Scholarship and Blogging

Scholarship and Blogging July 29, 2014

Larry Hurtado has expressed some frustration with some members of his blog audience. Here is an excerpt from his recent blog post on the topic:

Scholarly work intended to have an impact on the field isn’t done in blogging. The amount of data, its complexity, the analysis and argumentation involved, and the engagement with the work of other scholars that forms an essential feature of scholarly work all require more space than a few hundred words of a blog-posting, or a few paragraphs of blog-comment. So, it’s rather unrealistic (not to say bizarre) for some commenters to assume otherwise…

Blogging (at least this blog site) is for disseminating basic results of scholarly work, and alerting interested readers to publications where they can pursue matters further. But if you do want to engage the issues, you’re just going to have to do some serious reading . . . in books, and articles, and in the original sources on which scholarly work is based. The Internet and the “blogosphere” hasn’t really changed that.

In theory, there is no reason why a scholar could not write most of their thoughts and drafts of most of their scholarly works on a blog. A blog is a format, and so the content can literally be anything. But for most scholars who blog, that is not how we use them.

A blog post, like a popular magazine article, can be a great first point of entry into a field. But if you want to have a full grasp of the reasoning and evidence, then simply reading more such articles and blog posts will not suffice. It is time to read books. Reading even one scholarly book on a topic will provide you with detail that a dozen superficial online articles and blog posts will not provide.

I think that is Larry’s main point. Blogging is an attempt to distill, to mediate, to inform, but in ways that by definition summarize and omit much detail. If you want more detail, then by all means ask a question on a blog – but be prepared to be directed to someplace where the scholar in question has already addressed the topic. Expecting a scholar to type out their book for you in order to save you a trip to the library is obviously unreasonable, isn’t it?

Elsewhere in the blogosphere, Jona Lendering discussed Maurice Casey’s recent book about mythicism, and his conclusion was that, although Casey is right about most important things, he approaches the subject in a manner that will inevitably leave mythicists unpersuaded. In the process, the need for scholarship to be well-represented online is addressed.

If Casey’s and Ehrman’s books specifically aimed at addressing mythicism fail to persuade those committed to that particular form of pseudoscholarship, it would be wrong to think that these are the only scholars doing work relevant to the question. For instance, Chris Keith has been active in sharing his scholarship online. It would be easy for someone who is inadequately familiar with the field of New Testament to miss that work like Keith’s has relevance to the historicity of Jesus. If his conclusion about the Gospels contesting whether Jesus was scribally literate is correct, then the Gospels offer evidence related to the historical Jesus in the process. This is why it is so laughable when some suggest that the matter of Jesus’ historicity has not been addressed by scholars. There is lots of evidence that has the potential to be judged to support there having been a historical Jesus, and scholars have been looking at it closely for a very long time, and continue to do so.

Of related interest, Scot McKnight asked whether anyone still reads Bultmann, and whether they should. The answer is obviously “yes,” isn’t it? The Huffington Post piece on Wikipedia’s religion articles as battlegrounds also relates to the topic of online scholarship and dissemination of information.


Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Anonymous Coward

    “If his conclusion about the Gospels contesting whether Jesus was scribally literate is correct, then the Gospels evidence related to the historical Jesus in the process.”

    I think there’s a typo here. (As written, there’s something going wrong grammatically starting with “Gospels evidence related.”)

    Is this the correct reconstruction?

    “If his conclusion about the Gospels contesting whether Jesus was scribally literate is correct, then the Gospels are thereby shown to present evidence related to the historical Jesus.”

    • Thanks for pointing out that a word dropped out. I’ll fix it…

  • arcseconds

    I think a general version of Lendering’s point is correct: people don’t typically believe in fringe opinions contrary to the scholarly consensus for rational reasons, which does lead one to suppose that responding with rational arguments for the consensus may be besides the point.

    But I’m not sure how effective trying to address the not-so-rational biases explicitly can be. After all, they typically think that they are being rational, so being told that they’re not and having their biases diagnosed is likely to evoke just the kind of hostility that’s going to end the kind of sympathetic listening necessary to change their (or anyone’s) mind on anything, if it began in the first place.

    In a way, ardent mythicists present more of a problem here than others, as they pride themselves particularly on their rationality. In their eyes, they’re mythicists because they’re more rational than everyone else. Young Earth Creationists, while of course they can be plenty intellectually arrogant, don’t have the same kind of direct connection with rationality for their beliefs. They think they see things aright when it comes to evolution, but not primarily because they think they’re more rational than everyone else tout court.

    Rather, they think they’re getting their information from a trustworthy source.

    Plus, there’s often some kind of admission somewhere in the background, perhaps partitioned away from creationism, that Christianity requires faith. And, as we’ve seen with Ham, they’re sometimes up-front that the narrative is important.

    So creationists have some understanding that faith, trust in particular authority figures, and narrative are important factors to their belief here. They are also frequently important to mythicists, but mythicists are in total denial about it.

    Also, creationists certainly have more at stake than mythicists, but not only do they have more to lose, they have more to gain. Lots of ex-creationists find it liberating that they no longer have to fear where scientific reasoning can lead them, and can engage wholeheartedly with science, and frequently they also enjoy getting away from a horrible God who will punish them for learning stuff. Whereas it seems to me that it just ends up being a losing proposition for mythicists to cease being mythicists: they would have to admit they were wrong and not as rational as they thought they were, and start taking the lead from people they previously felt were their intellectual inferiors, and I don’t see that they stand to gain anything much.

    So I don’t know that Lendering’s suggestion would actually achieve much in terms of converting committed mythicists.

    Although I do think there’s an awful lot of casual mythicists, or people with leanings, who could be persuaded. People who have heard Stephen Fry on QI present all of the ‘compelling similarities’ between Mithras and Jesus, for example, and have just assumed that he’s telling the truth, and aren’t particularly committed to the whole idea. They might be receptive to the idea there are non-rational biases that lead people to become committed mythicists, too.

  • Anonymous Coward

    “If his conclusion about the Gospels contesting whether Jesus was scribally literate is correct, then the Gospels offer evidence related to the historical Jesus in the process.”

    This doesn’t follow at all. Since his research presupposes Jesus’s existence (which is not a problem–every piece of reasoning has to start somewhere) his conclusions don’t necessarily provide any evidence for Jesus’s existence. Rather, they tell us what must probably be true _if_ Jesus exists.

    • This sounds very much like what antievolutionists say when a study is made in biology that works within the prevailing paradigm, but also provides additional evidence in support of it.

      • Sean Garrigan

        The doctrine of evolution is like the doctrine of the Trinity: It’s non-falsifiable to its adherents. Everything works within the paradigm, even when it’s not what the paradigm may have predicted, because the paradigm is God.

        • What, pray tell, in relation to the doctrine of the Trinity, compares to the overwhelming abundance of genetic and paleontological evidence for evolution?

        • Anonymous Coward

          Right. What pray tell would falsify your own view? (I’m assuming your a creationist, but if not apologies in advance…)

      • Anonymous Coward

        I doubt that it sounds very much like what antievolutionists say. Can you provide a quotation or two?

        Even if it _is_ what some anti-evolutionists have said, all this means is that anti-evolutionists have made one valid argument. That does not make them right about anti-evolutionism.* If an antievolutionist argues “a study of the history of a species that presupposes evolution doesn’t provide evidence for evolution, but instead only tells us what is probably true _if_ evolution is true,” then that one particular conditional statement made by that antievolutionist happens to be correct. Stopped clocks and all that. But no one arguing for evolution would point to such studies as “evidence for evolution.” Rather, they’d talk about the general shape of the fossil record, some facts about inheritance, etc.

        If a study (evolution, NT history, whatever) presents information that makes its presupposition more plausible _independently_ of the presupposition, then _that_ would provide evidence for the presupposition. Evolutionary studies do this a lot. What are some examples do you have in mind concerning NT history?

        *You’re thinking, I’d bet, at the asterisked point, “And neither does your argument make mythicism correct!” Of course it doesn’t. What I said wasn’t an argument for mythicism. What I said was an attempt to point out a flaw in your own reasoning, not an attempt to show that mythicism is true.

        • Here is one example, found simply by searching for relevant keywords: http://darwins-god.blogspot.com/2012/07/dennis-venema-begs-question-and-warns.html

          It is interesting that you would sooner embrace crackpots in the sciences being correct, than seriously entertain the possibility that crackpots in history might be wrong.

          • Anonymous Coward

            To your second point: It’s not particularly significant that this is “interesting” to you, since there’s a lot of bad information going into that judgment you’ve made. You’re importing unwarranted assumptions about preference into your characterization of my position. You’re talking about what I “would sooner embrace,” implying that there’s a preference at work. That is false. It’s just a fact about logic that the statement “conclusions drawn by presupposing X don’t provide evidence for X” is true. Preferences are irrelevant here. I was careful to explain that in the anti-evolutionist’s case, their happening to be right about this one thing implies nothing about the plausibility of their overall position. From this, if you insisted on drawing conclusions about my preferences, you _should_ have drawn the conclusion that my preference is to acknowledge facts when they’re facts but to also be clear about what these facts do and don’t imply. You certainly should have concluded (if you were going to draw conclusions about preferences) that I prefer not to embrace crackpots in the sciences in any meaningful sense–as I clearly and unequivocally denied that they have made any kind of convincing point for their own case.

            As to your first point, I’d say it turns out you’re right that there are anti-evolutionists who have tried to use this logical point to support their own views. I’ve already explained why it fails in their case. I also want to point out that the article you linked to relies on a complete misunderstanding of the article _it_ links to. The study in question doesn’t provide evidence for evolution only on a presupposition that evolution is true. Rather, the study provides information which is such that even if one did _not_ presuppose evolution, the information would be much better explained by evolution than by any other hypothesis. So to reiterate my point, though the stopped clock was right this time, that doesn’t in any way mean the stopped clock should be taken seriously. Yet (again, to reiterate) _THAT_ fact doesn’t make the stopped clock any less right.

            The statement is true, no matter who’s saying it. The question is whether good conclusions are being drawn from it.

    • arcseconds

      If more sense can be made of more material on the assumption that Jesus existed, doesn’t this support the idea that he existed?

      The contrary surely is true: if investigations like Keith’s always ended in absurdity, that might not quite show that Jesus never existed, but it would be a pretty good sign that his existence is irrelevant to the structure of the Gospels.

      • Anonymous Coward

        //If more sense can be made of more material on the assumption that Jesus existed, doesn’t this support the idea that he existed?//

        Of course. That’s not in question. Why do you think it is? What I am questioning is the idea Keith has provided evidence for Jesus’s existence _just_ by arguing (even arguing very well) that Jesus was literate. That doesn’t follow at all. If he’s relying on information we already all had available to us, then he’s done nothing that could provide new evidence that Jesus existed.

        Of course, if he’s relying on new information that wasn’t available to us previously, that’s a different story. I don’t have the idea that he is, but I’ve only read about his work in summary so I’m open to being wrong on that account.

        • arcseconds

          What you say would be true if humans had some kind of epistemic closure on the existing information they already possess, so they knew not only that information, but everything that that information implies.

          As we don’t have this kind of epistemic closure, we often find that existing evidence can be re-used in ways we weren’t aware of before.

          This kind of stuff is familiar from crime fiction, where ‘impossible’ cases are cracked or ‘watertight’ cases are prized open by clever people purely on the basis of existing evidence. It’s also well known in Bayesian accounts of scientific advance, where it’s called ‘the problem of old evidence’, a textbook example being the orbit of mercury, known already, being used as evidence for the General Theory of Relativity.

          It’s also, you know, something that mythicists make use of rather frequently. Has Carrier discovered any new documents that bear on the matter of Jesus’s existence? No? Then all he is using is existing material to make a different argument.

          Given all of this, I’m surprised you’re even making this argument, that Keith needs new material to add anything to the debate.

          Were you aware, for example, that the Gospels differed in their account of Jesus’s level of scribal literacy? I wasn’t, yet I have read the Gospels. So the very question Keith asks is new information to me, even though the gospels are not new to me.

          And if a plausible explanation of this difference is available on the assumption that Jesus existed, but no such explanation (or a much less plausible one) on the assumption that he’s a myth, then that is making more sense of more material than the mythicist assumption in this case.

          • Anonymous Coward

            I think you’re confusing evidence with conclusions in your discussion of epistemic closure. I’ve been trying to use the word “evidence” just to refer to the available facts–as opposed to conclusions drawn from those facts. New reasoning isn’t new evidence, on this understanding of the terms.

            If Keith’s drawing new conclusions from the same evidence, this can’t in itself provide further _evidence_ for Jesus’s existence–because (ex hypothesi) he’s not giving any new evidence at all.

            Meanwhile, if it’s supposed to be that his new conclusions somehow suggest new _reasoning_ for Jesus’s existence, that’s not something that I’d just naturally accept must be happening _just_ because he’s presented new conclusions about what Jesus was like. If someone’s saying his new conclusions _also_ suggest new reasoning for Jesus’s existence, it’s going to take more than just a suggestion to make that plausible. The actual new reasoning needs to be at least outlined.

            To put it more briefly: Just the fact that people are reasoning about Jesus doesn’t, in itself, imply that they’re coming up with new reasons for us to think Jesus existed. If they _are_ coming up with new reasons for that, we can’t assume they’re doing so just because we know they think about Jesus alot.

          • arcseconds

            What makes you think I’m confusing evidence with conclusions? It sounds like you’re correcting someone who’s claimed Keith is providing new evidence… but I don’t think I made that claim, nor did James.

            I also can’t see anything much rides on this, as as you seem to be aware, calling a new argument ‘new evidence’ is largely a semantic distinction… one that perhaps is a bit of a stretch as to how the word ‘evidence’ is usually used. I think I would be prepared to defend such a usage, but I didn’t use it like that, and it’s very much a side issue,

            Neither of us thinks Keith is producing new textual material or physical artifacts, and I thought I was reasonably clear about that, so I’m not sure what your clarifications are in aid of.

            If people are generally successful in explaining what we see in the Gospels on the assumption of Jesus’s existence whereas are unable to make sense of them on the assumption of mythicism, then that is an argument for the hypothesis that Jesus existed.

            If every attempt to explain things in the Gospels on the basis of Jesus’s existence failed horribly, and no coherent sense could be made of them on that assumption, but mythicism did manage to explain it all quite nicely, then that would be a persuasive argument for mythicism. And I think that’s what e.g. Carrier understands himself to be doing.

            So Keith’s success, if it is a success, in explaining the differences in the Gospel’s treatment by appealing to different perceptions of Jesus’s performance in debates does contribute to the support of the notion that Jesus existed. It doesn’t contribute a whole heap, but we wouldn’t, and don’t, expect that entirely false notions will continue to be fruitful in successful explanations.

            (There’s always a theoretical possibility, of course, that a false assumption could allow an indefinite amount of good explanation, but if that’s true of Jesus’s existence then the mythicists would be right by chance but be unable to prove it and have no warrant for believing it)

            This is how things often work in science, too. The Newtonian programme’s strength was in its continual successes on the basis of the assumptions, which gave a lot of confidence that the assumptions were right or very nearly right.

          • Anonymous Coward

            //What makes you think I’m confusing evidence with conclusions?//

            Because I have been talking about whether there’s new evidence, and you argued that I was wrong because we should be thinking not only of the information available, but what the available information implies. That only makes sense as a response to me if you’re thinking of the implications as, themselves, a kind of evidence. And that is to confuse evidence with conclusions.

            I have been maintaining this point because I took James to be claiming Keith (and many other biblical scholars by implication) provide new evidence for Jesus’s existence the more conclusions they draw about what he must have been like, when James said this: “If his conclusion about the Gospels contesting whether Jesus was scribally literate is correct, then the Gospels offer evidence related to the historical Jesus in the process.”

            But I guess a close reading of that sentence says “the Gospels” offer the evidence, not the scholars. I am not entirely sure exactly what this means, though, in light of the “in the process” phrase coming soon afterwards. As written, it sounds like the Gospels undergo a process that reveals (new?) information? I guess I’m not sure. I’ll wait to see if James would like to clarify this–I may have misunderstood his meaning.

          • arcseconds

            I don’t see what’s so hard about this.

            If Keith is right, the Gospels preserve information about different perceptions about Jesus’s scholastic ability. That is plausibly called ‘evidence related to the historical Jesus’. This information isn’t obvious, though, so it’s not information presented or ‘offered’ to the casual reader. Luke nowhere says “By the way, I reckon Jesus was a member of the scribal-literate class, and in this I differ from Mark who somehow has the mistaken idea that Jesus was a manual labourer. I base this reckoning of mine on the basis of reliable sources who say they saw him completely deck some scribes in scriptual arguments, and he couldn’t have done that unless he was himself scribally literate” and everyone’s simply ignored that passage until now.

            So it requires work to discover this information and bring it to light. It’s only through the process of Keith’s analysis that this information is ‘offered’ to us.

            And I’ve already argued why successful analyses on the basis of an assumption do give us futher reason to believe that assumption.

            And you accept that new arguments can arise out of the same material.

            So what is the difficulty here?

            It seems to me that despite the fact you seem to recognise that nothing much hangs on the use of the word ‘evidence’, you’re nevertheless getting hung up on the use of the word ‘evidence’?

          • Anonymous Coward

            //And I’ve already argued why successful analyses on the basis of an assumption do give us futher reason to believe that assumption.//

            Which of your posts do you have in mind here?

          • Anonymous Coward

            Nevermind I see which post you mean.

          • Anonymous Coward

            //If people are generally successful in explaining what we see in the Gospels on the assumption of Jesus’s existence whereas are unable to make sense of them on the assumption of mythicism, then that is an argument for the hypothesis that Jesus existed.

            So Keith’s success, if it is a success, in explaining the differences in the Gospel’s treatment by appealing to different perceptions of Jesus’s performance in debates does contribute to the support of the notion that Jesus existed. It doesn’t contribute a whole heap, but we wouldn’t, and don’t, expect that entirely false notions will continue to be fruitful in successful explanations.//

            Sorry, I missed this before somehow. Maybe I failed to click on “read more?”

            As you know there are a plethora of competing theories as to what Jesus was like, all of which are mutually exclusive, most not just in minor details but fundamentally so. And these theories don’t exist abstractly as possible theories in a logical vaccuum–they are actual theories held to and defended by people extremely knowledgable about the evidence.

            This in itself doesn’t mean at all that there was no Jesus. But what it _does_ mean is that, as far as we can tell right now, the assumption of historicity does _not_ help us make coherent sense of the evidence. And someone coming up with a new theory (like Keith’s) doesn’t help with this. If anything, it exacerbates the problem!

            Certainly it could be that just around the corner is the right theory that puts all the other theories to rest. But that’s a hope, and not something we currently have particular reason to expect.

            You mentioned the hard sciences later in your post. You may be wondering what I’d say about the fact that there are competing theories in that area as well. But for a parallel argument, we need not just competing theories, but something analogous to the assumption of historicity. For example, there are competing theories as to what makes gravity work. By the reasoning I gave above, should that show us that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the idea of gravity? Of course not–that gravity works the way it does is not in question, and is well supported independently of any of the competing theories. What’s in question is _what makes_ it work, and for that question, there’s no single underlying analog to the “assumption of historicity” found in the argument I outlined above.

            Maybe String Theory could be an example here? There are multiple competing and incompatible theories about how strings can explain the phenomena we observe. And for all these theories, there is an underlying assumption–the assumption of strings. And indeed, many physicists argue that the fact that this assumption has failed to lead to a zeroing in on a coherent explanation for a lot of evidence, but instead, a plethora of incompatible explanations, is itself a reason to suspect the assumption of strings. That may be going to far, but certainly what we do know is that assuming strings exist has failed to help us make coherent sense of the evidence. Perhaps waiting around the corner is the _right_ string theory that will finally put the other string theories to rest, but that is a hope, and not a consideration that in itself supports the idea that string theory is right. (Possible doesn’t imply probable end all that.)

            Having said that, I think string theorists should keep at it (and so should historicists), because one way progress is made is precisely by going after that hope for the theory that proves right after all. But at the same time I ALSO think physicists should think carefully about whether string theory is right in the first place–and of course, I also think historicists should do the same. Because that will let us know whether pursuing historicists theories is more likely to lead us to the final right theory, or else is more likely to keep us from it.

            While I lean toward mythicism (as I’m sure you can see) my view when I’m being careful is just that we should _at least_ admit we have _much_ less certainty about Jesus’s existence than we have thought in the past.

  • Anonymous Coward

    If Ledering’s summary of Casey is accurate, then Casey’s book doesn’t even have the virtues Ledering claims!

    For example:

    “[W]hen [mythicsists] argue that Paul’s letters say so little about the man Jesus because he did not exist, Casey reminds the reader that in Antiquity most information was passed on orally.”

    But this is not relevant. [i]Most[/i] information being passed on orally has no relevance to the question of [i]what[/i] information we should expect to find in Paul’s letters.

    “Elsewhere, he explains that if the story of Jesus is similar to a pagan myth, this does not necessarily mean that it was borrowed. And so on.”

    But this is also not very relevant–the best contemporary mythicist arguments (the ones that exhibit careful thought and knowledge of the relevant source material) don’t argue that the story of Jesus was borrowed from other sources.

    “The mythicist wants something to be either true or false, while the ancient historian sees probabilities.”

    This is presented here as a general representation of mythicism in general, when in fact there are numerous important exceptions. The best mythicist arguments, of course, explicitly talk in terms of probability, not certainty.

    • Who precisely is making these “best mythicist arguments”?

      Casey, as I recall, looks at examples of epistles where lack of knowledge not merely of the teaching of Jesus, but even of the written Gospels, is clearly not a possible explanation for the lack of explicit quotations from Jesus’ teaching. Clearly the epistolary genre must have something to do with it.

      • Anonymous Coward

        If you can’t name two mythicists who don’t argue that the Jesus stories were borrowed from pagan sources and who don’t talk in terms of certainty but probability, then your qualifications for talking about mythicism are in serious question.

        As to Casey’s argument as you’ve described it, I guess I’d have to read it to understand how it’s supposed to go exactly. “Clearly not a possible explanation” is pretty strong. (Sounds a lot like certainty talk to me…)

        • I asked whom you were referring to. I see no reason for your evasive response.

          • Anonymous Coward

            The reason for my evasive response is to highlight to others who may be following the discussion that a person who positions himself as knowing enough about mythicists to be able to sensibly reject their arguments actually doesn’t know much about their arguments!

          • arcseconds

            This works both ways, of course. McGrath hasn’t revealed any knowledge of particular mythicists and their arguments in this particular thread, but neither have you, despite being prompted twice for it.

            If McGrath’s failure to come up with such details is evidence that he is ignorant of them, then the same is true for you, presumably. So insofar as you are highlighting McGrath’s arguments, you are also highlighting your own… more so, in fact, because you’re refusing to provide details on a claim you yourself had made.

            Unfortunately, regulars here know McGrath is in fact tolerably informed of mythicist arguments, so it’s only really you that ends up looking foolish. Haven’t you already been encouraged to look at his previous posts on the topic?

            At any rate, the fact you prefer to ‘highlight’ things about McGrath to others rather than actually continue the discussion with him by answering his question certainly highlights that you can be a bit of a supercilious wanker.

          • Anonymous Coward

            //McGrath hasn’t revealed any knowledge of particular mythicists and their arguments in this particular thread, but neither have you, despite being prompted twice for it.//

            Good point! But if both McGrath and I are ignorant concerning what we’re talking about, then it still follows that McGrath is ignorant of what he’s talking about. 😉

            But of course I haven’t shown McGrath is ignorant about what he’s talking about until I name the names, so: Doherty and Carrier. Neither argues that Jesus stories are borrowed from pagan stories. (Both discuss similarities and causal relationships, but both eschew the notion that the stories are simply borrowed.) And both talk about probabilities rather than certainties.

            As to his previous posts on the topic, he has encouraged me to look at them, and as I said at the time, I’ve already read them all. It was reading those posts that gave me the view that he doesn’t really understand the arguments he’s addressing.

            Concerning my being a supercilious wanker, I don’t know about all that, but if my point is about McGrath’s readiness to address the issue he’s addressing, then I am continuing the discussion exactly as you’ve asked me to do by giving evidence concerning that topic.

          • Anonymous Coward

            Well I have to take back the Doherty. I was misremembering his eschewal of the idea that _Paul_ borrowed _his_ ideas from Pagan myths. But he _does_ think the gospel writers borrowed from pagan myths.

          • arcseconds

            But nothing you did was going to demonstrate anything you’ve just claimed.

            Turning a reasonable question into a point-scoring guessing-game that McGrath doesn’t participate in doesn’t show anything about McGrath, it only shows something about you.

            And no-one but you was going to connect this with your low opinion of McGrath’s reading of the mythicists.

          • Anonymous Coward

            //But nothing you did was going to demonstrate anything you’ve just claimed.//

            I admit I don’t understand what you mean. To me it appears directly relevant. (On the assumption that I’d been right about Doherty of course–factual fail on my part, but right now I’m just talking about the logic of the argument.) If there exist two (prominent) mythicists who don’t argue that Jesus stories were borrowed from pagan mythology, and McGrath on prompting can’t name them, then this is prima facie evidence that he doesn’t know enough about mythicists to dismiss their arguments.

            It’s not “point scoring” it’s making a direct argument that is exactly relevant to the issue.

            What do you see as the specific problem with the above line of reasoning? I am especially confused by your final sentence that no one could be expected to see the relevance of my questions to my opinion of McGrath. How could no one make that connection, if both the questions are directly to that point, and I’m explaining that very fact in the conversation in which I’m asking them? What am I missing here, or am I misunderstanding you?

          • arcseconds

            Well, this might work if McGrath was somehow compelled to participate in your little tests, like if maybe you were McGrath’s teacher, and you had asked him directly “McGrath, I want to test your knowledge of mythicism. Name two mythicists who don’t rely on arguments on similarities with pagan myths”

            But this isn’t the relationship you have with McGrath. If anything, it’s the other way around: it’s his blog, and he’s the expert. You coming here and presuming to test him is… well, presumptuous, to say the least.

            And it’s not at all what happened. You referred obliquely to some mythicists, and McGrath asked you who you were referring to. It’s an honest enough question, and you refused to answer him, indicating instead that you wanted to test him.

            Under these circumstances, who could blame McGrath for deciding not to participate further in the conversation?

            The stonewalling itself would be reason enough to say “OK, clearly you’re not interested in actually discussing the matter, bye”. The fact that this turned into some kind of staged demonstration is even more of an indication that an honest discussion isn’t forthcoming.

            So there’s no reason to think McGrath is not answering out of ignorance, and every reason to think he’s not answering because you’re being a dick.

            If you really don’t understand why people don’t want to coöperate in conversations with someone who at any point might not be participating honestly in the conversation but rather staging little tests that they don’t tell you about until afterwards, and not primarily to interact with you but rather to demonstrate something to the audience, then you really have a lot to learn about human interaction.

            If that really the case, I strongly recommend you finding someone you can discuss this with, who is good at interacting with people and won’t mind giving you an honest opinion. Because otherwise you’re going to go through life frequently having negative interactions with people and not knowing why.

            You only explained what you were doing after you were prompted, and you only indicated you had read James’s stuff on mythcism after I asked. Up until that point it was reasonable to assume you thought James had not even read any mythicists works, so it looked like you were just assuming his ignorance without evidence. Few are going to bother trying to work out what you’re up to and what you know: they’re just going to assume you’re an ignorant jerk and move on.

          • Anonymous Coward

            James is very generous to continue to allow anonymous comments given those commenters’ (such as mine) often presumptuous behavior, and I genuinely appreciate that.

            My presumption has some rhetorical justifications. I’ve been down the “respectable mythicists” road with McGrath before so it could be known ahead of time where that conversation was going (nowhere). So I took a different tack. Moreover, one can demonstrate things rationally, in the form of an argument, but it is often more effective to demonstrate things through action. I generally do the argumentation thing, but there’s no reason to be above the active-demonstration thing as a general principle.

            McGrath has amply demonstrated on numerous occasions that he doesn’t actually know the arguments of the mythicists he presumes (there’s that word) to dismiss. It’s become clear he’s not going to be convinced of this by pure argumentation. So, I figure, perhaps another (just as truthful but a little more pointed) approach may do the trick someday.

            As to your personal advice to me, I appreciate your generosity in being concerned for my well-being, but please be assured everything’s fine on my end. IRL I literally _never_ have negative interactions (outside the household, for full disclosure… but who’s surprised that tiffs occur now and then between couples or between parents and children?). I am a pleasant guy who’s known (in fact was recently promoted) for being diplomatic and constructive while motivating people to do their best. I’m that guy! So while you may have made some presumptions about me that may have worried you, I would like you to lay your worries aside.

            So why not take this diplomatic and constructive approach with this thread? I admit it–the historicism/mythicism debate really gets me. It’s really, really, freakin’ bleamin’ obvious that no one who knows what they’re talking about should feel any confidence at all about Jesus’s existence. The arguments are just plain terrible awful arguments. It’s plain as the nose on your face. And the inability or refusal to see this takes the form of such unwarranted dismissiveness it’s hard not to feel some desire to strike back in kind. Perhaps not the best of motivations but there it is.

            It feels like teaching recalcitrant students who don’t particularly care to learn–except MINUS the nurturing part since I’m not actually in a formal teaching position w.r.t. these guys.

          • Anonymous Coward

            Forgot to mention in that explanation at the end, to highlight the degree to which my judgment of the obviousness of at least _agnosticism_ about Jesus’s existence isn’t flip or ill-considered:

            I literally deconverted over this. I was a (admittedly very liberal theologically) Christian, I thought Jesus’s existence was a slam dunk, I thought all mythicists were like Acharya S _at best_. Then I stumbled on Carrier’s _Not the Impossible Faith._ Then read Doherty and _Proving History_. Got a sneaking suspicion, but went to see how people were replying. And in watching the various dialogues between (chiefly) Carrier, Doherty, McGrath and Ehrman, saw very clearly that people who should be for all the world in the _perfect_ position to at least make Jesus’s existence much more plausible than mythicism wer manifestly failing to do so–and indeed manifestly failing to even seem to be able to grasp the arguments they were dealing with.

            This was eye opening.

            And upon realizing I found it entirely plausible that Jesus probably didn’t exist, I realized no matter what I ended up thinking, it would make no sense to call myself a Christian. Certain Catholic mythicists aside, it really seems to me that calling oneself a Christian makes no practical sense if one seriously doubts Christ even existed as a human being.

          • One of the reasons I stopped blogging through Doherty’s book was the combination of the fact that, even though Doherty’s claims were almost never interesting even when they were not ridiculous, and even though I devoted mor space to each chapter than I would in a typical print book review for a journal, mythicists would still insist that I was not doing justice to the details of Doherty’s “argument.”

            Have you even bothered to read through that review series? I have to say that, if you found Doherty’s claims anything but disappointing, you cannot have been particularly well acquainted with the evidence for Jesus and the relevant historical contextual information we have.

          • Anonymous Coward

            I’ve said in this thread and a few others that yes, I’ve read through the review series.

            I’m sorry I don’t have time to do a review of the review (nor would this probably be worth the effort in terms of actually contributing to the discussion). Practically throughout–no exaggeration, practically in every paragraph I read–I was thinking “But McGrath hasn’t even understood how Doherty’s argument goes!” It’s not a matter of paying attention to particular details or anything–it was always a matter of just understanding the premise-to-conclusion structure of Doherty’s reasoning. You invariably either didn’t know what his conclusion actually was, or didn’t understand how his premises were meant to support them, or offered criticisms of your own that exhibited some logical error or other.

            Anyway, you’ve heard this from me before, I don’t want to beat the dead horse. I know I would really have to “put up or shut up” to make it convincing and as I said, I don’t have the time for the amount of effort it would take (and am not sure the effort would be made worth it by any dialectical payoff).

            If you’re up for it, it might be interesting for you to point to two or three places you feel like you really had Doherty over a barrel, and I can take another look at them and see if I can type up why I found your response to be in some way not actually to the point. (Or who knows, maybe I’ll decide I had it wrong the first time…)

          • Anonymous Coward

            There’s an example of this kind of failure to actually grasp the reasoning in this very thread, in the sense that you clicked the “like” arrow for Paul R’s post above, quoted here:

            //Also, why is the lack of biographical detail allowed to count against a historical Jesus, but not against a non-historical Jesus? Non-historical figures can have detailed biographies and followers of such figures just love to talk about and elaborate upon these.//

            That post manifestly exhibits a failure to understand the argument! As explained in my reply above. Someone would think this is a good criticism only if they simply didn’t understand what is supposed to be evidence for what on the kinds of mythicist views that are typically under discussion in this forum.

          • I have heard similar claims when I have criticized Michael Behe and others like him. I’m afraid that it isn’t going to be persuasive simply insisting that a self-published badly flawed volume has been misunderstood, when it is far more likely that mainstream scholars and historians are in fact dealing appropriately with the sources they study for a living and this amateur perspective is problematic in the ways we identify.

          • Anonymous Coward

            //I’m afraid that it isn’t going to be persuasive simply insisting that a self-published badly flawed volume has been misunderstood, //

            As I acknowledged in the very post you’re responding to. I said that in order to actually be convincing, I’d need to do more than just insist without talking about specific examples from your review posts. Which is why I said it’d be interesting to look at some particular examples.

            *James, is this another case where you’re literally failing to even understand what point your interlocutor is making? Why would you repeat my very point to me as if it were your own point and somehow counted against me?

          • So apparently even when I show that I have understood you, you are happy to interpret it as evidence that I have not understood you. Typical for mythicists – all evidence and its opposite can be viewed as in accord wit their own desired “conclusions.”

            You did indeed acknowledge that, unless you actually make a case, it will not be convincing. But you still continue to insist that I and the rest of academia are wrong and have misunderstood despite not making the case you say you know you must. And so you continue to make claims that you acknowledge not substantiating or justifying. And so I was suggesting that either you do not really believe your own words, or you are being deliberately disingenuous and underhanded in how you approach this topic and the scholars that study it.

          • Anonymous Coward

            //even when I show that I have understood you, //

            Hold it right there McGrath 😉 Please explain your meaning here. How did you show that you’d understood me?

          • arcseconds

            So, you don’t think reasoned discussion is working, so you thought you’d attempt to publicly humiliate him on his own ‘blog? Does that really sound like an effective strategy to you, on reflection?

            The thing is, it’s equally freakin’ bleamin’ obvious to McGrath that it’s mythicism that’s the option that fails to have convincing support. And he has a Ph.D. and an academic appointment in this field. Even if you’re right, it’s completely understandable for him to not want to be schooled by you, and in fact completely understandable for him to think that it’s you that should be taught by him.

            Unless you happen to have academic credentials and preferably a scholastic career in this or a closely related area, your status is exactly that of a young-earth creationist on a blog written by a scientist about evolution. How would you expect a scientist to treat a young-earth creationist who’s quite sure that he’s wrong and lays little traps to publicly demonstrate his supposed ignorance?

            And do you think the scientist is likely to be receptive to the creationist deciding he’s a recalcitrant, stubborn, and ignorant student?

            Scientists are frequently dismissive, often bluntly dismissive, of creationists. Do you agree with that, or do you think they should, if the creationist is sufficiently sure of themselves and wants to take the role of the teacher, take up the role of a pupil and allow the creationist to test them? Is it appropriate for a creationist to think they can do this?

            It’s not just McGrath, by the way. The regulars here are a varied bunch, but the level of formal education is very high. I think most of us have postgraduate degrees in various fields. There are several people here with strong scientific backgrounds. A number of us are atheists or agnostics, and some of us are not all that kindly disposed towards religion. Yet the vast majority of us do not find the evidence strikes us as it strikes you. Most of us are quite convinced that the mythicists don’t have a leg to stand on, and there’s just one or two who have some measured degree of sympathy with them.

            And we’re just as tired as anyone of recalcitrant, stubborn people who don’t want to learn. Did you see the debate I had with Anonymous just a little while ago? They were utterly sure on the basis of one academic paper that suggested 7 as a probable maximum household size in Iron I, that no-one could possibly have more than three siblings a thousand years later, and it was like pulling teeth to get them to understand that the other paper they liked contradicted this. They also just blanketly denied that one should update one’s probabilities on the result of testimony. So if someone tells you they live with their partner and no-one else, there’s an 80% chance of them lying, as only 20% of people live in a house with two people.

            That’s unfortunately the company you’re keeping. You can see why sometimes it might seem like there’s not an infinite supply of patience for people who storm in all keen to tell us we’re all stupid and wrong.

          • Anonymous Coward

            //So, you don’t think reasoned discussion is working, so you thought you’d attempt to publicly humiliate him on his own ‘blog? Does that really sound like an effective strategy to you, on reflection?//

            Could easily be one. But it’s important to note, I did not have the idea in my mind of “publically humiliating” anyone.

            Honestly, I have the idea that James isn’t bothered in the least by my posts, and if there were even a chance that I in any way have made him feel bad, I’d be genuinely dismayed and deeply disappointed in myself.

            I think James is pretty cheerful about this, and enjoys these conversations. I hope I am not too far off the mark!

            I am cognizant of your views about what you perceive to be “the company I’m keeping.” I think you should understand that what has for whatever seemed to you to be like a company is actually a very disparate tribe.

            (And I’ve got post-graduate degrees, too, in precisely the field relevant to the points I harp about here neener neener 😀 .)

          • Given that you choose to remain anonymous and find Doherty to be something other than bunk, I will understandably remain skeptical of your claim to have relevant degrees.

          • Anonymous Coward

            Understandable, of course.

      • I don’t recall such examples from Casey’s book. What do you have in mind? All I recall is Casey offering are the usual explanations for why we wouldn’t expect Paul to tell us about the historical Jesus. While these are possibilities, I don’t see how we can eliminate the possibility that Paul didn’t talk about the historical Jesus because he didn’t know about the historical Jesus.

        • We cannot eliminate most possibilities in most fields. That is why scientists, historians, and other scholars focus on determining what is most likely, rather than on altogether excluding the improbable.

          • Didn’t you just say that you recalled Casey giving examples that eliminated the possibility of lack of knowledge explaining the lack of quotations of Jesus’ teachings in the epistles? How did he do this if it cannot be done?

          • Anonymous Coward

            Exactly as I said before–this sounds more like “certainty” thinking than “probability” thinking.

          • arcseconds

            If we would expect Paul to mention biographical details about Jesus if he was a real person, but not if he was a fictional person, then the fact we do not find many biographical details would support mythicism.

            If, however, we would not expect Paul to mention biographical details about Jesus even if he did exist, this does not support mythicism at all.

            This seems relevant and worth mentioning (and not irrelevant, as you claim), as mythicists do make this argument.

            It also seems entirely consistent with probabilistic reasoning.

          • Anonymous Coward

            I agree with each statement in your first two paragraphs.

            Your third paragraph says I said something is irrelevant which I did not say was irrelevant. What I said is irrelevant is the idea that “most information was passed down orally” at that time. This has no implications for _what_ we should expect Paul to say or not to say. Hence my statement that it’s not relevant.

            Your statement in your fourth paragraph, while correct, seems pulled out of context. I didn’t say anything to imply that Casey or Lederer don’t reason probabilistically.

          • arcseconds

            The connection isn’t made clear, but there is nevertheless a plausible one: if people in the congregations are already familiar with Jesus through having been told orally about him, then it’s not unreasonable to expect that Paul would not bother wasting ink informing them of things they already know. Instead he might be expected to focus on what he can tell them that is different from what they already know.

            This is quite relevant to this particular blog post of James, because it’s fairly likely that Lendering is elliptically summarizing something Casey went into more details about in the book.

            OK, I can see now that you’re talking about James, not Casey, when it comes to certainty thinking.

          • Anonymous Coward

            Except that Paul explicitly reminds his congregations of things they’d already been told orally several times throughout the epistles.

            But now we’re getting to a level of detail where it’s possible all this is addressed in the book. Like I said in my first post–IF the Ledering summaries are accurate in the way they present the three arguments I discussed as being complete summaries of points that Casey made, then the book has some problems.

          • I think that we have to ask how we might go about justifying our expectations about what Paul might or might not have said about the historical Jesus. The justification for expecting him to mention the historical Jesus is that the life and teachings of that person would have been considered normative and authoritative when it came to any question regarding the life and practice of the early church. If the gospel are in fact based on an oral tradition that goes back to the earliest followers of a historical person, then there seems to me to be good grounds for thinking that “What would (or did) Jesus do (or say)?” was a vital part of the conversation from the beginning.

            On the other hand, the expectation that Paul wouldn’t have mentioned the historical Jesus depends on the assumption that there existed an oral tradition that communicated a uniform body of knowledge about Jesus that was so widely understood and accepted that Paul could simply take for granted everyone’s agreement on the specifics of his life and teachings. I don’t see that we really have any independent reasons to think that this was the case. It seems to be an inference that is drawn from the fact that Paul doesn’t have much of anything to say about the historical Jesus.

            As A.C. points out, there is even some positive reason to think that the expectation is unjustified as Paul does on occasion spill ink on matters which his readers are presumed already to know. A further complication is that if you are going to hypothesize that Paul doesn’t bother to mention things that everyone already knows, don’t you also have to at least acknowledge the possibility that the things he does bother to mention are things about which there was some controversy or doubt? For example, might we not conclude that Paul informs his readers that Jesus was “born of a woman” because that was a matter upon which there was some question?

          • ” if you are going to hypothesize that Paul doesn’t bother to mention things that everyone already knows, don’t you also have to at least acknowledge the possibility that the things he does bother to mention are things about which there was some controversy or doubt? For example, might we not conclude that Paul informs his readers that Jesus was “born of a woman” because that was a matter upon which there was some question?”

            That’s a ludicrous position to take, and one that would obviously lead to bizarre conclusions if you tried to apply it elsewhere. I didn’t give many biographical details about my wife in my wedding speech, so you think the bits I did mention were therefore under debate?!

            If you don’t have internal or external evidence that a particular point was under debate, you can’t reasonably conclude that it was under debate just from the fact that it is mentioned. In the passage you refer to, Paul is using something everybody knew (i.e. that Jesus was born as a Jew) to prove a different point about freedom from the Law. Not only is there no suggestion that Jesus’s human birth is disputed, but it makes no sense at all to think that Paul would be using it if it were – it would completely undermine his own argument!

          • Anonymous Coward

            //That’s a ludicrous position to take, and one that would obviously lead to bizarre conclusions if you tried to apply it elsewhere. I didn’t give many biographical details about my wife in my wedding speech, so you think the bits I did mention were therefore under debate?!//

            Hi Paul,

            Unfortunately, you’re not yet grasping the reasoning that you’re responding to. The idea is that IF (important word!) one is going to say Paul doesn’t talk about things everyone already knows, one is thereby committed to saying that what Paul DOES talk about, everyone DIDN’T already know about.

            You are right that the latter is a ludicrous possibility. Absolutely! But that’s Vinny’s very point! (This is what I was referring to when I said you haven’t yet grasped the reasoning–you didn’t realize that what you were saying was exactly Vinny’s point.) It is ludicrous! But since it’s ludicrous, that means we have to take back the “IF” part of the statement. It looks like Paul DOES talk about things everybody already knows after all.

          • “The idea is that IF (important word!) one is going to say Paul doesn’t talk about things everyone already knows, one is thereby committed to saying that what Paul DOES talk about, everyone DIDN’T already know about.”

            And again, that’s a ridiculous position to take.

            The AFS is only applied with caution by mainstream, non-Biblical historians. One circumstance in which they do not draw conclusions from a silence is where the item in question was sufficiently well known as to not require explicit comment.

            But it isn’t consistent with that caution or a logical consequence of it to say that where a source DOES mention something, it must therefore have been either news or somehow under debate. You can reasonably apply the caution elsewhere, but you can’t reasonably apply Vinny’s parody of it.

            There are obviously reasons why a source MIGHT remind a reader of something they already know, e.g. As a step in an argument or to gain an emotional response, but it’s not definite that it WILL. Human communication isn’t simply an ongoing data dump: the way we use shared information obviously depends on context. y

          • Anonymous Coward

            //And again, that’s a ridiculous position to take.//

            It can’t be ludicrous: It’s a logical truth. Take a look at it again in streamlined form:

            IF Paul DOESN’T talk about things everyone already knows, THEN what Paul DOES talk about, everyone DOESN’T already know.

            In that streamlined form, do you see what I mean when I say it’s a logical truth that cannot be false? If not please let me know and I’ll say more about it.

            But what you’re doing in the rest of the post is qualifying your claim. You’re putting behind the claim that Paul doesn’t talk about things everybody knows, and clarifying that what you really meant is that Paul sometimes doesn’t talk about things everyone knows, and sometimes does talk about things everyone knows. This is exactly what I said, so I can’t object! And clarification is good, so I can’t object to that either.

            This invites the question of _when_ Paul does and _when_ Paul doesn’t talk about things everyone already knows. And it also makes it impossible for one to reasonably argue that “if people in the congregations are already familiar with Jesus through having been told orally about him, then it’s not unreasonable to expect that Paul would not bother wasting ink informing them of things they already know. ” Since we know Paul sometimes does and sometimes doesn’t talk about things his audience already knows, it _is_ unreasonable to expect Paul not to do so, unless we have a good reason to think the subject under discussion is one that goes in the “Paul wouldn’t talk about it” side in the context of whatever passage is being examined.

          • “IF Paul DOESN’T talk about things everyone already knows, THEN what Paul DOES talk about, everyone DOESN’T already know.”

            Except that this isn’t an accurate reflection of the objection to the AFS. As I wrote:

            “The AFS is only applied with caution by mainstream, non-Biblical historians. One circumstance in which they do not draw conclusions from a silence is where the item in question was sufficiently well known as to not require explicit comment.”

            I think you are either misunderstanding the objection, or trying to play two different objections to the AFS (common knowledge and possible allusions) off against each other. Again, I don’t see how you can reasonably go from the actual objection to the odd interpretation of it you and Vinny seem to have arrived at.

          • Anonymous Coward

            As I wrote:

            //This invites the question of _when_ Paul does and _when_ Paul doesn’t talk about things everyone already knows. And it also makes it impossible for one to reasonably argue that “if people in the congregations are already familiar with Jesus through having been told orally about him, then it’s not unreasonable to expect that Paul would not bother wasting ink informing them of things they already know. ” Since we know Paul sometimes does and sometimes doesn’t talk about things his audience already knows, it _is_ unreasonable to expect Paul not to do so, unless we have a good reason to think the subject under discussion is one that goes in the “Paul wouldn’t talk about it” side in the context of whatever passage is being examined.//

          • This doesn’t respond to the point.

            And as for this…

            “This invites the question of _when_ Paul does and _when_ Paul doesn’t talk about things everyone already knows”

            As I’ve pointed out mainstream, non Biblical scholars use the AFS *cautiously*. You have to be very, very careful not to create silences by superimposing your own anachronistic expectations about what a given source should or shouldn’t have said.

            And to re-state the point I made to Vinny, if you think there is evidence from the context or for external reasons that a given point Paul makes is either unknown or under debate then fine, but there are obviously numerous reasons why a source might refer to something which is common knowledge: to prove some other point, to gain sympathy, humour, sarcasm, to point out an error, to evoke a sense of solidarity, to introduce some other relevant point, to be a kiss ass, and many more.

            I’m sure it would be interesting to research how and when Paul uses Jesus material, but given that, as I think I’ve shown, the mythicist AFS fails, it’s hardly relevant to the question of Jesus’ existence.

          • Anonymous Coward

            The kind of mythicist account I think works best _does_ apply the AFS carefully. What you guys are doing is saying we’re not being careful enough, or else that we’re not being careful about the right things. That is absolutely a fair criticism to make! It can definitely be taken in a constructive direction! But the problem is, you’re only _claiming_, as an _assertion_, that we’re not being careful in the right way. You’re failing to _support_ that assertion. And because of this, you’re failing to give us any reason to think you’re right that we’re not being careful enough or careful in the right way.

            What it would take to support the assertion that we’re not being careful in the right way would involve, at a minimum, giving us an account as to why the ways we’ve tried to be careful are inadequate, and an account as to in what ways we should be careful instead. In other words–an account of what it is in the context of Paul’s letters that makes it clear he probably wouldn’t mention biographical details etc, and an account as to why the reasons we’ve given to expect that he would actually don’t apply to the context.

            Several posts earlier, arcseconds tried to give such support, by saying Paul would be less likely to mention things his audience already knew. But this doesn’t succeed in providing the support needed, because it predicts that Paul would be less likely to mention a lot of the things he actually _does_ mention. So we’re left at square one. We’re trying to be careful about the AFS, you guys are saying we’re not being careful in the right way, but you’re failing to _support_ the claim that we’re not being careful in the right way.

          • I think the core problem is that mythicists struggle with the most basic aspects of human conversation – and I am not referring to communication on this blog and in other such forums, although there may be a connection. Looking for some law that will explain why a human being mentions things, and expecting them to consistently not mention things their audience knows, and/or to only mention things their audience does not know, makes me think that mythicists have never talked to people in real life. Why do we mention something that we heard or that happened to us? The short answer is usually “because it popped into my head when I was writing/speaking.” Sometimes we wisely tell the story, and sometimes we unwisely fail to refrain from telling it, and sometimes the reverse of each of those. And sometimes we tell people things they already know, for the simple reason that we forgot that we had told them before. Other times, we tell it because some present have not heard it. And other times, because it is a really good story and we feel it bears repeating because of its relevance.

            To quote Harold Vedeler once again, “Occam’s razor doesn’t shave people.”

            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2014/07/quote-of-the-day-harold-vedeler.html

          • Anonymous Coward

            //Looking for some law that will explain why a human being mentions things, and expecting them to consistently not mention things their audience knows, and/or to only mention things their audience does not know, makes me think that mythicists have never talked to people in real life.//

            But this isn’t something only mythicists do. Both sides make claims about this. Both sides do it in a way that is crucial to their respective arguments.

            Mythicists say “Paul would have said X, because principle Y makes it probable he would have,”

            while historicists say, “Paul wouldn’t have said X, because principle Z makes it improbable that he would have.”

            Both sides of the argument are adducing (in so many words) “principles” or “laws” or “rules” about conversation in support of their claims about what Paul should or shouldn’t be expected to say.

            And NT scholars, of course, don’t only make arguments of this form when trying to answer mythicists. Heck, the criterion of embarrassment relies on claims of just this form.

          • I can only conclude that you have not read much if any mainstream historical scholarship on the New Testament, or that if you have, you have failed to understand the reasoning and arguments made. Making points about what is typical in ancient genres is of obvious relevance, but those aren’t “laws,” and it tends to be apologists who try to take generalities about genre and turn them into a priori arguments for or against historicity. Likewise, mainstream scholarship observes that, in those places where Paul reminds the Corinthians of things he said previously, he makes clear the relevance of the reminder to an issue in that community which he is addressing.

            Tu quoque never works as an argument, even if you were to show that in fact the nonsense that mythicists spout is also not merely found occasionally in scholarly publications, but typical of it. But of course, you have once again offered not even the slightest shred of evidence for your fallacious accusation.

          • Anonymous Coward

            You focused on the word “laws,” but I was careful to talk in terms of principles and probabilities. If the arguments in NT scholarship that you’re referring to aren’t at _least_ amenable to expression in terms of what makes what more or less probable, then there’s literally no way to judge the strength of arguments in NT scholarship.

            As to tu quoque, it works rhetorically as an invitation. If you argue I do X and X is bad, and I reply by saying you do X too, I haven’t shown that X is not bad, but I have, rather, invited you to clarify just _when_ X is or is not bad.

          • Anonymous Coward

            Forgot your last point, about me not having offered any evidence that NT scholars also offer arguments of the form “X probably wouldn’t have said Y because Z makes it improbable that X would do so.” But I manifestly did offer evidence–I said the criterion of embarrassment relies on claims of just this form.

          • So what you consider “evidence” is another claim you made without providing evidence for it?

          • Anonymous Coward

            My apologies. I genuinely thought it was evident enough not to need elucidation.

            The criterion of embarrassment says (quoting from Wikipedia): “…[A]ccounts embarrassing to the author are presumed to be true because the author would have no reason to invent an embarrassing account about himself.”

            That is aptly paraphrased as follows:

            If Y were false, author probably wouldn’t have said Y because it would be embarrassing.

            What makes this seem plausible is the idea that in general, an author probably wouldn’t say embarrassing things about himself, because people avoid doing embarrassing things.

            And that is a claim of the form “X probably wouldn’t have said Y because Z makes it improbable that X would do so.”

            Replace X with “an author,” Y with “embarrassing things,” and Z with “people avoid doing embarrasing things.”

            So you can see that the criterion of embarrassment relies on a claim of this form, just as I said.

          • Are you a troll, or do you genuinely not understand what people are saying?

            Or are you genuinely opposed to the historical use of inference and probability, in a manner that recognizes that human beings do not always do what is probable or what is average, and thus probabilistic reasoning cannot legitimately used to argue against something that strong evidence suggests that someone did?

          • Anonymous Coward

            //Or are you genuinely opposed to the historical use of inference and probability, in a manner that recognizes that human beings do not always do what is probable or what is average, and thus probabilistic reasoning cannot legitimately used to argue against something that strong evidence suggests that someone did?//

            If I understand this correctly, you’re saying a good historian uses inference to determine when to use probabilistic reasoning and when not to use probabilistic reasoning, is that right?

            The thing is, all reasoning is probabilistic. (As I said elsewhere, if it were not so, in NT scholarship and everywhere else, there’d be no way to evaluate the merits of any particular piece of reasoning.)

            It might help me to explain how this can be if you can give me an example of some reasoning you think falsifies the claim. Then I can show you in what sense it really is probabilistic. (Or perhaps we’re using the term “probabilistic” to mean two different things, in which case your example may help us to discover that.

            //Are you a troll, or do you genuinely not understand what people are saying?//

            I’ve been laying off the ad-homs for the past several rounds of the discussion, at some prompting from arcseconds.

          • Anonymous Coward

            To elucidate:

            Here is why all reasoning is probabilistic. All reasoning is updating levels of confidence in beliefs in light of evidence. All levels of confidence correlate with probabilities. Hence all reasoning can be modeled as an updating of probabilities. Hence all reasoning is probabilistic.

            Notice for example that what you said:

            //probabilistic reasoning cannot legitimately used to argue against something that strong evidence suggests that someone did//

            strictly speaking can’t be true because it is (or well, to be strict, it implies) a contradiction. It is (or implies) a contradiction because “strong evidence” literally means “evidence that makes the probability high.” So you’re saying “you can’t use probabilistic reasoning to argue against things that show with high probability that something happened.” In fact that’s the _only_ kind of reasoning you can use in such a case–because your goal would be to show that the probability is lower than the interlocutor thought.

          • I’ve spent a fair amount of my own precious time checking what the likes of Doherty say against mainstream, non-Biblical discussions of the AFS. My conclusion is that you can’t make a strong case for Paul not knowing that Jesus was a recent historical person, if you follow the principles outlined in those discussions.

            If you think I’m misreading Lange and co, then by all means show me how and why, but I don’t think that carefully checking a claim against best practice in historiography can reasonably be described as making a supposition.

          • Anonymous Coward

            Unfortunately I have no way to access Lange’s article. http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/2504447?uid=2&uid=4&sid=21104451551487

            My university has no library and no online access to journals. 🙁

          • I’m happy to email it to you, though you’ll have to wait a few days as I’m on my holidays right now. But this is a good place to start:

            https://www.umass.edu/wsp/history/outline/silence.html

          • Anonymous Coward

            BTW It really seems to me two different kind of argument are being conflated as the single “Argument from Silence” in discussions (elsewhere as well as) over mythicism.

            It’s characterized variously in the lit as involving an argument like this:

            Premise: there’s no evidence against X’s having occured
            Conclusion: It is possible that X occured.

            But that’s not really how the argument over what Paul would have said is supposed to go. Rather, that argument goes like this:

            Premise: If X were true, Y would probably have occurred
            Premise: Y did not occur
            Premise: X is not already highly probable
            Conclusion: X is probably not true

            That’s more like a kind of modified probabilistic modus tollens than the argument from silence.

          • A fairly basic version of the argument might run something like this:

            If event X had happened, it would have been mentioned in source Y.
            Event X is not mentioned in source Y
            Therefore event X did not happen.

            Your first version seems to get the argument back to front, the third premise of your second version looks like question begging.

          • Anonymous Coward

            I can see why you’d say the third premise looks question begging. It’s not, though, because of the crucial word “highly.” (And the crucial word “already.”)

            Premise three doesn’t build the conclusion in (i.e. it’s not question begging) because the premise “it is not highly probable” does not mean or imply the same thing as “it is improbable.” Moreover, “it is not already (i.e. prior to this investigation) probable doesn’t mean or imply the same thing as “it is now (i.e. post this investigation) improbable.)

            I had to put the premise in there to make it valid, because otherwise you’d be left with this:

            Premise: If X were true, Y would probably have occurred
            Premise: Y did not occur
            Conclusion: X is probably not true

            which is actually an invalid argument form. (It’s been called “probabilistic modus tollens” in some contexts.) Here’s a counterexample to the form:

            Suppose you see someone who is not trying to perform a magic trick shuffle a deck of cards. You then approach and take the deck and draw a card, thinking (without prompting) of the seven of clubs. And you do in fact draw the seven of clubs. Suppose you reasoned as follows:

            Premise: If it were a fair deck, I probably would not have drawn the very card I was thinking of.

            Premise: I did draw the very card I was thinking of

            Conclusion: Therefore it’s probably not a fair deck.

            This is an invalid argument. Those two premises don’t in fact make it probable that the deck isn’t fair. There’s plenty of other information available (the fact that you saw it shuffled, that no one was trying to trick you, etc) that independently makes it probable enough that the deck is fair, to swamp the amazing coincidence you just witnessed.

            “Probable enough…” That’s where the “highly probable” in the third premise came from.

            Probabilistic modus tollens is invalid, but if you add in the “no-swamping” condition, you get a valid argument form. So for example, if in fact there WERE good reasons to think someone was trying to trick you, then drawing the coincidental card COULD increase the probability that it wasn’t a fair deck enough to make it improbable that it was fair.

            .

          • Ok, I think I see what you mean. I don’t the versions of the ADS I’ve seen have considered the probability of the event, and I still suspect it would be problematic if applied to Jesus existence.

          • If we had evidence that the item in question was well known, we wouldn’t be discussing an argument from silence in the first place. Unfortunately, we have no way to establish what was known in the communities to which Paul was writing other than what we can deduce from Paul’s letters.

          • Your first point doesn’t seem like much of an objection, perhaps you’re just being sarcastic? Your second point requires an atomistic view of Pauline Christianity which seems completely at odds with both Acts and (more importantly) Paul’s own letters. Not only that, but is seems somewhat self-defeating: the less confidence you assign to what was known in Paul’s communities, surely the less confidence you would also have to assign to conclusions from silences in Paul’s letters (since these depend on making judgements about what Paul could or should have written, had he known A historical Jesus existed)?

          • Paul,

            Your gift for analogies is truly astounding.

            I have no hypothesis concerning why you mentioned some things in your wedding speech and omitted other things. Therefore, I have no reason to draw any conclusions about the things you included. However, if I had such a hypothesis, I think I would need to apply it consistently to both the omissions and inclusions in order to tests its validity.

            If the hypothesis is that Paul (the apostle, not you) omits information about the historical Jesus because he doesn’t mention things that everyone knew and agreed upon, then the theory should apply to the things he includes as well. To the extent that it only explains the omissions without providing any insights into the inclusions, it is ad hoc.

          • See reply to AC above.

          • Also, why is the lack of biographical detail allowed to count against a historical Jesus, but not against a non-historical Jesus? Non-historical figures can have detailed biographies and followers of such figures just love to talk about and elaborate upon these.

            As you’ll find out if you ever get stuck in a room with a serious Star Trek fan…

          • Anonymous Coward

            It’s not that it counts for or against “historicism” in all its possible forms or “mythicism” in all its possible forms. Rather, it counts for or against particular historicist or mythicist hypothesis.

            For example, if a mythicist hypothesis holds that Jesus originated as a fully formed literary character, then the lack of details would count as evidence against that mythicist hypothesis.

            But if a mythicist hypothesis holds that Jesus originated as a (fictional but very possibly believed to be real by the originators of the idea) celestial being whose entire role was to be sacrificed and resurrected, and to reveal moral teachings to prophets, then the lack of biographical details would not count against that mythicist hypothesis.

          • Doesn’t really answer the question, since celestial beings can have biographies too! And if Doherty used Paul’s failure to mention Jesus’ ethical teachings as an argument against a historical Jesus, does this not also constitute an argument against your moral teaching revealing celestial Jesus?

          • Anonymous Coward

            This’d require looking at other examples of the kind of celestial being is being referred to under the mythicist hypothesis under discussion, and seeing whether and when other examples have detailed biographies.

            Concerning “ethical teachings,” I misspoke, I should have used a different phrase. I was referring to the sort of oracular sayings Paul _does_ attribute to Jesus.

          • For all the lip service that historical Jesus scholars pay to the notion that history is a matter of assessing probabilities, it is my experience that they cannot resist expressing wildly optimistic degrees of certainty about conclusions drawn from sparse evidence and highly problematic sources.

    • arcseconds

      Why is it irrelevant? The arguments about similarities to pagan myths certainly have currency, however bad they may be. Why, Stephen Fry gave a whole spiel about Mithras in a popular television show!

      If you were writing a book about creationism, would you regard spectacularly bad arguments which nevertheless people believe as being irrelevant to that book?

      • Anonymous Coward

        On that particular point I used the phrase “not very relevant” instead of “irrelevant” specifically because of what you bring up here.

        • arcseconds

          Oh! I see now… that changes things entirely!

          I now have a completely different question to ask:

          Why is it not very relevant? The arguments about similarities to pagan myths certainly have currency, however bad they may be. Why, Stephen Fry gave a whole spiel about Mithras in a popular television show!

          If you were writing a book about creationism, would you regard spectacularly bad arguments which nevertheless people believe as being not very relevant to that book?

          • Anonymous Coward

            I’m sorry, I thought it should have been clear why it’s not very relevant, since I told you why I said so, by typing the phrase “specifically because of the point you bring up here.” Allow me to clarify, by explaining what I am saying it’s “not very relevant” _to._ Arguing against the view that early Christians simply borrowed pagan myths is not very relevant _to_ the question of whether mythicism is true. It may be relevant _to_ the question of whether most mythicists are crackpots. But I wouldn’t have denied that, and it’s not a very difficult thesis to prove. Meanwhile, to show that most mythicists are crackpots, while not also taking seriously the ones who aren’t, is irresponsible. Hence my attempt to discourage people from doing so, by pointing out it’s actually “not very relevant” to the _important_ question. (Again, the important question is “is mythicism true,” as opposed to the relatively unimportant question, “are most mythicists crackpots”?)

          • arcseconds

            No, when you tell me you used the phrase ‘not very relevant’ instead of ‘irrelevant’ as though that made a difference to my question you tell me that you’re just playing some kind of weasel-word game rather than actually engaging the question I asked. Had I known why you thought they weren’t very relevant, I wouldn’t have asked the question, would I?

            I think the purpose of the book is to educate the public about mythicism and the arguments that mythicists use, not to rigorously prove the existence of Jesus to actual scholars, virtually none of them who have any doubts on the matter.

            As such, arguments that have a lot of currency are certainly very relevant to the aims of the book.

            In fact, it would be a failing to only address the best mythicist arguments and fail to mention common ones, because his readers are then at the risk of agreeing that the best mythicists have poor arguments, but Jesus still clearly doesn’t exist because he’s just a dressed up Mithras (or being convinced of this later).

            Again, if you were attempting to educate the public about creationism, would you ignore most of the arguments that creationists actually give in favour of focusing on only the ones that strike you as the most powerful?

          • Anonymous Coward

            //I think the purpose of the book is to educate the public about mythicism and the arguments that mythicists use,//

            Alright. Maybe Casey makes this point about some mythicists but then carefully goes on to explain that not all mythicists argue in this way, and discusses these other mythicists’ arguments as well.

  • Geoff B

    Keith’s argument seems to rely on an a priori assumption of historicity. How would his conclusion put the historical Jesus on any firmer ground? He only has available to him evidence of what writers in the 70s and later believed about Jesus. It could be true about the historical Jesus, if there was such a person. It doesn’t provide evidence that Jesus actually existed. I could be mistaken, but how does he distinguish what is true about Jesus from what Mark thought was true about Jesus? And if Mark didn’t think it was true about Jesus, how could anything in Mark be evidence that it was?

    • For Jesus, as for Socrates and Hillel and John the Baptist and many other figures of this sort, what we have as evidence for them is what people wrote about them after their deaths. And so when historians study the evidence, of particular importance are details which particular authors are unlikely to have invented, since they do not support their viewpoint – as in this case, authors who apparently felt constrained by information outside their own imagination when it came to how they presented Jesus. If there had been a long tradition of storytelling stretching back centuries, then such evidence would only tell us that the stories are old. But when the stories themselves are clearly of recent origin, this sort of evidence can make it seem more probable that they are stories which ultimately stem from the impact of a historical figure. That doesn’t mean the stories themselves are accurate – even if we find ourselves lacking confidence about the portraits of Socrates offered by both Plato and Xenophon, triangulating from them may still allow historians to conclude that it is probable that there was a historical Socrates.