A Mythicist Salm of Lament

Some mythicists might consider it a major achievement that Rene Salm got invited to speak at the Society of Biblical Literature meeting this year.

They would do well to keep in mind that Simcha Jacobovici was also invited to be on the program. :-)

But more seriously, the only people who get really excited to be on the program are (1) young scholars needing to build up their resumes, (2) established scholars who depend on being presenters for their university to pay the cost of their attendance, and (3) pseudoscholars thinking that being there will somehow make their work credible. Scholars who attend know that many of the ideas that will be put forward at a conference will turn out to be wrong – including possibly their own. Anyone who thinks that merely being involved in a session at an academic conference demonstrates that your views are correct has clearly not understood how scholarship works.

Salm's paper is online and is embarrassing for many reasons, including in its combination of apologetics-style tactics and its fundamentalist-style uncritical treatment of the Gospel narratives. Read it – and fact-check his claims – and then if there are any points people want to talk about here, we certainly can. But as with most mythicist materials, I am glad it is online where its claims can be closely examined by anyone with the interest in doing so.

Jim Linville presented in the same session as Rene Salm, and on his blog has described Salm's unprofessional and rude behavior there. Salm apparently not only turned up late, but while he was there he either wasn't paying attention or didn't understand what Jim Linville and others were saying, and yet nevertheless blogged about what he (mis)understood.

Also about mythicism is the more serious discussion between Mark Goodacre and Richard Carrier on the radio show Unbelievable (which previously had Bart Ehrman on talking about the existence of Jesus; see too Ehrman's recent article). Neil Godfrey has a recap of the episode (with comments added in an usuccessful attempt to lessen the force of Mark Goodacre's solid points). Do give the interview a listen – Carrier emphasizes that there is only one defensible mythicist theory, but fails to make a case for it that can compete with how mainstream secular historians and scholars interpret the evidence. Carrier has objections at every point which those familiar with his work will have heard before, including some which are thoroughly bogus, like the claim that Philo calls the Logos “Jesus.” But even setting such considerations aside, mainstream scholarship offers an interpretation of the entirety of the evidence, while mythicism offers ad hoc attempts to explain away evidence inconvenient to its preconceived ideas.

Also of interest, Tom Verenna tackles some bizarre pseudoscholarly Essenic mythicism. And of related interest is Anthony Le Donne's blog entry beginning to offer a scholarly evaluation of the Wikipedia entry about the historical Jesus.

Let me close by mentioning that I thought of Salm's claims about Nazareth when I recently saw this cartoon on IO9:

 

  • the_Siliconopolitan

    Some mythicists might consider it a major achievement that Rene Salm got invited to speak at the Society of Biblical Literature meeting this year.

    Funny. I think I’ve seen more people claiming it to be an embarrassment. Do they need to calm down, too?

    Not that I don’t agree that Salm sounds like an arsehole.

    Carrier emphasizes that there is only one defensible mythicist theory, but fails to make a case for it that can compete with how mainstream secular historians and scholars interpret the evidence.

    Well, he does have a book to sell. Still, it’s nice that he can cut it down to one defensible hypothesis, unlike the multitude of mutually exclusive claimed historical Jesuses who noone seems to care to trim down.

    some which are thoroughly bogus, like the claim that Philo calls the Logos “Jesus.”

    Ooooh! I’ll look into that. Thanks!

    while mythicism offers ad hoc attempts to explain away evidence inconvenient to its preconceived ideas.

    Now you’re being unfair. You’ve just mentioned that there’s more than one mythicist claim out. At least engage with the claim made by Carrier, rather than poisoning the well. Does he, too, use ad hoc arguments, or does his explanation follow directly from his central thesis. I could just as easily dismiss the common talking points for historicity as being ad hoc. To steal from Goodacre: the criteria of multiple attestation and embarrassment are mutually exclusive.

    It annoys me that I have to be sympathetic to the mythicist claim because no-one seems to bother to actually present that coherent case for historicity. As a layman I’d much prefer to defer to the scholarly consensus, as I can do in, say, physics, where I at least know enough to follow the gist of the arguments for, say, Dark Matter against modified Newtonian dynamics.

    I hope Carrier bothers to do what Goodacre does so well: present the best case for his opponents before dismantling it.

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

      I don’t see why you can’t defer to the scholarly consensus on this. The suggestion that no one has presented a coherent case for historicity surprises me. Every time historians look at the evidence and conclude that something more likely stems from a historical Jesus than having been invented subsequently, they are providing evidence that there was a historical Jesus! There is no abstract evidence for the existence of most people, unless they a only a name on a list. Almost always, we have evidence of a person saying or doing something.

      I did embed a link in the post to at least one of several places where I have interacted with Richard Carrier, his recent book, and his views more generally, here on this blog. Here is one of the links again, and by clicking the Richard Carrier tag or by searching, you can find others: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2012/08/review-of-richard-c-carrier-proving-history.html

      • arcseconds

        Perhaps the_Siliconopolitan’s complaint is not so much that there’s no case at all, but that there’s no website (or at least, not one that’ easy to find) that lays out the historicist’s case in a straightforward way for a layperson to understand it?

        I did look a few years ago, and I found it rather frustrating trying to find anything that looked reasonable. The wikipedia page wasn’t very good back then, and it doesn’t seem that much better now on a cursory inspection. Le Donne doesn’t seem to think so either.

        A google search for ‘proof of jesus’s existence turns up sites like the following:

        *) an obviously biased and credulous look at that ossary that was found a while back:

        http://www.ucg.org/science/surprising-archaeological-find-proof-jesus-existence/

        *) a list of sources that, while interesting, are treated quite uncritically:

        http://beginningandend.com/jesus-exist-historical-evidence-jesus-christ/

        *) a site with strong mythicist leanings:

        http://www.nobeliefs.com/exist.htm

        etc.

        There’s a lot of stuff written by lay-people with an axe to grind, but it’s hard to find stuff written by experts, and even then it’s not easy for a complete outsider to know who to trust.

        Back then, I managed to assure myself of the scholarly consensus, but it’s no fun believing things because other people tell you that it’s right, even if you’re prepared to believe them because they’re the experts.

        What would be nice is something like this:

        http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/

        I don’t know that’s the best evolution site out there, and I don’t really think his take on the philosophy of science is all that flash (although it could be worse) but it is comprehensive and it does lay out the evidential arguments reasonably well.

        Does something like that exist for the historical existence of Jesus?

        Since I found about Ehrman’s book, I’ve been meaning to read it (so I haven’t been especially motivated to do any more web-digging) but obviously a website would be more accessible to the casually interested.

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

          I love the idea of a “TalkHistoricity” web site. I may blog about the idea and see if there is interest in some scholars putting such a thing together!

          • http://mythicpizza.blogspot.co.uk/ Paul Regnier

            I think it’s an excellent idea. The Wiki pages about Jesus are terrible.

            I’ve been reading Ron Fritze’s “Invented Knowledge” recently. Talking about Velikovsky’s brand of pseudohistory, Fritze points out that one of the reasons that Velikovsky’s ideas were popular was that scientists kept fluffing their rebuttals – Sometimes they were too technical, on other occasions the scientists hadn’t bothered to read Velikovsky’s work or made sloppy mistakes that could be picked on by Velikovsky’s supporters. That rang a few bells with me over Ehrman’s attempts to slap down mythicism and the way JDers responded to Ehrman’s book.

            An accessible, free, scholarly rebuttal of mythicism put in simple language would be a great way of countering some of the nonsense out there.

          • arcseconds

            It’s a great idea. I’m glad you thought of it!

            I’ve got one or two suggestions that might help, but I’m a bit busy right at the moment.

            If you want to have a good chance of convincing many who might otherwise be swayed by mythicism, then unfortunately you’ll probably find yourself up against not only the fact that they don’t really trust Christians, but also that they don’t really hold historians, or maybe even the humanities in general, in particularly high regard.

        • the_Siliconopolitan

          Thank you.

      • the_Siliconopolitan

        Every time historians look at the evidence and conclude that something more likely stems from a historical Jesus than having been invented subsequently, they are providing evidence that there was a historical Jesus!

        I honestly don’t like that “more likely” – I may just be reading the wrong stuff, but it seems to me that the alternative is rarely investigated, so the honest conclusion is more something like “this evidence is consistent with historicity”.

        But arcseconds expresses my problem better than I. It’s easy for me to find and understand the evidence for, say, evolution and modern cosmology, but there’s not exactly a “best case for Jesus” out there. Ehrman’s book certainly sounds like it did the job with any seriousness.

        I’ve seen some of the rebuttals, and I guess the problem is that Greek is harder than physics, so the argument reduces to he-said-he-said to the layman. I guess I’ll have to accept that. And I do.

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

          I wonder whether you are aware that the same mythicist arguments are being used now, for the most part, that were addressed half a century and a century ago and at various times past, without the mythicist case having been at all updated for the most part, and with subsequent evidence for the context of early Christianity that was not available then having made the case for the historical consensus even stronger (e.g. the Dead Sea Scrolls)? I wonder whether you are familiar with the various historians and scholars who’ve written on the evidence in detail?

          I don’t think Greek is harder than physics. It is just that history is not physics. Few things are certain, and hence, while there is unanimity on a few points – Jesus’ crucifixion, his Galilean origins, etc. – there is much room for interpreters to configure and interpret many pieces of the remaining evidence in many different ways. And since that is what one has to do in order to get a PhD in the field, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that we see a proliferation of suggestions. But uncertainty even about the majority of details is not uncertainty about all of them, and mythicists consistently have to resort to nonsensical and unfounded claims in an attempt to get the clearest pieces of evidence to seem to mean something other than what they do.

          So I’m still wondering what exactly it is in all the previous work on the historical Jesus that you consider lacking?

  • GakuseiDon

    Tim O’Neill has an interesting post on Salm’s views on James Hannam’s Quodlibeta forum:

    http://jameshannam.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=history&action=display&thread=1143

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

      Thanks for sharing that link – it is very helpful!

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

      Tim O’Neill’s “very helpful” bit of anti-rationalist ignorance is addressed and demolished at More Nazareth Nonsense From Tim O’Neill. Enjoy.

      • http://www.facebook.com/tim.oneill.393 Tim O’Neill

        *cough* “Demolished”?
        All you “demolished” in that weird screed Neil was a couple of delicately constructed strawmen and a few tiny nits. For example:

        Me: “So the claim that Nazareth had barely any water and thus couldn’t sustain a settlement can be shown to be incorrect.”
        Neil: “Bwaahahaha! O’Neill says because there was water there this means there must have been a town!”

        Don’t you ever stop and ask yourself why you do this kind of thing Neil? Have you considered professional help?

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

    ” Neil Godfrey
    has a recap of the episode (with comments added in an usuccessful
    attempt to lessen the force of Mark Goodacre’s solid points).”

    Half of the space Neil Godfrey gave to his comments expressed critical reflections on Carrier’s arguments. The other half on Mark Goodacre actually pointed out the logical fallacies in some of the arguments — but we know McGrath has never been the sharpest when it comes to understanding logical fallacies.

    An honest blogger would also post Salm’s response to Linville’s criticisms. And also explain the SBL “program” under which he was invited to speak there. McGrath is getting dirtier with his personal attacks now. An honest scholar would also deal with the content of arguments and shun personal insults.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=682420999 Jim Linville

      Neil, et. al.,
      I’m going to respond to Salm’s response as soon as this damn marking is done. Buried under papers. The only consolation is that they are pretty darn good so far.

  • andom

    “. Anyone who thinks that merely being involved in a session at an
    academic conference demonstrates that your views are correct has clearly
    not understood how scholarship works.”
    what?
    SBL’s papers are not reviewed before acceptance? who was the person in charge of Salm’s session?

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

      In Salm’s case it was a session with invited papers, and so there would not have been review. I suspect that Jim Linville would know who organized the session. But even in the more ordinary sessions where one proposes a paper and has it accepted or rejected, unless one is a first-time presented what one submits is an abstract, not a complete paper.

      • andom

        thanks,
        only now I read that Salm was invited by Hector Avalos for the SBL “Metacriticism of Biblical Studies” unit because according Prof. Avalos his “presence was necessary to challenge the current paradigms.”
        http://vridar.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/more-sbl-fallout-from-rene-salms-paper/

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steven-Carr/100001542808342 Steven Carr

          MCGRATH
          ‘Carrier has objections at every point which those familiar with his work will have heard before, including some which are thoroughly bogus, like the claim that Philo calls the Logos “Jesus.”’

          CARR
          Oh dear, not this one again.

          It is amazing the lengths people will go to to slander mythicists.

          It appears they will now even deny that the following text contains the name ‘Jesus/Joshua’ -

          Zechariah 6:11-12
          Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua son of Jozadak. 12 Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord.

          Carrier never says that Philo calls the Logos Jesus.

          Carrier says, quite correctly, that the Bible itself refers to this person that Philo mentions as ‘Jesus’.

          Which it does.

          Hence McGrath’s attempts to slander Carrier for pointing out the name of the person that Philo references.

          By the way, does Tacitus ever use the name ‘Jesus’?
          By the way, does Suetonius ever use the name ‘Jesus’?

          By the new McGrath rules, anybody who claims that Tacitus or Suetonius refer to Jesus is ‘bogus :-)

          (Caution. McGrath rules apply only to one side and are subject to variation. Please check today’s paper for the latest rules. Rules may be changed retrospectively.)

          .

          • GakuseiDon

            Steven Carr: Carrier never says that Philo calls the Logos Jesus.

            Actually, Carrier does. See the Youtube clip that McGrath links to in his earlier post on Carrier’s claims: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2012/09/problematizing-richard-carriers-treatment-of-the-historical-jesus.html

            At about 16 mins 20 secs into the Youtube clip, Carrier says:

            “He [Philo of Alexandria] tells us that there was a pre-Christian Jewish belief in a celestial being actually named “Jesus”. And do you know who this celestial Jesus was? He was the firstborn son of God — Philo says this point-blank. He’s the image of God. He’s God’s agent of creation and he’s God’s celestial high priest, because God had a temple in heaven as well as an earthly temple, the heavenly temple needed a priest too and that’s this guy. He was also called the Logos. All these things Philo tells us.”

            • http://mythicpizza.blogspot.co.uk/ Paul Regnier

              Thanks for the link Don, I like it that in the video, the Powerpoint behind Carrier reads “Philo of Alexandria tells us… There was a pre-Christian Jewish belief in a celestial being actually named Jesus“.

              He even bolds the “actually named Jesus” bit himself.

            • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steven-Carr/100001542808342 Steven Carr

              So Carrier never says that *Philo* called the being Jesus, just that the being was called ‘Jesus’.

              Which he was. The Bible says so.

              But please correct me.

              Which sentence says that Philo called the being Jesus, rather than that Philo declared there was a pre-Christian belief in a Jewish being, and we know from other sources (namely the Biblical reference that Philo made) that this being was called Jesus?

              Just out of curiosity, what was the name of the being in Zechariah 6:11-12?

              It has slipped my mind.

              Got it! The being’s name was Jesus, exactly as Carrier described it.

              I knew the name would come back to me. It was on the tip of my tongue.

              By the way, these new rules that have been introduced by McGrath now mean that neither Tacitus nor Suetonius were referring to anybody called ‘Jesus’.

              They must have been talking about some other guy, not called ‘Jesus’.

              It is amazing just how good Carrier’s research is that McGrath has to dredge up this hair-splitting to try to find a place where Carrier is wrong.

              And how is he wrong? The being’s name was Jesus. Everyone of Philo’s readers would have known that, because they had read the Bible.

              Philo would also have known the being’s name.

              Because he also had read the passage he quoted.

          • http://mythicpizza.blogspot.co.uk/ Paul Regnier

            In addition to Don’s comments Stephen, over on NT blog you asked me to find a quote from Carrier to support my recollection that Carrier had claimed that Philo calls the Logos Jesus or words to that effect. Perhaps you missed what I posted?

            “We do have a reference to a pre-existent being named Jesus who was the first born son of God, who was the high priest of the celestial temple, just like the Hebrews explains, and was also called the logos, the word of God, and this is in Philo… Philo refers to this deity several times, this – deity’s perhaps the wrong word, he’s an archangel in Philo’s vocabulary – who’s named Jesus.

            You can find it at 47:45 on the Unbelievable radio show. I hope that clears it up for you.

            • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steven-Carr/100001542808342 Steven Carr

              His ****** name was Jesus, for God’s sake!.

              And despite being challenged several times, you cannot find a place where Carrier says ‘Philo called him Jesus’.

              Carrier says, absolutely correctly, that Philo mentions this being and that this being was named Jesus.

              But please keep showing the desperate nature of your attempts to find something you can accuse mythicists of.

              Now you are reduced to saying that Carrier is wrong to say that people would know that a being called Jesus in the Bible was called Jesus.

              • http://mythicpizza.blogspot.co.uk/ Paul Regnier

                “Philo declared there was a pre-Christian belief in a Jewish being, and we know from other sources (namely the Biblical reference that Philo made) that this being was called Jesus?”

                My original comment was that Carrier had said words to the effect that Philo calls the logos Jesus and I think my quote supports that.

                In the quotes Don and I posted, and the Powerpoint, Carrier does not make the important distinction between what we find actually in Philo, and Carrier’s conclusion about Philo’s words. Because Philo doesn’t mention Jesus, does he?

                I think anyone listening to the show or lecture who wasn’t already pretty well informed would think that Philo directly refers to a logos being named Jesus, rather than refer to a logos being that Carrier thinks he can show was named Jesus. In the radio show, Carrier doesn’t even mention the Bible passage that you keep bleating about!

                Deliberately or not, Carrier is obfuscating.

                • http://mythicpizza.blogspot.co.uk/ Paul Regnier

                  PS: “Which sentence says that Philo called the being Jesus, rather than that Philo declared there was a pre-Christian belief in a Jewish being, and we know from other sources (namely the Biblical reference that Philo made) that this being was called Jesus?”

                  I hope Don doesn’t mind me answering for him, but how about this one:

                  “He [Philo of Alexandria] tells us that there was a pre-Christian Jewish belief in a celestial being actually named “Jesus”. And do you know who this celestial Jesus was? He was the firstborn son of God — Philo says this point-blank.”

                  Think about it Stephen. suppose I said to someone “Susie tells me that Stephen Carr pulled her hair and stole her pencil case. And do you know who this Stephen Carr is? He’s the sort of person who pulls hair and steals pencil cases. Susie says so – point blank”.

                  I think most people would think reasonably conclude that Susie really did tell me that Stephen Carr pulled her hair and stole her pencil case, not (in the absence of other evidence) that the Stephen Carr bit was my idea, not Susie’s.

                  That’s what the world “tell” most commonly means, though I appreciate it has just a wide enough meaning to give Carrier and his fan-boys a bit of room to weasel about in.

                  • steven

                    Regnier still can’t find a quote by Carrier where he says that Philo named this person as ‘Jesus’.

                    So now he is inventing quotes by imaginary people about imaginary situations.

                    And why not? If you can’t find anything to say, make up stories about imaginary people.

                    If I can drag Paul back to the real world, it remains a fact that the person Philo refers to was called ‘Jesus’ in the Bible – a fact that I know, Regnier knows, Philo knew, and every one of his readers would also have known, because they too would have known what the Bible says.

                    News just in. A Bible character had the name of a character in the Bible…..

                    .

                    • http://mythicpizza.blogspot.co.uk/ Paul Regnier

                      Regnier still can’t find a quote by Carrier where he says that Philo named this person as ‘Jesus’.

                      See my comments above. Sticking your fingers in your ears, closing your eyes, and screaming “NUR NUR I CAN’T HEAR YOU” is not the same as making a reasoned response.

                      If I can drag Paul back to the real world, it remains a fact that the person Philo refers to was called ‘Jesus’ in the Bible – a fact that I know, Regnier knows, Philo knew, and every one of his readers would also have known, because they too would have known what the Bible says.

                      The source text that Philo uses is obviously attached to an individual named Jesus/Joshua in it’s orginal context. What is doubful is whether Philo actually thinks that the Logos is named Jesus, or whether he’s just using the quote out of context. Carrier wants to argue the former, I see very little evidence for it – if you look at the broader passage in Philo, wouldn’t you agree that he’s just quote mining scriptural passages that mention the East?

                      News just in. Religious person uses Bible quote out of context.

                • GakuseiDon

                  Paul Regnier Paul Regnier: And the Bible, is talking about a human, not a pre-existent being

                  That’s the really weird thing here. Zech 6:11-12 is referring to Joshua (Jesus) son of Jozadak, a person whom (at least according to the Bible) was a **historical** man who stood before God. In other words, the example seems more suitable to a HJ view of Jesus rather than an MJ view.

                  So, unless Carrier is getting the name “Jesus” from a source other than Zech 6, I think he’s shot himself in the foot on this one.

  • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com/ Mark Erickson

    I would like to discuss Salm’s paper, although i’m afraid I cant fact check most of it myself. Can you offer the most embarrassing claim in it?


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