Human Memory: Vivid Doesn’t Mean Accurate

Human Memory: Vivid Doesn’t Mean Accurate February 2, 2017

Can you remember where you were and what you were doing on September 11, 2001? How about the same date a year earlier? Why is one date memorable and the other not? And what does this tell us about the accuracy of the gospel record of the remarkable life of Jesus?

Important events impress themselves on our memories, but there’s a big difference between a vivid memory and an accurate one. “This American Life” provided a great example of how our memories fool us—a startling example, in fact. Let me briefly summarize it.

Emir’s story

Emir Kamenica was born in Bosnia in 1978. Yugoslavia began to disintegrate when he was 13. Though his father was killed, the rest of the family was lucky to get out of the war and make it as refugees to Atlanta, Georgia.

Their new life was no paradise. Their apartment was dirty, and Emir made no friends. He was one of a couple of dozen white kids out of 900 in his high school. He felt the racial tension both in his neighborhood and his school. His English was terrible, and he practiced by translating passages from his favorite book, The Fortress, into English.

The one bright light in his school experience was Miss Ames, a student teacher in his English class for only a couple of weeks.

For one assignment in her class, Emir took a shortcut by submitting a translated passage from The Fortress that he found especially moving. The book was in Bosnian—who would find out? Miss Ames was impressed and said that he needed to get to a better school. By good fortune, she had a job interview at a local private school in a few days, and she took him along.

To Emir, the school was paradise. He had practiced a short line: “I’m a Bosnian refuge. My school is really bad. Please, can I go here?” For her own interview, Miss Ames had brought his essay as an example of what inspired her to be a teacher.

Though student applications were due months earlier and financial aid for that year was already arranged, the school valued diversity, and a Bosnia refugee would be a nice addition to the student body. Strings were pulled, and Emir made it in. After graduating, he went on to Harvard as an undergrad and then earned a PhD from Harvard. And now, at 35, he’s a professor of Behavioral Economics at the University of Chicago.

This Bosnian refugee became a success all because one teacher took the time to help him out, fooled by his plagiarized essay. She mistook him for a genius and got him into a private school, which got him into Harvard, which launched a successful academic career.

This was Emir’s defining story, and he told it over and over. He contrasted it with that of his one friend from public school, a fellow Bosnian, who had no guardian angel. The friend got into trouble, spent time in jail, and went back to Bosnia.

Miss Ames didn’t get the job, and Emir never saw her again. As an adult, he tried to find her a couple of times, without success. He didn’t know her first name and wasn’t even sure of the spelling of her last name.

… the other side of the story

“This American Life” hired a private detective and found Miss Ames. Her version of the story was . . . different.

She had been a new teacher but wasn’t an intern. In fact, she had been Emir’s full-time teacher for an entire semester. His English was “tremendous,” and, in talking to his other teachers, Miss Ames realized that this sophomore was beyond senior level in all subjects.

She also disagreed about the character of the school. It wasn’t a ghetto school but had a great mix of students, like a teenage UN. She remembered about twenty percent white kids (later confirmed by fact checking).

And the essay that Emir plagiarized, the central fact to Emir’s story? She didn’t even remember it. It played no role in her decision to encourage him to get into the private school.

Emir never saw Miss Ames at the new school, not because she didn’t get the job, but because that trip had never been for a job interview. It had all been for him.

After Emir, Miss Ames’ story took a bad turn. The school administration was annoyed that she had poached their prize pupil, and they exiled her to whatever amounted to Siberia in that school district. After another year, she quit teaching.

(I’ve written more about our fallible brains here.)

The punch line of her story was that Emir had been any teacher’s once-in-a-lifetime student. He could’ve still gotten a great education if he’d stayed at that public high school, been at the top of his class at a good regional college, and then gone to Harvard for the PhD. After leaving Atlanta, she didn’t keep track of his career except by looking for his name in the Nobel Prize list every year.

For both people, but Emir in particular, these stories weren’t incidental but were important stories in their lives. His story was of plagiarism, luck, and a guardian angel. Her story was of innate gifts, inevitability, and martyrdom.

That doesn’t mean that Emir’s story wasn’t vivid—it was. It also doesn’t prove that it was false. What it proves is that at least one story was false.

A vivid memory may not be an accurate one. Remember that the next time someone points to the gospels and insists that so remarkable a story as the resurrection must’ve been remembered accurately despite the long decades from events to first writing.

A church steeple with a lightning rod on top
shows a total lack of confidence.
— Doug McLeod

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 9/25/13.)

Image credit: Julia Koefender, flickr, CC

 

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  • eric

    Elizabeth Loftus has done lots of work in the field of false memories and how malleable our memories are. Anyone interested in this subject should probably look into her work.

    One vignette I recall was hearing one of her grad students describe a false memory experiment he was setting up. Initially, he had thought to create a false memory of an alien abduction in his subjects to test malleability. He figured that was something that might be believable to the subject at the time, but researchers would know to be false. But no, critics argued that alien abductions are possible in principle. He might just be uncovering a real memory, rendering any conclusion about malleability questionable. So instead, he used a false memory of meeting Bugs Bunny in Disneyworld. Because evidently, the idea of Walt Disney Corps allowing someone dressed up as a Warner Bros’ character on their site is less probable than alien abduction. 🙂

    The funny thing is, I remember that amusing intro to his talk, but have no memory at all of his research finding.

  • Kevin K

    But of course, no one actually saw the resurrection, so constructing a “vivid” memory of it would be quite impossible. Some number of women allegedly saw something at a tomb (and the stories varied), and some number of others allegedly saw “Jesus” afterwards (and the stories varied). If the account was so vivid as to be accurate — well — it certainly didn’t even survive the decades between having been witnessed and having the account written down.

    Although I’m quite certain I know where I was on 9/11/01. I was on a New Jersey Transit train near Secaucus and the conductor said something like “and if you look to the right, you can see that a small plane has hit the World Trade Center.” (Not an exact quote, but that was the gist.) And since I was sitting on the right-hand side of the car, I indeed confirmed that one of the towers was on fire from what looked like an airplane-sized hole in it.

    And then we went into the tunnel. And then I walked my usual route to work — right past the fire station of the first responders (which I didn’t know at the time). And then someone came the other way, looking shaken, and said to me in passing, “I just saw a plane fly into the World Trade Center”. Which I thought was odd for him to look so stricken, because hadn’t that happened a while back … and then I got to where 5th Avenue crosses Broadway by Madison Square Park, where I could see downtown … and my entire world changed. Because BOTH WTC buildings were now on fire.

    Vivid. And accurate.

    • Kodie

      At the time, if someone said a plane had flown into the World Trade Center, one would have assumed they meant some small plane had had an accident and smacked into the side of a building. That’s what I thought too. I was on the internet on some forum and someone said go look at the news now. Without checking, it was Katie Couric and Matt Lauer on the Today Show. Maybe I don’t have a totally vivid accurate memory, having preferred the Today Show for many years, if I was home and watching morning programming, which I was. After I hooked onto tv, I watched as it unfolded, the second plane, the collapsing, and I don’t remember when I stopped watching it, because it was over and over and over again all day.

      • Michael Neville

        My wife and I were traveling by train to Chicago. We were having breakfast in the dining car when a British tourist who had been talking to someone on his cell phone announced: “A plane just flew into a building in New York.” There was a short discussion about how probably an accident with a small plane. I brought up that during World War II a bomber flew into the Empire State Building during a fog and we all thought something similar had happened. It wasn’t until we got to the train station in Chicago that we knew what had actually happened.

        • Kevin K

          My office at the time was on the 42nd floor of a building not far from the Empire State Building, and my office had a view of it. I spent some time considering whether it also might be a target, but the more time that elapsed, the less likely that seemed.

          One of other things I do remember clearly was that the radio station I listened to — WQXR, the “classical station of the New York Times” — NEVER sounded the emergency broadcast system. Isn’t that weird?

    • eric

      Vivid. And accurate.

      The point is – would you know if they weren’t?

      One of the reasons psychologists study false memory syndrome is to help understand PTSD so they can treat it better. If, for example, trauma from an alien abduction and trauma from a gunfight in Afghanistan caused different things to happen to your brain, then it would make total sense to develop different treatment courses for them. This, I think, is what people often intuit to be the case; the soldier’s PTSD is real and needs serious help, the abductee should just get over it or maybe at worse deserves lesser therapy. But IIRC, they cause the same basic effects on the brain. You can’t use the depth of feeling of trauma, or the vividness of a trauma, as any sort of objective experience detector.

    • I can see why that’s vivid. But you only know it’s accurate because of corroborating testimony from millions of other people. You don’t say, “Of course it’s accurate–it’s one of my most vivid memories.”

      • Michael Neville

        A few years ago my mother, my brother and I were discussing something that happened some thirty years before. All of us were present and we agreed on the general outline of the occurrence. But our memories of who did what and in what order were completely different.

    • Kompi

      But of course, no one actually saw the resurrection, so constructing a “vivid” memory of it would be quite impossible.

      To be fair, I don’t think this is a necessarily accurate conclusion.

      In the book The Invisible Gorilla, one of the chapters mentions a researcher having a highly vivid memory of an event that he wasn’t actually there to witness. The person who had experienced the event was actually a friend of his, and over time his memory had combined the second-hand information with other existing knowledge and other memories and formed it into a very convincing, but ultimately false, memory.

      The human mind seems to have little difficulty forming even very vivid memories out of events that we never actually witnessed, and contrary to our intuition, how vivid a memory is seems to say nothing about how accurate it is.

      • Alice

        I think sometimes the human mind creates vivid images of an event we did not witness because we are trying to understand what happened, because it doesn’t feel real to us, so we’re trying to wrap our minds around it. That has happened to me.

        • Kompi

          You’re probably not wrong, honestly.

          There’s a hypothesis going around since about a decade ago that the primary utility of memory is not actually to remember the past, but instead to predict future events. In that context, the malleability of memory makes a lot more sense – vivid false memories happen as easily as they do because our brain is far more concerned with preparing for the future than accurately recalling the past. It doesn’t matter if the event actually happened or not, just whether it may be of use.

  • busterggi

    I do remember where I was on 9/11 but that is a special case. I do remember where I was when I heard JFK had been assassinated though that’s a tad fuzzier.

    I’ll tell you one thing – had I been around when someone I knew came back from the dead I’d have documented it in writing and photos right then & there and not waited at least fifty years.

    • The gospels were written so much later, as I understand it, that because they felt that the End was nigh. Why bother? Only when it became clear that that prediction was a bit tardy (and the brethren were dying off) that writing it down became important.

      • Herald Newman

        > Only when it became clear that that prediction was a bit tardy […]

        Understatement of the century Bob!

      • Max Doubt

        “Only when it became clear that that prediction was a bit tardy (and the brethren were dying off) that writing it down became important.”

        Yeah, sure buddy. That’s what they’ll be saying about the Bowling Green massacre, too. You just wait. You’ll see.

        • That’s what they’ll be saying about the Bowling Green massacre, too.

          That’s Massacre with a capital-M, Chester. Cuz it totally happened.

        • Greg G.

          I hope they don’t connect me with it because I don’t have an alibi. Can you tell them I was with you?

    • Erp

      Well first no photography then and second most if not all of the early disciples probably couldn’t write (and most of those they were trying to recruit probably couldn’t read). In any case the people who experienced it (real or imagined) were there to tell (or else people one removed) and that was more important in a society where few could read. Things were probably a bit different among the educated and rich elites (and even they prized oratory).

      • Kodie

        Well, there were people who could read and write who existed at the time, but it seems really inefficient to me to break the good news to the most illiterate societies, and more likely the popular folk tales and myths survived. It’s even convenient now that most people don’t know that memories can change, and our brains aren’t secure vaults of everything we’ve experienced in an accurate replayable format. When you assume that memories are accurate portrayals of experience, and when you assume that there were zero literate people who witnessed the resurrection happened, and when you assume that memorization of stories was an actual thing, then you are gullible, uninformed, and have no intellect with which to dispute nonsense. What you have instead is a chosen narrative that pretends to solidify and verify an event that almost certainly could not have happened. Even cavemen recorded their hunts. But to tell the truth, writing would not convince me. People can be delusional and write things they imagine, or just embellish to make their stories popular and attractive. For example, there are other stories written before Jesus that aren’t true, that someone imagined. Is it far-fetched to think that wasn’t always the case? Is it really out there to assume humans have always been human-like – mistaken, opinionated, creative, passionate, wishful, trying to sell something?

        And god, made in the image of man, only perfect, decides the best way to share his good news is to expose it only to a crowd of illiterate people who would repeat their experience with no embellishment, no variation from exactly what happened, no interest in capturing an audience with flourishes and flair to the account, like people do, and this is important – as far as we can tell, the excuse has always been, not a single one of them was literate? And so, this is why Christianity has to battle against reality, and other similarly evoked myths people swear to, with blood and political control and the outright invention of dishonest ways of catching any dumb flies they can catch? Yeah, god doesn’t want to be too obvious, or we’d actually believe he exists.

      • busterggi

        Nope, don’t accept your excuses – with omni-god all things are supposed to be possible.

        • Erp

          I’m an atheist. I don’t think Jesus was resurrected though I do think that some of his immediate followers experienced stuff that they interpreted as a resurrected Jesus (people grieving sometimes do experience feeling that the dead person is present so this is not supernatural). Add in fallible memories and a game of telephone when what is actually written down has passed through several people first and you can start getting the stories that show up in the New Testament.

        • Pofarmer

          The problem is, you don’t really have direct attestation of his “immediate followers” either. Jesus looks more and more like a figure concocted by priests out of the existing Jewish Gospels with a smattering of Hellenic philosophy thrown in. Paul says as much. By the time the Gospels were written, nobody could probably prove it either way.

        • Erp

          We don’t have direct attestation for almost all of ancient history; this doesn’t mean we can’t make some very good stabs at what happened from indirect sources. BTW I’m not sure where you are getting Jewish gospels. I suspect you mean Jewish messianic writings which early Christians had to do a fair bit of contortion to get Jesus to fit.

        • Pofarmer

          We don’t have direct attestation for almost all of ancient history; this
          doesn’t mean we can’t make some very good stabs at what happened from
          indirect sources.

          Yer gonna have to be more specific.

          I suspect you mean Jewish messianic writings which early Christians had to do a fair bit of contortion to get Jesus to fit.

          Well, sure, so what?

        • Joe

          We don’t have direct attestation for almost all of ancient history;

          Which is why we (in the broadest sense of the word) take most historical claims with a grain of salt. Except for claims about a particular religion, which we’re expected to buy into without question.

          this doesn’t mean we can’t make some very good stabs at what happened from indirect sources.

          Such as writings almost exclusively from within the church? What ‘indirect sources’ are you referring to?

      • Joe

        most if not all of the early disciples probably couldn’t write

        Yet we have Christians asserting that some of them did write volumes about what they saw. Those writings were the canonical Gospels.

        The problem with trying to play devil’s advocate, is that there is no one position to argue from. For example:

        In any case the people who experienced it (real or imagined) were there to tell (or else people one removed)

        There may have been no witnesses because the events didn’t happen .

    • Michael Murray

      “If you’d come today
      You could have reached the whole nation
      Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication”

      🙂

      • RichardSRussell

        I got the reference, Michael. Good job!

      • Foxglove

        Don’t you get me wrong! Don’t you get me wrong!

    • Kevin K

      EXACTLY!!

  • Anne Fenwick

    It’s very true, we construct narratives out of our past, and obviously, we’re the central character. Many of us remember where we were on 9/11 because it actually caused a significant disruption to our expected routine, and in some cases, direct, concrete changes to our expected futures for several weeks or months.

  • epicurus

    Bart Ehrman’s book “Jesus before the Gospels” spends a fair bit of time on memory studies with how unreliable most people’s recollections are – and of course how all that would relate to later christians telling and retelling stories about Jesus. I read it on a plane trip last year, but not very attentively- probably time for a re-read

  • Sophia Sadek

    When I read ancient descriptions of the Essenes, they seemed remarkably similar to the stories of both Jesus and John the Baptist. It makes a great deal of sense that the kind of political opposition both legendary characters exhibited would be found in members of the Essene order. What is most fascinating, however, is how adamant the opposition to this idea is by Christians. It was as if I had advocated to a racist scholar of ancient Greece that Socrates might have been of African origin.

    • TheNuszAbides

      i was amused to find that St George was Ethiopian, after growing up with only British-royal-franchise-appropriated illustrations.

      • Sophia Sadek

        There has been a great deal of ink expended in the argument over the ethnic origin of Socrates. One of the descriptions in the contemporary literature makes him sound awfully African.

  • KarlUdy

    An interesting story. I wonder though, how much of the discrepancy is due to misremembering on Emir’s part, and how much is due to misunderstanding? In other words, if you had asked Emir on the day after the interview, would his story have been much different from what he told years later?

    • Interesting point. He was new to the culture, so misunderstanding might’ve played a larger role than it would’ve for native Americans.

  • Kompi

    Even not being from or ever having been to the US, I remember where I was when I found out about 9/11.

    Or rather, I say I remember – the nature of human memory means what I experience as a memory of that moment is actually more of a memory of a memory of a memory of a memory of a memory (….) of a memory of a memory of what might at one point have been that moment, all mixed up with whatever ways my opinions and attitudes and the like have drifted since then. As vivid as the memory might feel, I have no reliable way of determining its accuracy beyond outside corroboration – and even then, unless the outside source is of a nature more reliable than human memory, corroboration might just as easily end up reducing overall accuracy by reinforcing shared assumptions and biases with a jointly constructed narrative.

  • I was in school on 9/11. One of the teachers had turned the TV on after hearing that the WTC was hit by a plane. At first it seemed like just an accident, before another one hit. All this aligns to what happened. I know vivid memory can be wrong, though. After rewatching certain movies, I found that I’d remembered parts differently than what actually happened-quite clearly. It seems that I had reimagined them in my mind before then, and that was indistinguishable from memory. This left me skeptical of how accurate our memories are, which later reading only confirmed.

    • primenumbers

      I had managed to concoct a false memory of the shuttle disaster. It was only when I was watching news stories of the anniversary that I could figure out my memories were contradictory with other solid facts. I still have the false memory, but I’ve got it tagged as such in my mind.

      • I’ve heard that happens even with famous events, yes.

        • Pofarmer

          I watched the Shuttle Challenger disaster in Mr. Craddocks Chemistry Class. I’m sure of that. But, originally, I had remembered watching it live. I don’t think the times lend to that being correct.

        • That makes sense. I didn’t view 911 live, though haven’t seen it that way later my memory could easily be altered.

        • Pofarmer

          Upon looking up the wikipedia entry, it’s possible it was live, so, now, I simply don’t know.

        • Yes, it can be difficult to tell afterward.

        • Joe

          I’m pretty sure I saw the Challenger Disaster live (from the UK) as a child.

          A news story would lead with what happened, whereas I distinctly remember seeing the rocket rupture and thinking ‘that’s not right’, before everything exploded.

  • RichardSRussell

    When I was a high-school senior, we had a fabulous bunch of athletes in my graduating class (not including me): top-ranked football team in the state, winner of the state baseball tournament, and 2nd in the state basketball tournament only to a school from Milwaukee that dominated the state tournament for half a decade and had 2 future NBA players on that year’s edition. The tournament final, with no overtime and no 3-point shots, was the highest-scoring game in Wisconsin tournament history (and still is, lo these 45 years later), but we gave a good accounting of ourselves. I still have a vivid mental image of the lighted scoreboard at the end of the game — 90-83 — and that’s what I quoted for years.

    But, according to the tournament program, published every year with results of past tourneys, the actual final score was 93-80. My memory had the proper set of digits, but not in the proper order, making my team seem a little better than they actually were.

    The lay public erroneously believes that eyewitness testimony is the most reliable kind of evidence. Lawyers and psychologists would run shrieking from the room at the thot.

    • Kodie

      You know what else is fascinating? Most people will readily admit to having a terrible memory more often than not. People studying for tests have to come up with tricks and devices to memorize formulas or dates, because they cannot just absorb the information like a recording. We know memory is difficult. It is, however, when an experience makes an impression, and maybe that’s where the problem is, that people are certain because they are comparing the images they hold of the experience against the things they find take more effort to retain or slip their mind regularly, like names or appointments or whether they are almost out of milk.

      I always think I have a better memory in general than others, not quite like those people who can freakishly remember every day of their lives, but I’d love to be tested as I think such an ability might be on a spectrum, but I am not sure if I could be on it. I remember certain dates and what days they were in the week. Without looking it up, I know 9/11 was on a Tuesday, a detail I don’t think is as often repeated in memoriam as, say, the floors the planes hit, which I don’t exactly remember, or the planes’ numbers which I am almost sure but not confident in all 4 of them, or which plane hit which target. Anyway, people can have an impression of their experience of an event and certain details, even less important details, stick, and because it’s not terribly important if it was a Tuesday, I could be wrong, but feel so certain, and I most probably rely on accounts rather than experience as though the accounts on the news were my own memories. I know I sat on the couch when the buildings collapsed as it happened, and being … confused and shocked? Why wouldn’t I be confused and shocked. Why would I make that up? I could be rewriting my memory of that moment to coordinate with other memories of the following days.

      For another less catastrophic issue, I have a vague yet vivid recollection of the hearings of Oliver North, as it was on tv near my high school graduation, and my paternal grandparents were at the house watching it on tv. Nothing is actually vivid including my grandparents*, but the part where Ronald Reagan claimed “I don’t recall” about a particular date, which happened to be the date I had gotten my braces off. I didn’t see the Ronald Reagan testimony, don’t remember it, but that was news at the time, and I had bragged that my memory was better because I remember that was the date I got my braces off – but see, I don’t remember at all the day of getting my braces off happening. I remember the appointment card tacked to my bulletin board. Years after I got my braces off, the date stuck in my head, which I’m going to say was August 9, 1984, without looking it up. Maybe I’m wrong, and I can’t tell you what day of the week it was, but I’m going to feel Wednesday about it. I feel like I got my braces on on a Monday, also in August (August 1, 1982?), and off on a Wednesday. My general impression of having had braces on my teeth comes from remembering what my school pictures look like and what grade I was in, and an overall memory of the orthodontist’s office over more than one visit. If anything else happened the day I got my braces off, I’m positive the date stuck with me during the Oliver North hearings because I remembered the appointment card and it wasn’t that many years prior to remember the year either.

      When the subject of memory comes up, this particular memory seems to be my go-to example, and knowing that every unpacking of a memory can add or change details that weren’t accurate makes it really weird to me if it has changed.

      *I already have to correct the memory because my grandfather had died before then, and wasn’t there, and I am remembering another visit when he was there and his wheelchair. In my memory, he was there, but the year it was tells me he definitely wasn’t.

      Anyway, now I go check my memory!

      • RichardSRussell

        I’m currently reading On Being Certain by Dr. Robert A. Burton, in which he discusses the feeling of certainty and examines the brain mechanisms which give rise to it. You will not be surprised to hear that it lights up the same sections of the brain as various other pleasure stimuli, such as love, music, or drugs. And this is true whether or not the feeling bears any resemblance to reality.

        • Kodie

          The kinds of events people usually say are vivid memories seem very often to have triggered emotions in them, but then there are the weird little snapshots of things. It makes sense, if we’re having some sort of emotion all the time, that certain events stick in memory for having triggered the emotions you tend to record a memory when triggered, and whenever it makes sense, to absorb memories based on the emotions of others, and because people can have different emotions, and I kind of think it’s some personal recipe of different emotions and different portions of each emotion, that’s why memories are different for different people who all witness the same thing.

          Some of my memories that really come up are from watching someone else feel sentimental or hurt or embarrassed, and otherwise, numbers and names. I checked on my memories, and think I was about a year off, but I remember people’s birthdays longer than I know them. A girl lived near me when I was about 6 or 7 and then moved away, and I looked her up on facebook on her birthday and it was her birthday. Funny like I don’t remember if I did that 2 years ago or 5 years ago, but I feel like it was within the past 5 years.

          Even probably longer ago, something came up somewhere on the internet. I have literally no confidence in my ability to retain the details of knowledge (as opposed to experience, which refers back to the contrast between studying for a test and the vivid sticking memories of experience), but then feel pretty certain about other things. Anyway, this thing about memories and how you remember them – do you “see” your memories like you are watching yourself, or do you see them being yourself, and holy shit, I never knew this was a thing, but I was very surprised that most people said they remembered events as though they were watching themselves be in the scene. It wasn’t a study but an informal survey, like maybe it was on facebook or an internet forum. I see my memories from my eyes. I’m there experiencing it, or at least seeing what I think happened as though I’m present within it, not watching from outside. I can’t even figure out how that works, but I was mostly stunned that most people answered that their memories are observed from outside the scene rather than present in it.

        • Taneli Huuskonen

          My memories seem to be like yours, like seen through my eyes. My dreams are usually similar, but I remember one exception. I was really a teenager, but my dream was like a scene from a PG-rated action movie, with me somehow being the grown up hero. He was buried up to his neck in sand by two bad guys, but oddly enough, he wasn’t bothered at all. The dream ended at that scene, so I’ll never know how the story ended, dammit.

  • Tailored

    I like talking with my sister about our childhood. It’s amazing to be able to see an event or time in life from another’s perspective. We were both there in the thick of it but both have very different memories and emotions attached to those memories. It’s very important to realize and remember just how fallible human memories and perception are.

  • Scenario

    This sort of argument can cause problems with some kinds of more liberal people (of which I am one) If someone remembers a crime that took place 30 years ago and the memory is quite vivid, there are many people who will be very offended if someone brings up the very possibility that perhaps it might be a false memory or perhaps true but not especially accurate in detail.

    • It’s good for us to remember that liberals have their blind spots as well.

      • Scenario

        You’re right about that. Generally liberals are pretty good but there are always exceptions.

  • Brad Feaker

    I am not sure about anyone else, but I was taught several things about the ‘oral tradition’ – which is the the Gospel was supposedly ‘preserved’ until it could be written down.

    1. Many were able to memorize by rote a great number of stories.
    2. They used many mnemonic tricks (unknowingly it seems) to remember them
    3. And the point was not really about the detail but rather the ‘moral of the story’

    Which tells us all we need to know about how the Gospels were ‘preserved’. Ask any seasoned police detective or criminal defense attorney and they will tell you that eyewitness testimony is next to worthless.

    • Erp

      Not completely worthless but certainly not infallible and proper historians are aware of this. However something has to explain the early history of Christianity and a group of people grief stricken by the execution of their leader (when they and possibly he believed he was the promised messiah) elaborated a story where the promised messiah would die then come again and went cherry picking to find support for this (e.g., using Biblical verses that had never previously been considered messianic). Note failed messiahs often have followers who refuse to believe they failed (see Menachem Mendel Schneerson who died of old age but some of whose followers still think he is the messiah or Sabbatai Zevi who claimed to be the messiah but when faced with the choice of dying or conversion to Islam chose the latter, some of his followers still thought he was the messiah and the conversion was part of the plan [and there are still some who hold to this several hundred years after the event, see Dönme]).

      • Brad Feaker

        I have read about Scheerson and Zevi. The human penchant for magical thinking is endlessly entertaining unless it gets out of hand and turns violent.

        • It doesn’t have to get violent to cause social harm. The pressure to get prayer in city council meetings and Creationism in science class are examples.

        • al kimeea

          As are parents praying or applying the notions, lotions or potions on offer from their local naturoquack rather than seeking medical help for their afflicted children

    • I’m also not impressed by these three ideas.

      • Brad Feaker

        All they tell me is oral tradition is a shitty way to preserve knowledge 🙂

        • Joe

          Especially as it assumes a) the story was true, and remembered correctly in the first place and b) wasn’t deliberately altered in any way.

  • Can you remember where you were and what you were doing on September 11, 2001? How about the same date a year earlier? Why is one date memorable and the other not? And what does this tell us about the accuracy of the gospel record of the remarkable life of Jesus?

    This argument is worse than saying that science is as bias-prone as the bottom quartile of scientists. Relevant empirical evidence would be the integrity of widely distributed oral traditions (which is a world apart from the ‘telephone game’). Even wrapping our heads around what it would be like to live in a primarily oral culture is tremendously difficult, as Walter Ong describes:

        But the illumination does not come easily. Understanding the relations of orality and literacy and the implications of the relations is not a matter of instant psychohistory or instant phenomenology. It calls for wide, even vast, learning, painstaking thought and careful statement. Not only are the issues deep and complex, but they also engage our own biases. We—readers of books such as this—are so literate that it is very difficult for us to conceive of an oral universe of communication or thought except as a variant of a literate universe. This book will attempt to overcome our biases in some degree and to open new ways to understanding. (Orality and Literacy, 2)

    What is life like when you can never return to a text to see what it said? Having a good memory becomes rather important. Correcting mistakes in others’ accounts is not pedantry, but critical error-correction. Those with more accurate memories will be valued. There will be competition to be be the least-corrected.

    Now, surely the human brain, re-tasked to memory in a world much simpler than the modern Western, operating in a network of redundant error correction, is not impervious to the introduction of errors. But exactly what kind of error rates we can expect seems to be an empirical question, one rather poorly serviced by appeal to the reliability of individual memories in a culture saturated with literacy.

    • Relevant empirical evidence would be the integrity of widely distributed oral traditions (which is a world apart from the ‘telephone game’).

      The delay from hearing to telling in the telephone game is seconds. The story told in the telephone game is a sentence or two. Passing along the gospel story is very different. So, yeah, there may be a world of difference.

      What is life like when you can never return to a text to see what it said? Having a good memory becomes rather important.

      Where did books get into the conversation? I think we’re talking about the oral history period, before any of the Jesus gospel story was committed to paper.

      Those with more accurate memories will be valued. There will be competition to be be the least-corrected.

      When you and I disagree on a memory, which of us is right?

      I’ve read that in the time without writing (when Homeric epics were told around the campfire), the need to be super accurate wasn’t there since there was no reference to check against. On the contrary: the bard would improvise. He’d adapt the story to the audience. We moderns see much value in a story being identical to some standard, but that wasn’t necessarily so in the days before the standard.

      • Where did books get into the conversation? I think we’re talking about the oral history period, before any of the Jesus gospel story was committed to paper.

        Yes, but the way we think about these things is highly conditioned by our having books (and now, smartphones and Wikipedia). Nowadays, remembering accurately is just not important in so many domains. IIRC we actually retask our brains, away from memorization and toward analysis. To use this context to reason about how first century AD folks would have transmitted oral accounts of Jesus is highly problematic.

        When you and I disagree on a memory, which of us is right?

        That’s the telephone game. What happens when multiple people witnessed an event and quickly told many more, who then told many more? In that case, it’s nothing like me vs. you.

        I’ve read that in the time without writing (when Homeric epics were told around the campfire), the need to be super accurate wasn’t there since there was no reference to check against. On the contrary: the bard would improvise. He’d adapt the story to the audience. We moderns see much value in a story being identical to some standard, but that wasn’t necessarily so in the days before the standard.

        Suppose you are correct. Do you think that “Homeric epics” make a good comparison to the events detailed in the Gospels?

        • Greg G.

          Do you think that “Homeric epics” make a good comparison to the events detailed in the Gospels?

          Bingo! Matthew, Luke, and John are based on Mark. Mark is not based on oral tradition, but is based on the literary tradition of mimesis, and many of the stories are reworkings of stories from the Homeric epics (among other sources), seasoned with some OT scripture. Nearly evey passage in Mark can be accounted for. See New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash by Robert M. Price for more details.

          Mimesis, imitatio, and midrash are very old traditions. The Homeric epics are probably the most used works for this purpose of all-time, from the Aeneid to O Brother! Where Art Thou?

        • 1. Establishing similarity is actually a precondition for rendering the thing intelligible. Something completely ex nihilo would be completely opaque to comprehension. Norman K. Gottwald describes this as relates to Israel’s uniqueness:

              In place of the grossly misleading terms “unparalleled” and “unique”—which, if taken literally, claim that distinctively shaped Israelite cultural items have absolutely no continuity and comparability with cultural items of environing peoples—I suggest that we speak more modestly of Israel’s innovative distinctiveness. Whatever our exact terms, I think that what we must emphasize is the emergent novelty of cultural items or configurations in Israel without in any way denying continuity or comparability in socioreligious items between Israel and other peoples. In fact, without positing a unitary cultural field in which Israel can be located, no science of ancient Israelite society or religion is possible. Lawful statements about the socioreligious system of early Israel, including the controlled identification of what is innovatively distinctive in Israel, necessitate a body of wider cultural data whose established regularities can be systematically compared with Israelite regularities to see where they converge and where they diverge. In fact, precisely because most students of early Israel have neglected the continuity and comparability of cultural data provided by sociological and anthropological methodologies, they have finally been unable either convincingly to locate what is distinctive in Israel or to propose lawful causal statements about the emergence and growth of Israel’s innovative configurations. (The Tribes of Yahweh, 594–95)

          How does Price deal with the need for continuity and discontinuity? (I’d rather not merely have the dialog internally by doing a close reading of Price’s article—the point is to have a fun, enlightening discussion between two present people.) Does he argue that there is arbitrarily little discontinuity?

          2. By running with the comparison between Homeric epics and the Gospels, you seem to be presupposing that what is important is something like “the moral of the story”, vs. historicity. Is that the case? If so, this would allow for a good deal of narrative freedom. But it’s not clear that this is how those in Jesus’ era operated, and it’s not clear that it is the best way for us to operate.

        • Greg G.

          1. Price cites various scholars who have identified the various sources in Mark and for the other gospels as well. For example, Randel Helms cites OT sources of miracles while Dale and Patricia Miller show the midrash. He combines the work of the individual scholars in biblical order of the pericopae to give a more comprehensive picture of what the gospel author was doing. I have noticed that Mark uses a major theme which may come from an OT story, from Homer, or another source, and add in a few other OT passages.

          2. Dennis R. MacDonald is the source for Mark’s use of the Homeric epics. He uses specificity of common elements and density of them, IIRC, which is a common method in such studies. The elements are also in the same order in Mark as in Homer, or reverse order. I do not recall whether MacDonald discusses the chiastic structure of Mark, but I think the reversed orders may be related to the rules of chiasm. I have not compared the order of elements from OT stories used in Mark but I wonder if that order method holds.

          For example, the Feeding of the Five Thousand is based on Elisha’s feeding a hundred on a few fish and loaves in 2 Kings 4:42-44. Why are there two mass feedings? Telemauchus, the son of Odysseus, attends two feasts, one he walks to and one he sails to, just as Jesus does. One of them has nine groups of 500, so it seems that Mark rounded up once and down once.

          If you want more details, you can read the link I gave or read MacDonald’s book. MacDonald tries to give every possible coincidence but I found one he missed.

        • What you’ve said doesn’t shed any light on how much discontinuity existed without the great deal of continuity required to render the account intelligible. For example, Genesis 1–3 is tremendously similar to Enûma Eliš, but the differences make all the difference. Humans as slaves of the gods with divine image-bearers set over them vs. all humans being created in the image of God? That’s not an emendation.

          In a sense, Jesus was expected, especially IIRC by the predecessors of the Pharisees described in the NT. But in another sense, he was radically different from what was expected, a topic Otto Borchert expounds upon in The Original Jesus. When Richard Carrier Spoke in SF on 2014-03-29, I asked him whether he could account for the fact that Jesus would not have been considered kalos kagathos by anyone: (i) Greeks; (ii) Romans; (iii) the Jewish elite; (iv) Jesus’ disciples; (v) us, today. Carrier declined to engage the matter seriously and declined to let me give him the copy of Borchert’s book I had brought to the meeting. Well, why is Jesus just not whom anyone would consider an excellent person? Were humans to construct a person to worship, why not have the constructed person match any of (i)–(v)? And if the differences between the historical person of Jesus and (i)–(v) were important—and plenty of Christians have held that they are—then mightn’t it be important to carefully note those differences?

          To simply say that a bard selects from passages (or improvises) according to the perceived needs of the audience utterly glosses over the above concerns. What it really does is presuppose that such details as the Gospels record are really rather unimportant, or at least would have been considered unimportant by Jesus’ disciples. It demonstrates a neglect for (or denial of) truth, not in the realm of mere facts, but in the realm of character. It’s a rather contradictory attitude, because it both states that if we had better records of what Jesus did somehow we would be better off, while denying that those of Jesus’ time could possibly be desirous of such a “better off”—even though it is easily something they could have desired even though they did not have refrigerators, antibiotics, and cars.

        • Greg G.

          I’m not sure what you are asking. It is possible to arrange a fictional story full of fictional accounts in an order with continuity. It can be done with short stories, novels, and trilogies. The Odyssey has Odysseus traveling around the Mediterranean in a fictional story. Paul’s epistles has him traveling around the Mediterranean in what I think is an actual account in the authentic ones, anyway. Mark has Jesus traveling around the “Sea” of Galilee like either one of those. Then he goes to Jerusalem, gets crossed up, and dies.

          Mark connects a series of events with the words “kai” and “euthys”. From http://catholic-resources.org/Bible/Mark-Literary.htm :

          Parataxis – stringing together (lit. “placing next to”) short loosely connected episodes, like pearls on a string.
          An amazing 410 of the 678 verses in the original Greek version of Mark’s Gospel begin with the word “And” (Gk. kai)!
          Immediacy – Mark’s Gospel emphasizes action, as seen in the frequent use of the Greek word euthys (“immediately, right away, at once, as soon as”), used an astounding 42 times, especially near the beginning of the Gospel (1:10, 12, 18, 20, 21, 23, 28, 29, 30, 42, 43; 2:8, 12; 3:6; 4:5, 15, 16, 17, 29; 5:2, 29, 30, 42; 6:25, 27, 45, 50, 54; 7:25; 8:10; 9:15, 20, 24; 10:52; 11:2, 3; 14:43, 45, 72; 15:1).

          Characters appear once and disappear. Peter James, and John, the three apostles named in Galatians appear throughout. Andrew appears about twice. Judas plays a major role at the end but none of the other disciples are mentioned again. John the Baptist appears at the beginning and later loses his head. Much of that story is based on Esther. The offer of half the kingdom is a smoking gun.

          Mark does foreshadow events to come. He uses Latinisms and Aramaicisms. He explains the Aramaicisms but never the Latinisms, which tells us he was writing for an audience that knew Greek and Latin but not Aramaic or Hebrew, but they would have been expected to know the OT references, meaning the Septuagint, and Homer. He explains that “bar” means “son of” and the Gethsemane prayer opening tells that “abba” means “father” so they would know that “Barabbas” is another “son of the father” so the readers should recognize the scapegoat of Leviticus 16:5-22 where one goat is killed for the sins of the nation and the other is released into the wilderness. But that ritual is supposed to be done on the Day of Atonement, not the Passover and the Passover Lamb is not a sin offering.

        • I’m not sure what you are asking. It is possible to arrange a fictional story full of fictional accounts in an order with continuity.

          Again, continuity is required: “zero continuity” ⇒ “zero intelligibility”. What we should be asking—I claim—is whether the discontinuity is interesting. Very small tweaks can be very important: humans as slaves of the gods vs. image(s) of the gods is a one word difference. (Yes, ‘elohiym is used—a plural form—but the verb “created” is singular.)

          He explains that “bar” means “son of” and the Gethsemane prayer opening tells that “abba” means “father” so they would know that “Barabbas” is another “son of the father” so the readers should recognize the scapegoat of Leviticus 16:5-22 where one goat is killed for the sins of the nation and the other is released into the wilderness.

          Ahh, I’d never seen that connection. Instead, the thing I’ve focused on is that the mob had a choice of savior: Barabbas or Jesus. Which person would solve their problems? They chose the arrogant leader of lawless violence instead of the suffering servant of peaceful wisdom. Americans didn’t necessarily have that choice in 2016—I didn’t see any suffering servants—but they sure picked the one who best exemplified the former. We humans seem to constantly think that breaking things is the right way to peace. You’d think that reconciliation would be key, but people’s general behavior seems to be otherwise. Anyhow, I digress.

        • Greg G.

          Have you ever noticed that in Mark 14 when Peter is in the courtyard and Jesus is on trial, being beaten and ordered to “Prophesy!”, Peter is denying Jesus and fulfilling a prophecy?

          Right after Barabbas is released, Mark 15:16-20 has Jesus being mocked by the soldiers. Compare the mocking with:

          Philo, Flaccus, Book VI. (36)
          There was a certain madman named Carabbas, afflicted not with a wild, savage, and dangerous madness (for that comes on in fits without being expected either by the patient or by bystanders), but with an intermittent and more gentle kind; this man spent all this days and nights naked in the roads, minding neither cold nor heat, the sport of idle children and wanton youths; (37) and they, driving the poor wretch as far as the public gymnasium, and setting him up there on high that he might be seen by everybody, flattened out a leaf of papyrus and put it on his head instead of a diadem, and clothed the rest of his body with a common door mat instead of a cloak and instead of a sceptre they put in his hand a small stick of the native papyrus which they found lying by the way side and gave to him; (38) and when, like actors in theatrical spectacles, he had received all the insignia of royal authority, and had been dressed and adorned like a king, the young men bearing sticks on their shoulders stood on each side of him instead of spear-bearers, in imitation of the bodyguards of the king, and then others came up, some as if to salute him, and others making as though they wished to plead their causes before him, and others pretending to wish to consult with him about the affairs of the state. (39) Then from the multitude of those who were standing around there arose a wonderful shout of men calling out Maris; and this is the name by which it is said that they call the kings among the Syrians; for they knew that Agrippa was by birth a Syrian, and also that he was possessed of a great district of Syria of which he was the sovereign;

          Mark 15:16-20 (NRSV)16 Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. 17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. 18 And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19 They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. 20 After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

          See how many of the elements are similar in each story? Did you catch the name of the person being mocked? Carabbas. The spelling in Greek is the same as Barabbas after the first letter. The mocking was invented from Philo’s writing, the name “Barabbas” was made up from “Carabbas”, which throws doubt on the healing of Bartimaeus and the Gethsemane prayer.

        • Greg G.

          I matched up the phrases here:

          Mark 15:16-20 (NRSV)16 Then the soldiers [the young men bearing sticks on their shoulders stood on each side of him instead of spear-bearers, in imitation of the bodyguards of the king] led him into the courtyard of the palace [driving the poor wretch as far as the public gymnasium] (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. [and setting him up there on high that he might be seen by everybody] 17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak; [and clothed the rest of his body with a common door mat instead of a cloak] and after twisting some thorns into a crown, [flattened out a leaf of papyrus] they put it on him. [and put it on his head instead of a diadem] 18 And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” [calling out Maris!; and this is the name by which it is said that they call the kings] 19 They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. [and others making as though they wished to plead their causes before him] 20 After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

          Matthew 27:29 compare with Mark 15:17b
          They braided a crown of thorns, and put it on his head and a reed in his right hand [and instead of a sceptre they put in his hand a small stick of the native papyrus]

          So “a reed in his right hand” may have been lost from Mark or Matthew recognized that Mark was using Philo and added that.

          John 18:40-19:3,5 is very much like the Mark version which means he had to have used Mark. There are several other passages which are like Mark, some with several word phrases that match letter for letter. “You will always have the poor but you will not always have me” omits a phrase in Mark but matches up letter for letter for the two clauses and it is exactly a letter for letter match with the Matthew account.

          So we can tell that Mark used Philo to create fiction and John and Matthew used that fiction rather than oral tales.

        • Joe

          While I’m appreciating learning these new details, I feel you’re going to too much trouble to provide answers to somebody who will just dismiss them entirely out of hand.

          Still, I can’t wait to see the pretzel logic that will be employed to explain the similarities.

        • Pofarmer

          LB is pretty well determined not to get it. He has his conclusions. Dang nab it.

        • False:

          LB: What I claim you ought to do is have the two different working hypotheses—or more if we want to try different amounts of the Gospels being historical, a la the Jesus Seminar—and evaluate the evidence, simultaneously against all of them, letting each different hypothesis shape the evidence where the raw data is actually 100% agnostic. If you want rigorous philosophy of science to support this way of evaluating the evidence, see Nancy Cartwright’s essay “Fitting Facts to Equations”, located in her 1983 How the Laws of Physics Lie (3700 ‘citations’). Or you could consult the SEP article Theory and Observation in Science.

          Fail to do the above and you’ll almost certainly fall prey to the delusion that when you examine data, you aren’t bringing any Procrustean presuppositions to the table. There is no such thing as examining the evidence without an interpretation in play. The way you strive for objectivity is by playing interpretations off against each other. And you never know if there’s a better interpretation that hasn’t been introduced to the game, but that’s just life under anti-foundationalism/​nonfoundationalism.

          P.S. If you really want to get into the weeds, we can talk about how Bayesian inference—perhaps a good enough model for how belief formation ought to work in these cases—has to start with a prior probability, and a highly informative one due to matters akin to Chomsky’s poverty of the stimulus. There’s no such thing as magically not needing a prior. This can be compared to always having an interpretation in play. There is no “view from nowhere”. None.

        • Greg G.

          I’m not doing it just for him. Going over it and trying to come up with new explanations often helps to find new connections. An antagonist can even point out a flaw sometimes which leads to a new understanding. But it’s also for people like you who are interested.

          He wants to bring in continuity when the narrative is a bunch of separate incidents with characters that are never heard from again. Well, maybe the naked boy in Gethsemane might be the boy in the tomb, but few show up again.

        • Joe

          I read somewhere that the naked person could have been the author of Mark. Can’t remember where I read that, but it was an interesting hypotheses.

        • Greg G.

          An author could put himself in a fictional story.

          I used to work with a guy whose father was a friend of Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut put him in a story with his real name and job title. Cat’s Cradle, IIRC, but that was 30 years ago.

        • Joe

          I believe it’s a fictional story, but this interpretation was a reading of Mark, stripped of the supernatural bollocks.

          It read like a failed apocalyptic preacher trying to bring God down to the Temple, failing (obviously), then getting arrested soon after. It kind of made more sense.

          I wish I could remember where it was. I’ll try and find the link.

        • Greg G.

          stripped of the supernatural bollocks.

          Sounds like Thomas Jefferson’s New Testament.

        • Joe

          Probably. As we can all agree, a tale of somebody with a Messiah complex, who fails in their goal and is killed, is completely believable. We totally disbelieve all supernatural claims about Alexander, Caesar Augustus and all other historical characters

        • Greg G.

          We can eliminate the miracle stories for their implausibility and leave the plausible stories or we can eliminate the miracle stories because they are drawn from other texts about someone else, then do the same with the “plausible” stories. All that is left of the gospels is basically an itinerary of travels.

        • Joe

          That’s one reason why I’m not convinced by historicity claims. There’s no reason why a tale of a carpenter’s son who became an itinerant preacher has to be based on a real person. Mundane details are easier to manufacture than significant ones.

        • Greg G.

          Many of the details are accrued. In Mark, Jesus is just the son of Mary. In John, Jesus is the son of Joseph but his mother is never mentioned by name, though three other women are mentioned with the name Mary, including the sister of Jesus’ mother. Matthew apparently gets Mary from Mark and Joseph from John.

        • Joe

          Here you go! I’d be interested in what you think of this:

          https://www.umass.edu/wsp/alpha/iliad/naked.html

        • Umm:

          Aulus Avilius Flaccus was the Egyptian prefect appointed by Tiberius in 32 CE.[1] His rule coincided with the riots against Alexandria’s Jewish population in 38 CE.[2] According to some accounts, he may have encouraged the outbreak of violence. According to the Jewish philosopher Philo, Flaccus was later arrested and eventually executed for his part in this event. (WP: Aulus Avilius Flaccus)

          How are you dating the two events?

        • Greg G.

          I’m assuming Philo wrote it while he was still alive and Mark wrote after Philo died. Mark was written after 70AD and Philo died at least about 20 years earlier. Do you think Mark wrote before 38 AD and the Egyptian youths read it and modeled their actions on Mark?

        • Actually, I’m guessing that the event Philo observed was influenced by accounts of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. Those accounts need not have been written. Indeed, I’m not sure how many Egyptian youths were literate at the time. Hmm, here’s an abstract from John Baines (University of Oxford) published in the journal Man (183 ‘citations’):

          From its first occurrence around 3000 B.C., writing was integral to the self-definition of Egyptian culture, especially in terms of display where it was part of a system of pictorial representation. By 2600 continuous texts were produced and any linguistic matter could be written; new genres of text appeared in stages, literary texts in the Middle Kingdom and some additional types in the New Kingdom. Very few people were literate, all of them officials of state; schooling was limited. The main script types, hieroglyphic, hieratic and demotic, have different, complementary functions. The entire system survived into late Roman times alongside the more widespread Greek. Writing can be related to textual elaboration, to the sense of the past, magic and law, and perhaps to social change and stability but not as an overriding explanatory factor. Thus writing cannot explain the failure of radical change in Egypt or its success in Greece. The potential of writing is realised in stages over millennia. (Literacy and Ancient Egyptian Society)

        • Greg G.

          The similarity of the names “Carabbas” and “Barabbas” is a big coincidence to ignore.

          The event would have had to have traveled orally from Jerusalem to Alexandria down to children who remembered the details, then an observer would have observed the action and reported it to Philo who wrote it in a similar way as Mark was going to write it after a few more decades of oral tradition.

          Yet apologists try to reconcile the contradictions of the gospels as different observers seeing things a little differently.

          Realist1234 was arguing that Luke was written around 63AD. I was pointing out that Luke appears to have relied on Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews in many passages which would mean it was no earlier than the late first century. He employed the same strategy you are using of trying to dismiss each coincidence. But the more he did it, the harder it was to explain the pattern of coincidences.

          With Mark, there are even more coincidences to explain away.

        • Joe

          So, that was a baffling response by Luke.

          Take the very thing that is in question (Jesus’s existence and Crucifixion), assume it to be true, then obvioulsy Philo based his accounts on this event!

          The event would have had to have traveled orally from Jerusalem to Alexandria down to children who remembered the details, then an observer would have observed the action and reported it to Philo

          Though the ‘flawless’ oral tradition somehow missed out all the miraculous events surrounding the crucifixion. Or, Philo didn’t think worthy of writing about such amazing events as a global eclipse and a magical tearing veil! No other historian of note seems to have heard the tale either.

          That doesn’t seem plausible, but what do we know?

        • Take the very thing that is in question (Jesus’s existence and Crucifixion), assume it to be true, then obvioulsy Philo based his accounts on this event!

          That is quite distorting of what I’m actually doing. See the second half of my recent response to Greg.

          Though the ‘flawless’ oral tradition […]

          Straw man; I never claimed it was flawless. What neither you nor anyone else has established is what kind of integrity we can or cannot expect from the kind of oral tradition which would have existed in a largely illiterate society in the ANE. We are thus left with the lack of probabilities, or something quite close to a complete lack. Where does that leave us? Having to spread out the different possibilities, and think about them in an unfortunately rather-unrigorous fashion. C’est la vie.

          Or, Philo didn’t think worthy of writing about such amazing events as a global eclipse and a magical tearing veil!

          You forgot the zombie apocalypse. It’s too bad you didn’t, because the eclipse actually has non-Christian support:

          The Crucifixion darkness is an episode in three of the Canonical Gospels in which the sky becomes dark in daytime during the crucifixion of Jesus.

          Ancient and medieval Christian writers treated this as a miracle, and believed it to be one of the few episodes from the New Testament which were confirmed by non-Christian sources. Pagan commentators of the Roman era explained it as an eclipse, although Christian writers pointed out that an eclipse during Passover, when the crucifixion took place, would have been impossible; a solar eclipse cannot occur during a full moon. (WP: Crucifixion darkness)

          (The article goes on to say that modern scholars think the whole thing was made up.) Curiously enough, the text can be understood as “darkness came over the whole land” or “darkness came over the whole earth”. So Philo wasn’t guaranteed to actually observe the event.

          That doesn’t seem plausible, but what do we know?

          According to what calculations did you arrive at that probability assessment?

        • Joe

          That is quite distorting of what I’m actually doing. See the second half of my recent response to Greg.

          That’s exactly what you’re doing. You double down in your response to Greg. “Alexandrian sailors herd a tale…” What tale?

          Straw man; –a lot of waffling bollocks written by Luke- C’est la vie

          That’s our position. You’re the one taking a positive belief position over this whole situation. Having thought about a person performing magic and coming back to life, in an ‘unrigorous fashion’, we conclude it most likely didn’t happen.

          You forgot the zombie apocalypse. It’s too bad you didn’t, because the eclipse actually has non-Christian support:

          Where? It doesn’t even have support among the other three gospel writers. No other historian, contemporary writer or citizen of Jerusalem ever ever mentions it. More lies.

          According to what calculations did you arrive at that probability assessment?

          What makes you think I used calculations?

        • That’s exactly what you’re doing. You double down in your response to Greg.

          There are an infinite number (lulz) of ways to account for the given facts. Go to Underdetermination of Scientific Theory if you really don’t accept this deep in your bones by now. What I’m doing is showing an alternative accounting of the facts. What I’m objecting to is prejudice being smuggled in as part of the facts. You are entitled to the facts, but you aren’t entitled to your prejudices being counted as part of the facts. You aren’t entitled to your interpretation being higher probability when you’ve done absolutely zero responsible calculation of probability.

          “Alexandrian sailors herd a tale…” What tale?

          I have no idea what this is about.

          You’re the one taking a positive belief position over this whole situation.

          No, I’m offering a different way to interpret the facts, and arguing that nobody has provided sound reason to strongly prefer one interpretation over the other based on evidence or reasoning advanced to-date. If you think you do have sound reason, present it!

          Having thought about a person performing magic and coming back to life, in an ‘unrigorous fashion’, we conclude it most likely didn’t happen.

          So there it is: reality always works and always has worked as you personally have experienced it. Anything outside of that experience is automatically discounted. This, even though miracles have no moral convincing force (might does not make right) and resurrection is easily conceivable as possible via advanced technology (see the Star Trek VOY episode Mortal Coil).

          It’s too bad that sustaining your no-miracles requirement still allows a very robust Jesus to exist. Did you think that by smuggling that requirement in, you could just render Jesus entirely fictional? Nope, I can play the game assuming, for the sake of argument, that Jesus did no miracles. There are plenty of false ideas I can expose under those conditions. Such as: oral tradition operates like the telephone game, or like individual recollection of individual memories with no community support to help provide redundancy.

          Where? It doesn’t even have support among the other three gospel writers. No other historian, contemporary writer or citizen of Jerusalem ever ever mentions it. More lies.

          I merely reported what the Wikipedia article contains; you can go chase the details. I also pointed out that you chose a prejudiced interpretation (setting γῆ = “the earth as a whole” instead of allowing for the possibility of “a country, land enclosed within fixed boundaries, a tract of land, territory, region”), in order to offer maximal rhetorical force against Christianity. And you won’t admit you did that now. Character is measured with character.

          J: That doesn’t seem plausible, but what do we know?

          LB: According to what calculations did you arrive at that probability assessment?

          J: What makes you think I used calculations?

          The principle of charity, although perhaps I strayed into steelmanning. If in fact your use of “plausible” is based on untested opinion, then we can treat it as such.

        • Joe

          So there it is: reality always works and always has worked as you personally have experienced it.

          Yes.

          Anything outside of that experience is automatically discounted.

          No.

          I have no time for the rest of your dishonest bullshit. You know full well you don’t believe Jesus was resurrected by alien technology, or even performed no miracles, and you reject a more parsimonious explanation that the myth was borrowed from earlier texts.

          You accuse us of holding a pre-conceived position, yet I don’t know of any unbiased scholar who would date Mark before Philo’s Flaccus. You’re arguing from an oral story you don’t know existed to support the source of the story, which would lead to an oral story being told.

          Your link offered nothing on the zombie apocalypse, by the way, so I’m not responding until you clarify that position. Who else wrote of the army of zombies descending on Jerusalem?

        • I have no time for the rest of your dishonest bullshit.

          Please stop stereotyping me as a standard Christian apologist. I argue very different things from what I see almost any Christian apologist arguing. For example, I argue that miracles have approximately zero testimonial power. You don’t seem to have fully absorbed that. Perhaps you would be duped in the way Jesus [allegedly] warned against:

          Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. (Matthew 24:23–25)

          All a miracle shows me is that the other being has more power. That is all. Nothing more. Go watch the Star Trek TNG episode Devil’s Due, or at least read the summary. Jesus’ resurrection proves precious little. At most, it shows us that those who say we’ve about discovered all the [fundamental] physics which could possibly be relevant to human life—not too far a position from Sean Carroll’s—are wrong. We must always remember Clarke’s third law.

          You know full well you don’t believe Jesus was resurrected by alien technology, or even performed no miracles […]

          I refer to alien technology to point out that we don’t think that the deed is actually all that insane. We just haven’t a clue how to do it with extant technology. There is other fiction which constructs rationales for how humans could have more psi-powers—that is, increased power over reality without requiring technological aid. Getting my own personal genie is boring; theosis is interesting. And guess what? I’m pretty sure theosis requires a very lawful universe.

          And yet, I can argue in the abstract, temporarily ignoring any miracle claims, and discuss other matters under contention—such as the plausible integrity of oral tradition. But you want to muddy the waters, to force me to play Whac-A-Mole. No thanks, I know that game too well. Just devolve further into casting moral aspersions please, so I can get on talking about evidence and reasoning with others. Or surprise me and stop the nonsense. I would honestly prefer to be surprised.

          You accuse us of holding a pre-conceived position, yet I don’t know of any unbiased scholar who would date Mark before Philo’s Flaccus.

          That’s because I don’t need to. What’s important is nobody thinks Jesus was crucified before the events discussed in Flaccus.

          You’re arguing from an oral story you don’t know existed to support the source of the story, which would lead to an oral story being told.

          I’m offering up a plausible account for how things could have gone down. I merely need to argue that it isn’t a ridiculous scenario. This is how historians operate—they have to fill in gaps between the facts with guesses. If you don’t like that, stop talking about history?

          Your link offered nothing on the zombie apocalypse, by the way, so I’m not responding until you clarify that position. Who else wrote of the army of zombies descending on Jerusalem?

          Yeah, that’s because I was making fun of you for not bringing up the most egregious example. I’m not going to deal with it because I refuse to be spread too thinly. Let the on-topic conversations resolve (if they ever do…), and ask again when things have cooled down. Or don’t and continue casting aspersions to demonstrate what kind of person I am… or you are…

        • Kodie

          Please stop stereotyping me as a standard Christian apologist. I argue very different things from what I see almost any Christian apologist arguing.

          This is so stereotypically Christian: Accusing people of stereotyping you because we’re reading what you actually write and respond to what you actually say!

        • Joe

          In reality, he appears much worse, as most apologists don’t try to disguise their belief in the Bible to support their arguments.

        • Joe

          This is ridiculous.

          If I could just focus on this one sentence which I believe is the key to where you’re in error, deliberately or subconsciously:

          Luke Breuer: I’m offering up a plausible account for how things could have gone down. I merely need to argue that it isn’t a ridiculous scenario.

          Plenty of plausible answers have been offered up for your perusal. That’s all atheists can do when faced with an extraordinary claim about God, Jesus or miracles! It doesn’t matter to me whether Jesus was God, the son of God, a normal dude, an alien shapeshifter or simply a myth. It doesn’t matter.

          Yet, offer up a plausible account of say, how a tale written decades after the fact might have been copied from earlier accounts, and all sorts of excuses are forthcoming.

        • Plenty of plausible answers have been offered up for your perusal. That’s all atheists can do when faced with an extraordinary claim about God, Jesus or miracles!

          You’re changing the subject, away from the reliability (or lack thereof) of oral tradition, to miracles. Sorry, but no. Once the discussion of oral tradition and related matters are dealt with, once that discussion has quieted down, ping me again about miracles. Until then, what may well be good-intentioned curiosity is functioning to muddy the waters.

          It doesn’t matter to me whether Jesus was God, the son of God, a normal dude, an alien shapeshifter or simply a myth. It doesn’t matter.

          For some purposes, that’s precisely correct. It’s called abstract thinking. It’s what happens when you try and analyze one aspect of reality—like oral tradition—and not be too distracted by other things. It’s what historians and scientists must do, because you cannot study everything all at once in great detail. There’s a running joke at least at my school in freshman physics which is represented by the term “spherical cow”—it points out how abstract and approximating the science being dealt with truly is. And yet, such stuff is incredibly valuable to humanity.

          Yet, offer up a plausible account of say, how a tale written decades after the fact might have been copied from earlier accounts, and all sorts of excuses are forthcoming.

          False. The little trick people are trying to pull—intentionally or not, I don’t care—is suggest that because their account is plausible, and nobody else’s is (but with no actual calculation of probability—this is all based on unaided, untested intuition), that their account is most likely true. This is a logical fallacy. All I need to do to shed doubt that the pet account might not be true is to present an alternative accounting of the facts that is close enough in plausibility. In doing so, I am carefully not playing that little trick: I am not arguing that my version is actually true. I’m merely saying that y’all cannot produce good reasons to strongly prefer one account over the other. And so far, you haven’t. But please, stop the blowing of hot air. It does truth a disservice, as well as civility.

        • The similarity of the names “Carabbas” and “Barabbas” is a big coincidence to ignore.

          I’m not ignoring the existence any “coincidences”. Never have I done that in this conversation. What I have done is questioned the significance of various “coincidences”. You appear to be conflating these.

          The event would have had to have traveled orally from Jerusalem to Alexandria down to children who remembered the details, then an observer would have observed the action and reported it to Philo who wrote it in a similar way as Mark was going to write it after a few more decades of oral tradition.

          Incorrect. Folks in Alexandria could have heard the story—I’m sure hearing stories from traders was great fun—and then emulated it. I doubt that remembering the details is as hard as you imply. Philo could have then recorded the result. Subsequently, Philo’s language could have been pilfered to describe what happened to Jesus. Bingo, “coincidence”. What is different is that I was able to generate a different significance.

          Yet apologists try to reconcile the contradictions of the gospels as different observers seeing things a little differently.

          So? Not all differences matter for all purposes. It’s really quite hilarious to notice how Moderns are obsessed about getting every single fact just right, while simultaneously having this big fact/​value dichotomy which makes all that detail amorphously relevant to that part of human existence which isn’t rigorous scientific research. Which is to say, just about all human existence.

          With Mark, there are even more coincidences to explain away.

          Alternatively, it would have been a powerful technique for Jesus to draw on cultural knowledge, subverting where he thought it was important to do so. The resultant diff would have been much easier to remember, much easier to implement, and much easier to pass on to others in the culture. Waddya know, employing “coincidences” could be a great way to enhance the integrity of oral tradition. Now, who would want to do that?

           
          What you seem to be doing, in all this, is subtly preferring that Jesus never actually existed, and kinda-sorta presupposing that in everything you write, sometimes allowing for question, but only enough to plausibly seem unbiased. Maybe you aren’t even doing this intentionally.

          What I claim you ought to do is have the two different working hypotheses—or more if we want to try different amounts of the Gospels being historical, a la the Jesus Seminar—and evaluate the evidence, simultaneously against all of them, letting each different hypothesis shape the evidence where the raw data is actually 100% agnostic. If you want rigorous philosophy of science to support this way of evaluating the evidence, see Nancy Cartwright’s essay “Fitting Facts to Equations”, located in her 1983 How the Laws of Physics Lie (3700 ‘citations’). Or you could consult the SEP article Theory and Observation in Science.

          Fail to do the above and you’ll almost certainly fall prey to the delusion that when you examine data, you aren’t bringing any Procrustean presuppositions to the table. There is no such thing as examining the evidence without an interpretation in play. The way you strive for objectivity is by playing interpretations off against each other. And you never know if there’s a better interpretation that hasn’t been introduced to the game, but that’s just life under anti-foundationalism/​nonfoundationalism.

          P.S. If you really want to get into the weeds, we can talk about how Bayesian inference—perhaps a good enough model for how belief formation ought to work in these cases—has to start with a prior probability, and a highly informative one due to matters akin to Chomsky’s poverty of the stimulus. There’s no such thing as magically not needing a prior. This can be compared to always having an interpretation in play. There is no “view from nowhere”. None.

        • Greg G.

          Fail to do the above and you’ll almost certainly fall prey to the delusion that when you examine data, you aren’t bringing any Procrustean presuppositions to the table.

          I noticed the Polyphemus/legolegio link on my own. When I saw the name, I thought of the “for we are many” line and checked to see if “many” came from a form of “poly”. The word was “polys”. Then the “lego Legio” caught my eye and I investigated that.

          The rest comes from scholars who have traced the sources for Mark. Individually, the studies are interesting. Combined, they are even more interesting.

          My presupposition is that miracles don’t happen and stories about them in ancient literature are not exactly true, the same as historians.

          P.S. If you really want to get into the weeds, we can talk about how Bayesian inference

          Incorrect. Folks in Alexandria could have heard the story—I’m sure hearing stories from traders was great fun—and then emulated it. I doubt that remembering the details is as hard as you imply. Philo could have then recorded the result. Subsequently, Philo’s language could have been pilfered to describe what happened to Jesus. Bingo, “coincidence”. What is different is that I was able to generate a different significance.

          Your explanation is that there were two events, one based on one or more oral reports of the other, which was then written down and then the first event was recorded later but based on the account of the second event yet it is remarkably accurate. My explanation is that the one event happened, was described, then copied for a fictional account.

          The elements of my explanation are in your explanation but you add more. Any probability study would favor mine. Your explanation reveals your Procrustean presuppositions.

        • My presupposition is that miracles don’t happen and stories about them in ancient literature are not exactly true, the same as historians.

          That’s fine; we can strike the miracle claims from the record and work from the resultant text for the time being.

          Your explanation is that there were two events, one based on one or more oral reports of the other, which was then written down and then the first event was recorded later but based on the account of the second event yet it is remarkably accurate. My explanation is that the one event happened, was described, then copied for a fictional account.

          To the extent that the two events were similar—which is precisely what you’re arguing—the first event’s written version being similar to the second event’s written version is not nearly as weird and odd as you’re making it out to be. I’ve heard that how messiahs behaved had a lot of similarities and antecedents, probably making the level of foreignness (“How odd that we should have these coincidences! Unless one is merely a copy of the other and there was only one true event.”) a lot lower than you need to make your one-event version much more probable than the two-event version.

          Moreover, you continue to refuse to focus on discontinuities between versions, blurring any new innovations which may have been introduced. Such as, when comparing Genesis 1–3 to Enûma Eliš, that humans transition from “slaves of the gods” to “images of the god[s]”. Hey, they’re so similar! They’re basically the same, amirite? No important difference there, move along!

          The elements of my explanation are in your explanation but you add more. Any probability study would favor mine. Your explanation reveals your Procrustean presuppositions.

          Ockham’s razor applies to models, not reality. Ockham’s razor doesn’t say that reality is more likely to be simple than complex. There is a reason that the saying exists, “Truth is stranger than fiction.”

        • Joe

          Such as, when comparing Genesis 1–3 to Enûma Eliš, that humans transition from “slaves of the gods” to “images of the god[s]”. Hey, they’re so similar! They’re basically the same, amirite? No important difference there, move along!

          Let’s try out an alternative explanation, which may not be too ridiculous: The latter account was copied, but changed that particular detail to make it more acceptable to people’s sense of self-importance? Crazy idea, huh?

          Ockham’s razor doesn’t say that reality is more likely to be simple than complex.

          Yet you are unable to demonstrate we are actually talking about reality here.

          There is a reason that the saying exists, “Truth is stranger than fiction.”

          An idiom, with no real deductive or inductive power.

        • Let’s try out an alternative explanation, which may not be too ridiculous: The latter account was copied, but changed that particular detail to make it more acceptable to people’s sense of self-importance? Crazy idea, huh?

          Nope, I don’t think it’s crazy. I think that we are intellectually obligated to understand which explanation might be better and why. After all, you can’t just go on making and altering fictions forever. Truth tends to knock on delusions after enough time has passed. And yet, you don’t seem to have any role for truth, here. It is as if all social order is, in the end, based on something awfully close to pure fiction. That’s a possibility, but I think it has serious problems, problems which recent events (Brexit, Trump, etc.) are making increasingly clear, to those with eyes to see. Maybe humans can’t actually survive off of mere belief in baseless fictions in the way that has been long believed.

          Yet you are unable to demonstrate we are actually talking about reality here.

          I was responding to your @disqus_a9H6kflDom:disqus’s “Any probability study would favor mine.” Which is manifestly “talking about reality”. If it isn’t, it is a non sequitur and can be stricken from the record.

          An idiom, with no real deductive or inductive power.

          Your point? I don’t know exactly what you mean by deducing things from idioms or performing induction on idioms, but I’m pretty sure that idioms are actually relevant to human life, some in a very truth-conducive fashion. Exactly how that works, I haven’t explored in the kind of gruesome detail all too often required for anything I say to be possibly considered for tentative entry into the record. You know, because the standards for everyone are perfectly equal on CE.

        • Joe

          “Truth tends to knock on delusions after enough time has passed. ”

          What does that mean? Your reply was rambling and nonsensical.

          This is another thread you’ve crapped into the ground with your obtuseness and avoidance of direct replies.

        • LB: Truth tends to knock on delusions after enough time has passed.

          J: What does that mean? Your reply was rambling and nonsensical.

          Are you that poetically inept? You seriously cannot take the concepts “delusion”, “truth”, “a long period of time”, and get anywhere interesting? You know, like the idea that delusions can appear to be true for a while, but after long enough, they give way and those who weren’t interested in the truth can get a rude awakening?

          C’mon, the essence of delusion is that it’s a falsehood which we can believe in for a time†, but which will ultimately disappoint us. A great example would be Appeasement in the lead-up to WWII. Maybe if we just cave in to the dictator a little more he won’t be too bad. Another great example would be catastrophic global climate change. Maybe if we just bury our heads in the sand, the results won’t be too bad.

          † With it appearing to be truth/​success, to the holders of the delusion.

          This is another thread you’ve crapped into the ground with your obtuseness and avoidance of direct replies.

          “Wah! He didn’t let me switch to something completely off-topic. Wah!”

        • Greg G.

          That’s fine; we can strike the miracle claims from the record and work from the resultant text for the time being.

          I may wish to compare how a miracle story is put together to how a non-miracle story at some point.

          Moreover, you continue to refuse to focus on discontinuities between versions,

          You are making the same mistake Realist1234 made. You must focus ont the similarities. If you want to know if Matthew used Mark, you look at where they are alike and not where Matthew changes things. That’s not how mimesis works, nor midrash. There has to be differences or it’s just a copy of the old story. Mark isn’t doing that.

          Ockham’s razor applies to models, not reality. Ockham’s razor doesn’t say that reality is more likely to be simple than complex. There is a reason that the saying exists, “Truth is stranger than fiction.”

          We are talking about models of reality. Occam applies to models of reality. It is basic probability.

        • You are making the same mistake Realist1234 made. You must focus ont the similarities.

          Sorry, but we’ve been down that road. The continuities (similarities) are important, but so are the discontinuities. Most of life is largely continuous with what came before. “There is nothing new under the sun.” Except that there sometimes are tiny little bits of new under the sun. Those really good at observing them and characterizing them sometimes make killings on the stock market. What you’re consistently refusing to do is examining whether there is anything new to the Gospels, which can’t just be described as a rehashing of what came before. You know, something like letting people carve their sins into the flesh of God become man, with God allowing it to happen in order to demonstrate right without might.

          We are talking about models of reality. Occam applies to models of reality. It is basic probability.

          Nope, we’re talking about what actually happened. Adding the word “probably”—”what probably happened”—doesn’t change that. We aren’t using approximations which serve the kinds of purposes Ockham’s razor is suited for. We’re trying to get at what actually happened, the best we can.

        • Greg G.

          The continuities (similarities) are important, but so are the discontinuities.

          Mark is not copying a single story. He is combining elements from multiple sources. A discontinuity may be a switch to the other source, going back to the main theme, a reversal, or a clue that he has made a point to reflect on later.

          Most of life is largely continuous with what came before.

          Sure, but we are dealing with literature, not a true story.

          Nope, we’re talking about what actually happened.

          Nobody can talk about what actually happened. We can only talk about models of what happened. Eye witness accounts are usually unreliable and always necessarily incomplete as it is impossible to perceive every detail, let alone relate them in words. They can only relate a simplified model of what happened from the parts that they perceived, the parts they remember from what they perceived, and parts that their imagination filled in. We are nearly 2000 years removed from Mark writing this so we can only speculate on models of what happened when he was writing.

        • al kimeea

          Sure, but we are dealing with literature, not a true story.

          Aye, there’s the rub. Luke B. assumes it’s a true story. I was told it was when I read it, but by the end it was clear it was just another mythology, cobbled together from earlier stories.

        • adam

          “Luke B. assumes it’s a true story.”

          Luke has wishful thinking that its a true story.

          https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/b12fa1635e121ebbb3409640826d721ba93278771f0064bd133804faa3f01397.png

        • al kimeea

          Yes. Nothing Luke has presented is convincing regarding the historicity of the BuyBull. Like all apologists, he uses all kinds of verbiage in attempting to put lipstick on that pig of a book.

          I have a buddy who also treats oral history as somehow accurate to a very reliable degree and once mentioned some indigenous group that had an unchanged history going back 10,000 years.

          How would you know?

          Why would they lie?

          In the case of Xians, to obtain power, influence and mammon or keep the dragon of dissonance at bay.

          There was a study done on people with eidetic memories. They were shown lists of words and then shown another list and asked to select the words from the first list that appeared in the second.

          The second list contained words which didn’t appear in the first but synonyms did. Subjects were often convinced the words were in the first list, not the synonyms.

          I have a good memory. I was three when JFK was hit, but don’t really remember it. Eidetic memories are most excellent, but not infallible.

        • Why would they lie?

          In the case of Xians, to obtain power, influence and mammon or keep the dragon of dissonance at bay.

          You mean Jesus was planning for Constantine, instead of warning against ever getting in bed with Caesar?

          But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25–28)

          I guess it’s just doublespeak everywhere? Nobody anything says is trustworthy? Or is your tribe the trustworthy tribe?

        • al kimeea

          Here’s your evidence

        • So because I cite the Bible I “[assume] it’s a true story”? It’s not that I think what I cited is probably reliable, that we can obtain certainty about almost nothing? Great logic; you should try your expert hand at the Supreme Court. You could probably get Citizens United overturned in a flash.

        • adam

          “So because I cite the Bible I “[assume] it’s a true story”?”

          So you pick the bible for the same reason I pick Spiderman, to demonstrate how ridiculous using a piece of fiction to demonstrate the reality of a fictional IMAGINARY character?

          https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8638fdedfe8fad3b245ca0981085794967c878d6bfba020d03d8b426a1c98936.jpg

        • al kimeea

          You write of Buddy Jesus as if there was one and you quote him from the BuyBull and claim it is reliable – probably reliable, while in the same breath you mention obtaining certainty about things.

          I would be more certain of your claims, or those of any other apologists, if you’d stop playing word games and present some tangible evidence for your or any other pantheon.

        • You write of Buddy Jesus as if there was one

          The majority of scholars qualified in the relevant fields believe that Buddy Jesus existed. So I don’t feel the need to add little qualifiers for fragile atheist flowers. When talking to atheists, I cannot recall the last time I claimed or implied that miracles happened. I might talk about “what if” scenarios with regard to miracles, but that’s an entirely different thing.

          and you quote him from the BuyBull and claim it is reliable

          I have found it to be reliable in plenty of ways (example: relational sin), and since previous instances where I decided to tentatively trust bits outside of what I had directly verified ended up turning out well, I decided to keep doing that thing. I constantly test. But I don’t require that any fragile atheist flower see it as ‘reliable’.

          probably reliable, while in the same breath you mention obtaining certainty about things.

          People like you do not deserve the effort it would take for me to carefully qualify every single statements I make in your presence. People who would deserve it do not actually require it, because they have functioning minds and more than a shred of civility.

          I would be more certain of your claims, or those of any other apologists, if you’d stop playing word games and present some tangible evidence for your or any other pantheon.

          Evidence for the good/​right/​beautiful? Folks around here have philosophically precluded such things being “objective”. In that light, all ‘God’ could possibly be is a set of impersonal forces. Perhaps one where if I utter the right incantation or rub the right lantern, automagically a miracle pops out to give me more of what I happen to want right now.

        • al kimeea

          So many words and without evidence, how refreshing.

        • Oh, you want science? How about this:

          Grossberg 1999 The Link between Brain Learning, Attention, and Consciousness (partial tutorial)

          tl;dr: If there is some pattern on your perceptual neurons which does not well-match any pattern on your non-perceptual neurons, you may never become conscious of the pattern on your perceptual neurons.

          If you [provisionally] accept the above science, then we can possibly get somewhere. If you turn out to be another atheistic science-hater (but only the science which requires intellectual labor on your part—science which merely confirms what you already believe is great), then we will have to stop here.

        • adam
        • al kimeea

          No, I want evidence for the deity and his offspring zombie self not word games. Like all apologists, you shift the goal posts from the deity to happy adjectives and in this case some aspect of science. And so on, and so on, and so on…

          There are a large number of apologists who claim it is not possible to know the deity is “good/​right/​beautiful” or JEALOUS!!!

          Funny how many apologists ignore the beastly aspects of the Trinity and the paucity of historical support for the Holey Texts.

          I concur with Grossberg. I’ll even accept the KCA (because I spent all morning shoveling snow and have had a few to numb the ache).

          Still waiting for evidence for the Abrahamic prick.

        • “happy adjectives”?

        • Luke B. assumes it’s a true story.

          Evidence, please.

        • al kimeea

          Read any one of your posts

        • Greg G.

          Also, truth is not always stranger than fiction but fiction must stay within shouting distance of plausibility. Just because your scenario wouldn’t work as fiction doesn’t make it reality.

          Or have you conceded my point and and you are just joking?

        • Greg G.

          I’m sure hearing stories from traders was great fun

          Tales from sailors could have happened anywhere, or not.
          Q: Was the difference between fairy tales and sailor stories?
          A: One starts with “Once upon a time” and the other starts with “This ain’t no shit.”

        • Greg G.

          Does the Gospel of Mark have continuity? It’s a bunch of disconnected events strung together. The action is rather discontinuous but the foreshadowing brings much of it together but it is different. There are connections that are easy to overlook. The two who were crucified with Jesus are in the position that James and John requested in Mark 10:40 (he said trusting his memory without double-checking). Jesus gets pissed at a tree, then Jesus throws a temple tantrum, later the tree is found shriveled, and the first century readers would think of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple via the syllogism.

          But let’s look at the sources of the individual stories.

        • You apparently haven’t grasped the concept in my excerpt of The Tribes of Yahweh. This has nothing to do with narrative continuity.

        • adam
        • Greg G.

          I haven’t grasped it because it is a diversion. This is a conversation about how Mark wrote his gospel using his sources, not about how his sources may have come to be.

        • Your failure (refusal?) to grasp it means you cannot know whether it is a diversion. For example, it has nothing to do with “how his sources may have come to be”. It has to do with whether new happenings were described with largely extant concepts. Suppose I examine some discovery in physics. If I establish all the different ways that it is just like what came before it, I can easily drown the newness in the old. This would do violence to what is actually new. Now, you can certainly claim that there is nothing new. But I have already noted problems with that stance. And if you can’t understand the importance of newness showing up as discontinuity amidst continuity, there will be zero reason to trust your analysis on the matter. After all, your failure to find something is only noteworthy if you were competent at finding such things and searched properly.

        • Greg G.

          Josephus tells us a little about the beliefs of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. The Pharisees were the most like Christians but Luke makes the disciples in Acts sound more like the Essenes.

          Paul may be telling what the Pharisee view was with his Eschatology passages of 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, 1 Corinthians 15:51-54, and Philippians 3:20-21. Paul seems to be getting this from Isaiah 26:19-21a; Daniel 7:11a, 13a; 12:2; Isaiah 25:8a.

          Jewish War 2.8.14
          They [Pharisees] say that all souls are incorruptible, but that the souls of good men only are removed into other bodies, – but that the souls of bad men are subject to eternal punishment.

          Antiquities of the Jews 17.2.4
          These are those that are called the sect of the Pharisees…
          …they were believed to have the foreknowledge of things to come by Divine inspiration…

        • adam

          “But it’s not clear that this is how those in Jesus’ era operated, ”

          It is the very purpose of mythology https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/193d55bd369db06e229a36a8e4eea56c31ec9a4aa8bfdf3912642c9ce978869c.jpg

        • Nowadays, remembering accurately is just not important in so many domains.

          Right—I discussed that. We highly value accuracy because we have a standard. If you’re in a Shakespeare play, I can read the script and evaluate how well you did. See the example in my previous comment of the oral telling of epics.

          To use this context to reason about how first century AD folks would have transmitted oral accounts of Jesus is highly problematic.

          Yes, that’s my point as well.

          That’s the telephone game. What happens when multiple people witnessed an event and quickly told many more, who then told many more? In that case, it’s nothing like me vs. you.

          Right—it’s worse. Now, instead of just you and me shouting at each other about what actually happened, we have a mob.

          You’re having a hard time getting your head around the fact that there was no standard.

          Suppose you are correct. Do you think that “Homeric epics” make a good comparison to the events detailed in the Gospels?

          Yes and no. Not sure where you’re going with that.

        • We highly value accuracy because we have a standard.

          Huh? Survival in pre-literate cultures requires a lot of accuracy. We can always ask “accuracy about what?”, and get into the issue I just raised to @disqus_a9H6kflDom:disqus:

          LB: 2. By running with the comparison between Homeric epics and the Gospels, you seem to be presupposing that what is important is something like “the moral of the story”, vs. historicity. Is that the case? If so, this would allow for a good deal of narrative freedom. But it’s not clear that this is how those in Jesus’ era operated, and it’s not clear that it is the best way for us to operate.

          I wouldn’t be surprised if in a subsistence culture (e.g. first century Palestine), bad memory meant less chance of survival. So I wouldn’t be surprised if your average person back then knew more about false memories than the average person today does.

          Right—it’s worse. Now, instead of just you and me shouting at each other about what actually happened, we have a mob.

          Seriously? You’re making redundancy a liability instead of an asset?

          You’re having a hard time getting your head around the fact that there was no standard.

          I’m running with the idea—which we don’t know is true or not—that there were no written documents until 60+ years after the events recorded. On this basis, it is factually incorrect to say that “there was no standard”; it is factually correct to say “there was no written standard”. What is under contention is whether the lack of a written standard is lethal to the accuracy we require. In order to establish such lethality, you must establish that oral tradition simply cannot maintain the requisite integrity over something like 60 years. And yet, you’ve demonstrated nothing like this.

          BS: I’ve read that in the time without writing (when Homeric epics were told around the campfire), the need to be super accurate wasn’t there since there was no reference to check against. On the contrary: the bard would improvise. He’d adapt the story to the audience. We moderns see much value in a story being identical to some standard, but that wasn’t necessarily so in the days before the standard.

          LB: Suppose you are correct. Do you think that “Homeric epics” make a good comparison to the events detailed in the Gospels?

          BS: Yes and no. Not sure where you’re going with that.

          1. There is reason to believe that the Gospels started getting penned around the times that the last eyewitnesses were dying (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony). So we appear to have a much different timespan than exists with the Homeric epics.

          2. The amount of error-correction which goes into maintaining or not maintaining the integrity of oral tradition depends on what people think is important. Passages such as Mt 5:17–20 seem to make it clear that Jesus’ audience knew the importance of maintaining the integrity of some things.

          3. You aren’t clearly taking into account vast amounts of redundancy when you talk about bards retelling Homeric epics. Although, you’ve made redundancy into a liability instead of an asset, so it’s not clear we can proceed here until we crack that nut. Is there a way to empirically check whether your claim of “we have a mob” is appropriate?

        • adam

          “Survival in pre-literate cultures requires a lot of accuracy.”

          Citation needed

          https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9f02f58a209931601cd2b179189db4e8c90bd5c1dbf45f3a7568c2eaaa277c16.jpg

        • Joe

          It required ‘accuracy’ (a strange choice of words) in basic survival skills, I’ll grant that.

          Memorizing long lists of who begat whom I’d say was less important than memorizing when to plant your crops.

        • I wouldn’t be surprised if in a subsistence culture (e.g. first century Palestine), bad memory meant less chance of survival. So I wouldn’t be surprised if your average person back then knew more about false memories than the average person today does.

          I would find that very startling. But it’s not much relevant to our discussion.

          Back up and tell me what claim you’re making about memory and how that makes the New Testament historically reliable.

          Seriously? You’re making redundancy a liability instead of an asset?

          Think before you post. In situation one, Bob says A, and Luke says B. They’re having a hard time making headway. In situation two, Bob and Luke still disagree, but now we have Frank who says C and Bill who says something kind of like what Luke says (though with important differences), so let’s call that B’, and Justin says D, and so on for 50 more people.

          Where’s the redundancy? Besides in your mind, I mean. Even if the imaginary 50 people were split over just positions A and B, how are more people going to help? Sure, you could take a vote and decide, 30 votes vs. 20, that position B wins. Does that mean B is accurate?

          I’m running with the idea—which we don’t know is true or not—that there were no written documents until 60+ years after the events recorded.

          Splitting hairs on the delay from events to gospels isn’t worth much time, but scholars are largely in agreement that it was 40 years for Mark and more for the others. Is that your position?

          On this basis, it is factually incorrect to say that “there was no standard”; it is factually correct to say “there was no written standard”.

          Then explain to me the not-written standard and how it worked. How did it shut down wrong variants? If it was just memory(ies), how do you know that the “standard” remains accurate?

          What is under contention is whether the lack of a written standard is lethal to the accuracy we require. In order to establish such lethality, you must establish that oral tradition simply cannot maintain the requisite integrity over something like 60 years.

          Hilariously wrong. Don’t put the burden on me, Chester. It’s not my job to show that oral tradition couldn’t be historically accurate over 40 years. Indeed, I’m happy to concede that there’s a nonzero probability that it is! The burden that you are afraid to shoulder is to show that the oral tradition couldn’t be wrong. If it could, then your story becomes, “Well, the supernatural stories about Jesus might have made it through that period unchanged and unembellished.”

          Admit to us that this is your claim now.

        • Back up and tell me what claim you’re making about memory and how that makes the New Testament historically reliable.

          I’m saying that modern-day scientific data on how individuals do, individually recalling memories from decades ago, is not particularly relevant to understanding what kind of integrity we could expect from an oral tradition over a time span of about sixty years.

          BS: Right—it’s worse. Now, instead of just you and me shouting at each other about what actually happened, we have a mob.

          LB: Seriously? You’re making redundancy a liability instead of an asset?

          BS: Think before you post.

          I did. You are literally saying that more eyes and ears having observed an event makes it harder for a community to reliably remember what actually happened. If you wish to continue your line of thinking, I may try and find actual evidence of how this works in real life, probably from anthropology so we can find something decently comparable to first century life in Palestine. You know, science on how humans actually work in society, instead of [relatively] untested intuition.

          (BTW, the idea that much of what Jesus said drew heavily on tradition means that fewer new things would need remembering. Instead, one could remember whatever differences Jesus introduced to tradition. Since you’ve worked with code, you know that the diff between two files can be much smaller than either file.)

          Then explain to me the not-written standard and how it worked. How did it shut down wrong variants? If it was just memory(ies), how do you know that the “standard” remains accurate?

          I started answering that question in my very first comment:

          LB: What is life like when you can never return to a text to see what it said? Having a good memory becomes rather important. Correcting mistakes in others’ accounts is not pedantry, but critical error-correction. Those with more accurate memories will be valued. There will be competition to be be the least-corrected.

          For more, I suggest empirical inquiry into how error-correction happens in oral traditions. One place to start is Walter J. Ong’s Orality and Literacy. Or would you rather employ your simple models of humans and humans in society—strongly conditioned by 21st century life in modern society?

          It’s not my job to show that oral tradition couldn’t be historically accurate over 40 years. Indeed, I’m happy to concede that there’s a nonzero probability that it is!

          That’s a stupid game; what you’re clearly arguing is that with high probability, oral tradition couldn’t wouldn’t be historically accurate over 60 40 years.

          The burden that you are afraid to shoulder is to show that the oral tradition couldn’t be wrong.

          Nope, I don’t need to demonstrate that. I don’t need to be 100% confident in that. There is very little I’m 100% confident in, and yet I somehow manage to life a pretty decent life! I wonder how that works…

          If it could, then your story becomes, “Well, the supernatural stories about Jesus might have made it through that period unchanged and unembellished.”

          That’s weasely. The natural reading is:

               (1) ¬”couldn’t be wrong” ⇒ “might be wrong”

          But you did this:

               (2) ¬”couldn’t be wrong” ⇒ “might be right”

          I’ll agree to (1), but not (2). All I need to maintain is that there’s a decent probability that sufficiently accurate knowledge of the matters documented in the Gospels were maintained via oral tradition, between the time of their happening to the time of their being recorded. From what I’ve read about oral tradition, maintaining integrity over 60 years just isn’t all that hard. You’ve offered no good rebuttals to that; all you’ve done is present an utterly unevidenced model of human nature and how humans would interact in society.

        • Your position is: it’s possible that the gospel story made it through the decades-long period of oral tradition without significant change.

          That’s my position as well.

        • Heh. Your “it’s possible” is compatible with:

               (I) There are good reasons to think it did happen.
              (II) There are good reasons to think it didn’t happen.

          And yet, so much is buried in the difference of (I) & (II). You would simply brush away that difference aside with the idea that we agree upon the flimsiest of things—logical possibility.

        • Greg G.

          Huh? Survival in pre-literate cultures requires a lot of accuracy. We can always ask “accuracy about what?”, and get into the issue I just raised to Greg G.:

          If accuracy was an issue, they could read what Mark wrote:

          Mark 13:14 (NRSV)14 “But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains;

          It was not an oral story.

        • Not by the time it got written down.

        • Greg G.

          Which parts?

        • You’re referencing a written work which contains the clause, “(let the reader understand)”. Somehow, this leads to the conclusion “It was not an oral story.” But an oral tradition which later gets written down becomes “not an oral story” or more precisely, “not no longer an oral story”. Given that, I have no idea what you mean by “Which parts?”

        • Greg G.

          Which parts of Mark are from oral stories that were written down?

          I suggest you check your offerings at New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash first to save time.

          But to save you some time, the parables from the end of chapter 3 to near the end of chapter 4 are the only significant passages not accounted for. But as Price has noted in another book, “Any Jesus quote worth repeating is worth making up and attributing it to Jesus.” That’s paraphrase that I was able to assemble from two partial quotes from Google sample texts. Both were from Cross Examined articles but were apparently buried in the comments. I expect both were from me trying to quote from memory.

          The fact that we have so many plausible sources for Mark still around is an indication of the type of literature he copied from.

        • Which parts of Mark are from oral stories that were written down?

          It seems that the question you really are asking is: “How much of Mark can be 100% derived from OT Midrash sources?” This makes no reference whatsoever to whether the source is oral tradition or written tradition. And I don’t see how you possibly expected me to get this from your comment:

          GG: If accuracy was an issue, they could read what Mark wrote:

          Mark 13:14 (NRSV)
          14 “But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains;

          It was not an oral story.

          All the term “reader” can be taken to mean is that Mark 13:14 is part of a written document. Here’s how the oral tradition could have gone:

          But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be «nonverbal gesture», then those in Judea must flee to the mountains;

          But of course, «nonverbal gesture» doesn’t work in written documents. 🙂

           
          Back to “How much of Mark can be 100% derived from OT Midrash sources?”. This is precisely what I have tried to get at with my ‘continuity/​discontinuity’ idea (latest attempt). If you won’t engage that concept, I’m afraid we’re probably at an impasse.

        • Greg G.

          Back to “How much of Mark can be 100% derived from OT Midrash sources?”.

          Let’s go through the whole gospel and tally it up. Practically every passage is influenced by the OT but many have other sources, too.

          The Demonaic Named Legion is based on several parts of the Odyssey with Legion representing Polyphemus, the Cyclops. Isaiah 65:4 brings in sitting in tombs and eating swine’s flesh. Psalm 107:10 has darkness, gloom, misery, and irons for the fetters and chains. Odysseus’ men were turned into swine by Circe and they escaped from the Cyclops to the sea by hiding under sheep.

          The name “Polyphemus” means “famous” as its literal meaning is “many speak of”, as in “polygon” and “blasphemy”. Mark creates a visual bilingual pun in the Greek text by having “lego” and “legio” next to one another in the phrase “he said, ‘Legio, my name'” as “lego” is a Greek word for “speak” and “Legio” is a Latin word representing many soldiers. Apparently, it was a thing in mimesis to let the reader recognize the source text.

        • Let’s go through the whole gospel and tally it up. Practically every passage is influenced by the OT but many have other sources, too.

          I don’t think it takes a scholar to realize that. The copious quoting of the OT is a bit of a hint.

        • adam

          “Survival in pre-literate cultures requires a lot of accuracy.”

          Nope, no more than a bird, a snake or a dog.

      • eric

        On the contrary: the bard would improvise. He’d adapt the story to the audience.

        Yup. In Homer, for example, you have that long list of ships from various cities. It’s quite boring for a modern reader, so we ask – what were the ancients getting out of it? Why listen to a laundry list? Well, that sort of list serves the purpose of “Hello, Cincinnati! We always love playing here, you are the best audience…” The bard could list just several of the most prominent and famous cities/kings/fleets, and then add in his audience’s great-great-great grandfather and some improbably large number of ships. That way the king or people he was playing for could say “yeah! We were there too!” The reason the written account list is so long is that when they put the oral tradition down, they included all the common optional entries.
        I suspect the exact same thing is true of the OT’s long list of begats. That sort of laundry list is a natural point in the story where the bard can list a few prominent/famous people then the name of their audience’s grandfather, to ‘bring the audience in’ to the story. And the reason the written account is so long is that the scribes didn’t want to leave any of the various oral ‘options’ out.

      • Joe

        Luke Breuer: What is life like when you can never return to a text to see what it said? Having a good memory becomes rather important.

        I wonder what his reasoning is for thinking people had a better memory in the past?

        On the contrary: the bard would improvise. He’d adapt the story to the audience.

        It’s not a stretch to imagine that bards would make the central hero to be the King or citizens of the particular kingdom in which he was telling the tale. The villains would be their mortal enemies.

        I wonder if the Samaritans had a story about the Good Levite?

        • adam

          “I wonder what his reasoning is for thinking people had a better memory in the past?”

          Apologetics

        • Odd Jørgensen

          And wishful thinking.

        • Greg G.

          The Good Samaritan is based on:

          2 Chronicles 28:15
          15 Then those who were mentioned by name got up and took the captives, and with the booty they clothed all that were naked among them; they clothed them, gave them sandals, provided them with food and drink, and anointed them; and carrying all the feeble among them on donkeys, they brought them to their kindred at Jericho, the city of palm trees. Then they returned to Samaria.

        • Wendy Mitchell

          I decided to make a video on this article

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35AfF7wCv2g&feature=youtu.be

        • Greg G.

          Why did Bob write about the gospels and not the creation? Because nobody is trying to say that the creation story comes from somebody’s memory while there are people making the case for the accuracy of memory. It is not just the article that is discrediting Christianity, it is the whole blog. You can tell by the name – Cross Examined. But it is not evil, it is shining the light on the erroneous beliefs of Christians.

          The four accident witnesses apologetic is lame. First, two of the “witnesses” use one “witness” verbatim, the differences are due to style and theology, such as omitting spit miracles and the naked boy with Jesus in Gethsemane. Even the Gospel of John uses the same literary devices Mark uses which show that it is not independent either. Mark had Jesus get baptized for the remission of sins, then God adopted him. The other gospels have Jesus as a pre-existing being, divine from the start, so they have to obscure the baptism: John has John the Baptist only saying he witnessed the baptism, Matthew has JtB apologizing for baptizing him but Jesus assures him that it’s just for show to fulfill some OT passages, and Luke just happens to mention that JtB was arrested just before saying that Jesus was baptized. The theology changed between when Mark wrote and the others wrote.

          I don’t think that memory was an issue in the writing of the gospels because Mark was writing fiction, just as Virgil wrote the fictional Aeneid based on Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad and many other authors for 25 centuries or more. Mark took certain passages from Homer, seasoned it with a few passages from the OT to create stories. The other gospels borrowed from Mark and added their own fiction.

          The epistles don’t mention a preacher or a teacher. The only Jesus they talk about is from knowledge that they got from the Old Testament, not from the first century. Paul says he got his gospel from revelation from the Lord but it is from reading the OT prophets. He doesn’t think his knowledge is inferior to the “super-apostles” because he knows they got their knowledge from the OT, too.

        • An accurate account of history is very important in our literate culture (aside: though some people are now eager to drop that, apparently); therefore, the ancients must’ve gone to extremes to duplicate as much as possible of that accuracy. They must’ve been very good at memorizing stuff.

          But that’s imposing our priorities on them. Maybe it wasn’t actually like that.

        • Joe

          But that’s imposing our priorities on them. Maybe it wasn’t actually like that.

          Considering how, back then, education was the exception rather than the norm, I’d say accuracy wasn’t more important than an easily understood moral message.

          At the end of the day, how important was the number of heads the Hydra actually had anyway?

        • I wonder what his reasoning is for thinking people had a better memory in the past?

          1. Recollection of hearing that we Moderns have retasked our brains toward analysis, away from memory.
          2. Recognition that there is a tremendous amount of neuroplasticity, allowing for 1. over against what scientists used to think about brains.
          3. An assumption that we don’t have appreciably more neurons in the 21st century than folks had in the 1st century. And yet life then was not extremely complicated in the way that ours is, today. And so how much of the brain did what seems like it could have been quite different.
          4. Recollection of what I had read in Walter J. Ong’s Orality and Literacy.
          5. Recollection of what I had read in Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony.

          Now let’s contrast my actually giving you evidence and reasoning to how you operate:

          J: That doesn’t seem plausible, but what do we know?

          LB: According to what calculations did you arrive at that probability assessment?

          J: What makes you think I used calculations?

          Using untested intuition is fine for day-to-day life, but if you’re going to engage in a conversation with another person about how things went down two millennia ago in an extraordinarily different culture with very different requirements for survival, untested intuition all by its onesies is not very helpful.

        • Joe

          Where are your calculations?

          How, in that rambling non-answer, does it show their memory was better? It’s all assumption, all the way down.

          Calculations or GTFO.

        • Please precisely quote the claim for which I am obliged to produce calculations.

        • Joe

          See: All the times when you’ve requested them from other people.

        • How many times have I requested them? I recall once, with you. And I was aware that perhaps you hadn’t done any. As I said:

          LB: Using untested intuition is fine for day-to-day life, but if you’re going to engage in a conversation with another person about how things went down two millennia ago in an extraordinarily different culture with very different requirements for survival, untested intuition all by its onesies is not very helpful.

          We can have a discussion on this basis, but when you make claims about what’s “more plausible” and can only base it on untested intuition and [relatively] untested models of how humans and human society operates—especially in the first century ANE—then we just can’t get very far. You seem rather unhappy about that, as if you are used to getting your interlocutors to concede more without you providing the burden of proof.

        • cowalker

          I wonder if the Samaritans had a story about the Good Levite?

          We’ll never know, will we?

  • Wendy Mitchell

    I found this article very thought provoking and decided to do a video about it.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35AfF7wCv2g&feature=youtu.be

    • Deception? Where’s the deception?

      I’m making the rather obvious point that vivid doesn’t mean accurate. And I illustrated that with an excellent example.

      If your point is simply that you’ll believe the Christian story no matter the evidence, then we don’t have much to talk about.

    • And next time you want to read every single word of a post, ask for permission. I’ll give it, but “fair use” doesn’t include quoting the entire creative work.