Announcing TalkHistoricity: An Index of Mythicist Claims

It was recently suggested to me that it might be useful to put together an index of mythicist claims, and the answers and responses to those claims from the perspective of mainstream historical study. Although it can be said that every claim by mythicists has probably been addressed at least implicitly in scholarly monographs and articles at some point, there is a need for those points to be collated and summarized online for the benefit of the general public. It continues to be the case that even a well-educated scientist like Jerry Coyne, who in his own field works hard to combat pseudoscience, is happy to jump on a fringe bandwagon in the domain of history on this particular topic and use his blog to promote those fringe views, in a manner that sadly and ironically parallels the sort of thing he finds frustrating in his own field. And so it is important, I think, to make and effort to ensure that the relevant information about mythicist tactics and claims, how they differ from mainstream historical study, and why they are rejected by mainstream historians and scholars, is presented clearly online, in a succinct but also in a detailed and documented form.

I envisage it being modeled on the very useful TalkOrigins Index of Creationist Claims which has proven very useful for those seeking to fact check and respond quickly to misinformation promulgated by young-earth creationists and others like them. Hence the title.

I would like this to be a collaborative effort from the outset. Before we can get this underway, there are some questions that I would appciate input on:

1) Logistics

Should this be hosted on my blog, or should it even have a single web home? Presumably there is a sense in which in today's web environment, all that matters is the index, and the pages could be in multiple places. Yet I think that, at least when the project is completed, there should be a version of it all in one place, even if it ends up being mirrored online.

2) Table of Contents

I will draw up a provisional front page with an index of topics to be covered, logically organized. It will be helpful if readers of this blog chime in immediately with what some of the most important topics and subtopics are. No matter is too big or too small. Some will probably require treatment at length and/or be broken up into more manageable chunks (e.g. the claim that historical Jesus scholars do not use the same methods as other historians) while others may be manageable in a short space (e.g. the claim that Philo calls the Logos “Jesus”).

I will create a “page” on this blog which can continue to be updated as new topic headings are added. It will link to drafts of entries, which can likewise be updated as things progress.

3) Contributors

I do not want to write this all myself, although I suppose I will if no one else is interested. I will gladly host the draft form of all entries on my blog, and so guest contributions are welcome. I reserve the right to edit anything that is submitted to me, and if I do so, I will add a note to that affect alongside the attribution to the actual author. If I add content of my own, I will indicate that the entry is co-authored by us both.

There is a lot of content that I and others have already written which can be adapted to this purpose. If there is material elsewhere on the web that you have produced on this topic, please consider submitting it for this project.

I invite scholars and historians, regular readers of this blog, and anyone else interested to begin discussing this proposal. Does it sound like it will be useful? How do I make it as useful as possible? What topics should be covered? What already-existing material should become part of it? Would you like to contribute?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this!

 

 

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

    Bravo! You are to be commended for taking this on and organizing such an effort. Mythicists are misleading many and an Internet-based antidote is necessary to reach the misled.

    Although you and I have points of disagreement on other subjects, your responding to Jesus Mythicim is a point on which I am thrilled to support the responsible position of leadership you have taken in the past, and are taking in an even greater way with this announcement.

    Edmund Burke famously said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” When it comes to the evil of Jesus Mythicism, you are a good man doing something. My hope is that many of your fellow ;scholars will jump to help you.

  • http://unsettledchristianity.com/ Joel

    Your blog, for starters

  • RtRDH

    Start on your blog and then branch out later when you get enough contributors, people committed to TalkHistoricity.

  • http://unsettledchristianity.com/ Joel

    Wait. Better: Do a wiki.

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

      I thought about that, but if it is open to being edited by just anyone, then I could see potential problems.

      • http://unsettledchristianity.com/ Joel

        You can select who can and cannot participate. Just find the right wiki program.

        • http://aramaicdesigns.blogspot.com/ Steve Caruso

          Indeed, that might be the best route for convenience sake. MediaWiki (what Wikipedia runs off of) is free. Another possibility is a separate WordPress account or self-hosted installation.

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

    It’s such an excellent idea. I like the suggestion of having drafts of entries posted on
    your blog. Best to have the site evolve slowly and avoid the kind of trivial errors that would get jumped on by mythicists.

    A couple of things that would be on my wish list for the site:

    1) It would be useful to have some sections that objectively compare the evidence for Jesus to a range of other figures of a range of positions on the myth -> history continuum. Thor, Robin Hood, King Arthur, Pythagoras, Hippocrates, Boudica, The Buddha, Alexander The Great etc.

    2) You mentioned having a section that deals with the claim that historical Jesus scholars do not use the same methods as other historians. Equally, it would be good to have some sections on how JDers ignore or fall below the pracitices of mainstream history – e.g. the misuse of and over-reliance on the argument from silence.

    3) As it’s a little pet interest of mine (and because it really annoys JDers), a section
    comparing mythicism with other forms of pseudo-scholarship and denialism would also be really cool.

    • http://www.facebook.com/brettongarcia Bretton Garcia

      Some problems:

      None of you would be allowed to contribute; since none of you has a PhD in history.

      In the name of objectivity, you yourselves therefore should NOT pick who is allowed to participate.

      Likely Paul Regnier should NOT get an entire section devoted to his own pseudo-Psychological Neo Nazi theory of Mythicm. Unless he has a PhD in Psychology.
      Paul is right about one thing: looks like this site will gain even more enmity for Dr. McGrath and Historicism than they currently enjoy.

      • Erp

        A PhD is a criteria but not a requirement for determining whether someone is a scholar in the field (though a PhD from Durham University in Theology and Religion is nothing to be sneered at, they quite openly admit they have ‘nones’ around though also admit to being a seminary [admittedly in the CoE being an atheist and a minister isn't unheard of]). Published work in peer reviewed journals in the field are probably the best test. Being a professor in the field at a respected accredited institution is another. Note that ‘history’ is very broad and large sections of ‘classics’ and ‘religious studies’ overlap with it as well as biblical studies (being careful to not include biblical studies that has as its axiom that the Bible is the word of God).

        As others have mentioned a cross section of scholars in the field should supervise and do most of the writing. The rest since we aren’t scholars in the field or any pretense to it (not having studied Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, and history/archaeology of that time) have a supportive role in pointing out weak points or unclear to the non-scholar arguments, unanswered arguments by the mythicist, checking references, and other support (e.g., computer advice from those of us who know computers).

        My own background is a history degree (bachelor), a moderate amount of reading (in English) of some of the material (primary and secondary), a feeling that the mythicists have not provided good evidence that Jesus never existed and that the historicists on the whole have (though some may overstate what we can know). I’m also an atheist.

        • http://www.facebook.com/brettongarcia Bretton Garcia

          Erp:

          You make some good points. Though as a person with at least one grad degree in a history-related discipline? I’d have to note that the problem from an historian’s point of view is precisely … how relevant, how objective are all these quasi-historical degrees and statements, in religion? To what extent are religious “Historicists” presenting Real History … vs. an all-too-subjective “history” deformed by desire, subjectivity, and especially religious zealotry.

          Notoriously, religious zealots are not the most objective scholars around. And unfortunately their subjectivity, their faith-based rather than fact-based orientation, has all but destroyed real objectivity, real history, in even Religious Studies programs.
          And all that has meant that their Historicist, “Historical” Jesus is not really historical at all. Not from the point of view of objective scholarship.

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

            I’ll be quite happy if contributors are restricted to those who are appropriately credentialed. I would not be qualified in any case, but to restrict it just to PhD’s sounds artificial and might eliminate someone like Paul Regnier who otherwise would be a perfect contributor given his academic credentials and research interests.

            The point is to have a respected, robust, and growing academic resource readily available to those who are currently being overwhelmed by Mythicist rhetoric and its pretensions of scholarly status..

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

              Mark Isaak, who edited the index of creationist claims, was not, as far as I can tell, a professional scientist. But he was collecting, summarizing, and editing material to indicate what those with expertise have to say. I think this can work the same way. The actual material needs to reflect, cite, summarize, and refer to the work of historians and other scholars. But I do not think that only the scholars themselves can do the summarizing and other necessary tasks. That seems like it would be unnecessarily restrictive.

          • Erp

            The desires of fervent non-Christians also makes not the most objective scholars around. But no historian is completely objective; the competent ones recognize this. Having historians with different sets of biases who agree is helpful (I note there are scholars in the field who accept a historical Jesus who are not Christian [e.g., Bart Ehrman, Amy-Jill Levine]). Personally I’m very much a minimalist about what we can know about the original Jesus.

            Also apologies for confusing the two bits of Durham University though the department’s web page does lend to the mistake.

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

              No problem. I think they added the “and Religion” part of the department name precisely to try to make it clear that, while there are people who study theology in the strict sense at Durham and are connected with one of the denominational ministerial training colleges, others are engaging in purely secular study of the Bible and religion. It makes for a really engaging environment when there are seminars or other forums where people from a variety of perspectives get together and interact!

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

          Just a clarification. The University of Durham’s Department of Theology and Religion is not a seminary, and is not connected with the Church of England. There is an Anglican training college at Durham, as well as ones connected with several other denominations, but I was not associated with them.

          • http://www.facebook.com/robert.wahler.71 Robert Wahler

            You should have NO ‘qualifications’ criteria. I was banned from Neil Godfrey’s Vridar blog because he unilaterally decided I was a proselytizer, simply because I would link people to my Faith’s website for further reading. The moderators should NEVER be allowed to control the discussion. Real progress is impeded when there is censorship. Open it to all, and THEN vote the riff-raff off, like they do on discussion sites such as Amazon’s. There is much that us “unlettered masses” have to contribute. Are you listening, NEIL?

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

         Likely Paul Regnier should NOT get an entire section devoted to his own pseudo-Psychological Neo Nazi theory of Mythicm.

        Especially for you BG, here’s my new theory of loveable tree-hugging sandal-wearing vegetarian mythicists:

        http://mythicpizza.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/confessions-of-denialist.html

        • Claude

          I am glad to hear the good news of your blog. It’s a handsome piece of work.

          As a carnivore I salute you!

    • steven

      ‘ You mentioned having a section that deals with the claim that historical Jesus scholars do not use the same methods as other historians’

      Great idea! James could also pick up a few dollars by putting in that section a link to books on Amazon like ‘Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity’

      Every little helps….

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

        Neat idea Steven. Perhaps some of those JD bloggers out there could earn a shilling or two for their labours by selling copies of Ron Fritze’s Invented Knowledge: False History, Fake Science and Pseudo-religions

        • steven

          They could indeed. That is an excellent idea.

          Perhaps we could also find a special section for quoting James saying that NT scholars have a special place in their hearts for ‘fabricated material’,

          MCGRATH
          ‘Even fabricated material may provide a true sense of the gist of what Jesus was about, however inauthentic it may be as far as the specific details are concerned. ‘

          CARR
          Yes, NT scholars use fabricated material , ‘however inauthentic it may be’ , just like the ‘scholars’ in Fritze’s book.

          So Fritze’s book would be ideal reading for anybody wanting to know why mainstream scholars write articles using ‘fabricated material’.

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

            Steve,

            1) If you’ve read Fritze’s book, I don’t think you’ve quite understood it.

            2) McGrath’s point is a valid one. I wonder if it would be worth sharing a mythical story I know about Gandhi with you to illustrate the point, or whether I’d just be wasting my time..?

            • steven

              You would indeed be wasting your time trying to persuade me that telling mythical stories about Gandhi makes you a mainstream historian, using valid historical methods.

              Well, not wasting your time, more emphasising that people who have studied religion tend not to take history all that seriously.

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

                You would indeed be wasting your time trying to persuade me that telling mythical stories about Gandhi makes you a mainstream historian, using valid historical methods.

                Of course no one would claim that telling mythical stories makes you a mainstream historian. This is not what McGrath is saying (Dr McG, please correct me if I’m wrong). As usual Steve, you set up straw men because you are apparently incapable of engaging in any kind of reasoned discussion.

                Mythical or otherwise historically untrue stories might still be an accurate reflection of some quality of the person or group about whom the story is told about.

                My preferred way of saying it is that mythical stories can tell us an awful lot about how the author of the story wanted other people to think about a historical person or group. This is not special pleading on the part of Religion or Religious Studies. It’s bog standard stuff that we teach in year 7 History classes.

                You, Steve Carr, believe in the historicity of any number of people and events about whom untrue stories are told. Sometimes you would even agree with the point that the untrue story is making. If you’re not interested in discussing examples it’s because, as usual, you have no interest in reasoned discussion.

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

                  You are of course correct. The point is actually one that Dale Allison made and which I was recounting in a blog post about his book. Steven Carr seems to have latched onto the quote for some reason, even though its point, understood in the context of Allison’s book and/or with a knowledge of historical study, is self-evidently true and not at all controversial, as you rightly point out.

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

                    its point, understood in the context of Allison’s book and/or with a knowledge of historical study, is self-evidently true and not at all controversial, as you rightly point out

                    If it is self-evidently true why does Anthony Le Donne need to write an entire book explaining it all for us? And why does Dale Allison introduce the idea as if it is something he knows many readers will find controversial?

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

                  Mythical or otherwise historically untrue stories might still be an
                  accurate reflection of some quality of the person or group about whom
                  the story is told about.

                  This may be true, but it seems to me that the only way that could be determined is if we have some information about those qualities that is historically verifiable. I don’t see how we can use the historically untrue story to establish the historicity of those qualities. The story of George Washington chopping down the cherry tree may accurately reflect his honesty, but that it only because we know that he had that quality based on less fanciful sources.

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

                    Indeed, that is Allison’s point in the book, although you might never get that from the way Steven Carr quotes selectively. Allison’s point is that, when we have significant numbers of sources which depict Jesus as anticipating the imminent dawn of the Kingdom of God, for instance, even if some of the specific stories are not authentic, they nevertheless serve together with those that are to confirm the general gist or impression that Jesus made.

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

                      How does one distinguish between the impression that Jesus actually made and the impression that his followers wished to convey? If I only had the official Mormon biographies of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, I might reasonably surmise that some of what they contained reflected qualities the two men actually possessed, but I doubt that I could separate the wheat from the chaff.

                      How could I possibly determine that the imminent dawn of the kingdom of God was actually something Jesus taught rather than the interpretation that his followers placed on his death and the visions they had of him resurrected? Wouldn’t it be inevitable that someone would eventually claim that Jesus was the ultimate source of whatever things they came to believe about him?

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

                      I’m not sure I would say “inevitable” but very likely. The question is whether, if there is universal agreement about something in a range of early sources written independently of one another, it is more likely that it is due to collusion to distort the facts or the actual impression the individual made.

                      It would be interesting to take a look at how secular historians make cautious use of sources about Joseph Smith. Is there a biography of Joseph Smith written by a non-Mormon secular historian? I bet it could make for instructive comparison!

                    • Nox

                      All our sources on this character are compromised.

                      Even if we assume there was some real person at the base of the myth (something there’s no evidence for, but which is not in itself unrealistic), there is nothing we could really say about him beyond ‘there was a guy and he did some stuff’.

                      We know nothing about Jesus, in that any statement you could make about Jesus, you would have no way of ever finding out whether it is true. If I said to you, ‘Jesus walked on water’ or ‘Jesus rose on the third day’ or ‘Jesus is a delicious cheesecake’, how would you determine if I were telling the truth. How could you? Except to check my statements against a source you have absolutely no reason to think is telling you the truth?

                      Many new testament scholars are in the habit of deeming sources unreliable because they feel the sources don’t accurately reflect who Jesus was, and determining who Jesus was in the first place by assuming the reliability of the new testament. If everything we “know” about this person comes from this same closed set of unreliable sources, we can’t use the person to vet the sources.

                      There is no real Jesus available to use for comparison. And thus no real way to separate sources which do accurately reflect the real Jesus from sources which do not accurately reflect the real Jesus.

                      In the absence of any reliable information on the historical Jesus, we can still observe certain traits of the christian deity Jesus. We can note the incoherence of the Jesus character and the christian salvation scheme. We can read the canonical gospels and observe their flagrant errors, contradictions, impossibilities, and misquotes of each other and the old testament. We can compare these stories to earlier myths, and reasonably conclude that certain elements of the Jesus story were plagiarized to make Jesus sound more godlike. We can look at what little information we really have about early christianity and notice their conflict over whether Jesus was god. We can even read the canonical gospels in probable chronological order (Mark, Matthew&Luke, John) and actually observe these successive layers of myth being added over time.

                      Even if Yeshua existed, he is still a myth. Any real person that might be in there is now so deeply buried in myth as to be unrecognizable. Present in 1st Century Judea or not, he has been noticably absent these last two thousand years. His presence is represented exclusively by what other people (with their own agendas) have said about him. And the list of things others have said about him contains some pretty ridiculous things (and more things than any one person could believe).

                      If you are willing to take Matthew at face value, then you might as well take the slaughter of the innocents, zombies roaming Jerusalem, ‘if you want to be my disciple sell all your posessions and give the money to the poor’, and ‘there are some standing here who will not taste death’ at face value. If you are not willing to take Matthew at face value, then what would you say you really know about Jesus? And why would you say you know that?

                      It doesn’t tell you what christians at the time thought of Jesus. It tells you what one christian thought of Jesus. One christian among many gospel writers. One who wrote his gospel for the purpose of establishing his version of Jesus as the real Jesus (as opposed to the fake Jesuses in the gospels Matthew was responding to). And one who happened to write what the factions which would become dominant in the church wanted to read.

                      The obvious answer to this (and one which has been used by some scholars) is to strip away the obvious mythology and treat the rest as reliable. The danger of this approach is unobvious mythology. Things we wouldn’t reasonably determine are mythical but still are. Things which may not be visibly supernatural or transparently political, but are still inaccurately recorded. Using any current techniques, or any techniques I can imagine, you would have no way to detect these.

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

                      Just a quick question. You say that there is “no evidence” of a historical Jesus, but you later qualify that somewhat when referring to what others wrote about him. Having no evidence about someone other than what others wrote about him or her is quite common, and not in itself an obstacle to historical reconstruction.

                      You also make reference to Jesus as a “Christian deity” but in our earliest sources jesus is not a deity, he is viewed as the anointed one descended from David, God’s eschatological agent.

                    • steven

                      McGrath is actually defending the claim that as a serious historian , it is his duty to use fabricated material, however ‘inauthentic it might be’,

                      We can only wait for when McGrath starts using fabricated material on his TalkHistoricity web site.

                      After all, don’t evolutionists also use ‘fabricated material’ when they are refuting creationists?

                      They don’t?

                      But it is so much easier to refute mythicists if you can use fabricated material…..

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

                      Allison’s point is that, when we have significant numbers of sources which depict Jesus as anticipating the imminent dawn of the Kingdom of God, for instance, even if some of the specific stories are not authentic, they nevertheless serve together with those that are to confirm the general gist or impression that Jesus made.

                      Excuse me, Professor, but that’s not what Allison’s point is at all. In fact, your fabricated reconstruction of his point makes no sense. If we have reliable sources testifying to X and a few fabricated ones doing the same thing, then the fabricated ones are irrelevant.

                      Allison’s point is that where we have nothing but what appear to be fabricated sources, we can nonetheless assume that if they are in sufficient numbers then they probably tell us something true about Jesus and are valid historical evidence. That is, in the absence of reliable sources we have to rely on fabricated ones to learn anything much about Jesus.

                      Naughty Professor. Stay back after class and re-read your Allison.

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

                      Anyone who wishes can read Allison’s Reconstructing Jesus for themselves and see what he says. His main point is that the gist is remembered more readily than details, and so the general impression about an individual is more likely to be authentic than the details. Allison is very clear when he offers lists of passages that convey a particular impression about Jesus that he is not assuming the authenticity of all of that material. Neither is he saying that none of it is. He is saying that the gist should be given priority. In doing so, he is combatting the attempt by some to ignore the general impression about Jesus in our earliest sources – that he was an apocalyptic eschatologist – in favor of specific sayings from which they suggest that Jesus’ outlook was something else. His point in the book is clear, and Neil Godfrey’s attempt to depict Allison as saying something that supports mythicism should be regarded as akin to the creationist quote-mining of mainstream scientists. Any time a mythicist quotes someone, it is crucial to go look up the context. It is this sort of misrepresentation that is the reason I have stopped interacting with several mythicist commenters directly, and only comment occasionally for the benefit of others to not allow their deceitful tactics to go unchallenged with no one pointing them out.

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

                      Sorry James, but i have never said Allison supports mythicism. You really should quote mythicists (and Allison) and not rely on your wishful memory. Methods do not support either mythicism or historicism. Valid methods are neutral on the question. You really don’t want to listen to what I have said on this, do you.

                      Allison’s methods no more support mythicism than do Crossan’s or Fredriksen’s or yours. And they all have the same circularity at heart — it was your own peers (Allison and Davies) who said HJ studies are circular. I think I should do a website of historicist claims, only I will quote them to be sure I get them right.

                      But as for NT historians not doing history like any other historians, — why, that’s what YOU yourself have said. Don’t you remember your post boasting that NT scholars are possibly becoming “PIONEERS” in the wider field of history?

                      You see on page 13 that Allison is talking about the fictions of ancient historical novels and modern caricatures of professors. Now that’s straight from Allison’s book. Do tell me what other historians rely upon such material for reconstructing the historico-biographical facts about persons. NT scholars are, as you yourself say, James, “pioneers” in the field. Pioneers do things differently or they are not pioneers. I admire their courage.

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

                      “Whatever one makes of the individual units (stories about Jesus) . . . which in every case are at best ‘mixed products’ (that is, at best only some of them are true) — what matters is the larger pattern. . . .We are more sure that Jesus was a healer than that any account of him healing reflects a historical event, more sure that he was a prophet than that any one prophetic oracle goes back to him.” (Dale Allison, Constructing Jesus, pages 18-19)

                      Allison is saying that it does not matter if none of the stories of healings or exorcisms in the gospels are based on any true event, it does not matter if they are all fabricated fiction, but because we have so many of them in all the gospels we can be “more sure than anything” that Jesus was a healer etc.

                      In other historical studies this sort of stuff is called unsubstantiated legend or rumour. In NT studies it is all scholars have so it gets elevated to “historical evidence”.

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

                      I wonder whether anyone else understands Dale Allison to mean what Neil Godfrey “interprets” him to mean?

                • steven

                  Step 1.
                  McGrath says he uses the same methods as mainstream historians.

                  Step 2.
                  McGrath says even ‘fabricated material’ is used by NT scholars, ‘however inauthentic it might be’.

                  Step 3.
                  Regnier claims NT scholars use the same methods as mainstream historians.

                  Step 4.
                  Regnier claims it is a ‘straw man’ to suggest that if McGrath uses method A, and claims his methods are the same as mainstream historians, then mainstream historians also use method A.

                  Step 5.
                  As Regnier has been shown to be wrong, he once again throws out claims of straw men, and starts insulting people.

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

                    Tell you what Steve: you live in the uk right? Message me your address via my blog and out of my own hard earned cash I’ll send you a mainstream, perfectly ordinary biography of the Buddha. If, after reading it you have evidence that scholars studying the Buddha employ radically different methods from Jesus scholars, perhaps you´ll be able to explain to us all how they differ and why?

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

                      You will be happy to know, Paul, that I added a comment on Vridar to yours to indicate how appalled I am that Carr so egregiously misrepresented you there.

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

                  My preferred way of saying it is that mythical stories can tell us an
                  awful lot about how the author of the story wanted other people to think
                  about a historical person or group.

                  Are you saying this banal statement is Dale Allison’s point about the value of “fabricated material”? If so, you have no idea what you are talking about. And I am surprised McGrath did not correct you here. I am sure he does not want his supporters to miss the real point of Allison’s statement, most clearly explained in Anthony Le Donne’s “Historical Jesus”.

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

                    Hi Neil, I was touched by your spirited defence of me over on Vridar. I actually had to wipe away a tear as a read it.

                    In answer to your questionAre you saying this banal statement is Dale Allison’s point about the value of “fabricated material”? If so, you have no idea what you are talking about. well, seeing as nobody had mentioned Allison at the point I commented, I guess the answer to that would be “no”.

                    PS: Give my regards to Jeffrey.

  • Mike K

    Hey James, I also think its a good idea and would like to see it eventually branch off into its own website. Then you can pool together the resources of scholars with different areas of expertise (e.g., on Greek or Aramaic sources of the Synoptics, on all the early and later historical traditions about James the Lord’s brother, on different episodes in Jesus’ life that command wide consensus like the baptism/crucifixion/preaching of the kingdom, on the external references in Josephus or Tacitus, on dubious theories about the “mystery religions” or neo-Platonism or pre-Christian gnosticism, etc). I think it would also be beneficial to ask scholarly peers in classics or ancient history departments to contribute, because as long as you are identified as a “biblical” or “religious studies” scholar you will always have to deal with the false attacks of confessional bias or attacks about it being a pseudo-disciple and so on.

  • jjramsey

    A couple thoughts:

    1) See if Gakuseidon is up for contributing his old content to the wiki.

    2) Maybe there should be a section on what’s problematic with the various attempts to argue that the reference to James “brother of Jesus called Christ” in Josephus’ works is an interpolation. It would be interesting, for example, to see what those who can access Carrier’s”Origen, Eusebius, and the Accidental Interpolation in Josephus” have to say about it. (That the article is behind a paywall is annoying enough. That it’s behind a paywall which doesn’t seem to offer non-subscribers to pay for single articles is downright frustrating.)

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

    It’s sure to be a hoot. Especially coming from one Jerry Coyne labels a Creationist. (But what would he know about the theory of evolution to make such a silly claim!) Of course you won’t actually let a mythicist write up a claim for you to respond to but you’ll just tell others what you “know” mythicists say, paraphrased so as not to confuse anyone about what you “really know” they mean even if they don’t say it! Right? :-)

    But it will certainly give someone a lovely op to set up a counter site which will take the trouble to actually quote the claims of mythicists and quote the claims of historicists in response, thereby upsetting you all over again with the facts. Look forward to it! :-)

    Seriously, I think you should. Lay out all your cards in the one place instead of in bits and pieces on different posts. It will be a great resource for us all — let’s see who will get the most out of it. You’ll no longer be able to say you answered questions you didn’t or that you did not say what you did. (Come to think of it, you might have a good reason to let others do the write-up. — No worries, we’ll all understand! :-)

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

      Neil, if you and mythicists want to be recognized as scholars and academics, why do you write such a taunting and personal rant?

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

      Introducing each section with a relevant quote or quotes is actually a very good idea.

    • Claude

      Some forlorn ex-fundies never recover.

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

      Does Coyne label McGrath a creationist? His name doesn’t appear at WEIT. And if so, why?

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

        Coyne regularly posts on those religionists who claim to believe in evolution but somehow reconcile this with their Christianity — to claim to believe in evolution yet still think God is somehow involved is like trying to say one believes television sets work by means of electronics but there’s still a little man inside there somewhere. Those who allow room for God in evolution do not understand evolution. He calls such “accommodationists” Creationists.

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

          I get this, I agree and accommodation is a dirty word for me. But I’m going to give a public pass to anyone who supports natural evolution virtually all the way down. If they stay quiet about a sliver of God at the bottom – as opposed to Conway Morris and BioLogos – I wouldn’t call them out as Creationists.

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

    Wow, the mythicists must be very concerned, as they are alreay turning up and trying to spread misinformation about me! Me, a “creationist”?! Only someone who has never read my blog could read that without laughing!

    • John MacDonald

      Maybe lay people can submit brief articles on the historicity of Jesus. For example:

      The historical method seems to give us some good information about the historical Jesus. For instance, in terms of the historical method, you can add weight to the criteria of multiple attestation when you combine it with the criteria of dissimilarity. As Daniel J. Harrington argues, by the criteria of dissimilarity and multiple attestation, the prohibition of divorce belongs to the corpus of Jesus’ authentic sayings. The prohibition of divorce went against Jewish practice and even against the permission of the Scriptures (Deut. 24:1-4), and it appears in Mark (10:2-12), Q (Luke 16:18 and Matt. 5:31-32), and 1 Corinthians (7:10-11). Of course, one must take account of the exceptions introduced by Matthew (see Matt. 5:32 and 19:9) and Paul (see 1 Cor. 7:12-16). One must also ask how Jesus intended this teaching to be taken—-whether as an ideal, a legal principle, a protection for women, a temporary measure (in the face of the coming kingdom of God), or whatever else. Nevertheless, it seems fair to say that this is good evidence Jesus existed and taught “no divorce.”

      • http://www.facebook.com/robert.wahler.71 Robert Wahler

        Unless “Jesus” is a stand-in for someone, say John the B, who DID teach ‘no divorce’. We have other such characters standing in for others: ‘Stephen’ for James, ‘Judas’ for James, ‘Lazarus’ for James, ‘Matthias’ for James, ‘Joseph Barsabas JUSTus’ for James, ‘John Mark’ for James, ‘beloved disciple’ for James, ‘a certain one of them’ for James, etc….

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

      Can you link to the pages where you state most clearly your beliefs about evolution?

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath
        • http://norwegianshooter.blogspot.com/ Mark Erickson

          Ha! You got my hopes up. I guess the quickest way to probe is to ask if you believe in an immaterial soul?

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

            My answers would be “no” to both questions. Can we now return to the topic at hand, if it is clear that the attempt to associate me with creationism was ludicrous slander and nothing more?

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

              Okay, score one for you. Good luck with this project, sincerely.

          • arcseconds

            I’m not following you here. Since when does belief in an immaterial soul or belief that humans are inevitable make one a creationist?

            And how does belief in immaterial souls equate to theistic evolution?

            It seems to me you could hold both these positions and be an atheist. You could even be a die-in-the-ditch materialist and believe in the inevitability of humans.

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

              We are getting into slippery, semantic, and dare I say, theological, territory. See my reply to Neil below (or above, depending on how you sort comments). The main point being that if you are a theist, you can’t believe in natural evolution all the way down. At some point, a god does something that starts or alters natural laws or processes and so influences evolution. All but complete metaphorical Christians are creationists in the sense that their God influenced creation, even if just an initial spark.

              I don’t see how a materialist can believe in the inevitability of humans, a la Simon Conway Morris.

              • arcseconds

                Well, of course to most theists, God was instrumental in some way in producing the universe, but is this really different in kind from the way they usually also think of God being involved in, say, the weather or healing or human psychology? There are plenty of scientists who are as regular as you like when it comes to the science they practice who are also some kind of theist, but we don’t normally distinguish between ‘materialistic meteorologists’ and ‘theistic meteorologists’.

                It strikes me that grouping theists who will assent to all the scientifically established facts about evolution with creationists who spout all sorts of nonsense about magical, physics-altering, strata-producing floods is both insulting and in many different respects unhelpful.

                It’s kind of sounding like you’re rooting out deviations from a certain kind of metaphysical orthodoxy, especially if you have not just theists but also dualists (and maybe determinists?) in your sights. I’d really prefer it if you stopped — it’s not going to generate the kind of society I’d want to live in. If you’re successful (which is extremely unlikely, fortunately), it’ll be just as bad as any other religious hegemony, and if you’re not, we’ll all have to put up with a lot of pointless and potentially acrimonious discussions that deviate from the topic at hand, which is probably far more interesting and important.

              • arcseconds

                As to how a materialist can believe in the inevitability of humans, well, there’s two possibilities that I can think of.

                Firstly, they could be a determinist. Then everything that happens in the universe, including humans, is inevitable.

                Now, you might say that being a determinist these days is odd if we’re all quantum physicists, and it is certainly unusual, but determinists nevertheless exist. One guy I argued with a bit really didn’t understand quantum mechanics, but just thought it had to be wrong — I really got the impression for him materialism and determinism was a way of having a nice, simple, readily comprehensible, and certain worldview, so servicing the same kinds of psychological needs that (young earth) creationism often does.

                If anyone’s interested, there’s two other, rather more interesting routes to determinism in the face of quantum mechanics.

                Secondly, if the universe is infinite (either in time or space), then anything that has a non-zero probability you’d expect to happen an infinite number of times. There’s some interesting complications and some unstated but ordinary cosmological assumptions here which again i could go into, but suffice to say that as long as you’re happy with creatures very like humans (mostly hairless, bipedal, sentient quadropeds) they’ll occur an infinite number of times.

                This is also the case if the universe is finite, but there are infinite universes.

                I don’t really know who Simon Conway Morris is, but these work so long as you agree ‘inevitable’ includes events with a probability of 1.

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

      Isn’t it Jerry Coyne who calls you a Creationist, James? I am only quoting him. You kind of just have a different view of how God created everything, that’s all. But with God in the picture it’s not evolution, it’s creationism — according to evolutionists like Jerry Coyne.

      Is Jerry Coyne guilty of ludicrous slander when he shows why accommodationists (those who pretend Christianity and science can be reconciled on this topic) really are Creationists?

  • arcseconds

    I am no expert of any kind whatsoever on the historical Jesus. I just believe whatever McGrath says about the topic :]

    But, I will credit myself as a pretty literate person with a somewhat sceptical and independent outlook, and I did spend a little time looking at this a few years ago, and I have a fairly good idea of what I would have found useful back then.

    One thing to consider is who the intended audience is. I’d strongly encourage you to not treat this primarily as a resource for people who are already well informed on the issue, but also keep in mind people like me who are not, who may be sceptical about the issue. Should such a site also attempt to explicitly address itself to mythicists too? I’m not sure about that.

    I’d personally like to see the main focus laying out the argument for historicity, and not so much on addressing specific mythicist arguments. It would be useful to have the latter, too, but maybe as a sort of an appendix. The 29+ Evidences for Macroevolution that I suggested as a model, for example, doesn’t have as its main focus creationist arguments, but rather relies on laying out the evidence for macroevolution as though to someone who doesn’t know so very much about it, but isn’t necessarily hostile to the idea.

    I’d find such a site both much more palatable and much more convincing. Palatable because it’s not so confrontational, and also because it needn’t get bogged down in minutiae and trenchant argumentation. Convincing because a site dedicated primarily to offering counter-arguments can easily seem as though the assumption is that the thesis holds so long as all attacks fail, but this isn’t right. The thesis has to be asserted on its own merits. It also may make mythicism seem more important than it actually is.

    Here, then, are my recommendations:

    *) the biggest obstacle you’ll have to overcome is a trust issue, and much of my following remarks will in part address this issue. While I’m open to the idea that people can separate their religious standpoint from their scholarship, given that there are obvious examples of people who can’t or won’t, it would be foolish to just assume this. So one problem I had back in the day was working out who to trust. For obvious reasons, Christians could be expected to have a pro-historicity bias. On the other hand, while being an atheist on its own needn’t incline one towards mythicism, for some atheists their atheism is connected with a marked anti-Christianity (or anti religion more generally) outlook, and this also struck me as a potential source of bias.

    Slightly less obviously, there are other factors that might incline an author to treat the evidence in a less than satisfactory way, such as what is likely to sell, or likely to get them kudos in their community.

    *) given that, it would be very important to stress the scholastic unity, regardless of religious position, on the matter. In particular, the views of those who have no religious reason to affirm the existence of Jesus, and might be thought to have religious reasons to deny the existence of Jesus would be important to highlight, particularly agnostics, atheists, and Jews. It’d be really good to rope one or two such people as important contributors to such a site.

    *) a section on how it is possible for a professed Christian to be led
    by the historical evidence to accept a view on the historical Jesus that
    is at odds with traditional Christian concepts of Jesus would be useful in this regard, too.

    *) the academic community itself could be suspected. Peer review is no absolute guarantee of truth, of course, and an insular academic community can end up promulgating a received view that isn’t really well supported by the evidence. So I think it would also be important to show how Biblical history relates to and engages with related disciplines such as ancient near east history, history in general, and archaeology. It’d also be worth showing that practitioners of these disciplines aren’t generally mythicists (I assume they’re not, because it’s been stated that Carrier is about the only person with academic credentials as a historian who is, but I don’t really know myself). (Mike K has made a similar point)

    It’s worth mentioning here that people who are inclined towards mythicism often view natural scientists as the most trustworthy members of the academy, and are likely to have a dim view of biblical historians. They may also not have a particularly high regard of historians or even the humanities. I’m not sure how far it’s worth addressing these concerns, but they may be addressed to some extent by

    *) explaining the importance of expertise. The flip side of the Enlightenment stress on individual reason against authoritarian dogma is the conceit that everyone can be an expert by doing nothing more than pondering the matter for an afternoon.

    *) it would be helpful to show that the approaches taken to the historical Jesus are just those taken to any historical figure. What would be particularly interesting is to show other historical figures with a similar (or even lesser) amount of evidence. This would allow you to say to a potential mythicist that “if you believe in the historical existence of any of the following, you should probably also believe in the historical existence of Jesus. Contrariwise, if you don’t believe in the existence of Jesus you probably shouldn’t believe in any of the following”. Paul Regnier had similar suggestions.

    (Incidentally, I presume this is a reasonable position to take. One could just raise the bar of evidence so high that the evidence for Jesus is just not sufficient to show he existed. It’s just that such a position would also, I suppose, end up having a sceptical position towards an enormous amount of history if carried out consistently).

    *) I agree that a section comparing mythicism with other forms of denialism would be definitely nice to have, but it’s not to my mind of prime importance, and would be difficult to do well, I think, so maybe leave this for version 2.0 or something.

    That’s all for now, but I do have some other suggestions of a practical nature as to how to run the site, but they’ll have to wait for another post.

    • steven

      ‘ a section on how it is possible for a professed Christian to be led
      by the historical evidence to accept a view on the historical Jesus that
      is at odds with traditional Christian concepts of Jesus would be useful in this regard, too.’

      Professed Christians like Thomas Brodie, a Dominican priest, has a view on the historical Jesus that is greatly at odds with traditional Christian concepts of Jesus.

      So that would be worth pointing out.

    • arcseconds

      Another point in favour of having the focus be ‘why it’s likely there was a historical jesus’ (or something like that) rather than ‘a big list of mythicist arguments and why they’re wrong’ is that it’s a more useful question to address, in part because more people will be asking it.

      and therefore the potential audience is much larger.

      Plenty of people probably ask themselves at one point “did Jesus really exist?” The number of people who are asking themselves “are the mythicists right?” must surely be much smaller, in part because the most likely reason they’d ask the later is they’ve already asked the first, and have begun investigatin’.

      Having addressing mythicist arguments as the prime focus presupposes a familiarity with the debate, and may be off-putting or confusing for people who are investigating the question for the first time.

  • steven

    Let me start the ball rolling with mythicist claim number 1.

    ‘There is no good evidence that Judas existed.’

    • jjramsey

      Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if plenty of historicists did doubt that there was a Judas, or at least one who played the role of betrayer as in the Gospels. It’s not as if he’s mentioned in any NT epistles, and his role seems a bit too dramatically convenient. It would be trivially easy for Judas to be yet another embellishment, much like the various miracles that historicists routinely reject.

      • Paul D.

        And yet, Judas is a key component one of the extremely few events historical Jesus proponents say we can be sure of about Jesus: his trial and crucifixion. To exclude Judas is to cast doubt on the entire passion narrative of the Gospels (and rightly so) — including the involvement of Pontius Pilate, for which Mark is our only original source.

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

          I would disagree, historically speaking. Judas plays a key role in the narrative, but there is no reason why Jesus could not have been apprehended without assistance from one of his disciples.

          That said, the arguments against the historicity of Judas are themselves problematic. That Is not to say that every detail about him in the New Testament is authentic – not at all. But given that the presence of Judas among the Twelve created problems for some sayings of Jesus, such as the promise that the Twelve would sit on Twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel, there is reason to think that there is some historical core behind the NT narratives. But since we have much less information about Judas than we do about Jesus, obviously we can say less about him, and with less certainty.

          But at any rate, the historicity of the crucifixion does not depend on the historicity of Jesus in any way that I can see. Indeed, one reason some have argued that Judas is not historical is the ease with which he can be lifted out! :-)

          • Susan Burns

            Judas sounds to me like a type of ethnonym created by non-Jews to represent Jews. Much like OT names that were created to represent places, clans or personality attributes. Perhaps the only fact that can be gleaned is that Jesus was betrayed.

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

              This is a common claim, but it gets the relationship inverted. The name of the disciple was Judah, which is also a name attributed to a brother of Jesus and in the Syriac church to the disciple nicknamed Thomas, the Twin. It was the name of the patriarch from whose name the territory and thus the ethnicity of Judah and Judaeans derived, not the other way around. It was a common name, and suggesting that the name suggests the individual was invented to symbolize Judaism is akin to someone today arguing that an individual named George was invented to symbolize Americans because George was the name of our first president. A character may or may not have been invented, but ine has to draw that conclusion on other grounds. The use of a common name seems to me an inappropriate basis for such a deduction.

              • Susan Burns

                Yehuda is the semitic version of Ioudas or Judas which also represents the ethnic patronym of the region so I don’t understand why you say the relationship is inverted. But also there is the Iscariot which can be interpreted as descriptive as well. Add to that the fact that Judas was the money holder and the reader of the story has everything he needs to know! A zealot from Judea that is more interested in money than loyalty.

                • jjramsey

                  If you are suggesting that Judas being a money-holder marks him as a stereotypical Jew, then you are being anachronistic. The stereotype of a money-grubbing Jew had to do with them becoming money lenders because Christians were prohibited from lending money at interest to other Christians, and that’s more of a Middle Ages thing.

                  • Susan Burns

                    Jesus cleansed the temple of money-changers using passover for profit. The only time he advocated violence. That’s more of a 1st Century thing.

          • arcseconds

            I think a historical crucifixion probably does depend on a historical person to crucify :-]

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

              Yes, and I assume you would agree that that person was Jesus and not Judas? :-)

              • arcseconds

                I’m trying to subtly point out a silly mistake here, McGrath. :] Meet me halfway and re-read what you wrote…

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

                  I reread it three times before I spotted it. Oops! I am going to leave it like that – funny!

                  • arcseconds

                    :]

                    Our ability to read what we think we wrote, rather than what we actually wrote, never ceases to amaze me :]

                    Alternatively, you could just run with it and start asserting that a historical crucifixion doesn’t require a historical person to be crucified. If you can find any way of defending that, your academic career will be filled with fame and fortune! (or at least, notoriety…)

      • steven

        So mythicist claims are correct here?

        ‘ It’s not as if he’s mentioned in any NT epistles,…..’

        Is that a valid criterion?

        • jjramsey

          It’s not a criterion so much as something that makes it a lot easier to posit a non-kludgy scenario where Judas is mythical — emphasis on the “non-kludgy” part.

      • steven

        On page 108 of ‘Did Jesus Exist?’, Bart Ehrman says there was an historical tradition that Judas killed himself.

        So I guess historicists really do think Judas existed.

        You will have to wait an awfully long time before McGrath produces evidence that Judas existed.

        • jjramsey

          Thanks for the page number. It makes it easier to find the passages that you are misrepresenting.

          Anyway, Ehrman is pointing out that (1) on the one hand, the contradictions between Matthew and Luke (not *Mark* and Luke!) in their accounts of Judas’ death mean that one isn’t copying the other, so there’s some level of independence between them, but (2) on the other hand, the commonalities in their accounts indicate a common tradition behind them.

          • steven

            In other words, what I stated was totally accurate, apart from forgetting that it was Matthew, not Mark.

            Ehrman, being a scholar, can instantly settle the question of whether Luke was using Matthew…..

            If Luke changes part of Matthew, so that he contradicts Matthew’s account, then he isn’t using Matthew at all! (This is Biblical Logic 101)

            No sir, if somebody contradicts somebody else’s account, then he is not using that other person’s account and making changes to it.

            Likewise, if I wrote ‘Mark’ where Ehrman put ‘Matthew’ that proves I wasn’t using Ehrmans’ book , when I wrote my post :-)

            After all, I contradicted Ehrman, which proves beyond a doubt that my account of what Ehrman wrote can’t have been based on reading his book.

  • Pseudonym

    This looks like a job for Wikia. The wiki format is almost made for this purpose.

    • http://www.facebook.com/brettongarcia Bretton Garcia

      The problem here, is that we need BALANCE; scholars from the many different sides of the question.
      So what would constitute a fair balance? For a balance, clearly we need at least” 1) religious persons, who are scholars; 2) non-religious Religious Studies persons; 3) secular historians; 4) atheist scholars.

      Especially important: just having allegedly objective, scholarly Religious Studies etc. scholars, would not be enough. Especially if they affirm a “FAITH” in Jesus. The problem being here, that “faith” means by dictionary definition, “Firm belief in something for which there is no proof” (Merrian-Weber’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed.).
      Any committment to “faith” means that the “scholar” has actually, deep down, given up objectivity and firm proofs on this subject; and has been following it without evidence, without proofs. And deed down therefore, has been investigating the subect … without the real demand for proof , objectivity, that a real scholar would have.

      SO? The chief criterion for choosing who is on which side here, should be signing or not signing, a “faith statement.” Those who claim to be objective religious scholars here, should be asked in advance, whether they affirm a “faith” in Christianity. If they do affirm it, then they admit to a non-scholarly, emotional, and anti-rational attachment to things, “without evidence.” Such scholars therefore, would have to be accounted among the “believer” contingent. And for balance, would have be to balanced by another scholar who affirms no such “faith.”
      Specifically note, today many religious/religion scholars, assert that scholars say from 1) “confessional” or evangelical institutions, might be clearly biased, religiously; but 2) they they themeslves, from “non-confessional” institutions, are entirely objective. And yet however? The better mark of distinction here, would be those scholars who 1) affirm a “faith” in the subject, vs. 2) those who do not affirm faith, but only rational- and scholarly – interest.
      Today we get many professors in Religion departments, that think of themselves and their peers as being extremely objective. And yet however, from the point of view of other professors in the Physics departments for example and elsewhere, it is all too evident that their lingering public attachment to “faith,” biases their views enormously.
      So let’s keep this in mind, when looking for the balanced view.

      • arcseconds

        Can’t you just assess the arguments on their merits? why the need for all of these complicated signed declarations and square dances (“take your unbiased rational partner by the hand!”)?

        • http://www.facebook.com/brettongarcia Bretton Garcia

          Nope. Today Historians are very, very, very conscious of the role that ideology has had in molding what is written down as “History.” Today therefore, any “History” worthy of the name has to explicitly and systematically take account the perspective of the historians; particularly if they are (in effect) forsworn to a particular and aggressively anti-”proof” bias regarding a given subject.

          • arcseconds

            Well, I agree that they should be honest about potential sources of bias. Normally academics actually are fairly up front about where they’re coming from these days, and it’s not that different from declaring financial conflicts of interest, which is also required in some fields (e.g. drug research).

            But usually the attitude to this is that it’s just another thing you have to take into account when assessing the argument. Usually people don’t take biases to mean that you can’t accept anything they say.

            Apparently you feel differently: you don’t think you can assess the arguments on the merits of the arguments, but rather you appear to be completely dependent on who is saying them, and that does go some way to explain why you’re suggesting such a baroque structure: you’re trying to construct a community you could trust.

            I’m wondering why you feel so helpless, though. Being Christian doesn’t grant one præternatural powers of deception, so far as I’m aware. Being biased means there will be things that are wrong or weak about the argument, and these can be detected in the usual fashion.

            In addition, this isn’t the only source of bias. How do you propose we go about finding out who’s supporting a particular position because they think it will advance their career, or because it helps them sell books? Or what about people who are so vehemently anti-religion it causes them to be biased against the historicity of Jesus?

            In many respects we’re better off in the case of religious faith, because at least people are aware that they are religious and are often open about it.

            I’m also wondering of the practicality of your solution. Are there any places that actually practice anything like this? I’m not aware of any – they don’t get drug researchers with financial conflicts of interests pair up with ones that don’t have them, so far as i’m aware. They just get them to declare their conflicts, and they’re not even very good at doing that according to the last article I read about this.

            Remember we’re just talking about a website here!

            • http://www.facebook.com/brettongarcia Bretton Garcia

              In your average debate – like say the recent debate between Carrier and Goodacre – it was easy enough for the moderator to pick a “Mythicist” – and then pick a figure in at least casual opposition to him.

              It’s not so impossible to see who is who, here. The normal structure of a “debate” manages to do this.

              Why am I so alert to the problem of bias? 1) The great finding of 20th century historiography, if anything, was the determining effect of bias on what we write down as “History.” And 2) worse, Christians are always more or less explicitly announcing a very, very strong bias: affirming adamantly, that they “believe” and “have faith in” Jesus. While “faith” by dictionary definition is a belief without evidence; calling us to believe without evidence.

              With Historicists often swearing vows of blind, “faith”ful allegiance to Jesus, do you think there are no signs whatsoever here of possible bias in the presentation and assessment of evidence? In a court of law, a self-confessed Christian witness here, would have to be declared a “hostile witness” to Mythicism.

              Why not just let people present evidence “objectively,” and let the chips fall where they may? Keep in mind that a web side or Wiki, has a founder and in effect, master editor. Who can decide to some extent, how questions are framed; who speaks; etc.. The editorial function is crucial.

              While then too, speakers and readers of course need to be reminded of the basic anti-rational bias of affirming Christians. In all History, we need to know “who speaks,” and why.

              Does this sound like too much rigmarole? This is how you set up real historical investigation.

              • Claude

                BG, I’m curious as to the top five, or even three, practicing NT scholars whose work you think has been compromised by faith.

  • arcseconds

    Practical considerations:

    *) a clearly-stated objective might be useful. It needn’t necessarily appear on the site itself, rather I’m thinking it could inform the decision-making now. It could inform the decision of who gets to contribute in what kind of way.

    It might in some ways be easier if the objective was to lay out the historicist’s position, rather than that of mainstream history. I appreciate historicists think that they’re the same thing, but Bretton Garcia for example doesn’t. It’s easier to establish that you’re capable of speaking for those who hold a particular position, rather than an entire academic discipline, and you forestall a whole lot of arguments and questions as to what right you and the other contributors have to contribute (and what right you have to exclude others). That’s not to say you couldn’t also have a section devoted to arguing that it is in fact the mainstream historical position, but it wouldn’t be as it were a fundamental assumption of the site, but rather just another claim that it argues for.

    (Again, it’s probably not worth bending over backwards to try to keep everyone happy, and you don’t really have to justify who you are or what gives you the heady authority to set up a website. the consideration is more of a pedagogical one)

    *) a wiki is definitely the best tool for collaborative development in my opinion. Comments on a blog is far more clumsy.

    One thing to look into with wiki software is how easy it is to migrate it elsewhere, because websites don’t always get to stay in one place.

    *) fewer contributors rather than more is probably the best idea for a site like this. The point is to articulate the position of a relatively small group of people, an even smaller number of whom are likely to be actively involved in the site.

    *) a small group of contributors who share the outlook also means you (hopefully) don’t have to devote much (if any) time to sorting out frameworks to decide who’s in and who’s out and how to adjudicate disputes and so forth.

  • chazpres

    As usual I’m late to the discussion. IMO organizing your (James McGrath’s) posts on Mythicism in one place would be a start. It would be useful to be able to search by topic. The search on this blog is not that great.