Debating the Historicity of Jesus

Debating the Historicity of Jesus February 13, 2014

I was notified about this event coming up in April. Given how the Ham-Nye debate went, maybe this is something to approach with hope rather than excessive concern? It is being organized by the Center for Inquiry in Ottawa. A Facebook page has been created for the event.

Did a man named Jesus live in Palestine 2000 years ago? Zeba Crook, professor of religious studies at Carleton University thinks so, but historian and philosopher Richard Carrier disagrees.Join us at the Centrepointe Chamber Theatre for a lively discussion on this controversial topic.

Tickets on sale now: $15 general admission, $10 for CFI members

If you want to see why, whatever the popular impression happens to be after the debate, I don’t find Carrier’s treatment of this topic persuasive as scholarship, simply take a look at his recent post responding to a recent article in The Bible and Interpretation. He begins by acknowledging that mythicism thus far has not offered a substantive case. But he then goes on (at his typical irritatingly unnecessary length, given the paucity of genuine substance in that section) to attempt – very much in the same way other mythicists have – to score cheap apologetic-style points which any scholar or historian of the relevant periods and sources can easily see are worthless.

The comparison with the Patriarchal narratives is a good example. Suggesting that, because religious scholarship once assumed that the Patriarchal narratives were based on history (and we do not know for certain that they are not legends based distantly on history), written as they were more than a millennium after the alleged events occurred, therefore secular and other non-Christian historians are wrong to conclude that Jesus, about whom people held the view that he was historical within a matter of decades, is about as fallacious a case as one could possibly make.

He also makes ludicrous and unsubstantiated sweeping statements such as “virtually none of what he says or does makes any plausible sense on any known human psychology.” Those who study ancient Jewish sources from close to that time disagree with Carrier’s assessment. Merely asserting such things is not going to persuade those familiar with scholarship on ancient Judaism and/or the historical Jesus. Indeed, Carrier’s comparison of Jesus, claimed in our earliest sources to be the awaited Davidic anointed one, to demigods suggests that Carrier isn’t even in the appropriate ballpark of ancient Judaism. To extend the metaphor further, if you haven’t made the case that you are in the right ballpark, then the fact all the other players are playing the game in a different one ought to be cause of concern.

Carrier draws frequently on the self-published work of Earl Doherty, whose book I blogged part of the way through on this blog previously. There are plenty of serious scholarly arguments that are nonetheless wrong. Doherty’s work is not that – if it were merely unpersuasive scholarship, I would have respectful appreciation for it, even if I found it unconvincing. But what it is is painfully bad pseudoscholarly bunk. Until Carrier understands why it seems that way to those who work in the relevant fields, it is hard to see how he can make a case that will persuade those he hopes to persuade.

If what he wrote in his blog post is the sort of thing that Carrier offers in the upcoming debate, then it will most likely resemble the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham one. And unfortunately, it doesn’t seem as though any evidence would persuade Richard Carrier that Jesus of Nazareth was a historical figure.

Of related interest, see Mark Goodacre’s untypically-long snow-day NT Pod on beginning historical Jesus research.

 

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