Slow but Detailed Conversations about Mythicism

Slow but Detailed Conversations about Mythicism December 21, 2013

I recently mentioned the slow pace at which conversations can take place in the blogosphere. As if to illustrate this point, Tim O’Neill has posted a response to David Fitzgerald’s blog post from almost two years ago, which was in turn responding to O’Neill’s review of the book. I discussed the book here back in 2011.

The mills of the blogosphere grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly small.

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  • Dale Tuggy

    This is why blogs > Facebook > Twitter.

    Blog on, sir!

  • Peter Kirby

    I find it worth noting that the first argument discussed that is relevant to the historicity of Jesus takes 4,642 words (nearly half the post) to get to–an “argument from silence to support the idea that Jesus did not exist”–with most of the waffle being the subject of qualifications, including the discouraging trend (for someone like me who is trying to consider whether there is any value to a Ph.D. in any of these subjects) to denigrate the inherent value of a Ph.D. in History as a qualification for discussing history. It seems that the answer has become that there is no such value, and that’s the answer often coming from people working at the institutions that grant the degrees.

    If you’re going to be marginalized anyway by those inclined to disagree, why not be marginalized for free as an amateur with no doctorate rather than as a credentialed “amateur” who bought (at great expense) the official story about the prestige of a history doctorate?

    Perhaps I’m not alone, and this discouraging trend may be contributing to the amount of enrollment at History or Religion departments as people choose something else that could offer more professional and/or personal value. Talk about sawing off the branch you’re perched on.

    • “including the discouraging trend (for someone like me who is trying to
      consider whether there is any value to a Ph.D. in any of these subjects)
      to denigrate the inherent value of a Ph.D. in History as a
      qualification for discussing history.”

      Eh? Can you show me where I said anything like that?

      As for what you call “the waffle” – I was responding to a an argument
      about qualifications. Sorry if it wasn’t what you wanted to read, but
      it was required of me by the nature of what I was responding to. I did
      say in the beginning that the response was going to be necessarily long
      and that people might what to skip to the bits that were of particular
      interest to them.

      • Peter Kirby

        I can quote what you wrote, but I do welcome it if you would like to offer a more nuanced statement of what I see as a discouraging implication of the following statements (concerning which you are not alone: several have expressed the sentiment that a Ph.D. and a few publications are inadequate to transcend amateur status in the absence of university affiliation, usually when discussing a maverick like this Richard Carrier).

        “Carrier has no research or teaching position at any accredited institution of higher learning and has, in the five years since achieving his doctorate, has published only two articles in peer reviewed journals – a dilatory publishing record explained by the amount of time he has spent self-publishing anti-Christian polemic and giving talks on why Christianity is wrong to sceptical and rationalist organisations. It also explains his recent announcement that he has effectively given up any hope of securing a professional academic appointment and seems to be sticking to his hobby of polemics full time.

        “Now, I will admit to some jealousy of Carrier in one sense: I wish I could give up my professional career and indulge in a hobby – say, book binding or fly fishing – as a full time pursuit while my patient spouse supported me financially. But while Carrier does enjoy this rare privilege he remains, as I said, not a professional academic but simply a blogger with a higher degree. And there’s no great shortage of _them_ on the internet.”

        • But all I’m saying there is that Carrier is not a professional scholar and is, therefore an amateur. Like you. And me, given that both you and I have higher degrees and blogs and write about early Christian history. I’m saying nothing about the merit of his work there, I’m just responding to an objection to the idea that he’s an amateur rather than a professional. Nor am I “denigrating” the value of a PhD – something I would never do.

          Of course, I go on to explain why, despite this, I hold Carrier in low regard and detail why I think he’s a polemicist with an agenda posing as an objective scholar. I also find him an insufferably fatuous prat, but that’s neither here nor there.

          There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being an amateur and many amateurs do excellent scholarly work. Later in the same post I praise Steve Mason who, although I disagree with his conclusions on several points, is a thorough scholar. I’ve also admired and used your work for many years. And some of my readers are kind enough to tell me they find my stuff useful as well.

          So being an amateur scholar doesn’t disqualify the scholarship produced by any means, not does being a professional scholar automatically mean their work is high quality. But I believe there is some value in noting the distinction between the two. I’m certainly quick to correct people who mistake me for a professional (as flattering as that might be) for precisely this reason.

          • Peter Kirby

            Thank you for that. And, no, I don’t have a degree. I am considering whether it’s worth the trouble of getting one.

            I don’t really understand why the amateur/professional distinction is worth laboring over unless the implication is that one or the other has a different quality (especially in this context).

          • Well, I’d say you should go for it. Thanks for the opportunity to clarify what I was saying. One of the reasons I held off from replying to Fitzgerald’s post was that there are few things more tedious for onlookers than coming into the middle of a furious argument. But some people seemed to think that Fitzgerald had countered my critique effectively, do I decided it was worth showing his post to be bluster, smoke and mirrors. And more evidence of his incompetence. I suppose I also used it as an opportunity to get a few things off my chest about what a pompous fraud Carrier can be as well.

            “I don’t really understand why the amateur/professional distinction is worth laboring over”

            Perhaps you’d have to read the previous two posts – my original review and Fitzgerald’s response – to get the context. I simply noted that the Historical Jesus case was accepted by scholars of all stripes and backgrounds while the Mythicist case was peddled almost entirely by amateurs. That doesn’t necessarily mean the amateurs are wrong (Argumentum ab auctoritate and all that), but whenever I come across situations like that – Creationism, Climate Change deniers, Holocaust deniers – my sceptic alarm bells ring. Fitzgerald objected to my lumping his “hero and mentor” Carrier in with the amateurs, thus my response in the post above. Possibly not worth “labouring over”, certainly.

          • Peter Kirby

            Fair enough. If someone were going to make the best possible presentation for the non-historicity of Jesus (or against some claims regarding climate change, or against the historicity of Muhammad or the Buddha or King Arthur — the examples of Creationism and Holocaust denial are beyond the pale as comparisons in terms of the strength of evidence involved while also being a bit insulting overall), then I would think that a hypothetical best possible presentation would concede the point that it’s got precious little support among academics and just got on with it anyway. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world where we get to interact with the best possible presentation very often (to put it gently when considering some of the stuff actually written on this subject), and refuting bad arguments is in general a very good thing to do.

          • The analogy with Creationism and Holocaust denial is most definitely not based on the strength of the evidence. The evidence for both those things is vastly more solid and clear than the evidence for a historical Jesus. The analogy is simply, as I said, with the extent of the scholarly consensus. And pointing that out is not an insult, it’s simply stating a fact.

          • Peter Kirby

            Determining accurately the facts of what actually is the amount of evidence available to us (and what that indicates) should be the biggest concern of the whole discussion.

          • The analogy with Creationism and Holocaust denial is most definitely not based on the strength of the evidence. The evidence for both those things is vastly more solid and clear than the evidence for a historical Jesus. The analogy is simply, as I said, with the extent of the scholarly consensus.

            I agree with you. The conspiracy theorist and online hoaxer participate in these matters not by engaging with the scholarly opinion already available. Rather, they delegitimize the opinion of experts, and tout the genius of a fringe scribe who tells them something dramatic enough to hold their attention. You pointed this out clearly in your essay, where you indicated Fitzgerald’s reliance on Carrier’s work as well as his tendency to handwave away any scholarly opinion that he couldn’t misrepresent as somehow supporting his vague theory.

            Another thing in Fitzgerald’s post that reminds me of 9/11 truthers or similar hoaxers is his insistence that Paul’s silence about Christ’s life supports his theory rather than disconfirms it. Why wouldn’t we expect, if Fitzgerald’s theory is correct, that the new religion’s most fanatical publicist would claim to have actually met the man the religion is trying to establish was a historical person? At the very least, if the later Church was so eager to forge and falsify documents to support its subterfuge, why wouldn’t we expect Paul’s letters to be riddled with questionable references to the time he spent with the historical Jesus?

            Very well done, Tim.

          • Matthew Jenkins

            No, it’s not a false analogy. Jesus mythicists are just as equally wrong as young-earth creationists. The evidence for Jesus is overwhelming. Just like the evidence for the earth being 4.5 billion years is overwhelming. Or that 6 million Jews were enslaved and killed by Hitler. Anyone who denies evidence to the contrary, and tries to come up with their own ideas is by definition a conspiracy theorist. That would include Jesus Mythicists, Holocaust Deniers, Young-Earthers(God bless them but they’re wrong), and 911 Truthers,etc.

          • jjramsey

            The evidence for Jesus is overwhelming.

            I wouldn’t go that far. The sheer amount of evidence for evolution or for the Holocault is far larger than that for Jesus. It’s just that what little evidence that we do have for Jesus stubbornly resists fitting cleanly into a mythicist framework.

          • Matthew Jenkins

            In terms of ancient history, where scant documentation is recorded in one’s lifetime, I think it’s safe to say that it is overwhelming.

            Already within 150 years we already have over an extremely large amount of documentation of Jesus of Nazareth than almost anybody else. Including the fact that all these documents take us so much closer to the Jesus time period, makes the evidence well-established.

          • Tim, I really enjoyed your article. Quite informatative. James, thanks for posting a link to it.

            When it comes to Carrier, I can’t get beyond his awful treatment of anyone who disagrees with him. I had one public interaction with him over atheism+ and he was quite hostile towards me and my disagreement with atheism+ . I told him that he wasn’t the kind of person I would want to have lunch with, so I certainly had no interest in being part of any group he was a leader in. His behavior was quite similar to that which I saw as a pastor in Baptist fundamentalism.

            It is nice to see an atheist take Biblical scholarship seriously. Way too many atheists are quick to jump on the mythicist bandwagon. It is often a lazy view that allows a person to, with a wave of the hand, dismiss 2,000 years of history and scholarship. Jesus didn’t exist….no need to read further.

            Again, thanks for the article.


          • I have to agree about the way he comes across very much like a fundamentalist preacher. That’s why I often refer to him as an anti-evangelist or anti-apologist. He’s like the polar opposite of William Lane Craig.

            Some have objected to the fact that I make it very clear that I dislike the guy in my critique, dismissing my criticisms of him as an argumentum ad hominem. But I keep the fact that I find him a fatuous twerp quite separate from the fact that I find his arguments tendentious, biased, agenda-driven, contrived and flawed. Especially that ridiculous Bayes junk he’s peddling these days. As I note in my post above, that Josephus paper of his is critically flawed and it would still be so even if he was a charming nice guy rather than a smug socially autistic dweeb.

  • Just Sayin’

    Is anyone currently blogging about the ‘Bible Secrets Revealed’ series that some bloggers were heavily promoting before it began? It all seems to have gone mysteriously quiet …

    • I am pretty sure Bob Cargill has continued doing so. There is nothing mysterious about TV watching being neglected at the end of the semester. 🙂

      • Just Sayin’

        Well, of course he is, being the show’s major domo. But I mean bloggers such as yourself and Mark Goodacre, who seem to have been promoting it quite heavily beforehand. Why no episode by episode reviews, I’m wondering? The silence is odd, that’s all.

  • Has any critic of mythicism here never read a single argument by a mythicist that does engage seriously with the past and recent scholarly arguments for historicity? If not, I am curious to know what mythicist arguments any such critic here has indeed read.

    • Matthew Jenkins

      Has any mythicist come to the realization that they’re 100% wrong?