Myths, Messiahs, and Minimalisms

Simon Joseph blogged about the myth of the dying Messiah. He writes:

The myth of the Dying Messiah originated in and was generated by the suffering and death of a messianic Jesus… Jesus’ first followers suffered from cognitive dissonanceThe predominant model of early Jewish messianism was the militaristic Davidic warrior-king. The fact that Jesus did not “fulfill” the role of the conquering war-hero  – and was murdered by those he was supposed to oppose – could have destroyed the movement. Their teacher had just been brutally executed and they struggled to come to terms with this. They turned to the scriptures for understanding and enlightenment and, as a result, found scriptural texts that provided reasons why this might have happened. They subsequently began to supplement them with other scriptural resources (including 2 and 4 Maccabees, Isaiah 53, and the Parables of Enoch) in order to create and compose – out of sheer personal, historical, and theological necessity – the Dying Messiah tradition.

Matthew Baldwin blogged about Richard Carrier’s definition of “minimal historicism” in his recent book. He writes:

Carrier’s particular account of so-called “minimal historicism” is more than just a logical starting point. It is an overdetermined bit of theater. It has been shaped by a prior analysis of the data that is normally used in the creation of any minimal account of who Jesus was in history…This game is more than somewhat suspect: it is rigged from the start. The question of Jesus’ historicity has already been decided. By design, Carrier’s statement of the minimal form of the theory of Jesus’ historicity dooms it to failure, since it has been formulated in light of a prior assumption that is deadly to its premises: the only available sources available for investigation of the life of Jesus are so absolutely unreliable that no statements about Jesus based solely on them can be admitted at all. His conclusions also entail a prior rejection of widely shared assumptions about the best scholarly methods for reading these sources, i.e., how to extract reliable historical data from the conflicting narratives of the Gospels. Essentially, on Carrier’s account, every prior historian who has decided to rely on Christian sources for knowing about Jesus has been a dupe, a stooge or tool who has mistaken fiction for fact.

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  • Mark Erickson

    Well, it’s been four months since your second installment of reviewing Carrier’s book. You know, the one that you originally said was worth engaging with? How’s the third post coming?

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

      Oh, for crying out loud. Do you understand that Carrier’s book is not a significant contribution to scholarship? There will be more reviews, but there is no particular urgency about this – except perhaps in the twisted imagination of mythicists. And it is the end of the academic year, for goodness sake. Are you just trying to demonstrate how utterly disconnected from the realm of scholarship mythicists are?

      • Kris Rhodes

        //There will be more reviews, but there is no particular urgency about this, as I’ve come to conclude his book is not a significant contribution to scholarship. And it is the end of the academic year, which as you can imagine brings adds its own difficulties to the task.//

        FIFY.

  • Kris Rhodes

    Is Baldwin committing the Conjunction Fallacy in the linked blog article?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conjunction_fallacy

    ——-

    The most often-cited example of this fallacy originated with Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman:

    Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations.

    Which is more probable?

    1. Linda is a bank teller.
    2. Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

    The majority of those asked chose option 2. [But the correct answer is option 1.]
    ————————

    • MattBrown

      Baldwin is showing that Carrier’s presuppositions override his objectivity when looking at the data. No Conjunction fallacy here.

      • Kris Rhodes

        If that’s Baldwin’s main point, it seems live very small potatoes, especially in a field in which most scholars are quick to insist that there is no such thing as objectivity when looking at the data.

        • MattBrown

          Scholars have never said that the data is subjective. At the end of the day, opinion is opinion, but the facts about Jesus will never change. We know he existed, was crucified, buried, and was believed to be raised.

          None of this will ever convince mythicists because many, if not most mythicists, are not serious about the evidence and would rather hand-waive it by.

      • Kris Rhodes

        BTW does anyone know what’s going on with Baldwin’s blog? It’s been down for days now.

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

          I let him know, so that he can look into it.

    • Sheriff Liberty

      The issue is what the definition of “and” means, if it’s used in the strict statistical sense of “if and only if both” then it is, if it’s an or statement then it’s not. That’s why I don’t get what Baldwin includes as evidence.

  • Sheriff Liberty

    I don’t quite understand what Baldwin’s argument for reliability is: do we use both the Gospels and the later sources? Is the latter more reliable? His argument that Carrier is rigging the debate only works if the Gospels are considered totally unreliable.

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

      Could you explain your point? I’m afraid I don’t follow it.

      • Sheriff Liberty

        From what I understand, Baldwin is arguing that the Gospels aren’t fully reliable for determining historicity, and so Carrier, by restricting his survey to just the Gospels as evidence, is rigging the book in favor of mythicism (because those Gospels can’t fully determine historicity).

        If this is case, what evidence should we be using?

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

          Well, we should certainly start with our earliest source, Paul, who had met Jesus’ brother.

          • Sheriff Liberty

            It sounds like you’re saying yes the early evidence can be used which negates Baldwin’s argument :/

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

            Perhaps you have misunderstood Baldwin? But at any rate, Carrier does things with the letters that are every bit as unpersuasive as the things he does wih the Gospels, if not indeed more so.

          • Sheriff Liberty

            For Baldwin’s argument to make sense he has to be saying the early sources are unreliable by themselves. What does Carrier do with the earlier texts that’s misleading (not including comparing it to other ancient myths)?

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

            In addition to my previous blogging on that subject here, see also the following:

            http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2014/12/mcg388023.shtml

            http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2014/10/mcg388028.shtml

          • Sheriff Liberty

            Both are those articles are about comparison: I’m asking whether you can determine historicity based solely on Paul and the Gospels or whether you need to examine the extant sources.

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

            Are you under the impression that the letters of Paul and the Gospels are not extant? I cannot make sense of your comment as worded.