Without Using the Bible

Hemant Mehta shared this cartoon from The Atheist Pig:

On the one hand, if the point of the cartoon is that one cannot prove a historical point simply by appealing to the Bible as authoritative scripture, then of course that is true.

But appealing to Paul’s letters, or other early Christian writings, which happen to have ended up as part of a collection known as the Bible, is not inappropriate if we are using them not as scripture, but as human texts which can tell us about what particular humans believed in a particular time period. And studied using the tools of historical inquiry, we can often determine whether the knowledge and beliefs of ancient authors is likely to correspond to historical reality.

To disqualify texts from use for historical purposes because they later became part of a collection known as the Bible makes as little sense as appealing to scripture to solve a matter of history – a discipline in which those texts may be the object of critical investigation, but in which no scripture is arbiter of what is or is not history.

Imagine if someone said “demonstrate that there was a historical Socrates, but without using anything written by his disciples.” That you would not be able to do so is not indicative of a problem with the evidence for a historical Socrates, but of a problem with the inappropriate constraints being imposed on you from the outset, in an attempt to derail the investigation.

The fact that some mythicists use this tactic shows how weak their standpoint is. If the only way to make your case is to trick people into agreeing in advance to exclude the most relevant evidence from consideration, your case must be really rather pathetic.

 

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  • jjramsey

    If a mythicist is going to insist that his/her opponents not use the Bible, shouldn’t he/she do the same?

  • Stupid Atheist

    Do you think there is anything I could cut/copy/paste from the Bhagavad Gita to convince you to accept Krishna as your lord and savior…?

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

      Do you understand that this is not a discussion of accepting someone as lord and savior, but about the historicity of a particular person?

      • Stupid Atheist

        Alrighty then:

        Do you think there is anything I could cut/copy/paste from the Bhagavad Gita to convince you to accept the historicity (and perhaps subsequently, the divinity) of Lord Krishna…?

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

          Are you suggesting that historical study of texts involves cutting and pasting? You sound like you are discussing the use of texts by religious people for proselytization and apologetics, and not the way historians make critical use of them.

          • Stupid Atheist

            I’m pointing out that we don’t simply:

            “…disqualify texts from use for historical purposes because they later became part of a collection known as the Bible…”

            …but rather because their own historical veracity is suspect.

            [ Substitute “Krishna” for “Jesus” and “Gita” for “Bible” in the above cartoon from our friend Mr. Seiber and I don’t think the drawing ever triggers your radar. ]

            Even suggesting that, say, Saul of Tarsus’ writings “tell us about what particular humans believed in a particular time period” is overly generous. Were we to grant that the seven of his epistles suspected of being the most authentic WERE penned by the apparently bipolar Apostle, they’d at best only give us an insight into what he himself had rattling around in HIS delusional head.

            Were my descendants to learn that I’d converted to Scientology after being visited upon by the ghost of L. Ron Hubbard, they’d be justified in considering my observations of the world around me to be highly suspect.

            So too are we right to dismiss “the most relevant evidence” provided to us by Saul, or Paul (or Sybil or whomever he might have imagined himself to be at the time he put quill to papyrus) as overtly nonsensical…

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

            And in their antipathy towards your religious choice, they might well insist that there never was a historical L. Ron Hubbard.

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            You come up with the volume of empirical evidence for Yeshua that’s on par with that for the existence of Hubbard and I’ll be in the pew next to you this Sunday…

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

            I’m not interested in you being in a pew. This is a discussion about a historical question. Are you suggesting that, because the evidence for a historical Jesus is more like that for ancient figures like Socrates, than for an individual who lived and died in living memory, there is something anomalous or surprising about that?

          • Stupid Atheist

            “I’m not interested in you being in a pew.”

            That hurts, man.

            = = =

            “Are you suggesting that, because the evidence for a historical Jesus is more like that for ancient figures like Socrates, than for an individual who lived and died in living memory…?”

            If you’d like to replace “L. Ron Hubbard” with “Joseph Smith” and “Scientology” with “Mormonism” in my above example, be my guest.

            My point is made either way…

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

            Yes, whether the point is made with Scientology or Mormonism, the fact that you held religious beliefs that future people reject would not be a sound basis for their assuming that either Hubbard or Smith was your own creation rather than a historical figure whose claims influenced you.

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            Granted. But a dearth of empirical evidence for either man (conflated with extraordinary claims of the divinity of either) would be reason enough for being skeptical OF those claims…

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

            Claims of divinity should be met with skepticism. But that is obviously irrelevant to the matter of the historical Jesus, who is not depicted as divine in our earliest sources.

          • Dan

            What earliest sources depict Jesus as not divine?

          • Pseudonym

            What earliest sources depict Jesus as not divine?

            The earlier gospels depict Jesus as “less divine”, if that helps. If you sort early Christian writings (and their interpolations) by their likely date of authorship, you can see a clear progression from “less divine” to “more divine”.

            Now while it’s probably wrong to extrapolate, that’s another independent line of evidence that you need to take into account when building a bigger picture.

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

            Mark, Matthew, and Luke among the Gospels. Paul’s letter are less unambiguous, but many interpreters understand Paul’s view to be that Jesus is exalted to a quasi-divine status after the resurrection. Philippians 2:10-11 depicts Jesus as being exalted to a status he did not previously have, and receiving the divine name.

          • Pseudonym

            That hurts, man.

            Pews can be pretty uncomfortable, that’s for sure.

          • John MacDonald

            There’s also the possibility that the New Testament isn’t being honest with us.

            If you would like to read the short story I published about the possibility that the stories of Jesus’ divinity and miracles were LIES, it is published here:

            http://www.caseagainstfaith.com/the-eternal-return.html

            For an overview of the most recent arguments I have on the topic of “Jesus’ divinity and miracles as NOBLE LIES,” see the five or six posted comments I have on this blog page:

            http://vridar.org/2015/09/21/comments-open/#comment-73290

            My name is John MacDonald

        • http://www.squishlikegrape.com/ Bruce Alderman

          to accept the historicity (and perhaps subsequently, the divinity)

          But historicity and divinity are two very different things. Many ancient figures were said to be divine, e.g. Alexander the Great, Akhenaton, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Ali ibn Abi Talib, Julius and Augustus Caesar.

          Are you seriously suggesting that accepting the historicity of any or all of these people means also accepting their divinity (or at least being open to it)? Do you think it’s possible to study history without devolving into ancestor worship?

          • Stupid Atheist

            Agreed, but let’s not pretend the purported historicity of Yeshua is not offered as foundational toward the veracity of His divinity…

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

            Are you seriously suggesting that when atheist and Jewish historians conclude that there was a historical figure of Jesus, and when liberal Christians who are historians conclude that Jesus was a figure who predicted the imminent end of the world and was mistaken, they are working to prove his divinity?

          • Stupid Atheist

            No.

            I’m saying we can’t ignore the agenda of the apologists who bring it up…

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

            No one is saying that you should ignore the agenda of apologists. What is being said is that engaging in historical denialism is not the best way to respond to apologists. The conclusions of historians about Jesus raise lots of problems for what conservative Christians say about him. And so there is something very odd when atheist apologists reject the conclusions of historians, rather than using their conclusions in their own arguments.

          • Stupid Atheist

            You’ve offered me two items to take issue with:

            1) “atheist apologists” : That’s a label suggesting an NFL team could have a “defensive quarterback”. The Greeks gave us ἀπολογία specifically as a label for the devout, not its detractors; and

            2) “there is something very odd when atheist apologists reject the conclusions of historians” : is missing the qualifier “some”. Some historians.

            The historicity of the biblical Yeshua is by no means a consensus, and I think it’s fair to opine that the subtext of the above cartoon is a poke to the ribs of anybody insisting the matter is somehow settled by the Good Book…

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

            Are you here pretending to be a “Stupid Atheist” and trying to make atheists look bad? I don’t appreciate that sort of thing. The discussion here is not of the “biblical Yeshua” but the historical one, about which there is indeed a consensus among historians – an overwhelming one, and it is not settled by a “Good Book.”

          • Stupid Atheist

            No sir, in fact you and I have had plenty of lively (and civil) discourse in your prestigious forum before, sans anonymity.

            A few unsettling emails from the devout have prompted me to put up the veil. The impetus for my humble moniker is here:

            http://www.stupidatheist.com/about/

            …in the event you’re sincerely interested.

            The consensus, if one can be said to exist, is that at best there “probably” was that there was once a guy named Yeshua wandering around the desert. That’s hardly evidentiary.

            We’ve had widespread agreement on the flatness of the planet, geocentrism, and heliocentricity at one time or another. That didn’t make any of it true.

            Wouldn’t a better rebuttal to author of the cartoon above (and for that matter, me) be to bury us in extra-biblical accounts of the life and times of Yahweh’s kid…?

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

            “Probably” is all historians can offer us about the past, especially the more distant past for which evidence is piecemeal. You might be interested in discussing this in an all-or-nothing kind of way that apologists prefer, but that would be to reject the approach that historians adopt.

            To focus on extrabiblical accounts would be to accept the premise that because a letter or book came to be included in the collection that is known as the Bible sometime after its composition, that makes it inappropriate for historians to use it. The very point of the post is that this sleight of hand maneuver is likewise one that is inappropriate in a historical as opposed to an apologetics-style approach to the topic.

            The appeal to earlier popular views that were later overturned is no more persuasive when mythicists use it than when creationists do.

          • Stupid Atheist

            So (and please let me know if this synopsis is unfair) your retort to the artists “That’s all there is” lampoon is simply “That’s all there needs to be”…?

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

            My point is that, from a historian’s perspective, the later inclusion of works in a canon is as irrelevant as their later exclusion from a canon. Historians do not evaluate sources based on their canonicity or lack thereof. And so by saying that the later inclusion of sources in a thing called a Bible disqualifies them from use by historians, the person in question indicates that either they have no idea what historians do, or couldn’t care less.

          • Stupid Atheist

            Your objection seems a lot more complex than the author’s cartoon. His seemed to assert that the only historical record of Yeshua is biblical, a point which you appear to concede.

            His punchline emphasizes that evangelists have nothing else to go on, with which you also seem to concur. All of which seems to be a rather long-winded way of restating my previous post: He says biblical accounts are all we have, and you appear content with those accounts (while admittedly put out by his/my disregard FOR them).

            Again, that doesn’t seem an unfair synopsis, I hope…

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

            I have not by any means suggested that the sources of information we have which are external to the Bible are irrelevant. What I have insisted, despite your attempts to depict things otherwise, is that whether something is inside or outside of the Bible is determined by decisions and processes subsequent to their composition and is thus irrelevant to what historians do.

          • Stupid Atheist

            I thought we’d had essentially the same two-pronged takeaway from the cartoon: it asserts holy texts do not an evidentiary argument make, and that the evangelists one encounters rarely offer more than that.

            Was there some subtext or nuance beyond that I’ve missed…?

          • arcseconds

            Why are holy texts off the table?

            Also, Paul wrote letters, not holy texts. They were decided to be holy texts later. Do you think that it’s possible to render a text unreliable retroactively by declaring it to be holy?

          • Stupid Atheist

            No, I do not.

            I’m not sure how much more flatly my cards can lie upon the table.

            You wrote “…if the point of the cartoon is that one cannot prove a historical point simply by appealing to the Bible as authoritative scripture, then of course that is true.” I’ve concurred.

            I also agree that “…disqualify[ing] texts from use for historical purposes because they later became part of a collection known as the Bible makes … little sense…”

            What’s missing is any direct affirmation that you consider (since you brought him up) Paul’s purported writings and the findings of some who’ve studied them to be compelling enough for that content to be considered historically factual.

            I presume you do, but again, I don’t want to leap to an unfounded conclusion…

          • arcseconds

            I’m not James, so it wasn’t me that wrote the things you quote.

            You say “His seemed to assert that the only historical record of Yeshua is biblical, a point which you appear to concede.”

            The author of the cartoon (do we know that they are male?) is indeed asserting that, which is untrue, but it’s also difficult to interpret it as doing anything other than rejecting the Bible wholesale as a historical source.

            Why are they ‘Paul’s purported writings’ now?

          • Pseudonym

            I’m also not James, but I’m happy to advocate the mainstream historical position. James can disagree with this if he wants, but I suspect that what I’m going to say is uncontroversial.

            What’s missing is any direct affirmation that you consider (since you brought him up) Paul’s purported writings and the findings of some who’ve studied them to be compelling enough for that content to be considered historically factual.

            I agree that a few of of Paul’s “purported” writings are, with as much certainty as is possible given any ancient text, authentically written by Paul.

            I agree that those authentic writings are an accurate depiction of what Paul thought and felt at the time, and what he believed that the intended audience of those writings needed to hear him say.

            I don’t know in what sense you can refer to a piece of writing that’s mostly instruction and preaching as “historically accurate”. Nonetheless, let’s narrow in on one example.

            In one of those authentic letters, Paul mentioned that he met Jesus’ brother James, and it seems clear that the recipients of the letter knew who he was talking about.

            Given a complete absence of any reason whatsoever to think that Paul meant something else by “brother”, and given the independent reference from Josephus (a non-biblical historical source) that Jesus had a brother named James, and given the lack of any reason to think the passage in Josephus has been tampered with, and given the fact that claiming that a guy had a brother is not an extraordinary claim, I think it’s very likely historically true that Paul met Jesus’ brother.

          • arcseconds

            It’s also worth noting that it’s a pretty humdrum mention — almost in passing, it’s not “James came to me in a vision” or “I crossed the desert and climbed the mountain to consult the sage James”, or “James and I fought all day in single or anything like that. And it seems that little enough emphasis is placed on this meeting.

            When historians, or anyone else, reads a letter, and the author claims to have met someone they plausibly could have (especially when it seems completely mundane), the conclusion is normally that this meeting in all probability actually took place, and that therefore the person actually existed, and any non-extraordinary qualities ascribed to them they probably had.

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            “…Paul mentioned that he met Jesus’ brother James…”

            He also insists he met and spoke with the creator of the universe, rendering the veracity of his testimony more than a little suspect…

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

            So are you saying that you regularly distrust people who believe they have had an encounter with God – a whole lot of your contemporaries – when they mention in passing ordinary people they have met, even when it is not in their interest to do so and they are unlikely to be making it up?

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

            There is more than sufficient reason to acknowledge the possibility that Paul meant something other tha biological brother in Galatians 1:19, even if it is deemed most likely that he didn’t.

            The fact that nothing in the Josephus passage suggests that the James in question had anything to do with the early Christian movement seems to me to be sufficient reason to doubt that it is the same James that Paul discusses.

            Given that we have no knowledge of the first 150 years of its transmission, we have to acknowledge some uncertainty that Galatians 1:19 is authenticity Pauline.

            I am perfectly willing to concede that Galatians 1:19 weighs in favor of historicity, but I don’t think it comes anywhere near establishing it.

          • Pseudonym

            I am perfectly willing to concede that Galatians 1:19 weighs in favor of historicity, but I don’t think it comes anywhere near establishing it.

            Right, and this is an important point.

            Real-life scholarship isn’t about slam dunks (pick your favourite metaphor if you don’t like that one). There could be a slam dunk piece of evidence that refutes a theory, but there is never a slam dunk piece of evidence that establishes it. Real-life scholarship is much more about building a coherent picture out of independent lines of evidence.

            Galatians 1:19 weighs in favour of historicity by itself. But now consider Annals XX.viiii.1, which points to the same conclusion. Again, this isn’t proof, but we have two independent pieces of evidence which point to the same conclusion. If you think that James didn’t exist, or wasn’t Jesus’ brother, you have to explain them both away or somehow fit them both into an alternative picture.

            That’s just two of the many, many pieces of evidence which happen to be easier to explain in a small comment box.

            If it helps, think of the way that anti-evolutionists work. They tend to nibble at the edges, finding little details which they think don’t fit with evolution (e.g. the bombardier beetle is a famous example) and miss the overall picture built out of thousands upon thousands of pieces of evidence which point to the same conclusion.

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

            The problem is that Galatians 1:19 doesn’t occur by itself. It occurs within the context of Paul’s writings where Paul seems (to me at least) not to have any knowledge of or interest in the relationships of the earthly Jesus. He does, however, attach a great deal of importance to spiritual relationships with the risen Christ.

            I teach classes to prepare high school students for the SAT and ACT, which include “vocabulary in context” questions which ask what an author meant by the use of a particular word in a passage. Invariably, the answer choices include the most common definition of the word along with one or more less common definitions. The best approach is often to eliminate the answers that don’t fit the context of the passage rather than trying to find the one that does.

            To my mind, the biological usage of “brother” in Galatians 1:19 doesn’t fit the context of Paul’s letters, even though I’m not sure which alternative alternative is the correct. If this were the ACT or SAT, I would eliminate it simply because the most common definition is rarely the right answer, but of course that wouldn’t be correct here.

          • Pseudonym

            Of course, this isn’t the SAT or ACT (I’m not American; I had to look up what these “vocabulary in context” questions are). Whatever Paul meant when he wrote this, he didn’t intend it as a puzzle to be solved or a challenge for later linguists.

            We’re now deep into Greek linguistics and the study of ancient texts, and this is the point where expertise in understanding ancient documents is important.

            Nonetheless, with my amateur hat on, the interpretation that it means something other than “brother” (or, let’s be generous, “near kinsman”) would appear to raise more questions than it answers (the number of which would appear to be “none”).

            For example, why does the phrase “the brother of the Lord” seem to distinguish James? There is a clear sense that the title applies to him in a way that it doesn’t apply to the other apostles. If a Carrier-like theory were true, where Paul “met” Jesus in a spiritual realm, how does James fit into the picture?

            To my mind, saying that “brother” means something other than “brother” just complicates the picture in return for no explanatory power. But I’m no expert.

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

            For example, why does the phrase “the brother of the Lord” seem to distinguish James? There is a clear sense that the title applies to him in a way that it doesn’t apply to the other apostles.

            Perhaps it was just convention. James was also known as “James the Just,” but do we think that he was just in a way that no other apostle was? Do we think that Simon the Zealot was uniquely zealous among the apostles? Did St. Joseph the Worker do more work than any other saint did?

            Without surnames, other means of distinguishing between people with the same given names must be found. While such means would logically be connected with some quality the person possesses, it need not be a quality that no one else possesses. All that matters is that people understand that a particular designation identifies a particular person. It wouldn’t even matter if there were other men named James who were more pious or other Simons who were more zealous. “The brother of the Lord” could identify one particular James even if others were brothers of the Lord in the exact same sense, just as “the Worker” could identify one particular Joseph.

            I might go even further to note that someone can use such a designation without knowing how the person came by it as long as he knows that his audience understands who is being designated. Paul may or may not have known that Simon Peter was the rock upon whom the church was to be built; however, all that was needed for him to use the name Peter was that the Galatians would know who he was talking about.

            It is certainly both possible and plausible that Paul knew that James was the biological brother of the earthly Jesus and that this is the reason that he referred to him as “the brother of the Lord,” but I don’t find the evidence very compelling. I have a hard time explaining why Paul’s writings contain no other references, even in passing, to the kind of biographical information that Paul must have learned if he knew people who had been close to the earthly Jesus. I think that a spiritual interpretation of “brother” simplifies rather than complicates.

          • Pseudonym

            Perhaps it was just convention.

            Like I said, this is where you really want some expertise in the field.

            Like I said, anything is possible. It’s possible for a non-expert to nip at the heels of a well-established academic theory in such a way that’s superficially convincing to other non-experts, especially if it is in line with said non-experts’ pre-existing prejudices. Winning over the community of experts who actually know what they’re doing is much harder.

            James was also known as “James the Just,” […]

            …a hundred years later, around the time that the practice of hagiography started, so this doesn’t really have any relevance to how James was seen in his own lifetime.

            It is certainly both possible and plausible that Paul knew that James was the biological brother of the earthly Jesus and that this is the reason that he referred to him as “the brother of the Lord,” but I don’t find the evidence very compelling.

            For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s compelling by itself. This example just happens to be something that’s easy to discuss in a comment box.

            The important thing is, as I mentioned earlier on the stream, is the big picture which is build out of thousands upon thousands of small pieces. Every theory that I’ve seen of Christian origins, which doesn’t posit a historical Jesus, relies on multiple additional implausible theory to be true.

            Some require a conspiracy theory in early Christianity. Some require the existence of a “dying and rising god” motif which predated Christianity. All of them require that you accept more than one such theory.

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            James point is that they didn’t start out that way. They were compiled into “the Bible” later than their authorship, and the fact that they are now present in “the Bible” neither enhances nor detracts from their credibility.

            It would be as though I compiled all the writings about Socrates into a book to start my new religion, and now all of a sudden Socrates’ existence is in doubt because now those texts are part of a “holy book.”

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            I don’t disagree with at least half of that: being included in a book with unicorns and talking snakes does nothing whatsoever to bolster our confidence in the material.

            Had Socrates not been written about by at least three of his contemporaries (vs. zero for Yeshua) the analogy might be a tad more apt, but I get what you mean…

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

            If you are talking about people who lived at the same time another individual was alive – the usual meaning of contemporaries – then contemporaries of Jesus wrote about him. If you meant that people wrote about other people while they were still alive, then it is possible that Aristophanes did that, but his students’ accounts of his life are unsurprisingly, like those about Jesus, written after the deaths of the teachers in question.

          • Stupid Atheist

            I admittedly gave it a more intimate connotation than that. (I don’t for example consider myself a contemporary of Queen Elizabeth.)

            If anybody bothered to jot down notes about the zombie uprising and other purported miraculous events around the time[s] we’re told they’d occurred [well prior to 50 C.E., obviously] I’d be anxious to read about it…

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

            Please, please at least try to stop living up to your moniker. You are most certainly a contemporary of Queen Elizabeth and are well poised to know that she is a real life historical figure. And please stop changing the subject from the historical Jesus to other nonsense of the sort that we find throughout ancient literature, especially in later sources which tend to enhance and add to the supernatural and sensational element in the narratives they inherited.

          • Stupid Atheist

            Sorry to have upset you, my friend. Having observed the degree to which your cage was rattled by a cartoon pig I should have endeavored to tread more lightly.

            You remain one of my favorite theist bloggers, and I’d hate to risk alienating you further…

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

            I’m not a theist (depending on what you mean by that term), and I often enjoy Atheist Pig. As I said in the post, the cartoon could have meant either of two things, and I was addressing one which does not rattle my cage, but annoys me because of the embrace of illogic that it entails.

            I appreciate your comments, and that is precisely why I am trying to plead with you to set aside a stance that rejects academic inquiry and reasoned argument!

          • Stupid Atheist

            “I’m not a theist…”

            I stand corrected. And in that case, you remain one of my favorite enigmatic atheist bloggers…

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

            I’m not an atheist either, unless by that you mean someone who is not a theist. I prefer the term “panentheist” myself.

          • Stupid Atheist

            “…unless by that you mean someone who is not a theist…”

            I won’t go so far as to take credit for inventing the word. But insofar as theism v atheism seems a fairly cut-and-dried binary proposition, yes, one either is or is not a theist.

            You’ll please forgive me for inadvertently spawning another off-topic tangent…

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

            Tangents are fine, if they are welcomed by the discussion’s participants.

            Is a pantheist, for instance, a theist or an atheist?

          • Stupid Atheist

            On the surface, the prefix is a non-negating modifier of the noun, so a pan- theist would certainly seem be a type of theist. Although, I wouldn’t be surprised to find a schism within their ranks.

            So this simple litmus test seems fair enough for resolving any ambiguity in this sort of binary proposition: If one’s answer to “Are you a theist” is anything but “Yes”, I’m happy to take them at their word. They’re not a theist, ergo, they are an atheist.

            Which should, I’d hope, settle any similar question regarding apatheism, in case we were headed that direction…

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

            Well then, I guess that makes me a theist who doesn’t subscribe to theism. Glad we’ve cleared that up.

          • arcseconds

            Neither historically nor in contemporary times has ‘atheist’ been used to refer to infants, dogs, or inanimate objects. It has always been used to refer to those who reject the gods.

            The only people who say otherwise appear to be a small group of atheists engaging in some kind of ahistorical reverse-engineering of the Greek.

            And none of them ever seem to have examples of the word being used like that in a natural fashion (i.e., not explaining at the start of the conversation to everyone what it means: if you need to do that every time you use it, it probably doesn’t mean what you say it does).

            Maybe you have such examples?

          • Stupid Atheist

            “It has always been used to refer to those who reject the gods.”

            I “always” see red flags when I see “always”. Sorry, no. atheos was, for the Greeks [since you insist], quite simply not/without god[s]. Cite: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=atheist

            Our friends at Oxford [I often to defer to the English on matters of English] suggest that either the rejection OR the absence of theism qualifies one as atheist. Big-tent guy that I am, I’m happy with the most all-encompassing definition.

            I’d hope we can agree that NOT believing something IS does not equate to believing something IS NOT. I’d also hope we can agree on the logical absolutes to the extent that something either IS or is NOT “X”. At the severe risk of pedantry I’ll point out that if something is not “X”, it is quite simply not “X”.

            And if somebody is not a theist, they are again, NOT a theist, aka an ‘atheist’.

            We can stay with the ancient Greeks for the historical example you’d requested. Socrates was charged [per Plato in Apology 24-27] with impiety, or “refusing to acknowledge the gods recognized by the state”, not for denying them, mind you, but for simply not accepting them…

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

            Christians were famously labeled “atheists” by the Romans.

          • Stupid Atheist

            Yes, for rejecting the gods of the state. Much the same way many Xtian theists are atheistic toward the pantheon of other gods…

          • Mark

            Socrates is certainly accused of denying the existence of the Gods. What’s surprising is how ‘modern’ the discussion is. In particular, among the grounds Meletus brings are that Socrates thinks that the Sun and Moon are rock and dirt. The leading verb ‘nomizō’ has all kinds of uses, but here it is frequently followed by a complete proposition, so it is a question, what Socrates believes and denies. in particular the problem is that Socrates thinks that there are no Gods, or that no Gods /are/ . On the verb, see http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0057%3Aentry%3Dnomi%2Fzw An atheist, by the way, is someone who affirms “There is no God” in whatever language he or she speaks. No one else is an atheist. Nothing in all of philosophy could possibly be clearer.

          • Stupid Atheist

            Your argument is with Plato then, who insisted that the affidavit stated “… That Socrates is a doer of evil, and corrupter of the youth, and he does not believe in the gods of the state.”

            Again, the distinction is not a small one:

            Not believing something IS Believing something is NOT…

          • Mark

            The distinction between external and internal negation could not be clearer; it is covered in the first week of logic class and has been (with slightly different terminologies) for centuries. Nice that you have discovered it. That atheism is the proposition that there is no God, and that the atheist is the one who affirms this, and thus denies the existence of God, could not be clearer. This is every bit as settled as what ‘theism’ means and no amount of internet chatter can change it; moreover you know this. Atheism is a doctrine which is subject to discussion, defense, critique, proof or refutation, etc.; unless that is the case, it is all over for thought. Your position is exactly as rational as insisting on etymological grounds that theism is the property of being a god, a theist is a person who is a god and an atheist is anyone else. No amount of internet blather can make this rational, any more than any amount of internet blather can make Kenya Obama’s birthplace, or the Rothschilds the rulers of the international world order.

          • Stupid Atheist

            “…atheism is the proposition that there is no God…”

            No. Atheism is the absence of a belief IN god[s]. And again, not believing X is not believing X is not…

          • Mark

            No, Obama was born in Kenya. There are no documents. Just keep repeating it.

          • Mark

            Atheism is a proposition with a negation, and people can dispute over it, argue for it, preach it. You can play your game with ‘atheist’, which is a class of persons, but not with ‘atheism’, which is a doctrine or proposition and is either true or false. Of course your game, which is a matter of substantive and direct lying in any case, means we don’t have a name for those who hold to the proposition of atheism.

          • Stupid Atheist

            Not evidently true differs from evidently not true. Either position makes one an atheist, with the former being the more all-encompassing.

            Dr. Dawkins might be convinced that gods don’t exist. I’m unconvinced that they DO. This makes us both NOT theists, ergo atheists…

          • Mark

            You have an explanation of what ‘atheist’ means – it’s a simple lie, quite the same as saying that the United States is France, but no matter. You still don’t have an account of what atheism is, and how it is possible to wonder whether it is true.

            The claim that the existence of God is not evident is characteristic of the whole Protestant tradition, which rejected ‘natural theology’. Wherever people speak of belief in the existence of God as itself a matter of ‘faith’, they are ‘fideists’ and are with you. Catholics affirmed a different doctrine, of course.

          • Stupid Atheist

            “You still don’t have an account of what atheism is…”

            Because it’s an “isn’t”, not an “is”. Atheism is not theism. That which is not “A” is simply “not A”.

            Were you to point to a random guy walking down the street and proclaim he was Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, I would doubt your claim. But I’d be under no obligation to tell you who that guy WAS. And my inability to DO so wouldn’t make that dude Abe Lincoln.

            = = =

            “…and how it is possible to wonder whether it is true…”

            I’ve not made the nonsensical assertion that atheism itself was “true”, only that it’s true that I’m an atheist. Purple is neither true nor false, but it CAN be true or false that a thing is purple.

            All I’ve said is I’m not a theist, which makes one an atheist…

          • Mark

            I see, so on your view, it impossible for atheism to be true. Theism by contrast could be. The bullshit about Abraham Lincoln is a separate confusion. You are surprisingly attached to the expressions ‘atheism’ and ‘atheist’ for someone who disavows atheism and is emphatically not an atheist. You could just drop this in favor of honesty and truth.

          • Stupid Atheist

            “I see, so on your view, it impossible for atheism to be true.”

            Or untrue. Just as purple can neither be true or not.

            = = =

            “Theism by contrast could be….”

            The tenets of theism certainly could be, but not theism itself (beyond the question of it is “true” that one is either a theist or atheist, which I’ve already addressed.)

            = = =

            “You are surprisingly attached to the expressions ‘atheism’ and ‘atheist’ for someone who disavows atheism…”

            I don’t disavow atheism, just the absurd notion that it could be “true” or “false”. Neither do I disavow purple…

          • Mark

            This is unusually desperate. In fact, theism is a tenet, a “holding”, a proposition. It seems now you are saying that the ‘tenets’ of theism could certainly be true though ‘theism’ itself coudn’t be. Meanwhile, ‘atheism’ will be mysteriously preserved from the unpleasantness of actually thinking anything; but of course there /will/ be the negation of the ‘tenet’ of theism – propositions come in contradictory pairs, each the negation of the other, and together constituting the question we might bring to judgment. The negation of the tenet of theism, which is just as much a proposition as the tenet of theism, is curiously nameless. And we never contemplate actually holding it, or any arguments for or against it. In other words you agree that you have nothing whatsoever to say to the question whether there is a god or not. Your idea is to posture, not to take a position.

          • Stupid Atheist

            “In fact, theism is a tenet, a “holding”, a proposition….”

            And atheism is not…

          • Mark

            Oh, wait, but there was supposed to be ‘the tenet of’ theism, which could be true, and theism itself, which couldn’t be true, and about which it was quite absurd to wonder whether it was true. So now, there seems to be ‘the tenet of’ the-tenet-that-theism-is, which could be true, and the tenet-that-theism-is, which can’t be true, and about which it would be absurd to ask whether it is true. But mysteriously since tenets/propositions/view/positions come in contradictory pairs which we bring to judgment, the negation of ‘the tenet of’ the -tenet- that-theism-is, is not the ‘tenet of ‘ anything and we do not contemplate holding it.

            In fact, atheism is much more straightforward than this, and as far as I can tell you have never come anywhere near it and are afraid of coming near it. It’s a very sensible and attractive position, but it does have what for you will be the unpleasant feature that it is a position.

          • Stupid Atheist

            I don’t know how much more straightforward “One who is not a theist” could be in describing an atheist. Insisting there be tenets for atheism is on par with demanding there be rules for not playing baseball (above and beyond “Don’t play baseball”, I suppose).

            Is not playing baseball true? Again, the grammar of that sort of question is patently absurd and nonsensical. I don’t know how to make it more obvious, but I’m happy to keep trying for your benefit, my friend…

          • Mark

            The part you keep missing is that affirmation and belief and judgment and ‘holding’ and ‘tenet-having’ are taking a position in a contradictory pair. A matter cannot be brought to judgment unless there are two ways of going on the matter — that is, unless there is a question. Judgment isn’t having a property like being tall or red or the like. The concession that someone is affirming something is the concession that they are denying something; and it is to envisage the opposing position and the question that is addressed. If the theist is ‘playing a game by rules’ then the game: is occupying a position in a contradictory pair p vs. not-p , or equivalently, not-not-p vs. not-p . Here the contradictory pair can be expressed in various ways: there is a god vs. there is no god; all actual being is finite vs. some actual being is infinite; or however you want.

            You are attempting to avoid taking a position on any of these questions and, of course, simply lying about the received philosophical vocabulary for expressing the opposition of judgments, which is tailored to rational adjudication of the issue. You have made no contact at all with atheism or the atheistical tradition. You might as well say that an ‘atheist’ is someone who has the word ‘atheist’ written on a t-shirt, or who doesn’t have the word ‘theist’ written on a t-shirt, or whose name includes all the letters in ‘atheist’, as mine does.

          • Stupid Atheist

            I can’t get past this:

            “The concession that someone is affirming something is the concession that they are denying something;”

            …but I pledge to re-read it a time or three. I hope it doesn’t mean that not accepting “X” is a denial of “X”. If so, I’ll cover that again below.

            = = =

            “You are attempting to avoid taking a position on any of these questions…”

            No, I remain unconvinced of the god assertion[s], which does not compel me to embrace the alternative. Again, I wouldn’t believe you if you claimed to know for a fact there were an even number of stars in the universe, but that doesn’t mean I insist the number is odd.

            That’s not a dodge, that’s honesty. Not believing there IS a Yahweh does not equate to believing there is NOT a Yahweh.

            And not being a theist makes one an atheist. In case I haven’t mentioned it…

          • Mark

            Yes, like me, you are unconvinced of the god assertion, or the everything-is-finite denial. But this is not atheism, which, like all actual thought, is taking a position on a contradictory pair of propositions which reciprocally negate each other and oppose each other. Atheism is the god denial, or the everything is finite affirmation. It and its contradictory opposite are independent of any view about any Hebrew name whatsoever. Here you are every bit as confused, and every bit as much guilty of dishonest irrationalist propaganda, as when you repeatedly affirmed the identity of the ‘Jesus existed’ question and the ‘Jesus is the son of God’ question.

            Atheism is an attractive position, but you are no where near it, and evidently resist even contemplating it. No amount of not-having-thought-about the question of the existence or non-existence of god, or, equivalently, the universality or non-universality of finitude, or however you want to put it, will ever add up to ‘atheism’. In particular, no view or non-view about the name ‘Jehovah’ will ever have anything whatever to do with the question of atheism, which is a philosophical position, not a non-philosophical non-position. The attempt to evade this conclusion is basically the attempt to avoid philosophy, which may be well and good, but it is incompatible with atheism.

          • Stupid Atheist

            “…you are unconvinced of the god assertion, or the everything-is-finite denial. But this is not atheism…”

            Yes it is…

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            Right, but once again, the “book” is not a story of unicorns and talking snakes. Some of the texts included in the book have those things. The Bible is more like an anthology of texts of common themes of use to a common community. It doesn’t have any self-existence apart from that collection.

            To reuse the analogy, if I made an anthology of formative texts of the modern nation of America, and I included a story about Johnny Appleseed, a story about Thomas Jefferson, the Constitution, the Gettysburgh address, and the legend of Paul Bunyan, you probably wouldn’t judge the historical validity of one of those texts on the basis of what was in the rest of the collection.

            Now, as you said, someone might argue that the texts are not wholly reliable accounts for this or that reason (late authorship, miraculous events, etc.), but that’s now the work of historical inquiry. The fact that these texts would end up in the Bible much later doesn’t really tell us anything about the historical merit of a given text.

          • Mark

            If my friends and I found a cult and we declare, say, Josephus’s Jewish War and Darwin’s Origin to be our sacred texts, then suddenly they’re off the table for everyone? I guess I can think of a more irrationalist epistemology than yours…

          • Stupid Atheist

            No, and as our esteemed moderator pointed out, nor does that give the claims credence which again, leaves me wondering what the flap is about since we all agree on both.

            I will, for the record, wholeheartedly welcome the empirical evidence for the existence of Saul and the validity of his claims on par with that for Darwin, if we want to pursue the comparison…

          • Mark

            You are missing the fact that the cartoon explicitly addresses the question of the ‘historicity’ of Jesus, not the business about divine sonship and so on. We need the historical Jesus in order to explain the later nonsense attached to him. To attack the proposition that there was a historical Jesus, on the ground that you don’t like the nonsense Christians annexed to him, really is just as irrational as creation science; and spreading it around the internets is just as irresponsible as spreading around Obama birtherism, 9-11 truthism and the like.

          • Pseudonym

            Agreed, but let’s not pretend the purported historicity of Yeshua is not offered as foundational toward the veracity of His divinity…

            Also true of Kim Jong Il. Your point is?

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            Unintentionally substantiated by you, my friend. Thanks…

        • Pseudonym

          If you’d like to talk about the textual/historical evidence as to whether or not Vyasa was a historical figure, I’d be very interested in that topic (especially since I know nothing about it), and I suspect that James would too.

          Peer-reviewed historical sources only, please.

          • Stupid Atheist

            You’ll forgive me, but I’ve gone back over the entire thread and haven’t found [until now] peer-review insisted upon for matters of historicity.

            I hope you’re not trying “to trick people into agreeing in advance to exclude the most relevant evidence from consideration”. I mean, they’ve found Dwarka, right…?

          • Pseudonym

            Obviously the insistence on peer-review is only important for secondary source material, because it’s the only way that someone who knows nothing about the history of Ancient India (like myself) has any hope of evaluating primary source material.

          • Stupid Atheist

            Well lets go all-in then, and pile up the peer-review for the empirical proofs for either deity so we can settle this whole god-question once and for all…

          • arcseconds

            How is it that after all this explanation you still cannot distinguish the question of the existence of a historical individual from the question of the existence of a god?

          • Stupid Atheist

            Isn’t it disingenuous to pretend questions of the historicity of Jesus have nothing to do with religion…?

          • Mark

            The question whether “there is a God” belongs to metaphysics and philosophy; the question whether Jesus existed belongs to history. There is no connection between these propositions at all. It is disingenuous to connect them.

          • Stupid Atheist

            I can’t argue with the suggestion that Jesus God. We may have found our common ground…

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

            Isn’t it disingenuous to pretend that Billy Graham’s connection with religion makes his historicity unlikely?

          • Stupid Atheist

            You call me on that the second I do it…

          • arcseconds

            I suppose it would be, but fortunately no-one is doing that.

            These two statements are distinct:

            1) Jesus is God
            2) Jesus existed (as a historical invidual).

            This should be totally obvious for anyone with the least sense.

            Someone who asserts (2) should not be treated as though they are asserting (1).

            And yet this is what you seem intent on doing. You seem very eager to conflate questions of existence with questions of godhood, to the point where you even think that Pseudonym’s question about the historical existence of Vyasa is somehow about the existence of a god.

            And you’re also suggesting that distinguishing the two questions is somehow denying that the existence of Jesus is in any way connected with religion.

            Why are you doing this? Why is it so difficult for you to separate our historical existence from godhood from relevance to religion?

            Maybe it’s because you favour a particular answer to the ‘relevance’ question?

            Or is it because you’ve bought so deeply in to a traditional Christian understanding of the question that you can’t see any other options but asserting Jesus’s total relevance to religion because of His Divine Existence, or a total inversion of this by denying that he had this relevance because he wasn’t divine and didn’t exist?

          • Stupid Atheist

            I’m happy to acknowledge the distinction between: “Jesus was” and “Jesus was God” and to agree that our reference material is the same for both claims…

          • arcseconds

            Maybe we can also agree that the same body of evidence can suffice to support one statement while failing to support some other, totally different, rather more incredible statement?

            (Tacitus is not normally appealed to to support the divinity of Jesus, but this is a small enough point.)

          • Stupid Atheist

            It might.

            But (at the severe risk of dating myself) maybe we can likewise agree that if the “C” entries book of the Encyclopedia Britannica held an entry that was historically accurate about the history of Canada, while the “S” volume asserted that snakes could talk, the latter would have a significant impact on the credibility of the collection as a whole…

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

            What impact on someone’s credibility do you think it should have, if they are discussing something that is like a Norton’s Anthology of Jewish Literature, and they insist that it is instead like an encyclopedia?

          • Stupid Atheist

            Comparing one collection of books presented as a factual reference compilation to another collection of books presented as a factual reference hardly seems unreasonable…

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

            This is bizarre. Are you saying that there could not be in a compendium of a culture’s literature both things that relate to factual matters and things that do not?

          • Stupid Atheist

            No. I’ve suggested that packaging fact with fantasy does little for (and may actually impugn) the credibility of the facts…

          • arcseconds

            How do you imagine that ancient history is done?

            Do you think ancient historians try and find only those compendiums of texts where every component text appears sober and reliable?

            As there are no such compendiums, this would make ancient history pretty much impossible.

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

            And I would add that this puts all the responsibility on those who made the compendiums, which is highly dubious. The fact that stories end up together in larger works which mix history, legend, and fiction, and that such works in turn end up in compendia together with still other genres, doesn’t prevent the historian from sifting through it all looking for what is useful to their purposes.

          • Stupid Atheist

            I’d hope they might try and filter out the accounts in those compendiums where the events of the recording are indistinguishable from delusions, and warrant the author’s overall credibility accordingly…

          • arcseconds

            You’re now talking about the author, not the editor of the compendium, so at least we’ve got as far as thinking that some other author of some other work in the compendium does not necessarily reflect on the current author?

            I mean, it seems a bit silly to suggest that if you took a compendium of 19th century philosophy, opened it at a random page and found yourself reading Thus Spake Zarathustra, and seeing there’s not a scrap of actual history in it to be found and (perhaps) belongs more in the ‘fiction’ section of the library, and then reading Russell’s An Essay on the Foundations of Geometry, concluding from the fact that Nietzsche is clearly making things up that Russell is also probably making things up, and therefore the individuals he mentioned (Gauss, Riemann, Kant, etc…) are probably just as fictional as Zarathustra and his talking snake and eagle.

            But that is what you seemed to be suggesting by suggesting that a talking snake in Genesis means that a letter in Paul involving running into someone in Jerusalem ought to be doubted.

            Hopefully we’ve moved on from that now.

            So the next thing is… is it really appropriate to think that authors have ‘overall credibility’? Surely a more mature and scholarly attitude would be to think that authors might write things that are probably historically true under some circumstances, and things that are just completely made up under other circumstances.

            Take Nietzsche for example. Zarathustra is completely made up, with only the name being in common with a semi-mythical figure from the remote past, but it would be strange to look at Thus Spake Zarathustra and conclude that he’s probably also made up Richard Wagner in The Case of Wagner.

            Or, for an ancient source, Plato. In terms of any ‘overall credibility’ Plato’s must be very low: he doesn’t even claim to be writing history, he fakes quotations from Homer, makes up myths, and even tells us that lies can be noble if they serve some philosophical purpose. However, this has not stopped people from using Plato as a historical source.

          • http://www.stupidatheist.com J. Gravelle

            You might save yourself some typing by demonstrating how we can distinguish Saul’s Damascus Road “experience” from an outright delusion.

            At least Plato was up front about his chicanery…

          • Stupid Atheist

            You might save yourself some typing by demonstrating how we can distinguish Saul’s Damascus Road “experience” from an outright delusion.

            At least Plato was up front about his chicanery…

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

            I take it you are unaware that Paul says nothing about the Damascus Road?

            A nervous breakdown as a result of his acts against those who believed Jesus the crucified to still nevertheless be the Davidic anointed one is possible, but how does that in any way support mythicism?

          • Stupid Atheist

            I’m having trouble finding where I asserted that it did.

            What I believe I’ve suggested is that, just as any cross-examiner would be remiss in exposing a witness’ propensity for delusions, we in the jury are likewise justified in taking that into account when assessing the credibility of their testimony…

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

            So would the same principle apply to one’s dealings with someone delusional enough to reject the consensus of secular scholars and embrace dubious fringe claims?

          • Stupid Atheist

            Were I to assert I had a personal relationship with the ghost of Napoleon you’d have every right to be skeptical of anything else that oozed from my head, I’ll grant you…

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

            Which is more irrational, someone believing that they saw the ghost of Napoleon in a dream, or someone who thinks the dream that person had makes the historicity of Napoleon less likely?

          • Stupid Atheist

            You’re absolutely justified in being more wary of the person who claims a personal relationship with Napoleon than of somebody who simply had a dream about Napoleon and proffers no such claim…

          • arcseconds

            I’m not sure what the difference between having an experience and having a delusion of having an experience is (a delusional experience is still an experience, isn’t it?) so I’m not sure how they can be distinguished, nor why a historian would be expected to do so.

            Lots of people have religious experiences. Normally these things are rare events in their lives. Very few people are so delusional that everything they say is false. There’s no reason to suppose Paul is in the latter category, so no reason to be overly suspicious of his letters in general: no scholar thinks he’s lying about the places he visited or the people he’s met.

            Plato doesn’t actually tell us he’s writing fictional accounts, and some people have been rather credulous about this. People who think he’s some kind of historical source on Atlantis is an obvious example. Plato’s a far more problematic source for history than Paul is, but nevertheless historians have not decided to pay no attention to him whatsoever.

            Instead, historians critically examine on a case-by-case basis what Plato has to say.

            At best, the Atlantis story is reporting an existing myth, although it’s likely that Plato made most of his accounts up.

            On the other hand, when he presents historical individuals that he’d have personal acquaintance with, such as Aristophanes, while the account may be fictional and the character somewhat satirical, even a satire can tell us something about the real person on which it is based.

            Does that seem sensible to you? Note what doesn’t happen is some kind of crude ‘reliability of Plato’ thing. Probably less than 10% of what Plato writes is at all historically accurate. Let’s say it’s 5%. But it would be absurd to think that this means that the Atlantis myth has a massive 5% chance of being true, or that there’s a tiny 5% chance of his account of Aristophanes being at all accurate.

            If it’s OK to do this with Plato, then it’s much less problematic to do this with Paul, who writes in a straightforward way, and generally means what he says.

            One thing that’s important to recognise here is that historians are (surprise!) eager to know about the past. So they are going to use whatever materials they have in their deliberations about history. They are not going to reject testimony wholesale because they think the writer says things that are false on occasion… or even most of the time!

          • Stupid Atheist

            We appear to agree that religious experiences are indistinguishable from delusions, and I’m happy to celebrate whatever commonalities we can discover, so you’ll get no argument from me, my friend.

            “Probably less than 10% of what Plato writes is at all historically accurate.”

            I don’t know that its been thusly quantified, nor that I’ve asserted otherwise. But anybody insisting I worship Socrates because of what Plato may have written about him would find me just as nonplussed by that proposition as I am about the Yeshua arguments…

          • arcseconds

            We seem to have finally dragged you away from thinking that arguing that a historical individual makes the best sense of the texts we have is not necessarily a form of crypto-apologism, so that thinking that the letters of Paul might contain some useful historical information today doesn’t necessarily open the door to believing in miracles and accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour tomorrow.

            Although you do deserve some credit: at least ultimately you are open to hearing this: other people apparently cannot but hear “say the sinner’s prayer!” every time someone is happy to refer to the Bible as a historical resource.

            I don’t know that its been thusly quantified, nor that I’ve asserted otherwise.

            Why do you keep saying things like “nor that I’ve asserted otherwise”?

            Not everything we say to you is in direct response and in contradiction to something you have said.

            Indeed, I’m hoping that you already agree with me that Plato can be used as a historical source, and therefore, by parity of reasoning, so can Paul.

            <10% is a guess, although an informed one. Exactly quantifying this isn't that important, the point is that Plato is not a reliable source of history in the sense that you can just pick up a dialogue and think it's telling you about something that actually happened. Some analogy could be made about looking at Hollywood movies that involve famous people. Neither Forrest Gump nor Bubba Hotep are documentaries, but if Hollywood movies were all future historians had to go on, they would not be shy about trying to determine things about Elvis and JFK by examining such movies.

          • Stupid Atheist

            “…arguing that a historical individual makes the best sense of the texts we have is not necessarily a form of crypto-apologism…”

            I’m okay with that.

            Perhaps we can now agree that delusional witnesses aren’t necessarily the most reliable sources of information. We might make an argument that Gerald Ford was considered by posterity to be an incompetent president, but if we offered “Charles Manson wanted him dead” as our argument for that position, our case would not be strong.

            And if the only place we FOUND that claim were in the National Inquirer, its credibility might suffer even more…

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

            What if the only place we find a view today is in blog comments, a handful of blogs, Reddit, and fewer publications by academics than something like Intelligent Design has to its name?

            Mythicists really have no business complaining about others allegedly being deluded. But as the person whose historicity you reject is purported to have said, it is easier to see the splinter in someone else’s eye, than the plank of wood in one’s own.

          • Stupid Atheist

            “Mythicists really have no business complaining about others allegedly being deluded.”

            I not only reserve that right, but I’d insist upon your own right to reciprocate.

            I fully recognize your license to hold the Good Book in whatever regard you’d like. But I too have every liberty to consider its talking snakes, dragons, and unicorns to be detrimental to the Bible’s credibility…

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

            Please stop with this nonsensical garbage. Your reference to the “Good Book” shows that either you have not understood anything that has been said here about what historians do (things that you really ought to have known prior to spouting adamantly-held views in this forum, but that is another matter); or otherwise you are deliberately ignoring those things in a troll-like manner. Kindly tell me which it is.

          • Stupid Atheist

            That appears to be a false dichotomy.

            One or the other of us may lack the faculty to fully comprehend and/or appreciate the other’s viewpoint, as just one possible third alternative.

            It’s not the first logical fallacy I’ve encountered in these discussions, and I doubt it will be the last…

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

            It is entirely possible that both could be true – that you are both trolling and failing to understand. Sometimes the one leads directly to the other.

          • Stupid Atheist

            Correct. Or neither could be true. We’re up to five prongs which, I think, validates my previous observation…

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

            Given all the efforts that numerous people have made to explain these points to you, I see no evidence that would suggest that you are not trolling, unless you are somehow able to hear days’ worth of explanations and genuinely not understand. Feel free to provide evidence that there is some other explanation for your atrocious time-wasting and disrespectful behavior here, if you have any to offer.

          • Stupid Atheist

            “I see no evidence that would suggest that you are not trolling…”

            It’s not the defense’s burden to provide evidence of innocence, but the prosecution’s to make the case for guilt.

            I’d welcome any examples that demonstrate my disrespect. If you have anything on par with the:

            “Please, please at least try to stop living up to your moniker.”

            …you’d hurled my way then I most certainly apologize for it. I hold myself to a higher standard of decorum than that…

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

            No you most certainly do not hold yourself to a highher standard. Indeed, it is not clear that you hold yourself to any standard at all. When people are talking about the historical Jesus and you ask about miracles or accepting someone as lord and savior; when people are talking about the letters of Paul and other such sources and you pretend the later inclusion of those sources together with fables is relevant; and when people are talking about the work of historians and you talk about the “Good Book,” there is nothing but either vile and disrespectful trolling, or complete incomprehension, that can provide an explanation for your comments, which have not only been occasional but persistent in the face of repeated queries from others as well as myself as to why you seem unwilling or unable to talk about the actual topic under discussion.

          • Stupid Atheist

            I’ve upset you, my friend. That was not my intent. My understanding is that “the Good Book” was a reverent term for the Bible from as far back as 1801.

            I still respect your right to hold that any ‘historical’ text of the Bible is unmarred by sharing a binding with tales of conversant reptilians. And, while I don’t demand the same consideration for the contrary position, you seem the sort to at least acknowledge my right to dissent.

            Looking forward, as always, to your future posts Brother McGrath…

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

            The issue is that your reference to the “Good Book” suggests that you still don’t understand that historians are not dealing with early Christian literature as a single book, nor as an especially good one.

          • arcseconds

            I have already covered this. Lots of people have religious experiences, or otherwise have a tall tale or two they insist is the truth.

            This does not mean that everything they say is a complete fantasy.

            There are people who are either completely delusional or pathologically lie all the time, but they are much, much rarer than people who had a religious experience once decades ago, and are otherwise normal. And it’s usually pretty obvious.

            What a historian needs to do, as always, is to critically assess to what a particular passage tells us about history.

          • Stupid Atheist

            “Lots of people have religious experiences… …This does not mean that everything they say is a complete fantasy.”

            Correct. Now all we need is a mechanism for distinguishing their purported facts from their apparent fantasies…

          • arcseconds

            How about we use our existing knowledge of human beings and the culture of the time to work out what is likely to be true and what is likely to be false?

            Or, better still, we could ask the experts.

            You will be pleased to know there is an entire discipline, which has been around in its modern form for around 300 years, present in all major universities, that specializes in answering this kind of question.

          • Stupid Atheist

            The discipline of alchemy was, if I recall, around for a couple millennia…

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

            Arcseconds is talking about a modern academic discipline, historical study. Your response is that of creationists when his point is made about science – people have been wrong for long periods of time, therefore I am free to reject the consensus of academics and believe nonsense instead.

            Why do you prefer making snide remarks in support of denialism preferable to having an actual reespectful conversation? With the effort you put into trying to justify not being respectful by claiming otherwise, you could not only respond in a serious way to what people say, but have time left over to inform yourself about this academic field.

          • Stupid Atheist

            “Arcseconds is talking about a modern academic discipline…”

            True. And he seemed to suggest that its having “been around in its modern form for around 300 years, present in all major universities” was a credential.

            I didn’t considered that our moderator might find a counter-point to his observation to be off-topic. You have my heartfelt apology…

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

            How is the dismissal of an entire academic field, on the basis of the fact that prior to the rise of modern academic fields, alchemy was widely popular, “a counterpoint”? I genuinely want to know whether you really do think you are making actual points here, and don’t realize you are not, or whether you are just having fun seeing how much time you can get people to spend trying to have a conversation with you.

          • Stupid Atheist

            How is replying to ‘respected discipline “A” is 300 years old’ with ‘formerly respected discipline “B” was around nearly seven times that long’ not a legitimate retort?

            = = =

            “…whether you are just having fun seeing how much time you can get people to spend trying to have a conversation with you…”

            My clock is being eaten as well, my friend. But since I’ve been candid all along, I won’t stop now: It would be disingenuous of me to pretend that the wrath inspired by my support of a cartoon pig is something I haven’t enjoyed immensely.

            The glory of that achievement belongs with the artist, not his humble fan, but even its peripheral, ambient light is well worth basking in…

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

            The issue is not your support of a cartoon pig. It is things such as your apparent belief that modern academic work is akin to alchemy. Do you honestly believe (1) that they are in fact comparable, and (2) that claiming they are is not insulting to academics who genuinely believe that they are contributing to our understanding of the world by our work?

          • Stupid Atheist

            “It is things such as your apparent belief that modern academic work is akin to alchemy.”

            Were not the attempts to convert base metals into gold or to find a universal elixir at one time a modern, academic work…?

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

            No, it was, unless I am misinformed, the rise of modern academic science that led to the decline of alchemy.

            http://www.chm.bris.ac.uk/webprojects2002/tubb/history.htm

          • Stupid Atheist

            The link seems to affirm my overlooked “at one time” qualifier…

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

            It isn’t neglected or overlooked. The whole point is that the modern academic approach has overturned a lot of widely-held earlier views, and suggesting that this means the same will happen to modern history or science is silly – it is the attempt of the denialist to use “people once thought the world was flat” to justify ignorance and misinformation.

            Again, are you being deliberately difficult, doing this as an annoying game, or are you not even taking the time to listen and think about what I am saying?

          • Stupid Atheist

            It may well be my fault for not making the point more clear: contemporaneous to its practice, alchemy would have been a modern, academic discipline with a track record of over two millennium of pursuit.

            And we appear to agree that none of that lends it any air of credibility.

            = = =

            “Again, are you being deliberately difficult…?”

            No sir, I am not. While I share your exasperation, I can’t allow myself to project that upon you or the other members of your prestigious forum…

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

            So you do think that modern academic fields are likely to look to people in the distant future the way alchemy looks to us?

          • Stupid Atheist

            I don’t know. It’s conceivable that string theorists, as an example, might one day be viewed the way we see the past’s proponents of the Luminiferous ether but, that’s admittedly conjecture.

            My point though (that the number of years and academics devoted to a discipline like alchemy is hardly an argument for its authority) doesn’t seem impacted one way or another by that observation.

            I’ll help grease the skids here: Do I think the study of history will go the way of alchemy? No. Do I think the conclusions of historians are open to revision? Yes. And do I think “discipline X has been rattling around the halls of academia for Y number of years” is a preposterous defense OF it?

            Of course I do. I’d hope that we all might…

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

            The conclusions in all academic fields are and must be open to revision. That was never disputed here. But denialists use that as an excuse for ignoring what the evidence points to, preferring to hope irrationally that one day the theory they hold to without evidence might one day become the consensus.

            The point is not how long a field has existed. The point is that conclusions of modern academic fields after such extensive critical investigation are less likely to be overturned.

          • Stupid Atheist

            “The point is not how long a field has existed.”

            Agreed. Leaving me to wonder why you didn’t object when that argument was made TO me.

            Withdrawn. I needn’t wonder…

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

            I wonder why you assume that the person was saying that the amount of time proves their conclusions will never be overturned, as opposed to indicating the length of time spent on investigation using modern critical methods, and thus the probability that their conclusions are sound.

            You seem to be here to dismiss, denigrate, and misinterpret rather than understand, learn, and discuss.

          • Stupid Atheist

            Again, in its day, any/every discipline was “modern”. The fact alchemy was ever a modern, established, academic pursuit would make a poor defense of it…

          • Stupid Atheist

            “I wonder why you assume that the person was saying that the amount of time proves their conclusions will never be overturned…”

            I wonder why you assume I’ve assumed that. What I’ve observed is that it seems a poor justification for proffering the point.

            = = =

            “You seem to be here to dismiss, denigrate, and misinterpret rather than understand, learn, and discuss.”

            It’s your forum, my friend. You’re allowed to use it to assign me any and all manner of subterfuge as the urge compels you…

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

            If you didn’t behave as you do, I would certainly not feel compelled to call you out on it.

          • Stupid Atheist

            What I appeared to have been called out on was an assumption that I hadn’t made.

            And (not that I’m guilty of it, but) it’s worth noting that behaving badly is still behaving…

          • arcseconds

            I wonder why you assume I’ve assumed that. What I’ve observed is that it seems a poor justification for proffering the point.

            So you’re not assuming that that’s what I meant, you’re just arguing against a point that you don’t think anyone necessarily actually made, without being clear that that’s what you’re doing?

            And this doesn’t seem like wasting everyone’s time to you?

          • Stupid Atheist

            I don’t consider interacting with the other side of these sorts of issues a waste of time, no. And I’d hope that your willingness to engage me would be proof enough that neither do you…

          • arcseconds

            Your point being?

            I’ve read your discussion with McGrath, and I’m none the wiser.

            Is it just a sophomoric exercise in scepticism?

          • Stupid Atheist

            “I’ve read your discussion with McGrath, and I’m none the wiser.”

            Again, I’m happy to concur…

          • arcseconds

            Concur on what?

            That I’m none the wiser?

            I’m starting to think that McGrath is right, and that you are trolling: you don’t seem to be interested in having a serious conversation, you just want to utter sophomoric cleverisms that appear to be directed at your interlocutor, but then deny they are when pressed on what you meant by them.

          • Pseudonym

            Historians aren’t generally interested in “this whole god-question”, whatever that question is. It’s not a historical question, so it doesn’t really matter.

  • http://patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/ Dan Wilkinson

    “But appealing to Paul’s letters, or other early Christian writings, which happen to have ended up as part of a collection known as the Bible, is not inappropriate if we are using them not as scripture” You mean IS appropriate?

    And thanks for this post … I had similar thoughts when I saw that cartoon.

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

      Yes, it is appropriate, it is not inappropriate – I could have worded that less clunkily!

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/ Dan Wilkinson

        Oops, too early in the morning for me to sort out the double negatives!

  • J

    Oh it’s a human text now? Fine. But then why would I worship it or believe in it?

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

      It has always been a human text. You shouldn’t worship it or believe in it. And if historians did either, they would be abandoning their role as historians, since historical study involves the critical investigation of the truth behind texts in conjunction and correlation with other data.

      • J

        “You shouldn’t worship it or believe in it.”

        I win.

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

          At what? Trolling? Did you miss that this is a discussion of a matter of history, not faith?

  • J

    If ‘Jesus lives’ then where is he?

    If Jesus is dead, then where is his body?

    Hence, Jesus does not and never did exist.

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

      “If Socrates is dead, then where is his body? Hence, Socrates does not and never did exist.”

      Does that logic seem sound to you?

      • J

        Doesn’t seem any stupider than the ‘miracle’ of the ’empty tomb’. Ooh wow, the tomb is empty! Could not POSSIBLY be that it was never full or that the body was moved!

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

          If there was no historical Jesus and thus no body, that is a very different historical scenario than if there was a historical Jesus and his body was moved from the tomb, or the disciples never returned to look for it, or any number of other scenarios involving a historical Jesus, none of which is compatible with mythicism.

    • Phil Ledgerwood

      If the Peloponnesian War happened, then where are all the corpses?

      Hence, there was never a Peloponnesian War.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

    If the only way to make your case is to trick people into agreeing in advance to exclude the most relevant evidence from consideration, your case must be really rather pathetic.

    If “the most relevant evidence” for your case is an ancient book from a culture suffused with superstition, then that doesn’t say much for your case.

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

      The most relevant evidence for most of our knowledge of most of human history is literature from cultures suffused with superstition. If one wishes to regard that as making all historical inquiry into the past problematic, one is free to do so. But pretending that it only affects the investigation of Jesus is obviously dishonest.

      And just to be clear, in the case of Jesus the evidence is not a single “book” but an array of books and letters, which some modern people mistake for a single book because they are familiar with them not as ancient literature but as part of a compilation known as the Christian Bible.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

        An ancient book from a superstitious culture says that Alexander defeated the Persians? What the heck–sure, I’ll believe that (especially when there is so much additional evidence like coins, statues, and cities with his name). It’s not like there’s much riding on it.

        An ancient book from a superstitious culture says that the supernatural exists? I know just where to place that book–into the Mythology bin with all the rest. You say that there’s one exception that is actually history? Sure, I’ll listen to your evidence for that, but you’ve got a very big job ahead of you.

        Yes, I do appreciate that the Bible is a compilation of books. That none of them is obviously written with God’s guidance and that it took centuries to for ordinary, fallible men to agree on the NT canon suggests that this is just another human project.

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

          We are not discussing the supernatural here – whether Alexander was a child of a god or Jesus was the son of God or anything like that. We are discussing questions of history. If those don’t interest you that is fine, but objecting to the work of historians and scholars because your interests lie elsewhere is unhelpful, to say the least.

          • Rudy R

            Stripping away the supernatural and applying strict historical methodology relegates the Jesus character to all the other itinerant, delusional, traveling Rabbis of the day. That’s the result of work from historians.

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

            And that is why I am surprised that some atheists, rather than accept such results of historical investigation, prefer to embrace pseudohistory.

          • Rudy R

            I’m not familiar with atheists accepting pseudo-history. You would need to be more specific. I am familiar with individuals not applying historical methodology in lieu of their biased convictions.

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

            I was referring to mythicism.

          • Rudy R

            Some atheists don’t accept such results of historical investigation because they consider it to be pseudo-history. There has been recent historical scholarship that seriously questions the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. For over 1000 years, Christian historians have been relying on the historical Jesus paradigm, with great consequence to historical methodology. It hasn’t been until recently that atheist historians have challenged this paradigm. Once was may not always be. Science has taught us that. I’m an agnostic on mythicism, that is, there is at least a 51% probability that a historical Jesus did not exist. Is it possible, yes; is it probable, no.
            There is now a contest between scholars who see the world through the lens of science and those who cannot yet cut themselves free from the anchors of religious and traditional authority. The old scholarly paradigm is giving way to one that is new and not yet fully formed.

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

            I expect that you have never taken a secular academic university course on this topic. You sound just like a creationist talking about evolution, just in reverse. You seem not to even be aware that historical study of Jesus over recent centuries has been controversial among Christians precisely because it consistently drew conclusions that were at odds with what Christians wanted to believe.

            The historical Jesus paradigm is “a theory in crisis”? Seems I’ve heard that somewhere before, about another academic field, from people who clearly knew just as little about what actually happens in that academic field.

          • Rudy R

            You’re making unfounded assumptions about me simply because we disagree. A weak response to an otherwise valid argument.

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

            I drew conclusions based on your conspiracy theory view of academic work in a particular field, which is a common motif across a wide array of different forms of denialism.

            That you think that your comment was some kind of argument, valid or otherwise, seems to confirm my fears. Saying that the work of scholars – which used to cause them to lose their jobs when they first did pioneering work but approaching Jesus using the tools of secular historical inquiry way back when, and which is rejected by conservative Christians down to the present day – is a Christian conspiracy, or the uncritical acceptance of a Christian paradigm, can only be asserted if one knows nothing or almost nothing about this field.

            And so what I wrote about you was a deduction, based on what you wrote, and not an assumption.

          • Rudy R

            I don’t view the Christian historian’s conclusions that a Jesus of Nazareth exists is based on a conspiracy; I just conclude that it is based on a faulty conclusion. Your position that I don’t know anything about the field because I don’t come to the same conclusion as you or the scholars you agree with, is faulty logic. Whether you want to admit it, there are secular historical scholars that have come to a different conclusion, then the Christian scholars, that is based on sound, historical methodology. Again, you are making unfounded assumptions about me simply because we disagree.

            Saying that the work of scholars – which used to cause them to lose their jobs when they first did pioneering work but approaching Jesus using the tools of secular historical inquiry way back when, and which is rejected by conservative Christians down to the present day

            Who are these scholars who lost their jobs and what exactly did they pioneer that caused their firing? What did the pioneers reject that the conservative Christian scholars believed?

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

            If you don’t know the most important events in the history of academic scholarship in this field, and if you don’t know that this discussion is not about “Christian historians” then I don’t know why you are jumping into the discussion with views that you hold so dogmatically.

            I was thinking in particular of D. F. Strauss. http://www.britannica.com/biography/David-Friedrich-Strauss

            There is a bit of word salad in your comment, including the claim that a conclusion is based on a conclusion.

          • Rudy R

            The most important events in the history of academic scholarship in this field? That’s a bit of a word salad as well. Are you referring to historical dates or dates that historians discovered historical events? I’m not sure either one is relevant though. Historical events can always be adjusted based on new facts or new interpretation of facts, so not sure what you are implying.

            I only mention Christian historians because they would hold a bias towards outcomes that favor a historical Jesus. None of the secular historians carry this baggage. And yes, there are secular historians who hold that there was a historical Jesus.

            There is a bit of word salad in your comment, including the claim that a conclusion is based on a conclusion.

            Try this on for size: My assessment is that the scholars have come to the wrong conclusion.

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

            I was referring to the history of the academic field, what scholars have written and how Christians – the majority of people in the contexts in which they were working in the 18th and 19th centuries – responded.

            You think a whole field of scholars, a mixture of Christians, atheists, Jews, and others, are wrong in their judgment. Evolution-deniers think a whole field of scholars, a mixture of Christians, atheists, Jews, and others, are wrong in their judgment. Is there any fundamental difference between these two kinds of rejections of academic conclusions based on what individuals who are not academics want to believe to be true?

          • Rudy R

            Why does 18th and 19th Century scholarship trump 20th and 21st Century scholarship?
            The fundamental difference between historical methods and scientific methods is that most historians allow themselves to fill in the blanks, while scientists don’t. In many instances, the historical scholars make assumptions where no evidence exists. Bart Ehrman points to “Q” as a source, as does many other historians, which no extant evidence exits, to support his position on a historical Jesus. Historical scholars also fail in their scholarship when they base their conclusions on possibilities versus probabilities. Very few apply a systematic method, like Bayesian probability. The application of anecdotal possibilities, versus Bayes theorem, reveals just how much of historical Jesus scholarship confuses possibly true with probably true.
            I’m not dogmatic about mythicism. It makes no difference to me whether Jesus exists or not. But the analysis of the evidence shows at least a 51% probability that he did not exist. Is it possible he existed? Yes. Is it probable? No. That’s where I see the failure in most historical scholarship…the confusion of possibility with probability, at least as it relates the Jesus character.

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

            The distinction doesn’t work as a hard and fast one, but that said, no one here is denying that history and the natural sciences have differences between their methods. But your suggestion that there is “no evidence” for Q, and your ridiculous suggestion that a Bayesian approach will safeguard good results even if one plugs unconvincing or downright fallacious conclusions into the formula, is quite bizarre, and suggests that you’ve been listening to Richard Carrier but not reading mainstream scholarship – the same pitfall that creationists fall into when they read Ken Ham or Michael Behe but never acquaint themselves with anything scientists write, or certainly nothing beyond the popularizations for a general audience.

          • Rudy R

            …Bayesian approach will safeguard good results even if one plugs unconvincing or downright fallacious conclusions into the formula…

            Speaks volumes of your ignorance in Bayesian theory application.

            But your suggestion that there is “no evidence” for Q…

            I’m not suggesting, I’m stating there is no “extant” evidence of “Q”. No reputable scholar would. Are you suggesting there is a Q document in existence?

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

            You are clearly confused, or perhaps are simply not expressing yourself clearly. There is no extant copy of the hypothetical Q source. If there were, then obviously it would not be hypothetical. There is evidence in the Synoptic Gospels that supports the Q hypothesis, since were there not, this would never have become part of the most widely-held solution to the Synoptic problem.

            But why pray tell do you think that the historicity of Jesus depends on the Q hypothesis and the four-source solution that it is part of? If the Gospel of Matthew was written first, as many long believed, how on earth do you imagine that as undermining the likelihood that there was a historical Jesus?!

          • Rudy R

            Reason I mention the Q source is because it is weak evidence to support the historicity of Jesus. When you start excluding all the hypothetical sources, the house of cards starts tumbling down on the historical Jesus. What’s left are copies of copies of the Gospels, which no one can assume weren’t manipulated to promote religious/political agendas. And you are highly mistaken if you think Matthew is believed to be the first written Gospel. Many historical scholars believe Mark is the first. Peter and Paul had competing religious dogmas, with Peter believing with Mark that the path to Christianity required conversion to Judaism and keeping all the OT laws in tack, while Paul believed in Matthew that Gentiles could convert straight to Christianity, chucking out most of the OT laws for a new covenant. That’s a simplistic summation, but the Gospels were written from differing views, copies from copies, with no original extant books to clearly interpret original intent, fact or fiction. Add to the fact that it’s not clear Paul ever met the bodily Jesus and that all he knew about Jesus was from OT scripture. There’s too many unknowns for a 51% probability that a Jesus of Nazareth ever existed, with not even mentioning that Nazareth may not have existed during the supposed birth of Jesus. So Q does not solve any of the problems of the Synoptic Gospels.
            If you want to debate the veracity of the Bible or specific evidence to support the historicity of Jesus, game on. But this back and forth is getting us no further in the debate of our view points, wouldn’t you agree?

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

            You still seem to be confused, not just about what I wrote, but also about whom you are speaking to. I am aware that Markan priority, together with Q as the explanation for Matthew-Luke overlaps on non-Markan material, is the dominant view in the academy. What I asked is what difference you think it would make if one abandoned that view and adopted the dominant pre-scholarly view of the order. Or any other order, for that matter. I am surprised that mythicists don’t try to argue that John was first, since then they could at least try to invert the christological trajectory that scholars trace across the Gospels over time.

            I have no interest in making a case for the “veracity of the Bible.” Like any collection of ancient literature, the Bible is very much a mixed bag. But the later compilation is irrelevant to the use by historians of those works that later become part of it.

            You might want to learn a bit about whether our lacking the originals is in any way unusual when it comes to our sources of knowledge about the ancient world.

          • Rudy R

            I’m not confused with whom I’m speaking, unless you are not James F. McGrath.

            What I asked is what difference you think it would make if one abandoned that view and adopted the dominant pre-scholarly view of the order

            Why would I do that? It would be like as asking me to abandon my view on the heliocentric model for the dominant pre-scholarly geocentric model. The difference is trading a true model for a false model.

            I have no interest in making a case for the “veracity of the Bible.”

            Of course you don’t, it wouldn’t help to support your position.

            You might want to learn a bit about whether our lacking the originals is in any way unusual when it comes to our sources of knowledge about the ancient world.

            And therein lies the problem when historical scholars don’t adhere to historical methodology when it doesn’t support their biases.

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

            This seems a very odd comment, and I am still not sure how to respond to it, as you seem to have very little sense of what our ancient sources are like in general, and how historians utilize them in their investigations of the past. You also seem to regularly misunderstand things that I write: you seem to think that I was claiming that Matthew was written first, that the predominant alternative – the Q hypothesis – has some bearing on the likelihood of Jesus’ historicity, and many other matters. And you are happy to reject mainstream scholarship while embracing without question the assertions of armchair archaeologists like Rene Salm. You also seem to think that we can only be well-poised to know whether someone is historical if we have met them in person (“bodily” is a very odd term to use for such a meeting). If you met someone’s brother, I suspect that you would have little doubt of that person’s historical existence.

            I don’t think this degree of confusion is best cleared up in blog comments. What would it take to get you to visit your local library and check out a book by a mainstream historian or other scholar in a relevant field on the topic of the historical Jesus?

          • Rudy R

            You’re either being purposefully obtuse on the scholarship that refutes an historical Jesus or you are completely unaware of the scholarship. I understand your reliance on mainstream scholarship for the historicity of Jesus, but from my first comments, that scholarship operated in the past within a paradigm that a Jesus of Nazareth existed. When I refer to “bodily”, I’m referring to a human body versus a spirit. There is a good argument that Paul believed in a spiritual Jesus vs a bodily Jesus. Had you taken the time to research the body of scholarship that has a compelling argument for a spiritual Jesus, then YOU wouldn’t be confused, as you claim I am.
            The reason I bring up the Q hypothesis is because of the mainstream historians reliance of that hypothetical source as evidence for a bodily Jesus. Bart Ehrman is just one of those mainstream historians who relies on Q and it would be likely that he’d join the ranks of mythicists if Q was considered non-compelling evidence amongst all the historians. I suspect he clings to this flimsy evidence, in part, because his wife is a Christian and he would probably lose his chair at UNC. Not unlike the non-believing Pastors who continue to proselytize for fear of losing their livelihood.

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

            You’ve obviously never heard Ehrman talk about this topic. I know him, and making stuff up about him is not acceptable even by the low standards of anonymous blog comments.

            What scholarship do you have in mind that you think refutes there having been a historical Jesus? Please be specific.

            You sound just like evolution-deniers, who say that the academy has this paradigm and just accepts it uncritically, apparently oblivious to the extent of research that has been undertaken on the subject.

          • Rudy R

            No, I haven’t met Ehrman, but I’ve read his books. He’s really made a case for a fictional Jesus; just made the wrong conclusion.

            Just for the record, I’m agnostic on the historical Jesus question, that is, we don’t have enough evidence to tip the scales in favor of a historical Jesus. In my assessment, it’s at least a 51% probability that Jesus was a fictional character. Could he have existed? Yes.

            What historians have done is ask a question that produces only two options: does Jesus exist or not. This is an error. The third option should be, we don’t know, which I believe is the only logical conclusion with the evidence we have and don’t have.

            Historians who state, unequivocally, that Jesus existed, don’t have the type of evidence that can justify such a strong claim. They don’t have original documents from people who met a Jesus. They don’t have any documents from historians who were contemporaries of Jesus ever mentioning anything of his existence. They don’t have the original Gospels from known authors that would dispel hanky panky among the copies of copies we do have from unknown script writers. They don’t know the mind of Paul, who by any measure, claimed to know Jesus only by revelation and scripture. They don’t have any archaeological finds proving the existence of Jesus, nor do they have anything he wrote.

            What they do have is hearsay after hearsay of fictional and non-fictional people who were true believers of a sprouting Judaism sect out of Palestine. What they may know, at best, is a man named Jesus, which coincidentally means “savior”, an itinerant rabbi, preaching an apocalyptic message of a Heaven on Earth that would occur in his generation, who may have been tried and convicted by Pontius Pilate, and who may have been crucified. And what the historians have done, essentially, is fill in the blanks for the huge canyon of information they don’t have, and is at best, just hypotheses.

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

            That Jewish names like Joshua have meanings is no coincidence and relatively uninteresting for those who are aware – as you should be – that most people have names.

            You have missed entirely the range of historical possibilities. Each detail must be assessed on its own merits. Most sources are a range of fact, fiction, and the historically uncertain. The fact that there are things that are not historical in a source does not mean that the overall historicity of the figure or events in question are in doubt.

            You have clearly badly misunderstood the implications of Ehrman’s arguments. It is always a bad idea to do what creationists do with scientific literature, and to claim that scholars have made a case for a view that the scholars themselves do not draw. Might I recommend again that you do some further reading on this topic?

          • Rudy R

            You have missed entirely the range of historical possibilities.

            I haven’t missed the range of possibilities, but choose to keep possibilities into perspective. Historical methodology should focus on the probabilities, not possibilities. Historians reliance on the potential for an event to have occurred versus the likelihood that an event to have occurred is an error in logic and reason. That logic to apply probability, incidentally, separates me from the evolution-deniers.

            Because I don’t agree with your position should not be a conclusion on your part that I need further reading. Your echo of this platitude gets us no further in the discussion. Let’s just agree to disagree and move on.

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

            No, sorry, you don’t get to spout misinformation and show you have not grasped what scholars do or why we draw the conclusions we do, get corrected on those points, and then say “Let’s just agree to disagree.” That might work in the poorly-informed circles that you are used to moving in, but here it just doesn’t cut it.

          • Rudy R

            What is my misinformation? And how exactly am I misinformed?

            I’ve stated it before, but I’ll restate again, so maybe you will grasp my comments. I believe the evidence shows that there is at least a 51% probability that a historical Jesus never existed. In no way does that imply that a historical Jesus could not have existed. I am not discounting all the scholarly work done by mainstream historians. In fact, I agree with almost the entirety of Bart Ehrman’s scholarship on his assessment of the historicity surrounding Jesus. What I’ve been emphasizing is that historians should apply probability theory as part of their methodology.

            Are you willing to state unequivocally that all historical evidence points to 100% probability in favor of an historical Jesus? Is it the type of evidence we would expect to prove that a person exists?

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

            You are misinformed in the ways that I have already pointed out.

            If you agreed with Ehrman’s assessment, you would agree with his conclusion.

            Nothing in ancient history is 100%. But the evidence we have is precisely the kind that we would expect for a figure such as the historical Jesus appears to have been.

          • Rudy R

            You might want to check back on your comments. Not once did you state how I was misinformed. Again, how am I misinforming?

            If you agreed with Ehrman’s assessment, you would agree with his conclusion.

            My words: “I agree with almost the entirety of Bart Ehrman’s scholarship…assessment”. It’s those areas I don’t agree with Ehrman that there is disagreement with his conclusion. You have been habitually taking my comments out of context, falsely reframing my comments, or ignoring pertinent comments/questions germane to the conversation.

            And you set a very low hurdle when you admit ancient history is not 100%. Almost everything is not 100%. An assessment of evidence does not necessarily lead to an either/or conclusion. It’s not either 0% probable or 100% probable. There is a spectrum between 0 and 100. My question to you is, do you assign a probability to each piece of evidence and use it as part of a holistic assessment of an event?

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

            You were the one who asked about 100% confidence. I’m glad you now recognize that that was inappropriate. Perhaps we are making progress.

            If we have just a few pieces of evidence about a figure which indicate that they were most likely actual historical figures, that probability is not diminished by the fact that people subsequently made up non-historical tales about the individual.

          • Rudy R

            What diminishes the fact that the person is a historical figure is evidence that could refute a historical figure.
            For example, there could be 5 pieces of evidence that show an average 51% probability in favor of a figure being a historical person and 5 pieces of evidence that show an average 52% probability in favor of a figure being a fictional person. Logic would have you assessing the figure as a fictional person. Now, it is possible the figure is a historical person, but just not probable.

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

            No, historical study doesn’t work that way. Evidence that the cherry tree incident involving George Washington was fictional does not make it less likely that George Washington was historical. Each piece of evidence needs to be evaluated on its own merits.

          • Rudy R

            I’m not suggesting each piece of evidence would not be evaluated on its own merits. Each piece of evidence evaluated should be assigned a probability, either one that favors a historical figure or one that favors a fictional figure.
            With your analogy, historical study does work that way. Evidence that the cherry tree incident involving George Washington as historical could be near a 0% probability, so that evidence would not favor a fictional character.

        • Pseudonym

          It’s not like there’s much riding on it.

          I think we’ve found the crux (pun not intended).

          I once asked a creationist why they kept pushing that despite so much evidence to the contrary. The answer that I received was: “Because if evolution was false, it would prove that God exists.”

          Our criteria for evaluating historical evidence should not be whether or not some apologist uses it to push an agenda that we don’t like.

          Here’s the reality check: What’s at stake here is not anyone’s religion or lack thereof, but whether or not we can know anything about ancient history at all.

          Anything is possible, including Last Thursdayism. At some point, we have to agree that we can draw conclusions about the ancient world from the evidence that we have, and that the historical method is the best way we currently know to do that.

        • Phil Ledgerwood

          You choose what historical claims to believe based upon how high the stakes are?

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

            The amount of mental energy I put in is based on how high the stakes are.

            If I gave you great evidence that there is doubt about Alexander’s conquests, would that change anything about your worldview? Would that keep you awake at night? Cause you any anxiety?

            I treat the (many) supernatural claims about Alexander precisely the same as those about Jesus. I reject them.

          • arcseconds

            Do you go on to biology blogs and say “who really cares about Tiktaalik? Does that keep anyone awake at night?”

          • Phil Ledgerwood

            It wouldn’t keep me awake at night or cause me any anxiety, but I don’t think my methodology of evaluating the truth of those claims would change. It’s not like low impact matters get a free pass. But I get what you’re saying about how much effort I might invest in making that determination.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined Bob Seidensticker

            Sounds like we approach things in a similar way. My methodology for testing claims is also unchanged whether those claims are natural or supernatural.

  • Alex Thurley-Ratcliff

    Why is historicity so important? It doesn’t prove the spiritual claims of Paul and the writers of the New Testament; and since none of the writings were BY Jesus and at best very little of the NT is even reported speech from people who actually met Jesus, then historicity is a fairly meaningless claim.

    It certainly doesn’t validate the miraculous elements of the canon in any way.

    And C S Lewis’ famous “mad, bad or true” is a very false set of choices – if you were going to build on historical + logic = truth…

    I’m still a peri-christian (recovering fundamentalist) and even I can see the very simplistic approach of this article and any arguments built thereupon!

  • Alex Thurley-Ratcliff

    Actually this is really annoying to me now. I’ve just spent an hour learning about “the Christ myth” and the article above (I’m sorry, but that does overstate the nature of the few short paragraphs) is seriously flawed.

    Is your point, actually and in specific, limited solely to denigrating the mythicists’ claim (and I have your word for that) to require non-biblical historico-literary evidence for Jesus existence? Your assertion that you can use the NT writings as non-scriptural is based on.. what? They ARE scripture, so you cannot avoid their essence being spiritual; which debases their currency as historical documents. This is the key point many mythicists make – that there are NO non-biblical texts which reference Jesus. It’s a compelling argument, which you fail to address.

    The problem seems to me that we, none of us, have any other text to refer to. So we are all thrown into literary analysis and that’s not hard fact; even if it comes close at times. It’s very interesting that proponents of philosophical thought do NOT argue excessively over the existence of Socrates, for instance, but reflect on the writings and thinking ascribed to him. Perhaps we could simply do the same with Jesus – he doesn’t have to be God for him to be wise! He doesn’t have to be all that people say about him (ie classic traditional Christians) for us to get value from the teachings ascribed to him.

    And then you end on a note of misplaced disdain, which is emotional not academic in nature.

    Bit of a flop in my view…

    • arcseconds

      It’s very interesting that proponents of philosophical thought do NOT argue excessively over the existence of Socrates, for instance, but reflect on the writings and thinking ascribed to him. Perhaps we could simply do the same with Jesus – he doesn’t have to be God for him to be wise! He doesn’t have to be all that people say about him (ie classic traditional Christians) for us to get value from the teachings ascribed to him.

      I would agree with this for the most part, and so, I think, would James.

      But surely this attitude, which seems open to the existence of Jesus (and even, as written, seems to entail that he did in fact exist) is in tension with this other statements you make:

      They ARE scripture, so you cannot avoid their essence being spiritual; which debases their currency as historical documents. This is the key point many mythicists make – that there are NO non-biblical texts which reference Jesus. It’s a compelling argument, which you fail to address.

      A compelling argument for what? Here it doesn’t sound like you’re interested in a scholarly discussion about Jesus at all, but rather in ruling out a major collection of texts covering times and places that are otherwise largely or entirely lacking in historical documentation wholesale, on a basis which you fail to argue for.

      No historian of the ancient period has the luxury of dismissing all texts other than those written by sober, disinterested, critical scholars who didn’t believe in the supernatural: there simply aren’t any such texts.

      The reason why there isn’t a debate over the existence of Socrates is that there’s not a set of semi-informed people with an animus against Socrates or Platonic philosophy who are seeking to deny that he even existed. Consequently we don’t have cartoons saying things like “so, prove the existence of Socrates without referencing Socratic literature! Gotcha!”, and no need for blog posts like this one.

      • Alex Thurley-Ratcliff

        The ‘compelling argument’ was about there being NO non-biblical texts which reference Jesus. I think you have more succinctly helped develop my argument. We agree.

        I like your line about “a set of semi-informed people with an animus against Socrates” but I’d use that of many Christian apologists who have an animus against academics and theologians…

        • arcseconds

          But that is false. There are certainly non-biblical texts that reference Jesus. I suppose I could facetiously mention this blog, which last I checked isn’t yet considered part of the Biblical canon, but Tacitus and Josephus mention Jesus, and both are early, and neither is biblical. The Talmud also mentions Jesus: it’s considerably later but may preserve an early tradition.

          Also, do you not read this cartoon as supporting the notion that there’s no good evidence for the existence of Jesus?

          It doesn’t explicitly draw out that conclusion in so many words, but it seems a bit strange to suppose that a cartoon about an atheist pig could just be making a rather humdrum point about the Bible being our main reference for Jesus. That seems neither interesting, nor amusing, nor contentious and expressing it in terms of proving Jesus’s existence seems very misleading, particularly as many atheists make precisely this argument.

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

            Alex, I have been blogging about mythicism for more than a decade. I do not expect any one blog post to do justice to its numerous false claims. This is a good place to start: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2011/07/round-up-of-mythicist-blogging.html

            But that doesn’t include the most recent years of blogging on the topic, or my articles specifically dealing with Richard Carrier’s recent book which can be found in The Bible and Interpretation.

            You asked why historicity matters, and it sounds like it does not matter in relation to your faith, which is fine. But history matters to historians for reasons that have nothing to do with the implications of historical figures for faith. Historians are simply trying to get the details of what happened right to the extent possible, and in some instances, trying to avoid the deliberate distortion of history, which can have all sorts of negative consequences.

          • arcseconds

            I’m not Alex :-)

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

            No, but you were having a conversation with him. Would you, if you were chiming in on a conversation already underway, not place your comment after the most recent previous one? I had assumed that was appropriate etiquette in discussions, but perhaps I am wrong about this.

          • arcseconds

            It is not usual or expected behaviour in a forum like this, in my long years of internet experience, including early mass discussion sites like USENET: one responds directly to the person and post one is addressing one’s remarks to.

            (In fact, as far as I recall you’re the only person I’ve ever encountered who’s ever suggested otherwise.)

            And it’s also the form of replying best supported by the technology.

            Disqus has an ‘inbox’ feature that shows replies to one’s posts.

            One can also set things up so that one gets replies to one’s comments in email.

            If Alex relies on either of those to see replies to him, he may have missed your reply.

            Unfortunately disqus is in many respects a big step backwards from a decent USENET reader, which would normally have decent threading behaviour and a way of marking messages as read, so I do acknowledge that the more complex threading that this behaviour results in is not as easy to navigate as it could be desirable. But most people seem to cope OK.

            This sounds like a lecture — I don’t really care if you do do this. I’d honestly forgotten that that was your strategy and presumed you had made a mistake, that was all, the rest is just FYI :-)

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

            Thanks for this clarification. I get all the comments from this blog and so I may not be aware of how notifications work for others. I had assumed that anyone who had participated in this particular thread or subthread would get notifications about it, regardless whether a comment was a direct response to them or responding to another participant in the conversation. And I thought that inserting my comment above yours, out of order, might be considered rude. Thanks for setting me straight!

          • arcseconds

            No, people can opt to subscribe to the whole blog post and get all comments on that post in an email. This is separate from whether or not one has commented.

            I only do this in the case of high-volume on-going discussions where it becomes increasingly difficult to work out where the new material is through disqus.

            One can also follow the whole blog, but I’m not sure whether that gets just the posts or the comments.

          • YoRpFiSh

            Fraudulent texts both covered here

            http://www.jesusneverexisted.com

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

            I will ask you again why you think that website is worthy of your unquestioning blind faith in this way.

          • YoRpFiSh

            It’s a sourced and referenced compendium.

            But you’re afraid of its information so you won’t investigate.

            No worries, others will. And they will check the other sites I’ve listed.

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

            It is full of claims that have been discussed here for more than a decade. There is no fear of information on this site, but I do worry about those who think that the mere presence of references can allow one to distinguish scholarship from pseudoscholarship. It is one of the reasons that young-earth creationist materials turn up in Google Scholar. It is automated to find things that look like scholarship. A good charlatan knows how to make a fine imitation.

            Given that the conclusions of mainstream historical scholarship are so troubling to Christians, what exactly do you think you gain by rejecting the consensus of historians? And what do you gain by embracing the claims of an armchair archaeologist about Bethlehem rather than the conclusions drawn on the basis of actually digging there?

          • psstein1

            The sources referred to on that site are largely a) outdated or b) junk.

          • YoRpFiSh

            And id bet bottom dollar that any sources you had refuting would be apologetics.

            Feel free to post them.

          • psstein1

            Yes, Bart Ehrman is a Christian apologist. So was Maurice Casey. Louis Feldman is a Christian apologist too, though he’s Jewish. Yes, it’s only apologists who defend a historical Jesus of Nazareth. Rene Salm’s book is refuted by findings from secular Jewish archeologists.

            Or maybe you should stop reading crackpot theories and read some mainstream scholarship. Wait, I forgot, there’s a conspiracy to continue maintaining Jesus as a historical figure.

          • YoRpFiSh

            Not a conspiracy, just fear, and (like religious inclination in general) it’s fading fast.

            Living in the Information Age has helped considerably.

            How about you yourself google the authors in question?

          • psstein1

            I’m working towards a degree in a relevant field… and I happen to know more of the material than Humphries does on his best day.

            Right, whatever you want to believe. All scholars are clearly conspiring to keep a historical Jesus alive. Even people like Gerd Ludemann and James Crossley, both avowed atheists.

          • arcseconds

            What would an outspoken atheist like R. Joseph Hoffmann be fearing, exactly?

            Unfortunately the ‘information age’ hasn’t generally resulted in an improvement of the quality of information. Nonsense gets transmitted across the global network just as happily as sense, and if anything it’s allowed kooky beliefs to gain both traction and visibility.

          • Mark

            Affirming that a ‘historical Jesus’ existed has nothing whatsoever to do with any religious inclination at all. Moreover, this is perfectly obvious if you stop typing and start thinking, even for a moment. Rejecting a historical Jesus is in no sense a liberation from any religious view, but a sign of continuing affirmation of one of a range of religious views. If you cannot escape the conviction that any ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ would have cosmic significance, but don’t want the cosmic significance, you can reject the existence of a ‘historical Jesus’. This is like denying evolution on religious grounds. The thing to drop though is the view that Jesus had any of the cosmic significance that was imputed to him; millions have been doing this for centuries, there’s nothing recent about it. Then you don’t have to falsify history but can just e.g. take an interest in its development.

  • Phil Ledgerwood

    The other thing is it gives the impression that “the Bible” is the primary source for these texts rather than the disparate texts being added to the Bible much later than their authorship. These are different texts from different authors that were only eventually added to a single book.

    A much more accurate objection would be, “Without using anything recorded by people who claim to have been witnesses.” Which is absurd.

  • psstein1

    The fundamentalists don’t change, they simply switch sides. What people seem to forget is that the Bible isn’t some sort of holy text that descended from the sky in one coherent unit.

  • arcseconds

    Aristophanes wasn’t a disciple of Socrates… does The Clouds then count?

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

      I don’t think that, if we did not have Plato and Xenophon, we would be confident that Aristophanes’ character was based on a real historical individual.

  • David Evans

    I think it can be argued that if all our evidence for the content of a particular document comes from successive copying by those who have a theological (or other ideological) ax to grind, that casts some doubt on its reliability.

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

      But we have early enough copies that we can see how scribes treated the text. And so it is precisely because we know that there were deliberate changes on occasion, and that these did not involve complete rewriting of the text, and did not manage in most cases to completely overwhelm and supplant the earlier form of the text, that we have confidence that the texts we have resemble the originals in much the manner that any copies of texts would.

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

        But do we have early enough copies? Almost everything we have comes from the time when Christianity was a state sanctioned religion with an established hierarchy. We have almost nothing from the period when it was a collection of competing and occasionally persecuted sects. We can very reasonably question whether the later transmission is representative of the earlier.

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

          We have plenty from before the time when Christianity was a state-sanctioned religion, more than enough to know that the text as preserved by the church from that time onwards was not a new invention nor something radically rewritten. This is the kind of thing that ought to be well-known to anyone even remotely interested in this field.

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

            To what “time onwards” are you referring? The period before state sanction includes the first century of transmission for which virtually no manuscript evidence exists. I am sufficiently familiar with the field to have heard conservative scholars acknowledge that this is the most critical period for ancient texts. The degree of confidence you express sounds more like the wishful thinking of apologists than like anything I have heard from mainstream scholars.

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

            I sound that way to you because you apparently think the state sanctioning of Christianity occurred earlier than any scholar or historian does.

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

            I think it occurred under Constantine early in the fourth century, but even if I thought it occurred earlier, that wouldn’t change the fact that we have next to no manuscript evidence for the most critical first 100 years of transmission. The fact that you want to ignore this is what makes you sound like an apologist to me.

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

            Well, you’re illustrating the fallacy at the heart of mythicism – that if religious apologists are wrong about some things, then they must be wrong about everything that they claim. But surely even you with your dogmatic resistance to reason and evidence can see the fallacy there. And perhaps you are even aware that a lie is more effective when mixed with truth, and can contemplate the possibility that the reason the religious viewpoint you reject appeals to so many people, is precisely the same reason mythicism seems plausible to you despite its inanity, namely the fact that not everything that Christians or that mythicists claim is false.

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

            You have clearly misunderstood me.

            I don’t believe that the apologists are wrong just because they are apologists. I believe they are wrong because they ignore the problems that legitimate scholars have identified.

            Of course an apologist can be right about anything a legitimate scholar can. Nevertheless, I believe that the practice of apologetics is inherently inconsistent with legitimate scholarship, so I consequently accord less respect to the consensus of scholars in a field where both are so frequently practiced simultaneously.

            Mythicism per se doesn’t seem particularly plausible to me; however, I nonetheless recognize that the case for historicity rests on highly problematic logic and evidence.

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

            And there we have the contradiction at the heart of your stance. On the one hand, you insist that the case for the conclusion that professional historians find compelling rests on problematic logic and evidence, and yet you claim that the alternative does not seem plausible. If the former were true, mythicism would not find it hard to offer a plausible alternative.

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

            On the other hand, if the consensus position were true, your professional historians would not find it necessary to rely on problematic evidence and logic.

            As I have pointed out before, Ehrman is more certain that Paul met Jesus’ biological brother than he is that Paul wrote the passage in which he claims to have met “the brother of the lord.” I think this is typical of the errors that historical Jesus scholars make

            There is no contradiction in recognizing that neither side has adequately supported its position.

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

            Your constant repetition of this mantra, that neither side has adequately supported its position, does not make it true, and should seem improbable to anyone who has considered not only the evidence, but the conclusions drawn by historians and scholars. I’ve encountered people who insist equally dogmatically that the question of whether biological evolution has occurred is similarly open and uncertain because allegedly neither side has offered a definitive case. I wonder what it would take to get you to consider that your “teach the controversy” stance is problematic.

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

            Of course it does not make it true, but that’s not the point; the point is that it’s not a contradiction to believe that neither side has made its case. It was your contradiction accusation to which I was responding. I’m sorry that it was necessary to repeat things I have said before in order to do so.

  • YoRpFiSh

    http://www.jesusneverexisted.com

    the bible should never be used as a historical reference.

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

      I would ask once again (since you ignore the point) why the inclusion of texts in the Bible after they were written should have any bearing on their usefulness to historians. But the fact that you insist that the Bible should never be used, but apparently think that a dubious website should, makes me think that perhaps you have not come here to engage in serious discussion.

      • YoRpFiSh

        The bible contains lots of references to events that never happened as well as places and people who didn’t exist.

        If you use a document, or collection of documents, that has blatant, obvious, known errors than you aren’t really doing research on actual history, are you?

        At best one could argue that sections of the bible could be useful in understanding the author(s) and their society at the time, but even then we have other contemporary sources for historical reference.

        The bottom line is your entire argument is based on little else beyond an appeal to emotion and the notion that some parts of the bible contain references to real things. Never mind when those references might have been edited in or decided upon and by whom.

        That is nearly David Barton level of historical revision/ignorance.

        There was no massive flood
        There was no Enslavement in Egypt
        There was no exodus
        There was no census
        There was no Bethlehem
        There was no actual Jesus

        myths are myths and should be treated as such.

        Good day to you.

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

          You see, the problem is you seem to have been trained by fundamentalism to see the world in black and white. I would not be surprised if your atheism is not a product of fundamentalism’s claim that if the Bible is not the inerrant word of God, you might as well throw it in the trash. Historians are trained to deal with each piece of evidence on its own terms in a nuanced manner. Your inability to do so has actually rendered you gullible. You have combined the conclusions of geology and historical inquiry with pseudohistorical claims of charlatans on the internet, simply because you think it renders your stance more plausible if you treat all questions as though they were the same. The fact that there was no Exodus of anything like the sort depicted in the Book of Exodus does not mean that there was no siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib. The fact that some things are not historical, especially claims about the more distant past from the time when a work was composed, is par for the course in ancient sources.

          • YoRpFiSh

            Oooo attack me now!? Make speculations about me!!!

            Not a good sign skip.

            http://wiki.ironchariots.org/index.php?title=The_Bible_is_not_a_reliable_historical_source

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

            When one encounters someone who rejects the conclusions of mainstream scholarship, choosing instead to believe web pages written by people without relevant expertise, it is only natural to try to figure out what on earth could lead someone to pursue such a line of thinking.

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

            Sorry, did you mean to post those links somewhere else? Surely you didn’t mistake this site for one that is interested in defending the wholesale history of the Bible, did you? That would be really bizarre.

            So if you can copy and paste links to books, and Wikipedia articles, about the conclusions of historians, why are you so averse to accepting those conclusions?

          • YoRpFiSh

            Theses all discuss the historical inaccuracies in he bible, and even a book on how ‘mainstream scholarship’ keeps having to change its biblical…views.

            the original point still stands and begs the question ‘how can you consider a tome with so many contradictions, inaccuracies, revisions, and agendas to be a valuable and accurate source of historical information?’

            The only intellectually honest answer is that you can’t

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

            Historians are not dealing with “the Bible” unless they are investigsting later times than those that interest me. The canonization of particular texts is irrelevant to their usefulness to historians. Historians can utilize texts which contain a mixture of fact, error, and deceit. Indeed, those are the only kinds of sources available most of the time, the only differences among them being the amount of reliable information in them.

            Your all-or-nothing approach simply does not deal adequately with the evidence. The fact that the Acts of the Apostles includes miracle stories and other things that can be dismissed easily does not change the fact that it also contains information we can verify as correct.

            If I may use a more up to date example, in your comments on this blog, you have asserted that there was no global flood (a conclusion unambiguously clear from all the evidence), that there was no exodus (the evidence is unambiguous that the story we now have is a legend, but that conclusion is not incompatible with it being a legend that grew from some historical experience of escape from slavery), and that there was no Bethlehem (a view held only by a small number of internet denialists). Your comments are a mixture of accurate, partly accurate, and completely inaccurate claims. That does not mean that your every word should be dismissed, but that each point should be assessed and discussed on its merits.

          • YoRpFiSh

            I never claimed that there was a sum total of zero factual information contained in the bible.

            Only That using it as an accurate and trusted reference point in and of itself is irresponsible to say the least.

            As for everything else you think is inaccurate…well I await your detailed and expert refutation.

            Otherwise I guess we can agree to disagree and wait to see how history shakes it all out 😉

            Been a fun chat

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

            Why would you come here to argue with a view that I do not hold? Can you kindly explain yourself?

          • YoRpFiSh

            I didn’t come to argue, I came to provide reasoning behind the notion that using the bible as an historical reference is irresponsible. It’s not accurate enough for that, and that’s been proven repeatedly.

            It also drew me in that you used that particular cartoon of which I am a fan.

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

            The issue with the cartoon – as I pointed out in my blog post – is that it raises a historical question, and fails to distinguish between possible ways the Bible might be used. If one is appealing to the Bible simply based on a belief that it is inerrant, or authoritative, or whatever, then that is obviously improper and unpersuasive. But if I were discussing whether Paul was a historical figure, and someone told me that I cannot use his letters – after critical scholarly examination thereof, of course – as evidence, because those letters later ended up in the collection known as the Bible, that would be patently absurd.

          • YoRpFiSh

            The cartoon raises the question about the historical probability of Jesus. Everything else is a strawman you set up yourself.

            There is ZERO evidence for the historical Jesus.

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

            Oh great, someone who knows as much about history as a young-earth creationist knows about science (you know, the ones who say there is “zero evidence for evolution”).

            Is there any particular reason you like to make sweeping assertions which simply show your lack of familiarity with the evidence?

            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2016/02/no-evidence-for-jesus.html

          • YoRpFiSh

            Did you just link to your own none sense!? Wow that’s ego!

            That’s not a source skippy!

            And back to attacking me when you have no defense for your own positions! Classy.

            The truth is that outside of the bible no proof of the existence of a Jesus of Nazareth exists. None at all.

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

            I was just pointing out the irony that you were making a laughable claim that I had recently blogged about.

            As an academic who works in this field, I would humbly suggest that my publications, but not in general my blog posts, do indeed constitute “sources,” although what you should be looking into in this field as in an other is what the consensus is and not just what individual academics say.

            Your last sentence suggests that you need to read the blog post you are commending on again. You seems to have missed the major points in it.

          • YoRpFiSh

            ‘Academic’…sure.

            You have provided nothing but your own hot air and when called out and challenged to do so you link to more of your own hot air and act superior.

            I’m playing chess with a pigeon and it’s got to stop.

            You’re utterly ridiculous and deserving of no more of my time.

            Again, good day to you.

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

            Are you honestly complaining that, having spewed nonsense in comments on my blog, I responded by telling you what I personally think of your nonsense?

            I have asked you to fact check the sources that up until now you seem to have accepted on faith. If you do so, your visit here will not have been in vain.

          • Pseudonym

            I don’t think it’s possible to pick a fight with a Gish Gallop and win (for some rhetorical definition of “win”).

          • Mark

            Are you thinking you can explain the data /without/ a historical Jesus? Or are you thinking that, granted, the data can’t explained without a historical Jesus, but still, that’s no evidence? Either you have a strange notion of what it means to speak of ‘evidence’ or else are propounding one of the going no-historical-Jesus views, e.g. a Celestial Christ theory of the data. The surviving documents from antiquity are /evidence for/ whatever is the best theory that can explain them.

  • http://vridar.org Neil Godfrey

    Is this post a joke? Of course we have evidence attesting to Socrates from contemporaries and non-disciples. Everyone knows about Aristophanes for starters, surely.

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

      It is things like this, pretending that matters had not been discussed (often more than once) in the past, that is typical behavior of mythicist trolls, and one of the things that got Neil Godfrey banned from here and the past, and which is one of the many kinds of despicable behavior that led me to stop interacting with him. I guess that trying to give him a third or fourth chance was pointless. Disappointing, but not unexpected.

      For those who’d like to see the previous discussion, it can be found here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2010/10/mythicism-vs-the-socratic-historians.html

      In short, a Socrates mythicist would never treat a character in a play as evidence of a historical figure, did we not have other evidence indicating that. But as one can see, mythicists are not consistent in how they treat the evidence for Socrates and how they treat the evidence for Jesus – as has been shown here before, ad nauseam.