Studying Jesus without Religion?

Richard Carrier gave a talk which is on YouTube, “Imagining the Study of Jesus without Religion.” Historians have worked hard to set aside those demands and desires arising from religious convictions out of the picture when looking at the figure of Jesus. They have done so so successfully that time and again they have produced a portrait of Jesus so disturbing to Christians that the idea that he wasn’t a historical figure – that he was from the beginning the figure Christian faith claims, even if pure invention – would be more preferable. Ironically, Carrier’s weak and unpersuasive arguments don’t hold a candle to some of the disturbing – and actually historically plausible – proposals that Christians have come up with, and found their faith shaken by. Here’s Carrier’s video:

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See also Carrier’s post about what stance atheists should take on the matter at present. It is interesting to see that he seems to equate agnosticism about the historicity of Jesus with mythicism. But the two are worlds apart. Concluding that the evidence is inadequate to establish Jesus’ historicity is not at all the same thing as accepting the bogus positive claims of someone like Earl Doherty who claims to be able to demonstrate the ahistoricity lf Jesus, and even that the earliest Christians did not think that he was a human being who had lived on Earth in recent times.

Carrier’s post was a response to one by Daniel Fincke on his blog Camels With Hammers.

Let me also highlight a comment left by Stuart on this blog:

The best argument against using parallels to support mythicism comes, ironically, from Richard Carrier. In Proving History, Carrier shows extensive parallels between the story of Daniel in the lion’s den and Matthew’s account of the empty tomb. The problem is that we know Matthew copied and embellished Mark’s account of the empty tomb and the parallels with Daniel aren’t in Mark’s account. So Matthew imposed the parallels on a story which originally didn’t have them. That’s the problem with what James has called parallelomania. It is just as easy to impose parallels on an existing story as it is to invent a story with parallels. The presence of parallels is not a reliable criterion of ahistoricity.

Finally, I can’t help wondering whether this Cyanide and Happiness cartoon was inspired by – or perhaps the inspiration for – the work of Joseph Atwill that has been getting discussion recently.

  • Herro

    It is interesting to see that he seems to equate agnosticism about the historicity of Jesus with mythicism.

    What? Where does he “seem” to do that? :S

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

      He refers to unnamed scholars giving voice to agnosticism, as though that somehow made Doherty’s claims, which he buys into, plausible as a result.

      • Herro

        He does indeed refer to unnamed scholars giving voice to agnosticism, but there is nothing there about it “somehow making Doherty’s claims, which he buys into, plausible as a result.”

        It’s clear that he makes a distinction between agnosticism and mythicism :S

  • stuart32

    Apparently, Richard Carrier has determined that, even according to the most generous calculation, there is only a one in three chance that Jesus existed. Let’s hope that this calculation is not based on the argument that he has previously used regarding Paul’s meeting with “James, the brother of the Lord”. This argument is equivalent to saying that if you met the Pope’s brother you would say that you had met “Jorge’s brother”, not that you had met the “the Pope’s brother”.

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

      Nicely put!


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