The Myth of Mythicism and Undebunkable Skepticism

Jonathan Bernier noted in a recent post “the special pleading involved in rejecting a consensus position adopted by virtually every New Testament scholar (that Jesus existed) while accepting without reflection a consensus position adopted by most but hardly all such scholars. If we are all mistaken on something so fundamental to the discipline, then how can it be assumed without investigation that the majority of us are correct on anything else?” He also writes, “There are matters upon which informed persons can disagree. Then there are matters upon which disagreement indicates that at least one interlocutor is not qualified to be part of the discussion.”

There have been a number of interesting blog posts either about mythicism or relevant to it. The entire blog “History for Atheists” is focused on this topic (interacting, for instance, with Richard Carrier). Randal Rauser included mythicism on his list of some of the worst arguments against Christianity. He also discussed the laughable claim that mythicists and young-earth creationists make that there is “no evidence” for the thing they dismiss. Hemant Mehta pointed out that skepticism can be taken too far.

Christian Chiakulas shared this image of a Facebook comment:

mythicist-FB-comment-1

He commented, “These are the worst not just because of the infuriatingly smug, know-it-all attitude these armchair historians take, but because they are so painfully ignorant you wonder if they’ve ever actually done any amount of reading on the subject.”

Jerry Coyne nonetheless continues to embrace history denial while complaining about science denial. Bart Ehrman has heard enough mythicist claims – and spent enough time researching the historical figure of Jesus – that he doesn’t need to do a lot of preparation for his debate with Robert Price. I’ll be interested to watch video of that event, but it scarcely seems worth driving to, since it is essentially an event for entertainment. Academic questions aren’t settled by these kinds of debates, but through painstaking careful study of the evidence and the achievement of consensus on that basis.

Also of interest is that I came across another older book addressing mythicist claims made prior to 1916. It doesn’t adopt the kind of approach that one might expect today, but it is still worth noting that many points that modern mythicists latch onto are not new, and neither are the responses that can be given to them.

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  • jh

    Sure I could accept a guy named Jesus who was a “prophet” at the time that Christians state he existed. But to claim that this Jesus was a demigod, born of a virgin, rose from the dead, healed masses, was born under a highly interesting astrological phenomenon, had parents who had to go to Bethlehem because of a census that doesn’t work like any reasonable census does….

    That doesn’t make sense. Give me evidence for that extraordinary claim and that evidence better be extraordinary.

    To put it simply – Christians are expecting reasonable people to believe incredible things absent any evidence that one would and should accept. Sorry- a “he said it” or a “my friend in church said that” doesn’t really cut it. I could use that same “evidence” to prove that Allah exists or that Thor exists or any of the tens of thousands of gods that humanity has worshiped.

    In contrast – look at the climate change claim. There are numerous scientists around the world who are performing experiments and reaching similar conclusions – that man made climate change is real. There are numerous branches that back this hypothesis.

    Give me a miracle – regenerate the missing appendages of everyone in the world absent human intervention. That would be one way to prove that your god exists. (remember – “if two or more are gathered in my name” should be a testable condition. All I need is something like this rather than a passed along story that doesn’t have any independent corroboration of it’s more supernatural events.)

    (And frankly – I would want to remove any hint of bias by making sure that only people who aren’t christian or born in the christian faith or culture were making these claims. There’s just too much chance that the person who claims that a Jesus Christ, son of God exists is a result of that person being a Christian.)

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

      Historians aren’t talking about a demigod or miracle-worker (except perhaps in the sense that people experience cures and recovery in well-documented ways as a result of their belief in the ability of healers to cure them). You seem in the above to be drawing on the analysis of the sources that historians and scholars have offered, and yet to still be talking about the Jesus of religious dogma rather than the historical figure.

      • The Bofa on the Sofa

        Who is Jesus other than the character described in the New Testament? If there is a person that does not have the characteristics of Jesus in the bible, how can you call him Jesus? “Proto-Jesus” maybe?

        Remember, you referred to “New Testament” scholars, so clearly their basis for defining Jesus is the New Testament, right?

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

          When historians discuss the historical Socrates, they do mean the individual that Plato depicts in his dialogues, even though they may in the very process determine that the depiction in those dialogues owes much to Plato’s own perspective and style, and will set aside or reject claims such as that Socrates was inspired by Apollo.

          Does that help?

          • That Dude

            But there is much contemporary corroborative material to indicate that, regardless of Plato’s portrayal of things Socrates said and did, they are at least factual.

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

            Can you please provide specific references as to what you believe those contemporary corroborative materials are?

          • That Dude

            Plato, Aristophanes, Antisthenes, and Xenophon.
            More than Jesus
            But Socrates isn’t being touted as the manifestation of the creator of the universe who was resurrected from death and who waits in some after-life camp to decide who stays and who is thrown in to the eternal bonfire, who we must unquestioningly believe in, love and obey, who people living right now claim to have a personal relationship with… The Socratic problem pales in comparison.

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

            If you are going to blur contemporary Christianity, later ancient Christian sources, and our earliest sources together indiscriminately in this manner, then you aren’t going to draw historically sound conclusions.

          • That Dude

            What ‘sources’ am I blurring. Why would I even bother mentioning anecdotal accounts? The people I named knew Socrates. But it doesn’t matter if Socrates existed or not, as his philosophies don’t demand credulity and obedience, nor do they make supernatural claims.

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

            But ancient authors made supernatural claims about Socrates. Your blurring was introducing later ideas such as Jesus being God incarnate, and much later ideas such as having a personal relationship with him.

          • That Dude

            The claims about Jesus all come from the NT, not me, so there’s no argument about where these beliefs come from. There’s nothing blurry about it.

            I’m unaware of claims that Socrates possessed supernatural characteristics, but even if you could show me such claims (few, if any, I imagine), I challenge you to demonstrate where Socrates is being touted as a supernatural being in the way Jesus most clearly is. Socrates’ death without resurrection is enough to make your claim immaterial. The miracle healings, water in to wine, loaves and fishes, etc. are something you can’t find any examples of in any writings about Socrates either, so your attempt to divert the discussion fails on its own lack of merit.

            Socrates and those that write about him don’t demand acceptance of his existence, worship of him, or to live under a set of rules. In fact, almost the opposite is true because the essence of philosophy is the questioning of what is believed, and making your own decisions as to the best course of action in a very subjective world. With Jesus, on the other hand, it’s black and white, and not open to argument.

            Assuming you’re a Christian, I have to ask: do you or do you not have a personal relationship with Jesus?

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

            I don’t understand why you would formulate views about Socrates (or about Jesus, for that matter) that don’t reflect a profound familiarity with the sources. Depending on how much information you are interested in, these will give you a very brief and an incredibly detailed exploration of the topic:

            http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/24881-socrates-divine-sign-religion-practice-and-value-in-socratic-philosophy/

            http://amzn.to/2g1m0f7

            Treating the New Testament as though it were a single book written at a single time by a single author is contributing to (or reflective of) your profound misunderstanding of what historians do and what the relevant ancient sources in fact are.

            You also seem to think that, because Jesus resembled the kinds of stories told about Jewish holy men, rather than resembling an Athenian philosopher, that has some bearing on his historicity. Why would it?

          • That Dude

            “I don’t understand why you would formulate views about Socrates (or about Jesus, for that matter) that don’t reflect a profound familiarity with the sources.”

            What ‘views about Socrates’?
            Please quote them.

            You asked me to name some contemporaries of Socrates that corroborate Socrates’ existence. I did that.

            “Depending on how much information you are interested in, these will give you a very brief and an incredibly detailed exploration of the topic”

            Socrates hearing voices means nothing more than he heard voices. You can say they were divine, you can say they were Elvis, but what does that have to do with discussion at hand? Heck, he spilled wine to Zeus too. So what?

            But what is Socrates in comparison to what we are to believe Jesus to be?

            Extraordinary claims call for extraordinary evidence.

            “Treating the New Testament as though it were a single book written at a single time by a single author is contributing to (or reflective of) your profound misunderstanding of what historians do and what the relevant ancient sources in fact are.”

            Okay, so we’re going to do the diction dance now? Fine:

            “NT” is a label for:
            “Several anecdotal accounts, letters and other references to Jesus that became the authoritative compilation”

            Notice how “NT” is quicker and easier to type AND read than:
            “Several anecdotal accounts, letters and other references to Jesus that became the single, authoritative compilation”

            ?

            “You also seem to think that, because Jesus resembled the kinds of stories told about Jewish holy men, rather than resembling an Athenian philosopher, that has some bearing on his historicity. Why would it?”

            I don’t think that, but thanks for asking.

            The NT (see above definition of what most people mean by ‘NT’) tells us of Jesus’ supernatural powers and divinity. In fact, the entirety of the writings are included because they support those claims (duh).

            You challenged me to name contemporaries who corroborate Socrates’ existence and I did.

            Please provide contemporary corroborative accounts of the Jesus depicted in the “several anecdotal accounts, letters and other references to Jesus that became the authoritative compilation”…

            Seems to me that if you were going to find them anywhere, it would be there, wouldn’t it?

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

            Are you asking for me to point out that Paul had met Jesus’ brother, and knew several of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples?

            You wrote, “I’m unaware of claims that Socrates possessed supernatural characteristics, but even if you could show me such claims (few, if any, I imagine), I challenge you to demonstrate where Socrates is being touted as a supernatural being in the way Jesus most clearly is. ”

            Jesus is not a “supernatural being” in our earliest sources, unless you view the Jewish Messiah, a human being, as a “supernatural being” simply because people believed this human being to be a channel of divine power – something that, as you hopefully now realize, people also claimed about Socrates. If you want a parallel to belief in a miraculous birth, we needn’t move too far afield – Plato is a good example, one of a great many.

          • That Dude

            “Are you asking for me to point out that Paul had met Jesus’ brother, and knew several of Jesus’ inner circle of disciples?”

            No, I’m not.
            But here, let’s make your question more specific and ask again: “Since I can’t name anyone who actually met or knew Jesus, can I point out that Paul says he met a guy who said he was Jesus’ brother, and knew several people who said they were part of Jesus’ supposed inner circle?”

            Really?

            “Jesus is not a “supernatural being” in our earliest sources, unless you view the Jewish Messiah, a human being, as a “supernatural being” simply because people believed this human being to be a channel of divine power”

            So what point is this rambling making? In the accepted compilation of writings that are to constitute our understanding of who Jesus was, he is indeed a supernatural being. Do you wish to reject that version of Jesus so we can shift our discussion to a different version? Yes? No?

            “- something that, as you hopefully now realize, people also claimed about Socrates. If you want a parallel to belief in a miraculous birth, we needn’t move too far afield – Plato is a good example, one of a great many.”

            No, I don’t want a parallel to a belief in a miraculous birth. Why would I? It’s irrelevant. Please stop redirecting.

            People believe Elvis was divine too, but thinking doesn’t make it so…

            You’re the “Religion Prof”, and I’m just a guy who never made it through the 10th grade, but I have no trouble at all recognizing your redirection by tossing pointless word salads.

            Your knowledge of biblical history and tales of Jesus and various anecdotes do nothing to prove the actual existence of a messiah, natural or supernatural.

            Elvis really was divine though. Truly a god among men. Sightings of Him have been reported all over America.

            Elvis lives.

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

            You seem not to have grasped that this was not a discussion of the New Testament Jesus, but of the historical figure.

          • That Dude

            You seem to have not grasped that when you said ot The Bofa on the Sofa:
            “When historians discuss the historical Socrates, they do mean the individual that Plato depicts in his dialogues, even though they may in the very process determine that the depiction in those dialogues owes much to Plato’s own perspective and style, and will set aside or reject claims such as that Socrates was inspired by Apollo.”
            I pointed out that at least with Socrates there are contemporary corroborative accounts of his existence. Where are they for Jesus?

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

            Are you suggesting that Paul and Jesus were not contemporaries?

          • That Dude

            Sorry. It took me a couple of days to stop laughing. A ‘vision’ on the road does not constitute ‘contemporaries’. Is that all you have to offer? A vision? Seriously?

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

            What on earth are you talking about? Why are you bringing details from the Book of Acts into the discussion?

          • That Dude

            You know what I’m saying, but here: I’ll clarify so you can’t dance around it. You asked me “Are you suggesting that Paul and Jesus were not contemporaries?”, and I am telling you that I’m not SUGGESTING anything. I’m telling you they are not. Paul never claims to have met Jesus except in a dream.

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

            No one is dancing around except perhaps for you. I am a contemporary of a great many people that I have not met personally. In some instances, I am not poised to know that they exist, but in some – for instance, people I know who have mentioned their brother whom I have not met – I am indeed in a position to have good reason to conclude that someone who is a contemporary of mine actually exists, or that someone who died a few years ago actually lived.

          • That Dude

            That’s actually a good response! But we’re talking about whether or not Jesus, supernatural or regular Joe, actually existed, and there are no contemporary corroborative accounts to support the claim that he did.

          • Mark

            That there was someone viewed by some 1st c Jews as somehow messianic but ended up killed by the Romans – this is not an ‘extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence’. It was ordinary. That the enthusiasts thought they were dealing with something extraordinary is also ordinary. That they continued to affirm his extraordinary role after his death – even that is ordinary, as you’ll see if you google ‘Schneerson’ or ‘occultation’. You don’t need extraordinary evidence for ‘Jesus was a 1st c Jew thought by some to be a messianic figure, even after his death’ – a few lines of Paul will do.

          • That Dude

            Actually it is an extraordinary claim because there is no record of it outside of the NT, the components of which were all written well after it allegedly happen. There are no eyewitness accounts. “Lines of Paul” come from the bible. You can’t use the bible to prove that the bible is true. You’ll need to do better than that.

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

            It is not extraordinary that we do not get mentions of Hillel or Honi or Hanina until later, in much the same kinds of Jewish sources that are also prone to mention Jesus.

            You also seem to be trying to turn this into a matter or apologetics for or against the Bible, which is of no interest here. You cannot legitimately claim that, merely because some group later collected texts into a compendium, therefore those texts must all be treated as one work. The “Bible” is irrelevant to the matter being discussed here. Texts that eventually became part of the “Bible” are relevant.

          • That Dude

            I already clarified my use of simple terms like “NT”, “the bible”, etc. to describe the Gospels and everything else that was cobbled together to make what we now call “the bible” or “NT”. Besides, your position at Butler was Chair in “New Testament” Language and Literature, therefore we should be able to agree to use NT as an abbreviation of a paragraph long description of what comprises it.

            The scholars you named existences are well corroborated. I don’t know how you can draw a comparison.

            I don’t give a hoot about whether or not Jesus was supernatural or a regular Joe. I don’t care about apologetics. But you need extrabiblical sources to validate the contents of “the bible”, whether it’s the story of a divine being or just a very influential person. Much was written in to history during the period Jesus is said to have lived, but nothing about Jesus. None of that came until quite some time later by people who never actually knew Jesus. More importantly, the gospels were written in third-person, indicating a lot of dramatic license, if not complete fabrication. In order for there to even be a conversation about Jesus in the first place requires the validation of the bible to some degree or another… You can’t separate them.

            “One would think that if all these things happened, someone somewhere would have written about them or otherwise recorded them for posterity. But, inspecting the literary, historical and archaeological record of the time produces nothing. The dearth of evidence is not for want of suitable reporters, as during the first century the following historians and writers depicted life in and around the Mediterranean, including in some of the very places that Jesus and his disciples purportedly moved about:

            Aulus Perseus (60 AD)
            Columella (1st cent. AD)
            Dio Chrysostom (c. 40-c. 112 AD)
            Justus of Tiberius (c. 80 AD)
            Livy (59 BC-17 AD)
            Lucanus (fl. 63 AD)
            Lucius Florus (1st-2nd-cent. AD)
            Petronius (d. 66 AD)
            Phaedrus (c. 15 BC-c. 50 AD)
            Philo Judaeus (20 BC-50 AD)
            Phlegon (1st cent. AD)
            Pliny the Elder (23?-69 AD)
            Plutarch (c. 46-c. 119 AD)
            Pomponius Mela (40 AD)
            Quintilian (c. 35-c. 100 AD)
            Quintus Curtius Rufus (1st cent. AD)
            Seneca (4 BC?-65 AD)
            Silius Italicus (c. 25-101 AD)
            Statius Caelicius (1st cent. AD)
            Theon of Smyrna (c. 70-c.135 AD)
            Valerius Flaccus (1st cent. AD)
            Valerius Maximus (fl. c. 20 AD)

            Oddly enough, not one of these writers recorded any of the amazing and earth-shaking events reported in the gospels, even though this period was one of the best documented in history and although some of these authors lived or traveled in the same small area in which the gospel story was set. Neither Jesus nor his disciples are mentioned by any of them—not a word about Christ, Christianity or Christians.”

            – Who Was Jesus?, page 85

            “Jesus famed far and wide:

            These “great crowds” and “multitudes,” along with Jesus’s fame, are repeatedly referred to in the gospels, including at the

            Matthew 4:23-25, 5:1, 8:1, 8:18, 9:8, 9:31, 9:33, 9:36, 11:7, 12:15, 13:2,
            14:1, 14:13, 14:22, 15:30, 19:2, 21:9, 26:55;

            Mark 1:28, 10:1;

            Luke: 4:14, 4:37, 5:15, 14:25, etc.

            – Who Was Jesus? – page 85

            “Additionally, even though many times in the gospels Jesus was claimed to have been famed far and wide, not one historian of the era was aware of his existence, not even individuals who lived in, traveled around, or wrote about the relevant areas. The brief mentions of Christ, Christians or Christianity we possess from non-Christian sources are late and dubious as to their authenticity and/or value. Nor is there any valid scientific archaeological evidence demonstrating the gospel story to be true or even to support the existence of Jesus Christ. Despite this utter lack of evidence, Christian apologists and authorities make erroneous and misleading claims that there are “considerable reports” and “a surprisingly large amount of detail” regarding the life of Jesus and early Christianity.”

            – Who was Jesus? – page 257

            The gospels… Sorry: “texts”, are so discreditable as to render them useless as evidence of much of anything. The history is wrong. Most of the claims are supernatural. In fact, the whole essence of them is the portrayal of a supernatural being. If you dismiss the supernatural part of it then you are dismissing the essence and a great deal of it, leaving you with nothing of value to Christians… Which, of course, is actually good for the Jewish position on the matter, but I digress.

            Every time I hear Christians trying to say that maybe Jesus wasn’t actually supernatural, but just a very influential human being who people glamorized, it reeks to me of people trying to set the stage to later say, “Well, okay, so the stories in the NT aren’t actually true, but Jesus was real and he was an immeasurably important character, therefore we don’t look stupid for buying in to the myths because, hey, it was almost true.”…

            But it wasn’t.

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

            Which of that long list of historians mentions John the Baptist, or Hillel, or Honi the Circle-Drawer, or Hanina Ben Dosa?

          • That Dude

            I don’t know, but they don’t mention Jesus… And isn’t that who we’re supposed to be talking about here?

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

            You said the other individuals I mention are well attested, unlike Jesus. I am asking you a question that shows that you have no idea what the evidence is for ancient people comparable to Jesus, and so have no idea what evidence it is appropriate to expect.

          • That Dude

            I think that unless you really want me to stay and engage in this, I should leave this discussion. I’ve provided facts and you’ve provided irrelevant and immaterial redirection. Deny all you want, but I’m pretty sure most reasonable and intelligent people can see it pretty clearly.
            The fact is that you rely on this continued discussion…. Disagreement… To persist. It’s how you pay the mortgage and put your kids through college. If it all disappeared in a well-proven barrage of evidence that the whole thing was a sham from day-one, you would be out of a job. Your books wouldn’t sell…. The university would relegate you to Fundamentals of Mythology…. Maybe they can recommend a nice community college full of impressionable young people with minds like sponges!

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

            That is what all denialists say when interacting with experts in a given field. Nice try, but it really is a tired and tiresome tactic. I suspect you really do believe it, every bit as much as the creationists do.

          • John MacDonald

            Well put!

          • Jim Little

            Josephus mentions John the Baptist in Antiquites 18, but the passage that mentions him disrupts the flow of text.

          • http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com Tim O’Neill

            ” … but the passage that mentions him disrupts the flow of text.”

            How? And says who?

            And is the Baptist a myth now as well? I’m beginning to wonder if the ancient Mediterranean was completely uninhabited.

          • Mark

            These writers didn’t mention the amazing and earth shattering events about Jesus, because nothing amazing and earth shattering happened. But Jesus did happen, else we wouldn’t be able to explain the later tradition; or in any case it is the simplest, best and least-miraculous explanation. The texts themselves locate their Jesus in Galilee, which is to say, in the equivalent of greater Duluth or two counties north of Little Rock. That is, the texts into which miracles are embroidered explain why there is no trace in the rest of the historical record, as there is no trace of the other tens of millions of people in the Roman empire of period.

            Why don’t you drop discussing all the miracles and made up stuff? It all has nothing to do with the historical question.

            Above all why are you afraid of the existence of a historical Jesus? Are you similarly disturbed by the historical existence of Sabbatai Sevi or Menachem Schneerson? How can you not see that you are suffering from a straightforwardly religious hang up?

        • Erp

          I would say a starting point or rather starting points since the New Testament is a collection written by multiple people with sometimes different agendas over the course of a few decades. In addition there are sources outside the New Testament, few which mention Jesus but others give context (for instance when and why did the Romans conduct censuses). Historians can not take any written document as gospel truth but almost any written document can yield information (even fiction yields information about the people who wrote it so the birth narratives in Luke and Matthew yield info such as that it was important to the writers that Jesus be born in Bethlehem even though it was unlikely).

        • arcseconds

          How can Dalton, J.J. Thompson an Pauli all be referring to the same thing by ‘atom’? The things they talk about are so completely different from one another.

          The answer lies with how names refer, and generally speaking we think they refer to their bearers even when someone has some very wrong ideas about what they are talking about.

          As another example, young earth creationists have extremely different ideas about the Earth than the standard scientific view, but we don’t think they’re talking about a different planet altogether.

      • Jim Little

        the historical figure” is the Jesus of religious dogma – there is no other Jesus of Nazareth.

        • http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com Tim O’Neill

          It’s remarkable how often Mythicsts make statements of faith like this. And how similar they sound to similar statements without argument made by fundamentalist Christians.

          • Jim Little

            I’m not a mythicist – I think the NT is based on a 2nd century Jesus and that is why the texts are first referred to and reflected by others in the 2nd century.

          • Mark

            If Jesus lived in the second century in, say, Asia Minor, wouldn’t people have known that he wasn’t a Galilean from the early first century?

          • Jim Little

            Sure, but only those who knew him. Revised later narratives would have given another impression.

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

          If that is your impression, Mr. Little, then you are badly misinformed about the field of history. :-(

          • Jim Little

            I’m well informed about the field of history; particularly the importance of primary (contemporaneous) sources as the objective basis for history, rather than subsequent narratives.

          • http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com Tim O’Neill

            “I’m well informed about the field of history”

            Really? Then you should know that we don’t have “primary (contemporaneous) sources” for most ancient figures so to expect them for someone like Jesus is stupid. I think you need to study the field of history a bit more.

          • Jim Little

            We have primary sources for many significant first century figures – Philo, Plutarch, Josephus, Pontius Pilate, Herod Agrippa 1, etc. We have archaeological sites for various religions for the 1st century.

          • Mark

            Jesus wasn’t a ‘significant’ first century figure. That ‘the world knew him not’ is even part of the gospel version. We only know about him because the post-crucifixion movement managed by odd routes to survive and expand. If there was no Jesus and no crucifixion we cannot explain any of this, and we end up like you – basically calling it a miracle, kind of like the church does.

          • Jim Little

            But ‘if there was no Jesus and no crucifixion’ we can explain this: as narratives developed at some stage, and perpetuated, as being about supposed events (& by borrowing real people such as Pontius Pilate or Herod).

          • Mark

            Why are there people ‘supposing’ these events; where did this community (or communities) come from? Why are they saying all this silly stuff, and *this particular* silly stuff? There is a very simple explanation, and it presupposes the historical reality of Jesus.

        • Mark

          Jim Little this can only be understood as a religious statement. If you are cooking up a ‘Church without Christ’ like Hazel Motes in Wise Blood – where ‘the blind don’t see, the lame don’t walk, and what’s dead stays that way’ – then okay I respect your right to this religious belief, as a religious belief. But if it is not a ritual affirmation, what is it? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3t0eFo54u2A

          There is the alternative of chucking all the religious affirmations and attempting a rational depiction of historical reality. When you escape to that point of view it will be completely obvious to you that Jesus was an itinerant Galilean preacher and exorcist who was taken out by the Roman authorities. No other skeptical account can explain the data.

          • Jim Little

            attempting a rational depiction of historical reality” doesn’t entail or lead to actual ‘historical reality’, though.

          • Mark

            It certainly leads to the judgment that Jesus was a real figure wandering around early 1st c. Galilee. To dispute this is to make a special case in your epistemology for Jesus, which is what the Church does.

          • Jim Little

            No, it doesn’t leads to the judgment that Jesus was a real figure wandering around early 1st c. Galilee. No it doesn’t do what the Church does, nor does it make a special case in ‘my epistemology’ for Jesus (as I don’t have that sort of epistemology for Jesus). You’re verbaling me. Please don’t.

          • Mark

            Jim Little you have declared that it is religious dogma to hold that Jesus existed. This proposition can only be maintained as a religious dogma. It exists only in the sewers of the internet. Rational skeptical irreligious people have held to the same opinion for 200 years; you are opposing them with a new religion (with some late 19th c and early 20th antecedents.)

          • That Dude

            That’s the best response you can offer? “No it doesn’t”….?

  • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

    Mythicism seems to survive in popular blogging, quasi scholarship, and fringe scholarship because it is an entertaining notion for many people.

    But the interest in mythicism does highlight the unusual nature of historical Jesus studies. Unlike other historical figures that receive a lot of scholarly attention, Jesus can only be seen through the lenses of story-telling followers looking back a generation after his death. And it is highly unlikely that any of the NT writers new Jesus personally.

    Now this is true, of course, for many ancient writings about historical figures; but for most important figures, those for whom historians invest a lot of effort, such writings are not the only evidence available to understand their lives. With public figures such as the Caesars, there are physical evidences such as coins, statues, and buildings constructed in their own time by their orders.

    Socrates is often brought up in these discussions because, like Jesus, we only know about him through the lens of people writing about him – often in story-telling mode. However, there is a great difference between Socrates and Jesus. though the stories might be driven by agenda, we have stories about Socrates written by men who actually knew him: Plato, Xenophon, and Aristophanes. And while the writers of Jesus’s gospels were Christians promoting Christianity, Aristophanes can be seen as a contemporary detracting from Socrates reputation as a great philosopher.

    Again, I’m not supporting mythicism. I’m only pointing out that Jesus is unusual as an important historical figure seen only through the hazy viewpoints of later story-tellers. Few historical figures can rival Jesus in the sheer volume of scholarship written about him; but no matter how much scholarship explores the history of Jesus, such scholarship can’t get further than the dim depictions of late first century writers who contradict each other and depict fanciful miracles about the man.

    • http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com Tim O’Neill

      “Now this is true, of course, for many ancient writings about historical figures; but for most important figures, those for whom historians invest a lot of effort, such writings are not the only evidence available to understand their lives. With public figures such as the Caesars, there are physical evidences such as coins, statues, and buildings constructed in their own time by their orders.”

      That is only true of a very small sub-set of ancient figures. Many or even most are known purely by literary references, often ones written decades or even centuries after their time. Got any coins or statues for Boudica? How about Arminius? Got anything at all about Hannibal from his time? These aren’t insignificant figures and there are dozens of other such examples. We also know about these people solely through the writings of their enemies. Teasing out what they may have done, who they may have been and what may have motivated them from writings with the bias of hostility is not too far from doing so with from the NT material where the bias clearly runs entirely the other way.

      There are differences between NT Studies and ancient history generally – there would have to be given that the textual material used in the former is unique in many respects. But the claim that they are vastly different in intent and technique is overstated too often, and usually by people with a blunt and rusty axe to grind.

      • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

        No. I’ve no particular axe to grind.

        Yes, I believe you’re right that Boudica, Arminius, and Hannibal have little in the way of physical evidence to present, though I should have phrased that better. I really intended the physical evidence of the Caesar’s to be an example of the difference in sources from historical Jesus studies. Another example would be, as I pointed out in the case of Socrates, contemporary sources of information. The closest for Boudica would be Tacitus, whose father-in-law was the governor in Britain during Boudica’s rebellion. The oldest source for Armenius is Velleius Paterculus, Armenius’ contemporary and opponent in the Germanic wars. It’s true that for Hannibal, his best sources are not contemporary, but Polybius, for example, cites sources that were contemporary such as Philinos of Agrigentum, Fabius Pictor, and the Lacedaimonian historian Sosylos, Hannibal’s personal tutor in Greek and biographer. Livy also cites sources closer to Hannibal, including an inscription about his exploits on an altar which Hannibal had erected near the Temple of Hera Lacinia at Croton. The citing of specific sources is one of the primary differences between Greek and Roman historians as compared to Christian gospel writers.

        Still, I’m sure you are right that you could find other historical figures of some note in the writings of ancient historians who are separated by generations from the historians and for which we have no other data. And the apostle Paul, though he doesn’t provide much information about the life of Jesus, is still a source separated from Jesus by only one degree: he knew men who knew Jesus.

        So I realize that my observation has it’s limitations. But I still think that Jesus is a unique case, as an ancient figure with few peers in terms of scholarly attention, yet with far less source material than many ancient figures who receive far less attention.

        • http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com Tim O’Neill

          “I really intended the physical evidence of the Caesar’s to be an example of the difference in sources from historical Jesus studies.”

          It should hardly be a surprise that the evidence we have for the ruler of the Roman world would be more extensive and of a different nature to that for a peasant preacher from the back of nowhere. So that really wasn’t a very useful example.

          “Another example would be, as I pointed out in the case of Socrates, contemporary sources of information. “

          No, a far better and more pertinent example would be figures who are actually analogous, not aristocratic literate Greeks. If we look at other early first century Jewish preachers, prophets or Messianic claimants we find far less evidence that we have for Jesus, and none of it contemporary. That’s comparing like with like.

          “The closest for Boudica would be Tacitus, whose father-in-law was the governor in Britain during Boudica’s rebellion. “

          Still second hand and non-contemporary.

          “. Livy also cites sources closer to Hannibal”

          No-one says contemporary sources for Hannibal didn’t once exist, just that we have none now. For all we know contemporary mentions of Jesus once existed as well, but the point is that our surviving sources for anyone are so scanty that this whole “non contemporary mentions” argument is plain silly.

          “And the apostle Paul, though he doesn’t provide much information about the life of Jesus, is still a source separated from Jesus by only one degree: he knew men who knew Jesus.”

          Which is still closer than we have for about 90% of ancient figures. Virtually everyone we know about from the ancient world comes from mentions made long after their deaths with no indication of how the source knew about them. It’s ridiculous to pretend this entirely normal state of affairs is somehow a deal breaker for the historicity of Jesus and even more ridiculous to make this point by comparing the evidence for a Jewish peasant to that for Roman emperors.

          • Jim Little

            The NT-Jesus is more than a Jewish peasant.

          • http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com Tim O’Neill

            Yes. Which is exactly what we’d expect if people decided a Jewish peasant was the Messiah. So I can’t see how that helps you.

          • Jim Little

            Except it wasn’t his contemporaries that decided that. It’s a later narrative.

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

            Evidence, please…

          • Jim Little

            The later narratives.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            That hardly makes sense. Paul was writing letters to contemporaries who saw Jesus as messiah figure long before “the later narratives.”

          • Jim Little

            That is what is asserted. (btw, Do you mean Paul was writing letters to his contemporaries? or that Paul is said to have been writing letters to Jesus’ contemporaries?

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            That’s right. Paul asserted it long before your “later narratives.” (Both.)

          • Jim Little

            Paul supposedly asserted it. How about Paul being part of the 2nd century Marcionite community, and the narratives being set in the early to mid 1st century? -ie. set a century earlier than actually written).

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            Evidence? Scholarship? You’ve already gone off the track of even the scant available mythicist scholarship.

          • Mark

            Have some respect Beau, this is America! If you are working within a faith tradition that contains the single fixed consoling dogma that ‘Jesus never existed’ of course the evidence looks different!

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            This is the result I want; now here are all the hoops I’m willing to jump through to get that result!

          • Jim Little

            The first knowledge we have of a significant body of the key NT books – the Pauline epistles and the Synoptic Gospels is via the Marcionite texts. These Marcionite texts have been the subject of several recent books – Beduhn 2013; Vinzent 2014; Roth 2015; Klinghardt 2015, & Lieu 2015. some of these authors propose the Synoptics as we know them are largely post-Marcionite works, not 1st century works. The academic scholarly community will, no doubt, evaluate those claims, and may also eventually evaluate the view of Robert M Price has espoused about Paul in his 2012 book The Amazing Colossal Apostle.

            Lena Einhorm has demonstrated in her recent book a shift in time that aspects of the works of Josephus have been ‘time-shifted’ into the Synoptics.

            These recent texts, along with some others, contradict the views that the Synoptics and the Pauline texts were concretions of the mid-late 1st century.

          • Mark

            I don’t know anything about Klinghardt, but the other scholars in your list all accept the authentic letters of Paul as authentic letters of Paul from to the mid 1st c.

            If the question is “Did Jesus exist?” – and it is our only question here – then the dating of the gospels is irrelevant. (It of course bears on the hope of sifting e.g. sayings of Jesus for authenticity, and so on.) Suppose we date these works to the period of the Marcionite controversy (as many writers have done for some of them). The question now arises:

            “Why are groups of non-Jewish religious enthusiasts in the middle of the 2nd century in (say) Asia Minor or Rome *bothering* to compose works about a little known Jewish Galilean from the early first century and his actions in Jerusalem?”

            Fortunately the explanation is given to us by the authentic letters of Paul, who explains his ‘gentile’ mission in the course of writing to several cities of the empire in which he has founded gentile Jesus groups. So we are back with ‘historicism’.

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

            I always wonder whether mythicists are repeating things they have been told without fact checking them, whether they have read but misunderstood the scholarship, or whether they are deliberately misrepresenting it. Those are the exact same questions I have to ask when dealing with young-earth creationists, too…

          • Jim Little

            Those books are real, as are the propositions and arguments in them. Einhorn has outlined a number of facts.

          • Mark

            How do the works of Lieu, BeDuhn, Vinzent, Klinghardt & Roth help to show that Jesus never existed?

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

            What is wrong with you? Of course the books are real. There was a panel discussion among several of the authors you mentioned at SNTS in Montreal this year, and I know Jason BeDuhn through our collaboration on an AAR program unit. The question is whether you have misunderstood them, or are deliberately misrepresenting what they say, or are pretending to have read them when you merely gullibly believed what others have deceitfully told you about their contents. For instance, perhaps what you have actually read is Einhorn’s stuff, and have believed her false claim that her conclusions are based on and follow naturally from the things that scholars have concluded?

          • Jim Little

            I don’t believe all of Einhorn’s conclusions. I’m not a mythicist, but I wonder if Jesus was a 2nd century entity (person + god) that has been [mis-]placed into the 1st century to be able to be portrayed as providing prophecy (more than post-apocalyptic salvation).

          • http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com Tim O’Neill

            “I don’t believe all of Einhorn’s conclusions”

            This is possibly the smartest thing you’ve ever said here.

            I like to imagine the Einhorns of the year 4016 AD and the nonsense pseudo history they will create out of the fragments of sources from our time. Using her methodology, it will be clear that it couldn’t be that there were two terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers, one in 1993 and then another in 2001. Obviously, our future Einhorn will conclude, these accounts refer to the same event. Likewise the account of a plane being flown into the Pentagon building in 2001 is simply a variant of the story of the planes being flown into the World Trade Centre, with Washington confused for New York. John F Kennedy, John McCain and John Boy Walton are clearly all the same mythic figure – after all, they have the same first name. And the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King Jnr. are also obviously versions of the same story of an inspirational leader gunned down in their prime, with the JFK story set earlier for complex political reasons.

            No doubt the Einhorns of the future will write this crap and at least some suckers will buy it.

          • Jim Little

            But some of her conclusions are verified by facts.

            The rest of your post is a red herring about false equivalence.

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

            Is your point that the best lies mix in some truth? That is not news…

          • Jim Little

            I wouldn’t say much is ‘lies’. I’m intrigued to know when & how the narratives that are preserved in the extant texts were developed. I get the impression the pacifist Jesus was post apocalyptic, not pre-apocalyptic -i.e. leading people away from adversary & aggression.

          • http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com Tim O’Neill

            “But some of her conclusions are verified by facts.”

            They are not “verified”. She simply cobbles together some pieces of source material to prop up her silly ideas.

            “The rest of your post is a red herring about false equivalence.”

            No, it’s an illustration of how stupid her “method” is. She goes in search of parallels, however tenuous, and when she thinks she’s found one she concludes that they are not simply parallels but “evidence” of two reports of the same thing. So somehow a reference to the Mount of Olives in the very brief account of the Egyptian Prophet of c. 52-58 AD is not simply a vague parallel with some reference to the same place in the gospels, but via her crackpot heuristic it becomes “evidence” that Jesus and the Egyptian were the same person.

            Anyone with any grasp of the material would know that the Mount of Olives was a high place in the ancient city of Jerusalem that had religious significance, so the idea that two different preacher prophets did or said things there makes perfect sense. Yet Einhorn is one of these crackpots who starts with her conclusion and then finds anything at that looks vaguely like supporting evidence somehow has to be so. Her technique is like someone in 4016 AD finding two accounts of two American politicians doing something on Capitol Hill and concluding that therefore they are the same person.

            Einhorn has a doctorate in Virology and Tumor Biology – she should probably stick to what she knows.

          • Jim Little

            They are, at least, supported by patterns around facts.

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

            What do you mean? That mythicism is like 9/11 Trutherism and Holocaust denial, finding creative patterns that use facts, but in a way that runs counter to what experts in relevant fields with relevant expertise understand that evidence to mean and point to?

          • http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com Tim O’Neill

            “They are, at least, supported by patterns around facts”

            Creating some “patterns around facts” is not only a long way short of “verification”, it’s not even approaching “coherent argument”. There are whole shelves of crackpot pseudo historical theories that consist of some idiot taking a grab bag of bits of historical source material, mixing in some supposition and coming up with some pretty “patterns around facts”. Try Holy Blood Holy Grail as a classic of that junk genre.

            Any moron can come up with some “patterns around facts” to support any idiotic idea – I’ve done it myself just for a laugh. The fact that you mistake this sort of garbage pseudo history for actual scholarship speaks volumes.

          • Mark

            Paul was a contemporary of Jesus! There isn’t any particular reason to think he /saw/ him of course.

          • Jim Little

            Of course there is no reason to think he saw him: there is no record of that! So Paul was not a contemporary of Jesus (other than the assertion their life-spans overlapped).

          • Mark

            ‘Their life spans overlapped’ and ‘they were contemporaries’ mean exactly the same thing.

          • Jim Little

            Sort of. They don’t acknowledge or write about each knowing other, though.

          • Mark

            It isn’t totally clear that Paul’s claim to have seen his imagined ‘risen christ’ doesn’t entail that he had seen the actual (un-“resurrected”) Jesus, perhaps in Jerusalem. Otherwise there would be a question whether it’s the same Jesus, which it seems not to be for him.

            This is a mere speculation, but he really is that close to the events. He couldn’t possibly be wrong about the crucifixion. No more than I could be wrong about, say, the existence of the Pulse killings in Orlando.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            And the Plutarch Caesar was a ghost who appeared to generals after he died. That’s why historians don’t settle for what the primary sources tell us.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            Paul is closer than 90% of ancient figures? I think you’re selling him short. He’s closer than than the sources we have 99.99… % of ancient figures.

            There are countless ancient figures named in ancient literature about whom we know nothing but a single mention in a single document. And, yes, the sources for an ancient itinerant rabbi are not at all comparable to what can be expected for a Caesar or a general. Of course we can’t expect physical evidence for Jesus, I would have thought that was obvious.

            I completely agree with you that aristocratic, literate Greeks such as Socrates are hardly comparable to Jesus as objects of historical study. That doesn’t change the fact (as I pointed out in my first comment) that he is often brought up as a comparative figure to Jesus – James McGrath brought him up as a comparison in this very post, in a comment below. You see the comparison made quite commonly, no matter what you and I might think of it.

            The only thing that makes the study of Jesus comparable to the study of more publicly well-known figures in ancient literature is the sheer volume of scholarly work attempting to bring his history to light. But, as you say, we cannot expect to have the same sort of sources for Jesus that we get for public figures. Especially for those for whom we have multiple literate Greek and Roman historians citing primary and secondary sources by name. I’m not exactly sure what point you’re trying to make my pointing out Livy and Tacitus cite secondary sources. The gospel writers cite no recognizable sources. Paul does (in a way), by mentioning the other apostles, but his references to them doesn’t give us much in the way of historical information about Jesus – as compared to Polybius’s, Livy’s, and Tacitus’s secondary sources.

            Of course, none of this is a “deal-breaker for the historicity of Jesus”; which is why I’ve pointed out multiple times that I am NOT a mythicist.

            The problem I see is that mythicists and apologists alike frequently make historical comparisons between the sources available for Jesus and the sources available for public Greek and Roman figures for which much better sources can obviously be expected.

          • http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com Tim O’Neill

            “Paul is closer than 90% of ancient figures? I think you’re selling him short. He’s closer than than the sources we have 99.99… % of ancient figures.”

            Okay. The point stands.

            “That doesn’t change the fact (as I pointed out in my first comment) that he is often brought up as a comparative figure to Jesus – James McGrath brought him up as a comparison in this very post”

            Fine. I don’t do so precisely because he isn’t analogous enough to be useful.

            “‘m not exactly sure what point you’re trying to make my pointing out Livy and Tacitus cite secondary sources. The gospel writers cite no recognizable sources.

            The point I made was that we don’t have contemporary or direct evidence for Hannibal or Boudica and so the argument that we should expect some if Jesus existed is absurd. The argument is about how scanty our sources for anyone are and how if we don’t have direct or contemporary evidence for someone as famous as Hannibal then any argument about their lack for someone as obscure as Jesus is silly. That’s the beginning and end of the analogy.

            “The problem I see is that mythicists and apologists alike frequently make historical comparisons between the sources available for Jesus and the sources available for public Greek and Roman figures for which much better sources can obviously be expected.”

            I’m glad you now recognise that problem. You didn’t seem to when you made an argument about evidence for “public figures such as the Caesars” above. If you aren’t a Mythicist, you may want to avoid using some of their dumber arguments in future.

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

            Beau isn’t remotely sympathetic to mythicism, and looking at what he wrote, I cannot imagine what could possibly have given you a different impression.

          • http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com Tim O’Neill

            I’m well aware that he isn’t a Mythicst, since I’ve come across and responded to his comments before. But a bad argument is a bad argument.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            What bad argument? You seem to be arguing against mythicists. Not me.

          • http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com Tim O’Neill

            “bad argument”

            The one about how historical Jesus studies is radically different to other subjects in ancient history. It isn’t. See my last reply to you.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            i saw it; but that’s not what I’m arguing. Have you not seen the comparisons between Jesus and classical Greeks and Romans strung out across the internet and in popular writings? They appear more often among Christians than mythicists. The ubiquity of such comparisons simply fuels the fire of mythicists, who love to “take down” such comparisons.

            To me, the real problem of mythicists is the convoluted premise they use to explain Paul’s letters.

          • http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com Tim O’Neill

            You made an argument about “the unusual nature of historical Jesus studies” compared to the rest of ancient history. For the third and final time – THAT’S what I objected to. It’s a bad argument. I didn’t disagree with anything else you’ve said and agree entirely that the Doherty-Carrier reading of the Pauline epistles is contrived junk reasoning of the worst kind.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            There’s that phrase again: “the rest of ancient history”. Never said it.

          • http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com Tim O’Neill

            “But the interest in mythicism does highlight the unusual nature of historical Jesus studies. …. for most important figures, those for whom historians invest a lot of effort, such writings are not the only evidence available to understand their lives. With public figures such as the Caesars, there are physical evidences such as coins, statues, and buildings constructed in their own time by their orders.”

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            Yep. That’s what I said. Curiously, the phrase (or even intimation) “the rest of ancient history” doesn’t appear here. Of course, you have left out other, contrasting examples of mine from your selective quotation.

          • http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com Tim O’Neill

            “Curiously, the phrase (or even intimation) “the rest of ancient history” doesn’t appear here.

            I’ve never said you used that phrase. I’ve quoted the words you did use. And if you weren’t claiming that historical Jesus studies was somehow “unusual” in contrast to the study of other ancient figures, why did you … say exactly that?

            “”But the interest in mythicism does highlight the unusual nature of historical Jesus studies. …. for most important figures, those for whom historians invest a lot of effort, such writings are not the only evidence available to understand their lives. ”

            This is simply wrong. This is not the case for “most” such figures at all. So it’s a bad argument. Why you keep trying to pretend you didn’t make it when your words are there for all to see I have no idea.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            Historical Jesus studies ARE unusual, when compared to “most important figures, those for whom historians invest a lot of effort” – as I said quite clearly.

            They are also unusual for the historical-critical tools developed almost exclusively in the realm of historical Jesus studies – such tools as the Criteria of Authenticity.

            Again, have you not seen apologists comparing Jesus to figures like Julius Caesar? They do it far more often than mythicists:

            https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/sources-for-caesar-and-jesus-compared

          • http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com Tim O’Neill

            Historical Jesus studies are unusual, when compared to “most important figures, those for whom historians invest a lot of effort”

            “Most”? Sorry, but this is not true at all. We have plenty of major figures who are solely attested by literary evidence – thousands of them. Thus my objection.

            “Again, have you not seen apologists comparing Jesus to figures like Julius Caesar?”

            Yes. It’s a dumb argument whoever is using it for whatever end.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            Well, if all I were referring to was all figures that are soley attested by literary evidence, then why would I have brought up Socrates? I said in my first reply to you that I only intended physical evidence as one example, then went on to use Socrates’s example of credentialed literary sources.

          • http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com Tim O’Neill

            ” … then went on to use Socrates’s example of credentialed literary sources.”

            And my point still stands. It’s actually unusual for us to have “credentialed literary sources” for anyone. So the Socrates example is about as atypical as the Caesar one.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            How odd. The examples you gave in contrast (Armenius, Hannibal, and Boudica) have identified sources.

            Is that really the point you were trying to make?

          • http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com Tim O’Neill

            Their sources are not first hand, not contemporary and, in the cases of Arminius and Boudica, we have no definite idea where they got their information from. In this they are typical of sources for most ancient figures in the way that the sources for both Caesar and Socrates are atypical. Your argument was based on the claim that the sources for Caesar and Socrates are what we find for “most” important figures. That claim is wrong. Thus you made a bad argument, drawing on atypical examples to try to make a point about “most” figures.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            At most you’ve simply added an additional example of sources for ancient history that are quite different than what we have in the gospels of Jesus. Secondary sources that are named and about whom we have quite a bit of additional historical information. Thank you.

            You’ll notice that I made a general argument about figures “for whom historians invest a lot of effort”. I’m obviously not talking about every odd name that pops up in ancient literature.

            Look, if you just wanted to point out a few similar examples to Jesus (I would suggest other messianic rabbinical leaders such as those mentioned by Josephus, or perhaps a few Christian saints for whom we only have Christian literary sources), then I would happily concede the point and merely suggest that historical Jesus studies go to much longer lengths, for example by parsing out such devices as criteria of authenticity. I’m not saying such criteria are not valid, but only that they are principles developed specifically for the historical study of Jesus – another example of the unusual nature of Jesus as a figure of study.

            There is much to discuss here. Can you comment without resorting to insult?

          • http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com Tim O’Neill

            At most you’ve simply added an additional example of sources for ancient history that are quite different than what we have in the gospels of Jesus. Secondary sources that are named and about whom we have quite a bit of additional historical information. Thank you.’

            No, I gave three examples that show your use of Caesar was using an atypical example. They are also substantially different to your Socrates example, which is also atypical.

            “You’ll notice that I made a general argument about figures “for whom historians invest a lot of effort”. I’m obviously not talking about every odd name that pops up in ancient literature.”

            Boudica, Arminius and Hannibal are hardly just odd names that pop up in ancient literature. They were vastly more significant than Jesus. Yet the evidence we have for them is, like his, wholly literary, at least second hand and non-contemporary. That’s normal for most ancient figures.

            “Can you comment without resorting to insult?”

            I’ve not “insulted” you anywhere in this exchange. Calm down.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            I didn’t call Boudica, Arminius and Hannibal “odd names that pop up in ancient literature”. (In fact, I provided much more historical information about them than you volunteered). I made a different comment about such names, in a separate paragraph.

            My first comment made the exact point that Caesar and Socrates are not comparable to Jesus in hisorical studies. Unfortunately, such comparisons are anything but atypical:

            https://broeder10.wordpress.com/2012/12/23/augustus-caesar-and-jesus/

            https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/sources-for-caesar-and-jesus-compared

            http://www.prnewswire.co.uk/news-releases/jesus-was-caesar-new-book-by-philosopher-and-linguist-francesco-carotta-claims-that-the-real-identity-of-jesus-christ-has-been-discovered-154575075.html

            http://www.carotta.de/subseite/texte/esumma.html

            http://hubpages.com/religion-philosophy/The-Similarities-Between-Socrates-and-Jesus-Christ

            https://archive.org/details/socratesjesuscom00prieuoft

            And even for scholars that don’t make such comparisons, Caesars with physical evidence are hardly atypical as “ancient figures, for whom historians invest a lot of effort”. Many historians specialize in archeology.

            You keep trying to insist that comparisons between Jesus and Socrates are atypical, and yet here on this very blog post, James McGrath, a New Testament scholar, is comparing them in the comments.

          • Mark

            You _were_ making a sort of mythicist-ish move in the first part of this thread, that’s what irritated me too with my half-baked comment. The claims were surrounded with enough caveats to seem to be defensible – restricted to ‘important figures, those for whom historians invest a lot of effort’ and so on. ‘Important historical figures’ from the period tend to be e.g. emperors, generals, and so on – so of course there is likely to be strong literary attestation. You unite Jesus with such people, calling him an ‘important historical figure’; and then say he is ‘unusual’ in that he is without their kind of profile in the sources. The solution, though, seems to be simple: he _was not_ an ‘important historical figure’ … until a couple of centuries after he died, which is to say, he was ‘important’ in a completely different sense and way. So the unity with big-wigs under the heading of ‘important historical figure’ is a specious unity.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            I never intended my comment to be “mythicist-ish”, especially given that I noted my opposition to mythicism twice in the same comment.

            I completely agree with your solution – that unlike the elite of Rome and Greece, Jesus wasn’t an important character until centuries later; but that very fact also makes him unusual among other historical figures that are studied with the degree of historical scholarship devoted to Jesus.

            I’m not saying that this makes Jesus mythical, or less worthy of study – just different. And that’s important because, comparisons to Roman and Greek contemporaries are attempted not only by mythicists, but more often by many Christian apologists. I’m afraid that such poor comparisons by Christian apologists, simply open the door for mythicist counter-arguments. This is part of an argument I’ve made to James on this blog on many occasions: as bad as mythicists can be, legitimate biblical scholarship is far more often sidelined by bad Christian apologetics.

          • Mark

            I see your point about the danger of using obvious characters like Julius Caesar, Socrates etc. as points of comparison. Particular points can be made but the contrasts emerge quickly.

            But something about the way you put it is still grating when you say he is ‘unusual among other historical figures that are studied with the degree of historical scholarship’. This is not a description about the figure and the sources themselves, but about us. All that is unusual is that a Galilean pleb is a ‘historical figure that are studied with the degree of historical scholarship’ As Galilean plebs go he’s amazingly well attested, even if the material is swaddled in miracle.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            No argument that Jesus existed. I do, however, consider the amount of historical scholarship devoted to his history unusual, though easily explainable, given the ubiquity of Christianity (I’m not sure why that’s “grating” to you). Whole methodologies of historical-critical examination have developed primarily for the purposes of historical Jesus studies: the criteria of authenticity in particular.

          • Mark

            Of course that’s right. The only difference is in us, not in the object of study or in the sources. Your Jesus-is-different remark seemed dangerous because it was making facts about us (under ‘christendom’) seem like facts about the objects themselves. In fact the inference to the existence of Jesus, crucifixion, excitable adherents and so on is ordinary historical inference.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            Yes.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            Sure, the points stand when you make points I would never disagree with in the first place. The expectation of secondary sources for Jesus IS absurd, which is why I don’t expect them.

            I know that there are mythicist responding to this post. I am not one of them. As I made perfectly clear in my very first post.

            “I’m glad you now recognise the problem.” Now? You mean the problem I’ve been dealing with in every single comment I’ve made? I am not using mythicist arguments; I have been pointing out from the very beginning that the historical study of Jesus is not comparable to the study of Greek and Roman elites referenced in Greek and Roman history. That hasn’t stopped arcseconds and Mark from disagreeing with me. Jesus/Socrates comparisons seem to be popular.

            Pointing out these differences is not making a mythicist argument.

          • http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com Tim O’Neill

            I didn’t say and didn’t think you were arguing for Mythicism because I know you aren’t one. But argument you did make was this:

            “But the interest in mythicism does highlight the unusual nature of historical Jesus studies. …. for most important figures, those for whom historians invest a lot of effort, such writings are not the only evidence available to understand their lives. With public figures such as the Caesars, there are physical evidences such as coins, statues, and buildings constructed in their own time by their orders.”

            That historical Jesus studies is somehow vastly different to other subjects in ancient history IS an argument that Mythicists try to make. But it is always based on non-analogous examples – such as the ones you give – and so is always hugely overstated. So I noted this and showed that if we choose examples that are actually analogous historical Jesus studies is pretty much like many other topics in ancient history after all.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            I brought up these comparisons because they are made commonly, and not just by mythicists. The Socrates/Jesus comparison is almost ubiquitous, though I find it problematic. Why is that a “bad argument”.

            If you would like to extend this observation to point out examples that are analogous to Jesus in terms of the sources available and the degree of scholarship devoted to them – then I am all for you. I don’t think that Boudica, Armenius, or Hannibal quite fit the bill, but a suggestion by another commenter of Buddha seems closer to the mark.

          • http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com Tim O’Neill

            “Why is that a “bad argument”.”

            The bad argument was the “historical Jesus studies is different to the rest of ancient history because Caesar” one that you made. So I gave you two examples of major ancient figures where we have no evidence even close to that for Caesar. They are only analogous to Jesus in that we have no direct, first hand or contemporary references to them, not in any other respect. But they are two of many, many examples where we have vastly less evidence than for the example you chose to back up your “Jesus studies is very different to the rest of ancient history” claim. That was a bad argument because of the example you chose to support it.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            Funny. I don’t recall saying “historical Jesus studies is different to the rest of ancient history”.

            i think it’s pretty clear you just scanned my first post and mistook me for a mythicist. The rest has been arguing with a brick wall.

          • http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com Tim O’Neill

            No that isn’t “obvious” at all. I read this blog regularly and was perfectly cognisant of your position on Mythicism. I’ve directly quoted you making the argument that Jesus studies is different to the rest of ancient history and that was the only argument you made that I objected to. Because it’s not true. Here are your exact words, for the third time:

            “But the interest in mythicism does highlight the unusual nature of historical Jesus studies. …. for most important figures, those for whom historians invest a lot of effort, such writings are not the only evidence available to understand their lives. With public figures such as the Caesars, there are physical evidences such as coins, statues, and buildings constructed in their own time by their orders.”

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            Gee, Tim. When you reply to me with:

            ” It’s ridiculous to pretend this entirely normal state of affairs is somehow a deal breaker for the historicity of Jesus”

            It sure looks like you’re addressing a mythicist argument – not mine.

            Honestly, what are you arguing with me for? I know what my exact words are. They are not comparing to Jesus studies to all of ancient history. They are comparing Jesus studies to contrasting figures in ancient history. Including other types of examples that you left out of your quotation.

          • http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com Tim O’Neill

            “It sure looks like you’re addressing a mythicist argument – not mine.”

            I didn’t attribute that position to you. But many who use the same argument you made do hold that position. Though I can see how you might read that as me attributing that position to you personally.

            “I know what my exact words are. They are not comparing to Jesus studies to all of ancient history. They are comparing Jesus studies to contrasting figures in ancient history.”

            I know. That’s why I noted that the examples you gave are not typical.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            Except that they are typical. Not for scholars, perhaps, but in popular writings. That’s partly why I addressed them.

            Two commenters on this very blog even argued their equivalence with me.

          • Mark

            I don’t think anyone mistook you for a mythicist. I read O’Neill as presupposing that you were an adherent of the party of rationality … who was letting down the side by positing a special Jesus epistemology. Some misunderstandings seem to have been mixed in.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            What party of rationality? I’m not sure what special Jesus epistemology you mean. I don’t think it’s that inflammatory to remark that historical Jesus studies are a unique field, one that has developed it’s own set of historical-critical tools.

      • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

        I am not a complete mythicist, and view the matter as one of degree as to how many tales and words of a Jesus of Nazareth may or may not be historically authentic.

        Carrier’s three chapters on the Epistles, Gospels and Acts in his latest Jesus Myth book discuss such questions without having to buy into complete mythicism. They focus on major questions raised by modern NT scholarship.

        See especially this list of books by NT scholars briefly reviewed: The Vanishing Jesus–Reality Check https://rossonl.wordpress.com/2016/04/09/the-vanishing-jesus-reality-checks/

        Price points out that he’d feel less of a Jesus minimalist if someone were to discover an ancient letter by someone who mentioned having seen Jesus of Nazareth preach first hand. The Gospels themselves, though defended as being based on eyewitness testimony by Bauckham using indirect inferences, have yet to be shown to be eyewitness based. Even Paul never met the Jesus of Nazareth, and his writings, along with mention of Paul in Acts, fill a considerable proportion of the entire NT. And the only first hand account of Jesus we possess is Paul’s brief mention, “He appeared to me,” though even this isn’t about the Jesus of Nazareth.

        • http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com Tim O’Neill

          “And the apostle Paul, though he doesn’t provide much information about the life of Jesus, is still a source separated from Jesus by only one degree: he knew men who knew Jesus.”

          Which is the position of every “historicist” critical scholar on the planet.

          “Carrier’s three chapters on the Epistles, Gospels and Acts in his latest Jesus Myth book discuss such questions without having to buy into complete mythicism.”

          That many parts of the story are not historical is not exactly news and we don’t need a fringe hack like Carrier to tell us this. It may be news to a recovering fundamentalist fanatic like you, but the rest of the world got the memo about 150 years ago.

          “Price points out that he’d feel less of a Jesus minimalist if someone were to discover an ancient letter by someone who mentioned having seen Jesus of Nazareth preach first hand. “

          Yes, that would be nice. But it would also be nice if we had that for the 90% of ancient figures who we only know about from later, non-contemporary accounts and mentions. Welcome to ancient history. The way people like Price raise the bar for what would be acceptable as evidence for historicity is more evidence that these people are not arguing in good faith.

          “And the only first hand account of Jesus we possess is Paul’s brief mention, “He appeared to me,” though even this isn’t about the Jesus of Nazareth.”

          What? Who the hell is it about then? He says it was the Jesus who was crucified and who then allegedly “appeared” to various people including the Twelve.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            I think you meant to address EdwardTBabinski in this reply, not me. The first quote is from my comment not his. And of course, I already agree that historicists understand Paul’s connection to Jesus.

          • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

            Tim, I recommended Carrier’s three chapters because of their admirable summations of a lot of top notch observations and questions posed by biblical scholars. Obviously you disagree with the overall thesis Carrier is defending, which is fine. I am not defending it. But I don’t think most people are aware of the key questions Carrier lays out admirably and concisely in those chapters, and I would hope that someday you will share more of those key questions with others.

            And I agree with your question “who the hell” or what the hell did allegedly appear to Paul, and did he identify it correctly or was he primed to make a snap identification of a bright light (in his brain or in reality) as some sort of divine move on the part of the Jesus whose followers he was persecuting, and what exactly did such an appearance consist of (since tales in Acts are late)?

            Paul also exhibits all the well worn traits of a fanatical cultist. So I am only able to swallow his many NT writings and claims with a Manhattan Island-sized asteroid of salt. See my pieces on Paul, Fanaticus Extremis, demonstrating what I have alleged via Paul’s own words:

            https://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2015/06/the-apostle-paul-fanaticus-extremus-all.html

            https://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2015/06/the-apostle-paul-fanaticus-extremus-all_11.html

            I have recovered from fundamentalism. Nothing in my blog defends Carrier’s overall mythicist hypothesis. But I have appreciated his historical and philosophical insights at times a bit more than your own for their depth and acumen. I take everyone’s opinions with a grain of salt.

          • http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com Tim O’Neill

            “But I don’t think most people are aware of the key questions Carrier lays out admirably and concisely in those chapters”

            I was well aware of them and, as usual, Carrier overstates things. I certainly didn’t need Carrier’s overblown carping to let me know about some of the issues and problems associated with how we can or can’t know much about the historical Jesus. But we can know enough to conclude that he most likely existed.

            “I have recovered from fundamentalism. “

            You may have recovered from your Christian fundamentalism, but you seem to have just replaced it with another set of muddled dogmas. You remain a fundamentalist. It seems some people can only think in dogmatic absolutes and are usually tediously evangelical about them into the bargain.

          • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

            I might add that the earliest stories tell us no details about such an appearance to “The Twelve” or eleven to be precise. The earliest Gospel depicts merely a message at a tomb that Jesus as going before them to Galilee, and that was where he was going to “appear” with no further description of such an alleged event. 1 Cor. 15 tells us even less, since it doesn’t mention where or when such an alleged event even took place.

            For light relief, consider this article from Kenya, “Christ seen by 6,000 in Kenya” http://miracles.mcn.org/nairobi2.html That was 1988 and they’re still talking about it. The movement is Christianity. At least it was 6,000 Christians who were calling him “Jesus.” Although others later claimed him to be Maitreya, the crowds were calling “Jesus! Jesus! Jesus of Nazareth!”. As it says on the website 6,000 believed they saw Jesus Christ, in broad daylight. They are not the only Christians in history who have claimed to see Christ or other Christian figures to the embarrassment of other Christians as I know you are well aware. First hand witnesses in Kenya even testified with multiple attestations and photographs which is far more impressive than what 1 Cor. 15:6 gives us.

            Also when Paul states that Jesus “appeared” to “over 500 brethren at once” (1 Cor. 15:6), that would have been to a far greater number of “brethren” than were said to have existed before Jesus’ physical body supposedly rose into the clouds. (Per Acts 1:9, 14-15, 22 only 120 “brethren” existed at the time). So by the Bible’s own admission, whoever or whatever may have “appeared” to “over 500 brethren” could not have been a physically resurrected Jesus, since his body left the Earth before that many “brethren” existed.

            Even James D. G. Dunn admits that the time limit put on appearances of Jesus in the book of Acts was probably meant to cap the numbers of people claiming that Jesus had appeared to them, since so many were allegedly claiming an appearance and authority based on such claims. In other words that Luke-Acts stories of Jesus appearing bodily and then his body being carried up into the sky via a cloud that lifts him up to heaven was meant to forestall further claims of additional appearances which may have started to get out of hand at that point. That’s Dunn’s conclusion, and he makes quite a good case for it in his most recent works.

            Which makes me suspect that if some leaders of the Jesus group or even one of them claimed an appearance of some kind, the others were probably constrained via being a tight knit cultic group to agreeing and even claiming indirectly that Jesus had appeared to them also, perhaps after regrouping in Galilee (per Mark). We also don’t know how much or how little Paul said to the others concerning such appearances, or vice versa. What we know is that the idea of a soon apocalypse and expectations of bodily resurrections probably constrained the means by which they interpreted and wrote about such experiences, whatever they were. Paul’s “spiritual body” also because “not a spirit” by the time GLuke was composed.

          • http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com Tim O’Neill

            “I might add that … “

            Don’t bother. I’ve been studying this subject for 35 years – i.e. long before your belated realisation that fundamentalist Christianity is wrong. There is nothing much that you “might add” that isn’t basic stuff I already know and have known for decades. Go talk to some fundies.

          • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

            “Belated?” I have been reading the Bible and books of theology ex post fundie for longer than your “35 years.” I was converted at 15, left the fold in mid 20s and am now 60.

        • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

          The problem I see with mythicism is not the comparatively little historical information we have available about Jesus. Scholars agree on that.

          The problem with mythicism is the alternative theory that Paul’s letters are somehow referring to some mystical version of Jesus who was born, killed, and buried entirely on some sort of heavenly plane. This mythicist reading of Paul has always struck me as the most bizarre, convoluted, and question-begging interpretation of Paul’s letter possible.

          Paul’s letters make much more sense as references to an actual man who was born, killed, buried, ate with his followers, and had a brother.

          • http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/ed_babinski/babinski-bio.html EdwardTBabinski

            That is the main mythicist hypothesis according to Carrier, but Jesus minimalism remains a very good question in its own right. How minimal a Jesus is required to explain other people’s beliefs about Jesus, the vast majority of which are second hand stories repeated outside of Jerusalem by later Gentile followers? Like I said we have only Paul’s first hand words, “He appeared to me,” everything else being second hand, and Paul never saw the earthly pre-crucifixion Jesus, yet Paul’s letters crowd out the scantily few letters composed allegedly by founders such as Peter and James.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            Well, I was responding to mythicism in that comment. I don’t really have an opinion about what you call “Jesus minimalism”, though it seems that you are simply asking “what can we know”, as opposed to “what are the likely historical possibilities.” All historians are interested in what can be known, but most historians also have interest in weighing the merits of historical possibilities.

        • Mark

          No amount of rejecting the tales about Jesus has anything whatever to do with ‘mythicism’. ‘Mythicism’ is a claim about the existence of Jesus only (coupled with a suggestion about an alternative status). It has never meant anything else anywhere. Everyone rational and skeptical has for two centuries believed that Jesus existed and was crucified by the Romans and … then fabulous stories were told about him. Rejection of these stories is not mythicism; it is the opposite.

    • arcseconds

      You make it sound as though it’s a chalk-and-cheese matter: almost as if we have sober biographical material from the three Athenians you mention. But we don’t have that at all: Aristophanes has a parody figure called Socrates who appears to lampoon philosophers in general more than Socrates himself, which is of little help as far as hustorical biography goes. And the other two wrote ‘Socratic logoi’ in which Socrates has already become a philosophical folk-hero used to advance the authour’s own agenda.

      There is certainly plenty of mutual contradiction and historical unlikelihood and fanciful stories in those accounts, and in part this is due to the fact they weren’t even attempting to write history.

      It is very unlikely that Socrates gave book-long discourses about estates management or the legal apparatus, for example, there’s litlle reason to think he met Parmenides, and determining that requires the same kind of judgement that Jesus”s trial by the Sanherdin is probably unhistorical.
      ( and he probably wasn’t immune to the effects of alcohol. And I’m sure you don’t believe he was divinely guided…)

      • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

        Oh, I agree with almost every point you’ve made here; though I don’t think that you can so easily dismiss Aristophanes’ caricature of Socrates as a generalization of all philosophers. These are certainly agenda-driven versions of Socrates with fanciful additions. However, the fact that these stories were written by men who knew Socrates personally lends the writings a wholly different character than the NT gospels, especially the synoptics.

        I would agree that the writings about Socrates say more about the agendas of the writers and their personal perceptions of Socrates, than about the man himself. But I also think that there is something distinctive about the perceptions of writers who knew their subject.

        • Mark

          The accounts of the trial are different, but for the rest, I think it is of no use that these people knew Socrates, if the question is the interesting one, namely ‘what Socrates taught and how.’ Certainly Aristophanes is of zero use for this – no better than a ‘philosopher’ put into a sitcom episode by a Hollywood writer.

          It is Aristotle, who didn’t meet Socrates, who provides most of the leading fixed points – since he makes direct assertions of fact, e.g. when he says that Socrates thought courage was knowledge, that weakness of will was impossible etc Taken by themselves they’re pretty gnomic, so one looks into the dialogues for places where these definitely-Socratic things come up, and tries to use the surrounding bits of argument to interpret and extend the fixed-point formulas – knowing that any given associated argument could be pure Plato. The attempt devise a ‘theory of the historical (teaching of) Socrates’ is speculative in the same way as the attempts at a ‘theory of the historical (life of) Jesus’; one is looking for the best theory of the data. There doesn’t seem to be anything irrational about the attempts in either case.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            Well, it’s certainly hard to separate Plato’s and Xenophon’s teachings from those of Socrates. But given that they were his student and associate, and that Aristophanes knew him, assigning them “zero use” or “no use” is overstating the case, especially when compared to the gospel writers, who did not know Jesus.

            But I would agree that there is nothing “irrational” in historical Jesus studies.

          • arcseconds

            Mark is saying Xenophon has zero use, not the other two.

          • arcseconds

            hmm, somehow I missed the ‘no use’ disjunct when I first read this.

            Mark perhaps doesn’t phrase that very well. He clearly agrees that they preserve useful information about Socrates, but this doesn’t follow just from the fact they knew him.

            And I wonder how important this really is, especially given the fictional nature of the dialogues. Would a second-hand source really be worth less, especially if they were making more of an attempt to do biography?

            Frankly, I think a biography written by someone of Aristotle’s generation would be far more useful as a source than the dialogues we have.

          • Mark

            Right, that’s what I meant. Sorry it was unclear.

        • arcseconds

          I’ve always thought the figure portrayed in The Clouds seems totally over the top, parodic, and resembles the figure in the dialogues so little, so that my inclination would be towards Mark’s opinion that there is little here of value as far as the historical Socrates goes, although a valuable source for the public perception of philosophy at this time.

          But I must admit I’ve never seen or read the play, so maybe I’m wrong about this. Is there anything in particular that strikes you as useful information about the historical Socrates?

          I would agree with you about writers if they are actually intending on informing us about whom they are writing, but the problem is that they aren’t, or at least, it seems clear in some of the works they aren’t and in others it’s arguable but hardly certain, the trial being somewhat of an exception but not entirely. One could say the Gospels have more of an intention to preserve a true account of Jesus than the logoi do. I don’t think Plato thought the historical Socrates was anything like the Socrates of The Republic or expected as anyone else to believe it.

          Overall we have a fuller and more accurate picture of Socrates than Jesus, but this is got by doing much the same sort of things. It’s not a chalk-and-cheese matter – we don’t just read off Socrates from his faithful biographers, but rather reconstruct a picture from works that were never intended to give a faithful account of Socrates, even by the standards of the time.

          • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

            Certainly, what we garner from Aristophanes’ play is limited, but historians don’t consider it valueless that we have a parody of Socrates written by a man who knew Socrates when Plato was an infant. If nothing else it confirms Socrates fame and notoriety at the time, suggests an opinion of him that the Athenian public would have considered humorous, and provides a possible counter to the comparatively ardent portrayals of Plato and Xenophon. The play is referenced in later writings about Socrates trial, and to corroborate this and provide context, we have the play itself, extant.

            I wouldn’t agree that the gospels have more of an “intention to preserve a true account of Jesus”, when they are filled with fanciful stories such as the conflicting birth narratives, and when a synoptic writer so clearly copies and alters the stories of another synoptic writer.

            But I completely agree that historians must use the same historical-critical techniques to study Socrates that they use for Jesus. The difference that i pointed out in my first post was not the techniques used to study Socrates, but rather the relation of the sources to Socrates. For Socrates we have men who knew him as contemporaries. For Jesus we have unknown writers who don’t even claim to have known him.

            This has clear implications for the application of historical-critical methodology. Just consider a few of the primary disciplines of historical-critical research: source criticism – the process of evaluating the source of information; form criticism – tracing any given passage to it’s original oral transmission; redaction criticism – considering the writer as an editor of other sources. The way that historians apply such critical disciplines is affected enormously when (as in the case of Socrates), we actually have a great deal of information about the writers of the source material.

    • http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/ Daniel Wilcox

      The study of Jesus is similar to the study of the Buddha. Historians have to weigh the various sources, discount the miraculous, make educated guesses.

      • http://timebottle.weebly.com/ Beau Quilter

        Now there I think you have a good, comparable example. I’m not sure how actual historical Buddha studies compare to those of Jesus.

  • redhatGizmo

    Why does Philo of Alexandria discuss the contemporary state of first century Jewish sects in several of his writings, but not a word on the multitudes who followed the miracle-worker and bold, radical new teacher Jesus throughout the Galilee and Judea – or of all the long-dead Jewish saints who emerged from their freshly opened graves and wandered the streets of Jerusalem, appearing to many?

    Why is the original trial account of Jesus so full of other unhistorical details and just plain mistakes that could never have actually happen as portrayed? How can each successive gospel continue to overload the original story with their own additional layers of details that are mutually incompatible with the others?

    Why does Seneca the Younger record all kinds of unusual natural phenomena in the seven books of his Quaestiones Naturales, including eclipses and earthquakes, but not mention the Star of Bethlehem, the pair of Judean earthquakes that were strong enough to split stones, or the hours of supernatural darkness that covered “all the land” – an event he would have witnessed firsthand?

    Why can’t the Gospels agree on so many fundamental facts about Jesus’ life and ministry, such as what his relationship to John the Baptist was – and why was John the Baptist’s cult a rival to Christianity until at least the early second century?

    Who were Jesus’ disciples, and why is it no Gospels agree on who they were? Why do the disciples disappear so quickly in the New Testament after the Gospels, only to pop up again centuries later when churches start spinning rival legends that they were busy founding Christian communities all along? If any were martyred for their faith, as Christians frequently insist, why don’t we have any details of any of the disciples’s deaths in the bible?

    When his skeptical Roman opponent Celsus asks the early church father Origen what miracles Jesus performed, why can Origen only respond lamely that Jesus’ life was indeed full of striking and miraculous events, “but from what other source can we can furnish an answer than from the Gospel narratives?” (Contra Celsum, 2.33)

    Why can’t the Gospels agree on so many fundamental facts about Jesus’ life and ministry? For instance, if he was born during the reign of Herod the Great, or over a decade later, during Quirinius’ tenure? Or why he was arrested? Or on which day he died? Or whether he appeared alive again for just a single day, or for more about a week, or for forty days? Or where and when he appeared alive again, and to whom?

    Why are there so many anachronisms and basic mistakes and misunderstandings about first century Judean Judaism? Why are the Gospels all written in Greek, not Aramaic? Why do Christians insist that they are eyewitness accounts when none claim to be, or even read as if they were, or if all contain indications that they were written generations later?

    Why is Paul – and every other Christian writer from the first generation of Christianity – so silent on any details of Jesus’ life? Why do they display so much ignorance of Jesus’ teachings and miracles?

    Despite the frequent boasts in the New Testament of Christianity spreading like wildfire, attracting new converts by the thousands with every new miracle or inspired sermon, why does Christianity remain a struggling, obscure cult of feuding house churches on the fringe of Roman society for more than three centuries?

    Why is there not a single historical reference to Jesus in the entire first century; a pair of obviously interpolated snippets in the works of Flavius Josephus notwithstanding?

    • Mark

      This way of arguing may be rational if you are an ex-fundamentalist objecting to the church – which is committed, absurdly, to the simultaneous truth of the gospels. But if you are just interested in historical reality, the multiplicity of gospels couldn’t be less interesting. For one thing the Mark gospel came first and the others are modeled on it and two of them frequently copy it — so throw them out as later party documents. How can anything that came later and is dependent on Mark cast any special doubt on the content of Mark? (Not that there isn’t plenty to doubt in the content of Mark … like all the miracles!) You would have to believe in backward causality. Or, to put it differently, its not Mark’s fault that his apparent plagiarist Luke contradicts him … or if you think it is Mark’s fault, it’s because you credit Luke after all. That “the gospels” somehow belong together at all is a fact belonging to a much much later process of canonization; anyone who uses the expression in this sort of dispute is engaged in palpable anachronism. With just these simple reflections three quarters of your text goes out the window; it must have a specifically Christian point of origin – you are arguing against the church, not about historical reality.

    • http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com Tim O’Neill

      “Why does Philo of Alexandria discuss the contemporary state of first century Jewish sects in several of his writings, but not a word on the multitudes who followed the miracle-worker and bold, radical new teacher “

      Pretty obviously because he wasn’t what the gospels portray and didn’t do spectacular miracles or have a vast following. That doesn’t mean he didn’t exist. You could also note there were a number of other preachers and prophets of the time who had followings large enough that the Romans saw fit to need to disperse them by military action, but who Philo also doesn’t mention. He doesn’t seem to have been very interested in people like Jesus.

      The rest of your questions are equally pointless exercises in “all or nothing” logic. Just because the gospels contain exaggerated accounts of Jesus’ significance, miracle stories that are certainly fantasy, contradictions and anachronisms does NOT mean there was no historical Jesus. That’s a total non sequitur. We would actually expect all this from these kinds of sources if there was a historical Jesus. What would you expect from works of religious polemic – sober documentary history?

      But it seems that many people switch from clueless fundamentalist literalism to equally clueless naive Mythicism because they can only think in black and white and think that if anything in the gospels they once accepted fully can be shown to be unhistorical then it ALL must be unhistorical. That doesn’t follow at all, at least for those of us who don’t see everything as binary opposites and absolutes.

  • redhatGizmo

    So instead of loathing on Mythicism you should introspect to what little we actually know about Jesus, i mean we have no single bit of evidence to what happened during the so called long 20 ‘lost years of Jesus’, and major events of HJ’s life as depicted in Gospels can be shown to be ahistorical like Judas Betrayal, Paschal Pardon, Olivet Discourse etc.

    IMO Jesus is clearly a figure of myth not of history and Mythicism explain the resurrection phenomenon quite rationally than believing in some real flash and blood historical Jesus.

    • Mark

      “So instead of loathing on Mythicism you should introspect to what little we actually know about Jesus” … You’re thinking McGrath hasn’t ‘introspected’ on the matter? There are books, but it is simpler to check out posts tagged ‘mythicism’ and ‘mythicists’ on this blog.

      The “so called long 20 ‘lost years of Jesus'” are an artifact of Luke’s and Matthew’s characteristically padding by including (obviously invented) infancy material – and of the ecclesiastical view that we should consider ‘the gospels’ together. In Mark, the original, there are no lost years. Mark does indeed contain obviously ‘ahistorical’ material, since it contains miracles.

      That people talk nonsense about and mythologize their charismatic messianic leaders doesn’t have the least tendency to show that the leaders are mythological or that their names are for fictional characters, on the contrary. The text of Mark makes it plain why he would have gone for some of these absurd stories, and why he would have cooked up the Olivet Discourse and so on – and causal understanding of these things pretty clearly requires a real Jesus really crucified by the real authorities with real religious enthusiasts as followers.

      • mclarksn9

        What do you say about the thesis from authors like Dr. Dennis McDonald and John Dominic Crossan that say the gospels are fictive or parable including the first gospel Mark which can be shown to have traits of the Homeric epics. What historical facts can be taken from the gospels and Acts?

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

          One can find fictional accounts in much ancient history. This is why historians do the painstaking work of sifting through the material with a fine-toothed comb evaluating everything from questions about sources to relationship with other texts to compositional processes.

          All these things have been discussed repeatedly on this blog, and so you might find it interesting to look at some of those earlier posts and discussions.

        • Mark

          The mythicism question is resolved by the authentic letters of Paul; the gospels are an incredibly complicated question but basically irrelevant to it. We would know Jesus existed even if they had never been written.

          Plenty of historical facts can be taken even from Acts. For example, the existence of the Synagogue of the Libertinoi in Jerusalem is a commonplace in 2nd temple Jewish studies though it is attested only in Acts. Gamaliel is first attested in Acts – the family is mentioned as great in Josephus, though he resurfaces as a major figure in the early rabbinic literature in the late 2nd c. In advance, we would have no more reason to think the Mishnah was or wasn’t making Gamaliel up than that Acts did; but given both we know he was real. The cognitive status of some claims about the early first century thus depends on Acts even though everyone agrees that it is a fairly fabulous source.

  • mclarksn9

    To Tim O’Neill and James McGrath. I have read many of your exchanges/critiques in regards to Carrier. Do either of you have books we can read on the historical Jesus or at least point to the best defense of it.

    • http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com Tim O’Neill

      The book that I usually recommend as a starting point on the historical Jesus is Bart Ehrman’s Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. There are no comprehensive debunkings of Carrier et al, largely because those people are so insignificant. BUt Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? is a good summary of why scholars find the Jesus Myth thesis unconvincing.

      • mclarksn9

        Hmm … you do realize the consensus on the biblical patriarchs like Moses and Abraham changed over time right? It was scholarship by people like Thomas L. Thompson that got the ball rolling and he was blacklisted in academia for a while. Now the mainstream scholarship agrees they were mythical. Why the hostility to Christ myth? There is a lot about the Jesus story that just does not sync up.

        • http://historyforatheists.blogspot.com Tim O’Neill

          “you do realize the consensus on the biblical patriarchs like Moses and Abraham changed over time right?”

          I do. That hasn’t happened with Mythicism and, given that the arguments of the Mythicists are over 100 years old and still rejected now as they were then, isn’t likely to unless they present something new.

          “Why the hostility to Christ myth? “

          Its lack of parsimony.

          “There is a lot about the Jesus story that just does not sync up.”

          Yes. But that doesn’t necessarily lead to the conclusion no Jesus existed. A historical Jesus who was not the Messiah or the “Son of God” fits the evidence better than a non-historical Jesus. Thus the scholarly consensus.

          • mclarksn9

            Right but that consensus just changed within the last 20 years afters thousands of years. What do you feel the difference is between those that overturned the Biblical Patriarch consensus and the Christ mythicists? Okay I want to hold your feet to the fire bit. Give me 3 most unimpeachable facts about the historical Jesus in your opinion.

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

            Consensuses change, and consensuses remain the same. And so the mere fact that people in the past believed differently doesn’t justify rejecting all current scholarly views, I hope you would agree.

          • arcseconds

            The consensus in cosmology has changed, too. Does that mean we have to take seriously crank theories like modern geocentrism?

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

      Maurice Casey’s book does a good job of bringing the big picture together in relation to a number of the details. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/2015/06/review-of-maurice-caseys-jesus-evidence-and-argument-or-mythicist-myths.html

      But as with any explanatory theory (compare evolution in biology), the case is best grasped not by reading the popular summaries and overviews, but by looking at the hundreds and hundreds of detailed studies in academic articles and books which are the basis for the consensus view.