Historians on Jesus

Neil Godfrey posted on this topic over at Vridar, and it seems that the post may go some way towards explaining the puzzling tension between his affirmations of mainstream historical scholarship on the one hand, and his positive view of mythicism on the other.

Godfrey writes:

But what if historians (whose careers are in history faculties that have nothing to do with biblical studies) who write about the Roman empire mention Jesus as the founder of the Christian religion. Do they make such a statement on the basis of their independent or even collective scholarly research into whether Jesus really did exist or not? I think we can be confident in answering, No. I think we can further say that, if really pushed, many would say that for the purposes of what they wrote, they would not care if he existed or not. What they are addressing is not the historicity of Jesus, but the historical fact that Christianity had its beginnings in the first century in the Eastern part of the empire. What they are addressing is the fact of the appeal and reasons for the spread of Christianity.

He then goes on to say that even a historian like Michael Grant, who took a closer look, merely relied on the Gospels and on Biblical scholarship.

I find this most remarkable, and utterly implausible. In essence, Godfrey is either suggesting that those historians who have mentioned Jesus as a historical figure were guilty of dereliction of duty with respect to their role as historians, or they did not really mean what they wrote.

But to suggest that historians who are concerned professionally with reconstructing the past either didn’t care whether Jesus actually existed, or were unable to see that Biblical scholars were not engaging in appropriate historical research, is not just beyond belief. It is an insult to historians, which I hope some may actually respond to, if they happen to notice that this internet crusader has paid them this disrespect.

It also leads to the seemingly self-contradictory stance that it is wrong to rely on authorities and experts, while suggesting that all historians of ancient Rome or ancient Judaism who mention Jesus have done just that.

Godfrey continues to use the term “Biblical historian,” which doesn’t seem to actually mean anything, other than being an expression of his belief that there are such creatures, who supposedly do not do the sort of critical history that other historians do. But obviously his attribution to mainstream historians who mention Jesus of a failure to adequately check on the state of our knowledge calls the consistency of such a view into question.

I don’t know how many historians read this blog, but I will encourage any who do, and anyone who knows a professional historian who can spare to waste a few minutes of their time that could be better spent doing something else, to chime in on this, and tell Neil Godfrey that they are neither so incompetent nor so uncritical that they would be unable to recognize were it true that “Biblical historians” (presumably meaning Biblical scholars working on historical questions?) don’t do history the way they do.

Biblical scholars regularly interact with historians of the Ancient Near East, of the Greco-Roman period, and of ancient Judaism. We present at the same conferences and participate in seminars together. We contribute to multi-author academic books together. We have conversations at our universities. And we read one another’s books out of interest from time to time, to say nothing of when we read them for the purpose of our own research.

Neil Godfrey is wrong on his main claim. But he does have a point when he writes the following:

But it is ONLY in the field of historical Jesus studies, as far as I am aware, that biblical historians cannot agree on a substantive body of historical facts about the person they are studying, and must accordingly resort to criteriology in order to construct “probabilities” of what may be factual — with all such reconstructions open to debate. The only detail on which I believe all HJ scholars agree is that Jesus was crucified. I know of no other undisputed “fact” of his life.

The truth is that, precisely because there are so many people who care so much about what Jesus said and did, there has indeed been an attempt to not merely reconstruct the broad strokes or describe what our sources say, but to atomistically sift through each saying and even every word in a hope of achieving certainty.

This was, nevertheless, part of a broader positivistic approach to history which prevailed in the field of history more generally, believing that history could be objective and scientific, and by developing and refining the right tools, it could achieve certainty.

And so it is certainly true that the combination of mainstream historical trends and the distinctive level and kind of interest that many people bring to the figure of Jesus has produced some anomalies. But accepting him as likely to be historical when he was more likely invented is not one of them.

In concluding this post, let me try once more to see if I can explain what I meant when I said recently that there is room for doubt about the existence of the historical Jesus, even while I believe it is unreasonable to conclude that he was thought of in the way some mythicists claim, as a purely celestial entity or a fabrication from earlier Scripture. Godfrey mentions toward the end of his post the figures of Hillel and Socrates. Both have had their historicity challenged on occasion, and both are treated as likely to be historical figures by modern historians, who would acknowledge that apart from perhaps a few principal ideas, we cannot be certain about the details of what they said. They thus provide relatively close analogies to the figure of Jesus. On the one hand, one has to acknowledge that there is room for doubt, that figures like this are not accompanied by inscriptions and physical evidence of a sort that emperors leave behind. Yet this does not mean that it becomes more probable that they were invented, or were originally thought of as mythical celestial entities and later historicized, simply because the historical evidence available, and the tools of historical study, cannot deliver certainty.

And so it is certainly true that work on the historical Jesus has featured problematic claims and anomalous methods. Those developments have been challenged, not in the first instance by internet crusaders, but from with the field itself, and the conversations about method and conclusions have consistently been part of a broader conversation encompassing the rest of the discipline of history. Historical study itself has changed significantly over the last century, in many different ways.

None of this changes the fact that the most anomalous development in connection with the quest for the historical Jesus is still mythicism. In the realm of the study of ancient Judaism, if someone proceeds under the assumption that Hillel likely existed, he is not insulted by internet critics for being a fool. If a historian tries to develop tools and criteria to try to make the investigation of sources more rigorous, even if the attempt is unsuccessful, the effort is likely to be appreciated rather than mocked, since seeking to refine old tools and develop new ones is a regular scholarly undertaking, and scholarship is all about floating thousands of new suggestions in the knowledge that only a few will prove worth the test of time. And no one in their right mind would claim to be able to know that what really happened is that Hillel was an angelic teacher who was only later historicized and turned into a human rabbi.

If it were not for the level of interest in Jesus, both love and hatred, historians would be able to say quite a bit about him without much difficulty. There would be no real doubt that he thought himself to be the Messiah, and believed that the kingdom of God would dawn in the near future, and would feature his disciples sitting on thrones judging the tribes of Israel. There would be no doubt that he was wrong about this. There would be no doubt that he was crucified by the Romans, the ones normally responsible when someone was crucified in Jerusalem in those days. Much would be uncertain, but the gist would be uncontroversial. But precisely because being dispassionate and objective about Jesus is so challenging, scholars have tried to find ways of bringing more objectivity to the investigation. If they have been unsuccessful, that does not change the fact that there are some things about which historians across the board feel confident. And rightly so.

  • Anonymous

    History is a big subject.  James seems to think a given historian writes about every topic of history under the sun.  There is nothing wrong with the term biblical historian.  It simply means a person who uses his skills usually acquired in a specialist classical sense, and applies them to a history about the bible or a bible related topic.  If you want some examples: Martin Goodman, Rome and Jerusalem; Steve Mason, Understanding Josephus; Barbara Levick, Vespasian; Nikos Kokkinos, The Herodian Dynasty.  A historian can only write books that fall within a certain speciality.  

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

      you are right to a degree Geoff, and I use biblical historian asa shorthand to for people who study historical topics that fall under the perview of the bible. Thechnically though a true biblical histroian would study the history iof the bible, not the events it describes, but the text its self and its role in historical events. That itself could be a career I suppose.

      There are a lot of beleivers that study biblical history, but their are a lot of Franks who study French history. On the other hand hardly any genocidal maniacs study the histrory of WWII, so perhapes their view is not properly represented? Bias of the historian is common and problematic. I would like to point out Ehramn’s dicussion of how NT scholars often say that books were often attributed to old philosophers falsly asa sign of respect to the old masters. He debunks this view, and the reason I think it was popular was that NT scholars didn’t like the implication that their religious pioneers were liars. I have to add that Ehrman has been very popular in university circles in spite of this, and so is Morton Smith who hypothocised Jesus was gay. So ideas at odds with Christian beleif can be widely discussed in NT studies and sometimes accepted.

      • Anonymous

        Mike, it has been quite a revelation for me to find that James has allowed me to post on his site.  He seems to be saying you can all have your say.   

        I find the big problem with history in relation to the bible is with the writings attributed to Josephus.  They are the main source of the history cited by all scholars. Unfortunately there has been opportunity to tamper with them.  Despite what is written in them, I believe that originally Antiquites was written first as a genuine book and then edited later by Flavian historians, some of whom were ex priests.  War was written second as largely fabrication, a combination of material taken from Antiquities, together with the accounts of Flavian authors who included the ex priests.  The chicanery goes as far back as the times of Herod and even before to the time of the Maccabeans.  The purpose was to write out the prophets from history.      

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

          that is quite a proposition, care to drop a link where this is explained a bit?

          • Anonymous

            Some clues that Antiquities was written before War come from Against Apion:

            AA1.1. “I suppose that by my books of the Antiquities of the Jews, most excellent Epaphroditus, I have made it evident to those who peruse them, that our Jewish nation is of very great antiquity”

            Epaphroditus was Nero’s secretary.  Antiquities was written during the reign of Claudius while the writer and Nero attended school in the palace together.

            The later Flavian editors were fully aware of this, so they wrote (AA1.10):

            “There have been indeed some bad men, who have attempted to calumniate my history (Antiquities), and took it to be a kind of scholastic performance for the exercise of young men.  A strange sort of accusation this!”

            Well that is exactly what it was, an excercise for one young man in particular. 

               

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    James, I have a question and it is purely for my own curiosity. When someone is very interested in finding out the truth about something, it usually indicates that it is very important to them in a personal way. In the end, something is usually gained by finding out the truth, even if it is just the satisfaction of knowing the truth. So I was merely curious what you hope to gain by your quest for the historical truth of Jesus existence? Interestingly, as I wrote that last question, it occurred to me from what you have previously said, it seems that you have already accept the truth of Jesus’ existence, so what further truth are you continuing to explore that remains uncertain for you?

  • Fabrizio Palestini

    I’m not able to find the link to the text by Neil Godfrey you’re responding to.
    It would be nice to put it in your text above:
    http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/08/13/historians-on-jesus/

  • Jonathan Burke

    //But he does have a point when he writes the following:

    “But it is ONLY in the field of historical Jesus studies, as far as I am aware, that biblical historians cannot agree on a substantive body of historical facts about the person they are studying, and must accordingly resort to criteriology in order to construct “probabilities” of what may be factual — with all such reconstructions open to debate.”//

    Actually I don’t think he even gets that right. This ‘resort to crieriology’ thing is what archaeologists and historians do as a matter of course; they even use much the same criteria, including the ‘criterion of embarrassment’.As for this:

    //The only detail on which I believe all HJ scholars agree is that Jesus was crucified. I know of no other undisputed “fact” of his life.//

    Neil, on what basis do you make this statement? Evidence please; I would like to see a quotation from the relevant peer reviewed scholarly literature.

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

      Jonathan as usual misses my point in his eagerness to get to his. As I have made abundantly clear in all my exchanges with James on the matter, and again in the post which is his target here, there is a difference between using criteriology of the sort James boasts that HJ scholars have refined etc in order to FIND some “historical facts” to inquire about as a historian, and in using those criteria to INTERPRET “historical facts” themselves.

      Anyone who has read anything I have said about historical methodology as it is practiced by HJ historians would know this.

      And J, are you seriously asking me for a quotation from a peer reviewed journal article to justify what I have said I have come to believe as a result of reading quite widely (by layman standards, surely) on scholars writing about the historical Jesus? Perhaps you can show me that what I have come to learn is false simply by pointing to one fact about what Jesus supposedly did in his life upon which all scholars agree. I am pretty sure they all agree he was crucified. Now, what else is there — cleansing the temple? baptism?

      What we have in the scholarly studies of the HJ is majority opinion on this or that detail of his life. Can you point to any other field of history where there is a comparable level of doubt or lack of unity about what are the raw historical facts about a historical person that historians seek to explain?

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

        Neil, could you explain this? “there is a difference between using criteriology of the sort James boasts that HJ scholars have refined etc in order to FIND some “historical facts” to inquire about as a historian, and in using those criteria to INTERPRET “historical facts” themselves.”
         
        While someone reading what you say about historical methodology as it is practiced by HJ historians might know that, I’m not sure someone reading HJ historians and other historians would. The first bit of confusion I am having is on what you mean by “historical fact”.  It would seem from the context that you mean things that occurred in history, for instance that Jesus said a particular thing or performed some action. That is what HJ scholars are hoping to find with the criteriology. So I don’t understand how it would be that the proper use of the criteria is to interpret supposed statements and actions in history.  I would think that when something is deemed factual, that means it has been subjected to criteria and has passed. Could you give an example of someone using criteria to interpret facts?
         
        On Jonathan’s demand for some citation for your factoid on facts agreed to by all HJ scholars, it is unnecessary, even if your position is a slight overstatement, (though you may know of HJ scholars, professional, not amateur, that doubt Jesus was named Jesus, a resident of Palestine, Jewish or male). There are a lot of positions on the details of Jesus’ life.  I question the relevance of this to the determining of what is a fact or the difference between scholars in HJ and other areas of study.  Encyclopedias are full of supposed facts that someone somewhere disputes.  Alger Hiss and the Rosenthal’s still have defenders of their innocence.  In general people of Jesus levels of attestation don’t get a lot of attention so, I agree there has been a lot of nonsense published on him, but there has been a lot of nonsense published on lots of subjects in history. There are a number of individuals that have comparable levels of doubts concerning the “raw facts” of their history.  We have been discussing Socrates, and I would add Apollonius of Tyana, Pythagoras, David (and any number of Old Testament Kings), Marco Polo, and many others.  I have seen a lot of variance between historians on what these people are supposed to have accomplished.  I’m not surprised that there are a lot of opinions on Jesus, and I’m a little surprised no one has questioned his crucifixion.  Maybe his followers only presumed he was crucified and the real Jesus escaped, claimed to have risen from the dead after dying on the cross, and then slipped off to retirement in the east.  Can I get my Discovery Channel show now?HH

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

    @Fabrizio, thanks for pointing out that I botched the code for the link. I will fix it.

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

    @Jonathan, just to clarify, what I thought he had a point about is not that the criteria used by historical Jesus scholars are, on the whole, different from those used elsewhere in history, although they are more explicitly articulated, which one would think is a good thing. But there are certainly things which are debated about Jesus which would not be under dispute if the evidence were exactly the same but it was some other figure from history. And there have been some anomalies in the realm of the criteria which have rightly been criticized from within the field, such as the misuse of double dissimilarity as though one should treat only that which is doubly dissimilar as authentic.

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

    @Geoff, that isn’t at all what I meant. I meant, first of all, that the term is not used in academia, and second, precisely for the reason you mention (i.e. Historians specialize) no one is a historian of “the Bible.” They may do the ancient near east, ancient Israel, second temple Judaism, early Christianity, late antiquity, or something else. No one is a “Biblical historian.”

    • Anonymous

      But everyone knows what is meant by a biblical historian. You are just splitting hairs.   

      My original comment applies.  The majority of biblical historians come from a background of belief.  

      A point: second temple Judaism covers early Christianity.   

      • Anonymous

        So I do question the history of the historians who write about bible matters or about Josephus.  

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    “On the contrary, given the skepticism of most biblical historians on the value of the biblical tradition for the premonarchic history of Israel, archaeology is rapidly becoming our primary datum (see also Callauay 1985; 1988; Lemche 1985: 385).”

    WILLIAM G. DEVER, PROFESSOR OF NEAR EASTERN ARCHAEOLOGY AND ANTHROPOLOGY, UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA, TUCSON, AZ – Freedman, D. N. (1996, c1992). The Anchor Bible Dictionary (3:556). New York: Doubleday.

    “Bloodshed, instability and apostasy characterized the two centuries of the N kingdom’s existence and, as the biblical historians saw, the bāmôṯ were a major source of the moral and religious collapse (2 Ki. 17:9).”

    J. T. Whitney, M.A., L.C.P., Ph.D., Head of Religious Studies, South East Essex Sixth Form College – Wood, D. R. W. (1996, c1982, c1962). New Bible Dictionary (474). InterVarsity Press.

    “Such information about the population of Judah, from about the ninth to the end of the seventh centuries B.C.E., is invaluable for archaeologists and Biblical historians alike.”

    Walter E. Rast, Professor of Theology at Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Indiana. – Editor, H. S. (2002; 2002). BAR 20:04 (July/Aug 1994). Biblical Archaeology Society.

    “While geographers (excluding Harel) have generally expressed uncertainty over the origins of terracing and are much more circumspect regarding the possible dating of terraces, biblical historians and archaeologists have been much more willing to express an opinion on the subject.”

    Shimon Gibson, Archaeologist, professor at University of North Carolina at Charlotte. – Mazar, A. (2001). Studies in the archaeology of the Iron Age in Israel and Jordan. Based on a colloquium initiated and organized by the Institute of Jewish Studies, University College, London, 16-17, April 1996–Pref. (117). Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press.

    “The third component is the divine consolation. The biblical historian is well aware of the consequences of obedience to the divine command.”

    Butler, T. C. (2002). Vol. 7: Word Biblical Commentary  : Joshua. Word Biblical Commentary (14). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

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

    Thanks Howard! It looks like it does get used fairly often in reference to those who work on ancient Israel. Interesting!

  • Nebbel

    re: Godfrey quote: Any historian referring to Jesus as the founder of Christianity does not deserve to be called an historian.

  • Jonathan Burke

    @James, thanks understood.

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

    Nebbel, the quote you attribute to me is a lie. I have never said anything close to that. Perhaps you are concocting it from James’ post here which completely fails to show the slightest understanding of anything I wrote in my own post at http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/08/13/historians-on-jesus/

    What James has written about my post is at least a little odd for someone who elsewhere says he is so reluctant and slow to answer any of my questions about his own position lest he find he has misinterpreted or misunderstood me or imputes to me any meaning or implication I do not intend.

    I have attempted to sum up my own understanding of what James has himself said, and asked for clarification. He has refused to answer me with either a yes or no or with a yes/no along with a qualification. Yet he is quite capable of blatant fabrication of what I wrote and what I mean when it suits him.

    I stand by everything I have posted. James’ post is all smoke and fails to address anything I have actually said.

    By the way, I have posted a synopsis of the positive approach I take to the question of Christian origins studies. One might note that it is not an argument for mythicism, even, but one that is justifiable and consistent with normative historical standards: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/08/14/another-way-to-study-christian-origins/

    And to be fair, I have even quoted from James some of the remarkable advances HJ scholars have been able to make in the field of historical research at http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/08/14/new-testament-scholars-are-pioneers-in-historical-methods/

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

    Neil, I had no intention of misrepresenting you. Perhaps you understand now why I am trying to proceed slowly, and am just as dismayed when I read a post by you which quotes me and extrapolates things I never envisaged, as you must be when apparently I do the same.

    I appreciated your last post, in which you not only emphasized what you think needs to be done, but acknowledge that what you describe is in fact something that scholars have been doing and continue to do.

    The only thing that I would have added was something minor, namely that an attempt to make sense of the genre of early Christian literature and assess what value if any it has for historians needs to include as well the probable order of composition, since if one of the earliest texts we have treats Jesus as a historical figure and is likely to have been in a position to know whether this was the case or not, then it makes little sense to treat later ones as pure fabrications from start to finish.

    For now, I don’t know what to say except that I remain puzzled by your acknowledgment in some instances, and what I understood to be denial in others, that at least some scholars and historians are doing the things that need to be done and are appropriate with respect to Jesus.

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

      James, I also have been attempting to proceed slowly (something you failed to do in your post above where you have totally sidestepped the singular point I was making about contextual purposes!) but at least I have been trying to proceed.

      So in the interests of actual progress and to avoid the ongoing stonewalling maybe you can answer the one question I have been asking in our conversation (since comment #48) with a clear unambiguous yes or no or yes/no with a simple qualifier to cover any possible misunderstanding you fear might arise over my use of the term “biblical historian” that troubles you so much.

      I am surprised at your positive remarks about my post on an alternative way to study Christian origins. If you had read anything I explained about my approach before you should have recognized I merely summed up in that post what I have been saying now from the beginning.

      I have never said anything about method at any time that has not been derived from biblical scholars themselves. Many times I have given the direct references to my sources.

      Nonetheless you have repeatedly said that I am proposing a method that leads us nowhere and that makes it impossible for us to know anything — despite my repeated attempts to inform you that you are simply incorrect by pointing you to posts where I have explained clearly my methods and why your interpretation of them is wrong.

      I would never want to think that your bias against any mythicist conclusion has blinded you to what I have in fact been saying.

      Your final puzzlements sounds odd indeed. So you find it puzzling that I should think that many scholars are doing justifiable studies of the NT — after all the many posts I have done on them on my blog, positive posts, sharing their views with a wider audience — yet at the same time find sometimes some scholars do not base their arguments on sound methodology or logical coherence?

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

      For that matter, James, I am surprised you did not use the same caution when you accused me of imputing to you a view in support of Doherty’s interpretation of a Greek passage. http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/08/11/even-if-according-to-the-scriptures-meant-according-to-what-we-read-in-the-scriptures/#comment-18260

      But you are certainly cautious about offering an apology when I showed you you were mistaken and I had said the exact opposite of what you accused me. http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/08/11/even-if-according-to-the-scriptures-meant-according-to-what-we-read-in-the-scriptures/

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

    Neil, I had no intention of misrepresenting you. Perhaps you understand now why I am trying to proceed slowly, and am just as dismayed when I read a post by you which quotes me and extrapolates things I never envisaged, as you must be when apparently I do the same.

    I appreciated your last post, in which you not only emphasized what you think needs to be done, but acknowledge that what you describe is in fact something that scholars have been doing and continue to do.

    The only thing that I would have added was something minor, namely that an attempt to make sense of the genre of early Christian literature and assess what value if any it has for historians needs to include as well the probable order of composition, since if one of the earliest texts we have treats Jesus as a historical figure and is likely to have been in a position to know whether this was the case or not, then it makes little sense to treat later ones as pure fabrications from start to finish.

    For now, I don’t know what to say except that I remain puzzled by your acknowledgment in some instances, and what I understood to be denial in others, that at least some scholars and historians are doing the things that need to be done and are appropriate with respect to Jesus.

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

    I will not bother to repeat for you, Mike, all I have explained many times on my blog and that you repeatedly failed to comprehend there, and surely you have read my comments 33 and 34 at http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/fear-of-mythicism/#comments .

    You read my blog enough to run over here and express to others what a creep and low life person I am so you will excuse me for not wasting time responding to you as if you are seriously interested in actually understanding anything I have to say.

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

      I’m afraid you responses at 33 and 34 don’t help make sense of your comment. Perhaps Jonathan will be able to follow along. But if you are not interested in communicating any ideas, I don’t think that will be a loss.

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

    @neilgodfrey:disqus , I am not at all cautious about offering an apology. If my regret was not expressed clearly enough in my post, let me say it here: I apologize.

    I am not the sort of person to write things like, “If you were a nicer mythicist, maybe I would apologize.”  :-)

    I often only have the opportunity to respond to comments on your blog on my iPad, and it does not show comment numbers on that device, and so your references to a comment number were confusing at first and, at any rate, insufficient to clarify what you felt I had not addressed. But I have tried to clarify as much as I could my point about some things being less certain than others, while still being relatively certain, so that after looking at the evidence, one will still conclude that a person or event’s historicity is probable. As I have said several times, that is the sort of “doubt” I was saying is not inappropriate in the case of a figure like Jesus known from the sorts of textual sources we have. They do not provide certainty, and thus cannot be said to eliminate the possibility of doubt. But when, as you encouraged in your recent post, their genre is considered, their contents are considered, and the relative likelihood of various interpretations is considered, I do not see how someone could conclude other than that they are better accounted for in terms of a historical Jesus than in terms of alternative scenarios offered.

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

    I’m sorry I missed your earlier regrets. We should set aside a day to get all our apologies and regrets aired.

    In your post you write:

    They thus provide relatively close analogies to the figure of Jesus. On the one hand, one has to acknowledge that there is room for doubt, that figures like this are not accompanied by inscriptions and physical evidence of a sort that emperors leave behind. Yet this does not mean that it becomes more probable that they were invented, or were originally thought of as mythical celestial entities and later historicized, simply because the historical evidence available, and the tools of historical study, cannot deliver certainty.

    This is one more area where you would have been wiser to have plied your caution. What you say here imputes a false dichotomy into the argument.

    No-one that I know has ever suggested that probability of historicity is enhanced by the absence of the supporting evidence you mention. I have often pointed out that absence of supporting evidence means we cannot decide either way. It is as much a logical fallacy to presume historicity as it is to deny it solely on the absence of supporting evidence.

    This is the fallacy at the heart of HJ studies. HJ studies begins not with a neutral position but with a presumption of historicity underlying the Gospel narrative, and then proceeds to use logically flawed criteria to flesh out the details.

    What I have argued is that the Gospels do contain evidence for the sources used for their narratives, and it is on the strength of that evidence that I argue that the Jesus in them is a theological fiction. Don’t many New Testament scholars (your term, since you object to my “biblical scholars”) say exactly that? That the Christ in the Gospels is a Christ of faith and not the historical Jesus?

    The only difference that I can see is that those same scholars make a presumption that that Christ of faith comes from historical memories. I do not doubt the possibility of that, but I question the evidence upon which it is based. I can, on the other hand, see evidence within the gospels — the same evidence NT scholars see — that that Christ in the gospels has been imaginatively created out of the inspiration of other literature.

    The historical Jesus model in fact runs in to many quandries, including “Easter mysteries” that NT scholars try to solve. The mythicist position avoids such problems and can explain in terms that require no mysteries the origins of the Gospel narratives.

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

      I see a couple of problems with this post.  I’ll see what the rest of you think. One, “no-one that I know has ever suggested that probability of historicity is enhanced by the absence of the supporting evidence”. No, they do not.  I’m not sure why it is said.  Does Neil think James is arguing that the lack of the supporting evidence mentioned (inscriptions and physical evidence of a sort that emperors leave behind) makes the case for HJ stronger? Or is this a typo?
       
       
      “I have often pointed out that absence of supporting evidence means we cannot decide either way.”  But I think McGrath’s comments were aimed at the wider mythicist position as articulated by its supporters.  I actually don’t recall Neil ever being explicit about this.  It will be refreshing if the idea that we should not place much emphasis on the fact that there are no contemporary artifacts related to Jesus (since we shouldn’t expect them) catches on among Jesus Myth supporters; it was always a bad argument. I think this quote from Neil will be a god antidote to Steve and Evan’s tired arguments.
       
       
      “It is as much a logical fallacy to presume historicity as it is to deny it solely on the absence of supporting evidence” Yes, again this is true. Is presuming historicity done now? I haven’t seen evidence of that outside evangelical material, and even they claim to appeal to rational arguments for historicity.  Now it is true that Christian history had the same level of presumed authenticity as many other ancient histories.  And within decades of each other, criticism of religious history followed criticism of secular history. The idea of a Jesus myth has been around over a century now, so it isn’t as though no one had considered this till now.  I would be shocked if anyone in secular university systems is simply presuming Jesus existed. I have even questioned if I am a historical person, as I’m sure a Sci Fi nerd like McGrath has done.
       
       
      “This is the fallacy at the heart of HJ studies” And here we go! You know I hear this a lot from him, but I don’t think it is true. Of all the issues that exist in this field of study, I don’t think presumption is one of them.  It is a given, books don’t open with a discussion of the historicity of Jesus but they don’t for President Obama either. What is important is it has been discussed and has gotten little support. Unless someone puts forward a new case, there is little reason to keep revisiting the same arguments and the same evidence.
       
       
      “(the) Christ of faith comes from historical memories. I do not doubt the possibility of that, but I question the evidence upon which it is based. I can, on the other hand, see evidence within the gospels — the same evidence NT scholars see — that that Christ in the gospels has been imaginatively created out of the inspiration of other literature.”
       
      I think this is another of Neil’s critical problems, he thinks he is following the work of these NT scholars, when in fact he is not.  They see portions that can be accounted for this way and portions that cannot. That is why they aren’t Jesus mythers, because if they can’t  find a source using their criteria, then it is likely an original invention of the Christian movement, from either imagination or experience.  Neil and co.  are either speculating or using less skepticism than the scholars in determining dependence.
       
      “The historical Jesus model in fact runs in to many quandries, including “Easter mysteries” that NT scholars try to solve. The mythicist position avoids such problems and can explain in terms that require no mysteries the origins of the Gospel narratives.” So he says. Was there a need to restate the mythicist position here?

  • Jonathan Burke

    // As I have made abundantly clear in all my exchanges with James on the
    matter, and again in the post which is his target here, there is a
    difference between using criteriology of the sort James boasts that HJ
    scholars have refined etc in order to FIND some “historical facts” to
    inquire about as a historian, and in using those criteria to INTERPRET
    “historical facts” themselves.//

    How does this make what historical Jesus scholars do any different to what other historical scholars do? Scholars of the Ancient Near East are always applying sets of criteria to ancient texts in order to FIND some historical facts in the texts; to determine which parts of the text are historical and which aren’t. As I’ve already pointed out, they even use some of the same criteria as are used by the historical Jesus scholars.

    //And J, are you seriously asking me for a quotation from a peer reviewed
    journal article to justify what I have said I have come to believe as a
    result of reading quite widely (by layman standards, surely) on scholars
    writing about the historical Jesus?//

    Yes I am. Are you not used to people requesting evidence of your assertions? Please do justify your claim from the relevant scholarly literature, or withdraw it with a justifiable statement. I do not have the burden of proving your claims wrong, you have the burden of proving them right. So let’s see your evidence please.

    This is an important point, because I have observed that the Mytherist case, and Mytherist claims, are characterized by:

    * Lack of evidence: claims made without any evidence to support them, and objections when evidence is requested

    * Lack of third party verification: one or two Mytherists making easily disproved claims, and other Mytherists repeating them without ever having checked the facts for themselves

    This demonstrates that Mytherism is not evidence based, and that its adherents are not particularly interested in checking the factual accuracy of what they’ve been told to believe by other Mytherists. Doherty says a Greek word means X, and Mytherists simply repeat this claim without even one of them bothering to look it up and approach Doherty saying ‘Ok, so why does every single professional lexicon give this word a completely different meaning to the one you claim for it?’.

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

      Jonathan, it is interesting how Neil takes to playing the reasonable man victimized by zealots when his baseless assertions are challenged but is all fire and brimstone when he is making them.  How would one describe a person who engages in such hypocritical behavior?

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

    How does this make what historical Jesus scholars do any different to
    what other historical scholars do? Scholars of the Ancient Near East are
    always applying sets of criteria to ancient texts in order to FIND some
    historical facts in the texts; to determine which parts of the text are
    historical and which aren’t. As I’ve already pointed out, they even use
    some of the same criteria as are used by the historical Jesus scholars.

    Can you please share some details? I have always said I am open to some exceptions, but what I have read of the ways a number of monuments are interpreted does not lead me to understand they are exceptions. So can you give an example or two — that is, if you do feel any burden to prove me wrong, of course.

    (Would you like me to give you evidence from the relevant scholarly literature to verify that I really do think this is the case?)

    Yes I am. Are you not used to people requesting evidence of your
    assertions? Please do justify your claim from the relevant scholarly
    literature, or withdraw it with a justifiable statement. I do not have
    the burden of proving your claims wrong, you have the burden of proving
    them right. So let’s see your evidence please.

    You are missing entirely what I have said in two comments now. Or maybe you really do expect me to find in the relevant scholarly literature a study involving lie dectectors and pyschoanalysts (you are a good one) to assure you that yes, what I have said I believe after much reading of Fredriksen, S. Davies, et al is that they all say the same thing that I have come to observe and believe about the literature. Or maybe I can do a Galileo and say, “I retract my claim that I believe X” but as I walk out the gate mutter to myelf, “But I really do conclude it anyway.”

    What I am not used to — except among the most arrogant of fundamentalist (or American conservative?) type Christians — is bothering to take arrogant inquisatorial blustering in my stride. Step down from acting the part of the prosecuting attorney or brow-beating cop and you will find me quite open to sharing of ideas.

    But I glanced at a comment of yours somewhere else (I never bothered to finish reading it, nor most of the thread) where you engage in all sorts of imaginative psychoanalysis and stereotyping. If you knew the first thing about me you would know I do question Doherty, and that my arguments about method are not even  arguments for mythicism — as I have made clear many times. Mythicism is a conclusion, and one of a number of possible conclusions, not a goal or a cause to be argued for its own sake.

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

     
    Neil has attempted to explain his views above here, http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/the-fallacy-at-the-heart-of-historical-jesus-scholarship/#comments  .  As best as I can tell, the argument is that NT scholars lack the sources that scholars of other areas of history have.  It seems Neil believes that there are no instances of Historians attempting to make judgments or reconstructions of events that don’t have the bounty of sources that Hitler, Napoleon or Julius Caesar have.  I don’t see any evidence of this being true, since I have seen a number of historians treat episodes in history that are not so well attested as episodes in history.
     
    “They have public records and eye-witness and contemporary accounts and documents of verifiable provenance to work with. They have sufficient data to be able to interpret to give them assurance that they have a body of “historical facts” to work with.”
     
    I don’t think modern historians, or at least that I’ve seen, take these documents at face value as facts. They, like the sources for early Christianity have to be sorted using criteria to get a judge of accuracy. Just because a text claims to be an eye-witness does not meant they are or that they are accurately reporting what their eyes see.  Ancient sources are not free from propaganda, rumor or folk tales. So, like NT scholars, classical scholars and other historians of the ancient world need to use criteria to separate fact from fiction. That there are more agreed on facts concerning big issues in history than small ones is not surprising, there is no different kind of history but different degrees. There are more agreed on facts concerning WWII than the Gallic War or the Carthaginian wars. Does this mean historians of the Gallic and Carthaginian wars are doing work that is unacceptable by the standards of modern historiography? Any facts that are contained in an ancient source are called facts because they are multiply attested, dissimilar, and coherent. It is not because we don’t think a Greek historian would lie or pass along inaccurate information.
     
    I get the impression that Neil is simply making up facts to get around what seems to be the real issue, that Neil doesn’t like the results of NT historical work.   The rest is just him trying to pass off his own personal opinions as true historical methodologies in the hopes of fooling the uninformed.

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

    Jonathan, it is interesting how Neil takes to playing the reasonable man victimized by zealots when his baseless assertions are challenged but is all fire and brimstone when he is making them.  How would one describe a person who engages in such hypocritical behavior?

  • Jonathan Burke

    //Can you please share some details?//

    Certainly. You can start with the two conflicting accounts of the battle of Kadesh; both the Egyptians and the Hittites claim victory, and the Egyptian record in particular contains claims of divine intervention and obvious exaggerations.[1]

    These two texts are the ONLY evidence for the battle of Kadesh. Despite the fact that archaeologists know where the battle was fought, despite the fact that 5,000 chariots and over 50,000 men were involved, and despite the fact that the battle took two days, there is not a single scrap of direct physical evidence that it ever took place at all. All we have are these two texts, which both contradict each other and cannot be verified independently.

    So, with two texts which disagree on almost every detail of an event for which there is no physical evidence whatsoever, how are facts to be determined? Bear in mind that there is NO scholarly consensus on an outcome; an Egyptian victory, a Hittite victory, and a draw, have all been proposed.

    //Would you like me to give you evidence from the relevant scholarly
    literature to verify that I really do think this is the case?//

    I have never asked you for evidence from relevant scholarly literature to verify that you ‘really do think’ anything. That is an absurd statement which has no relevance to anything I have written.

    //Or maybe you really do expect me to find in the relevant scholarly
    literature a study involving lie dectectors and pyschoanalysts (you are a
    good one) to assure you that yes, what I have said I believe after much
    reading of Fredriksen, S. Davies, et al is that they all say the same
    thing that I have come to observe and believe about the literature.//

    You made a claim, and I asked you (once), very simply, to provide evidence. That’s it. No brow-beating, no arrogance, no lie detectors and psychoanalysts. I am not asking you to prove that you believe what you say is true (what a weird idea), I am asking you to provide evidence that the claim you made, is true.

    Everyone else on this blog has been asked to do this (Doherty is always asking it of everyone else, and I’ve asked it of Doherty more than once, though he typically just refuses to answer), so you’re not being singled out for special attention.

    All you have to do is provide evidence for your claim. Alternatively, you could say you would prefer not to try and find evidence for your claim, or you could simply acknowledge it was an off the cuff comment made in the heat of the moment which was the product of enthusiastic rhetoric rather than knowledge of facts.

    _____________________
    [1]‘This romanticized record of the Battle of Qadesh cannot be treated as a truthful account of what happened, and I doubt whether many ancient Egyptians would have accepted it wholly as an historical record’, James, ‘Pharaoh’s People: Scenes from Life in Imperial Egypt’, p. 26 (2007); he notes however that the ‘broad facts’ are ‘probably reported with a fair degree of accuracy’, p. 27)

  • Fabrizio Palestini

    Dear Jonathan, in my opinion your analogy (the battle of Kadesh as an example of use of tools to discover historical fact outside NT studies) is incorrect, and when correctly rephrased it backfires.
    The correct parallels with Neil’s methodology is the following:

    Historicity of Jesus Historicity of the battle of Kadesh
    Details of the life of Jesus Details of the battle

    Neil is saying that before we can discuss the details of Jesus’s life we must discuss the overall question of his historicity. Lacking any primary evidence for this, we are left with secondary evidences of uncertain provenance, date and (often) unknown authorship. The literary genre of these documents is very far even from ancient historiography, and they are full of incredible details. They all originated from the Christian movement itself.
    In the end, there is no external attestation.
    The question of the historicity of Jesus is then, according to Neil (please correct me, Neil, if I’m mistaken) an ill founded historical enterprise, as it would be the quest for the historical Abraham or Moses. Strictly speaking, this has little if anything to do with mythicism.

    If we look now at the battle of Kadesh, the situation is dramatically different, and the behaviour of the historians accords pretty well with what Neil has been saying since the beginning of this discussion. In this instance (Kadesh) we have plentiful attestation that the battle has been indeed fought. I mean, primary evidences, unambiguously located at the time of the purported events, both literary and archaeological, such as the inscriptions in several temples built by Ramesses II, as well as the letter written by Ramesses II himself to Hattusili III, and moreover evidences from the other side, i.e., the Hittites. The fact that these evidences are propagandistic in nature has nothing to do with them being primary evidences anyway.

    The differences with respect to the case of Jesus are thus very clear: we have primary evidences, and we have evidences from independent sources (Egyptians and Hittites). These facts give the historians the reasonable certainty that a battle was indeed fought in Kadesh. Therefore they can employ a set of tools to extract the details.

    To summarize what I’m saying: what historians do in the case of the battle of Kadesh is in no way similar to what NT scholars do in the case of the historicity of Jesus. The primary evidences allow them to use a set of tools to try to extract historical details about a historically certain fact. That is not possible in the case of Jesus, and NT scholars use a set of tools as a way to recover the lacking primary evidences.
    Moreover, your particular example shows that the case of the battle of Kadesh is handled by historians just in the way Neil Godfrey recommend.

    Again, please Neil correct me if I misunderstood your thoughts on the matter.

    Best regards to everyone

    Fabrizio

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

    You are correct, Fabrizio. Jonathan clearly has no comprehension of the first thing I have argued over the years. And the fact that he continues to confuse my argument with a “mythicist argument” demonstrates that his obsession with mythicism has blinded him from any normal abiltity to comprehend it — not unlike McGrath’s efforts to respond to Doherty’s arguments.

    I know of no other area of history where historians use unprovenanced texts whose narrative lacks any control (that is contemporary external confirmation), and that are even of debatable genre to boot, as a source for “historical events”. The Kadesh Battle is one of the more strongly attested events in all of ancient history and no-one had to discover its historicity by applying the criterion of embarrassment to an unprovenanced Hittite tablet in the absence of any other supporting evidence.

    The best that unprovenanced narratives lacking any controls can offer is incidental confirmation of customs, settings, thought-world etc from around the general time period. The fact that the narratives contain genuine historical persons and places does nothing to confirm the historicity of the narrative itself since even Hellenistic novels contain historical persons and places just as modern ones do.

    NT historiography has been said to be “pioneering” at times. Well, modern historians have yet to catch up with these remarkable pioneering contributions: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/08/16/how-modern-historians-use-myths-as-historical-sources-or-can-hobsbawm-recover-the-historical-robin-hood/

    What I have argued is nothing different from what Albert Schweitzer himself acknowledged, and that a range of biblical scholars themselves have asserted — and I have quoted several of them over the months and years. It is all about logical validity — and most recently we have Dale C. Allison himself conceding that historical Jesus scholarship, as it is practiced by scholarship today, is trapped within circularity.

    I spelled out exactly the approach that I believe is a valid one to avoid this circularity and even McGrath says he had no real objection to it. http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/08/14/another-way-to-study-christian-origins/

    But of course McGrath is approaching it with loaded assumptions about the arguments from genre. My method is not as simplistic in this area as McG has argued in relation to genre himself. Literary analysis necessarily involves comparative literary studies — and McG seems elsewhere to have said these do not have a role in historical inquiry but are a different study entirely. I argue that they are an essential first step to understanding the nature of the evidence being examined historically.

    NT scholars have no more logically valid rationale (I think) for investigating the “historical Jesus” than they do for bothering with “the historical Hillel”. The evidence does not lend itself to the exploration of such a question. That is not to say there was no historical Jesus, but if a historical Jesus is to be taken seriously he needs to be “discovered” by normative historical methods that accepts the limitations and nature of the available evidence.

    But no doubt nothing I say will stop Jonathan from ranting and raving about what he believes are my egregious errors. I had missed his earlier reply, and thank Fabrizio for his comment that did get through to me.

    (Jonathan, your “logic” escapes me. When I hear someone say “I believe X” and then hear someone else respond with “I disagree” . . .  well, it is clear to me that the second person is a bit short on comprehension capacity. You can’t disagree with someone saying they believe something. They either do believe or they don’t. Their belief has nothing to do with you disagreeing with them.

    But what I said is hardly controversial. Jump up and down all you like, it is almost a truism that the only fact about the life of Jesus you will find undisputed amonst scholars is his crucifixion. I have mentioned a couple of names that come immediately to mind for explicitly repeating this very obvious fact, and all you have to do to refute me is point to just one detail of his life that all scholars agree is a fact as surely as the fact that Julius Caesar conquered Gaul or crossed the Rubicon. There is none. Even the baptism has been disputed. I have addressed this often enough before and have no intention of jumping to your whims, Jonathan. It is clear that nothing I could ever say or do will ever stop you from ranting against anyone you choose to label a mythicist. )

  • Jonathan Burke

    Dear Fabrizio,

    //Dear Jonathan, in my opinion your analogy (the battle of Kadesh as an example of use of tools to discover historical fact outside NT studies) is incorrect, and when correctly rephrased it backfires.//

    Please read my post again. You are not addressing what I wrote. The issue under discussion was whether or not any scholar outside the study of the historical Jesus applies sets of criteria in order to FIND SOME HISTORICAL FACTS IN THE TEXT. It was not whether they apply sets of criteria in order to DETERMINE THE HISTORICITY OF AN EVENT.

    Here’s Neil’s original statement.

    * ‘using criteriology of the sort James boasts that HJ scholars have refined etc in order to FIND some “historical facts” to inquire about as a historian’

    As you can see, this is not about determining the historicity of an event, it is about using criteria to FIND SOME HISTORICAL FACTS TO INQUIRE ABOUT as a historian.

    Accordingly, I wrote this.

    * Scholars of the Ancient Near East are always applying sets of criteria to ancient texts in order to FIND some historical facts in the texts; to determine WHICH PARTS OF THE TEXT are historical and which aren’t

    As you can see, this is not about determining the historicity of an event, it is about using criteria to FIND SOME HISTORICAL FACTS TO INQUIRE ABOUT as a historian.

    I note that you did not actually answer my question, which suggests you did not actually read my entire post anyway. Here it is again.

    //So, with two texts which disagree on almost every detail of an event for which there is no physical evidence whatsoever, how are facts to be determined? Bear in mind that there is NO scholarly consensus on an outcome; an Egyptian victory, a Hittite victory, and a draw, have all been proposed.//

    Please tell me how you can prove who won this battle, and how you can prove which statements in the texts are propaganda, fabrication, or myth, and which are historical facts. Remember, this is is not about establishing the historicity of the event. This is about using criteria to FIND SOME HISTORICAL FACTS TO INQUIRE ABOUT as a historian.

    The manner in which the Egyptian and Hittite texts are handled by historians is the same as the manner in which the texts relevant to the historical Jesus are handled. And of course, despite the fact that the Egyptian and Hittite texts are propagandist, full of exaggeration, contain references to fictional events, and contradict each other, even you as a Mytherist will insist that they are valuable historical records which are reliable despite all their flaws.

    //Neil is saying that before we can discuss the details of Jesus’s life we must discuss the overall question of his historicity.//

    I agree. This is not in dispute.

    //Lacking any primary evidence for this, we are left with secondary evidences of uncertain provenance, date and (often) unknown authorship.//

    You are excluding Josephus and Tacitus. These are secondary sources which are not of uncertain provenance, date, or authorship. Why are you excluding these sources?

    //The literary genre of these documents is very far even from ancient historiography, and they are full of incredible details. They all originated from the Christian movement itself.//

    So what? Do you think this means we can’t extract any historical facts from them? If you do, why do you think this?

    //In the end, there is no external attestation.//

    Except for Josephus and Tacitus?

    //To summarize what I’m saying: what historians do in the case of the battle of Kadesh is in no way similar to what NT scholars do in the case of the historicity of Jesus. The primary evidences allow them to use a set of tools to try to extract historical details about a historically certain fact. That is not possible in the case of Jesus, and NT scholars use a set of tools as a way to recover the lacking primary evidences.//

    Secondary evidence allows historians to do this as well, and historians addressing the historicity of Jesus do with their texts what historians do in the case of the battle of Kadesh.

    • Fabrizio Palestini

      Dear Jonathan, in my opinion you are wrong about what is the matter under discussion. What Neil has been advancing from a long time now, and what is of import to the discussion of the historicity of Jesus, is how and when the historicity of an event can be ascertained from the evidence. Cherrypicking a single phrase from Neil is, in my humble opinion, of no interest to anyone.

      I’ve no problem with your statement that “Scholars of the Ancient Near East are always applying sets of criteria
      to ancient texts in order to FIND some historical facts in the texts”.
      They do so often, but for what I see only when the historical events in object are externally confirmed by independent attestations (I mean, independently from the text itself). Can you find a single example where a historical event (a battle, a person) is accepted by historian only on the basis of a text of unknown or uncertain provenance, authorship, date and uncertain genre? Which is furthermore clearly not primary evidence at all?
      This is the parallel we are looking for.
      I would be very interested in seeing how historians deal with such a situation outside NT.

      For what concerns your question:

      //So, with two texts which disagree on almost every detail of an event
      for which there is no physical evidence whatsoever, how are facts to be
      determined? Bear in mind that there is NO scholarly consensus on an
      outcome; an Egyptian victory, a Hittite victory, and a draw, have all
      been proposed.//

      Given that we have many external confirmations of the historicity of the event, historians are in my opinion legitimate to use those criteria to ascertain the details (outcome of the battle etc.). The fact that there is no agreement on the details even when primary evidences are plentiful should IMHO be taken as a lesson in NT studies. Any of the historians studying the battle of Kadesh does not call kook whoever doesn’t agree with him.
      The fewer and poorer the data, the bigger the number of theories that (poorly!) fit the data.

      For what concerns Tacitus, it is secondary evidence. Maybe it is an independet attestation, maybe not. What is the source of Tacitus claim? The text as it stands shows traces of tampering and presents some difficulties. See, for example, Van Voorst (Jesus Outside the New Testament, p39ff), and compare it with Doherty (Jesus Neither God nor Man, p587ff). I’m uncertain about Tacitus, I’d be glad to hear your take on the matter.

      Josephus testimony is instead useless, in my opinion. Its text has been heavily redacted, and modern attempts to extract a Josephian genuine core are nothing more than wishful thinking. Here I’ve appreciated Doherty’s discussion a lot and I consider that part of his book as by far superior to the standard scholarly analysis. See Doherty JNGNM p.533ff, and this series of posts on Vridar blog:
      http://vridar.wordpress.com/category/religion/josephus/testimonium-flavianum-josephus-2/

      For what concerns your three new examples, again the facts listed in those texts are accepted as historical by the community of historians if they possess external attestations.
      The Sumerian King list i(SKL) s indeed very interesting: it is the only source of information about long periods of time, and as such is sometimes *tentatively* accepted as historical. I’ve no problem with this. But do you think that an historian questioning the historicity of a name with no external attestation would be considered an unreasonable skeptic, a kook?
      This is what P. Steinkeller (Harvard) has to say about the SKL (from Literatur, Politik und Recht in Mesopotamien, p.267):
      “[...] no other source has generated as much controversy as SKL, in regard to the date and place of its origin, the particulars of its composition, or its veracity as a historical document. Ancient texts of anonymous authorship, such as SKL, by their very nature are condemned to this kind of controversy. They usually bear their curse forever, unless — and this happens exceedingly rarely — their Vorlage or prototype is discovered”.

      In my opinion Neil’s suggestions (which are simply borrowed from Old Testament modern scholarship such as Lemke, Davies, Thompson) is the correct one. The application of the so called criteria of authenticity (in absence of external attestation) to the old Testament would lead to the improper identification of “probable” deeds and words of Moses and Abraham, a way of doing theologically motivated history that has been discredited now.

      Best

      Fabrizio

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

    Jonathan, you are wrong about what I have argued repeatedly over quite some time now. Fabrizio is correct. What is at issue is both the historicity of an event or person and establishing historicity of facts to begin with.

    So we have Jesus appearing in the gospels — most people assume he is an historical person. Can that be confirmed? I think not.

    But scholars have a mass of anecdotes about Jesus in the gospels, and many HJ scholars seek to find out what it is about Jesus that they can say he actually did or did not do or say. The only event they generally accept a priori is the crucifixion. They all accept the historicity of Jesus. They generally all start as agnostics on the details of his life — the facts to be associated with him.

    They begin with a blank slate about this Jesus. So each HJ scholar then presents his or her arguments (based on criteriology) for why they opt for this or that detail to be added to the biography of Jesus.

    I probably could have worded my initial statement a little clearer, and I was writing shorthand for an argument that a number of people on this blog apparently know quite well — or at least have heard me express aspects of it often enough here, as well as link to full explanations of it, and this blog does quite often engage directly with my own posts on my blog about this.

    I suggest you exercise a little of the cautious approach that Dr McGrath has said he is attempting to follow — this is not the first time you have just barged in and got the wrong end of the stick, though you won’t admit it.

    And even Albert Schweitzer knew why Josephus and Tacitus could not qualify as controls.

  • Jonathan Burke

    Neil,

    * Jonathan clearly has no comprehension of the first thing I have argued over the years
    * his obsession with mythicism has blinded him from any normal abiltity to comprehend it
    * But no doubt nothing I say will stop Jonathan from ranting and raving
    * It is clear that nothing I could ever say or do will ever stop you from ranting against anyone you choose to label a mythicist
    * well, it is clear to me that the second person is a bit short on comprehension capacity

    Why are you so consistently abusive and violent in what you write? I don’t write to you in this tone. Do you think that copying Doherty’s method of personal attacks on those with whom he disagrees, makes your case any stronger, or lends it any validity? Why do you write like this?

    It is clear that you, like Fabrizio, have not actually read my post properly. Please do so, and you will discover the actual issue under discussion. Then we can talk about it.

    //I know of no other area of history where historians use unprovenanced
    texts whose narrative lacks any control (that is contemporary external
    confirmation), and that are even of debatable genre to boot, as a source
    for “historical events”.//

    Historians do this with the Ancient Near East all the time. Here are just three examples.

    * Ipuwer Papyrus: author unknown, date unknown, genre disputed, nevertheless used to reconstruct historical events of the First and Second Intermediate Periods

    * Tale of Sinuhe: author unknown, date unknown (disputed within a general range), genre generally considered to be fiction, but still considered to contain authentic historical data

    * Sumerian King List: author unknown, date unknown (a general 2nd millennium BC date is accepted), edited and re-edited countless times over the years by unknown hands, contains a chronology of rulers which cannot be harmonized as presented in the text, refers to numerous rulers reigning for hundreds or thousands of years, no historical evidence has ever been found for nearly half the rulers in the list, yet is used to reconstruct details of Sumerian history and is considered a major historical source for the 3rd millennium BC (unlike Mytherists, these historians see nothing wrong with accepting the historicity of a king who is said to have ruled for over 600 years)

    //Jonathan, your “logic” escapes me. When I hear someone say “I believe X” and then hear someone else respond with “I disagree” . . .//

    But that’s not what happened; it wasn’t that you said ‘I believe X’ and I said ‘I disagree’. You made a claim, and I requested evidence for your claim. It is now clear that no evidence for your claim will be forthcoming, and instead your are insisting that your claim is true unless I can provide evidence contradicting it. This tactic does not surprise me.

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

    And Jonathan, having made up his mind about what I argue and have said, has taken his straw men off into his room to set about arguing against them till they both finally die. He can then emerge boasting victory over one more mytherist.

  • Jonathan Burke

    //Jonathan, you are wrong about what I have argued repeatedly over quite
    some time now.//

    I quoted you directly.

    * ‘using criteriology of the sort James boasts that HJ scholars have
    refined etc in order to FIND some “historical facts” to inquire about
    as a historian’

     Please let me know if these words (of yours), are an inaccurate representation of what you have argued.

    //Fabrizio is correct. What is at issue is both the
    historicity of an event or person and establishing historicity of facts
    to begin with.//

    The issue I addressed was this.

    * ‘using criteriology of the sort James boasts that HJ scholars have
    refined etc in order to FIND some “historical facts” to inquire about
    as a historian’

    Neither you nor Fabrizio have addressed what I wrote in reply to this point of yours.

    //So we have Jesus appearing in the gospels — most people assume he is an historical person. Can that be confirmed? I think not.//

    Please understand that ‘I think’ is not proper historical methodology.

    //They all accept the historicity of Jesus.//

    Do you understand why they accept the historicity of Jesus?

    //I probably could have worded my initial statement a little clearer…//

    You were perfectly clear. You said this.

    * ‘using criteriology of the sort James boasts that HJ scholars have
    refined etc in order to FIND some “historical facts” to inquire about
    as a historian’

    I addressed it. You also said this.

    * I know of no other area of history where historians use unprovenanced texts whose narrative lacks any control (that is contemporary external confirmation), and that are even of debatable genre to boot, as a source for “historical events”

    I gave you some examples. Over to you.

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

    @Fabrizio, the problem I have with the way you put matters is that it sounds like you are saying that we must establish the historicity of Jesus independently of the evidence provided by our textual sources, which is obviously impossible for all the minor characters in history whom we know about only through such sources. So perhaps you could clarify what you meant?

    Since classes begin next week, perhaps someone else who has more time and the interest in doing so could put together a list of the significant number of anonymous chronicles and accounts that historians use and find to be of some value?

    Given the implausibility of other proposed interpretations of the information Paul provides, unless one wants to date the Gospels earlier than his letters, the only viable option is to treat the Gospels as some sort of narrative about a historical figure. The only real issue is whether they contain a significant amount of useful historical data or very little. They could be like the Hellenistic novels, works of historical fiction, but their central figure cannot be ahistorical as long as one takes seriously the information provided by Paul and the fact that he had met Jesus’ brother, and thus was in a position to know whether Jesus was a historical figure or not.

    If this discussion were about anyone other than Jesus, this line of reasoning would be compelling not only to historians but to pretty much anyone. It would not provide certainty, but it would be enough basis for historians to proceed with confidence that the historicity of the figure is at least somewhat more likely than his non-historicity. And I suspect that that is something most participants in this conversation might be able to agree on.

    • Anonymous

      It seems like I keep reading the same discredited arguments over and over without any alteration in the face of repeated correction. Galatians 1:19 does not mention Jesus. There is no textual discrepancy at all, all witnesses agree that the word used is kyrios. Both Dunn and Hurtado agree that the Greek word kyrios is used to mean Yahweh in the epistles. 

      So at best one can say that Paul says he met the Lord’s brother. But according to the standard historicist paradigm, the deification of Jesus is a late finding and not attested in the early epistles. I can recall being told this repeatedly by historicists on this blog. Therefore, this reference simply cannot help to establish the historicity of Jesus. In fact, Ludemann clearly states that Paul is not a witness to the historicity of Jesus.

      I wonder if repeated refutation will cause this talking point to die or if it will repeatedly rise, like a zombie, without the acknowledgment of any textual difficulties with this reading.

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

      @Fabrizio, the problem I have with the way you put matters is that it
      sounds like you are saying that we must establish the historicity of
      Jesus independently of the evidence provided by our textual sources,
      which is obviously impossible for all the minor characters in history
      whom we know about only through such sources. So perhaps you could
      clarify what you meant?

      Since classes begin next week, perhaps
      someone else who has more time and the interest in doing so could put
      together a list of the significant number of anonymous chronicles and
      accounts that historians use and find to be of some value?

      James, you appear to be “very cautious” and “proceeding very slowly” when it comes to indicating any comprehension of what I have pointed out to you many times. We are not only talking about anonymous texts but unprovenanced texts — there is a difference — and to narratives within those texts that lack external control.

      Your regular attempts to misrepresent this position as a scepticism with respect to texts per se and to anonymity per se are — given the number of times I have pointed out this misrepresentation — entirely gratuitous.

    • Fabrizio Palestini

      Dear James,
      I’m only repeating what Neil has been saying for years now, in innumerable occasions. In absence of primary evidences, we must test the secondary ones at the level of their authorship, provenance, literary genre, interdependence, etc.

      It seems to me a good approach. And is there any historical axiom which requires us to extracts historical fact for minor characters? If nothing can be said about them, let them stay in the shadow like Moses and Abraham.

      The discussion about Jesus is very complicated by the nature of the secondary evidences we have, which seems to share a common origin, a wide disrespect for historiography, a common attitude to invent stories for literary and theological purposes.
      Other sources for Jesus are always problematic: Paul and his strange approach to Jesus, non-christian attestation tampered with by christian scribes etc.

      So I would turn back to you your question. What is in your mind a good way to deal with such minor characters? What are the limits where a narrative can be considered entirely fictitious? If we can define the myth, we can define what myth is not. I’d like to see a list of operative principles which, however, do not resuscitate Abraham when applied to the OT.

      In the end what I’m stating is the following:
      1) Neil’s approach makes a lot of sense to me, but if you have a better one you are welcome;
      2) I’m not sure that in Neil’s approach Jesus can be safely relegated to a position besides Moses, Salomon etc, i.e., as characters whose status (historical or mythical) is of not interest to the historical enterprise. It is so complicate to deal with all the problems and conclude something tangible here. But I’m not confident in the consensus because Biblical studies have a recent story of rejection of new theories that is so often underestimated. See, e.g., the case of Thomas L. Thompson.
      3) I’m not sure that Jesus Myth theory by Doherty is superior, more or less equal or inferior to the mainstream competitors. They all seem to me so poor, because we have so poor data. When I see the common (mainstream) description(s) of Jesus’ life and the subsequent events, well, I’m sorry but it does not work for me. It’s something still too inexplicable that from an hardly significant character such an outburst could start. I’m still looking for a theory which really makes historical sense to me.
      4) What instead strike me as suspicious is the agressive response to the Jesus Myth theory. Given the situation of complicacy, of ambiguity and paucity of data, to pick up just that theory as unreasonable is a bit too stressed in my opinion. It reminds me of the cries which accompanied the theories about Jesus as a Cynic-like sage. By the way, those reactions (see, e.g., Kloppenborg’s “Excavating Q”) shows that NT studies is still a work in progress as a truly secular scientific enterprise, do you agree?

      Best
      Fabrizio

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

    For relative newcomers to the discussions on this blog, one of the many reasons I gave up on trying to have a reasoned conversation with Evan (aka beallen0417) is the fact that he can consider the lame and unconvincing response “Maybe James was Yahweh’s brother” a “refutation” if the understanding of the text that all translators, commentators, scholars and historians agree upon unanimously, and with good reason.

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

      James, so long as you consider it impossible to have a respectful difference of opinion on Galatians 1:19 (based on a range of arguments) you are shutting off any possibility of a civil dialogue — which may be your intent given that you have said you do not wish anyone to think mythicists should be treated seriously.

      But your refusal to accept the possibility of a respectful difference of opinion is protested by Albert Schweitzer who took strong exception to those — on both sides of the argument — who resort to forcing agreement with their interpretations by appealing to “sound judgment”, “a sense of reality, common sense, etc. — which is exactly what you are doing in relation to your interpretation of Galatians 1:19.

      http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/02/15/schweitzers-comments-on-the-historical-mythical-jesus-debate/

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

    Neil, you are absolutely right that the list should be works which are anonymous and of uncertain provenance, so as to illustrate just how many sources there are of this sort in a way that addresses exactly what you claimed and not only part of it.

    If any Medievalists, or historians of the Crusades, or scholars of late antiquity and early Islamic era Mesopotamia are out there listening in quietly, please chime in. I know that there are many of these sorts of sources in your fields, and that you can provide a list of the sorts of sources mentioned off the top of your heads that it would take me days to compile. If anyone has the time and willingness, it would be appreciated. If not, I’ll try to get to it when I can.

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

      You love to play games, don’t you James. I trust you are aware of how much historical value historians place in the Augustan histories — and these are narratives that do refer to known events and persons for which we do have controls external to the texts.

      But since I know you are just so flooded with examples that will completely demolish everything I have argued — it will take you days, you said, to compile them all — I am sure there must be JUST ONE on the top of your head to which you can refer in the meantime! I mean — there are SO MANY — just one that comes to mind for now will do.

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

      Why not use the earliest ballads we have for Robin Hood? They are unprovenanced, I think. Can you apply the criteria NT scholars (is that term okay? I try to use it instead of ‘biblical scholars’ to which you object) have refined and that are the same as used by other historians to these to see if we can assign some probability to the historicity of Robin Hood? http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/08/16/how-modern-historians-use-myths-as-historical-sources-or-can-hobsbawm-recover-the-historical-robin-hood/

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

    @Neil, since when does respectful dialogue mean granting the validity of the claims one disagrees with? There is no range of viewpoints about the meaning and grammar of Paul’s wording among any who have offered linguistic or historical analysis.

    I suppose I could say that it is possible that Paul meant what mythicists claim, and simply expressed himself poorly? Would that be respectful? I can acknowledge that it is not strictly speaking impossible that a deceitful deity created a world that looks like it evolved when dealing with creationists, so I suppose that what I suggested might be the equivalent sort of respect to be shown towards mythicists.

    But there is a difference. When one brings an omnipotent deceived into the picture, nothing is impossible, whereas when it comes to what Paul wrote, he is a human being using human words and grammar, and while it is always theoretically possible that he meant something other than what he wrote, what he actually wrote is not open to an infinite range of possible meanings, but is constrained my considerations of a lexical, grammatical, historical and contextual sort.

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

    Just repeating your own argument and playing with straw man in place of your opponents’ arguments does not advance anything.

    In that link to Carrier’s discussion that you linked to for us ( http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/fear-of-mythicism/#comment-18357 ) Carrier says that one cannot qualify to become a Doctor until one is able to demonstrate a full understanding of the opposing arguments. Is that true for anyone who wants to be awarded a PhD?

    If so, and given you are a Doctor, then I cannot understand why you completely fail to address — you are even ignoring completely –  actual core arguments made against the standard interpretation of Gal 1:19.

    You are commendably very cautious and determined to proceed very slowly when you fear I may misunderstand your views — so cautious and slow you seem to completely stonewall. But you do not exercise any caution at all when appear to be presenting my own views.

    I agree with you 100% — you are fully correct — in your first sentence. But you will notice, if you read what I wrote with any sense of caution, that I said nothing like what you are imputing to me.

    If one does dispute the validity of the opponent’s argument then one can still respectfully demonstrate by reasoned argument where the invalidity lies.

    Albert Schweitzer would be frowning on your resort to “common sense” or “sound judgment” in place of reasoned argument with a respectful disposition to your opponents.

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

    It seems that no matter how closely and carefully one looks at the claims and arguments of mythicists, and no matter how much detail one offers in response, and no matter how patiently and reasonably they explain why they are unpersuaded, unless someone actually finds mythicism persuasive or at least as good an option as any other, then inevitably they are guilty of arguing against straw men and of failing to take your claims seriously.

    What would it take to persuade you that someone had looked at the arguments for mythicism and found them unpersuasive after careful evaluation? Or is that scenario so unimaginable to you that if anyone fails to find mythicism a stroke of genius, then by definition they must be guilty of something?

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

    Sorry, you asked for one example off the top of my head of a work that historians use even though the author, date and other details are unknown. Would the Chronicle of Seert do?

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

      I don’t know anything about the Chronicle of Seert so I would like to learn more. But a quick look at an online review of a book that includes a discussion of it at some length (over 60 pages) I learn that it is not unprovenanced. It is known to have been written by a member of the Syriac church, in Babylon, in the latter part of the 10th century. Further, it apparently is known to use earlier written sources. I do not know if these are  identified or clearly referenced in the Chronicles or are a the inference of a later scholar. It also addresses details of historical developments, if I
      understand correctly what I see in summary form, that are known
      externally in very broad outline.

      It does not appear to be presenting a narrative that is entirely without controls.

      Further, I presume, if one analyses the text one might conclude that it has no identifiable intertextual borrowings or literary sources for the construction of its narrative’s content. I presume also it is of a clearly unambiguous genre that does not mean that it is genuine history (how much credence do we place even in Bede’s History?) but does add one tick towards an interest in relaying some form of history.

      These are all the points that I have regularly addressed in my arguments (not mine, as Fabrizio has reminded us — but adaptations of the historiographical principles addressed by Lemke and co.). I suspect scholars who work with the Chronicles would rely on their content with all the caution that all the above considerations demand.

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

      Sorry, you asked for one example off the top of my head of a work that
      historians use even though the author, date and other details are
      unknown. Would the Chronicle of Seert do?

      I have now caught up with the Chronicles of Seert. If the Gospels contained anything like the regular and specific identifications of sources that fill these Chronicles we would almost certainly have no reason to ever have a mythicist-historicist debate in the first place.

      If the Augustan History were written in a manner like these Chronicles then we would find them given much more credence also among historians of ancient Rome.

      We also know the institution within which the Chronicles were composed.

      Now it is also argued among biblical scholars — rightly — that a mere claim to have derived information from named sources can be a fiction. And this is where other arguments must be brought to bear — including ideology in the text and archaeological evidence. But let’s for the sake of argument assume that the Chronicles pass the tests raised by these questions.

      James, you apparently have not read my argument about sources. Before you next try to criticize my argument will you kindly attempt to recapitulate what you believe my argument to be first.

      We do have clear specific evidence for the sources of many of the details in the Gospels and Acts. They are not explicit but a comparative literary study shows that many of them have been composed from Old Testament and other literary sources. Luke’s vague prologue is more akin to the prologues used to introduce works of dream interpreation than historiography: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2007/11/12/the-literary-genre-of-acts-1-the-prologue/

      We have no other evidence for Gospel sources.

      • Anonymous

        Neil Godfrey wrote: “They are not explicit but a comparative literary study shows that many of them have been composed from Old Testament and other literary sources.”

        I am glad he said “many of them” in connection with OT and other literary sources.  Because that does not include all sources, like the ones that don’t exist as sources any more, but were more than probably in existence 2000 years ago. 

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

    What would it take to persuade you that someone had looked at the
    arguments for mythicism and found them unpersuasive after careful
    evaluation?

    Well for one thing you could actually respond to what I or Evan or Earl have actually said instead of what you say we “seem” to say. You have even said you do not wish to repeat or explain Doherty’s actual arguments in your “reviews” for fear that you might be giving the impression that you are taking them seriously.

    Now that is hardly giving us confidence that you are serious about even attempting to understand the arguments let alone mount a justifiable case against them.

    Even just now in your preceding post you inferred I said something about respectful dialogue implying one must accept the validity of the other’s argument when I said no such thing at all. It is this sort of obvious straw-man tactic that you resort to regularly.

    You say you are looking carefully at your opponents’ claims, but as I just showed you here, and as has been pointed out numerous times, you simply put words and arguments into other persons’ mouths that they never said.

    Yet when I ask you if I have understood you correctly you are quite capable of being very cautious indeed that the exact words you use are correctly understood and nothing added to or subtracted from your meaning.

    It’s called playing fair.

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

    Neil, you can presume all you want, but if you want to make sweeping claims about what sorts of sources historians do or do not use, then you might want to do more than simply presume.

    I don’t understand your implication that I am not “playing fair.” If you and other mythicists published academic articles and I dismissed them, that would be unfair. But how is your expecting me to treat any and all views of mythicists, no matter how unpersuasive, as though they are insightful, indicative of a lack of fairness on my part rather than yours? 

    You always claim that the problem is with my representation of your views, rather than your views themselves. I will not try to render a judgment about this, since as one of the parties involved I cannot be biased. But my guess is that the criticisms are accurate, and you simply cannot accept them. I interact with scholars and scholarly literature all the time. Is it really plausible that mythicists are the only people whose writings I somehow consistently fail to understand and do justice to? I think there is another explanation that is far more likely.

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

      In your opening sentence you once again illustrate the problem I addressed. You have taken word “presume” that was very specifically applied and used it to convey some idea that I was “presuming” to make unjustifiable “sweeping claims”. This is the sort of straw-man distortions that you regularly resort to. I have demonstrated that your one example does not rebut my argument at all for several reasons, and you grab one word that I used in one context and use it to wave aside everything I said without so much as an attempt to respond to any of my detailed argument.

      And again, even here when you are presumably attempting to respond to my charge that you are guilty of setting up straw men in place of the actual arguments I or others use, you continue to avoid what I am saying. You write:

      your expecting me to treat any and all views of mythicists, no matter
      how unpersuasive, as though they are insightful, indicative of a lack of
      fairness on my part rather than yours?

      You are avoiding what I said.

      First of all you are imputing into me an “expectation” that I think you should accept something “no matter how unpersuasive”, which is a gratuitous ad hominem on your part.

      Secondly, you fail to address my simple point which is two-fold:

      (a) listen with respect, repeat what you hear to be sure you understand what you think you heard (don’t let fear that onlookers might take the argument seriously get in the way — you will be able to show them its weakness in due course);

      (b) use reasoned and logical argument to demonstrate the fallacy in the argument (no resorting to “all my peers agree with this” or “this is only common sense”).

      If at the end of it all you fail to convince the other party, return to point (a) and see if there is anything there you can at least think a reasonable person might agree with on its own merits — regardless of whether you accept it or not. But you have not yet demonstrated a willingness to try either of these two steps yet. 

      And yes, James, I think it entirely plausible that some people who are normally demonstrate rational and professional arguments and understandings in one context are quite capable of being anything but in another context. (It’s not only in biblical (sorry, NT) studies — I know of one historian who had a wonderful world reputation whenever he addressed any subject — except Hitler and the Second World War that was responsible for the death of his son.)

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

      I interact with scholars and scholarly literature all the time. Is it
      really plausible that mythicists are the only people whose writings I
      somehow consistently fail to understand and do justice to? I think there
      is another explanation that is far more likely.

      We have Schweitzer’s description of the debate in his own day and this is exactly what he himself said was the situation of many scholars — that scholars did jump the rails when it came to their response to mythicism.

  • Jonathan Burke

    //Can you apply the criteria NT scholars (is that term okay? I try to use
    it instead of ‘biblical scholars’ to which you object) have refined and
    that are the same as used by other historians to these to see if we can
    assign some probability to the historicity of Robin Hood?//

    You are again confusing the criteria of authenticity, with criteria for historicity. Please don’t.

  • Jonathan Burke

    James, I sympathise. It seems that every time I show Neil that a claim he has made is wrong (or at least completely without evidential support), he changes the subject and complains he has been completely misunderstood and misrepresented, even when I have quoted him directly.

  • Jonathan Burke

    //And yes, James, I think it entirely plausible that some people who are
    normally demonstrate rational and professional arguments and understandings in one context are quite capable of being anything but in
    another context.//

    Well I would certainly agree with that.

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

    Neil, the fact that you continue to caricature things that you think you heard me say in the past, while speaking to me in a patronizing tone as you accuse me of doing that, illustrates the problem. I’ll bet you don’t even realize you are doing it.

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

      In the past? I am addressing what you have been saying just in this thread alone!

      Patronizing tone? Well, it does get embarrassing to have to explain to a Doctor what one means by reasoned and respectful argument after I have demonstrated that every single comment addressed to me in this particular thread has been loaded with ad hominem and straw-men sidestepping of what I have said.

      But Carrier did say that a Doctor should be able to demonstrate an understanding of both sides of an argument. But you have suggested that such a demonstration is to be avoided with respect to mythicism in case others get the idea that mythicism sounds respectable.

      Your failure to address any of my statements about this issue except with innuendo and straw men is noted.

  • Jonathan Burke

    Dear Fabrizio,

    //What Neil has been advancing from a long time now, and what is of import to the discussion of the historicity of Jesus, is how and when the historicity of an event can be ascertained from the evidence.//

    I am well aware of this. However, in this particular discussion he made a statement on a different subject; it was NOT about determining the historicity of a particular event, and he specifically made that extremely clear. Here is his statement again.

    * ‘using criteriology of the sort James boasts that HJ scholars have refined etc in order to FIND some “historical facts” to inquire about as a historian’

    Regardless of what he has argued elsewhere, this is the point he was arguing here. I responded to that point with examples of exactly what he was asking for. I did NOT provide these examples as examples of how to determine the historicity of an event, so it’s unfortunate that you misread them in that way.

    //They do so often, but for what I see only when the historical events in object are externally confirmed by independent attestations (I mean, independently from the text itself).//

    No they don’t, not always. I have already given three examples; there are events in the Tale of Sinuhe which are accepted as historical despite complete lack of independent attestation, and the same can be said for the SKL and Ipuwer Papyrus. There are many more examples.

    * Did Ya’uḥan daughter of Meshullak loan money to Meshullam in the 9th year of Artaxerxes?
    * Was Reia angry with Makkenbanit in the late 6th, early 5th century BCE?
    * Was Ahhapi’s son Psamshek given his father’s position as steward of various estates in Upper and Lower Egypt in the late 5th century?
    * Was Uriah’s ewe ready for shearing?
    * Did Yisiah collect the vegetables from the shipyard before they spoiled?

    It is impossible to establish the historicity of these events from independent sources, because there aren’t any; the only evidence for them in each case, is a single scrap of papyrus, or a fragment of pottery. Yet historians typically don’t contest their historicity. One of the reasons for this is that they aren’t extraordinary events, and don’t require extraordinary evidence. This means that the level of evidence required to establish reasonable probability of historicity is significantly lower than for more extraordinary events.

    This is a point which Mytherists typically miss; the likelihood of a given event is one of the criteria used by historians in assessing its historicity. To historians, the idea of a Jewish messianic claimant in 1st century Judea is not an extraordinary event at all; it was an extremely common event, and does not require extraordinary evidence to establish reasonable probability in any particular case.

    //Can you find a single example where a historical event (a battle, a person) is accepted by historian only on the basis of a text of unknown or uncertain provenance, authorship, date and uncertain genre? Which is furthermore clearly not primary evidence at all? This is the parallel we are looking for.//

    I’ve given several examples now, but this is not the parallel we are looking for. The historicity of Jesus is not based only on a single text, nor are the texts relevant to Jesus of unknown or uncertain provenance, authorship, date, or genre. Just look at Paul’s letters; the authorship, provenance and genre are known, and the dates are known to within an extraordinarily high degree of precision, typically single digit years. Then there’s Josephus and Tacitus; I’ll only be interested in your comments on these two authors when you’ve submitted your work to professional peer review and made a significant impact on the current scholarly consensus, until then your opinion is no better than mine, and I’m sure you’re not interested in trusting my opinion.

    Let’s use another example, the Q document. We have no surviving texts of this document whatsoever. Its provenance, date, and authorship are all unknown, aside from some very general facts. Yet we know these facts about the Q community.

    * They were itinerant prophets who announced the coming of the kingdom of God
    * They anticipated the arrival of a heavenly figure called the Son of Man who would judge the world.
    * They urged repentance, taught a new ethic and advocated a new society
    * They claimed the performance of miracles, and they aroused the hostility of the religious establishment
    * There is no question that the Q prophets claimed the performance of signs and wonders

    That’s an impressive list of facts for an entire community, the sole source for which is a single document which doesn’t exist independently in any form at all, a community for which there is no historical attestation whatsoever other than the Q document itself. I’m sure you won’t dispute any of these facts.

    Then there’s the mass of papyri constituting the Dead Sea Scrolls. Details of an entire religious community, the ‘Scrolls Community’ (for want of a better term), have been established on the basis of these texts, despite lack of information about their provenance, despite doubts about their date, despite their complete anonymity, and despite the fact that we have no independent historical attestation for such a community. The texts are all we have.

    Yes, we do have evidence for the existence of some kind of community at Qumran, but there’s considerable debate as to whether this was the community which actually produced the scrolls; there’s no undisputed physical evidence for the existence of the Scrolls Community, the community which actually produced the scrolls. Despite this, their existence is not in doubt, and detailed historical reconstructions of their community have been made simply on the basis of the texts they have left.

    //But do you think that an historian questioning the historicity of a name with no external attestation would be considered an unreasonable skeptic, a kook?//

    Not at all. But when a historian questions the historicity of an individual for whom there is multiple attestation from independent sources (and whatever else you might think about the New Testament, the Q document and Paul’s letters are independent of each other, and Paul’s letters and the gospels are independent of each other), as well as attestation from two major historians of the era (Josephus and Tacitus), and the intrinsic probability of the historicity of the individual in question is entirely reasonable, that’s another matter entirely.

    //In my opinion Neil’s suggestions (which are simply borrowed from Old Testament modern scholarship such as Lemke, Davies, Thompson) is the correct one.//

    It may interest you to know that the standard historical methods suggested by Lemche, Davies, and Thompson have already been used in both the archaeological and historical of the Bible (Old and New Testament), and the historicity of Jesus, for decades. Neil even agreed with me on this point.

    //The application of the so called criteria of authenticity (in absence of external attestation) to the old Testament would lead to the improper identification of “probable” deeds and words of Moses and Abraham, a way of doing theologically motivated history that has been discredited now.//

    You are confusing the criteria of authenticity, with criteria of historicity. The criteria of authenticity are not used to establish historicity. I am always amazed at how many Mytherists fail to understand this.

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

      * ‘using criteriology of the sort James boasts that HJ scholars have
      refined etc in order to FIND some “historical facts” to inquire about as
      a historian’

      Stripped from the context of everything I have argued this sentence can be taken to mean something I have never argued. Jonathan has not demonstrated any interest in tackling my actual argument but in having fun with this one sentence I wrote regardless of how I have always expressed the point in my argument. Well I have no time to waste on such specious pedantry so will say no more than the following.

      The context in which I have always expressed this — though in this instance not clearly enough to Jonathan’s liking — is with reference to the way historians begin with the a priori assumption that there is a historical Jesus to investigate, and then proceed to find out what he did and said by applying criteria to the Gospels. Once having then got their set of “historical facts” that they say inform us about the type of person Jesus was, they then proceed to inquire into why he might have been like this, done this or said that, etc.

      An inquiry into a historical question or person — explaining why someone did this or that, etc. — needs first of all for there to be some historical facts about the event or person. But there are no agreed upon historical facts of Jesus’ life apart from the crucifixion. So each historian needs to go about “finding some facts” in the sense of seeing what there is in the sources that they can justify.

    • Anonymous

      “as well as attestation from two major historians of the era (Josephus and Tacitus), and the intrinsic probability of the historicity of the individual in question is entirely reasonable, that’s another matter entirely.” 
      Josephus and Tacitus may not be as independent as you think?  
      Both have probably been influenced by the say so of Flavian historians.

      After a 10 year investigation of the site Magen and Peleg produced a report, see The Qumran Excavations, 1993 – 2004, Yizhak
      Magen and Yuval Peleg of the Israel Antiquities Authority. 

      http://www.antiquities.org.il/images/shop/jsp/JSP6_Qumran_color.pdf 

      Extracts of Magen’s and Peleg’s Summary of
      their decade-long archaeological investigations:
      1. The claim that the location was chosen because of its isolation, for the
      purpose of establishing a first Jewish monastery or a community center for the
      Judean Desert sect, is groundless.
      2. Qumran was part of the Hasmonean military presence along the Jordan Valley
      and the Dead Sea. The volume and quality of construction is not consistent with
      a private building project of the Judean Desert sect, …
      3. Neither (Qumran or Ein Feshkha) was inhabited by members of the Judean
      Desert sect.
      4. After the Roman conquest, the site was no longer used for military purposes
      and the building deteriorated. 
      5. During the first century CE, the site suffered from considerable neglect and
      was turned into a pottery production center,….
      6. Upon reexamination, the hypothesis that every one of the pools was a ritual
      bath has been an unfortunate error, bereft of any scientific or halakhic
      validity. According to Jewish law, most of the pools were unfit for use as
      ritual baths because the water in them would have been considered “drawn
      water”. The entire site contained perhaps two ritual baths, and even this is
      not certain. The purpose of the pools was to collect rainwater and potter’s
      clay for the pottery industry.
      7. One more baseless hypothesis concerns the number of sect members who lived
      at the site. This number ran, depending on the calculations of each scholar,
      from 200 to 250. In fact, at Qumran there is room for 20 to 30 people at the
      most. Certainly no evidence has been found, like ovens and cooking utensils, to
      indicate that 250 people had been fed twice a day for 170 years.
      8. The main activity at the site was the production of pottery, a fact that we
      find is hardly consistent with the identification of Qumran as a communal
      center for the Judean Desert sect.

    • Fabrizio Palestini

      Dear Jonathan

      it seems to me you continue to supply examples that in my opinion don’t fit the situation we have with early christian literature.
      If we put Paul aside for a while (I will come back to him later on), we have texts which are of uncertain origin, date, authorship. They clearly show in every line that respecting the truth is the last of their interests. They are full of absurdities and improbabilities. In their interdependence we see how they are ready to change anything which doesn’t accord with their aesthetic or theological preconceptions. They all belong to the same tradition.

      When compared with external data, that we know from non-christian sources, the points of agreement seem nothing more than those of any ancient novel: irrelevant details that any ancient author do use to confer a touch of realism to his literary work.

      Where is the analogy with the works you cite? Some of them are modernly considered work of fiction (e.g. the tale of Sinuhe, see J.P.Allen, Middle Egyptian, 2000, “Although it is couched in the form of a tomb biography, the story of Sinuhe is clearly a careful literary composition. It [...] can be considered as much a poem as a prose tale.”, p.285). What historical information do you want to extract from the Ipuwer papyrus? The historicity of Ipuwer? It is even difficult to understand to what period it belongs in the history of Egypt. Chronicles belongs to a literary genre very different from the gospels. Even in this case, when dealing with such types of documents, we already agreed, if I’m not mistaken, that no historian would put too much stress on the historicity of a person or event herein described without external attestation. Events and names can be tentatively accepted as historical, nothing more. The more so if the document appears to be reliable in parts where it can be checked against external data.

      //* Did Ya’uḥan daughter of Meshullak loan money to Meshullam in the 9th year of Artaxerxes?
      [...]
      * Did Yisiah collect the vegetables from the shipyard before they spoiled?
      Yet historians typically don’t contest their historicity.//

      Well, I’d rather say that typically historians are not interested in their historicity. They would not base their reconstruction on those details with no confirmation. They are interested in more general questions when there is no certainty on the details.

      //The historicity of Jesus is not based only on a single text, nor are the texts relevant to Jesus of unknown or uncertain provenance, authorship, date, or genre. Just look at Paul’s letters; the authorship, provenance and genre are known, and the dates are known to within an extraordinarily high degree of precision, typically single digit years.//

      Yes, there is Paul. The point is that the picture Paul provides does not accord very well with that obtained from the gospels, as Earl Doherty has been able to show. What Paul says *can* be reconciled with what the gospels say, but it becomes a matter of complex interpretation, with no simple answer, to understand what picture better describes the data. There are, in my opinion, strainings in each side.

      //Let’s use another example, the Q document. We have no surviving texts of this document whatsoever. Its provenance, date, and authorship are all unknown, aside from some very general facts. Yet we know these facts about the Q community.//

      This is an argument that, in my opinion, bears a considerable weight. It happens that I’m a Q supporter, and in my opinion Q is one of those examples where the field of NT studies has reached impressive outcomes. Yet there are problems here, too. Q as a whole depicts a Jesus (or Jesus’ community) which seems at odds with the traditional picture. The information extracted from the first layer of Q (following Kloppenborg redactional stratification) is even more puzzling. Earl Doherty notices that in Q1 the name Jesus appears once once, in a series of sayings that shows some evidences of redaction. Moreover, it is very difficult to be sure of the exact wording of the original stratum of a heavy redacted document which, in turn, is reconstructed from its embedded parts in existing gospels.
      I think that Q is the best card for the proponents of a historical Jesus, but in my opinion it is far from an easy win for them.

      //Yet we know these facts about the Q community.
      * They were itinerant prophets who announced the coming of the kingdom of God
      [...]//

      I agree, but you are advancing an incorrect analogy. No-one disagrees that reliable information about the authors of the gospels and their community can be extracted from the gospel texts. This is the old difference between a text as a window and a text as a mirror. Any ancient text (gospels and Q included) supplies (indirect) *primary* evidences about its author and his community (because the text behaves as a mirror where the author and his interests are reflected). They are indirect because it was not in the intention of the author to convey them. The problem lies in the message that the text tries to pass down as history, because the text is not a window through which we are able to see its past.

      //Then there’s the mass of papyri constituting the Dead Sea Scrolls. Details of an entire religious community, the ‘Scrolls Community’ (for want of a better term), have been established on the basis of these texts, despite lack of information about their provenance, despite doubts about their date, despite their complete anonymity, and despite the fact that we have no independent historical attestation for such a community. The texts are all we have.//

      Same as before. It is not the historical existence of the communities of the Gospel authors that is questioned, but if the content of the documents (which doesn’t directly describe the community, but supposed events of the past) is historical or not.

      //It may interest you to know that the standard historical methods suggested by Lemche, Davies, and Thompson have already been used in both the archaeological and historical of the Bible (Old and New Testament), and the historicity of Jesus, for decades. Neil even agreed with me on this point.//

      Sorry, I don’t understand what you’re saying. Do you mean that their methods were already the *standard* method in OT studies even before them? Hardly. The history of the reception of their ideas speaks in my opinion definitely against such thesis. Or do you mean that after them their methods became quickly the standard? Hardly, again. See the never-ending discussions on biblical archaeology in the academic mail-list Biblical-Studies, where Thompson, Lemche and Davies are regular contributors. Could you explain a bit more your thought?

      //…and [when] the intrinsic probability of the historicity of the individual in question is entirely reasonable…//

      In my opinion, this criterion has been rightly abandoned by the community of historians, due to its being so credulous and so similar to the good old apologetic principle: if it is not impossible, it must be true. The reasonableness of ancient stories (as opposed to history) is now a generally recognized feature. Cut and paste historians, who throw away the incredible to leave the reasonable, are fortunately only figures of the past.

      Best

      Fabrizio

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

    Neil, actually what you did is to claim that I offer straw men and ad hominem instead of actual arguments and answers. Just as mythicists claim that their viewpoint is well documented, plausible, and makes sense.

    I think that if we can get mythicists to stop saying “demonstrated” and other synonyms when they mean “claimed” or “alleged” we might make genuine progress towards communicating.

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

      James, if you read my recent comments “with caution” you will observe that I demonstrated that you had substituted what I said with straw man assertions of your own.

      I have done the same in my critiques of your “reviews” of Doherty’s book by directly contrasting what you say D “seems” to say with quotations to demonstrate your inaccuracies.

      You need to apply the same “caution” you use to protect the meanings of your own words and arguments to the your perceptions of others.

      Your claims that you have seriously grappled and argued in detail against mythicists does not mean you have actually done so. You need to demonstrate that you have done so.

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

    I invite anyone interested to read my whole series of posts on mythicism on my old blog and here, and decide for themselves.

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

      McGrath, you are doing once again exactly what Toto chided you for: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/08/08/fear-of-mythicism/#comment-18342 “Dr. McGrath – you have this frustrating habit of replying with a vague reference to something that was written somewhere else.”

      I have demonstrated that you have taken specific words of mine out of context and recast them in a manner to imply I have said things I have not — I have done that once or twice above in this very thread. All you have to do is acknowledge that you have constructed a straw man to rebut me or quote me to demonstrate I am mistaken.

      You wrote: @Neil, since when does respectful dialogue mean granting the validity of the claims one disagrees with?

      Can you quote me where I implied anything like this?

      You wrote: while it is always theoretically possible that he meant something other than what he wrote, what he actually wrote
      is not open to an infinite range of possible meanings, but is
      constrained my considerations of a lexical, grammatical, historical and
      contextual sort.

      Can you quote or reference mythicist arguments that imply anything like this?

      You wrote: It seems that no matter how closely and carefully one looks at the
      claims and arguments of mythicists, and no matter how much detail one
      offers in response, and no matter how patiently and reasonably they
      explain why they are unpersuaded, unless someone actually finds
      mythicism persuasive or at least as good an option as any other, then
      inevitably they are guilty of arguing against straw men and of failing
      to take your claims seriously.

      With this sweeping assertion you brush aside the very many specific points and times that have been raised and that you have failed to address.

      You wrote: Neil, the fact that you continue to caricature things that you think you heard me say in the past

      Yet I have not addressed anything apart from what is in this and in very recent threads and posts.

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

    Johnathan Burk, who are you? That was an amazing exchange there. You had an awesome command of facts on ancient Egypt. Your arguments were concise and effective, you kept cool in the face of personal insults. How did you learn to write like that? Tell me you teach somewhere!

    On Neil’s last post,

    //The context in which I have always expressed this — though in this instance not clearly enough to Jonathan’s liking — is with reference to the way historians begin with the a priori assumption that there is a historical Jesus to investigate,//

     I think I’ll repat a line from J Burk,

    //They all accept the historicity of Jesus.//Do you understand why they accept the historicity of Jesus?

  • Jonathan Burke

    //Stripped from the context of everything I have argued this sentence can be taken to mean something I have never argued.//

    It could, but fortunately I didn’t do that. I simply quoted you making that argument, and said that this was an argument you were making.

    //The context in which I have always expressed this — though in this instance not clearly enough to Jonathan’s liking — is with reference to the way historians begin with the a priori assumption that there is a historical Jesus to investigate, and then proceed to find out what he did and said by applying criteria to the Gospels.//

    Historians do not begin with the a priori assumption that there is a historical Jesus to investigate. You keep saying this, but you never offer any evidence for it whatsoever. Do you honestly think Ehrman or Lüdemann starts with such an assumption?

    //But there are no agreed upon historical facts of Jesus’ life apart from the crucifixion.//

    This is another claim you make without any evidence. I have asked you twice to provide evidence for this claim, and you have refused. You are therefore repeating an unsubstantiated claim, and refusing to provide evidence for it. This tactic could be described in many ways, but ‘intellectual honesty’ would not be one of them.

    The following is a list of minimum facts about Jesus on which the members of the Jesus Seminar agree.[1] [2] These facts are all agreed on by the overwhelming consensus of Biblical scholars, from those as conservative as Witherington, Blomberg and Habemas, through those less conservative such as Theissen,[3] and Sanders,[4] to those as skeptical as Ehrman,[5] Vermès,[6] [7] [8] and Lüdemann.[9] [10]

    * Jesus was born to a woman named Mary, during the reign of Herod the Great
    * He had a father (biological or not), called Joseph
    * He was baptized in Galilee
    * He became an intinerant teacher
    * He proclaimed the kingdom of God
    * He conducted a healing ministry which involved certain genuine acts of healing
    * He taught a subversive and counter-cultural socio-religious ethic expressed in wisdom sayings and parables; Mark 2:19; 3:27; 4:21; 10:25; 12:17, Matthew 5:38-48; 6:9-23; 7:7-8; 11:7-8; 18:12-14; 18:23-25; 20:1-15, Luke 6:20-21; 6:41-42; 9:58;  9:59-60; 10:30-35; 11:24-26; 12:22-31; 13:6-9; 13:20-21; 14:16-24; 15:11-32; 16:1-8a; 17:33; 18:1-8; 20:46 are all considered authentic sayings of Jesus by the Jesus Seminar
    * He associated and identified with social outcasts
    * He criticized the established Jewish religious elite
    * He was arrested and crucified during the prefecture of Pontius Pilate, for being a public nuisance and social threat
    * He died at around 30 years of age

    This is considerably more than the single data point you have asserted repeatedly. Do you see the difference between my method of argumentation and yours? Mine uses actual evidence; yours is not evidence based.

    Michael, thanks but the praise is unwarranted. I’m no one in particular, with no relevant professional qualifications. The information I cited is found easily if you know where to look; I have a very large electronic library of several thousand scholarly works and over 10,000 journal articles, which provides me with an advantage when carrying out research.

    Unlike some of the Mytherists involved in this discussion, I haven’t staked my reputation (personal or professional), on my views, nor have I deliberately criticized and opposed publicly those with relevant professional qualifications which I lack. For these reasons (and some others), I can approach this discussion with greater emotional detachment than those who have invested themselves personally in their positions and who have staked their reputations on their own claims.

    Unlike them, I’m not claiming to speak on my own authority and claiming that my knowledge is more accurate than those who have professional qualifications which I lack. Furthermore, I’m not asking anyone to accept anything I say as right just because I’m the one saying it. I can afford to acknowledge any mistakes I make, but that’s a lot more difficult for them.
    _______________________________
    [1] Powell, ‘Jesus Seminar’, in Fahlbusch & Bromiley (eds.), ‘The Encyclopedia of Christianity’, volume 3, p. 32 (2003).

    [2] ‘The Jesus Seminar ‘agreed that Jesus healed people and drove away what were thought to be demons’ (Funk, Acts of Jesus, 60).’ (Jesus 13).’, Dunn, ‘Jesus Remembered’, p. 677 (2003).

    [3] ‘Sanders offered a more concise sketch in The Historical Figure of Jesus (1993). – Jesus was born c. 4 BCE, near the time of the death of Herod the Great; – he spent his childhood and early adult years in Nazareth, a Galilean village; – he was baptized by John the Baptist;  – he called disciples; – he taught in the towns, villages and countryside of Galilee (apparently not the cities); – he preached “the kingdom of God”; – about the year 30 he went to Jerusalem for Passover; – he created a disturbance in the Temple area; – he had a final meal with the disciples; – he was arrested and interrogated by Jewish authorities, specifically the high priest; – he was executed on the orders of the Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate.’, Broadhead, ‘Jewish Ways of Following Jesus: Redrawing the Religious Map of Antiquity’, pp. 64-65 (2010).

    [4] Thiessen, ‘The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide’, pp. 569, 571-572 (1998).

    [5] Ehrman, ‘Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium’, pp. (1999); inteview http://www.somareview.com/apocalypsethen.cfm, ‘Most scholars say Jesus was probably born in Nazareth, not Bethlehem’, ‘Jesus began his public ministry by becoming a follower of John the Baptist, another Jewish apocalyptic prophet’, ‘He really did proclaim the coming of the end of this age, and the appearance of the kingdom of God’, ‘ Jesus obviously said certain things that contributed to his crucifixion. For example, he proclaimed that God was going to destroy the temple in Jerusalem when he judged his people. That didn’t sit kindly with the civil authorities who were in charge of the temple, and it’s one of the reasons they had him arrested’, ‘So when Jesus finally went to the big city, he saw this enormous temple, and all of the wealth and lavishness associated with it. He found this to be upsetting, a blasphemous violation of God’s will. So Jesus overturned some tables and insisted that people stop selling sacrificial animals as part of the sacrificial cult’.

    [6] Vermes, ‘Jesus and the World of Judaism’, pp. 11-12 (1984).

    [7] ‘Why, then, was Jesus crucified? In Vermes’s subsequent volume, The Religion of Jesus the Jew’, he succinctly summarizes his conclusion: “The arrest and execution of Jesus wer e due, not direclty to his words and deeds, but to their possible insurrectionary consequences feared by the nervous authorities in charge of law and order in that powder-keg of first-century Jerusalem… He died on the cross for having done the wrong thing (caused a commotion) in the wrong place (the Temple) at the wrong time (just before Passover)” (x).’, Keck, ‘Who is Jesus?’, p. 41 (2001).

    [8] ‘”The Synoptists are unanimous in presenting him as an exorcist, healer and teacher. They also emphasize that the deepenst impression made by Jesus on his contemporaries resulted from his mastery over devils and disease, and the magnetic power of his preaching.”‘, Vermes, quoted by Scott, ‘New Options in An Old Quest’, in Greenspoon et al. (eds.), ‘The Historical Jesus Through Catholic and Jewish Eyes’, pp. 7-8 (2000).

    [9] Lüdemann, ‘The Great Deception: And What Jesus Really Said and Did’, pp. 77, 83, 96-97 (1999), ‘Jesus After 2000 Years’, pp. 689-690 (2001).

    [10] ‘Lüdemann even concludes that ‘the activity of Jesus in driving out demons is one of the most certain historical facts about his life’ (Jesus 13).’, Dunn, ‘Jesus Remembered’, p. 677 (2003).

    • Anonymous

      “These facts are all agreed on by the overwhelming consensus of Biblical scholars, from those as conservative as Witherington, Blomberg and Habemas, through those less conservative such as Theissen,[3] and Sanders,[4] to those as skeptical as Ehrman,[5] Vermès,[6] [7] [8] and Lüdemann.[9] [1]”
      Which just goes to prove that James was right, doesn’t it?  But what about other Scholars more on the ‘fringe’ such as Eisenman or Golb who both present a completely different picture from those you have quoted?    

      • Jonathan Burke

        //But what about other Scholars more on the ‘fringe’ such as Eisenman or Golb who both present a completely different picture from those you have quoted?//

        What about them? They’re on the fringe.

        • Anonymous

          Eisenman and Golb both make one think that something is wrong with current mainstream scholarship. Yet they would probably be given the cold shoulder by the scholars you have quoted, and who seemingly form the majority consensus.  Eisenman, in effect, suggests that Jesus was an adaptation of James.  Golb’s view (in agreement with the archaeologists Magen and Peleg) is that the Scrolls were written in Jerusalem.  The message to me is that James was a prophet, ‘a seeker of smooth things’ according the priestly Scrolls. There is a link between Christianity and the Scrolls but it is not the one traditionally adopted by some scholars you quoted (who focus on the Essene-like community aspects). Those who the Scrolls (priests) were writing about as rejecting the law, were the early christians or annointed ones who came to believe in the Spirit and reject sacrifice. ‘Christianity’ had its beginning way before the time Jesus is supposed to have existed.

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

      Why thankyou Jonathan. You have given us ten footnotes – references from Vermes, Ludemann, Thiessen, Dunn, . . . and all that detail from the Jesus Seminar conclusions, and the ‘overwhelming consensus’ — most informative. And so many ‘minimum facts’ about Jesus. Perhaps a local library will have one of those references on a shelf. And thanks for informing me that scholars don’t approach the texts with an a priori assumption of the existence of Jesus. Well slap my head, Of course. Quite right, I should have seen that before. If there’s anything else you think I need to know I’m sure you’ll be quick and thorough on the job.

    • Fabrizio Palestini

      Dear Jonathan,

      a couple of observations about your list of unanimously agreed fact:

      a) That Jesus was born to a woman named Mary, that his father was
      Joseph, as well as the whole birth narrative have been questioned (and
      with good arguments, I must say) by J. S. Spong in his “Jesus for the
      Non-religious”, pp.25-36;

      b) Jesus baptism is called into question by Arnal (Toronto Journal of Theology 13, 1997, p.201) and Vaage (in Reimagining Christian Origins, p.280ff);

      c) Jesus conducted a healing ministry which involved certain genuine acts of healing? Not really, see Spong above;

      d) Scholar T.L. Thompson, in his “The Messiah Myth”, questions even the
      sayings considered as authentic by the Jesus Seminar (see particularly
      the first chapter);

      e) For what concerns the criticism to the established Jewish religious
      elite, Seeley (Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 55 p.263 1993) questions the
      historicity of the cleansing of the Temple.

      What remains of your list is:

      * He became an intinerant teacher

      * He proclaimed the kingdom of God

      * He associated and identified with social outcasts

      * He was arrested and crucified during the prefecture of Pontius Pilate, for being a public nuisance and social threat

      * He died at around 30 years of age

      But I admit that I’m really an outsider here, and I feel that with the help of someone more knowledgeable than me, the list could shrink even further.
      Best

      Fabrizio

      • Dave Burke

        Fabrizio:

        >>
        a couple of observations about your list of unanimously agreed fact
        >>

        I believe Jonathan said “minimum facts about Jesus on which the members of the Jesus Seminar agree” and “all agreed on by the overwhelming consensus of Biblical scholar.” He did not say “these facts are unanimously agreed.”

        Of course you can find people who disagree with them. This was not disputed.

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

          Of course you can find people who disagree with them. This was not disputed.

          Not disputed? This was my whole point and the one that Jonathan objected to!

          Jonathan is a wonderful pedant and will no doubt be responding with the semantic hair splitting. This is a waste of time.

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

          Of course you can find people who disagree with them. This was not disputed.

          Not disputed? This was my whole point and the one that Jonathan objected to!

          Jonathan is a wonderful pedant and will no doubt be responding with the semantic hair splitting. This is a waste of time.

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

        Fabrizio, to add to your list, Stevan Davies (author of Jesus the Healer) raises the question of Jesus as a teacher (no-one seems able to agree what he taught, frex) . . . and one sees scholarly arguments about the ‘midrashic’ nature of the 30 year old reference and — See the Crosstalk and Crosstalk 2 yahoo groups, and search on Davies, Arnal (as you point out there are scholarly arguments against the historicity of the baptism) etc. I suggest not a single fact apart from the crucifixion has been undisputed within the scholarly community.

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

    Neil, I don’t know why you feel such an outburst of sarcasm is justified. You wrote of what you learned about the Chronicle of Seert from online sources and contrasted that with the Gospels, apparently unaware that a comparable search online would also give you a clear century for the composition of the Gospels and would tell you that at least some of them used earlier written sources. Do you really not understand that you give the impression of being someone who needs the very basics of historical study, ancient sources, the nature of the evidence for Jesus and the reasons for the scholarly consensus explained to him?

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

      James, if you read what I wrote and the post to which I was responding “with caution” you would have observed that your Chronicles of Seert were not in question.

      On the Chronicles of Seert I did say I am interested to learn more about them, you will recall (if you read anything I wrote “with caution”). So as I made clear the best I could do in the meantime was make it clear what a superficial web search offered me till I get that opportunity.

      And a quick web search indicated to me the Chronicles are by an author unknown but are certainly of a known provenance and not without controls — and more, as I detailed, but that you have chosen to ignore in your responses.

      So a quick online search was as fatal to your recommendation as was a quick online check of that Wikipedia article on historical method that you recommended to your readers at http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/2010/09/mythicism-and-mainstream-historical.html — or should that have been http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/09/23/response-to-james-mcgraths-argument-from-wikipedia/ ?

      When I learn more about the Chronicles I will be able to discuss them more knowledgably. I think I will try to apply the pioneering advances of New Testament scholarship and assess what is most likely historical through criteria and a consideration of fabricated material however inauthentic the details and let you know how I get on. We could create a whole new chapter in early Nestorian history.

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

    Hmm. Given that you have linked to Wikipedia not only in the past but vey recently, and given that I was very clear that I proposed using that page as a discussion-starter and nothing more, some might conclude that you are being a hypocrite and maliciously misrepresenting me.

    I suppose it is safe to assume that, if someone calls you on it, it will turn out that as usual, the problem was others’ interpretation of your words, and nothing that you actually said or meant.

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

      Sorry, James, but if you read the comments attached to those posts you will be reminded that your invitation for discussion was a direct response to refute what I was arguing about historical methodology in HJ studies.

      If you read what I have myself written about Wikipedia — in the post I linked to — you will see have never held the black and white jaundiced view you yourself have at times expressed about it. Wikipedia has been established as close enough to being the equal of Britannica itself despite its faults, as found in any encyclopedia. I gave the references for all this in my post that I linked.

  • Jonathan Burke

    //Why thankyou Jonathan. You have given us ten footnotes – references from Vermes, Ludemann, Thiessen, Dunn, . . . and all that detail from the Jesus Seminar conclusions, and the ‘overwhelming consensus’ — most informative. And so many ‘minimum facts’ about Jesus.//

    You’re welcome Neil. Let’s remember that I gave you plenty of opportunity to substantiate or retract your original claim. You didn’t want to retract it, and you didn’t want to try and substantiate it, so instead you asked me to provided evidence for my statement. I was only too happy to do this.

    The deeply sarcastic tone of your post shows you are upset, which is hardly surprising given this exchange didn’t work out the way you thought it would. I do my best to avoid making unsubstantiated claims, and
    as a result when my statements are challenged I can typically provide evidence substantiating them.

    You can be sarcastic to me all you like (I certainly don’t care), but
    you have only yourself to blame for this embarrassing incident. It
    didn’t have to turn out this way; check your facts first next time.

    Here’s the lesson for today; don’t make claims you’re unable to substantiate.

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

      Your vanity leads you to misread me, Jonathan. My mock agreement with all you said was a failed attempt to draw attention to your absence of any reasoned argument and resort entirely to argument from authority. You have even said in another comment that you will not accept any argument unless you can find it explicitly made in a peer-reviewed publication.

      Your obsessive focus on one sentence of mine lifted from context of my consistent argument – and without even an acknowledgment from you when I offer an explanation of what I meant — shows you are (in my books) a pedant.

      I leave you to your own small world.

  • Jonathan Burke

    /I know I often present a slapdash argument or statement assuming that what I have said somewhere else a week or more ago is on any other reader’s minds, too. And I look back and am embarrassed at how often I have presented a point very badly.//

    Neil, that’s refreshing honesty. Thank you. Now perhaps you can correct this post of yours.

    //Historical Jesus scholars, on the other hand, do not work like this. They have no commonly agreed facts about Jesus. The only datum they seem to agree is a “fact” is that he was crucified.//

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

    Fabrizo, Spong has an opinion like every one else on earth, he does not have a scholarly opinion because he is not a scholar. If we accept the opinions of everyone on earth, then how many things could be said to be uncontested?

    Johnathan’s so called “appeal to authority” is justified. Just because some one some where makes a case for something doesn’t mean that it needs to kept in mind when discussing what is factual of history. When Neil and others say there are no agreed on facts outside the crucification they are overstating the cases of a number of poorly received studies. You could do this with any number of fields to make it appear there is real disagreement in what are presented as well established facts. Facts do not have to unanimous to be accepted as such.

    • http://twitter.com/gbienzobas Gabriel Bienzobas

      He is as much of a scholar as other people such as N.T Wright as they have both only got honors in theology and masters in divinity.

    • Fabrizio Palestini

      Dear Michael, maybe Spong is not a scholar according to your personal definition (and I don’t care too much about knowing it, by the way, no offence intended), anyway his credential includes a Master of Divinity degree and two honorary Doctor of Divinity degrees.
      According to Wikipedia “He has held visiting positions and given lectures at major American theological institutions, most prominently at Harvard Divinity School”.
      I admit the following facts:
      1) My source on Spong is Wikipedia, anyone feels free to correct me if those facts are wrong or in need of corrections;
      2) It is not entirely clear to me what those degrees really are, I never heard about them in my country.

      But your and Jonathan comments about who can and who cannot speak authoritatively on NT matters sounds very strange to me. I’m referring to these statements in particular:

      //I’ll only be interested in your comments on these two authors when you’ve submitted your work to professional peer review and made a significant impact on the current scholarly consensus, until then your opinion is no better than mine, and I’m sure you’re not interested in trusting my opinion.// (Jonathan)

      //Just because some one some where makes a case for something doesn’t mean that it needs to kept in mind when discussing what is factual of history.// (Michael)

      If I’m correct in what those and others phrases of yours imply, it seems that you (both) misunderstood the role, significance and methods of the scientific enterprise. Or, if your statements describe the situation in NT studies, they are the signal that something is going wrong there.
      The appeal to the opinion of the experts is only for those who don’t want to study the question for themselves and limit themselves to not discussing with those who disagree.
      Science is for everybody, it is (it must be!) understandable for anybody who has the patience to acquire the expertise. Its conclusions must always be based on transparent logical reasoning and interpretation of data. Otherwise it is not science.

      When the scientific consensus is challenged (by anybody, because science is for the people, not the other way around) the response must always be given by arguments and data, never by appeal to the opinion of the elite.
      Any opinion is no better than any other if not for the arguments behind it, never for the names attached to it.
      This is a serious error which seems more common in Humanistic studies than in Scientific disciplines (I mean, disciplines with hard data).

      I’m a phycisist, with a Ph.D. and some publications on peer-reviewed Journals. You could check it on the arxiv.org (preprint versions of papers on Physics and other fields).
      I state that my own field (for someone the *scientific* field par excellence) displays a very different approach to the question of degrees and titles. We are interested almost exclusively in *arguments*, not really in the degrees of anyone.
      I strictly collaborated with some guys without Ph.D., real experts in their field even without the certification (but it is not a common phenomenon, because of the paucity of resources and strong competition, which makes a degree important for other reasons).
      Frankly speaking, I never ever thought about checking their credentials, because their expertise is in what they say and do.

      Furthermore, physicist are notorious for interdisciplinary work: I have several friends that works in fields different from Physics (Biology, Chemistry, Maths and Finance), without having degrees in those fields. How could they have access and publish if not as outsiders and self-taught?

      It even happened to me, during seminars, that people from other fields aked questions able to put myself in trouble! Oh, how much I would have paid to end the discussion with a simple “you don’t have the necessary degree to discuss the matter”! Unfortunately, it does not work that way.

      When I see these attempts to end a discussion by resorting to the absence of *proper* credentials it reminds me of a quote from Chomsky which I found in “Fashionable Nonsense” by Sokal and Bricmont:
      //In my own professional work I have touched on a variety of different fields. I’ve done work in mathematical linguistics, for example, without any professional credentials in mathematics; in this subject I am completely self-taught, and not very well taught. But I’ve often been invited by universities to speak on mathematical linguistics at mathematics seminars and colloquia. No one has ever asked me whether I have the appropriate credentials to speak on these subjects; the mathematicians couldn’t care less. What they want to know is what I have to say. No one has ever objected to my right to speak, asking whether I have a doctor’s degree in mathematics, or whether I have taken advanced courses in this subject. That would never have entered their minds. They want to know whether I am right or wrong, whether the subject is interesting or not, whether better approaches are possible–the discussion dealt with the subject, not with my right to discuss it.//

      The last thing: the peer review process itself is not to be misapplied. Its fundamental importance lies in the old saying: ars longa, vita brevis. A researcher in any field needs a way to locate useful resources in a reasonable amount of time, without checking all the existing literature. The peer review system should not be used to raise barriers against the outsiders. As I already said, whoever challenges the consensus in any scientific discipline must be opposed on the basis of arguments. Any other way is unscientific.
      Best
      Fabrizio

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

    I also want to add that the way scholarship works is by people constantly floating new ideas and trying to challenge consensuses. But most of those attempts never change the consensus, because they a ultimately found unpersuasive. The work of Alfven and others in the field of plasma cosmology as a possible alternative to the Big Bang doesn’t mean that the consensus is wrong, nor does it mean that the consensus is not the best answer the experts can give at the moment. It means that as scholars, we have to try to come up with new things, and rely on our peers to shoot most of our new ideas down. And so scholarly consensus doesn’t mean that no one tries to make a case for another viewpoint.

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

    N. T. Wright has a DPhil from Oxford (that’s what Oxford calls what everyone else calls a PhD). There are lots of things that N. T. Wright can be criticized for, but lacking a PhD in a relevant area is not one of them.

    • http://twitter.com/gbienzobas Gabriel Bienzobas

      Still, it’s all theology! No degrees in other disciplines such as history or philosophy. My point stands.

  • Jonathan Burke

    Dear Fabrizio,

    //a couple of observations about your list of unanimously agreed fact://

    I said nothing about anything being ‘unanimously agreed’. I said this.

    * The following is a list of minimum facts about Jesus on which the
    members of the Jesus Seminar agree

    * These facts are all agreed on
    by the overwhelming consensus of Biblical scholars

    Unanimity and consensus are often confused, but they are not identical. See here.

    * ‘Consensus implies general agreement, though not necessarily unanimity’

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_consensus

    //What remains of your list is://

    Even if we were to illegitimately remove several items so as to end up with your abbreviated list, we still have more than one agreed on data point. Remember, Neil claimed dogmatically (and repeated this claim more than once), that the only historical fact on which scholarship agrees concerning the life of Jesus is his crucifixion. This is simply false, and Neil should have known better.

    I gave him plenty of opportunity to avoid embarrassment by checking the facts, and he chose not to.

    This is not an appeal to authority either. I did not present that list and say ‘All these people agree on these statements about Jesus, so that means these statements about Jesus are true’. That would have been an appeal to authority. I simply listed a number of facts about the life of Jesus which have support from the overwhelming consensus of scholarship.

    Neil had claimed there was only one such fact, but I knew there were more. Neil had no evidence for his claim; I have proved it was false. Neil was wrong, and he’s just going to have to deal with the embarrassment. It’s that simple.

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

      Jonathan, it is very clear that you are looking to find fault  in anything I write no matter what and for that reason I closed the door on you with my mock agreement to all you say.

      But even in your response to Fabrizio here you are now yourself saying what I thought too obvious to point out myself earlier (apart via a failed attempt at mock agreement) that there is not one single fact about Jesus (apart from the crucifixion) that is agreed upon by all scholars.

      I submit that in this way the quest for the historical Jesus  is unique as a “historical” study. What other historical study is there where historians cannot agree on anything more than a single solitary fact about the topic being subjected to historical inquiry?

      The question is rhetorical, by the way.

  • Jonathan Burke

    Neil, these are the claims of yours to which I responded.

    *  ‘The only detail on which I believe all HJ scholars agree is that Jesus was crucified. I know of no other undisputed “fact” of his life.’

    * ‘But there are no agreed upon historical facts of Jesus’ life apart from the crucifixion’

    * ‘Historical Jesus scholars, on the other hand, do not work like this. They have no commonly agreed facts about Jesus. The only datum they seem to agree is a “fact” is that he was crucified’

    There we have it, stated three times, very clearly. You claimed that HISTORICAL JESUS SCHOLARS have ‘no commonly agreed facts about Jesus’, that ‘the only datum’ they seem to agree on is that Jesus was crucified. The fact is that you were wrong (consensus is ‘common agreement’). There’s no getting around it.

    I’m used to you telling me that you’re not going to respond anymore then subsequently responding two or three times (typically telling me again that you’re not going to respond anymore), so I fully expect you’ll continue to try and justify your claim.

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

    So is Neil arguing that it is bad that historians are interested in Jesus? I mean there are probably a number of individuals in history that only have a couple of things known of them that are considered historical by all researchers investigating them. And there are probably several that if they were studied with scrutiny, some of the supposed facts concerning them would be judged non-historical. I’m not sure what we are to make of this. If there less people interested in investigating one of the Nero Imposters, does that mean the scholarship on them is better than a field where many people investigate? I would argue that NT scholarship is ahead of a number of fields in ancient history because they are so many investigating a very small set of material evidence.

    • Gabriel

      James

      “I would argue that NT scholarship is ahead of a number of fields in
      ancient history because they are so many investigating a very small set
      of material evidence.”

      Strength in numbers doesn’t make it right, more so when most, if not all, of those scholars will be prejudiced by their beliefs.

      It is not like they can make a groundbreaking hypothetical discovery about Jesus may be not having existed as a historical figure and they can all, including James, continuing doing their theological work as nothing had happened. Or could they?

      The other problem is that if we discover that, for example, Socrates didn’t exist as a historical figure nothing will really happen. Of course there will be a historical hole in history that will need explaining. But his ideas stand by themselves, they don’t need to be supported by the historical figure as they are not central to support his the story. In my opinion for theologians to keep their jobs the historical Jesus needs to have existed and also, to have done what the New Testament said he did.

      I am not an expert on this field, my degree is in Telecommunications Engineering and I work as a Quality Assurance Engineer for an IT company in Cambridge UK.

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

    Gabriel, why not take a look at what a historian in the pure sense has to say? Why not start with Robin Lane Fox, since he is an atheist and so is unlikely to simply accept what scholars in Biblical studies say, if he finds it methodologically suspect?

    Just as an aside, as I have pointed out before, Biblical studies is a lot like Classics. It is a field, rather than a discipline, and among the discilinary tools and methods one is typically introduced to, historical criticism is among them.

    But as I said, I am quite happy for you to listen only to atheist historians. But don’t trust random people on the Internet just because they happen to be atheists, or happen to say things that you would like to be correct. Find out what people you can consider trustworthy and with genuine expertise have to say on the subject.

    • http://twitter.com/gbienzobas Gabriel Bienzobas

      Apologies James, I was replying to Michael there. I got confused :) I thought, incorrectly it seems, that you taught theology at University.

      I don’t trust random people or random comments. I trust facts and demonstrable evidence. I also trust your expertise (yours and others) when it comes to understanding some of the languages I do not speak. I don’t have a problem in trusting arguments from a Christian or an agnostic (I am so myself) would propose as long as they are logically reasoned and are backed by the necessary evidence.

      //Just as an aside, as I have pointed out before, Biblical studies is a
      lot like Classics. It is a field, rather than a discipline, and among
      the discilinary tools and methods one is typically introduced to,
      historical criticism is among them//

      Thanks for the information. But, am I wrong in thinking that a person that studies Biblical studies is more likely to be a Christian? This is an honest question.

      Regarding your last paragraph, I think you raise an important point. Everyone has a bias, I would admit that from my upbringing and circumstances I have always been skeptical of religion but I have also forced myself to read books from the whole spectrum in order to gather a bigger picture.

      I have started reading Earl’s latest book, but I am not prepared to “swallow it whole”. I will make my own mind up! :) And it won’t be the last book I read about Jesus either!

      FYI I also studied Philosophy and History (with top marks!) in college.

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

    Gabriel, when you referred to James doing theological work, were you talking to me? What work do I do that you would consider “theological”? I teach religion at a private secular university, and so I am wondering whether that comment was addressed to me, and if so what it meant.

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

    @twitter-60895501:disqus , I you are absolutely correct that the majority of people who study Biblical studies do so because of an interest that in some way connects to their own personal faith. Even among the agnostics and atheists in Biblical studies, I suspect that the majority of them started out in Biblical studies because of a faith which they subsequently lost (sometimes as a result of those same studies!)

    Congratulations on getting top marks in history!

  • Jonathan Burke

    Dear Fabrizio,

    //But your and Jonathan comments about who can and who cannot speak authoritatively on NT matters sounds very strange to me.//

    I don’t see why. In the academy, that is in the body of professional scholarship in every academic discipline, it is accepted that those who speak AUTHORITATIVELY must be those who are sufficiently qualified.

    Speaking AUTHORITATIVELY does not mean simply making a comment or expressing an opinion. It means that you are a standard reference source for the field, your views are considered of far greater value than almost anyone else. It is not a position which people can just decide they have regardless of their qualifications.

    //The appeal to the opinion of the experts is only for those who don’t
    want to study the question for themselves and limit themselves to not
    discussing with those who disagree.//

    No it isn’t. In any academic discipline those who want to study the question for themselves MUST refer first to the established literature and the relevant experts, if only to ensure that they actually know what they’re talking about. If they don’t, it’s a good sign they’ve never heard of them and haven’t studied the subject properly.

    After they’ve actually read the existing body of literature and examined the relevant expert opinions, they can disagree all they like, but if they don’t make any effort to address the existing literature, and if they try to contradict the existing body of knowledge without actually engaging it, then they’re clearly not interested in fact finding; they’re simply interested in giving their own opinion and avoiding having it challenged.

    //When the scientific consensus is challenged (by anybody, because science
    is for the people, not the other way around) the response must always
    be given by arguments and data, never by appeal to the opinion of the
    elite.//

    Please understand that no one here is using the tactic you claim; no one is saying ‘The experts say X, and therefore X is true, no one is allowed to contradict it, and anything other than X is wrong’. No one is making the false appeal to authority that you claim. No one is doing this. On the contrary, EVERY TIME I have cited a lexicon for example, I have pointed out that the lexicons I cite provide ACTUAL TEXTUAL EVIDENCE for their definition. Not only that, I even provide textual evidence myself, from my own research. This body of evidence must be addressed if claims denying the conclusions of the lexicons are to be dismissed, but Mytherists typically ignore such evidence; Earl was unable to provide a single item of lexical data for his invented meaning of MORFH, despite being asked repeatedly.

    When complete non-experts make the claim to be MORE KNOWLEDGEABLE than the experts, and when non-experts claim that the experts are wrong, and when those non-experts demonstrate a lack of awareness not only of the conclusions of the experts but an ignorance of how the experts reached their conclusions, and the evidence on which the experts based their conclusions, then there’s nothing we need to do except tell the non-experts politely to go away and come back when they’re capable of speaking meaningfully on the topic. Such behaviour is simply symptomatic of their lack of training and knowledge; a real expert wouldn’t come with such an intellectually specious argument.

    //I’m a phycisist, with a Ph.D. and some publications on peer-reviewed Journals. You could check it on the arxiv.org (preprint versions of papers on Physics and other fields).//

    I failed maths in year 10, and never even made it past trigonometry. However, I believe I’m much better at physics than you, and I can prove your claims about physics are wrong. In fact I know I am better at physics than you because I have not been brainwashed by the established scientific hegemony on physics, unlike you. I can correct your work even without reading your papers![1]

    //Frankly speaking, I never ever thought about checking their credentials, because their expertise is in what they say and do.//

    Of course you don’t; academic peers don’t need to check each others qualifications.

    //Furthermore, physicist are notorious for interdisciplinary work: I
    have several friends that works in fields different from Physics
    (Biology, Chemistry, Maths and Finance), without having degrees in those
    fields. How could they have access and publish if not as outsiders and
    self-taught?//

    No one is saying they can’t have access and publish as outsiders and self-taught. Why do you think anyone would say that? On the contrary, Earl has been encouraged to get out there and publish in the professional literature himself; being unqualified and self-taught shouldn’t stop him.

    //It even happened to me, during seminars, that people from other fields
    aked questions able to put myself in trouble! Oh, how much I would have
    paid to end the discussion with a simple “you don’t have the necessary
    degree to discuss the matter”! Unfortunately, it does not work that way.//

    No one is saying it works that way. Please take the time to read what people are actually saying. Don’t just
    rely on what Neil and Earl are telling you about what others write;
    read the posts for yourself.

    As I have pointed out, Earl has been encouraged repeatedly to ‘discuss the matter’ in the relevant scholarly literature; no one is saying he can’t discuss the matter. I would be delighted to see Earl submit his work to as many scholarly journals and academic publishers as he can find. He’s as free as James or I to do so, and the only person who can prevent him from doing so his himself. If he wants to do so, I’m sure he will. Let’s see what happens.

    //The last thing: the peer review process itself is not to be misapplied.//

    This is true. However, the peer review process is extremely valuable, and Sokal would be the first to agree with its value. We have only to read about the ‘Sokal Affair’ to see the kind of contempt Sokal has for people who claim to have superior knowledge in fields for which they are completely unqualified.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokal_affair

    Sokal’s hoax worked perfectly because his article was NOT subjected to peer review, so people who were COMPLETELY UNQUALIFIED in the relevant fields had absolutely no idea that what they were reading was complete and utter nonsense; as Sokal said, the hoax worked because the journal published it ‘without bothering to consult ANYONE KNOWLEDGEABLE ON THE SUBJECT’.

    This is what typically happens when completely unqualified people try to do better than those who are qualified; they just end up promoting complete nonsense, because they don’t know any better.

    Here’s a relevant quotation from Sokal.

    * ‘A curious fact about the recent left-critique of science is the degree
    to which its instigators have overcome their former timidity, of
    indifference towards the subject, NOT BY STUDYING IT IN DETAIL, but
    rather by creating a repertoire of rationalizations FOR AVOIDING SUCH STUDY.’

    Failing to study a subject in detail, avoiding such study, and still critiquing it authoritatively as if you were qualified to do so, is exactly what Sokal was taking aim at.
    _________________________

    [1] I am not making any of these claims seriously; I am simply interested in how you would respond to them if they were presented to you seriously.

    • Fabrizio Palestini

      Dear Jonathan,
      sorry for the huge delay in replying to your comments.

      You say:
      //Speaking AUTHORITATIVELY does not mean simply making a comment or expressing an opinion. It means that you are a standard reference source for the field, your views are considered of far greater value than almost anyone else. It is not a position which people can just decide they have regardless of their qualifications.//

      We can agree that we disagree here. My opinion is that qualification means knowledge, not degrees and titles.

      In response to my statement that “the appeal to the opinion of the experts is only for those who don’t
      want to study the question for themselves and limit themselves to not discussing with those who disagree”
      you say:

      //No it isn’t//

      My answer is: if in my own field one day I’ll have to refer to my own credentials against criticisms from outsiders, well, it will be time to change field.

      //In any academic discipline those who want to study the question for themselves MUST refer first to the established literature and the relevant experts, if only to ensure that they actually know what they’re talking about. If they don’t, it’s a good sign they’ve never heard of them and haven’t studied the subject properly.
      After they’ve actually read the existing body of literature and examined the relevant expert opinions, they can disagree all they like, but if they don’t make any effort to address the existing literature, and if they try to contradict the existing body of knowledge without actually engaging it, then they’re clearly not interested in fact finding; they’re simply interested in giving their own opinion and avoiding having it challenged.//

      I agree with you, but I would add that no-one knows everything, even an expert. I haven’t read all the publications in my own field, and I know for sure that this is a widespread phenomenon. The requirement for an amateur is that, to be able to express a significant opinion on a certain subject, his preparation be similar to that of a qualified expert.
      I’ve sometimes seen, in NT studies, the use of supposed holes in someone preparation as attempts at character assassination, particularly when the theses advanced challenge some paradigm.

      I stated that when the scientific consensus is challenged, the response must always
      be given by arguments and data and never by appeal to the opinion of the
      experts. You responded with:

      //Please understand that no one here is using the tactic you claim.//

      Maybe not, but this phrase of yours below:

      //I’ll only be interested in your comments on these two authors when you’ve submitted your work to professional peer review and made a significant impact on the current scholarly consensus, until then your opinion is no better than mine, and I’m sure you’re not interested in trusting my opinion.//

      seems instead to go exactly in that direction.

      //On the contrary, EVERY TIME I have cited a lexicon for example, I have pointed out that the lexicons I cite provide ACTUAL TEXTUAL EVIDENCE for their definition. Not only that, I even provide textual evidence myself, from my own research. This body of evidence must be addressed if claims denying the conclusions of the lexicons are to be dismissed, but Mytherists typically ignore such evidence; Earl was unable to provide a single item of lexical data for his invented meaning of MORFH, despite being asked repeatedly.//

      Mmm, I’ve seen this discussion. The impression it gave to me was that you both have some points here and are making things look more dramatic than they are. Some considerations:
      1) As often happens with Paul, the problems he poses are extremely intricated and very difficult to solve;

      2) The meaning conveyed by morfh and its cognates is very, very often that of “external appearance” as you say, this is true. But…

      3) There are some instances (in classical greek and even in Paul) where a substantial meaning is certain (see Hellerman himself). Hellerman writes: “The semantic range of morfh certainly allows for an ontological element. But it does not demand it.”
      See Lightfoot’s commentary for examples in Paul of substantial use of morfh and cognates. The request you made to Earl to find supporting lexicographical data is easily answered by a look at any commentary.

      3) The LXX instances of insubstantial meaning are nowhere related to god.

      4) While I agree with you that the substantial meaning is not to be preferred, the debate seems to me still open, with several scholars supporting that option till very recently. If Doherty is wrong in his understanding of the verse, he is clearly within the range of acceptable scholarly standards (even if sharing a minority view) by judging from the peer review articles and academic publications. Gordon Fee (Professor Emeritus of New Testament Studies), in his “Pauline Christology” (together with several commentaries, e.g., Hawthorne 1983, Melick 1991, Bruce 1989) takes this route as recently as 2007.
      If Earl is *unacceptably* wrong in his understanding of the verse (i.e., if he does not meet the standards required to be an expert), the unavoidable conclusion is that an important part of the scholarly community does not meet the same standards while at the same time it publishes in peer review journals and academic editors.
      Note that Hellerman article (in the Journal of Evangelical Theological Society) is a response to “current attempts to revive the traditional interpretation of morfh that equates the term with oysia, or (God’s) essential nature”, and that he refers here to an article published in 2006 in the same journal, by Jowers.

      5) Fabricatore exhaustive analysis of the lexical range of morfh dates April 2008 (a Ph.D. dissertation, moreover), not very easy for Earl to include it in his book (2009);

      My conclusion here is that, even if Earl’s discussion on this matter could have been more nuanced and better informed, criticisms should be directed to him in a very different way from what I’m seeing here. Something like: “hey man, you can do a better job here by reading this and that, by modyfing your statements here and there, and so on”, while in this very heated discussions I see only attempts to discredit the opponents: “you are wrong here, so your are a kook and wrong everywhere, not worth reading anymore”.
      These remarks of mine applies generally to almost all contributors from each side.

      I must say that the very aggressive tone of these discussions poses a heavy burden on those, like myself, who simply want to know more, to see different ideas confronted, but are forced to dig out evidences, arguments, reasonings, data, facts from below a thick wall of sarcasm, rethoric, hyperbolic language.

      //I failed maths in year 10, and never even made it past trigonometry. However, I believe I’m much better at physics than you, and I can prove your claims about physics are wrong. In fact I know I am better at physics than you because I have not been brainwashed by the established scientific hegemony on physics, unlike you. I can correct your work even without reading your papers! [I am not making any of these claims seriously; I am simply interested in how you would respond to them if they were presented to you seriously.]//

      You’re welcome! ;D
      For sure I will not reply with the something like that: I’ll only be interested in your comments on my works when you’ve submitted your work to professional peer review and made a significant impact on the current consensus, until then my opinion is far better than yours.
      Your analogy is not very fair to Earl, anyway.

      //Earl has been encouraged to get out there and publish in the professional literature himself; being unqualified and self-taught shouldn’t stop him//

      Strictly speaking, Earl has published an article on a peer review journal, the Journal of Higher Criticism (now discontinued). While admittedly of very variable level, the articles published therein were sometimes very interesting. My opinion is that it is much more difficult for anyone to get published contributions which go in certain directions than in others: it is surprising to me that one can publish defenses of the matthean priority (without being labeled as a kook) while Earl’s theory is considered like creationism.

      Best

      Fabrizio

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

    @d92a53de459bbc249ff2d8c99d7b0a5c:disqus , what do you make of what secular historians have written about Jesus? Surely it is an insult to them to suggest, as Neil does, that they have simply adopted the consensus of religiously-motivated scholars uncritically. How do you see the conclusions of such individuals as different from what Neil Godfrey has to say, if at all? He seems to vacillate on whether historians have or have not done all the things you listed at the beginning of your comment. And if you regard them as different and feel that one is more persuasive than the other, I would be interested to know why.

    I think all fields are works in progress. :-) 

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

    Gabriel, I’m not a theologian eithier. I think you meant to quote me but then say that James would be put out of work if he thought Jesus was an invented person. I don’t think you understood my quote any more than you understand james proffession or the flexibility of theologians to the many ideas that have been advanced that some once thought would discredit Chritian theology. It is not that lots of people agreeing make the position stronger, it is that lots of people analyzing a subject mean more analysys, more challenges to the status quo. If it were not for all the attention on the NT would we have theories arguing the Gospels are Midrash or imitations of Homer?

    • http://twitter.com/gbienzobas Gabriel Bienzobas

      Thanks Michael.

      I understand the difference between theology and religion professor. You don’t need to think, you simply need to read what I said – I incorrectly thought James had a position as a theologian.

      Regarding “my lack of understanding” I wouldn’t go so far. I have read plenty of Philosophy, Theology and History out of my own accord to understand what they mean. One of my best friends has got a Phd in History and know a person with a masters in Divinity from the University of Cambridge, UK. Everyone has a bias, that is my point. But for my History friend the fact that someone might discover one day that Richard III was a benevolent king or that Hannibal was a mythical character won’t affect his job or his beliefs. For people such as N.T Wright, the fact that Jesus might have not existed might cause a few more issues. They are prepared to investigate up to a point or within certain limits.

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

    Gabriel, I have heard other mythicists make the same claim you just did, and I think that you are repeating it, having picked it up from others.

    You are saying that the historians who suggest that Jesus was a human and not divine, and that the very earliest Christians understood him in this way, are acting out of an interest in keeping their jobs, while the “truth” that would cause them to lose or at least risk their jobs would be to say the opposite, that the earliest Christians thought Jesus was divine but not human.

    Can you explain to me why you think that denial of Jesus’ divinity would be more controversial than denial of his humanity, and why you think one would put ones job at risk but the other would not?

    I have heard mythicists say such things on many occasions and have never found it plausible. Perhaps you can help me understand your own thinking on this, so that I can get a better grasp of mythicist reasoning. Thanks!

    • http://twitter.com/gbienzobas Gabriel Bienzobas

      I don’t see myself as a mythicist, more like a Jesus agnostic.

      I do agree with you that either of those positions would be controversial for a believer. I do also think there is a difference though. From a hypothetical point of view I reckon if Jesus was a historical figure but we couldn’t corroborate what the New Testament says about him then a believer would still have room for manoeuvre (lack of knowledge doesn’t mean it didn’t happen). Where as if Jesus was a completely mythical figure then it would render the believer position as invalid. That is my opinion.

      I am not trying to find that Jesus didn’t exist. I am trying to understand the data and information available and then make my own informed choice.

  • Anonymous

    Does anyone here get the distinct feeling that there is a commonality between some of the respondents, like it could be the same person writing under different names?  Perhaps a very clever schizophrenic holding an argument with himself?  

    • http://twitter.com/gbienzobas Gabriel Bienzobas

      heheh.. I suppose you refer to me Geoff. Same could be said about you and James Wilson and others. Couldn’t it?

      That I have similar views (which don’t mean are the same) doesn’t mean I am the same person.

      I am not even a native English speaker, I thought that would be clear by the confuse grammar I sometimes use! :) Just put my name in Google, there are no many Gabriel Bienzobas’s out there (me and my dad)!

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

    I don’t see why a believer adding in a historical element that they are told Paul didn’t believe in, but which they find in the Gospels, would be more difficult than adding in a divine element which they are shown is absent at the very least from the Synoptics, but which they find in John and perhaps elsewhere. In both cases, students will start to warn one another about such classes. One will say “If you believe in Jesus, be warned that that guy thinks Jesus was a myth” while the other says “…be warned, that prof thinks Jesus was just some guy who predicted the end of the world and got it wrong.” I still think that both are going to be controversial, and neither can plausibly be said to be stopping at a particular point because of Christian presuppositions or sensitivities, as I have sometimes heard mythicists claim. And if the historicist agrees with some things religious believers sometimes claim, such as that Jesus was a real human and said this or that, then the mythicist agrees with some things some religious believers claims (that Jesus was believed to be divine from the outset), and agrees with that dogmatic position against the view of most historians and Biblical scholars. So I still am not persuaded that mainstream scholarship is constrained or subconsciously influenced by Christianity but the other not. Mythicism agrees with religious believers against historians on certain points of evidence.

  • Jonathan Burke

    //Does anyone here get the distinct feeling that there is a commonality
    between some of the respondents, like it could be the same person
    writing under different names?  Perhaps a very clever schizophrenic
    holding an argument with himself?//

    Well the Mytherists all sound pretty much the same, but I don’t believe anyone here is doing anything like what you suggest.

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

    @Neil, just to be clear, what institution are you referring to with regard to the production of the Chronicle of Seert?

    But it is hard to believe that you are taking this discussion seriously when you suggest that Luke’s prologue, mentioning eyewitnesses, is akin to a work on dream interpretation.

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

      So Loveday Alexander does not take the subject of Luke’s prologue seriously? I gave you a link to the mainstream scholarship I was referring to. You must have lost it. Here it is again with another one.

      http://vridar.wordpress.com/2008/06/14/marcion-and-luke-acts-the-preface-of-luke/

      http://vridar.wordpress.com/2007/11/12/the-literary-genre-of-acts-1-the-prologue/

      But I trust you can see the difference between a vague reference to anonymous “eyewitnesses” [of what?] and identified and named sources and auithorship. And no, I am not suggesting “Luke” did not seek to create something to be read in some sense as history. But I am sure you are more familiar with the mainstream scholarship on all of this than I am and your outrage over a view you attributed to “me” was a momentary oversight on your part.

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

    @Neil, your view of the prologue as closer to dream interpretation than anything else bears little resemblance to the conclusions of Loveday Alexander. But why would you appeal to her anyway, when she is one of those mainstream scholars you so regularly denigrate?

    Since you object to my allegedly not responding to your questions, is it safe to assume that at some point you will get around to answering mine?

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

      James, do stop your blatant lying about what I say. I never said the prologue was close to dream interpretation. What I said is here: http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/2011/08/13/historians-on-jesus/#comment-301606616

      But I do trust you will understand that dream interpretation was itself a scientific topic to the ancients. If I have misrepresented anything Loveday Alexander said or concluded then tell me where I have done so. Your accusation that I have done so without support is nothing but an attempt to slander. If you have evidence then use it to support your charge.

      Also stop your repeated lying about my supposed denigration of scholars. I have always spoken very highly of many biblical scholars and you know it. I have spent a lot of time sharing their works on the web because of the respect I have for them.

      So stop your lying slander.

      Yes, I have mocked one particular academic who makes pretentious claims beyond his area of expertise. Is he attempting pay-back because I find his peers are not so vacuous?

      If you are referring to my refusal to address your one query about the Chronicles of Seert I will answer the same way you answer: I told you in my earlier post what the cultural institution was that is the source of the Chronicles. I have only begun to address your claim that these Chronicles bely what I have said about historical sources. I have only touched half of the ways in which they in fact support everything I have said about historical methodology. So you have no need to worry that I might overlook anything you have said or asked to date.

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

    Wow, Neil, you really do live in your own parallel universe, don’t you, where everyone is doing to you the things that in fact you do to them. That you think that a university professor would even have any interest in slandering you or reason to do so only indicates that you have an inflated sense of your own importance.

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

      Lie 1: that I said Luke’s prologue was akin/closer to dream interpretation than anything else. I want you to retract that. Your words are blatant falsehood.

      Lie 2: that my post on Alexander’s discussion bears little resemblance to what she says. I want you to retract that for the same reason.

      Lie 3: that I so regularly denigrate biblical scholars. I want you to retract that. I have on the contrary expressed great respect for Dale Allison, Jim West and many, many others.

      You clearly read my posts (and Doherty’s words) with hostile intent and can do nothing more than laugh when it is pointed out to you that, whether out of carelessness (born of hostility or smugness or simple disrespect) or otherwise, you write outright falsehoods.

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

      Lie 4: “where everyone is doing to you the things that in fact you do to them”.

      I have never once accused “everyone” or even many others (anyone except you?) of lying. I have always bent over backwards to be careful I never misrepresent anyone and am on record as retracting statements and acknowledging my error when I do so.

      I demand you produce evidence for your accusation or admit your accusation is a lie and withdraw it.

  • Gakuseidon

    Neil: I have never once accused “everyone” or even many others (anyone except you?) of lying.

    Here is a short list. There are quite a few more when talking about the “dishonesty” of scholars when discussing mythicism:

    http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/05/27/how-and-why-scholars-fail-to-rebut-earl-doherty/

    “Her [Steph's] complaint about me is the misrepresentation. She simply does not read what she says she reads. She only skims. And when I catch her out in this she lies and laughs it off as unimportant.

    … one must accept that Steph is quite prepared to lie to support her false accusations against Doherty….”

    “Steph is learning well how to fit in with the likes of Gibson and Fredriksen and McGrath and their dishonest treatment of Doherty’s work, not to mention their unscholarly insulting and abusive manner.”

    http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/07/08/joel-watts-stoops-to-lies-and-slander/

    “I actually suspect that Joel did not even read my blog post. I suspect he felt confident enough (and contemptuous enough of me personally) to publish lies without bothering to read it…”

    “His puerile comments are one thing, but his lack of conscience evidenced in his happiness to knowingly lie pushes my head to the limit — it’s not normal.”

    http://www.christianforums.com/t7534255-34/

    “When GakusieDon speaks of me (Neil Godfrey) as thinking that criticisms of the Christ-mythicism position as “virtually akin to lying” he is the one who is in fact lying.” [Note from GDon: I didn't write "virtually akin to lying", but "virtually akin to conspiracy"]

    “Are you [AlexBP] prepared to be honest enough to actually quote what I in fact DID say, and link to my post? Or do you make a habit of dotting the internet with your lying misrepresentations such as these.”

    Someone writing to Neil:

    “Neil, I think you might get a more impartial hearing for your case if you would hold back on the ad hominems against McGrath, Casey, Crossley, Fredriksen, Gibson, Hoffman, Steph, etc… (interesting that this list, besides McGrath, are secular or Jewish scholars, as the huge majority of Jewish or secular biblical scholars agree on the question of historicity)…”

    Neil’s response:

    “My severe references to certain names is directly related to those same scholars who have demonstrated unprofessional and even culpably dishonest responses to the discussion of historical methodology.”

    http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/02/06/time-wasting-and-mythicism/#more-17307

    “So we have a historian who lies and deceives deliberately and who may have been the one to have originated the insulting put-down that you are ignorantly repeating here.”

    Neil, do you know anyone who supports a HJ but argues that Doherty is wrong that is NOT dihonest?

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

      Yes, GakuseiDon, and fortunately those people are a very small minority of people whose work and correspondence I engage with on my blog and other discussion groups. Luckily the names you mention had become past history to me and were quickly forgotten. I spend most of my time engaging with scholarly works (including biblical scholars) that have something to offer.

      Joel, yes, — you only have to read his astonishingly abusive and dishonest remarks directed at me personally.

      Steph, yes. I had both Joel and Steph put on spam to stop their ongolng outrageous abuse to my blog. I had attempted many times to make peace with Steph.

      GDon, yes, you were writing a blatant falsehood (that is a lie, isn’t it?) when you said I saw criticisms as “virtually akin to conspiracy” (admittedly the correct wording I should have used). You had no evidence at all that I ever have expressed such a thought or accusation. I never have. You extrapolated from one single instance when I foolishly asked McGrath if he took a particular idea from you. That was it!

      And yes, Hoffmann is in many respects a commendable scholar whose works I have shared with favourable opinions. I do not denigrate him! But when he published an outright falsehood — a lie — in his forward in one of his books then I do believe he should be publicly held to account for that. He should make a public retraction and apology.

      Crossley and Fredriksen — I have commended some of their works, I do not denigrate them. But when they on one occasion each write dishonestly and abusively then yes, they should be held to account. They are public intellectuals who owe the public something better.

      Now since you are so thorough in record-keeping Don, go through my blog and write up a list of all the scholars whose works I have spoken of commendably, and whom I do not denigrate — including some of the above.

      Now, will McGrath retract his false statements — his lies presumably erupting from culpable carelessness, lack of respect, hostile intent whenever he reads anything I say?

      Neil, do you know anyone who supports a HJ but argues that Doherty is wrong that is NOT dihonest?

      Yes. I have mentioned some on my blog and there are others on various discussion groups.

      • Gakuseidon

        Neil: I have mentioned some on my blog and there are others on various discussion groups.

        Out of interest, can you name Doherty’s strongest opponent who meets that criterion, please? That is, the name of the person or poster who supports a HJ and argues that Doherty is wrong.

        I’d be curious to see what their arguments are and their interaction with Doherty and/or you.


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