Mythicism and other Bunk around the Blogosphere

Thom Stark blogged about Neil Godfrey’s reading comprehension (or lack thereof). In other news, Neil Godfrey complains that Bart Ehrman had trouble keeping track of which mythicists wrote which nonsense where.

Richard Carrier criticized Bart Ehrman of using rhetoric instead of argument (among other things), seemingly unaware of the irony. Tom Verenna unsurprisingly but disappointingly sides with Carrier on this.

Jerry Coyne continues to pit dubious sources against dubious sources while failing to give mainstream scholarship the attention it is due, or inform himself adequately from such reliable sources. If he were to learn something about the Church of the Holy Sepulcher it would do him good!

(For those interested in that topic, I discuss it in my book The Burial of Jesus: What Does History Have to Do with Faith?, which costs a mere $2.99).

In the category of views akin to mythicism that mythicists won’t like to be compared with, Mike Heiser announced that he will appear in a documentary debunking claims about ancient aliens.

Mark Goodacre has been accused of slander because of his criticisms of “The Jesus Discovery.” Joel Watts and Jim West also comment on the company that produced the documentary – and the accusations.

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

    Ah silly me, I made a mistake. You will note I made the comment at 3:24
    am — let that be a lesson to me not to skim a post and make a comment
    at that hour again! :-)

    Now that’s worth top billing in McGrath’s eyes, so desperate is this gentleman for a bit of pay-back against his little nemesis. ;-)

  • http://religionatthemargins.com/ Thom Stark

    I hope you were able to get some good rest. All the best, mon frere.

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    Is McGrath getting cocky?  He’s been carrying the historicist team on his back for awhile now, but now he’s got superstar Ehrman batting cleanup and he’s feeling good.  Sure, the mythicists have got their rookie phenom Carrier on the mound, but he’s just up from AAA and he’s never faced big league hitting like this before.

    The fans are on the edge of their seats.

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

    (For those interested in that topic, I discuss it in my book The Burial of Jesus: What Does History Have to Do with Faith?, which costs a mere $2.99).

    Hi Dr McGrath. Would you like to send me a review copy? I promise either I or Tim will do a genuine and serious review. We will not suppress your arguments for fear of giving them legitimacy. We will present them concisely but thoroughly and objectively, with our own evaluations in such a way that readers will be able to make up their own minds as to the merits of our comments and the arguments of your book.

    I think you once made this offer to those who would be willing to share their blog stats with you. I think you can check my stats for yourself through Alexa. You can be sure our review will be honest and clean.

    If you would like a referee to vouch for how I handle other works, I invite you to email the professor whose article on the name of Jesus I discussed on my own blog. He did compliment me on the honesty and “cleanness” of my review.

    Cheers.

  • Brettongarcia

    Dr. McGrath should be reporting some of our comments here.  

    First, how about this one, generated specially for your present blog post:  ”Bretton Garcia noted Dr. McGrath using mere derogatory supercilliousness, instead of real arguments, in his fated attempt to discredit Mythicism.  As Bretton Garcia and others continued their argument that the  ’Historical Jesus’  is at best a Jewish midrash, and is most likely a Pauline / Pagan/Greek interpolation.”

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

      Dr McGrath’s Modus Operandi is well known. On Bart Ehrman’s Public Forum one person posted this:

      I think you [Bart Erhman] have two main choices at this point. . . . . . 

      The two choices are:

      a) Admit error where the error has been pointed out and is plain to see. You can probably explain why you did not give this subject the attention it apparently demands. This will salvage what, from what I have read, is an ignominious work. Everybody makes mistakes. You admit error and everybody moves on. Most of these “facts” can be checked because information is much more accessible
      nowadays and is no longer the preserve of a few. Like those cases where
      you declare “no scholar…” Those are eggs. Eggs must not be allowed to
      sit on your face.

      b) Allow your ego to check in and dig in like James McGrath and maintain that black is white and white is black, deploy abstruse obfuscation, muddy the waters, dangle red herrings, poison the well, attack personalities, impute malevolent motives to your opponents (this, alack, alas! you have already done), continue appealing to authority and further enlist the support of the no-true-scotsman-fallacy and other tactics that clarify nothing and fail to improve understanding of the subject and lose your reputation as you wade in this mud.

      Amateurs like myself and experts alike are watching and waiting.

      The choice is yours.

      Dr McGrath is (and he can correct me if I am wrong) not the least bit interested in a dialogue with anyone advancing a mythicist argument. Anyone who does so is, in his eyes, an idiot — unless they are genuinely new to the topic and have never heard the arguments for a historical Jesus. But once they are informed of these, if they persist in doubt, they are no better than “creationists” and other “deniers” in his view.

      For Dr McGrath, it is a question of academic orthodoxy versus plebeian heresy. Mythicism and mythicists are deserving of nothing but mockery and insult.

      There is no room for dialogue. This may partly be the result of Dr McGrath’s hubris having been punctured too many times now by the elegant logic (a field McGrath has admitted he is not formally adept in) that are the hallmark of so many critical arguments and questions.

    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

      “”

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

        If Luke-Acts happened to be early second century rather than late first, would you still feel the same way? I notice that the two sources being “first century” is important to you, but the likelihood is that one is from the middle of the first century and one is much closer to the end of the first century. And so I still don’t understand the rationale for allowing a much later work that doesn’t explicitly address the matter one way or the other – and which clearly envisages a historical Jesus, whatever else may be the case – to trump the testimony of much earlier sources.

        • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

          Dr.  McGrath,

          I don’t have any real strong opinions about dating so that doesn’t really figure into my thinking so much.  Is it possible to push Luke/Acts into the second century into the second century without pushing back Mark later into the first century?   You talk about Mark as a “much earlier source” as if that is an unassailable fact.

          I am not all that familiar withe the jargon of historical methodology, but your use of the term “trump” sounds to me like a pejorative term calculated to make it sound like I am trying to pull a fast one.  I don’t think that different pieces of evidence “trump” each other.  I think all of them have to be considered and weighed in the balance. 

          I guess my question would be whether you think that it is an indubitable fact that the James in of Gal. 1 is the same person as the James in Mark 6.  Should the historian end his inquiry there or does he consider additional evidence?  If it is appropriate to consider additional evidence then regardless of when you date Acts, it is the first source that is clearly discussing the same person as Gal. 1:19.  The fact that it does not address a point explicitly shouldn’t stop us from drawing logical inferences.

          It really seems to me as though you are trying to manipulate the inquiry in order to avoid considering what seems to me to be a perfectly logical possibility. 

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

            Well, it does seem like you are trying to pull a fast one. :-) Historians do not generally cast aside clear evidence from earlier sources simply because later ones have a different perspective, and in this case, it is not clear that Luke has a different perspective, he simply fails to mention a particular detail. Whether or not by the time he wrote some folks had already developed the idea that Jesus was an only child because of a belief in Mary’s perpetual virginity, that ought not to allow later doctrinal concerns to trump (there’s that word again) earlier historical evidence that points in a different direction. For historians, the dates of sources matter – isn’t the mythicist focus on Paul, after all, a distorted reflection of that very principle?

  • Brettongarcia

    Neil:  but I think Dr. McGrath deep down, is a closet Mythicist. 

    It’s important to note that the difference between an Historicist and a Mythicist, is often very, very slight.  Often the methods are substantially the same.  There is just a slight turn in the end, when it comes to the emphasis, and conclusion.   Historicists admit that there is one apparently false or unlikely thing after another, in the popular – and sometimes even biblical – view of Jesus. 

    My theory?  If McGrath didn’t have an academic job to protect, and a starving family to feed?  He’d be on our side.

    As for the constant  insults?  It’s true, and annoying.  But?  To some extent, that’s the lingua franca, the common tongue, of Internet blogs.

    To be sure, now and then we’d like real arguments from our chair, rather than the Argument from Authority, and simple insult.  Still, Dr. McGrath has been good enough to open up his blog for discussions.   And I guess his positive contribution, is to ask for slightly more scholarly arguments/proofs from mythicism. 

    By the way, thank you Neil for your own efforts.  Of course, your main line of attack here recently, is quite useful, and well founded in Historiography:  those who study texts, library science, know that many of our “Real Historical” figures and biographies, grew out of earlier myths, folk tales, and oral culture rumors. While apparently at least one scholarly monography (at Cambridge?), suggested that one deep source for “Jesus,” the “Q” voice, came from oral culture. Or in other words?  From popular rumors.

    Were mere rumors, popular urban legends, local confusions and misunderstandings in ancient Jerusalem, the real source for the Myth of Jesus?  Stay tuned.

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

      Bretton Garcia, I intend this to be my last comment to you, since you seem happy to make up nonsense – a key characteristic of mythicism.

      I do not have an academic job to protect. My academic job protects me. I have tenure at a secular university, and so I am free to tell students things such as that Jesus was wrong, and although it upsets them and leads to conservative Christian organizations warning students off taking religion classes, I have the academic freedom to do so.

      Please, for your own sake and not mine, please stop with the conspiracy theory, “they say things they don’t believe to protect their jobs” bunk. It is no more persuasive when mythicists say it than when creationists do – at least not to anyone who understands the nature of academia at non-religiously affiliated schools.

      As for complaining that I call something bunk and saying it is mere insult or appeal to authority, when there are pages and pages of analysis of mythicist claims here on this blog, is either very silly or diabolically dishonest.

      When you started commenting here, I thought you were here to learn as well as to share your own poorly-informed thoughts. I am beginning to get the disappointing impression that your reasons for commenting here are different than I had hoped.

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

        I think Brettongarcia is right and you are a mythicist Dr McGrath. You regularly say something like this:

        when there are pages and pages of analysis of mythicist claims here on this blog

        But of course this is a myth. If anyone asks you to identify where you have actually analysed a mythicist argument you never seem able to identify anything more than a sweeping “Over there in all those discussions and long, long threads”. But the reason many of those threads are so long is not because you are engaging in analysis, but in explaining why you are NOT going to bother with analysing or arguing a point, and then eventually you say you did answer or address a point after all, but that you won’t bother to repeat it or identify the actual comment where you did.

        Your claims to have addressed mythicist arguments (as opposed to avoided addressing them) are therefore quite mythical.

        You will point to your very lengthy and many posts on Doherty’s book, but in not one of those posts have you actually explained the argument of Doherty that you are addressing. (Compare Doherty’s own reviews of Ehrman’s book — now he knows how to do a review and you can learn a lot from him. :-)    And when I point out that you have actually not addressed Doherty’s argument, you run off by simply declaring that “just because I have written a lot of words doesn’t mean I have addressed what you said.”

        In other words, you avoid engagement with mythicist arguments. They have turned out to be not what you expected. They did not fit your preconception that they were mere faith or agenda driven denialism, and they really did engage with the scholarship that in many instance not even you were up to date with, — so you have no recourse but to insult, ridicule and resort to character attack.

        In the Soviet Union they used to consign anyone who disagreed with the State Dogma as insane. You have failed to address or engage with the simplest logic and arguments of historical method and mythicism, have been caught out like Ehrman with not even having read the books on historical methods that you cite, and so are digging yourself deeper and deeper into utter irrelevancy in this debate.

        Irrelevant, that is, unless intellectual bullying and character attacks will win out in the end.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=746306326 Dave Burke

          Neil,

          >>
          In the Soviet Union they used to consign anyone who disagreed with the State Dogma as insane.
          >>

          Hmm, now where have I heard that language before? Oh yes, that’s right: it was our mutual friend Richard Carrier, who recently said: ‘Ehrman evidently doesn’t know that in my opinion Hoffman has gone insane.’

          Fine work Neil, you’ve seen straight through him!

  • Brettongarcia

    “Monograph.”  Those who don’t know me should know this:  I send out my first rough drafts, usually unedited, no spellchecking.  I like to let the warts show, as an indication of humble humanity and fallibility.  And laziness.

  • Brettongarcia

    Hey; isn’t “bunk” a little prejudicial? I thought we were trying to be scholarly around here.

  • chazpres

    Gawrsh!  Dumb ol’ Historicists
    sure have a lot to learn from y’all! I mean Mythicists are purely objective and
    have absolutely no agenda behind their conclusions. Unlike dishonest Historicists
    like Dr. Ehrman, they always admit and retract their errors no matter how small (which
    is extremely rare since they almost never make any!).  
    A typical example of Mythicist superiority can
    be seen here in the great Earl Doherty’s “peer review” of Archarya S – the
    Christ Conspiracy on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/The-Christ-Conspiracy-Greatest-Story/dp/0932813747/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1335703252&sr=8-1
    .  Rest assured that if Mr. Doherty’s
    well-trained objective eyes had come across any errors or falsehoods he surely would’ve
    made this known in his review.  As it is,
    he apparently couldn’t find ANY! AMAZING!!! 
     And to be sure if any errors were
    pointed out, D M Murdock – who is well known for her humble objectivity – would
    immediately and happily retract! No hidden agenda here.
    Take THAT you dishonest
    Bible-thumping schmucks at Tubingen, Harvard, and Yale!!

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    My understanding is that both Neil Godfrey and Richard Carrier have made clear that they are not mythicists.  Rather, they are simply calling for the mythicist argument to be respected.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

      You’re right Mike. Perhaps a more accurate term for Neil and co would crypto-mythicists?

      • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

        I think of them more as aggressive agnostics – that is, “I don’t know and you can’t either!”  

        Or perhaps one or both are atheists, in which case it would also be of a particular kind – a kind that focuses on disabusing faith in Jesus as opposed to disabusing other and more general forms of faith in God.

        In any case, they both seem to be particularly intelligent individuals who are willing to spend enormous amounts of time discussing the historicity of a person in whom they have no interest and no intention of trusting even if he were proved historical.  This all seems very strange to me.

    • hardindr

      My understanding is that Carrier believes that it is more likely that Jesus of Nazareth did not exist than he did, I would think that belief would make him a Mythicist.  I suppose we won’t know for sure until his next book comes out, whenever that is.

      • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

        It’s clear that they are more interested in disrupting the historicist case (as they would call it) than they are in establishing the mythicist case.  That’s the strangeness of which I speak.  It truly is an ahistorical or anti-historical quest they are on.  And it is centered on Jesus.

  • Ed Jones

    The “No Jesus” debate needs to take account of the present thought of the top scholars of the Guild of NT studies. Schubert Ogden: None of the writings of the New Testament are apostolic witness, the letters of Paul, the Gospels, as well as the later writings of the NT. The apostolic witness is located in the earliest stratum of the tradition acessible to us. (the article Faith and Freedom, last half) Hans Deiter Betz: “The reason for our lack of knowledge (of Jesus and his teaching) is of a hermeneutical sort, and cannot be overcome by an excess of good will (apologetics).  The Gentile Christian authors of the Gospelss transmittted to uss only that part of the teaching of Jesus that they themselves understood; they handed on only that which they were able to translate into the thought categories of Gentile Christianity, and which they judged worthy of transmission.”  More to the point, they transmitted no more of the Jesus of the Jerusalem Jesus Movement than they considered necessary to lend historical credence to the Christ of faith myth. All to say that Christianity based on the writings of the NT is not a reliable source for knowledge of Jesus. Betz identifies the Sermon on the Mount to be our most cetain original and originating apostolic witness, indeeed the alternative to Gentile Chirtianity as known above all in the writings of Paul, the Gospels, as well as the later writings of thhe New Testament”. See his Essays on the Sermon on the Mount and his Commentary. This calls for a radical reconstruction of posthumous Jesus traditions, I have attempted such a reconstruction found at Ed Jones Dialogue – Vridar. 

      

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

    Mike, 

    I’m starting to think that even giving mythicism a name is a mistake, since it gives the illusion that mythicisim has some kind of intellectual currency or offers a coherent alternative theory to explain Christian origins that could reasonably be considered alongside the mainstream view.

    From everything I’ve read on this blog and elsewhere over recent weeks, I’ve noticed a consistent pattern in the way “mythicists” engage in the debate. They jump about, trying to pick holes in the mainstream account, but while they might insinuate that this or that might have happened instead, they do not committ themselves to any one alternative explanation for Christian origins, so discussing the merits of such alternatives or the evidence for them is impossible. In fact, in one instance I remember one crypto-”mythicist” actually refusing to offer an alternative theory when directly asked to do so!

    So the more I think about it the more I think that there is no single theory we could identify as mythicism. Instead I would say it’s more accurate to think of a broader melange of sometimes contradictory ideas about Christian origins – we could call them  deliberatefraudism, midrashism, reworkingofgreekmythism, folklorogenesis, etc. They obviously share certain ideological features but they do not in any way form a coherent theory – I think it’s better to think of them as overlapping parts of a wider movement we could maybe call “Jesus denial”.

    So there we have it. Mythicism is itself a myth. Ironic that ;-)

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Paul, 

      Well said.  I think you’ve surveyed the situation and analyzed it fairly.  

    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

      Paul,

      That’s why I’m a historical Jesus agnostic.   Who knows what the hell happened?  Had it not been for belief in the resurrection, it is entirely possible that Jesus of Nazareth would have come and gone without leaving a trace in the historical record.   The gospels were written in order to propagate belief in the supernatural events that were thought to have occurred after Jesus was dead.  If we scrape away the supernatural stories about Alexander the Great, we still have a flesh and blood human being who had a significant impact on the prominent and literate people of his day.  If we scrape away the supernatural stories about Jesus, we scape away the primary reason that we have any record of him in the first place.   I think that poses problems for the case for the existence of Jesus that don’t exist when we consider the case for the existence of any other person in the ancient world. 

      • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

        VinnyJH,

        The reason that Jesus of Nazareth left tracks in the historical record is that a significant number of Jews believed that he fulfilled the promises in the Hebrew Scriptures for a Messiah.  Yes, there was a supernatural aspect to that narrative (most notably the resurrection) but it was belief in the fulfillment of Israel’s prophetic purpose that drove his notoriety.  

        Anti-supernaturalists obsess over their intellectual enemy (i.e. the supernatural) and miss this critical point.

        • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

          Mike,

          Had no one believed that Jesus had  been raised from the dead,  what record of Jesus’ existence do you think we would have today?

          • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

            Hardly any.  But what you’re missing is that it wasn’t the resurrection per se that accounts for Jesus’ notoriety.  It was that this resurrection was promised and described centuries in advance by the Hebrew Scriptures. 

            To put it a different way, if Jesus had been resurrected but this event had not been prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures I also think we’d have hardly any record of  his existence today.     

            Thus it is his resurrection as fulfillment of Scripture – not the resurrection as an independent miraculous event – that drives his relevance. 

            • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

              I’m not missing that Mike.  It is simply irrelevant to any point that I am making.

              • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                It’s irrelevant to the point you are wanting to make, but not to the point you’ve been attempting to make.

                • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                   And with that, another exchange with Mike Gantt has become tiresome and pointless.

  • Claude

    Mike, Earl Doherty has gone to great lengths to establish a mythicist case. However, his case is unpersuasive. Celestial crucifixion? Perhaps I simply can’t grasp the genius of his “elegant logic.”

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Claude,

      Nor can I.  Aside from the sheer absurdity of a “celestial crucifxion” there’d be the contradictory metaphor of Jesus having been raised from the dead – instead, Earl’s theory would have the Bible saying God lowered Jesus from the dead.

  • Brettongarcia

    Well, actually, Rev. 21 does in effect, have Jesus lowered from the dead; our ideal “kingdom” and God, descending from the clouds.
     
    Have we proposed a single model for Mythicism here?  Deliberately not.  Anyone who knows academic studies, knows that in academe normally, on any given question, there are typically DOZENS of different theories on what its all about. Those who are raised on The Appeal to Authority – be it religious, or otherwise – are far too fond of The Single Answer.   But it is in the very demand for The One Big Infallible Answer, where in fact ordinary laypersons differ from academics in general. The very indecision of mythicism in fact, speaks in its favor as an academic model:  like the latest theories in nuclear physics,  it is open to many different possibilities, and so therefore, can progress, adapt, as new evidence presents itself.
     
    Thank you Mr. Jones, for your excellent summary on recent scholarly opinions on Historical Jesus.
     
    I stick to my statement:  that most “Historicists” and defenders of the Faith in academic departments, are far more critical of all that, than people popularly think.  Take a quick look in fact, at Mr. Jones’ summary above.  Few of them are really upfront about this; though Dr. McGrath seems willing above, to speak rather critically about some traditional beliefs.
     
    Are mythicists at times irresponsible?  Popular mythicists might be; and in freewheeling discussion in blogs, many feel free to speculate more than usual.  But what about the more scholarly/professional mythicists, as they express themselves more formally, in the publications noted above?

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Brettongarcia,

      If, as you suggest, indecision is the glory of mythicism, its shine is not likely to be eclipsed by any other school of thought.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=746306326 Dave Burke

      Brettongarcia,

      >>
      Well, actually, Rev. 21 does in effect, have Jesus lowered from the
      dead
      >>

      Ah, ‘in effect’ – classic weasel words! But no, this simply isn’t true.

      Jesus is not lowered from anything in Revelation 21. He is briefly referred to as ‘the Lamb’ (verses 9, 14, 21-23, 26). Apart from that he does not feature at all. He is certainly not described as being ‘lowered from the dead’, not even ‘in effect’ (whatever THAT means).

      In any case, the whole point of Revelation is that Jesus is alive:

      –’Revelation 1:17-18
      When I saw him I fell down at his feet as though I were dead, but he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid! I am the first and the last,
      and the one who lives! I was dead, but look, now I am alive – forever and ever – and I hold the keys of death and of Hades!’

      Note: ‘I am alive.’ It never hurts to pick up on these little clues.

  • Claude

    Brettongarcia,

    I know many academics, and your assertions are not confirmed by my experience. The One Big Infallible Answer? On the contrary, the professors I know (friends, actually) are intellectually dynamic, receptive to new ideas, generous and collegial. They do not get where they are by being doctrinaire and ideologically hidebound.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

    BG – you miss my point.

    I’m not saying that there cannot be more than one theory. Within biblical criticism or the sociology of religion say, there are a range of methods and approaches. I might think that some are better or more useful than others, but I accept they all have a certain logic and coherence, even the ones I fundamentally disagree with (e.g. Marxism)

    Surely though, you’ll agree that a good theory has to at least be internally coherent? It has to make sense of the evidence in a consistent way? It might not be perfect or neatly wrap up every last loose end but surely someone who claims to subscribe to a given theory has to be able to say at some point “Right, given all the evidence, I think the best explanation is this…”? That Jesus deniers consistently seem unwilling or unable to do this is not a strength BG, it’s a major weakness.

    Pouring scorn on the the existence of Jesus tells us that Jesus deniers share a mutual dislike of somebody else’s theory. It doesn’t automatically mean they have a theory of their own. 

    Still, in folklorogenesis I think I’ve at least come up with quite a cool sounding name. I think I might set myself up with a blog and a self-published  folklorogenesist book. But at least I’ll be consistent – no glowing Amazon reviews of the work of rival schools of Jesus denial. Deliberatefraudists and mistakingfictionforfactites, I hate the lot of them. Splitters ;-)

  • Brettongarcia

    Gantt?  Bible-based tradition says that one day or another, Christ and/or God, are supposed to come down from the spiritual Heaven.  To this physical, material earth.  In especially the Second Coming.

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Brettongarcia,

      Yes, indeed, Christ comes down from heaven.  But that’s only because, as the New Testament makes clear, he was first crucified on earth and then raised from the dead to heaven.  

      No one is able to focus on one verse of the New Testament while simultaneously ignoring a host of others quite like a mythicist.

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

         Mike, you say we cannot focus on one verse “of the New Testament while simultaneously ignoring a host of others”. Pardon me for barging in to a conversation not my own, but on what grounds do you imply, as you apparently do, that all the NT books somehow come from the same mind or authorial understanding of a singular set of events?

        Why and through what historical process should one NT book (e.g. a gospel) be thought in any way at all to be related to another (e.g. Revelation) in the sense that they are all talking about a singular event or person?

        • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

          Neil,

          You are inferring something I did not imply.  

          What connects the various writings we call the New Testament, if nothing else, is their common protagonist: Jesus Christ.  Even unbelievers recognize this.  Repeatedly and consistently, the documents portray Jesus of Nazareth as having been raised from the dead – which was the point Brettongarcia was ignoring in his insistence on a “celestial crucifixion.”  

          Whether the various NT documents come from one mind or more is not relevant to the point.  Their consistency of portrayal (i.e. a dead person being raised) is something that can be observed in the reading without knowing anything about authorship.

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

            I don’t understand. What did I infer that you did not imply?

            • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

              Go back to your comment and find where you wrote “…on what grounds do you imply, as you apparently do…” and then read what you wrote after that.

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

                 Sorry Mike, but you have to understand that the blog owner here has declared me mentally insane. Can you tell a mad man what he is supposed to understand?

                Can you explain why I should think that different books of unknown authorship, provenance, date, etc are all addressing the same topic from the same perspective?

                • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                  I made no claims about the NT documents’ provenance, etc.  I merely said that they consistently portrayed Jesus as having been raised from the dead – a point inconsistent with a mythical Jesus in general and with a celestial crucifixion in particular.

                  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                    It may be inconsistent with celestial crucifixion, but it is perfectly consistent with a mythical Jesus since we have no reason to think that real people ever come back from the dead like Jesus is supposed to have done.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      At least you have admitted what Brettongarcia wouldn’t.  

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

                     

                    I made no claims about the NT documents’ provenance, etc.  I merely said
                    that they consistently portrayed Jesus as having been raised from the
                    dead – a point inconsistent with a mythical Jesus in general and with a
                    celestial crucifixion in particular.

                    Provenance is all important. You simply have no way to interpret a document unless you know certain things about it such as its provenance and how it compares with other literature.

                    But I would think that any set of stories that consistently speak of a person rising from the dead must a priori be mythical.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      I think provenance of a document is very important to understanding it.  However, the point I was making to Brettongarcia doesn’t require it because I was only stating that “raised from the dead” and now “lowered from the dead” was the common idiom found in the New Testament documents regarding Jesus afterlife experience.  That can’t be disproved no matter what conclusions you draw about the documents’ provenance.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=746306326 Dave Burke

    Vinny,

    >>
    Had it not been for belief in the resurrection, it is entirely possible
    that Jesus of Nazareth would have come and gone without leaving a trace
    in the historical record.
    >>

    True, and yet we find him mentioned by at least one historian who seems to have no knowledge of the resurrection story (Josephus).

    >>
    The gospels were written in order to propagate belief in the
    supernatural events that were thought to have occurred after Jesus was
    dead.
    >>

    If that is the case, why do they start with Jesus’ biography and spend most of their time describing the teachings he passed on while was alive? The gospels hardly ever mention supernatural events thought to have occurred after Jesus was dead. They are more interested in showing that he fulfilled OT Messianic prophecies and taught a form of post-Judaism in which the Law of Moses was no longer required.

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

      The gospels hardly ever mention supernatural events thought to have occurred after Jesus was dead.

      Hardly any . . . except for the resurrection, the walking through walls, the angels appearing and rolling stones away, angels talking to people, a miraculous catch of fish, being able to hide one’s identity while talking to people, disappearing into thin air, zipping up to heaven and back again in an hour or so, ascending to heaven, reading peoples minds and hearts, . . . hardly any. . . .

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=746306326 Dave Burke

        Neil,

        >>
        Hardly any . . . except for the resurrection, the walking through walls,
        the angels appearing and rolling stones away, dead coming out of their
        graves, angels talking to people, a miraculous catch of fish, being able
        to hide one’s identity while talking to people, disappearing into thin
        air, zipping up to heaven and back again in an hour or so, ascending to
        heaven, reading peoples minds and hearts (a miraculous power possessed
        by many on this blog, I notice), . . . hardly any. . . .
        >>

        Leaving aside the fact that you’ve cherry-picked my post without addressing the main point, it’s obvious that the list you’ve presented here has been culled from all four gospels, and even then it’s still not very long.

        To summarise:

        * temple veil ripped from top to bottom
        * earthquake
        * appearance of angel
        * resurrection
        * Jesus concealing his identity
        * Jesus vanishing
        * Jesus reappearing
        * Miraculous catch of fish
        * Jesus’ ascension

        That’s a 9 events in total, which is not very many.

        The number actually shrinks when we examine each gospel separately: gMatthew only mentions 5 of these events, gLuke mentions 7, gMark mentions 3, and gJohn mentions 4. That’s hardly any!

        So it seems quite ridiculous to claim that the gospels were written ‘in order to propagate belief in the supernatural events that were thought to have occurred after Jesus was dead.’

        If that was the intention, why do the gospels start with Jesus’ biography and spend most of their time describing the teachings he passed on while was alive, why is the list of post-death supernatural events so short, and why are most of these events omitted by most of the gospels?

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

           Are you saying the gospels were not written to propagate belief that Jesus was resurrected?

    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

      Dave,

      Are you saying that you think that the gospels would have written even if his followers had never come to believe that he had been raised from the dead?  Do you think that the passage in Josephus would be there is Christians had never come to believe in the resurrection? 

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=746306326 Dave Burke

        Vinny,

        >>
        Are you saying that you think that the gospels would have written even
        if his followers had never come to believe that he had been raised from
        the dead?
        >>

        Yes. In fact that’s exactly what gMark tells us. It ends with Jesus’ followers hiding in fear, refusing to believe the message of resurrection delivered by an angel in verse 6. This gospel was obviously so problematic to later Christians that they felt compelled to write a happier, ‘director’s cut’ edition!

        >>
        Do you think that the passage in Josephus would be there is
        Christians had never come to believe in the resurrection?
        >>

        Yes. After all, Josephus recorded the details of eight different prophets and messianic claimants whose short-lived movements collapsed after their death. Jesus would have been just another failed prophet on the list.

        You still haven’t addressed the fact that Josephus considered Jesus sufficiently significant to mention even without any knowledge of his alleged resurrection.

        • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

          Dave,

          How can gMark, which clearly indicates that its author believed Jesus had been raised from the dead, constitute evidence that its author would have written it even if Jesus hadn’t been raised from he dead?

          I think Josephus mentions Jesus because there were a group of people around who at the time he was writing who claimed to be his followers.  Had there not been a belief in the resurrection, that group would not have existed sixty years after Jesus’ death and Jesus’ existence never would have come to the attention of Josephus.   I don’t think that we can infer that Jesus did or did not have any knowledge that the resurrection was one of that group’s beliefs.

        • beallen0417

          Dave Burke:

          “You still haven’t addressed the fact that Josephus considered Jesus sufficiently significant to mention even without any knowledge of his alleged resurrection.”

          Josephus:

          Antiquities 18.3.3. “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct to this day.”

          According to Dave, Josephus doesn’t even say what Josephus says …

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

            Dave Burke: 

            “True, and yet we find him mentioned by at least one historian who seems to have no knowledge of the resurrection story (Josephus). ”

            I’m sure he can speak for himself, but I took Dave’s original comment to mean that Dave considers the reference to the resurrection in Josephus as an interpolation into a an original passage that mentioned Jesus, but not the resurrection. 

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

    For the record, for what it’s worth, the reason I have never thought of myself as a mythicist is because my interest is not in advocating mythicism per se. My personal interest is in understanding Christian origins. No-one can say exactly what happened “at the beginning” or even for certain that there was “a single beginning”. We simply don’t have the data we need.

    If the evidence is best explained by a historical person or persons then so be it. If it’s not, then let’s see why and evaluate the arguments. Whether there was a historical Jesus is neither here nor there when we start our historical enquiry.

    The historical enquiry must start with the evidence and then seek to understand how or what light it sheds on the question of Christian origins.

    If the enquiry leads to a historical Jesus then that’s fine. No problem.

    But that’s not the way so many seem to approach the question. Many begin with the certainty that there was a historical Jesus. They are so convicted even simply by a manuscript dating from 300 years after the supposed Jesus with a single phrase that looks for all the world like it could have been a gloss when one balances its information against all the other evidence we have on the question (Gospels, Acts, Epistles, early fathers, its apparent absence from Marcion’s and Tertullian’s texts, the culture of ancient interpolations) — that is the sort of evidence that only the true-believer will stake his life on.

    What’s all this anti-Christian agenda stuff? Who cares? I don’t give a hoot about Christianity and if I wanted to attack Christianity (and there are some practices and beliefs I do attack) the last thing I would be bothered with would be the existence of Jesus. Hell, that would be stupid — what if one day evidence turns up that I was wrong and Jesus really did exist? So that’s not what I’m going to do if I want to attack Christianity.

    One side of the debate is open to discussion. But look here at all the insults and declarations of insanity and attacks on motives and hostile point-scoring that prevail here in place of genuine and open discussion.

    P.S. Just because we can’t explain HOW something happened in detail does not mean we have a valid reason for rejecting that something happened. For those who like to draw detective analogies, you don’t need to know how a murder happened or by whom to know that someone was done away with.

    Evolutionists can debate how evolution happened but that doesn’t mean evolution is not true.

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Neil, 

      There have been several good-faith requests made for a succinct hypothesis from mythicists about how a mythical Jesus became historical.  Until you respond to this, your pleas for “open discussion” ring hollow.

      You desperately want a seat at the academic table for mythicism.  If you craved truth more than you craved respectability, a seat at James’ table wouldn’t matter so much to you.  

      If it’s Christian origins you want to understand, consider starting your investigation with Christ.  He was the murder victim.  There’s not much dispute about whodunit; the real question is what happened to the body.  A detective who shows up telling everyone there was no body, instead of asking questions about what could have happened to the body, is not much of a detective.

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

        Hi Mike. Do we live on the same planet? Where on earth did you get the idea that I “desperately want a seat at the academic table for mythicism”? There is no such academic table and I’m not an academic. What planet are you from?

        As for everything else in your post, I invite you to read again my introduction and conclusions.

        No, we don’t start with “Christ”. We start with the evidence. That is, we start with the Gospels, both canonical and non-canonical, and letters, both canonical and non-canonical, and the earliest church fathers.

        Now, how do we get from that table of data to understanding the origins of Christianity?

        Did you read my point about evolution not being understood. But that does not mean evolution is not true. Did you read that? Tell me?

        • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

          Neil, you said

          “Where on earth did you get the idea that I ‘desperately want a seat at the academic table for mythicism’?”

          To start with, from your repeated whining to James that he won’t answer your questions.

          “No, we don’t start with “Christ”. We start with the evidence.”

          This is a false dichotomy.  The detective doesn’t start with the evidence as something unrelated to the victim; rather, he starts with the evidence about the victim.  

          Yes, I read what you have written and I have re-read it.  I know that you think you are being logical but you must have blind spots because you take illogical leaps in your arguments that seem to escape your notice.

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

            Sorry, Mike, but silly me thought this was a blog discussion. I was asking James McGrath as the Chair of this and that for his answers on a blog. A BLOG. I have never sought his attention in any other venue. So where does your “desperately wanting a seat at the academic table” come from?

            False dichotomy? The detective starts with what she has. What do we have? We have the documents. Sorry, but we don’t have the body of Christ here to examine. The evidence we have is the NT. Anything else you’d like to draw our attention to? A body somewhere perhaps? A vision we can all see in the sky?

            As for your last paragraph, you will be more likely to persuade me if you can identify the specific logical leaps that you can see escape my notice. I hate logical leaps so I can assure you I will take special note of those you point out to me.

             

            • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

              Many blog owners would ban you.  James at least lets you make your arguments here.  

              Now, if you’d only make one.

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

             

            “No, we don’t start with “Christ”. We start with the evidence.”

            This is a false dichotomy.  The detective doesn’t start with the
            evidence as something unrelated to the victim; rather, he starts with
            the evidence about the victim. 

            Mike, this is where our faith gets in the way of clear reasoning.

            We do not have “a victim”. We have a story about a victim. It is the story that is the evidence. We cannot assume that the story is true. It is just a story. That is what I mean by us having only evidence, not Christ plus evidence. 

            Now if on studying this evidence and comparing it with other things in the real world I decide that the best explanation for this story is that it is about true events that really happened, then fine.

            But I can’t begin with that assumption. That’s where we part company. You begin with the assumption that it is a true story or based on a true story. Of course you have your reasons, but I tend to think many of them are really based on what you read in the story itself. That’s circularity. We can’t begin with the assumption that any of it is historical. And that’s not being hypersceptical. It’s simply being objective about it and trying to understand the best explanation for all this evidence. That’s all.

            • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

              If you don’t like the word “victim,” substitute the word “protagonist” or “centerpiece.”  My point was that it’s evidence about that centerpiece that matters.

              Before I came to believe in the story, I did not believe in the story.  Therefore, your view that I “assumed it to be true” does not square with my own history (if I’m allowed to be historical).  

              I changed from agnosticism to faith because, in reviewing the evidence, I concluded that the best explanation for the evidence was that those who wrote the New Testament documents were telling the truth.  That is, given the evidence, it was harder for me to believe that they were lying, or that they were the victims of liars, than it was to believe that they were conveying truth.  

              It’s just that simple.  

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

                 Mike, thanks for the testimonial. But a testimonial is not a basis for a historical or literary analysis of the literary evidence.

                • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                  Neil, it was you who first gave my testimonial (“You begin with the assumption that it is a true story or based on a true story.”).  I was just correcting it.

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

                     Yes, Mike. You were correcting nothing but only confirming what I said. I have no doubt there was once a time you wondered about the scriptures and then there came a time you felt persuaded by them. What I said was that you are bringing to this discussion your belief that they are true stories or based on such. You didn’t need to give my your history. I am talking about the perspectives we bring to the discussion. You come as a believer but I come as an inquirer interesting in analysing the documents. You have already done that to your satisfaction and will not be satisfied till I see things your way. (Or will you quibble here again and say you want me to see things God’s way or the truth’s way and not “your” way?)

                    Either way, that’s not how open minded exploratory discussion happens.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Neil, you seem to be suggesting that you are coming to this discussion with an open mind wanting to explore the historicity, or lack thereof, of Jesus.  I don’t know how to square that with your strident advocacy for mythicism, your discounting the reliability of the New Testament documents, and your declared resistance to the plausibility of resurrection.

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

                       Well then, Mike, you should read what I write. I have explained why — the logical and methodological reasons — we cannot bring to the Gospels a presumption of historicity to their narratives. It’s not an unreasonable position at all. I’m quite open to being found wrong because my method is falsifiable. No, I’m not going to repeat it all here again. It is written up many, many times on my blog and in other discussions and if you haven’t got it by now you never will.

                      But I have pointed out endless times my methodological approach is nothing different from what historians follow, and is exactly the one recommended in books recommended by McGrath himself. (He should read them some time.) It does not by any means shut the door on the possibility of the existence of Jesus. But you only read what you want to read and select bits you want to use as anchors to advance your faith.

                      Strident advocacy? I have just posted twice exactly where I am coming from but not even God could get through to you through an ass, I fear. You simply ignore whatever I have said and do say and have argued and continue in your own merry preconceptions, never fazed a bit that the evidence doesn’t fit.

                      Why would I stridently advocate any position when I believe that all conclusions must be tentative and open to revision?

                      Declared resistance to the plausibility of resurrection? Certainly. What’s wrong with that? Why should I abandon philosophical naturalism? http://vridar.wordpress.com/2012/04/26/why-philosophical-naturalism-wins/

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Neil, if you don’t want to abandon philosophical naturalism, then don’t.  But, that being the case, neither should you portray yourself as coming to the New Testament texts with an open mind.  

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                       Mike,

                      Of course it’s not philosophical naturalism, it’s methodological naturalism, and we can’t abandon it without abandoning the practice of historical inquiry. 

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      A historical methodology that acknowledges limitations in verifying supernatural events is one thing.  A historical methodology that states in advance that supernatural events cannot take place is not worthy of the name. 

          • Grog

            @mdgantt:disqus  “This is a false dichotomy. The detective doesn’t start with the evidence as something unrelated to the victim; rather, he starts with the evidence about the victim. ”

            The detective typically starts with a body and a scene. In the Jesus myth, there is neither.

            • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

              We have no evidence of a Jesus myth.  We only have evidence of a real Jesus.  And in this case the body was up and moving around.

  • Paul R

    “Evolutionists can debate how evolution happened but that doesn’t mean evolution is not true.”

    Yep, but I suspect that most evolutionists would not jump between Darwinian and Lamarckian theories in the space of a couple of blog comments.

    I like your dead body analogy though:

    Jesus deniers are like the amateur sleuths who find a dead body with a knife stuck in it’s back and a message daubed in blood next to it saying “that’s for cheating on me you pig”, and who come up with a variety of unsubstantiated theories to show that it *might* have been suicide. ;-)

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

       Paul, are you the same Paul who is a religious instruction teacher and/or the same who has responded to my other comments here?

      Would you care to climb down a notch or two and attempt to defend your analagy point by point with any specific mythicist argument? Or have you been on McGrath’s blog so long that you have come to think that evidential support for any claim is an unnecessary luxury?

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

        Hey Neil, yes it is the same Paul.

        I hate to sound pedantic, but you erroneously describe me as a Religious Instruction teacher, when in fact I am a Religious *Studies* teacher. As I’m sure you know, Religious Studies is the secular, multi-disciplinary study of religion, whereas Religious Instruction is essentially catechetical – inducting students into particular religious group. As I have never actively belonged to any religious group, I would not be qualified (or have any desire) to be a teacher of Religious Instruction.

        In a normal context, I wouldn’t be remotely bothered if somebody got my job title slightly wrong, I’m not precious about such things. But I just thought I’d clarify for two reasons: Fisrtly, Jesus deniers seem to get very uptight when people make seemingly trivial mistakes about a person’s credentials (witness the Classics vs Ancient History kerfuffle), so it seems only fair to request that Jesus deniers exhibit the same care that they demand of others. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I wouldn’t want you (or anyone else) to think that my attitude towards Jesus denial stems from my desire to defend a particular faith position. It does not because I have none. 

        Anyhow… asking me to defend my analogy “point by point” seems patently bizarre, as I was simply extending an analogy that you yourself made no attempt to explain or defend “point by point”. Nor would I demand that you do: an analogy is simply a comparison between two things – whether it is effective or not is up to the reader.

        PS: I know you say above that you don’t think of yourself as a Jesus denier, so for “Jesus denier” above, please read “crypto Jesus denier” as necessary. 

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

           Paul, you are simply being antagonistic and derogatory. Is an honest discussion about a totally new idea so difficult for you that you can only stoop to this sort of response?

          So you are not interested in addressing me at all. How would you like it if I took the words of McGrath and Craig and Holding and others out of context or otherwise and imputed them to you because you also are a historicist?

          But that’s the sort of nonsense you are doing.

          I am not a Jesus denier. I explained exactly what my position is on the question. But your bigotry won’t let you accept what I say unless it conforms to your prejudice. 

          I wrote exactly where I was coming from:—

          For the record, for what it’s worth, the reason I have never thought of myself as a mythicist is because my interest is not in advocating mythicism per se. My personal interest is in understanding Christian origins. No-one can say exactly what happened “at the beginning” or even for certain that there was “a single beginning”. We simply don’t have the data we need.

          If the evidence is best explained by a historical person or persons then so be it. If it’s not, then let’s see why and evaluate the arguments. Whether there was a historical Jesus is neither here nor there when we start our historical enquiry.

          The historical enquiry must start with the evidence and then seek to understand how or what light it sheds on the question of Christian origins.

          If the enquiry leads to a historical Jesus then that’s fine. No problem.

          But that’s not the way so many seem to approach the question. Many begin with the certainty that there was a historical Jesus. They are so convicted even simply by a manuscript dating from 300 years after the supposed Jesus with a single phrase that looks for all the world like it could have been a gloss when one balances its information against all the other evidence we have on the question (Gospels, Acts, Epistles, early fathers, its apparent absence from Marcion’s and Tertullian’s texts, the culture of ancient interpolations) — that is the sort of evidence that only the true-believer will stake his life on.

          What’s all this anti-Christian agenda stuff? Who cares? I don’t give a hoot about Christianity and if I wanted to attack Christianity (and there are some practices and beliefs I do attack) the last thing I would be bothered with would be the existence of Jesus. Hell, that would be stupid — what if one day evidence turns up that I was wrong and Jesus really did exist? So that’s not what I’m going to do if I want to attack Christianity.

          One side of the debate is open to discussion. But look here at all the insults and declarations of insanity and attacks on motives and hostile point-scoring that prevail here in place of genuine and open discussion.

          P.S. Just because we can’t explain HOW something happened in detail does not mean we have a valid reason for rejecting that something happened. For those who like to draw detective analogies, you don’t need to know how a murder happened or by whom to know that someone was done away with.

          Evolutionists can debate how evolution happened but that doesn’t mean evolution is not true.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

            Hi Neil,

            Jesus denial is *not* a totally new idea. It is a rather old idea that happens to have been dusted down and wheeled out again because it serves a particular ideological agenda. I first encountered (and rejected) it at University nearly 20 years ago. On another thread, a Jesus denier refered me to a Jesus denial text that was 90 years old. Heck, the *very first* lesson I teach on Jesus to my year 7 students (11/12 years old) is specifically on the topic of whether Jesus is a figure of myth, fiction or history! Jesus denial is neither as new nor as shocking for a cynical old agnostic like me as you seem to believe it is. 

            But I’m quite happy to debate and engage with anybody who shares my interest in Christian origins. In fact you and I were engaged on a debate about just this on another thread just a few days ago…

            Just to remind you, I set out a number of reasons why I found a historical Jesus the best available hypothesis to account for Christian origins. As part of this I wondered whether e.g. Muhammad, the Bab, Baha’u'llah, Guru Nanak, and Haile Selasse offered a good model to help us understand the orgins of Christianity – i.e. a person who had a historical existence who had miraculous and/or theogical claims attached to them. If so, this would mean that Christianity would simply be one example of a fairly common process by which new religions develop. 

            Your objections to such a hypothesis were that:

            [blockquote]The Jesus model has to explain why one crucified as a criminal came and who attracted only a very small following in his own day came to be worshiped very quickly after his death as the creator of the universe within a Jewish context — with Jews symbolically eating his flesh.[/blockquote]

            I came up with some responses to your objections, which I summarise below (with a few extra thoughts) below:

            1) You had said previously that “mythicists” (I wasn’t calling them Jesus deniers then) did not allow Christian theological claims about Jesus to interfere with their unbiased assessment of his historicity, which is exactly what you seemed to be doing. 

            2) In any case, Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection offers an good explanation for Christian claims about Jesus’ person – Christians agreed that *something* had happened to Jesus after he died, and Christology develops as Christians struggle with the problem of what, exactly, that meant. I would say that viewed as a whole, the NT documents offer a us a good insight of how early Christians variously resolved this problem, (though of course, the NT documents do not express the totality of Christian thought about Jesus). I think I also pointed out that you painted a rather simplistic picture of the development of Christological thought.

            3) I also pointed out that the Bab was executed as a criminal, and he is still an important religious figure for Baha’is and Azalis, so your point about Jesus being executed seemed not only irrelevant, but also invalid. 

            I don’t remember you responding to any of these points, which was disappointing as I thought we were just starting to get somewhere interesting, but I wondered if you’d had chance to think them through or could offer me a better alternative?

            PS: You also said something to the effect that Muhammad might have been a myth, but since you haven’t answered my request for the names of mainstream scholars of Islam who consider this to be a serious possibility I’m going to let Muhammad keep his place in the space-time continuum for now.

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

               Well, Paul, we have no grounds for a cordial discussion if, in the face of what I have explained to you about my position, you continue to refer to me as “a Jesus denier”.

              As for your supposed counter points you are doing nothing different from Mike Gantt. You are coming at the whole story as if it were a news report of real events. A priori.

              I tire of going around in circles, sorry, so you’ll have to keep running around without me.

              • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                Neil,

                I’m beginning to think that mythicists cannot tell their friends from their enemies.  Bart Ehrman – publishing phenom that he is – writes a book that guarantees mythicism a hearing it would not otherwise receive…and you excoriate his academic practices.  Why not just disagree with his conclusion and mount a substantive case against it?  By attacking his professional competency, you diminish whatever shine he was giving your argument with his attention.

                James McGrath, who appears as much a foe of evangelicalism as Bart, let’s you vamp to your heart’s content on his much-visited blog…and rather than making your case, you carp about his manners.  Your wasting precious air time for your point of view.

                Now here’s Paul Regnier, who like Bart and James, would probably find himself in agreement with you on more points than he would me offers you an olive branch and asks you to join him in some bridge-building…and you bark at him like a grumpy dog at a neighborhood stranger.  He’s looking for a good way to fit you into his taxonomy that he teaches 7th graders, for crying out loud!

                I take no offense whatsoever at the treatment you give me when I see how you treat people much closer to you on the belief-skepticism continuum.

                • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                  Mike, if I find myself getting too close to Neil on the belief-skepticism continuum, I think I’ll become an evangelical just on principle!

                  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                    Paul, my hope is not that you would become an evangelical but that you would personally relate to Jesus Christ.  You don’t have to join or identify with any group in order to do that.

              • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                Neil, if you had taken the trouble to read my post carefully, you will see that I did not call you a Jesus denier. I may have called “mythicists” Jesus deniers, but actually I used neither term to refer to you. 

                There is nothing whatever in any of my posts that suggests that I view the New Testament as equivalent to a news report. That’s simply a bizarre comment to make. 

                There is also nothing remotely a priori in my suggestion that we explore similarities with other religions that had historical founders. Drawing comparisons with other known religions must clearly constitute an a posteriori argument. I begin to wonder if you even know the meaning of the philosophical terms you fling about? 

                If you are not interested in (or capable of) engaging in a serious debate relating to the wider the field of religion then that’s fine with me. 

                Cheery bye.

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

                  Paul, Paul. In your earlier post you did include me among your Jesus deniers and in your second post you explained what you meant by the term without explicitly calling me a Jesus denier. Sorry if I failed to notice that you have come to accept where I am coming from as I explained twice to you.

                  My comparison with “news report” was a reference to the assumption of historicity underlying the narratives in the gospels. That is the point I have been addressing forever and ever and rather than address it you latch on to my choice of a metaphor. Whether Christianity is comparable to religions having historical founders is the question under discussion. You can’t beg the question by assuming that’s how it was before we start the analysis of the evidence and figure out if we can take any of it as historical.

  • Brettongarcia

    Mike:

    There are many different accounts, in the many books of the Bible, of rather significantly different views of death and resurrection.  From bones coming together literally, in the desert, to our “spirit” floating up into heaven.  I suggest that the attempt that best reconciles these various accounts, is roughly the Second Coming model.  Which shows that the spirits that went up into the celestial realm – heaven – come back down to earth one day it seems.

    Though Neil eschews any fully academic ambitions here, I find him a quite competent and intellectual blogger, on these subjects.  And in this case specifically, he is quite right to hint that there are many different accounts of things in the Bible; in this case, many different views of death and resurrection.  While the key one does indeed seem to involve our spirit going up to a celestial realm; Heaven.

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

       Yes Brettongarcia. My own view specifically is that the NT epistles — nor even Revelation — speak of a “second coming”. None of them knows of a prior advent. They all speak of a coming as if it were the first and only.

      • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

        Neil,  you said


        My own view specifically is that the NT epistles — nor even Revelation — speak of a “second coming”. None of them knows of a prior advent. They all speak of a coming as if it were the first and only. ”
        This is an example of your being completely wrong about something in spite of your intelligence and education.  There are skeptics of Jesus all over the world – forget about believers for the moment – who simply have to part company with you when you say something so outlandish.  Only people who have not read the New Testament could be persuaded by you on this point.This is one of those “illogical leaps” you take.  And this one is huge.

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

          Mike, just saying I’m wrong is not an argument. Where, for example in any of the N.T. epistles, do we read about a “second” coming of Jesus? From what I recall the epistles only speak of the day of the coming of the Lord.

          Most people assume the epistles are referring to a second coming, but this is an interpretation that is necessitated as a result of reading the Gospels into the epistles. It is not what the epistles themselves say.

      • Gakuseidon

        Neil, doesn’t Gal 3:19 suggest that Christ has already been? It is:

        Gal 3:19 Wherefore then [serveth] the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come [erchomai] to whom the promise was made.

        Doherty writes:
        http://jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/siltop20.htm

        “Another
        common mode of expression is the use of the verb “to come”
        (erchomai). Greek has no specific word for “return” in the
        sense of coming back to a place one has visited or been at before.
        The word erchomai is a basic verb of motion and can mean to come, or
        to go, or to pass; a specific meaning, which can include “return,”
        is conveyed by adjuncts or the context.”

        Paul arguably believes that the seed HAD come already. So when he writes
        about Jesus coming in the future, doesn’t the context necessarily suggest a return?

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Brettongarcia,

      We were talking about Jesus’ resurrection and now you’re throwing in a vision from the Old Testament and a New Testament allusion to an experience for believers.  Yes, if you bring in extraneous examples you will muddle your view of the clarity of the position that NT witnesses gave regarding the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

      As for Neil, he has nothing to prove to me academically.  I consider him both more intelligent than I am and more educated than I am.  This does not mean, however, that he is incapable of being wrong or misguided on a subject.  

  • Brettongarcia

    Neil Godfrey:

    I think you have got something here, as usual.

    In fact?  I’d like to strongly reinforce my endorsement of you:  in my experience you seem usually, 1) much better-informed about the Bible that almost any of your opponents.  And with that, 2) added to your own independent but solid study of religion/Religious; and 3) all in combination with your solid understanding of key ideas of mythogenesis?  It’s clear to me you are quite competent to take on PhD’s, even PhD’s in Religion, and make the better case. 

    Can someone without a PhD in religion, make useful contributions here?  Of course.  Jesus was the humble son of a humble carpenter.  And?  Many of us here in fact, don’t have our PhD’s in religion/Christianity specifically.  But we often know a great deal about religion; and especially though, many of us bring other interdisciplinary perspectives on the subject.  Like Dr. Carrier for example; trained in Ancient History/Classics.  Which enables him to see the Greek and Roman content of early Christianity, that a more conventional scholar would not see.

    In fact if anything, part of the problem on this particular blog,  the problem that Mythicists are having with conservative religious PhD’s in religion, is that religiously-trained folks, just don’t quite see or hear, all the competent information about Myths, mythogenesis, that others are presenting. 

    Specifically?  And in answer to those who came in late, and who therefore constantly complain here (Mike), that we have not presented a single, coherent outline of Mythic influence in Christianity?  Look back over my and other’s recent comments, in the Carrier/Ehrman case, in which most of you just participated (“Carrier and other Mythicists Respond” etc.); then more comments on ”James the Brother of Jesus,” etc..  

    Look there … and you’ll see a long, extended and detailed defense of a particularly important kind of Mythic content in Christianity.  Outlinging the classic finding that Christianity is built up largely (/wholly?) of myths - but particularly, Greco-Roman ideas/ myths. Including Greek influenced writings in Paul, evidencing Platonism.  Particularly, Paul quoting Plato’s Theory of Forms.

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Brettongarcia,

      If the only reason I don’t know the core of the mythicist argument is because I’ve come in late and missed its previous expressions, what’s wrong with using your cut-and-paste function to repeat it?  

      Do Neil and you have insufficient RAM for Windows clipboard to allow the transfer?

      How many words should it take to summarize your explanation for how a mythical Jesus came to be regarded as historical?

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

       Brettongarcia – fortunately there are other blogs and discussion boards and groups where one can engage in mostly reasonable and informed discussion about mythicism and challenges to it, etc. — and that are more reasonably moderated so that insults and preaching are kept out of the arena.

      • Just Sayin’

        “fortunately there are other blogs and discussion boards and groups where one can engage in mostly reasonable and informed discussion about mythicism and challenges to it, etc. — and that are more reasonably moderated so that insults and preaching are kept out of the arena.”

        Then why don’t you clear off to them?

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

          dear unsettled j: ’tis not the well who need healing . . . ;-)

      • Just Sayin’

        “Brettongarcia – fortunately there are other blogs and discussion boards and groups where one can engage in mostly reasonable and informed discussion about mythicism and challenges to it, etc. — and that are more reasonably moderated so that insults and preaching are kept out of the arena.”

        Then why don’t you go there????????????  You obviously prefer to whine and play the victim here. 

  • Claude

    My own view specifically is that the NT epistles — nor even Revelation — speak of a “second coming”. None of them knows of a prior advent. They all speak of a coming as if it were the first and only.

    This view comes from Doherty, and even I know it’s BS. So the argument is since there’s no mention of a “second coming” Jesus never existed. Paul doesn’t mention the cha cha, either; that must mean Jesus never existed.

    Even so, “First fruits” in 1Cor. 15:20 implies a debut appearance. Paul even mentions Jesus’s “burial” in 1Cor. 15:3-7. Doherty draws on Galatians 1:11-12 and a particular interpretation of the Greek verb paralambano to argue that Paul must have received this information (and further, Jesus’s utterances at the Last Supper) from revelation, therefore Jesus’s death and burial couldn’t have transpired on earth. At least this view bails out Doherty from having to explain how “burial” proceeds in the celestial realm, or why a historical event couldn’t have been communicated through revelation. Doherty complains that although most scholars interpret Paul to mean he is passing on an inherited tradition, because of Doherty’s preferred meaning of the verb paralambano and his isolation of Paul’s words from every other instance where Paul mentions the crucifixion, we “ought” to realize that Jesus’s death and burial are not historical.

    Right.

  • Brettongarcia

    Likely, it was the belief that Jesus could give us big miracles – like resurrection – if we followed him, that initially attracted people to him.  Indeed, most Christians put the resurrection as their man, core belief, to this very day.

    So Christianity caught on?  Because it promised you supernatural powers if you followed it.  If we take them out of the equation?  Then the whole thing collapses.

    1) Did reportage of miracles go down after Jesus died?  I don’t find the reportage of post-death miracles, all that tiny. 

    But even if we accept your premise that it is significant?  Then 2) Post-death miracles were reported less … because by that time, people were starting to wise up.  And didn’t believe the reports as much. 

    Related to this, 3) it was not quite so necessary TO believe them; because they were no longer reported as acts of Jesus himself, and therefore indisputable dogma that could not be questioned.

    Then too?  4) The gospels, per se, were reporting on the life of Jesus; when he died, the story ends quickly.

    But in any case?  5) Many miracles having been reported in the gospels, and 6) many more in church traditions outside them; and indeed 7) New Mexico reporting a face of Jesus in a flour tortilla every ten years or so? 

    There’s no doubt that supernaturalism is one of /the major reason for CHristianity’s success.

    And if that promise of supernatural powers, was false?  Then CHristianity – or at least the believer believing in the miracle -working Christ – was largely, simply, following a false CHrist.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=746306326 Dave Burke

      Brettongarcia,

      The popularity of Christianity was driven by its superior social ethic.
      Pagans were attracted to Christianity because it offered a good way of
      life in the here and now, with demonstrable benefits for themselves and
      others. This was openly admitted by opponents of Christianity (e.g.
      Julian the Apostate, who tried to persuade pagans to emulate the
      Christian ethic).

      As Stark has said:

      –’This was the moral climate in which Christianity taught that mercy is
      one of the primary virtues–that a merciful God requires humans to be
      merciful. Moreover, the corollary that because God loves humanity,
      Christians may not please God unless they love one another was something
      entirely new.

      Perhaps even more revolutionary was the principle that Christian love
      and charity must extend beyond the boundaries of family and tribe, that
      it must extent to ‘all those who in every place call on the name of our
      Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Cor. 1:2). Indeed, love and charity must even
      extend beyond the Christianity community. . . . This was revolutionary
      stuff. Indeed, it was the cultural basis for the revitalization of a
      Roman world groaning under a host of miseries.’

      (The Rise of Christianity, 1997, p. 212).

      Considering that the pagans already had their own beliefs about a
      hedonistic life after death, it’s difficult to see Christianity’s
      teachings about resurrection as the primary drawcard. The Christians
      certainly couldn’t offer pagans anything better than they’d already been
      promised. What they did offer was something more immediate: a new concept of charity, free from favouritism and expectations of reciprocity.

  • Brettongarcia

    Mike:

    But to be sure, you and I might have a moment of agreement?  You seem to doubt miracles, or their importance.  And I’m suggesting that indeed, 1) believing in physical supernatural miracles, was following at least say, a “false idea of Christ.”    Which I submit was one of the “False Christ”s the Bible warned about.

    So we need to move on, to discover the right idea of Christ.

    Is it 2) the spiritual/ethical Christ?  There is to be sure, a much stronger case for that.  Though in the end, there are problems with that too.

    Is it 3) HJ; Historical Jesus?  That interfaces neatly with Humanistic theology.  Though seems fairly eviscerated.

    In the end?  I see 4) a forth, rather different view of Christ.  As being the right one.    A Christ who does not stress blind “faith,” in miracles; but a Christ who is a bit more of a skeptic himself, about religious matters.  A Christ who has not fully appeared yet, moreover.

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Brettongarcia,

      It is impossible to divorce the ethical Jesus from the miraculous one.  The person who multiplied the fishes and loaves is the same one who gave away all he had to eat in the process.

  • Claude

    Brettongarcia:

    Jesus was very skeptical of “religious matters.”

    But now I see your overall position, which I had not realized before (and if I understand you correctly), is that Jesus was a fake and the real Messiah has yet to appear. But why would that scenario necessitate a mythical Jesus?

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    Heb 9:28 looks forward to Jesus appearing a second time.

    1 John 4:2 refers to Jesus Christ having come in the flesh while 1 John 3:2 looks forward to His appearing.

    2 Peter 1:16 says “we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” while 2 Peter 3:10 looks forward to the coming of the day of the Lord.

    2 Tim 4:8 speaks of those who have loved His appearing while verse one of that chapter speaks of his appearing in the future.

    Throughout the epistles the coming of Christ is portrayed in both past and future tense.  His first coming was in the flesh and preceded the writing of the epistles.  The second coming was to be in the spirit and would post-date the epistles (for while they all see it as imminent, none declare it to have occurred).  Thus their view was that the second coming from heaven was predicated on the first coming having been on earth.  The resurrection from the dead is what put him in heaven in order to do the coming down from heaven to which BrettonGarcia referred.

    Only a selective reading of the epistles would allow one to say that they referred to the second coming from heaven but not the first on earth.

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

       I have read those verses, Mike. And they all speak of “the coming” of the Lord. Not one tosses in that little give-away word meaning “again” or similar. The event is anticipated as something that has never happened before.

      • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

        Indeed they did portray the future event as something that had never happened before.  But that’s different from saying that Jesus never came before.  The Second Coming was to be dramatically different from the first and everyone was counting on that.

        How you can read those verses I listed and come to the conclusion that the writers of those epistles spoke only of a future Jesus’ event and made no reference to a prior Jesus event, is totally beyond my powers of comprehension and imagination.  

        All I can do is show you the water; I can’t make you drink it.  If you don’t see in, for example, “second time” (Heb 9:28) the sort of “give-away word meaning ‘again’ or similar” you are looking for, then you reason in a way I cannot understand.

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

           Mike, just for the record, Hebrews 9:28 does not speak of a coming but of an appearing, ὀφθήσεται.But you are the one who is shutting off any possibility of discussion here. You have shut your mind to any possibility there could be any other way of understanding the passages and have declared any other view as illogical from the start.

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

    Wow, Beallen0417 leaves us in peace for such a long time, then makes a reappearance only to quote the interpolated version of what Josephus says, as though anyone thinks Josephus actually wrote this version of the Testimonium Flavianum with its Christian perspective on Jesus and affirmation of the resurrection. 

    Everyone here presumably knows that the debate is not about whether Josephus mentioned the resurrection, but about whether Josephus wrote anything about Jesus there at all – and most historians think that he did, without the specifically Christian statements.

    But of course, we’ve discussed all this before, as Beallen/Evan knows. It was his persistent repetition of the same points that led me to stop responding to his inane comments. And yet, having stayed away for so long, when he returns, he simply offers more of the same. How very disappointing.

    • beallen0417

      Bart Ehrman calls ignoring things in texts that don’t fit your paradigm “the scholarship of convenience.” It’s too bad some people have a double standard about this. I personally think the entire Josephus reference to Jesus is likely interpolated and I throw the whole thing out. This strikes me as consistent methodology and follows general principles regarding contaminated evidence.

    • Grog

      “Everyone here presumably knows that the debate is not about whether Josephus mentioned the resurrection, but about whether Josephus wrote anything about Jesus there at all – and most historians think that he did, without the specifically Christian statements.”

      Could you relate the manuscript evidence for this reconstructed passage?

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

        Are you referring to the evidence from Agapius? I had to get Shlomo Pines’ volume on the subject via InterLibrary Loan when I read it, and so I am afraid I do not have a copy of that volume to hand.

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    Neil, if you’re viewing “coming” and “appearing” as having two different meanings such that they cannot be synonyms, then you must believe the epistles speak of two different future comings.

    As for rejecting other views out of hand, I haven’t shut my mind to anything.  You said that the epistles spoke only of a future coming and not of a previous one.  I told that wasn’t true.  You asked for evidence.  I gave it to you.  You still deny that they refer Jesus Christ having come.  You force me to choose between what the epistles say and what you say they say.  I can’t deny what I read.   You sound like you’re saying to me, “Who ya gonna believe – me or your lyin’ eyes?”

    If you have an alternative way to understand those references to a prior coming, please tell me what it is.  But ignoring them is not an alternative way to understand them.

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

       The Greek words are distinct and they each have wider meanings in the broader Hellenistic culture. Whether they are synonyms will depend on the context. It is the context that is the heart of the discussion here. But it is a waste of time trying to discuss a point with a Christian who is dedicated to defending the faith at all costs and even sees his opponent as an anti-christ.

      • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

        No one who wants to please Jesus will defend faith “at any cost.”  Jesus Himself was willing to lose His life for the faith.  We who love Him should follow suit.

        My description of your behavior as anti-Christ was not pejorative but purely descriptive.  I hope my description is wrong.  Please tell me any way in which you are being supportive of Christ and His cause?

        Fear not, though.  For even if you are against Him, He is for you.  And nothing – neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created things –  shall be able to separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Your estrangement from Him is merely temporary.

      • Claude

        Neil,

        I did not know that you read ancient Greek. Do you have a “working” knowledge of Greek, as Earl Doherty, perhaps modestly, describes his own facility with the language? Since a “crucial” (Doherty) element of Doherty’s mythicist theory depends on the precise meaning of a particular Greek word in a particular rhetorical context, isn’t this a situation which calls for some pretty high expertise? And if you do read ancient Greek and are persuaded by Doherty’s interpretation, would you kindly explain why?

        Also, however venerable the concept, I wonder when the phrase “the second coming” entered the vernacular in English.

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

           Oh my goodness. All one has to do is read a little widely, ancient novels and other literature, and know the vital role of an “appearance” in mysteries and visions at the time we are discussing. Ditto for the wider meaning of parousia. It’s not rocket science.

          As to whether or not or why I am persuaded by any particular one of Doherty’s arguments is quite beside the point. I argue my own point of view and understanding from my own reading. Though if I do see someone mouthing ignorance about someone else’s argument I do sometimes step in to try to correct them. And I don’t recall any “crucial” element of Doherty’s hypothesis depending on a precise meaning of a particular word for which one cannot make any judgment without “high expertise”. Normal intelligent people who acquaint themselves with a little of the language are quite capable of reading extensively both sides and widely on any argument by the experts and identify where there are logical oversights or biases and who leans towards the more likely answer of details where and if they are ever that important.

          • Claude

            Wow. Where to begin.

            The issue wasn’t whether “appearances” are widespread in ancient literature, but the way Paul deploys the Greek word paralambano in his letters. Since I don’t read ancient Greek, I must trust someone to present the argument transparently. I would prefer that someone to have a high level of expertise.You are the one who initially brought up the matter about the second coming not being mentioned in the epistles, a point I recognized from reading The Jesus Puzzle (at your behest). Since you were presenting Doherty’s argument, I thought it fair to ask you why you were persuaded by it.

            On the matter of “crucial”:

            If the “receiving” of Paul’s gospel is through revelation, this enables us to interpret the third important passage in which he uses the same verb. This is crucial to the argument of the myth theory, and is the third “apparent exception” to my Missing Equation I spoke of in Chapter 1, the passage that seems to be the sole Gospel-like scene in all of Paul’s letters.

            Earl Doherty, The Jesus Puzzle, p. 45

            So I take it you don’t read ancient Greek.

  • Brettongarcia

    Claude:  in my scenario Jesus, insofar as we CAN know him at all, seems to be warning that all our religious ideas, even our views of Jesus – except the skeptical Jesus – are im”perfect.”  So that we should always regard our “Jesus” as being perhaps, our own construction; a “myth.” 
     
    Though if we are to believe in anything? In any kind of Jesus or Christ?  Believe in a rational, skeptical one.  “Logos,” after all, one of the names of God, can also be translated as Reason.  Or better yet “Logic.”    
     
    One of the things I like about scholarly theology, study of religion, is that it is very rational.  And perhaps after all, it follows the rational Christ, correctly. 
     
    “Come, let us Reason together.”
     
    Mike:  I’m not quite sure all these different gospels, these different views of Christ, ARE really one and the same person.  Or in any case I see them as different perspectives on reality, on JEsus – some of which being finally much better than others.
     
    Here?  I follow the Skeptical/Rational view of Jesus.  Which I think is the higher, better, “second” view of him.

    • Claude

      Brettongarcia,

      Why involve Jesus at all, in that case? What’s he got for you that philosophy can’t handle?

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Brettongarcia,  you said

      “Mike:  I’m not quite sure all these different gospels, these different views of Christ, ARE really one and the same person.  Or in any case I see them as different perspectives on reality, on Jesus – some of which being finally much better than others.”

      Your second sentence is one on which we can agree.

  • Brettongarcia

    THere DOES seem to be some ambiguity in the Bible about a second “coming” vs. “appearance.”  To get past that, I more or less metaphoricalize it:  and suggest we see the “second appearance” of God or CHrist, at least in preview, when we adopt a rational view of CHrist.  As does, say, Religious studies, and/or rational theology. 

  • Claude

    Brettongarcia: I’m sorry I ventured such a crude interpretation of what you meant. I get it better now, thanks.

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    In practice, there is little difference Mike.  It is the inability to verify supernatural events that leads the historian to disregard them.  It is a practice that is based upon knowledge and experience, not a priori assumptions.

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Historians report all the time on things that they only know by taking someone else’s word for what happened.  I just pulled off my bookshelf Lou Cannon’s history of the Reagan presidency.  Cannon reports on all sorts of interactions that he could not have personally witnessed or recreated in a laboratory.  He reported such interactions based on what eyewitnesses to those events told him.  He seamlessly moves back and forth between events he personally observed and events where he’s trusting the word of someone else.  And no one minds this.   It is the way historians record history.  

      If historians choose not to report supernatural events it is because they choose not to do so, not because historical integrity requires it.  To suggest otherwise is just to be hypocritical.  

      • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

        Don’t be foolish Mike.  Any competent historian tests any and every source.  He verifies that the person giving him the information was in a position to know.  He considers the witnesses biases.  He looks for independent corroboration.  He considers the the length of time between the event and the report.  He also considers the overall reasonableness of the report in terms of how people act and how things happen in similar situations. 

        That’s why it is so hard to verify the supernatural.  We have to reason by analogy to the kinds of things that have been known to happen and are known to happen.  No amount of wishful thinking will get you around that.
          

        • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

          You demonstrate the circular reasoning that denies evidence for supernatural events.  ”We don’t have miracles in the historical record, and we can’t allow any in because there are so few in the historical record with which we can compare them.”

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            I’m sorry Mike, but reasoning by analogy and testing sources is what rational people do.  Dismissing critical thinking as circular because it fails to confirm your magical thinking is what faith based apologists do.

            • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

              I didn’t dismiss critical thinking as circular.  I dismissed thinking that rejects evidence for supernatural events because of an assumption that supernatural events don’t occur as circular.  

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

                Mike, I earlier directed you to a post that explains why philosophical naturalism is not an irrational bias against supernatural explanations. If you still think that the miraculous is rejected for some gratuitous assumption that miracles “just don’t happen” then it seems you have never actually seriously understood the logic behind naturalism. It’s not irrationally prejudiced bias at all. It’s a way to avoid that sort of thing.

                I don’t accept the resurrection, for example, because there is another perfectly natural explanation that accords with all of my experiences and understanding of the world and how it works, and it is that explanation that has successfully proved reliable in every other area to which I’ve applied it so far. So the odds against it being wrong in the case of the resurrection are very remote indeed.

                • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                  Neil, Jesus’ apostles declare that they saw Him raised from the dead.  If you want to say that it’s rational for you to reject their testimony because you yourself have not seen Jesus raised from the dead or seen anyone else raised from the dead, then you can say it.  But that doesn’t make it rational.

                  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                    No they don’t Mike.  Someone unknown authors relying on unknown sources write long after the fact that Jesus appeared to his apostles.  We only have one first person report from a guy who didn’t know Jesus and we don’t know what he saw.   Why do you feel the need to misstate the evidence?

                    Of course we do have multiple eyewitnesses affidavits to the existence of the Angel Moroni and the Golden Plates, but I’m betting that you reject them.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      VinnyJH,

                      It is you who are misstating the evidence.  I’m merely reading the New Testament.  If you want to challenge what it says, then proceed.  But its misstatement to say that it doesn’t testify to Jesus being crucified and then resurrected from the dead three days later.

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      Actually Mike, I can’t find any definition of “testify” that would make that a misstatement.   It looks to me like it’s perfectly accurate to say that the New Testament doesn’t testify to Jesus being crucified and then resurrected because what the New Testament does cannot fairly be described as “testifying.”   The New Testament, being an inanimate object, has neither personal knowledge nor personal convictions.

                      In any case, the statement I challenged you on concerned what “the apostles declare,” not what the New Testament testified.  Not only do you misstate the evidence, you misstate your own statements.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      VinnyJH,

                      The New Testament contains the testimony of the apostles about Jesus.  Therefore, there is, practically speaking, no difference between “the apostles declare…” and “the New Testament declares…”  

                      Yes, the New Testament is an inanimate object but so also are depositions, affidavits, press releases, and personal correspondence.  Inanimateness does not preclude a document from preserving what a human being has declared.  

                      If I quote something President Obama said, recorded in this morning’s newspaper, I have neither misrepresented the president nor have I ascribed personal knowledge or convictions to the newsprint.  

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                       No Mike, there is a humongous difference between personal eyewitness testimony and anonymous reports that are removed an unknown number of times the original accounts.  Please don’t try to compare the gospels to affidavits and depositions.  I try very hard to be cordial and civil to everyone, but there comes a point when absurd foolishness cannot be called anything but absurd foolishness. 

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Anyone who has read the New Testament documents knows that when you say  they are “anonymous reports that are removed an unknown number of times form the firsthand accounts” that you are opining on the texts, not reading them.

                      As I said before, if you want to challenge the reliability of the New Testament documents then do so.  But to misrepresent what they say, as you are doing, is not right.

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      Mike,

                      By “anyone,” you obviously mean “anyone who approaches the New Testament with the faith based assumption that it is a magic book that exempts if from critical analysis.”  Other than that, I think my statement fairly captures the consensus opinion.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      No, I mean anyone who knows how to read.  

                      You keep failing to notice the difference between what the documents say, and what you think can be believed.  For example, leaving aside Paul for the moment, we have the letters of Peter and the gospel of John and John’s letters.  Both men testify in these extant writings to having been witnesses to Jesus consistent with the way they are both portrayed in the other gospels and in Acts.  Thus we have multiple attestations.  Now, someone like James might approach these documents and say, “Well, we don’t know for sure if Peter wrote the letters attributed to him, and we don’t believe the John who wrote the gospel and letters is the same John as we read walked with Peter and Jesus.  And so on.  In other words, he wouldn’t take the documents at face value.  But what James wouldn’t say, unless he is as off-base is you, is that the documents as we have them don’t say the things I said they say.

                      I’m just telling you what the documents say.  If you don’t want to believe them, don’t.  But don’t kid yourself that they don’t claim to represent eyewitness testimony to the historical Jesus and His resurrection to celestial status. 

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      Mike,

                      I specifically criticized you for comparing the gospels to depositions and affidavits.   I never addressed what the epistles of John and Peter purport to report and the reasons why those are not historically reliable.  However, since you clearly understand what the arguments are, there is no need for me to do so.  

                      The author of the Gospel of John does not testify to having been an eyewitness.  There is a note appended to the gospel in which someone else claims that the author was an eyewitness.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Yes, I understand what the arguments are.  And that they are opinions of the text, not what the text itself says.  

                      Your reference to the gospel of John is yet one more case where you fail to make this distinction.  The “note appended” is scholarly opinion.  The text itself makes no mention of “note appended by someone else.”  

                      I am not insisting that this distinction in and of itself means that scholarly opinions are wrong.  I’m merely trying to distinguish what the text says from what people think it means since you have the two confused.

                      As for me, and I add this only for the sake of full disclosure and not because its necessary for my argument above, I take the documents at face value.  I do acknowledge that due to time and scribal transmission we might not have down to every jot and tittle what the originals said – but I believe it’s pretty close.  And given the constant repetition of key ideas in the Scripture, I don’t believe that trusting the documents as we have them will mislead us in any material way.   

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      Unfortunately Mike, there is not so neat a distinction between what a text says and what people think it means as you seem to think.  No one reads a text without also interpreting it.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      “John saw Ted hit Fred.”

                      Argue if you want about what that means, but that it says, “John saw Ted hit Fred,” is plain for any eye to see.

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      Once again, that’s enough straw men and non sequiturs for today.  Let’s play again tomorrow.

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

                    It’s just a story, Mike. It’s just a story. There is no reason to believe there were any apostles declaring they saw Jesus rise from the dead.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      It’s a story these men went to their death swearing was true.  

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

                      That’s just a story, too, Mike.

                      But in the meantime think about your logic. Those who flew the planes into the Twin Towers also went to their death swearing their belief was true.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Neil, you should think about your logic.  You’re lumping murderers with martyrs.

                      Peter, Paul, and the rest of the apostles gave up their lives for others.  The Twin Towers terrorists took the lives of others.  

                      We should listen to men who lay down their lives for us; we should not listen to men who try to take our lives from us.

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

                      Mike, you’re not hearing me. It’s all a story. Including the fantasy tales of Peter and Paul “giving up their lives”. Just a story, Mike. That’s all.

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

                       

                      We should listen to men who lay down their lives for us

                      I hear this line every Anzac (your War Memorial?) day. What message do you want me to hear from them? (Think before you answer. I have a son in the army who has done several tours of “war-zone” service.)

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Whatever message they give you, I hope your response won’t be “It’s just a story; that’s all.”  

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

                       Mike, I asked you to think before you replied. Thinking is clearly beyond you and your life all wrapped up in gods and miracles and things. My son and my life are reality. What I read in a text whos documents go back 1600 years or so is a fantasy. It’s just a story. My life is real. Yours is a fantasy. I can pinch myself and hug those I love to know my life is real. You can only pray and fantasize. Your story of crucifixions and martyrs and messiahs and apostles is nothing but a story. Prove it otherwise. You cannot.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Neil, 

                      The light of Christ shines on you and those you love even if you don’t see it.  Everyone is going to heaven.  There’s plenty of proof in the Scriptures for those who will hear it.

              • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                 Happily Mike, that’s not what methodological naturalism does so there is no problem.

                • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                  Good.  Then let’s hear no more about supernatural events being off the table.

                  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                    Oh no Mike.  They’re still off the table.  It’s just that it’s not because of an assumption that supernatural events don’t occur. It’s because of the methodological problem in establishing that one did. 

                    By way of analogy, we don’t reject phlogiston and the ether because we assume that they don’t exist.  We reject them because we cannot establish that they do.  The hypothesis that they exist has no explanatory value.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      I don’t fault science that it cannot explore, map, and explain the spiritual dimension.  It is inherently incapable of doing so given that its domain is the physical dimension.

                      History, however, is a different matter.  Repetition of events in controlled environments is not practical.  Historians accept the testimony of witnesses, sometimes as few as one.  In the case of Jesus’ resurrection we have the record of many witnesses.

                      A historian might say, “Well, resurrection is so infrequent that I don’t even feel comfortable accepting the testimony of many sane men who swore with their lives that what they were saying was true.”  Okay, Mr. Historian, then just at least report to us what the witnesses said and let us decide for ourselves (meanwhile, go get yourself an injection of courage).   

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      Mike,

                      Historians have to rely on the same observed processes of cause and effect that scientists use in order to assess that likelihood that any particular event occurred in the past.  There is no other way to do it.  The fact that the events cannot be repeated is why historians must test any report they get for its overall credibility.

                      Except for Paul’s claims, we cannot establish how many times any of the reports are removed from first hand accounts so we cannot speak of them as testimony.   We also cannot establish the sanity of any of the men who first reported the events nor can we establish that they swore with their lives that what they were saying was true.  No amount of wishful thinking on the part of apologist can change that. 

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      VinnyJH,

                      Your first paragraph is beside the point – the point being that historians accept the testimony of witnesses.  

                      As for your second paragraph, it is just a repetition of your opinion that the New Testament documents cannot be trusted.  No matter how much you may wish otherwise, when read they claim to be offering firsthand testimony.  

                      Even with your opinion, however, you have more than enough evidence to believe that the resurrection of Jesus happened because the letters of Paul, to which you’ve ascribed some credence, contain not just the explicit testimony of Paul on the subject, but also the implicit testimony of many others.  

                      Therefore, to think that Jesus was not raised from the dead is a case of wishful thinking – albeit a perverse sort of wish.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

    That’s OK Neil, apology accepted. 

    There is no begging the question in the comparison I make. I have drawn a tentative comparison with other religions. You rejected it for a specific set of reasons, and I replied why I did not see these as valid objections. 

    Unless you have some other objections that my tentative comparison is not valid, the way forward would seem to be to discuss how we might further compare Christianity with these historically founded religions (e.g. growth, literature, beliefs, relationship to other religions, self-understanding etc) and see whether the similarities allow us to think it is likely that Christianity, like these, had a historical founder.

    Or alternatively of course, we might find so many differences that we have to think of some different model for how Christianity began, though to be honest I’m not holding my breath…

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

      And while we’re at it, perhaps we could try to find some examples of other religions that have formed by some of the processes that Jesus deniers describe and compare those to Christianity too?

  • Claude

    Neal, you said:

    Normal intelligent people who acquaint themselves with a little of the language are quite capable of reading extensively both sides and widely on any argument by the experts and identify where there are logical oversights or biases and who leans towards the more likely answer of details where and if they are ever that important.
    I’m aware that a person doesn’t have to be able to read a text with awesome facility in the original language to understand it, or make an argument about it.

    On the other hand, if a layman tells me I “ought” to interpret a word a certain way, and that word is in a dead language that I haven’t got a clue about, and this interpretation is “crucial” to the robustness of his theory that is supposed to rock the consensus, then yes, I want some expert testimony on the matter.

    Since you brought all this up in the first place, and since Doherty is your go-to man, I thought you might try a little persuasion. Why is this so hard? We’re all interested in Christianity here. It’s just ideas. But if you want a better reception for mythicism, maybe you should consider changing tactics. You guys are a PR disaster.

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

      I would accept no one person’s word, layman or otherwise, telling me I “ought” to understand one meaning of a critical word. I would want to see references and arguments that I could follow up if I was interested.

      If you have a problem with Doherty’s argument about a word then I suggest you follow that approach yourself. I am not Doherty’s mouthpiece. Doherty and I have differences of opinion on quite a number of things. He can be engaged in discussion himself. He is accessible on the net so you can ask him and you can also ask and crosscheck anything he says with specialists on the net.

      I am not prepared to argue about the meaning of Greek words because I have nothing but a very amateur knowledge of the language — never having gone past a first year basic textbook. Doherty has formally studied it for several years and can hold his own with any scholar on the NT — something I would never attempt myself.

      I didn’t know I was supposed to be doing a PR job for “mythicism”. I have explained exactly where I am coming from — twice in the last 24 hours http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2012/04/mythicism-and-other-bunk-around-the-blogosphere.html#comment-514322614 — but that does not seem to register with anyone here. It seems this nest of the woods is filled with people who see everything in black and white, in stereotypes, through blinkers.

      If I attempt to point out where I think there is a logical or factual error in an argument there is no interest in addressing the argument or the point made. It seems never to occur to anyone that my interest exactly what I expressed — that the argument be informed reliably and valid.

      Instead, everyone, it seems, just turns on the ad hominem charge, the motives, the “you guys/you mythicists say X” lumping together, the “why didn’t you answer this or that way-way back (I probably had other things to do or thought the argument was going in circles), or, “yeh but what about this other point, etc etc etc” . . . . . . . but never an attempt to actually continue or refine the argument.

      And because I don’t play the game of getting sidetracked or following red herrings or straw men and question begging or answering for someone else I’m the PR disaster for something I never knew I was here “to dig in and defend”.

      But sticking to an argument and drilling down to test its validity is something that few people seem interested in here.

      • Claude

        Neil,

        I appreciate the reply, but I wasn’t asking you to respond as Doherty’s mouthpiece. I was asking why you found his views on the Pauline epistles persuasive. And I’m aware that Doherty’s accessible on the web; he’s been incredibly industrious lately over there at Vridar.

        I read your posts on where you were coming from–twice–and get that you do not consider yourself a mythicist. But are you really expressing indignation that you’re associated with their movement? You write about mythicism all the time! You write incendiary posts about Bart Ehrman! You cater to a bunch of fire-breathing mythicists in your peanut gallery! Etc.

        As for the people who post here, they seem pretty game to me.

        But anyway, since you want to drill baby drill, what was the issue again?

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

          I think you make a fair point, Claude. Neil claims not to be part of the Jesus denial movement, and he even tells us why he doesn’t consider himself part of that movement, but in practice it seems hard to distinguish how and where his position differs from theirs.

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

            So I write a post about where I am coming from and my disappointment that people are more interested in labeling and point-scoring than following a serious argument and Paul — who tried to tell me I was misreading him and that he wasn’t calling me a Jesus denier — now says I’m a Jesus denier.

            What sorts of people are you?

            • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

              Nope, again can you re-read my post? I did *not* call you a Jesus denier. I’m just saying that in practice it seems hard to distinguish your position from Jesus denial. 

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

          Claude, if you want to ask me about my views then I am happy to respond. But you are not asking me about my views. You are presuming I find someone else’s views persuasive and ask me why. I have only expressed my own views here, as far as I recall. If you want to know what I think then ask me what I think. But don’t impute arguments to me and ask me to defend what you believe is my viewpoint.

          You were the one who said you recognized something I said as “Doherty’s argument”. I did not say that. Yes, I am sure our arguments to overlap. But I do not recall off the top of my head all of Doherty’s reasons and points and I certainly could not possibly feel confident in defending his views. All I could do would be to look up his book and quote what he says in response. There seems to be some presumption in your question that I’m a “follower” or clone of Doherty’s views.

          If you read my “position statement” I was trying to make it clear I am interested in studying the question of Christian origins and I am doing this from a quite different perspective than Doherty does. Our interests and even our views overlap but that’s about all I can say.

          If you want to know what I think then ask me what I think. Don’t assume I’m thinking what someone else thinks and then ask me why I find their views persuasive. For all I know I might have a complex of reasons for thinking what I do and only some of them are Doherty’s also.

          I’m glad you find the people who post here are pretty game. How many times have they been told to go off and post somewhere else, have been told they are insane or dishonest or sworn at? I think many are pretty damn rude and offensive. Paul’s latest is to label me as a “Jesus denier” whatever that’s supposed to mean. And this is after pretending the innocent and saying he didn’t call me that at all. The term is nonsensical to me. I don’t “deny” Jesus except in a faith-sense. It’s a derogatory put-down, like “myther”.

          If you understood where I was coming from it should be clear that of course I align with the “mythicist” argument. I have never denied that. But I explained why I don’t generally call myself that and why I think the term is not appropriate anyway.

          The point of that was to try to point out that there really is a historical and methodological argument that is much bigger than some sort of ideological battle between believers and sceptics. But the point was obviously lost here.

          As for “incendiary” posts about Ehrman, that’s colorful, but yes, I have been calling a spade a spade. Ehrman has failed many people. His work is full of shoddiness, falsehoods, illogical reasoning and libel. But I don’t call him insane or a jerk or worse. I zero in on the culpable flaws of his work that he is accountable for. I have tried several times to address the same points beforehand with him by email. Before I said anything at all about a rumour circulating about him I checked with him first.

          If you want to really understand mythicism or mythicist arguments you can go to either a site that hates mythicism, thinks it’s bunk, is filled with people who don’t know a logical argument from a peanut (where your peanut gallery really is) and start throwing out insults when someone attempts to correct them, or you can go to any number of sites where the matter is discussed within certain bounds of civility from both points of view.

          • Paul R

            Hi Neil,
             
            I hate to keep asking you to be more careful in your reading of my posts, but er… can you be more careful in your reading of my posts? I didn’t say that your words are indistinguishable from Jesus denial but that *in practice* it seems hard to distinguish your position from Jesus denial: Your methods of “debate”, hostility towards the historicist position and the qualified academics who support it, the literature you cite, the focus and tone of your blog, lack of academic training in Biblical/Religious studies etc all seem like common charateristics of Jesus denial.
             
            I used the terms “pseudo-mythicism” and “pseudo-Jesus denial” as I think they capture what I’m trying to convey here – your formal reject of the Jesus denial tag, coupled with your evident support for and admiration of the work of Jesus deniers. I recognise that the “pseudo” tag is sometimes seen as perjorative, but in this case I think it’s apt.
             
            Anyway, I have lessons to plan. Have a good day.

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

               Yes, weasel words. Thankyou Paul.

              What “hostility” to the historicist position? Quote me. I am not “hostile” to the historicist position. That’s ridiculous.

              Methods of debate? You mean trying to bypass weasel words, ad hominem, red herrings and point out logical fallacies if I see them. Yep. Terrible.

              Hostility towards academics who support the historicist position? Quote me. I have often discussed with great respect many historicist scholars. Many. Scores of them. I But calling out logical fallacies or factual errors is something you consider “hostile”????

              So you are into labeling, Into pigeon-holing. Into stereotyping. How much easier that is than actually sustaining a logical argument. I called you out on question begging and ever since you have responded with weasel words and labeling. As I said, what sort of person are you?

          • Claude

            Neal,

            Was I presumptuous?

            You wrote:

            My own view specifically is that the NT epistles — nor even Revelation — speak of a “second coming”. None of them knows of a prior advent. They all speak of a coming as if it were the first and only.

            In Jesus Puzzle Doherty wrote:

            If readers can free themselves from Gospel preconceptions, they should find that these and other references [in the epistles] of the same nature convey the distinct impression that this will be the Lord Jesus’ first and only coming to earth.

            Therefore, it was not unreasonable for me to assume that you agreed with Doherty’s position.

            You wrote:

            The point of [Where I Stand] was to try to point out that there really is a historical and methodological argument that is much bigger than some sort of ideological battle between believers and sceptics. But the point was obviously lost here.

            Obviously faith and “methodology” are in tension; on this score I’ve been reading McGrath’s e-book; you might want to check it out.

            As you know, I think your accusations against Ehrman arise out of the very hostile intent you attribute to others. Why else would you persist in spreading the meme that Ehrman “misquotes” Doherty when you know the situation is more complicated than that. The irony is that if you just acknowledged the truth of the matter it would strengthen your argument. But please, I request that we not revisit this issue, since it appears to be futile.

            By the way, I do read your blog, although I am weary of the interminable rants and verbiage that are supposed to constitute a response to Ehrman. At least you objected, tentatively but at least somewhat, to Richard Carrier’s outlandish rhetoric. Needless to say, he’s the person most responsible for the mythicists’ PR disaster. 

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

              Claude, if you don’t find Doherty’s arguments persuasive then that’s fine. Don’t accept them. Simple as that. When I read Doherty I did not simply “accept” his arguments. I never read anything that way. I always read as if listening to another person’s point of view that is offering me a new way to look at a question and to embark on a new exploration — often by mixing with other books along the way. On this particular point I can’t tell you if I came to my view before or after I ever read Doherty’s work.

              But if you ask me why I found Doherty’s arguments persuasive I can only reply that either you find them so yourself or not. I can’t tell you why other than to repeat what he says and accept you are not persuaded. But my own point of view is usually a real mix of many views that I throw into the mix and often I cannot say how much I actually owe to Doherty or anyone in particular on any one point.

              The point is, if you don’t find Doherty persuasive then no-one expects you to accept his argument.

              If my posts weary you then you shouldn’t read them. If they sound to you like interminable rants then either lodge a complaint or simply avoid them. I am probably writing for an audience with a certain background and certain expectations of public intellectuals and I can well imagine others will not be interested by them at all or even find them negative. But I can’t write for everyone.

              But I’d also wonder if it’s worth asking if you are the one who is reading the sort of hostility you seem to imply into them and on what grounds. (I wonder why you are not as offended by the outright falsehoods and suppression of scholarly knowledge in Ehrman’s book.) I sometimes think some people (not you) come here angry and project their anger and bigotry into me and anything I say no matter what.

              And I have read and discussed McGrath’s first version of the book you mention, and why it is a complete sham as an effort to explain “historical method”. Maybe the second edition is an improvement.

              • Claude

                Neil,

                I was thinking of Carrier when I complained of ceaseless rants. But you rant as well. (Actually, so do I, but in obscurity.) At a certain point adrenaline overwhelms the process and the debate degenerates. But insinuating or outright accusing the professionals of being intellectually dishonest, craven and arrogant is not right and undermines your cause, which presumably is to revive and vet unconventional ideas about a matter of ultimate importance to a whole lot of people.

                I may not be persuaded by Doherty but admire his commitment and demeanor. The man is clearly a workhorse, and he’s shaken things up, and that’s a good thing. But what are we talking about here? An explosive issue about which we can know hardly anything for certain. We just can’t know.

                Why would I read mythicist views with hostile intent? I’m not religious. I still have sentiment for Jesus from my Catholic childhood, I guess (at least, enough to be distressed by some of Ehrman’s ghastly speculations about what might have happened to Jesus after he died), but I’ve been agnostic for a very long time. With a few exceptions, the range of my religious concerns has been limited to wondering how the fundamentalist vote would play out on Election Day. I think Jesus existed, but if he turns out to have been a myth, it will not affect me.

                I tuned out the criticisms of Ehrman’s book after a while, because the ones that initially  seemed troubling turned out to be inconsequential, and I was impressed by Ehrman’s response. The dissatisfaction is understandable, though, since the evidence seems so tenuous at times.

                However, I disagree with the argument that the historicist position is more threatening to faith than the mythicist one. A big part of the attraction of Christianity is that its god was a man who understands what it is to be human and to suffer unbearably. If Jesus were to join the pantheon of mythical gods Christianity would lose something essential. But I doubt that will happen.

                Finally, even though I’m obviously not the target audience, I liked McGrath’s eBook. It’s very clear and nuanced, and it gave me the kind of insights I’m after. After reading some Ehrman and now a little McGrath I have a general idea of what historical methodology involves and am in no position to be disgruntled about it. Sorry, I just can’t work up a lot of passion over Bayes’s theorem.

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

                  To take your points in reverse order, Claude — we are likeminded re Bayes’ theorem. It’s hardly something I have any passion for. But I’m curious enough to try to understand it.

                  As for McGrath’s book, what I disagreed with in the first version was the assumption that gospel texts should be presumed to be based on history so that just by “digging beneath” the surface one will discover history. That’s not valid. Historians first need to do literary analysis and check the provenance etc before they can even know if it does have any history at all “beneath the surface”. But it is the way most NT scholars work. It’s all built on assumption.

                  I think sometimes it is easy to confuse bluntness for hostility.  I also believe public intellectuals have a heavy responsibility to society and must be held accountable for any breach of trust of that responsibility. (I’m certainly no intellectual, but I have had a very good education and opportunities in life, and to that extent I also feel I have a responsibility to be accountable for how I use my “luck” for the wider good.)

                  If public intellectuals foment bigotry and prejudice against minority views, if they say things that are demonstrably untrue for whatever reason, if they mislead when they know better, if they slander and character-assassinate people, they must be exposed and held accountable.

                  This is simply basic for the health of any free society. If anyone misleads or does harm then others who can see any of this have a responsibility to speak out.

                  Ehrman has betrayed a public trust and libeled Doherty and others. That cannot be allowed to stand through deference to his status as a public figure. His status makes it all the more necessary that others do speak out.

                  • Claude

                    How on earth has Ehrman libeled Doherty?

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

                      His statement that Doherty quotes scholars dishonestly is false.

                      His statement that Doherty’s book is filled with undocumented statements and claims and misstatements of fact is false.

                      His statement that Doherty simply “invented” the interpretation that Paul’s Christ is a heavenly figure is false.

                      His statement that Doherty ignorantly claims the ancients had only one view of the universe if false.

                      His statement that the idea that ancients believed the heavenly realm had a counterpart on earth was some idea Doherty concocted is false.

                      His statement that Doherty ignorantly claims most ancients belonged to mystery cults is false.

                      His statement that Doherty ignorantly claims the mystery cults thought like philosophers is false.

                      His statement that Doherty is arguing for interpolations without significant cholarly support is false.

                      His statement that his interpretation of “rulers of the age” is without significant scholarly support is false.

                      His statement that not a single early Christian source supports Doherty’s view of a spiritual Christ if false.

                      Ehrman has misled his readers into thinking that not a single one of Doherty’s interpretations or views has any scholarly support, that he has written without documentation from the scholarship, that he misstates facts, that he misleads readers in the way he uses scholarship, that he simply makes things up to support his argument and that he makes ignorant claims that have no basis in fact or scholarship. These are all outright falsehoods.

                  • Claude

                    This is what McGrath says:

                    A historical approach digs through and seeks to get behind a text to see what if anything can be determined about actual historical events.

                    It’s a much more qualified statement than what you said, and it seems perfectly legitimate.

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

                      I don’t have the first version with me now so I can’t compare it with that.

                      But even so, it is an invalid method. How can “digging through” texts to see if there is any historical event behind them ever work? “Digging through” texts is what a student does when studying a novel or Shakespeare to understand the characters etc.

                      Just “examining” a text can’t tell you if it is based on a true story or not. You can’t just remove a miracle and say that what’s left over must be true because it sounds like the sort of thing someone could have done in real life. You can’t say it must not have been based on a true event because it has a miracle in the way it’s told, either.

                      You need to know about why the story was written, by whom and for whom, and you need to know a bit about the genre to get some range of possibilities as to what the story was meant to achieve.

                      Lots of ancient fiction was written with real persons and places in it but it was still fiction. Some ancient fiction genres were taught in a way to instruct would-be authors all the tricks of verisimilitude. We can’t just assume that a story has a historical basis — nor that it doesn’t have one — just by looking at the text alone.

                    • Claude

                      Neil,

                      The process you describe is a caricature, and the notion that historians are unacquainted with the culture and literary conventions of the era they specialize in is preposterous. McGrath has barely even heard of neo-Platonism? Historical textual criticism is indistinguishable from literary criticism?! If only, as Brettongarcia suggests, historians knew more history?! If you believe this there is nowhere for the conservation to go. The hubris, it’s staggering.

                      I’m not going to address all your charges about Ehrman, but with regard to Exhibit #1, I think it’s true that Doherty, though perhaps not intentionally, misrepresents scholarship through the use of elisions, or put another way, the lack of explicit transitions. I noticed it in his book, I’ve noticed it in his responses to Ehrman at Vridar, and Ehrman himself mentioned one example, so it’s clearly not an isolated event. It’s the kind of device that undermines credibility.

                      This is none of my business, but I’ll say anyway that your remarks about Mike Gantt’s religious convictions are rude, and furthermore, unfounded. One of the more poignant remarks I’ve read here was by one of your sympathizers, a former fundamentalist if I recall correctly, that atheism would enable him to lead an “authentic life.” Since I’ve been atheist/agnostic most of my life, I really had to wonder what he meant. What is the “authentic life”? Has my life been more “real” that Mike Gantt’s because I don’t (and can’t) believe in God? I doubt it.

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

                       Claude, Mike Gantt is here to argue rationally for the foundation of his religious convictions. I respond with rational argument. I have never been rude to him beccause of his religious convictions. You are fantasizing.

                      And you have read way more into my critique of Dr McGrath’s and New Testament scholarship’s limitation in historial method than I ever myself expressed. NT scholars themselves — as I have pointed out — decry the lack of broader knowledge of the literature of the time of the New Testament. It is not hubris to read the scholarly literature and engage with it. I have had many discussions in the past with Dr McGrath and other scholars, read many of their books, and do know a little of what I am talking about when I say things like this. Dr McGrath has regularly been forced into retreat rather than address the illogic of his arguments or his assumptions — these things are off limits in any discussion with him –  to the extent he will not engage with me anymore — and in his most recent foray in response comes out with blatant falsehoods for all to see in order to undermine what I have expressed.

                      And what I have expressed is nothing but what some of his own peers themselves have said.

                    • Claude

                      Mike, I asked you to think before you replied. Thinking is clearly beyond you and your life all wrapped up in gods and miracles and things. My son and my life are reality. What I read in a text whos documents go back 1600 years or so is a fantasy. It’s just a story. My life is real. Yours is a fantasy. I can pinch myself and hug those I love to know my life is real. You can only pray and fantasize. Your story of crucifixions and martyrs and messiahs and apostles is nothing but a story. Prove it otherwise. You cannot.

                      “Rational argument”?! What is this about, Neil? Is it about, in part, religion’s role in militarism? In that case, I feel your rage.

                      Brettongarcia,

                      Of course, specialists know more than non-specialists. That would be the Academy’s position, to the consternation of many mythicists. What I find arrogant is the characterization of an entire group of professionals as isolated and inadequate because they aren’t specialists in every field relevant to their own.I don’t understand your point that a methodology is invalid to the extent that it’s preferred. Please clarify?

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

                      Claude, we are simply continuing to talk past each other. My “rational arguments” with Mike Gantt have nothing whatever to do with religon’s part in militarism. That thought never at any stage in our discussions crossed my mind.

                      I was simply pointing out the difference between real life on the one hand and what we find in a story on the other. Mike pointed to a story where various people are said to lay down their lives for others. I said it is simply a story, nothing more. Just a story. It is not real. It is not even history. There is no way Mike can demonstrate that it is anything more than just a story, I believe.

                      The only way even scholars attempt to “prove” it is more than a story is by means, most critically, of criteria that are logically invalid as tools as has been pointed out even by NT scholars themselves.

                    • Claude

                      Neil,

                      Sorry, I was off base.

                      But I still think you were rude.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            I am curious Paul:  What exactly makes one a “Jesus denier” or causes one to sound like a Jesus denier?  Is one a Jesus denier if they think that the case for the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth is less strong than historical Jesus scholars make it out to be?    Is the degree of hostility the key?

            I generally describe myself as an agnostic on the existence of God just as I describe myself as an agnostic on the existence of a historical Jesus, but I must confess that my reasons for questioning the existence of God aren’t much different than those of atheists just as my reasons for questioning the existence of a historical Jesus of Nazareth are not much different than those of mythicists.  The main distinction lies is that I decline to affirm non-existence in either case, but I find the evidence and arguments insufficient either way in both cases.

            I don’t think the fact that a historical Jesus would have spoken Aramaic is a terribly strong reason to think that the Aramaic words found in the gospels go back to a historical Jesus.  I don’t think that hypothetical reconstructions of the sources behind the gospels can provide anywhere near the degree of confidence that real sources would provide.  I don’t think that a single reference to a particular James as “the brother of Lord” in our earliest source is a slam dunk for a belief in a historical Jesus when our next source declines to corroborate the identification, and in any case, I don’t think that it can support a level of certainty that is any greater than the level of certainty regarding the transmission of the underlying texts.  I don’t think that we can know what kind of stories every single first century Jew might or might not have invented.   I don’t think the fact that midrash may not successfully account for all the gospel stories about Jesus constitutes positive evidence for their historicity.  I do think that when historians lack the kind of evidence that normally gives them confidence about events in the ancient world, that is probably a good reason to express some uncertainty. 

            If I jump about, it is because the arguments for historicity seem to jump about as well.   I have trouble seeing a coherent theory on the other side either.

            Does this make me a Jesus denier with an agenda?  Does it make me part of a movement?

            I was really hoping that Ehrman would make a persuasive case for a historical  Jesus because I don’t like sitting on the fence and I don’t particularly enjoy being accused of drinking the Kool-Aid.  Unfortunately, I don’t find Did Jesus Exist? persuasive and since it is hard for me to think of anyone who might be better equipped to make the case, my agnosticism has only been further solidified (assuming that such a thing is possible).

            • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

              Hi Vinny,

              It’s a really good question. I wouldn’t have singled you out as a Jesus denier Vinny, as I know you say that you don’t find that Jesus denial alternatives convincing either. I would also say that I don’t find you hostile either (well maybe to Mike a bit sometimes).

              I have to admit that when I started using the term Jesus denial it was really just a product of the frustration I felt that “mythicists” were good at shouting down the mainstream theory, but didn’t seem capable of posing a coherent alternative. As I’ve said, many times, if somebody can offer me a better explanation for Christian origins than “A guy called Jesus lived a couple of thousand years ago and some people thought he was pretty cool” I would be happy to listen to it. “Mythicists” consistently seemed to generate rather more heat than light.

              So what exactly makes one a Jesus denier? Your question made me think about that so my reply is rather a long one. I went away and read some articles about denial movements to see if the “denial tag was really a fair one. I’m going to compare Jesus denial here with HIV denial, on the basis of the

              article below:

              http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040256

              The article notes that “the characteristics described below apply to many other forms of popular denial, including denial of evolution, mental

              illness, and the Holocaust.” As such, I’ve slightly adapted the names of the original characteristics described in the article.

              Conspiracy Theories and Selective Distrust of Authority

              That HIV is the primary cause of AIDS is the strongly held consensus opinion of the scientific community, based upon over two decades

              of robust research. Deniers must therefore reject this consensus, either by denigrating the notion of scientific authority in general, or by arguing

              that the mainstream HIV community is intellectually compromised. It is therefore not surprising that much of the newer denial literature reflects

              a basic distrust of authority and of the institutions of science and medicine.

              The existence of a historical Jesus is, quite plainly, the strongly held consensus of the scholarly community. I would say that some of the

              commenters here seem to denigrate the mainstream scholarly community, refering to it as e.g. “the guild”. Some of the attacks against Ehrman and

              McGrath have, to me, seemed quite personal in nature, as evidenced in the debate over Ehrman’s alleged misuse of researchers, which directly called

              into question his academic competenece.

              Portraying Scholarship as Faith and Consensus as Dogma

              Since the ideas proposed by deniers do not meet rigorous scientific standards, they cannot hope to compete against the mainstream

              theories. They cannot raise the level of their beliefs up to the standards of mainstream science; therefore they attempt to lower the status of the

              denied science down to the level of religious faith, characterizing scientific consensus as scientific dogma

              I would say that the (various) options offered by Jesus deniers cannot compete against the mainstream theory. Jesus Deniers do not, as a whole

              raise their work to the levels of the mainstream scholarly community (most Jesus Deniers would simply lack the academic training or relevant academic background to do so). As such, Jesus deniers frequently attempt to lower the status of Biblical scholarship, accusing it of being tainted by confessional considerations (when in many cases mainstream scholars have no confessional position).

              Expert Opinion and the Promise of Forthcoming Academic Acceptance

              Although the HIV deniers condemn scientific authority and consensus, they have nevertheless worked to assemble their own lists of

              scientists and other professionals who support their ideas. As a result, the deniers claim that they are just on the cusp of broader acceptance in

              the scientific community and that they remain an underdog due to the “established orthodoxy” represented by scientists who believe that HIV causes AIDS.

              Jesus Deniers seem happy to do this, citing the odd mainstream scholar who might entertain their views and cherry picking quotes from the work of

              scholars who would wholly reject their conclusions. BG has frequently claimed that Jesus denial *will* become an accepted theory, it’s just in

              it’s infancy, the evidence isn’t there yet etc.

              Pushing back the goalpost

              Of all the characteristics of deniers, repeatedly nudging back the goalpost—or the threshold of evidence required for acceptance of a

              theory—is often the most telling. The strategy behind goalpost-moving is simple: always demand more evidence than can currently be provided. If the

              evidence is then provided at a later date, simply change the demand to require even more evidence, or refuse to accept the kind of evidence that

              is being offered.

              This is an interesting one, and in fairness I don’t recall anybody asking a Jesus denier outright what evidence it would take to convince them that Jesus existed. I would say however, that in their demands for proof of Jesus existence, Jesus deniers demand a degree of certainty which would simply not be asked of other names in history. Jesus deniers also reject some pieces or types of evidence outright, even though the mainstream scholarly community accepts it.

              What are their alternatives?

              After so much criticism levied upon the prevailing theories by deniers, one might think they would have something to offer to replace HIV

              as the cause of AIDS. However, the alternatives they offer are much more speculative than the mainstream theories they decry as lacking evidence.

              Further, their arguments amount to little more than another logical fallacy, the false dichotomy: they assume that overturning the prevailing

              theory will prove their theory correct, by default.

              This is the big one for me. As I posted above, I started using the name Jesus deniers do not offer a coherent alternative of their own – it was kind of a joke. I had no idea at the time, but there we go – failure to offer a coherent alternative to the mainstream view is a characteristic of denial movements. Such alternatives as Jesus deniers offer are far more speculative and lacking than the mainstrem theory they decry as lacking in evidence.

              So there we go – a person is a Jesus denier if they fit the characteristics I have outlined above, which are common to denial movements.

              Anyway, this seems to have turned into something of an essay. I daresay a few people will take issue with my comments but there we go – you’ve asked me a question and I’ve answered it as well as I could.

              PS: Apologies for any typos, it’s taken me ages to write this and I really can’t face spellchecking it right now!

              • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                That’s a lot to chew on Paul and I’m going to have to give each point some thought.  I rather suspect that I’m going to be doing some posts about it on my own blog.

                Unfortunately, a new distraction has arisen.  The fourth volume in Robert Caro’s brilliant biography of Lyndon Johnson, The Passage of Power, just arrived on my doorstep.   It’s been ten years since Master of the Senate was published and I’m hoping that Caro lives long enough to finish the last volume.   The Path to Power came out in 1981.

                • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                  No worries Vinny, it was quite a whopper of a post! 

                  I didn’t know you had your own blog, but now that I’ve found it I’ll certainly give it a read. Enjoy your book.

              • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                As I’ve said, many times, if somebody can offer me a better explanation
                for Christian origins than “A guy called Jesus lived a couple of
                thousand years ago and some people thought he was pretty cool” I would
                be happy to listen to it.

                For me, the problem is that I don’t see much evidence of that guy in our earliest source(s).  When I look at Paul, I find another explanation that looks plausible, too:  “Some guys had some visions of a heavenly being they called the risen Christ and invented stories about an earthly man that sounded cool.”  While your explanation is at least equally plausible, I don’t see anything that points decisively in that direction.

  • Brettongarcia

    I guess the median position between ardent Christians and skeptics, is to agree that whatever Jesus is, whether he has been a real or a mythic character, “he” has been an important and fascinating element in our culture.  And we could all profit from taking new perspectives on him.  To try to understand him better.

  • Brettongarcia

    Are we stuck with a perpetual war between Science and Religion?  Reason vs. Faith?
     
    The interesting thing is that many of the “different” positions presented here, are actually much closer together than many might seem to think. 
     
    “Historicists” for example?  Typically (normally?), read out the accounts of miracles.  And try to look for whatever plausibly real/empirically verifiable Jesus there might be left … after totally discounting physical miracles.
     
    Surprisingly, even most Christians seem willing to accept that accounts of physical miracles might be mostly metaphors, for mental/spiritual events.  Or they say “this is not the age of miracles.”
     
    So that now and then, strangely, many (if not all) “opponents” agree on some crucial matters.

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Brettongarcia,

      There is no war between reason and faith.  The tension is between skepticism and faith.  Both employ reason, though to different outcomes.

  • Brettongarcia

    Neil:

    Indeed, everyday experience and science both, confirm the Natural, not supernatural way of looking at things, is best.  Science and experience confirm that people aren’t walking on water.  They aren’t performing miracles.  And science and experience tell us that the best way to get to New York or Darwin, is by buiding a ship or a car, and getting there that way; rather than praying to God to fly us there magically through the air.

    Fortunately th0ugh, we might not have to work too hard to make this point; even many Christians privately doubt miracles.  Particularly, most preachers suggest that we might take the apparent accounts of apparent physical wonders, as being not literally true; but as being particularly metaphors, parables, for spiritual events.   

    So after a brief discussion of some of the problems with supernatural accounts, it might be that both sides will be willing to put the matter of supernaturalisms aside?

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Brettongarcia,

      Science tells us that we are situated on the side of a sphere spinning at 1,000 mph, circling its closest star at 66,000 mph, together catapulting some 432,000 mph through the Milky Way – all without our flying off the side…or even getting chapped lips.  I consider this no less wondrous than walking on water, notwithstanding its far greater frequency of occurrence.  

  • Brettongarcia

    In defense of Neil’s theoretical defense of mythicism, and in response to Paul’s objections?  Especially, what would we say about Paul asserting particularly,that  most of even the rather supernatural heroes and gods, often had some kind of human figure inspiring them.  Like for example, Mohammet, the Prophet.
     
    The first response to Paul’s objections would be that of course, 1) this would probably not hold quite so well for say, Posidon or Zeus say (in spite of their obvious but generalized anthropomorphism).   Carrier cited the tales of Hercules, who at times was taken to be an historical figure, with even a “Biography” written about him; but who other times is thought to be wholly fictional.  James McGrath posted a piece on Jed Ludd, eponymous founder of Luddites; who may or may not have been an historical figure.   WHo might have been  just an Urban Legend.
     
    Then too? 2) Consider specifically say, Mohammet.  Or as I knew him while living in Islamic territories, “Our Sacred Messenger,” or “The Prophet.”  This might not be such a good example for Paul’s case.  First because a) many Muslims I knew, constantly assured me that if Islam was superior to Christianity, it was largely because its account of things relied far less on supernaturalisms.  For b) example?  Its main figure – Our Sacred Messenger – is explicitly said, not to be a “god,” or even a “son of God”; but only a very human “prophet.”  Then too c) he is pictured (in the Koran at least) as working very, very few (if any?) miracles.  If d)he is pictured being “taken up into heaven” after his death, this is not a miracle he is performing himself.  And might be taken as a mere metaphor too.
     
    So?  It may be that we will find that there are not SO many supernatural figures that have a real person behind them; if they are based on real historical figures, often they are not so supernatural, for one reason. 

    Perhaps they worked natural wonders, to be sure.  But?

  • Brettongarcia

    [Vinny:

    Parenthetically and slightly off-topic?  I DO hope you plan to get VERY active writing the NT Times in early October;  with about a one or two month lead-in for any Romney/Obama election?  Looks like Romney could be VERY easily defeated.  Just by pointing out to conservatives that ... Mormonism is not Christian.  (In spite of the already-biggest ad campaign in history, to assure us that "I'm a regular guy, and I'm a Mormon"). 

    Paul?   If you wanted to start The Folkloristics Jesus, or Urban Legend Jesus web site, that would work for me!]

  • Claude

    [Brettongarcia,

    If there isn't more movement in the economy and reduction in unemployment, and gas prices hover above $4, then Obama is in trouble regardless of whether fundies ride out the election in the swing states.

    And for those on the religious right who are motivated to vote, I imagine they could swallow their distaste for the Mormon cult leader in order to dislodge the Kenyan Muslim socialist tyrant.

    In my humble opinion.]

  • Claude

    Vinny,

    Presumably you don’t host a website devoted to polemics against historicists while producing a stream of apologetics on behalf of mythicism. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, but it’s hard to distance oneself when one is right in the middle of it all.

    I don’t recall anyone accusing you of being part of the mythicist movement, and for what it’s worth, I certainly don’t think of you as such.

    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

      Claude,

      I appreciate that.  I do have a blog where I discuss the reasons why I find the case for the historical Jesus insufficient, but I try to avoid polemics.  

      I haven’t been accused of being part of the mythicist movement on this blog lately, but there are plenty of people who think that anyone who doesn’t confidently affirm the historicity of Jesus is drinking the Kool-Aid.  Here, the worst people usually think is that I’m sniffing the fumes.

  • Brettongarcia

    Mike:

    Just how clear is the resurrection of Jesus?

    Jesus died … but then 1) in Mark, we just get an empty tomb, with people wondering where he is – if you have the version of Mark that ends with Mark 16.8.  But 2) then in another verion of Mark, we see the resurrected Jesus.  Then?  3) the disciples are talking to a stranger … who seems to turn into Jesus …. 4) but then disappears.  Then 5) Jesus seems to be around for 40 days … but then disappears agin, into “heaven” .  Then 6) it is said that Jesus is with us always in spirit.  And then 7) he will appear/be resurrected on earth again in the Second COming.  And…

    Looks like Jesus gets resurrected all over the place! But  in dozens of ways, all over the place.  Wow!  But then?  He keeps disappearing again.

    And if you add in the Old Testament?  There are literally dozens of conflicting accounts of resurrection.

    So how clear is “the ” resurrection, after all?

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Clear enough, and certainly not as muddled as you attempt to portray it.

  • Claude

    Apropos of this discussion, a passage from McGrath’s eBook:

    …when early Christians spoke of Jesus as having been raised from the dead, they were not talking about his resuscitation, his restoration and return into life within history. On the contrary, the assertion that Jesus had been raised from the dead was an affirmation that Jesus had entered the age to come, a new kind of existence altogether, one that transcends history and what we might call space and time as we know them. Obviously, historical study by definition cannot hope to study that which lies outside of the bounds of historical existence.

    I thought that was pretty good.

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    Mike,

    Your statement is so vague as to be meaningless.  Sometimes historians reject testimony, too.  My second paragraph is not “just a repetition of [my] opinion that the New Testament documents cannot be trusted.”  It identifies the kind of factors upon which historians regularly decide how much weight to give to accounts of events in the past.

    If Paul provides us sufficient evidence to believe in the historicity of the resurrection, then there is more than sufficient evidence to believe in countless other supernatural claims that other religions make.  Let me know when you are ready to affirm the Angel Moroni and the Golden Plates. 

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      VinnyJH,

      The testimony of a witness is only as good as the credibility of the witness.  Paul and the other apostles who testify to Jesus Christ have it as far as I’m concerned.  Those who testify to the Golden Plates don’t.  

  • Brettongarcia

    Mike?

    Very strictly speaking, a first person witness, is a live person you are talking to yourself, who says he literally witnessed what happened.  And whose witness is confirmed.  But we don’t have this, just through us reading the Bible. 

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Brettongarcia,

      It goes without saying that the people who wrote, and who provided testimony for, the New Testament documents no longer live.  That does not prevent those documents from conveying true statements to us.

  • Brettongarcia

    What people say in the Bible might  be true, or not. 

     But in any case?  They are no longer true, first person witnesses.  And?  What they say has been handed on to us, through a series of highly controversial and much-edited books.  Over a period of, today, nearly 2000 years.  Books that were continuously changed (like the 2 versions of Mark, found in Bibles today). 

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Your first paragraph is true, but I don’t know where that gets us because it could similarly be said of everything that comes out of any human being’s mouth.

      Your second paragraph mis-characterizes history and is very misleading.  Textual criticism shows that corruption of the text over time has been minimal and doesn’t not allow for the sort of “Da Vinci Code” scenario you are portraying.  

  • Claude

    Paul Renier wrote:

    “Mythicists” consistently seemed to generate rather more heat than light.

    That is the problem. Why slog through relentless, paranoid rants against an insensible world in the hope of uncovering a kernel of insight? It’s not worth it.

  • Brettongarcia

    Vinny:

    I often live in Texas, and am active in various issues that bring me into contact with the local powers that be:   met and talked to LBJ after he retired; we had some business together.  Pretty intense guy, used to getting things done.  Curiously?  He lost his Texas accent pretty quick.

    Also met and dealt with George Bush Jr.; Ron Paul; Perry.  Got along with Paul the best.  Send a message with your website on it to my facebook and/or wordpress site, and I’ll answer a question or maybe two, before signing off.   For being so good, the genii grants you at least one question!

  • Brettongarcia

    Neil:  I agree.  And that’s where McGrath and these “Historicists” fail:  they try to stick with the text “itself” too much; and fail to learn enough about the larger cultural context.  That is what causes them to miss … all the Greco-Roman influences.  The influence of Hellenistic culture – and myths.

    In particular?  In Religous PhD classes, they studied  mainly Judeo- Bibliocentric Christian history.  If they’d learned more secular History, they would’ve known about massive Greco-Roman influence in the area around Jesus.  And then?  They would have seen those influences even in the text itself, finally. The influences of Greek and Roman culture – and myth.

    If they’d only known more History, they would have become good, proper Mythicists.

    How can you spot the influence of Plato in Paul … if you never read Plato?

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

      Yes, and I like those rare scholars (e.g. Hock) trying their best to tell their peers that they can’t understand the Gospels and Acts (nor even the epistles, by extension) until they’ve studied the Hellenistic literature across all the genres, epics, novellas, epistles, drama, philosophical treatises . . . . .

      They open up a view onto the New Testament that so few NT scholars seem to ever see.

  • Paul R

    BG – that’s simply nonsense. Do you have any evidence as to the proportion of NT scholars who have/haven’t read Plato? Or are you making an unfounded assumption?

    Even as a humble undergrad, one of my very first courses was called “Christianity, Judaism, and Greece” and put the NT in exactly the kind of context you talk about. I wrote essays that involved a comparing of Christian documents with other forms of contemporary literature, not least my undergrad dissertation. We read Plato, Homer, Pliny, the mystery religions, the NT apocrypha.

    The kind of context you talk about is nothing new – it’s Biblical Studies 101.

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

      I would not be surprised if most undergrads in classics/ancient history/new testament studies are required to “read” Plato’s Republic and maybe the Apology. But what is the purpose of the course-work? Is it to grasp the philosophy itself, or the literary matrix of the philosophy, or the techniques used in argument, or the broader cultural-historical context?

      I was quite shocked actually (this was in my early years of acquaintance with Dr McGrath) when he faulted Doherty for not expounding “THE ancient view of the universe” (Singular– Ehrman take note!) was what was written by Aristotle! He clearly had scarcely ever heard of NEO-Platonism — the many branches of Platonic thought-world philosophies that were extant at the time of Christian origins.

  • Brettongarcia

    It’s not an assumption about all religious scholars; its just one possible example of one particular kind of ignorance of classics. 

    Though?  Of course I know exactly what kinds of coursework PhD candidates in Christianity take; and the emphasis for MOST programs, is clearly of course, NOT on classics.  Many, if they are lucky, they take one course on Greco-Roman contexts.

    By the way though:  “Biblical Studies” courses ARE far better. Most PhD’s in religion/Christianity though, are not adequately exposed to Biblical Studies.

    As surely you know?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

      Though?  Of course I know exactly what kinds of coursework PhD candidates in Christianity take; and the emphasis for MOST programs, is clearly of course, NOT on classics.  Many, if they are lucky, they take one course on Greco-Roman contexts.
      By the way though:  “Biblical Studies” courses ARE far better. Most PhD’s in religion/Christianity though, are not adequately exposed to Biblical Studies.

      I’m interested to know where you get this information from? Have you done some kind of survey of the content of PhD programs or are you drawing on some secondary research you could share with me?

  • Brettongarcia

    In fact, this is really the problem with the field of Religion, Christianity; it’s split in half.  Between 1) seminaries eager to teach possible future priests and ministers, who are totally loyal to traditional dogmatic ideas of Christianity; vs. 2) much broader, more academic Religious Studies. 

    Many more traditional programs remain dedicated to the idea that the function of an academic program in religion, is to simply reaffirm traditional church dogmas and doctrines. 

    And that is what creates the problems we see here, on Dr. McGrath’s blog and others:  many conservatives are eager to simply reaffirm elements of traditional dogma; especially they want to follow the Old Testament, when its God insisted that only Jews were the favored people of God.  When it said that the “nations” like Greece- and Rome in effect – were bad and evil, and fated.  From this (OT) perspective, Greco-Roman “influence” on Christianity is unthinkable, and evil. 

    This stance I think, is the real motivation behind Dr. McGraths’ emphasis on CHristianity and Christ, as Jewish. 

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Brettongarcia,

      Your rhetoric moves wildly all over the landscape, and your theories are not even internally coherent.  

      You say that conservatives want to follow the OT because it is anti-Greek and yet you simultaneously say that the apostles, who were even more closely tied to the OT than conservatives, wrote the NT under the influence of Greek thought.

      You seem like a bright guy but you also seem to be slinging one handful of mud after another all over the wall in the hopes that some of it will stick.

  • Brettongarcia

    Mike:

    Does the fact that people follow someone to their own death, mean that the person they believe in, is real and good?

    A million Nazis followed Hiter, to their deaths.  “Defending” their homeland from foreign invaders, and non-Christian communists.

    Dozens of buddhist monks in the 1960′s, burned themselves to death, in protest over the US involvement in Vietnam.

    Hundreds of religious, non-Christian zealots, starved to death in the desert, fasting for their god.

    By your logic, Nazis, Buddhists, and other non-Christians, were right.

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      The behavior of the apostles is easily distinguished from that of the groups you mention here.

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

    While I would never go to the ridiculous extreme of the mythicists and their supporters and offer an accusation of libel, I would like to point out two very obvious untruths in recent comments by Neil Godfrey. The first is the suggestion that I ever thought that the ancient view of any matter was determined by Aristotle. There was a later period when the intellectual climate in Europe regarding cosmology was largely shaped by Aristotle (e.g. in the era of Galileo) but I don’t think that is what he was referring to, and even then it would not be “the” view but only the dominant view in certain circles.

    If the ancient Greek view of something ever corresponds to something found in the writing of Aristotle, it would by definition be because Aristotle reflected the views of his culture, rather than vice versa.

    The other major untruth in recent comments is the suggestion that historians simply discard miracles and assume that what is left is historical. This is at least doubly untrue, since on the one hand, historians sift through every type of material, sayings, narratives about actions, and evaluate their historicity. And on the other hand, historians know that the Christian movement existed and called peoplle to believe that Jesus was the rightful heir to the Davidic throne even though he had been crucified well before the Gospels were written, and so these are not likely to be the contextless works of fiction sold for entertainment by booksellers, as mythicists have been known to implausibly suggest or imply.

    As always I appreciate it when folks like Neil Godfrey provide current examples of the tactics mythicists and their supporters resort to. It saves the hassle of having to hunt around for older ones when new people join in the conversation and wonder why I no longer interact directly with certain individuals, or wonder whether mythicism is really as ludicrous and intellectually bankrupt as I claim.

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

      Dr McGrath — what you have just accused me of is quite false. Here is what I wrote: “I was quite shocked actually (this was in my early years of acquaintance with Dr McGrath) when he faulted Doherty for not expounding “THE ancient view of the universe” (Singular– Ehrman take note!) was what was written by Aristotle!”

      Yet Dr McGrath has twisted that into my saying something I did not at all say, that he said the ancient view was DETERMINED by Aristotle. Aristotle expressed and refined it and formalized it for all intents and purposes.

      But it was Dr McGrath who spoke of THE ancient worldview of the time — saying it was the Aristotelean view — SINGULAR, and it is there for anyone to read for themselves in the comments on this post: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/03/09/ancient-beliefs-about-heavenly-realms-demons-and-the-end-of-the-world/

      In comment 29 he writes: “Aristotle was certainly influential in Paul’s time, . . . This is the worldview from well before Paul’s time until well after it.”  — THE WORLDVIEW OF THE TIME, singular

      In commdnt 13 he writes again of “the worldview of the time ” THE WORLDVIEW OF THE TIME, singular.

      In comment 10, “the cosmological thinking of the time” THE COSMOLOGOLICAL THINKING OF THE TIME, singular
       
      In comment 6: “the thought world of their time” THE THOUGHT WORLD OF THEIR TIME” — Singular.

      Dr McGrath is also quick to infer what I did not say at all. I did not suggest scholars themselves simply remove miracles from stories to decide what was true. I said no such thing and a bit of charity would have led him to seek clarification of what I meant if he thought that. I have, on the contrary, said repeatedly, and in this thread too, scholars use criteria among other “tools”. But especially criteria.

      I was, if Dr McGrath would like to check the context again, explaining what we cannot do — and what in the bottom line appears is what it comes down to — the removing of the supernatural leaves us with something plausible, and that is most likely to be history, which is where the criteria kick in.

      Dr McGrath surely knows that his own peers themselves have portrayed the method in terms very much like this.

      Yet Dr McGrath is quite quick to deny the facts and libel mythicists.

  • Claude

    [In case I sound oblivious, I was unaware of Prof. McGrath's recent post when I posted.]

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

    And here is the whole context of the comment that Neil Godfrey quoted only part of in order to misconstrue it:

    On the one hand, Aristotle was certainly influential in Paul’s time, and Paul sided with Aristotle on the matter of whether thinking took place in the heart or the head.

    But on the other hand, my point was simply illustrative. This is Greek thought, and then European thought as the Greek heritage becomes part of that wider tradition. This is the worldview from well before Paul’s time until well after it. It has nothing to do specifically with Aristotle – he is just a famous and influential instance of the worldview that he, Paul, and everyone else who was heir to Greek thought down until the time of the Copernican revolution shared.

    The context was discussion of what would eventually be labeled the Ptolemaic worldview – a geocentric cosmology within which there were, as I said, variations, but also commonalities which many authors simply took for granted.

    So once again, nice try, Neil Godfrey, and thank you for showing off your tactics for all to see. You have no idea how much I appreciate it, as it makes exposing mythicism (and cryptomythicism) for what they are so much easier. Presumably I can now go back to ignoring your comments, even ones that misrepresent what I wrote, confident that it has been adequately illustrated that no one can take what you write at face value, but everything must be fact checked.

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

      Dr McGrath, the context was the discussion of Doherty’s views of the sublunar realm and the habitations of demons. You countered by saying that “Doherty’s view” was contrary to Aristotelian “view of the universe” which was “the word view” of the time. I did NOT, as you falsely declare, accuse you of saying Aristotle “DETERMINED” the view for all. You also referred to the Ptolemaic view — which of course was a variant of “the Aristotelian view”

      For you to be accusing me of even deliberately trying to misrepresent you by actually misrepresenting my own words is, shall we say, even bordering on the libellous.

      The fact is that you declared Doherty was WRONG with his account of ancient cosmology because it — in your own words — was inconsistent with THE ancient VIEW of the universe.

      The fact stands that Doherty understood far better than you did that there were many VIEWS of world and Ehrman’s critique would be more on target if it were directed at your words, not Doherty’s.

  • Brettongarcia

    Claude:  thank you for your earlier, very circumspect musings on the Pantheon vs. Historical Jesus.

    But as for your latest criticisms?  Undoubtedly I’m more critical of our Biblical “historicists.”  Because I have more training in History proper than most of them do; even the PhD’s.  And I believe – as Carrier does for example – that their historiographical method is privileged, to the point of invalidating it.

    Could a PhD in Historiography, say (not quite my own position to be sure) know more about that subject, than a PhD in Dogmatics, say?  Certainly.  That is not arrogance.  On the contrary.   It would be massive arrogance on the part of the Domatics scholar, to claim otherwise.

    Regarding their lack of knowledge of Classical things?  Do you seriously contend that your average PhD in religion, really knows as much about Classical culture, as a specialist in that field? 

    Is that arrogant to say?

    Neil:  nice summary of your corroborating example, with quotes.  Showing that indeed, many biblical scholars have been simplifying things far too much, on Greco-Roman, ANE culture.  When they began referring in part to “THE” view of the ancients, as if things were ever quite that simple.  And especially say, if they thought it was “Aristotelian.”  THus neglecting Platonism and a hundred other ancient philosphies and belief-systems.

  • Brettongarcia

    Claude:  Those who study the history of writing History – Historiography – know that theories of how history works, how histories should be written, change from era to era.  And?  In retrospect, we find that some methods work better than others. 

    In particular?  Many of us have found that often isolated academic disciplines – like Literature, or Theology, or Religion – have rather limited notions of method, and lack larger historical perspective.   IF you want to understand say, Second Temple religion or theology, too much concentration just on religion “itself” or theology “itself,” leaves out too much contextual material.  So that you need a more “interdisciplinary” perspective on the subject.  With greater awareness of Classical culture especially, than many traditional Christian programs allow.

    Is it presumptuous, for someone outside of say a Theology program, to suggest that their method is partially wrong?  First 1) couldn’t a specialist in History, ever note inadequacies in any just “theology” program?  Problems with whatever historical content they presumed?   While 2) for that matter, most Theology departments (when they had them), often examined their own historical sense of things .. and changed their own methodology, dozzzens of times over the centuries.z

    Can a chemist, never note inadequacies in normative understanding in a Biology department, of endochrinology?  Or cellwall chemistry?c

    And today in fact, quite a few PhD scholars – many with very strong credentials in Religion proper, but also other fields too - are complaining that the normative training that specialists get in Religion departments, is still far too narrow, to even really fully understand their own subject.  In particular, Classicists are noting that lack of fuller knowledge of Greco-Roman cultural beliefs/myths, causes a serious underestimation of the mythic content of  the conventional “Jesus.”

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

      BG – I wonder if you read my post to Vinny above on the characteristics of the Jesus denial movement above? Your most recent posts seem quite neatly into  the category I’ve called  ”Conspiracy Theories and Selective Distrust of Authority”, albeit with a generous smattering of “Portraying Scholarship as Faith and Consensus as Dogma”

    • Claude

      Brettongarcia,

      Let’s take as a given that I don’t expect scholars or interested parties to mindlessly submit to the status quo, so of course I don’t think experimentation or innovation is presumptuous. But when you say–

      And I believe – as Carrier does for example – that their historiographical method is privileged, to the point of invalidating it.

      –it suggests to me that the perceived deficiencies of this historiographical method arise from its privileged status, not the merits. I’m skeptical that Biblical Studies has been uniquely impervious to interdisciplinary approaches, although perhaps there are different emphases between the seminary and the university. You’re suggesting that an entire intellectual culture has stagnated. I wonder from what vantage you draw these conclusions.

      In particular, Classicists are noting that lack of fuller knowledge of Greco-Roman cultural beliefs/myths, causes a serious underestimation of the mythic content of  the conventional “Jesus.”

      Aside from Carrier, who thinks this?

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

    I’m not going to waste any more time on this, but those who are interested can click through and read the original discussion, which was about the problematic way that Earl Doherty takes the distinctive cosmology of the Ascension of Isaiah and ignores the fact that not everyone can be assumed to view things as the author of that work did.

    Since even the Ascension of Isaiah doesn’t really help Doherty’s case, the point may be viewed as moot by some.

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

      Dr McGrath, your assertion here is absolutely false! You did not even check the context. The Ascension of Isaiah was not once mentioned in the entire post. The post was based on the texts of Seneca, Philo and Plutarch.

      For YOU to accuse ME of misrepresentation and dishonest “tactics” is nothing but outright projection of your own “tactics”.

      Throughout your responses you REPEATEDLY spoke of “THE ancient VIEW” of the universe in the context of scoffing at the cosmology Doherty himself drew from those sources.

      The post and your comments are here: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/03/09/ancient-beliefs-about-heavenly-realms-demons-and-the-end-of-the-world/

       

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

      Dr McGrath, the biggest irony here is that you began your post by attempting to mock me for having been found out to have made a mistake in a blog comment of mine.

      I admitted that mistake and apologized to Thom Stark. We remained on good terms throughout.

      I point out a mistake of yours and you resort to outright falsehoods and libelous character attacks in retaliation.

  • Brettongarcia

    Neil?  When two people disagree?  State your case and move on.  I think you’ve made a pretty good case for yourself.  Put the anger aside.  And let the facts speak for themselves.

    Paul:

    You could probably  tar almost every innovator in history, with this or that part of that brush.   Anyone who went against the whole prevailing system of the time; like say, Copernicus.  Or Newton.  Or Einstein. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

      Not quite BG –  Did you read the section “what are their alternative?”. Copernicus, Newton, and Einstein had one. You do not. 

      Also – Newton was professor of Mathematics at Cambridge
      Einstein had a PhD in Physics and worked at several Universities. Jesus Deniers simply do not hold those kind of credentials – see ”Portraying Scholarship as Faith and Consensus as Dogma”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

    Neil – here’s a solution. If you do not like Dr McGrath’s, attitude, scholarship, logic etc. how about you simply *don’t* post on his blog?

    Personally, I can’t say I’m much impressed by your attitude, scholarship, logic etc. and on the whole I would say that not posting on (or, as a rule, reading) your blog makes me a happier and more contented person than I would otherwise be.

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

      Paul, you should follow Dr McGrath’s advice — he regularly drops in to say my comments can safely be ignored.

      Sorry for drawing attention to the fact that Dr McGrath falsely and maliciously accuses me from time to time. It would be much more peaceful if he could just get away with such attacks without anyone protesting one iota.

       

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

        Does he? Looked on there myself a couple of times, can’t say I would ever see any point in posting on it. If you have your own little reality on your own blog somewhere, then good for you. I can’t say I feel much need to pay you a visit.

        When you see a drunken man on sitting a park bench bellowing nonsense to the world, sometimes it’s best to avoid eye contact and walk on by don’t you think?

        • Gakuseidon

           Paul: When you see a drunken man on sitting a park bench bellowing nonsense to
          the world, sometimes it’s best to avoid eye contact and walk on by
          don’t you think?

          Or you could just say “Hi Neil, how’s it going?” :)

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

    I still can’t figure out whether Neil Godfrey projects what he himself does onto others and genuinely believes what he claims, or whether it is all knowingly dishonest. I don’t want to waste time either with someone who is mentally ill or with someone who is simply a liar, but I would treat the two cases differently, since in the former sort of case the person deserves our compassion, while in the latter, presumably only our contempt. But is there any way of knowing?

  • Brettongarcia

    Newton, Einstein, Copernicus, were all paranoid “deniers” of the truth, some might claim:  all suspected that there was something wrong with the “science” of their time.  They all in effect objected to the overwhelming consensus of their own era - and then they changed it. 

    Is it time for a similar watershed/paradigm change, in whatever consensus opinion there seems to be, for the historical  ”Jesus”? 

    In fact, institutional pressures and conventions – and popular sentiment – have determined the academic consensus here, for far too long … as some key voices are now beginning to note.  So that particularly, it is time to give Mythicism an ear once again.

    Are the opponents of Mythicism behaving responsibly, and facing this?  Above, Paul Reignier seems to suggest that the  mythicst is a ”drunken man”;  Dr. McGrath suggests he is “mentally ill” or a “liar.” 

    But?  Suppose we put the polemics and emotionality aside, and listen to the Mythicists’ substantive content?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

      “But?  Suppose we put the polemics and emotionality aside, and listen to the Mythicists’ substantive content?”

      There is no substantive content BG, that’s the point. That’s why comparisons with Einstein, Newton, Copernicus etc are simply laughable. 

      Incidentally can you point me to some quotes where these figures were described as “paranoid deniers of the truth”? Copernicus, maybe. But Newton? Einstein?

      PS – I’m still waiting for your evidence on the content of “Christianity” PhD programs.

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

        Paul, it seems the only contribution you have to make to the argument is to say it’s bunk. That’s probably appropriate given the title of the post, but clearly it’s not bunk for many people. Now you can take the time to work out how to profile people who in your assessment are purveyors of bunk, and I think you will find that a far more rewarding exercise than trying to participate constructively in a discussion of mythicism. But what BG is asking for is a serious discussion of mythicism. Why not just say you have nothing to contribute and leave it at that?

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

          Hi Neil,

          The fact that many people don’t see mythicism as bunk is completely irrelevant to me. Does anybody who believes bunk actually think it’s bunk themselves? Presumably not or they would stop believing it… 

          I do indeed find profiling Jesus deniers stimulating, and seeing as JDers do not generally volunteer theories that can be seriously discussed, I hope you’ll understand that I have to take my stimulation were I can get it. In all seriousness, while I don’t think that the work of the JD movement tells us anything at all about Christian origins, I think the movement itself could be an interesting object of study for what it tells us about contemporary attitudes towards Christianity and the scholarly community. 

          Anyway Neil, thanks for stepping in as self-appointed discussion referee, but we’re doing just fine on our own. BG has just offered me a theory to engage with and this is what we’re now doing. 

          (If you’re reading this Dr McGrath, I’ve been mulling over going back to Uni to do an MA and I’m starting to think I might write my dissertation on mythicism as a denial movement. I’d be interested to know your thoughts on whether that sounds like a promising idea?) 

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

            Paul, a dissertation on that topic would be fascinating! Are you thinking to do that for an MA in History, New Testament, or perhaps something else?

            I’d certainly want to read what you came up with – and perhaps it could even be turned into a book!

            • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

              Glad you think it might be interesting!

              I’m fairly limited as to where and what I could study as it would need to be part time, but my local Uni over here (Kent) offers an MA in Theory and Method in the Study of Religion, so I think it could tie it into that quite nicely. When I was an undergrad my main interests were the New Testament and the Sociology of Religion, so studying mythicism as a denial movement could be a way to combine the two.

              Writing a book… now that would be fun :-)

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

               I also like the idea. I think you yourself should take up similar publications in serious formats, James.

              Get the arguments and research out on the table for all to see and examine under light of day. Like Ehrman’s book. It would be the most effective way of airing what the real issues are.

  • Brettongarcia

    Anyone who has actually tried to read Newton extensively, in the original, will be surprised to find how just how heavily mythical/mystical/paranoid his writing is.  Newton began to write in an era in which “spirits” and ghosts were a major part of the science of the day, out of alchemy and wizardry.  Likewise Copernicus.  While Einstein was “afraid” that his own findings might not hold up over time.  For this reason, Carl Sagan siad that  ”paranoia is the origin of Science” (paraphrased).

    When we look at the state of religious study today, and see all the emotionalism that obviously drives its view of Jesus, we might well hope that it will soon finally stress out to the point that it feels willing to jump into a new and more rational paradigm.

    Serious study of Christianity, at the PhD level – as I said above – is essentially divided into serious, objective “Religious Studies” programs in secular univerities … and then far more traditional, conservative, anti-science programs in many seminaries; programs that are so little academic, so entirely devoted to producing blindly faithful followers, that I have parodied them by calling them PhD programs in “Christianity.”

    To find out what they study?  Just consult a “Coursework requirement” list for their PhD-level  program.

    To be sure, it may be harder and harder to find any; since nearly everyone today is beginning to abandon the old, loyal approach.   To find the old-school faith, you’d have to go to say, Vatican-sponsored schools.

    The fact is, whether laypeople know it or not, a subtle paradigm shift has long been underway in graduate religious study; and in the directions that mythicists have been indicating.  Indeed, if you look into the work of “Historicists,” you will find that even they in particular, work by uncovering one implausiblity after another in the traditional account of jesus; and then subtracting it out.  To derive the Historal Jesus.

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Scholarship has its place.  It helps us to know what the biblical texts say.  It surveys other literature of the biblical era to give context.  It studies language and culture that we might reasonably apprehend the idioms employed.  And so on.  

      However, when it comes to understanding who Christ is and what His message means, academia does not have that market cornered.  Every human being has a right to hear the history of what Jesus said and did – and then make a decision about whether and how to react.  As scholars vary in their reactions from skepticism to faith, so people will vary in their reactions as well. 

      The great shame of mythicism is that it seeks to deny people the right to make their own decisions about Jesus by employing pseudo-scholarship to deny the  Jesus to which the scholarship of history attests.   The great folly of mythicism is that it has no good academic reason for doing this; its motivation lies in another realm, unannounced by the mythicists and, it appears, unknown to them as well.

  • Brettongarcia

    Mike?

    Many mythicists were once strongly-believing Christians, who felt much like you.  It’s not as if most of us don’t understand the feeling, even from the inside.

    And?  No one wants to deny you the right to feel what you want to. 

    But everyone wants you to make an informed decision, and to know more about what you decided to follow.

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Brettongarcia,

      You’re missing the point by a country mile.  Mythicism’s quest prevents people from making an informed decision about Jesus by denying them the information that history provides about him.  Because of scholarship, I can make a decision about Jesus; mythicism seeks to deprive me of the ability to make that decision.

      By your definition, the erstwhile believers called mythicists are on a mission to keep others from making the same “mistake” of faith they previously made by eliminating the object of faith so that faith is not even an option.  There’s nothing academic or scholarly about that.

  • Brettongarcia

    That’s not right Mike. 

    Mythicists, as many  have done here, spend LOTS of time looking precisely at the historical evidence of Jesus.  Far more than most churches.  

    We are looking at lots of experiental/scientific and historical evidence.  In detail.  In dozens of highly detailed examples.  Far more than you’ve probably heard before.

    And then too?  We are looking at dozens of biblical quotes; passages examined in GREAT detail.

    We’re not taking away evidence; we’re presenting more of it than you’ve probably ever heard before.  Especially, adding new perspectives on old evidence.

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Brettongarcia,

      Do Mythicists “spend lots of time looking precisely at the historical evidence of Jesus”?  Yes.

      Do mythicists look “at dozens of biblical quotes; passages examined in great detail”?  Yes.

      Do mythicists add “new perspectives on old evidence”?  Yes.

      In fact, you could summarize and say that mythicists examine lots of evidence and offer lots of new perspectives on it.  The problem is that they ignore much of the evidence they examine and offer new perspectives which the evidence doesn’t support. 
      If you really want to disabuse me of my faith in Jesus, explain to me (in the length of a thesis abstract) how the myth was created and how people came to believe it was historical.  

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

        Mike, no-one is the least interested in disabusing you of your faith. I see church signs declaring that Jesus lives in people’s hearts all the time — there’s no conflict there with mythicism. In fact, I’d say that Doherty’s and Couchoud’s particular explanations pose far less a threat than more traditional views such as those from G. A. Wells. What difference does it make where Jesus was crucified for your sins? He still had the power to vicariously identify with humanity as Hebrews says even in Doherty’s and Couchoud’s thesis.

        By removing it from what can be known in the annals of secular history the faith-event is also removed from the threat of falsification — as Albert Schweitzer himself suggested. As one Jesus Seminar fellow opined (he is not a mythicist, by the way), if Jews can get along without an historical Abraham then presumably . . . .

        So mythicism could, if you think about it, be the salvation of Christianity! :-)

        • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

          Neil,

          I am no more interested in the Jesus of church signs than I am in the Jesus of mythological conceptions.  I am interested in the Jesus of history who fulfilled the promises of God made through the prophets of Israel.

          Mythicism is not wrong because it’s against Jesus – it’s wrong because it’s a lie.  It is a lie against history.  If mythicism were true, I would be supporting it.  And I would certainly be supporting it more than you are.  You defend it but you won’t commit to it.  If it’s the truth, commit to it!  If not, go find what is the truth and commit to that.  But, for crying out loud, commit to something!

          I love the truth.  I hate being lied to.  I hate it with the deepest possible passion.  Lies corrode life because they corrode relationships.

          I know mythicism is a lie because it won’t commit to explaining what happened.  It hides in the twilight of, “Well, it could have happened this way, or it could have happened that way.”  Nothing so mealy-mouthed can be true.

          If Jesus as presented in the Scriptures is not true, you’d be doing me the greatest possible service to disabuse me of my faith in Him.  But if He is true, I’d be doing you the greatest possible service to disabuse you of your skepticism about Him.  

          May the truth win.

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

            Look at history and you will find there is no single belief system that is “Truth”. All of them are culture and history bound. None lasts forever. It would be arrogant for any of us to think we have a Truth that will last forever. It is the tentativeness of all knowledge that is always uppermost in my mind. I am always conscious that I do not have complete knowledge or understanding and whatever I think today I am most likely not going to think in the future.

            You want me to commit but commitment to a belief as “True” is arrogance, in my view. You clearly do not understand what the scientific approach is about or you could not say such things. Or if you do, you reject the scientific method in preference for faith.

            But you have set yourself up to be utterly impervious to any dialogue with any rational argument. Your belief is a matter of faith — as is demonstrated by your a-rational responses to recent comments of mine. You say your faith is based on reason or rationalism. But it is not based on the scientific approach to inquiry. If it were, you could not have faith because the scientific approach is all about embracing all knowledge as tentative.

            Whatever the past reasons for your embracing your faith, your faith now is rationalized by your reasoning, not built upon it.

            • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

              Neil,

              Some things in life we can know.  Many things we cannot.  The key to a stable and productive life is knowing the difference between the two.

              You say that it is “uppermost in your mind” that “all knowledge is tentative” and yet you do not act this way.  For example, you are quite sure that the story of Jesus as presented in the New Testament is not true.  Where is your vaunted tentativeness regarding his historicity?

              Neither are you tentative about Bart Ehrman’s book or about James McGrath’s fairness or Mythicism’s legitimacy or almost anything else you write about.

              In sum, you are not the least bit tentative about insisting that those who do not agree with you should be tentative.

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

                 Mike, you respond as if you have never before heard of (or certainly never understood) that the scientific approach to inquiry means that all our conclusions are tentative. You are writing as if you have no idea what tentativeness applies to.

                I have said repeatedly here – you simply refuse to let it register it seems – that I do not go out to crusade for mythicism or use mythicism as an argument against certain things about Christianity because I know I’d look a bit of a fool if I later found out I was wrong.

                I have said repeatedly I am quite open to the possibility of a historical Jesus. I do not argue that there was no Jesus. I argue that the evidence we have is best explained by something other than a historical Jesus.

                And what I know and think today is not what I knew and thought years ago and I would be surprised if it is what I will be thinking quite some years from now.

                So what’s your problem with my having this position that I have repeated and repeated over and over just for people like you here?

                • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                  Neil,

                  I don’t have any problem with your tentativeness.  I only have a problem when you abandon it at will to insist that others can’t be sure about things you are tentative about.  

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

                     Mike, that’s a silly remark — to say I abandon my tentativeness at will to insist others etc etc –. I ask you to read again what I wrote or to acquaint yourself with the nature of the tentativeness of knowledge and conclusion that are based on scientific inquiry.

                    If you insist that you have a right not to be tentative about your conclusions then you are merely saying your conclusions are faith based and not scientific based. Of course I object to that. But that’s because I’m consistent about the application about the scientific applications in the way that is generally understood by those who follow them.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Neil,

                      If you currently believe that the origin of Christianity can best be explained without Christ, then please give the thesis for its origin in thesis-abstract length or less.

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

                      You are jumping out of the discussion into another topic, Mike. Will you please confirm for me that you do understand my point about tentativeness of conclusions. I hate it when a point is unresolved only to come back again later to bite us. Let’s get to the bottom of this question first. Or will you cut to the chase and make another faith-declaration in place of a reasoned argument?

                      Do you understand what it means for the scientific approach to embrace conclusions as tentative? Do you understand the difference between tentativeness in this context and being tentative or dogmatic in some other context such as knowing it is raining today or when someone is breaking the rules?

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Yes, Neil, I understand your point about tentativeness of conclusions and the scientific method.  Now, can I see your thesis abstract for the Christless origin of Christianity?

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      It’s not a Christless origin.  It’s a Jesusless origin.  The hypothesis is that it started with a belief in a supernatural Christ and the stories about the natural Jesus were added later.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      VinnyJH,

                      Neil has declared himself as not a mythicist, so what you offer here may or may not represent his view.  We’ll have to wait until we see his thesis extract.

                      If, however, you want to offer your own thesis extract, whether for mythicism or for your own view, I’ve love to see that, too.

                      So many of you are arguing against the historicity of Jesus (the thesis of Ehrman’s book) but it is not clear at all what alternative thesis (or theses) you are offering.  Someone please bring something to light!

                      (Brettongarcia, I acknowledge you for at least beginning an attempt.  We’ll have to see how far you get with Paul.)

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      Mike,

                      I wish I could help you, but I’m still looking for a convincing thesis myself.  I was really hoping that Ehrman would make a persuasive case because I am tired of sitting on the fence.  Unfortunately, all I found was questionable reasoning and unwarranted certainty.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      VinnyJH,

                      You’ve said that you previously found Ehrman persuasive.  Perhaps you should give some thought to why Ehrman has been convincing to you when arguing against something but not so when arguing for something.  

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      I’m not sure that accurately distinguishes the matters upon which I have found him convincing from the ones he discusses in Did Jesus Exist?  I think the main difference is that I have tested the arguments he makes in his other books in numerous discussions with internet apologists and I don’t think that I have ever been caught short by a counter-argument that I could not have reasonably anticipated.  However, I think I would repeatedly wind up with egg on my face if I tried to use 
                      Did Jesus Exist? as my reference in an argument with a mythicist.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      To take the skeptical side of an argument is always easier.

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

                      Sorry, Mike. No pass. Will you outline in your own words my own point of view so I know you understand my point — and the scientific understanding — about tentativeness of conclusions? Will you include in your explanation something to assure me you understand the difference between tentativeness of conclusions based on scientific inquiry and in other everyday aspects of life, such as knowing when someone breaks the law or what the weather is like outside?

                      And you never did, as far as I recall, respond to my point that knowing evolution is a fact is different from knowing exactly how it happened – for which their are rival theories.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      I understand your point of view to be that tentativeness is appropriate in drawing conclusions about historical events as determined by scientific methodology.  You distinguish such conclusions from conclusions you draw in everyday life about such things as whether someone is breaking rules or what the weather is like.  This is what allows you to be tentative about some things while being conclusive about others.

                      I also understand evolution can be considered a fact by person who is not settled on a particular theory of how the evolution took place.

                      Now, can we hear your thesis abstract for the Christless or Jesusless origin of Christianity?

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

                      Mike, do you yourself accept the scientific method as valid? Do you accept that any conclusions that are based on the available evidence and the testing of hypotheses to explain that evidence must by nature be tentative pending further information, evidence and tests?  Do you youself accept that this is a different concept from observing someone break a rule and making a dogmatic conclusion that X really was jaywalking and not crossing at the lights?

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Neil,

                      I’ve been patient with your requests to be sure that I understood your point of view.  Turns out that’s not enough and now you want me to express agreement with your point of view.  Are you really that reluctant to share your theory of Christian origins?  (By the way, I think what you’re trying to do is a form of jaywalking, but subject to further applications of the scientific method and the possibility of additional evidence I weigh my degree of confidence on this point to be 93.758%).

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

                      Well, Mike, if you don’t accept the principles of the scientific method of inquiry then why are you pretending to be scientific in your discussion with me? Why not just say you do not accept the scientific approach to knowledge and that you only accept rationalism on condition it leads to or rationalizes your faith?

                      Why the pretence? Why not simply be upfront and say you are only here to witness for your Jesus? Why this cloak of deception enjoined by Paul that the wolf needs to don sheep’s clothing to be accepted by and win over the sheep (or as he preferred to put it, to the Jew be as a Jew, etc.)

                      If you understood and accepted my approach to knowledge then you would know what is the basis of my view and would not be trying to corner me into some ideological position “for” or “against” the historical Jesus. I believe that the Jesus we have in the Gospels and in the epistles is a mythical construct. Whether there was any other person is entirely moot. My conclusion is my best attempt to understand the nature of the evidence. And my conclusion is tentative.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Neil,

                      Your paranoia is unbecoming.  And it leads you to false conclusions about me (that, by the way, you don’t seem to be holding tentatively).

                      I have been, and remain, genuinely curious about your theory of Christian origins.  There’s no reason for you to feel I’m trying to “corner” you.  That you continue to avoid describing your view is most puzzling.  

                      You profess an affinity for scientific, rational, and academic approaches.  That being the case, your thesis on this subject should be well-formed in your mind and roll off your tongue.  I would think, since you’ve spent time thinking about it, that you’d want others to know what it is and that you’d be eager to defend it.  And, to the degree you’re tentative about it, to hear affirmations of it, critiques of it, and even refutations of it – all so you could learn more about the subject matter that is important to you.    

                      In this sense, though you declare yourself not to be a mythicist, you are very much like them.  That is, all of you want to speak circuitously and not directly.  You’re much more interested in disproving than you are in proving.  You constantly avoid any direct question about your position, any honest request for a tidy construction of your argument.  All your responses are prolix and never get to the point.  It’s as if you’ve all gotten together and decided that filibuster is the best form of argumentation, and letting anyone know your core thesis is taboo.    It’s the weirdest form of persuasion I’ve ever seen, but given your adherents and defenders I can’t deny it’s been effective.  

                      Nevertheless, I’m still interested in learning more about your view if you can ever bring yourself to share it.  If not, please say you’re not so I can stop wasting time looking for it.

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

                      I withdraw the implication in my statement about you trying to corner me. What I should have said is that you clearly cannot grasp my perspective, where I am coming from, what my position is, or are so beset with my position’s invalidity according to your faith perspective. You think in black and white, for and against, two-dimensions, and cannot grasp a perspective that sees things quite differently. I do not have what you are wanting me to have. If you understood what I do have, what my understanding is and on what it is based, you would know this.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Neil,

                      I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer but the reason I cannot grasp your position can’t have anything to do with my cognitive abilities until you actually  tell me what your position is.  

                      Others on this blog, including Paul and Gakuseidon, have asked you and the mythicists to be more forthcoming with your views so it can’t be just my faith perspective that blocks me from hearing it.

                      I said that this form of persuasion that you and the mythicists use – withholding information about your core beliefs while talking incessantly about peripheral matters – is the weirdest form of persuasion I have ever seen…but it it not unprecedented.  This is how cults operate.  I’m not saying here that Mythicism and Vridar are cults, because it’s a pejorative term.  Rather I’m trying to warn you of the similarity of behaviors so you can avoid those behaviors.

                      Unfortunately, I think Paul’s potential academic thesis has merit and that James is right that a book would be timely, if it gets written before the 15 minutes of fame that Ehrman has granted mythicism runs out.  

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

                      Mike, are you asking me for my position? I am in a sitting position at a computer desk. Why? I have told you repeatedly what I think and why. So you must be asking me for something else. What is it?

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Your argument for how first-century Christianity arose apart from Jesus Christ.

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

                      I don’t know how it arose. I have several possibilities in mind but they are only theories. Why do you ask?

                       

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      I thought the scientific method was to only discard a theory when a better theory arose.  Therefore, I wonder what you thought was the better theory for the origin of first-century Christianity than Jesus Christ.

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

                      Mike, you avoid telling me why you want to know these things. Why do you want to know what I think?

                      I don’t know how first century Christianity arose. I just told you. I said I only have theories but I meant the word in the everyday sense, not the scientific sense. So why are you asking? I’ve told you what I think and what my position is. Why keep asking for something I don’t have a position on.

                       

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      As to your first paragraph, I haven’t avoided telling you anything.  It shouldn’t be a mystery to you why I ask.  All of us who interact on blogs are human beings with a measure of truth.  We are seeking to refine and increase the measure we have while at the same time passing what we have on to others.  We cannot pass on our truth to others, or have our own measure refined and increased, without opening up and offering what we have and seeking to learn what others have.   You assert that my measure of truth (especially since it centers on Jesus Christ) is woefully inadequate or in great need of refinement.  If I am honest and truly truth-seeking I must be prepared to engage with your view, no matter the risk to my own view.  As I engage with your view, my own view will be refined, increased, or decreased.  In any case, I should have more truth at the end of the process regardless of which of us was right or wrong at the beginning.  If you only want to tell other people that their measure of truth is wrong and don’t want to offer yours, the productive process breaks down.

                      As to your second paragraph, I am shocked at the bankruptcy of your position.  For all your bluster, there truly is no there there.

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

                      Well if I have nothing to contribute to you why do you keep asking me for what I’ve told you repeatedly — especially when you have declared mythicism to be antithetical to your faith? So what “truths” do you really expect to find here? Your explanation rings hollow. Is it just so you can declare the mythicist position “bankrupt”?

                      But take this nugget of truth if you will. Before a researcher can begin to formulate serious theories and devise tests for them, the researcher must first gather and analyse the data, all of the data. And that in itself is a mammoth task, one which appears never to have been even attempted by any historicist I know in any valid methodological manner.

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

                      I might add here, that all this talk about mythicism not having a single theory and therefore being insubstantial or vague is, to use JM’s word, bunk. Mythicism through the last 200 years has been analysing the data in the light of the intellectual trends of the day. Carrier is not coming up with a theory of Christian origins, at least in the sense of how it all happened, step by step. He is attempting to advance a way to more rigorously analyse the data.

                      That Christianity began with a Jesus is not a theory, either. It is an assumption that is not even based on an analysis of the data, but is rationalized by reference to selected facets of the data.

                      The debate is not about contesting theories. It is about data analysis and interpretation.

                      The best that can be proposed at this stage is a series of “micro-theories” about interpretations of this or that bit of data. That applies to both sides of the debate.

                      Some “micro-theories” are larger than others. Sometimes a larger theory can be advanced, but it is very, very tentative when that happens.

                      Those who dismiss the mythicist argument because it does not have a single and widely accepted theory of how it all happened are merely excusing themselves from the real debate which is about data analysis.

                      Carrier’s Bayes’ theorem might be overkill to some, but the one thing in its favour is that it is designed to, as they say in Australian politics, “keep the bastards honest” — and that applies as much to historicists as to mythicists. In fact, it is the historicists who have most to learn about elementary logic and normative historical methods as taken for granted in some of the books Dr McGrath himself recommends (but not his own Burial of Jesus — that little tract flatly contradicts the methodological instructions and advice of the likes of the real historians Prevenier and Howell).

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Pseudo-scholarly blather.

                      And proof once again that mythicists aren’t interested in getting history right.  They are interested in a protracted process which throws existing history into doubt.  That is the goal being described here.

                      God knows (literally, Jesus knows) I have sought to understand the views of mythicists, as well as their defenders and the fence-sitters, with an open mind.  (I found Jesus not by seeking Jesus but by seeking truth.  Therefore, I will learn more about Him as I continue to seek the truth.  I am not afraid that truth will lead me away from Him because if He’s not truth I don’t want Him. )  For anyone listening, I will tell you what I have found from my engagement with mythicists:  At the core, there is nothing there.  At least nothing rational.  That is, my research has led me to conclude that the energy of the mythicist movement emanates from a non-rational core.

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

                      Oh Mike. I thought you were here to learn and exchange “truths”. Methinks I was right all along. You are only here to debunk mythicism. You clearly do not want to understand my viewpoint or position, and certainly have not the slightest inkling into how science and the scientific method works.

                      If you thought my position was contrary to the scientific approach you would show how that is so. The only one who faults my approach is a faith-motivated commenter such as yourself who clearly can find no fault with the logical or scientific rigour of my approach to the question.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Neil,

                      Even after all these unproductive exchanges I would still open my mind to examine any thesis you would put forward.  

                      Mythicism’s entire effort seems to be to shift the burden of proof to “historicists.”  Ehrman took the bait and produced a 368-page book…and you’re still not satisfied.  The criticisms of it are nitpicking, not substantive.

                      I’ve given mythicism a fair shake.  That you don’t recognize it as such owes to your non-rational core, whatever that is.

                      You speak of logic and scientific rigor,  but all the logical and scientifically-minded people that I know produce results.  And they don’t abandon an acceptable view of history until they have a better one to replace it.

                      My offer remains open:  if you have an alternative explanation for a Jesus-less or Christ-less origin of first-century Christianity, I will give it consideration.  I will not reject it out of hand.

                        

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

                       I’m disappointed Mike. You’re not interested in discussing any of my truths I have to offer and bring to your truths for exchange and refinement. Each time I offer up one of mine for a mutual human exchange you stare blankly and ask me for something I don’t have. So why do you keep up this charade of pretending to be interested in a rational discourse?

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Neil, the topic of this blog post is mythicism.  You’ve argued here to defend it.  When I asked you for its core thesis you demurred.  So then I asked you for your own core thesis and you demurred again.  What is it you want to discuss?

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

                      Nice one, Mike. I have defended it but it’s not the defence you wanted to hear so you just keep staring blankly and asking for what you want me to say. Why are you doing this? Why do you simply ignore my defence and explanations? Why do you demand something else, something I don’t think or have in my head?

                      Neither historicists nor mythicists are advancing a “theory” except in the popular sense of the word. They are analysing the data. Both sides are. But you don’t like that thought of mine and rather than discuss it openly with the possibility of refining one’s views and understanding you just say that that thought is not a “truth” to be discussed but just a bit of rubbish.

                      Why this charade of wanting a rational dicussion?

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Neil, what are you talking about?  I just asked you what you wanted to discuss.  Why don’t you just answer?  If it interests me, I’ll give it a go.  If not, I’ll let you know and we’ll be done.

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

                      Gee, Mike. You’re confusing me now. I thought you wanted to discuss my reasons for supporting mythicism. Apparently I was mistaken.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Neil,

                      As you can see from my response to Gakuseidon’s intercession, I am neither qualified for, nor interested in, the debate you want to have.  

                      I hope, however, that you will recognize through this process how difficult it might be for people to understand your interests.  After all, you are a self-confessed former evangelical who hosts a blog site noted for supporting the idea that Jesus did not exist yet whose real interest is in seeing historiography practiced in a different way irrespective of whether it affirms or disproves the historicity of Jesus.  It seems to me that if your real interest is the proper practice of recording history then you’d want to discuss it in the context of a far less controversial subject.  Otherwise, your conversations are always going to be derailed by references to Jesus, a subject which is a red herring from your stated true interest.

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

                      Gee, Mike. You’re confusing me now. I thought you wanted to discuss my reasons for supporting mythicism. Apparently I was mistaken. Or is it that you only wanted to discuss what you wanted my reasons to be. When it finally dawned on you that my reasons for supporting mythicism are something else you lost all interest. Your agenda would not be served.

                      (And I don’t know where you got the idea my interest is in historical method apart from the study of Christian origins. It’s in the question of Christian origins that NT scholars who call themselves historians demonstrate a sad ignorance of normative historical methods.)

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Neil, I did want to discuss your reasons for supporting mythicism, but now that I realize you want to do so through focus on an academic discipline in which I am not trained, credentialed, and accepted, such a discussion is not practical.  You may feel comfortable opining on the methodologies of experts; I don’t.

                      I take your point that you are as interested in Christian origins as in historiography – that is, you are interested in the intersection of these two issues (although it will cause you continued frustration).  If you want to discuss the primary historical records we have of Christian origins (i.e. the Old and New Testaments), I’m game (because laymen can read, understand, and discuss ancient documents; we talked about Homer in high school).  But if you’re only willing to do so in the context of academic methodologies (e.g. debates over the validity of the criterion of embarrassment, etc.) then you’ve set up a qualification that disqualifies me.

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

                      Mike, I see you are still using GDon’s post tell you how to understand what I am saying instead of just engaging in one to one with me. All this hocus pocus about my argument being “academic” or confined to some esoteric academic realm is, well, hocus pocus. I can argue it at that level and have, but that is neither here nor there for everyday discussion. I argue the points of simple logic, avoiding logical fallacies, in the most obvious language of everyday speech. But everyday logic is a waste of time with you because whenever it comes to a point that coincidentally confronts the validity of your faith you turn to revelation and respond with a testimony or mini-sermon.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Okay then, what are your non-academic, common-sense reasons for supporting mythicism?  Or, if you prefer, for your own view of Christian origins?  

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

                      All the reasons we have for accepting the historicity of persons such as Julius Caesar, his wife, Cicero, his slave, Seneca, his rival philosophers, Socrates (though some scholars have seen room to dispute even his historicity) — that is, the famous and otherwise little known people of ancient times — simply don’t exist in the case of Jesus. For Jesus we only have the self-testimony of faith-documents of unknown provenance. By provenance I mean what historians normally understand by the word. Saying they are “Christian documents” is uselessly vague. A study of virtually all scholarly books on the historical Jesus will demonstrate that the scholar begins with an assumption — only the assumption — that Jesus existed and that Christianity began as a response by his disciples to his death. The only questions that are asked are about what he and they did and said or believed.

                      None of this proves Jesus did not exist. But if we look at the evidence for Jesus in those faith-documents, it becomes apparent that there are very simple explanations for the origins of their stories and teachings. It is very easy to demonstrate that they are adaptations of stories and teachings in the wider Jewish literature and beliefs of the day. It can also be demonstrated that these early Christian documents were an extension of theological currents of the day. That does not prove there was no historical Jesus, either. But it does leave us without a need to postulate an historical Jesus to explain the evidence. In fact, introducing an historical Jesus only introduces serious problems in any attempt to explain the nature of the evidence.

                      Obviously all of the above needs a lot of unpacking since I know such a brief synopsis raises more questions than it can answer. I am happy to discuss with anyone who is sincerely interested in exploring the question but only in an environment that is moderated for civility. “Apologies” to those who would much rather engage in insult and hostile question-begging rationalizations.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Neil,

                      Thanks.  My first question is about terms you use – really only one: “faith-document.”  How is this term defined?  Who defines it?  Who else uses this term besides you?  Is this a technical term used by historians?  What are the criteria by which a document is or is not considered a “faith document”?  Are there a finite number of such faith-documents?  If so, is the number small enough that you could list them?  How is a faith-document to be analyzed differently from any other genre of document or writing (e.g. a letter or a bill or an announcement)?

                      None of these questions are rhetorical.  I am unfamiliar with the term and I need to catch up to your usage.  I think all the other terms were non-academic, non-technical terms that I could understand.  

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

                      I mean nothing more than that the epistles and gospels are documents that propagate the faith of Christianity. That’s all. It’s not a genre. Letters advancing the faith are of the letter genre. Philosophers also expressed their philosophical views through a range of genres, including the letter genre.

                      Gospels are less clear in genre terms. But it makes little difference in the end whether they are viewed as biographies or novellas. I believe the arguments in favour of at least Mark being a Jewish novel is far stronger in terms of modern theory of genre than are arguments for it being a biography. Even more so for John. New genres are born when authors take elements of existing genres to create something new. That may be what the evangelists did, and if so, that’s an important consideration. But in the end genre is important but not critical to my views.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Neil, I find your apparently self-coined term “faith-documents” very distracting to your thesis.  You say in that thesis “Saying they are ‘Christian documents’ is uselessly vague,” and yet here you say that “the epistles and gospels are documents that propagate the faith of Christianity.”  I can’t tell the difference in the terms.

                      Perhaps you are only meaning to say that “faith-documents” is a synonym for “New Testament,” in which case I could make the mental substitution as I read.  But “Christian documents” seems more likely a reference to NT and yet you reject it as vague. Not only is the term’s meaning vague, the term itself is polarizing – carrying a positive connotation for some and a negative connotation for others.  This doesn’t seem helpful to objective inquiry.  If we’re going to bring assumptions to our reading of ancient documents we ought to at least know what those assumptions are as they might not be worth retaining.Either the term “faith-documents” conveys some specific meaning, which we need to understand in order to understand your thesis, or else it ought to be removed for the sake of clarity.

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

                      What was it you said was the purpose of your wanting to engage in a discussion? It sure sounds like it is to strain at a gnat if that is necessay to find any fault you can with nothing.

                      I said that all I meant was documents that are propagating the faith. What’s so complex about that. Okay. I withdraw that term. I promise I won’t use the term “faith documents” again. Better?

                      Let’s just say, “letters and gospels that are about promoting the belief or religion of Christianity.” Is that too difficult to understand. You are coming across as a nit picker in words I use to simply describe what everyone surely knows the NT documents are.

                      Or do you really deny the gospels and epistles are written to promote or explain Christianity?

                      Or do you not like the term because it implies that the authors had a religious agenda when they wrote? Is that the reason you reject it? I believe they did have an agenda to promote the Christian faith. Paul’s agenda is explicit. So is that of the final redactor of the Gospel of John. And the final redactor of Luke-Acts, and the author or Revelation, and Hebrews . . . .

                      As for you saying I reject the term “Christian documents” as vague, all I can say is you are not following the simplest flow of what I said. Why did you miss the context? That sentence followed two sentences addressing provenance and so was meant to be read in the context of those two sentences. “Christian” is so vague as to be useless as a designation of provenance for our documents. (See, for example, a book that discusses what historians mean by provenance by Howell and Prevenier — it is recommended by Dr McGrath.)

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Neil, my questions about “faith-documents” and “Christian documents” were for the purpose of understanding your argument, not for the purpose of critiquing it.  Let me think further about what you’ve said here before I respond.

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

                      I have just noticed you took your understanding of my position from GDon. Just like you took your complaint that mythicism is bankrupt because it doesn’t have a single theory from GDon.

                      That’s like taking the view of petifogging prosecutor for a balanced assessment of a witness.

                      The methods I address are not in the slightest complex and are nothing more than the way historians, anyone, determines how we know something is “true” or not. But you know all that because you have been on my own blog a number of times and have seen enough exchanges between me and McGrath to know it too.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Neil, why in the world would you liken Gakuseidon to a “pettifogging prosecutor”?  He was supporting your best interests.  He said he was approximating your view and invited to you correct his version as necessary.  

                      He helped me understand some of the things you had been saying to me.  You’re not as easy to understand as you think.  You may think he was harsh to say that you are “pointlessly antagonistic and paranoid” but then you come back with a comment like this and demonstrate the validity of his description.  Take his words as a wake-up call – not pleasant, but good for you.

                      You said, “The methods I address are not in the slightest complex and are nothing more than the way historians, anyone, determines how we know something is “true” or not.”  I think you’re mixing things here.  I don’t mind at all discussing the way “anyone” decides whether something is true or not.  But there’s got to be more to the way historians decide such things or else why do they go to school and get degrees? 

                      Moreover, I don’t mind saying that Bart Ehrman is wrong to disbelieve in the risen Jesus, but I’d have no basis whatsoever to say that “NT scholars who call themselves historians demonstrate a sad ignorance of normative historical methods.”  The former is a layman’s judgment that anyone can make; the latter is professional’s judgment that only a professional can make.

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

                      I might also add what I have taken as a point too obvious to need stating, but perhaps I have been mistaken. There seems to be some assumption among a few that the historicist view is somehow a “coherent theory” of Christian origins. It is anything but. It is not a theory but an assumption. This is demonstrated by the simple fact that there are far more contradictory “theories” or (more correctly) stories of historical-Jesus-assumed Christian origins than there are mythicist scenarios. Neither side is at the point of having established a “theory” (scientific sense) of Christian origins, though a few have tried. The fact that their efforts are not widely embraced testifies to the problem. The problem is still there at the level of assumptions and the range of options we bring to the question of data analysis. That is where the discussion is at. Any attempt to deny this is nothing more than question begging.

                    • Gakuseidon

                       Mike, I think I can explain to you where Neil Godfrey is coming from, based on my understanding from reading a lot of material posted by Neil. Where I get Neil wrong, he may perhaps correct me.

                      Neil spells it out in his blog post “What mythicists need” http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/11/03/what-mythicists-need/

                      Neil writes: “What mythicists need is a competent, knowledgeable and intelligent historicist to challenge them… A scholar, a historian preferably (though even more preferably one
                      who is a “historian” by virtue of studies unrelated to theology!) to
                      talk with about methodology in history – any history from von Ranke to
                      Hayden White — who is willing to take a little time to critique what I
                      have discussed on this blog and elsewhere. But failing that, even a
                      theologian who believes he or she is divinely or otherwise qualified to
                      speak as a historian would do.”

                      So Neil’s concern is about methodology. Neil doesn’t describe himself as necessarily a mythicist, because he is more interested in examining the methodology used in determining what is history, which he believes is not done adequately by modern historians. I think that Neil believes that if it is done, it will display the weaknesses of the historicist position and the strength of the mythicist position. But this would be a separate question to the validity of the methodology itself. The main questions are: What is the right methodology to use? And once that is determined, what view of historicity do we get if we remove the assumption that there was a historical Jesus and apply the right methodology?

                      And though Neil comes across as pointlessly antagonistic and (frankly) paranoid, I think these are reasonable questions. Even Ehrman said in a recent interview that scholars simply start from a position of assuming that a historical Jesus exists, and that his “Did Jesus Exist?” was the first book to show that there was a historical Jesus.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Gakuseidon,

                      Thanks for explaining this.  I can see now that I am not qualified to have the discussion Neil wants to have.  I am a consumer of history (i.e. a reader), not a producer of it.  I lack the training to challenge historians about the methodologies they use.  

                      I read the New Testament documents and they make sense to me, but only when I read them in the context of the Old Testament documents.  To the degree a historian can shed light on the various cultural contexts of these various documents, produced over the course of a millennium or more, I can benefit.  But I don’t need a historian to tell me what they say.  I only need someone who can translate them into English.  

                      What historical Jesus scholars and mythicists seem to have in common is a belief that the figure Jesus can only be understood as mediated through the eyes of a historian.  By contrast, I believe Jesus can be understood by reading the documents without interpretation by historians.  Therefore, for me, the only historical question that really matters is, “Are the copies of the Bible we have reliable?”  I’ve researched that matter and am satisfied that the differences in manuscripts are immaterial to its message.

                      If someone came across correspondence written during the American Civil War, I think Civil War historians could shed light on context but we would not need historians in order to read the letters ourselves and draw conclusions about their subject matter. 

                      Therefore, I’ll leave Neil to his quest.  He certainly has his work cut out for him.   I don’t know what Neil’s academic credentials are, but he seems to be standing outside the circle of professional historians trying to convince them that they don’t know how to ply their own trade.  In his defense, I’ll say that being credentialed as a biblical scholar does not automatically mean you are a professional historian, so some of those he challenges about historical methods may be as outside the circle as he is.  Nonetheless, I think Neil would have a better chance of being heard if he had a resume like Douglas Southall Freeman.  

                    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                      Mike, you said you didn’t know what Neil’s academic credentials are:

                      My background (chronologically) is in

                      - secondary school history teaching (ancient and modern history),
                      - postgraduate educational studies and information science,
                      - academic librarianship,
                      - being the metadata specialist with a project building regional university repositories in Australia and New Zealand,
                      - digital repository management,
                      - two years as a Principal Librarian and Bibliographic Consultant with National Library Board, Singapore, coordinating the digitisation, repository services and digital collections in Australian universities — University of Southern Queensland, RUBRIC Project, Murdoch University, Deakin University, and am currently at Charles Darwin University, Darwin, NT. 
                      - The most exciting project I am involved with here is a national government funded project to digitize, collate and make available for preservation, research and cultural purposes aboriginal languages resource materials, and most recently — research data management.

                      Specifically, my formal educational qualifications are a BA and post graduate Bachelor of Educational Studies, both at the University of Queensland, and a post graduate Diploma in Arts (Library and Information Science) from Charles Sturt University near Canberra, Australia. I am an associate of the professional library and information services organization of Australia.

                      Which does raise an interesting historical question – on the basis of this source, can we be sure that Neil has even an undergraduate degree in History? 

                      It certainly seems plausible, given that he also claims to been a history teacher, and it’s usual for people to teach the subject they have an undergraduate degree in, so the claim that Neil has a History degree is consistent with other things we know about his biography. 

                      But if we’re going to take a critical approach to our source (as I’m sure Neil himself would want us to), I think we could say that we would merely be assuming Neil’s History Degree. We need to remember the following:

                      1) Many people teach subjects that they do not have a degree in (my degree is in Religous Studies, but I also teach or have taught Philosophy, History, Theory of Knowledge, and even a little bit of Science). So teaching History is in no way evidence that Neil has a degree in History. 
                      2) We should not believe everything people say about themselves, particularly when they might have an obvious reason for inventing something. Neil might well be lying about his job as a teacher, or even having a degree.
                      3) We cannot rule out that Neil’s credentials are an interpolotation. Perhaps Neil never claimed to have any of these qualifications, but an admirer of his Jesus denial work at some point hacked his blog in a bid to make him seem more qualified than he actually is. 
                      4) Neil’s History degree might have started of as a myth, and later been given a plausible historical setting. For example, he may have started to read a few History books that made him feel like a “Historian”, the claim of a historical history degree came later and people somehow confused the two. Ned Ludd is a good example of this.

                      So Mike, I’ve laid the evidence before you and I have to ask: what’s your position on the problem of Neil’s History Degree? Are you a historicist or a mythicist? I would say I’m an agnostic myself. (I use the term mythicism, not History Degree Denial, since this is my own view and therefore definitely not bunk)

                      PS: Of course, if Neil does have a History degree, this makes him no more (and in some cases rather less) academically qualified in History than the half dozen or so History teachers in my school, none of whom seem to have Neil’s grandiose view of his own importance. On the other hand, if you ever need a library book renewed, I honestly couldn’t think of a better person.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Paul, you write well, with great humor, and effectively illustrate that if we applied to others the degree of skepticism that’s applied to Jesus, we’d quickly lose touch with reality.

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

                      This has now moved to the stage of total farce. Mike, it is Paul’s caricature that simply cannot happen in real historiography. But GDon’s and Paul’s posts are exactly the understanding you are looking for. It’s time for me to move on to where the discussion is sane.

                    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                      OK bye then Neil, I’ve enjoyed the “discussion”

                      For the record, what is your undergraduate degree in?

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      I think Paul’s humor was intended to say that you lack the credentials to challenge Bart and James on their field of expertise.  He was right.

                      Gakuseidon did help me see what you meant by your desire to focus on historical methodology.  He was right.

                      Oddly, you’d be on stronger ground to challenge Bart and James about Christian origins as a layman.  When you lecture them about their professional shortcomings instead of simply stating your case against believing Jesus was historical you look silly.  Richard Carrier makes the same mistake.  Then when you guys say you aren’t really mythicists, don’t have a theological ax to grind, and are merely arguing that professional historians are all wrong about how to do history, you look even more silly.

                      My advice would be to formulate a coherent theory that Jesus didn’t exist, present that case to professionals and laymen alike, and then defend it against challenges.  People would respect that.

                    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                      I completely agree Gakuseidon.

                      I would, however, be keen to know how far a methodology that leads to a position of scepticism or disbelief on the historical existence of Jesus  could usefully be applied elsewhere. I rather suspect that the answer would be “not very”.

                    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                      I might add here, that all this talk about mythicism not having a single theory and therefore being insubstantial or vague is, to use JM’s intellectually searing term, bunk. Mythicism through the last 200 years has been analysing the data in the light of the intellectual trends of the day. Carrier is not coming up with a theory of Christian origins, at least in the sense of how it all happened, step by step. He is attempting to advance a way to more rigorously analyse the data.

                      This is an interesting point Neil, and at the very least, a novel way to concede that Jesus denial offers no coherent alternative to the mainstream view without admitting that this is actually a problem. 

                      Is you’re correct, then it should be easy for you to outline a rational set of criteria by which we could determine whether or not a given person should be considered as historical. We should then find that such criteria give us a useful set of results when applied to other “historical” figures.

                      I wonder if you would care to do so? And perhaps we could then discuss a list of “target” names to test your theories on?

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

                       I have done so endlessly. It is a regular theme of my blog posts. It is covered here on this blog in many exchanges. It covers major persons, minor persons, and in-between persons. But I have no intention of repeating the effort for someone who addresses me with insult.

                      I would not call you a moon-landing denier or evolution-denier or holocaust-denier and expect a civil discussion with you.

                      That you are unaware of the criteria and standard methodology for establishing the historicity of ancient persons demonstrates you have no interest in furthering your information through wider study and reading beyond this blog thread.

                    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                      Hi Neil,

                      If I didn’t know better I’d say your starting to be cagey about your method now  as well. Can Jesus denial really be this vacuous? I can’t remember seeing any such thing on any comments here, and I can’t find anything on your blog (though I’m sure it must be there somewhere).

                      Perhaps instead of four paragraphs of your usual irritably you could have just sent me a link eh? 

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Neil,

                      That you demean good-faith efforts to understand your position is not productive.  
                      I make no apologies for having continued to seek where you stand.  Perhaps I should not be surprised that, after all, you do not have a explanation of Christian origins to replace the one you reject, but I am.  

                      Perhaps I should not believe that George III is the king to which the U.S. Declaration of Independence is referring.  But until someone gives an adequate reason to believe that the consensus of scholars is wrong, forgive me if I spend this Saturday doing something other than taking on “the mammoth task, one which appears never to have been even attempted by any historicist in any valid methodological manner” to determine whether or not George III was that king.

                      In short, Neil, if you want people to throw out the two-thousand-year-old consensus of historians about Jesus you have to give them a reason.  That you are willing to do so without a better explanation is just going to make people question your judgment.

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

                      Mike, the evidence for Jesus is not exactly on a par with that of George III or the Declaration of Independence. Historians have not even been around for 200o years — unless you deny that the modern discipline of history began with the Enlightenment era.

                      You have much to learn about logic and historical method but evince no indication that you are willing to learn anything new at all.

                      Perhaps you can enlighten me to a historian who has demonstrated by methods we would consider logically valid today that a historical Jesus was the originator of Christianity.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Neil, I don’t buy the notion that pre-Enlightenment history is unworthy of the name.  

                      Ancient historians did not write write the way modern historians do, but that does not mean we throw their work out the window and start over.

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      Where would you get an idea like that Mike?  Why should someone continue to adhere to an answer he knows to be wrong or an explanation that he knows to be inadequate just because he is not yet sure what the right one is?

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      If you don’t have the right one, how can you be sure the one you are discarding is wrong?

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      In science, a theory is wrong when the experimental results fail to confirm its predictions.  In history, a theory is inadequate if it fails to explain the data. 

                      As a practical matter, absent a satisfactory new theory, attempts will be made to rework or refine the established theory rather than discarding it.  Nevertheless, the shortcomings of the old theory must be acknowledged regardless of the shortcomings of any proposed replacements.

                      I’m currently reading The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert Caro and his discussion of the afternoon when Jack Kennedy offered the Vice Presidency to Johnson illustrates some of the problems.  Before the offer was announced publicly, Bobby Kennedy went to Johnson’s room several times in an effort to persuade to him to decline the offer.  Afterwards, Bobby claimed that the offer had just been made as a polite gesture and that Jack had never expected Johnson to accept.  Others insist that Jack wanted Johnson all along.  Despite multiple eyewitness accounts, Caro found it impossible to figure out what exactly happened that day.  Sometimes the historian can do no more than lay out the possible explanations while acknowledging the strengths and weaknesses of each one.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      I have no doubt that on some minor points, Caro could not draw a definitive conclusion.  I trust, however, that he was not stumped about whether or not Johnson became Vice President of the United States under Jack Kennedy.  

                      As for any shortcomings in the historicity of Jesus, these are alleged by mythicists and rejected by professional scholarship – as Ehrman’s book amply attests.  Why should professional scholarship set aside its long-standing view as inadequate just because a handful of people – without a coherent alternative – say it’s inadequate?  On this basis, all of history is up for grabs as soon as a coterie of objectors voices doubts.

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      If professional scholars cannot come up with any better arguments than Ehrman offers in support of their view, then they should be honest enough to admit that the evidence is far from conclusive on the question regardless of whether they find the alternatives persuasive.  I am doubtful that history will suffer any great setbacks as a result.  I am not aware of anywhere else that historians relying on such questionable evidence claim certainty “beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt” about people or  events in the ancient world.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      I don’t think “fence-sitter” is descriptive of you.

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      Perhaps not, but the fact that you offer no coherent alternative is not my reason for disagreeing with you.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Did you not catch the implication?  You speak not as a fence-sitter but as an apologist for mythicism.  

                      Perhaps you still don’t consider yourself a mythicist, but then neither do Neil Godfrey and Richard Carrier technically consider themselves mythicists.  To defend mythicism is to have come off the fence.  

                      Remember: success for mythicism is not in correcting history; it’s in rejecting it, starting over, and who cares how long it takes to come up with the correct view.

                      There’s a reason that smart guys like Richard and Neil don’t declare themselves mythicists.  They don’t want the responsibility for having to formulate a thesis and defend it.  It’s always been much easier to tear down someone else’s house than to build your own.

                      I trust now that I’ve been more explicit, the coherence has become manifest to you.  I wish it were not so, Vinny.

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      Oh my gosh!  That was the implication?!  How could I have missed that?!  Boy, am I embarrassed!  That just went completely over my head!

                      Just in case you were confused, Mike, that was sarcasm.

                      I am aware that to some people of faith professing agnosticism about a historical Jesus is every bit as loopy as mythicism.  So be it.  I am doubtful that the historical Jesus can be recovered in any meaningful sense and my best guess is that Jesus of Nazareth is mythical for all practical purposes.  Many people see that position as distinct from the claim that it is can be shown to be more likely than not that there was no historical Jesus in any sense.  You do not.  I can live with that. 

                      If you want to discuss the evidence and the case for either side, I’m happy to do so.  I’m not all that interested in your opinions about my motivation, or anyone else’s for that matter. 

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Regarding your offer, I’ve engaged you about this subject on your blog.  We’ll see where that leads.

                    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                      Hi Vinny, I liked your cool Jesus post. I’ve been writing a “comment” on it, but again it’s turned out rather long! Do you check comments on older posts in case it’s couple of days before I get chance to post it? 

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                       I get e-mail notifications of any comments no matter how old the post, so you are welcome to chime in any time.

                    • Gakuseidon

                       Mike, I’ve made the same observation years ago. The mythicists want historicist scholars (and why historicist scholars? why not other mythicist scholars?) to address the mythicist case, all the while not explaining what the mythicist case is, in any rigorous form that can actually be addressed. I’ve been saying for years that the mythicists should get together to produce the best, strongest mythicist position available. (The historicists of course should do the same.)

                      Fortunately I think that will happen with the publication of Carrier’s books. We can then forget the nonsense of Doherty, Acharya S and Freke & Gandy, and simply examine Carrier’s work as the best possible position.

                      Carrier to his credit has the same problem with mythicists being unclear about their own positions. Carrier writes on Doherty:
                      http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/255/comment-page-1#comment-4551

                      “I know Ehrman read Doherty’s monstrous second book but not his original Jesus Puzzle, and yet the latter is a far superior argument for his conclusion, by the standards Ehrman would expect, whereas the second is 90% speculative digression (hundreds and hundreds of pages worth) which is exactly the kind of thing that chaps the hide of professional scholars. So Doherty may have shot himself in the foot with that one, and it may show in how Ehrman treats him.”

                      On Price, Carrier makes a criticism that I think applies to Neil as well:

                      “Likewise, Price does not do a good job of articulating his meta-theory (that there are so many possible explanations fitting the evidence that we can’t claim the certainty scholars have been), and thus gives the impression of constantly contradicting himself by defending several completely different theories, of varying merit. For example, he has even attacked the historicity of Paul, and regardless of what you think of that, such a position is still more radical than merely questioning the historicity of Jesus. Although I know Price does not mean to say that Paul definitely did not exist, but that his existence is at least questionable, but Ehrman might simply conflate everything and conclude Price is a nut job even more extreme than the real crazies, by assuming, for example, that “Paul did not exist” is a premise in Price’s overall case against historicity. That would be a mistake, but it would be a mistake Price must partly take the blame for, having not consistently made his meta-position clear.”

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Gakuseidon,

                      Richard Carrier may indeed be the best writer among those who support mythicism, but his abilities to be verbose and to digress are no less practiced.  

                      If his book follows the pattern of his lengthy post against Ehrman’s book it will focus on methodology and technique, not substantive points.  Moreover, it will be a critique of the historical view, not a positive case for mythicism.

                      Richard’s end-of-the day view is that mythicism is only slightly more plausible than mythicism.  His only true commitment is to skepticism.  And he has the intellectual horsepower and the education to make it sound reasonable.  But Richard is too smart for his own good.  He “strains out gnats and swallows camels” as Jesus would say.

                      Still, I appreciate his honest appraisals of Doherty and Price shown here.  Yet even they demonstrate his hubris.  He just thinks they’re weaker scholars than he is.  He doesn’t realize that the weakness of their prose is not purely a matter of style, but is driven by the vagueness of their thesis.  In other words, Richard thinks he has some much better lipstick to put on this pig – and that will make all the difference.  

  • Brettongarcia

    One of the strengths of Mythology, is that it is wide open; it knows how rumors, myths, build in a thousand different ways. And so the study of Myth, always qualifies its findings as tentative.  This is one of its strengths, not weaknesses.  But?  If you insist on something very firm to address for a moment? Here is one hypothesis.

    1)  Since the days of David, the first Jewish king to really set up a Jewish “kingdom,” there had always been hopes, rumors, that one day, another successor of David would appear, to set up a more durable “kingdom” of God.

    2) From about 167 BC, through the time of Jesus, then on to 70 AD, there had always been rumors in Israel, about  dozens of possible candidates, who would set up that kingdom at last; probably an anointed or “christ”ened successor of David.

    3) Indeed, there had been dozens of such hoped-for Christs or messiahs; some of them “sons” of this or that Jewish “lord god.”

    4) Many rumors and stories, were circulated in oral, spoken, folkloric culture about such candidates.  Many of whom had been executed.

    5) Around 55 Paul got a blinding flash of insight, or heard a “voice,” suggesting that such a person was with him somehow; resurrected.

    6) Paul taught this vison-based theology to the Gentiles, in and around Turkey.

    7) Others, c. 63-75 AD, picked up the very scanty, minimal impressions of Paul, and filled them out with allegories, of an at-best quasihistorical midrashic composite,  ”Jesus.” 

    When Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD, there were few remaining witnesses, or much evidence about the facts of the case; the allegories and rumors were combined,and taken to be about a single, real figure:  Jesus.  

    This is one hypothesis.  Unlike Historicists, Mythicists know perfectly well - and honestly tell you – that when speculating this far back in history, with so little evidence, all our models are quite hypothetical and speculative, at best.

    Anyone who tells you they have something firmer than that?  Is simply not being honest.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

      A-ha a theory!

      I’d like to know a bit more about the evidence you have for your theory BG. I hope you don’t mind if we take it point by point as there seem to be a few leaps of logic involved, and if I could understand the evidence on which you are basing your theory, I’m sure it would make it easier for me to accept. 

      I’m not going to quibble with 1&2 too much, as in broad terms most people would accept the points you make (I think you need to check your dating though).

      Points 3&4 Seem important to your theory, as they seem to lay the foundation for Jesus as being identified as the son of God. So please could you tell me:

      a) Which Jewish “lord(s)” are you refering to who was regarded by the Jewish population as a God? Are we talking about some human king here? If so which one? Please could you point me toward the source in which he is so identified?

      b) Could you tell me more about these sons of the “lord”? Specifically could you give the names of these historical sons of the “lord” who were executed, and point me to source where you found this information? 

      c) Once you have identified the executed names of some of these Lords, could you provide me with at least a basic outline of their life/career, again referencing a source, so that I can perhaps consider whether they may form the inspiration for the Christian Christ? 

      d) Once you have done this, could you point me towards a source that contains some of the stories about these executed sons of lords, so that we could discuss whether these may have formed the basis for some of the Christian stories about Jesus.

      Once we’ve got that out of the way, we can move on to 5, 6, and 7. 

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Brettongarcia,

      Paul has engaged you on your hypothesis so I’ll stand aside while the two of you work through that.  

      I’ll only add that you have prefaced and appended your hypothesis with the equivocation typical of mythicists.  To wit: “Hey, if you don’t like this hypothesis, pick another; after all, anything’s possible!  Well, anything except the history we have – that we’re sure of.”   

      Meanwhile, you have the notoriously skeptical Bart Ehrman reporting that professional scholarship, when it can hardly be united on anything, is united in its view that Jesus was historical.  My point here is not that mythicism is wrong (which it obviously is) but that it is not even a serious scholarly endeavor.

      A thesis is something an academician is supposed to defend.  With your “thousand different ways” at the beginning and your “all our models are quite hypothetical and speculative at best” at the end, you guys are waving the white hanky in retreat before you even get a question.    

      The official motto of Mythicism should be “Whatever.”    

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

        I noticed that as well Mike, but I thought it best to engage BG directly on the theory he’s set out. We’ll see where that discussion goes…

        Incidentally, I think your point about Jesus deniers seeking disallow Christians a historical Jesus on which to base their faith is an excellent one. 

  • Claude

    Hey Neil,In regard to your libel claim, Exhibit #2:

    [Ehrman's] statement that Doherty’s book is filled with undocumented statements and claims and misstatements of fact is false.

    To take just one, but rather important, example, what about Doherty making up stuff about mystery cults he then admits in JNGM no one knows much about?Bart Ehrman:

    In any event, in both editions of his book Doherty claims that the myth of the mystery cults and of Christianity took place in this upper, spiritual realm. In particular, Christ was crucified up there, by demons, not down here, by humans….

    When, in his second edition, Doherty admits that we do not know what the followers of the mystery cults thought, he is absolutely correct. We do not know.

    That would knock numbers [4] and [6] puzzle pieces off the table.

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

      Hi Claude, I disagree emphatically. There is an enormous difference between an undocumented statement and claim and misstatement of fact on the one hand, and an argument or hypothesis that is built step by step upon documented statements and claims and statements of verifiable fact.

      Doherty says nothing about the facts we know of the mystery cults that Ehrman himself does not himself also say or infer in his earlier books. Doherty has said nothing more about what we DO know about mystery cults than what Ehrman himself in his other books also says we DO know. Ehrman is making a blatantly false accusation when he accuses Doherty of saying mystery cults thought like philosophers or like Plato, too, by the way. Doherty says the exact opposite — that the ordinary initiate would NOT have thought like a philosopher or Plato.

      Doherty argues a case for the location of the events of the Christ faith. He does not make a “claim” that is unsupported or undocumented. He presents an argument, a hypothesis, based upon documented claims and facts.

      That’s why Ehrman also falsely accuses him of dishonestly using his documentation. He falsely accuses him of misleading readers into thinking the scholars he refers to support mythicism.

      Doherty is damned if he does X and damned if he doesn’t.

      • Claude

        Neil,

        To my relief your first link took me to a page with a very good photo of some elephants.

        I’m about to drop, but to be continued…

        Ed Jones,

        I read your very interesting letter to Hoffman. Was it an open letter?

      • Claude

        Neil,

        I am incredulous at you. I just started reading your response to Ehrman regarding Doherty’s claims for pagan influences on Paul. You quote Ehrman (italics mine):

        [Paul's] worldview was not principally dependent on Plato. It was dependent on the Jewish traditions, as these were mediated through the Hebrew scriptures.

        Your response, paraphrasing Ehrman:

        [Paul's] theology was informed by the Jewish tradition and his meditations on the Jewish scriptures alone.

        Why should I read you if you can’t bother to distinguish between “principally dependent” and “exclusively”?

        Anyway, what does this have to do with presenting rank speculation about mystery cults as facts? Such as:

        To understand this setting, we need to look at the anicents’ view of the universe and how it worked, the concept of myth, and the features of the pagan salvation cults known as the “mysteries.” In these, a multitude of savior gods functioned much like Jesus and offered similar guarantees of happy afterlives and immortality.

        Further down in your post you argue that since Greco-Roman philosophy was broadcast in the public square, Ehrman is wrong to question assumptions such as Doherty’s that “a multitude of savior gods functioned much like Jesus and offered similar guarantees of happy afterlives and immortality.” But Ehrman’s whole point is that virtually nothing is known about mystery cults, and further, that Greco-Roman cultic practices were oriented toward this life, not the afterlife.

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

          Claude, I can only ask you to read my posts again with some care. There is a difference between “worldview” and “theology”. Ehrman’s wording is misleading — it is apparent he wants readers llike you to equate the two. It is a popular book, after all, and doesn’t have to be clear and accurate, as he has indicated. His wording is often misleading like this. There are several examples that have been pointed out. You have fallen for it in this case.

          You have also fallen for Ehrman’s description of Doherty’s facts that Ehrman himself elsewhere admits as facts as being “rank speculation”. Doherty’s facts and Ehrman’s are no different. The difference is Ehrman is flatly contradicting what he knows to be true and what he himself has written himself about the mystery religions. He is accusing Doherty of speculating and groundless ideas when they are anything but — you are misled too easily by Ehrman’s misleading language.

          I get the impression you have an instinctive awe of someone with a doctorate or professorship and will let the status of the speaker sway you rather than the logic or facts of what he actually says — even if it contradicts the plain evidence before you. You will interpret the evidence the way you are told by one of such a status.

          But I am not sure you really comprehend the difference between a reasoned argument based on documented facts and speculation. Ehrman wants you to confuse the two when it comes to Doherty’s book.

          • Claude

            Please, Neil. The whole point of Doherty pushing a Platonic worldview, of course, is so he can situate the crucified Christ within it. That is the worldview and theology of it.

            As I told you when we first started chatting here, I started reading The Jesus Puzzle at the insistence of an acquaintance but soon abandoned it for being dubious and tendentious. I’d never heard of “mythicism.” Imagine my surprise when I learned that mythicism had gained enough currency that Bart Ehrman had written a whole book to refute it! Ehrman simply confirmed my suspicions about Doherty’s house of cards.

            It’s true I find Ehrman impressive, because, well, he is impressive. But–if it makes you feel better to think I’m breathless and stupid, go to town, brother!

          • Claude

            Neil,

            And another thing. You wrote:

            I can only ask you to read my posts again with some care. There is a difference between “worldview” and “theology”. Ehrman’s wording is misleading — it is apparent he wants readers llike you to equate the two.

            This is nonsense. You’re the one who paraphrased Ehrman’s “worldview” as “theology”! But, needless to say (again), for Doherty Paul’s theology accommodates a Platonic worldview. There’s no need for Ehrman to scheme to make this point.

            Ehrman:

            But he was no Plutarch. His worldview was not principally dependent on Plato. It was dependent on the Jewish traditions, as these were mediated through the Hebrew scriptures.

            You:

            There can be no doubt that here [Ehrman] is leading his readers into thinking that ancient philosophy had no impact on Paul nor even on any of the ordinary folk who became the earliest Christian converts. Paul’s world view was Jewish, so he is stressing. His theology was informed by the Jewish tradition and his meditations on the Jewish scriptures alone.

            Actually, what Ehrman seems to be saying is that Paul’s worldview was principally dependent on Jewish traditions mediated through the Hebrew scriptures. He doesn’t say philosophy had no impact on Paul, or that Paul’s theology was exclusively developed through “meditations on the Jewish scriptures.” You said he said that! In order for Paul’s Christ to be Doherty’s mythical inhabitant of the celestial realm, Doherty makes Paul “principally dependent on Plato.” Ehrman simply disagrees that this is the case.

            You can argue about how much or how little Plato influenced Paul, but don’t go accusing Ehrman of being leading or saying stuff he didn’t say!

            If the rest of your critique is this slapdash, your charge of libel is frivolous and should be thrown out of court.

  • Brettongarcia

     
     Mike et alia:

    Is the most definite-, exact- sounding answer, always the right one?  Is being vague, always wrong?

    Here’s an example:  suppose you ask two people who manufactured the automobile in a driveway down the street.  One person is wishwashy, and mealymouthed, and rather vague.  And says 1) “I don’t know; I think it was the Japanese, or maybe the Germans, or Americans.” 

    The other person in contrast is very, very, very definite:  2) “That auto was made by bluegreen space aliens, called the Gorkomonas.  I personally spoke to them, and they told me, firstperson, that they had made it out of specifically, bits of the planet Venus. The aliens are bluegreen, with purple spots exactly five centimeters accross.”

    Two answers.  One vague, one exact. 

    Is the exact answer the better one?

    • Claude

      Well, Person #1′s very, very, very definite cousin could show up and say: “GM.” 

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Brettongarcia,

      I’m glad you brought that up, though I’m surprised you didn’t recognize the similarity between mythicist writings and the second answer.  (Space aliens ~ celestial crucifixion, many explicit quirky details – Earl Doherty’s 800-page book.)

      Confidence in a proposition does not validate a proposition.  Neither does an abundance of details.  But if at its core a proposition is unclear, there is no point validating it because in the end you won’t know what you have validated.

      Mythicists and their defenders (I’m including the fence-sitters like Neil and VinnyJH – I don’t know where you stand) are not lacking confidence.  Neither are they lacking details for their proposition.  What they lack is a core proposition that is clear.  Last I saw, you and Paul Regnier were going to work through one you proposed to see if it held water.  I’m not holding my  breath. 

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

         Mike, Mike, Mike — you simply don’t get what I’m trying to make clear. I am not a “fence-sitter” between mythicism and historicism. I believe that a valid approach to investigating the evidence and question of Christian origins leads to a valid conclusion that all of the evidence and Christianity itself is best explained by processes that do not involve a historical Jesus walking Galilee and making disciples and being resurrected etc. I believe the evidence is against that rather romantic notion of origins.

        But I am not closed to the possibility that there may have been a Jesus of some sort, but at this point I can see no connection between him and Christian origins. I am not saying there was no connection; I am saying that at this stage, if there was such a person, I can see no connection.

        If new ways of examining the evidence are found (and no doubt there will be), and if flaws can be found in my reasoning (and no doubt there will be some I have not yet uncovered), and if new evidence is uncovered in the future, then who knows how my views might change.

        You seem to think everyone has to be like you — dogmatic and black and white in some belief about Jesus.

        • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

          I think VinnyJH was a self-described fence-sitter.  I’ll try to remember that you would rather be considered a fence-jumper (“at this point I can see no connections between him and Christian origins” and “who knows how my views might change”).  

  • Ed Jones

     

    Brettongareia, since your kind remarks to my above comment,
    I have followed with interest your subsequent comments. I named my
    reconstruction at Ed Jones Dialogue – Vridar, I am not sure if you read it. You
    might find this post to be of interest, even with its repetition.

    A viable historical solution to the Jesus puzzle has taken
    place within the only discipline capable, not only of identifying our primary
    Scriptural source of apostolic witness, but of appropriately interpreting this
    source.  Howevert, “few are they who find
    it” even among well-known NT scholars. Finding it is “a task to which
    specialized knowledge in the areas of philology, form and redaction criticism,
    literary criticism, history of religions, and New Testament theology necessarily
    applies.” (Betz). “Over the last two centuries , there gradually emerged a new
    access to Jesus, made available through objective historical research.”
    (Robinson).  Under the force of present
    historical methods and knowledge this new access has been brought to a highly
    creditable understanding. This calls for a radical reconstruction of posthumous
    Jesus traditions. Ogden: “We now know not only that none of the Old Testament
    writings is prophetic witness to (Jesus), but also that none of the writings of
    the New Testament is apostolic witness to Jesus as the early church itself
    understood apostolicity. The sufficient  evidence for this point  the case of the New Testament writings is
    that all of them have been shown to depend on sources, written or oral, earlier
    than themselves, and hence not to be the original and originating witness that
    the early church mistook them to be in judging them to be apostolic.  – - the witness of the apostles is still
    rightly taken to be the real ‘Christian’ norm, even if we today have to locate
    this norm, not In the writings of the New Testament but in the earliest stratum
    of (Scriptural) witness accessible to us, given our own methods of historical
    analysis and reconstruction. Betz identifies this earliest stratum to be the
    Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3-7:27). “This source presents us with an early
    form – deriving from (the Jerusalem Jesus Movement) of the ‘Christian’ faith as
    a whole, which had direct links to the teaching the historical Jesus and thus
    constituted an alternative to Gentile Christianity as known above all from the
    letters of Paul and the Gospels, as well as the later writings of the New
    Testament. If the – - Sermon on the Mount represents a response to the teaching
    critical of that of Gentile Christianity, then it serves unmistakably to underline
    the well-known fact – - of how little we know of Jesus and his teaching. The
    reasons for our lack of knowledge are of a hermeneutical sort and cannot be
    overcome by an access of good will (apologetics).  The Gentile Christian authors of the Gospels
    transmitted to us only that part of the teaching of Jesus that they themselves
    understood, they handed on only that which they were able to translate  into the thought categories of Gentile
    Christianity, and which they judged to be worthy of transmission.” (More to the
    point they included no more than they felt sufficient to lend credence to their
    Christ of faith myth). This calls for a new reconstruction of posthumous Jesus
    traditions. Ed Jones Dialogue – Vridar is such an attempt.                   

  • Brettongarcia

    Maybe we should open up to a broader, more open/poetic/ less overdetermined view of God in fact.

    In fact, there are many people who think that the real Jesus, is closer to the poetic Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount (“blessed are the poor; for they will find the kingdom of heaven” etc).   And I seems to remember (?)  that this Sermon is part of the  “Q” material.   While that sermon would reflect a rather vague,poetic, Stoic “sage.” 

    And all that is indeed, rather poetic and vague .. and wideopened. 

    Indeed, for the timebeing, it makes our God a variable:  “Q.” 

  • Brettongarcia

    As I understand it, Doherty’s Cosmic Mystery Jesus, 1) seems about as plausible as any of the other models of Jesus.  And 2) it is rather more open to “mystery” and openness after all.

    And?  3) It conforms to Paul’s Platonism/mystery orientation:  “To an unknown God.”  Which in part, worships mystery itself.  So that the mystery religions are in a sense rather real and firm; but in other ways, essentially indescribable.  (Though see Plato’s rather definite notion of immortality, through the “succession of generations,” as I link them to the Elusinian mysteries of Demeter/Persephone, and ressurection through the return of life in the spring).

    And?  4) Doherty’s model (as I understand it secondhand) conforms to common sermons.  Of the “spiritual” atonement type.  That suggest that Jesus was essentially, not just a realistically-detailed bleeding dead guy on a cross.  But some kind of meeting of Man, and God, reconciling the two at last.  Being reconciled, redeemed, in some metaphysical – and in part, mysterious – way.  ( By the crucifixion of some dualistic metaphysical stereotypes?).

    There are many models of Jesus to be sure.  D’s is just one.  But it sounds like he does get at some of the metaphysical overtones/sources of Paul, and spiritual Christianity.

    And? It opens up our idea of Christ to the universe of metaphysical speculation.  Over and above a mundane cruci-fiction.

  • Brettongarcia

    I think I’ve been the defender of “tentativeness” more than Neil.   So, to redeem myself?  Why don’t I at last fill in the last details of my outline of the “Jesus” idea, for Paul?

    All these points essentially, were at least briefly covered in the previous week or so; I’m not too interested in repeating; especially to an usually rude audience. Here, though, since everyone prefers a more Historicist account? Suppose we look for another likely hypothesis for a strange but “real” basis for part of the myths.

    The idea is in part that there were many “lords,” even lord “gods” around in the time of Jesus; about whom many rumors circulated, no doubt.  These rumors were a major part of the folkloric base for the Jesus tales.   The average Roman emperor or Pharoah was known as a lord, and “god,” among hundreds of others.   To fill in a few gaps: probably no Jewish king could be known by jewish subjects as “god”; but Romanized leaders and their sons demanded it, and likely some Jews complied. Hellenized Jews especially.

    Regarding the dozens of known revolutionary Zionists trying to revive the kingdom? You do the homework; I’m tired of performing for a rude audience.
    The most likely “sons” however, that would parallel the Jesus story? Some scholars hypothesize that the Jesus story is more about Herod, than most have thought.
    Herod had 10 wives; one of the most important being a “Mary,” or Mariamne. Thinking that the sons were trying to kill and replace him, Herod tried to kill the “son of the lord.” Son of Mary. Some sons were killed; some may have remained. To remain contenders for the title of “Christ,” the new “lord.” And to some, “god.”

    This immediate hard-historical context merges into the story.  Especially the part – based really, on a son of Herod (remembering Mary was already pregnant by a “lord” when she married).  This immediate event joins a dozen other tales, to form the legend of Jesus. Some suggest.

    Note the parallels: the son of the local God, a son of Mary, was pursed and finally killed for claiming to be the legitimate heir, the Christ. But though killed, all along, he was the best, true, good son. A moral teacher. And so many remembered him, as the one who was really, the true Christ.

    In this theory (not quite my own entire model), we would have a small factual basis, to be added on by later additions. But? The factual basis it has, would be rather exactly opposite to what everyone thought: Jesus was the semi-legitimate son of the “lord” … Herod. By Mary/Mariamne. A factual basis so different from the final version, that we might be justified here, in calling the later iteration a “myth.”

    And in effect there really was no historical “Jesus” at all.

  • Paul R

    BG – can you not see the irony here? You berate those with “Christianity PhDs” for their poor methodology, and yet you are proposing a theory that you cannot even be bothered to submit evidence for. Even the most basic web search could have given you a name for one of these sons. 

    Anyway, just to recap – my first question to you about your theory was this one:

    a) Which Jewish “lord(s)” are you refering to who was regarded by the Jewish population as a God?

    You seem to have identified this king as Herod. Please could you point me toward the source in which he is identified as a God, or at least made a claim of divinity? You wrote: “Note the parallels: the son of the local God, a son of Mary, was pursed and finally killed for claiming to be the legitimate heir, the Christ.”, so I would like to establish that we have a parrallel on the “God” front before we move on the the rest of your argument.

  • Brettongarcia

    We do not, some insist, have very firm outlines of Greco Roman mystery cults in Jerusalem proper.  And furthermore?  Most of these cults were largely secret; that is why they were called” mystery” cults.  However, 1) Jerusalem in the time of Jesus was occupied by Roman soldiers, I note; who almost certaintly did not abandon their religion entirely when assigned to Jerusalem. 

    Did Mystery Religions speak of immortality?  2) Actually, some things ARE known about the Mystery religions, or commonly held, albeit speculatively, in scholarly circles.  And 3) one of them at least – the Eleusinian Mystery?  – included a myth of resurrection, from vegetative rebirth.   It incorporated, as some say, the myth of Persephone, one of many figures associated wiuth agriculture (Demeter). Who was taken by Pluto, to Hades (?); symbolic of death.  For four months out of the year.  But to return to the surface, “reborn,”  in the spring.   This – one of the core origins of legends of resurrection, I and others suggest – is commonly thought to be about the death of plants in the winter; but noting that life continues underground/in Hades, in seeds and roots.  To return to bloom and live on the surface, in the spring.

    • Claude

      Brettongarcia,

      From what I know (next to nothing) about the Eleusinian mysteries, you’re right–they developed out of agrarian myths, and I guess it’s possible that at their most sophisticated they introduced notions of resurrection and immortality. Except nobody knows for sure, do they? Because it’s a mystery!

      The thing is, Doherty tries this argument where Paul’s assimilation of Platonism both as the dominant Greco-Roman “worldview” and through ”mystery cults” influence his creation of a religion whose Messiah exists in the celestial realm, even though Doherty admits that we know “frustratingly little about the cults”:

      We know frustratingly little about the cults. The injunction to secrecy about the most sacred parts of the rites and their meanings was faithfully heeded through a thousand years of their existence, until they were washed away in the triumph of Christianity. (TJP p. 115)

      He goes on for a while about how little we know about the mysteries, but this doesn’t discourage him from speculating that Paul cribbed The Lord’s Supper from “the mysteries” and that

      In this higher world, the myths of of the mystery cults and of earliest Christianity were placed. (TJP p. 98)

      Since Paul described himself as having been a zealous Pharisee, it’s kind of a stretch to imagine he got his Plato from mystery cults.

  • Brettongarcia

    Reborn, as it were.  Significantly, in the Spring … or Easter Time.

  • Brettongarcia

    Paul?  You asked for hard historical information.  But there it was.

    Clearly, there IS a strong parallel between Greco-Roman mystery religion myths of resurrected Gods, and Christianity.

    Doherty said that we know frustratingly little about the Mystery cults.  But the information I’ve just cited - on the myth of Persephone, and especially as it is seen contributing to ideas of resurrection – is among the information that it is almost universally accepted, we DO know about those cults.

    To ask for more, is to ask for much higher standard for likelihood of influence, than even the strictest Historists ask for this era.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

      BG, just as a reminder – this is your current theory of Christian origins:

      1)  Since the days of David, the first Jewish king to really set up a Jewish “kingdom,” there had always been hopes, rumors, that one day, another successor of David would appear, to set up a more durable “kingdom” of God.
      2) From about 167 BC, through the time of Jesus, then on to 70 AD, there had always been rumors in Israel, about  dozens of possible candidates, who would set up that kingdom at last; probably an anointed or “christ”ened successor of David.
      3) Indeed, there had been dozens of such hoped-for Christs or messiahs; some of them “sons” of this or that Jewish “lord god.”
      4) Many rumors and stories, were circulated in oral, spoken, folkloric culture about such candidates.  Many of whom had been executed.
      5) Around 55 Paul got a blinding flash of insight, or heard a “voice,” suggesting that such a person was with him somehow; resurrected.
      6) Paul taught this vison-based theology to the Gentiles, in and around Turkey.
      7) Others, c. 63-75 AD, picked up the very scanty, minimal impressions of Paul, and filled them out with allegories, of an at-best quasihistorical midrashic composite,  ”Jesus.” 
      When Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD, there were few remaining witnesses, or much evidence about the facts of the case; the allegories and rumors were combined,and taken to be about a single, real figure:  Jesus.  

      BG, I’m asking for hard evidence that there existed a Jewish “lord” who was worshipped as, or claimed to be, a god. 

      As the mystery religions do not seem to provide much in the way of evidence for this, I do not see how they are relevant. 

      Remember, this is my first question about the first substantive point in your theory (since 1&2 are just general points about historical context). No doubt, by the time we get to point 7, I will have asked many questions, and perhaps the mystery religions will be relevant to some of these, but for now can we deal with the questions I have asked?

      So… You seem to be identify your “lord god” as Herod, which is a start. Now please can you give me some good evidence that Herod was regarded as, or claimed to be a God?

  • Brettongarcia

    Neil seems right, if he asserts that many scholars like Ehrmann, often radically over-stress Jewish influence.  And radically under-estimate the importance of Greco-Roman culture and myth, on early Christianity. 

    As we have been showing here, for several posts on “Ehrmann,” “Mythicism,” “The Brother of James,” etc., there is no doubt that – as classicists like Carrier note – there was MASSIVE influence by Greece adn Rome, on early Christianity.

    As evidence of that, here and now?  Take a look at the Eleusinian Mystery, just noted above; its myth of resurrection.  Which is an obvious paralle precursor, to the Easter resurrection.

    Would Paul have shut himself off from such Greco-Roman influences?  Because he was a Pharisee?  Note that Paul never had a very stable cultural identity or integrity.  At various times, Paul said that 1) he was a good Pharisee, and 2) persecutor of Christians; then 3) a good Christian and 4) a Roman then 5) a follower of “an unknown god.”  Paul then begns to seemingly advocate even deliberate equivocation and dishonesy about our convictions and identity; telling us 6) to be “all things to all people”; to 7) feel free to break laws.  But in any case?  If Paul ends up anywhere, he ends up moving Judaism in a Greco-Roman direction; 7) even telling us he is “under obligation” to the Greeks.  While 8) Paul quotes and uses, Plato’s Theory of Forms (as we noted here in “James the Brother of Jesus”?).

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Brettongarcia,

      This comment of yours is one of the most absurd I have ever read.  The confidence with which you write it will only impress those who have not read the New Testament and therefore won’t know any better.

      For those who have not read the NT, I invite you to do so with pad and pen.  Draw a line down the middle of the page and begin noting how often the NT quotes or alludes to the Old Testament.  On the right side, note how often the NT quotes or alludes to Plato, or any Greek source.  You will not make it ten pages before your realize the absurdity of Brettongarcia’s comment.  

      What’s being “radically over-stressed” is Roman-Greek myths.

  • Brettongarcia

    Paul?  You’ll have to be satisfied/dissatisfied with the brief outline I’ve given you; my computer/wifi connection, is literally not dealing with the amount of data here, making typing difficult.
     
    In any case, Paul? I’m tired of you complaining that Mythicists do not offer enough historical backing and information … even as I have provided five times as much historical information as you, for example. 
     
    If you want to discover, where and how Herod was seen as a “lord,” and possibly as a god, as I suggest?  Or certainly, “Father”?  Look it up for yourself, and/or use some critical imagination:  I’m not going to recreate, just for you, the whole of scholarly literature in Classics and Early Christianity, at your pleasure. 
     
    Look it up for yourself; and then try to exercise a little critical imagination to fill in any gaps.  I’ve probably already written an enire essay in effect here, in the last week, on classical influence on early Christianity; that’s about as much donkey work as I’m willing to do this time around. 
     
    In this case?  There is a vast literature, on various titles in ancient history.  Of particular interest are equivocations and vacillations and confusions between the “Names of God.”  Jesus has many, many different names/titles associated with just him alone for example.  And many scholars have noted complex interactions and unexpected distinctions, between 1) “Jesus,” 2) “Christ,” 3)  “Son of God,” 4) “son of Man,” 5) the “lamb”; 6)  the “Lord.”  While whole libraries and schools of scholarship were written on the different names of 7) God vs. Abraham the “Father,” 7) “God,” 8) Jaweh, or 9) elohim, etc.. 
     
    In this case I briefly suggest that Herod to be sure, better matches the “Father” appellation.  Though he would have been known as “lord” probably; and therefore would have been taken – as I said, not by his Jewish subjects, but by Hellenized ones – as linked to Roman emperors or commonly , “gods.”   Though here to be sure?  Perhaps “Father” is a better term.  Literally, 10) “Antipater,” etc.
     
    Zeno once remarked in effect, that if we were to take time to count, enumerate  the infinite number of gradations and incremental increases in the flight of an arrow, the arrow in effect would never get there.
     
    By the way though?  What about the evidence on the Eleusinian Mystery, and its idea of resurrection, as a clear precursor to the Christian idea of resurrection?  There you simply said you don’t know enough to answer the question?
     
    At some point we all run into human, chronological, and mechanical limitations, no doubt.
     
    A 1,000-page dissertation to be sure, might adequately cover this?
     
    Or Paul’s “voice”?  Which included insight, perhaps, of some Greco-Roman ideas.
     

    • Claude

      Brettongarcia,

      Whoa! You’re making a big leap from the Eleusinian mysteries’ agricultural allegories to Paul’s theology of Jesus as the way to life everlasting in the presence of God!! I’m not sure there’s any evidence that resurrection even as a precursor to Paul’s apocalyptic conception of resurrection was ever a feature of the Eleusinian mysteries.

      But I have Doherty’s source, Mircea Eliade, right here on my desk. If I have time today, I’ll read what he has to say.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

      I’m sorry BG, but I have to say that I find it increasingly hard to take you seriously. When you are asked for evidence to support your views, you find a reason for not doing so. You are asking me to look up the information to fill in the gaping holes in your theory – can you not see how ridiculous that sounds?  

      And no, I am not remotely satisfied with the brief outline you have given me. It reads like complete nonsense, and the fact that you are unable to cite even a single source to support it confirms for me that it is nonsense.

      You seem to be asserting that Herod was known as a god, and I would like some evidence that this was the case. Remember, this is my first question about the first substantive point of your theory. If you can do so, then we can move on to other questions I have about your theory. If you are unable to do so, then I think you must recognise that your theory is a non-starter.

    • Claude

      Brettongarcia,

      I read Mircea Eliade’s chapter on the Eleusinian Mysterious, which was tantalizing. You’re no doubt familiar with this, so I won’t go into details. You’re right that initiates seem to have been promised a happy life after death, following a descent into Hades, although the myth itself involves a failure to immortalize an adopted son. Apparently the main contribution of the Eleusinian Mysteries was to serve as the paradigmatic model for secret, initiatory rites that involved, it’s speculated, proximity to the divine.

      All of this is fascinating, but it’s still a stretch to attribute Paul’s theology to an exotic import, as you suggest, rather than his own heritage.

  • Brettongarcia

    In fact, Paul expanded some time, on notions relating to the facts of agriculture and immortality.  Our body is a “seed,” or “husk,” that must “die,” in order for us to “live,” and so forth.  Clearly and exactly, the Eleusinian Mystery.

  • Brettongarcia

    Paul:  the outline and what I’ve written is all you get on that particular subject.  I indicated classic avenues of research on titles of god, lords, that will give you the answer, as I already have, basically. 

    Here’s a fun one to think about, when regarding the whole question of whether a person can be a GOD:  Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.  Then relating that to the Rome just before Jesus; when the whole matter of a man being a god, was an issue in Rome … just before it became an issue regarding Jesus. Was this part of the classic historical background that contributed to a Jesus myth?

    Meanwhile?  How about the Eleusinian Mystery, and its relation to first, the basic idea of resurrection?  Then adding to other themes and sources, to form Christian “resurrection”?

  • Brettongarcia

    [I have some personal ties here.  Though in this specific matter, I don't have direct knowledge.  But?  We can incorporate both accounts. Let's reason from say, Functionality:   Jack might have offered the VP to Johnson as a formality - but we should consider the possibility that it was serious.  The yankee Sen. from Harvard, Mass., was going to have a hard time getting the South; while Johnson could easily take care of the Southern Strategy.  And Bobby?  Was just being a little hysterical, as usual; the kid in the group]

    In historiography, if you can incorporate/reconcile ALL accounts, that is good.  If you can’t incorporate them all, at least mention the the main accounts, irreconcilable as they appear.

    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

      As a question of political strategy, there can be no doubt that picking Johnson was smart and pragmatic, and it worked out perfectly, which is why so many historians think that it was really Jack’s idea all along and that he concealed it from everyone,. including Bobby, because he didn’t want to do anything to upset the liberal wing the party prior to obtaining the nomination.   On the other hand, despite being the hot headed kid in the group, Caro finds it hard to believe that Bobby would have gone behind his brother’s back to talk Johnson out of accepting.  Despite his personal dislike of Johnson, he understood the reasons for picking him and he understood that it was Jack’s call to make.  It’s a great read.

      • Brettongarcia

        [Reconciling your further info, on the selection of Johnson?  Again, no direct knowledge - except Johnson's hard ambition.  But?  Watching on TV, I had the impression that the press was saying over and over, that the VP was normally offered as flattery/a courtesy to heavy politicos, especially southern; who often refused it, six and seven deep (cf. Everitt Dirkson?).   

        So the press - and Bobby, even Jack to a lesser extent - was all too comfortable with this as mere convention.  And (following the press a little too much?) Jack himself probably half-hoped to get Johnson's support, just by the offer alone. though?  He had to have somewhere in his mind that there was always a chance it would be accepted.  When Johnson accepted, Jack sent Bobby back with a protest; but Johnson was firm-  and Jack accepted the acceptance. 

        It wasn't ideal; but he knew it would work.  Until he got killed of course.  Jackie was fun to work for.]

        Mike?  I think like Jack Kennedy, most of us are actually still all fence-sitters here, whether we know it or not; all except Mike.  If things go one way, or the other, most will accept it.  While in any case?  Right in the middle is an interesting position. 

        Looking for the truest appearance of Christ.

        • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

          Brettongarcia,

          It’s becoming clear to me that you’d rather speculate about things you can’t know for sure than to research and find out things you can know for sure.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

          Mike?  I think like Jack Kennedy, most of us are actually still all fence-sitters here, whether we know it or not; all except Mike.  If things go one way, or the other, most will accept it.  While in any case?  Right in the middle is an interesting position

          We all have our assumptions and biases BG. There are things we sit on the fence about and some things we don’t, even if we don’t know or won’t admit it.

          Mike just happens to be open and upfront about his own position, and for that he has my respect. 

        • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

          BG,

          I’ll have to reread the chapter, but I don’t recall Caro dwelling much on whether it was common practice to extend such an offer merely as a gesture.  The thought never seems to have occurred to Johnson.  One point that mitigates against that is that Johnson told Jack he would need Sam Rayburn’s approval because Rayburn was dead set against Johnson giving up his power in the Senate.  Since getting that approval took some work, that would have been a very easy out for Jack if he truly hadn’t wanted Johnson to accept.

          Although some observers supported Bobby’s version, others who encountered Jack during the relevant time period reported that he was pleased that Johnson had accepted and that Jack figured that the liberals in the party who didn’t like the pick would just have to accept that he was doing the best thing for the general election.   Caro doesn’t think that there is any way to be really sure what went on.

  • Brettongarcia

    That’s history; nobody can ever be sure.  Often the main player himself, does not know what he himself thinks.

    That’s why Historicism is interesting, but bunk; it pretends to know more than anyone could possibly really know, with as little data as we have today.

    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

      To the extent that either historicism or mythicism claim greater certainty than the evidence warrants, I think they are mistaken.  “Bunk” is not the term that I would apply generally, however.

  • Brettongarcia

    Fair enough; it does not quite apply in EITHER case?

  • Brettongarcia

    I don’t know why people should find Neil’s position so irritating.  Or – maybe I do.

    People seem to think that for everything, we MUST have an answer.  They are used to taking tests, where it is better to say something, rather than nothing.  But the Agnostic position – and say, a Postfoundational Theology? – simply says that many things in life are a mystery, where we just do not currently have enough information, to firmly say.  So that, when we are asked about ultimate origins for example, more and more of us are comfortable with the answer, “We don’t know.”   Which may be the best answer here; and it is honest, for once.

    Can we live without knowing ultimate origins?  Oddly, we can.  It’s like living on a boat in the ocean; there is no foundation below us (or just lots of turtles).  But we get along well enough.

    So why not accept Neil’s answer?

    Claude:  the Eleusinian Mysteries are just PART of the puzzle; the position or “theory” (not to say “theory” in a scientific sense ) of many mythicists, is that Christianity is not from any single myth, but is a natural composite of dozens – even hundreds – of myths, traditions.  In the time of Jesus, there were many, many ANE traditions floating around.  And the eclectic genius of (St. ) Paul was that he began to put a few of them together.

    Oddly though, in effect the Eleusinian Mystery seems to be in part, about the then-mysterious and revolutionary idea of Agriculture.  Indeed, it is a strange thing that when we plant a seed in the ground (/Hades), the seed has to die, become a “husk,” in order to give birth to new “life” in the spring.  Paul uses this very language.

    • Claude

      Brettongarcia:

      I’m aware that mythicist theories allow a capacious syncretism. The Eleusinian mysteries came up downthread in the context of Doherty’s mythical Christ, which relies significantly on the influence of mystery cults. I read Eliade because I wanted to consult Doherty’s source (I hate to compliment any fascist, but Eliade was a pleasure to read). He says:

      The initiation revealed both closeness to the divine world and continuity between life and death. These are certainly ideas shared by by all archaic religions of the agricultural type but suppressed by the Olympian religion.

      Paul had been a Pharisee, and Pharisees believed in resurrection. Why would Paul have to go fishing in the Eleusinian mysteries?

  • Brettongarcia

    Of course, as Carrier noted, “Historical Jesus” studies to date, are simply nowhere near up to the standards of even conventional History.  Take it’s principle of contradiction, or “Criterion of Embarrassment.”  As Goodacre notes, there are problems with it.  Or as I would say, with the idea in effect that if something seems obviously false or contradictory, embarrassingly so, then it must be true.(Though we might say it was something that some tradition authentically believed.)

    So HJ fails, even by the loose standards of History.  To say nothing of Science.

    And so, in default of that?  And lacking enough information to say much very firmly about such a remote era?   Many scholars, Mythologists, simply admit that their own speculations about this era, are not exact; but are indeed, explicitly and admittedly, “speculations.”  A sub genre of Literary Criticism, more than Science.  Which is more honest, that the pretended exactitude of Historical Jesus studies.

    Claude:  by the way?  We don’t think it was just Paul who EXCLUSIVELY composed the idea of Jesus, resurrected; the Bible is a product of HUNDREDS of minds.   While the material it collected, was partly  from a popular, folkloric tradition, with a “genius” of its own, for conflating/assembling tall tales.

  • Brettongarcia

    I view this as a forum for an occasional professional, but also informed and interested nonspecialists.

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      It’s obvious James’ readers run the gamut.

  • Brettongarcia

    I might actually have some professional credentials relating to Mythography, the subject at hand:  I have an MA Art  History; PhD Culture Studies.  With an interest in semiotics, mythic readings of high and low culture; including religion and pop culture.   

    I have great respect for science, and Reason.   But to sure, the field of “Myth” is so loose, especially in Ancient History, that while we look for hard data, often there isn’t any; so we are often frankly speculative.  Or we do the best we can with … whatever texts, evidence, there is.  My own approach is, call it, a sort of historical, Structuralist Functionalist semiotics.  “Reading” culture, ancient and modern, against, as relating to, things we know from practical experience and science, to be useful and functional.

    Here, I highly value and use Science, or especially Logic and Reason.  But acknowledge that we just don’t know enough to be REALLY exact here; try as we might. 

    So?  This is a rather wide-open field; in which nonspecialists can still have some significant say.  But my leanings are always toward … coming up with rationally defensible explanations.

    My perspective on Historicism – which I know from decades ago, as a literary critical method – is that it is useful, and makes an attempt at rationality and objectivity; but in the hands of religious advocates, it’s already-limited objectivity is essentially compromised.

    I’d like to be more scientific; and always lean that way.  But:  if there just isn’t enough hard data?  Lets use what we have … and at least be logical and rational.  While issuing occasional admissions that after all, much of what we do will be speculative. 

     Though?  Never quite giving into rampant subjectivity.  Always looked for the reasonable explanation.

    Always liked Australia, for its famous realists and naturalists.

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      I’m just a guy who knows how to read.  Give me a Bible and I’m happy.  But I only impress God if I do what it says.

  • Brettongarcia

    Mike?  You only impress God if you really understand the Bible right, and do it right.

     Understand it wrong?  And there will be big problems.

    And?  Contrary to popular opinion, God does not guarantee you will get it right. 

    The Bible warns all the time, about “false” things in every single aspect of religion; even in those who think they are following Christ, calling “Lord, Lord.”

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      He only holds me accountable for the parts I understand.  And, even then, everyone is going to heaven.  He is a just God, but He’s also a merciful God.

  • Brettongarcia

    No doubt, Historicists/Historians could teach mythicists a few things; that is true in part, at times.  Though here, we – including Neil – have begun to note problems even with Historicism; and now stress real History, real historians.

    Mike?  I’ve always found your theology much too glib and cocksure of itself; God in some readings is merciful.  But in other readings, he hates Vanity, selfsureness  in religion, especially.  While your own strong feelings that you absolutely are saved, and already know all you need to know about God and salvation, come off as Vanity.

    So in fact?  I think we ALL need to take another look at Jesus; and make sure that we understand him correctly.  And?  I’d say that a better understanding of how to read the Bible , how to apply historical method to it, would be helpful.

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Brettongarcia,

      I welcome your call for all of us “to take another look at Jesus.”

  • Brettongarcia

    A commonsense realism, might suggest there are problems with a Miraculous Jesus, for one; and that those who believe too much in a Miracle-working Jesus, might be following a false sense of Christ.

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Nothing like taking a good old-fashioned presupposition into one’s research to prejudice the outcome. 

      Why do we bother to do research when we can know the right answers just by assuming them in advance?

  • Brettongarcia

    Claude: 

    1)  For the last two weeks or so, on varous parts of this blog, I’ve argued that Paul and Christianity, were far, far less strictly Jewish (or say, Pharisaic), and far more Greco-Roman/Hellenistic, than most conservatives see them.  See other blog entries on “Ehrman” Pt. 1 & 2;, “James the Brother of Jesus,” and so forth.

    2) On this particular prompt, I’ve noted above that Paul claimed many different ethnic/religious identities; including Paul claiming to be “Roman” in Acts.  And while that claim is constested by some (as part of an attack on Acts), just look up the word “Greek”s in a Bible concordance.  THere you will see a dozen quotes, where Paul is chumming it up with Greeks, even deferring to them (Paul being “ under obligations to the Greeks”) over and over.

    So?  Paul was heavily Hellenized.  Therefore?  When he thought of resurrection, likely he put together whatever Pharisaic beliefs he had, together with … the Platonic/Eleusinian concept.

    Corroborating this kind of cross-fertilization, many scholars now acknowledge widespread cross-fertilization of ANE – Ancient Near East – culture; including specifically Jewish/Hellenistic influences, in everyday Jewish culture. For that matter, we don’t know an awful lot about the PHARISEES; they may have been influenced by Hellenistic influences, without quite knowing it; or from a common source with the Greeks.

    And in fact, this has probably been my main project on this blog, in support of Mythicism:  to show countless crossovers, in biblical and cultural examples, between Jewish and Greco-Roman cultures, especially in Christianity.  These crossovers are so extensive, that in effect, Christianity is Hellenized Judaism. 

    Or in other language relevant here?  Christianity is Judaism … heavily infused with Greco-Roman cultural beliefs. 

    Or?  Myths.

    In any case?  As it turns out, I’m noting that Paul’s language seems extremely coincident, structurally-linked, with the very heart of the Eleusinian Mystery, and its roots in (as scholars agree), the facts of Agriculture:  dead seeds and roots in the ground, lie dormant for the  four months in winter; but then the bring up shoots of new life, in the spring.  So that?  Things that were seemingly dead, underground … come to life, resurrected. 

    Paul and other BIblical phrases, their exact language, clearly reflects this agricultural base for the Elusinian Mysteries:  speaking of the “seed”s that have to go underground and “die,” in order to cast off the “husk” of the seed, and be born again.

    Methodologically, I’m largely a kind of ”Structuralist”; when Structuralists see so many points in common, parallels, between the language and “structure” of one myth or tale, and another, we begins to feel there is almost certaintly an historical relation between them.  One borrowed from the other.

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Brettongarcia,

      I don’t know how much of this sort of thing Claude can ingest without gagging, but your thinking is positively wild.

      Just one example from this latest dispatch:  You said, “As it turns out, I’m
      noting that Paul’s language seems extremely coincident, structurally-linked,
      with the very heart of the Eleusinian Mystery, and its roots in (as scholars
      agree), the facts of Agriculture:  dead seeds and roots in the ground, lie
      dormant for the  four months in winter; but then the bring up shoots of
      new life, in the spring.  So that?  Things that were seemingly dead,
      underground … come to life, resurrected.”

      Do you really suggest that apart from awareness of the Eleusinian Mystery Paul would not have figured out that spring follows winter?  

      Do you keep a straight face when you type these things?

    • Claude

      Brettongarcia,

      Your incantatory rhetorical style entranced me to the point that I did register your Judao-Hellenic conception of the origins of Christianity. It’s all interesting to me, since I’m not a creative thinker and appreciate being introduced to new perspectives. However, I’m skeptical enough to be dissatisfied with any explanation that seems less plausible that the consensus view.

      I am aware that Hellenization was controversial among the Jews, with some factions advocating complete resistance. The Pharisees were zealous guardians of the Law and Jewish tradition. That is not to say that Paul, despite being a self-described fanatic, would have necessarily fit the profile. He was obviously educated and exposed to Greek philosophy and religion. But–there has to be some reason to embrace an alternative explanation for Paul’s notion of the resurrection when the obvious explanation, that his belief arose (principally as Ehrman would say) from Jewish tradition, seems the most plausible.

      You’ve speculated that Judaism may have assimilated features of the Eleusinian mysteries, but Ehrman says the archaeological record doesn’t support the notion that mystery cults had any influence on Judaism in the first century. I guess you are saying that the mysteries nonetheless arrived with Hellenization and somehow penetrated one of the most nativist of Jewish movements.

      As for being all things to all men, Paul wanted to win converts to faith in the Messiah of the religion he was born into. It’s a case where the literal End justified the means.

  • Brettongarcia

    Mike?   Try not to be, as Historians say, ”anachronistic.”  That means:  try not to project your modern sense of things, too far back into time, to people who likely had a very different mindset than our own.

    In our era, of course, the simple facts of Agriculture, are of course EXTREMELY well known.  In ancient times however?  The Discovery of Agriculture, was perhaps THE major new discovery in ancient times.

    Then too?  Ancients were not only disconcerted by these today-extremely basic facts; but they were spooked by some of the larger implications of them:  things that are dead, come back to life.

    Mike?  Did you go to college?

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Bartongarcia,

      The book of Genesis speaks of seedtime and harvest.  The ancients may not have known about DDT, but how did any of us ever get here if they were ignorant of planting and harvesting?

  • Brettongarcia

    The basic facts necessary for agriculture, are known in Genesis.  Though perhaps, barely. 

    Arguably in fact, Gensis is in part about the transition from Hunter-Gatherer culture, to Agriculture.  First we see Adam and Eve, as naked savages, living in the wild, picking things from trees, without known much about it.  Then suddenly, they develop consciousness or awareness; and want clothes.  And then begin working by the “sweat of their brow,” planting things.

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Are you just rambling?  What about the point at hand – that Paul had no need of a  Greek myth to inspire him to think of resurrection or of its similarity to seed and sprout.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

    And there’s Ecclesiastes too, my favourite OT book:

    “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.”

    BG – was the teacher of Ecclesiastes was inducted into the Eleusinian mysteries too? I get confused.

  • Brettongarcia

    Claude:  I appreciate your eloquent grasp of this stuff; that’s a pretty good reaction.  I’d just add, that 1) the Old Testament did rather admantly reject other Gods; and 2) the New Testament seems to as well - until you read the fine print:. Paul telling us to go beyond the “law” of Moses, and the Old Testament, somehow.  Etc.

    3) Ehrmann and most conservative Historicists indeed, like to assert that CHristianity came primarily from Jewish culture.  But most scholars will admit SOME Hellenistic influence.  While if they don’t admit lots of it?  Then that is where … I am polititely  disagreeing with Ehrmann, and his branch of Historicism.  In favor of Mythicism.  Jesus himself, remember, said a non-Jewish Samaritan, could be a better person than even a Jewish priest.

    4) HOw did seemingly Greek ideas get into early, “seemingly nativist” Hebrew culture?  The methods of cultural diffusion and assimilation are quite complex and unexpected.  However?  Maybe  Paul’s objection – that Ecclesiastes knew about planting too – can help us refine our thesis. 

    To be sure, Ecclesiastes knew some basic facts; but he still seems to find the simple act of planting, agriculture, worth of inclusion in a holy book.  And?  There are even hints of a link there,, to ideas about death.  

    Yet most scholars would not say that Ecc. quite fully had in hand, every element of the Eleusinian Mystery.  Or even Christian immortality.  Many say that Ecc. did not really believe in resurrection:  we die, and go to “Sheol.”  A shadow afterlife, etc.,  Whereas, as to weher the sould goes upward after death?  Who knows it says. 

    Possibly?    Greek thought was roughly apace with Ecclesiastes at the time; or perhaps learned from it, and added to it?  Or the two cultures traded back and forth; as Greeks in fact famously did.

    [Excuse typos etc:  when I'm working fast, I don't really edit much.  especially with computer problems]

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      You seem to write in stream of consciousness, with little or no editing of thoughts much less spelling.  It’s a trait of mythicists, but you exhibit an extreme version.

  • Brettongarcia

    Mike?  When one person is being attacked by 4 or 5?  You have to work fast.  Like most Historicists, you blame others for some of your own sins.

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      I’ll drop out then.  I can’t get you to engage on one point long enough to resolve it anyway.

  • Brettongarcia

    By the way?  A certain kind of reader, informed on the subject, I submit, will understand this perfectly….

  • Brettongarcia

    In brief summary?  Neither Genesis, nor Ecclesiastes, really had the full scope of the Eleusinian Mystery; nor even of the Christain afterlife, most scholars say.  The fuller idea of the afterlikfe, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, would not come until the New Testament. 

    And where did thse New Testament ideas therefore – that were not really, fully in the Old Testament, or the culture of the Jews -   come from?  Some will go for the simple, all-purpose answer, and say “from God.”.  But God working though what agency? 

    Note this:  in between the Old Testament and New … was a Greek culture.  With most of the missing links.

    • Claude

      Brettongarcia,

      I didn’t mean to attack you, and I’m sorry if I came off that way. I’m just grappling with some of these mythicist formulations.

      I have no idea how conceptions of the afterlife and resurrection developed in the intertestamental period, but no doubt others here do.

      I have to ask:

      Do you think 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 is an interpolation?

       

  • Brettongarcia

    Not to interpolate on Neil’s exposition?  Regarding the definition of a “faith document?”

    I’d speculate that a “faith document” would be a document that explicitly asserts, at least in SOME part, that we are not supposed to examine these documents, or what they claim to describe critically; or ask too many questions about them.  But that we are supposed to simply accept them, uncritically, on faith.  Or on their own say-so.

    The interesting thing about faith documents, would be that in some sense, they reject and deny, disavow, any claims of historical accuracy.  Though they now and then claim to be an exact account of History, other times, their “faith statements” are finally, seemingly, disavowals of any necessity of presenting ANY historical or factual evidence, to establish their claims.

    Intrestingly therefore?  Faith documents – like the Bible? – actually concede the Historical question from the start.  They simply concede that they are not Historical, or are not relying on factuality.

    In this sense, the whole Historicist project, is strangely against the Bible; to the extent that it itself, is a faith document.  And asserts the unimportance of any physical or historical evidence.

  • Brettongarcia

    Though I have chosen to emphasize Greco-Roman influences here, on the New Testament, I have no objections to adding a look at more Jewish, popular influences as well.  If you look at the intertestamental books – the 7 or so books between the Old and New Testaments, that Catholic bibles have?  Baruch, Wis.; Solomon, etc.?  They do look increasingly, like novelistic tales of heroes/martyrs.  Though I would submit that therefore, in spite of the Maccabean revolts against Greek influence,  they were influenced by Greek tragedy;; the tale of  the tragic – fated – hero.

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

      If the itinerant and “street-corner” philosophers of the day were the antecedents of the Christian apostles/preachers (as a number of studies suggest) then it is of interest to note that ancient philosophers were not only known for their evangelistic-style teaching (seeking converts) but also for the variety of media they employed to popularize their teachings. Not only letters and dialogues, but we even have the dramatic works by Seneca. Not to overlook Plato’s endorsement of creative myths for the purpose. The use of the ancient equivalent of novels to popularize a philosophical or theological teaching is quite within what we might expect given the cultural norms.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

        The use of the ancient equivalent of novels (even fictional biographies that were also common enough at the time) to popularize a philosophical or theological teaching is quite within what we might expect given the cultural norms.

        Could you perhaps give me an example of an ancient novel that was primarily written to popularise a philosophical or theological teaching? A comparison with the gospels would certainly be interesting.

        As far as I’m aware, Plato inserts myths into other works, but his work does not exactly fall into the genre of myth. Jesus used parables too, but that seems no reason to think that the gospels must therefore themselves be parables.

  • Brettongarcia

    The ancient Greeks at first were loathe to write anything but ostensibly-factual biographies.  However, they were 1) given to invention, and were known to write biographies about characters that we now believe, did not really exist:  Carrier cites the biography of Hercules as an example.  While especially relevant here?  The stories of  gods appear quite biographical often; through presumably Zeus for example, was not a real person.

    Strikingly, it was precisely the most hellenized of biblical writers – Paul – who in (albeit disputed) Acts, calls himself a Roman citizen, seems often, to move into realms that would accept/indicate the emergence of accepting fiction:  2) Paul accepting a mere vision or voice, as real enough for our consideration; Paul 3) explicitly telling is that many things in (his own?) works are “allegories”; and 4) ”spiritual”; which is to say, not quite really physical/ historical/factual.  While 5) Paul even began to invite us to suspend the importance of looking for real, material realities behind things; beginning (at times) to speak of the mere mental belief  in them – “faith” – as being self-validating or sufficient in itself.

    This 6) spiritualization, dematerialization, “metaphoricalization” - fictionalization? – was until very recently, widely-accepted by the bulk of semi-intellectual, nonfundamentalistic Christian churches, to about 1960 or so.  These parts of the Bible from Paul - and many others – in fact, were among the parts that were once commonly cited in common church sermons and homilies, in favor of a Chritianity that suspended concrete, Historical truth claims; and instead claimed to be more about mental or spiritual realities.

    To this day, it is quite common to hear sermons to the effect that Genesis, especially, is not intended to be a factual history of the universe, for example; but is a metaphor – or just a story – about the spirit.

    Is Christianity now reversing itself (once again), and now claiming, fundamentalistically once again, that it was all physically, historically real?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

    Could you unpack these a bit more for me Neil? 

    For Jesus we only have the self-testimony of faith-documents of unknown provenance. By provenance I mean what historians normally understand by the word.

    I mean nothing more than that the epistles and gospels are documents that propagate the faith of Christianity.

     
    A few points spring to mind:

    1) What do you mean by “propagate”? Do you mean something like “spread”? i.e. that the epistles and gospels were primarily written to promote Christianity to a non-Christian audience? 

    2) What do you mean by “faith”? In your second quote it would seem to be synonymous with “religion” or “religious”? Is this correct?

    3) What do you mean by “provenance”? I’m interested in your understanding of what does and doesn’t constitute provenance, and how it should affect the way we treat documents that have a Christian origin? Sorry, but “what historians normally understand by the word” seems to be merely begging the question.

  • Brettongarcia

    Where did the gospels come from; what is their ‘provenance”?  To briefly interpolate for Neil?  Most scholars suggest we are not quite sure who wrote the Gospels; often they themselves do not clearly say; the names on them – Matthew, Mark, Luke – are often later conventional attributions, only.  And they are “faith documents” in the sense that they themselves, emphsize “faith” often (if not always), over asserting factual historical evidence.  So that we are often asked to “take them on faith,” rather than their proffered accounts of physical realities.

    Normally, historians want firmer proof of a real material person, or concrete reality, behind documents, before we accept them as authentic; whereas these documents at times explicitly denounce/eschew such a reality, themselves. And therefore seem all but determined to explicitly disqualify themselves, as factual or historical accounts.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

      Thanks BG, but no. Neil said “For Jesus we only have the self-testimony of faith-documents of unknown provenance”. 

      Neil isn’t just talking about the gospels, he seems to be referring to all documents that refer to the existence of Jesus. Since we know the name the author of the (genuine) Pauline corpus, and Paul’s letters would seem be included in Neil’s “faith documents of unknown provenance” category, provenance must mean something different to “knowing the name of the author”.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

        Neil,

        You say that early Christian writers had a “religious agenda”. I agree. 

        However, you seem to move from noting the existence of a religious agenda to arguing that we cannot trust Christian writers even in the most mundane claims that that they make about Jesus (such as that he had a historical existence). It’s obvious then that this “religious agenda” has a different set of implications for you than it does not for me. And, come to think of it, for the overwhelming majority of appropriately qualified Biblical scholars. 

        Is your main problem with the “religious” bit or the “agenda” bit?

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

          What on earth is Paul talking about? Who said there is any problem with “agenda”. No one can write without an agenda. Paul’s evident reading what I say with hostile intent, imputing into my words his own mind-reading conclusions, is the other reason I am not the least interested in any discussion with him.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

            Neil,

            Why do you consistently find a reason to drop out of the discussion when anybody asks you a question that attempts to get you to clarify your position? 

            You seem to have a problem with the evidence of the NT and other early Christian writers such that you cannot accept as the historical existence of Jesus of Nazereth as probably. Would you say this is a fair summary of your postion? If it is not, please could you clarify?

            In your post to Mike above, it seems that you do not, on the whole, have a problem with the historical existence of Socrates, Julius Caesar, or Seneca. You contrast the evidence for reasons we have for asserting their existence with the evidence for Jesus:

            For Jesus we only have the self-testimony of faith-documents of unknown provenance.

            It seems then, that you do not think much weight should be attached to “faith documents”. Again – is this a fair summary of your position? If not, please do clarify. 

            When Mike asked you to explain what a faith document was, one of the things you said was that the authors had a “religious agenda”. You do not give any other reasons for not trusting Christian documents (you do not say, for example that the authors are unintelligent or insane) so it seems reasonable to me that your problem with Christian sources is that they have a “religious agenda”. Is this correct? If not please could you retract or modify this statement and explain where the problem lies?

            Which leaves us back at the question of what your problem is? If it’s not the agenda (and I agree, no-one can write without an agenda), is it that they are “religious” documents? I think that would need some unpacking but at least it will help me understand the nature of your objections. Again, is this correct? If not, please do explain. 

            I don’t see any of my questions as being of hostile intent, or an attempt at mind reading. To me a basic part of an open discussion with somebody that you ask them to clarify their position and the concepts they are using. Vinny asked a similiar question of me about categorising people as Jesus deniers and I took the time to write the fullest answer I could: I didn’t attack him for asking the question. (Still, if anyone else in the discussion thinks my line of questioning is unfair, feel free to say so).

            Though if you really don’t want to discuss with me anymore, hey – that’s fine with me.

            • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

              Neil, I have stood aside for a while because you took offense as my last question and I didn’t want you to feel bombarded with questions from multiple people.  I think Paul’s questions have been productive and I think your answers could be equally productive.  

              I can’t understand why you wouldn’t welcome the opportunity to clarify your position and make it better understood.  

              Will it, in the end, be convincing to others?  Maybe, maybe not.  But if you don’t fully explain it then it becomes impossible for anyone to fully accept it.

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

              I have no intention of wasting time discussing anything with anyone who approaches his interlocutor and the subject itself with derogatory labels. (So you refrain from using them for one post. Big deal.) For all of Mike’s foibles I do like him. He is walking where I have myself been. And he is more honest and does not resort to weasel words.

              • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                That’s fine Neil.

                I’m not surprised that you are more comfortable debating with Mike, as you say he has walked where you have been and it strikes me that you are much more comfortable debating with opponents who are Christian than with other atheists or agnostics. 

                However derogatory you think I have been, I simply find it baffling that you cannot answer some very basic questions about your position.

                It merely confirms to me that, when it comes down to it, you have nothing to say Neil. Not about Jesus. Not about historical method. Nothing. 

              • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                Neil,

                I’ll cash in whatever good will I have with you now if you’ll interact in good faith with Paul.  He’s been a stand-up guy in these conversations.  

                You’re a more serious guy and might not fully appreciate that when Paul makes a point with a twinkle in his eye it needn’t be a reason to take offense.  Similarly, when he makes a point with force it’s because he cares about it – not that he bears ill will toward you or anyone else.

                If you don’t want to share your view further, that’s your right.  But please don’t try to make it look like Paul made it look too difficult or unfair for you – if not for his sake, then for your own.

                • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                  Mike – you’re clearly a very nice bloke and far more charitable to your opponents than I could ever be! We’ll see if Neil responds to your request (think I might have scuppered your chances with my last comment though)

                  I’m off to bed anyway. Vinny – interesting points, I’ll reply tomorrow.

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

                  I have no interest in any discussion with anyone who labels me and my position with insulting epithets. And clearly such people have no genuine interest in a serious discussion with me. I think they behave that way deliberately to give themselves an excuse to avoid serious investigation while blaming the other party for the breakdown.

                  So am I to conclude you have lost all interest in responding to my opening position, Mike?

                  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                    Neil,

                    Regarding your opening position, your very first sentence gives me pause.

                    “All the reasons we have for accepting the historicity of persons such as Julius Caesar, his wife, Cicero, his slave, Seneca, his rival philosophers, Socrates (though some scholars have seen room to dispute even his historicity) — that is, the famous and otherwise little known people of ancient times — simply don’t exist in the case of Jesus.”

                    I am not a scholar and so I don’t know how much textual evidence exists for all these figures of antiquity that  you mention.  However, when I contemplate the New Testament alone – its 27 documents comprised of over 130,000 words, composed by at least half a dozen authors and written from and to locations all over the first-century Roman Empire – it’s hard for me to imagine that, say, one of Seneca’s rival philosophers, much less “otherwise little known people of ancient times” have accounted for as much.  Therefore, your first sentence doesn’t ring true to me.  However, since I am not a scholar I cannot say more than this so I will move on to your second sentence.

                    “For Jesus we only have the self-testimony of faith-documents of unknown provenance.”

                    This short sentence is your basis for all that follows, yet it is laden with questionable assumptions.  Let me mention them phrase by phrase to give you a chance to address the questions.

                    “…only…”

                    Again, I don’t know what the standard for volume of textual evidence required for establishing the identity of individuals who lived in the first century is, but the New Testament seems like a bulging file folder of testimony – and all the more so when you consider the variety of its authors and recipients.  Maybe all ancient figures we regard as historic have much more than this – but doesn’t this seem like a lot to you, especially for someone who didn’t run a country, amass a fortune, or lead an army?  And even if Seneca’s rival’s butcher has much more than this, isn’t this still substantial?

                    “…self-testimony…”

                    Practically everyone knows that Jesus did not leave us any of his own writings, nor is there testimony that he ever wrote – except in the sand one time.  People like Muhammad, Joseph Smith, and L. Ron Hubbard have written self-testimony – but Jesus didn’t.  Neither did any of the New Testament writers seem bent on proving their own existence to any of the readers.  Therefore, I don’t see any basis for approaching the New Testament as “self-testimony.”

                    “…faith-documents…”

                    You say this is not a genre but your usage of the term equates to that, and it’s obvious that Brettongarcia has embraced it as such.  You offered not to use the term, but it’s not merely the words to which I object.  I object to treating the documents differently than we would treat any other first-century documents.  I don’t dispute their religious nature (if religious means simply “having to do with God”).  Nor do I dispute that every writer, religious and otherwise, has a point of view and a purpose in writing – some might say “agenda” but that can be construed as pejorative.  Leaving aside any negative connotations of “agenda,” it’s clear that  these documents were produced for various specific purposes.  Therefore, “agendas” would be the more appropriate term.  Moreover, practically all of the agendas have to do with internal issues of the movement.  It’s as if we’ve come across a cache of internal documents of the Occupy Wall Street movement, not the series of articles they would have written for the New York Times propagating their view of the world.  Excessive homogenization of these documents robs them of historical meaning and value, and amnesia regarding their lack of external focus distorts inferences that are made regarding them.

                    “…unknown provenance…”

                    Huh?  Had you said “disputed provenance” I would have agreed.  Had you said “varying degrees of known and unknown provenance” I would have agreed.  However, to say “Hey, we got all these documents but we don’t know where any of them they came from” is beyond the pale.

                    In short, your position at the outset seems laden with prejudicial assumptions.  I have questions about other parts of your position but your first two sentences are foundational so there’s no point proceeding until at least some of this can be resolved.  Here’s your chance to do so.

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

                      Mike,

                      Sound evidence for the existence of persons does not have to be abundant. It is the nature of the evidence that counts, not its quantity. I only need a single birth certificate or a single short newspaper report or a single tombstone inscription to have a valid reason accepting the existence of a person I never heard of before. On the other hand, we lots of evidence for Aeneas and Achilles and we could discover ten times as much of same kinds of evidence but that won’t give us any more valid reasons for thinking it is a reliable indicator of their historical existence.

                      I think we have only a single passing reference to a philosopher known as Publius Vinicius the Stammerer. But that single reference gives us valid reasons thinking he really existed: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/08/30/stronger-evidence-for-publius-vinicius-the-stammerer-than-for-jesus/

                      The same for Socrates. Socrates’ historicity is not indisputable. A few scholars have questioned it. But the fact remains that most scholars accept his historicity because of the nature of the evidence, not its quantity. Socrates’ existence is independently testified by clearly independent sources, ostensibly contemporary with Socrates, and that have quite different agendas. So we have good grounds for accepting the existence of Socrates.

                      We generally accept the existence of persons if they are recorded in a context that can at some level be checked by external means for its authenticity, reliability, and relevant purpose of writing. We have external contemporary checks to inform us who Seneca was, when he wrote, where and for whom and why. So that gives us confidence, when we read what he says about Publius Vinicius, that PV very likely really existed.

                      I won’t elaborate for now. I’ve discussed this several times in detail at How do we know anyone existed in ancient times? and elsewhere.

                      You questioned my use of “only” having a certain kind of testimony and pointed to the great abundance the evidence related to Jesus. But as I argue above, it is not the quantity that counts but the quality or nature of that evidence. We have lots of material about fictional and mythical characters, too, some of whom many have mistaken for historical.

                      What I mean by “self-testimony” is the self-testimony of the documents we are reading in our hands. I read a letter said to be by Pliny. All I might have is the self-testimony of that letter. The letter itself says it is by Pliny and it is written to his wife. That is the testimony of the letter — the letter’s testimony about itself, its self-testimony.

                      I don’t think we differ on the meaning of “faith-documents”. My point is to treat them by the same standards we treat any other document. We must always recognized what the function of the document appears to be. I don’t mean agenda in a pejorative sense but if it comes across as pejorative then I’ll avoid it. Is the purpose or function to record a state edict? Is it to instruct and entertain readers or just to entertain? Is it to persuade readers to a point of view or belief? We have to recognize the differences in purposes. Paul’s letters have different purposes from Pliny’s. That’s what I meant. But the Gospels are said by a good number of scholars (e.g. Bauckham) to be more than occasional pieces for a local community.

                      By “unknown provenance” I mean just that. No-one has told us definitively who wrote the Gospel of Mark, for whom and from where and when. Many speculate. We have opinions. We have very late second hand “traditions”. The opinions change with the years. And even if they are widely accepted they still need to be acknowledged as opinions. We simply don’t know who the author was in the same way we know who Seneca was and the provenance of his writings. We can’t build as firmly and confidently upon opinions and speculations as we can on hard evidence.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Neil,

                      Since you’re more concerned with quality of evidence than quantity of evidence, let’s focus for a bit on provenance.  

                      While I’d be happy to discuss the Gospel of Mark with you, let’s begin where scholars seem to have a much greater consensus: the letters of Paul, specifically the seven around which there is the greatest consensus.  Would you really say these documents are of “unknown provenance”?  

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

                      There has been scholarly debate about the provenance of those letters although that is not so fashionable now. But for several reasons I am willing, for the sake of argument, to accept them as from Paul writing to churches in the 50s and 60s. There are strong arguments to support this and I’m willing enough to accept them like I accept any conclusion, tentatively — pending further evidence or understanding.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Okay.  Given that you tentatively accept the provenance of these letters, help me understand why you don’t take them as evidence of a historical Jesus.

                      In case you wanted to hear my view first, here it is:  In these letters, Paul is writing to various groups of people in various locations about various issues all related to a belief common to them all that God’s promises of a messiah in the Hebrew Bible have been fulfilled in a person named Jesus whom God has raised from the dead.  I see nothing in this narrative that would make me think Jesus was mythical or merely celestial their minds.  That they all believed that there had been a historical Jesus seems to me the only reasonable explanation.

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

                      We haven’t even begun to discuss my argument yet. I only set out the opening framework.

                      But I can see why you are stuck with what I have said so far.

                      You see lots of writings about Jesus and consider it obvious, something beyond question, that they are incontrovertible evidence of a historical Jesus. Case closed. Is that a fair summary of your position?

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      I’m not sure I’d put it like exactly like that.  

                      In any case, I’m willing to focus with you just on the seven letters of Paul, at least to start with, since you’ve tentatively accepted the provenance ascribed to them by consensus scholarship.  Assuming that makes sense to you, help me understand why you don’t take these seven letters as evidence of a historical Jesus.

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

                      Whether they — and the gospels — are evidence of a historical Jesus is the question to be decided. So I don’t start out with an assumption on that question either way.

                      Even if they are evidence for Paul’s and others’ belief in an historical Jesus that would not itself be evidence for the historical Jesus — only evidence that there were people who believed in an historical Jesus.

                      We can only have confidence in the claims of documents if at some level we find external corroboration or support. That is how it works for every other clearly established historical person.

                      Self-testimony of texts alone can never be accepted at face-value. Some level of critical analysis is necessary in every case.

                      If Paul’s letters, through analysis, could be shown to more likely testify to his belief in a Jesus who had no recent historical setting, would that be proof that that Jesus really existed?

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Do you think Paul, his co-authors, and the recipients of the letters believed in a historical Jesus?

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

                      How can we tell if they did or not? We have Paul speaking about Jesus but what he meant by that Jesus depends on analysis of the texts themselves, and their transmission, and comparison with contemporary thought.

                      Self-testimony of texts alone can never be accepted at face-value.

                      Besides, I don’t know what you mean by “historical Jesus”. Do you mean that a figure named Jesus appeared some time on earth to die and be resurrected? That is, with no clear notion of setting, time, context, anything beyond the fact that a being known as Jesus (whether known as Jesus on earth or only after his resurrection) descended to earth at some time past? Or do you mean the traditional orthodox view: Galilean, time of Pilate, etc? If the latter, we have absolutely no way of knowing if Paul and his recipients had any notion of such a person.

                      But I should clarify: I have no reason to equate Paul, the author of the epistles, in any way with Acts or anything written in Acts. To do so would be to handle the evidence recklessly.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      I’m not referencing Acts.  We are discussing at this point only seven letters of Paul (Rom, 1 & 2 Cor, Gal, Phil, 1 Thess, Phile).

                      By historical Jesus I mean an individual of the same generation as those referenced in the letters – albeit who had died prematurely.  Further, I mean one who was a Jew, and specifically a descendant of David, who had died by crucifixion at the hands of the Romans and the instigation of the Jews.  And who, in addition to all these things, was believed to have been raised from the dead – all of these things (from the Abrahamic lineage to the resurrection from the dead) having been promised in many different passages of the Hebrew Bible.

                      You have presumably read the seven letters in question, yet you do not believe that Paul, his co-authors, and the letters’ recipients (i.e. the Mediterranean-wide movement of which they were a part) believed these things about a historical Jesus?

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

                      Again, Mike, a self-testimony alone of a document cannot be taken at face value. You don’t accept that? We want to treat the Christian documents on the same basis we treat any other document. No-one takes any other document at face-value alone if they abide by any fundamental common-sense adage. Never believe anything without checking it out first. And that means some sort of external reference of some kind. I am assuming you know the sorts of things I am talking about.

                      You said my opening statement was filled with presuppositions but I find your opening statements highly charged with unsupportable assumptions.

                      I know of nothing in those letters that testifies that Jesus appeared in the generation of Paul and his readers. Any such conclusion is surely a hypothetical extrapolation from some passage or such.

                      I have no problem with Paul writing that he believed the messiah was of “the seed of David” according to the scriptures. (I suspect those verses are a later anti-Marcionite interpolation for several reasons, but I am willing to accept them as authentic for the sake of argument.)

                      I know no passage in Paul that says the Romans crucified Jesus. (Contrary to what many apologists say, Romans were not the only ones who administered crucifixion, and there are popular accounts from this broad era of non-Romans crucifying criminals.)

                      The passage in ! Thess. 2:15-16 is agreed by many scholars to be an interpolation and I accept the reasons for their claim. It contradicts Paul’s sentiments about the Jews expressed in his other passages.

                      It seems you are not able to accept any attempt of mine to even introduce the methodological argument about how we now anyone existed in ancient times because you are absolutely convinced that Paul’s letters alone are proof that the Jesus of the Gospels existed. Is that correct?

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Again, Mike, a self-testimony alone of a document cannot be taken at face value. You don’t accept that? We want to treat the Christian documents on the same basis we treat any other document. No-one takes any other document at face-value alone if they abide by any fundamental common-sense adage. Never believe anything without checking it out first. And that means some sort of external reference of some kind. I am assuming you know the sorts of things I am talking about.

                      I thought you had, for discussion’s sake, stipulated to the broad scholarly consensus that these seven letters of Paul were genuine and were written in the 50′s-60′s?

                      You said my opening statement was filled with presuppositions but I find your opening statements highly charged with unsupportable assumptions.

                      The readers can decide for themselves.

                      I know of nothing in those letters that testifies that Jesus appeared in the generation of Paul and his readers. Any such conclusion is surely a hypothetical extrapolation from some passage or such.

                      Does it take “hypothetical extrapolation” to read 1 Cor 15:1-8 as referring to Jesus as a generational contemporary?

                      I have no problem with Paul writing that he believed the messiah was of “the seed of David” according to the scriptures. (I suspect those verses are a later anti-Marcionite interpolation for several reasons, but I am willing to accept them as authentic for the sake of argument.)

                      Progress!  (Notwithstanding your parenthetical suspicion.)

                      I know no passage in Paul that says the Romans crucified Jesus. (Contrary to what many apologists say, Romans were not the only ones who administered crucifixion, and there are popular accounts from this broad era of non-Romans crucifying criminals.)

                      Even if true, you would still be confirming the point that the folks associated with Paul’s letters believed Jesus had been crucified.

                      The passage in ! Thess. 2:15-16 is agreed by many scholars to be an interpolation and I accept the reasons for their claim. It contradicts Paul’s sentiments about the Jews expressed in his other passages.

                      When a portion of biblical text is questioned as authentic by a sufficient number of textual critics, its gets footnoted or otherwise set off from normal text in our printed Bibles, as is the case with Mark 16:9ff.  I do not find this to be case with 1 Thess 2:15-16.  Nor do I find its thoughts contradictory to Paul’s sentiments about his kinsmen, which are nuanced, as in Rom 9-11.

                      It seems you are not able to accept any attempt of mine to even introduce the methodological argument about how we now anyone existed in ancient times because you are absolutely convinced that Paul’s letters alone are proof that the Jesus of the Gospels existed. Is that correct?

                      Again, I thought we were working off your tentative acceptance of scholarly consensus on the seven letters of Paul.  I certainly don’t think they are only proof of Jesus’ existence – not by any means.  However, 1) they were documents to which you were willing to concede a known provenance, and 2) they establish a case for a historical Jesus all by themselves.  And I cannot figure out for the life of me how anyone thinks they provide a basis for mythicism.

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

                      You have not grasped my point about self-testimony. Just because we have a text that mentions a name it does not follow that that name was a historical person. Even if an author believed X to be historical it does not follow that X was historical. We need more than the self-testimony alone of a document. Otherwise we will be opening the floodgates to all sorts of nonsense and myth being considered historical. We must treat the biblical texts in the same way we treat any others.

                      As for 1 Cor. 15:1-8 that speaks of witnessing a non-human, there is no basis there at all for any notion of a historical Jesus. Visions of Jesus are spoken of many, many times in canonical and extra-canonical documents.

                      I don’t know what you mean by “progress” in relation to the seed of David comment. I have said nothing there that I haven’t been saying for years. e.g. http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/01/17/pauls-understanding-of-the-earthly-leprechaun-not-historical-jesus/

                      You speak again of Paul’s readers’ belief as if that is confirmation of historical reality. I suspect some of those readers also believed in Dionysus and that the planets were angels. Doesn’t make it true. Self-testimony again.

                      You are also ignoring “my truth” contributions to the discussion — contemporary thought being one. Paul’s letters speak of this “historical person” being “in” believers or believers being “in” him. This and much more of Paul’s theology is a direct reflection of Stoic thinking — Christ having the same role as the Stoic’s Logos. I am sure Paul believed in this Christ-Logos in heaven and in whom believers dwelt. That might be enough evidence for you that it is true but not many historians, I suspect, would believe that is literally true. I mention this to try to get across the point about self-testimony. An expression of a belief does not give us “evidence” for genuine truth or historicity of the belief.

                      As for your rejection of the point about 1 Thess. 2:15-16, your point is merely an appeal to authority. I do not accept that as sufficient rationale to make a point.

                      My impression is that you cannot begin to engage with my argument (I have only just set out the opening framework of it so far) because you cannot get past the assumption that the self-testimony of the NT epistles is a proof or evidence for the historical Jesus, nor past the need to rely upon authority (even if divided) to support your viewpoint.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      You have not grasped my point about self-testimony. Just because we have a text that mentions a name it does not follow that that name was a historical person. Even if an author believed X to be historical it does not follow that X was historical.

                      At this point in our discussion, I am not trying to get you to concede that Jesus was a historical person.  Rather, I’m only trying to get you to concede that the authors and recipients of these letters, as well as others to whom the letters allude, considered Jesus a historical person.  Thus in the 50′s and 60′s a significant number of Jews, and Gentiles as well, believed that Jesus was a historical person.

                      We need more than the self-testimony alone of a document. Otherwise we will be opening the floodgates to all sorts of nonsense and myth being considered historical.

                      If all we had was a single letter from one guy named Paul found in an isolated cave by itself two  thousand years after the fact, then I think your objections about “self-testimony” would deserve more attention.  However, the case is that we have more than one letter.  We have more than two letters.  In fact, we have seven letters.  Moreover, none of them were found in an isolated cave.  Rather, they were found in many copies, widely distributed across the Mediterranean world.  We should also note that of the thousands of various manuscripts we have, they begin their dating not two thousand years from the original writing, but less than two hundred.  And were it not for the limited lifespan of papyri, we have reason to suspect that we would have copies of an even earlier date, if not the originals themselves.  I think these facts keep the floodgates shut and secure against all sorts of nonsense and myth being considered historical.

                      We must treat the biblical texts in the same way we treat any others.

                      I quite agree, which is why I objected to the term “faith documents.”  The subject matter of the documents should not cause us to raise or lower historical standards.

                      As for 1 Cor. 15:1-8 that speaks of witnessing a non-human, there is no basis there at all for any notion of a historical Jesus. Visions of Jesus are spoken of many, many times in canonical and extra-canonical documents.

                      This passage speaks of a Jew who died and was buried.  I can’t imagine the mental contortions one has to undertake in order to construe this figure as not being a human.  What form he took after he was deemed raised from the dead, we cannot say, but that he had been a human being in advance of that is a point we have no reason to deny.

                      I don’t know what you mean by “progress” in relation to the seed of David comment. I have said nothing there that I haven’t been saying for years. e.g.http://vridar.wordpress.com/20

                      I simply meant progress in this conversation.

                      You speak again of Paul’s readers’ belief as if that is confirmation of historical reality. I suspect some of those readers also believed in Dionysus and that the planets were angels. Doesn’t make it true. Self-testimony again.

                      You can speculate about what else the readers believed if you want.  What we don’t have speculate about is their belief in Jesus Christ – as a historical human who was raised from the dead.  Again, I’m not stating that this ipso facto makes Jesus historical.  I’m saying it means that the Christian movement in the 50′s and 60′s as seen through the eyes of Paul and those believers with whom he had contact was a belief in a historical human who was raised from the dead.  If you’re like Bart Erhman, you recognize the first part but not the second.  It’s just that simple.

                      You are also ignoring “my truth” contributions to the discussion — contemporary thought being one. Paul’s letters speak of this “historical person” being “in” believers or believers being “in” him. This and much more of Paul’s theology is a direct reflection of Stoic thinking — Christ having the same role as the Stoic’s Logos. I am sure Paul believed in this Christ-Logos in heaven and in whom believers dwelt. That might be enough evidence for you that it is true but not many historians, I suspect, would believe that is literally true. I mention this to try to get across the point about self-testimony. An expression of a belief does not give us “evidence” for genuine truth or historicity of the belief.

                      I won’t repeat my response to your objection about “self-testimony,” but I will comment on your speculations about the sources of Paul’s theology and Christology.  These letters contain scores of Old Testament quotation and allusions, revealing the roots of Paul’s theology and Christology.  They are there in plain site, so there is no need to speculate about what governed Paul’s thinking.  That he was living in a first-century Greco-Roman world and would have been exposed to its ideas, including Stoicism, is undeniable.  However, it is equally undeniable that Jews have found ways in every age and every culture to remain distinctive  when they felt it important to do so.  In Paul’s mind, Scripture is the authority to which even visions must conform.

                      As for your rejection of the point about 1 Thess. 2:15-16, your point is merely an appeal to authority. I do not accept that as sufficient rationale to make a point.

                      You were the one who first invoked authority when you said “many scholars” regarded it as an interpolation.  All I did was point out that many more don’t.

                      My impression is that you cannot begin to engage with my argument (I have only just set out the opening framework of it so far) because you cannot get past the assumption that the self-testimony of the NT epistles is a proof or evidence for the historical Jesus, nor past the need to rely upon (divided) authority to support your viewpoint.

                      Again, you seem to be forgetting that we got to this point in the conversation when you tentatively (i.e. “for discussion’s sake”) accepted the scholarly consensus as to the genuineness of seven of Paul’s letters.  If you get to the point where you acknowledge the belief in a historical Jesus found in these letters, we can then discuss whether we today should embrace or reject that view.  But until you recognize what they believed, there’s no point discussing what we should believe.

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

                      Mike, I have pointed out that I have no idea if Paul or his readers believed in a Jesus who came down to earth at some time in the past. They may well have. But that is a question for analysis of Paul’s letters. And even if they did believe that, the fact that they believed it would not make it true.

                      Can you not accept that that is my position? When you say you are trying to “get me to concede” something else then presumably you don’t like my position. But if you don’t like it then argue against the logic of it.

                      And again you come back to quantity of letters and documents supposedly somehow reinforcing the likelihood that the message in those letters is historically true. But that is quite fallacious reasoning. We have, I suspect, thousands of reports of alien abductions today. Does that make them true events? There are many ancient testimonies to the miraculous healings of Asclepius. Does that make them true? There are many ancient testimonies to the life-changing power of Stoic philosophy. Does that make that philosophy somehow “true”?

                      You still insist that my term “faith documents” was somehow an attempt to treat the biblical texts differently from other literature. You still think I was or am trying to treat them according to different standards of historical inquiry because of their subject matter. Not so. You have not grasped what I said at all. Historians always — always — need to consider the different purposes and natures of different types of documents. Imagine the fiasco we would have if they treated myths as equally valid sources of historical records as state records? Plato wrote stories that he said contained truths but we know they were myths.

                      You can’t treat all documents as yielding the same type of historically accurate information. Whether the gospels are records of history or at some level grounded in historical events is the question to be determined. We can’t start with the belief that they are either true or false narratives.

                      As for your remark about 1 Corinthians 15 — there is nothing in there about a recent or contemporary event except the appearance of a vision of Christ or a spirit Christ. For you it is inconceivable that this Christ was anything but a real human, but so what? Does it follow that this human was really historical? Just because Paul believed that Christ had taken on a human form and died does not bring us historical reality. Many mythical tales are well known to have mythical characters who were human, and some of these heroes became gods after they died. There is nothing in 1 Cor 15 that forces us to see a belief in a recent person of history. But even if further analysis was able to establish that this was the belief, it is still not the same as demonstrating there was such a historical person.

                      You write: “What we don’t have to speculate about is their belief in Jesus Christ – as a historical human”. I don’t think we are going to begin a discussion at all because I can see this is so firmly entrenched in your belief system that nothing will shake it.

                      I disagree and I believe I do so for very valid reasons. Presumably you believe that 1 Cor. 15 is enough to establish your belief. As I have said before, Paul may well have believed in a being who came to earth in human form to die. But if that’s what you mean by “historical Jesus” then I have no problem with that. But I think you mean more than that. We think in “historical” terms that I think were not quite what Paul and many others thought in those days.

                      You seem to imply that you still object to my point about “self-testimony”. If so, why? What is invalid about my point?

                      I did not deny that Paul drew much of his belief from Judaism. But you reject my reference to Stoic influence as “speculation”. That is certainly not true. It is very deeply researched and documented. I get the impression you reject anything you have not investigated yourself as “speculation”.

                      I did not appeal to authority on the point about 1 Thess. 2:15-16. I spoke of addressing their arugments and the arguments opposed. That is not basing a claim on an appeal to authority.

                      You conclude that there is no point continuing the discussion until I accept your conviction that Paul believed in a historical Jesus.

                      I have told you he may well have — but what do you mean by “historical”? Do you mean the Galilean of Pilate’s day or do you mean a being who came down to earth in human form, died and rose again — without any known context?

                      But I agree that further discussion is pointless if you insist I first accept a belief you have about Paul’s letters that I cannot see justified in the evidence. Where are the fallacies in my reasoning or analysis?

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Mike, I have pointed out that I have no idea if Paul or his readers believed in a Jesus who came down to earth at some time in the past. They may well have.

                      Just because Paul believed that Christ had taken on a human form and died does not bring us historical reality.

                      As I have said before, Paul may well have believed in a being who came to earth in human form to die. But if that’s what you mean by “historical Jesus” then I have no problem with that.

                      You conclude that there is no point continuing the discussion until I accept your conviction that Paul believed in a historical Jesus.  I have told you he may well have — but what do you mean by “historical”? Do you mean the Galilean of Pilate’s day or do you mean a being who came down to earth in human form, died and rose again — without any known context?

                      These statements from your most recent comment give me hope that we may be able to find agreement on an important point in this discussion.  I don’t think it makes sense to discuss anything after this point, but it will have been a productive discussion if we can settle on this point before parting: that is, did Paul, his co-authors, and the recipients of these seven letters believe in a historical Jesus?

                      You seem quite close to acknowledge this point, but, understandably, don’t want that acknowledgement to be interpreted as a concession to other points.  So, let me make this easier for you.  I concede that just because the folks associated with these letters believed in a historical Jesus does not in and of itself make it true that Jesus was historical.  I also concede that these letters do not establish very many details about the historical Jesus to whom they refer.  For example, they don’t refer to his being a Galilean or having been a contemporary of Pilate.  And there are many other details mentioned in the gospels which are not mentioned in these letters.  Thus when I say that these letters testify to a historical Jesus, it is not necessarily to the Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John version of Jesus.  All I’m wanting you to concede is that the folks associated with these seven letters believed in a historical Jesus who lived, died by crucifixion, and was raised from the dead.

                      You talk about analysis, and I agree that analysis is important.  But the first step of analysis is to read the text.  When I read the texts, I cannot see any other way to understand them other than as representing people who believed in a historical Jesus.  I can see how someone might say, “I don’t believe what we are reading are reliable copies of the original,” but that would lead to a separate discussion.  I can see how someone might say, “I don’t think there were even reliable originals; they’re all fabricated,” and that would lead to a separate discussion.  What I can’t see is how someone could read these letters and say the folks involved didn’t believe in a historical Jesus.  That would leave no room for discussion.

                      If you can concede that these people believed in a historical Jesus (minimally described), then I think we’re done and we can feel that we accomplished something.  I don’t think it takes a degree in history to read those seven letters and conclude that the chief figure in view was perceived as having been a human being.  In other words, these seven letters of Paul don’t lead one to believe mythicism.

                       

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

                      I don’t understand your comment, Mike. Belief in Jesus being a human form and dying does not contradict mythicism. Belief that a being came down from heaven to die as a human has long been embraced as a mythicist argument.

                      I am frustrated by your failure to explain exactly what you mean by the “historical Jesus”. What do you mean by that — please spell out the details.

                      I have repeated my position over and over since the beginning but I find each one of your responses to date ambivalent. Christians are famous for playing word games and many have learned the art of weasel words — appearing to say one thing but never letting themselves be pinned down because they have always left themselves an escape door that only those “in the know” will recognize. I trust you are not playing those games here.

                      But the bottom line is that you seem to be so hyper-sensitive to anything I might say that might open to door to the possibility of a mythicist interpretation that you are not really engaging in a discussion in an open-minded way with me. I imagine you are convinced I am “a mythicist” by ideological inclination and that I am out to defend that position no matter what, and you feel you have to fight “mythicism” from the get-go. If so, you are failing to understand my position utterly. I find you are not wanting to treat the NT literature in the same way as other literature is treated, and are the one who is ideologically biased. Can you convince me otherwise?

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      I don’t understand your comment, Mike.

                      Sorry, I didn’t mean to be hard to understand.

                      Belief in Jesus being a human form and dying does not contradict mythicism. Belief that a being came down from heaven to die as a human has long been embraced as a mythicist argument.

                      Then I’m back to scratching my head again about what mythicism means.  Several hundred comments back I was asking for someone to give its argument to me in thesis abstract form and I never got anywhere.  I think at one point I even asked you, but I think you  demurred either because you only considered yourself sympathetic to mythicism and not a mythicist yourself or because you felt you were being badgered by me or others at the time.

                      I am frustrated by your failure to explain exactly what you mean by the “historical Jesus”. What do you mean by that — please spell out the details.

                      I didn’t know you wanted this from me.  I’m glad to comply.  I believe that the historical Jesus is the Jesus described by the New Testament documents Josephus, Pliny, Tacitus, and, of course, the Old Testament.

                      I have repeated my position over and over since the beginning but I find each one of your responses to date ambivalent. Christians are famous for playing word games and many have learned the art of weasel words — appearing to say one thing but never letting themselves be pinned down because they have always left themselves an escape door that only those “in the know” will recognize. I trust you are not playing those games here.

                      I’m happy to answer any question of me you’d like to pose.

                      But the bottom line is that you seem to be so hyper-sensitive to anything I might say that might open to door to the possibility of a mythicist interpretation that you are not really engaging in a discussion in an open-minded way with me.

                      I don’t think mythicism makes sense, but then I apparently still don’t even understand mythicism.  I thought it was the belief that Jesus was a myth.  Until someone explains it to me, I guess I’ll still have to think that.  I’ve tried to read Doherty and Carrier.  Their writing is just too tedious.  

                      I imagine you are convinced I am “a mythicist” by ideological inclination and that I am out to defend that position no matter what, and you feel you have to fight “mythicism” from the get-go.  If so, you are failing to understand my position utterly.

                      I am only slightly more opposed to mythicism than I am Ehrman-style agnosticism.  Both obscure Jesus from public view, one slightly more than the other.  I don’t know whether you are a mythicist or not.  At this point, you strike me more as a VinnyJH-style agnostic about the historical Jesus – not agnostic in the “I just don’t know” sense but in the “I’m sure nobody can know” sense.  But do I feel like I really know and understand your position?  No.I recall interacting with you on your blog some months back.  I wanted to not just make points with you, but also to understand your position, but you seemed to get upset by my questions.  I would say that you are excessively sensitive and that you get easily frustrated, thinking you’ve explained yourself many times to people, only to have them say they don’t understand you.   But then I’ve noticed the same behavior in VinnyJH, so maybe the problem is me.  That is, maybe I’m excessively obtuse, as he says.

                      I find you are not wanting to treat the NT literature in the same way as other literature is treated, and are the one who is ideologically biased.

                      It was by treating the NT literature in the same way as other literature is treated that I came to be moved by its contents.  Having  been so moved, I do now hold it in a very high regard.  

                      Can you convince me otherwise?

                      I’m not interested in convincing you of anything about myself, but I am always happy to answer any questions you or anyone else has about my views.

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

                      Mike, you say you don’t understand what mythicism is but you are simply not listening. I understood you wanted to engage with my argument but I get no further than laying out the framework and here we are now with you saying, in effect, that my argument makes no sense. You are not listening but come across — after a few comments — as very much more interested in saying anything that does not support your view of Jesus and the Bible is wrong.

                      Yet in other moments you give the impression you want to discuss rationally other points of view. But very quickly it is clear you do not really want to do that. You only want to insist that your argument is the only valid one.

                      You say you don’t understand mythicism because you thought mythicism argues Jesus was a myth, but that it doesn’t argue Jesus was a myth if it accepts that early believers thought Jesus was a human. That makes no sense. Your confusion makes no sense. Do you know what a myth is? There are countless myths in the world about mythical people — people who are said to be, well, humans, people, on earth — but they are still myths.

                      What is the problem with that?

                      You say you are opposed to mythicism but at the same time you say you don’t understand it or know what it is. I have told you my position repeatedly and you simply stare blankly and say you don’t understand. Or without even hearing the supporting arguments you simply say “that’s wrong”.

                      I ask you for a reasoned argument to support your opposition to my view and, without any regard to anything that has been said before about fundamental logic, you proceed to argue from a completely fallacious premise. It doesn’t matter if we have a million documents testifying to a belief in Dionysus — simply adding up the numbers will never give us a valid reason for believing Dionysus was historical.

                      You say you believe the NT documents should be treated like any other literature, but you don’t do that. You give them privileged status. No-one would think of treating a narrative about the deeds and worship of Isis as being on the same status of yielding historical information as a state-inscription. Treating the NT like other documents means analysing them and comparing them with similar literature. It means not giving them the same status as we do for documents whose authorship and readership are all well known. You want to break all the rules of the way documents are treated and say NT books should be assumed to be just as historically reliable as Thucydides.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Mike, you say you don’t understand what mythicism is but you are simply not listening. I understood you wanted to engage with my argument but I get no further than laying out the framework and here we are now with you saying, in effect, that my argument makes no sense.

                      I’m not saying it makes no sense; I’m saying I don’t understand it.  Those aren’t the same thing.

                      You are not listening but come across — after a few comments — as very much more interested in saying anything that does not support your view of Jesus and the Bible is wrong.

                      I want to understand a view so that I can compare it to my own.  Sometimes I learn from another point of view and consequently modify my own, albeit usually in minor ways.  Nonetheless, this happens often.  Whenever I feel that the other party can benefit from my point of view, I share it.

                      Yet in other moments you give the impression you want to discuss rationally other points of view. But very quickly it is clear you do not really want to do that. You only want to insist that your argument is the only valid one.

                      Everyone who comments here, you included, has a point of view, which he or she seeks to convey and defend.  I therefore make no apology for doing the same.

                      You say you don’t understand mythicism because you thought mythicism argues Jesus was a myth, but that it doesn’t argue Jesus was a myth if it accepts that early believers thought Jesus was a human.

                      It means that if they thought he was a historical human they couldn’t have thought he was a myth.  Those two concepts are mutually exclusive. Perhaps your point is that they thought he was a human myth, but it’s crystal clear to me from reading the letters of Paul which we’ve been discussing that the folks involved considered Jesus a historical human who had been raised from the dead.

                      That makes no sense. Your confusion makes no sense. Do you know what a myth is? There are countless myths in the world about mythical people — people who are said to be, well, humans, people, on earth — but they are still myths.  What is the problem with that?

                      I don’t have any problems with myth as myth.  I have a problem treating history as myth, just as I would have a problem with treating myth as history.

                      You say you are opposed to mythicism but at the same time you say you don’t understand it or know what it is.

                      Whatever mythicism is, it is an attack on the historicity of Jesus.  Therefore, though I’d like to have a clearer understanding of it, I don’t need that in order to oppose its attack on history.

                      I should add that mythicists don’t all say the same thing.  And when you add in the mythicist sympathizers you really do have an abundance of versions.  Therefore, my lack of understanding can’t possibly be all of my own doing.

                      I have told you my position repeatedly and you simply stare blankly and say you don’t understand. Or without even hearing the supporting arguments you simply say “that’s wrong”.

                      I think your position is far clearer in your own mind than it is in the minds of those with whom you communicate.

                      I ask you for a reasoned argument to support your opposition to my view and, without any regard to anything that has been said before about fundamental logic, you proceed to argue from a completely fallacious premise.

                      You haven’t proven to me that I have a fallacious premise.

                      It doesn’t matter if we have a million documents testifying to a belief in Dionysus — simply adding up the numbers will never give us a valid reason for believing Dionysus was historical.

                      I agree.

                      You say you believe the NT documents should be treated like any other literature, but you don’t do that. You give them privileged status.

                      When I was a corporate executive, I treated Peter Drucker books like any other business literature…until I read them.  The man was unique in the quality and quantity of insights he could share.  Therefore, I gave his books a privileged status.  This didn’t mean I came to regard his books as a different genre of business literature.  I still read them as the genre of which they were a part.  It just meant that I regarded his writings more highly than that of any other business author.  Something similar has taken place in my life with respect to the Bible and other books.

                      No-one would think of treating a narrative about the deeds and worship of Isis as being on the same status of yielding historical information as a state-inscription.

                      Agreed.

                      Treating the NT like other documents means analysing them and comparing them with similar literature. It means not giving them the same status as we do for documents whose authorship and readership are all well known. You want to break all the rules of the way documents are treated and say NT books should be assumed to be just as historically reliable as Thucydides.

                      I think Paul made a good comment on this point earlier in the thread.  The alleged anonymity of some biblical texts, even where it may be true, does not ipso facto tarnish the credibility of the text.

                      There are some who dispute that Reinhold Niebuhr wrote the Serenity Prayer.  That doesn’t mean he didn’t write it.  And even if he didn’t write it, that would in no way lower or raise the quality of the wisdom in that prayer.

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

                      Mike, the one point I have endeavoured to stress is a simple point of logic. Even though people believed in a being who had descended from heaven to appear on earth in the form of a man does it does not follow that that event was a truly historical happening.

                      We know people can believe all sorts of things are true but they are still myths.

                      Just because texts say X really happened it does not mean that X really did happen.

                      That’s the first point. The second point is that it makes no difference is a million texts say X really happened IF all of those texts come from the one source and are not corroborated by any independent source. In the case of the sources for Jesus we only have a Christian source.

                      As for the logic of this, consider: If we have one text that does not pass the test of independently corroborated evidence from a known and reliable source, does it make any difference if we have a million texts that also fail the tests of reliability in the same ways? We have thousands of texts testifying to the “reality” of alien abductions. Does that make them true?

                      Thirdly, you cannot engage in a rational discussion for “truth” if you come to the discussion with a mind-set that the ideas you are engaging with are “an attack” on your own. Such a mind-set automatically sets you up in a defensive stance. There can be no genuine, open-minded exploration of the evidence this way. I do not see the historicist view as an “attack” on mythicism.

                      I am posting this from Disqus and have not seen and have no interest in Paul’s views. If you think he makes a good point then repeat it in your own words and challenge me on it. From what you say it sounds like he has no idea what is involved in critical analysis of texts but is merely repeating the old naive ‘we must be charitable’ and ‘presume truth claims’ unless we have reasons otherwise. If so, he has a lot to learn about how historical methods work. He should read the books McGrath recommends like Howell and Prevenier.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Neil,

                      On your first point, I agree with you that all this is theoretically true.  I just don’t agree that it’s the case we have with the New Testament documents, and, specifically, the letters of Paul.

                      To argue your second point, you’d first have to prove that “all the NT documents came from one source with no corroboration.”  I don’t think you can do that.

                      On your third point, I agree with you that it’s not wise to “lead with your chin,” but it’s an undeniable fact that mythicism challenges historicism.  The history of Jesus has been with us for almost 2,000 years.  Mythicism is the new kid on the block….and he aims to claim the neighborhood.

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

                      All the NT documents come from those of the Christian faith. All of them have in interest in expressing or persuading or convincing others of the faith. There are no documents independent of that self-interested perspective.

                      So by simple definition they all come from “the one source”, Christianity itself. There is no independent corroboration of the historical truth of their faith.

                      (Even Ehrman says the later secular historians very likely got their information from Christians themselves.)

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Neil,

                      Paul has adequately shown that to adopt your view of regarding the NT documents as all coming from “one source” and therefore unreliable for historical purposes on their own is to render useless large portions of the history we have on every subject.  Throw out any autobiography where the author shares his thoughts because there’s no independent source to attest to his thoughts, throw out any description of the daily routines in Dachau because they were given by some of its Jewish captives, throw out any Roman historian who writes about Rome.  Your view is not practical or even tenable.  I don’t think we have to be historians to say this.

                      I think, however, that there is more wrong with your view than just that.  You want to categorize the NT documents as all coming from “one source” because they “have in interest in expressing or persuading or convincing others of the faith,” yet anyone who reads the documents can see that this is not the case.  These are documents that the Jesus Christ followers wrote among themselves and thus explain why they made no attempt to “persuade or convince others of the faith” while writing them.    

                      The one possible exception to this is the Gospel of John, but even this one, I believe, was an “internal document” and thus, like the other 26, carried no burden to “convince or persuade others of the faith.”  

                      Letters written between 20th-century communists about the various problems they encountered in advancing their movement should not be expected to present philosophical justifications for communism.  Neither should they be rejected as historical sources for helping to understand the way communists looked at the world.

                      I believe this is a most fundamental flaw in your approach.  We could see many other issues the same way, yet this foundational view of yours would divide you from me…and from a majority of people – irrespective of their faith stance toward Jesus.  This fundamental flaw, ironically, is that you are wanting to treat the NT documents differently than you treat all other historical documents.

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

                      Hi Mike, I am not interested in any further exchange with Paul and will not waste my time reading his insults. If you want him to argue your case for you then I will take my leave.

                      I would like you to give me any example to illustrate “your” claim (or is it Paul’s) that the standard that I espoused (which is not mine, by the way, but from some of the most highly respected historical scholars of the past century and today) would invalidate any “large portion of history on any subjetct.” I deny that absolutely and would request an illustration if you think otherwise.

                      The examples you do give — such as confirming the thoughts expressed in an autobiography or the daily routines in Dachau — demonstrate a complete ignorance of my argument. If that’s what Paul is arguing then you are foolish for taking his word for it. You should do your own checking and argue from what you yourself know. I have never argued any such extremist nonsense.

                      I have, in fact, only repeated what is found in the writings of renowned historians themselves — but you want me to avoid reference to the scholarship and address only the simple logic of the case itself. You have not even heard half of my case — really THEIR case — and rely on Paul for your information. This is not a useful way to conduct a dialogue, Mike.

                      Your example of the communist party internal documents not being a philosophical justification of communism is also a complete non sequitur that bears no logical relation to my argument about external attestation. If again that is something from Paul then I am sure Paul can take pride in having railroaded you from our discussion.

                      Our discussion, I thought, was an attempt to understand provenance, its role and function as applied to all types of texts. You have not responded to any of my points I last made about that at all.

                      You have, instead, ditched our conversation and jumped on to some nonsense and ignorance that Paul is apparently claiming to surmise about some other point of my argument. I am more than willing to discuss how external attestation and genre works in literary analysis but what Paul has given you is a bizarre caricature. Besides, let’s just get one thing sorted and understood at a time, yes?

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Okay, back then to Paul’s letters.  Does not their very nature attest multiply to the fundamental facts about belief in Jesus?

                    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                      Neil, I’ll keep it brief since apparently you aren’t reading my posts anyway.

                      Your claim that I am not interested in understanding your position would be more convincing… if you had not consistently avoided answering the many questions I have asked of you that would clarify your position for me and for others. And please don’t restate your objection that you don’t like my tone so and therefore will not deign to reply. If your arguments were any good it would hardly matter.

                      Also, if you think that Mike is displaying ignorance of your arguments perhaps you should lay out your arguments rather more clearly so there can be no misunderstanding? Maybe there is a valid point somehow waiting to be teased out, but when you write something as hopelessly vague and inane as: 

                      by simple definition they all come from “the one source”, Christianity itself.

                      you should not be surprised that others will point out that, if applied consistently, such an objection would lead to some bizarre conclusions about other historical people and events.

                    • Brettongarcia

                      Well, there WAS a single, hugely powerfully regulative and editorial agency in the very center of Christianity:  the Church.  Which easily had enough power to impose uniformity and authority on the Christian message.  Which first of all had more or less complete control of our holy books – and editing and assembling (and in some cases writing?) them.  While the Church had more than enough power to see to it that accepted bibles were harmonized, and read – and that competing bibles and rejected gospels, were burned. 

                      So that?  In effect, there WAS a central, single, very nearly unitary power there (even considering occasional breaks between East and Western churches).  One more than strong enough to control, create, homogeneity of message; as it from a single source.

                       

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      It is anachronistic to see “the” church as a central regulating authority in earliest Christianity, as a reading of  the 1st-century documents we call the New Testament will make abundantly clear.  The power of a Nicea did not arrive until the 4th Century.  In the 1st Century, the absence of anything like the Vatican is abundantly clear.

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

                      Lovely, Paul. You rip a sentence of mine out of context and hold it up as inane. Very clever. As I said, it is as clear as day you have no interest in attempting to understand my argument. What I wrote, of course, was:

                      “There are no documents independent of that self-interested perspective.

                      So by simple definition they all come from “the one source”, Christianity itself. There is no independent corroboration of the historical truth of their faith.”

                      But context is such a bother, ain’t it, if it does not serve your own interests.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      “There are no documents independent of that self-interested perspective.”

                      On the contrary, there are documents from outside the movement that testify to the fact that there was a movement (rabbinical writings, Josephus, Pliny, Tacitus).  But even if there weren’t, this would not ipso facto mean that the movement’s documents were not historical.  It was a despised movement, hardly considered important by the intelligentsia of that day.

                      More specifically, these documents did not emanate from a single issuing authority.  Rather, they were composed by various individuals at various times.  They were sent to various locations by various means.  In all cases, they were hand-copied, and the significant degree to which they were copied and distributed is testified to in the fact that no one can be sure about the point of origin for most of them.  ”One source” is a misnomer, unless you are speaking of the Spirit who inspired them.

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

                      If you follow Dr McGrath’s sage advice over the past year or two and read and take note of a number of writings by recognized professional historians that he himself has recommended, you will know that any information appearing 20 years after a supposed event (or in the case of oral history any time after the contemporary generation has died out) can be ruled out of court unless it can be demonstrated that it really does have sources from the much earlier time.

                      Rabbinical writings tell us nothing (you are clearly reading apologist literature and have never investigated their info from all sides of the question); Josephus’s account is meaningless as even Bart Ehrman advises us — from such a late date it could well have derived from Christian sources themselves; Pliny’s testimony has best been understood as the worship of a non-human entity — if you would like to update yourself with the debate — certainly there is no mention of a human or a Jesus in his letter; Tacitus — ditto for the Christian sources of that day as Ehrman himself will tell you.

                      Yes, I am speaking of the “Spirit” that inspired the earliest Christian literature. It was not a heavenly spirit, though, but a human religious spirit. That many people came to believe in a new type or version of a deity is not unusual. That they would share their belief in this divinity is not unusual.

                      Even in courtrooms today witnesses can be disqualified from being considered independent if they have blood or ideological ties with one another. Such witnesses can never be considered “corroborated” by non-ideological or genuinely independent testimony that does not appear until some years later and is arguably reliant upon the ideologues themselves.

                      There are several other very significant factors to be considered in this question, and they are addressed by the professional historians, and I have covered several on my blog. But I think we have come to a dead-end in our dialogue. We need to have some common agreement on the fundamentals of logical reasoning in order to go any further — as I pointed out in my previous comment.

                      But I have some more understanding for a future post of mine, so I thank you for that.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      “If you follow Dr McGrath’s sage advice over the past year or two and read and take note of a number of writings by recognized professional historians that he himself has recommended, you will know that any information appearing 20 years after a supposed event (or in the case of oral history any time after the contemporary generation has died out) can be ruled out of court unless it can be demonstrated that it really does have sources from the much earlier time.”

                      The New Testament documents were produced by the apostles of Jesus, obvious contemporaries of his.  Documents written later were not allowed to be included.  Even 1st-century documents, if not able to be traced to the apostles, were not allowed in.  The testimony of Jesus is compelling precisely because it came from his contemporaries, and because the documentation for him was produced centuries in advance (i.e the Hebrew Bible).

                      The rest of your argument is sophistry.

                      If you must move on, then do.  Adieu.

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      The New Testament documents were produced by the apostles of Jesus,
                      obvious contemporaries of his.  Documents written later were not allowed
                      to be included.  Even 1st-century documents, if not able to be traced
                      to the apostles, were not allowed in.

                      In other words, it is a complete waste of time having any discussion with Mike.  No matter how much he pretends to be considering objective evidence, his conclusions are ultimately determined by his faith based assumptions.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Vinny,

                      You can say that you dispute the historical evidence that the New Testament documents emanated from Jesus’ apostles, but you cannot truthfully say that none exists.

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                       Mike,

                      I can truthfully say that the evidence is so insubstantial that no one who thinks critically about the question would ever see it as anything more than a remote possibility.  I can truthfully say that only some one who is relying on wishful thinking would ever assert it as a matter of fact.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Yours is an insular view.  

                      Skeptics say the same sort of thing about Jesus’ resurrection, but this does not make it any the less so.

                      When my brothers and I were kids we played a game in the back seat of our parent’s car while on long trips.  We imagined we were in a race with all the cars behind us.  As one would catch up to us, we would cheer for our dad to drive faster.  Occasionally, he obliged.  In any case, however, if a car actually did pass us it was at that moment and for that reason “disqualified by the rules of the race committee” (which was my brothers me).  Intellectuals, scholars, and others like you will engage respectfully with opponents until the opponent actually declares faith in Christ.  At that point, such a person is “disqualified from the race” for having taken a “faith” position.  It’s a game for children.

                      And if you think that the prophets of Israel spoke to no purpose, it is you who are engaged in wishful thinking. 

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      No Mike.  It is not an insular view.  It is an objective view using “objective” in the sense of equally accessible to all observers.  No subjective personal spiritual experience is required in order to see how the evidence and arguments lead to the conclusions.  Once you take a faith position, you have taken yourself out of the game that is objective historical analysis because you have have exempted one particular set of claims about the past from critical evaluation.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      My brothers couldn’t have said it better themselves.

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      Mike,

                      When your capacity for critical thought moves beyond the level of the children’s games you played in the back of the car, let me know. 

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      To use your your language, mine ”is an objective view using ‘objective’ in the sense of equally accessible to all observers.  No subjective personal spiritual experience is required in order to see how the evidence and arguments lead to the conclusions.”

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      Mike,

                      That is refuted by the simple fact that the only scholars who affirm your position are those who share you faith commitment.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      The faith commitment comes after the evidence is examined, not before.  Thus the faith commitment is based on a historical judgment, not the other way around.

                      By your rule any American historian who holds to the self-evident truths professed in the Declaration of Independence is by the fact disqualified from being an American historian.

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      No it wouldn’t Mike.  The fact that someone believes that all men are created equal wouldn’t in any way prevent them from applying critical thinking to historical questions.  

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Neither would believing that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead and is Lord of heaven and earth prevent anyone from applying critical thinking to historical questions.

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                       Mike,

                      It doesn’t have to, but in many cases people of faith decline to apply critical thinking to historical questions because they don’t like the answers it gives.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      The same could be said of the people of skepticism.

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      Sometimes this is true, but that’s why we try to adopt objective methodologies that do not privilege any preconceptions or assumptions.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      As long as they don’t privilege skepticism, I’m fine with them not privileging faith.  

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      Unfortunately, the only way to avoid privileging any presuppositions is by being skeptical about all of them.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Thus your thinking is not only insular, it’s circular.

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                       No Mike.  There is nothing circular about questioning presuppositions.  It is an absolutely necessary element of critical thinking. 

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Now you’re changing your position.  I agree that there is nothing inherently circular about questioning presuppositions.  Nor is there anything inherently circular about critical thinking.  The position you took, however, when I appealed for thinking about history in a way that privileges neither faith nor skepticism, was that we have to be skeptical about all presuppositions.  To be skeptical at the outset privileges skepticism, and will lead one to end up precisely where he started – skeptical.  

                      You, as a skeptic who aspires to objectivity, need to learn that it’s possible to question one’s presuppositions without “being skeptical about all of them.”  Brettongarcia was quite right to acknowledge the view that the Achilles’ heel of skepticism is its hypocrisy.  

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      Mike,

                      I’m afraid that you to understand my position before you can know whether or not I’m changing it.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      But I can always be skeptical about it, eh?

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

                      Mike, we have ancient records about the Trojan War that claim to be written by eyewitnesses. That’s what the documents say, and many readers in history have believed them. I guess we should just take the self-testimony of those texts at face value — making sure we treat all historical documents the way you would like us to treat the new testament documents?

                      You’re only repeating late legend as if it were fact. This is not how historians work. Yet you say you believe we should apply the same standards used of other documents to the New Testament. But you don’t do that. You treat the NT documents as exceptions to every historical rule in the book.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Neil,

                      The folly of your position is that you (who are not a historian) are lecturing me (who am not a historian) about the proper way historians do things.

                    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                      Oddly, I find that the more words I have in one of your quotes Neil, the more problems I have with it. It’s not quoting out of context, simply trying to focus on one glaring problem at a time.

                      Anyway, I stand by my point. Your objection to Christian sources is hopelessly vague, and your position, if applied consistently would surely lead to the conclusion that the founder of almost every religious tradition in pre-modern times is likely to be a myth (and many other “historical” figures as well). 

                      As an atheist who struggles to disguise his contempt for religion, I don’t suppose that prospect bothers you remotely. But as somebody who is genuinely interested in the dispassionate academic study of religions, such a conclusion would bother me a great deal. It simply doesn’t ring true – not least because it would be completely out of kilter with what we know about the emergence of new religions in historical times.

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

                      Ah, the old rigorous “ring true” criterion, and the “mind-reading” abilities of such as yourself — the standard fare.

                    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                      Gee Neil, that was a considered reply to my points. 

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

                      As much as they deserved, Paul. By the way, if you ever bothered to read what I have said about religion you would have known that your attempt at mind reading my attitude towards religion – that I hold it in contempt – was dead wrong. Another failure to those who believe in their paranormal powers.

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

                       Mike, you have said you do not understand my argument yet you say Paul has “adequately shown” it to be fallacious. How do you know if you do not understand my argument? Do you really believe Paul knows what he is talking about? Why? How can you tell?

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      It seemed to me that you were saying that unless we had some witness outside of the New Testament documents corroborating what a New Testament document said that we could not regard anything that any of the New Testament documents said as historical.  Stated another way, you seemed to be saying that the New Testament documents constituted “one source” and not multiple attestation.  This was the position against which I was reacting.  If you don’t actually hold this position, I’m happy to hear it.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Neil,

                      Asking me to paraphrase Paul’s comment is a bit much, but I am willing to cut and paste it for you.  Here you  go:

                      Hi Mike, I thought I would share with you my thoughts on Neil’s post about anonymous faith documents.For myself, I don’t see the anonymity of the Gospels as a problem. Think of it another way – the scholarly consensus generally views Mark as composed by an anonymous author who was not an eyewitness to the events he narrates, who writes around 70 A.D. possibly from somewhere in the East of the Roman world. OK, now let’s just suppose that tomorrow we found a piece of evidence that conclusively proved that Mark was written in the year 70 by a person named Judas who was writing from Alexandria and who was not an eyewitness to the events he narrates. Now this would no doubt be fascinating and add much to our understanding of “Mark”, but for me it wouldn’t in any way change my view of the historicity (or otherwise) of its contents, and I do not for a second think that such a discovery would change the minds of any mythicists either. The other point that bears thinking about is this – it seems that the authors of the gospels purposely did not give their names. They are anonymous, not pseudepigraphical. There is a big difference. Ironically, if the NT Apocrypha are anything to go by, the grander the claims of authorship in Christian historical writing, the less reliable the source!There is an article by Baum that would seem to suggest that the writers of the earlist gospels are following the literary conventions of the Ancient Near East in writing anonymously, rather than Roman conventions – they had no desire to earn fame or praise for themselves, therefore no need to draw attention to themselves. It was all about the gospel they were spreading.http://www.armin-baum.de/wp-co… - I’ve not read the whole article yet, I’ll have to track it down. It seems an excellent point though. If Baum is right of course, it means that by evaluating the NT sources on the basis of their author’s identifiability, is simply a value judgement: it is saying that a stylistic device that was important device for Roman authors should form the yardstick for a group of authors who were following an entirely different set of conventions.  I think that’s plainly a mistake. I have a different set of problems with Neil’s assessment of faith documents (I have no problems with the term per se), I’ll share those some other time. PS: I don’t claim to be an expert on historiography, so I’m going to discuss the above with some of my colleagues in the History department and also get some reading material from them. I reserve the right to change my mind :-)

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

                      Paul is confusing putting a name to an author with the concept of “provenance”. The point is that in order to know how to interpret any documents we need to know the context in which they were written, by whom (that is, who was this person? his family? his background? his values?) and who was the intended audience, and the sources used, etc.

                      We don’t have this information for the Gospels.

                      The anonymity of the Gospels probably has more to do with giving them an air of scriptural authority: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2009/12/05/an-explanation-for-the-gospels-being-anonymous/ To introduce a new writing as having an authority in the literary tradition of the Jewish scriptures it would be counterproductive to assign a personal name to it. Only in later times did the narrative of the apostolic chain of authority develop and once it did then the best way to have a new gospel accepted was to assign an apostle’s name to it.

                      When Mid Eastern and Greek and Roman historians wanted to be taken seriously they identified themselves and very often their sources. This was the pattern of the day. So it very definitely IS a problem that we don’t have anything like this for the Gospels.

                      How can you pick up an anonymous document and simply believe it without knowing anything about its provenance — except for speculation? And note that that speculation is entirely constructed out of the self-serving intent to justify its authority in Christian culture.

                    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                      Paul is confusing putting a name to an author with the concept of “provenance”. The point is that in order to know how to interpret any documents we need to know the context in which they were written, by whom (that is, who was this person? his family? his background? his values?) and who was the intended audience, and the sources used, etc.

                      Neil, I notice that others have commented on your reading comprehension or lack of it. I fail to see how you can accuse me of confusing “provenance” with “putting a name to an author”, when in my post above I very cleary also refered to place and date of composition!

                      Hey what do I know, unlike you I don’t have a hypothetical undergraduate History Degree. But there it seems to me there are plenty of sources where we are not 100% sure of the provenance but that are nonetheless treated as history, not as, you varyingly describe the NT gospels, as works of fiction, philosophical novels, midrash, myth, etc. I’ve read books on the Battle of Hastings, but I honestly can’t remember an instance where the somewhat uncertain provenance of the Bayeux Tapestry (we can’t be sure exactly when, who commissioned it, what sources it draws upon) is rasied as a serious objection to using the tapestry as a historical source – even where the author is critical of its value for other reasons. Ditto with the Anglo Saxon chronicle. And that’s just off the top of my head. If you want to talk more about historical sources of (in varying degress) uncertain provenance that are not dismissed as works of fiction, I think that would be a fun area to explore. 

                      You acknowledge that the gospels were written anonymously there is a reasonable explanation for why the gospels were anonymous works. Anonymity means, almost by definition, that we can never be 100% exaclty when and where they were written, what sources they used, why they were written and who for. Nonetheless we have some pretty good theories giving us answers to some of these questions, and you are happy to refer to these answers yourself when it suits your argument!

                      In saying that we cannot treat the gospels as historical sources until we know the answers to a set of inherently unanswerable questions you are, I think, falling into the general category of moving the goalposts (or at least setting them unrealistically high) which, as I noted above, is a characteristic of denial movements.

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

                      My dear sweet charming gentle Paul old chap. Do try to be friendly. It really won’t hurt, you know. Or is the computer your one outlet where you get to feel a bit macho for a few minutes each day?

                      Yes, I did read a cut and paste of your argument very quickly and my response was also a quick dash. But a date and a place and a meaningless name gives us no genuine provenance at all by any stretch of the imagination. A name without context means nothing. It is as good as nothing. It is not “provenance” in the sense I expressed in my post.

                      As for the two examples you cite supposedly overturning my argument, I should like to remind you that I was addressing Mike Gantt and not you, and I have at no point — as I have said repeatedly to Mike — yet given my full arguments.

                      I have only reached a point where I am discussing one aspect of how we begin to approach the question. That aspect is provenance. That’s all. But it is only one brick in the wall.

                      You really should read Howell and Prevenier or other books on historical method and learn how it all works.

                      If you are going to do a Masters degree you will have to learn to do a bit more research on those you think you will be addressing. If you had the least idea of my arguments as I have presented them many times and in many places and discussed with so many — (you seem to have been left out of all this, sorry) — you would have known that there is one critical thing we DO know about the two instances you think overturn my whole position.

                      Provenance is the starting point. I am struck with trying to establish a common understanding on this with Mike.

                      But — oh my dear, this is embarrassing to even have to say the obvious — yes, there are documents that have historical value and whose provenance we do not know except in the vaguest terms.

                      That is why I have asked Mike to try to come up with his own questions to ask documents in order to assess their historical value — it really does extend beyond just provenance. There are several other very important things to establish. (Sorry the debate with Mike has not gone fast enough for you and you have gone and barged in prematurely like this.)

                      In fact, that something else (or possibly two things) is even MORE critical than a knowledge of Provenance.

                      But in my discussion with Mike — into which you rudely intrude half-cocked and on the presumption that you know everything about my point of view when I have even said I have only laid out the framework for my argument so far — I have not even begun to approach that even more critical factor.

                      Now, I wonder what that critical factor (or two) could be? I wonder why I am being so vague? Maybe I have something to hide? Maybe I have nothing at all and this is all bluff? But I’m not in the habit of rewarding with answers those who are rude and who love to dish out insults to those they don’t even know — especially when the least bit of effort would be all you need to know my views on all of these things since they are online in many venues.

                    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                      Hi Neil,

                      I’m comfortable with my masculinity thank you. If it needed boosting, I’d probably go drink some beer, watch a football match,  drive my car really fast, go to a Metallica gig, get a tattoo, visit a strip joint, buy a leather jacket, or do any of the other things guys seem do when they need to feel more macho. 

                      I don’t think “asking some quite straightforward questions of an Australian librarian regarding his position on the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth” would really be the way I’d go about it.

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

                      I love this:

                      “In saying that we cannot treat the gospels as historical sources until we know the answers to a set of inherently unanswerable questions you are, I think, falling into the general category of moving the goalposts (or at least setting them unrealistically high) which, as I noted above, is a characteristic of denial movements.”

                      It sums up the poverty of the Jesus-historicist position and New Testament efforts at criteria-based “history” more generally. It’s because HJ scholars have never been able to apply the same standards to the Gospels that historians apply to other documents that NT scholars are forced to devise their own rules in order to justify how they “elicit historical data” from the Gospels. The reason is the questions and tests they apply to analyse other documents yield “blanks” for answers in the case of the Gospels. Oh dear, That won’t do. Quick, Make up some new rules!

                      And what-do-you-know? Why, the NT “historical methods” are so good they are even far superior to those practiced in other historical studies! Why, they can even determine the exact words someone spoke on occasions two thousand years ago — and in the original language, too!! And they don’t even need to have authentic material to work with — they can even apply methods to yield true historical information from fabricated materials! All of these astonishing and pioneering methods are documented by HJ historians themselves.

                      And yes, even HJ scholars themselves have exposed the sham of it all. So who are the “denialists” in all of this? Name calling is such a tawdry business. It replaces any need for reasoned argument.

                    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                      No Neil, as always you completely misrepresent my position. 

                      I am not a HJ scholar and would not claim to have the qualifications to be one (because you know it takes things like higher degrees, fluency in a number of ancient and modern languages etc), so why are you lumping me in with them? And can you point to any post I’ve made where I’ve said or suggested, that we can know  ”the exact words someone spoke on occasions two thousand years ago — and in the original language, too”? Or even that this is consistent with my general position? 

                      You wrote:

                      Historians first need to do literary analysis and check the provenance etc before they can even know if it does have any history at all “beneath the surface”. But it is the way most NT scholars work. It’s all built on assumption. 

                      The point is that in order to know how to interpret any documents we need to know the context in which they were written, by whom (that is, who was this person? his family? his background? his values?) and who was the intended audience, and the sources used, etc. 

                      In your posts with Mike, you seem to be using the (to an extent) uncertain provenance of the gospels as a barrier to dealing with them as historical sources. No doubt that provenance is important in understanding a given source, but in practice I simply don’t think that real historians (you know the ones who work in Universities and are actually engaged in historical research rather than the ones with hypothetical undergraduate degrees and their own blogs and agendas) put barriers in the way of engaging with their sources as history in the way that you wish to in the case of the NT documents.  In fact you admit as much when you write:

                      there are documents that have historical value and whose provenance we do not know except in the vaguest terms.

                      And while the above sentence is, perhaps, your most useful contribution to the debate so far, it does leave me wondering (once again) what, if anything, you are actually trying to say. 

                      PS: I’m doing some reading around a medieval source of very hazy provenance that is our only witness to a particular event that is still treated as history.

                      I’ll share it with you once I’m done. Hey perhaps I could even do a guest post over on Vridar? :-)

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

                      Mike, why don’t you attempt to sum up my view or the argument I have expressed thus far in your own words? That will be a good first step of walking towards understanding each other’s point of view.

                      I’ll start. My understanding of your position is that we simply would not have the abundance of epistles, gospels and other NT literature that we do have unless there was something dramatic in history that lay behind it and led to the production of all that literature. The best explanation for what produced all this documentation is that the Jesus that is spoken of throughout it all is the one and same person (though different authors had different takes on his significance or details about him and his meaning that interested them), and that is a man who made an astonishing impact on the lives of some people while a preaching healing miracle worker in Galilee, with the result that after his crucifixion they were persuaded — largely through resurrection appearances — that this Jesus really was the Messiah and Son of God now in heaven. And the reason you are so convinced of all of this is not only the abundance of literature speaking about this Jesus, but that when one reads it, it is possible to see how it “rings true”, it sounds so real, so historical — and all those believers in those early days would not have believed any of this unless it had some basis in historical fact.

                      Is that a fair summary of your argument? Your point of view? Would you qualify it in any way?

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Neil, I don’t think I understand your view well enough to summarize it.  If you were to force me to do so anyway, I would say this:  You don’t think any of the documentation we have of Jesus Christ rises to a level of reliability that would allow us to believe that Jesus lived, much less that he was raised from the dead.

                      As far as your summary of my view, I would qualify it in the following ways:

                      1. The quality of the New Testament documents is as significant as the quantity.  These are   not the ravings of man men nor the yarns of vivid human imagination.  They are sober words from men who knew they were probably going to have to die for writing them.

                      2. The internal cohesion and coherence of the New Testament documents, as well as the cohesion and coherence found in recognizing its organic relationship with the Old Testament documents, given the variety of authors, circumstances, and times in which all these documents were written, is stunning.

                      3.  The reliability of the texts we have is so great that even when a committed and energetic self-described “atheist-leaning agnostic” like Bart Ehrman catalogs all the corruptions of the text he inadvertently confirms that it’s only in inconsequential matters that the texts differ.

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

                      It is clear I have not expressed myself clearly for you. Others do understand me so I don’t think it is entirely my fault. But I am willing to see if I can put things in such a way to allow a committed believer to understand.

                      I do not start with the presumption that the documentation we have for Jesus is not reliable. No. That is the first misunderstanding.

                      I start with saying that we do not know how to assess its reliability. The point of the exercise is to find a way to make a valid assessment of what sort of literature it is and whether it is reliable as an account of something that had historical roots.

                      Does that make sense so far?

                      I come to all texts the same way. Not just the NT literature. I apply the same tests to all of the ancient texts.

                      The tests I apply are found in basic books on historical methodology such as the one by Howell and Prevenier that Dr McGrath himself recommends we read.

                      These tests are really nothing more than the application of sound reasoning to our sources so that we avoid circular reasoning and unfounded assumptions.

                      Maybe I will stop there and ask if you think you understand that much of my position. Does that make any sense to you? What does it mean to you in your own words?

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Actually, Neil, I do not understand this.  You say, “I start with saying that we don’t know how to assess its reliability,” but then you go on to say, “The point of the exercise is to find a way to make a valid assessment…”  Then you go on to say, “The tests I apply are found in basic books on historical methodology…” and yet that they “are really nothing more than the application of sound reasoning…”

                      If I were to paraphrase the first part it would come out like this:  ”We don’t know how to make and assessment and we make an assessment.”  Obviously, this is self-contradictory and not what you meant.  Nevertheless, this is what it sounds like to me.

                      As for the second part, if the tests you cull from these books are nothing more than the application of sound reasoning then let’s just apply sound reasoning and forego reading the extra books.  I’ve told you that I am not professional historian nor am I a credentialed scholar.  Why bring expert opinion into the discussion if it’s superfluous?

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

                      What I meant, Mike, is this.

                      We do not know whether the Gospels or any document contains a reliable report based on historical events until we first subject it to some analysis.

                      I find an old scroll with a story about a king conquering various cities. To begin with we have no way of knowing if it is a fiction or a true story.

                      How do we tell?

                      What tests or questions would you ask about it that are equally valid for any and all texts we find?

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      In this case, I think we would, for example, examine the gospels and see if the protagonist they describe matches the description of the protagonist we find described in the epistles.  If they’re talking about the same person, we have multiple witnesses to him.

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

                      Mike, you say: “In this case, I think we would, for example, examine the gospels and see
                      if the protagonist they describe matches the description of the
                      protagonist we find described in the epistles.  If they’re talking about
                      the same person, we have multiple witnesses to him.”

                      But let’s suppose we have different stories of Robin Hood from clearly independent authors, telling different stories. Would it confirm for us that Robin Hood existed if we matched one protagonist in the account of another? Would that be enough? Or do we need something else?

                      What of the stories of Romulus? Would it confirm for us that Romulus existed if one account matched the Romulus in another? Is that enough? Or do we need more?

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      In the case of Robin Hood, if we had two documents from independent authors which match in all important ways when referencing Robin Hood, I think we’d have proof that at least two people were giving an account about the same Robin Hood.  You haven’t told me enough for me to decide if the authors were presenting Robin Hood as a mythical or historical character.  

                      If, on the other hand, you had told me that we had 27 documents by at least half a dozen different authors all telling about a historical Robin Hood, with more than a half a dozen of those documents being letters written to and from known cities in England referencing hundreds and probably thousands of people meeting regularly in cities throughout an even broader geographic area for the purpose of learning more about Robin Hood, risking their reputations and, in some cases, their livelihoods and even lives to do so, then I’d say we had ample testimony of a belief that Robin Hood was a historical person at the time the documents were written.  

                      Further, if there were a volume of writings, produced centuries in advance, that had predicted that a historical Robin Hood would arise, and to this volume the hundreds and thousands appealed as being consistent with the life Robin Hood lived, it would only solidify our conviction that Robin Hood was considered historical by the generation of his contemporaries.  

                      Same for Romulus.

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

                      Mike: “In the case of Robin Hood, if we had two documents from independent authors which match in all important ways when referencing Robin Hood, I think we’d have proof that at least two people were giving an account about the same Robin Hood. You haven’t told me enough for me to decide if the authors were presenting Robin Hood as a mythical or historical character.”

                      What sorts of things do you think that that we would we need to know about those two documents in order to tell if the Robin Hood of which they spoke was mythical or historical?

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      To start with, we’d need to know what the documents said.  In other words, was it clear from the writing that they were either writing about a mythical figure or a historical figure?  Our reading of the accounts would also reveal whether or not there were other relevant reference points and clues (e.g. all the Old Testament references about Jesus we have in the New Testament).

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

                      Well this is where we must part company, Mike. If we cannot agree on such a fundamental point as this then this is where we have no logical means of communicating.

                      I have known of quite a few manuscripts that have been believed as factual accounts because the author intentionally imitates a non-fictional tone, a ‘this is true’ tone, that have turned out to be false. The history of literature is filled with examples of this. (It does not follow, by the way, that the author was “lying”. There are many reasons for writing in a way that resembles ‘truth’ that are not malicious.)

                      If you truly believe that simply by reading a document about which we know nothing at all and decide from our reading whether its contents are likely to be fiction or non-fiction, then we live on different logical planets.

                      Without agreement on such a fundamental logical point we have no means of any further rational engagement.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      I have known of quite a few manuscripts that have been believed as factual accounts because the author intentionally imitates a non-fictional tone, a ‘this is true’ tone, that have turned out to be false. The history of literature is filled with examples of this. (It does not follow, by the way, that the author was “lying”. There are many reasons for writing in a way that resembles ‘truth’ that are not malicious.)

                      A writer who intentionally conveys as historical something he knows to be not historical has lied, no matter how noble may be his motives for doing so.

                      If you truly believe that simply by reading a document about which we know nothing at all and decide from our reading whether its contents are likely to be fiction or non-fiction, then we live on different logical planets.

                      I don’t believe that reading alone is always sufficient to make such determinations (Note that I said “To start with…”).  However, in the case of the New Testament documents, and particularly with the Old Testament documents being such a constant reference point in them, I do think a straightforward reading of the documents leads one to quickly conclude that it is not rational to consider these documents as presenting a mythical Jesus.

                      Without agreement on such a fundamental logical point we have no means of any further rational engagement.

                      Your choice.  However, I will grant you this:  When one of your fellow skeptics tells you that he, like you, regards all the supernatural claims of the New Testament as mythical a priori but that you are weird or off-base for doing the same with its natural claims, I can understand your frustration.

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

                      “A writer who intentionally conveys as historical something he knows to be not historical has lied, no matter how noble may be his motives for doing so.”

                      Again, how can there be any useful discussion if one party asserts the ability to read the minds and intent of unknown authors?

                      ” When one of your fellow skeptics tells you that he, like you, regards all the supernatural claims of the New Testament as mythical a priori but that you are weird or off-base for doing the same with its natural claims, I can understand your frustration.”

                      You write: “I do think a straightforward reading of the documents leads one to quickly conclude that it is not rational to consider these documents as presenting a mythical Jesus.”

                      In other words, we do not need to apply standards of literary or historical analysis to the documents in your view, yes? We do not have to treat them the way historians treat any other documents, yes? Do you really think that all we have to do is read documents and if they “ring true” or whatever then that’s all that is needed?

                      Mike, you are simply not listening. No-one is arguing that anything, let alone “natural claims” are to be dismssed “a priori”. You say you don’t understand my argument but I have made enough of it clear repeatedly that nothing is dismissed a priori — nothing. Not even the historicity of Jesus. You have returned to your original claims as if you have heard or read nothing.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Again, how can there be any useful discussion if one party asserts the ability to read the minds and intent of unknown authors?

                      I was not asserting the ability to read minds.  I was responding to your statement, “There are many reasons for writing in a way that resembles ‘truth’ that are not malicious.”  Go back to the context and see that you were also the one who brought up “lying.”

                      In other words, we do not need to apply standards of literary or historical analysis to the documents in your view, yes? We do not have to treat them the way historians treat any other documents, yes? Do you really think that all we have to do is read documents and if they “ring true” or whatever then that’s all that is needed?

                      Again, I’ve not said that “all we have to do is read the documents.”  I have said that this is the proper starting point.  And, in some cases, we can draw conclusions without having to consult a literary critic or a historian.  Someone like James McGrath is far more educated than I am about biblical matters.  There is much he could teach me about the Bible and other things.  However, I do not have to consult him in order to conclude from my own reading of Paul’s letters that Paul thought Jesus had been crucified, and then raised from the dead three days later, that Jesus was the long-promised messiah of Israel, and so on.  Respect for scholarship does not require that we put our common sense on holiday.

                      Mike, you are simply not listening. No-one is arguing that anything, let alone “natural claims” are to be dismssed “a priori”. You say you don’t understand my argument but I have made enough of it clear repeatedly that nothing is dismissed a priori — nothing. Not even the historicity of Jesus. You have returned to your original claims as if you have heard or read nothing.

                      Neil, you fault me for not understanding that your argument does not dismiss anything a priori, yet you yourself said a couple of days ago to Paul, “I have at no point — as I have said repeatedly to Mike — yet given my full arguments.”  I have to ask you two questions:  1) Just how long does it take you to give your full argument?  and 2) Until you do, why are you so demanding that others understand it?

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

                      Sorry, Mike, I was addressing your statement “writer who intentionally conveys as historical something he knows to be not historical has lied, no matter how noble may be his motives for doing so”. You have created a simplistic either-or black or white alternative scenario, but the possible alternatives are far richer than the two alternatives you propose. I do not presume to know the minds of unknown gospel authors whether they believed in the historical factness of what they were writing or not.

                      But Mike, on your last point, I was taking it one step at a time to see what we could agree upon one point at a time. We started out by discussing how we know if documents are narrating historical truths. We were looking primarily at provenance. I tried to keep us on track with that point but before we could arrive at a common understanding you wanted to raise other issues.

                      We quickly came to a point where we find we diverge on something so fundamental as whether or not we can tell if a text — unprovenanced and uncontextualized, completely as a stand-alone — is narrting something based on historical truth of not.

                      I do not believe we can rely on subjective impressions or gut feelings or common sense to answer such a question.

                      That is where we differ. If we cannot agree on that then we have no basis in any further discussion.

                      But what I did make clear to you in my initial stages was that my argument was based on the application of a set of logical principles to the texts — to all texts — whether biblical or non-biblical. I said that I do not start with an assumption that Jesus was myth or non-historical. I said that was to be determined through the various tests that we apply to all texts alike.

                      So for you to now say that my argument is an a priori rejection of the NT is simply ignoring what I have said. It is not fair for you to say that I have not yet given you my whole argument (though I thought you have read it several times elsewhere) — you simply ignore whatever I say — habitually.

                      You should know better than to claim that my argument is that the NT is mythical a priori! It is not. That is why I have said repeatedly I do NOT start with Jesus being historical OR mythical. That is what must be determined through the application of the same logical principles we apply to any document, whether subconsciously or consciously. You do not apply any of these principles, however, and rely on what you trust is “common sense”.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Neil,

                      While it appears that you do suppose a priori that Jesus is not historical, but I am glad to hear you unequivocally say otherwise.  Nonetheless, I see two fundamental problems with your argument, even in its initial stage.

                      First, you ignore the 2,000-year-old prima facie case that Jesus is historical.  From a polemic perspective, it’s understandable why you’d do this:  you want to shift the burden of proof.  However, I don’t think that’s fair to the gravity of the issue.  If you want to prove that the historical case about Jesus as we have it is false and that you have the better view of history, then be willing to do the work to make your case.  

                      Second, you seem to be regarding the New Testament as one document produced by one source.  Thus you obscure the way many of them attest to each other.  In your view, such corroborations get airbrushed out of the picture.  This is just not fair to the evidence.

                      I think if you could address these two issues, it would make others more willing to go a little farther down the path of your thinking with you.

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

                      Oh my goodness, Mike. Let’s try this again.

                      I do NOT presuppose Jesus is historical NOR mythical. That means I do NOT presuppose he is not historical NOR not mythical, either.

                      I do not presuppose historicity or non-historicity.

                      I start with a “don’t know — let’s see what way the evidence points” position. Don’t know — NOT historical NOT NOT-Historical too.

                      NOT mythical, and NOT NOT-Mythical too.

                      Is that clear yet?

                      It’s called starting from a neutral, undecided position.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      This sounds like a “neutral, undecided position,” but your standards for evidence are set so arbitrarily high (e.g. the NT is “one source”) that it leads inevitably to the conclusion that Jesus is not historical.  

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

                      What is arbitrary abouto a standard that is applied uniformly across all documents of all kinds, bibilcal and non-biblical?

                      What is arbitrary about standards that are agreed upon in all the basic texts on how historians evaluate documents?

                      Is it not arbitrary to reject all common standards just so you can have the NT accepted as a report of historical events? That’s what is arbitrary in my books.

                      But you second point is just as fallacious. Why should the common method applied ot all documents “lead inevitably” to the conclusion that Jesus is not historical?

                      You seem to be indicating some nervousness here about what normal methods applied uniformly to all documents might lead to. But there is no need. I have never been able to argue on hte basis of the method I have been addressing that Jesus was not historical.

                      There is absolutely no reason why the method that is applied to all documents should lead “inevitably” to any particular conclusion. If that were the case then it would not be a valid method. The method should be one that gives the most valid answer possible — if it inevitably leads to either a historical or mythical result then it is not a valid method, is it.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      You claim to be following methods that are common to historians, yet you are claiming they lead you to a conclusion contrary to that reached by almost two thousand years of historians before you.

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

                      Mike, Bart Ehrman wrote recently (and I discussed his claim on my blog) that no-one as far as he knows, has ever stopped to try to prove Jesus existed. I have quoted scholars who have pointed out that scholars have always ASSUMED Jesus existed.

                      I have discussed this state of affairs on several occasions, too: e.g. http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/09/25/is-it-a-fact-of-history-that-jesus-existed-or-is-it-only-public-knowledge/

                      I have discussed often how historians work, and have included many references to where historians themselves raise the problem of some of their peers being lazy and not following the rules of proper analysis as they should, and of committing some embarrassing logical fallacies, too.

                      But if we look at those who call themselves historians among the biblical scholars (though it is clear many have no knowledge of historiography outside their guild) then we find that most of them have created their own rules that privilege biblical documents above any other literature of the ancient world as sources for genuine history. I am not alone in saying that. Many scholars have pointed out exactly that problem.

                      But the bottom line of your objection here is that once again you are appealing to authority. Now if it is true that we have a set of normative methods by which documents are routinely analysed, and if it is true that all historians who have ever mentioned Jesus have done so after applying these methods with all diligence, then let’s follow their processes, publicly display them, and see if their arguments have been conducted validly.

                      But if we find instead that the historians have routinely failed to follow their own rules in this particular case and simply assumed Jesus existed, then let the chips fall where they may.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      So far as I know, no one has ever stopped to prove that I exist.  I don’t think, however, I’m going to throw out my history until someone does.

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

                      “So far as I know, no one has ever stopped to prove that I exist. I don’t think, however, I’m going to throw out my history until someone does.”

                      Mike, and you accuse me of sophistry but retort with something as silly as this! ;-)

                      I know you exist for many reasons that are at hand. When I read books about an ancient person I will often find in the introductory pages a discussion of all the evidence used that established the place of that person in history. It is evident from the evidence presented — mostly primary but also secondary — that the person existed. If asked, a historian or any layperson can tell you off the top of their head how we know Julius Caesar existed, or even why there are good reasons for believing Socrates did, too. They can give quick and ready answers to how thye know you also exist.

                      The evidence for Jesus is of a quite different order. And that is the problem.

                      Historians have always dived in at the end of arguing what Jesus said and did or what he was like in some way. His existence has always been assumed.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      I’ve loved reading history and biography since I was a child.  I don’t recall reading a single case where a proof of existence was given for the person being covered.  Rather, the person’s life was described and his or her existence was thus assumed.  

                      You act like it’s an odd thing to assume a person existed.  But if people are talking about the things a man said and did, it would be superfluous to the point of idiocy to ask them if the man existed.

                    • Brettongarcia

                      But what do you do when you read a book, written in first person – and it’s not clear whether its a biography of an actual person, or a work of fiction, written in first person?

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      The only way you would not know is by ignoring the context through which the book came to you.  And this is just what Mythicism seeks to do.  But that’s only step one.  Step two for Mythicism is to ignore obvious signs in the text itself.

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

                      Mike, you are clearly not bothering to read anything I write with any care. You see a buzz word and go to town on that without stopping to look at my overall point.

                      I can assure you that when I say I read books on ancient figures that had introductory pages discussing the evidence the author relied upon, it was not a children’s book. Presumably when you say you loved reading history as a child you were reading children’s books.

                      I suggest you return to that post and see what I was actually saying.

                      But from the rest of your post here I am led to ask: are you saying that we should not bother to worry about whether or not we have provable reasons to believe anyone in ancient times existed? Are you saying we should just assume so and so existed and that this includes Jesus?

                      If so, what has been the point of your engagement so far — I really thought you were interested in proposing valid reasons for accepting the historicity of Jesus and in challenging the reasons I offered. Now it seems you are saying it doesn’t matter. It is quite normal to assume people existed and that’s that.

                      Or are you confusing different concepts here? Yes it is normal in everyday life to assume lots of things. But we are not talking about everyday things here. We are talking about whether or not there are valid reasons for believing Jesus was historical. That is a valid question and inquiry. Are you now going to say we don’t have to worry about it because when it comes to many everyday things it is normal to assume much?

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

                      Mike, it seems you are also agreeing with our learned Doctor McGrath when he says that if we can read about what a person said and did then we have to assume he really existed. Of course, McGrath applies a bit of theological-pseudo-historical methodology to this and says if we apply the criterion of embarrassment and a few other criteria we can weed out what was probably not really said and what was, etc.

                      Great! I can use exactly the same method to prove Zeus and Dionysus and Heracles existed.

                      You seem to have lost the plot with any sort of reasoned argument, Mike, and are now resorting to “that’s idiocy” in place of a logical deconstruction of the points I make.

                    • Beau Quilter

                      James

                      In some later post, I’d love it if you dealt with something Neil refers to here. I’ve been reading a lot more about biblical/historical criticism in recent years than I ever have before.

                      It does seem that there are “historical tools” (such as the criterion of embarrassment that Neil refers to here), that are really used fairly exclusively in biblical historical studies – not in any other kind of historical studies.

                      This raises the concern for me, that biblical historical studies have a bias that doesn’t exist for other historical studies: the bias of teasing ever more subtle clues out of texts to establish – as probable – historical “realities” that are ultimately as ephemeral as word choices, and the unknowns of the writers’ intentions.

                      Making an assumption that a writer wouldn’t tell a particular story unless it were true (because he would be embarrassed by it), seems a lot like ID proponent Michael Behe’s assumption that if he can’t think of an evolutionary path for particular cellular machine (like a flagellum), then it must be a case of “irreducible complexity” – i.e. God did it.

                      Behe is making an argument from ignorance. Isn’t the criterion of embarrassment basically the same thing?

                      Now, if I were addressing this question to Mike Gantt, I think he would wonder why I would question anything that a biblical writer would say.

                      But I think you have a better framework from which to understand my question. You understand just how much of the NT biblical content is unreliable. 

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

                      Hi Beau! Thanks for making very useful points. Thanks to Paul who had met Jesus’ brother, the situation regarding Jesus is slightly better than for figures such as John the Baptist or Hillel, whom historians regard as historical. And no one on the internet makes irritating comparisons between Hillel and Zeus or suggests that the mundane things like being born Jewish or being killed and buried happened in a purely spiritual realm.

                      It is precisely for this reason that historians working on the historical Jesus have tried to articulate their criteria more explicitly – because few figures become centers of such controversy, and brings kooks with strongly held but ultimately implausible interpretations out of the woodwork, in quite the way Jesus does.

                    • Beau Quilter

                      Okay, thanks James.

                      But putting mythicism aside for the moment, do historians who study, say, Herodotus or Plutarch or Hollinshed or Pliny, use the “criterion of embarrassment” or the “criterion of coherence”. 

                      Or are these only the tools of biblical scholars?

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      I would say that the situation for Hillel and John the Baptist is markedly better because both of them made sufficient impact on the literate and prominent people of their day to leave the kind of mark in the historical record that historians usually deal with.  Jesus of Nazareth, on the other hand, is known because of postmortem supernatural accomplishments.  Had it not been for the belief in the resurrection, it is entirely likely that Jesus of Nazareth would have come and gone without leaving any trace that would be discernible to us today. 

                      If historians must reason by analogy, I have a hard time seeing anything analogous to a historical person who is only remembered as a result of supernatural events that took place after he died.

                    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                      Vinny – how about the various Dalai/Panchen Lamas? Would these figures be remembered if they were not believed to posthumously and supernaturally reincarnate to act as spiritual guides? 

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      Paul,

                      Based on deep knowledge that consists of a few minutes looking at Wikepedia, it looks to me like the Dalai/Panchen Lamas exert the kind of social and political influence within their societies during their lifetimes that would normally leave a mark that historians would be able to see.  The supernatural beliefs about them are what allow them to exert that influence but the record of that influence would be comparable to the record left by any other similarly influential person.

                      Jesus of Nazareth, on the other hand, seems to have gone unnoticed by all but a small group of illiterate peasants for most of his life.  To the extent that he did attract any attention during his life, he was just another troublemaker put to death by the Roman Empire.  Such a person might leave a mark somewhere, but we can’t have any particularly strong expectation that he would.  It is hard for me to see how we can be highly certain that a particular person existed if we wouldn’t expect him to have left any discernible historical footprint.

                    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                      Vinny, I think that the earliest Lamas were religious, not political figures. So if any of their histories, teachings, etc were preserved, it cannot have been because they held a political influence.

                      There are also other less well known lines of reincarnated Tibetan monks who do not have the kind of importance of the Dalai / Panchen Lama. Can’t say I know much about them, but I wonder if, despite the lack of independent sources that would satisfy the JDers, their followers may nonetheless have sought to preserve details about their lives and teachings?

                      Incidentally have you ever seen this documentary about a monk’s search for his reincarnated master? Not directly relevant to what we’re talking about here, but still worth a watch…

                      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8stKBLnUGN0

                    • Brettongarcia

                      What is a true master?  A real Christ?  A friend of mine visited the current Dali Lama - and passed many machinegun nests, on her way to finally, successfully speak to him.

                      It is my belief that a true master should influence not only spiritual events, but also physical ones.  And?  If a master – or model of Jesus – does not leave real physical traces, or does not work all the physical miracles promised?  Then? You should look for another master. Or a second and better manifestation of Christ.

                    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                      BG – I have no idea what a true master is. If you could direct me to any post where I have identified Jesus, or anybody else as the true master (except maybe Mel Blanc) then it might help me to understand the point you’re making. 

                      And I wonder, how many founders of pre-modern religious traditions left the kind of physical traces or definite physical miracles you refer to? 

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      Paul,

                      I think that it is entirely possible that some literate person might have been sufficiently impressed with Jesus of Nazareth’s teaching that he would have preserved some record of him even if there had never arisen the belief that he had been raised from the dead.  However, I think that would be just happenstance and based on what mainstream scholars think can be known about the historical Jesus, we wouldn’t have particularly  expected it.

                      But even if that might have happened, we are still left with the fact that the ultimate source of all of the stories we do have of the earthly Jesus of Nazareth come from people who were seeking to propagate faith in the supernatural events that were believed to have taken place after he died.   (Josephus and Tacitus might have had some independent source but there isn’t any way to know that they did.)  I think that it is very difficult to determine that any particular story was actually remembered about the earthly Jesus rather than created for purposes of inspiring belief in the risen Christ.  I just don’t see any way to unring the bell of the resurrection. 

                      If all of our knowledge about a particular Lama came from a later Lama who claimed to be the first Lama’s reincarnation, I think that we might have a similarly difficult time determining whether that earlier Lama really existed.  If he hadn’t left some independent mark in the historical record, we might not be able to establish that he wasn’t a figment of the later Lama’s imagination.

                    • Brettongarcia

                       Starting with the very spiritual – the “faith”ful, with mental or spiritual hopes for the future  - Paul seemed to suggest that mental, spiritual results were all that was promised.  And indeed, spiritual longings are close to the origin of Christianity.  But that was not all.  In the OT, physical things – a kingdom on earth – were promised too.

                      Jesus was said to be physical.  But even an allegedly physical historical Jesus – in the first coming – did not deliver the full physical reality of what was originally and truly promised.  The kingdom of God … on earth (Rev. 21; etc.).

                      Belief in, relief in, a spiritual Jesus, in the alleged sufficiency of a nice mental state of mind as a kingdom, is the proto-Gnostic Paul offering a mental/spiritual consolation prize; in lieu of the full physical kingdom.  Much has been claimed for just having “hope” and a “Kingdom” in our minds or spirits.  But? It was not what fully what was promised, at least in the OT.

                      The first coming of Jesus is said to be physical; but worked out to offering only promises, hopes, spiritual things.  It is only in the Second Coming that we see the “full”  reality of what was offered.  In a sense, therefore, we have treated the Pauline spiritual longing, as the “origin” of Christianity here.  And indeed, the spiritutual idea dominated Chritianity.  But behind that all along, were  the older OT physical promises; of a physical kingdom.

                      Pending the fully physical kingdom?  In the meantime?  The Christian spiritual, half-kingdom of “hopes” and “faith” and “spirit” are at best, only half the “full” picture.  While even the allegedly physical reality of Jesus, did not deliver all the fullness and physicality, of what was promised.  A Second Ap”pear”ance (Gk. “parousia”) is required for that.

                      While?  The Second Appearance fullfills – but is significantly different from – the first.

                      IMHO.

                      So our “spiritual” Christianity, was present as primary and even “sufficient” by Paul and others.  But a spiritual “hope,” even as offered by an allegedly fully, physically efficacious Jesus (or not), was not all that was really, fully promised.

                      Continue to ask for much more than just spiritual hopes, or a physical CHrist that only delivers such things as mental senations and visions.   Ask for real, empirically-verifiable, physical, material wonders.  And nothing less.  (As noted in the writings of “Dr. Woodbrige Goodman,” online).

                      If promises of spiritual things, “hopes,” in lieu of phsyical wonders, were the origin of Chritianity per se (as it appears from looking at Paul, and some later ascetic/world-hating constructions of “Jesus”), those promises were never as deep, or as physically real, or as good, as the very physical promises of Judaism.   Or of God.  As understood  biblically.

                    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                      Vinny, my understanding of the practice around re-incarnated Buddhist monks is that after the death of a particular sage, monks will seek out his reincarnation. I think that this is established by the candidate recognising objects owned by his previous incarnation, but there is no expectation that a reincarnated lama will have a detailed knowledge of a past life. As such, I wouldn’t expect that knowledge of or traditions about a particular lama would chiefly come from his or her successor. 

                      I’ll have to check that as it’s a while since my Uni course on Buddhism, but I think it’s right. 

                    • Brettongarcia

                      There’s no doubt however, that many Christians turned “dying” and “coming to life,” into a mere metaphor for a spiritual process: “dying to” our carnal desires, passions, lusts, anger, and being “reborn” as a calm, controlled Christian or ascetic priest.  So that part of the essentially message of the New Testament, has been read, throughout the history of Christianity, as not being “historical,” or related to physical events at all; but as relating to mental or spiritual events, a mental or spiritual transformation.

                      For this reason, among others?  The whole search for an “Historical Jesus”  seems rather against some of the main streams of Christian dogma.  Which insist that the important reality of Jesus, is not physical/historical, but spiritual.

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

                      Hoo boy, here we go again! ;-)

                      When James refers to the text of Paul as making claims that we should a priori accept not as mere beliefs or words from an unknown context but as indicators of historical facts he is simply bypassing the very methods I have been discussing. It is the same methodology of that says we should believe these things unless we can see a reason not to. Of course, there are reasons not to accept the James the Brother of the Lord passage as evidence of a historical Jesus, but James refuses point-blank to countenance any of these. http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/05/26/james-brother-of-the-lord-another-case-for-interpolation/   and   http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/10/19/reading-galatians-afresh-a-gnostic-paul-james-peter-and-john/   and  http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/10/19/reading-galatians-afresh-a-gnostic-paul-james-peter-and-john/  and   http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/10/19/reading-galatians-afresh-a-gnostic-paul-james-peter-and-john/

                      A valid approach to interpreting that passage would be first to study the place of the reference in the manuscript and textual reference history of Galatians — as some of the posts above do — but James sweeps all of that aside and goes straight for the “We should believe it coz the Bible says it” — well, not quite, but near enough in this case.

                      McGrath also knows we have no way of knowing one way or another if Hillel was historical and that’s why he falls back on implying that historians simply assume he was. What he really should say is that historians refer to him as historical because it makes no difference whether he was historical or a literary/theological invented persona — as was a well known practice among ancient writers — for any of the purposes in which he is addressed.

                      And don’tcha just love McGrath’s implication that Doherty just makes up out of nothing his claims for a spiritual setting for the crucifixion? — anyone would think he has never even read the first few chapters of Doherty’s book. And dontcha just love the way he equates this one set of arguments with the entire case of mythicism — a case which he refuses to address because he will always stand behind the pillars of James the brother of the Lord and Jesus being a Jew of the seed of David, oh, and having blood.

                      For James, that is the basis of his historical Jesus. There is no historical methodology at all. He has none. He doesn’t need one. Remember the words of Robert Eisenman  http://vridar.wordpress.com/20… —

                      Don’t allow yourselves to be defeated or discouraged by any hostile ‘academicians’ or reputed ‘scholars’. These, in the end will always be the hardest either to influence or bring over to the kind of thinking you represent since they have the most to lose by either acknowledging or entertaining it, largely because they would be seen as somewhat ridiculous by their peers if they were to deny the whole thrust of their previous academic work and training.

                    • Claude

                      Why don’t you summarize Doherty’s theory of celestial crucifixion for us, Neil? In a paragraph or two.

                    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                      Claude, on behalf of Neil I am outraged at your suggestion that he should put forward and defend an actual point of view. That’s not what Neil was put on Earth for – Neil’s mission is to point out how members of “the guild” like Dr McGrath (you know, who is like, a Dr and stuff) don’t know anything about how proper History is done. 

                      Now I know you might point out to me that Neil is an Australian librarian and part-time atheist blogger with (at best) an undergraduate degree in History. Or that he has no postgraduate training whatever relevant to the field of Biblical Studies. Or that the only thing he’s qualified to lecture Dr McGrath on is how to stamp library books and arrange them by the Dewey Decimal System. But on behalf of Neil, I say that would be ad hominem.

                    • Claude

                      PauL,

                      Thank you for summoning the requisite outrage from Neil’s inexhaustible well. Yet I thought it misleading for Neil to suggest that Prof. McGrath’s disdain for Earl Doherty’s theory of celestial crucifixion arose from McGrath’s methodological shortcomings and not from Doherty’s dubious proposal.

                      I’ll give it a crack, although Neil will no doubt swoop in to assure everyone that I don’t get it and that if I only devoted the rest of my natural life to reading Vridar, I might  transcend reading with hostile intent.

                      Ahem.

                      As I understand it, Doherty’s mythological Jesus occurs within a 1st century cosmos defined by parallelism between the spiritual and earthly realms–every action above resounds below–and within a Hellenized Jewish culture in which mystery cults and other features of Greco-Roman religion invariably trump Jewish tradition. For example, Doherty attributes Paul’s concept of baptism as a dying and rising in Christ to “the mysteries.” (Doherty could have relieved the reader here with some juicy tidbits from Secret Mark–which I learned all about by following one of Prof. McGrath’s nefarious links–but no such luck.)
                      Doherty settles on an interpretation of Paul’s “rulers of this age” as the planet-dwelling demons who, he explains, “were thought of as having political organizations like rulers on earth. They were well placed and capable of executing a spiritual Christ who had descended from the higher divine realm into their territory….” (JP 102). He illustrates the influence of  a “descending-ascending redeemer myth” by way of the hymn in Philippians 2:6-11, whose Christ, although said to have assumed human likeness and shape and died on a cross, does not mean, of course, that he became “an actual man.” (JP 104-05) Throw in a little midrash from Isaiah and ta-da! What Paul really meant is that demons crucified Christ in the lower celestial realm. Christ died and rose up there; we die and rise (sort of) down here!I’m not sure what Doherty’s historical methodology is called, but it seems to be the one involving selectivity, imaginative reconstruction and confirmation bias.

                    • Claude

                      Again, sorry for the mess, Disqus routinely ignores my formatting.

                    • Beau Quilter

                      Mike

                      I’m assuming you’ve never read about King Arthur or Alladin or Robin Hood – or any one of scores of legendary figures who taken to be historical at one time.

                      I’m not a mythicist; I’m just hearing a lot of opposing arguments that don’t hold much water.

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

                      I find your objections to “my position” most strange, Mike.

                      I want to shift the burden of proof???? Not at all. I am the one who believes each person should be able to present an argument supporting their own viewpoint. I don’t hold any default position and ask someone else to prove otherwise. Where did you get that idea from?

                      I don’t want to prove the historical case is false at all. Why did you suggest I want to do that? You are simply not listening to anything I have said. I said I start from a neutral position and wish to subject the NT writings to the same processes I use for any other documents. I am quite open to the possibility of a historical Jesus.

                      And I have never suggested the NT should be treated as “one document”. How can you suggest that? I said the NT documents all come from the Christian perspective? You don’t deny that do you?

                      You don’t deny that they all have an interest in expressing the Christian point of view, do you?

                      Of course they attest to each other. But they all do so from the one Christian perspective, don’t they?

                      I can’t understand why you have a problem with my stating something like that which to me is simply stating the obvious.

                      If we can’t agree on what is the obvious then we have no basis for communication.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Some folks on this thread were discussing Robert A. Caro’s most recent biographical book on Lyndon Johnson and the controversy over whether or not  Jack Kennedy had really wanted Johnson to accept the invitation to run as vice president in 1960.  Let’s say Caro’s research had turned up 27 different internal memos written by at least half a dozen different authors living in different places and writing to different recipients, all testifying to personal awareness of Jack Kennedy’s belief on this subject.  Who would say Caro can only count this as one source because they all come from the same perspective?

                    • Brettongarcia

                      Let’s take this example.  Rougly something like the following steps would take place, among others, when Historians are confronted with an alleged biography.

                      Historians 1) might well question a single written work, if it comes up with results, claims, that are very, very different from everyone else.  And 2) so next?   Historians would ask to examine that work’s alleged  multiple attestations for genuineness.  3) If those attestations do not seem to hold up, individually, when examined for internal coherence?  If 4) those sources cannot be confirmed by any source outside the same immediate circle? We 5) might then suspect that all that came from just one, lying source:  a single bad author.  Who said he was writing History, but who was really writing fiction, or lies.  To sell books – or deceive the public with a lie.

                      Essentially the same method should be applied to any alleged biography; secular or sacred.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      What has this to do with the New Testament documents where we do not have “a single written work?”

                    • Brettongarcia

                      The Bible, in many ways, is a single written work.  When you buy it, it’s one book.  And?  Its many books, are from essentially … the same collection.  One that has been in the hands of essentially one group, of believers, church leaders.

                      And?  If the NT was written by the apostles?  Then it came from the same core of believers.

                      Here’s the problem therefore.  It is rather as if all 27 memos say, all came from LBJ’s staff.  Would that make them “independent”?  It’s not uncommon for the followers of a leader, to agree to lie, in the very same way.  Or be lied to in the very same way by their leader, for that matter.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      If I buy an anthology of American literature including works by Thoreau, Emerson, and others, does this mean that the individuality of the authors and their works have thereby been surrendered?

                      The documents we find in the New Testament, while internal to the movement, were quite public, being sent to various cities and written over a multi-decade time period.  Something greater than “a vast right-wing conspiracy” would have been required to pull off the kind of lie you are suggesting.  Moreover, in this case and analogy we’d only need to know what Jack Kennedy believed, not what Johnson believed.

                    • Brettongarcia

                      Are the works attributed to the apostles, really “independent witness”? 

                      Many have noted the behavior of religious groups, temple “cults.”  NOte that most of the books of the NT are from 1) the same group of zealots, the same – some would say – religious cult.  While 2) those works were later collected, and edited by the cultus leaders.

                      Within the cult, would a VAST conspiracy be needed, or any conspiracy at all in some ways, for certain kinds of writings to be suppressed as not “geniune” or “worthy,” and others encouraged? 

                      And in the early days in fact?  Different churches were found using somewhat different books.  But many were persuaded by others - over time – to include this or that work.  So that?  The sacred canon, the most sacred books, were actually … changed.  Without a conspiracy.  By simple social pressure, and persuasion.  Or groupthink.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      There was no publishing or authorizing authority in the first century to sanction these documents.  They were independently produced and considered authoritative by their recipients and others in the movement.  They were copied and distributed so broadly in the first century, that any desire by a subsequent church council to regulate their content had no means for attainment.

                    • Paul R

                      Hi Mike,
                       
                      I wonder if any you know of any documents about Zeus that treat him as a historical person, interacting with other historical persons *and* which can be dated to within 30-60 years of Zeus’s death? Or if you have evidence of the existence of a religious community that regarded Zeus as existing in human form at a define point in time, dating within living memory of his supposed life? Or of any non-Zeus worshipping sources that treat Zeus as a historical person, again dating from less than say 100 years of his life?
                       
                      If you do, please let me know. I’d be interested to read them.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      I’m not aware of any, but then I’m no expert on ancient mythological figures.  Perhaps others more knowledgeable about myths would care to weigh in.

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

                      In response to your Caro case, it is completely missing the whole point of the argument for historicity. It is irrelevant. It is a false analogy.

                      We are not talking about beliefs about Jesus or what he was supposed to have said, etc. We are talking about the very existence of Jesus as a historical person.

                      We have ample reason to believe Kennedy was a historical person without having to turn to internal memos. And note, furthermore, that even in your analogy we know far more about the provenance and context and external corroborating evidence for the existence of the historical context and persons underlying the memos that is all completely lacking in the case of the gospels. But the analogy simply misses the entire point of the argument.

                      Only Dr McGrath has been brave enough to publicly announce that we know people existed because of the evidence we have of what they said and did. Gosh, with a little criterion of embarrassment applied to Homer I can prove to you that Zeus himself existed by our redoubtable Doctor’s standards!

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      Actually Neil, it is not as bad an analogy as it might first appear, but the point it illustrates is exactly the opposite of the one Mike is trying make.

                      One of the problems Caro had to deal with is that it was the close associates of Bobby Kennedy who subsequently maintained that Jack hadn’t wanted or expected Lyndon Johnson to accept the invitation to be Jack’s running mate.  So even though there were a half-dozen or more people who reported this version of the events and they did so in many different books, articles, and interviews over a period of decades, Caro couldn’t treat them all as independent corroboration because they were all influenced by the perspective of a single individual.  It doesn’t mean that they were wrong, but it does mean that Caro’s couldn’t rely on the sheer number of times they told the story that way.  He had to consider the plausibility of their story in light of other evidence.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Vinny,

                      Your interest in the details of the Kennedy-Johnson issue is leading you to chase red herrings.  The point at issue is that if all the known associates of Jack Kennedy, including Bobby Kennedy, were testifying one way on the issue and the associates of Bobby Kennedy were testifying another, then all the associates of Bobby Kennedy have is speculation and gossip.

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      No Mike.  The point you were making was that twenty-seven writings by a half-dozen writers shouldn’t be treated as coming from the same perspective.  Unfortunately, you tried to base an analogy on a book you hadn’t read and a situation you didn’t understand.

                      Now of course you would like to pretend that some point other than the one you raised is at issue.  I can hardly blame you, but not surprisingly, your ignorance regarding the situation to which you are drawing analogies continues to plague you.  In fact the testimony from those who claimed to know Jack Kennedy’s thinking is pretty consistent, however, the other side to the story is not based on speculation and gossip, but on the logical inferences that can be drawn from the rest of the evidence.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Vinny, I’ll leave the intrigue of the Kennedy-Johnson years to you.  As for the relevant point, you don’t dismiss 27 witnesses to a murder because they’re all testifying that the same guy did it.

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      It is fascinating to watch the apologist at work Earlier we were talking about a half-dozen authors who wrote twenty-seven letters.  Now you are claiming that the relevant analogy is twenty-seven witnesses to a murder.  

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Yes, the “27 documents” is a shorthand expression.  I’m fine with your qualification, although if you’re going to qualify it you also ought to add in the multiple authors of some of the epistles and also the many recipients who obviously held the same views about the historical Jesus as the authors.  

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      It’s not my qualification Mike.  It’s the way that you described it in your analogy until you realized that the analogy didn’t work and you had to gin up the numbers to make the evidence sound stronger than it is. 

                      Of course what we were discussing was how we deal with multiple sources that are written from the same perspective and whether they should be considered independent.  Now it sounds like you want to gin up the numbers by treating the recipients as independent sources for the information the letters contain.   That’s creative.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      No, I still think the analogy works.  I just don’t want to digress into the minutia of the Kennedy-Johnson issue.

                      I’m not interested in exaggerating the numbers because to do so would be dishonest.  But even if somehow it were honest, it wouldn’t be necessary, as the quantity and quality of the testimony about a historical Jesus is more than sufficient to anyone with an open mind.

                      Your (and Neil’s) notion that testimony is discredited because of a shared perspective of witnesses is nonsensical.  If you want to argue that someone’ s testimony should be discredited because they have reason to lie, then make it.  But to assert that multiple witnesses testifying to the same fact is reason in and of itself to discount them, or group them as “one source” without corroboration  has no basis in logic.

                      As for including the recipients as witnesses, it absolutely logical to do so if you’re interested in the truth.  If the NT epistles were written to convince readers that Jesus was historical, then I would agree that counting the recipients as witnesses would be inappropriate.  Also, if the epistles never made reference to a historical Jesus, I don’t think it would be right to include the recipients as witnesses – but in that case you wouldn’t be able to consider the authors as witnesses either.  But when the letters reveal that what the senders and recipients had in common was faith in a historical person, then I think it would be foolish to refuse to recognize it.

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      It’s not minutia Mike.  It goes directly to the point of how real historians deal with reports that come from a single perspective.  All you want to do is attack ridiculous straw men.  I haven’t seen anyone argue that “multiple witnesses testifying to the same fact is reason in and of itself to discount them.” 

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      If that’s not how you define “reports that come from a single perspective” then please give your definition.

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      Mike,

                      I don’t know how to go about addressing the significance of reports that come fr0m a single perspective without  getting into the details of the example we have been discussing.  Since you are clearly uninterested in doing that, I can only view your demand for definitions as a smokescreen.

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

                      I am puzzled as to why the issue of bias is considered so relevant to mythicism. If we had a source from someone connected with Socrates or Hillel or any ancient teacher, we would suspect them to be biased in support of the teaching of their master and take that into account. But we do not typically accuse them of being biased in favor of thinking that their teacher existed and thus untrustworthy. On the contrary, in all other instances having a source that knew the person or knew immediate disciples of the person is considered useful evidence. Mythicism stands out as an anomaly in this regard.

                    • Beau Quilter

                      James

                      I’m coming a bit late to this conversation – and I don’t rest in either camp yet. To me, bias is not nearly so much an issue as actual witness.

                      Is it not true, according to the best biblical historical scholarship available, that not a single New Testament writer “knew the person” of Jesus? The books appeared decades after his death, and are clearly not written by the apostles to whom they are attributed. They were either latter attributions, not mentioned in the actual book, or forgeries such as Peter’s letters (as Ehrman points out, Peter the unlettered Galilean fisherman could hardly be expected to write – much less write in fluent Greek.)

                      The only exception is Paul, who never met Jesus in person – unless you count his vision. I suppose Paul could be the one witness who “knew immediate disciples of the person”; but if we’re counting the witness of someone who knew someone, then our witness count is down to exactly ONE.

                      And if we’re only counting actual witnesses, i.e. the witness of someone who actually “knew the person”,  then our count is down to exactly ZERO.

                      Isn’t it?

                      Now, I’m not necessarily saying that an actual face-to-face witness is absolutely required to make a good argument that a person is historical.

                      But “witnesses” seem to be coming up in this conversation an awful lot.

                    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                      Also Dr McGrath – if we’re intrested in studying the founder of almost any pre-modern religious tradition, then I would think the pretty much the only sources we’re going to have on them are the kind of biased sources Jesus deniers reject. Who else would really be interested in preserving details about their lives and teachings other than their followers?

                      Which, following the denial logic through, would surely make them all mythical, every last damn one of them.

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      Paul,

                      I don’t think that it is a case of rejecting them as biased sources as much as treating them as biased sources and recognizing the uncertainties that this creates.

                      However, I don’t think that there can be any doubt that drawing conclusions about pre-modern religious traditions is a very tricky business.  For one thing, when we look at modern religious traditions like Mormonism we can see that followers are often particularly unreliable in preserving details about the lives and teachings of founders.  Is there any reason to think that 1st century Jews and pagans were any less inclined towards superstition, gullibility, wishful thinking, prevarication, and ignorance than 19th century Americans?

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      Dr. McGrath,

                      I agree that having a source that knew the historical Jesus or knew his immediate disciples would be very useful, unfortunately, I don’t find the evidence that any of our sources did sufficiently compelling.  I remain agnostic because it is not clear to me that our earliest sources are claiming anything more than an encounter with a supernatural being who was known only through visions and revelation. 

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      You’re telling me that the only way to understand what you mean by “a single perspective” when applied to the NT documents is to discuss a biography of a 20th-century American politician…and I’m the one putting up a smokescreen?

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      No Mike.  I’m not telling you that, but it really doesn’t seem to matter what I tell you because you are going to attribute some other position to me.

                    • Brettongarcia

                      Mike?  You’re making one logical error, after another factual error.  Your main assumption, is that no 27  first person witnesses could be false, or change testimony. And yet?

                      1)  Scholars suggest the gospels are not by the first-person witnesses that some claim.  One gospel attributes itself to an apostle; but then adds comments by an anonymous “we.”

                      2) In any case, often masses of people are deceived, and report things wrongly. Logically, there are many reasons for a cult to lie, or be mistaken.

                      If all your witness belong to the same gang?  Mightn’t they are be partial and biased?

                      3) Then you assume that the Christian community would not accpet changes in, meddling with, sacred testimony.  But in fact, historically we know, they accepted lots of it.   in the early days, not all the witnesses were speaking; early churches often knew one gospel, or two … but not more.   Not 27.

                      You are assuming that first person witnesses could not issue false testimony; in part also because others would not accept it.  But?  In fact, early churches knew one testimony or apostle, but often not another.  And yet they accepted other testimony , new gospels, now and then.  Changing their canon. Changing wht they thought was holy.  s new books were added constantly to the canon.

                      While  indeed, the Bible/canon, with all its holy witness, was changed drastically by Protestants for example, after 1535; we just dropped, ripped out, seven books of the Bible.

                      4) For that matter?  Various “apostles,” as Paul and John noted, WERE being examined, tested … and rejected.  So that? Editorial changes were being made in sacred writings, continuously; altering alleged 1st person accounts.

                      So regarding your major  underlying assumptions – that 1) the Bible involves say 27 witness, who cannot be wrong; and that 2) their holy testimony cannot be changed; that the Christian community would not accept obvious meddling with holy things?  All that is simply, historically, false.  Even taking into account conventional accounts of early Christian history.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Again, “27 documents” is shorthand.  I think 27 affidavits from 27 different people each saying “Jesus was historical” would be far less impressive evidence than what we have.

                      1) You’re referencing a disputed point, not a settled fact.

                      2) The starting point is to figure out what the people associated with the 27 documents believed about a historical Jesus.  Once you’ve determined that,m you can raise questions about whether or not it makes sense for us to accept their view as true or not.

                      3) You act as if you are unaware that when first-century Christians talked about sacred Scripture, they were almost always talking about writings they had inherited, not writings they were producing.

                      4) The NT documents make fleeting reference to testing apostles; they do not make reference to testing documents.  Canonical disputes were not to come until later.

                      The NT documents speak of many more witnesses to Jesus’ historicity than 27.  But more to the point, I am not arguing on this blog post that they were right (though I certainly believe that they were); rather, I am arguing that they believed Jesus was historical.  If you want to argue that they were wrong about Jesus being historical, then do so.  But arguing that they didn’t believe in a historical Jesus is absurd.

                    • Brettongarcia

                      1) Most scholars believe the gospels are not by the original Twelve Apostles.  While I just noted – unanswered – examples against the assertion that they are.

                      2) The gospels at first appear to some, to be first-person, witness accounts.  But?  We have spent lots of time noting here that so does fiction:  including  historical novels, historical fictions, allegories and parables.  Therefore?  It is not certain the authors of teh gosples believed that jesus was real.  (Or that the apostles were even real). 

                      While for that matter?  The apostles “themselves” often confessed they were sinful and inaccurate.

                      3)  It may – or may not – be true, that when 1st century christians spoke of “scriptures,” they MOSTLY meant Old Testament scriptures.  But it is not certain.  While?  Early bishops spoke of a gospel of “John,” of “Mark,” and so fortyh; clearly NT writings.

                      Then too in any case?  We are not ONLY concerned with the 1st century; much of the editing of the NT, was carried out after that, it seems likely here.

                      4) The NT often refers to “false” things throughout religion; including those who claim to follow the “Lord, Lord.”  Including by name, “apostles.”  Also to false “prophesies,” and so forth:  the content of sacred writings.

                      So that?  None of your main assertions or assumptions, can be simply granted to you.  In fact?  Most of them have been contested here, in previous posts.  At length; and rejected.  Note the very considerable about of material advanced against your second assertion for example:  that the gospels must be true because they seem full of so much detail and conviction.  Our main answer here, is that much of fiction, presents as much historical detail, and a sense of reality.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      During his earthly life and throughout the first century, Jesus was a polarizing figure.  That much hasn’t changed.  

                      I’m not surprised, therefore, that you contest any assertion made about him.  I do wish, however, that you could be more coherent.  

                      And what’s going on with your keyboard that question marks show up randomly in your posts?  That’s not helping either.

                    • Brettongarcia

                      The main thing I am contesting here is the accuracy of the gospels, and/or their alleged 1st century Christian testimony.  First, is the information we get in Mark for example accurate, unabiguous, and clearly nonfictional, in itself. 

                      Next we are noting that almost certainly, whatever original 1st century material there might be that found its way to us today, was changed, edited, added to, after the early 1st century.

                      So the main Historical objection I am raising to common ideas of Christianity, overall, is this:  just how much original, unedited, 1st century, and/or 1st witness Historical material, do we really have.  Even in the gospels it seems likely that we have very, very little original material from 1st century eyewitnesses; or even no material whatsoever.

                      So that:  there is by no means even remotely enough reliable Historical material, to say definitely that a real Historical Jesus actually existed.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Your premises are vague and shaky.  Even if they weren’t, however, the conclusion does not follow from them as the gospels are not all the evidence we have of the first-century social movement called earliest Christianity.

                      It strikes me that the mythicist explanation of Jesus is analogous to the stork explanation of babies.

                    • Brettongarcia

                      It is precisely the evidence from outside apparent 1st century Christian sources, that condemns the Gospels most strongly.  First 1) science notes that miracles do not happen.

                      While 2) there is little or no true, truly independent cultural verification of even the bare existence of early Christianity, outside of itself and its own partial witness.  Some say there is a possibly interpolated mention of them in Josephus; yet surely Jos could not have believed that Jesus was the Christ … without converting.

                      You are defending a person said to perform giant miracles.  Nothing could be more unreliable, than these promises.  And you base your belief – as Neil notes over and over – on mere faith pronouncements, rather than evidence.  Or on subjective pronouncements within the cult.

                      Your belief is based on the shakiest and most vague of assumptions and assertions.  Many of which have been firmly disproven by science and history, moreover.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Ah, you base your rejection of the NT documents on the assumption that what science cannot replicate or explain cannot therefore occur.  How then can you say you have an evidence-based conclusion about the historicity of Jesus?  Your assumption won’t even let the evidence be admitted for examination.

                    • Brettongarcia

                      The case for or against the real, physical, historical existence of Jesus, looks primarily at three different kinds of evidence.  All of which can be shown to testify against that real existence, to varying degrees. 

                      What are the three major testimonies against the literal existence of Jesus?  First, 1) SCIENCE.  The testimony of Science, proves that Jesus’ promises that we ourselves will have miraculous powers, are manifestly false. 

                      Then 2) GENERAL HISTORY, CULTURAL INFORMATION.  Which barely mentions CHristianity at all; perhaps two or three times in the first 100 years or so; and then, merely mentions it as a movement, without supporting it. 

                      Then 3) INTERNAL CHRISTIAN HISTORY, from the Bible, and church histories.  Here, even when we look at this partial, biased evidence, we find find that biblical accounts, even in themselves, are contradictory; sometimes an “I” is said to author a gospel, and other times a “we” for example.  Sometimes the authority of apostles is firmly supported; other times Paul admits that he himself is “imperfect,” even as Paul is in the act of writing his half of the New Testament.  So that internal, biblical evidence essentially … cancels itself out.

                      So given this lack of firm, unequivocal evidence for Jesus, what should we finally say about the real existence of jesus?  Ultimately more and more of us are coming to this conclusion:  that the case against the Historical Jesus, is far, far stronger than the case for him.  Science and history in fact, strongly contradict any claim to historical reality there.

                      That being the case, what should we do?  Finally many of us here, Mythicists, feel that the most vague, conjectural speculations of a mythical nature and origin to Christianity, are at least as valid and real, as the traditional Christian account. And so we concluse that the field of Christianity, should always be open to speculation.  And no one should presume to assert the real existence of Jesus, dogmatically; because there just isn’t any good historical evidence to support that.

                      Indeed if anything?  It appears far more likely her, that Christianity, the tale of Jesus, was a sort of midrashic fiction; one generated by the c. 20 AD intersection of dozens of ANE – Ancient Near East – myths, and misunderstandings.  Particularly it seems likely that Christianity was the result of specifically,  I suggest here, of a sudden, dramatic, “forbidden” merger, of Jewish and Greco-Roman beliefs, in a small minority element of Jewish society.  A merger engineered by already surreptitously half-Hellenized Jews. Like Philo, Jesus, and Paul.  Who wanted to get around Old Testament prohibitions against other gods than the Jewish God; and who inserted a new hybrid “son” of God, “Jesus” into the mix, to accomplish this revolutionary new transition:  the merger of the Jewish god, with … Greco-Roman myths and gods and immortals.  (Like Persephone, the resurrecting goddess,  etc.).

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      You’re not committed to mythicism.  You’re against anything having to do with Christ and His message.  That’s the only common thread of your otherwise largely incoherent posts.  Mythicism is just one more handful of mud to throw against the wall.  

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

                      If the point is quantity versus “quality” or “nature” of the evidence then fully agreed. My point about all early christian documents being effectively from one source- – that of Christianity itself — is pointing to the nature of the sources (irrespective of their numbers). They all come from sources that have a presumed religious interest in propagating belief in Jesus according to whatever their view of him is. That by itself does not mean Jesus did not exist. But in the absence of counter evidence from a relevant time period it does leave the question unresolvable.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      This “common viewpoint” thing is really powerful.  You guys can overturn all sorts of history.  Why not go next to the Jews and tell them that they’ve got to start over because their historical documents are produced by Jews?

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

                      Mike, you are missing the point entirely — I dare not say “deliberately distorting” it. I have never said “a common viewpoint” at all. My goodness. You would appear to be deliberately failing to comprehend what I am saying.

                      And then you jump the rails entirely by suggesting histories written by a common race are by some definition “a common viewpoint” and relevant in this context. I recently posted an embarrassing confession that I had been forced to back down on a certain view of history that I had always strongly believed in: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2012/02/11/ouch-my-own-beliefs-undermined-by-my-own-historical-principles/ So histories written by Australians have very different viewpoints!

                      Histories written by Jews have very different viewpoints, too. See, for example, three different viewpoints on Jesus by Jews at http://vridar.wordpress.com/2012/05/13/1950s-scholarship-on-the-historicity-of-jesus-vardis-fishers-summary/

                      What I have said is “common interest in propagating a belief”. Not that every document is doing specifically that, but we do know that is the common stance of the early Christian authors. Similarly for communist historians in the modern world who wrote a history of international affairs. We can presume they were biased towards interpreting history in a way that promoted the communist ideology. Ditto for Nazi historians, and ditto for historians who believe strongly in the ideological values of the West today.

                      What’s this “you guys” business? I am saying absolutely nothing controversial at all, surely.

                      You never answered my questions. Do you deny that the early Christians had an interest in propagating a belief in Jesus in one form or another?

                      Surely that is self-evident, yes?

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Glad to hear you believe some things can be self-evident.  I hope you’ll practice that belief more often.

                      Sure, the early Christians had an interest in propagating a belief in Jesus – what’s your point?  

                      I said “you guys” because I was speaking to you and Vinny who seemed seemed aligned on that point I was countering.

                      Every historian writes from a context and with a viewpoint.  Some are more willing to sacrifice principle for the sake of ideology than others.  But don’t forget that for the crowd that wrote the New Testament documents their principles were their ideology.  

                      For all your comments and blog posts, Neil, I still find you very opaque.  I feel like there’s something relevant to the discussion that you’re not revealing.  Maybe it’s just that you’ve never given your “full argument.”  I don’t even know whether your withholding is even intentional or not.  But I just can’t get it to add up.  

                      Let me summarize what I hear from you and let you see why it perplexes me.  Though you are not a historian you claim to use the methods of historians to refute the conclusions of historians regarding Jesus.  (That’s puzzling enough, but let me go on.)  You do this because you are interested in Christian origins.  Though you do not believe the evidence for a historical Jesus is compelling you have not presented an alternative history to replace the one we have – yet, to return to the beginning point – you are claiming to be doing history the way it should be done.  If you’re doing history the way it should be done shouldn’t you be presenting a history of Christian origins sans historical Jesus?  If so, where is it?  And if you’re not producing such a history, what are you doing since you’re all about history?  

                      Please fill in the gaps because, try as I might, I cannot figure you out – unless, like Vinny, your commitment is to skepticism.

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

                      Mike, you appear to be looking for something in my discussion and views that is not there and since you do not find it you appear to think I am hiding something. Not so. You are not able to accept what I say, it appears. Is it your own ideological blinders that prevent you from doing this? Are you looking for something sinister or that fits your preconceptions and get confused when you don’t find it?

                      You write:  “Though you are not a historian you claim to use the methods of
                      historians to refute the conclusions of historians regarding Jesus.”

                      You miss the point here. Historians have not “concluded” through investigative research into the historicity of Jesus whether he existed or not. So they have not used their methods to “conclude” that he did not exist. Historians are not machines and are not perfect. Historians are a self-critical bunch and point to each others’ laziness and mistakes. On this particular question the social assumptions are so strong that no-one has publicly in a sustained way examined the existence of Jesus — though anyone interested in the topic soon discovers a number of historians do question Jesus’ existence privately.

                      I have told you before that I do have a number of theories on how Christianity arose and I have discussed these several times. But stop and think. There are many questions in history that historians are at a loss to explain. Theories vary. It doesn’t mean the events didn’t happen or that the analysis of the evidence is wrong.

                      Analysis of the evidence is the first step.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Neil, I don’t attribute any sinister motive to your withholding relevant information about your quest.  As I said, you may not even be aware that you are not giving us the whole story – and apparently this is the case.

                      That something is missing from your explanation, however, is absolutely clear.  You want humanity to reject one of history’s most fundamental convictions about the origin of Christianity (that there was a Palestinian Jew named Jesus crucified under Pontius Pilate) when you don’t even have a conviction to replace it (“I do have a number of theories”).  

                      How far would Copernicus have gotten if his argument had been “Our present conception of the earth’s place in the universe is wrong but I am not committed to any one alternative explanation as there are a number of them”?

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

                      Mike, let’s back up a bit and I will ask you once again to summarize in your own words what my argument is thus far.

                      I will then tell you if there is anything missing in it.

                      What you appear to be saying is that you want me to argue something other than what I am arguing, and because I don’t fit your preconceptions of what you think I should do then there is something at fault with what I am saying.

                      Maybe it is your preconceptions that need revisiting.

                      Anyway, do try again to sum up my position and let me tell you if you have missed anything. If you haven’t, then you can ask me again what it is you think my argument is missing.

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

                      Mike, I have thought a little more about your difficulty you have with my position. I can understand that the alternative I am advancing is not nearly as colourful in story or narrative detail (characters, specific dramatic events, etc) as the traditional story of Christian origins. If anyone has been imbued for a life-time with something so colourful, adventurous and realistic in detail, then the very idea of replacing all of that with a set of uncertainties as to details, with questions, with unknowns, must surely be a hard ask.

                      I can understand that. I wonder if that is where you find the difficulty — I have nothing as precise and colourful to replace your long-held scenario.

                      I can only say that opening up a question to a whole new set of avenues to be explored is for me very exhilarating. The answers are still to be found in the future.

                      We are like Kepler who spent years in enthusiastic pursuit to find out an explanation for the slightest error in the recorded figures for the orbit of Mars. He could see the evidence disproved the generally accepted notion of perfectly circular orbits of the planets. He had to wade through many hypotheses before he finally came to understand the explanation that fit everything — that orbits were elliptical and not circular. Established astronomers poo-poohed his efforts and said the explanation was simple: the recorded information was not meant to be taken literally — allow room for error. But Kepler had reasons for not accepting that cop-out.

                      You are misguided to think that one must have an alternative explanation that is just as colourful, just as detailed and adventurous, as the one that is being challenged. Or even one that is just as satisfying in all other respects.

                      No one who has been accustomed to the old wine desires the new.

                    • Claude

                      This has got to be one of the most patronizing posts from Neil ever, and that’s saying a lot.

                      It’s guys like you who give us atheist/agnostics a bad name. After acres of comments in which Neil extols his superior historical methodology that we only need read two books (that Prof. McGrath himself recommended!) to grasp, I suppose all that’s left is to patiently explain to believers that we are like Kepler and that change is hard. How could anyone resist such an appeal?

                    • Brettongarcia

                      Claude:

                      Well, even the American Revolution, had its polemicists and pamphleteers – like Tom Paine.  I can’t really blame Neil therefore.  

                      Then too in any case, I don’t think Neil is taking ALL the credit for a movement that has had thousands of contributers; and that not long ago began to make “None”s the fastest-growing category of Religious Belief.

                      By the way?  What do you think of my tentative development of “HDD” – Historical Daffy Duck – study?  Anyone like to suggest a more current object of Historicist exploration?  Spongebob Squarepants?  

                      Of course there will be many “Daffy Deniers.”  But we’ll just have to deal with them.

                    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                      Hi BG,

                      I’d call myself a Daffy Mythicist. I don’t think there was ever a real Daffy Duck. As evidence to support my mythicist interpretation of Daffy Duck, I’d point out that Daffy Duck is an animated character created by Tex Avery in 1937 and voiced by the great Mel Blanc.

                      If you’re in any doubts about this, you may wish to check out this interview with Chuck Jones, who directed many Daffy Duck cartoons, in which he talks about the creative process behind the development of the character:

                      http://www.emmytvlegends.org/interviews/people/chuck-jones 

                      Well that about nails the historical Daffy. Now can you show me any comparable evidence that proves your view that Jesus of Nazareth is a mythical figure?

                    • Brettongarcia

                      Paul:   your reference to an alleged interview with Chuck Jones, who “directed” many Daffy Duck cartoons – as if anyone could edit, or “direct” the great Daffy – is to be sure, an “embarrassement” to my case for HDD:  to proving the case for an Historical Daffy. Even though a real Daffy is attested to by live filmed interviews with “Daffy.”

                      However?  Precisely by the “Criterion of Embarrassment”?  The fact that material indicating the real existence of Daffy, is “embarrassed” by this alleged interview with Chuck “Jones,” suggests that perhaps, both accounts were historical.

                    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                      BG – I don’t think you really get the criterion of embarrassment.

                    • Claude

                      Brettongarcia,

                      A standard-bearer for mythicist revivalism is not exactly in the same league as Kepler or Tom Paine! And what evidence exists for the influence of mythicism on the uptick in Nones (which poll are you referring to)? I suspect its impact is negligible.

                      As for your Daffy study, I thought it was looney tunes.

                      /ducking

                    • Brettongarcia

                      Na.  I endorse Neil, the same way I endorse Tom Paine.  Who was by the way, probably an atheist.  And who worked the popular medium of his time:  pamphlets.  In rather exact analogy to Neil.  Who is  a bit polemical to be sure; and who works the popular medium of our time:  the Internet.

                      As regards our savior, the Great Daffy?  It is a shame you have chosen to listen to the infamous heretic/mythicist, Chuck Jones.  You need to listen to the True historicist account.

                      Specially?   Note that the Sacred Embarrassement Criterion, works TWO ways, and in effect validates EITHER ONE of one of TWO embarrassingly different accounts.  In effect, if Account 1 embarrassed account 2,  then likewise, conversely, 2 embarasses 1.  So that?  If our assertion of the HD – Historical Daffy – is embarassed by your alleged interview with the notorious heretic mythicist, Jones?  That strongly suggests that … Daffy is Real!

                      As we believers well know.

                      (As I write, I am lighting a candle to Holy Daffy).

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

                      “Glad to hear you believe some things can be self-evident.  I hope you’ll practice that belief more often.”

                      I do not mean self evident in the sense of just believing a text of unknown provenance and context is true or not just from “common sense” reading of it. I mean self-evident in the sense of seeing the primary evidence for its claims and nature readily at hand — in front of me. Primary contextual and first-hand evidence is all around. That is what makes it self-evident.

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

                      Mike, I did not say “common viewpoint” as far as I recall. So why did you imply that that’s my argument?

                      Then you really jump the rails by suggesting that writers from each race express a common viewpoint in any sense relevant to what we are addressing. That is, well, over-the-top. I recently had to post an embarrassing back-down on a point of history I had long strongly believed in. Other Australian historians had different viewpoints. See http://vridar.wordpress.com/2012/02/11/ouch-my-own-beliefs-undermined-by-my-own-historical-principles/

                      Ditto for the Jews. I have recently posted 3 different viewpoints about Jesus by Jews at http://vridar.wordpress.com/2012/05/13/1950s-scholarship-on-the-historicity-of-jesus-vardis-fishers-summary/

                      What I said was “a common interest in propagating a belief in Jesus in some form” or words to that effect. That is quite different from the very general “common viewpoint”. My point is very specific as to motivation and interest.

                      I am not saying that every NT document is an attempt to get you to believe in Jesus, but you never answered my question. I asked, Do you deny that all the NT authors have a common interest in advancing or upholding a belief in Jesus in some form?

                      Why not answer that? It is not a radical or controversial idea.

                      Nor does it mean that Jesus did not exist.

                      Historians of different political and ideological biases will interpret events to favour their ideological beliefs. Same with religious beliefs, too. That’s not radical. The first thing historians observe when reading the history of the Reformation is whether or not the author they are reading is a Catholic or Protestant. The answer to that does not mean the Reformation did not happen.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Even in a body of literature as small as the New Testament there is a diversity of viewpoints and voices.  

                      On your last paragraph, you are making more sense.  I just haven’t seen you arguing with that kind of logic.

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                       No argument here Neil.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      The first step is not to persuade you that Jesus was a historical person, but to get you to recognize that his contemporaries regarded him as a historical person.  

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

                      Mike, I am trying to persuade you to acknowledge a neutral and valid way of deciding the question; you are trying to persuade me that Jesus existed. So it seems you are not interested in investigating what I am seeking to present. But you want me to believe in an HJ quite apart from methods that are valid and applicable to all evidence of whatever topic.

                      But you will have a hard time convincing me of what his contemporaries thought since ALL our evidence dates to after the time Jesus was no longer on this earth.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      There’s nothing neutral about throwing out 2,000 years of history because you think you know more about history than historians.

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

                      Mike, what on earth are you saying? Have you read anything I have said? I am arguing WITH historians. I am SIDING WITH HISTORIANS.

                      My arguments have all been informed BY HISTORIANS.

                      It is HISTORIANS THEMSELVES who have pointed out the failings of their peers in this and that area or instance of study. SOME historians have been lazy. SOME historians have made logically fallacious arguments. HISTORIANS AND THEOLOGIANS THEMSELVES have pointed to the ignorance of how history works among theologians who presume to write ‘history’. BIBLICAL SCHOLARS have alerted their peers to their circular arguments and reliance upon unsupportable assumptions.

                      It would not be the first time in history that a discipline or general state of knowledge has been found to be built on unexamined assumptions.

                      But why your need for authority in the place of reasoned argument? If historians have established the case then present the arguments. If they have merely assumed the existence of Jesus then note that fact. We are intelligent enough to be able to read what they have written and see the basis of their claims.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      You say you are siding with historians.  Bart Ehrman says he is siding with historians.  Yet, as I understand it, you don’t agree with “Did Jesus Exist?”  Please  explain how this can be.

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

                      Mike wrote: “You say you are siding with historians.  Bart Ehrman says he is siding with historians.  Yet, as I understand it, you don’t agree with “Did Jesus Exist?”  Please  explain how this can be.”

                      Ehrman is siding with their assumption that Jesus existed. Ehrman himself says no-one has “proved” Jesus existed until he came along and wrote his book!

                      I am siding with the methods historians explain and discuss and apply. I am siding with historians (and Ehrman even) when they say that in the case of Jesus no-one has proved Jesus existed. They have all only assumed his existence to begin with. No historian has sat down and investigated with their methods of documentary analysis whether Jesus existed. So none has “concluded” through study that he existed. It has always been an assumption. — So say the historians — and even Ehrman — themselves.

                      Ehrman is the first person in history, as far as he knows, to have attempted to prove Jesus existence as a “historian” — but he only uses the methods of theologians and not those found in nonbiblical historical methodology texts.  He is not treating the evidence the way historians handle other evidence.

                    • Claude

                      I dare you, Neil Godfrey, to ask Bart Ehrman in his public forum why he “only uses the methods of theologians.”

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

                      Claude, that’s a childish response, surely. I know very well why Bart Ehrman uses the methods he does. He explains so himself in his books.

                      But if you are wondering if I am prepared to argue the point with professional scholars then my record shows that I am indeed. Dr McGrath is only one of several professional biblical scholars who has addressed these issues with me.

                      Besides, the scholarly guild has there own peers even raising the same points.

                      So far not one who takes the opposing side of my argument has been prepared to respond with a reasoned reply with reference to the logic of the points made. That, I find, to be most interesting in itself. You’d think if a scholar had an argument he would not respond by refusing to answer the logic of a point with anything except “bloody weird” or “rubbish” or “you’re insane”. But as Robert Eisenman has said at http://vridar.wordpress.com/2012/05/16/robert-eisenman-interview-and-opportunity-to-engage-in-discussion/

                      Don’t allow yourselves to be defeated or discouraged by any hostile ‘academicians’ or reputed ‘scholars’. These, in the end will always be the hardest either to influence or bring over to the kind of thinking you represent since they have the most to lose by either acknowledging or entertaining it, largely because they would be seen as somewhat ridiculous by their peers if they were to deny the whole thrust of their previous academic work and training.

                    • Claude

                      Come on, Neil, show Bart Ehrman how it’s done! He needs you!

                    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                      Claude, Neil is indeed not shy of attacking the scholarly establishment (i.e. people who actually have relevant qualifications in the topic they are discussing). 

                      I wonder if you read Hoffmann’s assessment of his contribution to Biblical Studies? 

                      …the endorsement of amateurs by amateurs is becoming a rampant, annoying and distressing problem for biblical scholarship—one that apparently others in my discipline think will go away by assuming, as I do not, that saner heads will prevail. We can just ignore the provocative ignorance of Myers, Jerry Coyne, Neil Godfrey, and Richard Carrier et al. like so many mosquitoes.

                      Except mosquitoes are tough to ignore, and some carry Dengue and Malaria.  If the last two years has proved anything, it is that the spawn of the new atheist movement, like Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction, will not be ignored. Insult works. Spew works.  Faitheist baiting works. What works works.

                      The disease these buggers spread is ignorance disguised as common sense. They are the single greatest threat, next to fundamentalism, to the calm and considered academic study of religion, touting the scientific method as their Mod Op while ignoring its application to historical study.

                    • Claude

                      Hi Paul,

                      Yes, I did chortle over Hoffmann’s screed. If Carrier were half so entertaining I might’ve read part two of his barrage against Did Jesus Exist?.

                      I suppose Neil will now write a patronizing retort to the effect that it is not wit but truth that is at issue. There, Neil, I saved you the trouble; more time to sacrifice a lamb to your great god scientism.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Ehrman’s misjudgment was to think that producing a book for which mythicists were clamoring would satisfy them.

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

                      Mike wrote: “Ehrman’s misjudgment was to think that producing a book for which mythicists were clamoring would satisfy them.”

                      Mike, have you read Ehrman’s book? He says in the opening pages it was NOT written for mythicists and was not intended in the slightest to engage with them.

                    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                      by simple definition they all come from “the one source”, Christianity itself.

                      Wow Mike, that’s one wiiiiiiiiiiide definition of source. 

                      I own a nice book called “The Heretics Feast”, a history of vegetarianism written by a vegetarian – I hereby consign it to the flames.

                      Anyway Mike, I must go. I’m just off to anything to ransack my book collection – if I find anything about Buddhism by Buddhists, or indeed anything written about Marxism by Marxists, Philosophy by Philosophers, or European History by Europeans I’m going to burn it. Neil’s completely right, it can’t be trusted to have accurately preserved even the most basic historical facts.

                      I suspect my historical thinking will be much clearer by the end this process (and my bookshelf somewhat less booky and rather more ashy)

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

                      One might also note that if one opts to avoid the arguments for and against the authenticity of the 1 Thess passage and accept by fiat that it is a true belief of Paul’s, then it follows that Paul is speaking of a belief that later found itself dramatized in the Gospel of Peter — where the Jews themselves, not the Romans, crucify the Lord.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      If unrestrained speculation is allowed, then anyone can propose that any passage is an interpolation.  However, anchoring ourselves in the text as history provides it to us is the wiser course.  The science of textual criticism is not reticent to highlight  suspect passages in our Bibles, as is clearly the case with the Comma Johanneum.  What’s remarkable is how few such passages in our Bibles there are.  

                      Given the vast number and varied backgrounds of biblical scholars, especially when you consider all of them who have ever lived, it’s not hard to imagine that you could always find some scholars who take some position you want to hold.  However, and this is true for history in general as well, when a clear majority of textual critics agree about the reliability and integrity of a text we ought not to reject such a view out of hand just because it presents us with facts that we don’t like.  

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

                      You’ve completely lost here on this one, Mike. I spoke of the the need to examine the arguments for and against. It is not sound practice to ignore arguments that we fear would undermine our long-held assumptions and blithely (without even examining them) label them “unrestrained speculation”. How can you possibly refer to Pearson’s and others’ arguments in such terms?

                      Nor is it sound methodology to simply say that the text we have is as good as “the original” on the grounds that it is what some abstract notion of “history” has bequeathed to us. It is history that we are investigating. We know very well that the ancient world was awash with a culture of interpolations in both biblical and nonbiblical literature. To ignore this fact is to ignore history.

                      To suggest that it is possible to find some opinion somewhere that will support my prejudice is, in effect, an ad hominem argument and a slur against my motives and integrity in pursuing the historical evidence in the most honest way I believe I can. Such a suggestion also demonstrates that you have no idea what the history or status of the arguments are that you are dismissing.

                      You are accusing me of cherry-picking obscure references to support my prejudice. That is not a valid argument against the points that are widely known and respected and even embraced in the literature, and is a personal insult.

                      Let’s try to argue the facts and not dismiss facts or another’s “truths” because they do not conform to what you want.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      While I don’t at all agree with your rationale for considering 1 Thess :15-16 as spurious, for discussion’s sake I will amend your stipulation to the seven letters of Paul minus 1 Thess 2:15-16.  

                      Now please help me understand how you see the people associated with these letters believing in something other than a historical Jesus who had been raised from the dead.

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

                      Hi Mike, you say you don’t agree with my rationale for thinking a passage to be spurious. But I have not given you my rationale. I have referred to it when I spoke of engaging with the arguments for and against. I have posted my rationale with an examination of the arguments for and against but that covered several posts and is hardly suitable for presentation here. So how can you say you don’t agree with my rationale if you haven’t read my rationale? Or have you read my old posts explaining the rationale and addressing the evidence pro and con?

                      I see you are not interested in my argument anymore. You are only interested in insisting that I believe that Paul believed in an historical Jesus or you will not even listen to my argument. Fair enough. That’s where you are coming from.

                      But I think I may have addressed your question in the post I was preparing when you sent this one of yours. My understanding of ancient thought is that the idea of ‘historical’ was a far woollier concept for them than it is for us. We must beware of anachronistic thinking.

                      I am in two minds about how to interpret Paul’s letters. One of those “minds” has long held that Paul believed in a being who descended from heaven to earth in human form to die and be resurrected. I accept that as a legitimate interpretation of Paul’s letters, though I can also see good arguments against one aspect of it. But the one thing I find nowhere in Paul’s letters is a Galilean preacher or healer who was crucified by Pilate. The evidence of Paul is that this person who descended to earth was not even given the name above all names, Jesus/Jason/Healer (I am alluding here to the research of the classicist John Moles — who, by the way, is by no means a mythicist yet who has expressed approval of the way I treated his article on my blog) until after his resurrection and ascension. If such a being appearing on earth like this can be considered “historical” then yes, I agree Paul arguably believed in an historical Jesus.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      I thought you had given me your rationale for rejecting 1 Thess 2:15-16 when you said you thought it was “inconsistent with Paul’s sentiments toward the Jews” and said that “many scholars” agree with this point of view.

                      In any case, it didn’t make sense to me to tie up the broader discussion quibbling about one passage so I merely withdrew it from my argument per your wishes.

                      As for what you said in the rest of this comment, I am quite pleased.  I can go to bed tonight feeling like you and I live on the same planet.

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

                      I might also draw attention to a value laden word you yourself use. “Evidence”. Evidence presupposes evidence for something. But it is begging the question to begin with the presumption that the Gospels, say, are evidence for a historical Jesus. That is the question we want to determine. We can’t begin with that presumption. I don’t know if you were making this presumption but I mention it now for what it’s worth to set all our cards out on the table.

  • Brettongarcia

    I would disagree that most Biblical scholars are quite comfortable with the fact that much of the Bible stems from, comes from, human longing to believe in something, and especially in say, God or Jesus.  And I would disagree that scholars validate that longing.

    Many scholars will note a common subjective desire, as the origin of  most religion.  But the authors mostly, merely objectively note this subjective desire, that is at the root of religious senitments:  they do not approve, or disapprove of it. 

    While?  Most scholars are very rational people; who feel generally, that mere subjective longings, are not a reliable or sound foundation for our lives.

    Such conclusions are generally left unstated, to be sure.  and are left up to the individual to notice, or not notice. Deduce, or not deduce.  See, or not see.

  • Claude

    Mythicists have had a field day making fun of Bart Ehrman’s admission that when Paul swears he’s not lying, Ehrman generally believes him.

    But if we think of Paul as a liar and his references to the crucified Messiah as metaphors or interpolations, sure, the game is wide open.

  • Brettongarcia

    By the way?  Thanks to EVERYONE for a GREAT conversation! 

    Even aside from any early or even last-minute explosions, this has been a really good conversation.  And if you’d like to “like” this on the thumbs-up sign, it would be helpful.  To mark this conversation for future reference, to yourself …. and others.

    Claude:  regarding Paul’s references to others having seen a crucified Messiah?  Possiby 1) interpolations; or 2) simply Paul repeating  rumors.  As he often does.   Paul not having spoken much about Jesus, “with any man.”  And Paul having spent only a short time (a bare two weeks?) in Jerusalem - before being asked to leave, and preach only “to the gentiles.”

    By the way?  Vinny’s Blogger blog, reports Vinny cornering Ehrman on a point – and apparently getting a concession out of Ehrman himself.

    I expect that some day, Ehrman will come back to the fold.  Thanks to Vinny’s and others’ efforts.

    • Claude

      Yes, Vinny and Steven Carr had a vigorous debate over Gal 1:19 with Ehrman on Ehrman’s blog. If there was a concession it was to Carr that Luke in Acts does not identify James the head of the church as the brother of Jesus. To have made that slip Ehrman must strongly identify that James as Jesus’s brother!

      I actually find Ehrman’s “everybody knew who James was” solution satisfactory, however speculative it might be. If Luke was Mr. Accurate I’d be more concerned, and the whole Council scene in Acts is dramatized, anyway. I admired Vinny’s argument, though, that the James in Acts 15 and 21 is more likely James the son of Alphaeus.

      It seems to me that crucifixion was too public and horrifying a spectacle to lend itself to rumor. Wasn’t the whole point of crucifixion to inspire terror of the state into as many witnesses as possible? Paul was a contemporary of these witnesses. And I find Paul to be a credible narrator, however polemical.

      • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

        Claude,

        As a general rule, I find “everybody knew it” arguments to be no less problematic than  “nobody would invent it” arguments.  You are correct that Steven deserves credit for securing the admission (especially for his ability to do so without his customary bombast), but I’m glad that you liked my argument about the son of Alphaeus.  I also made another argument in a different comment:  Luke’s prologue indicates that he is writing his gospel because he didn’t find earlier attempts sufficient.  My guess is that he expected his account to be the definitive one, but even if he didn’t, when he specifically changes something he finds in one of his sources, I think we have to assume that he thought the source hadn’t gotten it right.  As Luke drops Mark’s reference to Jesus having a brother named James, my guess would be either that he thought Mark was wrong about it or that he didn’t want anyone to make the mistake of thinking that any of the Jameses in his story were that man.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

          As Luke drops Mark’s reference to Jesus having a brother named James, my guess would be either that he thought Mark was wrong about it or that he didn’t want anyone to make the mistake of thinking that any of the Jameses in his story were that man.

          Or Luke just wants to downplay the importance of Jesus’ earthly family.

          Mark and Paul seem to agree that Jesus had a brother called James but Luke omits the reference to James the brother of Jesus in the story of the rejection at Nazareth (Mark 6:3, Luke 4.22, Matt 13:55). Matthew also seems happy with the tradition that Jesus had a brother called James.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

             Paul,

            Neither Mark nor Matthew give any indication that any members of Jesus’ family ever were ever part of the community of believers, but Luke tells us in Acts 1:14 that his mother and brothers were in the upper room with the apostles.   I think that would make Jesus’ family more important in Luke that in either Mark or Matthew and no less important than in Paul.  

            • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

              Vinny,

              If we’re to believe the NT, Jesus’ family seem to only join the movement after Jesus death, so Mark and Matthew would not have needed to include Jesus family in the group of believers (though I wouldn’t rule out that Mark and Matthew are also downplaying the importance of Jesus family, to an extent). 

              I’m not sure that I agree that Jesus’ family is as important in Luke as it is in Acts as it is in Paul. If I’m right, Luke downplays James’ importance by not explicitly naming him as the brother of Jesus. If you’re right, he seems to have actually airbrushed him out of history completely!

              My Greek isn’t that good, but I’ve checked the Greek text and it seems to me that in Acts 1;14 Jesus’ family is getting tacked on at the end of a list – Peter, John, James, Andrew, all the disciples everyone forgets the name of, “the women”, Jesus’ mum, then Jesus’ (nameless) brothers. Hardly pride of place and no mention that they have any particular status. By contrast in Paul, it would seem that James is an apostle (Gal 1:19),  that he is important enough to be able to be able to give Peter a slapdown (Gal 2:12), while Jesus other brothers seem to be granted similar status and/or privileges to the apostles (1 Cor 9:5).

              • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                If you’re right, he seems to have actually airbrushed him out of history completely!

                No.  If I’m right, then Luke honestly doesn’t think that the James in Acts 15 & 21 is the biological brother of Jesus and he doesn’t think that any of Jesus’ brothers ever did anything that warranted mentioning them by name.   For all we know, Luke may have never have heard any of the names Mark mentions applied to any of the brothers who were in the upper room.  For all we know, Luke may never have seen Paul’s letter to the Galatians and may not know that Paul ever referred to someone named James the brother of the Lord. 

                If we are required to harmonize all the accounts in the New Testament, then perhaps we should conclude that Jesus’ family didn’t join the movement until after his death, but I think we have to allow for the possibility that different writers had different ideas on the subject.  John plainly thinks that his mother was involved all along, but not his brothers.  Given their nativity stories, it is hard to believe that Luke and Matthew didn’t see at least his mother as one of the gang from the start.   I wouldn’t think that Acts would put his brothers in the upper room if they hadn’t been part of the group for a while, but that’s just a guess.  I wouldn’t guess that Mark thought any part of his family was ever involved.  If you go outside the New Testament, you find apocryphal works that make James one of Jesus’ followers prior to the crucifixion.

        • Claude

          Hi Vinny,

          I read your other comment somewhere, admired it and should have mentioned it. (By the way, I didn’t mean to take anything away from the challenge you presented to Ehrman.)

          The thing about Luke is, despite his aim to get it right, he often gets it wrong. Luke’s Apostolic Council bears little resemblance to Paul’s private meeting with those “who are held to be the pillars of the church,” and I tend to go with Paul. Paul’s admissions of being a wretched sinner and a fool, etc. (that Brettongarcia mentioned) I think are mainly rhetorical devices. Though I’ve certainly not read closely enough to say with confidence.

          It is curious that Luke didn’t identify James as the brother of Jesus. (And that the interpolators didn’t take care of business here.) Since Luke was so concerned to establish the pedigree of the church in Jerusalem, you’d think he’d mention it. But–I also don’t know why he offered three irreconcilable versions of the Road to Damascus, either.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            Claude,

            I think that I would agree that between the two, Luke/Acts should be taken with the bigger grain of salt.  It is easier to see how Luke’s account might be corrupted more by his apologetic purposes (whatever they were) than Paul’s.   Nevertheless, I’m still disappointed that Ehrman didn’t even notice that Acts doesn’t identify James as Jesus’ brother because surely the lack of corroboration has to count somewhat against the weight that can be placed on Galatians.

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

              Vinny, might I ask why it “has to be” counted against the evidence of Galatians, given its late date, and why/whether the evidence from Luke-Acts for a historical Jesus doesn’t have comparable weight for you that “must be counted” when it fills in gaps in earlier sources.

              • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                Dr. McGrath,

                Between James the son of Alphaeus and Luke dropping Mark’s reference to Jesus having a brother named James, Acts weakens the case for James being the biological brother of Jesus.  Maybe Galatians combined with Mark, Matthew, and Josephus is still sufficient, but I don’t know how you get around the fact that the simplest reading of Acts pulls in the other direction.  It might be reasonable not to put a great deal of weight on Acts and you might be persuaded by the “everybody knew it” argument, but you would still have to assess the probability of James being the biological brother as higher if Acts corroborated it.   Therefore, you have to assess the probability as lower by virtue of Acts failure to corroborate.

                I have seen the consistent tradition concerning James’ biological relationship with Jesus cited many times, but the fact of the matter is that Acts is inconsistent.  It may be possible to explain the inconsistency but it is still has  to be acknowledged.  That Ehrman doesn’t seem even to have noticed the inconsistency suggests to me that he didn’t understand the arguments that mythicists  make nearly as well as he thought he did and that he didn’t put enough effort into thinking about alternative readings of the texts. 

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

                  I understand your point about James and Luke-Acts, Vinny. My question is about using late sources to qualify the impression cnsistently given by earlier ones, and whether it is inconsistent to allow the later Luke-Acts to trump or at least qualify the impression given by Galatians and Mark about James the brother of Jesus, but to ignore the evidence Luke-Acts and indeed all the Gospels provide that the apostles whom Paul met were historical individuals who had been followers of a historical Jesus.

                  To put it another way, is it not perhaps possible that you are more open to “correctives” in later sources if they seem to lessen the case for a historical Jesus than if they seem to support such a case?

                  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                    Dr.  McGrath,

                    Of course it’s possible!    However, based on the manner in which the issue usually arises in my discussions, I don’t that’s what I am doing here. 

                    My basic position is that the first order of business is to let Paul, as our earliest source, speak for himself without reading later sources back into him.  Our best evidence for what Paul knew and understood is what he wrote, and later sources may reflect ideas that arose after his time.  Only after we have established a range of plausible interpretations by working with Paul standing alone should we start looking at later sources to determine whether they shed any light on the questions that might cause us to assess one interpretation as more likely than another.  

                    It is usually the pattern in my discussions that I am making some argument about the meaning or significance of “James the brother of the Lord” based solely on what we find in Paul when someone starts talking about the “consistent tradition” of James being the biological brother of Jesus.  Over on Dr. Ehrman’s blog, I asked him whether his certainty about Paul’s reference to “the brother of the Lord” was consistent with the uncertainty he has expressed elsewhere about the transmission of Galatians from the autographs to the earliest extant manuscripts.   My question made no reference to anything other than Paul’s writings.  As part of his response, Dr. Ehrman made the claim that “we know from other sources that the James who headed the church in Jerusalem was in fact known to be the brother of Jesus.”  Only after that did I argue that the other sources are not really consistent on the James question.

                    So I do not think that I am cherry picking the later sources for information that supports my interpretation of Paul while otherwise discarding them.   I think that I am using the later sources in this case only to rebut the claim that the New Testament paints a consistent picture of the relationship between Jesus and James.  I think the context of my argument got lost somewhat between Dr. Ehrman’s blog and here.  

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

                      Thanks for clarifying how you see this, Vinny! I think it is important not to simply read later sources back into earlier ones. But we also have to take seriously that Paul refers to a crucified Jesus the Anointed One whom he feels no need to introduce to the Christian recipients of his letters, and so it doesn’t seem to me that cautiously using sources which are not much later than Paul’s letters – such as the Gospel of Mark, for instance – is inappropriate. And I often see mythicists deliberately trying to drive a wedge between Paul and later sources even when they fit together and complement one another in a fairly straightforward manner. I think some mythicists, perhaps in reaction against previously having worked hard to harmonize the NT texts, work very hard to get them to seem completely at odds with one another (on some details, at least). Scholarship should be about treating all the relevant evidence in a careful, critical manner that is neither hyperskeptical nor credulous, in my opinion.

                      Be that as it may, if Galatians and the earliest Gospels seem to agree on Jesus having had a brother named James, do you think that the perspective of what may be one of the latest works in the NT creates a situation in which Jesus having had a brother becomes unlikely? Why would this not still be “more probable than not” in your opinion?

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      Dr. McGrath,

                      Following my approach, one of the possibilities I come up with is that Paul doesn’t think that Jesus had an earthly ministry and he doesn’t think that anyone he knew had been personally acquainted with the earthly Jesus.  Ehrman points out that some scholars think that the earliest Christians believed that Jesus was adopted by God as Son and messiah only upon the resurrection.  If that is so, then there might be no particular reason for Paul or anyone else to care about anything an earthly
                      Jesus said or did since the earthly Jesus wasn’t the Lord yet.  It seems to be theologically important to Paul that the risen Christ had once been a flesh and blood man who walked the earth, but the details of than man’s life are insignificant because he may be little more than a placeholder whose only function is to get himself killed so that he can be exalted through the resurrection.  It is not the only possibility for what Paul thought, but it’s one of them.

                      After establishing that as a possibility, I ask myself whether any of the later writings give me sufficient reason to discard it.  That’s where I run into the problem.  An early date for Mark’s gospel puts it pretty close to the time of Paul’s writings but the scholarly consensus allows for the possibility of it being a couple decades after Paul as well.  Moreover, while Paul’s letters indicate that his version of the gospel had spread pretty widely by the 50’s, it is very difficult to say when Mark’s gospel achieved significant penetration.  Regardless of the date we assign to the composition of Mark, it is difficult to establish widespread circulation and acceptance before some time well into the second century.

                      So I am left with the conclusion that it may or may not be appropriate use Mark to fill out the picture of Paul’s Jesus.  I don’t think that I see a strong enough hook to hang that on.  I find it very difficult to eliminate the possibility that Mark’s Jesus represents a fairly radical departure from Paul which didn’t become widely accepted until much later.   Again, it’s not the only possibility, but it’s one of them.  

                      I agree that hyper-skepticism is inappropriate, but I think I have plenty of reason to doubt that mainstream scholarship has struck the right balance.  That one of the best scholars in the field didn’t notice that Acts doesn’t corroborated James’ biological relationship to Jesus suggests to me that assumptions are not being questioned nearly often enough, particularly given that the scholar claimed certainty “beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt” based on that relationship. I suspect that the extent to which the sources agree about James is perceived by mainstream scholars as being much more substantial than it really is.

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

                      Thanks, Vinny. I’m still not getting the impression of the balance you say you are aiming for. Why does one single source which may be very late in the New Testament period simply not mentioning something cause you to doubt the combined testimony of earlier sources, but the combined testimony of all the Gospels, early and late, you doubt because they are in your view at least open to interpretation as being at odds with Paul. Why is the early testimony of Paul and the earliest Gospels being ignored in one case and embraced in the other?

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      I would say it’s because I don’t see that they combine to all that much.  You’ve got Paul referring to a man named James as “the brother of the Lord” and you have Mark saying that Jesus had a brother named James.   It was a pretty common name as Mark also mentions two other men named James.   I don’t think that either Mark or Paul give us enough information to determine with any confidence that they are talking about the same person.  There is nothing about Mark’s James that would make us think that he was ever a follower of his brother even though at the time Mark wrote it was likely known that there had been a man named James who was prominent in Jerusalem.  There is nothing in Paul to suggest that a biological relationship with the earthly Jesus carried any weight with him.  In fact, I would say that there is nothing in Paul to suggest that any sort of relationship with the earthly Jesus carried any weight.  

                      I think the significance of Acts is that as early as the late first century there were already people who didn’t think it was proper to identify the James who led the the church in Jerusalem as Jesus’ biological brother.  If I thought that Galatians 1:19 and Mark 6:3 convincingly established the connection, I might be inclined to look for some other motivation for the omission in Acts, but I don’t think that the earlier writings do much more than raise the possibility.  Acts may only be one source, but we only have about three or four sources total.  Moreover, Acts may deserve more weight because the connection between the James in Acts and the James in Galatians is much clearer than either one’s connection to the James in Mark.

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

                      I still don’t get it. If we have two sources within roughly a decade of one another, both relatively early, referring to a James who is the brother of the (Lord) Jesus, and then a text perhaps several decades later than that which neither confirms nor denies that point explicitly, why does that seem to you to be significant? It seems to me that if we are doing the only thing that historians can – assessing what is most likely given the available evidence – then we have early evidence pointing (independently in at least some instances) in a single direction and then  a late source which is at best neutral on the matter – not explicitly confirming or contradicting what the earliest sources say.

                      The issue is not whether a biological relationship with Jesus carried weight with Paul. The issue is whether Paul and Mark both were aware that Jesus had brothers and provide evidence of that fact.

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      Dr. McGrath,

                      I think that a historian has to look at all the evidence from as many different angles as possible and to consider all the implications of combining the evidence in different ways.   Any combinations that cannot be eliminated must be accepted as legitimate possibilities.  You have suggested one legitimate way to look at the evidence, but I think that there are others.

                      We have two first century sources, Acts and Galatians, that refer to man named James who was a Christian leader in Jerusalem.  These two sources overlap a great deal in terms of characters and time frames.  The conclusion that these two sources are referring to the same James is quite strong.  One of the sources refers to this James as “the brother of the Lord,” however; this source shows very little interest in anything Jesus did during his time on earth as a man and may not even believe that Jesus was the Lord when he lived on earth as a man.  The other source intentionally omits any reference to this James being biologically related to the earthly Jesus.  He may even be indicating that this James was another man who was not the biological brother of Jesus.   When I combine these two sources, I come to the conclusion that the likelihood that James is related to Jesus is not very high. 

                      I also have a third source, Mark, which overlaps the other two much less than they overlap each other in terms of time frames and events.  This source is closer in time to both of the other sources than they are to each other.  It contains no references to a man named James who is a Christian leader in Jerusalem, but it does refer to a James who is the biological brother of Jesus.   Other than the word “brother,” this source provides no details that would identify this James as the same one referred to in either of the other sources.  Does the third source make the conclusion I reached based on the first two sources less likely?  Is proximity in time of composition more important than similarity in content?  If so, what are the methodological justifications?

                      To me the case for James being the biological brother of Jesus doesn’t look all that convincing.  It’s possible, but I can’t see it as any more than one of several possibilities.  When the evidence is inconclusive, I think that the historian has to acknowledge that.

                    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

                      No.  If I’m right, then Luke honestly doesn’t think that the James in Acts 15 & 21 is the biological brother of Jesus and he doesn’t think that any of Jesus’ brothers ever did anything that warranted mentioning them by name.

                      Hi Vinny,

                      If you’re right that Luke doesn’t think the James of Acts is Jesus brother then I agree that he can’t be airbrushing him out of Acts. I was referring to removing the reference to James (and Jesus’ other brothers) Luke finds in Mark. I don’t think that Luke knows Galatians, or indeed any of Paul’s other letters.

                      I do however, find it less problematic to think that Luke’s James is the same person as the James of Paul and Josephus and Mark, and is Jesus brother. It might not be as explicit as you might wish, but I think Luke’s picture is consistent with Paul and Josephus and for me it’s simpler and raises fewer secondary difficulties than thinking that Luke is writing about some other James. I don’t think your reading is by any means impossible, I just like mine better :-)

                      I think the question about the connection between Jesus family and the early Christian movement is an interesting one. I think it’s quite possible that Jesus family did have a more prominent role during Jesus’ career than we might think from the gospels (given their apparent importance in Paul), but I could also see why it would be natural that Jesus’ death (or the events before and after it) might have drawn Jesus’ family and his followers closer together than they had previously been. I don’t think there’s enough evidence to say either way. 

                      I’m not sure it works to project the infancy narratives onto the story of Jesus’ career, since most NT scholars would argue that the infancy narratives are a later creation. Psychologically it would seem odd that Jesus family didn’t get him, given the whole angels kings and shepherds thing that they don’t seem to understand that Jesus is the Messiah from day one (I mean hadn’t they even seen a nativity play)? However, I just don’t think that it would have or could have occurred to Matthew and Luke to give their characters’ actions psychological plausibilty. It’s simply not how they thought.

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      Paul,

                      I’ve always figured that the reason that Matthew and Luke dropped Mark’s reference to Jesus’ family thinking he was crazy because it didn’t make much sense in light of the nativity narratives.

                      As far as Josephus goes, I don’t see anything there to indicate that his James is any sort of leader among the Christians.  I think it is possible that his James could be someone who was actually biologically related to Jesus, but not the same James as in Acts or Galatians.

                      It seems to be the accepted wisdom that doubts about the relationship between James and Jesus arose out of the desire to affirm the perpetual virginity of Mary, but it seems to me that there was always considerable ambiguity about the relationship.

  • Brettongarcia

    Vinny:  sorry if I misreported your position; thanks in any case for your efforts.

    By the way; could anyone remind me why Paul reporting this “James the brother of Jesus” factotum is considered so important to the Historicist case?  If 1) the gospels were largely fiction; and 2) for that matter, Paul himself was – even by his own admission  not that reliable.

    Note that Paul admitted himself, that he was im”perfect,” even as he was in the act of witing his half of the NT (Php. 3.12).   He sometimes called himself, firmly, a “fool.”  And though he other times retracted that, he did also call himself the “worst of sinners.”  (1 Tim. 1.15)  Telling us too that “all have sinned” (Rom) , including evidently himself.  Nor does it seem Grace removed those sins, even while he was writing his half of the NT.  Even as Paul conflicted with these other “reputed pillars” of the church; even calling Peter/Cephas a “hypocrite.”

    Here we suggest that Paul’s writings were among the original, more reliable writings in the NT.  But even then?  Paul himself had lots of problems.  And was not always very supportive of the authority/reality of those who went before him.  Like “James,” whoever he was.

    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

      I don’t think you have misreported my position.  You simply gave me too much credit for Ehrman’s admission.

      I think that Gal 1:19 is significant in that without it I don’t think we have any indication that Paul thought that any of his contemporaries knew the earthly Jesus personally.   Ehrman says that it is one of the two key points that “shows beyond a shadow of reasonable doubt that Jesus must have existed as a Palestinian Jew who was crucified by the Romans.”  I don’t think that it can bear anywhere near that kind of weight.

      • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

        Then to what was Paul referring in 2 Cor 5:16 when he wrote “…even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, we know him thus no longer”?

        • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

           I’m not really sure Mike, but it doesn’t look to me like it has anything to do with anyone knowing the earthly Jesus personally since neither Paul nor likely any of his readers did.

          • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

            If you don’t think the expression “according to the flesh” refers to an earthly existence, to what do you think it refers?

            • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

              Where did I say that I didn’t think it referred to an earthly existence?  Why do you spend so much time trying to put words in my mouth?  It could refer to an earthly existence of Jesus without referring to a personal acquaintance.  It could also refer to the earthly existence of Paul and his followers rather than the earthly existence of Jesus.   “In the flesh” might mean “in Paul’s flesh” rather than “in Jesus’ flesh.”

              • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                If your first possibility is true doesn’t it argue against mythicism?  

                If your second possibility is true how could Paul and his followers no longer have an earthly existence?

                Contrary to your perception, I am not trying to put words in your mouth.  I am trying to understand you.  We are not in a face-to-face discussion and we don’t have the benefit of body language.  I’m doing the best I can to draw out your view and compare it to mine so that whatever is true in whole or part might prevail.

                • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                  If mythicism necessarily means a pre-resurrection Jesus who is purely celestial, then yes I think it would argue against mythicism.  However, if you weren’t working so hard to put the words “I’m a mythicist” in my mouth, you would know that I am not troubled by the idea that Paul thought of the pre-resurrection Jesus as a flesh and blood man.  

                  Do Paul and his followers no longer have an earthly existence or do they now have another way of knowing Christ?

                  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                    On your first paragraph, I know you are a fence-sitter (for other readers: that’s a self-description by you, not a pejorative term from me) and I am trying to help you decide which side of the fence makes more sense.  I’m glad you acknowledge the difficulty this point poses for mythicism.

                    On your second paragraph, I think it’s clear from Phil 1:23-24 that Paul doesn’t think he’ll leave the flesh until he dies.

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                       I’m glad you’re glad.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

    Since posting the above I see Paul has admitted he is not interested in charitable civil discourse contrary to Mike’s misplaced judgement of his online persona.
    So it appears that there is not a single person here who has the slightest interest in civil engagement with one defending a view that a historical Jesus was not responsible for Christianity.

    Neil, I said nothing of the sort. And it is glaringly obvious that you are not even capable of explaining a view that a historical Jesus was not responsible for Christianity, much less defending it.

  • Brettongarcia

    Neil:

    I very strongly support your efforts, and thank you VERY much for all you do.  I know it is tough taking the position that you do; and I thank you for it. 

    In this matter of “faith documents,” I am trying to make a case for you; that you might have inadvertantly come up with a useful term.  That is?  The books of the Bible, even according to their own testimony, often stress that the way we come to God, is not so much through seeing phsyical, historical evidence, but through “faith.”  That is, believing without seeing physical, real, historical evidence.

    And so I think that there’s something here that supports our case, against the Historicality of Jesus:  that is, the New Testament is itself, often (if not always) more or less giving up on the Historical Jesus, and “proving” Jesus.  It is telling us that it is not appealing to physical, historical evidence at all.

  • Brettongarcia

    The Bible very often, seems to want to stress the real, physicality of Jesus.  On the other hand however?  What hapens when Paul especially, began to say that the essence of Christianity, is “faith”?  That is, roughly, in believing in our mind, without seeing convincing physical evidence?

    Then in effect, in its new emphasis on “faith,” the Bible was simply caving in; and conceding the case against a real, physical Jesus. 

    The Bible itself was, now and then, all-but admitting it didn’t have a good, convincing case for a physically, Historically real Jesus.  And?  No now it was  asking us frankly, to just “believe” in a Jesus, WITHOUT EVIDENCE. 

    I am (tentatively) arguing here that therefore, the NT – or especially Paul, with his huge emphasis on “Faith” – was simply conceding the case against an Historical Jesus.

  • Brettongarcia

    Objection # 1 to Mike’s defense:  “faith document.”  In point of fact, many documents and statements in Christianity, admit they are not trying to present well-documented, factually-convincing accounts:  they are asking us to accept them, just on “faith.”  Not on the basis of factual evidence. 

    Therefore?  Faith documents – which include most religious, Christian documents and claims, to some degree – cannot be offered in support of a physical, historical, documented Jesus.  Since from the beginning, they have told us that this was not their intention.  Since they have from the start, eschewed and even disavowed the importance, of presenting any such evidence.  nd since therefore, they are not likely to have paid much effective  attention to the rules of evidence

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Brettongarcia,

      You are partially right.  None of the NT documents were written for the purpose of providing evidence that Jesus was historical.  That doesn’t mean Jesus wasn’t historical, however – it just means none of the documents were written to or about mythicists.

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    So is it your position that it is absolutely clear that Gal. 1:19 and Mark 6:3 are referring to the same person?  Are there any other possibilities that are worthy of consideration?

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

      It is always worth considering other possibilities, and few things are ever absolutely clear. But I do think that once all the possibilities are considered there is one obvious one that stands out as far simpler, more straightforward and ultimately more probable than the rest, namely that both texts are referring independently to a biological brother of Jesus whose name was Jacob.

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    Do you base this conclusion on anything other than the fact that the word “brother” appears in both places?  Is there any other evidence that weighs in you conclusion?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

    Vinny,

    I’m not entirely convinced that Matthew and Luke are consciously editing out the suggestion Jesus’ family thought he was crazy, and less so that they are are doing so on the basis of the nativity stories. I’ve seen Mark 3:21 translated various ways – some that it’s Jesus family who think that he’s crazy and want to get grab hold of him, some where it’s a more generic “they” (i.e. other people) think he’s crazy, and Jesus’ family are perhaps trying to get get hold of him for his own protection (Mark 3:22 might make this a plausible reading), and some where family is translated as a more generic “friends”. I couldn’t really say which is right, so I couldn’t say exactly what Matthew and Luke are editing out.

    Matthew and Luke both relocate Mark 3:22 (Jesus being demon possessed) elsewhere so it might just be that the reference to Jesus being crazy becomes redundant, and Matthew and Luke do not include it because they have nowhere to put it. Matthew and Luke also both include Jesus’ “true relatives” saying and the accompanying narrative, which doesn’t suggest a particularly close relationship between Jesus and his family.

    You’re right that Josephus does not say that James is a leader of the Christian church, but he does say that he is the brother of Jesus and his death is significant enough to be mentioned by Josephus, so that would seem to be consistent with the James of Paul and the James of Luke. And with the James of Mark, come to think of it.  

    However I try, I can’t persuade myself that hypothesising 3 or 4 different Jameses is a better solution to the problem than a single James, who is the brother of Jesus, and who  became an important figure in early Christianity. It’s just not Occammy enough.

    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

      Paul,

      The last thing I want to do is to get in bad with Occam, but I don’t think that I am hypothesizing any new Jameses.  I’m just redistributing the ones that are already in the story. 

      Personally, I’m inclined to think that  “who was called the Christ” is an interpolation in Josephus.

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

        Vinny, you do seem to be positing that James the brother of the Lord Jesus in Galatians is a different James from the James the brother of the Lord Jesus in Mark. I too doubt that Occam would approve. :-)

        • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

          There are already at least three guys named James in the story so I don’t have to posit anyone new.    I don’t see why suggesting that he is James the son of Alphaeus would be terribly upsetting to Occam.  It is hardly a new idea. 

          But if I may ask again.  Does your conclusion that Gal. 1:19 and Mark 6:3 are referring to the same person rest on anything other than the use of word “brother”?

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

            There are lots of Jameses/Jacobs, but how many Jameses were the brother of this particular Jesus, do you think?

            • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

              I’m sure that there were many men named James who were deemed to be brothers of the Lord, but I can’t think of any reason that more than one would be called the brother of Jesus.

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

                Why do you think that there were many Jameses who were considered “brother of the Lord” in a way that could not be said of, or would distinguish him from, Peter?

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

        Vinny – I’d say that you are assigning occurrences of the name James to different individuals, when one James would suffice. I’m not sure that Occam would be happy with that.

        (but you’re right not to want to get in bad with Occam, the man is a psycho – I mean he runs around with a freakin’ razor!)

        I talked Paul vs. Luke on James over with a Maths teacher friend of mine, as it seemed like a problem of logic as much as history. She was of the view that psychologically it looks like Luke is making Paul’s account less likely. However, when looked at from the perspective of logic, while it can’t be said that they are definitely not two different people, both views of James are entirely consistent with one another, and they do not contradict each other in any way. She wrote down some symbols and stuff, which I think proves I must be right ;-)

        Incidentally, I’m planning on running a thought experiment with my Year 9 Philosophy class based on this problem. They’re a very smart bunch, so I’m sure they’ll sort it out for us. I’ll let you know how I get on!

        • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

          Paul,

          If Occam won’t be happy unless I start taking characters out of the story, I guess I will have to risk offending him.  

          Did your friend use any Venn diagrams?

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

            Hi Vinny, if I’m reading your posts to Dr McGrath correctly, you seem to be suggesting 3 different people for the Jameses of Mark, Paul, and Josephus? I just don’t see Occam buying that. (And seriously dude, seeing as Occam is big into the authority of scripture, you’ve already got him pretty tense with your whole “not sure if Jesus existed” thing).

            The James of Acts is a slightly different case, since you could be right that James is just called James because by this point he’s the last James standing. There’s a debate to be had about who is the best candidate.

            No Venn diagrams, but maybe if I ask her nicely she’ll do us a pie chart? 

            • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

              Paul,

              Actually, I was suggesting a two James hypothesis, one that is common to Mark and Josephus and one that is common to Paul and Luke.  

              However, I don’t believe that our evidence is sufficient to establish any scenario as more likely than not.  At best some may be more likely than others, but I think that we have too little data to make any of them much more than speculation and conjecture.

  • Brettongarcia

    Vinny:

    Could Mark, being later than Paul, have simply borrowed the very spiritual Paul’s reference to a metaphorical/spiritual “brother” of Jesus … and took it too literally, too physically? 

  • Claude

    I looked up all the references (four) to James, son of Alphaeus, in the NT. He appears only in lists of the apostles. Why would this James star in Luke’s expansive version of Paul’s meeting with the pillars?

    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

      Claude,

      Beats me.  How many times does James the brother of Jesus appear?  Being one of the Twelve is nothing to sneeze at and the son of Alphaeus is at least a minor character in Luke’s story before being promoted.

  • Claude

    Also–in his Gospel Luke refers to James, the son of Zebedee, as “James and John, the sons of Zebedee” and again as “James”; in Acts Luke first refers to him as “James” and then “James, the brother of John.”

    In the first appearance in Acts, we know James is the son of Zebedee because he’s grouped with Peter, John, and Andrew, and the other James is identified as the son of Alphaeus. But James, the son of Zebedee, is simply called “James.” In Luke’s report of James’s martyrdom James is referred to, as mentioned above, as “James, the brother of John.”

    So Luke is situational (or inconsistent) in his deployment of James descriptors, and that suggests to me that the lack of a descriptor for the James who addresses the Council is likewise situational. 

    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

      Claude,

      After identifying James and John as the sons of Zebedee, James are John are always mentioned together so I would say that John is still serving as a descriptor so we know which James is being discussed in every instance.  Acts 15 is the first time that a James appears without any descriptor.

      • Claude

        That’s funny, I obviously didn’t read it that way when there were additional names in the chain (“Peter and John and James and Andrew”), but you’re right, and I’m completely wrong about Luke being inconsistent (with descriptors, anyway). In that case, since James, son of Alphaeus, is always referred to thus (unless there are other mystery Jameses that are contenders for the role), why didn’t Luke follow suit and call church leader James “son of Alphaeus”? 

        On the other hand:

        As you mentioned, James, the brother of the Lord, doesn’t get a special mention among Jesus’s brothers who appear with Mary in the “upper story.”It’s curious that Luke wouldn’t identify James as the brother of the Lord in a story that was designed to reconcile Paul with the Jerusalem church.

        What is the backstory here?!

        • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

          The hypothesis is that he doesn’t need a descriptor since the brother of John was killed off in ch 12 and there is only one James left.  I’m not in love with it but I think that it makes more sense then bringing in a third James without an introduction. 

          I suspect that there is a lot of backstory that we’ll never figure out because we have so few clues.  That’s why I’m so skeptical of people who assert high degrees of confidence based on the few bits of evidence we have.   

          • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

            Vinny,

            I have observed with interest your exchanges with James about James.  

            If I understand you correctly, you believe that Paul’s letters are our earliest extant textual evidence of Christ.  If this is so, and even if your view of James is correct, how does this help mythicism?  

            Put another way, even if the New Testament consisted only of Paul’s letters, and mythicism didn’t have to refute any of the other NT documents, how does it justify itself from Paul’s letters?  

            I’ve tried to read Paul’s letters with a mythicist mindset and I can’t figure out how they get there.

            • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

              I don’t know what to tell you Mike.  I feel like I have tried to explain in as many different ways as I can why I think that an an actual historical Jesus of Nazareth isn’t a necessary prerequisite to Paul’s belief in a risen Christ, but you continue to insist that you can’t understand how anyone could think that way.  I wish that I could help you.

              • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                Your response sounds as if I’m just badgering you with this question, Vinny, but when you say “I feel like I have tried to explain in as many different ways as I can why I think that an actual historical Jesus of Nazareth isn’t a necessary prerequisite to Paul’s belief in a risen Christ” I cannot recall any of them.  

                I do recall your repeated insistence that you don’t think it’s a necessary prerequisite, but I’m trying to understand why.  Maybe  you’ve explained yourself as much as you say and I’ve just lost track of these responses in these various extended comment threads across different blogs. If so, I apologize.  And, if so, could you just repeat yourself one last time for an old man whose memory might be failing him?  

                • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                  I think I’ll pass Mike.  The best thing about banging your head against a wall is how good it feels when you stop.

                  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                    Based on your responses to James and now to me, Vinny, I’d have to say you appear to be a man who’s searching for an equation to his answer.

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      I love the way that you pretend to understand my motives while professing not to understand my arguments.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      I have no idea of your motives…or even your arguments.  I only described how you appeared.

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      I shall refrain from describing how you appear to me.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Vinny,

                      Your reluctance to provide a thesis for the mythicist, or any other anti-historical, view does not make you unique.  On the contrary, it appears typical of those arguing against the historicity of Jesus.  I do not know how to explain this reluctance, but I do recognize it as a reality.  Neil is distinguishing himself by having put his view on display for discussion.  We shall see where that leads, but in the meantime no one can take away from him the fact that he’s begun to stake out some ground he’s willing to defend.

                      That you want to hammer away at Jesus’ historicity without explaining how you think Paul’s letters are a case against Jesus’ historicity is your choice.  But at the very least, I hope you will recognize that your reluctance keeps many people – whether believers or skeptics – scratching their heads about why the anti-historical case resists explication.  Its primary – almost exclusive – mode is attack on existing history while offering only speculative possibilities for a replacement history.

                      Make no mistake:  Mythicism is proposed history.  That is, it suggests that there was no historical Jesus – that a myth about Jesus arose and subsequently people began to believe that myth as having actually happened.  If mythicism is true, then my previous sentence becomes the history of first-century Christianity.  Therefore, if mythicism (or any form of belief that Jesus was nonhistorical) comes to be regarded as true, it ipso facto becomes history.  Therefore, for mythicism to be taken seriously it must present itself as history, meeting the standards of history.  Otherwise, it is a completely hypocritical movement – demanding of historians standards that mythicists and their sympathizers refuse to live by.  

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                       Oh Mike Mike Mike.  Your demands that others endlessly clarify their positions while you pretend befuddlement followed by a little victory sermon when someone tires of your nonsense is not unique either.  I really wish that it were, but it’s not.  The “please explain it just one more time for this poor old man” was a nice touch though.  On the other hand, proclaiming your respect for Neil and BrettonGarcia’s willingness to continue playing your game is rather transparent.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Vinny,

                      I stand for Jesus Christ.  Everyone knows that.  While I try to always be upbeat, I don’t regard anything I am doing here as a game.  

                      If you don’t want to declare a position and defend it, then don’t.  But don’t try to induce paranoia in Neil and others just because they’re willing to do something you are not.

          • Claude

            Hi Vinny,

            I hadn’t forgotten what the hypothesis was. But it was you who made me realize how conventional these references to the apostles are! It’s probably inconceivable to you guys who appear to have the BIble memorized and are so conversant with it that I wouldn’t have parsed “John and James” but instead recognized James as an individual in connection with a kind of primary group of the apostles. Once the convention became obvious, then if James, son of Alphaeus, was the James in the Acts Council scene, I would expect him to be identified as “son of Alphaeus.” This would lend more support to the “everybody knew who James was” position although I’m not as satisfied with it as I was yesterday.
            If the perpetual Virgin meme was a concern, then Luke would have dropped Jesus’s brothers from the “upper story” scene.But since the Council scene is such a deliberate piece of work, even if “everybody knew” that James was the brother of Jesus, I’d still expect Luke to identify him as such. It’s a conundrum.Brettongarcia, I suppose it was only a matter of time before we ventured into Paul mythicism territory. I enjoyed your speculations but am particularly interested in your question Where did Pharisaic or other Jewish legends of resurrection come from? since I’ve been wondering about that, anyway.

        • Gakuseidon

           Claude, I think the stranger thing than Acts not identifying James as the brother of Jesus, is that there are no brothers of Jesus at all in Acts. But Luke, Mark, Matthew and John all identify that Jesus had brothers. Acts has Mary. So what happened to the other members of Jesus’ family? I wonder if they have been air-brushed from Acts.

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            The brothers are in the upper room in Acts 1:13.

            • Gakuseidon

              “The brothers are in the upper room in Acts 1:13″

              Vinny, these aren’t the brothers of Jesus though, as far as I can tell. For some reason, the Gospels all refer to Jesus’ brothers (and sisters also in some), but in Acts they aren’t present at all.

              • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                Oops!  That should have been Acts 1:14, “These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.”  If those aren’t Jesus’ brothers, whose brothers are they?

  • Brettongarcia

    While we have been looking obsessively at just one tiny, tiny, much-contested example of text?  Let’s not forget the larger picture.

    Sometimes when we hear Historicist scholars hanging so much importance, on just a single reference – as “James the brother of the Lord,” in Galatians - we might stop to consider.  Consider just how little evidence this really adds up to. Especially how little evidence we have that Paul saw Jesus as a real, physical person with a family, a biological brother.

    Note that Paul wrote a HUGE mass of material in the Bible:  over half the books of the New Testament are attributed to him.  He writes the equivalent of about 70 pages in the Bible; the equivalent of more than 250 pages of typed, doublespaced manuscript text.  And yet, in that entire 250 pages or more?  Historical Jesus fans have found only ONE bit of POSSIBLE reference to a biological Jesus, to talk about?  No doubt there are more.  But in any case, consider the paucity of evidence.  How much has been hung, on the tiniest bit of – at that contrary -evidence.  In the middle of an entire Pauline corpus whose main tpurpose is to deny the importance of “fleshly” or biological relatives.

    Out of say, 50,0o0 words, Historicists feel they have found 4 words that prove their case?  Words that might just be metaphorical?  While most of the rest of the text (as Carrier notes in his blog commentary) adamantly argues against the importance of biological kin?

    And these Historicists present themselves as being far, far more objective and scientific, than Mythicists? 

    [And?  Since Historicists have obviously authorized massive amounts of gross speculation?  And as long as we are considering the importance/ permutations /important ambiguities of names, like "James"?  Consider the clue to possible origins of the writings of Paul/Saul himself. 

    We have most assumed here  there was a real Paul.  But consider this possibility, of where a central Saul/Paul tale might have come from, originally:  a Hellenized Jewish, eponymous pseudegraphica tale, about King Saul.  King Saul - who was also like Paul, centrally involved with a figure extraordinarily ... resurrected from the dead.

    Where did Pharisaic or other Jewish legends of resurrection come from?  You would think Jewish tradition normally firmly prohibited such things.  Since much of the OT speaks strongly against soothsayers, witches, mediums, sorerers ... and "necromancers":  those who raise the dead to life, to consult them on the future and so forth.  And among others in the Bible, is a  King Saul, who at first strongly  reiterates this ban aginast necormancers, strongly (on pain of death).

    But then?  King Saul violates his own prohibition against necromancy, or raising the dead:  and has a witch raise someone, from the dead, for Saul himself.

    So?  If we are in a speculative mood:  this might be where the first origin of the writings of Paul - who is famously, originally named "Saul" came from:  it is a rewrite of a hellenisitic jewish  "pseudepigraphic" biographical midrash tale, about ... King Saul.  Specifically, it is a typical "biographical" expansion on Saul's consultation of a resurrected figure.

    Is the origin of "Paul" and his vision on the road to Damascus ... a typically marginal midrashic/biographical tale originally purporting to (relatively) detail King Saul's reaction to ... a resurrected dead person; the vision and voice?

    Here's what a Structuralist mythologist would ask:  is it just a coincidence, that 1) Paul's "first" name was the same as Saul?  That 2) the whole watershed event in Paul's life ... was a very rare/supernatural event; an 3) event that was even illegal in much of Jewish culture, but that was also in the biography of Saul?   And that 4)THAT EVENT, WAS, ESSENTIALLY THE SAME AS IN SAUL:  the contested resurrection (necromancy) of a dead person?  In order 5) to obtain wisdom?]

  • Brettongarcia

    Mike:  that is an excellent question.

    The possible answer model that currently interests me?   First to acknowledge the rpoblem:  Paul is the first attributed author of CHristianity; but his work is quite spiritual, without many factual details about Jesus.   So it’s a very good question:  where did all the details of later – gospel – accounts of Jesus, come from?  If not from local/Jerusalem tales of a real, actual person named Jesus? 

    One major hypothesis,  is that someone heard Paul’s claims, his ethical and spiritual ideas –  and liked them.  And thenthat someone, decided to just sit down and write a semi “biolgraphical”  tale with a fictional heroic martyr figure in it – “Jesus.”  To illustrate what such an ideal moral figure might be like.  In a sort of fictional illustration of Paul’s moral theories; like Highlight Magazine ’s “Goofus and Gallant.”  Or like many children’s books today.  (Note that the NT often addressed its readers as “children”).

    That’s one thesis: it was a work of “pious fiction” as many say today.

     Another theory – admittedly partially Historicist? -  that I am presenting here, is that 1) there were DOZENS of potential Jewish heros out there c. 70BC-75 AD.  Including many “Lord”s and “sons of the Lord.  Even sons of Mary/Marieme, who were killed for (as some said) trying to become the christened Lord (in the history of Herod jr).  And 2) then?  When later authors showed up (like Luke) to try to get the “real” story of the Christ, they walked around collecting oral, folkloric tales … of local Jewish/ZIonist and Greceo-Roman heros and sages, sons and lords and; “CHrists.”  But what happened was that the compilers/”redactors” heard many tales of “the lord”  – whicfh were actually many different lords.  And, confused, s the redactors saw them as being about just one person.  Then, when our redactors compiled them, they in effect compounded MANY different local figures, into one:  our “Lord,” “Jesus” “Christ.”

  • Brettongarcia

    I think there are no absolutely clear answers here.  But the thing I like about Mythicism, in part?  Is that it honestly admits this; it admits that it’s answers are “tentative,” “models,” and so forth. 

    Mythicists are often far more honest about the lack of anything but mythic materials from this era.  Whereas?  Historicists puff themselves up, and try to assert the  ”certainty” of their … own myths, after all.

  • Claude

    Sorry, but Disqus routinely ignores my paragraph breaks for some reason.

  • Brettongarcia

    Mike:

    I think I’m the only theoretical defender of Mythicism here, who is willing to REALLY stretch out and speculate. 

    I certainly don’t blame the others for their caution; many people here have a very long past and future Internet presence to defend.  And they don’t want to make too many incautious remarks.

    So?  Looks like I’m the only one willing to do the “dirty” work; washing the dirty feet so to speak. 

    With regard to your latest question?  My answer has been this:  possibly, the letters of Paul were indeed written to churches somewhat already established.  Though we cannot be sure if to what degree they are mainly Jewish, or following “Apollo,” or the baptism of “John,” or whatever; they do not seem FULLY Christian; that is why Paul wants to guide and admonish and correct … and change them.

    How could they know ANYTHING about Jesus, if Paul is the first missionary in their territory?  First 1) closely read -  especially if you consider Acts – they in fact know VERY little; the “churches” he addresses, might just be rather purely Jewish communities; or 2) already partially Hellenized diaspora Jews; 3) especially following John, not Jesus or the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  4) Those that know ANYTHING might have learned it from Paul, or other Antioch/Damascus Hellenized Jews.  Or?  5) From earliest Pauline visits (though this may not fit currently accepte3d chronologies of Paul’s travels?)  Note that 6) Paul often launches into brief, very introductory lectures, when addressing local authorities and so forth; as if his communities knew little or nothing already.

    I’m favoring a chronology that has Paul’s letters ADDRESSED BACKWARDS, to churches he has already visited.  And is about to return to.  So it they know much already?  That’s because Paul (or related leaders in Antioch or Damascus) taught them EARLIER.

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Brettongarcia,

      No one can deny your willingness to speculate.

      As for your stated intent to defend mythicism, however, I don’t see a thesis in what you’ve written here.

      By the way, if you’re game to give it another shot, please consider omitting reference to Acts and any other NT documents besides Paul’s letters.  I say this first of all because this is all to which Neil has tentatively ascribed a respectable provenance.  They are also a source which Vinny seems to view as credible, at least to some degree.  That might help this thread stay focused and, who knows, maybe productive.

      Again, my question is:  How do Paul’s letters justify mythicism?  Or, to re-phrase for those who sympathize with mythicists but reject the label for themselve, how do Paul’s letters justify the view that Jesus didn’t exist (borrowing from Ehrman’s title)? 

  • Brettongarcia

    Mike?  I’ve  already said plenty.  Just review past answers, carefully.  If you are looking for a very simple, two-word answer?  No can do:  this is a complicated situation.  Does that mean what we say here is false?  Just because we can’t make it simple?

    Is mythicism trying to be a full, indubitable History?  No one here really announced that goal; in fact, we noted over and over that the claims of Historicism to be history, were  – in my words – “bunk.”  But neither do I claim that our view of Myth, is solid History either.  Any History that wants to incorporate what we say here, would probably introduce it with aqualifier or caveat:  “scholars speculate that …”  

    Perhaps the problem here, the reason you keep asking over and over for something definite, is that  you all your life have always wanted something absolutely firm, absolutely definite, on which to base your life?  But most modern/postmodern people, have learned to live with a degree of uncertainty.

    At first, it seems hard to live with a degree of uncertainty; with mere probability.  But after a while you get used to it.  Life is ultimately uncertain; but elements of it are predictable enough, that we don’t feel that life is absolutely chaotic.

    Chances are, even if elements of our religion are not verifiable, still, the sky will be blue; the earth will be solid.  And likely, the newspaper will still appear on your computer screen.

    In fact, it is amazing how many metaphysical assumptions we can suspend, without making so much difference in our lives.

    BY theway though?  Many people feel that the actual physical existence of Jesus, and/or his miracles, is in question.  But still?  His ethics or morality, is still pretty good.  If you grew up wanting to be open, honest?  Just continue to do so.

    Even if the Jesus story is say, not absolutely literally, historically true in every single detail?  It’s still a great work of moral fiction, at the very least.  And it can serve as the starting point for a lifelong search for an even broader Ethic.  Or even as a sort of default position, from childhood (or whenever we learned it).

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Bart Ehrman has declared himself an agnostic many times.  You don’t get any more committed to uncertainty than that.  Yet he wrote a book refuting mythicism.  

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

        Hi Mike, 

        I thought I would share with you my thoughts on Neil’s post about anonymous faith documents.

        For myself, I don’t see the anonymity of the Gospels as a problem. Think of it another way – the scholarly consensus generally views Mark as composed by an anonymous author who was not an eyewitness to the events he narrates, who writes around 70 A.D. possibly from somewhere in the East of the Roman world. 

        OK, now let’s just suppose that tomorrow we found a piece of evidence that conclusively proved that Mark was written in the year 70 by a person named Judas who was writing from Alexandria and who was not an eyewitness to the events he narrates. Now this would no doubt be fascinating and add much to our understanding of “Mark”, but for me it wouldn’t in any way change my view of the historicity (or otherwise) of its contents, and I do not for a second think that such a discovery would change the minds of any mythicists either. 

        The other point that bears thinking about is this – it seems that the authors of the gospels purposely did not give their names. They are anonymous, not pseudepigraphical. There is a big difference. Ironically, if the NT Apocrypha are anything to go by, the grander the claims of authorship in Christian historical writing, the less reliable the source!

        There is an article by Baum that would seem to suggest that the writers of the earlist gospels are following the literary conventions of the Ancient Near East in writing anonymously, rather than Roman conventions – they had no desire to earn fame or praise for themselves, therefore no need to draw attention to themselves. It was all about the gospel they were spreading.

        http://www.armin-baum.de/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/The-Anonymity-of-the-New-Testament-History-Books-Summary.pdf – I’ve not read the whole article yet, I’ll have to track it down. It seems an excellent point though. 

        If Baum is right of course, it means that by evaluating the NT sources on the basis of their author’s identifiability, is simply a value judgement: it is saying that a stylistic device that was important device for Roman authors should form the yardstick for a group of authors who were following an entirely different set of conventions.  I think that’s plainly a mistake. 

        I have a different set of problems with Neil’s assessment of faith documents (I have no problems with the term per se), I’ll share those some other time. 

        PS: I don’t claim to be an expert on historiography, so I’m going to discuss the above with some of my colleagues in the History department and also get some reading material from them. I reserve the right to change my mind :-)

        • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

          Thanks, Paul.  That’s a helpful contribution to the discussion.  

        • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

          Paul,

          On “faith documents,” leaving aside any positive or negative connotation the term may carry, what’s its utility if it’s not establishing a genre?

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681367580 Paul Regnier

            Mike, I just meant that I don’t see it as being a negative term. I’ve got different problems with what Neil writes, I’ll go into those another time!

  • Brettongarcia

    Mike?  perhaps you feel – like many believers  -  that the traditional views of conservative religion offer absolute certainty.  And that Religion offers a good, firm, certain, oneword answer to everything:  “God-did-it.”  So that therefore.  You will always be superior to others, when they admit that they have views that are UNcertain.

    But?  We are arguing here among other things, that settling on a simple, oneword answer for everything, is not such a great virtue after all; but a kind of exaggerated oversimplicity.  Or a kind of smugness; or glibness.  Or indeed, there is great vanity, in imagining that you have the answer to everything. 

    Indeed in fact, to imagine you have the One True Infallible Answer, whereas others are lost in confusion and uncertainty, is a kind of Pride; and commits the sin of lack of humility.

    Better Christians are open to the “mysery” of God and being; to the sense that after all, not all of us know as much as we think we do.  To the sense that we will always fail to fully comprehend and infinite God; and therefore, we should never be so certain, about knowing God or Christ, or ultimate truth.  But should always remain humble; and open to new answers.

    While waiting humbly for a “fuller,” second coming; a second, fuller appearance.

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    Mike,

    I have stated my position and I have defended it, but you have repeatedly said that you cannot understand how I don’t see the things in Paul that you see in Paul.  Then you claimed that you couldn’t recall what I said.  Why should I repeat what I have said just so you can tell me that you don’t understand it again? 

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Hey, if anyone out there has seen any of Vinny’s repeated position statements on  how Paul’s letters justify mythicism please give me a link to them or cut and paste them here.  (I hate to bother you but Vinny just ain’t willing.)  

      All I remember from Vinny are statements to the effect that he thinks Paul didn’t care much about the earthly Jesus, which of course is hardly a case against the historicity of Christ.  And it certainly doesn’t explain how reading Paul’s letters would lead one to adopt, or even entertain, mythicism.

      Now I’m sixty years old and I could have seen these statements he’s talking about and forgotten them.  That’s why I’m asking for help.  On the other hand, I am not saying for sure that I forgot them.  I’m just saying that he says he’s repeatedly made them, I can’t remember that, and that I’m not certain enough about my powers of recollection to declare him mistaken.  (In other words, Brettongarcia, I’m uncertain about this issue and utterly comfortable with my uncertainty.)

      • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

        Apparently you can’t remember that I have never asserted that Paul’s letters justify mythicism.  That has never been the position that I have maintained or defended.  I have only said that they justify agnosticism.   You claim that you don’t want to put words in my mouth, but you sure do want to make me defend mythicism.

        BTW, I’m fifty-five so the sad old man routine isn’t going to work on me.

        • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

          I don’t want you to defend mythicism, but weren’t you defending a key point for mythicists when you were going back and forth with James about James?

          • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

            No.  I was defending a key point for agnostics.

            • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

              How can what you were arguing for be a key point for agnostics when Ehrman, a notable agnostic, doesn’t hold to it?

              • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                My God Mike!  Do I have to spell out every #@$%ing thing in every #@$%ing comment?

                I am agnostic about a historical Jesus

                I am a historical Jesus agnostic. 

                I do not find the evidence sufficient for me to reach a conclusion about whether it is more likely than not that there was a historical Jesus. 

                I find the sources to be so problematic that I am doubtful a the historical Jesus can be recovered in any meaningful way. 

                Ehrman is agnostic about God but he is not agnostic about a historical Jesus.

                This is so tiresome.

                • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                  My point about Ehrman was that you were arguing against his view that the James in Galatians was Jesus’ brother, and yet you were saying yours was a key point of agnosticism.  I took you to mean agnosticism without qualification (since you didn’t qualify it). I now take you to have been saying you were arguing a key point about agnosticism about the historical Jesus.  But if you’re arguing against the historical Jesus doesn’t that make you ipso facto a mythicist?  Tell me what to call a non-mythicist anti-historicity view and I’ll use that to describe you.

                  Your position is not as clear as you think it is.  Moreover, I think there may be some tension between your self-perception (or self-description) and your lines of argument.  

                  I’m not feigning befuddlement.  Nor do I think you are feigning anger.  So, maybe we should take a breather.

                  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                    But if you’re arguing against the historical Jesus doesn’t that make you ipso facto a mythicist?  Tell me what to call a non-mythicist anti-historicity view and I’ll use that to describe you.

                    DIDN”T YOU READ WHAT I JUST WROTE????

                    Please just look at the comment to which you were responding.  I call myself a “historical Jesus agnostic.”   I’m begging you Mike, get some help.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      I just figured it out!

                      Bart Ehrman says on page 5 of Did Jesus Exist? “I am an agnostic with atheist leanings.”  What he is about God, you are about Jesus.  Thus you are a historical Jesus agnostic with mythicist leanings.

                      The “leanings” part is relevant because if you were purely an agnostic on the subject you would argue as much those who say Jesus was a myth as you would those who say Jesus was historical on the basis that neither side could prove their position.  That’s the dictionary definition of agnosticism:  ”One who believes you can’t prove existence.”  Your arguments, however, have been consistently anti-historical.  

                      If you want to be regarded as a historical Jesus agnostic without mythicist leanings you’re going to have to start objecting to mythicist claims as much as you do to claims that Jesus was historical.

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      No Mike, you haven’t figured it out, but you may be getting slightly warmer.  It is hard to  tell though because I have thought that you were making progress before only to be disappointed.  I would further note how much effort it took to get you even this far.

                      The “leanings” part is actually totally irrelevant because it adds nothing of consequence to the description.  It is simply reflects your desire to put a label on me that suits you.  Moreover, it is factually incorrect because if I have any leanings, they are in the other direction.  

                      The reason that I hardly ever wind up arguing with mythicists is that, unlike historicists, they hardly ever tell me that there is anything unreasonable about being agnostic on the question.   I have disagreed with Neil and Brettongarcia from time to time and I have even expressed that disagreement in comments.  Nothing ever seems to come of these disagreements, however, because they, again unlike many historicists, always seem to recognize that these are points upon which reasonable minds can differ.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Vinny, 

                      Almost all labels carry with them some degree of imprecision.  And, depending on the individual, the degree of imprecise can vary from small to great.  For this reason as well as others, I’m sensitive to your desire to distance yourself from certain labels.  

                      However, when you accuse me of seeking a label for you that “suits” me, you misunderstand and misrepresent my true intent – which is to understand you.  The effectiveness of communication I have with you is a function of my understanding of your point of view.  Therefore, I make no apology for working hard to rightly apprehend your point of view.

                      Regarding your desired to be considered an agnostic on all things having to do with the history of Jesus, let me say the following:  No reasonable person expects everything in life to be certain, and therefore no reasonable student of history expects everything in history to be certain.  However, if we remain uncertain of everything, and, specifically, if the history of Jesus must be considered uncertain in all respects, then I can’t think of any reason why anyone would want to spend any time at all studying and debating the history of such a person.

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      Mike,

                      In a recent comment, I told you in four different ways that I am a “historical Jesus agnostic.”  That was the entire point of that comment.  In your response to that very comment, you asked me what I would call my position if it wasn’t mythicism.  If this is truly what you consider to be working hard to apprehend my point of view, then you are perhaps the most obtuse person I have ever encountered.  I am not going to waste my time trying to explain my position to someone who cannot retain what I have written in his mind for the length of time it takes to write a response.  Life is too short.

                    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

                      Vinny,

                      It appears the point of my last post was completely lost on you.  Leaving that aside, you seem to be overlooking how inexact a term like “agnostic” can be.  It can mean anything from “I don’t know but I’m open” to “I don’t know and no one else can either” and places in between.  Plus, you never gave a good defense of your practice of arguing only with historicists and not mythicists.  As I understand it, Neil and Brettongarcia have never declared themselves as mythicists.  I think they’d consider themselves agnostics on the subject, like you, so what would there be to argue about with them?  Oh, you might quibble about a detail here and there, but you’d be agreed on the fundamental point that any history of Jesus is unrealiable.

                      In any case, you needn’t explain yourself further.  I’ve got what I needed.  

                    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

                      It appears the point of my last post was completely lost on you.

                      Then you have misunderstood me again. 

  • Brettongarcia

    Mike? I do know perfectly well that there IS a branch of evangelical sermons, that asserts that Christianity is better - if for no other reason than that it has a strong, unequivocal Answer; whereas others have uncertainty. Those who have not yet come to Christ, the One True Answer, are asserted to be lost in doubt, uncertainty, and anquish.  Better to embrace the One Answer, than suffer Doubt, it is asserted.   So that certainty, simplicity, are asserted to be virtues, even in themselves. 

    Yet, Remember my example of a vague answer, vs. a definite one?  Just sounding definite, does not make one right.  One might very forcefully and positively present … a wrong answer.  As I noted in example above.

    Very strong, dogmatic assertions SOUND impressive at first.  Because they are so forceful and self-assured.  And they feel good, because they are so dramatic, simple, strong sounding.  But on second glance?  They often look merely … loud and bullheaded.  Such views are not well liked in academe; because they make further discussion – and discovery – impossible.  They fail to see the complexity of life (and God)

    Many evangelicals and fundamentalists prefer unequivocal, strong sounding ”answers.”   and they assume the only alternative is uneasiness, uncertainty, and anguished Doubt and Nihilism.   But?  Since the days of  Wittengenstein’s attack on Metaphysics, and  the discovery of Nuclear Energy in part thanks to probability theory?  Many of us are increasingly comfortable with uncertainty.

    And morally?  A certain modesty about our beliefs, a certain hesitancy, seems better than cocksureness, and a liking for dramatically inflexible pronouncements.

    It is nice to feel Certain about something.  But?  In many ways, inflexiblity, certainty and dogmatism are a deadly selfindulgence; an ego trip, posing as selflessness.  You are right – and everyone else is wrong. And it is as simple and ego-affirming as that.

    Then too? The constant seeking for, the constant endorsement of,  a single, simple answer, over complexity and nuance … can often be an embrace of, or justification for, Simplicity itself.

    Which I am sure we all wish to avoid.

    • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

      Brettongarcia,

      My last remark to you was intended to have you smile.  Alas, I must have failed there.  

      Your denunciation of dogmatism and praise of circumspection are sentiments to which I can say a hearty “Amen.”  Yet it is possible to be sure without being dogmatic.  And circumspection can be useless if it never results in decision.  There’s a balance to be achieved with such virtues, lest any one of them become a vice.

      Suffice it to say:  There’s a time for certainty, and there’s a time for uncertainty.  May we all be wise enough to know which is which.

  • Brettongarcia

    Vinny:

    Here are some of my reasons for my not getting too involved to date, in the “James-the-brother-of-Jesus” debate. 

    Though I like Logic, 1) this one has been examined in a microscope for at least 50 years, as one of the core debates in the field, by a hundred experts; who 2) at best came to an impasse.  Or 3) who found it an all-too- convenient symbol or marker for the contrast between a Jamesian, Jerusalem, probably more Jewish church, and 4) a contrast to either St. peter (and Roman Catholicism?), or to 5) ) Hellenistic Christianity, Pauline Christianity. 

    For that reason?  This one is a very tough target.  My tactical approach has been to just go around it.  To do a raw, crude numbers-crunching bit of statistics - and say 1) it is 4 words out of 60,000.  A tiny piece of 2) contested textual evidence, that 3) could easily be a metaphorical reference to our spiritual brothers;  in 4) a Pauline corpus whose main point is the opposite of stressing physical brothers:  a text whose main point is that being a literal, biologically Jewish “brother” of Jesus, is irrelevant to salvation.  And?  5) Small as it is, it could easily be interpolated; (while of cours - 6 – nearly all the entire texts of Paul were much contested.)

    You’re taking on some VERY hard cases, with close logic; which I like, to be sure.  But I like your acknowledgement that this is a tiny and much-contested bit of textual evidence, to be sure.  And we could easily, better attack it from an increasingly external/ contextual perspective?  

    James – “Jimmy” – was and still is, one of the most – even the most? – common names in ancient Jerusalem.  (As was, to a lesser extent, Jesus in fact; according to recent stats cirted in the Talpiot tombs controveries).  That makes it a very onfusing and tough, intractable target.  Lmost impossible to sort out.

    • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

      Brettongarcia,

      I agree that it is a very tough target and for precisely the reasons you have mentioned.  However, it is hard for me to sidestep the issue because the scholar whose work has most informed my thinking on the subject of the New Testament says that this is one of the key points that shows “beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt” that a historical Jesus existed.  In order to disregard his opinion on this point, I would like to feel that I have tested my own thinking on the subject as thoroughly as possible.

      Dr. McGrath noted at one point that the author of Acts may have been motivated to drop the reference to James being the brother of Jesus because he wanted to lessen James’ status.  That seems perfectly plausible to me, however, it cuts both ways.  The desire to enhance the status of James could just as well provide the motivation for some scribe to interpolate “the brother of the Lord” into Galatians 1:19.  The autographs and the earliest extant manuscripts are separated by 150 years in which copying was subject to few controls and all sorts of people may have had all sorts of motivations to tamper with the text.

      One of the things I thought I had learned from Ehrman is that we are probably better off  not speaking in terms of “the original text.”  Textual criticism can only tell us what the church understood the text of Galatians to be circa 200 A.D.   That will no doubt be the best approximation we can have of what Paul actually wrote, but it will always be an approximation.   

      Between the possibility of tampering and the possibility that Paul was referring to spiritual rather than biological brotherhood,  I don’t see this as a point where any degree of certainty is possible.  I don’t think I can determine that any particular interpretation is any more probable than Paul thinking that his James was the biological brother of Jesus, but I would argue that the evidence allows for other interpretations that must acknowledged as both plausible and possible.  

      • Claude

        Why would author of Luke want to lessen James’s status, though? The Council scene seems designed to bring Paul into line with the Jerusalem pillars. If anything, I’d expect props to James.

        Yesterday I picked up The Authentic Letters of Paul by Dewey, et al. They say:

        Westar’s Acts Seminar has concluded that Acts best fits the historical context of the early second century battle between protoorthodox and gnostic Christians over the legacy of Paul.

        If Luke wanted to subvert Gnostics one might expect him to explicitly identify James as a biological brother of Jesus. Presumably a biological brother would reflect on Jesus’s corporeality. But Luke demurred.

        • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

          I guess a lot of it depends on when you date Acts which depends on what conflicts you think Luke was trying to address which depends on when you date Acts which depends on which conflicts you think Luke was trying to address.
           

      • Paul R

        Dr. McGrath noted at one point that the author of Acts may have been motivated to drop the reference to James being the brother of Jesus because he wanted to lessen James’ status.  That seems perfectly plausible to me, however, it cuts both ways.  The desire to enhance the status of James could just as well provide the motivation for some scribe to interpolate “the brother of the Lord” into Galatians 1:19.  The autographs and the earliest extant manuscripts are separated by 150 years in which copying was subject to few controls and all sorts of people may have had all sorts of motivations to tamper with the text.

        I don’t see these two options as being equivalent. Dr McGrath is trying to find a reason for why Luke described his James the way you did – i.e. to lessen his status. The reverse possibility would, I think be that Paul himself has described James of the brother of the Lord to enhance his status (but of course, it’s hard to see why in this instance Paul would want to draw attention to or big up an opponent’s credentials).

        I also have a real problem with people reading in interpolations wherever it’s convenient for their theory (rather than on textual critcal evidence), as it makes their theories unfalsifiable. And if they are unfalsifiable, are they really acceptable theories?

        In the absence of the original autograph, could you prove that any passage in any classical text isn’t an interpolation? If you think there’s a gap between Paul and our earliest extant copy of his letters, think about how big that gap is for other classical authors: it’s well over 1,000 years for Herodotus, I think.

        • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

          Paul,

          No, you can’t prove that any passage in any classical text isn’t an interpolation.  To quote Dr. Ehrman, “How could you possibly know?”  So why would you treat any text as any more than an approximation of the original and why would you claim any more certainty about a passage being original than is warranted by the gap between the original and the manuscript?   Why would you propose any theory that was not robust enough to withstand the possibility of interpolations.  If interpolations are not falsifiable, then I think we have to adjust the conclusions that we draw rather than adopting a presumption against interpolations that cannot be justified.

          I would think that common sense dictates that any manuscript be viewed as a product of the time in which it was composed, at least as a starting point.  After that, you would need positive reasons to think that a particular passage goes back to the original author.  In the case of Paul’s letters, you might look for an idea that is expressed consistently in several places or that fits in with his overall themes and concerns.  Isn’t the uncertainty that we face about any single piece of evidence the very reason that historians look for corroboration in the first place?  The more evidence you have bearing on a point, the stronger the conclusion.

          The flip side of this is that the more different interpolations you need to propose in order to make a theory work, the lower the odds are that it will be correct.  If our overall understanding of a text would be changed by positing a single interpolation, then perhaps that interpretation is too fragile.  On the other hand, if we need eight cherry picked interpolations to support a particular hypothesis, the odds are going to be pretty small that it is correct.  This does seem to me to be one of the biggest problems with the positive case for mythicism.

          Although I haven’t looked at the question that closely, I rather suspect that this isn’t that big a problem for most ancient texts.  With Plato and Aristotle, what matters is what has come down to us and the influence those ideas have had on western thought throughout the ages.  Very little depends on whether any specific word or passage came from the actual pen of the author to whom it is attributed or someone added it later.  With an author like Herodotus, anything that cannot be corroborated is taken with the appropriate grain of salt.

          It is only with the Bible that this becomes such a big deal.  I think this is a result of concerns that are more theological than historical.  If you believe that God inspired the original authors, then it really really matters whether the original author wrote a passage or not.  I think that this has probably driven a presumption in favor of the text we have being the original that isn’t warranted.  With any other text, we simply accept that it could have been altered and qualify our conclusions accordingly.

           

  • Brettongarcia

    Mike:  1) it is important to realize that most (all?) of the letters by Paul, address communities Paul had ALREADY VISITED and taught; as in 1 Corin..  So these c