Not How Biblical History Worked

Not How Biblical History Worked September 9, 2014

Far Left Side 9-5-14-biblical-history

This cartoon came to my attention via Jerry Coyne’s blog. It seems to me to reflect one of the things that modern atheist critics of ancient religious texts imagine to be possible, but few others do, namely that the Bible’s authors took the truth, which was boring, and turned it into something so different as to be interesting but wholly unlike what actually happened.

In most instances, where we know the origins of a religious tradition, we find at its core (1) a charismatic individual, (2) teachings which are found to be helpful for living, and (3) hope for salvation from the traumas of life in an agrarian, pre-modern world with none of the medical or agricultural advances that we take for granted.

One can find the attempt to deal with a crucified messiah by attributing his death a salvific meaning to be more problematic than accepting the crushing of one’s expectations. But seriously imagining that someone simply invented it out of nowhere and people believed it, or that someone turned “dyed four hare skins” into “died for our sins,” makes you at least as gullible as those ancient religionists you despise.


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  • Samphire

    So when Paul is taken to say that Jesus was literally of the seed of David we know it must be true because Paul has seen all the birth certificates etc? How come that is a less problematic thesis than assuming either that the phrase is an interpolation or that Paul was speaking in some theological sense?

    As for your penultimate paragraph you seem to allow that in some instances there is no charismatic individual at the core of some religions. So why not Christianity?

    • Kris Rhodes

      FTR the Carrier/Doherty thesis also affirms charismatic leadership at the core of the founding of Christianity. (Or, arguably, both its foundings… the Petrine one and the Pauline one… 😉 )

    • The latter question is bizarre, since clearly there were charismatic individuals involved in Christianity. As for why historians think Jesus was such a figure, the answer is “the evidence points in that direction.”

      Your first point is also bizarre inasmuch as it excludes many options. Your reasoning seems to be “either Paul saw Jesus’ birth certificate – people didn’t have those back then – or he didn’t exist.” But Paul’s statement is important evidence about what Paul believed about Jesus. Lots of people claim royal descent, and it is either a lie or a legend with no truth to it, but they do not cease to exist. But this is evidence that Paul thought of Jesus as precisely what he states regularly: the anointed one, a human being, with a human name. One has to strenuously force the evidence awkwardly into a mythicist mould to try to avoid that conclusion.

  • Michael Wilson

    The writing is clever but the concept doesn’t make sense for anyone even passingly familliar with this material. If your not, just imagine the same gag with the tag line, how wwii history worked.

  • Neko

    All “nailed” puns, starting with David Fitzgerald’s, are repugnant.

  • Chris Crawford

    “Ridicule the belief, not the person” is the logical equivalent of “love the sinner, hate the sin”. And they wonder why we call them fundamentalists…

  • Gary

    “or that someone turned “dyed four hare skins””… But I thought Paul was concerned about four skins?

  • Ho hum — so we know that Judaism was started by a charismatic Moses or Abraham, and we really know the Moslem religion was started by a Muhammad (no question in among the specialist scholars) and we know Buddhism was started by a charismatic Gautama (again no question among the specialist scholars, right).

    And once again the lie, as ho hum usual: James knows very well that no-one argues “someone simply invented Christianity out of nowhere”.

    Ho hum .. same old . . .