod.blogspot.com/ Tommy Baker

        Why don’t you sum up Doherty for us. I have read him and find it only mildly plausible and quite improbable. Show us the merit of the argument can you? Or is it simply a book or two that you hold dear and cherish and have faith in?  The improbablity of his claim I have addressed a number of times.  And you guys do not seem to answer the questions asked. You just spout out doctrine. Give TO ME a viable presentation that shows Jesus was a fabrication and later diminished by other movements to a human such as by the Ebionites and Theodotus. Show me a coherent piece of theory that accounts for commonly known facts that have been established for over a 100 years.

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

    Is a discussion with the Vridar gang scholarly? If so who isn’t? In my interactions with them, I see no reason why a conversation with them should be any thing but insults and personal attacks, what serious argument do they present? They simply aren’t respectable discussion partners.  

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

      Anyone wanting to consult Michael Wilson’s exchanges on my blog need only ask and I can direct them to all the posts where he has commented and see the lie in his comment here for themselves. 

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

    @Neil Godfrey, no, I know that when I have read ahead to the pages Doherty cross-refenced later in the book, he offers weak and unpersuasive arguments, and nothing that makes his case seem more persuasive in this edition of his book than in the earlier one or his online sources.

    I find the complaints that I am not responding quickly enough, especially when we are in such different time zones, offensive.

    I also find the attempt to pretend you occupy a moral high ground from which you can appropriately lecture to others about their tone or rhetoric offensive. Have you offered me a personal apology for your past name-calling and ridicule which didn’t reach me?

    Your hypocrisy in demanding from others what you do not practice yourself, and and accusing others of things that you yourself have done, is not going to make someone eager to attempt to engage in a rational conversation with you. I’m always willing to try, but these tactics of yours don’t give the impression that it will be more worthwhile than past attempts.

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

      McGrath wrote: “no, I know that when I have read ahead to the pages Doherty cross-refenced later in the book, he offers weak and unpersuasive arguments, and nothing that makes his case seem more persuasive in this edition of his book than in the earlier one or his online sources.”

      Neil: Well that’s an explanation now but not once have you indicated in your reviews that you read ahead, but you have always said that you will wait, like Doherty, till you come to that bit. True?

      McGrath: I find the complaints that I am not responding quickly enough, especially when we are in such different time zones, offensive.

      Neil: I don’t know or recall what you are referring to here.

      McGrath: I also find the attempt to pretend you occupy a moral high ground from which you can appropriately lecture to others about their tone or rhetoric offensive. Have you offered me a personal apology for your past name-calling and ridicule which didn’t reach me?

      Neil: I called you McDaft once. I expressed regret publicly more than once. I have never repeated it. You said you would stop your insults and return to scholarly decorum but have returned to your old ways.

      McGrath: Your hypocrisy in demanding from others what you do not practice yourself, and and accusing others of things that you yourself have done, is not going to make someone eager to attempt to engage in a rational conversation with you. I’m always willing to try, but these tactics of yours don’t give the impression that it will be more worthwhile than past attempts.

      Neil: I wrote you that I was prepared to put the past behind us. But since then you have continued with the unscholarly barbs.

  • http://atheisticgod.blogspot.com/ Tommy Baker

    There is plenty. Let me ask you what is the earliest manuscript
    of Plato? Of Herodotus or Pliny? Or Caesar? Of Tacitus? I get so tired
    of this no manuscripts before the second century dribble by mythicists.
    It is unmitigated asininity.

    Author Written Earliest Copy Time Span # Mss.
    Caesar 100-44 B.C. 900 A.D. 1,000 yrs 10
    Plato 427-347 B.C. 900 A.D. 1,200 yrs 7
    Thucydides 460-400 B.C. 900 A.D. 1,300 yrs 8
    Tacitus 100 A.D. 1100 A.D. 1,000 yrs 20
    Suetonius 75-160 A.D. 950 A.D. 800 yrs 8
    Homer (Iliad) 900 B.C. 400 B.C. 500 yrs 643
    New Testament 40-100 A.D.125 A.D. 25-50 yrs 24,000

    Loftus,
    McGrath and even I have years of textual critical experience. I am
    amazed how a slogan is better received than fact. It seems to be as John pointed out a matter of religion rather than evidence. It seems like a bunch of believers or politicians arguing rather than historical experts. It is as John Loftus has said in the past, “a waste of time and information.” As you can see above we have very late manuscripts for the majority of historical documents we study and attempt to construct the
    actual readings. I just can not say how silly that slogan of nothing from the first century sounds. The manuscripts are easily dated to the first century by there content, their form and their known history.

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

    Warning: I found out that Tom Verenna has been deleted 5 of my postings on his blog entry ‘Defining Mythicism: Paul, Jesus, and Understanding the Context’
    Here is the content of two of them:
    1) “Tom, about the Pauline scholars who would disagree that Paul thought that Adam, Abraham, Sarah & Hagar, Isaac, Isau, Jacob, Moses, Jesse and David were historical, that is as humans on earth, or at least presented that way to his audience, can you name some?
    What would be their main arguments?”

    2) “I wrote: “Here is some examples were “likeness” is used for mainly Docetist appearances on earth of gods, but sometimes fully human being believed to have being pre-existent in heaven under a different form:”
    Tom wrote: “You’ve really only proved my point. Thanks.”
    BM: And what point did I prove? I have three examples where humans (Xerxes, Paul & Barnabas, Nero) are thought to be either Zeus or Beliar under human form. That very similar to a human Jesus being in human form the pre-existent heavenly Son of God.”

    • http://RichGriese.NET Rich Griese

      @BernardMuller:disqus Tom has a history of this. 

      Cheers!

  • http://RichGriese.NET Rich Griese

    Jim is a known apologist for supernaturalism. It might be better to seek out others for those that want critiques of those that question the theory that there was a historical jesus.

    Cheers!

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

    @Rich Griese, you have made this claim before, and I have indicated that I am a skeptic when it comes to the supernatural, far from being an apologist for it. Do I have to ban you from this blog, or will you stop making false claims about me? I think given the long history of your doing this, I think a ban is appropriate. If you wish, you can contact me and let me know if at some point you have a change of heart and want to limit yourself to leaving honest comments.

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

    I have no problem with people deleting long winded, irrelevant comments. I wish there were more deleting here. Rich how many of your deleted comments were just attempts to direct people to your blog?

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

    At my blog post in which I cited what I believe to be McGrath’s failings in relation to Doherty I have now posted McGrath’s explanation for one of those points. (He has explained that when he wrote: “I know that Doherty will later in the book offer his own implausible attempt to eliminate any trace of a historical Jesus from these passages,” that he did not mean to suggest that he had not yet read those arguments later in the book.

    I will be quite prepared to make significant changes to the post if it can be shown that other points I made are false.

    On my first point, perhaps McGrath can confirm whether he did or did not write a scathing review of Doherty’s book for amazon.com before he had read more than a small fraction of it?

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

    @Neil Godfrey, you say that your approach to this discussion has changed, and yet you assumed that because I have been blogging through Doherty’s book chapter by chapter, if I refer to something later in the book and seem to know what is coming, I am expressing prejudice rather than indicating what was actually the case, namely that when Doherty has made reference to later parts of the book, I have looked up and read the cross-references.

    How is this different than your attitude and approach to mainstream historical scholarship in general, and interaction with me in particular, in the past?

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

      Because if you must know, to be honest, you gave yourself away again in your explanation by comparing specific arguments in D’s book with their expressions in another you have not read. (One reviewer has actually said he found something better in the first book.) You do it a lot, James. Or did you NOT write a scathing review of a book you had only begun to read for Amazon? See? It’s your habit. You just do that sort of thing with respect to mythicist or Doherty’s positions.

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

    Can you reword that so that I can understand what it is you are accusing me of?

    How far does one have to read in a book – be it a novel or a painfully inept attempt to make a case for an unscholarly and unsubstantiated position – in order to draw the conclusion that it is garbage that one should not waste their time on? Even if I had not read ahead, I don’t think that anything I wrote would be inappropriate – but since I have read ahead, I know that some of what is coming is even worse than the poor level of argumentation that has been offered up until chapter 9, the point my blogging has reached.

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

      If the arguments are so poor then why can’t you outline them so the readers of your review can see for themselves how poor they are? Yet you say you don’t want to do that because you might be interpreted as giving respectability to them? Can’t you outline them and then point out how poor they are? That’s what evolutionists do with creationist arguments. It is the creationists who avoid presenting the evolution arguments for fear people might consider them respectable, and then simply attack and ridicule them as you do mythicism.

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

    I have been summarizing Doherty’s arguments and claims. Haven’t you read any of the posts in my series blogging through the book? I know that you have, because you have consistently looked for ways to put a more positive spin on Doherty’s claims than my own presentation. But the fact that I continue to be unimpressed with Doherty’s claims, and in some instances find them to be of absolutely no scholarly historical merit, obviously doesn’t mean that my summaries and critiques are for some reason by definition less accurate than yours.

    Take a look at the Uncommon Descent blog, and you will find a small group of bloggers who are persuaded that a comparably small group of critics of evolution are being unfairly ridiculed, and put a positive spin on what those proponents of Intelligent Design write.

    The fact that you think I am being unfair to Doherty and that my failing to find his work genuinely insightful is due to my own narrow-mindedness, does not necessarily mean that you are right about those points.

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

       You did not respond to the content of my comment, James: I said, “If the arguments are so poor then why can’t you outline them so the
      readers of your review can see for themselves how poor they are? Yet you
      say you don’t want to do that because you might be interpreted as
      giving respectability to them? Can’t you outline them and then point out
      how poor they are? That’s what evolutionists do with creationist
      arguments. It is the creationists who avoid presenting the evolution
      arguments for fear people might consider them respectable, and then
      simply attack and ridicule them as you do mythicism.”

      Of course my saying I think one thing doesn’t mean it is so. Agreed.

      Of course your saying you are unimpressed doesn’t mean that your views or claims are wrong.

      But don’t you teach students when doing a serious review that they should present the arguments of the one they are reviewing and then demonstrate why they are right or wrong? Is not that the way of scholarly reviews?

      It is a basic trick used by counsellors to improve communication — and a wise practice of anyone — to sum up what the other has said to be sure that one has understood it and can assure the other one has understood it before replying.

      But you have never done that with my arguments (I have been asking you to do this for some time now and you always avoid doing so) — and you have failed completely to do the same with Doherty’s argument — and have even said you are justified in doing so because you don’t want to give the arguments credibility.

      Is that the scholarly standard?

      Now, read again what I said and see if you can sum it up accurately and then respond appropriately.

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

    When I have blogged about Earl Doherty’s book, or other topics related to mythicism, I have indicated what I understand mythicists to be saying. When I could scarcely believe that someone would seriously make such claims, I tempered my interpretation with the word “seems” and you made so much of it that I could scarcely believe that you were in your right mind to focus on my cautiousness rather than on the substance of my post.

    I do not find myself able to relate to the analogy between a married couple seeking counseling and our blog interactions. But I will say that sometimes the issue is on the end of the one communicating, and when what the other party repeats back to them isn’t what they meant, it was because of how they communicated themselves.

    Has it ever crossed your mind that if mythicists want mainstream scholars to take mythicism seriously, belittling mainstream scholarship and insulting mainstream scholars might not be the best way to go about it?

  • http://www.facebook.com/JohnMacDonald76 John Macdonald

    There are some cases where multiple attestation is hard to argue with.  Consider Paul:  For example, the “Kingdom of God” motif appears in Mark, Q, the Gospel of the Hebrews, special Lucan tradition, and John, with echoes in Paul, despite the fact that ‘Kingdom of God’ is not Paul’s preferred way of speaking.

  • http://www.facebook.com/JohnMacDonald76 John Macdonald

    A second test is “against the grain of the Gospels”: a passage that seems to be contrary to one of the main themes or views expressed in one or more Gospels is likely to be authentic because the early Christians were not likely to have created material with which they disagreed. Matthew’s depiction of John the Baptist is a good example. The author apparently found it to be embarrassing that Jesus received John’s baptism of repentance (why would Jesus have needed it?). Thus, he has John protest against the baptism and claim that Jesus should instead baptize him (Matthew 3:13–17; this objection is not in Mark or Luke). These verses in Matthew assume that John recognized Jesus as being greater than he, but Matthew later shows John, in prison, sending a message to ask Jesus whether he was “the one who is to come” (Matthew 11:2–6). These passages make it virtually certain that John baptized Jesus and highly probable that John asked Jesus who he was. John’s protest against baptizing Jesus appears to be Matthew’s creation. In keeping these passages while, in effect, arguing against them, Matthew validates the authenticity of the tradition that John baptized Jesus and later enquired about his true identity. Encyclopedia Brittanica, 2009


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