Wikis, an Index of Mythicist Claims, and the Positive Case for a Historical Jesus

Those who’ve begun tinkering at the wiki I set up on Wikia already disagree on whether the best use of time and space is to address mythicist claims or to present the positive case for there having been a historical Jesus on its own terms.

I don’t see the two as mutually exclusive. But since both are potentially useful, I’ve set up a second wiki, TalkHistoricity: The Case for a Historical Jesus. Anyone who wants to focus on presenting the positive case for a historical Jesus in an organized fashion can do so there.

I’m happy to provide as much or as little oversight and input into what happens there as may be desired. I have no interest in taking a proprietorial or domineering approach to it. The semester begins next week, and so if I am moving too slowly, by all means make things happen there!

I do wonder whether and to what extent some of this effort might be better spent, in the long term at least, improving the treatment of these topics on Wikipedia, as opposed to merely starting afresh. But I suspect that the latter is a good way to begin, and if it leads to editing other prominent wikis, that can happen later, once thoughts, arguments, and wording has been honed and polished.

For those interested in the approach of addressing mythicist claims in the manner of the TalkOrigins Index of Mythicist Claims, here is a first sketch of some of the topics that immediately come to mind and how they might be organized.

An Index of Mythicist Claims

History
- Methodology

  • Scholars of historical Jesus do not use the same methods as other historians
  1.   Criteria of authenticity (embarrassment, multiple attestation, etc.)
  2.   Positivism and postmodernism
  • If most of the information about Jesus is myth, then the rest probably is too
  • It is irrelevant or untrue that, if the mythicist approach were applied to other figures, their existence would also be denied
  1.   Historical denialism vs. historiographical methods
  2.   Specific examples (Socrates, John the Baptist, Hillel, Muhammad, Apollonius of Tyana)
  • Historians are influenced by Christian assumptions or a desire to avoid controversy

- Evidence

  • Use of Christian sources is unacceptable, because they are biased
  • Jesus should have been mentioned by ancient historians and other contemporaries
  • Jesus is not mentioned by Josephus
  1.   The Testimonium Flavianum
  2.   James the Brother of Jesus called Christ
  • Tacitus’ mention of Jesus…
  1.   is based on hearsay and worthless
  2.   is an interpolation
  • Paul does not view Jesus as a historical figure, but as a purely celestial figure
  1.   Born of a woman, born under the Law
  2.   Descended from David according to the flesh
  3.   James, the Lord’s brother
  4.   Bled, died, was buried, etc.
  • The Gospels are too late to be used as historical sources
  • The Gospels are turning a celestial figure into a historical one

- Mainstream Historians on Jesus

  • Secular historians do not accept the views of historical Jesus scholars, or do so uncritically
  • The case for a historical Jesus has never been made
  1.   Should we expect archaeological evidence for a figure like Jesus?
  2.   Arguments for the authenticity of material in texts IS the making of an argument for Jesus’ historicity. Historical figures’ existence is not a separate or separable question from their words and deeds.
  • Historians who have addressed the issue specifically have done so inadequately
  1.   Shirley Jackson Case
  2.   Maurice Goguel
  3.   Michael Grant
  4.   Bart Ehrman
  5.   Maurice Casey (list is by no means comprehensive)

- Other claims

Religious Studies
- Christianity was just another mystery religion
- Jesus was just another dying and rising god

  • Dying and rising gods
  • Claims of similarities to Jesus (December 25th, virginal conception, dying and rising)

- Ancient Judaism

  • Pre-Christian Jews already expected a dying Messiah
  1.   Daniel
  2.   Targum Jonathan
  3.   Rabbinic Literature
  • Philo calls the Logos “Jesus”

What else do people think should be on here? How might the material usefully be organized differently?

I hope to go back through my earlier posts on mythicism and either create a round-up that organizes the links thematically, or begin adapting those older posts to this new use. As I do so, I expect that other topics and subheadings will come to mind.

 

 

  • http://www.facebook.com/dkmiller62 David Miller

    This is not my area of expertise, so I won’t be contributing anything, but I look forward to this coming together!

  • arcseconds

    I’ve been agitating for the positive case, but I don’t think these are mutually exclusive either. I think both are useful, but the positive case is going to be more useful for more people.

    I’m doubtful about having two wikis, though.

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

      Think of it as a second sandbox in which to play around with arguments and their organization. If anything appears in one wiki that would be useful in the other, it can be duplicated, but each can have its own unique rationale and organization, to the extent appropriate. If nothing worthwhile becomes of one or even both, so be it. It is there, should it ever seem useful to put stuff in it! :-)

  • steven

    ‘Philo calls the Logos “Jesus”’

    ‘Tacitus’ mention of Jesus…’

    Are you really going to say that Tacitus mentioned Jesus?

    We all know that the new rule (introduced by McGrath only a few weeks ago) is that if the name Jesus is not present in a text, then there is no reference to anybody called Jesus in the text.

    The new McGrath rule is that if an author does not explicitly name somebody called Jesus, then you are a bogus scholar if you say he is talking about somebody whose name really was Jesus, and will be denounced ferociously.

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

      Steven’s attempts to find ways to misconstrue and twist what people say makes mythicists seem not just misinformed but malicious and/or idiotic, I think most people would agree?

    • Claude

      Let me guess. Your New Year’s Resolution was to overreach even more than last year! Am I right?

  • Susan Burns

    At the risk of being moved to the Bigfoot Forum, I contend that the Talpiot Tomb has to be addressed. Surely the Yose argument on the Bible and Interpretation website is compelling enough to deserve a mention.

  • http://historical-jesus.info/ Bernard Muller

    I addressed many of these issues (against mythicism and for a historical/human/earthly Jesus) on a blog I just started:
    http://historical-jesus.sosblogs.com/index.htm

    Anyone is free to consult it and use its arguments anywhere …

    Cordially, Bernard

  • Geoff Barrett

    “Arguments for the authenticity of material in texts IS the making of an
    argument for Jesus’ historicity. Historical figures’ existence is not a
    separate or separable question from their words and deeds.”

    Is this the historicist defense?  I thought you were laying out mythicist claims. If this is an argument in favor of the appeal to the Gospels (?), then how does the historicist account for deeds such as raising of the dead, and indeed, the resurrection itself? Or, on the other hand, is this indeed the mythicist case, that since you can’t separate the accounts of clearly mythical deeds, then the Gospel accounts must be discarded?  I don’t really see that argument happening (after all, magical stories are told of clearly historical figures and those accounts themselves don’t cause us to doubt, for example, the actual existence of Vespasian. There are other reasons for discounting the Gospels as historical data for events that occurred in the 20′s or 30′s. However, separating the myth from the man is a difficulty for historicists.

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

      Separating myth from history is an issue that historians face constantly. I intend to work through mythicist claims, but it sounds like you are completely new to historical study in general, and the historical study of Jesus in particular. I would strongly recommend reading a mainstream secular historian’s treatment of what we know about Jesus and how, rather than getting your initial impression of this scholarly field from discussions on a blog.


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