Five Reasons Why Mythicism is Disappointing

Valerie Tarico, despite saying that she defers to the consensus of experts, nonetheless offers five really bad reasons for thinking Jesus might not have existed.

1) She says that there are no secular sources about Jesus, neglecting to mention that the notion of secularism did not exist in that time, and that one would be hard pressed to find any source that completely disbelieved in all gods of every sort.

2) She points out that things like the virgin birth only appear late, as though that is evidence against the historical value of our earliest sources.

3) She points out that none of the earliest sources are eyewitness accounts, which is probably correct, but surely (to use her example) we do not always disbelieve when our aunt tells us about someone she knows. And Paul does offer an eyewitness account of having met Jesus' brother.

4) The Gospels contradict one another. So what? Josephus contradicts himself, and yet we do not find him to be wrong about everything concerning which he wrote.

5) Scholars come up with very different portraits of Jesus. As I have said before, that is indicative of the crowdedness of the field. It is not as though there is a lack of consensus about key details. And indeed, at this point Tarico and the mythicists fail to consider the explanation they so quickly appeal to when it suits them, namely that a deep desire for Jesus to have been a particular kind of person may be a reason why scholars keep finding a Jesus who suits them. But what about the majority view, one that deeply disturbs and troubles many?

Mythicists think they have great insights, and even those who are not totally persuaded may still believe that mythicists are saying something interesting. But lists like these show that mythicists are like the introductory-level students who are able to think they have figured things out only because they are so superficially acquainted with the evidence and relevant scholarship. It always seems easy to put a puzzle together when you only have a few pieces to work with.

 
 

 

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  • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

    Saint Paul doesn’t mention anything about the geography of Jesus’s life, actually.

  • http://nwrickert.wordpress.com/ Neil Rickert

    I’ve just finished reading John Loftus on this issue, who links to Tarico. John sees that as making the case for mythicism. I don’t. What’s lacking, is positive evidence for mythicism.

    I left a comment on John’s blog.

    • Pseudonym

      “What’s lacking, is positive evidence for mythicism.”

      At this point, I’d be happy to have a mythicist theory which explains all the evidence half as well as the current mainstream theory without resorting to conspiracy theory.

    • arcseconds

      I personally don’t have a dog in this fight. But weakness of the evidence for historicism is not going to persuade me to jump to a mythicism with even weaker evidence.

      I really must try to hammer this point home more. Making trouble for historicism, even if it’s successful, promotes agnosticism, not mythicism. Mythicism is a positive claim in its own right, it doesn’t just win by default.

      • William J E Dempsey

        Start say by reading up on the methodology of mythography. Then say Herder on Jesus as Dionysus.

        • arcseconds

          Are there any consistent, eyewitness, secular accounts of 1st-century iudaioi, well-known for their aversion to ‘pagan’ religion, adapting greek myths like this, or are you using a double standard here?

          • William J E Dempsey

            2 Mac. 5 to 7 and corroborating sources might start to get there

          • arcseconds

            So, no, in other words.

            Why would a politically motivated work be regarded as any more accurate than one that is religiously motivated?

          • Griffin Gaddie

            2 Mac. 5 has Jews themselves testifying to Greek and specifically Dionysiac influences. Which to be sure some are trying to belatedly reject. Recorded history testifies a hundred times to Hellenizing effects on the Mediterranean people’s in this, the “Hellenistic Era.” Dozens of books on this.

            If the opposition to religion was only political there might be an equivalency. But most Mythicists also borrow heavily from Science. Which…is not mere opinion.

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

            Mythicists do not borrow from science in relation to their mythicist views, any more than they borrow from mainstream scholarship in history or ancient literature. If you are suggesting that you can get from Greek and Roman influence on Judaism to the invention of a crucified Davidic anointed one, you clearly haven’t grasped the fundamental issues.

          • William J E Dempsey

            That jump might be inconceivably large to a conservative zealous Jew. But consider a Hellenized Jew used to cooperating with Geeks after 332 BC, and then the Roman occupiers of Jerusalem after 64 BC. The notion of a dying Davidic king somehow resurrecting might be appealing.

          • arcseconds

            The point I am trying to make is that mythicists are employing a double-standard here. There has to be a ‘smoking gun’ to conclude Jesus existed: an eyewitness, non-contradictory, non-affiliated account. Or at least the lack of this is problematic.

            But for a mythicist theory all we need are the vaguest of vague indications. Maccabees attests to Greek influences, and the Gospels look a wee bit like Dionysius if you squint enough, and et voilà! that’s enough to conclude that the Gospels are a greek myth in drag.

            If we were to consistently employ the same level of scepticism that mythicists employ about the Gospels to Maccabees, we would have to conclude that this is also a highly biased account, written by nationalistic iudaioi who were apparently the victors in something like a civil war. Attributing pagan excesses to an earlier phase of Israelite history is of course a recurring pattern in the Tanakh. It was also written decades after the fact. So don’t we just reject this as being a hopelessly unreliable repetition of earlier myths, like the Gospels?

            You appear to have misunderstood my remark about political motivation: I was talking about Maccabbees. But thanks for being honest about the fact that for you this is all about religion versus ‘science’. Maybe that’s not the best attitude towards history, though? If you see Jesus as a political football in a cultural struggle, why would you be any better at assessing the evidence than the other team?

          • William J E Dempsey

            Sometimes it is best to fight rhetoric with rhetoric. Though mythicism also has the strongest facts too.

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

            Mythicism has no facts whatsoever in its favor. Your trolling grows wearisome. I always give newcomers the benefit of the doubt for a while, but you have left tons of comments but offered no evidence nor any substantive discussion. That must change immediately if you wish to continue commenting here. This is a place for serious discussion.

          • arcseconds

            So in other words, you don’t mind employing double-standards so long as you win, and you’ll keep insisting that it’s superior without giving an actual argument for it?

  • Eli Odell Jackson

    What does it matter what a ‘Mythicist’ believes, like any other heathen they have not the Spirit of God and therefore could not and do not understand His word, for these things are spiritually discerned are they not?
    I have nothing to learn from such a woman but to resist her in every approach.

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

      This is a blog for serious discussion of topics in an academic manner. If you are unwilling or unable to participate in such discussions, and will only offer drivel of the sort that says “I have God’s Spirit so I know and understand all things, and thus by definition anyone who disagrees with me is wrong,” then this is not the blog for you.

      Ironically, your view that one needs special spiritual insight to even understand the meaning of ancient texts is based on a common misunderstanding of a passage in 2 Corinthians.

  • arcseconds

    (1), (3) and (4) presumably express a desire for really solid primary material. I wonder whether the logic lying behind this is that if we had a secular, contemporary, non-contradictory account we would be sure of Jesus’s existence, probability ≈1, and for every deviation from this we need to knock off a bit, so if it was eyewitness and secular but contradictory we’d reduce it to 0.75?

    (5) just seems like they’ve never read scholarly work on any famous human beings or historical events. There are several G.W.F. Hegels, and several World War IIs, but no-one thinks as a result that Hegel didn’t exist and World War II never happened.

    And surely it counts against mythicism more: Carrier and Fitzgerald have totally incompatible ideas about how the myth originated.

    (2) just seems bizarre as an objection. A late, fantastic addition shows what, exactly? Does the later author have some magical access to the truth of the matter, and is only prepared to embellish something that’s entirely mythical from the start? If anything, this supports historicity, as an originally less fantastic story is acquiring more fantastic elements, and a trajectory might be traced back to entirely mundane occurrences (not that I’d want to put too much weight on this point). If on the other hand the story was entirely fantastic, through and through, right from the earliest source — if the earliest Gospel had a virgin birth, infancy miracles, Carrier’s execution in the heavens, and the harrowing of hell, and lacked any mundane details altogether, say — then historicity would be far less attractive.

    • arcseconds

      Has anyone had one of those conversations where you think you’ve clarified a basic misunderstanding with your interlocutor, and they say “yes, yes” and appear to understand, but within a few sentences they’re back to the same misunderstanding?

      On a little further reflection, and thinking back to the Miami Valley Skeptics interview with Fitzgerald (and other examples), I think that’s what is going on with (2) here. Mythicists and people inclining towards mythicism often seem to have great difficulty moving away from debunking the Jesus of the Gospels. They say “yes, yes, we understand that historians are proposing a non-miraculous Jesus” but a few moments later they’re back to disproving a Jesus that was born of a virgin and raised the dead.

      It seems that many mythicists and sympathisers are coming from dogmatic, traditional Christian backgrounds — evangelical or similar. This includes Tarico, Fitzgerald, the Miami Valley Skeptics (at least some of them) and Captain Cassidy of Roll to Disbelieve. I think they have an after-image of Church Jesus on their retinas, still.

      • The Eh’theist

        Fitzgerald was positively scholarly on the Miami Valley Skeptics compared to his recent ‘debate’ on Dogma Debate. It reached a low when Fitzgerald and the host badgered the individual supporting the idea of the Historical Jesus with the question, “How can we believe what you’re saying about the Historical Jesus unless you can explain why no one else wrote about the Jewish zombies in Matthew?”

        That said, I have been puzzling over some questions posted on an atheist blog about Nazareth. The two I find the most difficult are:

        6. Josephus, although he waged war within two miles of present-day Nazareth and fortified the nearby town of Japhia, does not list Nazareth among the 45 cities and towns of Galilee in his experience.

        9. The church father Origen (c. 184–c. 254), although he lived at Caesarea just thirty miles from Nazareth, did not know where it was located—even though he had made serious efforts to study the biblical sites: “We have visited the places to learn by inquiry of the footsteps of Jesus and of his disciples and of the prophets.”

        While I understand that the existence of Nazareth as portrayed in the Gospels is a separate issue from the existence of the Historical Jesus, and that there is some evidence for the existence of something known as Nazareth, questions like these seem to suggest that the vast majority of what is written about Nazareth may be nothing but literary art.

        It creates the impression in my mind of Jesus in front of a green screen, with all his background added and much of the dialogue dubbed, such that it raises the question about why continue to focus on trying to sort out the actual Jesus rather than putting effort into studying the efforts of the CGI technicians who made him look so good he became a star?

        If the achievement of stardom is the reason Jesus is considered worthy of study, shouldn’t the emphasis be on those who made that possible?

        • arcseconds

          I don’t really know anything about this topic — I’m the casualist and laziest possible armchair amateur short of thinking parallels with Horus are a good argument — but it seems to me that many biblical scholars are doing exactly this? My impression is that the focus has widened somewhat from recovering the historical Jesus to investigating the earliest Christianity. The memory work that Crossley does, while it does still look a bit like recovering the historical Jesus, does have a focus on the reception by the community, which is part of what you want, presumably.

          And the interest in achievement of stardom hardly does away with interest the historical Jesus altogether. I would think that one has to be at least a little impressive in person for anyone to want to tell elaborate myths about you in the first place.

          • William J E Dempsey

            So Zeus exists

          • arcseconds

            and non sequitors happen

          • The Eh’theist

            Almost a haiku.

          • William J E Dempsey

            If many believing in something or someone means it is true, and real, then….

          • arcseconds

            fiat currency can exist and Tinkerbell comes back to life.

          • The Eh’theist

            My POV has been, that although the biblical Jesus was now off the table, that there was some basically good fellow who did good things and built up a reputation as a result. Much like Schweitzer was still inspired to build a hospital in spite of his conclusions about Jesus. I also saw it as something Christianity could continue to move toward, and that potentially the historical Jesus could have elements that typified the humanist ethic.

            The more I see the narrative have been constructed and the lines written for Jesus, the more that position feels shaky. It starts to raise the possibility that unlike a Van Gogh, whose greatness was only appreciated after his death, that Jesus was perhaps a mediocre teacher who happened to be believed by people who ended up being very good at promotion, much like the story told about Billy Graham and William Randolph Hearst. Or going back to the star analogy, like Simon Cowell autotuning a lackluster performed to pop stardom.

            I don’t like that possibility for several reasons, primarily because it removes the humanist “bridge” to find common ground with liberal Christians and as critical study becomes more popular in conservative churches, it’s quite likely that such a view of Jesus would provoke ire at a minimum.

            I think your comments about some of the renewed focus on the early church as the mechanism for creating the narrative that attracted so many disciples is correct. I just wonder if there isn’t a tipping point where once enough of the material that made the biblical Jesus interesting gets removed, if the individual who remains would have ever gotten the attention of scholars.

          • arcseconds

            Ehrman answered a question about Jesus being married, and said this wouldn’t be the case on the basis that for Jesus, the Kingdom of God is a kind of inversion of what we find on Earth, and the right thing to do is to instantiate the behaviour of the Kingdom. So for example earthly life is marked by violence and war, whereas the Kingdom is peace, and one shouldn’t attempt to bring about the Kingdom by violence (no war to end all war) but rather by being peaceful. Similarly, earthly life is marked by sexual immorality, and the inversion of this is chastity, so one should be chaste.

            Or something like that. Now I write it it doesn’t sound exactly right…

            Anyway, it seems to me that there is something to that argument, as it does make sense of several things attributed to Jesus. At any rate, an account like this seems a lot more likely than thinking Jesus was a guerrilla warrior or a Cynic.

            And if an account like this can do this sense-making job, then it may be the most parsimonious explanation is that it’s Jesus’s perspective. After all, it’s unlikely that statements written in an uncoordinated fashion by several people would be capable of a robust interpretation (of course, if you think the interpretation is spurious, then there’s no argument here…). So it probably has to be someone’s perspective, and if we find traces of it in several sources, we have the option of attributing it to Jesus or proposing an early transmitter of the Jesus tradition and attributing it to them. As the later option is inventing a whole new figure with particular qualities for no particular reason other than not wanting to attribute this perspective to Jesus for some reason, it’s less likely.

            But even if we’re not entirely persuaded by an account like this, there’s also nothing much that rules it out. Thinking that all traces of the original figure apart from some biographical details have been overwritten is a positive claim in its own right, and it doesn’t seem all that inherently likely, and as far as I know there’s no solid argument that this must be the case.

            On the other hand, does it matter? It’s already the case that the consensus historical Jesus figure is not acceptable to theologically conservative Christians, and even many non-conservative ones, even if we optimistically attribute all the nice and interesting Jesus-teachings to him.

            Moreover, if it’s the teaching that matters, then how relevant is it if it wasn’t the teaching of an individual, but rather the product of a community? Even as an example of how to live, it seems to me to be somewhat… insensitive to conclude that if it didn’t happen, there’s nothing we can learn from it.

            (Have you ever discussed different interpretations of Batman with a Batman fan?)

            What’s at stake and what’s lost if you treat the New Testament Jesus as a literary figure? One could say that this is really what conservative interpreters are doing, too, it’s just that they presume that there’s a real figure that corresponds exactly to the literary figure. Of course they are likely to say that everything is lost because there’s no literal resurrection and salvation, but it doesn’t seem like you believe in those things anyway…

          • The Eh’theist

            You’ve packed a lot of interesting thought in here and I’ll try to do it justice>

            After all, it’s unlikely that statements written in an uncoordinated fashion by several people would be capable of a robust interpretation

            While I would agree that there was no formal coordination, I think there are two points that modify this a bit. One, we believe that there was significant borrowing between writers which would ‘coordinate’ significant parts of the parallel accounts they describe.

            Two, there is the understanding that these materials were written for community, in a specific culture and time period and all of these constraints would have a ‘coordinating’ effect as well. To extend your later Batman comment, if we look at the show Gotham it has significant liberty in the creation of its plotlines and character development, while at the same time having some very strict constraints that if violated would cause rejection by the community. Jim Gordon cannot become Batman. Likewise, we see what happened to the Gospels that didn’t fall within the community’s acceptance limits.

            Moreover, if it’s the teaching that matters, then how relevant is it if it wasn’t the teaching of an individual, but rather the product of a community? Even as an example of how to live, it seems to me to be somewhat… insensitive to conclude that if it didn’t happen, there’s nothing we can learn from it.

            This was what I was trying to get at in my previous comments. If it’s the biblical material that captured everyone’s interest, and made Jesus interesting as a result, if we see responsibility for that material shifting from Jesus to the early church, it would also make sense to see focus and attention shifting there as well. Now with a bit of sleep and thought, I’m thinking that’s the case among less conservative scholars as you note.

            It’s also interesting to realize that it is taking place with more conservative individuals as well. If you look at Ehrman’s debate with Justin Bass, Bass was pretty much willing to toss out the Gospel of John as a source of information to try and save the idea of Jesus self-consideration as divine in the Synoptics. It was a bold move to try and best Ehrman, which was undone later in the debate when he tried to save the Gospel by making it the product of the later emergent understanding of Jesus by the church. If you try to straddle the sinkhole, you’re likely to fall in. I like that James and most of the other historical academics are content to stay on one side of it.

            What’s at stake and what’s lost if you treat the New Testament Jesus as a literary figure?

            That depends on how you approach it. As I noted, I’ve enjoyed the idea of Jesus as an example of somewhat humanist morals, where one could find common ground, much like Gandhi or other examples. If one moves to treating the example as purely literary, it begs the question as to where it should rank on the list of examples. The ‘reality’ of the biblical Jesus has been the ground of privileging his story and his ethics on society.

            If as James pointed out in his post on the Virgin Birth, that this primacy and claim to reality can only be maintain through falsehoods, it demands a reconsideration of how much influence the stories should have on society and behaviour. That’s where the discussion parts ways from Batman.

            While someone could be inspired by Batman to support a society that protects people from crime, or be personally inspired to a higher standard of physical fitness and training, I don’t think it likely that anyone in the discussion would be claiming that we should base our system of justice on the model found in Detective Comics or that we won’t have real justice until we have a Caped Crusader administering vigilante justice.

            In fact if we look at Bernard Goetz we see that most oppose such a view. So if we transfer this back to Jesus, one could argue that taking a more literary approach is fine, as long as we reorient society away from the privileged weighting that was given to Christian models and ethics, and let others stories have their day, moving the emphasis for study into historical research, as is done here, and in re-imagining of the literary tradition to interact with modern ethics and realities, as we are seeing in a growing tradition in Canada’s Indigenous communities.

            Then just as there are historical facts about US presidents, and literary tales to communicate an ethical idea or value, the study of Jesus could reorient in the same manner, with no harm, no foul to those who don’t believe. If that works for you, I think we’d have common ground.

          • arcseconds

            Surely the justification for Jesus being normative on society hasn’t been merely that he actually existed, but that he has a special authority. Once you do away with a divine Jesus, or at least admit that this is a faith-claim that a government has no right to give special weight to, then you’ve already basically undermined the idea that we as a society should do things because Jesus said so. Even if we accept that his teaching and non-miraculous actions were as stated, he is merely one example among others, and the onus is on us to weigh up whether he has anything worthwhile to tell us.

            Batman I suppose probably isn’t a good example when it comes to insisting that society ought to instantiate certain values.

            Let me change my example to the real-life Jedi movement. I presume that none of these people think the Star Wars films are documentaries, but they feel nevertheless that the example of the Jedi are powerful role-models for them personally, and presumably would also be inclined to think that while society probably shouldn’t be the Jedi Order, it should at least be a society that a Jedi would be prepared to defend, and so should aim for peace and justice and that sort of thing.

            If a Jedi were to give an impassioned speech in a townhall meeting about, oh, I dunno, let’s say how Muslims are treated in society, that’s topical, and she appeals to Obi-Wan Kenobi’s statement that ‘only the Sith deal in absolutes’ and Master Yoda’s “fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering”, I’m sure many people would not in fact take this seriously. But why should it be taken any less seriously than someone giving a speech about how Jesus dealt with outsiders like Samaritans?

            Speaking of which, that’s an excellent case in point. Christians are supposed to take the story of the Good Samaritan quite seriously (it is after all offered in explanation as to the second of the two great commandments) but everyone accepts that is ‘just’ a story.

          • The Eh’theist

            Surely the justification for Jesus being normative on society hasn’t been merely that he actually existed, but that he has a special authority.

            I agree that the special authority has a role to play, but I would hope you would agree that Most everyone accepting that authority have considered existence a necessary prerequisite.

            So we see among Evangelicals and Catholics who are willing to interact with questions about the New Testament’s composition, that there is still an attempt to propose some basis upon which the remaining texts and the Jesus they describe can still make authoritative claims upon people, and still demand a privileged hearing for those claims in society. While as a society we’ve begun to close ourselves to this claim on the part of Young Earth Creationists when confronted with how their beliefs don’t align with the evidence, we are still reluctant to do the same when confronted with the historical evidence about Jesus and the Gospels. In some ways that lack of a corrective effect may be driving the fervour with which mythicism is being presented (noting that fervour doesn’t add to the veracity of any of the belief systems).

            I agree with your comment that the research that has been conducted should undermine any preferred treatment of Jesus’ words by society. Just as we shouldn’t build our perjury or conflict of interest legislation on the story of Washington and the cherry tree (especially given that I’m in Canada) we shouldn’t be asked seriously to make marriage legislation conform to a single statement attributed to Jesus when it was meant to address a completely different point and was almost certainly never said by Him.

            Knowledge of the marital customs of that time period and how well they may have worked would be useful information that historians could provide us in making decisions about how our society does things, and texts are part of the material that would help illuminate the understanding in that time period, but to put one’s entire weight on the scale for a particular body of text shouldn’t be permitted.

            I would also agree with your Jedi comment. People who find particular writings and ideas to be meaningful can certainly share them with everyone else and commend them, both on the basis of their historical benefits and for benefits in the present day, and in this way they can add to the information that society uses to choose its direction.

            Likewise your point about the Samaritan: in spite of the narrative implying that Jesus spoke this words specifically to effect a broad change in behaviour, they are set aside for ‘real’ parts of the Gospels. We see the mirror opposite of how many like to mine the Grand Inquisitor for quotes that support their point of view, while ignoring the contextual effect of the rest of the novel in which it is embedded.

            If we could separate the authority claim and the source material, I think we could have productive historical, literary and philosophical studies with the source material, and it could be the basis for a reflective spirituality, much as The Way of the Pilgrim has played a role in Orthodox spirituality without anyone requiring it to be historical.

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

          Nazareth was a village in this period, and not a town, much less a city. It presumably grew to become a city not least because it became a place of pilgrimage for Christians.

          • The Eh’theist

            Thanks. I could have uncrated my copy of Josephus, but I thought someone here might have already answered this. There are so many accusations being flung about Nazareth, many of which don’t demonstrate anything if true, and even if they were to show the NT Nazareth to be mostly a Potemkin fiction, it doesn’t prove their claim about the Historical Jesus, it just makes a little more of the narrative non-historical.

          • arcseconds

            I was going to remark that I just can’t trust mythicists on this stuff. If they say “there was no Nazareth” then that might be an indication that it’s a good idea to check up on what is known about 1st century Nazareth, but it’s not a good indication that there was in fact no Nazareth.

          • The Eh’theist

            I want to give them a fair shake because honestly, the views expressed about Jesus on this blog were at one point an extremely minority view, that eventually gained a hearing.

            But there seems to be so much attitude, and hostility to even a basic level of questioning (listen to the Fitzgerald ‘debate’ if one needs examples) that it becomes very difficult to engage with the material for any length of time.

            When I started reading Bruce Metzger as a Pentecostal, what he had to say was very troubling for me, but there was no polemic in his presentation, he interacted well with his critics and provided lots of sources for further review. So I became convinced by it. Night and Day with this stuff.

          • William J E Dempsey

            Blogs and popularizers are often a bit polemical. But behind them is sometimes solid scholarship. Herder on Dionysus was an interesting start back in 1805.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            Unfortunately, there has been very little progress since then. Mythicists are still trying to make something of the “parallels” between Jesus and various mythical characters. Carrier has now added a touch of pseudoscience to this tawdry enterprise. Jesus is assigned to a reference class whose other members are all mythical figures. This supposedly establishes that the prior probability of Jesus’ existence is low.

            This is the sort of thing that will impress credulous amateurs.

          • arcseconds

            I don’t really think much weight should be put on the fact that minority views sometimes win out. Tarico tries to make a similar point with her paradigm shift statements (I’ll refrain from ranting about Kuhn right this minute), and of course it’s a popular talking-point for denialists and cranks of all kinds.

            Yes, individuals do overturn consensuses sometimes. But far, far more often they don’t, so they’re not the horses to back. The ones that don’t just recede into obscurity remain minority views far more often than they become majority ones.

            And on the few occasions where someone has come in from left field and changed everything, they’re by far and away most likely to be from the left field inside the discipline (or a closely related one) not outside. There are a tiny number of exceptions, and even they tend to be extremely well versed in the subject.

            Metzger was a Princeton grad and held academic positions at the fanciest-danciest institutions: he wasn’t an ‘independent scholar’ and writer of pop-biblical-scholar books.

            Of course, one should still listen attentively to people’s arguments, its only respectful to do so, but I feel I have done that, and I haven’t found mythicists to be at all convincing. Rather they appear to be just as much motivated reasoners as Christian apologists, and just as prone to jump the gun, and misunderstand the debate as being entirely about their particular religio-cultural hangups…

          • William J E Dempsey

            The logic of myths is at first always obscure.

          • arcseconds

            You know, some experts think Eddington’s observation of the 1919 solar eclipse didn’t actually prove Einstein right.

          • William J E Dempsey

            Today we know that entangled particles communicate faster than light.

          • The Eh’theist

            Of course, one should still listen attentively to people’s arguments, its only respectful to do so, but I feel I have done that, and I haven’t found mythicists to be at all convincing.

            Agreed. That’s what I did with Metzger, what I’ve tried to do with the mythicists and what I think we are doing here. As a methodology I find it works well more often than not. Once things have shown themselves no longer worthy of consideration that’s another matter.

            I’m hoping the recently announced Price-Ehrman debate will be available online as it may be the one chance to hear someone expound mythicist ideas in an orderly and respectful way and then hear a well-spoken counterargument. If that’s unconvincing, I may take the same step as you and stop offering any consideration to the idea. While some are trying to make it an atheist shibboleth that’s a silly idea for many reasons.

          • arcseconds

            Well, I haven’t stoppered my ears. If a mythicist comes along with a good argument, I’ll listen to it.

            I’m just not very hopeful about this possibility. Historicism is actually in a pretty strong position: it offers a causal account that explains evidence that we might say is more-or-less direct evidence for the existence of Jesus, but not only that, other features of the texts we have that would be odd otherwise, and it also explains the overall trajectory of the Gospels (and fits in with the post-Gospel development, too) where they acquire more spooky stuff as time goes on. And it does this with an account which is parsimonious, and otherwise plausible. A charismatic founding figure is already a plausible and well-attested possibility for the origin of a cult, and the historical Jesus is not out of place in 1st century Palestine. There may be some unusual features about him, but we should be open to that possibility: unusual people do happen from time to time.

            And problematizing this account, even if it’s successful, only really supports agnosticism. If we decide that we have no idea why we’ve ended up with an account of a crucifixion (because we accept that we don’t know enough to say this is an unlikely thing to make up) and if we start thinking that there’s good chance that Galatians 1:19 is an interpolation, etc. then what we’re left with is texts that we don’t know what to make of — not texts we’re quite sure are made-up wholesale. And if these kinds of arguments were successful then historicity would still be plausible: the crucifixion might be there because there was a historical Jesus who actually was crucified, but we just don’t really know.

            To even start to compete against historicity, mythicism has to at minimum not only raise problems for historicity, but show it can do a better job at addressing at least some of those problems.

            And to be a serious contender, it would have to also look like a net gain over historicity. If it does better on one or two things but worse on a whole lot more, then it loses. I would also think that it actually has to offer a specific historical account of how the myth developed. Failing to be specific about this can hide the low probability of any specific account, and it can also mean you can help yourself to mythicist ideas that aren’t actually compatible with one another. Carrier and Fitzgerald do offer this, of course, but there we can see that they aren’t very probable and there’s no evidence for them.

            Mythicists find their case convincing by assuming problematizing historicity is proof for mythicism, employing double standards, and assuming that ‘it was all made up’ can be had for free.

          • William J E Dempsey

            And as more and more and more is found ahistorical….

          • arcseconds

            I wonder how many comic books and movies have to be written involving the Nazis in fantastic plots before the Nazis will also cease to have existed?

          • William J E Dempsey

            Conflicting accounts and supernaturalism alone are of course not enough.

          • arcseconds

            But you told me just a few moments ago that supernatural accounts always have to have a red mark on them… have you changed your mind since then?

            You are a very confusing person. it’s a good thing for you that conflicting accounts aren’t sufficient to reject the testimony out of hand…

          • William J E Dempsey

            Pending conclusive findings (which are unlikely for now), supernaturalistic accounts should remain flagged as likely mythical.

          • arcseconds

            Do you think Socrates didn’t exist because he was said to have a tutelary spirit that spoke to him, didn’t need to sleep, and was unaffected by alcohol?

          • Griffin Gaddie

            Consider countervailing evidence of rationality, and mentions by contemporaries.

          • arcseconds

            What does rationality have to do with it? Are rational individuals more likely to exist than irrational ones?

            So Spock, for example, is more likely to exist than David Icke?

          • The Eh’theist

            Hmm…perhaps that was Mel Brooks’ secret plan?

          • Jim

            I think you can streamline the process of finding things to be ahistorical by calling anything in an ancient document that you don’t like, to be a clear interpolation. Then if someone asks you to provide some rational evidence in support, you can tell always them that it’s in a sub-lunar location and probably orbiting the moon as we speak. And if they still continue to pester you even after you’ve provided all of that unequivocal proof, then start calling them nasty names.

          • Griffin Gaddie

            Turnabout is sometimes considered fair play.

        • Bethany

          As Bart Erhman commented in his book, “I could dispose of this argument fairly easily by pointing out that it
          is irrelevant. If Jesus existed, as the evidence suggests, but Nazareth
          did not, as this assertion claims, then he merely came from somewhere
          else. Whether Barack Obama was born in the U.S. or not (for what it
          is worth, he was) is irrelevant to the question of whether he was born.”

          (I know you said this as well in your post, but I’ve just always found his comparison amusing so couldn’t resist quoting it.)

          He then goes on to point out that structures dating to the time of Jesus and pots and coins dating to that same period have, in fact, been excavated from the traditional site of Nazareth. It appears to have been very small, and indeed in the gospels skepticism is expressed that anything important could have come out of Nazareth.

          • The Eh’theist

            Yes, many of Ehrman’s comments bring clarity to disputed points. His debate with Kyle Butt is loaded with them. Clearly we have evidence of Nazareth apart from the Bible, so the question becomes how much accurate description of Nazareth do we have in the biblical narrative? Jerusalem has been much easier for scholars to research in that regard.

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

            Ehrman also goes on to make the argument that no one would have invented Nazareth as the birthplace for the Messiah, which raises the probability that Jesus was really born there via the Criteria of Embarrassment. That makes it relevant to historicity, even if it’s not dispositive.

      • William J E Dempsey

        The miracles should not be taken off the table since they demonstrate the overall picture. Of unreliability in the gospels.

        • arcseconds

          No-one here thinks the Gospels are reliable historical documents.

          But all historical documents need to be read critically, none should be happily embraced as “telling it just as it was”.

          • William J E Dempsey

            And those that are very, very heavily miraculous should always remain red flagged.

          • arcseconds

            So they can… um… anger bulls?

            Are we supposed to picture miraculous texts as matadors here? I’m not quite sure where you’re going with this… is the bull supposed to stand for something?

          • William J E Dempsey

            Tales that are up front supernatural should always have a red mark on them. Trying to abstract out the “real” material is like finding the real historical mouse behind Mickey.

          • arcseconds

            So for example it’s entirely pointless to speculate on the origins of the Gospels in the myth of Dionysus…

          • William J E Dempsey

            …unless Dionysus is likewise mythical.

          • arcseconds

            So it’s fine to speculate about the story’s origin in another myth, no matter how speculative that theory might be, but it’s not fine to reason that a historical individual might be the most parsimonious explanation for several features of the story?

            Isn’t this just constructing rules to get the result you want?

          • Griffin Gaddie

            The standards for historicality are higher than for mythological derivation.

          • arcseconds

            why the double standard?

          • Griffin Gaddie

            History is taken more seriously, and as fact. So it

          • arcseconds

            You’ve left me hanging for the end of the sentence there…

            Saying that the Gospels are a worked-up version of the myth of Dionysus is proposing a specific history that led up to the Gospels. Why does this history need to meet a lower standard than a history that proposes a historical Jesus as being the origins of the Gospel stories?

            They are both proposing a certain process as being historical fact, so I would think they should meet the same standard.

            This seems to be a common mistake that mythicists make: presuming that somehow saying it’s all a myth can be had for free. It’s not for free: it’s a substantive claim in its own right and needs to be considered just as critically as the notion of a historical Jesus.

          • William J E Dempsey

            That is a fair objection. But I would suggest that mythicism has at least the stronger argument.

            And, pending a definitive finding, seeing all the myths inside Jesus will best explain his real nature.

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

            Suggesting that a view “has the stronger argument” which professional historians and scholars almost unanimously find to be not merely unpersuasive but garbage, suggests that you are either very gullible or very dishonest.

          • William J E Dempsey

            In the days when scholars who disagreed with the church were murdered by angry zealots as heretics, a few scholars learned to voice their criticisms in obscure polysemic language. Where some would see it. And others, angry zealots,. would not.

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

            That doesn’t justify your double-speak in the present day. Nor does it excuse your trolling. If you change your mind and would like to be allowed to comment again, just get in touch by e-mail and explain why I should believe that your future comments will be less deceitful, garbled, and inane in the future than they have been thus far.

            UPDATE: Actually, scratch that. I just saw that you are actually a troll from way back who has taken advantage of my Troll Amnesty Day but who decided nonetheless to use a pseudonym and hide your identity, and do precisely the things that got you banned before. Goodbye, BrettonGarcia!

          • arcseconds

            So far, neither you nor Griffin have actually told us why you think that mythicism is superior, you’ve just stated that it is so.

            Which of the many mythicist theories do you think has the most evidence for it, and why do you think the evidence is superior to the mainstream account, whereby the New Testament had its origins in the life of a historical individual?

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            I would also like to hear what the argument for mythicism is. So far, the only thing you have offered is an alleged similarity between Jesus and Dionysus.

          • Scott Scheule

            Carrier makes an attempt to substantiate that claim. It’s a shame that so many atheists have taken that as a license to propound the most vulgar sorts of mythicism.

    • William J E Dempsey

      5) There are many accounts of Hegel. Which is why we dont trust any of them too much.

      • arcseconds

        So, of course, it’s natural to conclude that Hegel was a literary creation of the Young Hegelians!

        • William J E Dempsey

          No. But we do conclude he was not a god
          And of course the analogy breaks down. Since there is a thousand times more evidence for his historicity.

          • arcseconds

            We conclude that Hegel wasn’t a god because there are conflicting interpretations?

            What a strange perspective you have.

            Does that mean you’d conclude that Hegel was a god if everyone agreed on a single interpretation?

          • William J E Dempsey

            We can conclude that gospels generally are not infallible.

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

            No works of human literature are infallible, period. The very fact that you couch your statement in such language shows that you are discussing this as a matter of anti-religious polemic and not as a discussion of history using historical methods.

          • William J E Dempsey

            I am happy to work politely within your thus stipulated framework.

          • arcseconds

            Do you think anyone here is asserting the gospels are infallible?

            You appear to be boxing with your shadow…

          • Griffin Gaddie

            I think that there is an unconsciously lingering biblicism even in Christian scholars.

          • arcseconds

            What about the non-Christian ones?

          • Griffin Gaddie

            Science told them miracle and therefore most of religion was a lie. After that it was all just icing on the cake. Free variation allowed

          • arcseconds

            What does ‘free variation allowed’ mean?

            Does this mean you’re inclined to believe, say, Bart Ehrman and R. Joseph Hoffman, both of them experts on early Christianity and both of them atheists, when they tell you Jesus existed?

            (Ehrman sometimes says he’s an agnostic, but he’s clear that what he means by that is that he can’t conclusively prove the non-existence of a deity, even though he thinks it’s overwhelmingly probable there isn’t one. So the only sense in which he isn’t an atheist is a hair-splitting one.)

          • William J E Dempsey

            Ehrman went to Moody Bible College, and then Princeton Theological Seminary. Whose faculty member Dale Allison confirms a bias there for theology, and against history. No doubt Ehrman has not quite outgrown that.

          • arcseconds

            What makes you think so?

            Has Fitzgerald outgrown his background in SBC?

  • http://brucegerencser.net/ Bruce Gerencser

    James,

    Exactly what is the “majority view, one that deeply disturbs and troubles many?” I think a man named Jesus likely lived and died in 1st Century Palestine. What is there about this fact that I should find disturbing and troubling? I can look at history of Mormonism, for example, and easily see how we could end up with a religion like Christianity.

    It is the supernatural claims of Christianity that I reject. These claims do not disturb or trouble me because I don’t believe them to be true.

    Bruce

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

      Most Christians, conservative or liberal, are troubled by the historical conclusion that Jesus predicted the end of the world in his time and was mistaken. And certainly conservative Christians at least tend to be troubled by the conclusion that the historical Jesus did not speak in the manner that the Gospel of John portrays, and that a Jesus who believed himself to pre-exist his earthly life and/or to be divine is not found in the earlier Gospels.

      The irony is that mythicists (like all peddlers of pseudoscience and pseudoscholarship) do not know enough about scholarship in this field to make accurate statements, and so they think it plausible that the field is a Christian conspiracy to defend the existence of a historical Jesus. They seem not to even be aware that the conclusions historians draw about Jesus are ones that Christians tend to find unsettling.

      • http://brucegerencser.net/ Bruce Gerencser

        Thanks for the clarification.

        Bruce

      • William J E Dempsey

        So no fundamentalists embrace the end times? Many do. Expecting they will get their reward then.

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

          Are you a troll, or did you just not read what I wrote carefully? Fundamentalists push the end times into the future. They do not acknowledge that Jesus wrongly predicted the end in his own generation.

          • William J E Dempsey

            My point is that often things that seem upsetting are still reassuring in some way. Reaffirming at least the bare existence of Jesus for example.

          • arcseconds

            It’s not clear to me that the bare existence is reassuring. Why would it be?

            People find Jesus reassuring because of things like: he came back from the dead, he saved us all from horribleness, he’s still with us today, he’ll come back and put everything to right, he knew what he was on about because he was God, he was a great teacher and moral exemplar to everyone.

            If none of that is true, but he was just a crazy guy who thought the world was going to end and then got killed by the Romans and his body discarded, then why would that be reassuring?

            In fact, this seems far more disturbing than an entirely fictitious Jesus.

          • William J E Dempsey

            Yes. Still for some hearing Jesus was even minimally real is better than total fiction.

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

            Can you provide some examples of people who, when they learn that Jesus was not God incarnate and was wrong in his prediction about the end, nonetheless take great comfort in the fact that this failed Jewish messianic claimant existed?

          • William J E Dempsey

            Those who have “hope”? For more to come.

            To use an an analogy: Rocky might be defeated for now. But as long as he is at least alive, there is hope for a rematch.

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

            That is a nice image of your stance on mythicism. As long as there are a few people still keeping that outdated and irrational faith alive, there is still hope for it to make a comeback.

          • Griffin Gaddie

            Perhaps. But it is of course the churches that most explicitly embrace Hope. It should not seem unreasonable therefore to attribute this attribute to them in particular.

            There is a vast Christian apologetics, inspirational literature on the subject of faith and Hope. More recently from John Paul II.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            It is true that the role of faith is made explicit in religious tradition. If only atheists would be as honest about their faith in mythicism. Instead we have the pretence that their belief is based on a sober evaluation of the facts.

          • William J E Dempsey

            Well, many feel that real science strongly suggested that Christian promises of miracles were false. And then many extrapolated from that.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            One may certainly argue that claims of the miraculous are rendered increasingly improbable by the advance of science. But even here a degree of faith is involved. After all, one needs to have faith in the regularity of nature, if nothing else.

            The extrapolation that you mention is not a reasonable one. One does not begin by noticing the absence of genuine miracles and extrapolate from there to the non-existence of Jesus.

          • Griffin Gaddie

            The absence of miracles suggests the Jesus of the Bible was at least half false. That established, it strongly suggests in turn that it might be the better part of wisdom not to trust the rest. But to regard it with a skeptical eye, and methodology.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            It might be wise to regard the other stories about Jesus with scepticism, but would it be wise to suppose that Jesus never existed? I don’t think it would – especially if the alternative to thinking that Jesus existed is to think that the early Christians believed in a Jesus who was abused and crucified by demons in outer space.

            Scepticism about miracles should be kept in perspective. After all, the saints are people who, by definition, are believed to have performed miracles. But we are generally willing to believe that most of them existed, even if we reject the miracle claims.

          • Griffin Gaddie

            Phone fuzzing out.

          • Griffin Gaddie

            Not?

          • Griffin Gaddie

            Scholars say the authors of the gospels were not the original saints or the twelve. So something is awry with saints too.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            Which saints did you think I was talking about? I was talking about saints in general, not just the disciples. If you want to argue that a figure to whom miraculous deeds are attributed is unlikely to have existed, then you need to show that fictional saints outnumber historical saints.

      • psstein1

        Interesting… I think you could argue that Paul sees Jesus as some pre-existent divine being, however. As for Jesus getting the end of times wrong, wasn’t it fairly common in 2nd Temple Judaism for prophecies to be reinterpreted?

  • Cecil Bagpuss

    Valerie Tarico declares that there are no first-century secular sources which refer to Jesus. She then quotes Bart Ehrman who says that there are no first-century pagan sources. Ehrman is clearly making a distinction between pagan and Jewish sources. The latter would include Josephus, who probably did mention Jesus. Either Valerie Tarico is deliberately misleading people, or she is remarkably ill-informed on the subject.

    It is unfortunate that this sort of behaviour is not unusual among campaigning atheists.

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

      I agree that Tarico misinterpreted Ehrman, but since she quotes him in full, I don’t see what basis you have for accusing her of deliberately misleading anyone. She if sufficiently transparent that anyone who reads her article can spot the error.

      Moreover, I think that Ehrman has to share some of the blame. The problem for everyone is the lack of early secular sources, with “secular” being used in the sense of “not overtly or specifically religious.” By drawing an artificial distinction between pagan and non-pagan first century sources, Ehrman obscures the fact that Josephus, while Jewish, can be considered just as secular as the earliest second century pagan sources.

      • Cecil Bagpuss

        I don’t know that it was deliberate. If she isn’t aware of the Josephan references, then it obviously wasn’t deliberate. But if she is that unfamiliar with the facts, she shouldn’t have written an article on the subject.

        The distinction between secular and religious sources is probably not a useful one. A more useful distinction in this context would be between Christian and non-Christian sources.

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

          I too think that the world would be a better place if people who don’t know as much as me would refrain from expressing their opinions.

    • histrogeek

      “Secular” is pretty silly term to use and it’s a big tell of bias since no serious historian would use that term in the classical world, where the supernatural is referenced in every history.
      “Independent” would have been better, though clearly Josephus is an independent source.

  • Ian

    like the introductory-level students who are able to think they have figured things out only because they are so superficially acquainted with the evidence

    I was chatting to a friend last week who teaches Intro to the NT. It’s the time of year for dozens of first year essays confidently solving the synoptic problem.

    • William J E Dempsey

      Read the mythicist Robert Price, and then let us know how ignorant he is.

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

        William, do you mean Dr Robert M Price, who has favourably reviewed the work of Acharya S?
        http://www.truthbeknown.com/price-sog-review.html

        I like Dr Price, but it sometimes seems that he hasn’t met a bad idea that he didn’t like. I wish he’d be a little more critical at times. His support of Acharya S is baffling.

      • Ian

        The claim “Some X are Y” is not the same as the claim “All X are Y”.

        • William J E Dempsey

          So it would be misleading to characterize all mythicists as begining students.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            It would indeed be misleading to characterise all mythicists in that way. Most of them are far more ignorant than beginning students. Quite a lot of them come on this site and fire off one asinine comment after another.

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

    I believe that Tarico is using “secular” in “not overtly or specifically religious,” which can be found in Merriam Webster. I can think of no reason to suppose that she meant “completely disbelieving in all gods of every sort.”

    On the other hand, I find “account” defined as “a description of facts, conditions, or events: report, narrative.” I think it may be stretching things to call Galatians 1:17 an “account” of Paul’s meeting with James.

    • histrogeek

      Thing is that any history from the classical world will include many references to the supernatural.
      Josephus talks about being prophetic about Vespasian and his fated lots as if they were not the result of his own agency (which most historians today assume). Roman historians talk about omens to the point where you would have to believe that Rome was plagued by endless lightening strikes and that eagles were flying around the city landing at significant locations all the time.
      Are we supposed to assume that these accounts are made up because they reference the supernatural?

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

        I have no idea why that question is being directed to me.

      • William J E Dempsey

        On the other hand there is also a high degree of rationality in Roman writings. Extraordinary for its time.

        • histrogeek

          Roman history isn’t that extraordinary. It comes from the same Hellenic tradition dating back to Herodotus. And some Roman historians were pretty uncritical repeaters of legends (cough Livy) or gossip (cough Suetonius). Today we ignore the former writers as historians, use the latter with caution, and focus on the writers that closest fit our values (Polio, Tacitus, etc.). Even the best historians and writers of the time were badly afflicted by a worship of/deference to power, not always by choice of course.
          Chinese civilization, one of the few literate societies that wasn’t affected by Hellenism, was just as rational, just swap out Stoicism for Confucianism, and Chinese writings are almost the same in rational content.
          All of which is to say that Roman writing are less rational than we have read into them in the post-Enlightenment world. Enlightenment thinkers, reacting against the violence of the Reformation-era, have trained us all to admire the Romans (i.e. pre-Christian Europeans) as rationalists par excellence, when they were actual pretty similar to other large scale civilizations of their era.

          • Griffin Gaddie

            The Greco Roman civilization was far more advanced for its day, than 90% of the rest of the world. To expect more would be anachronistic.

            Arguably it was the best we had from this era. And is to be preferred to the more wholly supernatural accounts of that era.

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

            The fact that you contrast Greco-Roman with “more wholly supernatural accounts” suggests that you need to become more acquainted with Greek and Roman literature.

          • Griffin Gaddie

            The art was highly naturalistic. Much if not all of the lit too.

          • histrogeek

            More advanced than China? In any event, that’s not really relevant. “Advancedness” however it is defined is no indication of reliability. Ancient Egypt was advanced for its day and yet we don’t take pharaonic inscriptions at face value. And yes as history Roman accounts are better than “more wholly supernatural accounts” whatever that might mean, but their biases (national chauvinism, focus on high politics, etc.) are why there is so little independent information about 1st Century Palestine and why a small religious movement in a backward would be easily overlooked. A similar movement could have occurred in Gaul or Africa without attracting the attention of contemporary historians too.

            Mythicism implies that there is some “reliable” contemporary history, one without all that funny mystical nonsense, from which we can comfortably exclude the Gospels because they have many supernatural elements. That is just not how history works. Yes you can exclude supernatural events, BUT critically you cannot exclude a source because it has supernatural events in it. At least not if you want to have any source at all.

            The Gospels are not really meant to be history in any event. They are a proof for a Jewish and/or Gentile audience of Jesus’ messianic position. It would be like using the dialogues of Plato as a history of Athens. Yes there are historical references in the dialogues, but that’s not what they are for and using them as a history in their own right would be a terrible mistake.

          • William J E Dempsey

            So let us concede the ahistoricality of the Bible. Then what is left is the truth of fiction and myth.

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

      One can take almost any single verse from any narrative which has been divided after the fact into verses, and that verse will not constitute a narrative or an account.

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

        You can include as much of the chapter or letter as you like, and I would still think it is stretching things to call it a narrative or account of Paul’s meeting with James.

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

          Is your point that it is more a narrating of the fact that he had met with James, than a narrative account of the details of the meeting? If so, how is that relevant to the present discussion?

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

            My point is that I wouldn’t say that Paul does any more than “mention in passing” that he met James. Words like “narrative” and “account” suggest much more detail than Paul actually provides.

  • Cygnus

    About the guy’s t-shirt in the picture, I’ve never meet a Bible that talks, but if I hear one, I’ll let you know :)

    • Marcus Maher

      Does an audio Bible count?

  • Paul E.

    The meme above is definitive proof that the Bible is not inerrant.

  • Pseudonym

    “Scholars come up with very different portraits of Jesus.”

    …as if there’s a mythicist theory of Christian origins which has a consensus, even among mythicists!

    • William J E Dempsey

      But there is a rough consensus….

      • arcseconds

        No, there really isn’t. Fitzgerald, Carrier, and Atwill, to name just three all have completely different and totally incompatible accounts of how the Jesus myth came into being. They don’t agree on who, why, when or where the myth was created.

        • William J E Dempsey

          But they agreed the Jesus .material looks clearly mythical. After that it is just a matter of specifying which myths.

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

            What is the relevance of the agreement of three people who aren’t professional scholars in rejecting the consensus of secular scholarship on any topic? You can find something similar in relation to any field at all.

          • William J E Dempsey

            The key is studying the methodology of professional mythographers. To learn to recognize what is considered a significant parallel and what is not.

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

            I am curious whom you consider to be a “professional mythographer,” but in the meantime I would recommend that you read my article dealing with, among other things, the mythicist penchant for parallelomania: http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2014/03/mcg388024.shtml

          • Griffin Gaddie

            The use of parallels is common in Christian scholars. Who often looked for say, Old Testament parallels to New Testament events. As did Jesus himself.

            Those analogies to be sure, are known to have been often strained. Neverthless, they are widely used in your own field. Scholars in Comparative Literature and mythography rely partly on a similar method. But also on more historical information.

          • arcseconds

            This is like saying that there’s a broad consensus among Ptolemy, Capella, Copernicus and Brahe, in that they all agree the heavenly bodies clearly have circular orbits. After that it’s just a matter of specifying which body orbits what.

          • Griffin Gaddie

            But most are considered to belong under the single rubric of The History of Astronomy. Clearly they are related. And contributing to the same thing.

          • arcseconds

            this is both completely obvious and completely irrelevant to the point I was making, and you saying it makes me think you haven’t understood my remark?

            Or is there a point you’re making here that I’m missing?

      • Pseudonym

        Not really, no. If you take (say) Carrier, Harpur, and Wells, the theories presented are mutually incompatible.

        We’re not talking about a theme with variations, here. We’re talking about widely different theories, the “cores” of which cannot simultaneously be true.

  • Jeremiah J. Preisser

    I’m not a scholar and I’m not religious, but I’ve been commenting on this article for a few days now in an effort to combat this ignorance. It’s troubling how widespread mythicism is. You can go to a good number of videos and see the same sort of stuff posted in the comments section. Folks like Dusty Smith, Jaclyn Glenn, and amateurs like this keep the stuff alive, even if it’s all but dead in professional circles.