Mythicism’s Missing Middle

Mythicism’s Missing Middle September 24, 2014

I remember the powerful ending of the movie The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, in which she is confronted with questions about why she interpreted the finding of a sword in a field the way she did. That it was lost in a sword fight, or even that some passerby decided to discard it at random, are options that she never considered. Interpreting it as a sign from God, other simpler possibilities were simply ignored. Here’s the clip:

Mythicism is rather similar. Its proponents don’t see what is, they see what they want to see. Having decided that the paucity of information about the life and teaching of Jesus in Paul’s letters is a sign that he didn’t think Jesus was a terrestrial figure, other possibilities are simply ignored.

I’ve mentioned before that the genre of the epistles could be an explanation. This seems particularly worth considering, since Paul gives even less detail about celestial activities of Jesus than he does about terrestrial ones.

But there are still other possibilities that mythicists ignore. What if Paul was simply a terrible communicator? Which meshes better with the other evidence we have from early Christianity? A Paul who thought Jesus was a terrestrial figure but conveyed this poorly in his letters? Or a Paul who thought Jesus was a celestial figure (and apparently conveyed this even more poorly, since he has been misunderstood by almost all his readers)? And, since either claim involves Paul being a poor communicator, does the fact that this discussion is occurring itself prove this to be the case?

There are still more options we could mention. It could be that the consensus date for the Gospel of Mark is wrong, and that Maurice Casey and James Crossley are right. Paul may have sent copies along with his letters, or known that churches already had them. This may be implausible – but is it more implausible than mythicism’s scenario?

What other options are there, which mythicism simply ignores, preferring to see in Paul what it wants to? How many more alternative explanations can you come up with?

In concluding, it must be added that mythicism isn’t merely a filling of Paul’s silences with things he doesn’t say, but a filling of Paul’s silences with things that contradict what he explicitly says. And so let me end with this quote from something that Jonathan Bernier recently said in a comment here: “It’s not an argument from silence but an argument from putting the volume on mute.” See also his post on scholarly consensus, quackery, and the spectrum in between.

Jesus Mythicism Mute Quote

 


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  • Kainan

    Please, note that possibility does not equal probability. All of these options are possible. Just as it is possible that Jesus was a myth. And while it is more probable that Jesus was historical, it is far from certain. The “Jesus certainly existed” is as crank a position as “Jesus was certainly a myth”. Both should have no place in sound scholarship. A “middle” is indeed necessary.

    • If someone means “certainty” in the absolute sense, then that would indeed be a crank stance to take about a matter of history, which can only be spoken of probabilistically. If, however, they are using it as a convenient shorthand for “significantly more probable than not, and with no serious counterevidence” then the statement is, if potentially misleading, nonetheless reflection not a crank extreme view but of mainstream historical study’s conclusion on the matter.

      The extreme views in this case would seem to be that everything about Jesus in our sources is pure invention, and everything in them is factual. Both those views are crank nonsense, and the historical evidence pushes one to adopt a stance somewhere in between, and in that middle range there are many spots one can decide to rest on that are perfectly compatible with the evidence, the differences representing different judgments about matters which are inherently uncertain.

      • Kainan

        I do not mean some absolute philosophical certainly, of course. I mean the historical certainty. The evidence is at once scarce and unreliable. That doesn’t make it totally useless (I myself accept that on that scarce and unreliable evidence the existence of Jesus is slightly more probable), but one can’t really reach historically certain conclusions based on it. By historically certain I mean propositions like “Caesar certainly existed” and “the Holocaust certainly happened”. Those two are historically certain due to the quantity and quality of the evidence. I frankly don’t think one can say “Jesus certainly existed” by using the same def. of certainty. “Jesus probably existed” – OK. But if someone says “We don’t know if Jesus existed” it is also acceptable. It wouldn’t be for the first two examples.

        • But the latter is true only in the same sense, that we don’t know with absolute certainty that anything in the past happened. It is all reconstruction based on evidence. The probabilities may differ, and the evidence will normally be stronger in the case of the wealthy and powerful who had the wherewithal to mint coins and leave inscriptions. But even coins and inscriptions can mention mythical figures. The only way to think that the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth is seriously in doubt is to ignore the writings of almost all professional historians who’ve written on the topic, and to listen instead to the historical equivalents of Michael Behe and William Dembski.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Probably speaking the German invasion of Poland on Sept. 3, 1939, is not a certainty. But pointing that out is pure pedantry, because there is no conceivable world in which this did not occur. Oh, I’m sure I could construct an elaborate conspiracy theory to show that it never happened, and there probably is someone out there that has. But the fact that I can do so, that I could explain away ever piece of data on the matter, does not make the position reasonable. I would submit that the existence of Jesus is in much the same category.

          • Kainan

            Of course the invasion of Poland is certain. Unlike Jesus’ historicity. You would submit that, but you can’t show that.

          • arcseconds

            A world like that is certainly conceivable. Of course we’d expect the evidence in such a world to be also quite different to what we have.

            But a world where the evidence is the same as ours and the actual occurrence completely different is also conceivable, as you point out.

            It’s extremely unlikely we live in that world, however. You’d need to posit all sorts of things we just have no evidence whatsoever for to explain why all the evidence (including the testimony of currently-living people) looks like it establishes the invasion of Poland in 1945. It’s as certain as any event could be.

            While I agree that the idea that the historical evidence for Jesus is what we have, but Jesus never existed is also rather unlikely, it’s significantly more likely than a no-Poland-invasion account. No Poland invasion requires very overwrought conspiracy theories bordering on bad science-fiction… we’re starting to tread towards Descartes’ evil demon or the Matrix trilogy here. No Jesus requires a lot of rather odd and unprecedented stuff to happen, but not a wholesale fabrication of tonnes of data about a war that never happened.

            And odd and unprecedented stuff does happen from time to time, so it’s in the realm of possibility in a way the no-Poland-invasion isn’t. But of course we shouldn’t assert that odd and unprecedented stuff has happened without evidence for it, evidence that can’t be explained by anything other than odd and unprecedented stuff.

            I think it’s probably best to say with the prosecutor “members of the jury, you are asked to consider whether the Jesus is guilty of existence beyond reasonable doubt. This does not mean beyond any doubt. “

          • Kainan

            Again with the evolution denial comparisons. Evolution denial = biology denial. Jesus’ historicity skepticism – or merely certainty skepticism – does not entail more than, say, being skeptical about the biblical patriarchs (also a consensus once upon a time). The evidence for evolution is objective and overwhelming. It’s absurd to compare it with scarce and speculative materials we have for Jesus.

          • You are misinformed. There are no sources from someone who lived contemporaneously with one of the patriarchs and mentions them, much less someone who mentions having met a sibling of one of the patriarchs. If you have been given the impression that the two situations are similar, then someone has misled you.

            The point of the comparison between the two is not to suggest that biology and ancient history offer comparable degrees of certainty. But the tactics used to deny conclusions based on what the evidence clearly points to is the same in both, and that ought to trouble mythicists more than it does.

          • Kris Rhodes

            I don’t think Kainan is saying that the case for the patriarchs and the case for Jesus are similar in strength. Rather, he’s saying that discovering Jesus didn’t exist would “entail” not that much for the field as a whole, much as discovering the patriarchs didn’t exist didn’t “entail” much for the field as a whole. Not that the discovery didn’t have deep implications, but rather, that it didn’t in any sense threaten the field’s ability to answer questions (as a discovery that evolution did not occur WOULD threaten the relevant field’s ability to answer questions).

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Except that he’s wrong. It *would* have far-reaching significance. It would radically change our understanding of early Christian history. If he cannot see that then he simply confirms what is already evident: utterly ignorance of the field.

          • Kainan

            Did the recognition of the fact change the OT-related history? Yes, it did. Was it any sort of a revolution comparable to what would happen if evolution was refuted? Not at all. Sorry, but Jesus’ historicity is just a detail. Evolution is a “whole”.

          • Kainan

            Sorry, skipped the words “of the fact that the patriarchs were mythical”.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            It suddenly occurs to me that if Jesus’s existence is a matter of trivial than the entire debate on the matter would also be trivial.

            But you are just simply wrong on this point. Jesus’ existence is not trivial, and not comparable with the Patriarchs. Our histories of Christian origins build upon the supposition that its first members were Jesus’ disciples. If suddenly there was no Jesus we are suddenly left without any account of Christian origins. None. A new and totally different one would need to be developed. That’s not an insignificant development.

          • Kris Rhodes

            //Our histories of Christian origins build upon the supposition that its first members were Jesus’ disciples.//

            So here’s my chance to learn something. In your view would a biblical historian fifty years ago or so have said that our histories of Jewish origins build upon the supposition that the patriarchs were actual people?

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Perhaps, but if you look at the discipline it wasn’t a necessary supposition. There was already a recognition that the Patriarchs were separated from the Genesis accounts by several centuries, so taking the extra step of saying that the Patriarchs never existed wasn’t that big a deal. By comparison the operating supposition in NT studies is that the first Christians were followers of Jesus during his lifetime. This supposition is one derived from the NT data. It’s the explanation for the Christian movement. You are left without any for the origins of the Christian communities, precisely the communities to which one holds created the myth of Jesus. The Patriarchs were perhaps thought by most to have existed, but they did not have the causal significance for HB/OT that Jesus has for NT.

          • Kainan

            If mythicism were true, all the same disciples would still be there. They would simply rely on the cosmic Jesus’ revelations, instead of on the real Jesus’ sayings. Which is not unknown in the history of religion.
            Now, I’m not saying mythicism is true. And yes, to me a prophet mythologized is more probable (Occam’s razor) considering the evidence of Paul. But only barely so, considering the scarcity and ambiguity of Paul’s evidence.

            This kind of mythicism is not implausible per se. Just less probable. Which means that there is no “certainty” here (in the same sense as certainty about, say, Caesar), merely a greater probability.

            To use the legal terms, Jesus’ historicity meets the “preponderance of evidence” standard, but doesn’t meet the “beyond the reasonable doubt” standard.

          • Kris Rhodes

            He can be wrong, that’s fine. Let’s just make sure we understand what he’s saying before calling him wrong.

            He hasn’t claimed that discovering Jesus didn’t exist wouldn’t radically change our understanding of early Christian history.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            “Sorry, but Jesus’ historicity is just a detail.” How can one interpret that but to say that the results would be something other-than-radical?

          • Kris Rhodes

            Fair enough, but I read that as an intentional exaggeration.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Well, it’s hard to tell, isn’t it? Poe’s Law: how does one tell hyperbole or sarcasm from extremism?

          • Kainan

            Well, let me provide another example from the Holocaust studies. Namely, the matter of the Hitler order. Earlier historians assumed that there was such an explicit order. And indeed, some argued, that there must have been one, for the Holocaust has happened, so how else were one to explain this? It made no sense without an explicit order. Moreover, some of the captured Nazis said that there was such an order (and some of them, as it later turned out, lied as a part of their legal defense strategy, as was established by the prosecutors, cf. the Ulm Einsatzkommando trial).

            Then functionalists appeared and argued that there, really, didn’t have to be an order. That local pressures led to gradual radicalization of the Nazi Jewish policy, and the Final Solution was basically a natural outgrowth of various war-related conditions.

            This intenationalist-functionalist debate was quite acrimonious, but today it’s a thing of the past. The synthesis has been forged, that takes both views into account – Hitler did make certain general “punctuating” policy decisions (which in practice amounted to orders, even if they weren’t formally such), the decisions were influenced by various local pressures and by the war-related conditions, and they came at different times in relation to different groups of Jews (at first the fate of the Soviet Jews was so decided). But there was no single, all-encompassing Hitler order as such.

            So, is a Hitler order an important detail? Sure it is. Did absence or presence of it influence the Holocaust historiography? You bet. Was it, however, just a detail that didn’t necessitate the rewriting of the whole Holocaust history even if the functionalist side were absolutely correct? That it was, too.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            That’s all fine and good for Holocaust studies. It tells us nothing about the specific case of early Christian studies.

          • Kainan

            Kris Rhodes has explained it correctly.

          • The only way to think that the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth is seriously in doubt is to ignore the writings of almost all professional historians who’ve written on the topic. . . .

            Is this true?

            Firstly, how many professional historians have written on the historicity — and about how one can establish the historicity — of Jesus? Bart Ehrman seemed to say that as far as he was aware he was the first to attempt to do so. When I read books about some historical figure by professional historians as often as not I’ll read a discussion in the foreword or introduction or such about the evidence upon which we can be sure we can know what happened etc. I don’t know that I have seen anything comparable in books about the HJ. Those that do discuss how we can know anything about the HJ use methods that a number of biblical scholars themselves admit are alien to what we find in the works of other historians.

            Secondly, those authors who do discuss the evidence we have for questions relating to Jesus’ historicity themselves are the ones who open the questions of doubt in ways that no discussion about how we know Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon does.

            E.P. Sanders lists a number of “indisputable facts” about Jesus but as one reads the literature more and more one soon learns that there is scholarly debate about the historicity all but one of those “facts”– yet there is no comparable debate at all about the “basic facts” of Julius Caesar. No-one questions whether he conquered Gaul or crossed the Rubicon.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            And how many scholars have written on the existence of Julius Caesar?

            A former teacher of mine has a saying: “No one has written on this matter–and for good reason.” He’ll say it on a whole host of things. His point is that there are two reasons that people haven’t written on a matter. One, that the scholarly discussion has not reached the point that this has become a question; two, that the matter is so obviously wrong-headed or trivial that there is no point expending the energy. So, yes, few have written explicitly on Jesus’ existence. I would submit that this is because Jesus’ non-existence is so wrong-headed that most of us have decided to focus upon demonstrating things other than the self-evident.

          • “And how many scholars have written on the existence of Julius Caesar?”

            Maybe it was in another thread or my comment was missed, but I do indeed see discussions of the evidence for the “facts” historians work with — the explanations of how we know what we do know — in many of the books that discuss a prominent ancient person or topic.

            Ask a scholar how we know Julius Caesar existed and they could tell you quickly and easily — as they do very often in introductions to studies, etc — and they won’t say you will only be able to know he existed after you study advanced Latin and archaeology and ancient manuscript and literary studies.

            I can tell you exactly how we know Julius Caesar existed and have done so. It’s very simple. And I can also — and have done — how we know certain lesser-known figures existed, including those who left no primary evidence.

            It’s not complicated. It is complicated when it comes to Jesus for some reason.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Why is it complicated when it comes to Jesus? What is that reason? I don’t see it. Not one iota. What I see are sophistic efforts to make it complicated but that’s not quite the same.

          • Hurtado and Ehrman and Hoffmann have all said (I think McG too) that we need to understand the languages and textual criticism etc etc. They’re the ones saying it. We should defer to their opinion because they have mastered all these things. I’m not the one who says it’s complicated.

  • Kainan

    I guess I would add to this that sometimes the arguments from mere consensus are less than convincing. See, there are more esoteric matters – like whether there was Q – that depend on many complex, interconnected arguments that are best judged only by highly qualified scholars with the knowledge of the languages etc. In that case it’s proper to defer to the consensus unless one is a scholar herself (like Mark Goodacre).

    Some matters though aren’t really all that complex. Like the question whether Jesus existed or not. The “hard” evidence for the historicity is *very* limited, so once one has a good grasp on it (e.g. from reading and comparing various scholarly works, like that of van Voorst), one can make at least a good ballpark estimate as to whether the consensus is correct, and to what extent.

    Moreover, it’s simply not true that Jesus’ historicity is somehow comparable to evolution or the AGW. In the case of evolution Dobzhansky’s maxim is true as ever – nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of it. If evolution is not true, the whole field must be a hoax. Evolution is that rug that ties up the room 😉 Biology is impossible without it.

    The situation with the AGW is similar – most of climatology doesn’t make sense without it. Moreover, one can test AGW by applying various objective, falsifiable criteria, by analyzing the objective and truly massive data, etc.

    Historicity of Jesus, on the other hand, is not some sort of an overarching framework theory, except for a few scholars who make their living by writing about “historical Jesus”. It’s truly a secondary detail. If tomorrow it is proven that Jesus was a myth, what changes? Nothing much. Like nothing much has changed after most scholars accepted that the Patriarchs are mythical after all. The NT scholars will continue analyze the NT books, as they have before. The historians of the early Christianity will still write books about early Christian communities, as before. In other words, whether Jesus was real or mythical does not change the field in any appreciable way. It is thus presumptuous to compare those who argue for more caution about the historicity to evolution- or AGW-deniers. The comparison is simply not valid.

    • arcseconds

      So, you’ll trust the consensus on complex matters, but not on simple ones?

      That seems pretty odd to me. If they can be trusted on getting the complex matters right, then surely they can be trusted on the simple matters. If they can’t be trusted on the simple matters, then why trust them on the complex ones?

      I mean, by saying you think they’re all down to the last person wrong on the simple stuff, and that this is obvious to amateurs, you’re basically saying they’re incompetent. How on earth do they suddenly become competent when they’re doing something that requires more sophisticated analysis?

      • Kainan

        I won’t trust the consensus on simple matters, where I believe to have examined the literature in the field quite sufficiently (since the matter, not being a rocket science or multidimensional calculus, is not beyond the understanding of a well-informed amateur) and wasn’t convinced by the logic/method. For example, the matter of Muhammad existing is, in principle, a simple matter. There are also fringe opinions that he didn’t exist. As I haven’t looked in the matter, I’ll side with the consensus that Muhammad existed. If I then decide to look through all the relevant literature and find that the sources for his existence are really extra-weak, I might change my mind.

        As for your argument, it simply doesn’t correspond to reality, for we know that exactly such things have happened before. See my example and explanation at patheos. com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2014/09/the-jesus-birther-movement.html#comment-1603746543

        • arcseconds

          I’m not asking you what warrants you not trusting the consensus. I’m asking you why you would continue to trust the consensus on much more complex matters.

          Your story at the moment seems to be that no-one has ever bothered looking at the question very seriously. So a foundational question of the discipline has never been seriously examined, and all work since then has been done assuming the truth of this question. That immediately starts to undermine much of the work of NT studies, but more worryingly, if they’ve been this slip-shod on this matter, then what else have they just assumed because other people think it, and continued to build on?

          The example that you use of the holocaust isn’t comparable. The exact figure of holocaust victims is tricky to figure out. It’s not something that’s obvious to an interested layman who read a couple of books about it and realised the historians were wrong. If it was that obvious, then it would be a huge embarrassment to historians. How could they miss something so obvious? What else have they missed that is so obvious?

          You’ve correctly concluded that the Q hypothesis is too involved for a layman to waltz in and set things aright, but you clearly want to reserve the right to do that with the existence of Jesus. But you want to limit the consequences of this: you want to deal with that question personally, in isolation, without concluding anything else about the discipline.

          This seems to be a move of convenience, to avoid the much more worrying conclusion (which might even strike you as absurd) that nothing in NT studies can be trusted.

          It’s the same convenient move that creationists make when they conclude that evolutionary biologists have gone up the garden path. The only conclusion that can possibly follow rationally from the fact that biologists have built an entire discipline on sand and no-one but a handful of amateurs has noticed is that the entire scientific community is incompetent, or systematically lying. But creationists never want to make that conclusion, because they want to continue to trust scientists on other matters.

          • Kainan

            You didn’t even bother to read my example correctly.

            I’m not talking about the figure of the Holocaust victims. I’m talking about the figure for a specific camp (those are very, very different issues). The figure for which the data was available basically right after the end of the war. How do I know this? Because Raul Hilberg arrived at his estimate of 1 million back in 1961 (actually earlier, during his research), by simply analyzing the inbound and outbound transports from readily available German docs.

            Yet most historians preferred to stick to the “traditional” inflated figures up until the late 80s. And yet their complex qualitative histories of the camp were OK (by the standards of the time). Which I know by comparing them to newer histories.

            So you will have accept at least as a brute fact that historians being wrong about some “foundational” facts does not discredit their work as a whole. I have shown that. So your attempt to erect a contradiction fails. And I hope you won’t do as the Holocaust deniers do and reject the whole discipline of the Holocaust studies because of historians getting some foundational facts wrong in the past (since your “logic” would entail exactly this).

            Now, we don’t have to leave this as a brute fact. It’s easy to explain why this happens. Some things are simply accepted as background knowledge, as “it has already been shown” type of thing, they are not thought through – until they are. The complex things, on the other hand, are necessarily thought through. Hence the apparent paradox.

          • arcseconds

            I’m sorry, but revising the figure of a single camp on the basis of careful historical study of primary literature by a historian (material that I’m assuming other historians had neglected) is an example of a detail being revised by careful historical study by a professional studying stuff that had been neglected.

            It is not at all comparable to an amateur briefly reviewing the same literature that an entire community of researchers is intimately familiar with, and coming to a radically different conclusion. You are not claiming you’ve reached a different conclusion by looked at neglected evidence extremely carefully.

            It’s also not a foundational issue. Actually nothing much hangs on the exact figure killed in a particular camp. I know you want to say that the existence of Jesus is equally as trivial, but that’s simply not so.

            Imagine if it turned out that Hitler didn’t exist, or was something very different to how he’s currently thought of: maybe an actor who merely did what he was told and read from a script. Then while maybe the overall history of the second world war would be much the same, the story of the rise of the Nazi party would have to be completely revised.

            And, again, if someone were to claim that this was simply obvious to them that Hitler was an actor on the basis of their weekend reading, there remains the question of how generations of scholars have simply missed this, even though they’re more familiar with the evidence.

            And you’re still refusing to answer my question. How can you trust people who you say are just obviously wrong on a simple matter on more complex matters?

            When, for example, a doctor stuffs up on something extremely simple, no-one takes the attitude “Oh, I can see there’s an obvious problem with how they’ve handled a simple case, but I don’t have the credentials for brain surgery, so I presume they’re fine with that.” There was a case not long ago in South Africa where a doctor was noticed by a nurse taking a diabetic off insulin, because he had ‘gotten better’. Turned out he was an impostor and never had earned his medical degree.

          • Kris Rhodes

            “is an example of a detail being revised by careful historical study by a professional studying stuff that had been neglected.”

            This is exactly and all of what Kainan is saying the issue of Jesus not existing is.

          • arcseconds

            That’s not how it looks to me. Kainan hasn’t referred to a careful, painstaking study of hitherto-neglected material which establishes that the existence of Jesus is not as certain as historians thought it was.

            I have not seen a claim to the effect that the historians reached reasonable conclusions given the evidence that they were familiar with, but this new study means the area needs to be reconsidered. The claim is just that the evidence they’re all familiar with is unconvincing, and obviously unconvincing.

            If such a study has been referred to, please point me towards the post, because I missed it.

          • Kainan

            I have already provided the example of historians reaching unreasonable conclusions given the evidence they were familiar with (the inflated numbers had never been reasonable, as I have shown in a comment above), which conclusions an informed amateur would have been able to reject based on widely available, published mainstream materials (Nuremberg documentary volumes and Höss’ memoirs).

          • Kris Rhodes

            //Kainan hasn’t referred to a careful, painstaking study of hitherto-neglected material which establishes that the existence of Jesus is not as certain as historians thought it was.//

            He has referred to Carrier’s book several times, which he understands to fit the description you give here. Although Carrier’s book does argue that the evidence scholars are all familiar with isn’t as convincing as most people think, he _also_ argues (in fact, spends more time arguing) that there is a whole wealth of evidence that most scholars aren’t aware of or don’t pay much attention to which makes certainty in Jesus’s existence even less warranted.

          • arcseconds

            I get the impression that Carrier’s actually a lot better on these topics than Kainan (or, in fact, as far as I can see, yourself). I don’t mean that he has especially reasonable opinions about these things, but he has at least worked through the implications of what he is saying.

            He doesn’t, as far as I can see, think that historians have continually come to the evidence and made just obvious errors that any intelligent layman could see through. He thinks it represents a more subtle failure in epistemology, which is why he needed to write Proving History.

            And I further get the impression that he thinks that the entire discipline will benefit from Proving History, so while NT studies might be a particularly egregious example of where history has gone wrong because they’re not Bayesian enough, he thinks the entire discipline is not as good as it ideally should be when it comes to assessing evidence. So he’s not isolating his critique only to NT studies: he realises that the points also apply across the discipline.

            And he also doesn’t think that mythicism has been convincing until he arrived on the scene. Remember, he really doesn’t think very highly of mythicists prior to him. And it’s not like the charges of insufficient or non-convincing evidence are new.

            Finally, he also sees a need to explain why the experts find mythicist arguments unconvincing. Up until him, the explanation is that mythicist arguments weren’t actually convincing. Now he’s here, the explanation is that, of the people who have responded to his work, that their responses are riddled with fallacies and logical errors, they’re too arrogant to admit being mistaken, or they’re just outright insane.

            So, on the one hand he doesn’t actually claim the evidence is obviously flimsy, and therefore doesn’t have to deal with what this entails (that NT scholars are the sort of people who are convinced by flimsy evidence). And on the other hand he’s actually prepared to bite the bullet, and say outright that respected scholars are quite incompetent.

          • Kris Rhodes

            //I get the impression that Carrier’s actually a lot better on these topics than Kainan (or, in fact, as far as I can see, yourself).//

            The guy who spent years writing the book as his full time job, and who has scholastic knowledge on the subject, is “a lot better on these topics than” two guys on an internet blog thread? What a surprise! What were you expecting to achieve with the above-quoted line? Are you interested in knowing what you actually did achieve? Can you guess?

          • arcseconds

            I suppose you think I’m saying he’s a lot better in the sense that his scholarly outlook is more comprehensive, or something? That’s not what I’m saying, and I think it’s fairly obvious that I’m not saying that from the rest of my post.

            I’m not sure how I can make it more clear, but I will try.

            Carrier is better in the sense that he is not simultaneously claiming the following:
            1) the evidence for Jesus’s existence is obviously flimsy, so obvious a layman can see this on a fairly cursory inspection.
            2) NT scholars have somehow overlooked this fact for decades, despite attention being drawn to it from time to time.
            3) NT scholars are competent at what they do.

            He is also not claiming:
            4) NT scholars are in fact incompetent, whereas other historians are fine.

            I think it’s obvious that there’s a problem holding both 1 and 2 and 3. 1, 2 and 4 are perhaps less obviously problematic, and less problematic, but it’s nevertheless a problematic position to hold. I can explain how these combinations of claims are problematic in more detail if you like.

            Instead, I take his position to be:
            1) the problems with the scholarship are due to non-obvious problems with epistemology in history
            2) NT scholars are rightly unimpressed with prior mythicist arguments
            3) NT scholars may in fact be completely incompetent when proven to be so
            4) Historians in general also need to pay more attention to epistemic matters than they currently do.

            That’s a lot more reasonable position to hold.

            Carrier’s (1) would perhaps require substantial work to establish, and certainly he’s put in a substantial amount of work to establish this, but it’s not necessary to have years of scholarship behind one to work out there’s a problem with claiming that NT scholars miss the obvious, and simultaneously think they’re competent historians. Carrier doesn’t run into that problem (as far as I can see) because he doesn’t think they’re missing the obvious, and is actually open to thinking that great numbers of them are actually incompetent.

            (Yes, Keinan’s trying to wiggle out of making that claim, but only by making strained analogies and implying (or sometimes asserting) false things.)

            Now, you may still find this insulting, but you have to recognise that both groups of people are unhappy with the way the other group of people are reasoning about the situation.

            Also, for someone who’s so concerned with charity and care in interpretation, you really could do with making a bigger effort in this regard yourself. I think it was quite clear from my initial post that I’m not expecting you or Kainan to suddenly come up with nuanced scholarship, and that I was talking entirely about a tension in your attitude towards scholars. So your umbrage and sarcasm are simply misplaced.

          • Kris Rhodes

            //1) the problems with the scholarship are due to non-obvious problems with epistemology in history2) NT scholars are rightly unimpressed with prior mythicist arguments
            3) NT scholars may in fact be completely incompetent when proven to be so
            4) Historians in general also need to pay more attention to epistemic matters than they currently do.//

            The above describes Carrier, myself, and as far as I can tell, Kainan as well. I have _no idea_ why you would think otherwise. In another subthread, you’ve continually tried to pin an accusation on me that I must think most NT historians are generally incompetent, and I’ve continually explained to you that I don’t think this and why I don’t think this. Why would you type what you just did given the existence of that conversation? Please explain.

          • arcseconds

            Well, as I said before, I recall you saying almost as soon as you got here that it was very obvious to you that there was a big problem with the way the field treats the evidence. Yet you only have a cursory knowledge of the field, compared with the experts.

            Was that not you, and does that not describe your position? If not, then I apologise, I’ve attributed a perspective that you don’t hold. If that’s not how you came to have doubts about the existence of Jesus, then what was?

            Wasn’t your argument earlier that you don’t think sufficient weight has been given to alternative hypotheses? That in itself strikes me as implying the scholars have a form of incompetence, that we’d expect to infect the rest of their work: once they have a workable hypothesis they’ll run with that instead of exploring alternatives. Surely this results in a completely unstable edifice.

            I appreciate that you don’t in fact think that NT scholars are incompetent. My point is, given things you do say about them, you probably should.

            Your explanation as to why historians make the mistake of thinking Jesus existence is certain is just that they never have considered the matter. How is that not an accusation of incompetence? That the entire field has collectively ignored the evidence for and against a central figure in the primary texts that define the entire discipline? Particularly as you know that the existence of Jesus actually has been challenged from time to time, so that also requires ignoring those challenges.

            This also requires attributing to yourself more insight than the experts, does it not? You read the texts and questioned something that it’s never occurred to them to question. How is it possible that of all the tens of thousands of biblical scholars in the world, it hasn’t occurred to a few of them to ask the question “how is it we’re so certain of the existence of Jesus?” It’s that kind of question that your assertion “no-one thought about it” raises, and requires an answer.

            The obvious answer is, of course, many of them did ask that question. Have you never had the experience of being in a class and having someone keep asking “but how do we know that?”? They aren’t necessarily sceptics, they just want to know the argument for everything in the discipline. Has NT studies been entirely devoid of those people, do you think?

            It also strikes me as extremely implausible that there has not been serious considerations of this question (without positing incompetence of some kind, like dogmatism or something) for a number of other reasons. Firstly, the discipline went through a long period of ‘de-mythologizing’ the New Testament which did involve a thorough scrubbing of all miraculous, anachronistic, and other dubious material. When they were questioning basically everything in the New Testament, how was it that Jesus missed coming up for analysis?

            Secondly, many biblical scholars started off life as traditionally-minded Christians, and have gone through periods of intense scepticism, where they personally have gone through an often difficult and painful process of jettisonning practically everything they thought they knew about the New Testament. Ehrman and Hoffman, to name but two (there are certainly others that I have heard of, I just can’t remember who they are now), both went through this process, and became atheists. On this blog, we’ve got McGrath and Bernier (amongst the non-expert regulars, there’s also Ian and Bruce, both of whom are now atheists and both of whom accept the historicity of Jesus). So they had to question in a deeply personal, involved way the evidence for practically everything else in the NT. So are we to believe that not one of them ever thought to question the existence of Jesus himself? I find it hard to understand how this could be. Mythicists like to say that if they’re not Christian, they’re all ex-Christian and still Christian-friendly, and they’re psychologically incapable of letting go of this last remaining ‘fact’ of traditional Christianity, but that’s pretty difficult to believe. When Ehrman gets up and denies the existence of God, the resurrection, and life after death, and saying he got to his position by reading the Bible, he’s already being so disturbing to traditional Christianity, it’s difficult to see any merit in the idea he in some sense wants to appease the members of his former faith.

            Thirdly, presumably many biblical scholars have had to deal with mythicists or mythicism-sympathisers in one way, shape or form, so that’s another manner in which the question can be raised. Again, to suppose this didn’t result in at least some of them going back to take a second look at the evidence is a strange thing that requires an explanation.

            And finally, note that if this were to happen from time to time, and a good case could be made for the non-existence of Jesus, we’d expect to have heard about it by now. There should be at least a minority position in NT studies arguing for this point. Academics have every motivation to argue for a previously-undefended and radical position, if they can make a case for it.

            So basically, I still can’t get past the fact that something is, if not obvious, at least evident to you on the basis of a cursory familiarity with the subject, that isn’t evident to any of the experts. I can’t see any explanation of why this could be that doesn’t attribute some systemic level of incompetence to the experts. Unless you’re attributing an unusual level of brilliance to yourself?

          • Kainan

            1. Again, your contradiction is refuted. Now you’re trying to move goalposts from there being a contradiction between the possibility of historians making mistakes about foundational facts and their overall credibility to something else.

            “How can you trust people who you say are just obviously wrong on a simple matter on more complex matters?”

            I reject your logic. It’s the logic of Holocaust deniers. And I have already refuted this “logic”.

            1a. What I haven’t mentioned is that Hilberg was not the only one who arrived at a more or less correct figure. The other researcher was Gerald Reitlinger. Who, surprise surprise, was an amateur Holocaust historian (he was an art historian by trade).

            As a side note, the first fundamental technical study of the Auschwitz gas chambers was done by Jean-Claude Pressac, who was not only an amateur (pharmacist), but also a former Holocaust denier (who got convinced by the documents he found). And although his amateurishness shows in his thick volumes on the topic, they’re still seen as extremely valuable historical contributions, and some of his ideas (e.g. about the large Birkenau gas chambers having been converted for that purpose from morgues) have become a consensus.

            So yes, an amateur can make contributions and be correct when the rest of the historians aren’t.

            2. The number of the Auschwitz victims is certainly a foundational issue. Not only because murder was the main function of Auschwitz, but also because the claimed inflated numbers weren’t congruent with the events at Auschwitz, for there were specific waves of deportations, with the main wave being the deportation of about 400,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz in 1944, which is when the machinery was working at full capacity 24/7 (the event remembered especially vividly by everyone in camp). When one assumes 2.500.000 victims or even 4.000.000 (10 such Hungarian operations) and does the math, it makes no sense whatsoever. Only the currently accepted number fits with the history of the deportation waves.

            And I haven’t even started about the significance of this number for the summary number of Holocaust victims, where paradoxes arise if one accepts the inflated estimates at face value.

            So yes, much depends on this number.

            And yes, if you wish to insist that this is somehow not foundational, I will insist that Jesus’ existence is not foundational. Because you’re using a perverse definition of “foundational”.

            3. Your Hitler example is not in any sense relevant to the issue at hand. Try to think of something smarter than that.

          • arcseconds

            I’m not moving the goalposts. The goalposts are where they’ve always been: how can you continue to trust people on more complex matters when they are wrong about simple ones? You might think that they have moved because you’ve finally realised that that is what I’m asking, but I asked that very clearly in my first post, you just preferred to talk about something else.

            And your examples are, again, not comparable for precisely the reason I mentioned before. By your own claims, these people looked at different material from mainstream historians, and spent a lot of time doing this.

            You’re not presenting volumes that you’ve painstakingly written over several years looking carefully at evidence that people have, up until now, overlooked. You’re saying that it’s obvious from the material that all NT historians are familiar with that the evidence is simply not convincing, and that they ought not be convinced by it.

            If they are so easily convinced by obviously unconvincing evidence, why on earth would you trust them on anything?

            You’ve already claimed that the existence of Jesus is a trivial matter, so it’s silly to pretend that you’re doing so as a result of my statements.

            Could you please go and tell Richard Carrier that you think the matter that he’s working on is a trivial matter, and won’t have any real effect on NT studies? Thanks. The resulting explosion will be most entertaining.

            Also, you do realise that stating things like “I refute your logic” and “Your example is not relevant” does not actually refute anything or show irrelevance, don’t you? So what is the point of saying these things?

          • Kainan

            “how can you continue to trust people on more complex matters when they are wrong about simple ones?”

            Asked and answered. Once again, I don’t accept your Holocaust denier logic.

            Do you reject the Holocaust because you can’t trust the field which used to be wrong about such simple matters?

            “By your own claims, these people looked at different material from mainstream historians, and spent a lot of time doing this.”

            Uh, no. Reitlinger and Pressac did their own archival research. And yes, they spent a lot of time doing these complex things.

            So when an amateur spends enough time either doing archival research on a topic, or reading the relevant literature, they may be justified in rejecting some mainstream conclusions. Whether they are, should be judged in each individual case.

            “You’re saying that it’s obvious from the material that all NT historians are familiar with that the evidence is simply not convincing, and that they ought not be convinced by it.”

            The Holocaust historians shouldn’t have been convinced by the bunk numbers. Yet they were. How many times do I have to repeat this?

          • arcseconds

            “how can you continue to trust people on more complex matters when they are wrong about simple ones?”

            Asked and answered. Once again, I don’t accept your Holocaust denier logic.

            You haven’t given a convincing discussion here as far as I can see. And I certainly don’t see that I’m using Holocaust denier logic.

            Again, asserting that you’ve answered me and that I’m using Holocaust denier logic does not establish that that is what I’m doing.

            Do you normally find that people just believe your assertions?

            Do you reject the Holocaust because you can’t trust the field which used to be wrong about such simple matters?

            No, of course not. What an absolutely bizarre suggestion. That the Holocaust happened is far easier to establish than the actual numbers. And in fact determining exact numbers for a happening that we can’t even establish with any certainty actually happened seems like a rather absurd exercise to me.

            How could the numbers possibly be more certain than the occurrence?

            I’m doing here what I said one should do: being more convinced by the simple stuff than the complex. This is quite the reverse of what you’re doing: you’re doubting the consensus on simple matters but trusting them on complex ones.

            Uh, no. Reitlinger and Pressac did their own archival research. And yes, they spent a lot of time doing these complex things.

            So, exactly what I said they did, then. They did their own research on primary material that had been neglected, and spent a lot of time on it. That was how they (according to you, I’ve no real idea about any of this stuff) overturned the consensus. No ‘Uh, no’ about it: you agree with me.

            Is that what you’re doing? It doesn’t seem so to me. But maybe I’m wrong. What neglected primary material have you been looking at, and where is your complex analysis that shows what the mainstream have overlooked and how it shows that Jesus’s existence is not?

            And how does that square with your earlier assertion that this is really quite simple?

            It seems to me more and more that this holocaust example is a very poor analogy. Revising the number killed really is a detail, as I explained to Kris, and not the foundational issue you keep asserting it is, and it seems from what you’re saying that historians had in fact neglected to examine the matter thoroughly. Getting correct figures is a complex quantitative and historical problem, and it took quite a lot to do that analysis.

            Whereas the Jesus question is the complete reverse of all of that. It really is a foundational issue, it hasn’t been neglected by historians, and you’re saying (or said before) that it’s a simple matter that anyone can look at.

          • Kainan

            “You haven’t given a convincing discussion here as far as I can see.”

            I’m afraid I have the same judgment about your attempts.

            “And I certainly don’t see that I’m using Holocaust denier logic.”

            I see that you don’t. That doesn’t mean that you don’t.

            “Again, asserting that you’ve answered me and that I’m using Holocaust denier logic does not establish that that is what I’m doing.”

            Just as asserting that I haven’t given a convincing discussion doesn’t establish that I haven’t.

            I assert that I have answered you because I have, as anybody reading this can see for themselves.

            Your asserting that I haven’t answered doesn’t establish that I haven’t.

            “No, of course not. What an absolutely bizarre suggestion. ”

            Good. And I don’t reject the NT scholarship.

            “That the Holocaust happened is far easier to establish than the actual numbers.”

            Sure. But writing a complex, qualitative history of the Holocaust isn’t easier than establishing the numbers. It’s much more difficult. Yet the historians failed at establishing the already discussed numbers (the numbers they did “establish” were simple to avoid), while succeeding at accomplishing a much more complex task.

            “So, exactly what I said they did, then.”

            OK, I misread your phrase, for which I apologize. The rest of the points stand.

            “What neglected primary material have you been looking at, and where is your complex analysis that shows what the mainstream have overlooked and how it shows that Jesus’s existence is not?”

            We’re not talking about neglected materials. The Holocaust historians shouldn’t have been convinced by the bunk numbers. Yet they were. How many times do I have to repeat this?

            “It seems to me more and more that this holocaust example is a very poor analogy.”

            It is a perfect example, because it refutes your “simplex-more complex paradox” claim.

            “Revising the number killed really is a detail,”

            Then so is the historicity of Jesus.

            “Getting correct figures is a complex quantitative and historical problem, and it took quite a lot to do that analysis.”

            Not getting incorrect figures, however, is a simple task, as I have demonstrated at patheos .com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2014/09/mythicisms-missing-middle.html#comment-1606050276

            Yet the historians got incorrect figures even though they shouldn’t have.

            “It really is a foundational issue”

            So is the number of victims in case of Auschwitz, as I have already explained in detail.

            “it hasn’t been neglected by historians”

            The number of victims hasn’t been neglected as such. They got it wrong when they shouldn’t have, by using incorrect historical methods. That is, those who looked into the issue. And the rest simply copied it. So this establish that such things do happen.

          • Kris Rhodes

            //Could you please go and tell Richard Carrier that you think the matter that he’s working on is a trivial matter,//

            What did Kainan mean by calling Jesus’s existence “a detail”, in your opinion?

            In my opinion, based on the context in which he said it and based on further explanations he gave later on, what he meant is that if it were proved Jesus didn’t exist, this would be, while surprising and important, _not_ something which should make us question the field as a whole.

            Typically, when one affirms something is “surprising and important,” one is not fairly characterized as having called it “trivial.” Yet you’ve ascribed that very sentiment to him–that Jesus’s existence is a trivial matter. Do you really think that’s supported by a reasonable reading of what Kainan has said in this thread?

          • Kainan

            Spot on, Kris.

          • arcseconds

            What happens if I alter my statement from “trivial” to “a mere detail”?

            Nothing, as far as I can see.

            It seems to me quite obvious that NT studies would be very much affected if the notion that Jesus didn’t exist (or even that there was significant doubt about his existence) caught on amongst even a significant minority. But we don’t have to take my extremely amateur opinion on this. Bernier thinks so too, and while McGrath hasn’t weighed in on this exact issue yet, he’s said things in the past that indicate he thinks it’s pretty critical to the discipline.

            Plus, while I don’t know for sure, I think Carrier thinks he is working on something big, that will affect the entire area of NT studies quite significantly. I don’t think he regards his work at all comparable with revising some figures, however important those figures may be.

          • Kris Rhodes

            What happens if we replace “trivial” with what Kainan _meant_ by “a detail?” Then we get this:

            //Could you please go and tell Richard Carrier that you think the matter that he’s working on is **surprising and important and not such as to make us question the field as a whole**//

            In the rest of your post you are continuing to write as though Kainan meant that discovering Jesus didn’t exist “wouldn’t have much of an effect.” That is directly contradictory to what it has been explained to you was meant, and as has been illustrated yet again above.

          • arcseconds

            Well, he described it as “just a detail”, and he’s using the example of the exact number of Shoah victims as a comparison, which I think really is just a detail. I don’t want to trivialise human deaths here, but whether the number is 2 million or 6 million we’re still talking about millions of people being systematically exterminated. Other than changing a few figures, nothing about the history of World War II is substantially altered by this. Even the history of the Final Solution is not altered radically: presumably the same edicts are passed, the same death camps run, the same trains organised, etc. Kainan even admits that the overall history of the camps is sound, it’s just the exact number he’s worried about.

            That’s simply not at all comparable to what would happen to NT studies if everyone suddenly were convinced about Jesus’s non-existence.

            He does acknowledge that it would change NT studies, but what does that mean? The number of Shoah victims changes the history of WWII, too, just not very substantially. For that matter, what does ‘surprising and important’ mean? It would be surprising and important if it turned out Jesus had married Mary Magdalene, but this would not upset NT studies to anywhere near the same extent if it turned out he never existed.

            You’re talking as though it should be obvious to me that that’s not what he meant. Who has explained this to me? Certainly not him, or at least, not in any way that’s been clear to me. Are you referring to yourself? Could you please not use the passive voice? It just makes it difficult to know where to look for this supposed explanation. Where does he assert that it’s “surprising and important”? I can only find that phrase uttered by you. You also admit that it’s your opinion that this is what he means. Am I supposed to just accept your opinion of what he means, even though it’s not what he said and doesn’t fit his example?

            Anyway, let’s make the extremely charitable assumption that Kainan actually agrees with Bernier that this would have a highly significant impact on NT studies.

            Then we’re back to NT scholars building a house on sand. The question of Jesus’s existence has been raised several times before, it’s not a new question, and rather than seeing the (alleged) obvious paucity of evidence, NT scholars have all, virtually down to the individual, concluded that there is no problem here. This includes several contemporary NT scholars who have explicitly addressed the question, so there’s no doubt that the evidence has been examined.

            You see the problem here, surely.

            If a question has just never arisen before, no-one’s looked at it seriously, and it’s kind of a side issue in the sense that the whole subject doesn’t need radical revision if the unexpected turns out to be true (which could still be ‘surprising and important’… Jesus being married to Mary again), then there’s no particular issue with thinking NT scholars are wrong about it and still thinking they’re competent.

            But the question has been raised, and it has been looked at seriously, and virtually down to the individual everyone agrees that there’s not a problem here.

            Plus it really is a foundational issue. In addition, most of the NT has been bought into question. So it really would be pretty odd, and speak poorly of the scholastic community, if they had simply never considered this question.

            So some explanation has to be given as to why it is NT scholars can’t see what’s apparently quite clear to you and Kainan. You don’t have any new evidence or new arguments, and neither, as far as I can see, does Kainan. We’re left with the picture of the NT community examining the evidence and almost unanimously missing problems which are quite obvious to amateurs who are not that familiar with the area. How can the conclusion be anything other than they’re not all that good at spotting problems with historical arguments?

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Interesting that both arcseconds and I read “just a detail” in exactly the same way. This suggests that at minimum Kainan has not been clear on the matter, and at maximum that Kris’ interpretation is suspect. What is needed at this point is for Kainan himself to clear up the matter.

          • Kris Rhodes

            He did. Several times.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            I have not seen this clarification. Could you direct me to it?

            Edit: I sometimes find it hard to follow the conversations, due to the way that Disqus organizes things. So my sincere apologies if I miss something. It’s almost invariably a genuine oversight, no more, no less.

          • Kris Rhodes

            The easiest ones to be found are just the one-liners where he affirms I was right about what he meant–ctlf-f for “Spot on, Kris” and “Kris Rhodes has explained it correctly.”

            He’s also given direct explanations himself but I’m in a time crunch, just let me know if the above doesn’t suffice to what you were asking for.

          • Kris Rhodes

            //Well, he described it as “just a detail”,//

            And explained his meaning, and subsequently had his meaning speculatively explained by me, and subsequently confirmed that explanation, and subsequently explained his meaning yet again.

            When are you going to respond to everything relevant instead of the detail it’s fun to pick on?

          • arcseconds

            Kris, you decided to make an issue of my use of the word ‘trivial’, and tried to insist that I’m being uncharitable and mean, despite the fact I was guided by Kainan’s own wording and the example he uses. You’ve written several posts trying to establish this, which I have been responding to.

            Now you’re complaining I’m not responding to “everything relevant”, and suggesting I’m picking on a detail because “it’s fun”. I’ve written quite a few posts in this thread, and only one ‘picked on’ the ‘mere detail’ remark, and even that was a post that had other material in it. The rest has been in response to your complaints.

            Note also the statement of mine you initially criticised came before several of the clarifications you’re referring to.

            So you’re being quite unreasonable here. You’re expecting some kind of omniscience from me, where I’m supposed to see through every instance of hyperbole, be aware of not just every contextless one-line comment in the whole page but also what it refers to, and also apparently clarifications that are to occur in the future (or at least you’re prepared to use material produced after the fact to condemn me). And when you complain I’m not like this, I’m — I don’t know — just supposed to say I’m sorry? Ignore you completely? because explaining, in response to your remarks, why I understood Kainan in the manner in which I did gets me accused of being fixated on a detail, along with an implication I’m not providing anything substantive to the conversation.

          • Kris Rhodes

            //he’s using the example of the exact number of Shoah victims as a comparison, which I think really is just a detail.//

            And, as he explained, he _doesn’t_ think it really is just a detail. You read this! You responded to it!

          • Kris Rhodes

            //Who has explained this to me? //

            Kainan did, in a post to which you responded to, in which he said

            //Moreover, it’s simply not true that Jesus’ historicity is somehow comparable to evolution or the AGW. In the case of evolution Dobzhansky’s maxim is true as ever – nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of it. If evolution is not true, the whole field must be a hoax. Evolution is that rug that ties up the room 😉 Biology is impossible without it.//

            Kainan did again, in a post which you can be expected to have read (since you’re referring to its sub-thread), when he said “Kris has got it right” to Dr. Bernier just a few posts down from when he used the phrase “just a detail.”

            Kainan did again, earlier in the conversation you and I are having right now, when he said “Spot in, Kris” when I explained his meaning.

            And of course, I have explained it to you, in the conversation we’re having, with confirmation from him.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            What I have seen Kainan suggesting is that Jesus’ existence is not as significant to the field of NT studies as evolution is to biology. Is that not the case, Kainan?

          • Kainan

            Of course.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            And it was to that that I was responding. So I did not misunderstand you.

            Now, the problem is, I don’t think that this is true. I don’t see how widespread acceptance of Jesus’ non-existence would provoke in the discipline anything less than the sort of revolution that made evolution as central as it is in biology. It would require fundamental revisions. What I think that you are missing is that early Christian studies entails always work in the theory of religion, and the shifts in the theory of religion that would be necessitated by such a discovery would constitute a wholesale paradigm shift. The discipline would be fundamentally different, as different as biology c. 1800 was from biology c. 1900.

          • Kris Rhodes

            The idea is that if evolution were somehow shown false, this would not just be a new piece of information, and would not just entail that some methodologies be changed–it would actually make it doubtful we can do (if not biology*) sciences like paleontology _at all_. We’d be left with no way to know anything about these matters. We could observe, but we could not theorize.

            I don’t think that if we found out Jesus didn’t exist, we’d be literally unable to do history, NT or otherwise. I mean, suppose a Qumran-like discovery were made in which texts unambiguously recorded debates between people who thought the story of Jesus should be set on earth and those who thought it should remain as it originally was, in heaven. Revealing passages talk about what different kinds of knowledge in this regard should be made available as “milk” to new converts. Etc. It becomes very clear, based on these texts, that the mythicist hypothesis is very plausible.

            That wouldn’t invalidate any methods used in NT history, would it? To the contrary–those very methods, applied to those very texts, would be the very thing showing (in light of the new texts) that mythicism is plausible.

            It would show that the methods had led scholars astray in the past, but that has never been thought to invalidate the field before–and it shouldn’t!

            *Some philosophers argue, as it happens, that we do have to presuppose evolution in order to even do biology, i.e., systematically and scientifically answer questions about life and how it works. How did we do biology before we knew about evolution you might ask? On this view, biology before evolution relied on uniformity assumptions that were not grounded in any naturalistic basis, such that whatever they were doing, it wasn’t really biology. Oversimplifying the account, but it’s certainly clear that philosophers are a weird lot!

          • MattB

            I think the problem is that we need to understand the distinction between a revisionist and a denialist. A revisionist has an idea or new way of reworking certain historical methods about events or figures in history, but that does not mean they deny these events or figures. A denialist says “It’s all false. None of our methods are reliable”, and completely ends up just denying everything and tries to pursue other methods of reasoning outside their field of study(Carrier).

          • Kainan

            Your definition of revisionism is simply false, and pretty naive. Revisionism (if we don’t use it in a negative sense) does not necessarily deny any figures, but neither does it strive to save them at all costs if the revisionist doesn’t think that the evidence warrants it. E.g. showing that the Biblical patriarchs weren’t historical was an act of true revisionism.

            Carrier is a revisionist in this sense. Even if his case turns out to be weak in the end (not all revisionism succeeds).

          • MattB

            I don’t think you read my definition correctly. A revisionist does not deny evidence or methods bit seeks a new way of interpreting things about the data. Carrier is not a revisionist because he denies the data and or uses non-historical methods to do his work

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Whilst I don’t think it’s false such a definition of “revisionist” lacks teeth. What I mean by that is that it would include most every historian. Historians are in the business of “reworking certain historical methods about events or figures in history.” Sometimes that will mean denying that an event happened. I think that revisionism is probably best reserved as a heuristic term to describe wide-scale reworkings, ones that would affect the very bases of a discipline or discourse. In that sense Carrier is definitely a revisionist. I would say that he is also a denialist, in that his revisionism is basically negative. It’s saying that something didn’t happen. He actually doesn’t offer much of a positive argument in its place. He is a revisionist in the same sense as Holocaust deniers: deny that some event happened, and offer in its place only the thinnest outline of a hypothetical conspiracy to fabricate a past history. (Note that I am not saying that Carrier is a Holocaust denier; I have no reason to think that he is. I’m just saying that he follows a similar procedure).

          • Kris Rhodes

            No, as Carrier has explained, and as can be seen from reading his work, his argument is explictly NOT like this:

            “Jesus didn’t exist, (and add other premises here), therefore he was first known as a heavenly figure”

            but instead

            “Jesus was first known as a heavenly figure, (and add other premises here), therefore Jesus didn’t exist.”

            So though you said he “doesn’t offer much of a positive argument in place of” denying Jesus’s existence, the actual fact is he bases his denial of Jesus’s existence _on_ the robust positive arguments he _does_ give for the mythicist account of the origin of the writings about Jesus that we have.

            I want to offer a suspicion that I have, Dr. Bernier, but please understand that I know it to be a suspicion only–what I suspect is that you have done some thinking about how the best mythicist argument _must_ go, and are ascribing it to mythicists being discussed in these threads, without having actually seen whether these arguments are the ones these mythicists actually _do_ give.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Yes, that is what Carrier argues. But when I say that I don’t see much of an argument offered what I mean is that I don’t see much discussion of how early Christianity emerged and took on the distinctive shape that it did. What were the conditions that made this possible and how do we know they existed?

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Sure, if new data is discovered that can change things. But until such data is discovered that’s just science fiction. We need to work with the data that we have. And that’s what I think you might be missing. The moves necessary to show that Jesus did not exist, given the currently extant data, depend upon an extreme hermeneutic of suspicion. Ultimately one must judge that the Gospels and Acts are complete and utter fabrications. And it’s the Acts problem that destroys any problem for doing NT history.

            First, why on the mythicist view must one judge that Acts is a complete and utter fabrication. First, it gets very weird if one argue that Luke’s Gospel is complete fabrication but a text that situates itself as its sequel is not. Second, the argument “Jesus isn’t mentioned outside Christian texts and therefore didn’t exist” would apply all the more to the figures mentioned in Acts. Only James brother of Jesus has any first-century attestation, but that’s in Josephus, a corpus that mythicists tend to treat as suspect. So at best we have just one figure with any first-century extra-biblical attestation. I’m simply playing by the mythicists’ rules here, and pointing out where it leads.

            Now, for the sake of argument, let us suppose that we can still judge that Paul existed, on the basis of his letters. We are left with a couple of problems. First, given mythicism’s radical distrust of consensus views it is not clear to me how they can hold to the consensus that Paul wrote seven out of the thirteen letters attributed to him. It seems much more consistent hermeneutically to conclude that they are all forgeries. But let’s suppose that one can hold them to be Pauline. We’d have no idea when he wrote them. None. Our only chronological clues for Paul’s life come from Acts and the Gospels. From the gospels we can date Jesus’s death to either 30 or 33 (I suspect the former, but that’s beside the point). From Acts we know that Paul was active in the period immediately following Jesus’ death. We also know from Acts that he was before Gallio in Corinth. From the Gallio inscription we know that this must have occurred in the latter half of 51 or the earlier half of 52.

            Absent the Evangelical and Acts data we have *no* chronology for first-century Christianity. We wouldn’t even know when and where Christianity originated. We wouldn’t know when any of the NT texts were written. We basically couldn’t say anything about Christian history before about Justin in the mid-2nd century, if even then. It will just sort of show up, mid-2nd century, without any connection with the past. It will be Melchizedek.

            So whilst I will grant that Jesus’ non-existence itself might not directly affect the entirety of the discipline of NT studies, the procedures necessary to establish that non-existence *on the data that we currently have available* will make that discipline virtually impossible to practice as it is currently practiced. It would transform things radically. We would have to stop asking any historical questions, which is the centre, the raison d’etre, of modern biblical studies.

          • Kris Rhodes

            Thanks for this post. My replies to parts of it follow:

            //First, why on the mythicist view must one judge that Acts is a complete and utter fabrication. First, it gets very weird if one argue that Luke’s Gospel is complete fabrication but a text that situates itself as its sequel is not. //

            I don’t think it gets as weird as you intimate here. We know of royal chronologies, for example, which begin with complete fabrications and end with actual history, so to speak. Moreover, Luke can be a “complete fabrication” without having been intended as fiction. (The mythicist account I’d support doesn’t insist that Luke was intended as fiction. Only Mark seems very likely to have been actually intended as fiction, on this account.) And if the author wasn’t intending it to be fiction, then there’s no reason to think Acts is a “complete fabrication” as well–in both cases, the author wrote what he thought was a historical account, and given the different subject matters of the two works, it’s not at all implausible that on one subject he turns out to be talking about a completely nonexistent figure, while on the other subject, he turns out to be talking about some things that actually happened.

            //Second, the argument “Jesus isn’t mentioned outside Christian texts and therefore didn’t exist” //

            An argument I am not aware of having been made

            //would apply all the more to the figures mentioned in Acts. Only James brother of Jesus has any first-century attestation, but that’s in Josephus, a corpus that mythicists tend to treat as suspect. So at best we have just one figure with any first-century extra-biblical attestation. I’m simply playing by the mythicists’ rules here, and pointing out where it leads.//

            You are right that if one subscribes to the schema:

            If X is not mentioned outside of Christian texts, then X doesn’t exist

            then one is committed to denying the existence of everyone in Acts but (ahem possibly) James.

            But I am not aware of anyone who subscribes to that schema. Are you? Who do you have in mind, and what did they say that indicates to you that they subscribe to this schema?

            The closest I am aware of is an argument speicifically about Jesus, to the effect that:

            “Non-christian texts do not provide evidence for Jesus’s existence, therefore, if anyone thought there were non-christian texts which raise the probability that Jesus exists, they were mistaken.”

            Since I am not aware (here I may be showing my ignorance) of any non-christian texts which anyone thinks raises the probability of the existence of anyone OTHER than Jesus, this just-quoted argument doesn’t problematically generalize to other figures in Acts in the way you generalized the first schema above, as far as I can tell.

            Please let me know if the above line of reasoning did not make sense to you. I think it’s a really good point to spend some time absorbing if it’s not immediately obviously valid to someone.

            //Now, for the sake of argument, let us suppose that we can still judge that Paul existed, on the basis of his letters. We are left with a couple of problems. First, given mythicism’s radical distrust of consensus views it is not clear to me how they can hold to the consensus that Paul wrote seven out of the thirteen letters attributed to him.//

            I do not know enough about this to comment. I have no idea how we know when Paul’s letters were written and that they were written by him etc. But:

            // It seems much more consistent hermeneutically to conclude that they are all forgeries.//

            That doesn’t follow. It strongly depends on what principles of reasoning have been used to establish Pauline authorship and dates and so on. Are they somehow similar or analogous to the reasoning used to establish Jesus’s existence? If so, in what way? Depending on the answer to that, it may indeed be that a mythicist is committed to Paul-mythicism or something like it as well. But is the reasoning used to establish Pauline authorship etc different from that used to establish Jesus’s existence? Then hermeneutic consistency would not require Paul-mythicism.

            // But let’s suppose that one can hold them to be Pauline. We’d have no idea when he wrote them. None. Our only chronological clues for Paul’s life come from Acts and the Gospels. From the gospels we can date Jesus’s death to either 30 or 33 (I suspect the former, but that’s beside the point). From Acts we know that Paul was active in the period immediately following Jesus’ death. We also know from Acts that he was before Gallio in Corinth. From the Gallio inscription we know that this must have occurred in the latter half of 51 or the earlier half of 52.

            Absent the Evangelical and Acts data we have *no* chronology for first-century Christianity. We wouldn’t even know when and where Christianity originated. We wouldn’t know when any of the NT texts were written. We basically couldn’t say anything about Christian history before about Justin in the mid-2nd century, if even then. It will just sort of show up, mid-2nd century, without any connection with the past. It will be Melchizedek.//

            Actually I have worried about this before, and had forgotten about it. I do wonder, just like you, how we can date Paul without knowing dates for the life of Jesus. I was assuming, though, that studies of style and vocabulary could do some work here. (Also Paul’s letters mention some historical figures, don’t they? Or am I remembering wrong…) But yeah–maybe eliminating Jesus would widen the Pauline date range quite a bit! But We could be certain Paul was between, for example, 100BC and 200AD, couldn’t we? We’re still able to do history. It just could turn out we don’t know something we thought we knew.

            //So whilst I will grant that Jesus’ non-existence itself might not directly affect the entirety of the discipline of NT studies, the procedures necessary to establish that non-existence *on the data that we currently have available* will make that discipline virtually impossible to practice as it is currently practiced. It would transform things radically. We would have to stop asking any historical questions, which is the centre, the raison d’etre, of modern biblical studies.//

            Again, thanks for this post. I think it moves the discussion forward. I hope my replies help move it there as well.

          • Jim

            “//Second, the argument “Jesus isn’t mentioned outside Christian texts and therefore didn’t exist”// An argument I am not aware of having been made …”

            Unless you are specifically referring to the book of Acts only, maybe the conversation re David Fitzgerald’s “Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed At All” would work?

            http://vridar.org/2014/01/09/oneill-fitzgerald-christ-myth-debate-8-why-should-anyone-have-noticed-jesus/

          • Kris Rhodes

            I believed Dr. Bernier to be worrying about a kind of argument from ignorance–in this case, an argument to the effect that a proposition is falsified if corroborating evidence for it can’t be found. Based on the article you linked to, that doesn’t seem to be what Fitzgerald is up to. Rather than saying “we have no evidence outside the christian texts, therefore Jesus doesn’t exist,” Fitzgerald is arguing “If Jesus existed, we would probably have heard from specific writers about him, but we haven’t heard anything from them.”

            Dr. Bernier was trying to argue that the reasoning being deployed should lead us to doubt the existence of all figures from Acts except James. Fitzgerald’s argument doesn’t generalize in that way, though. So Fitzgerald’s argument can’t be an example of the kind of thing Dr. Bernier had in mind.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Thank you, Kris, for substantively engaging with arguments. That seems a rarity from those sympathetic to mythicism.

            Re: Acts. Whilst it is possible that Luke could have been utterly mistaken when he thought that he was writing about a historical figure in his gospel but still gotten such thing as Paul’s existence right one must then posit a problematic combination of incompetence and competence. The same man who is utterly incapable of discerning non-history from history is now thought to be capable of discerning non-history from history to a sufficient degree. Whilst possible it strikes me as much more likely that his competence remains unchanged throughout the writing of the two books.

            Re: Paul-mythicism. You’re right: if the sorts of argument adduced for Paul’s existence, for his dates of flourishing, and the authenticity of certain works are different than those rejected in the course of establishing Jesus’s non-existence then there is no inconsistency. But mythicists will have to show me that work. Instead, what I typically see are mythicists just taking these matters for granted. That’s a huge problem for mythicism, as its rhetoric turns on the argument that scholars have just taken Jesus’s existence for granted without proving that it is true and good. So I turn it back on them: prove to me how you can, in a consistent fashion, hold both to Jesus’s non-existence and Paul’s existence, the authenticity of the seven undisputed epistles, and the majority (not consensus) NT chronology.

            Re: how we know when Paul’s letters were written. This is all dependent directly or indirectly from the gospels and Acts. We know from the gospels that Jesus died in probably either c. 30 or 33 (although 27 is also a possibility). We know from Acts that Paul converted sometime thereafter. We know from Galatians that sometime between 13 and 17 years his conversion he wrote Galatians (the range has to do with whether the three and the fourteen years are concurrent or consecutive, and also with the fact that in Jewish idiom “three years” means “in the third year,” so anything greater than two but less than three). We know from Acts that he was before Gallio in Corinth. We know from the Gallio inscription found in the early 20th-century that Gallio was governor in Corinth from July 51 to June 52, although there is some reason to think that he might have left early due to health problems. We can correlate hints in his letters regarding his whereabouts with the rough itinerary given in Acts to get a good sense of when in his career he probably wrote several of the letters. We then have some patristic evidence that suggests that he died in the Neronian persecution, which puts a terminus ante quem at c. 65, but to the best of my knowledge that’s not actually stated explicitly until the 4th century (so if mythicists, such as Carrier, are going to make a great deal about the fact that fifty years separating Jesus from gospels is a big deal then three centuries separating Paul from his obituary should be that much more a problem).

            So the problem is that without the Gospels and Acts we have nothing regarding Pauline chronology, aside from the 13 to 17 years in Galatians, but that’s left without any anchors for absolute dating. Nothing. Mythicists have eliminated the relevant data from the Gospels. So all they’re left with is Acts, a text written either by the same author or intended to be a sequel to one of the four texts that they’ve eliminated. (And I really can’t see how the move of eliminating Luke’s gospel as a historical source does not at least call Acts into suspicion, given their close relationship).

            And none of that gets into how to actually establish that Paul existed or wrote the undisputed epistles. On the latter I find it especially strange that mythicists just take that for granted, when in fact there are ongoing debates within the discipline regarding whether some and if so which of the six disputed epistles are authentic. On the matter of Jesus’s existence, radical skepticism; on the matter of Paul’s authorship of 1 Corinthians, outright credulity. Strange.

            The problem I think is that outsiders to a field can’t typically see how interwoven things are. There are things upon which one cannot just pull a thread without unraveling the whole tapestry. I submit that Jesus’s existence is one such thing. By contrast, my aforementioned preference for an earlier dating of the NT corpus is not one such thing. In fact, quite the opposite. My preferences for earlier dating is predicated upon a greater degree of trust in the sources. I think that in fact the early Christians were spot on about their own history more than probably most scholars. So rather than unraveling things if anything my position tightens them up a bit. And that’s the thing: mythicism is not calling for a minor change but rather a paradigm shift. And although we are constantly squabbling within NT studies most of us think that the paradigm in which we are currently working, the one that emerged in the 19th-century and elaborated in the 20th, overall works just fine. The problem is that we are being told that the house is on fire, and we’ve looked around, and we neither smell smoke nor see flames. So we’re not convinced.

          • arcseconds

            The quote you provide of Kainan’s is completely compatible with the existence of Jesus being a mere detail, so I’m surprised you’re quoting it as though it somehow undermines the notion. Yes, it’s compatible with it being revolutionary too, but when all the indications are that he doesn’t think it’s revolutionary, why would that quote suggest to me he thinks it’s revolutionary?

            Also, I note he also explicitly says that the discovery of Jesus’s non-existence would mean ” all the same disciples would still be there”, which is certainly very far from obvious, as we’d have to conclude that the texts that assert the existence of the disciples are much more pervasively mythology than they are currently thought to be. It would raise the probability the Gospels being myth through-and-through significantly, and demand a complete re-appraisal of Paul’s letters.

            Whatever language we choose to use for this, it’s pretty clear that Kainan doesn’t think the discovery of Jesus’s non-existence would be anywhere near as radical as Bernier thinks they would be (and I believe McGrath would also agree, and for what little it’s worth, so do I).

            As for the rest of your comment, you refer to a one line post in an extended conversation in a part I wasn’t directly involved with no context to tell me what he thought you got right.

            And then you refer to a post that he posted around the same time as I made the comment you’re replying to.

            I did read the first, but I wasn’t sure what he was talking about, so I just ignored it. The second remark I only saw a few minutes ago, but some allowance for not noticing replies has to be made, I feel.

            (EDIT: also, where he says you explained it correctly, he replies to McGrath. More difficulties in working out what it was that was explained correctly. I’m sorry, but I just don’t have time to chase up every single utterance in this thread to make sure i understand completely what is being referred to, particularly in parts of the conversation I’m not participating in)

          • Kris Rhodes

            I’m collapsing two of your posts together and responding to both here, in the interests of (as I think Paul Regnier put it earlier) keeping life simple.

            In one place (not directly quoted here) you express surprise that I’m accusing you of a lack of charity. In that post you point out that the clarifications I named came after the post I was complaining about. I haven’t checked, you may be right about that. I think in _my_ posts in response to your _later_ posts I was assuming you’d then read the relevant explanatory posts. But I think there’s not much value in taking even further steps towards the project of carefully tracing back who said what to whom and when–I’ll just say maybe you’re right and I jumped on you too fast. See below for a little more on this, but that’s the basic theme. I think the relevant conversation (between Kainan and Dr. Bernier) has moved on, with correct understanding of Kainan’s meaning in place, so that’s okay by me.

            In watching Kainan’s interactions with others here, I have felt he has been on the receiving end of several unfair characterizations and accusations of trollishness and non-seriousness, when in fact I’ve found him to be one of the more careful, interesting and serious posters here on the mythicism side. (And he’s not even a mythicist! But anyway, on the “let’s not be so certain” side.) So perhaps I was too quick to jump in at the wrong point in his defense, for that reason.

            Anyway, quoted portions of your comments below, with my own replies.

            // The quote you provide of Kainan’s is completely compatible with the existence of Jesus being a mere detail, so I’m surprised you’re quoting it as though it somehow undermines the notion. Yes, it’s compatible with it being revolutionary too, but when all the indications are that he doesn’t think it’s revolutionary, why would that quote suggest to me he thinks it’s revolutionary?//

            Well, he’s indirectly describing the importance of Jesus’s existence, by describing just how incredibly important evolution is, and pointing out that Jesus’s existence isn’t like that. If he really thought, in the literal sense you guys mistook him to mean, that Jesus’s existence is “just a detail,” that would make it hard to understand his approach. You’re right about what his words are compatible with, but the conversational flow and other pragmatic considerations, I thought, made his meaning clear. As to the one-liners, you didn’t read them. I am surprised you didn’t read them or understand their relevance but many people are surprised by many things so I’ll just shrug and move on. At this point, I think it’s clear what was meant and what was not meant, and the conversation between he and Dr. Bernier has moved on in any case.

            // Well, as I said before, I recall you saying almost as soon as you got here that it was very obvious to you that there was a big problem with the way the field treats the evidence. //

            I am not sure I said that, though I don’t think it’s completely impossible I might have in some unguarded moment. “Very obvious” seems the wrong phrase to use here. I do think I know enough about how to treat evidence to be able to see problems with the way evidence is treated.

            But notice in any case that it being very obvious that there’s something wrong with the way evidence is treated does not rely at all on knowing much of the evidence that is being so treated. (Examination of the reasoning is a separate activity from examination of the evidence.) So there needs be no problem with affirming one can see that evidence is being treated the wrong way while on the other hand not being very familiar with most of that evidence.

            And saying evidence is being treated in the wrong way in one matter does not generalize to the way an entire field deals with evidence in every matter. I’ll go ahead and say it: It is no particular surprise to me if, for purely sociological and psychological reasons, a field has a blind spot in one particular area. This certainly has occurred in my own field, though I guess not to as bad a degree as what has been suggested happens in historical Jesus studies. (What I have immediately in mind here is how difficult it can be to publish anything in an analytic-tradition journal that treats a continental-style philosopher seriously. This isn’t impossible and has been done, but it’s very difficult, most analytics will kind of roll their eyes and ignore it, and the reasons for this are IMO sociological and psychological to a great degree. This is all debateable but I’m just using it as an example to show how I think about this. I don’t think there’s something special about NT studies such that they’re the only ones who ever fall victim to this. I think it happens in my own field.)

            So anyway, this is _not at all_ to accuse an entire field of incompetence. It is to limit the problem to one particular area, while affirming that probably in almost all other matters the “competence of the field” is without question.

            // This also requires attributing to yourself more insight than the experts, does it not?//

            No. Some people I consider less insightful than me ( 😀 ) have made criticisms of things I’ve said or wrote which were very important, changed the way I thought, and I would not have thought of myself. It’s not a matter of who is “more” or “less” insightful. It’s the “fresh pair of eyes” phenomenon.

            I haven’t addressed the majority of the text from your post directly, not because it should be ignored—I think a lot of what you said is completely valid to worry about—but because I think the remarks I’ve made here get to the heart of what you’re worried about concerning my attitude towards the field.

            Edited to add: As it happens, Neil Godfrey has _just_ posted to his blog an article on the topic of sociological and psychological pressures that exist in the field of NT studies. I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but what I’ve read seems at least interesting and relevant–he’s discussing what some NT scholars themselves say on the topic. Of interest to me (among other things) was the description given by Crossley of the opening of an academic conference in 2001 with a prayer. I do wonder how common that was/is, though. Still, Crossley himself seemed to think the event was indicative of sociological or psychological pressures difficult to square with the communal practice of objective inquiry…

            http://vridar.org/2014/09/28/the-secular-approach-to-christian-origins-3-bias/#more-53782

            (OTOH this surprises me, and I’m not sure what to make of it without reading the original:

            //Gerd Ludemann and Michael Goulder are considered “mavericks” in their field, Crossley informs us, because they do not accept the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Crossley says they are “often regarded (rightly or wrongly) as mavericks”.//

          • arcseconds

            So, you informed me that this:

            (1)the problems with the scholarship are due to non-obvious problems with epistemology in history

            Characterised your view, not just Carrier’s.

            Now, remember Carrier felt he had to write a book-on the matter of Bayesian probabilistic reasoning about this, and he also seems to think that it’s defensible believing in Jesus’s historicity unless one’s been shown the strongest case for mythicism, i.e. his case. (OK, there’s room for a less strong-case to convince, but remember he doesn’t really think highly of other mythicists. It seems likely he thinks he’s the only one with a compelling case.)

            But what you’re saying here is, it seems to me, just the position I attributed to you earlier: that there’s something obviously wrong with the way that NT studies deals with evidence. Now, ‘obviously’ doesn’t necessarily mean everyone can see it (although… plenty of people seem to think they can see this, have you noticed?) , but it’s something that didn’t require you to do a whole lot of reading and analysis, it seems.

            (you’re beating about the bush on your refusal to attribute more insight to yourself. It might not mean you have greater insight tout court, sure, but that’s exactly what you’re attributing to yourself on this topic with the ‘fresh pair of eyes’ remark.)

            Now, if it’s obvious, then yes, I agree! You don’t have to do a lot of reading to notice something obvious! But that’s the whole point, isn’t it? There’s been decades and decades of NT studies, and despite the fact the question of the historicity of everything in the gospels has been raised, including at points the existence of Jesus, everyone’s quite sure about that, yet it’s apparent to some outsider that they’re doing something untoward on a relatively cursory inspection.

            But think about this for a bit. Is it likely you’re the only person who has noticed this? No, of course not. There have been mythicists for at least a century, and they’ve all supposed the evidence is flimsy. Moreover, you’re not the only person to have studied both philosophy and the New Testament. Plus there are hundreds, if not thousands of NT scholars in the world. Some of them must have encountered this kind of thing before.

            So the chances of this being new information to all of them is quite slim. Yet there hasn’t been a serious question raised about this within the discipline. So it can’t be the comparatively innocent situation of not having noticed it, there has to be an institutional drive to refuse to notice it, even when it’s pointed out. That’s not so great.

            And if they’re dealing with the evidence so poorly here… what makes you think that they’re treating the evidence well on other matters?

            (As I’ve said to you before, I don’t think they’re treating Jesus any differently to any other ancient figure who didn’t write books or rule over large numbers of people. If there’s a problem with the way Jesus is being treated, then there’s a substantial problem with how ancient history is being conducted. You should be going after the entire field of ancient history, if not all of history, not just NT scholarship. )

            But you just don’t want to face how radical your position actually is, if it’s thought through. You just want to limit your critique to the sole matter of Jesus. Why is that, do you think?

            As for Kainan, it’s not worth going over this with a fine tooth-comb, I agree. I accept now that he doesn’t actually think that Jesus’s existence is a mere detail. But I don’t think it was unreasonable for me to think that he did, given that’s exactly what he said. I appreciate you’re exasperated with me coming back to this point, but if someone says they think something is just a detail, it’s not unreasonable to take them at their word!

            I did see his first one-line agreement with you, but it really wasn’t clear to me what he was referring to (he replied to McGrath’s post), so I ignored it. I didn’t see his other one line agreement with you until while I was writing my reply to you. I’m not sure why that was, it’s not like I wasn’t paying any attention, but I’m inclined to blame disqus.

            And I’m sorry, but saying “X is not as important as really, really important thing Y” does not establish in my mind that X is important at all, especially if the person has just said ‘X is a detail’. If I had been convinced that X was thought to be important — as you were — I might have read it like that, but that’s assuming what this was supposed to make clear to me.

            It would have been more helpful if Kainan had actually re-explained his position in his own words — just a sentence would do — rather than just saying “me too!”. One line posts expressing agreement but without any other content to say what is being agreed to are easily missed, especially when they’re not replying to the post they’re agreeing with.

            Also, it still seems to be the case that Kainan does not in fact think that the existence of Jesus is all that important. As I said, he seems to think the story of the earliest Christians would be exactly the same.

            I can’t say I’m as enthusiastic about Kainan as you are, I’m afraid. I tire of his announcements that “this has been refuted” when he hasn’t, as far as I can see, given anything but assertions. I also find being told i have the logic of a holocaust denier less than endearing.

            I wasn’t expressing surprise that you were accusing me of being uncharitable. You’re frequently in the habit — unsurprisingly — of being rather charitable towards mythicist-sympathizers, and somewhat sensitive on their behalf, but rather disinclined to extend charity to people you feel are attacking them. Rather than allowing that Kainan had actually been quite misleading about his position and hadn’t done much to clarify matters, you preferred to assume I was deliberately ignoring signs indicating that this wasn’t his position. I was merely pointing out that that is what you were doing, my substantive point being that after trying to explain myself, you started accusing me of fixating on the ‘just a detail’ remark. Difficult game to play: seems every move is a losing one.

          • Kris Rhodes

            My position is that it is not obvious. I myself would never have come to think it without having read that book you mentioned, Proving History–a book, notice, which is about history but taps a great deal into my own field.

            You are wrong to characterize me as “beating around the bush” about anything. I told you straightforwardly what I think. I gave you a good parallel example showing how it does not require greater insight to be able to make important criticisms. Your response amounts to a re-assertion of your original claim, with no substantive responsiveness to my reply.

            Kainan’s strident remarks came later, after he was unreasonably attacked several times. I watched it happen. You are probably a victim of Disqus in this regard as well.

            Regarding the issue of my bias:

            I have an underdog bias, and that does not bother me at all. But this is not all that is operating here. I also have a bias against the following two things: People who should know better acting like jerks when presented with reasoned discourse, and people who are likely to be listened by others acting like jerks when presented with reasoned discourse.

            There are historicity-advocates here in these comment threads who act like jerks when presented with reasonable discourse, who I have _not_ responded to, because it is not clear they know any better, and it is fairly clear no one really listens to them anyway.

            There are also mythicists here who act like jerks when presented with reasonable discourse, whom I have _not_ responded to, because it’s not clear they know any better and it’s fairly clear no one listens to them anyway.

            But as it turns out, it is more common here for historicity advocates _who should know better and who others are likely to listen to_ to act like jerks in response to reasonable argumentation than it is for mythicists _who should know better and who others are likely to listen to_ to act like jerks in response to reasonable argumentation.

            Very likely a great part of the explanation for this lies in that “likely to be listened to” clause rather than any anti-historicity-advocate bias on my part.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Yes, Carrier taps into philosophy, but does he tap into the right areas of philosophy? I look in his work for intensive engagements with the philosophy *of history* and find myself somewhat disappointed. Where is his discussion of Collingwood? Of Droysen? Of modern historiograpy? I see no evidence that he is familiar with how historians actually do their work. It’s not clear to me why he runs after Bayesian probabilistics instead of the rich, now-two-centuries-old, tradition of philosophy of history. Why not try to employ what we might, in Kuhnian terms, called “historical normal science”?

            Actually, that’s not true: it is pretty clear to me. The problem is that given the state of the data his arguments won’t stand up under historical normal science. He needs to set the playing field in order to assure the result that he wants. And that’s just dirty pool.

          • arcseconds

            As far as the confessional biases are concerned, there’s a few points to make.

            It’s true, of course, that a great many NT scholars, in all probability the vast majority, have some kind of confessional allegiance.

            And you are implying this suggests some kind of bias that means they won’t allow that Jesus might not have existed (I would say that Godfrey also implies it, although of course in his case he’s practically stating it outright).

            OK, let’s run with that for a bit.

            How is that not a damning indictment on NT studies? Again, it seems that you want to retain the criticism in so far as it means that Jesus might not exist, but don’t want to take it any further than that and indict the whole discipline. I’m not sure Godfrey would approve.

            Keep in mind, if this is to be the explanation, it would have to be a very powerful institutional bias that apparently even holds atheists who are not otherwise afraid of controversy in its sway. That’s a pretty potent and shadowy influence to be positing.

            As far as your point about analytic philosophy goes, I agree that there is an unfortunate and obvious bias against continental philosophy, but I don’t think it’s a good parallel for the alleged blind-spot when it comes to Jesus’s existence. Judging or mis-judging the evidence for Jesus is core business for NT studies. A suitable comparison with analytic philosophy would be if formal logic was just obviously wrong (say, to a visiting mathematician), but no analytic philosopher would admit it. Or, to play the comparison the other way, NT studies ignoring Muslim commentary might be a good parallel, which seems to be part of Crossley’s complaint. Obviously, that isn’t great, but neither is it uncommon, and it’s not a disaster. Also, you can find analytic philosophers commenting on the unfortunate situation with disapproval, so your view does actually find reflection amongst the relevant experts.

          • Kris Rhodes

            //How is that not a damning indictment on NT studies?//

            I mean look, if in thirty years the field as a whole has ended up embracing the proposition “Jesus’s existence isn’t very certain” or even “Jesus’s existence is improbable,” you should feel free to damn them with whatever indictments you see fit, at your leisure. Such is not my concern, and it’s not what I’m about. To me it’s more like, yes, people get things wrong, even important things. No big deal in the great scheme of things, progress happens, we shrug our shoulders, laugh a little, learn, and move on.

          • Kris Rhodes

            As to the rest of the post:

            To me the issue is more like Jesus being married than it is like Caesar not existing. (I’ll let Kainan speak for him or herself but speaking for _my_self it seems pretty clear that this is true of him or her as well.) In _that_ sense I don’t see it as “foundational”. (“Foundational” can mean a lot of things so let’s be clear the sense in which we’re saying things are or aren’t foundational.) If Jesus turned out not to exist, that would be surprising and important and there would be a lot of work to do, but it’s not as though we’d have to question our very ability to do history. (If Caesar didn’t exist, we’d have to go down the ‘can we even history anymore?’ route.)

            You’re continuing to use the phrase “quite obvious to amateurs” in spots where for your argument to make sense you would have to mean “very obvious to anyone who has cursorily looked at the material.” But no one here is saying that the statement “relative certainty in Jesus’s existence is unjustified” is very obvious to anyone who has cursorily looked at the material. But if you don’t mean that, your argument doesn’t make sense–no accusation of incompetence follows on an observation that _some_ amateurs _can_ have had more reliable thoughts about _certain_ questions than _most_ experts.

          • Kainan

            Kris, once again, your first para is spot on.

          • Kainan

            Oh, and by the way. While an informed amateur wouldn’t be able to arrive at a true figure without lots of documents in hands, he would surely be able to reject the consensus number as bogus. It’s easy to explain why.

            1. The lower number (2.5 mln) was derived from Rudolf Höss’ testimony about something Eichmann allegedly told him. (Even the derivation was sloppy, because Höss’ number didn’t include the Hungarian Jews). One simply doesn’t base official estimates on such hearsay. Hearsay isn’t credible in that respect. Even an amateur can understand that.

            Of course knowing that HR later recanted this part of the testimony, instead claiming that the true number was around 1.1 million (which is basically almost the exact number we accept now), basing this estimate on the number of Jews actually deported to the camp, as far as he could remember (Hilberg’s method) could also help the amateur to reject the consensus figures as unfounded. He provided this info in his memoirs first published in 1958 and thus available to our amateur quite early. (And certainly to any historian…)

            2. The higher number (4 mln.) was based on the Soviet estimates of maximum oven capacities. Which is obviously a bunk method. Like, totally. One simply doesn’t estimate like that. An amateur would be able to understand that.

            So, an informed amateur could reject the “consensus numbers” with absolute justification. And she could even provide Rudolf Höss’ number based on deportations as a more probable ballpark figure.

            All that while historians were still publishing their inflated figures…

      • Kris Rhodes

        //I mean, by saying you think they’re all down to the last person wrong on the simple stuff, and that this is obvious to amateurs, you’re basically saying they’re incompetent.//

        Not down to the last person. There are a handful of actual real live recognized and active NT historians who either deny or doubt Jesus’s existence. It’s fringe, it’s ideosyncratic, but it’s not out of the question.

        And I’d explain most of the field’s being wrong about something simple while right about the more complex things by reference to the fact that the simple thing in question (Jesus’s existence) hasn’t actually been seriously thought about by most of the relevant scholars. They’re not so much wrong as they have simply not thought about it. (The record shows–Godfrey has done the legwork here–that the general practice is to assume the problem’s been solved… but this chain of deferrals turns out to have no unmoved mover at the end of it…)

        They have an opinion to be sure, but it’s not the kind of opinion formed through scholarly activity, it’s just a basic assumption they happen to have.

        • Jonathan Bernier

          If you mean that we didn’t really think about the question until it was raised then you’re right. That is typically the nature of questioning. When it was raised, as it was a century ago, people talked it over and said, No, the supposition makes sense.

          The primary reason though that I suspect no one deals with it is the discourse surrounding mythicism. The entire discourse begins with the supposition that scholars do not know what they are talking about. So why should we invest the time into critiquing the matter if we can reasonably anticipate that those who hold to the position will just dismiss whatever is produced as a counter-argument? Mythicism has created a discourse for itself that makes it immune to refutation, so why invest in refuting mythicism?

        • I think I’ve adequately addressed this point of Godfrey’s before. When we are dealing with a figure mentioned only in texts, it is the evaluation of the likelihood that information in those texts reflects historical reality that is the only way of assessing historicity. There are no separate tests that one can run for “existence” independent of evidence that people said and did certain things, or had things said and done to them.

          I discussed this back in 2010, noting that the mythicist approach is rather like the approach used by some who deny evolution. They will say that a piece of evidence shows “microevolution” but not “macroevolution.” But in reality, the bigger picture of evolution on the theoretical level emerges out of, and as a way of making sense of and correlating, the many separate pieces of evidence. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2010/02/mythicism-microexistence-vs-macroexistence.html

          If one detail about Jesus is judged by historians to be more likely authentic than not, then Jesus most likely existed. It doesn’t make any sense to claim that a particular detail is likely to reflect historical reality, but that his existence is still somehow unlikely. But, as with evolution, if we have multiple pieces of evidence that seem authentic and relevant, then we are able to say that much more than just “he existed” and “he was crucified.” And as with evolution, there are varying degrees of probability about the accuracy of some parts of the big picture. But those uncertainties are not counterarguments to the theory as a whole.

          • Kris Rhodes

            //If one detail about Jesus is judged by historians to be more likely authentic than not, then Jesus most likely existed. //

            That really doesn’t work, though, if the judgment that it was authentic was predicated on a prior assumption that Jesus is historical.

            But I think you’re saying that it’s not really about putting together separate details judged to be authentic, but rather, looking at the field of evidence as a whole and explaining it as a whole. This is fair enough but I am not certain what it has to do with what I said Godfrey had “done the legwork” concerning. What I was talking about is the way that NT scholars will defer to past works which supposedly established Jesus’s existence, but when you go look at those past works, they either explicitly and intentionally don’t do this, or else defer back to further-past works, and so on. (It’s more complex than that of course but that is the basic idea.)

          • The objection “this doesn’t prove evolution, it is interpreted that way based on the assumption that evolution occurred” is a common one in discussions involving creationists, and I think this is very similar. It probably is a fair point to say that when historical critical study of the evidence for Jesus began, most were working with the assumption that he existed. But if no details about him turned out to be more likely historical than not, then that framework would have had to be discarded. Likewise, it shouldn’t matter that biologists today don’t constantly revisit the assumption but proceed on the basis that evolution occurred. If the evidence did not continue to support that theoretical framework, then we would expect to find scholars not merely offering challenges to it, but doing so persuasively.

            In biology, creationists often object that today’s geneticists and paleontologists, if pressed on the more fundamental assumptions of evolution, will defer to someone who has written on the big picture (e.g. Richard Dawkins or Sean Carroll). But Carroll then cites multiple studies which deal only with specific details and not the entire big picture. This is not a flaw in evolution, or historical Jesus studies. There is always a constant back and forth between scholarly investigation of details, and allowing that to inform and at times reshape our big picture understanding.

        • arcseconds

          So, according to you, NT historians are the sort of people who simply fail to consider basic assumptions in their discipline, and just assume their truth, and construct all sorts of theories on the basis of those assumptions.

          And what’s more, this is so obvious an amateur can see through it.

          Yet the NT scholars themselves never seem to accept the obvious even when it’s pointed out to them.

          Yet you continue to see them as competent scholars and historians, and their conclusions in their discipline as basically sound?

          • Kris Rhodes

            No, sentence two is false except on a very literal reading which strips it of rhetorical force. That some amateurs can come to justifiably believe it does not imply that it is particularly obvious.

          • arcseconds

            I mean obvious to an expert. It’s certainly true, and scarcely worth noting, that an amateur can read a few books on a subject and know things about it which are not obvious to a complete novice to the subject. However, by and large, anything that an amateur can spot with a few hours (or even a few hundred hours) of reading on the subject is going to be either wrong, or things that have already been well considered by experts.

            Things might be different if the amateur has special skills to bring to the subject, which is how we could see Carrier’s application of Bayesian reasoning to the matter. Then, of course, it might be reasonable to think they could spot things that are not obvious to the experts.

            But I’m afraid I can’t see that either you or Kainan are bringing special skills to the subject or are presenting a subtle argument that the experts have simply missed.

            Kainan even says the matter is quite simple:

            Some matters though aren’t really all that complex. Like the question whether Jesus existed or not. The “hard” evidence for the historicity is *very* limited, so once one has a good grasp on it (e.g. from reading and comparing various scholarly works, like that of van Voorst), one can make at least a good ballpark estimate as to whether the consensus is correct, and to what extent.

            So he thinks he can merely read some of the literature and see for himself.

            And correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that also more or less how you announced yourself when you first came here? I recall you saying “well, I’ve looked at the evidence, and it’s obvious to me that there’s something really wrong with how NT scholars approach it”. I tried to find it, but I couldn’t… I think though you weren’t using your disqus login until later. At any rate, I’ve yet to see any attempt from you to explain anything subtle or obscure that’s going on, you just feel that the whole thing isn’t very convincing, from what i’ve read.

            As far as I can see, both you and Kainan think that the consensus is obviously wrong in at least the degree of certainty that they give Jesus’s existence, and that’s no small thing. It’s not a small quibble about the exact level of certainty, either: you think that the consensus is really significantly out.

            And yet you’re reluctant to conclude that they’re just not very good at assessing evidence.

  • GakuseiDon

    I’ve just got a copy of Richard Carrier’s “On the Historicity of Jesus”, and one item I’ve checked is how he treats the early epistles that are non-Pauline, like 1 Clement, Epistle of Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas, 1 Timothy, etc. So far he seems to regard them as historicist texts (not sure on 1 Clement or SoH at moment). But the thing about them is that they appear to have been written like Paul’s: emphasis on OT, little regard to historical details about anything, not just on Jesus. The only difference from Paul AFAICS is that they have one or two statements that seem to place Jesus on earth, usually in same vague fashion.

    Expand this to the Second Century and there are many examples of letters that follow the same pattern. But the pattern seems to encompass both ‘MJ’ and ‘HJ’ literature. One of my criticisms of Doherty’s works was that he didn’t analysis ALL the literature available — Carrier seems to make the same mistake. Paul’s silence is strange from our perspective, but if other early letters that are ‘HJ’ follow basically the same pattern EXCEPT for one or two statements, how should that set our expectations about what should be in Paul? (I’ll stress I haven’t finished his book yet. And I’ll probably need to reread it a number of times to understand how he analyses early literature)

    • Kris Rhodes

      This won’t endear his arguments to anyone but it should be noted he actually considers it more plausible than most do that I Clement, I Peter and James are all early. He even registers openness to the possibility that Peter and James were written by THE Peter and James!

      The psychologizing explanation for this would surely be that he “must” consider this plausible exactly in order to “explain” the facts you just pointed out. But a more constructive approach would be to see whether his arguments that these texts may be early hold water. I haven’t been able to read or think much about that myself.

  • Question from a novice standpoint… Is there room to make a case that the Jesus of Christian faith, or even the early church held a ‘mythic’ place within the faith of adherents that is separate from myth as a type of fictional theological/cosmological construct?

    It seems the excluded middle here is the point at which the Jesus seen within canonical scripture or without is meant to inhabit not just the place of historical figure or that of a high deity; but rather as the proxy between both? It seems the original positing of Christianity was at a kind of folk-religious level and the modernist construct is to strip away the perceived dirtiness of anything ‘superstitious.’

  • Is there a moderator here to whom we can complain about misrepresentation? The post leads readers to falsely assume that mythicist arguments are based on silence mixed with creative imagination but in fact the few mythicist arguments I have read are actually based on what Paul and other authors in the letters DO say — and the silence is brought in to demonstrate the implausibility of interpreting his words through gospel presuppositions.

    The poster would have known that had he really read Doherty’s book. The moderator here really does need to clamp down on misrepresentation.

    • Jonathan Bernier

      This is James McGrath’s blog; he is the moderator. If you don’t like what he says then set the record straight. And if you really don’t like it then stop coming to his blog. Put otherwise: his playground. The rest of us are just guests.

      • Kainan

        What worth is a PhD, when one can’t even recognize sarcasm so openly expressed? Heh.

        • Jonathan Bernier

          This is classic stuff, Kainan. You’ve decided to attack my training and intelligent any chance you get. Why? Because it’s all you’ve got. You’ve got no solid arguments. So you shift to ad hominem. It’s the move of crank theorists and trolls everywhere.

          • Kainan

            Not really, Jon. You started the personal attacks, and I have merely responded in kind, which is only fair. I’m afraid you’re the one without the real arguments, arguments to authority notwithstanding.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            Not at all. I regularly advance arguments in discussion with others on this blog. Again, I’ve advanced few with you because you’ve presented few. Just some quibbles regarding whether a position that you affirm is a little probable or a lot probable. That’s barely an argument. So I don’t even know what argument I would advance against you since we both agree that mythicism is mistaken. I don’t even know upon what we substantively disagree. Do not mistake a lack of clarity regarding your position with a failure to engage constructively therewith.

      • 🙂 So I should not come to this blog? In another set of comments Paul is arguing black and blue there is NO pressure on mythicists to stop posting here!! LOL

        Do you really think McGrath wants only yes-folk who applaud and congratulate him commenting here?

        As for setting the record straight, what is the record presented in the post here? Only a set of assertions. I am asking for some supporting evidence for those assertions. They don’t appear, so I think people can draw their own conclusions.

        • Jonathan Bernier

          How am I pressuring you not to come here?

    • Kris Rhodes

      //[It is wrong to assume that] mythicist arguments are based on silence mixed with creative imagination but in fact the few mythicist arguments I have read are actually based on what Paul and other authors in the letters DO say — and the silence is brought in to demonstrate the implausibility of interpreting his words through gospel presuppositions.//

      This bears much repeating.

      //[It is wrong to assume that] mythicist arguments are based on silence mixed with creative imagination but in fact the few mythicist arguments I have read are actually based on what Paul and other authors in the letters DO say — and the silence is brought in to demonstrate the implausibility of interpreting his words through gospel presuppositions.//

  • redpill99

    which claims are true and which are false?

    who is Paulkovich and what are his qualifications?
    is it true there are 126 historians ? i know Philo is commonly mentioned.
    He claims Josepheus did NOT write about Jesus and includes Josepheus as 126.

    how similar is Jesus God-sons such as
    Mithra, Sandan, Attis, and Horus.

    independent of what Paul may have said. Did Christians copy after Mithra Attis Horus? Is the Last Supper a copy of pagan meals ?

    This was published in both Huffington Yahoo and Free Inquiry. Jesus never existed is heavily promoted by these venues.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nigel-barber/if-jesus-never-existed-re_b_5883198.html?ncid=txtlnkusaolp00000592

    Nigel Barber
    Become a fan

    Biopsychologist; blogger, Psychology Today’s ‘The Human Beast’

    If Jesus Never Existed, Religion May Be Fiction

    As someone raised in a Christian country, I learned that there was a
    historical Jesus. Now historical analysis finds no clear evidence that
    Jesus existed. If not, Christianity was fabricated, just like Mormonism
    and other religions. Why do people choose to believe religious fictions?

    Given the depth of religious tradition in Christian
    countries, where the “Christian era” calendar is based upon the presumed
    life of Jesus, it would be astonishing if there was no evidence of a
    historical Jesus. After all, in an era when there were scores of
    messianic prophets, why go to the trouble of making one up?

    In History, Jesus Was a No Show

    Various historical scholars attempted to authenticate Jesus in the
    historical record, particularly in the work of Jesus-era writers.
    Michael Paulkovich revived this project as summarized in the current
    issue of Free Inquiry.

    Paulkovich
    found an astonishing absence of evidence for the existence of Jesus in
    history. “Historian Flavius Josephus published his Jewish Wars circa 95
    CE. He had lived in Japhia, one mile from Nazareth – yet Josephus
    seems unaware of both Nazareth and Jesus.” He is at pains to discredit
    interpolations in this work that “made him appear to write of Jesus when
    he did not.” Most religious historians take a more nuanced view
    agreeing that Christian scholars added their own pieces much later but
    maintaining that the historical reference to Jesus was present in the
    original. Yet, a fudged text is not compelling evidence for anything.

    Paulkovich
    consulted no fewer than 126 historians (including Josephus) who lived
    in the period and ought to have been aware of Jesus if he had existed
    and performed the miracles that supposedly drew a great deal of popular
    attention. Of the 126 writers who should have written about Jesus, not a
    single one did so (if one accepts Paulkovich’s view that the Jesus
    references in Josephus are interpolated).

    Paulkovich concludes:

    When
    I consider those 126 writers, all of whom should have heard of Jesus
    but did not – and Paul and Marcion and Athenagoras and Matthew with a
    tetralogy of opposing Christs, the silence from Qumram and Nazareth and
    Bethlehem, conflicting Bible stories, and so many other mysteries and
    omissions – I must conclude that Christ is a mythical character.

    He
    also considers striking similarities of Jesus to other God-sons such as
    Mithra, Sandan, Attis, and Horus. Christianity has its own imitator.
    Mormonism was heavily influenced by the Bible from which founder Joseph
    Smith borrowed liberally.

    Mormonism fabricated in plain sight

    We may not know for sure what happened two millennia ago but Mormonism
    was fabricated in plain sight by a convicted conman. According to
    Christopher Hitchens:

    In
    March, 1826, a court in Bainbridge, New York, convicted a
    twenty-one-year-old man of being a “disorderly person and an impostor.”
    That ought to have been all we ever heard of Joseph Smith, who at trial
    admitted to defrauding citizens by organizing mad gold-digging
    expeditions and also to claiming to possess dark or “necromantic”
    powers.

    Hitchens
    writes: “Quite recent scholarship has exposed every single other Mormon
    “document” as at best a scrawny compromise and at worst a pitiful fake”

    Smith’s legacy was cleaned up via subsequent “divine
    revelations” that rejected first polygamy and then racism at convenient
    historical turning points. So the historical development from fakery to
    respectable religion is well documented.

    There is no reason to
    believe that the genesis of any major religion was substantially
    different. This raises the question of why so many intelligent people
    choose to believe religious fictions.

    The most plausible explanation is that they cannot easily distinguish between organized religion and confidence rackets.

    Starting a fake religion

    Religious
    people may find that hard to swallow, so it is interesting to see what
    happens when someone sets out to found a fake religion. Would this
    work, or would members see through the deception and promptly leave?

    American
    Indian film director Vikram Gandhi studied yogis and their followers in
    India. He concluded that these holy men were confidence tricksters,
    scores of whom plied their trade throughout India in the manner of the
    Jesus story.

    The filmmaker wondered whether he could pass himself
    off as a guru here in the U.S. He cultivated a fake Indian accent, grew
    out his hair and beard and reinvented himself as Sri Kumare, a mystic
    hailing from a fictitious Indian village.

    In the film, Kumare (2011)
    the director founds his cult in Arizona where he unloads his bogus
    mysticism upon the unsuspecting public and soon draws a group of devoted
    followers who seek his counsel on their life problems and become
    frighteningly dependent upon his new-age advice.

    The underlying
    psychology may be fairly simple. Common confidence tricksters work
    their magic by telling victims what they want to hear. The same is true
    of successful prophets who offer pie in the sky bye and bye as I
    explain in my book Why Atheism Will Replace Religion. The only reason that Jesus does not fit in this category is that he probably never existed.

    • Kris Rhodes

      I can’t find any mention of Paulkovitch other than as author of an anti-Christian book, and as author of anti-religion articles, no bio anywhere, even on Amazon.

      Meanwhile, the article you linked to seems poorly written and doesn’t engage in any kind of sophisticated reasoning–and tries to summarize an argument which has been made many times before, without showing any awareness of how opponents would answer it.

      I don’t think there’s anything here to take seriously.

      • MattB

        hello, Kris,

        I think mythicists are going to have to argue against a thick forest of evidence, but even that doesn’t make their position out of the woods and more plausible. It would seem that the historicist position best fits the evidence and doesn’t contain the most ad-hoc or problematic interpretations of the historical Jesus.

        • Kris Rhodes

          Sorry to be dense, but what does that have to do with the post you were replying to?

          • MattB

            Idk I felt like jumping in at some point

        • Kainan

          How strange then that Dr. Ehrman had only a few logs in his book to offer, couple of them showing signs of rot…
          Thick forest, heh.

          • MattB

            Why bring Ehrmans book up?

          • Kris Rhodes

            I think it was supposed to be because Ehrman’s book is often tauted as an accessible and successful contemporary argument for Jesus’s existence. I believe the argument was that what you’re saying about mythicism applies equally well to historicity-advocacy if that book represents the best the field has to offer.

            Ehrman’s book was part of what led me down the path towards mythicism btw… 😉

          • MattB

            It is, but there are other books that are more detailed and scholarly to the public world. Ehrman’s book was made for a popular audience.

  • MattB

    Or an argument from denial;)