Defining Pseudoscholarship

Defining Pseudoscholarship September 26, 2014

Scholarship involves the building of consensus and the challenging of thereof, and so it is easy to find oneself confused about when a view is merely a minority or even a fringe scholarly viewpoint, and when it has crossed the line into pseudoscholarship. And so I thought this comment by Paul Regnier deserved to be highlighted in a post:

What defines a theory as pseudoscholarship is not that it goes against the consensus. Pseudoscholarship tends to

  • Denigrate entire scholarly fields
  • Largely ignore established academic channels
  • Largely ignore or parody academic conventions
  • Reflect a narrow range of ideological perspectives
  • Reject entire meta-narratives, not points within them
  • Make sensationalist claims
  • Appeal to dubious methodological privilege BUT
  • In reality employ flawed methods
  • Rely on supernatural over natural explanations
  • Be developed and supported disproportionately by non-specialists.

I make that 10 out of 10 for mythicism.

Does this get at the key characteristics? Would you add anything to the list or subtract anything from it?


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  • Jaco van Zyl

    I’ve heard fundamentalist apologist James White (pseudo-doctor, by the way), dismissing the celebrated NT giant James Dunn, claiming that Dunn “sits in a dark lecture room writing books only for the sake of being published.” What these pseudo-doctors and pseudo-scholars don’t realise is that they alienate themselves and their followers from mainstream scholarship, only to wake up decades later (or die) with a movement that’s become nothing short of an extremist cult. In the meantime the world keeps spinning around…

    • Dustin Smith

      Well said, Jaco.

    • He’s obviously never heard Jimmy Dunn preach…

      • Jaco van Zyl

        James, obviously not. I have listened to his “Dividing Line” programme a few months ago, discussing (or rather, giving a monologue) on your Only True God and Dunn’s Did the First Christians Worship Jesus books. I’m afraid, James, that you and Dunn are totally wrong, because you two ASSUME UNITARIANISM. No content was provided, no arguments challenged, no evidence assessed. You have UNITARIAN PRESUPPOSITIONS (and White and his followers plug their ears shouting La-la-la-la-la! to any further discussion on the issue). And I think about the hours and hours I’ve spent reading Dunn’s Christology in the making, checking his references and extending my scope of reading; the hours and hours checking the references in your book, wading through James Drummond’s Philo Judaeus, checking Philo’s Greek expressions in comparison to NT expressions; and the similarly with Loren Stuckenbruck, Adela Yarbro Collins, Crispin Fletcher-Louis and Karl-Joseph Kuschel. I could go on and on. And here comes an extremist “Tuareg” out of the woods ordering that the Museum in Kathmandu be burnt down… UNITARIAN PRESUPPOSITIONS. Case closed.

  • How about the Rational Wiki’s definition of “woo”?

    This includes features like”

    * “A simple idea that purports to be the one answer to many problems”
    * “A claim that scientists are blind to the discovery, despite attempts to alert them”
    * “A claim of persecution, usually perpetrated by the government or the …scientific community”

    Sounds familiar, yes?

    • John C

      “A claim that scientists are blind to the discovery, despite attempts to alert them” – that happens quite a lot in genuine science.

  • I think the list may be my best work 🙂

    I think it makes sense to think about pseudoscholarly movements this way, because then you can focus on the commonalities between them, rather than by asking whether the consensus in field X deserves to be treated in the same way as the consensus in field Y.

    I wonder if it would be interesting to leave aside the comparisons to holocaust denial creationism (which are always likely to be incendiary), and make a study of the similarities (if any) between mythicism and something like Bernal’s Black Athena thesis?

    • Jonathan Bernier

      I like it.

      My feeling is that Black Athena would not fare well. Let’s consider.

      –Denigrate entire scholarly fields–check. Bernal’s entire first volume was devoted to showing that classical studies was mired in an irredeemably racist discourse.
      –Largely ignore established academic channels; largely ignore or parody academic conventions; reflect a narrow range of ideological perspectives–probably less so. Bernal was already an established scholar within his own field when he wrote Black Athena, so he had a better sense of how scholarship operates. And although he became the darling of Afrocentrism he wasn’t really himself an Afrocentrist. He was, I think, just a guy with a kooky idea.
      –Reject entire meta-narratives, not points within them–definitely. See, again, that first volume. The point is to set aside the entirety of classical studies as what he calls the “Aryan Model.”
      –Make sensationalist claims–big check!
      –Appeal to dubious methodological privilege–to a certain extent. His argument really was that classicists were so hopelessly mired by racial bias that only someone (i.e. Bernal) free of such bias could see things the way they were. I’m not sure that it’s quite as evident that this is a problem in Black Athena as in, say, mythicism.
      –In reality employ flawed methods–I’d say so. He’s really employing a sophisticated form of what Collingwood calls “scissors-and-paste” history.
      –Rely on supernatural over natural explanations–not really.
      –Be developed and supported disproportionately by non-specialists.–absolutely. Bernal’s specialty was in Vietnamese history. Then suddenly he’s making huge sweeping claims about classical history. Very dubious.

      My feeling is that Bernal is a pseudo-historian who knows a bit better how to play the academic game. That’s basically my feeling about Carrier, who would also fare about the same if I went down this list. Now, that said, in his own field Bernal might well be a genius. I don’t know. But in classics I think he’s basically a crank, despite the publicity that he received.

      Edit: where Carrier would fare less well is in the narrow ideological field matter. He’s definitely got one of those.

    • I think it may make sense to argue against mythicism this way because it avoids the sticky wicket of the effect of confessional bias on the consensus of New Testament scholars. However, if a person is trying to decide for himself what he thinks about the issue, I wouldn’t recommend that he or she sidestep tough questions.

      • A few points:

        Firstly, what, if anything qualifies you to assess the extent to which the consensus of NT scholars has a confessional bias?

        Secondly, the notion that a particular field of scholarship is biased comes under the general heading of “denigrating an entire field of scholarship”. The way this works in the “Black Athena” thesis has been noted above.

        Thirdly, even if confessional bias is present in NT studies, the solution is to work within the academy to develop more objective approaches. Mythicism is just what happens when you read the NT with an atheist confessional bias. What you seem to think is the solution is, if anything, part of the problem.

        • Just to clarify: I did not say that the consensus of NT scholars “had a confessional bias.” I think that confessional bias “has an effect on the consensus of NT scholars.” The distinction may not be relevant to the point you are making, but it might be somewhere down the road.

          I am not at all certain what the exact extent of the effect is, but what qualifies me to assess the existence of the effect is simply the powers of observation and the capacity for rational thought.

          NT Wright believes that the occurrence of supernatural miracles can be established probabilistically by historical methodology. I suspect that in any other field of historical inquiry, this would make him a laughingstock. However, in the field of New Testament studies, he is considered a leading scholar and his historical methodology is lauded by other leading scholars.

          In the field of New Testament studies, many scholars work for institutions where they are required to affirm the historicity of miracles as a condition of employment. I have even heard that some institutions still conduct heresy trials.

          To the best of my knowledge, the process of peer review is sufficiently robust that you are unlikely to find any tenured Holocaust deniers in history departments or tenured moon landing deniers in astronomy departments. However, the process is insufficiently robust among New Testament scholars to weed out resurrection affirmers in a field that purports to apply critical historical methodology.

          You may accuse me of denigrating an entire field of scholarship if you wish, but I believe that I am simply noting obvious problems.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Sure, one can probably detect a confessional bias among NT scholars, although it would not be sufficient to account for the virtual consensus on this matter. Ehrman has no such bias, and in fact has made his career as a public intellectual largely by making arguments that are scandalous among the more conservative elements of Christianity. What exactly is his confessional bias? Or that of Jewish scholars, such as Adele Reinhartz, current editor of the Journal of Biblical Literature? Or James Crossley, atheist? Or…I could go on. If the consensus position is so weak then surely at least more of the many, many, non-Christian scholars out there would be speaking out about it. And if the confessional bias is so strong then why is it that the only two NT scholars who have come out in favour of mythicism come from a Christian background?

          • Alright, I’m not a mythicist, and completely understand that there is a lack of academic rigor in the current mythicist movement. So this is not about mythicism.

            But, taking mythicism off the table for a moment, it does seem to me that VinnyJH has an important point to make about the kinds of scholarship that gets a strong hearing in NT studies, but which would be laughed off the table in any other peer-reviewed field of history. When scholars such as N.T. Wright, Gary Habermas, William Lane Craig, and others argue for the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus – why is this considered acceptable scholarship? A scholar of Roman antiquity trying to argue the historicity of Vespasian’s miracles would never pass peer review.

            It’s one thing to believe in the resurrection. I’m not suggesting that resurrection believers be weeded out of peer review. I am asking why resurrection scholarship is not weeded out of peer review.

          • If you attended the Society of Biblical Literature conference, you would probably never hear mention of Habermas or Craig. Wright gets mentioned mainly because he attends and is a scholar who is of interest to those working at the intersection between scholarship and Christian faith, but while he has an excited fan base in those circles, you won’t find that scholars are interacting much with the things that he writes that cross the border into apologetics. Those things are typically published by religious publishers.

            I think the question might also be asked why Francis Collins writing about his faith, or Richard Dawkins writing about his atheism, is accepted by the scientific community. I suspect that some love one or the other, some love both, and most are rather dismayed that scientists are spending their time on something that has nothing to do with their work as scientists.

          • So maybe the question should be: shouldn’t apologetics in NT studies be fought as vigorously as mythicism?

            I would love to see scholars put as much effort into decrying supernatural apologetics as they put into decrying mythicism.

            Habermas and Craig are both members of SBL so you may well “see” (if not “hear”) Habermas and Craig at an SBL conference. Habermas references SBL sources on the empty tomb to support his “minimal facts” defense of the resurrection. Another name to add to the list of apologist NT scholars – Mike Licona.

            Here’s the point. The supernatural apologetics of voices such as Habermas, Craig, Wright, and Licona have arguably much bigger popular audiences than mythicists do, and these are scholars who can say that they are SBL members, publishing in peer-reviewed journals. My guess is that their apologetics is less-well represented in peer review, but I’m sure that the tentacles of their apologetics reaches into peer review.

            I don’t think that Dawkins and Collins are writing peer-reviewed work outside of their field. But in the case of apologetics, isn’t that peer-review line often crossed?

          • I’m sure that there are things which have passed peer review that cross the line in question. But peer review is not a foolproof screening process. It contributes to quality by having a screening process at all, but it doesn’t guarantee that everything that passes through it is of the same quality. And that is true generally and not just in Biblical studies or religion.

            Apologists will always appeal to scholarship in favor of their viewpoint, usually very selectively. I don’t think there is anything that can be done about that.

            While perhaps the academy ought to do more, in the mainstream academy there have been more criticisms of conservative Christian apologetics masquerading as scholarship, than there have been of mythicism.

          • Couldn’t we apply your statement about apologists to mythicists?

            “Mythicists will always appeal to scholarship in favor of their viewpoint, usually very selectively. I don’t think there is anything that can be done about that.”

            I am surprised to hear that mainstream academy criticizes apologetics more often than mythicism, but I’ll take your word for it because it’s your field not mine – and I’d love to read some academic critics of N.T. Wright’s and W.L. Craig’s resurrection apologetics. I have to say, as a layman, that I see academics calling out mythicists a lot more often than I hear them calling out resurrection apologists.

          • Is that partly related to where the mythicist debate takes place? Mythicists spend a *lot* of time blogging and commenting on blogs so they get a fair amount of attention – though even then, there are biblioblogs that give little or no attention to mythicism. If you do a Google scholar search, I don’t think you’d find much evidence that mythicism is a particular concern for most scholars.

            I can remember conservative Christians criticising James in comments for his views on evolution and the Red Sea chariot wheels thing, but I honestly can’t remember seeing many Christians taking a similar line on miracles or the resurrection, at least in comments.

          • Well I would only say that evangelicals twisting scholarship to support miracle apologetics get far more attention than mythicists do.

          • Paul E.

            Good comments. Has there been, for example, such a strident defense of Bart Ehrman when Craig seems to imply Ehrman is dishonest (the whole “good Bart, bad Bart” thing) as there was when Carrier harshly criticised Ehrman for making mistakes? Maybe so, and I am simply not aware of it.

          • Indeed, and I don’t think there is anything we can do to stop them either. All we can do is voice disagreement, and point out where the use of scholarship is selective and distorting.

            I’m curious which scholars you’ve read, who’ve written about the resurrection stories from the perspective of critical secular scholarship, and have failed to voice criticisms of Wright. Craig, not being a New Testament scholar, is probably more likely to be ignored than responded to – I doubt that most New Testament scholars who are not from Evangelical backgrounds are even aware of him, unless they have seen him debate someone on YouTube.

          • Well, like mythicism, the world of Christian apology is inbred; so what I see is Wright, Craig, Licona, Habermas, Craig Blomberg, Craig Keener, Charles Quarles, Norman Geisler, Paul Eddy, Richard Baukham, Kenneth Boa, Robert Bowman, etc. all referencing each other and any scholar they can take out of context to support their claims.

            The problem is, of course, that popular Christian literature is inundated with writers like these, citing their scholarly bona fides in one hand, tossing out dubious miracle apologetics in the other.

            Their work and influence, from what I can see, is far more prolific than that of mythicists, whatever the academy thinks of them.

            In answer to your question, I haven’t read any N.T. scholars criticizing Wright’s resurrection apologetics. I would like to – do you know any articles I could look up?

          • I think there is a spectrum. Some of the people you mention are apologists who sometimes write things that can be categorized as scholarship, while others are scholars who sometimes write things that can be categorized as apologetics.

            As for criticizing Wright, I was trying to remember which book or article it is in where Dale Allison calls Wright out on his treatment of the resurrected saints in Matthew’s passion narrative. I don’t have time to systematically look for it until a few days from now, but if you can’t find it, please do let me know.

          • I agree with your characterization of the spectrum of apologists/scholars I listed. I just think that their popular (and occasional academic) writings on miracle apologetics are far more influential and problematic than the output of mythicist writers.

            I’ll look for the Dale Allison critique, thanks.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            I am finding it a bit strange that in a thread critiquing NT scholarship for being too censorious it is now being said that NT scholarship is not censorious enough. Is it that you are against bias in scholarship or more that you are against NT scholars not sharing *your* biases?

            That said, the reality is that arguments for the historicity of the resurrection are exceedingly rare within the discipline. There’s been, what, two major studies in the last twenty years (Wright’s and Licona’s)? Historical Jesus scholars aren’t debating back and forth whether this occurred. There isn’t a pro school and a con school on this. It’s just not a significant issue within the field.

          • Hi Jonathan

            I apologize if I took your thread in a direction you didn’t intend. I was responding, I think, to your comment on “confessional bias”, to mention that there is a lot of apologetic writing that shows clear confessional bias. I may also be reflecting on the theme of the blog post – suggesting that apologetics in NT studies can also be a form of pseudo scholarship.

            Wouldn’t you say the same thing about mythicism that you’ve just said about resurrection historicity? Actual studies in the discipline are rare, history scholars aren’t debating mythicism back and forth, and it’s just not a significant issue within the field?

            As with mythicism, the vast majority of writing about resurrection historicism takes place in popular writing, not academic writing – but in popular writing, it comes with claims of being scholarly and academic, and the examples of pseudo scholarly apologetic writing is far more prolific than examples of pseudo scholarly mythicist writing.

            And, frankly, pseudo scholarly apologetic writing bothers me more.

            Anyway, that’s why I brought it up. I’m sorry if I steered your thread in the wrong direction.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            I’m not quite sure what you are getting at here. First, this isn’t my “thread,” and I’m not objecting to the direction that it took. What just strikes me as strange is that on one hand there is an accusation of bias in the construction of the consensus re: Jesus’s existence, which presumably implies an accusation of censorship against opposing views, whilst on the other hand an accusation of insufficient censorship of “resurrection historicism” (a term that so bothers the word “historicism” that it borders on the absolutely incoherent). And it makes me wonder whether the objection is to bias in the discipline or a failure to adopt your preferred bias.

            Second, the more substantive point stands. Frankly only someone who doesn’t really understand the discipline can think that it has a bias towards more conservative forms of Christianity, as is being intimated here. That’s just not how the history of the discipline unfolded. The discipline started really as an early 19th-century revolt among certain German scholars against traditional Lutheran theology. What emerged was the so-called “higher criticism.” In the late 19th-century Church of England scholars made peace with this “higher criticism,” producing their own unique expression, which allowed it to become common wisdom in the CoE fairly quickly. In America things were a bit less smooth, and got caught up with the modernist/fundamentalist struggles of the early 20th century. It’s fair to say that as a result higher criticism really only began to infiltrate more conservative American Protestantism in the last few decades, and in fact there is still a strong resistance thereto. There have been and are nonetheless some incredibly brilliant scholars who come out of such a background. In Catholic circles it was also a painful process, and higher criticism did not take solid root until the 1960s, although today its pretty solidly embedded in Catholic thought, and in the process produced some incredible work. The scholar who in my mind is the greatest of the post-war generation, Ben F. Meyer, was a Jesuit. But the point is, conservatives are relatively late-comers to the party. There is, if anything, a bias against traditional narratives of Christian origins.

            There’s also the fact that the notion of the “supernatural” that gets bandied around in popular discourse has little bearing to its meaning in much formal theology (it would have no place in most forms of Thomism, for instance), but that’s another matter.

          • I’m sorry, Jonathan, when you said, “I am finding it a bit strange that in a thread critiquing NT scholarship for being too censorious it is now being said that NT scholarship is not censorious enough”, I thought you were referring to the thread of conversation that you had begun earlier with a comment, rather than the thread of the blog post itself on pseudo scholarship. If by “thread” you mean the blog post itself, then I guess I don’t understand how this outline of pseudo scholarship is a “thread critiquing NT scholarship for being too censorious”.

            I really appreciate your summary history of NT scholarship; it’s helpful to get a little perspective on the relationship between higher criticism in the academy and conservative American Protestantism.

            Forgive me for using a poor application of the word historicism to the resurrection. I’m not an NT scholar, as you are, so I thank you for the correction. I was trying to come up with a quick way to refer to the sorts of arguments that apologists make to “prove” that the resurrection of Jesus (or in other cases, his miracle working) was an actual historical event, such as the apologetic approach which is referred to as the “minimal facts” argument for the resurrection.

            Perhaps I am basically talking about Christian apologetics and should leave it at that. The practice of Christian apologetics seems, by definition, to have confessional bias. James has made the point in a response to me that most NT scholarship cannot be characterized as apologetics, and I can see that. However, it does seem to me that apologetics does find it’s way into the forums of NT scholarship more often than mythicism.

            Now, you may be right about me. Maybe I have a particular, personal bias against Christian apologetics. But if scholars are concerned that pseudo scholarship or fringe scholarship not be mistaken for real scholarship, shouldn’t scholars be more concerned about Christian apologetics than about mythicism? It seems to me that Christian apologists make lots of scholarly claims (as mythicists do), and are far more prolific than mythicists.

          • On a completely different note, I would be interested to know the differences between the popular conceptions of the “supernatural” and the meaning of the word in formal theology. Could you elaborate? Or would it require too long a response for a blog comment?

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Sorry. Missed this earlier.

            Okay. Here goes, in a nutshell. The notion of “supernatural” as something existing outside of and, when interacting with the world a suspension of, nature is by and large a product of early modern deism. In certain older, and still in many cases operative, theologies the supernatural is nature touched by grace, or another way of putting that, the supernatural is nature operating so as to make known God’s purposes in creation. So, for instance, the scriptures are not supernaturally inspired because God suspended the normal processes by which humans produce texts but rather because through divine grace those processes operated the best they possibly could given the context in which they were operative. Miraculous healing would not be the suspension of normal healing processes but rather the perfection of such processes. In other words, in such understandings, supernature is nature perfected, rather than nature suspended.

          • This is a very interesting explanation of the theological understandings of the supernatural. Does this conception of the supernatural, in your estimation, make reports of the supernatural (ancient or contemporary), such as resurrections or other miracles, more or less plausible?

          • Jonathan Bernier

            I don’t know if it speaks to historical matters one way or another. Frankly, for the stuff that I work upon, the question of miracles isn’t really that big a deal. I just get annoyed when people attack Christianity’s belief in the supernatural by focusing upon the most banal expression of that belief.

          • What do you consider the most banal expression of the belief in the supernatural? What expression of the supernatural is important to liberal Christians?

            I’m not sure most atheists I know would see a much of distinction between the theological supernatural expression you describe and the more banal expressions. In both cases miracles are brought about through the agency of a higher being.

            I personally don’t see any reason to attack anyone for such beliefs. But, I certainly get attacked by former friends and some family members for not sharing in those beliefs.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Well, that’s the thing: it’s easy to attack the worst example of something. But a failure to distinguish between theologies means that you end up unable to distinguish between Holiness snake-handler, the Hindu Vaishnavite devotee, and the Princeton divinity prof, and somehow that seems a less-than-robust treatment of the matter. Each might be open to considering the possibility of strange and unusual things happening in this word, but surely the Princeton professors’ arguments therefore will be a bit more sophisticated than the Holiness snake-handlers. Perhaps still wrong of course, but that’s a different matter.

            Liberal Christianity is a fairly large ship. Within that umbrella you have a wide range, but I would tend to think that most would share if not a suspicion of at least a tendency away from the miraculous. You’ll tend to also see pantheistic and panentheistic theologies, which will treat the miraculous quite differently from garden-variety theism. That’s why you will often find in such circles a tendency to interpret the resurrection as something other than an actual physical resuscitation. Note that “liberal Christian” would be different from, say, the Evangelical Left, which would be Christians who tend to hold fairly traditional Protestant theologies whilst adopting a more progressive stance on issues such as gay marriage, etc.

          • Incidentally, when you suggested that the use of the word “historicism” with “resurrection” was incoherent, you made me wonder where I’d picked up the phrase. I took a look and found it in an article I’d read recently by the Oxford and Cambridge scholar Alister McGrath, in which he uses the idea multiple times:

            “A third line of criticism of the historicity of the resurrection is due to the German sociologist Ernst Troeltsch, who argued that, as dead men don’t rise, Jesus couldn’t have risen.”

            Looking around further, one can find many examples of apologists (both scholars and non scholars) using the word historicism specifically to characterize the resurrection of Jesus, as in Mike Licona’s book:

            The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach

            But you may rightfully point out that this is an apologetic use of the terms, and not one that squares with most NT scholarly writing. If that is the case, then perhaps it is apologetic approaches to the resurrection that you see as “absolutely incoherent”?

          • Jonathan Bernier

            It’s barbarism. “Historicism” refers to a 19th-century philosophical movement. Anything else evacuates it of meaning.

          • Kris Rhodes

            In deference to your registered sensibilities on the matter, I’ve been trying to use the phrase “historicity-advocacy” instead. But as a factual matter, I’m going to go ahead and insist you’re wrong about what the term means. The term means what you say, and it also has the meaning beau-quilter and others have assigned to it in these blog comments. The term, like many others, has more than one meaning. Which meaning applies depends on who’s speaking, who’s listening, and what the topic is. But having more than one meaning utterly fails to “evacuate” a term “of meaning.”

          • Again, thank you for the correction. As I mention in another comment, I think I really should just be talking about the practice of Christian apologetics, when it is conflated with historical scholarship.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Perhaps I overstated the matter. But when the term is already used in discussions related to philosophy of history, and when this discussion relates to the philosophy of history, why create potential confusion by using the word in a novel fashion? Why not find another word? And although I do not have my copy of Carrier’s latest book here at home (it’s in my office on-campus) I am pretty sure that he uses the word in this novel fashion, and frankly he should know better (although, in fairness, as I said, I don’t have it right in front of me).

          • Thank you! I’m conflating “historicism” with “historicity”, aren’t I. I may have picked up this barbarism from apologists, but I don’t think I got it from Alistair McGrath – I’ll try to be careful of it in future.

          • Kris Rhodes

            Use the term that gets you best understood by your audience. But “historicism” is an utterly innocuous application of the suffix “ism” to the word “historicity.” It means, in effect, “advocacy for historicity.”

            The word _also_ has the meaning Dr. Bernier mentioned, but the existence of two different meanings for a term should invite clarification, not correction.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Yes. I should have added that: you’re not to blame. Others have made the slip and you are following them. It is just very frustrating, because such terminological equivocation makes serious discussion of method and philosophy of history (upon which the matter of mythicism impinges significantly) quite challenging.

            It’s like the words “liberal” and “conservative”: they’ve come to mean something very different in contemporary usage than what they signified for a very long time, which means talking about things historically quite difficult. How do you talk about the fact that the US is the world’s oldest and, for all its struggles, most successful, liberal democracy when “liberal” has become a dirty word among so many Americans? I’m usually not a pedantic, but when terminological imprecision can get in the way of actual discussion, then I might display some pedantic plumage.

          • This correction on the meaning of “historicism” reminds me of C.S. Lewis discussion of the use of “gentleman” in Mere Christianity. He first notes that the word gentleman began as a reference to someone with a coat of arms and landed property, but ended in common usage as a reference to someone with good behavior. He suggests that unless we agree that the word “christian” refers to someone who accepts the teaching of the apostles, the word will lose all usefulness.

            And speaking of apologists like C.S. Lewis, I should add that I’m not saying that Christian apology is a problem in and of itself. It’s natural for someone to defend his or her beliefs.

            It seems to me that it is only Christian apology that masquerades as historical scholarship that fits this blog post’s characterization of pseudo-scholarship. And, again, that form of pseudo-scholarship is far more rampant than mythicism.

          • arcseconds

            by ‘barbarism’, do you mean ‘typical of people who aren’t

          • Jonathan Bernier


          • Weeding out resurrection affirmers means what exactly? Saying that *billions* of orthodox Christians and (by extension) Muslims and Jews should not be taken seriously as historians? Why?

            the powers of observation and the capacity for rational thought.

            Your powers of thought have brought you to a view that (as far as I can tell) has zero logical coherence and is more or less laughed at by 99% of appropriately qualified scholars. I fear you may have catastrophically overestimated those powers…

          • That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that I find it very difficult to take anyone seriously as a historian when they assert that supernatural miracles can be established as a matter of historical probability and I am suspicious of a field in which people who make such assertions are lauded by other leading scholars for their skills as a historian. I would like to think that most of your billions of Jews and Christians and Muslims would figure the problems with asserting the historicity of miracles if they ever studied historical methodology.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            I could probably count on one hand the number of NT scholars who publicly assert that sound historical method can establish the occurrence of miracles. I’m really not sure whom you are critiquing here.

          • I think that a lot depends on how you count. James Dunn may not affirm the resurrection as a matter of historical probability in his own work, but he lauds NT Wright as a historian. There are scholars who might acknowledge that the resurrection is beyond the scope of historical methodology in their own peer reviewed work, but nonetheless lend there credibility to works by popular apologists like Lee Strobel who insist that the resurrection is historically probable based on the evidence.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            I’m not sure how Dunn relates to Strobel, but that notwithstanding…

            To the best of my knowledge Jimmy Dunn has never stated that he thinks that the resurrection can be established by historical means. That he respects Wright’s work and Wright thinks that this can be done does not mean that Dunn agrees with Wright on this matter. I respect Dunn immensely. I think him one of the best NT scholars of his generation, and would consider his 2003 monograph “Remembering Jesus” to be perhaps the single most important work published in historical Jesus studies in the last 25 years. Yet I would disagree with him on a whole range of issues, including some in that very work. Put otherwise, guilt by association just doesn’t work.

          • Does Dunn think that the resurrection is a real event that occurred in history? Does he think that it is important for Christians to believe that it is a real event? Does Dunn think that God revealed himself supernaturally through Jesus of Nazareth? Is his interest in the historical Jesus driven by his desire to understand God’s revelation? Wouldn’t these beliefs influence his ability to apply methodological naturalism?

          • Jonathan Bernier

            I have seen nothing in any of Dunn’s work that would suggest that he is invoking supernatural explanations for any historical phenomenon. Could you perhaps provide an example where he does so?

          • I don’t doubt that Dunn is careful not to invoke supernatural explanations for historical phenomena in an academic setting, but he nonetheless believes that God expressed himself supernaturally through Jesus of Nazareth.

          • I think you’re edging towards a position where you think that somebody needs to share your worldview before you will take their arguments seriously and/or if people don’t share your worldview this likely is because they aren’t sufficiently educated. I don’t see much attractive in such a position, though if you think I’ve misunderstood you, feel free to explain it in a different way.

            You may accuse me of denigrating an entire field of scholarship if you wish, but I believe that I am simply noting obvious problems.

            I’m afraid that your general line of argument really does remind me of the approach taken by peddlars of denialism and other forms of pseudo-bunk: hold up what you believe to be (perhaps with some justification) an egregious error and hold an entire field to be somehow responsible for that error. You think that this somehow creates the epistemic space needed to assert that your own brand of pseudoscholarship is somehow different and deserving of a serious hearing, when others are not. Your shibboleth might be “resurrection affirmation”, mine might be the Tuskegee study or Thalidomide, but the pattern of thinking is just the same.

          • You are starting to remind me of the Christian apologists who insist that methodological naturalism is just a closed minded worldview rather than the necessary basis of empirical inquiry. When a scholar has a faith based belief that God supernaturally manifested himself through Jesus of Nazareth, he is starting from a premise that is outside the realm of historical inquiry. When a substantial proportion of historians in a field start with an invalid historical premise, it would be surprising if the consensus was unaffected. If a substantial proportion of scholars still defended the practices that led to the Tuskegee study or Thalidomide, that would be an excellent recent to treat the scholarly consensus in those fields with more than a grain of salt.

          • Except, as you well know, I’m not a Christian. So perhaps you’ve just missed the point?

          • Don’t be silly Paul. That your argument reminds me of the arguments that Christian apologists make concerning worldviews has nothing to do with whether you are or are not a Christian. It’s just like when you say that my argument reminds you “of the approach taken by peddlars of denialism and other forms of pseudo-bunk.” I know that doesn’t mean that you think I am a holocaust denier or a 911 Truther (although you cannot seem to get it through your head that I am not a mythicist).

          • Of course it doesn’t. But in this instance, I think you’ve simply misunderstood my point.

          • That is of course possible, but I think it more likely that you your point was very weak. Comparing resurrection affirmation to the Tuskegee study or Thalidomide doesn’t help your case at all. The reason the latter two might merit the label “shibboleth” is that they are irrelevant to the present state of scholarship because those fields learned from their mistakes. On the other hand, there are still plenty of New Testament “historians” who cling to supernatural explanations in their field of study.

          • Again, I think you have a simplistic view of how other fields of study work. Do you think that someone opposed to the animal testing would agree that thalidomide is irrelevant to current debates? Somehow, I really doubt it.

            And precisely what parts of the general consensus picture in NT studies rely on supernatural explanations?

          • You were the one who described Thalidomide as a shibboleth, not me. Please don’t accuse me of misunderstanding your point when you cannot decide what it is.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            I would like to see an answer to the substantive question. Can you think of a single consensus, majority, or even significant minority view in the discipline of New Testament studies that is predicated upon appeal to the supernatural? Because I can’t.

          • I don’t think the question is relevant. Intelligent design proponents don’t predicate their conclusions on an appeal to the supernatural, but their conclusions are nonetheless driven by their belief in the supernatural. Similarly, many NT scholars who explicitly affirm the supernatural as a matter of faith avoid direct appeals to the supernatural in their academic work, but that doesn’t mean that their conclusions are not constrained by their faith.

          • So easy peasy: remind me which points of the consensus are only held by Christians, but would be rejected by a majority of qualified non-Christian scholars? These might, in principle, be suspected of being constrained by faith.

            Other views though, if shared by both Christian and non-Christian scholars, cannot reasonably be dismissed as being driven by faith, since the scholars putting them forward have quite different religious views.

            So which points did you have in mind?

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Okay, not direct appeals (note that I didn’t say “direct appeal,” but that not withstanding). Can you show me one consensus, majority, or even significant minority view in the discipline of New Testament studies for which belief in the supernatural is a *necessary* condition?

          • I do note that you did not say “direct appeal.” On the other hand, I did not say anything about a “necessary condition.”

            I wouldn’t expect any scholar who desires mainstream credibility to frame any argument in a way that makes the supernatural a necessary condition. ID advocates insist that they are applying the scientific method. William Craig, Gary Habermas, Mike Licona, and NT Wright all claim that their conclusions about the resurrection are based on secular methodology. Other scholars like James Dunn, Darrell Bock, and Craig Evans are careful to acknowledge that the supernatural is beyond the reach of secular methodology even where their personal faith affirms it.

            I think the effect of conditional bias is to pull the consensus to the right of where it might otherwise be. Based on anecdotal evidence, I suspect that there is a pretty high correlation between the personal faith of a NT scholar and the position he takes on the historicity of the empty tomb story. If I am correct, that gives me reason to doubt Dunn when he claims his affirmation of the empty tomb is based strictly on historical analysis.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Necessary conditions have nothing to do with framing. The question is whether X can only be affirmed as true if Y is antecedently affirmed. Do you have an example of any consensus, majority, or significant minority opinion in NT for which this would be the case or do you not? Because right now all you have is vague suspicion.

          • Once again, I don’t see the relevance of the question. I concede that belief in the supernatural is not a necessary antecedent to the affirmation of the historicity of the empty tomb story. Nevertheless, if there is a high correlation among scholars between belief in the supernatural and affirmation of the empty tomb, causation can reasonably be inferred.

          • I presume the relevance is to address your comparison between a case in which everyone using secular methods of scholarship agrees that something is probable, and a case in which everyone using secular methods of scholarship agrees that something is highly improbable.

          • Where did I make that comparison?

          • When you compared being suspicious of the conclusions drawn by ID and of those drawn about the historical Jesus.

          • I never made that comparison. I simply pointed out that confessional bias can affect a conclusion even if an argument is not expressly predicated on an appeal to the supernatural.

          • But surely no one denies that confessional bias is at work when deaing with a fringe view like ID. Your example would lead one to conclude it likely that something like confessional bias is at work in mythicism, even though this is often denied by its proponents.

          • The first part of your comment is exactly correct. No one besides IDers denies that confessional bias is at work with ID. This is true despite the fact that IDers don’t predicate their arguments on an appeal to the supernatural. Therefore, the absence of an appeal to the supernatural is not sufficient to show the absence of confessional bias.

            I don’t, however, see that the example says anything about confessional bias being likely. That determination requires different questions than the one that Jonathan was posing to me.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            You identify belief in the supernatural as a bias. You state that this bias is rampant in the discipline of New Testament studies. Yet you deny that it is relevant to ask what consensus, majority, or even minority views are predicated upon this bias. In fact you concede that none are. So, I have to ask, how do you actually envision this bias as operative in historical investigation? If it does not affect decision-making then how does it, well, affect decision-making?

          • I don’t believe that I did identify belief in the supernatural as a bias. You are the one who has been trying to reduce the question of confessional bias to whether the supernatural is appealed to as a predicate or whether it is a necessary condition. I have maintained that confessional bias may be present even where a scholar eschews any reference to the supernatural whatsoever.

            I think the most obvious example of the effect of confessional bias would be a scholar who is required to sign a statement of faith as a condition of employment. Such a scholar’s conclusions on any number of issues are determined before he even begins his research even if never references the supernatural in any argument that he makes. He might even lose his faith in the supernatural, but still affirm the positions required to maintain his livelihood.

            It is quite true that correlation does not equal causation (although I don’t know why you would describe that as an “atheist saw”), however it is often the case that causation is the most logical explanation for correlation. So if it is the case the historicity of the empty tomb story is commonly affirmed by scholars whose employment requires them to affirm the historical accuracy of the Bible and rarely affirmed by those who operate under no such strictures, it is no great leap to posit that confessional bias may be playing a role.

            It is also not the case that I have stated that confessional bias is “rampant” in New Testament studies. I may or may not believe that, but what I expressly said was that I was not sure of the exact extent of its effect.

          • As I’ve pointed out before, the director of education at the Royal Academy (of science) lost his job a few years back because he said that creationism should be *covered* in school science lessons. He wasn’t saying that creationism was right, or that there were reasonable grounds to doubt evolution, he actually said that teachers “should take the time to explain how science works and why creationism has no scientific basis,”. And he still lost his job!

            Speaking out in favour of holocaust denial won’t just cost you your job. In some European countries, you might also get thrown in prison (for up to 20 years).

            Other fields of study obviously set boundaries about how far it is permissible to challenge the consensus, and in some cases they are backed up with the threat of legal punishment. How consistent are you willing to be in thinking that such restrictions diminish the value of the scholarly consensus in these fields of study?

          • I think that coercion in any field creates a problem for anyone who wishes to appeal to the consensus of scholars on an issue that is affected by that coercion. I hate the fact that Holocaust deniers are in a position to claim that their views are legally suppressed.

            I’m not sure whether the science curriculum should include responses to specific creationist arguments. A director of education who advocates curriculum changes that are not in the best interest of students shouldn’t be surprised if he loses his job, although I don’t know enough about the case you cited to make any judgment.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            “So if it is the case the historicity of the empty tomb story is commonly affirmed by scholars whose employment requires them to affirm the historical accuracy of the Bible and rarely affirmed by those who operate under no such strictures, it is no great leap to posit that confessional bias may be playing a role.”

            Do we in fact know that this is the case? Where is the evidence for this correlation? Again, all you have, at best, is a suspicion.

            But you overlook an obvious possibility, namely that scholars who judge on historical grounds that the evidence generally supports the biblical account might for that reason be inclined towards Christian faith and ultimately to work in institutions in which they are required to sign the documents of which you write. That is, you operate on the assumption that faith must be supposition, ignoring the possibility that it is conclusion. I’m not arguing that this is frequently the case, but that historical judgments shape beliefs is at least as possible a narrative as the possibility that belief shapes historical judgment. In other words, I think that you are drawing too strongly an unidirectional relationship here.

          • Be that as it may, it is clear that most historians, Christians or not, agree that historical methods cannot be used to demonstrate the factuality of the resurrection. And so, if one presumes that most Christians would actually like to be able to use historical methods in an attempt to demonstrate the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection, this seems to be a clear indication that the majority of scholars are able to overcome their confessional biases in history, just as they do in the natural sciences and in other fields. There are still biases of all sorts in all fields, to be sure. But the examples provided from both biology and history suggest that the scholarly methods and approaches do a good job of correcting them, do they not?

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Very good points. Just because I *want* something to be true does not mean either that it is true or that I can show that it is true. That is where intellectual integrity comes in.

          • While I have not carried out a detailed survey of the literature, I have spent a lot of time arguing with internet apologists about Habermas’ claim that 75% of scholars affirm the historicity of the empty tomb story and I think I have more than a suspicion that the split is pretty cleanly on partly lines. Do you have any reason to think that it is not?

            It is of course theoretically possible that someone could choose to work at an institution that required the affirmation of a statement of faith as a result of being convinced by the evidence that the conservative position is correct. Based on my reading, however, that kind of thing only happens in the pages of Lee Strobel and Josh McDowell. Most New Testament scholars are raised in conservative churches and come to the college with conservative ideas. Some manage to retain their conservative ideas while some like Ehrman abandon them, but I am not aware of any scholars who became more conservative as a result of their studies.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            You seem to be of the opinion that conservative Christian belief correlates strongly with particular historical challenge judgments. I am really not at all convinced by this claim, and in fact it’s not my judge to show it is mistaken, not until you show that it is correct. Merely stating that you suppose things fall along “party lines” (I’m not even clear what these “party lines” might be) does not constitute demonstration. And I’m also not at all sure why you focus such attention on the issue of the empty tomb, as affirmation of an empty tomb hardly constitutes affirmation of the resurrection. I don’t get what is intrinsically “conservative” about this matter.

          • He’s referring to Habermas, Licona, and Craig’s “Minimal Facts” argument, in which they contend that the “fact” of the empty tomb, paired with other dubious “facts”, tends to verify the historicity of the resurrection.

            VinnyJH should understand that this is a minority apologist view that doesn’t represent most NT scholars.

            However, I have to say, I understand his confusion. Apologists like Habermas, Licona, and Craig (not to mention N.T. Wright, who makes a similar resurrection argument) are far more prolific than mythicists and market themselves as NT scholars (they’re all SBL members).

          • I do believe that I have observed a correspondence between conservative Christian belief and particular historical judgments, although I don’t consider this at all surprising since it is the conservative Christian schools that require affirmations of faith from the scholars they employ. It seems to me so intuitively obvious that I am surprised that anyone who claimed expertise in the field would even question it. On the other hand, from my own inquiries into the historicity of Jesus, I realize that proving things that seem intuitively obvious can be a tricky proposition, so I would be happy to test my own thinking against someone with a different perspective.

            You are of course free to withhold your perspective for whatever reasons that please you. However, it strikes me as rather silly to withhold it on the grounds that I haven’t shown my claim to be true to your satisfaction. If I could do so, I would expect a fair minded person to accept my claim as true, not to try to disprove it.

            The reason I focus on the empty tomb story is that I am familiar with the split in scholarship on the question. As I mentioned before, I have been in numerous discussions regarding the claim that seventy-five percent of scholars affirm the historicity of the empty tomb story. I think that I have also observed a correspondence between Christian belief and historical judgments on the Pauline authorship of the pastorals, the traditional authorship of the gospels, the persecution of the early church, the historicity of miracles, and several other issues which I cannot claim to have examined as closely.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Okay. Let us for the sake of argument suppose that theological conservatives are attracted to such matters as, say, early dating, positive judgments of historicity, etc. If that is the case would we not expect to find the inverse, namely that theological liberals and non-believers would be inclined towards such matters as late dating, negative judgments of historicity, etc. The interesting thing then, when we come to the specific question of Jesus’s existence, is that no such bias is evident. The consensus cuts across putative ideological divides (divides which I do not think quite as significant in practice as you seem to think).
            I think it fair to say that if there are any discipline-wide ideological pressures it is *against* more traditional historical reconstructions. Someone who holds that the classical Eusebian account of the church’s growth is more or less on point is going to be fighting more of an upward battle than someone who argues for Baur’s 19th-century revisionist account. Are there enclaves of reactionary conservatism in the discipline? Yes, they have their own society (Evangelical Theological Society), which meets separate from the SBL, and their own journal (the Journal of the ETS). They play by their own rules, separate from the rest of the discipline. Likewise we have on the other end of the spectrum the Westar Institute, setting itself up as an institution on to itself. But neither is really representative of the overall dynamics and views of the discipline as a whole.

          • That you should have to qualify that observation as being “for the sake of argument” strikes me as silly, but have it your own way. I also think it is silly to say that if there are any discipline-wide ideological pressures it is *against* more traditional historical reconstructions. Secular institutions do not require scholars to affirm orthodox understandings of the Bible as a condition of employment. That defenders of a Eusebian understanding face an uphill battle is the result of critical thinking, not ideology.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            So someone disagreeing you with is silliness and people who hold to views that you find favourable do so out of critical thought whilst those who disagree do so out of bias. Is that a correct reading of your response?

          • No Jonathan. That is not the correct reading of my comment. However, I am curious about the meaning of yours. Are you suggesting that the classical Eusebian view has been found wanting for some reason other than the application of critical historical methodology by New Testament scholars?

          • MattB

            Hey Jonathan,

            Didn’t you say that you were a recent PhD graduate? If so, I was wondering if I could get some advice. I am still young and am only in community college(I plan on transferring to 4 year after I am done), and would really like to purse biblical studies.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            I dispute it because I think that it is not supported by the data. You make much too much out of the fact that *some* scholars have to sign statements of faith. The reality is that they are really not that common.

            You ignore the larger realities of the discipline. Sure, there are schools in which one must sign statements of faith. There are also schools, such as the one where I adjunct, wherein I must actively side-step explicitly theological issues. Few things would end my employment faster than suggesting in the classroom that Christianity is superior to any other religion or irreligion. Even assuming that most of the people in the room are Christians would be not only false but potentially grounds for a human rights complaint against me. By the time I add up the Muslim and Hindu students in any class that I teach they almost certainly will outnumber the Christians. So tell me, what in my employment context would incline me towards the bias of which you speak?

          • Why should a historian need to address explicitly theological issues in the classroom?

          • Jonathan Bernier

            I’m a little confused. You are suggesting that biblical scholars are mired in theology yet when I point out that I am unable to address such matters in a classroom teaching you ask why I would do so. Somewhat odd.
            But it shouldn’t take much work to figure out how such matters would come up in class. It turns out that teachers only have so much control over what students say. If a student, fresh out of high school, puts up her hand and asks “How does this relate to biblical inerrancy?” then suddenly theology is in the classroom. In my teaching context the only real option that I have is to change the topic ASAP. The point thus stands: I have incentives to avoid rather than seek after theologically conservative issues.

          • If I were teaching the class, I would simply tell the student that inerrancy is a theological issue that falls outside the scope of a history class (unless of course it is a class in the history of theology). I would probably offer to meet with the student outside of class to discuss the issue further.

            What I don’t understand is how that limitation on your classroom interaction would constrain any conclusion that you might reach in your research on any historical question in any way that is even vaguely comparable to the constraint imposed by a statement of faith that requires a scholar to affirm inerrancy.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            To quote the old atheist saw, correlation is not causation. That said, I’m having trouble seeing the relevance of this entire line of discussion. The question–the only question–is whether a given conclusion is reasonably warranted by the data. If you grant that the supernatural or belief therein is not a warrant for affirmation of the empty tomb then I cannot see how it is relevant to the question of whether the hypothesis of the empty tomb is reasonably warranted. How is that which is not relevant in fact relevant?

          • Er… no. You just used the term in a somewhat different way to the way I was using it. That fairly obviously has nothing to do with me, does it?

            And you haven’t replied to my second point, what part of the general consensus picture in NT studies relies on appeals to supernatural explanations?

          • Since you keep insisting that I have misunderstood you without making any effort to clarify what you meant, I would say that it has everything to do with you.

          • That I’m referring to animal testing and how thalidomide is viewed and used by those opposed to animal testing should be clear from my last but one comment. Nothing has changed and I’m not sure what further explanation you need before you respond to the point?

          • Although I do not understand why I have to keep repeating this in discussions with you, the fact remains that I am not a mythicist. While I do not believe that it is possible to determine what parts of the gospels represent memories of a genuine historical person, nor do I believe that it is possible to establish with any degree of certainty that no such person existed.

          • Yes, I’m perfectly aware of your position. Thank you anyway.

            Edit: the above was written in a hurry and sounds bitchy. I know you’re not a mythicist. I explained elsewhere why I think your position makes no logical sense (our previous exchange about dating Paul’s letters)

          • As a postscript, are you arguing from the way other scholarly fields actually behave, or the way you think they probably behave without actually fact checking?

            Because this guy seems to have been a professor of American history for nearly 30 years and a UFO believer:


            So does this mean I can ignore all other areas of consensus among professors of American history? Or are things maybe just a bit untidier in the real world than they are in the mythoverse?

          • Kris Rhodes

            The argument is premised on the idea that you won’t find tenured profs who deny the holocaust _in their peer-reviewed research_.

            Serious question coming. The nature of it makes it impossible for the question not to be pointed, so pointed it shall be. It is nevertheless genuinely intended as a question. I consider there to be more than one possible answer, and you’re able to narrow those possibilities down for me.

            The question is, when you typed the post I’m replying to, did you understand already what I just explained, and felt that Vinny had some responsibility to make that clearer and until then it was in some sense “fair game” for you to pretend that’s not what he meant, or on the other hand, did you genuinely not understand what I just explained? Or is some other possibility the actual case here? Whatever your answer is, I’d not judge you for it–I assume, no matter what the answer is, that you’re practicing what you know as “arguing in good faith.”

          • Nope, sorry that wasn’t how I read it. I thought Vinny was talking about the belief systems that feed into various academic disciplines.

            Actually, one thing I have pointed out to Vinny before is that holocaust denial is actually a crime in many countries, so if you are going to make a point about the ideological nature of NT studies (Vinny’s heresy trials) and what that might say about the validity of the discipline then I would merely question how far you are willing to let the analogy run?

  • Striker

    How about a narrow definition: The preponderance of one’s claims are asserted, structured, or supported such that they cannot be disconfirmed. This avoids hard to define factors, steers us away from ad hominem assessments, and affords us a parsimonious test. As to whether it lowers the risk of false positives, I’m undecided.

    • Jonathan Bernier

      Interesting. I like it. That’s definitely how most pseudo-sciences proceed in practice.

  • Kainan

    That is certainly a worthy list. But like with the Rank-Raglan scale, I suppose a rare theory can score high on this scale and still be actually, rather than pseudo-scholarly 😉 (always excluding the supernatural factors and flawed scholarship, of course; the latter should be excluded IMHO because it alone should define pseudo-scholarship, making the other factors unnecessary).

    • Kainan

      Two more points.

      1. Expanding the idea in brackets.
      1a. Appeal to supernatural is subsumed by “flawed scholarship”. It’s always flawed scholarship. Scholarship cannot be flawless and appeal to supernatural.
      1b. If scholarship is flawless, but meets all the other points (except supernaturalism), it’s still not pseudoscholarship by def, IMHO. Which makes “flawed scholarship” redundant. Maybe make it more specific, like “laughably, obviously flawed basic scholarship”. This way the non-obviously flawed scholarship has a chance. E.g. either the Q proponents and opponents are right or they’re wrong. Either way one side’s scholarship is flawed in perhaps non-obvious, hidden ways, albeit not in what concerns the “basics”.

      2. The “softer” the field, the higher the probability that a scholarly challenge to it will arise which corresponds to most of the criteria (except that above ones). E.g. Sokal’s and Bricmont’s “Fashionable Nonsense”, which is written by non-specialists, directed at non-specialists, and which tries to show that the postmodernist philosophers like Derrida, Lacan, Irigaray etc. are basically intellectual charlatans. And I’d dare say, they succeed.

  • Bethany

    Maybe I missed this in the original comments thread, what’s the supernatural explanation that mythicism uses?

    • Kainan

      It’s a list of general points. A theory doesn’t need to meet every single requirement to be pseudo-scholarly.

      • Bethany

        I know, but he did say mythicism scored a perfect 10. 🙂

    • Appeal to visions and divine revelation where the scholarship is saying oral tradition.

      So you end up with an odd situation in which on these here pages I’ve seen atheists telling McGrath that Paul’s knowledge of Jesus comes from visions and revelation, while McGrath, who is a Christian, pleads that there’s a more rational explanation for it!

      What would Hume make of it all, I wonder?

      PS: And what Kainan said, though I did score mythicism a perfect 10 🙂

      • Bethany

        Ah, that makes sense, I didn’t know that. I’d assumed that basically all mythicists were the “nothing supernatural ever” types.

        • Kainan

          You’re right, he’s mistaken on this point.

      • Kainan

        It’s not appeal to supernatural though. Obviously so.

        • I know, they’re atheists so they presumably don’t believe in the objective reality of the events. But it’s still appealing to a supernatural over rational explanation when the rational explanation is the position of the scholarly community. I don’t think it matters much that they might then say that ultimately the visions themselves might have a rational explanation. I’d count appeals to UFOs and aliens along with this sort of thing, even if the people who believe in those sorts of guff wouldn’t say they are supernatural (Icke’s Prince Phillip is an alien lizard theory?)

          Hope that makes sense. If not, my second argument is that if Carrier is allowed to fudge RR, I think I’m entitled to claim a mulligan here!

          • Kainan

            Hallucinations are not only wholly natural, they’re also known to occur, basically they’re ordinary, unlike UFOs, which might be natural but are not known to occur and thus are extraordinary (in need of proof themselves). Thus the explanation is absolutely rational. Moreover, we know that Jesus hallucinations did occur. See Paul. Unless you want to say that he was an inveterate liar and his vision of Jesus is but a lie.

            Sorry, on this one point mythicism is off the hook.

            PS: in addition: I believe you mean to juxtapose Jesus and hallucinations, not oral traditions and hallucinations. Mythicism says that the revelatory hallucinations (and perhaps deception) were at very origin of Christianity, while historicism places Jesus with his few sayings in that very slot. After that “Big Bang” there is no contradiction between the theories.

          • The problem is that mythicism has Paul’s hallucinations agreeing with the details of the hallucinations of other apostles. That seems a coincidence that would be less likely than that there was a historical Jesus. It at the very least borders on a claim to the miraculous, even if in the end a supernatural explanation is rejected, since no non-supernatural explanation is offered for this unlikely happening.

          • Kainan

            I don’t think it would be without any explanation, if the mythicist scenario is assumed to be true. It would only indicate that Paul knew bits and pieces of the earlier claims, which, naturally, would become incorporated into his own *ahem* “supernatural religious experiences”. In fact, later he could even come to believe that he got his revelation “from scratch”, without prior info – human memory works like that.

            Of course, if Paul is assumed to be an outright liar, this would actually lower the probability of him telling the truth about meeting the brother of the Lord, etc. – but I don’t see a reason in Paul’s epistles to suggest that he was such.

            To reiterate, the relatively more complex nature of this scenario is one of the reasons why I find the mythologized Jesus more probable than the mythological one. But it’s still wholly natural and not particularly unbelievable.

          • Kris Rhodes

            I think it is possible that I find mythicism more plausible than many here because I come from a religious tradition which incorporates spiritual hallucinations (or, probably in many cases, deceptions presenting in the same way).

            Out of curiosity, not that this really establishes anything at all, but just out of curiosity, did any of you three (James, Paul, Jonathan are who I have in mind though anyone should feel welcome to chime in) have experience with such religion, especially when growing up?

          • I had a life-changing, cathartic religious experience in my teens, which I’ve talked about before on this blog, but I wouldn’t consider it to have constituted “hallucination.” But to the extent that I spent time in a context that viewed the world in terms of spiritual warfare, and as filled with angels and demons and so on, I imagine that there may be elements to how I viewed things that included what could be called “hallucinatory,” although they could also be described as simply an added layer of worldview, since it is not as though I thought I was actually seeing angels or demons visibly, when I had that view of the world.

          • Kris Rhodes

            I never had ’em myself, but my mom did, and from about age 11 onward, my family was fully ensconsed in religious communities where these kinds of experiences weren’t just accepted–they were authoritative.

            We even had apostles–people that went around from location to location, supported by various local people and congregations, who got be apostles by virtue of having “seen the risen Christ” and been charged by him to go out and preach.

            How did we know these people had actually “seen the risen Christ?” Well, they said so, they seemed like good people, people we respect vouched for them, and they seemed to have a good handle on the bible.

            I kind of knew it was BS all along but at the same time tried my best to take it seriously. Thank the good non-existent lord for liberal education.

          • arcseconds

            I think this is an example of how easy it is to import all our cultural assumptions about Jesus into the word ‘Jesus’. We have a tendency, I think, to already be thinking in terms of a spiritual being whenever the name is mentioned. The crucifixion is even worse. We associate that manner of death only with Jesus, and we already associate that with some kind of super-significant spiritual occurrence (pitch your favourite atonement theory here).

            When people have visions of Jesus these days, as far as I know they’re invariably of a bearded man with long hair in a white robe, surrounded in light. It’s likely he has an caucasian appearance, possibly he’s even blond! They certainly don’t see a short, grubby, dark-skinned street-preacher with arms knotted by too much carpentry.

            If you drop all the fantastic elements from the figure in the Gospel, though, and translate into a modern analogue to avoid the spiritual baggage it’s hard to see past in the usual form, you have a bloke called Bruce, former auto-mechanic, who argues with his mum, supplies grey-market hooch to wedding parties, who swears at plants, who isn’t thought to be anything special in his hometown, who got himself messily lynched by the KKK because he’s too uppity for a black and not protestant enough (perhaps it’s Missisipi in the 1950s). An oddly mundane figure to be having visions of. Visions are more normally of shiny, otherworldly beings like sparkly Jesus or angels like Moroni. Or extraterrestrials.

            Now, yes, of course he could have originally been a shiny spiritual being who somehow acquired this gritty biography later, but it’s an odd trajectory to have, isn’t it? Normally how these things go is that the story accumulates more fantastic stuff as it goes on, as we see in the usual chronological ordering of the Gospels, and as we see with other figures.

          • Joe Zias

            On more than one occasion I have ‘offended’ Christians while lecturing on crucifixion. Last time, was in the Church here in Jerusalem where it was believed to have occurred. The person running the lecture there, a retraining course for guides, noticed me and asked me to say a few words on the topic. Within a minute or two Arab Christian guides when I mentioned that thousands were crucified over hundreds of words, stopped me in mid-sentence before the group of ca 50 guides, saying I was offensive. I along with others was taken aback and asked why, they replied that the obligation of Israeli tour guides is to strengthen the belief of pilgrims, (which i avoid) and not what I know, believe or think if it somehow is in conflict with their belief. Colleagues were shocked, told me to continue which I did but this evidently is the norm with many tour guides when working with pilgrims, tell them stories. Tip at the end is greater…

          • arcseconds

            What does ‘thousands were crucified over hundreds of words’ mean?

            Why was this particular thing offensive? Do they believe that Jesus was the only person to have ever been crucified?

          • Joe Zias

            As Nietzsche once said, ‘there are those who wish to believe and those that wish to know’, they were in the former category for whatever reason. As for the topic itself see

          • I think that some Christians want to stress the uniqueness of Jesus’ suffering (thinking vaguely about stuff I’ve read and talks/sermons I’ve seen online), which maybe requires makes relativising Jesus’ suffering offensive? Just a thought…

          • Jonathan Bernier

            As I’ve seen in this forum more than once, the major difficulty that I see in mythicism is its failure to provide an adequate account of the genesis of their hypothetical Jesus-myth. As they love to say, possibility is not probability, so the fact that things could have started with “a shiny spiritual being who somehow acquired this gritty biography later” (great phrase, BTW) does not mean that he did. One needs to show why that hypothesis is more compelling than alternatives. And to that one must show what the alternative can show, namely how it took root in a collective context. In short, one must account for Christianity. I’m not convinced that mythicism can.

          • arcseconds

            Let’s assume that’s the way it did work. Let’s say something like what Carrier seems to be arguing is correct, and Isiah actually does describe (or was interpreted as describing) a dying Messiah, and this somehow combined with the pre-existence kind of stuff one finds in later Rabbinical writings, becomes a heavenly being that’s executed outside the gates of the heavenly city, then makes a transition to a mundane figure from Galilee who’s executed outside the gates of Jerusalem.

            Am I correct in thinking this would be an entirely unique mythological transition? I can’t think of a single example of ancient myths that are thought to acquire more realism as they go on. I’m hardly an expert on mythology, so it’s entirely possible I don’t know something. But the closest thing I can think of is that some people think early legendary Chinese monarchs, like the Yellow Emperor, were originally gods that transitioned to being mortal rulers. But they’re still almost as fantastic as the gods are: the myths have remained very mythic.

            I’m wondering whether this seems plausible because of a very modern element of story-telling: situating the fantastic in the mundane. We’re all familiar with Christ-figures being criminals on death row, our superheros have ordinary aspects to their biography and lead ordinary lives when they’re not in spandex, etc.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            I’m not an expert on comparative mythology either, largely because such approaches to the history of religion have not been current for at least a half century, but it does strike me as, if not unique, certainly unusual.

          • Kris Rhodes

            I believe there have been several such cases. (Of deities becoming human beings in retelling) The only ones that come to mind, though, are Romulus and Osiris. I can’t remember whether it’s controversial that this happened in the case of Romulus. I am almost sure it’s not controversial in the Osiris case.

          • Kris – nope. My upbringing wasn’t religious. Closest I’ve come to that kind of thing was a meditation group I used to go to where some of the people would come “back” from the meditation reporting all sorts of encounters with spiritual beings.
            I just felt somewhere in the area of generally relaxed. I probably wasn’t doing it right.

          • Kainan

            In addition to my previous comment: if the mythicist hypothesis were true, I posit it would be akin to the experiences of the Book of Mormon witnesses. We don’t really have a reason to say that most of them were inveterate liars. Yet they claimed to have seen angels (the 3 witnesses say so in their statement, the 8 witnesses do not say so in their statement, but did make that claim later) and to have heard God’s voice.

            The “orthodox” Mormons take their claims at face value. The critical scholars have found bits and pieces in their later testimonies that suggest that they did have sort of self-induced hallucinatory experiences – saw these various described things in visions, “in the mind’s eye”. Which visions curiously corresponded to what Joseph Smith had preached.

            I suppose someone could go a “historicist” route here and claim that Joseph Smith must have hired some actors to play angels and the voice of God, and thus there were no visions as such, and it was a hoax. But I haven’t seen any scholars making such a claim.

          • I think there is a difference between claiming to have seen angels, and claiming that a human being with a human rather than an angelic name was the human descended from David who would restore the line of David to the throne. That seems to naturally raise the kinds of questions about where, when, etc. that can be easily dodged or falsified more effectively when one claims to have seen angels.

          • Paul on his own account was aware of the existence – and therefore very likely aware of some of the central beliefs – of (the group that would later be called) Christians before his own conversion experience.

            After all, he claimed to have been responsible for persecuting them.

            Therefore no coincidence is required to explain the similarities between his claimed experience and theirs.

          • Right, that is a straightforward, naturalistic, historical account. Unfortunately mythicists are committed to people only having experienced Jesus in dreams and visions, and so reject your simple explanation in favor of their more complicated and less likely one.

          • I think you have overlooked some of the core arguments of Doherty and others, here. They certainly do not argue for visions being the common denominator.

            As for the miraculousness of people receiving common visions, we have all heard of hundreds claiming to have seen the same vision of Mary, yes?

          • Um, nothing in my account assumed that the proto-Christians that Paul encountered prior to his conversion experience had actually met a physical Jesus.

            In a community formed from people who are prone to visions and/or regularly practicing things like fasting, meditation, and similar “spiritual disciplines” which (for entirely naturalistic reasons) tend to increase the chances of such experiences, then social feedback effects will rapidly cause them to converge on similar, or at least not incompatible, content. (And people who substantially disagree will just leave.)

            Given that, there is absolutely no need to postulate “coincidence” as an explanation for similar content in visions by people who are either part of the same community (as with the earliest proto-Christians) or who have been in contact with it (as with Paul).

          • Kris Rhodes

            I can’t make heads or tails of what you’re saying here!

            What Andrew G said _is_ how mythicists account for the similarities between the various people’s claimed experiences. What “more complicated and less likely” account did you think they had?!

          • Actually this discussion is based on a faulty awareness of what “mythicists” (all of them or which ones are we addressing here?) actually argue.

            The logic of your argument is entirely correct insofar as the statement stands alone and not as a rejoinder to “mythicists” (generically). My understanding of mythicist arguments I have read tells me they would entirely agree with you.

          • I know they’d agree, I’m arguing against McGrath not against mythicism.

          • Studies of mystics (including Jewish mystics) and of classes of people who experience such visions actually do point to commonality of experiences and for very good reasons.

            I recall several studies by prominent scholars in your own field (which produces a lot of work I highly respect and learn much from, by the way, even to the extent I advertize it on my blog) that explain that by dwelling on the same sorts of scriptures the mystic would, through various other bodily deprivations, come to a visionary experience that could indeed be compared with the experiences of his colleagues and others. I’m sure you know some of these studies.

            The phenomenon goes back to cave art, even, as discussed in depth by Lewis-Williams in “The Mind in the Cave”.

  • I see it as a 5/10 for the most scholarly and 10/10 for the least scholarly forms of Jesus non-historicism. But I really don’t see these as the heart and core of pseudoscholarship.

  • Can anyone here point to a single example of a particular mythicist “denigrating whole scholarly fields”? Just one example will do. When I myself have criticized the bulk of one (only) scholarly field for one particular fault I have done so with the support of theologians themselves, most often quoting them in support. Did Goulder denigrate all theologians? Does Avalos denigrate you all? I also quote a number of scholars criticizing some lazy historians in history departments. Does that mean they denigrate all historians?

    Meanwhile I am advancing the scholarly works of many, many valuable works of theologians. Most of my posts are in fact alerting the public to the value of many works of scholarship from among theologians.

    So as I asked in relation to a previous post, does anyone care about evidence here? Or are we all happy to make this a baseless bashing board to make whatever unsupported assertions we feel like against “correct targets”?

    • Let’s get specific. Does Robert M. Price “denigrate whole fields of scholarship? If so, which? And where does he do this?”

      Does Thomas Brodie “denigrate whole fields of scholarship? If so, which? And where does he do this?”

      Does Richard Carrier “denigrate whole fields of scholarship? If so, which? And where does he do this?”

      Does Earl Doherty “denigrate whole fields of scholarship? If so, which? And where does he do this?”

      Did G. A. Wells at any time “denigrate whole fields of scholarship? If so, which? And where does he do this?”

      Did Couchoud, Robertson, Mackinnon, Drews, Bauer “denigrate whole fields of scholarship? If so, which? And where do they do this?”


        • Kris Rhodes

          As an aside, you titled a blog post “How you can tell Maurice Casey’s mythicism book is a good one.”

          Do you, yourself, then, think his book is a good one?

          Edited to add:

          More directly relevant to the thread of conversation, I’d remark for those who think this line of conversation is worth pursuing further that Neil’s trying to ask whence the _generalization_ that is being made about mythicists. Pointing out denigrating language used by one mythicist* is not actually responsive (though I wouldn’t go so far as to deny its “potential relevance”…).

          *And this is not even to ask whether the examples on display are actually examples of denigration of entire fields of scholarship. Readers would have to go read the links to see that.

          • I read Casey’s book in a pre-publication draft, and so I can only comment on that, though I will be reviewing the published version soon.

            I think Casey makes some points that show some of the major problems with a number of key mythicist claims. But his tone is often problematic, and his insistence on tying his case to a small number of views that he holds which are not found persuasive by most NT scholars detracts from some of his important points.

            But the title was mainly pointing out that Carrier was reacting as he tends to when substantive criticism of his views is offered, and so it was mostly sarcasm.

        • In other words you cannot supply any evidence that any of the following denigrate a whole field of scholarship. In fact, the evidence is that they seriously engage with it:

          R. M. Price
          R. G. Price
          R. Lataster
          F. Zindler
          Thomas Brodie
          Richard Carrier
          Earl Doherty
          G. A. Wells
          P.L. Couchoud,
          Edouard Dujardin
          J. M. Robertson,
          Arthur Drews,
          Bruno Bauer
          Van Eysinga
          W. B. Smith
          Thomas Whittacker
          Allard Pierson
          A. D. Loman
          Gordon Rylands
          G.J.P.J. Bolland
          Albert Kalthoff
          A. E. Jensen
          Georg Brandes
          A. Niemojewski
          Tom Harpur
          H. Detering
          Roger Viklund

          Nor any of the following who have expressed an open-mind to the question of mythicism and even written positively of some mythicist views:

          P. R. Davies
          A. Droge
          K. Noll
          H. Avalos
          T.L. Thompson

          • Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows that I do not consider the mythicists who actually participate in the scholarly process to be “pseudoscholars.” I simply judge them to be unpersuasive.

            Just as anyone who has read my blog for a long time knows why I long ago gave up trying to interact with Neil Godfrey directly. While I will sometimes post things in order not to leave his slander and misrepresentation unchallenged, his apparent inability to make a case for his own views, coupled with his apparent inability to treat other human beings with basic human decency when communicating online, left me no choice but to cease trying to have the sorts of conversations I consider worthwhile.

            If his behavior is dragging down the quality of discussion here more generally, I trust that regular commenters will let me know. But as long as some are getting some benefit from having him as part of the conversation here, I will continue to make an exception to my normal rules about behavior and seriousness.

          • Kris Rhodes

            Godfrey’s actually bringing the quality of discussion _up_ along at least one dimension–he is accurately spotting important basic failures in the arguments being presented and explaining how those basic failures could be patched up. He’s doing a far-above-average job of this, in comparison with both mythicists and historicity-advocates I’ve seen participate in these discussions.

            It is also clear he’s pretty aggravated with you, and perhaps that is involved with what could be perceived as bringing the quality of the discussion down along a different dimension. It doesn’t bother me so much, but then, I’m not the target!

          • Fantastic. Thanks for chiming in. I know he has a deep dislike for me, and gives expression to that in insults from time to time. Hopefully if I just continue not interacting with him, except perhaps to paste in links to previous discussions when he gets around to his frequent “McGrath never addressed this even though I asked him to” claims, the rest of you can interact in ways that are more positive.

          • James, are you saying you do not have a deep dislike for me? I do have a dislike for fallacious argument and scholars who unprofessionally are prepared to insult their opponents and demonstrate they have not attempted to understand their arguments fairly. I would love nothing more than to be able to shake your hand and converse on a fair footing as we used to do before you learned I supported mythicist ideas.

          • Paul E.

            I agree with this in many respects, but it goes both ways. I only recently became aware of some of these biblioblogs, and feel that some of them are good at introducing basic topics, new ideas, etc., for someone to then look into further on their own. I also think the format could allow for specific discussion of narrow concepts. I attempted to have very specific, targeted discussions on this blog on a couple of occasions (without success). Alas, the filters of preconceptions, the personalities involved, etc., seem to get in the way of that type of discussion if the topic has a certain heading or certain people are involved. Things go from “thinking” to “feeling” in a hurry. I wonder, then, if this type of format is worthwhile for someone genuinely interested in informing him or herself when topics are introduced primarily for polemical purposes. Not sure…

          • Dear James, all I ask is that you support your assertions with evidence. That’s all. I have never slandered you and to my knowledge never misrepresented you. I have in the past inadvertently misrepresented two scholars and when I have had that pointed out I have publicly apologized to them and corrected my error. I will certainly do the same for you, too, if you show me where I have done the same to you. Several times I have deleted or banned some comments and commenters on my blog who attack you personally. We have been through our tough moments and you will have to admit you have done more than your own fair share of personally insulting and ridiculing (and I would say misrepresenting) me.

            But I thought not very many years ago we agreed to try to start afresh.

          • After trying many years ago to start afresh, I unfortunately found that Neil Godfrey had a penchant for saying things like that all he was looking for was for me to support my assertions with evidence, no matter how often I had done so. And so alas, I guess it was not to be.

          • James, all you had to do was demonstrate where you had done so. Each time you waved to past conversations where I was in fact asking in vain for support or clarification.

            Is it really so difficult to support your assertion that “mythicists” (generically) denigrate whole fields of scholarship? All you have to do is supply the support for that assertion or swallow a little pride and admit you overstated the case.

            Carrier, Price, Doherty, Brodie, all make abundant use of the scholarship in your field and I myself publicize works that I thoroughly enjoy from it too. Criticism of specific arguments is not denigration of an entire field.

          • A perfect example of why I’ve given up interacting with Neil Godfrey directly. I shared some links illustrating Carrier’s penchant for calling those who criticize him “incompetent” or even “insane,” and Godfrey carries on as though it were not even there.

          • The reason I “carry on as though it were not even there” is because I don’t see how that supports your assertion that Carrier, let alone mythicists as a whole, denigrate a whole field of scholarship.

          • I should add that I am sure we have all seen some very scurrilous personal attacks in scholarly exchanges in a range of fields. Recall the savage insults that went flying in the minimalist-maximalist debates. No-one ever suggests that the scholarly protagonists in such exchanges are denigrating the entire field of scholarship to which they belong.

  • Ken

    When you say “Largely ignore or parody academic conventions,” is that conventions-as-standards or conventions-as-meetings? It could go either way; many pseudoscience groups have yearly conventions where they present their results.

  • ScottBailey

    I present to you the fullest expression of this list possible: The Chronicle Project

  • Jonathan Bernier

    I’ve been playing with the term “Mythicist Mafia” to describe mythicists. The more I think about it, the more I like it. Consider the parallels.

    –The Mafia sets up shop outside the official state and financial apparatuses, functioning as a separate government on to itself, with its own economy, etc. Mythicism sets up shop outside the official academic apparatuses, functioning as a separate discourse on to itself, with its own epistemology, vocabulary, etc.
    –The Mafia’s separate government and economy is both antagonistic towards and parasitic upon the official apparatuses. Antagonistic towards law enforcement, yet also dependent upon the broader economy. Likewise mythicism’s separate discourse is dependent upon that of the academy. It draws whenever it is convenient upon scholarly assessments of such matters of the relative dating of Paul’s letters to the Gospels, it cites those scholars who happen to push for later dates of the gospels, Acts, etc.
    –The Mafia has Godfathers. The mythicists have Richard Carrier.
    –The Mafia has Made Men. The mythicists have Earl Doherty and Robert Price.
    –The Mafia has enforcers. The mythicists have internet trolls.

    Obviously the above is uttered in a spirit of playfulness. Yet it is something that amuses me on this Saturday morning, and thought I’d sure.

  • “Reflect a narrow range of ideological perspectives”

    This one also raises my curiosity. What is this “narrow range of ideological perspectives” that is supposedly reflected? If it’s narrow it should be easy to point out.

    All I can see when I survey the field is as wide a spectrum of backgrounds, ideas, attitudes towards Christianity etc as I find among scholars of the historical Jesus — perhaps an even wider range than is found among HJ scholars!

    Compare, for starters, just the contemporaries at Who’s Who of Mythicists Etc.

    Look at the list of names both contemporary and historical and identify this “narrow range of ideological perspectives”:

    R. M. Price
    R. G. Price
    R. Lataster
    F. Zindler
    Thomas Brodie
    Richard Carrier
    Earl Doherty
    G. A. Wells
    Edouard Dujardin
    P.L. Couchoud,
    J. M. Robertson,
    Arthur Drews,
    Bruno Bauer
    Van Eysinga
    W. B. Smith
    Thomas Whittacker
    Allard Pierson
    A. D. Loman
    Gordon Rylands
    G.J.P.J. Bolland
    Albert Kalthoff
    A. E. Jensen
    Georg Brandes
    A. Niemojewski
    Tom Harpur
    H. Detering
    Roger Viklund
    D. M. Murdock
    Jack Lindsay

    Not forgetting Dupuis and Volney

  • The following is from Michael Shermer’s Why People Believe Weird Things.

    — Holocaust deniers find errors in the scholarship of historians and then imply that therefore their conclusions are wrong, as if historians never make mistakes. Evolution deniers (a more appropriate term than creationists) find errors in science and imply that all of science is wrong, as if scientists never make mistakes.

    — Holocaust deniers are fond of quoting, usually out of context, leading Nazis, Jews, and Holocaust scholars to make it sound like they are supporting Holocaust deniers’ claims. Evolution deniers are fond of quoting leading scientists like Stephen Jay Gould and Ernst Mayr out of context and implying that they are cagily denying the reality of evolution.

    — Holocaust deniers contend that genuine and honest debate between Holocaust scholars means they themselves doubt the Holocaust or cannot get their stories straight. Evolution deniers argue that genuine and honest debate between scientists means even they doubt evolution or cannot get their science straight. (p. 132)

    Every one of these points, from my observation, applies to scholars who are attempting to denigrate mythicism, but I have not seen mythicists like Doherty or Wells or Price or Zindler or Salm or Ellegard or Thompson fall into any of these types of fallacious reasonings.

    How many times do we see scholars attacking mythicism by means of declaring the whole conclusion false because of a few errors in some of the arguments, quoting mythicists out of context and misleadingly, and contending that because mythicists disagree the whole thing must be wrong? — Yet each one of these grounds is applicable to the holocaust denier, so says Michael Shermer.

    • Andrew Dowling

      I don’t see James here attacking mythicism because of a few errors here and there . . I see him attacking the foundation, which is extremely weak.

      • Kris Rhodes

        What is the foundation of mythicism?

        • MattB

          Relying on special pleading of the text, arguments from silence, and citing texts that have nothing to do with a celestial Jesus

        • Andrew Dowling

          For starters, the wide majority of current mythicists, just like the wide majority of conservative scholars . . basically engage in “scholarship” with their end point already determined . .they then fuzz the source data to get them to that point. It’s a charade. They “don’t want” Jesus to have existed.
          Look up the bios of Neil’s list (including some relatively obscure philosophers from over 100 years ago) . .almost all of their theories were/are seen as laughable by theists and skeptics alike, for good reason.

    • This illustrates why I stopped interacting with Neil Godfrey and why I’m not inclined to start again. Mere assertion without evidence, and the completely ludicrous and not merely false claim that people like Doherty and Salm, whose amateurish armchair nonsense is atrociously bad, have never engaged in fallacious reasoning. I encourage anyone interested to read my review of as much as I managed to stomach of Doherty’s book, as well as my posts about Salm, here on this blog.

      • Robert M. Price and Richard Carrier had quite different views on Earl Doherty’s arguments that were augmented in the volume you partially read. Even Hector Avalos expressed some openness to Doherty’s views although he is not himself a mythicist — he does describe himself as a Jesus agnostic, however. So I think it is fair to say that there exist quite different views among scholars with the requisite training towards Doherty’s argument and McGrath’s reviews do not necessarily stand as the last word.

        I also responded to several of McGrath’s review posts demonstrating serious flaws in his reading of Doherty’s work. So there is room for serious debate over what McGrath has written, I believe.

        Rene Salm’s “atrociously bad” work has also been published in a peer-reviewed journal on archaeology. The ensuing replies of those he critiqued only addressed a small portion of his article.

    • Andrew Dowling

      Wow, you know someone has a sh^& argument when they write a multi-paragraph screed equating critiquing a fringe belief (mythicism) to another fringe belief (holocaust denial).

      This same level of irony denial was also displayed recently by Bobby Jindal when he called those who want to do something about climate change “anti-science.”

      • What do you think the moderator here would say if I used that sort of language?

        I regretted posting that comment almost as soon as it was out, but if you read the quotations from Shermer you would see that they are not about attacking a fringe belief but attacking the historicity of the Holocaust! The real irony has eluded you.

        This really does seem to be a venue for bashing mythicists by means of ridicule and straw-men — and not even taking the time to read comments with care for comprehension. Godfrey said something? Good, let’s kick him before we bother to read too carefully what he said.

        Each time I ask for substantiation of claims I become the target — yet no-one provides the substantiation. The more I point out that no one provides the substantiation the more I am targeted. Strange way to have a genuine discussion.

  • arcseconds

    I would also add to the list inconsistent standards. The mainstream is held to ludicrously high standards, so that unless everything is explained completely, transparently, unambiguously, and immediately, it’s perceived to have failed.

    Whereas the fringe view gets by on mere plausibility, and sometimes not even that.

    Naturally, the ‘failure’ of the mainstream is interpreted to mean the fringe view wins.

  • ncovington89

    Mythicism doesn’t “rely on supernatural over natural explanations.” Very uncomprehending of anyone who would say otherwise.

    Most of the rest doesn’t apply either. It’d be nice to see James stop mud-slinging and actually explain why his theory of Christian origins is better than mythicism, but that won’t happen.

    • jjramsey

      Most of the rest doesn’t apply either.

      Really? I grant you that mythicism doesn’t rely on supernatural explanations. But most of the rest of the list holds:

      Denigrate entire scholarly fields? Yup.

      Largely ignore established academic channels? Yup.

      Largely ignore or parody academic conventions? Yup.

      Reflect a narrow range of ideological perspectives? Okay, I’ll give you this one. Mythicists include both straight-up non-believers and New-Agey types.

      Reject entire meta-narratives, not points within them? I’ll let Paul Regnier explain what he means by “meta-narrative” before I give this a yay or nay.

      Make sensationalist claims? Yup.

      Appeal to dubious methodological privilege BUT In reality employ flawed methods? Yup.

      Be developed and supported disproportionately by non-specialists? Yup.

      It’d be nice to see James stop mud-slinging and actually explain why his theory of Christian origins is better than mythicism

      He’s done so, several times over. The gist of what he has to say is pretty clear. Mythicism is unparsimonius, and the various arguments for mythicism also tend to get either their facts or their logic wrong.

      • ncovington89

        Robert M Price doesn’t denigrate the entire field of NT studies. He appreciates the contributions made by Dom Crossan, Raymond Brown, etc. I think Richard Carrier, Tom Verenna, and Tom Brodie would probably say the same.

        “Largely ignore established academic channels?”

        I could grant this, so long as we recognize exceptions from several mythicist writers, including the ones mentioned above.

        “Largely ignore or parody academic conventions?”

        I don’t think, but if you can explain what exactly you mean here and offer an example I might agree.

        “Reflect a narrow range of ideological perspectives? Okay, I’ll give you
        this one. Mythicists include both straight-up non-believers and New-Agey

        That is not entirely true. Thomas Brodie is a Roman Catholic. Aside from that, though, most people wouldn’t be able to both consider themselves Christian in some sense and to also think Jesus was mythological, so it is a practical necessity that most mythicists will wind up being atheists, agnostics, or ‘new age’ in some sense. Funny though, isn’t it, that the relevance of having a lot of people who think alike is suddenly forgotten when it comes to NT studies, which is predominated by either conservative or liberal *believers* with very few Jews, agnostics, or atheists.

        “Mythicism is unparsimonius, and the various arguments for mythicism also tend to get either their facts or their logic wrong.”

        I don’t think mythicism requires more ad-hoc adjustments than historicism does. As with facts and logic, a number of arguments have never been adequately addressed, such as the ones in Carrier’s latest “On the Historicity.”

        • jjramsey

          I don’t think mythicism requires more ad-hoc adjustments than historicism does.

          The obvious counter-example to your claim is that mythicists have to come up with unparsimonius explanations for why there are references in both the New Testament and in Josephus’ work that together point to having a flesh-and-blood brother.

          As with facts and logic, a number of arguments have never been adequately addressed, such as the ones in Carrier’s latest …

          As I pointed out elsewhere, Carrier has tried to defend his claim about a tradition of a pre-Christian dying Messiah by doubling down on his mis-interpretation of the text of Targum Jonathan, facts be damned. Why should I give what Carrier says much credence?

    • I find this surprising. I really don’t think that all my years of blogging on this subject are “mud-slinging.”

  • I’ve probably been making this point on the wrong thread, so let me make it here:

    By this bulleted definition of pseudoscience, I think Christian apologetics — particularly miracle apologetics, and more particularly resurrection apologetics — gets a score of 10 out 10 on the pseudoscholarship scale.

    … and miracle apologetics is far more pervasive and prolific than mythicism!

  • John C

    The following should not be included:
    “Reject entire meta-narratives, not points within them”
    For example, Copernicean cosmology rejected the Aristotelian meta-narrative, and was right to do so.

    • A modern, scholarly, equivalent should not meet the rest of the points though. Rejection of meta-narrative might not alone identify a theory as pseudo-scholarship, but it’s a recurrent theme.

      • Kris Rhodes

        Anyway I reject the meta-narrative meta-narrative. 😉

      • Jonathan Bernier

        An ostrich does not stop being a bird because it cannot fly.

    • Sure, but that is an example from the transition from pre-scientific into scientific ways of doing things. Surely that is not as typical in the context of the scientific era as Kuehn suggested?

      • John C

        Maybe I need to think more deeply about the definition of meta-narrative …
        There is, of course, quantum physics, which was a very fundamental paradigm shift.

        • That’s a great example – and one which I think illustrates well the way research in the present era may undergo paradigm shifts. Every field has aspects of reality that it has yet to adequately explain or account for. Sometimes a new paradigm may present itself which does better justice to more of the data. But in those cases, it will usually involve dealing both with what earlier scholarship did well, as well as things it was unable to. It is unlikely to represent a complete overturning of prior knowledge, and more likely to incorporate earlier work into a better, broader and/or deeper explanatory framework.

          • John C

            I did hesitate whether to offer that example, for the reasons you give. On reconsidering the objections, I am not sure I agree with them.
            Pre-Copernicean cosmology was able to explain the observable facts, but needed more and more wheels within wheels to deal with ever more refined observations. Copernicus (and Galileo, Newton, …) overcame this increasingly absurd situation by offering a better and fundamentally different paradigm.
            Similarly, classical mechanics began by offering a model for what was observable in the 17th, 18th and most of the 19th centuries. Eventually, it ran out of explanatory power when finer empirical data became available.
            Optics ran out even sooner, because it was never able to reconcile the conflict between the wave and particle models of light (and later, electromagnetic radiation generally).
            At that point, QM (and GR & SR) offered a fundamentally different paradigm in which there was no longer such a conflict. The main difficulty with QM is merely that the phenomena are at a scale where it all seems counterintuitive. But then, force fields must have seemed equally counterintuitive to earlier generations.

          • arcseconds

            They were indeed, if not exactly counterintuitive, regarded as unscientific, unsatisfactory as an explanation, and ‘occult’. That’s exactly the complaint directed at Newtonian gravitation: there was an expectation by many that all phenomena were to be explained by literally mechanical action: direct pushes and pulls of particles acting in contact with one another, not ‘spooky action at a distance’.

          • John C

            Yes. For example, the ‘ether’ (of which I know more in the context of electromagnetism).

        • arcseconds

          I think ‘metanarrative’ is probably not the best word to be using here (Paul clearly didn’t do the mandatory literature review and consult with the terminology panel before posting).

          ‘Metanarrative’ is a term from postmodernism. I’m not sure that it originated there, but it’s that school of thought(*) that’s famous for using the word. It usually applies to the ‘large scale’ view we have of our society or possibly the world, and they do tend to be narrative in the sense they’re a story with a beginning, middle, and end, and a ‘point’ and that sort of thing. For example, Ken Ham very definitely has a metanarrative (that he’s quite insistent on, and he doesn’t like it that ‘evolution’ doesn’t provide one that’s quite as nice (on his terms of nice, I’m not sure I like his one much TBH)): Creation, Sin, Redemption, Tribulation, Judgement, Reconciliation. But that kind of religious God’s Plan style of metanarrative hasn’t been all that strong in the public sphere in the West for centuries, so the style of metanarrative postmodernism usually likes to critique is one of progress, superiority, and dominance.

          What Paul seems to have in mind here is rather a paradigm (in Kuhn’s sense) or what I’d prefer to call a research programme (following Lakatos. Kuhn’s use of the word ‘paradigm’ for this is kind of annoying for several reasons). These are terms from the philosophy of science, which already seems like a more appropriate area to look to for clarity in this area. A research programme or a paradigm is a bit like a metanarrative in the sense that it’s a very high level structure that informs basically everything you do, but isn’t necessarily any kind of narrative, and doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with how you see yourself positioned in the world or the direction of history or anything like that, but rather is more about what framework you use for answering questions in your research.

          The problem also isn’t so much that they wish to jettison the incumbent research programme. Sometimes, as you say, a research programme has to be retired (or modified so radically that it’s reasonable to say it’s now a different programme).

          The problem is rather that the pseudoscientists want a research programme scuttled, yet:

          (a) do not really have a good case for thinking that the programme is highly problematic, even though they like to pretend they do.

          (In fact, they’re lucky if they can even legitimately show there’s some unanswered questions or some conclusions that might have been a little hasty, though of course neither circumstance is anything other than business as usual for the most part.)

          (b) don’t have a viable alternative research programme.

          An alternative doesn’t need to answer everything that the incumbent can to be worth following up on or even come to think is superior, but it does at least need to look like it can do better in areas the incumbent is struggling with, and needs to show at least a promise of doing equally well in most areas the incumbent seems to be adequate for.

          Plus, as James has already pointed out, normally we find a lot of things do get preserved when new research programmes take over, which ties in to the idea that to take over they need to do at least as well as the one they’re replacing (or at least show a lot of promise).

          Also, as James is fond of pointing out, the successful challenges have almost always come from people who have expert grounding in the mainstream. All of the famous examples in the natural sciences have been accomplished by people who were every bit as professionally trained as their peers. Einstein didn’t happen to be working in a physics research laboratory at the time he discovered the special theory of relativity, but he had a perfectly mainstream physics education to postgraduate level.

          The only thing that really looks at all like an alternative research programme to me in so far as evolutionary biology goes so far is baraminology, a creationist alternative to mainstream systematics. ID hardly counts: at the very best it’s developed a method for pointing at problematic cases for natural selection. It doesn’t, as far as I know, actually give anything approaching a decent explanation for anything it finds, though: “some super-intelligent entity with powers beyond our comprehension did it” seems rather close to “..and then some magic happened, and…” to me.

          And baraminology seems heavily dependent on intuition at the moment. To some extent that might be a function of being a new programme, and one can’t exactly exclude intuitions from playing a part in mainstream systematics in the past (and even to some extent today) but I’m a bit suspicious it ends up being an integral part of the programme.

          Anyway, at the moment there are no compelling or even vaguely tempting scientific reasons for turning to these programmes, and their proponents shouldn’t expect anyone to do so until there are such reasons.

          Although I like to be vaguely encouraging of baraminology. I think it’s interesting trying to come up with a more sophisticated form of folk biological classifications, which I think is essentially what they’re doing 🙂

  • Abel Dean

    “Rely on supernatural over natural explanations”

    This is mythicism? Does not mythicism tend to be almost entirely physicalist, emerging almost entirely from the atheist counter-religious movement?

    • You would think so. But then you hear how they prefer to say that Paul independently received information about Jesus in dreams and visions which “just happened” to agree with what other Christians were saying, and it seems to fit. It fits oddly, to be sure. But since they stubbornly refuse to accept the more natural reading of the evidence offered by historians and other scholars, namely that Paul received his information from other human beings who knew Jesus, they have to posit something that sounds like a miracle.

      • Abel Dean

        There are all kinds of bizarre improbable mythicist explanations for the writings of Paul, but none of them involve supernaturalism, and supernaturalism really would be drastically out of place in the mythicist movement. Acharya S is something of a New Age mystic, but even her mythicist writings omit any supernatural explanations, largely for the sake of her audience.

      • Paul E.

        Hmm, my reading of their claims, at least as I have seen them explained, is a bit different. I think Vinny may have tried to clarify this here once. As I read it, the mythicists aren’t claiming that Paul actually received information independently in visions that “just happened” to agree with what other Christians were saying, but rather that that was what Paul claimed. The claim itself is important because Paul was able to say that this claim equated to other Christians’ claims to “knowledge” of Jesus, thus making it more likely that the other knowledge-claims were visionary as well. I haven’t read nearly as much of their stuff as you have, so that might be only one of their claims, but that is what I’ve seen in my limited exposure.

        • Vinny did respond, but I found his response unsatisfactory. Mythicists claim – and it is important to their case, such as it is – that Paul and other Christians were talking about a figure that had never walked the Earth and was known only from dreams and visions. Having mundane facts shared by mundane means fits the mainstream historical scholarly understanding of what happened and of the relevant textual evidence, but it doesn’t fit mythicism. And so they keep insisting that the passages in question are all about things that Christians believed were divinely revealed rather than known through other means.

          • Paul E.

            Well, it can be unsatisfactory without an appeal to the supernatural. And, once you get to the risen Christ, there really are no “mundane” facts, are there? The only experience any early Christians had with the risen Christ was through visions. So when they shared their visionary experiences mundanely, others apparently had similar visionary experiences based on that which was mundanely shared. Then Paul had a revolutionary course of visionary experiences which included and expanded on that which he learned mundanely and which even included that which you could describe as mundane facts. That is the “normal” explanation of Christian origins, is it not? Now, whether the better explanation of the origins of the visions is an actual human being whose recent crucifixion caused an existential crisis in his followers or a theological construct of a core group of mystics or whatever is the question (better answered by the former, imo). But the latter explanation no more appeals to the supernatural than the former, I don’t think.

          • When it comes to the risen Christ, there aren’t any mundane facts, but it is noteworthy that at that point, all we get in Paul is the fact that Christ “appeared” or “was seen.” That fits dreams and the like. What I was referring to was the claim of mythicists that everything else – Jesus having been a human being, Jesus having been descended from David, Jesus having taken bread and wine and given it to his disciples, Jesus having been crucified, and so on – that these things likewise happened in a celestial realm and so involve no mundane facts. That’s not the impression Paul gives, never mind other sources. And for that to be true, something that is quite miraculous seems to be involved.

          • Did Paul require anyone who knew Jesus to tell him that Jesus was descended from David or could he have figured it out from the visions that convinced that Jesus was the Messiah? Did Paul require someone who knew Jesus to tell him that Jesus was born of a woman? I think Paul figuring out those things for himself and believing that they had been revealed to him would be just as mundane as any other way he might have come across them.

          • A Jesus who was crucified in the celestial realm, which just happened to be what other people also believed?

            If you accept that, you are more credulous than I thought.

          • I didn’t say anything about Jesus being crucified in a celestial realm, nor do I think that it is relevant to the question I am asking.

            Assuming that Paul thought of Jesus as a recently crucified Galilean, do you think that he believed Jesus was “descended from David according to the flesh” because he had gotten the information from someone who was familiar with Jesus’ family or do you think it was something Paul concluded must have been true of Jesus because he otherwise believed him to be the Messiah? If the former, do you similarly believe that Matthew and Luke placed Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem because they had heard the story from someone who was there or did they do it because they believed the Messiah was necessarily born in Bethlehem?

            On a related note, do you think Paul’s belief that Jesus was born of a woman was the product of some information he received from the disciples?

          • As I have said on multiple occasions, I have no reason to think that Paul or even the family of Jesus had accurate information about their ancestry. I have no reason to think that Paul knew something specific about Jesus’ birth. What I would like to see you acknowledge is that Paul used the expression the same way I could refer to your having been born, without having specific knowledge, simply because I know you are a human being. If you can acknowledge the idiocy of trying to push all the events of Jesus’ life into the celestial realm, and the unlikelihood that that is what Paul meant given that he nowhere says so, then you can take your place in the discussion as a historical minimalist, a stance which might still see us disagreeing on what we can or cannot legitimately conclude about details, but without your dogmatically insisting that nonsense must be treated as having equal probability with conclusions that historians consistently find the evidence points to.

          • When you say “all the events of Jesus’ life,” all we are talking about insofar as what Paul tells us is a birth, a death, and a single meal. Do we know that the idea of such events occurring on a celestial planed was completely unknown in Paul’s day?

          • Why does it need to be “completely unknown” for it to be more likely that the reference is to the mundane meanings of these words? Do you have to ask every time someone mentions birth, death, or eating, whether they are referring to something everyday and human or something purely celestial?

            You will note that, when the author of Ephesians writes of “authorities” and means celestial powers, he needs to say that. Everywhere else that we have reference to authorities, the meaning is either clearly or more likely to earthly authorities. Even among ancient people who believed in a celestial realm, one still was speaking about the earthly realm unless one specified otherwise.

            Why is this not so obvious to you as to not require spelling out?

          • I don’t think that it needs to be completely unknown for it to be less likely that the reference is to the celestial, but that wasn’t what you asked me to acknowledge, was it? You asked me to acknowledge that it was “idiocy,” which I am not prepared to do based on my present knowledge of the issue.

            Nor do I think it necessary to consider the possibility of a celestial reference anytime anyone refers to birth, death, or eating. However, when a writer devotes his attention overwhelmingly to mythic themes of the supernatural and the transcendent, it seems only prudent to consider the possibility that there is more going on than meets the eye on those few occasions when he appears to be referring to the mundane. I wonder why that wouldn’t be so obvious that it wouldn’t need spelling out.

          • I am pretty sure that when you speak to religious believers today, you don’t ask them. But even so, I pointed out that for ancient people like Paul and one of his imitators, who believed in celestial entities, they still needed to mention that something or someone was celestial when not talking about the human realm. Paul never does that in referring to Jesus’ birth, or death, or other details.

            You are free to choose to ignore this evidence. But pretending that mythicist nonsense is equally probable with what the evidence points to is a deliberate stubborn choice that I doubt you can justify other than in terms of personal preference.

          • The fact that one of his imitators did specifically mention on one occasion that he was referring to a celestial realm is not proof that he or anyone else needed to on every occasion that he did so. It simply doesn’t follow logically. Perhaps you can establish it, but you can hardly claim to have shown me evidence that this is the case. Indeed, given how often historicists insist that Paul didn’t need to mention things that were already understood by his audience, I wonder why you would want to pursue that argument at all.

            The only such detail of Jesus’ life that Paul mentions besides his birth and death is his institution of the Eucharist. However, with respect to that, we do have some indication that Paul is talking about something that occurred outside the usual course of human events in that he claims to have learned of it by divine revelation.

            I don’t think that I have ever made any specific claims about the probability of a celestial Jesus. I think that the most I have ever said is that I wouldn’t be surprised if a celestial Jesus was as probable as any specific reconstruction of the historical Jesus, but given how many of those there are, I think that is a pretty mild statement.

            The problem remains the shaky evidence we have for the historical Jesus. Our earliest source remains a man who only knew him through visions and that man gives us very little to go on in establishing the existence of a historical person associated with those visions. Until we find Amelia Earhart’s airplane and remains, it will be impossible to put to rest many theories that might be objectively unlikely. By the same token, without better evidence of the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, there will be some theoretically possible theories that we cannot discount completely even if we deem them objectively unlikely.

            If you can only respect minimalists who are willing to declare mythicism “idiocy,” I don’t think that you are going to find many who you can respect, because I think that by and large it is the same problems with the evidence that makes both minimalists and mythicists. Their criticisms of mainstream methodology and conclusions are going to overlap a great deal. The difference is that the mythicist thinks that he can establish a different explanation while the minimalist doesn’t think the evidence is sufficient to take him any farther.

            BTW, what question is it that you do not think I ask believers?

          • He does NOT claim to have learned about the eucharist from divine revelation.

            The question I suspect you do not ask believers is whether they are referring to something celestial when they mention eating, or someone being born, or someone dying.

          • I freely admit that I have never asked any religious believer that question; however, it is easy for me to think of a situation in which the question might be entirely reasonable.

            Let’s suppose I was listening to a Native American who I know to have a much different conception of spiritual realities than I do. He is telling me about his spirit guide who dwells in a spiritual realm; who had been born, died, and returned to life; and who manifests himself in dreams and visions. Let’s further suppose that this Native American speaks for hours and hours about the importance of his spirit guide with little to no mention of anyone ever encountering him on the terrestrial plain. Let’s suppose further that at a single point, the native American spoke of a meal that occurred prior to the spirit guide’s death and return to life, and in speaking of this event, he used the same words that he had used at another point in referring to things the spirit guide had told him through dreams and visions.

            In that case, I think it might make sense to ask the Native American whether the birth, death, and meal had not also occurred in the spirit realm. In fact, I think that I would be foolish to assume that just because I understand births, deaths, and meals to be things that only take place in real time on earth, the Native American does as well.

          • It is teling that, in order to give an affirmative answer, you have to concoct a fictional belief system which you have patterned intentionally on what mythicists implausibly say about early Christianity.

          • I would call it a “hypothetical” belief system. However, since a hypothetical necessarily includes an element of fiction, I suppose I cannot complain too much about your characterization. On the other hand, to criticize a hypothetical for being fictional is in essence to criticize it for being hypothetical, which strikes me as a rather hollow.

          • Paul working out the meaning of the visions and telling James and Peter is just as mundane as Peter and James working it out and telling Paul. Paul claiming that others agreed with him when in fact they didn’t is just as mundane as Paul claiming to know things by revelation when in fact he learned them from others.

  • Guester

    Vinny is quite wrong in assuming that a philosopher who studies religion and argues for the resurrection is doing “pseudo-scholarship”. The resurrection is a philosophical issue and not a historical issue. Of course, historians won’t really be discussing whether it actually happened or not because they acknowledge that it is beyond history. Just like biologists recognize that arguing whether God used evolution is beyond their field because it is a philosophical issue.

    Philosophers of Religion and those who work in areas similar to that(Philosophical Theology, Religious Philosophy,etc.) are merely doing their job by investigating claims about Religion and whether these claims have any merit. And Philosophers have published peer-reviewed works on the Resurrection and why it makes sense. Such works have been published by Oxford, Wiley-Blackwell, Cambridge and many highly respected universities and journals across the world. Certainly Vinny is not saying these men and women are fools or that their work is “apologetics”:

    Sure, you can’t use the historical method to “prove” the resurrection; just like you can’t use the scientific method to “prove” that God is behind evolution. But you can make a philosophical case using philosophy and philosophical methods to argue for/against these since they are philosophical issues and not historical.

    Historians/Scientists are not experts in this area and lack the expertise to evaluate and critique whether or not miracles happen. Thus it is irrelevant what historians and scientists think on this issue.

    • Matt, this gets things badly wrong. Philosophers can discuss whether the notion of resurrection, understood in a particular way, is coherent. But they cannot tell you whether an actual resurrection occurred at any point in history. Could someone use philosophy to determine whether Julius Caesar was a Roman emperor?

      • arcseconds

        According to Leibniz, in principle, yes 🙂

      • arcseconds

        The first link matt gives actually makes exactly the same point as you do:

        Philosophical arguments concerning resurrection aim less at showing the resurrection does occur, focusing instead on the possibility or impossibility of resurrection. In what follows we will examine some of the important philosophical arguments for the claim that resurrection is not possible at all.

        The previous section was (briefly) discussing historical arguments for resurrection in a rather general sort of way.

        The passages following the quoted passage discuss resurrection in general (and not Jesus’s, if anything the target seems to be the notion of a universal resurrection) in the usual sort of analytic philosophy kind of way: find some necessary conditions and go through a lot of thought experiments.

      • GodisLove

        I think what Matt was arguing was whether or not there are coherent reasons for believing the Resurrection and that philosophers are more poised to answer this vs. historians who are not as you say allowed to investigate miracle claims since that goes beyond the historical method. Neither can actually tell you what to believe personally but philosophers who study religion and who have arguments for/against the Resurrection have more expertise on this issue than historians since this is a philosophical issue on immortality and the afterlife. They can and do look at these claims about Jesus after his death and weigh the evidence to affirm whether it’s plausible to believe a miracle did or did not happen to Jesus after his death.