Mythicists and Creationists: Which are More Entertaining?

For some, the similarities between mythicists and creationists outweigh the differences, while for others the reverse seems to be true. The latter tend to get very upset when the comparison is made.

And so perhaps it is only fair that I emphasize from time to time one of the differences between mythicists and creationists. Having been one of the latter for a while during my teens, and having interacted critically with members of both constituencies in recent years, I think I finally have a clear difference.

Mythicists are more entertaining.

I will offer two recent examples, and save the best (the more hilarious and shorter of the two) for last.

First, commenter NatePe suggested that the book From Reliable Sources by Martha Howell and Walter Prevenier as providing a good presentation of the methods that are used by historians – and which allegedly are not used by those who study the historical Jesus. In response, I mentioned that I not only am familiar with the book, but had myself offered it in the past more than once as an example of the sorts of methods I have in mind when I talk about historical study in general and research on the historical figure of Jesus in particular. NatePe questioned whether I had read the same book as him.

At that point, another commenter Nehemias chimed in to remind us about this passage from the book:

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

Of course, once the attempt begins in earnest to explain why the acceptance of a historical Jesus by historians who are using the right methods doesn’t undermine the case for mythicism, the similarities between mythicists and creationists will come to the fore again.

But even more hilarious than a mythicist trying to quote in mythicism’s favor a source that mentions and takes for granted the consensus of historians regarding Jesus, were these words uttered by Neil Godfrey in a recent comment: “This thread has all gone totally off the planet and, neutral bystander that I am, I do believe the fault lies with those who are determined to find fault with and attack anyone on the mythicist side of the fence.”

Since words seem insufficient in response to Godfrey’s self-description as a “neutral bystander,” I offer instead the following instructional poster illustrating the response that I consider most appropriate:

  • Pingback: Dispraxis

  • Gakuseidon

    Tsk, tsk James. Not fair making fun of people’s beliefs, even mythicists and creationists. They have enough problems with being both (somehow) ignored and vilified by academia. Not to mention all the lies and misrepresentation by well, pretty much anyone who disagrees with them! Imagine all the reviewers of your pet theory being liars and misrepresenters! That’s a heck of a lot of bad luck.

    Definitely mythicists are the more entertaining, but simply because there is so much more variety. Pygmy Christs born of pygmy virgins, Constantine forging 300 years of history, Paul as Roman spy, pagans believing Attis was castrated in the sky. Creationists are a one-trick pony by comparison. They need to lift their game.

  • Anonymous

    I am currently working on Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True.   It is clear and convincing.  When I come across a book that lays out the argument for the historicity of Jesus in a similarly persuasive manner, I will happily take the analogy of mythicists to creationists seriously.  Until such time,  I cannot help but think that  the historical Jesus hypothesis depends upon almost as many unverifiable assumptions as the efficient markets hypothesis.

  • Jonathan Burke

    //When I come across a book that lays out the argument for the historicity
    of Jesus in a similarly persuasive manner, I will happily take the
    analogy of mythicists to creationists seriously.//

    So in other words, your assessment of the analogy is purely subjective and not fact based.

    • Anonymous

      No Jonathan.  It is based on the simple fact that historicists seem unable to be unable to present the kind of cogent evidence based arguments for their position that evolutionists do.  It is based on the fact that among historical Jesus scholars there is so much less consensus than among evolutionists about where the knowns and unknowns lie.  It is based on the fact that historical Jesus scholarship seems to be moving in the direction of less certainty and less agreement as time has gone by whereas evolutionary science moves in the other direction. 

      I simply don’t think that the mythicist-creationist analogy sheds any light on the issues.  If anything, it illustrates the smugness of historicists at least as much as the flaws in mythicism. 

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

    Hoo boy, James. Americans are notorious for their inability to recognize irony and you are up there with the best of them, even Bush. — But I don’t expect Americans to get the humour.

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

      G’day Neil, put another shrimp on the barbie. I’m sorry Americans don’t understand sophisticated Australian humor, like the irony Australian Mel Gibson delivered to the cops and his ex-wife (we know Mel couldn’t have meant all that nasty stuff about Jew conspiracies, he made an epic movie about a Jew who gets killed by Romans). Have you considered that you may not be any More funny than you are rational? Probably not.

      The fact of the matter is Neil, anyone familiar with your writing would expect such wildly inaccurate self serving statements from you.

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

    I did appreciate the irony of your comment, Neil, and now appreciate it even more, having learned that you appreciate it too!

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

      I’m very pleased. (just like God at his son’s baptism.)

      • Geoff Hudson

        He really believes it!

        • Howard Mazzaferro

          That I believe the Bible is a revelation to you?

        • Howard Mazzaferro

          Sorry, I thought this was to me before I seen Neil’s name.

  • Jonathan Burke

    “Having read Doherty, I also read McGrath’s paper; I thereafter discovered that a group of historians and scholars had written critiques of McGrath’s analysis. After reading these criticisms I began a search of the literature and over a period of time I became convinced that McGrath’s critique lacked substance. Most surprising was the number of statements made by McGrath that proved to be clearly untrue. Further reading reinforced this discovery of the glaringly unscientific and unscholarly quality of McGrath’s paper.

    What was much worse, was that it was difficult to imagine that even McGrath was unaware of the misrepresentation of evidence presented as scholarly criticism by him and offered to the public.

    Thereafter, I encountered a colleague who, learning that I was interested in the thesis of Doherty, informed me that in Broca’s Brain was an essay by Professor McGrath that demolished Doherty and his thesis. When he informed me that he had not read any of Doherty’s books nor any criticisms of McGrath’s article I asked, “How can you make a proper judgment if you haven’t read both sides of the issue.”

    To my astonishment he replied, “I don’t have to read both sides to know which side is right!” His closed-minded attitude made discussion futile and I let the remark pass. Several days later I received a letter in which he presented citations from McGrath’s paper and posed, “What possible arguments could be raised on Doherty’s behalf?”

    In response I composed a long letter which dealt with merely one of McGrath’s criticisms. This posted I awaited his response – none came. A few weeks later at a monthly conference, we ran into each other. In a very friendly manner he approached me, smiling broadly, he shook my hand. “What did you think of my reply to your letter?” I asked.

    He admired the scholarship of my reply to McGrath and admitted frankly, “There are two sides to this Doherty business.” This I followed up by asking if there were any other aspects of McGrath’s criticism which he wished to clarify. He shook his head ‘no’ and I dropped the matter. However, I noted that he seemed shocked by the evidence of the rebuttal presented.”

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

      I’ve been meaning to ask you about this comment. My question is: “Huh?”  :-)

  • Jonathan Burke

    //No Jonathan.//

    In that case you need to rephrase it.

    //It is based on the simple fact that historicists seem
    unable to be unable to present the kind of cogent evidence based
    arguments for their position that evolutionists do.//

    According to who?

    //It is based on the
    fact that among historical Jesus scholars there is so much less
    consensus than among evolutionists about where the knowns and unknowns
    lie.//

    Of course there is, that’s the case with all historians of ancient history. You’re comparing two completely different fields, with two completely forms of evidence, and completely different sets of criteria.

    //It is based on the fact that historical Jesus scholarship seems to
    be moving in the direction of less certainty and less agreement as time
    has gone by whereas evolutionary science moves in the other direction.//

    Evidence please that ‘historical Jesus scholarship seems to
    be moving in the direction of less certainty and less agreement’. That evolutionary science is moving ‘in the other direction’ is hardly surprising given the nature of the field, which is completely different to that of history.

    //I simply don’t think that the mythicist-creationist analogy
    sheds any light on the issues.//

    It’s very simple. When Mytherists make the same arguments as cranks like the Young Earth Creationists, we know there’s something wrong with their methodology and with their case. Professional scholars don’t resort to the arguments used by cranks. They don’t need to; they have evidence and proper arguments.

  • Pingback: Dispraxis

  • TsfabisiaK

    I’ve only intermittently read your posts on mythicism, so forgive me if I’m repeating something you’ve brought up before, but isn’t the problem with contemporary “mythicists” that they confuse mythicism and historicism?  If you look at Charles Dupuis or D.F. Strauss as historical examples of mythicists, it’s pretty clear that they weren’t primarily interested in whether or not Jesus existed; the point was to show how Christian narratives took shape.  Dupuis even explicitly stated that it didn’t matter for his project whether Jesus ever lived or not.  His goal, like Strauss’, was largely comparative, to show that Christianity was a religion like other religions, and therefore incompatible in various ways with the spirit of the modern era.  Even beyond that goal, I would say that the real interest and radicalism of Strauss or Dupuis’ projects was that they emphasized the history of consciousness instead of the history of facts about transcendent individuals–as also did certain more romantic and apologetic Christian interpreters like J.G. Herder, for example.  People found Strauss’ work unsettling, as recent scholarship has shown pretty decisively, because of its implicitly democratic social and political content–because, by disregarding the history of the unique, Christian God-man in favor of the historical mentality of a group, he was tacitly attacking the ideology of “personality” on which notions of God, king, and property owner were based at the time (cf. Warren Breckman 1999).  To reduce this kind of work to a historicist inquiry into the empirical truth about what happened or not in Galilee etc. in the first century seems to me to be the worst possible kind of betrayal.  I find that a lot of what are taken as radical atheistic positions now are covert apologies for lazy and regressive, if not profoundly conservative, ways of thinking.  You only have to think of the complicity between new atheist and conservative christian accounts of “real Christianity,”–or “real Islam,” for that matter–as an example.  In any case, it’s frustrating to see people reduce the totally correct and generative insight that ancient religious narratives are composed and have literary and mythical elements, etc. to some weird obsession with disproving the existence of a first century individual, as if that were all that mattered from either a religious or historical perspective. 

    I would suggest that people who now identify as “mythicists” aren’t mythicists at all, they’re (lousy) historicists.

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

        If you look at Charles Dupuis or D.F. Strauss as historical examples
      of mythicists, it’s pretty clear that they weren’t primarily interested
      in whether or not Jesus existed; the point was to show how Christian
      narratives took shape. . . . . .I would suggest that people who now identify as “mythicists” aren’t mythicists at all, they’re (lousy) historicists.

      Whoever wrote this has not only but ‘intermittently’ read Dr McGrath’s posts on mythicism but very ‘intermittently’ read anything at all about mythicism. There have been many names since Strauss. Albert Schweitzer addressed a host of them in his own day and clearly did not dismiss them in the same was as this commenter does.

      But having said that, I do not believe McGrath would agree with the commenter’s view. I have made the point over and over that in my own arguments the question of Jesus’ existence is immaterial. McGrath has even criticized me for not presenting an argument for mythicism!!! In all of my discussions about methodology I have attempted to show that the question is not about mythicism verses historicism but about a valid historical method as we find embraced generally among nonbiblical historians (McGrath prefers the term non-”New Testament historians”) and an increasing number of Old Testament historians. I have from time to time said I do not even generally identify as a mythicist because of my above approach and primary interest.

      But none of this makes any difference if one concludes based on historical inquiry that Christianity is best explained as arising via a model other than that of the romantic founding individual.

  • Anonymous

    Jonathan, I don’t think that I will bother to rephrase my comment
    since I am confident that you could still find a way to interpret it
    negatively.

     

    I quite agree that historical Jesus studies and evolutionary
    biology are two completely different fields with different forms of
    evidence and sets of criteria.  That is
    one of the reasons why I find the analogy so unhelpful.  Given the differences between the two fields,
    it is difficult for me to see the arguments as the same.

     

    I am not persuaded that the degree of consensus about knowns
    and unknowns in historical Jesus studies is comparable to that in other areas
    of ancient history.   For example,
    Maurice Casey writes that “there should be no doubt” that a particular healing
    narrative is “literally true.”  I suspect
    that many historian of the ancient world would conclude that such a thing is
    inherently unknowable given the problems with the sources.   I
    would be surprised if you could find similar discrepancies among historians of
    ancient Rome over what types of
    things can be known with certainty and what things are inherently conjectural.  

     

    It would certainly be nice if professional scholars never
    made the same arguments as cranks, however, I fear this is not always the
    case.  In general, the mythicists that I
    have read have the exact same evidence as the historicists even though they
    interpret it differently.  This is in
    sharp contrast to young earth creationists who often don’t seem to have a clue
    about the evidence upon which evolutionary scientists actually base their
    conclusions.

  • Dave Burke

    In answer to the question, I’d say mythicists are more entertaining than creationists. The Dunning-Kruger effect is rampant among both groups, but creationists at least have the excuse of ignorance and religious fundamentalism. Mythicists have no excuse whatsoever.

    If you’re going to claim the high ground of atheism and rationalism, you’d better make damn sure your arguments are consistently rational. Unfortunately this is the point at which mythicists tend to fall down.

  • TsfabisiaK

    I had gathered that people now use the term ‘mythicism’ in two somewhat different ways: either to designate arguments whose main claim is that the existence of the historical Jesus is not empirically provable or to designate someone–usually some figure from the history of biblical scholarship–who argued that the gospels were ‘mythical’ in any number of very different ways (and some of whom did not use or even opposed the term ‘myth’ as a designation for the gospels).  If my impression is correct, then it seems to me that figures in the latter category shouldn’t get lumped in with those in the former.  So maybe I should have posed it the other way around and claimed that figures like Strauss and Dupuis weren’t ‘mythicists,’ even if Strauss actively endorsed using the term ‘myth’ to describe the gospel histories, for example.

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

      I had gathered that people now use the term ‘mythicism’ in two somewhat
      different ways: either to designate arguments whose main claim is that
      the existence of the historical Jesus is not empirically provable or to
      designate someone–usually some figure from the history of biblical
      scholarship–who argued that the gospels were ‘mythical’ in any number
      of very different ways (and some of whom did not use or even opposed the
      term ‘myth’ as a designation for the gospels).

      Then by the standard of either of these meanings we would have to conclude that a very wide sweep of New Testament or historical Jesus mainstream scholars are all “mythicists”.

      Starting with Albert Schweitzer we find he stated point blank the existence of Jesus is not empirically provable. And I don’t really know of any mythicists argument that makes such a claim their main focus anyway. Do you?

      And from my reading I would have thought most New Testament scholars argue the gospels are in some way mythical and mythical “in any number of different ways”.

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

    If the question is what the label “mythicism” denotes when it is used in reference to views such as those of Earl Doherty or D. M. Murdoch, it indicates that such people believe – and believe it possible to demonstrate convincingly – not merely that a historical Jesus did not exist, but that the earliest Christians did not think of the Jesus they spoke of as a figure whom they believed had appeared in history.

    This is in marked contrast to mainstream historical scholarship, which views the Jesus of the New Testament epistles, Gospels and later Christian tradition as a mythologized and legend-laced portrait of a human individual who had indeed existed, and who is recognizable at least in certain key details even through the shroud of myth, legend and dogma.

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

      and who is recognizable at least in certain key details even through the shroud of myth, legend and dogma.

      Not to argue the points here, but just out of curiosity what would be say two details of Jesus that are “recognizable”  “through” the shroud of myth, legend and dogma?

  • TsfabisiaK

    The definitional specificity is really helpful.  People did use ‘mythicism’ to describe Strauss’ approach a long time ago, and I thought they still did, which I suppose is what frustrated me about this more recent connotation of mythicism.  I would still want to distinguish Strauss’ –or Dupuis or Bruno Bauer’s–concerns from Doherty’s, for example.

  • Jonathan Burke

    //In all of my discussions about methodology I have attempted to show that
    the question is not about mythicism verses historicism but about a
    valid historical method as we find embraced generally among nonbiblical
    historians (McGrath prefers the term non-”New Testament historians”) and
    an increasing number of Old Testament historians.//

    But you’ve failed to demonstrate that historians of the New Testament don’t use a valid historical method, you just assert it. Furthermore, as we’ve seen, there are “non-New Testament historians” who use the standard historical method and who still conclude that Jesus was a historical figure.

    When you say ‘an increasing number of Old Testament historians’ do you actually mean ‘minimalists’, who are typically Bible scholars rather than historians, and whose claims are typically rejected by professional archaeologists?

    //Not to argue the points here, but just out of curiosity what would be
    say two details of Jesus that are “recognizable”  “through” the shroud
    of myth, legend and dogma?//

    You’ve been given a list before. How could you have forgotten so quickly? 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

    _______________________________
    [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).

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

    You are not very good at reading comprehension, are you. I have never, to my recollection, undertaken “a discussion about methodology” in the comments section of McGrath’s blog. Others would, I expect, realize I am referring to my many in depth discussions elsewhere. So your criticism that I merely “assert” something here when in fact I am referring to what others know I have argued elsewhere is misplaced.

    As for your apparent willingness to identify archaeologists with historians there are others who less inclined to make such an equation or even sure alliance. http://www.bib-arch.org/BAR/article.asp?PubID=BSBA&Volume=37&Issue=5&ArticleID=8

    Archaeology is not per se historical inquiry. You can go to town over all the archaeologists who have also written histories and any other profession who has written histories from archaeological finds but I am not interested in getting any further into this area with you. You can argue all you like however you like. But I am tired of your consistent attempts to construe whatever I write in some way that suits your polemical interests.

    There is not one detail in your list of “facts” about Jesus that has not been challenged by mainstream biblical scholars. Nothing comparable can be said about the “core facts” of any other person subjected to historical/biographical study among ancient historians.  (I can anticipate how you will extrapolate from what I say here to infer I am suggesting much more than I have in fact said, so to save time I will respond now to your criticisms and say simply, “read what I wrote” and “no more” and “no less”.)

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

    @Neil, you still do not seem to grasp how scholarship works, either in history of the natural sciences. Of course there are challenges to anything and everything. That is how academic fields work. You should not equate the putting forward of new proposals with the ovturning of consensuses.

    What’s more, given the points that mythicists usually make, I would have thought that an obvious explanation for the intensity of the debates and contradictory claims would occur to you: people care too much, and so are eager to make troubling elements go away, such as Jesus predicting the arrival of the kingdom of God in a time frame in which it didn’t. If Jesus were not the subject of such interest, both positive and negative, there would be more agreement about the broad outlines and basic facts, not less.

    • Robert

      Of course, the truth could simply be that later Christians wished to make the troubling predictions of earlier Christians go away.

      Or, perhaps, that the kingdom of god concept changed from what it was in the minds of the earlier Christians to what it became in the minds of the later.

      That Jesus was the mouthpiece, does not mean that Jesus was the mouth, etc…

    • Anonymous

      What’s more, given the points that mythicists usually make, I would have thought that an obvious explanation for the intensity of the debates and contradictory claims would occur to you: people care too much, and so are eager to make troubling elements go away, such as Jesus predicting the arrival of the kingdom of God in a time frame in which it didn’t.

      I think that explanation has probably occurred to most mythicists and I suspect that it contributes to their negative view of mainstream New Testament scholarship. There shouldn’t be any reason that any real historian would be any more troubled by Jesus erroneously predicting the arrival of the kingdom of God than he would be by Hitler erroneously predicting that a thousand-year Reich.   To expand on Robert’s point out, whether Jesus actually made the prediction or whether it was attributed to him by someone else seems fairly trivial as well as inherently unknowable.  Nevertheless, this is the kind of question that inspires intense debate among historical Jesus scholars who purport to be applying mainstream historical methodology.

  • Jonathan Burke

    // I have never, to my recollection, undertaken “a discussion about methodology” in the comments section of McGrath’s blog.//

    My comment wasn’t merely about your activities here. Whatever gave you that idea, since I never said such a thing? I’m including your blog. You could address my actual point instead of objecting to something I never said.

    //As for your apparent willingness to identify archaeologists with historians…//

    No, read again please; I differentiated historians from archaeologists. I note you didn’t address my actual point.

    //There is not one detail in your list of “facts” about Jesus that has not been challenged by mainstream biblical scholars.//

    So what? That doesn’t change the fact that there’s a broad scholarly consensus on that entire list. Nor does it change the fact that my list is a direct answer to the question you raised. You asked this.

    * Not to argue the points here, but just out of curiosity what would be say two details of Jesus that are “recognizable”  “through” the shroud of myth, legend and dogma?

    I answered. Not only that, but I answered with the very same list which you’ve seen before. You do yourself no favours by asking questions which make you appear to have forgotten what you were told a week ago (at best), or which make you appear that you are unfamiliar with the relevant literature (at worst).

    //Nothing comparable can be said about the “core facts” of any other
    person subjected to historical/biographical study among ancient
    historians. //

    Evidence please.

  • Jonathan Burke

    //To expand on Robert’s point out, whether Jesus actually made the prediction or whether it was attributed to him by someone else seems
    fairly trivial as well as inherently unknowable.//

    It’s precisely the same kind of discussion historians of the classical age have over what Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Archimedes, Solon, and others actually wrote or said. To you it might seem trivial; to a historian, it’s their profession.

    //Nevertheless, this is
    the kind of question that inspires intense debate among historical Jesus
    scholars who purport to be applying mainstream historical methodology.//

    Why do you say ‘purport’?

    • Anonymous

      Jonathan,

      A couple years back, I listened to A History of
      Ancient Rome
      from The Teaching Company by Professor Garrett Fagan of Penn State.  He told the story of Julius Caesar’s wife
      warning him not to go to the Forum on Ides of March because of a dream she had the
      previous night.   Fagan said that while
      this was an interesting story, it was beyond the ability of historians to
      determine its historicity because it could neither be refuted nor corroborated.

       

      One of the reasons I question whether historical Jesus
      scholars are really applying the same methods as other historians of the
      ancient world is because they seem to think that they can make detailed determinations
      about specific things that Jesus said or did with a degree of certainty beyond
      those that other historians of the ancient world would try to make.   

      I would think that most classicists would acknowledge that when they talk about the dialogues of Plato, they are talking about the body of work that has come down to us that is attributed to Plato.  I would think they  would admit that there is no way to eliminate the possibility that some of those works may have been written by students of Plato, forged in Plato’s name, or alter or amended by scribes.  How would a classicist go about determining which words were really spoken by Socrates and which ones were merely placed in his mouth by Plato?

      • Anonymous

        Vinny, clearly you have a full grasp on the issue. This is the crux of the matter and I appreciate your reminder of my enjoyable hours spent listening to professor Fagan’s course. I believe he also expressed the idea that while we couldn’t be certain the Regal period of Rome was entirely fictional, he felt that it was most likely that the stories told of this period were all etiological and did not reflect actual events. I completely agree with this approach, and have presented Romulus as a figure who shares lots of the same characteristics as Jesus.

        What’s striking is that Jesus historicists don’t rush out to embrace Romulus, Hercules, Perseus and Jason historicism with nearly the zeal that they do Jesus, yet Justin was quite clear that Jesus was in this category at the time of his writing in the 2nd century. What better way to show there was a real man Jesus than to show that there was a real man Romulus? The gates of credulous ancient text acceptance seem shut far too narrowly if we allow Jesus alone in.

        • Anonymous

          Just as I see problems with the mythicist-creationist analogy, I think there are some problems with Romulus-Jesus analogy as well.  While I am not thoroughly versed in the Romulus myths, I suspect that there is nothing about the stories of the origins of Rome that make any more sense by positing a historical individual behind the Romulus legends.  In the same way, I suspect that positing a historical individual behind the King Arthur legends wouldn’t do anything to make more sense of the stories of Camelot and the knights of the Round Table.   I doubt that there are many good reasons not to think of King Arthur or Romulus as mythical for all practical purposes.

          On the other hand, mainly because the stories about Jesus are so much closer to the time when he was supposed to have lived, I think that positing a historical Jesus may have some actual explanatory power when it comes to the development of the gospel stories (although I don’t see much with respect to Paul’s epistles).  I may not think the evidence is sufficient to establish historicity, but I don’t the question of a historical Jesus is trivial while I suspect that the question of a historical Romulus probably is.  I think that the Romulus-Jesus analogy has some illustrative value, but I think that it gets overplayed.

          • Anonymous

            Vinny, thanks for your reply. I would argue that in almost every way the historicity of Romulus is better attested than that of Jesus. There are fewer contradictions in the extant accounts. There are good reasons for an oral tradition to be continuously corrected (Jesus historicists are constantly bragging about how accurate oral histories are). We have evidence for texts much earlier than the ones we currently have that were quoted and used as sources by our current texts and we have artifacts that match the location and time of Romulus that are reported in our extant literature. Yet, with all that, I agree with Prof. Fagan that we cannot assign Romulus to history, because the stories told about him do not meet the criteria for determining that someone existed and the primary data is too nebulous.

            • Anonymous

              beallen417,

              I listened to Fagan’s lecture on the founding of Rome again last night and he said that while Livy did have earlier written sources, those sources still came from long after the fact.  He also said that there is some archeological evidence that directly contradicts some aspects of Livy’s account. 

              The other distinction that seems significant to me is that we have primary written evidence about the time and place in which Jesus was supposed to have lived whereas all we know about the time and place in which Romulus was supposed to have lived comes from a few archeological finds.

              So off the top of my head, I would say that even if the positive reasons for believing that Jesus was historical are not all that much better than those for Romulus, the positive reasons for deeming the Romulus accounts to be legendary may be stronger.

              • Anonymous

                Vinny, while agreeing that Romulus is mythical, I find his case for historicity stronger than that of Jesus. Obviously intelligent people looking at the same data can disagree without one of them being crazy. All I would say is that Romulus has data that argue for his existence that are more compelling than any of the texts that argue for Jesus. There is in fact a peer-reviewed scholar in Italy who writes on the historical Romulus.

  • Jonathan Burke

    //One of the reasons I question whether historical Jesus scholars are
    really applying the same methods as other historians of the ancient
    world is because they seem to think that they can make detailed
    determinations about specific things that Jesus said or did with a
    degree of certainty beyond those that other historians of the ancient
    world would try to make.//

    Could you provide some examples please, and also describe your understanding of the method historical Jesus scholars use?

    //I would think that most classicists would acknowledge that when they
    talk about the dialogues of Plato, they are talking about the body of
    work that has come down to us that is attributed to Plato.  I would
    think they  would admit that there is no way to eliminate the
    possibility that some of those works may have been written by students
    of Plato, forged in Plato’s name, or alter or amended by scribes.//

    Correct. So how much of the dialogues of Plato are actually ascribed by classicists to Plato, and on what basis do they do so?

    //How would a classicist go about determining which words were really
    spoken by Socrates and which ones were merely placed in his mouth by
    Plato?//

    Is this a rhetorical question, or do you genuinely not know?

    • Anonymous

      Could you provide some examples please, and also describe your understanding of the method historical Jesus scholars use?

      I’ve already pointed to the certainty that Maurice Casey claimed about a particular healing narrative.  I’d be happy to discuss any examples that you would care to share, but I don’t feel the obligation to jump through hoops for you Jonathan.

      Correct. So how much of the dialogues of Plato are actually ascribed by classicists to Plato, and on what basis do they do so?

      You tell me because I’m not sure.  I would assume that classicists look for the same kinds of things that scholars use to determine which epistles are genuinely Pauline, e.g.,consistency of arguments, style, and word usage.

      Is this a rhetorical question, or do you genuinely not know?

      I genuinely do not know.  I have read that many classicists believe that Plato simply used Socrates as a mouthpiece for his own ideas, but I am not familiar with any attempts to determine which ideas are specifically Socratic in origin. 

    • Anonymous

      Could you provide some examples please, and also describe your understanding of the method historical Jesus scholars use?

      I’ve already pointed to the certainty that Maurice Casey claimed about a particular healing narrative.  I’d be happy to discuss any examples that you would care to share, but I don’t feel the obligation to jump through hoops for you Jonathan.

      Correct. So how much of the dialogues of Plato are actually ascribed by classicists to Plato, and on what basis do they do so?

      You tell me because I’m not sure.  I would assume that classicists look for the same kinds of things that scholars use to determine which epistles are genuinely Pauline, e.g.,consistency of arguments, style, and word usage.

      Is this a rhetorical question, or do you genuinely not know?

      I genuinely do not know.  I have read that many classicists believe that Plato simply used Socrates as a mouthpiece for his own ideas, but I am not familiar with any attempts to determine which ideas are specifically Socratic in origin. 

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

    VinnyJH, sorry for my delay in replying. As I have said time and time again, the point of the comparison between creationism and mythicism is not that historical study provides the same degree of certainty as is possible in the natural sciences. The point is that both groups selectively reject the methods and conclusions, with the degree of certainty appropriate to the discipline, used and provided by those experts working in the field in question.

    • Anonymous

      Dr. McGrath,

       

      When I was in law school, my evidence professor used to
      complain about courtroom dramas on TV where a lawyer would stand up and say “I
      object.  That’s prejudicial.”   My professor liked to say “Of course it’s
      prejudicial.  Why would a lawyer bother
      to introduce evidence if it didn’t prejudice the jury in his client’s
      favor?  The issue is whether the tendency
      of the evidence to unfairly prejudice the
      jury outweighs its probative value.”

       

      I do not dispute that you might argue in good faith that
      some mythicist arguments are in some relevant ways similar to arguments
      advanced by creationists (even if I might disagree with you about those
      similarities).   Nevertheless, I still think that the primary
      effect of the analogy is to make all mythicists look like ignoramuses and that
      this tendency outweighs any illustrative value that the analogy might have.  It is like analogizing the Tea Party to Nazis
      or the Democrats to Stalinists.  There
      may be some arguable similarity, but the primary effect is to induce a visceral
      negative reaction.

       

      On the other hand, I think that the differences between the
      creation-evolution debates and the mythicist-historicist debates (at least when
      the mythicist side is defended by a Carrier or a Price or a Wells) are
      illustrative of the reasons why the scholarly consensus among historical Jesus
      scholars doesn’t deserve quite the same weight as the scholarly consensus among
      evolutionary scholars.   So I will happily forgive you for any
      tardiness in responding to my comments if you will forgive me for continuing to
      challenge your analogy.   

    • Robert

      Not myself a mythicist, per se, but I would take issue with your statement that  “both groups selectively reject the methods and conclusions, with the degree of certainty appropriate to the discipline, used and provided by those experts working in the field in question”.

      Unless, of course, you add the qualification that the degree of certainty appropriate to historical Jesus studies, especially considering the methods and derived conclusions can not, based on the actual evidence, rise to the level of even a positive probability, as opposed to the degree of certainty one can reach based on the methods and conclusions of evolutionary biology.

      If you add this qualifier, than I would agree, however, I am not sure that I have ever read any statements by mythicists that would contradict this modified position. In fact, I kind of think that this is the actual point.

  • Jonathan Burke

    //I’ve already pointed to the certainty that Casey claimed about a
    particular healing narrative and I’ve pointed to the kind of thing that
    Fagan says is beyond the reach of historical methodology.  I’d be happy
    to discuss any relevant examples that you would care to share, but I
    don’t feel the obligation to jump through hoops for you Jonathan.//

    It’s not about you jumping through hoops, it’s about me investigating the evidence for your claims; firstly by testing to see if there actually is any evidence for your claims. In my experience most Mytherists/’Jesus agnostics’ simply turn tail when asked for evidence, or complain it’s not fair, or say Neil Godfrey has plenty of evidence, or say Earl Doherty has plenty of evidence, but they’re not able to present any evidence themselves.

    Thus far you’ve given me two examples which don’t substantiate your claim. This does not surprise me.

    //I would assume that classicists look for the same kinds of things that
    scholars use to determine which epistles are genuinely Pauline, e.g.,consistency of arguments, style, and word usage.//

    Indeed they do; the same methods in fact which are used by scholars investigating the historicity of Jesus. So this claim that scholars investigating the historicity of Jesus are using some kind of special method they’ve invented by themselves, which other historians don’t use, is simply false.

  • Anonymous

    Thus far you’ve given me two examples which don’t substantiate your claim. This does not surprise me.

    I have been less than impressed with the quality of your evidence and examples as well.

  • Jonathan Burke

    //Jonathan, I don’t think that I will bother to rephrase my comment since I
    am confident that you could still find a way to interpret it
    negatively.//

    I didn’t interpret it negatively. I simply pointed out that your basis of assessment was subjective; the case for the historical Jesus is only valid, in your view, if you find it convincing.

    //I quite agree that historical Jesus studies and
    evolutionary biology are two completely different fields with different
    forms of evidence and sets of criteria.  That is one of the reasons why I
    find the analogy so unhelpful.  Given the differences between the two
    fields, it is difficult for me to see the arguments as the same.//

    You are confusing two separate issues. One issue is that historical research and scientific research have very different forms of evidence and deal in very different degrees of certainty; this is not in dispute. The other issue is the arguments used by CREATIONISTS and the arguments used by MYTHERISTS. This is a completely separate issue which has nothing to do with the first issue.

    It is not right to say ‘Well it’s wrong for Creationists to use arguments X, Y, and Z because of the forms of evidence and degrees of certainty involved in the study of EVOLUTION, but it’s ok for Mytherists to use the same arguments because of the forms of evidence and degrees of certainty involved in the study of HISTORY’.

    For example, here’s a list of some arguments used by Mytherists and Creationists (not to mention climate change denialists).

    1. We should ignore the scholarly consensus on the issue, because scholars can be wrong and scholarly consensus can change.

    2. It’s valid to accept the claims of unqualified amateurs, over the evidence based and peer reviewed arguments of qualified professionals.

    3. Professional reference sources (such as Greek lexicons for historical research of the New Testament, and standard biology texts for the study of evolution), can be ignored whenever they disagree with my argument, but can be appealed to as authorities whenever they appear to support my argument.

    4. The only reason why there’s a scholarly consensus against my argument is that the established scholarship is the result of irrational bias.

    These arguments have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the forms of evidence and sets of criteria used in both of the relevant fields (scientific research on the one hand, and historical research on the other). They are merely attempts by unqualified amateurs to justify their claim that people should accept their arguments and reject the scholarly consensus of the relevant qualified professionals.

    For an example of argument 1, Doherty has compared himself more than once to Galileo and Copernicus, since he is opposing an established scholarly consensus, and claims that since the scholarly consensus in Galileo’s day was wrong, it’s ok for him to dismiss the current scholarly consensus on the historicity of Jesus. Unfortunately this does nothing to advance his actual case, and does not justify Doherty’s dismissal of the established scholarly consensus.

    For an example of argument 2, Doherty claims that his lack of relevant professional qualifications in the field is no reason to accept the arguments of trained and properly qualified professionals over his arguments, and actually claims his arguments are superior to those of the qualified professionals. That is not a valid argument, it’s simply an attempt to dismiss an entire body of scholarship which disagrees with him.

    For an example of argument 3, Doherty acknowledges ‘the “meaning” I give to that 1
    Cor. phrase is never suggested by any lexicon that I am aware of’, but still claims that his meaning is correct anyway, and ALL the professional lexicons are wrong. That is not a valid argument, it’s simply an attempt to dismiss an entire body of scholarship which disagrees with him.

    For an example of argument 4, Doherty describes all scholarship in opposition to his view
    as ‘traditional NT scholarship who have never looked at the texts from
    an unbiased and open-minded viewpoint and rely on words like “authority”
    and “consensus” and “what we’ve always believed” to shore up claims
    that are now seen to be highly questionable’. That is not a valid argument, it’s simply an attempt to dismiss an entire body of scholarship which disagrees with him.

    When we see Mytherists using these kinds of arguments, we know there’s something wrong. These are the kind of arguments used by cranks to justify fictions such as homeopathy, Reki healing, chiropractic medicine, and opposition to germ theory. These are not the kind of arguments used by professional scholars in any academic field of research.

    These are never valid arguments on which to base objection to a scholarly consensus. What is needed to overturn a scholarly consensus is actual evidence, and an argument which can withstand multiple independent cross-examinations by professionals in the relevant fields. That’s how scholarship works. Doherty could easily enter the academic fray by submitting his work for professional peer review. There is nothing stopping him submitting his work, and he has been encouraged to do so by many people.

    //I
    am not persuaded that the degree of consensus about knowns and unknowns
    in historical Jesus studies is comparable to that in other areas of
    ancient history.   For example, Maurice Casey writes that “there should
    be no doubt” that a particular healing narrative is “literally true.”  I
    suspect that many historian of the ancient world would conclude that
    such a thing is inherently unknowable given the problems with the
    sources.   I would be surprised if you could find similar discrepancies
    among historians of ancient Rome over what types of things can be known
    with certainty and what things are inherently conjectural.//

    I am less interested in what you ‘suspect’ than in what you can actually prove. if you can prove that many historians of the ancient world would conclude that
    such a thing is inherently unknowable given the problems with the
    sources, please go ahead. If you haven’t checked to see whether there are similar discrepancies among historians of ancient Rome over what types of things can be known
    with certainty and what things are inherently conjectural, then I suggest you do check. Until then what you write is mere speculation.

    Previously we had a self-declared ‘Jesus agnostic’ here making claims about what he thought historians would conclude about the historical Jesus. He cited a particular work and claimed that the historians who wrote it would definitely be agnostic about the historical Jesus at best. In reality, anyone reading the book will find that they explicitly conclude that Jesus was a genuine historical figure, and that his life was so influential that his historicity is the logical explanation for the Christian movement. The facts were completely the opposite of what had been claimed.

    So I’m not impressed when Mytherists tell me what they THINK historians would or wouldn’t conclude, unless they have actual evidence that what they say is true. Too many times they’ve proved wrong because they haven’t even bothered to check the facts.

    //In
    general, the mythicists that I have read have the exact same evidence as
    the historicists even though they interpret it differently.  This is in
    sharp contrast to young earth creationists who often don’t seem to have
    a clue about the evidence upon which evolutionary scientists actually
    base their conclusions.//

    In general, Mytherists do what Creationists do; they selectively deny specific evidence which contradicts their arguments conclusively.

    There are passages in Paul’s letters which are evidence for the historical Jesus, so they claim those passages are interpolations. There’s a passage in Josephus which is evidence for the historical Jesus, so they claim that’s an interpolation too. There are Greek words and phrases in Paul’s letters which contradict the Mytherist interpretation of how Paul thought about Jesus, so they invent their own meanings for these Greek words and phrases, meanings which they acknowledge freely are not found in any standard professional lexicon.

    This kind of tampering with the evidence in order to remove evidence inconvenient to personal theories, is what Creationists also do; it’s not what professional scholars do.

  • Anonymous

    I didn’t interpret it negatively. I simply pointed out that your basis
    of assessment was subjective; the case for the historical Jesus is only
    valid, in your view, if you find it convincing.

    Not only did you interpret my comment negatively.  You seem to have misunderstood it completely.  I was merely criticizing the analogy on the grounds that the case for the historicity of Jesus is not as clear and convincing as the case for evolution.  I was not assessing the overall validity of that case.

    On the other hand, if your point is that my view of the validity of the of the case for the historical Jesus is somehow connected to whether I am convinced by it, I would say that you are engaged in trivially silly nitpicking.

  • Anonymous

    So I’m not impressed when Mytherists tell me what they THINK historians would or wouldn’t conclude, unless they have actual evidence that what they say is true. Too many times they’ve proved wrong because they haven’t even bothered to check the facts.

    Unfortunately Jonathan, I don’t have the time to become as thoroughly versed in ancient history as I would like.  Sometimes I have to rely on how I think historians might address a particular issue based on how I have seen some other issue addressed.  That’s just the way life is sometimes.  It’s called “decision making under uncertainty.”  One of the reasons I comment  on blogs like this is to test my reasoning  and I always appreciate having it corrected by people whose expertise is greater than my own. However, if I fail to impress every petulant fusspot that I encounter in the blogosphere, I won’t lose a great deal of sleep.

  • Jonathan Burke

    //I was merely criticizing the analogy on the grounds that the case for the historicity of Jesus is not as clear and convincing as the case for evolution.//

    Of course you were, and that’s precisely what I responded to. This is the issue. You claim the case for the historicity of Jesus ‘is not as clear and convincing as the case for evolution’. But according to WHO? Well you, obviously. But what about the scholarly consensus of qualified professionals? Do they share your view? If not, why not?

    I pointed this out in my very first response to you. Like a Creationist who says ‘The case for evolution is not yet as clear and convincing as the case for gravity’, you fail to explain why, if your claim is really true, professional historians DO find it clear and convincing. When you can do this, please get back to me.

    //Unfortunately Jonathan, I don’t have the time to become as thoroughly versed in ancient history as I would like.  Sometimes I have to rely on how I think historians might address a particular issue based on how I have seen some other issue addressed.  That’s just the way life is sometimes.//

    I’m nowhere near as thoroughly versed on many subjects as I would like. For this reason, I avoid making dogmatic claims about them, and in particular about what professionals in the relevant fields actually think and write, unless I’m quoting them directly. That’s the way life ought to be.

    //However, if I fail to impress every petulant fusspot that I encounter in the blogosphere, I won’t lose a great deal of sleep.//

    Welcome to the club! Feel free to respond to any of my other points; I made quite a few, and I actually provided evidence.

  • Anonymous

    Of course you were, and that’s precisely what I responded to. This is
    the issue. You claim the case for the historicity of Jesus ‘is not as
    clear and convincing as the case for evolution’. But according to WHO?
    Well you, obviously. But what about the scholarly consensus of qualified
    professionals? Do they share your view? If not, why not?

    I gave you an example of a book I am reading that clearly and convincingly makes the case for evolution while refuting creationism.  I could name several others that do the same thing.  I am not aware of any works that do a similar job of making the case for a historical Jesus while refuting mythicism.  Are you?

    Dr. McGrath, who I assume you would accept as a qualified professional, has acknowledged in this very comment thread that historical study doesn’t provide the same degree of certainty as is possible in the natural sciences.  If you think that’s the issue, then you are clearly more interested in kvetching than having a constructive exchange of ideas.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    “Welcome to the club! Feel free to respond to any of my other points; I made quite a few, and I actually provided evidence.”

    Really? I went through and read every single comment from Jonathan, and I did not see one shred of evidence posted. I’m afraid he thinks his unconvincing opinion is some sort of evidence. I’m not surprised though, that’s how these people operate.

    Maybe he is referring to his infamous list of agreements by the “overwhelming consensus of Biblical scholars.” Do you know why it’s called a “list of minimum facts about Jesus?” because believing anything less than this makes you a Mythicist. However, I am quite impressed that they were able to glean this enormous amount of information from the Bible. But I really fail to see the point in it, since none of these things are based on any evidence other then the New Testament writings, which also mentions Jesus speaking with a person called Satan, which is summarily dismissed as a myth. So what actual evidence is there so we can be certain that a man living 2,000 years ago stepped into a body of water in a certain town in Israel? On the other hand, what is the evidence that a man 2,000 years ago did not speak to a spirit being?  Can we say opinion, based on a complete rejection of the possibility of God and his divine influence. How arrogant of God to think that people should give him any consideration when analyzing the writings of men that purport to be about this God. Besides, most things on this list can be applied to a number of Jewish men living in the first century, including John the Baptist with some slight alterations.

    * 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.
    * 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

    • Anonymous

      I would also note (as I have before), that our earliest source does not fully corroborate a single one of those historical facts that supposedly can be known with certainty.

  • Jonathan Burke

    //I gave you an example of a book I am reading that clearly and
    convincingly makes the case for evolution while refuting creationism.//

    I’ll ask it again; ‘clearly and convincingly makes the case for evolution while refuting creationism’ according to WHO?

    //I am not aware of any works that do a similar job of making the case for a historical Jesus while refuting mythicism.//

    Again, ‘do a similar job of making the case for a historical Jesus while refuting mythicism’ according to WHO?

    //Are you?//

    Yes, books which are recognized by modern scholarship as having done so.

  • Anonymous

    Jonathan,

    When I write that “I am not aware” of something, it should be obvious to any rational person that it is according to ME that I am not aware of it. 

  • Jonathan Burke

    //When I write that “I am not aware” of something, it should be
    obvious to any rational person that it is according to ME that I am not
    aware of it.//

    I am not asking you what you are aware of. Please read what I wrote again.

    When you say ‘clearly and convincingly makes the case for evolution while refuting creationism’ WHOSE OPINION ARE YOU CITING that there is such a work? Or is this just your opinion?

    When you say ‘do a similar job of making the case for a historical Jesus while refuting mythicism’ WHOSE OPINION ARE YOU CITING that there is NOT such a work? Or is this just your opinion?

    //I would also note (as I have before), that our earliest source does not
    fully corroborate a single one of those historical facts that supposedly
    can be known with certainty.//

    In whose opinion? And so what?

    • Anonymous

      Jonathan,

      When I write “I am not aware of such a work,”  I am not citing anyone’s opinion that there is not such a work.  I am saying that I myself personally am not aware of such a work.   Moreover, it is not my opinion that I am not aware of such a work.  It is a fact that I am not aware of such a work.  Would you understand that better if I wrote it in all caps?

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

    @Howard, I continue to find your views enigmatic. Is it that you think that historians should accept claims to the miraculous across the board? Or that they should adopt credulity as their method only in e case of early Christian sources? Is it your view that, if a source mentions something that a historian cannot believe or that is utterly incompatible with our current worldview, it cannot contain any factual information? I really don’t understand where you are coming from on this.

    VinnyJH, our earliest source, the letters of Paul, confirm the existence of a Jesus who had siblings, was believed to be descended from David, raised Messianic expectations in some, had a select group of twelve apostles, and was crucified. That is fairly minimal, but it is not nothing.

    • Howard Mazzaferro

      @James, I’m not saying that at all, historians can view the Biblical writings in any manner that they wish. Historians that reject the miraculous events and Jesus’ divine associations, can even style themselves as Christians if they want. But as such, they are admitting to being a religion, with a belief system grounded in humanistic views. That is all well and good and I do not have a problem with anyone believing in what they want to believe. But in my opinion, that makes critical historians no different than any other orthodox religion except for the fact that you strip all/most unbelievable miraculous events from your belief system. And again, you have every right to do so if that is what you feel is right.

      The problem I have is your approach and methodology. You like to poke fun at people like me who believe in all the Bible, but you praise the critical method as the sensible course for proper biblical understanding. Unless I am missing something, your method has a serious flaw. If you are going to present the Bible as a mixture of actual historical events and mythical adaptations, how could anyone possibly untangle this mixture? From what I have seen, the rule of thumb for historians is whether something is plausible or not. So for instance, Jesus being executed by the Romans is plausible. . . God publically speaking to Jesus from heaven is not plausible. If this is the general rule, is everything in the Bible that is plausible, an actual historical account? If so, that’s a pretty broad rule. If the Bible has been added to or edited, you are saying that no plausible events could have been falsely added? If you’re not saying that and you do agree that plausible accounts could have been added, then now what is your rule of thumb? How do you distinguish between all plausible events in the Bible and determine which ones were historical and which were not? The bottom line is, if God did not influence the biblical documents as you say, then you would also be right that many things, plausible or otherwise contained in the Bible are not historical events. In relation to what you said to VinnyJH, how do we know for sure that the accounts of Jesus having siblings were not any of the plausible accounts that were not really historical? In the end, isn’t demythologizing the Bible largely a guessing game based on an incomplete historical background and preconceived ideas?

      Now if your position is that the accounts you say are not historical, but were actually penned by the original authors, but were meant to be understood in some analogous manner, that would require a different response.

    • Anonymous

      Dr. McGrath,

      I think Paul may indicate that there was a select group of twelve apostles, but I don’t think he indicates that Jesus did the selecting or that these individuals had any connection with Jesus prior to his crucifixion.  Nor am I sure where Paul says anything about the Messianic expectations that the human Jesus raised during his lifetime.  Finally, is there anything in Paul’s writings to indicate that the belief that Jesus was descended from David was known during the lifetime of the human Jesus?  Isn’t it just as likely that this belief arose after the proclamation of the resurrection based on interpretations of Old Testament prophecies?    

    • Anonymous

      Dr. McGrath,

      Sometimes my wife reads the daily horoscopes out loud at breakfast and sometimes it sounds like they are really talking about the actual events that are occurring in the lives of specific individuals, but I’m pretty sure they never really are.   Some of the things that are routinely cited to show that Paul believed in a historical Jesus (e.g., “born of a woman”) strike me as so insubstantial as to be insufficient to tip the balance at all.  I will concede that the question of siblings is substantial enough to make a difference, but beyond that, I don’t see much.

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

    @VinnyJH:disqus , you are certainly right that the Gospels and epistles do not provide precisely the same sort of information about some topics, such as the Twelve. They are at best complementary, and do not substantially contradict one another at this point.

    I wonder what you would make of something I wrote a while back on that very subject, trying to be as skeptical as possible to begin with and then ask whether there are good reasons to think that the idea of a select group of “the Twelve” goes back to Jesus

    I think that, at the very least, references to birth and siblings and blood and Davidic descent undermine the claims of people like Earl Doherty that Paul did not even believe that Jesus had been a historical figure. After determining that, the question becomes more a matter of Jesus agnosticism and whether there is good reason to think that Paul could have been wrong about Jesus having been a historical human being.

    • Anonymous

      Dr. McGrath,

      In law, the term obiter dicta refers to comments made in a judicial opinion that aren’t strictly necessary to resolve the issue in dispute.  When considering the opinion as precedent in later cases, these comments aren’t supposed to be given much weight because they are just things that the judge said “in passing.”   As far as I can tell from what he writes, Paul doesn’t think that anything that Jesus said or did prior to the night before he was crucified has any particular relevance to the message he is preaching.  What is relevant is what Paul claims to know by revelation. Since Paul doesn’t seem to have any intent or desire to communicate information about the historical Jesus, I would think that it is risky to try to tease much of what he thought from the few comments he makes that may seem to touch on the subject.   However, this strikes me as every bit as big an obstacle to mythicists as to historicists.  If Paul’s purpose wasn’t to tell us what he thought about the historical Jesus, I think we should be hesitant to think we know.

      I thought your article was very interesting, but doesn’t it require a prior determination of historicity?  If Christianity originated with a first century itinerant preacher in Palestine, then it the may be most reasonable to conclude that the group known as “the twelve” was a part of his inner circle.  However, I don’t see that the reasonableness of that conclusion makes it more likely that Christianity did originate that way rather than with the visions of a heavenly being that were experienced by some first century Palestinian peasants and a first century Palestinian Pharisee. 

      To revisit an analogy I have used before:  You start with someone who claims to have a vision of a supernatural being.  He claims that this being had once been a flesh and blood man who walked the earth.  Others believe these claims and also claim to have visions of this supernatural being.  Stories are invented describing what this supernatural being did when he walked the earth as a man.   This is more or less how Mormonism began.  I don’t think that it’s possible to establish that this is how Christianity began, but I don’t think that our sources are sufficient to eliminate the possibility either.  Moreover, even if Paul’s writings don’t fit this scenario perfectly, I think there are many ways in which they fit it much better than they fit the traditional alternative.

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

    @google-2e495af83153bef01b686a6c2268489d:disqus , to answer questions about historicity, one uses the principles of historical inquiry and evaluates probabilities. In some cases, the likelihood that something would have been made up is extremely slim. In other cases, details of the supernatural are present, and even religious believers generally acknowledge that miracles are improbable events. And so a historian by definition cannot say that a miracle is likely. They cannot claim to have disproved the possibility of miracles – that’s a philosophical stance and not a result of historical methods – but they certainly cannot pronounce them historical, for reasons that should be obvious if you have taken the time to think about it and/or inform yourself about what historical study entails and how it works.

    • Howard Mazzaferro

      @James, I was really only asking about the historically plausible situations. I wanted to know how you or other historians decide between those kinds of accounts. But I suppose your first couple of lines was a general answer to that question. So let me provide a partial definition for “historical inquiry” and I will just deal with both kinds of accounts as a whole. According to one source, it says;

      “Engaging in historical inquiry, in order to develop an understanding of the broad picture of the past, is a cyclical process that begins with the asking of guiding historical questions. These questions are investigated by locating and analyzing traces of the past – historical sources. It is vital to recognize that these records and relics, primary and secondary historical sources, are:

      * leftover remains and traces from the past, and that we do not have access to every single record or relic from the past;

      * products of very different times and contexts from today, and we must make every effort to try to understand the people, places and times that produced these sources; and

      * not always developed to serve as intentional evidence of the past, but they can still be analyzed in an attempt to draw credible and worthwhile inferences and claims about the past to help answer historical questions (Lee, 2005, p. 58).” – (http://www.historicalinquiry.com/inquiry/index.cfm)

      Do you agree with this assessment? If so, I see a possible fallacy of circular reasoning, along with other problems. For example, in the second * sentence, it says, “we must make every effort to try to understand the people, places and times that produced these sources.” (I am only referring to the NT) So the source is obviously the NT, and the understanding is gained by analyzing other contemporary writings and customs and comparing them with the NT writings. And this works fine if you were investigating some ancient king or some battle from history, but the NT itself purports to be a unique universal divine event. If it really happened, then comparing contemporary writings to this event would not give us much insight into how the people would have reacted to this one and only divine event. But this is not even the main problem, the definition above also says, “a cyclical process that begins with the asking of guiding historical questions.” Historians don’t seem to be asking, was this a unique divine event? If they were, then they would realize that the usual historical methods would not really apply here. So right from the very beginning of the historical inquiry, historians completely reject what the NT writings purport to be, and ask more mundane guiding questions to stay within the realm of scientific reason.

      Again, I’m not telling you how to view the Bible, you are free to do what you want, I am simply showing you why I can not accept the critical historical view. It requires you to pretty much reject the intended message of the Bible along with its grand promises. I have other good reasons to believe what I do, and I also use historical information and archeological discoveries to supplement my beliefs. But unlike your worldview, mine does include miracles. And to those who often say, religion and belief in the inspired Bible is the cause of so much death and destruction, is about as analogous as saying every person who owns a gun will eventually murder someone. People kill people, not guns or religion, they are merely tools for those who are willing to abuse them.

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

    I still don’t understand why you accept Paul’s claim to have received information by revelation at face value. Even if one did not set such claims aside a priori, we would have as an important consideration the fact that Christians existed prior to Paul being one of them, and Paul believed that those other apostles proclaimed the same basic message and stories as he did.

    • Anonymous

      Dr. McGrath,

      I don’t take Paul’s claim to revelation at face value, but I do see it as indicating that he didn’t see a historical person as being the authority behind his message, which in turn makes it more difficult for me to attribute to him any particular beliefs about a historical Jesus. 

      It is true that Christians existed prior to Paul, but I’m not sure whether he believed that they were proclaiming the same basic message before he came along.  It seems to me that he didn’t think they understood things very well.  I think Paul viewed his message as arising in an existing tradition, but I don’t think it’s possible to determine the exact extent of the continuity or how much Paul contributed.

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

    I hesitate to offer a comment in this discussion—talk about Saul among the prophets!—but James’ claim that there were Christians before Paul struck me as slightly misleading. According to Acts 11:25-26, it was only after Barnabas fetched Saul to Antioch and they set up a church that the members of the congregation were called Christians. That there were people who believed something about someone before Paul began to preach to ‘em is likely enough, but there may have been considerable retroactivity at work in this instance if, of course, it ever occurred. (I have no opinion or right to one about the reliability of Acts as a historical document.) Having been convinced by a powerful vision that Jesus was God, Paul would naturally assume the existing cult had witnessed the same supernatural figure in the man Jesus and the believers might decide, after the fact, that they had. After all, people will believe anything and memory is exceedingly malleable—I recently had the opportunity to compare what the World War I veterans had so say about their experiences in the Battle of the Somme right after the event with what they said long after the war. The dominant interpretation of the meaning of the battle obviously effected their remembrance.

    A related problem: someplace in one of these threads you suggest  that the existence of a novel message in the reported words of Jesus argues for the actual existence of Jesus since somebody obviously originated the message, which we encounter, for example, in the Sermon on the Mount.  But this argument needs a further step since one can agree that the message originated with somebody. That that somebody was the historical Jesus is not obvious since religious traditions routinely put words in the mouths of founder figures. If Jesus really did say some of the things reported in the gospels, I would hardly be surprised. It’s just that looking from far outside, it appears to me that virtually nothing can asserted one way or the other about these obscure events. The state of the evidence leaves us with something like one of the ink blots in a rorschach test.

    • Anonymous

      Having been convinced by a powerful vision that Jesus was God, Paul would naturally assume the existing cult had witnessed the same supernatural figure in the man Jesus and the believers might decide, after the fact, that they had.

      Paul’s visit to Peter in Galatians 1 is often cited as a point at which Paul might have gotten information from the original apostles, but I often wonder who was likely to have done most of the talking at that meeting.  Consider the following:  (1) Paul was well educated and Peter was an illiterate peasant; (2) Paul had been traveling and successfully preaching his message for three years while Peter had remained in Jerusalem; and (3) Paul had reputation for dealing harshly with people who disagreed with him.  If Paul had explained a version of the gospel that was only tangentially related to what Peter had previously believed, it is easy to imagine Peter being persuaded that Paul actually had some greater revelation.

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

    James Harrison, you are of course right that I was using the term anachronistically. If I had wanted to be precise, I should have said that “the movement which Paul joined, which would later come to be known as Christianity, already existed prior to Paul becoming an adherent to it.” Or something like that.

    It is certainly a major focus of discussion in contemporary historiography that memory is not video recording, that it distorts and doesn’t just preserve. When we take that seriously, it almost becomes possible to take seriously the claim of the final editor of the Gospel of John that it derives from an eyewitness, since an eyewitness theoretically could have “remembered” Jesus in the very transformed fashion we find in the Gospel of John.

    Be that as it may, I think that those who are agnostic about the historical Jesus may be following the mythicists in their distortion of a major point of critical methodology. Because the Gospels are later than Paul’s letters, it makes sense to turn to the latter first. But that is not all that mythicists do. Mythicists regularly seem to force a sharp divide between Paul and the Gospels even where the two seem to be talking about the same person or ideas. And since the consensus is that we are talking about less time passing between the last of Paul’s letters and the Gospel of Mark than passed between Paul’s becoming a Christian and his composition of that letter, it isn’t clear why another decade or so is thought to allow such a substantial number of people to all become confused and misled regarding whether Jesus existed. Is it possible? Sure. Do we have reason to think it is likely? Not as far as I can tell.

    • Anonymous

      Does this mean that you don’t find Maurice Casey’s 40 CE date for the composition of Mark accurate?

    • Anonymous

      I would agree that the consensus date for Mark favors a historical Jesus, but given the range of dates that critical methodology allows, I think that it is one of those things that still allows plenty of room for agnosticism.  Moreover, regardless of the dates the gospels were composed, the dates at which they were widely circulated and accepted are difficult to determine.   I think the gap between the composition of Paul’s letters and the earliest external references to the gospels is wide enough for substantial evolution in beliefs about the human Jesus.

  • Jonathan Burke

    //When I write “I am not aware of such a work,”  I am not citing anyone’s opinion that there is not such a work.  I am saying that I myself personally am not aware of such a work.//

    This gets us right back to where we started. I rightly identified the fact that the basis of your claim that there is no work which establishes the historicity of Jesus, was simply your own personal opinion. You protested against this more than once, insisting I was interpreting your words ‘negatively’.

    Now, after much probing (and many points of mine which remain unanswered), we find you emphatically insisting that what I said originally was actually true; you’re simply going on your own personal opinion.

    So let’s now return to the comment you made originally.

    //When I come across a book that lays out the argument for the historicity
    of Jesus in a similarly persuasive manner, I will happily take the
    analogy of mythicists to creationists seriously.//

    What you really mean is ‘I haven’t yet come across a book that CONVINCES ME’; your denial of the existence of such a book is simply your own subjective opinion.

    As I said initially, your assessment of the analogy is purely subjective and not fact base. Remember, you answered ‘No’ to this, but now you acknowledge it is in fact just your subjective opinion.

    //I think the gap between the composition of Paul’s letters and the
    earliest external references to the gospels is wide enough for
    substantial evolution in beliefs about the human Jesus.//

    It may interest you to know that professional historians don’t fill in such gaps with ‘What I think’. Their arguments are actually evidence based. Just because there’s a gap which you believe is sufficiently large to allow ‘substantial evolution in beliefs about the human Jesus’ doesn’t mean that’s what actually happened. Until you have evidence for such an evolution, you have no case.

    And this is what we find Mytherists doing all the time; they go from ‘This is theoretically possible’ to ‘This is what actually happened’ without once stopping to bother themselves about available evidence and established facts. The Mytherist case is not evidence based.

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

    @Howard, you are changing the subject, perhaps without realizing it. the question of what you may choose to believe as part of your worldview is not the same as the question of what historians can rightly conclude is most probable using criteria that do not require a particular religious faith stance in order to accept them.

    I also find problematic your deification of the New Testament authors, as though even divine acts or miracles taking place in their time would have any bearing on whether they themselves, and their interpretation of those events, would reflect the thinking, norms and perception of that particular time in history. Do you really think that, if a miracle occurred today, people who experienced it would not interpret it in a manner that reflects their cultural beliefs, our period in history, and so on? Your attempt to undermine historical inquiry based on your personal preference is deeply problematic.

    • Howard Mazzaferro

      @James, your doing it again. Are you so entrenched in your way of thinking that you can not see any other possibilities? I’m asking you, just for the sake of argument, to accept what the Bible says as true, so I can make a point. What I am getting at is, the Bible says:

      2 Peter 1:21 “For prophecy was at no time brought by man’s will, but men spoke from God as they were borne along by holy spirit.”

      1 Thessalonians 2:13 “Indeed, that is why we also thank God incessantly, because when you received God’s word, which you heard from us, you accepted it, not as the word of men, but, just as it truthfully is, as the word of God. . .”

      Galatians 1:11 “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.”

      So if you were truly able to see my position you would know better than to make such statements as:

      “their interpretation of those events, would reflect the thinking, norms and perception of that particular time in history.”

      This is meaningless, because that is not what the Bible says happened, it was not their thoughts that they relayed to us, they were God’s thoughts. Can you not really see how you reject the message the Bible is trying to convey? You just simply ignore that the Bible says much of its contents are NOT the “thinking” of men. You abandon these direct statements, and offer the exact opposite as the only sensible course. So you entirely missed my point I was trying to make. I was asking you to accept the Bible as true for a minute, and that includes the idea that God used these men as instruments to write down and spread his divine word. Now under these circumstances, is it reasonable to think you can understand the thoughts of God, by comparing them with the contemporary thoughts of men?

      What I’m saying is that the Bible purports to be a message from God, spoken through men, but no historical inquiry will even remotely entertain such a thought or use it as the guiding historical question. So my question is, why is the premise dismissed before the historical inquiry even begins?

      • Anonymous

        So my question is, why is the premise dismissed before the historical inquiry even begins?

        If I may Howard, I would say that the premise is discarded (rather than dismissed) because there is no even remotely objective historical criteria by which its validity can be assessed. Historians have no tools to by which to measure it.  The application of critical historical methodology depends upon the consistent functioning of the observed natural processes of cause and effect.  Historians lack any way to assess the probability that a supernatural agent produced an effect that is contrary to natural law.

        Historians use knowns to reason about unknowns.  If it is unreasonable for a historian to think that he can understand the thoughts of God, why should he expect to understand a message from God?  Why should he think that he can tell the difference between a message that is really from God and one that is merely claimed to be from God?

  • Anonymous

    I rightly identified the fact that the basis of your claim that there is no work which establishes the historicity of Jesus, was simply your own personal opinion. You protested against this more than once, insisting I was interpreting your words ‘negatively’.

    No Jonathan.  You didn’t rightly identify anything because I never made such a claim.  I claimed that I wasn’t aware of such a work.   My statement implicitly allowed for the possibility of such a work existing of which I was not aware.   I would have welcomed anyone informing me of such a work.  

    What you did was set up a straw man by attacking a claim that I never made.  All you did was waste time with a bunch of childish drivel.  

  • Pf

    Howard, why do you try to pretend to be something you are not? You bristle at being called a fundamentalist, but every argument you make could come straight from Dallas Theological Seminary. It is kind of curious how at any given moment there is one fundie concen troll one this site. The name changes, but the arguments don’t.

    So if one accepts the premise and facts of fundamentalism as true, of course it could be true. So what?

    Look, if you believe none or all of the bible is true, then there is no thought process involved. Between those two extreme positions, people have to rationally decide what they think is historically and theologically correct. There are an endless supply of reasons to believe that the bible’s authors were not writing history in the sense we would define the word. They reflected the ideas and beliefs of their day. There is no rational reason to think anything else.

    • Howard Mazzaferro

      PF, you can not even get your facts straight when you try to insult me. When did I ever “bristle at being called a fundamentalist?” More important, when was I ever called a fundamentalist? If I ever was, it was probably from you, and your comment would have been summarily dismissed with a slight chuckle. And yet again, you completely misconstrued the topic. So you may go back to lurking in the shadows now.

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

    @google-2e495af83153bef01b686a6c2268489d:disqus , I am not at all entrenched in my thinking, except to the extent that my thinking has resulted from a great deal of thought and investigation with the result that I do not cast it aside at the first incoherent bluster offered against it.

    In asking that I “accept the Bible” as true in order to be able to grasp your point, you are either abandoning or ignoring what was the original subject of the discussion, namely historical investigation. Historical investigation is precisely about evaluation of evidence and assessing historicity on that basis. While a historian may, like any human being, choose to accept certain things as true on faith, she or he cannot do so in their role as historian, and more than a member of a jury can simply choose to believe in a person’s guilt or innocence irrespective of the evidence without a mistrial being a possible result.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    @James, I am not trying to get you to abandon anything, I was merely attempting to get you to view things from my perspective so you can see that it might be possible that the historical inquiry of the New Testament is completely wrong. Just for fun, lets take the Frankenstein novel and place it in the first century. I use Frankenstein since it is unlikely that he was based on an actual person. Now imagine the story has persisted until our day in much the same manner as the NT documents, and over time some people came to believe it was a true story. Now you as a historian, critically examine the story. Other than the single miraculous event of how he came into being, could a historian wrongly believe this was mostly a true historical account based on all the plausible events? All that would be required is to change his creation from the miraculous to an unknown and frightening disfiguring disease. The rest of the story would probably fit pretty well. So could historical inquiry be fooled by this completely fabricated story? However, my argument is the complete opposite, that historians took a true story and claim much of it was fabricated. And the main culprit here is the miraculous nature of the writings.

    This brings me to another question, earlier you said, “They cannot claim to have disproved the possibility of miracles – that’s a philosophical stance and not a result of historical methods – but they certainly cannot pronounce them historical,”

    Why can’t they pronounce them historical? What makes something historical? By evaluating what is likely to be possible? Who determines what is possible? In the case of miracles, might it be people who have never witnessed a miracle who are making the determination? Because ancient contemporary writings contain numerous examples of miracles and those who believed they really happened. Why isn’t their witness grounds for establishing them as historical? Why does modern science and opinion override the ancient witnesses?

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

      Just another note from the far outside: if you look at religions anthropologically and comparatively, you get pretty blase about miracles since they are a dime a dozen. They occur where ever they are tolerated and proliferate where ever they are encouraged, and have done so from the beginning of history to the present and from one end of the Earth to the other. (Does anybody think that the Roman church will ever have a problem rounding up the requisite miracles for anybody it wants to canonize?) You don’t have to invoke Hume to become generally skeptical because the human propensity to believe is so well attested that it is always a more likely explanation than the possibility that real miracles do happen, especially since religious personnel worldwide have no compunction about hyping or even fabricating signs and wonders. Why exactly should anybody think that the modus operandi of Paul and Peter or even Jesus was any different than that of contemporary faith healers?

      If you start crediting the miracles in the New Testament, just where to you stop? The first couple of centuries AD were an era of extraordinary superstition. Witches drew routinely drew down the moon, Neoplatonic philosophers raised spirits and even claimed to bend the gods to their will, and you couldn’t keep the dead in their graves. I guess you could claim that the Christians had better miracles than the pagans just as Aaron’s rod turned into a fiercer serpent than the serpents of the Egyptian magicians, but it seems to me that miracle that really mattered took place at the Mulvian Bridge not the empty tomb.

      If you believe in miracles reported in the N.T. as part of your faith that’s one thing. Why on earth would you expect a nonbeliever or, for that matter, a believer wearing his historian’s hat to credit such tales for a minute?

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

    Howard, you seem to be deliberately trying to misdirect the conversation to reach conclusions you wish it to. Historical study is about probability. If you wish to make a case that miracles are probable events then feel free. Otherwise it should be patently obvious why an investigation of probability cannot assess them as being probable: because they are by definition improbable events. That isn’t to say that they are impossible, just that they are at best rare and unlikely. Do you understand now? Do you understand what this means for historical study?

    As for Frankenstein, if we had the novel as well as letters from someone who was promoting belief in Dr. Frankenstein as savior who had met his brother, then we might well accept the existence of a historical Dr. Frankenstein, even though we might be skeptical of many or most of the details about him in the novel. It is that wider literary-historical context that mythicists like @beallen0417:disqus ignore over and over and over again when they bring works of fiction such as comic books into the discussion, without ever even attempting to treat essential historical issues and evidence. I hope you will not follow such bad examples!

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    @VinnyJH, James Harrison, James McGrath, since all three of you responded in a similar manner, I will address all three of you in one comment. I must be really bad at this because no one seems to understand what I am trying to say. I am in no way trying to defend miracles in my comments, I have been trying to find examples to show why I think there are problems with the historical inquiry approach and the topic of miracles is merely used for leverage as a well known form of rejection for my examples. Let me try to explain again.

    VinnyJH gave an excellent explanation as far as historians and miracles. He says, “Historians lack any way to assess the probability that a supernatural agent produced an effect that is contrary to natural law.” This sounds to me like they are admitting that they are not even going to try to find the truth in the source claim. Are you telling me that whenever a historian is analyzing an historical account that involves a miraculous event, their methodology is to immediately discard the miraculous event and replace it with a historical reconstruction that does not violate the known laws of nature, and the reconstruction may or may not be the truth? Now I understand what you are saying that historians have no way of evaluating miracles, and the problem is that this leaves us with only two possible outcomes. One, it means because historians cannot assess miraculous events, they are permitted to alter an historical event that may have been true to begin with, and thus change the entire meaning of the event. Two, it means historians will not or can not ever accept a spiritual world or supernatural powers in their evaluation of historical events. So are they saying, we have no evidence of God or a spiritual world, so we will never support such claims in our evaluation of history, even if it might be true. Isn’t this like saying, I’m going to tell you a story that you should take as fact, even though there is a possibility that I might be wrong. Now historians have the right to reconstruct the biblical events through the evaluation of probability if they want, but passing it off as the only sensible path to truth is another matter altogether. In my opinion, I don’t see a lot of use in de-theologizing a completely theological texts.

    Again, I am not defending miracles, I am using them as an example for historical inquiry. When you have a text such as the NT that is sprinkled with miraculous events, and the first rule of historians is to discard these events because of their lack of probability. If you are correct concerning the miracles, that they do not belong, it means people had no qualms about introducing far-reaching ideas into the NT. If that’s true, the opposite should equally be true, and we should expect to find mundane, plausible events falsely added to the text to satisfy some specific theological or cultural idea? How can this ever be determined with any degree of accuracy, especially since a lot of these events are only supported by other biblical texts which also should be suspect under historical methodology.  It just does not seem like a practical exercise to me, it is way too complicated for the minimal results you will get. I say minimal results because, if you are right and the miraculous events and divine associations should be discarded, all you have is some guy running around Israel in the first century pretending to be a prophet sent by a non-existent God. Who cares about that?

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

    @Howard, thanks for taking the time to clarify you meaning! There was indeed a tendency in past generations for some historians to try to take miracle stories as literally as possible but give natural explanations, in a way that profoundly changed the meaning of the story – for instance, the famous examples of the Exodus plague being explained in terms of a volcanic eruption causing hail, darkness, and pollution of the Nile, which causes frogs to come out of the river, etc. etc. It is a good thing that for the most part historians don’t do much of that any longer. In general, historians today are more likely simply to set aside miracle stories altogether and focus on stories of mundane things about which they may be able to say something using their tools and methods.

    And so historians’ treatment of history may be incomplete if miracles actually occurred in the past. But I don’t see why their treatment of topics like what people said and did would necessarily therefore be wrong when treating more mundane matters.

    • Howard Mazzaferro

      @James, I also want to say, in all that I have said, I was never implying that you are completely wrong and that you should quit your job and believe as I do. I was merely trying to demonstrate to you why I choose not to immerse myself into your views.  But unlike historians, I am willing to accept the uncertainties in faith while at the same time believing in the rest of the Scriptures with good reason to achieve my goal. The same as a skydiver accepts the uncertainties in faith but also has good reason to believe he is not going to smack the ground at 100 mph when he jumps out of the plane. He is not 100% sure, but he does it anyway to achieve his goal.

      I don’t recall ever telling you that I thought you were wrong concerning the mundane things. I often refer to historical works to gain a better understanding of how the Israelites conducted themselves in their daily affairs. After all, much of the Bible is merely the retelling of the acts and words of men, whether they were doing good or bad. I don’t disagree completely with the historical method, only where it rejects events based on the miraculous/divine aspects that I feel are critical to the importance of the events in question.

  • Anonymous

    Howard,

    I don’t think that it is accurate to say that a historian is permitted to alter an event, however, he is permitted to be wrong about what event caused the evidence that he observes and it will likely happen in cases where the event was so rare and unusual that the historian was obligated by the tools of the trade to posit some more common explanation for the evidence.  In the case of a miracle, the evidence is the account of the supernatural event.  If knowledge and experience give the historian no examples of miracle accounts where a supernatural cause can be verified and countless examples of miracle accounts that can be explained by overactive imagination, ignorance, gullibility, wishful thinking, prevarication, or lack of critical thinking, it is hard to see how a historian could ever be justified in assessing the most likely cause of any particular miracle story to be an actual supernatural event.

    • Howard Mazzaferro

      VinnyJH, I still think you are misunderstanding me a little. I am not asking historians to accept miracles. I’m saying, in my opinion, if historians are not equipped to investigate miraculous claims, then they shouldn’t even try to investigate at all. It would be like hiring someone to paint your house. When they get there you tell them you want it painted white, and after you leave the painter realizes he is not equipped with white paint, but he goes ahead and paints your house anyway, but he paints it blue. It’s not what you asked for or expected and you may or may not like it, but what gave the painter the right to change the color/premise because they were not equipped to deal with it?

  • Anonymous

    Howard,

    If in a historian’s experience the overwhelming majority of miracle stories are inexplicable in natural terms and a supernatural explanation for such a story has never been verified, is it accurate to say that the historian is not equipped to investigate miraculous claims?  

    I think your analogy is interesting, but I think the problem is that you want your house to be painted a color that cannot be shown to exist.  I do not think that is valid grounds to criticize the painter.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    VinnyJH, since you have ventured into this area, what exactly is a miracle? Would people living in the first century consider a flying metal cylinder with wings a miracle? Does the lack of practical knowledge of nature and physics in one era constitute something as going beyond the known laws of nature, referring to it as a miracle, where in another era it is not? Would the fact that this event is inexplicable to first century knowledge and experience rightly permit one to discard the truth of air travel out of ignorance?

    You say, “I do not think that is valid grounds to criticize the painter.”

    Of course it is, he took it upon himself to change the outcome of the event because he was unable to do what was asked of him. Even if the color was non-existent, he should have said, I can not do what you ask, would you like me to try something else? He did not have the right to usurp the home owners decision.

    So what I guess I am actually objecting to is that critical historians view their work as a reliable science and that they should be looked to as an authority figure on the subject. Which is true for the most part, except for the points I am discussing. If historians can not deal directly with the miraculous events through historical methodology, then their historical reconstructions on these points are merely biblical interpretations not unlike the interpretations of other religions, and should not be included in the other areas of historical work that is regarded as reliable science.

  • Anonymous

    If the miraculous were ever shown to be anything other than a psychological phenomenon. Not historically, I mean, just at all, in any context. Then it wouldn’t be just historians who’d have to throw out a bunch of their conclusions. It would fundamentally invert a huge about of human knowledge.

    So I wouldn’t worry about it, as a historian. The barrier for the miraculous to enter any serious scholarship is pretty low, I think, but its flunking big-time so far.

  • Pf

    Howard, you are desperately rooting around to find a question that will produce the answer you want. Historians have good reason to reject as plausible things that have never been proven to exist in all of human history.

  • Anonymous

    Howard,

    I would say that trying to define “miracle” opens another whole can of worms.  I have known people who see the supernatural action of God in the most trivial of events.  I knew one woman sho saw divine providence at work if she found a parking space right in front of a store.  I knew one man who claimed that God had supernaturally repaired his vacuum cleaner.   I guess a miracle would be any event that would not have occurred but for some supernatural interference with the natural processes of cause and effect.  If we have to allow for miracles, I think we
    would have to allow for the possibility that they can include events that look like they could have occurred as the result of perfectly natural causes because people frequently claim that such events are actually the result of divine intervention.

    I don’t think a miracle is something that is impossible for someone to explain given their relative knowledge of the natural world.  I think a miracle is something for which any explanation based upon the observed actions of the natural world is wrong.
     

    I don’t it’s accurate to talk about discarding the truth unless you can independently demonstrate that the thing discarded is the truth.  What is being discarded is not the truth, but a possible explanation for the evidence for which it is impossible to establish a meaningful probability.  I discard many possibilities that I cannot absolutely prove to be false.  I discard the possibility that my wife is a space alien. I discard the possibility that I am living in a pod in the Matrix and the outside world I think I perceive is just a projection in my mind.  I cannot absolutely prove that these things aren’t true, but if they are, then the way that I think and reason about the world around me is completely erroneous so there is probably no way I could ever establish that they were true.   

    I think that McGrath is essentially doing what you want.  He is telling you that he can’t paint the house the way that you want it to be painted because he doesn’t have a brush that can paint that color.  Maybe the problem with the analogy is that it’s not your house.  History belongs to everybody and there are an awful lot of people who think that it’s worthwhile to have historians apply the tools that they do have to the evidence. They are not perfect tools and they cannot provide answers to every question that we might have about the past, but as long as we recognize the limitations and the types of errors they are prone to make, I don’t see any reason not to apply them. Should we leave the house unpainted just because some people are unhappy with the choice of available colors?

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    VinnyJH, you’re not even addressing most of my points I am trying to make. For example you say:

    “I don’t it’s accurate to talk about discarding the truth unless you can independently demonstrate that the thing discarded is the truth.  What is being discarded is not the truth, but a possible explanation for the evidence for which it is impossible to establish a meaningful probability.”

    In my example, I did in fact independently demonstrate that air travel in an airplane is truth. A truth that would be denied or rejected by earlier cultures because they lack the knowledge to demonstrate this truth. If air travel is true today, it has always been true, it is merely that past generations did not have the know how to make it a reality, but all the laws of nature required for air travel were already present. Now this was just an example using time travel to show that in one era a specific event would have no other explanation than it being a miracle, but in another era it is an easy to explain form of travel. This relates to the biblical miracles in the sense that just because we can not explain them or have the know how to reproduce them at present, we shouldn’t simply reject biblical claims as inauthentic and provide an alternate explanation that does not violate the known laws of nature, which will usually change the meaning of the event in question. And your right, these miraculous events are impossible to establish through probability, but what bothers me is that the Bible claims to be a message from the only true God, and it claims within its pages that God himself spoke and acted in behalf of his people. Basically, this is a book (or documents) about God and his dealings with men. It just does not seem right to me, that the first thing historians do is remove “God” and “his dealings” from this description of the Bible and only leave “men”.

    In answer to your statement of “Maybe the problem with the analogy is that it’s not your house.” That was not the intent of the example, the home owner did not represent me, it represented the biblical authors. It was their straight forward claims of miraculous events that historians took upon themselves to discard for a more mundane explanation which unavoidably alters the claims and intent of the authors.

  • Anonymous

    If an airplane showed up 2000 years ago it would be both a miracle and a violation of the laws of nature. Time travel is as much a violation of the laws of physics as walking on water or resurrection. Whether we figure out how to resurrect people at some point in the future doesn’t make Jesus’s resurrection any more likely.

    I’m a little stunned that this isn’t blindingly obvious.

    • Howard Mazzaferro

      idmillionton, you can be stunned all you want, that doesn’t change the fact that you are using subterfuge to detract from my point. I think most people would understand that I was merely making a comparison of how we could presume that a first century person would view one of our modern technologies as a miracle. Would it have appeased your laws of nature if I had used something that existed in both eras, like the moon, or stars, or a comet or planets, etc.?

      As far as your statement of, “Whether we figure out how to resurrect people at some point in the future doesn’t make Jesus’s resurrection any more likely.”

      And just why is that? Would you care to demonstrate why this would not be the case? You can’t, because the truth is, if humans did learn how to resurrect people, that would be clear evidence that God would be able to use the same or a similar procedure. But alas! The simple fact that you do not believe in God is the crux of your refusal to make the connection. So why not be direct and deal with the cause, and not simply make arbitrary comments about the effect.

  • Pf

    Howard, the Bible isn’t a being. “The Bible” doesn’t make any claims whatsoever. It is a collection of writings … by men (mostly unknown, making it difficult to judge their motives and credibility). Which books comprise the collection was decided … by men.

    Before a historian can accept “straightforward claims,” he or she must judge the credibility of those claims. The facts are that miracles can’t be reproduced. You also have to account for the fact that the biblical authors believed a whole host of things that today are known to be false (illness caused by demons, sun revolving around the earth, etc.) or would be considered barbaric (women as barter, slavery, spilling blood to appease a deity).

    It makes a lot more sense that miracles fall under the category of things “commonly believed in a less enlightened period that we know now are impossible” than “inexplicable things that often  happened in ancient times but no longer happen now that people carry cameras everywhere.”

    However, if you dispute that, you have to have a rational reason to believe claims about christian miracles while disbelieving the claims about every other miracle worker in ancient times.

  • Anonymous

    Howard,

    I think we need to recognize the distinction between statements about events and the events themselves.   An account of an event may be driven by what actually happened, how the writer understands what happened, as well as how the writer wants his audience to understand what happened.  In order to understand the past, we have to make sense of all these aspects.

    Suppose that the only accounts of the American Civil War that we had were those written by southern historians in the late 19th century.  If we didn’t read those accounts critically, we might not think that the issue of slavery had as much to do with the conflict as it did.  We wouldn’t think much of Abraham Lincoln as a president and we would think that Gen. Longstreet was one of the worst corp commanders in the Confederate Army rather than one of the best. 

    I doubt that you are suggesting that a historian should limit his inquiry to how his sources understood the events they described.   However, it seems to me that this is the implication of characterizing what historians do as “altering events.”

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    VinnyJH, I’m not arguing that point, if a group of people called historians want to evaluate the New Testament writings only through humanistic means, the same as they would do of the Civil War, I’m fine with that, it is nothing more than one more of the many views of the New Testament writings. But it is a view that is far removed from traditional views of God and Jesus. They have every right to their view, I am merely pointing out that I do not agree with the way they get to this far removed view, and that is by removing the claims of divine influence, for no other reason than the fact that they can not prove divine influence through historical methodology.

    Your example of the Civil War does not touch on my point of disagreement. It would be more like if I wrote a book on my encounter with aliens from another planet and it was evaluated by historians. Since aliens currently fall into the same category as the existence of miracles, these historians would immediately discard my claims as mythical or hallucinations. And if the historians went ahead and attempted to explain my book only through current human knowledge and experience, they would end up totally rewriting the history that I claimed to have experienced. Their reconstruction might sound plausible, and it might end up being the truth, that I was a schizophrenic nut. But in the process, they deny the possible existence of aliens now and forever by their evaluation. So basically, it means whenever a story or account touches on the unknown, the historian is always right to simply discard the unknown and replace it with the known.

    Now back to my original statement of why do historians even bother evaluating something that is so intertwined with fables and inconsistencies? Just like my book about aliens, would historians even bother to try to trace the kernel of truth in my wild story? Probably not, so why do they devote so much time and effort into trying to trace the kernel of truth in the New Testament writings? If that kernel of truth really turns out to be nothing more than a normal human man making false claims of divine associations, how is this any different than millions of other accounts of a similar nature? Why is this one account the focus of so much study? I could even see historians being interested in how this account of one man’s life grew into one of the largest religions in the world. But that would be a historical study on Christianity, not the words of its founder and associates, mostly because Christianity’s growth was based on man’s various interpretations of the words of its founder and associates.

    In other words, what is the motive of the historian? People are drawn to the New Testament because of the miraculous hope it offers. Anyone who does not believe this, would walk away from it. Is it the job of the historian to crush the hopes of people simply for the sake of historical probability? For example, If I claimed I could heal any disease, and announced to my community that anyone coming to my house next Saturday will be healed. The ones that have hope that my claims are true, will show up, any that do not, will simply walk away out of disbelief. So why would the disbelieving Pharisees, I mean historians show up at my house? :-)

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

    I find it problematic to use the N.T. as a historical source, not because I have trouble believing that some of what it reports actually took place but because of the difficulty of winnowing out the accretions and elaborations, a process that is perhaps more difficult for a non Christian because I’m not expecting to find a kernel but simply trying to identify a residue. The situation is similar to what obtains in studies of the ancient histories of language groups. That the Semitic, Indo-European, and other language families had a common ancestor is highly likely and its also likely that some of the words in distantly related languages are genuinely cognate. That’s not what critics of the idea of Nostratic object to. It’s the unreliability of the methodology of folks who claim to be able to tease out the vestiges of the affiliations by looking at modern languages. By the same token, I don’t doubt that the authors and redactors of the N.T. worked memories of real events into their narratives but I wonder if the kernel of the religion that eventual emerged was residue or invention. That’s hard to get clear on even if you put aside the argument about miracles for a moment. For me, at least, the most original aspect of the Gospels is the message of the Sermon on the Mount, not the old-hat business about healing the sick, walking on water, or rising from the dead. Of course I don’t think the miracles occurred; but if they had, they wouldn’t have been anything new.

     

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    James Harrison, if I understand you correctly, I agree with you about using the NT as a historical source in the manner that historians say that it came about. If the NT came from some historical accounts, from wrong perceptions of things then current, and from outright mythical elaborations, it would be incredibly hard to sift through all this to determine what really happened. But that is the rational humanistic view of how the NT developed.

    What I don’t find rational about this view, is when historians discard enormous amounts of data concerning the principal purpose of the Bible to reconstruct a new purpose. Just like you distinguished between the mundane things and the miraculous things when you said:

    “For me, at least, the most original aspect of the Gospels is the message of the Sermon on the Mount, not the old-hat business about healing the sick, walking on water, or rising from the dead.”

    If you make a distinction between the “magic tricks” Jesus performed and the rest of the scriptures, you are ignoring the cause and effect as outlined in the Bible itself. What I mean by this is many of the so called mundane biblical events are tied to miraculous events. For example, according to the Bible, it was by a miracle that the nation of Israel came into existence. It was through multiple miracles that the nation of Israel was not completely destroyed by their enemies. It was through a miracle that the man Jesus came into existence. It was through a miracle that Jesus possessed the words and teachings of God. It was through a miracle that Paul became a follower of Jesus.

    What I am saying is that every single account in the entire Bible is associated with God, his words and his actions to one degree or another. God is the background and theme of the entire Bible. How can you discard the background and theme of a collection of writings and expect it to make sense, or even come close to the authors intentions? We can go back to my example about my book on aliens, In 95% of my book, I will be relating directly to my experiences with aliens from another planet. It is the background and theme of my book. If you discard that theme, you are left with an entirely different book. It will go from a book describing a real life encounter with aliens, to the writings of a fraud who made ridiculous and un-substantiated claims about aliens. And that is what the rational humanistic approach does to the Bible. And anyone is free to support it, I just think it is the wrong way to approach the issue.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    I forgot to mention concerning Jesus’ miracles. They may have not been new, but that wasn’t the point of them. They were also not meant to specifically help certain people or to make the world a better place, they were merely tokens along with other indicators that Jesus was the coming Messiah. 

  • Anonymous

    Howard. “demonstrate why this would not be the case? You can’t, because the truth is, if humans did learn how to resurrect people, that would be clear evidence that God would be able to use the same or a similar procedure” No, of course not.

    Look, I can pick up a cup and hold it in the air. If God picked the cup up and held it in the air, that would be a miracle. *That’s* the point. If I think I left a cup on the floor, but come into the room to find it is on a table, knowing that a human being *could* lift the cup does not make it more likely that its movement was a miracle.

    Miracles are supposedly actions carried out by supernatural agents. Gods, fairies, demons, whatever. That’s the low bar that hasn’t been reached. Show that such things aren’t just wishful thinking or trickery, and then scholars can take supernatural agents seriously as an explanation for anything, historical, scientific, whatever. But funnily enough those who advocate the inclusion of the supernatural in scholarship of all kinds, seem to be content to skip demonstrating that it isn’t just completely made up.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    Pf,

    “the Bible isn’t a being. “The Bible” doesn’t make any claims whatsoever.”

    Oh were down to criticizing figures of speech? The rest of your comment must be equally insightful.

    “It is a collection of writings … by men (mostly unknown, making it difficult to judge their motives and credibility).”

    Who claims that they are mostly unknown? Are they better men then those who put the names at the top of the writings? I’m not referring to the authors either, I’m referring to the early Christians who put the names there. Purely a subjective stance.

    “Which books comprise the collection was decided … by men.”

    And who doubts this comprised collection…  Hmm men! Stalemate.

    “Before a historian can accept “straightforward claims,” he or she must judge the credibility of those claims. The facts are that miracles can’t be reproduced.”

    Don’t be ridiculous, of course they can’t be reproduced, are you God? Besides, if you can reproduce a miracle, its no longer a miracle, is it?

    “You also have to account for the fact that the biblical authors believed a whole host of things that today are known to be false (illness caused by demons, sun revolving around the earth, etc.) or would be considered barbaric (women as barter, slavery, spilling blood to appease a deity).”

    Interpretive mind reading at best…

    It makes a lot more sense that miracles fall under the category of things “commonly believed in a less enlightened period that we know now are impossible” than “inexplicable things that often  happened in ancient times but no longer happen now that people carry cameras everywhere.”

    It was a common belief among ancient people that YHWH’s son visited the earth and performed miracles? Wow! You really are enlightened, you know for sure, 100% that miracles are impossible? Would you care to reveal your statistics for reported miracles in less enlightened periods compared with now? Because as I see it, there are many more people living on the planet now then in previous periods and I would have to guess that reported miracles today easily outnumber any other period in history. But in the end, you may be correct and God is afraid of cell phone cameras catching him in the act of a miracle.

    “However, if you dispute that, you have to have a rational reason to believe claims about christian miracles while disbelieving the claims about every other miracle worker in ancient times.”

    Thanks for noticing, yes I do have a rational reason for that…

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

    Mr Mazzaferro,

    If Jesus did all the miracles attributed to him in the NT but the message of the Sermon on the Mount had a different origin, I’d still be unimpressed with Jesus because what you call the mundane things he was supposed to have said are more surprising to me than the routine signs and wonders. But i quite agree with you that any reading of the NT that strains out the miraculous does violence to the text. I didn’t think we were talking about the meaning of the document, however, but were discussing what light it might throw on what actually happened.

    The Bible-as-received is also a historical fact, of course; and that raises it’s own questions, not all of them scholarly. I’m sometimes inclined to the view that the main miracle in the story, i.e. the resurrection, is not only irrelevant to the associated ethical message but works against it. Rene Girard took this line, figuring that the whole notion of atonement was a reversion to the grim banality of the scapegoat mechanism while the Sermon on the Mount fleshes out the injunction “I want mercy, not sacrifices.” From Girard’s perspective, the Sermon on the Mount pretty much encapsulates Christianity, though on a strictly statistical accounting it would be more accurate for him to say that what we know as Christianity is the callous that formed over the wound some Jewish guy inflicted long ago on traditional morality by what he said, not what he suffered.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    idmillington, you need to be more specific in your philosophical approach. For example, if I tell you I can bend a spoon with my mind, would you consider that a miracle? I hope not, because what I would do is grab the spoon by the ends with each hand and proceed to bend it. Since my mind controls my hands, I can honestly say I bent it with my mind. So if God is really the creator and controller of the universe, we might rightly say that when you hold the cup in the air, it is really God holding the cup in the air. You live and move by the miracle of life. However, what you were really getting at was if a cup defied the laws of gravity because God granted it to be so, that would be a miracle. But like I said earlier, discussing miracles with you is meaningless. The real issue is, does God, as described in the Bible really exist? The decision on this issue will ultimately answer the issue of the miracles. Because the God of the Bible is a divine being that lives beyond time and space and is endowed with all power, and could easily perform the acts we are talking about. So the problem, is you can not prove the existence of God through unsubstantiated miracles. The miracles will only be substantiated when we believe that the God of the Bible really exists. So where do you want to go from here?

    • Anonymous

      “But like I said earlier, discussing miracles with you is meaningless.” How convenient. So miracles are things that you have to believe in for them to exist. Like tinkerbell?

      “Since my mind controls my hands, I can honestly say I bent it with my mind.” No, you’d say you bent it with your mind if you wanted to be excessively tendentious. I hope you don’t try to pull those kind of rhetorical tricks to regular people in your real life.

      “Because the God of the Bible is a divine being that lives beyond time and space and is endowed with all power, and could easily perform the acts we are talking about.” Yes indeed. He could. In fact any proposed agent with supernatural powers could carry out actions supernaturally. Wouldn’t have to be the god of the orthodox Christian theology. Or any other particular god for that matter. 

      “The miracles will only be substantiated when we believe that the God of the Bible really exists.” I don’t think ‘substantiated’ means what you think it means. I think you think it means something more like ‘believable’. Nothing is substantiated by a belief. That’s really rather the point. When we ask someone to substantiate what they are claiming, we are explicitly saying “show me that it *isn’t* just a belief”.

      So, bringing this back to scholarship. In order to use an explanation in scholarship, it is only right and proper that one does substantiate it. Not always in the context it is being used in. But in *some* context, at least once. In fact showing it isn’t *only* a belief, is rather crucial.

      For example, I could argue that scholars of the cold war are doing it wrong, because they aren’t taking seriously the effect that alien contacts had on the political tensions between east and west. I could point to various sources that they should be taking seriously. And, faced with the obvious request from a scholar to say “look, can you please first show that aliens have any contact with earth at all?” I could say – its absurd: you first have to *believe* aliens have made contact, then you can use that fact in your scholarship. Taken out of the realm of your personal religious faith, I hope you could see how clearly unscholarly such an approach would be. And how terribly terribly simple it would be for the believer to rectify this. They would only need to show the existence of alien contact, and that explanation *would* be a central part of C20 history. But they won’t. Because, like supernatural agents, your god, or someone else’s god, jinn or tinkerbell, you first have to believe. That just isn’t scholarship.

      • Howard Mazzaferro

        Wow, you really can’t understand simple logic can you? News flash, biblical scholarship, is not necessary or needed for faith in God. And that’s not what I meant to say, I thought it was implied that I meant you first have to substantiate the existence of the Biblical God. If Biblical scholarship can’t do that, what’s it good for? Absolutely nothing!

        • Anonymous

          “Wow, you really can’t understand simple logic can you?” Insults, really? How perfect. If you can’t address specifics, always better to impugne someone’s mental capabilities in an off-hand manner.

          “News flash, biblical scholarship, is not necessary or needed for faith in God.” Of course it isn’t. In my experience quite the opposite. I’ve seen many highly faithful christians have their faith challenged and ultimately discarded by a course of academic biblical study.

          “If Biblical scholarship can’t do that, what’s it good for?” Fair enough. I disagree and think it is valuable in and of itself, but I can perfectly see how you arrive at your opinion. 

          But they are side-shows. My disagreement is still with your point about scholars changing the meaning of miracles. 

          Scholarship of all stripes, if we are to take it seriously, has to use axioms independent of the conclusions it wants to reach. I hope that’s obvious. So if you are to do historical scholarship of miracle narratives, you have to either: a) analyse them in prosaic terms, or b) show that the supernatural is a valid explanation for anything, so that can be used as a historical functor.

          Otherwise its: assume there are miracles, then the simples explanation for a narrative of a miracle is probably going to be that a miracle occurred. It isn’t strictly a tautology in a logical calculus, but it has that character. 

          That’s fine for confessional work, for preaching, even for doing some forms of theology. This is not unknown in mathematical logic too: one takes on an axiom (that may not correspond to anything particular) in order to see what the logical consequents of that axiom are. A theologian doesn’t have to derive the existence of God. They start from that point and say “if God is how we believe him to be, what does that mean or entail?” or “if we believe the Bible is the Word of God, what does that mean for how we life our life or understand our world?”

          But one cannot and should not confuse that for historical scholarship. Unless one is willing to do the ground work to establish it as a substantiated explanatory tool.

        • Anonymous

          (apropos of nothing – your book on JW theology looked interesting, so I just bought it — please don’t infer any malice against you or your beliefs (nor any mental disability, for that matter) – my point is quite specific: on whether miracles have any place as an explanation in historical scholarship)

          • Howard Mazzaferro

            You should have said something, I could have sent you the PDF version. When you say, “my point is quite specific: on whether miracles have any place as an explanation in historical scholarship.” If you are referring to historical scholarship of the Bible, to me this seems as strange as asking whether stars have any place in the explanation of astronomy. 

            • Anonymous

              I never begrudge supporting authors.

              “If you are referring to historical scholarship of the Bible, to me this seems as strange as asking whether stars have any place in the explanation of astronomy.”

              Yeah but nobody doubts the existence of stars. A better analogy is something like “asking whether the luminiferous aether has any place in the explanations of astronomy”. The luminiferous aether was a widely used explanation at one point, it is part of a broad range of historical works in physics, it is still believed by some, but it thwarts attempts to pin it down and prove its existence through evidence. Physicists would just say “if you want to use the aether in your explanation, first show us it exists, until then it should have no role in our work.”

              I am actually good friends with an amateur physicist who does believe in the aether, and that modern physics is completely misunderstanding the data, and interpreting things in ways that leave us knowing less, rather than more.

              • Howard Mazzaferro

                I’m going to have a little fun with your statement.

                “Yeah but nobody doubts the existence of stars.”

                Your “nobody” is a statistical assumption as there may be at least one person somewhere that doubts the existence of stars.

                If your sentence was meant to be in the present tense, it is a chronological assumption based on past events, because the observable evidence for the existence of stars occurred millions of years ago. Can you prove they are still out there? :)

                • Anonymous

                  “Your “nobody” is a statistical assumption as there may be at least one person somewhere that doubts the existence of stars.”
                  Not really, it was the kind of informal use of “nobody” that is meant to indicate overwhelming hegemony.

                  “That is uncool, nobody wears 501s any more”

                  I have a problem with the kind of tendentious pedantic analysis of language. I get that you’re doing it in fun. But in general I think it is quite detrimental to communication. Because it pulls things off course. We end up having a discussion about whether nobody doubts the existence of stars where you beat me over the head about having “claimed that *nobody* doubts the existence of stars” and I try in vain to move on.

                  See any of the hard-core comment arguments over mythicism in this blog for examples. Where parties are more concerned with what their opponents *said* than what they *meant*.

                  “the observable evidence for the existence of stars occurred years ago.”

                  Or just over 8 minutes ago. Either way. Its been longer than that since I checked I need to continually inhale oxygen: maybe I don’t need to any more, maybe that will change. Maybe. But I won’t hold my breath.

                  • Howard Mazzaferro

                    Yes, it was meant to be a sort of mockery for those who argue that way. Just look a few comments above where Pf criticized my use of a figure of speech when I said, “the Bible claims. . .” He took that to mean that I thought the Bible was some sort of living being. And he or she actually took the time to respond to it, give me a break. But I knew exactly what you meant, and had no problems with it. Yeah, I avoided the sun on purpose hoping you wouldn’t bring it up.

                    • Anonymous

                      My problems with statements in the form of “the Bible claims” isn’t that it implies a living being as a much as it implies a unified voice.  For example, someone might say that “the Bible claims says that Jesus thought he was God” when in fact the author of the Gospel of John is the only one who seems to being making this claim explicitly.   The authors of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are much more vague on the question.

                    • Anonymous

                      Never mind about the Gospel of John. There’s a mythicist who thinks he is God, with the appropriate name of God[frey].  He is omniscient – he knows every book there is to know.  He is omnipresent – he puts himself around a lot with a perfect netiquette – what God does these days – and God spoke out of the “cloud” and everything was just as God said.  They all bowed and scraped to him – he likes that.   

                    • Howard Mazzaferro

                      VinnyJH, I really hate to be a pain about this, and this is really an inconsequential matter. Here are a couple of reasons why I stand by my use of “the Bible claims…”

                      1. It is merely a shortcut for brevity in these limited posts. Similar to how a news headline might say “Washington claims the war in Iraq is coming to an end.” Does that imply a unified voice? Does every individual in the government of Washington agree with this statement? Maybe the newspaper should list by name all the ones who do agree with this assessment, so no one is confused. No, it is merely referencing a general source.

                      2. It’s bad enough that you disagree with me, but you did the exact same thing in trying to explain yourself. You said, “the author of the Gospel of John is the only one who seems to being making this claim explicitly.” You are implying a unified voice through out the Gospel of John that he claims Jesus was God, when in fact the author makes a number of  statements that deny the divinity of Jesus. (John 14:28) So where does it end? Do I need to narrow it down to the individual book, or the individual chapter, or the individual verse?

                      3. Most importantly, it IS my position that the entire Bible is a unified voice. Is there any logical reason why I should not be allowed to use terminology or grammar that specifically expresses my position? If so, I can easily come up with a DO NOT USE list for everyone else too.
                      :-)

      • Howard Mazzaferro

        Wow, you really can’t understand simple logic can you? News flash, biblical scholarship, is not necessary or needed for faith in God. And that’s not what I meant to say, I thought it was implied that I meant you first have to substantiate the existence of the Biblical God. If Biblical scholarship can’t do that, what’s it good for? Absolutely nothing!

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    James Harrison,

    Well for me, its hard to discuss this topic without referring to the meaning of the text as well. Just for the sake of clarity, I want to explain my view. It seems there are three main ways to look at the Bible.

    1. All of it is the true word of God and accurate.

    2. The Bible is based on some historical events, but much is elaboration.

    3. The Bible is a completely made up story, nothing really happened.

    Actually, I use to subscribe to number 3, but after investigating the Bible for many years, I can no longer believe that is possible now. The problem with number 2 is the fact that historians make it sound like many things about Jesus were added and mythologized. I don’t see the time frame for this to have happened. The writings were composed somewhere between 40 to 70 C.E., that leaves only 10 to 40 years for the oral tradition to transform from the truth to the embellished writings. We also need to remember that almost all of Jesus followers during this time were Jews, who were well known for passing down unaltered oral traditions. The Oral Torah was passed down for centuries by the Jews. Although we don’t know how well they passed this down unaltered, but if their procedures for manuscript copying is any indication, it was pretty good. Now we do have another time span from 40-70 CE to 150-200 CE were there is no NT manuscript evidence. However, it should give us confidence that from 200 CE to 1500 CE the NT manuscripts were not significantly altered. Which would not be the case if men felt free to alter them from 70 CE to 200 CE. So where did all the supposed elaborations come from?

    In my opinion, from nowhere, as what we have in the NT is pretty much what Paul and the others wrote. So then, to suppose that there are elaborations and such in these texts, they are unknowingly ripping apart the original texts. And regardless if the miracles are true or not, these writers composed a harmonious message to deliver to others. No one has the right to remove or discard portions of this message, no matter what its source, they are altering the historical message. We do have the right to interpret this message or to believe it or reject it, but we do not have the right to change it. If historians want to admit they are only providing another interpretation of the message, then fine.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    idmillington, I understand what you are saying about historians, and if you read my other comments, you might see that. But I see a discontinuity between biblical historians and biblical scholars. Excuse the terminology if you do not agree with it, but what I mean is historians that deal with biblical events and scholars who write commentaries and such which advocate the belief in God by their interpretations. We have two scholarly fields that oppose each other on many topics. Either the miracles occurred and the biblical scholars are right, or the miracles did not happen and the historical scholars are right. You can’t have it both ways, can you?

    The difference between the two is like the difference between watching a science fiction movie with special effects to entertain us, and watching a documentary on the making of this same science fiction movie, where they explain and expose how all the special effects were done. But no one believes that such movies are actual historical events, but many do believe the biblical accounts were actual historical events, and the historian with his behind the scenes documentary is likely to destroy the faith in those who believed the narrative. And I know, that’s just what you said, but is that the right thing to do to people if you are not absolutely sure of your historical findings? I just don’t see how one can exist alongside the other. If the miracle of the virgin birth did not happen, then Jesus was not a perfect sinless man. If Jesus was not a perfect sinless man, then his atonement sacrifice was for nothing. If his sacrifice meant nothing, then he made no provisions to change man’s sinless state. If Jesus died a sinful man, he did not deserve a resurrection. If none of this happened, as Paul says, your faith is in vain.

    Please explain to me how historians are reconstructing a history around Jesus that has any meaning to anyone other than people who are interested in what ordinary men did in the first century?

    • Anonymous

      Ah, brilliant. I think I am understanding you and our mismatch better then.

      So yes, defined in the way you have. I agree with you. I would not use that definition of ‘biblical scholar’, but language is intended for communication, and if that’s what *you* mean by it, then I understand. In that case, as you say, it would be perverse for a ‘biblical scholar’ not to admit of the possibility (if not positive probability) of a miracle.

      “You can’t have it both ways, can you?” No, you really can’t. Although, to be fair, the commentaries I enjoy are critical rather than confessional.

      “Please explain to me how historians are reconstructing a history around Jesus that has any meaning to anyone other than people who are interested in what ordinary men did in the first century?”

      Some liberal Christians find it does inform their faith. By understanding who Jesus was (as a historical reconstruction) they feel more able to follow him. Doesn’t float my boat, but still.

      I do think critical biblical scholarship is important though (‘biblical scholarship’ in my sense rather than yours: i.e. the application of the historical critical method to the NT text ;) .

      I’ve said before on my blog, that intense scholarship of the NT is very important, because it is a small corpus of texts that has been more intensely and comprehensively studied than any other. As such it is the place we would expect the sharpest scalpels to have been developed, for historiography to be at its most explicit, for techniques to be at their most reified. And that is, mostly, what I observe. 

      That the conclusions drawn from such fine work lead to disagreements over the most minute of minutiae, is no coincidence, I think.

      • Howard Mazzaferro

        I am glad I was a little more clear in my explanation this time. I am a firm believer in the fact that there are countless interpretations and views of the biblical texts that range from total rejection to blind literal interpretation, and some are completely erroneous and some are sensible and supported by evidence and reason. I disagree with a lot of interpretations and views, not just this one. Actually, one of my reasons for coming to this site was to test my beliefs and faith against critical historical scholarship. I am not here to prove anybody wrong, but to be exposed to this brand of scholarship that is known to destroy faith. I must say that after a few months here, I have not come across too many actual arguments that present convincing evidence. Just like the miracle question, I expected someone would have demonstrated convincingly from the scriptures that they were not historical realities. I never expected to hear the simple answer that miracles probably did not happen because historical methodology does not have the means to assess their probability. I’m afraid that this type of explanation does nothing to challenge my faith.

        But don’t get me wrong, I partly agree with you about critical scholarship and historical studies. They are great sources for gaining a more insightful understanding of how people lived, their cultural expressions and other everyday affairs. It is only when they make certain determinations about historical events that cause a cascading collapse of biblical theology. Such as Adam not being a historical person. If that were true, then Jesus, who is suppose to have heavenly knowledge and was so close to God that he could say he and the father are one, was absolutely deceived along with every other traditional Christian. Usually when I say something like this, I will get the response that, well Jesus was merely stating the current unscientific opinion of the period. Well Duh! That’s what I just said, and it probably means everything else Jesus said and believed was also useless unscientific first century opinion and not life saving divine wisdom, so why do you study the Bible again? Oh that’s right, you’ve just finished your course on ancient Babylonian accounting techniques for water distribution and tunnel reconstruction. My attempt at humor.

        But really, I feel my belief in God is based on a number of good reasons, one of which is the evidence that historical scholars have provided for the historical Jesus. But simply put, faith in God is a choice based on the preponderance of the evidence that we examine. I sometimes wonder if the whole thing is not one big scam, but then I ask myself, where did life come from? By blind chance, by aliens, or by God.  (technically speaking, God is an alien)

  • Anonymous

    Howard wrote: “The writings were composed somewhere between 40 to 70 C.E.”   

    How can you be so naive?  Have the writings been buried for 2000 years, like the DSS?  How can you be sure they have been untouched?  How do you know that “Paul” composed all of his writings before 70?  How do you know “Paul” even existed then and was supposedly a  pharisee? Was it because he supposedly said that he existed, mentioned a few  places that he supposedly visited, described a few journeys he supposedly made, mentioned a few names of people he supposedly met, or said he was a pharisee?  This was a man without beginning of days nor end of time.  The Lord or the lions took him, supposedly. 

                

  • Anonymous

    Howard,

    I actually agree that there is something more than an objective attempt to understand the past going on in historical Jesus studies.  I think this is a case where the historian has to content himself with examining how his sources understood the events without much hope of determining the exact events that gave rise to that understanding.  I think there is some wishful thinking in attempts to determine exactly what the historical Jesus really said or did.

    If it were simply a matter of letting people hang onto their harmless fantasies, I might be bothered that historical analysis tends to debunk religious belief.  However, it is my experience that people who insist that their belief in the resurrection is a product of critical historical analysis have a tendency to apply flawed reasoning to other empirical questions as well.  I have no problem with people of faith as long as they understand that the things they know by faith are matters of subjective personal experience rather than objective fact. 

  • Pf

    Oh my, Howard, I have to give you credit. You ain’t afraid to make a fool of yourself.

    • Howard Mazzaferro

      And you ain’t afraid to make an ignorant nuisance of yourself.

  • Pf

    Well, thanks, it’s nice of you to say so.

    You said: “I expected someone would have demonstrated convincingly from the scriptures that they were not historical realities.” You think arguments only have merit if they are based on scripture?  Presumably you will pay a good price for your wife. I wouldn’t pay more than three cattle myself.

    • Howard Mazzaferro

      You’re welcome,

      It’s called internal evidence. If I make a miraculous claim, simply stating that miracles do not happen or that there is no proof for my claim, does little to disprove my claims. Now if you examine any of my other claims and I contradict myself concerning the miraculous claim, that is much more damaging to my miraculous claim.

  • Geoff Hudson

    Howard, it may or may not have escaped your notice that “Paul” disappears into Rome at the same time as James appears in Jerusalem, 60.  And “Paul” is presumably thrown to the lions, or something like that, at the same time as James is executed, 62 by Ananus.  Quite a coincidence don’t you think! 

    • Howard Mazzaferro

      Geoff, it may or may not have escaped your notice that the King James Version inserts the word “name” in Exodus 6:3 with no manuscript support. Again, what’s that have to do with the topic here?

  • Anonymous

    Howard,

    Your 1st and 3rd reasons seem inherently contradictory to me.  Your first suggests that everyone understands that this type of idiom doesn’t really imply a unified voice and in your third you claim that you use this particular idiom precisely because you believe the Bible to be a unified voice.  I think this is emblematic of the kind of confusion the idiom engenders when applied to the Bible.

    As far as your 2nd reason goes, I don’t believe that I made any statement about the Gospel of John making the claim.  I said the author of the gospel seems to make this claim.  Moreover, the claim I was referencing was about who Jesus said he was rather than who the author said Jesus was.  I was hoping to avoid the kind of parsing you did, but apparently I was not successful.

  • Howard Mazzaferro

    VinnyJH,

    I was not talking to “everyone” I was talking to you, and I had assumed you would have understood. Yes, my original use of the phrase was in a response to you. And you didn’t seem to have a problem when I used it. Lets take a look at my original use of the phrase and its contexts and see if it promotes something untrue. But first, we will look at your first response to see what is acceptable in your opinion.

    “For example, someone might say that “the Bible says that Jesus thought he was God” when in fact the author of the Gospel of John is the only one who seems to being making this claim explicitly. The authors of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are much more vague on the question.”

    You seem to be saying that because the author of the Gospel of John is the only one who puts forth certain statements that seem to indicate that Jesus thought he was God, that this is the only author that can be said to claim that Jesus thought he was God. Not the other gospels and certainly not the Bible as a whole. Now here is what I said in my original comment.

    “but what bothers me is that the Bible claims to be a message from the only true God, and it claims within its pages that God himself spoke and acted in behalf of his people.”

    So under this same reasoning, if every author of every biblical book can be shown to have put forth statements that indicate that their own writings, or the writings of other biblical authors, are messages spoken by God, then it would not be an invalid use of a unified voice.

    Well, I don’t have time right now to go through every single biblical book, but here are the results of a quick search. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the phrase, “YHWH has said” indicating a message from God is to follow, occurs more than 300 times in 21 books of the Hebrew Scriptures. The phrase, “word of God” indicating words spoken by God as a message to others, is used more than 50 times in the New Testament in 17 different books. Keep in mind that this was only 2 searches on those specific phrases, a further investigation would undoubtedly reveal that nearly every biblical book contains the statement in one fashion or another. So under your own guidelines, I feel I am perfectly justified is saying the whole Bible claims this specific idea. Or is this whole argument because I did not use the word “authors” in my phrase as in “the authors of the Bible claim…” That was implied as a book can’t speak, it is merely a medium used to get an idea from the author to the reader.

    • Anonymous

      Howard,

       

      Regardless of who you were talking to, your 1st and
      3rd reasons are inherently contradictory.  In your 1st you propose an analogous idiom
      and you say “Does that imply a unified voice? . . . No, it is merely
      referencing a general source.”  In the 3rd
      you say, “Most importantly, it IS my position that the entire Bible is a
      unified voice.”  That is hard to
      understand.

       

      It would not be enough for every author of every book to
      think that their writings were messages spoken by God.  Every author would need to think that their
      writings should be read in conjunction with every other writing in the Bible as
      a single unified message from God. 

       

      It is interesting that you should pick “word of God” to
      illustrate your point since even that phrase doesn’t have a single unified
      meaning.  It is sometimes used to refer
      to specific spoken or written words and it is sometimes used to refer to Jesus
      Christ as the incarnate Word of God.  Sometimes
      it is used to translate logos and sometimes it is used to
      translate rhema.  In
      fact, that phrase actually illustrates the need to respect each author’s
      individual intention.

      • Howard Mazzaferro

        VinnyJH, here we go again! :)

        You say, “your 1st and 3rd reasons are inherently contradictory.”

        It was not contradictory at all, I was simply saying that, no matter which way someone understood my phrase of “the Bible claims…” they both fit the context of what I was saying. If someone took it as an idiom that meant the idea is found in certain parts of the Bible, or if they took it that I meant the whole Bible implies this, both are acceptable. But the main point was that you were implying that an alternate understanding was something I didn’t mean to express, when in fact it is perfectly fine if someone takes it that way.

        You said, “Every author would need to think that their writings should be read in conjunction with every other writing in the Bible as a single unified message from God.”

        You don’t believe this is true? Do you think people of the same race, who lived in the same general area, who shared the same ritual form of worship, who believed in the same God YHWH, who shared the sacred writings that expound this form of worship, who share the same history, would not of thought that when they wrote something new about the same God YHWH communicating with them, or having dealings with these same people, that they would not consider what they wrote would be read in conjunction with earlier writings? Also, by the 1st century, Jesus shows by his quotations that there was a general canon in place and that these writing should in fact be read in conjunction together. Paul and the other authors did the same thing with their quotations of the Jewish scriptures. Showing that their  own writings were to be read in conjunction with the earlier writings.

        You say, “It is sometimes used to refer to specific spoken or written words and it is sometimes used to refer to Jesus Christ as the incarnate Word of God. Sometimes it is used to translate logos and sometimes it is used to translate rhema.”

        I really don’t know what you’re getting at, I never claimed the “word of God” always meant the entire Bible, and it doesn’t have to mean that either for me to make my point. For example, “specific spoken or written words” are still words that form a specific message from God. Sometimes refers to Jesus? I only see this happen one time. I don’t see the point in saying that word is sometimes used to “translate logos and sometimes it is used to translate rhema” What’s your point, they both end up in English as “word”, are you saying there is some sort of mistranslation going on here? If not, then logos and rhema both still form messages don’t they?

        Here are a few quotes for you…

        Inasmuch as the *Bible claims* uniqueness, and the absolute of divine revelation, the Abraham narratives deserve a positive, respectful approach; any other risks destroying any evidence they afford. – A. R. Millard, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, England, Freedman, D. N. (1996, c1992). The Anchor Bible Dictionary (1:40). New York: Doubleday.

        “But are such nature miracles to be automatically excluded as impossibilities? If, as the *Bible claims,* God works in history and uniquely and supremely in Jesus Christ, may not such events have actually happened?” – Hagner, D. A. (2002). Vol.  Word Biblical Commentary  : Matthew 14-28. Word Biblical Commentary (416). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

        “The limited purpose and the specific scope within which the *Bible claims* to be infallible, authoritative, a wholly trustworthy object of faith, are clearly indicated by the Scriptures.” – Bromiley, G. W. (1988; 2002). The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (2:822). Wm. B. Eerdmans.

        “The *Bible claims* that Joshua ‘burnt Hazor with fire’” – Editor, H. S. (2002; 2002). BAR 22:04 (July/Aug 1996). Biblical Archaeology Society.

        “The *Bible claims* ultimate spiritual authority in doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness because it represents the inspired Word of Almighty God.” –
        MacArthur, J. J. (1997, c1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (Ge 1:1). Nashville: Word Pub.

  • Anonymous

    Do you figure that the author of Ezekiel expected that his writings would be read in conjunction with books that wouldn’t be written until hundreds of years in the future?  That’s a neat trick.

  • http://www.herculessport.com/ sports good

    Americans are notorious for their inability to recognize irony and you
    are up there with the best of them, even Bush. — But I don’t expect
    Americans to get the humour. 

  • http://www.herculessport.com/ sports good

    Americans are notorious for their inability to recognize irony and you
    are up there with the best of them, even Bush. — But I don’t expect
    Americans to get the humour. 

  • Macdonaldjo

    I have a question for Earl Doherty.  If Paul just thought of Christ as a mythical experience, how could the 500 experience Christ “at the same time” if there was no sermon?

  • Macdonaldjo

    In other words, the 500 all experienced Christ at the same time.  This makes sense if they saw him, but not if he was just some delusional mythical experience being disseminated among them.  The bible says “at the same time.”

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

    @Macdonaldjo, that isn’t an argument that is relevant to addressing mythicism. That claim is about the resurrected Jesus, which involves a supernatural claim that historians cannot confirm. Paul’s statement also involves hearsay, since he was not one of the 500, and we don’t know who may have told Paul that something of this sort occurred. To address mythicism, you need to address the evidence for the historical Jesus, not the risen Christ. The only way that the resurrection idea is relevant to mythicism is that it clearly shows that Paul and others like him thought that Jesus had been a human being, of the sort Jews expected God to raise from the dead when the kingdom of God dawned.

  • Macdonaldjo

    Hi Dr. McGrath.  I thought it was relevant because the ususual reading of the bible is to say the 500 saw the risen Christ with their eyes.  Doherty and the mythicists like those at Sam Harris’ Project Reason are arguing the passage means the 500 had a mystical, non visual experience of the risen Christ.  I just thought conceptually the mythicist argument doesn’t make sense at this point.  You see, the mythicist is trying to explain all of Paul according to a non-earthly Christ.

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

    The question of what the nature of an experience was that we cannot adequately verify happened, since we don’t know anything other than that Paul mentions this event that, unless he made it up, he must have heard about from someone else, who may well have heard it from someone else, and so on.

    That claim of Paul’s is problematic from the perspective of mainstream historical study and not just mythicism, which is why I don’t personally see anything to be gained from discussing it in connection with mythicism, since it doesn’t seem to add anything to the discussion ine way or the other.

  • Anonymous

    I’m very curious. Is it a fact of history that 500 people saw Jesus after he had risen? Is this fact established in some way that is different than the fact that Paul met James the brother of the Lord, who by the way had to be Jesus?


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X