Mythicist Qum(i)!

Neil Godfrey posted today about Maurice Casey’s treatment of the story of the raising of Jairus’ daughter. Casey very carefully defines what a historian (as opposed to a believer in a religious tradition) can say about an account of a “miracle,” and that the performance of a “remarkable deed” by someone believed to be endowed with special power by, or in close contact with, a deity, is something that historians need not dismiss (Maurice Casey, Jesus of Nazareth, p.239). Indeed, even today one can find eyewitnesses who will testify to having witnessed the raising of the dead, the healing of all sorts of illnesses, and the driving out of demons. And so it is clear that there is no particular reason why a historian needs to doubt that people believed that Jesus did such things, and that they believed they saw him do such things. Whether from our perspective we wish to invoke as explanations for what they saw such things as psychosomatic illnesses, misdiagnosis, psychological and psychiatric factors, hypnosis and/or mass hysteria is another issue.

Godfrey’s post, like most of his posts on the subject of mythicism, nicely illustrates the “illness” that is at the heart of mythicism: a chronic inability to realize that rejecting the possibility of miracles doesn’t require rejection of the possibility that ancient people (like quite a few modern ones) believed miracles could occur, or that rejecting the messianic status of Jesus doesn’t require rejecting the historical conclusion that his followers, or perhaps even Jesus himself, held such beliefs about him.

Whether any faith healer can heal mythicists of this illness, or any proponent of rational thought or historical methods can exorcise the demon that seemingly possesses them, is another question. As for me, I’ll believe it when I see it. :-)

  • Hjalti

    If I understand this post correctly you seem to think that Neil is saying: “We know that people don’t rise from the dead, so the story of Jairus’ daughter can’t be true.” Is that correct? Where does Neil say that?

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

    Well, he fails to make any distinction between the question of what a historian might say people in the past genuinely believed happened, and what actually happened. He quotes Casey writing about the story being “literally true” without providing Casey’s clarification about in what sense he means this. If I have misunderstood what is behind Godfrey’s misconstrual of Casey’s book, I’m open to being corrected about this.

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

    My post is not a mythicist argument at all. Repeat. It is not an argument for mythicism. Where does McGrath see that in my post?

    My argument is nothing more than a critique of a “methodology” that lacks logical and historiographical validity. It exposes the intellectual bankruptcy of quite a few historical Jesus scholars.

    The argument that Jesus did not raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead or something else is found among mainstream biblical scholars. Some mainstream biblical scholars identify the source of the narrative to be from something the author read about Elijah or Elisha. There are several lines of argument that give us good reason for believing the story to be pious fiction. I will post on these or point to where I have already done so.

    If McGrath is going to jump on every post of mine as a mythicist argument then he is going to be jumping all over many of his mainstream scholarly colleagues whose works I am discussing.

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

    Are you going to point out where I have misrepresented Casey or just do a Steph and be content with accusing me of misrepresentation? I have cited the pages and linked to the Google books source. What part of “literally true” did I misconstrue?

  • Hjalti

    Neil’s misconstrual? :S

    I’m pretty sure that Neil is aware of the difference between believing in actual miracles vs people thinking that they witnessed miracles. He doesn’t mention that in this post, but why should he? The post isn’t about that. 

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

      Hjalti: “I’m pretty sure that Neil is aware of the difference between believing in actual miracles vs people thinking that they witnessed miracles. He doesn’t mention that in this post, but why should he? The post isn’t about that.”

      Neil: Casey’s argument is that if a story is plausible given what we know of the setting at the time and place then we must consider it historical. McGrath appears to be thinking that if I accepted that others genuinely believed in miracles then I would understand that and accept its likely historicity.

      Anything less in Casey’s mind is as good as anti-religious bias. It’s the old fallacy of “can’t think why not” approach to what is historical. Because this story is the sort of story we might reasonably expect someone might write about a hero figure like Jesus then we would be narky not to accept it as true. And if we see the author writing an Aramaic word as it would have been pronounced then we are definitely at the bedrock of what is “literally true”.

      This is total sham. It sets much of what passes for biblical scholarship in the scholarly fraud bin. This sort of undiscipline has no place in publicly funded universities.

       

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

        “And if we see the author writing an Aramaic word as it would have been pronounced then we are definitely at the bedrock of what is “literally true”.”

        But that does not make it untrue either, but rather a good point in favor of authenticity. So I see no reason to call that a “total sham” or a “scholarly fraud”, except, of course, if Casey is wrong about ‘kom’ and ‘komi’. 

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

          Bernard, you are correct about Neil’s selectivity when it comes to what passes for good scholarship, basically the more it supports mythicism, the better it is irrespective of the logic of it’s arguments or veracity of its’ claims. But in the narrow sense we are talking about Casey here, and he does seem too convinced by the evidence. It isn’t uncommon among scholars, but he isn’t wrong to point that out. It would, though, make it easier to take him seriously if he applied the same level of criticism to those who he feels supports his position, since I don’t see evidence that New Testament scholars support every argument that could be used to support Jesus’ existance.

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

            I agree that Casey went too far when he declared the whole story about Jairus and his daughter to be true from beginning to end, mostly based on the Aramaic ‘qum’ and ‘qumi’. This is not good scholarship. So Neil is right on that point.
            I found out that most of the time “Mark” mixed fictions with facts (as reported by eyewitness(es)), not only within pericope, but very often within the same verse.
            Therefore I think it is wrong to reject a whole pericope or verse because some suspected fiction (with a purpose according to the author agenda!) is detected in them. I also think it is wrong to accept a whole pericope or verse as true because something in them “prove” authenticity.

  • http://detheologized.wordpress.com John Anngeister

    Jairus’ daughter is an odd example I think for Casey to take a stand on, and Godfrey could do better too - because this is one of those stories that actually contains a denial by Jesus himself that a miracle has occured.  And a strong admonition by him to keep a lid on assumptions as well.  What does a guy have to do to make it clearer?

    So Jesus lost control of the spin, but it’s not clear at all that miracle was the issue for him - it’s quite enough that a little girl has been revived before being buried alive.

    The story just sucks as an example of recorded miracle. Because once the ‘miracle version’ of such events is out in the community, we all know damage control is fruitless.  It’s likely to get repeated often enough by the ‘witnesses’ to get picked up in a collection of accounts compiled after the main actor is gone.

    I hope nobody accuses me of standard ‘rationalist’ interpretation, because I’m not bringing anything into the picture here that isn’t already on the face of it.

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

    Despite the embellishments, I think the story about Jairus’ daughter is partly true.
    At first, Jesus was called upon because the girl was ill. Then it got known the girl died. But was she? I think the story of the epilectic boy who looked dead but was not (Mk9:14-27) was misplaced and happened before.
    So Jesus may have thought of something similar and still tried to “revive” that girl. With the parent and some disciples in the room, after pronouncing those words in Aramaic, he forcefully raised the girl (it worked for the boy and Peter’s mother-in-law!). One problem: the girl was dead and remained dead!
    An eyewitness must have told the story to Mark’s community (in Aramaic but translated in Greek all along). But after reporting Jesus’ words to the girl, he may have become troubled and silent (possibly purposely: his audience wanted to hear a miracle story but the teller did not want to lie).
    Of course “Mark” wanted the girl to resurrect in his gospel. But how to explain that was not known before, from anyone? By having Jesus give a gag order not only to his disciples but also to the parents (because the parents were in the room, as told by the eyewitness). That’s where it becomes awkward: how could the parents keep the resurrection a secret, proceed to a false burial, etc.? So it is very unlikely Jesus would be so stupid to command that to the parents. So my “solution” is probably valid: the girl did not get alive, the eyewitness’ audience was left wondering because of the final silence, “Mark” had to explain why nobody heard about the resurrection.
    But why would an eyewitness (I think Peter in Corinth) tell that story? Probably to show that even educated people were requesting healing from Jesus, not only the low-class variety.   

  • Anonymous

    One has to wonder what the role of 2 Kings 4 was in the development of this story in the Gospel of Mark. Dr. McGrath, do you think the author of Mark was aware of this story?

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

      In 2 Kings 4, Elisha does not allow the parents in the boy’s room, his healing method is very different of Jesus’ one, and Elisha does not give a gag order to the parents.
      “Mark” likely wished the eyewitness did not tell the parents were in the daughter’s room: that would have made Jesus’ gag order a lot less ridiculous!  

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

    I think  “I give reasons why there should be no doubt that the whole of this healing narrative [the raising of the daughter of Jairus in Mark 5] is literally true, and that it is dependent ultimately on an eyewitness account by one of the inner circle of the three of the Twelve,” is the focal point of Neil’s ire. A person may or may not believe that this was a historical event and doubt the message of the sentence, so the specific augments for and against is authenticity may not be answering the core question . He says you should have no doubt the healing was s a literally true story. I’m not sure that the problem is with the “literally true”, I think it is the no doubt part, And it does seem from reading this, Maurice wants us to feel confident the evidence leads to this conclusion, but I think one could still doubt it, it hardly seems undeniable.

    I’m not familiar with the work, James, what is Casey talking about here?

    Neil, I think it hilarious that you get so offended at the notion that your arguments are made to further mythicism. I don’t think it is mystery that they do (–it is your only consistent criteria for judging scholarship relating to alleged histories in the Bible) , but you make such a play show of being unbiased.

  • steven

    Maurice Casey claims that ‘Mark’ was bilingual in Aramaic and Greek, and that any Aramaisms found in Mark are evidence he was using authentic sources.

    Yes, and any German found in the Hitler Diaries are evidence that Konrad Kujau , a long time resident of Stuttgart, had authentic sources.

    On page 270 of his book ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ ,Professor Maurice Casey of the University of Nottingham writes ‘Jesus’ use of saliva will have encouraged the man, who will have heard and felt Jesus’ spitting in his eyes, and who will also have been aware of the healing properties ascribed to saliva. The saliva will also have removed dirt and dried secretions from the eyelids. ‘

    As well as being an expert on reading Aramaic documents he has not seen, Maurice Casey is also an expert on curing cataracts. Apparently, you can cure blind people quite easily.

    One thing you can do is spit on their eyes. Saliva removes dirt and dried secretions.

    Washing your face is certainly something a blind person can try. Make sure your hands are clean before washing your face though , or there is a danger that you might just be adding to the dirt and dried secretions on your eyelids.

    How much are the University of Nottingham going to charge students for this kind of scholarship?

    From 2012, you will have to pay 9000 pounds to be able to claim that your Professor is the renowned Maurice Casey.

    Save your money.

    • TruthOverfaith

      Yeah, Casey’s blather about Jesus’ supposed knowledge of saliva’s effects on the cataract that was obviously! in this mans eye was truly bizarre.

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

    @Neil Godfrey, your post is at least a mythicist post in the sense that it is on your predominantly mythicist blog, and will inevitably be repeated by your mythicist readers. :-). But beyond that, it shows the same anti-scholarly disdain for mainstream methods, coupled with a failure to propose better or at least other ones, that typifies mythicism in particular and pseudoscholarship in general, which led me to view this as just one more problematic expression of your overall viewpoint. If you have somehow managed to compartamentalize your mythicist stance when writing this post, congratulations, but I am not yet persuaded.

    The similarities with the story in Kings are, on the one hand, precisely the sorts of things that one would expect to find and does find across a large number of miracle stories – touching to heal, for instance; and on the other hand, are a common way for authors to highlight Jesus’ similarity, in their eyes, to a famous ancient figure from literature. That similarities have been added or accentuated doesn’t mean either that there is no historical core, nor even that some of the similar details were necessarily ahistorical.

    But the heart of the issue is that Casey is offering reasoning that is typical of the attempt of historians to assess the historicity of information in ancient sources. It is always possible to doubt – and so Casey’s hyperbole is unhelpful at this point – but if we doubt everything that can be doubted in history then there is absolutely nothing left. Nada. Zilch. And so if your stance is that we should abandon the historical enterprise altogether, that’s your prerogative, but I for one think that a cautious, critical approach that tempers excessive skepticism with deductive reasoning is preferable.

    @John, I think Casey may like this example precisely because it illustrates that miracle stories could arise from stories of the non-miraculous, and need not have been pure fabrications.

    @Steven, presumably it is obvious that people today still claim to have been cured by acupuncture, homeopathy, as well as the healing touch of a miracle worker. That in ancient times people occasionally got better after being touched by a miracle-working prophetic figure is very likely, although from a modern perspective these will be judged to not be causally related, psychosomatic, or in other ways non-miraculous. This is just an instance of historical reasoning – i.e. assuming that what happened in the past is akin to what happens today. That ancient “miracles” would not pass muster in a double blind study or win the Randi prize if brought into our time does not mean they are ahistorical, does it?

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

      McGrath, your obsession with mythicism is distorting your ability to read what I post. I probably post about one in ten or even fewer posts on mythicism, and out of 200 responses to a poll it appears only a minority of readers of my blog are mythicists, and you surely are aware of my own repeated posts explaining exactly what my blog is about and what my motives and interests are.

      It is you who have complained in the past that I have not presented a complete or cogent case for mythicism and have ridiculed my explanations for why I don’t despite my repeated explanations that that is not where I am at. Are you so desperate for someone to attack that you are determined to see giants in windmills?

      Yes I do defend Doherty and others when I see their arguments have been distorted. But I do not have to agree with Doherty myself on everything to do that.

      Yes, posts in which I do address mythicism do seem to attract your attention more than others, and some people do seem to refer to them a lot.

      But if you opened your eyes a little you would also see that there are many people who also link to and draw attention to other posts, too, most of which do not relate to mythicism.

      Yes, I do sometimes point out where a certain non-mythicist argument can have implications for mythicism. But I always make it clear in such cases if the original author is not a mythicist. And I also make clear my interest in understanding and sharing the more general arguments of biblical scholarship from a rationalist-liberal-secular perspective.

      It is you and a few others of your cheer squad who have chosen to see mythicism in everything I write though it is not my interest in many posts at all.

      Look at my categories and see how many authors (mostly biblical scholars) I have discussed and you will see relatively few relating to mythicism.

      I do favour mythicism and do not resile from that. But it is a conclusion I come to and address occasionally as a result of studying other aspects of biblical studies.

      But you are just being silly when you attack posts of mine even when they merely discuss what your own biblical scholarship publishes! You are letting your obsession show.

      As for being anti-scholarly and not offering an alternative methodology, again you are just talking nonsense. You know very well — you have attacked the relevant posts or chosen to ignore them though I have directed you to them many times — that I argue very clearly for a methodical scholarly alternative — the same one used by mainstream historians, including a significant number of Old Testament historians.

      You are not a historian and you are being pretentious to say you are. You have demonstrated repeatedly your ignorance of the way historical studies are conducted in nonbiblical fields and have no idea about the philosophy of history as it has evolved and is discussed today. Your attempts to discuss Hobsbawm have only embarrassed you in the eyes of anyone who has read Hobsbawm, or at least who has read beyond the first edition of his book on bandits.

      Most theologians are not historians and only say they are. The methods many of your colleagues use are invalid or fallacious according to the scholars within your own discipline. And Casey’s special pleading is only one example of the embarrassments your field produces. But you are hardly in a position to argue otherwise since you have even demonstrated repeatedly your inability to handle arguments based on formal logic. By your own admission formal logic is a mystery to you.

      I suggest you continue to read my blog, especially those on historical method. Those posts are not about mythicism. They are about a constructive alternative to the undiscipline  and fallacies that underpin current historical Jesus scholarship. If valid methods that are consistent with the methods of history practiced beyond your enclave of biblical studies open the door to mythicism, then you need to have the courage to face up to that if you are intellectually honest.

      • Mikew

        Funny stuff

  • steven

    ‘That similarities have been added or accentuated doesn’t mean either that there is no historical core, nor even that some of the similar details were necessarily ahistorical.’

    Strange, because Maurice Casey, in the same book, uses similarities to miracle stories in Kings to trash the historicity of some miracle stories in the Gospels.

    Why do these methods work when Casey uses them, but identical methods fail when mythicists use them?

  • Anonymous

    Dr. McGrath, what distinguishes the arguments you are making regarding similarities between the healing of Jairus’ daughter and 2 Kings 4 from those that an apologist like Craig Evans or William Lane Craig might make for the veracity of each detail of the gospels?

  • Hjalti

    James, I’m still wondering about what you saw in Neil’s post that supposedly “nicely illustrates” the “chronic inability to realize that rejecting the possibility of miracles doesn’t require rejection of the possibility that ancient people (like quote a few modern ones” believed miracles could occur”. 

    From your responses the only thing I’ve seen you point out is that Neil doesn’t explicitly say that when Casey says that the story is “literally true” he of course doesn’t mean that there was a literal miracle but a “healing” like we see today. 

    Is that all? What makes you think that Neil was trying to say that Casey believed an actual miracle occured when he quoted the passage with “literally true”? 

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

    Hjalti, yes, that was all. It seemed to me that he was quoting the “literally true” statement knowing full well that, without the further clarification Casey offered, it would sound like he meant that a miracle literally happened.

    Steven, can you give me a specific example, or a few, from Casey’s book, so that I can discuss it/them? Thanks.

    Evan, apologists for Christianity and for mythicism are not completely wrong. They simply use scholarly tools selectively. Just because mythicists go further than is logical when they argue that nothing in the Gospels is historical doesn’t mean that they aren’t right that some things are not historical, and just because conservative apologists try to misuse historical methods to prove that everything in the New Testament is historical doesn’t mean that they are wrong about all of them.

  • Hjalti

    So now we are not dealing with Neil not understanding the difference between establishing that a miracle occured and establishing that a natural “healing” (like we see today) happened. But Neil actually knew the difference, and knows that Casey makes the same distinction, but Neil is so dishonest that he makes it “sound” as if Casey is actually arguing for an occurance of an actual miracle by not explicitly saying that Casey is of course not arguing for the occurance of a miracle.
    Neil Godfrey sure is sneaky! 

  • Anonymous

    But the heart of the issue is that Casey is offering reasoning that is typical of the attempt of historians to assess the historicity of information in ancient sources. It is always possible to doubt – and so Casey’s hyperbole is unhelpful at this point – but if we doubt everything that can be doubted in history then there is absolutely nothing left. Nada. Zilch. And so if your stance is that we should abandon the historical enterprise altogether, that’s your prerogative, but I for one think that a cautious, critical approach that tempers excessive skepticism with deductive reasoning is preferable.

    I think that real historians understand the difference between possible explanations and probable explanations.  I also think they understand the importance of distinguishing between the two. Writing “there can be no doubt” about something that is little more than an interesting speculation makes it difficult for me to take Casey seriously as a historian.

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

    Comments on Neil’s post in Vridar.
    “Jairus falls at the feet of Jesus.”
    BM: An understandable gesture if you want the healer to take care of your daughter. But I would not vouch for authenticity on that one because it is “in the grain” by showing high appreciation for Jesus as a healer from someone with wealth (Jairus has servants). But no grasping of feet as in 2 Kings 4.
    “His son is at the point of death.”
    BM: A typo: the “son” is a daughter in gMark. And in 2 Kings 4, the son is already dead when Elisha is contacted. And it is normal that Jairus would say something like that if his daughter was very ill, more so to sway the healer to go to his home.
    “The father has faith all will be well.”
    BM: Absolutely. You do not take the trouble to ask a healer if you do not have faith in him and that he will perform to your satisfaction.
    “While Jesus and the father are walking to the child Jairus’ servants bring news that the child is dead.”
    BM: Actually, in 2 Kings 4, the servant, after attempting to revive the son with Elisha’s staff, reports back of no change in status, not that the boy went from ill to dead.
    “Jesus puts all the others out of the room so only he and his closest associates are with the child.”
    BM: Not so. Jesus takes the parents in the room. In 2 Kings 4, the mother and the servant have to wait outside the closed door.
    “Jesus takes the child by the hand and she is restored to life.”
    BM: Elisha does a lot more than taking the son by the hand. And he does not ask anyone to keep the revival a secret.
    “The parents are amazed.”
    BM: Who would not be when witnessing a resurrection? Normal reaction not necessarily copied from 2 Kings 4. Part of the embellishment to “prove” the resurrection happened (but did not!).
    Did “Mark” know about 2 Kings 4? Yes, it is possible. But in no way I see proof he plagiarized Elisha’s story to invent fiction about Jairus and his daughter. The sequence of events in gMark makes a lot of sense but does not incorporate any oddities from 2 Kings 4. And there are many differences between the two stories.

  • Anonymous

    Dr. McGrath, can you point to another tale of someone being raised from the dead in antiquity that you view as “likely historical?”

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

    To comment on the historicity of the healing in question ( I know I thought it not germane to the discussion, but hey, I’m bored); I don’t see any literary dependence on it and the raising of the boy in Kings, though early Christians would have been aware of the tale. To those who wonder why we can say there is no evidence for dependence here but say there is evidence of dependence in the tale of the feeding of the 4000 or 5000, well it is the evidence part. The argument for the feeding of the multitude being dependent is based on specific features that are particular to both tales and are not generic to any account of such an event. The healing of the girl and the 2 Kings 4 healing are alike only in the fact that they are both tales of Jewish prophets raising people at their homes.
     
    From what we know of antiquity, this was probably reported from time to time, so we have no basis for claiming this did not happen, except for the chances that any given story has been altered beyond recognition from its source or has been invented. The tale does have better odds than some other tales for being true, though precise odds can’t be given, and I can in no way endorse the notion that there is “no doubt” it is accurate. 
    In its favor are; the fact that this is the sort of thing people would remember, it is spectacular.  It is no so spectacular as to require a new understanding of reality, it need not be miraculous. The Aramaic points to an early composition, as seen in the use of this tale in Matthew and Luke, the tendency is to drop the foreign words, so this has not passed through to many Greek speaking hands. The suggestion that this is only here to add realism to the tale can be dismissed, unlike the Hitler Diaries, there is no evidence that Mark was composed to fool a skeptical audience.
    Against it are the facts that Mark is not an eyewitness, nor does he appear to have an eyewitness as a source. Raising someone from the dead, while again, not an unheard of feat, is also what we would expect a prophet to do, so if Jesus did not do it, there would be incentive to claim he did. On the use of Aramaic, this phrase could have been attributed to Jesus by any Aramaic speaking story teller.  We simply cannot know if this was an invented story, or if it has been substantially modified from the event that inspired it.

    • Anonymous

      Mike, can you mention any non-biblical miraculous tales from antiquity that you regard as “likely historical”?

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

        Any report of an event from antiquity if not reported by multiple sources or contrary to the author’s goals has a possibility of being an invention. The exact probability of that being so cannot be determined.  But since miracles are commonly reported now by first person sources, we have no basis for being especially critical of the reports of such in the past, unless we have reason to believe that modern people are more superstitious than those in the past.  My analysis of the raising of the girl cannot say that the event is likely or unlikely and this does not mean I think it 50/50 on a probability of occurring or not.  I have reasons for thinking it is an invention, but not enough reason to conclude that. I also have reason to think it is a true account, and those are better than my reasons to believe other accounts are true, so the possibility of it being an invention shrinks to a degree.  I don’t think the evidence at hand is enough to say what is likely here.

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

    The healing of the girl and the 2 Kings 4 healing are alike only in the fact that they are both tales of Jewish prophets raising people at their homes.
    However, there is a clear interest on the part of the author of Mark in the Elijah/Elisha miracle cycles. In the larger context of this interest, we don’t need any more than the few pointers Neil adduces to see this episode’s allusion to the ealier story. How much correspondence would you need to see before you accepted there was a clear allusion? How many other miracles similar to those from the Elijah/Elisha story would you need to see in Mark before you allowed that the author wants to make the connection plain in the reader’s mind? 
     
    The suggestion that this is only here to add realism to the tale can be dismissed, unlike the Hitler Diaries, there is no evidence that Mark was composed to fool a skeptical audience.
     
    What a blinkered view you have of literary creativity if you think the only two options are “composed to fool a skeptical audience” and historical reportage. Narratives composed in the realistic mode contain plausible details that reflect the author’s understanding of his setting. Are the numerous inconsequential details of Victorian London in Dickens’ novels included “to fool a skeptical audience” or are they simply there to create a sustained and coherent picture in the reader’s mind of the settings and events narrated? 

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

      I don’t think Dickens wrote novels for the same reason the Hitler Diaries were written. To answer that and your other point, I refer back to the post I wrote that you are supposedly addressing, ” Raising someone from the dead, while again, not an unheard of feat, is also what we would expect a prophet to do, so if Jesus did not do it, there would be incentive to claim he did. On the use of Aramaic, this phrase could have been attributed to Jesus by any Aramaic speaking story teller.”

      While the reader would note that Jesus and Elisha/Elijah performed resurrections, we can’t know that that is the only reason Jesus performs a resurrection any more than we can know it is the reason he walked on his feet as  Elisha/Elijah did.  It is obvious that the whole Jesus narrative is not based on events in the Elisha/Elijah narrative, and if an event doesn’t share many features with a Elisha/Elijah event, we can’t assume it was borrowed or intended solely as an allusion. Maybe this resurrection was borrowed from another healer’s legend about which we don’t know. Neil is altogether too uncritical when it comes to finding evidence of literary dependence.

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

    In a bit of irony, right after arguing against James’ suggestion that his initial blog post showed a ” a chronic inability to realize that rejecting the possibility of miracles doesn’t’t require rejection of the possibility that ancient people (like quite a few modern ones) believed miracles could occur” Then decides he would like to make that point explicit here

    http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/07/12/reasons-to-entertain-a-smidgen-of-doubt-about-jesus-raising-the-daughter-of-jairus/

    “What is the more rational belief: that the dead rise or that authors imitate and adapt stories well known to them?”

    Again I have to point out his evidence for dependency is not strong here and we have every reason to beleive that people at the time thought magicians and holy men worked miracles as they do today.

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

      Mike Wilson is smoking something again. He writes: “In a bit of irony, right after arguing against James’ suggestion that
      his initial blog post showed a ” a chronic inability to realize that
      rejecting the possibility of miracles doesn’t’t require rejection of the
      possibility that ancient people (like quite a few modern ones) believed
      miracles could occur” Then decides he would like to make that point
      explicit here

      http://vridar.wordpress.com/20

      “What is the more rational belief: that the dead rise or that authors imitate and adapt stories well known to them?”

      Again I
      have to point out his evidence for dependency is not strong here and we
      have every reason to beleive that people at the time thought magicians
      and holy men worked miracles as they do today.”

      Mike, when you come out of your stupor you will observe what you quote me as saying in no place contradicts what you or McGrath has said. You and McGrath seem to think I’m so dumb that I can’t even believe people believed in miracles.

      I asked what is more rational: to believe the dead rise or that authors tell tales about the dead rising? I believe people believe that the dead rise, but I do not believe that the dead really rise. Are you capable of understanding the difference? Is McGrath?

      Your friends here are letting you down by not pulling you up on your inability to comprehend plain English or simple logic. But one rarely rises above the level of the company one keeps.

  • Anonymous

    So to be clear, Mike, you cannot list a single non-Christian resurrection miracle that you think is even potentially historical, is that correct?

    • Mikew

      Evan, is “even potentially historical”, likely? I could name dozens of potentially historical, if you can’t, you haven’t given sufficient thought to the subject, not suprised. Are you saying you think ancient people were less prone to believe the super natural than modern people? Bold position. If you would like to persist in that belief knock your self out.

      You are mixing up terms as well, you did not ask for resurrections, just miracles. On historical resurrections, not from antiquity as you asked earlier, I heard a first person account from india and a number from the states, I have also heard of some from hati. Not common but if someone said they saw their guru raise a man, I could’nt a priori dismiss that they believe that. Look into it, you should know more about what you like to talk about, it makes you input meaningful rather than a predictable bore.

      • Anonymous

        You make the call Mike. Which resurrection do you think is literally true in the same sense that Casey thinks that the healing of Jairus’ daughter is literally true. Remember that Casey is saying that three people were standing over a girl who appeared to be dead and Jesus said magic words over her that caused her to appear not to be dead. The magic words were what did it. They were standing there according to Casey. Give me a non-biblical account of a resurrection that you think is accurate down to the magic words.

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

    @Evan, just for clarification, are you asking about instances of someone being believed to have restored someone to life, or someone actually raising another person from the dead?

    • Anonymous

      Dr. McGrath, whichever you’re happy to suggest. Either one would be fine with me, although I assume you would immediately discount the second type, only creationists would actually think someone had risen from the dead. 

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

    Evan, if it doesn’t matter to you which, then you have not understood the nature of historical criticism. One of the two is inherently unlikely, and so could never be judged probable by historical study.

    • Anonymous

      This seems like a dodge. I simply gave the option to the person making the claim. You certainly have every right to believe in resurrections but I am just asking for a non-biblical resurrection from antiquity that you think is historical in the same sense Casey thinks Jesus resurrecting Jairus’ (he awakens/sees) daughter is historical.

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

    McGrath wrote: “but if we doubt everything that can be doubted in history then there is absolutely nothing left. Nada. Zilch. And so if your stance is that we should abandon the historical enterprise altogether. . . ”

    He knows very well that my position is based on explaining how we know things in history — ancient, medieval and modern — and applying the same methodology to biblical studies. Why exempt biblical studies from the same rules that apply to other historical disciplines? This only makes a mockery of biblical historical studies.

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

    Neil Godfrey, if you look at what you wrote, then hopefully even you will be able to understand that the false antithesis you offered does not offer the option that Michael and I both said was lacking from your treatment, namely the possibility that people saw what they believed w a miracle, and passed on stories about a genuine event, even if it was not an event that included a genuine miracle.

    I’m glad to hear that you seem to actually be reading some of Hobsbawm and not getting quotes from him second hand. Now let’s see if we can use this to help you understand another important point. You said that Hobsbawm reacted to criticism by making changes to the second edition of his book. This sort of thing happens all the time in scholarship, and what it involves is the fact that scholars disagree about methods as well as about conclusions. When you think you are seeing disagreements between all historians and scholars working on the historical Jesus, you are surely hallucinating. But I wonder if perhaps you are in fact seeing genuine disagreements that cut across the domain of academic history more generally, and misinterpreting them because of a lack of understanding of how scholarship works.

    • Anonymous

      Neil is hallucinating about disagreements between scholars working on the historical Jesus. Do you know what the word hallucinate means? If there are no disagreements between scholars working on the historical Jesus, then why have any discussion at all about the issue. 

      Does Bart Ehrman agree with Craig Evans? It didn’t look like that in their debate.

    • http://detheologized.wordpress.com John Anngeister

      James, I’m getting your distinction (although Godfrey made it impossible to see by his post).

      I think the real ‘meat’ of this sandwich-style pericope may be the event in the middle of the Jairus story - I refer to the remarkable healing of the woman whom Jesus encountered on the way to Jairus’ house.

      Here then is a case that the actual miracle occured in the midst of a more public event which had become clouded by false popular notions that Jairus’ daughter had been healed.

      Mark could not simply disregard the actual historical context of the woman’s remarkable healing, but neither could he miss the opportunity to set the record straight in the course of relating it – by qualifying the ‘well-remembered’ (though incorrect) events at the Jairus home with testimony as to Jesus’ denial that the girl was dead and his strict admonitions against reporting that she had been resurrected.

      I know this flies in the face of the alleged editorial motive of a ‘messianic secret’ but there is no neutral reason to assert that Wrede’s motif did not have a kernel of historical truth at its core – in two or three genuine episodes of crowd or message-control by Jesus.

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

    Evan, I should have worded that comment more clearly. The hallucination I meant to refer to is the divergence he imagines between all historians not working on Jesus on the one hand, and all those working on Jesus on the other.

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

    Most people who live in parts of the world where modern medical technology is not readily available will know of a case of someone having “returned from the dead.” The person in question would not have been diagnosed as dead using modern technology, but appeared to unaided observers to have died. Because the offering of prayers or the intervention of a witchdoctor or something of the sort usually accompanies serious illness, it is thoroughly unsurprising that sometimes some individual is credited with having restored the dead person through prayer, magic or miracle.

  • Anonymous

    Really the request is quite simple, Mike, Dr. McGrath … anyone supporting Casey here. Just report another resurrection story from antiquity that mainstream historians regard as true in exactly the same sense that Casey regards the Markan story to be true. It should be easy to find if there is a standard methodology at use here.

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

      What strikes me is that Paul considered Jesus’ alleged resurrection as the first one (implied in 1Cor15:20-22 & Rom1:4).
      Another point: in 1Cor15:12-19, it appears Paul never heard of any resurrection by Jesus or others. If he did, he would have put that front and center in order to convince the Christians of Corinth about raising of the dead.
      1Clement’s best example for resurrection is (besides Jesus’ one as the firstfruits!) the legendary Phoenix bird (24-25). Others are night and day, and, the seed decaying in the soil but reappearing as a plant bearing fruits. Not much to go on!
      But a case can be made that Elisha and Jesus do not actually resurrect the boy and girl respectively, because it is a short time after death (less that 3 days & nights). That would be just a revival.
      However in gJohn, Lazarus is supposedly resurrected after that aforementioned time. And in gMatthew, the many saints of 27:52-53 resurrect before Jesus!
      In gMark (and other gospels), Jesus is resurrected about 39-40 hours after death, but “Mark” had Jesus predict three times he would resurrect after three days (which makes me think that Mk15:40-16:8 –the empty tomb– was written by somebody else).

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

      Evan, what are you looking for? You keep changing the question. What is the point you are hoping to make?
       I, personally, don’t share Casey’s confidence in the accuracy of this tale. Any number of details may have been changed.  I think having the three disciples there and the command to silence was Mark’s touch. The side story of the sick woman who touches his cloak may not be original to the story but I couldn’t say at what point it found its’ way there.   The rest is impossible to confirm, but seems typical of a raising. In, Apollonius of Tyana (Philostratus, Vita Apollonii IV, 45), Apollonius also touches the deceased and speaks to them. Here the words are a magic incantation, Jesus words are just a simple statement. Whether he said little girl get up, woman rise, or b!#ch get out of bed, we can’t know. He may have used a magic incantation. There is some thought that the Aramaic is preserved because later Christians used the line as an incantation, that what is thought to be the exact words of Jesus has healing power that a translation would lack.
       
      I haven’t done a systematic study of modern raisings, but I do take note when I come across an account of one.  As a rule it is rare compared with less spectacular faith healings. Sai Baba II performed thousands of “miracles” but only a hand full of raisings. I suspect this is because it requires good fortune (having a comatose person wake up after some event connecting them with the wizard such as being touched, or prayer from or directed to the wizard, though a clever wizard could claim to have commanded the comatose person to rise but only say this after the person has “raised”) or elaborate trickery (such as making a zombie and Haiti, or a good actor as an accomplice.  Of course one could just lie (for example, the people involved in this miracle simply could have told Jesus’ other followers that this happened to them) but of course the more public and observable the miracle, the more effective it is for the faith of the devotees.
       
      Jesus is only reported to have done 3 raisings (4 if you consider Secret Mark to be genuine and independent of Lazarus).  All indications are that he was well known in the area as a faith healer during his brief career. Finding accurate figures on the numbers of people claiming to have been healed by a faith healer are hard to get, so I’m afraid I can’t give you any estimates on the statistical number of people Jesus should have raised.  3 may be high for an exorcist of that time or low.  I get the impression that it wasn’t expected for holy men to raise too many people.  Luke gives Jesus 2, Mark  and John 1, Paul is credited with 1, and I don’t think Apollonius has too many more, but I haven’t had a chance to count.  So it seems to be a rare event in a holy man’s career, if he does it at all.

      • Anonymous

        Mike you seem to be misunderstanding the question. I am not asking for attestations from antiquity of resurrections, those are extant and nobody doubts that fact. What I am asking for are stories of resurrections that are regarded by scholars of those authors and topics as authentic history that could be described as true by those scholars in the sense that Casey describes the raising of Jairus daughter as “literally true.”

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

          I would have to look into the scholarly discussions on any particular incidents. I doubt there have many resurrections recorded in antiquity, and far fewer that would have been recorded in as timely a fashion as the one in Mark or Life Apollonious, but I may be wrong, there are all sorts of odd reports and prodigies in the record. Generally the activities of magicians has been in the spot light of most historians of the period. I know of one historian of classical history that took Apollonius’ journey to history and seeing of dragons as a fact so his healing miracles might have some supporters. I saw a book on line about miracles in the classical world, but only read the free introduction. Is that helpful to you cause?

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

    I’m not sure why an ancient account is preferable when a modern one might be available, but I wonder whether it might not be useful to discuss Augustine’s City of God 22:8-10. It may be possible to doubt both the miraculous nature of the healings and many of the details, but I suspect that it would involve an inordinate degree of skepticism that in some instances people Augustine knew and who he names, as well as others whom he knew of, genuinely recovered from ailments and attributed their recovery to God.

    I think I will post this in a separate post as well, to allow for broader discussion of healing and history.

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

    Bernard, in one case we are dealing with resurrection in the sense of the Jewish hope for an afterlife, the resurrection of the last day. In the other we are dealing with resuscitation to life as we know it. And so you are talking about two different sorts of things.

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

      To James,

      I tried to cover all cases and not decide on what is what.

      Anyway, any raising from the dead is a very important step towards afterlife, doesn’t it? And yes, I repeat, if Paul knew about those ones allegedly performed by Jesus, he would have mentioned them because he needed desperately that kind of “evidence” for his doubting Corinthians.

      Actually that’s what the gospelers did, in my thinking, that is providing “examples” of revival/resurrection, either from Jesus (Jairus’ daughter, the widow’s son in gLuke and Lazarus in gJohn) or by God (Moses on the transfiguration mountain, and the saints, from out of tombs to walking in Jerusalem (gMatthew)).

      But what do you think about Jairus daughter’s raising from the dead?
      Was she resuscitated by Jesus?
      Was she not quite dead when Jesus came?
      Was it what “Mark” wanted others to believe but never heard before (as I think)?

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

        If Paul thought no one was raised before Jesus, how did he interpret the raising of the woman’s son in Kings?

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

          To Michael,
          Possibly as just a resuscitation caused by intense physical contact with a holy man.
          Anyway Paul chose to ignore it (so is 1Clement).
          But any raising of the dead by Jesus (by just saying, get up little girl, and some touching) would certainly be showcased by Paul if known, as a demo of things to come (soon), the first step for the dead in order to go to heaven and eternal life (during the Day of the Lord).
          Actually that’s what is strongly suggested in gJohn (11:22-25,39-44) (precursive demo).

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

    Bernard, I’m not sure that presenting examples of alleged restoration of people back to life would have been relevant to persuading the Corinthians to think of the afterlife in terms of bodily existence rather than liberation from the body.

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

      To James,
      However the trend in the gospels was to prove resurrection by showing someone dead and then bodily resurrected (and Jesus, the firstfruits, was no exception to that). So I cannot think Paul did not go that way also if he had the “evidence”.
      Anyway, “proving” the first (and very critical) step, going from dead to undead, is not a simple matter, and would have very much reassured Paul’s Christians.
      I choose to disagree.

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

    A figure like Rasputin also provides a useful comparison. Being closer to us in time, we have more documentation, and we can see that, on the one hand, there is good reason to doubt either his miraculous power or that anyone was “cured” by him in a medical sense, while also on the other hand being able to ascertain that people believed that he accomplished cures.

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

    Here are a few links that provide examples from Greco-Roman literature of people being believed dead and yet being restored to life/health. Some are factual accounts and some are in works of fiction, but the latter reflect the sort of real life experiences we find in the former, and so are not irrelevant. Indeed, the key point for our present discussion is presumbly that the question of whether an account is factual or fictional cannot be decided simply because it involves someone who was believed to be dead eventually recovering.

    Let me begin with the source that may carry more weight with mythicists: an article by Richard Carrier.

    This book about the fear of being buried alive addresses instances of misdiagnosis of death.

    This online piece on “accepted signs of death” may also be useful.


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