Moss and Baden on the Lastest Mythicist Nonsense

Moss and Baden on the Lastest Mythicist Nonsense October 6, 2014

Via Candida Moss, I learned that she and Joel Baden have responded to – and appropriate poked fun at – the latest mythicist volume to appear, Michael Paulkovich’s No Meek Messiah: Christianity’s Lies, Laws and Legacy.

After showing that Paulkovich’s list of 126 ancient authors he thinks should have mentioned Jesus, the list includes people who lived before Jesus, doctors, and various other kinds of authors who rarely mention their contemporaries of any sort. They do so with much humor, and so you should read the article. Here is the conclusion:

It is safe to say that there are no historians that have, to this point, included Paulkovich in their writings (and let’s be honest, the chances going forward aren’t great). What’s more, not a single mathematician, poet, philosopher, or gynecologist (probably—stupid HIPAA) refers to him even a single time.

Paulkovich has written nothing about himself—we have no biographical data on him. (In truth, it is hard to find almost anyone with less of a web presence than Michael Paulkovich—including, for the record, no Twitter account.) Though his name is on a couple of books and articles, someone else probably wrote those. At least, that’s undoubtedly what “Paulkovich” would say if we suddenly discovered a text claiming to have been written by Jesus, right?

The failure of Paulkovich to even Google subjects that he wrote about, as well as his inability to reflect on the relationship between various assertions he made, is evident from this part of the book description on Amazon:

No Meek Messiah exposes that Jesus believed in Noah’s Ark, Adam & Eve, Jonah living in a fish or whale, and Lot’s wife turning into salt. (Historian Josephus, often cited by Christians as proof of the historicity of Jesus, also claims that he as actually seen the “pillar of salt” that Lot’s wife turned into; “for I have seen it, and it remains at this day,” Josephus lied.

Jesus didn’t exist, but believed in things?

If you Google the subject of Lot’s Wife, you quickly learn that there is a mineral formation, Jebel Usdum, which is traditionally known as “Lot’s Wife.” It is obviously not a person turned to salt – the Biblical tale is an aetiological explanation of the origin of the formation – but Josephus wasn’t lying when he said he had seen it.

Jerry Coyne, unsurprisingly, finds him completely credible. By way of contrast, another atheist blogger, Steven Bollinger, has tackled the topic, and concludes, “As an atheist, I long for a much better class of atheists, atheists writing about history who are not historically illiterate.”

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  • Steven Bollinger

    I don’t want to read between the lines too much, but some mentions of my response to Paulkovich seem to reflect surprise that an atheist would take him to task. New Atheists who don’t know much about history and show no sign of wanting to learn are making a lot of noise these days, but I hope people don’t assume that they represent all or most atheists. Surely you know that many of the foremost scholars in Biblical studies, Classics and other related fields have been atheists. We’re not all like Paulkovich and Dawkins & co (ie clueless and proud of it) when it comes to ancient history.

    • Not at all – I was expressing appreciation for your skeptical approach to Paulkovich, compared with Coyne’s uncritical acceptance.

      One irony of mythicism is the way they insist that the reason historians and other scholars think Jesus existed – even though they consistently come up with conclusions about the historical Jesus that are problematic for traditional Christian faith – is that there is an overwhelming influence of Christian dogma in the secular academy, at least in this area. And so I am always on the look-out for atheists whom I can cite in defense of mainstream critical scholarship in response to the mythicists.

      • James

        Excellent article James. Speaking as an atheist and a trained historian, my $.02 is that historians disregard supernatural stories out of hand – we do it for all ancient stories which are typically litered with supernatural claims. History lacks any means to observe or test history to determine if a highly improbable claim actually occured; hence the supernatural is a matter of faith or theology, but not history. When this is done with the story of Jesus, there just isn’t much left of the narrative – no supernatural birth, death or miracles. That said, we do have good circumstantial evidence for the existence of a charismatic Jew who preached against the Romans, who popularized the Golden Rule of rabbi bin Hillel and who was ultimately executed for sedition, said crime having a remarkably low burden of proof in 1st century Palestine. Certain elements of the story are likely to be true because they don’t fit with the traditional Son of Man or messiah narratives; every other comparitive example we have of would-be messiahs are warrior-types, not charasmatic preachers of the value of the poor, the down-and-out and loving one another. We also accept the basic facts of other would-be contemporary messiahs existing, on the basis of weaker evidence.

        • John MacDonald

          The principle of analogy excludes miracles from the realm of history as simple common sense as well. Richard Carrier is instructive here in his essay “Why The Resurrection Is Unbelievable” :

          “Fifty years after the Persian Wars ended in 479 BC Herodotus the Halicarnassian asked numerous eyewitnesses and their children about the things that happened in those years and then wrote a book about it. Though he often shows a critical and skeptical mind, sometimes naming his sources or even questioning their reliability when he has suspicious or conflicting accounts, he nevertheless reports without a hint of doubt that the temple of Delphi magically defended itself with animated armaments, lightning bolts and collapsing cliffs; the sacred olive tree of Athens, though burned by the Persians, grew a new shoot an arms length in a single day; a miraculous flood-tide wiped out an entire Persian contingent after they desecrated an image of Poseidon; a horse gave birth to a rabbit; and a whole town witnessed a mass resurrection of cooked fish … I see no relevant between the marvels in Herodotus and the many varied tales of the resurrection of Jesus (291-293 in “The Christian Delusion”)

          We know miracles don’t happen by consulting our everyday experience, and so we know Herodotus’ account is just silly. In the same way, we know Joseph Smith never found gold plates from heaven. Muhammad never met the angel Gabriel. Jesus never did any miracles or rise from the dead. Apollonius of Tyana never did any miracles.

          They are all just silly stories of magic.

          • John MacDonald

            that should say “relevant differences”

            I’m also missing a closing quotation mark for one of the paragraphs.


          • Now hold on a cotton-pickin’ minute! We have three named witnesses that testify of an angel showing them the golden plates of Moroni. That’s historical proof that ancient Jews sailed to America and experienced the second coming of Jesus to the Latter Day Saints!

          • MattB


      • “One irony of mythicism is the way they insist t. . . is that there is an overwhelming influence of Christian dogma in the secular academy, at least in this area”

        Is not this what your own peers such as James Crossley and Michael Goulder et al have also said? Do you disagree with your peers who speak of the influence of Christian dogma on your “secular academy”?

      • Steven Bollinger

        Thanks for the clarification. Some clarification on my part: if a mythicist is anyone with more than a tenny-weeny doubt about Jesus’ existence, than that makes me a mythicist. If, in order to be a mythicist, one has to be less than certain Jesus existed, plus think that the mainstream of academic Biblical scholars is unfairly hostile to any discussion of Jesus’ existence, then I’m still a mythicist. One doesn’t have to believe in God in order to to be closed-minded.

        If one has to be uncritically supportive of everyone who has ever had doubts that Jesus in order to be a mythicist, then, naturally, I’m not one. There seems to be a drastic lack of self-criticism among New Atheists generally. Well, of course it’s lacking: otherwise a leading New Atheist publication would never have published a yahoo like Paulkovich.

    • redpill99

      The New Atheists cite Richard Carrier, Tom Brodie, and Robert Price as qualified experts.

      • ID proponents cite people like Michael Behe and William Dembski as qualified experts.

        • James

          A hack is a hack

  • Kris Rhodes

    Paulkovitch’s stuff is not worth much, it should be agreed.

  • redpill99

    How would you respond to the New Atheist claim that Paul’s source on Jesus, including meeting James, brother of the Lord, and the Gospel of Mark, is nothing but hearsay.

    Paul did not meet Jesus personally, so his statements about Jesus constitutes hearsay. Matthew, Luke and John rely on Mark and do not represent an independent source. Mark did not know Jesus personally so his sources are also hearsay. Mark is no more reliable than Thomas.

    The statement “Jesus existed” is based on hearsay.

    • MattB

      If Paul claimed to have met the brother of Jesus, then it is probably the best evidence apart from Jesus’ crucifixion, or better yet, the gospels(whom tell us the same thing about Jesus having a brother). In order for James to be the brother of Jesus, then Jesus had to exist.

      • Bethany

        Yup. Josephus also says the same thing about Jesus having a brother, and what motivation for making that up could he possibly have had?

        • Kainan

          There is no credible evidence that Josephus says such a thing though. The best explanation for the alleged description “brother of Christ” is that it’s an accidental interpolation. It was not known to Origen, for starters, and it doesn’t make sense in the context.

          I did use to think that it constitutes a kind of convergence with Paul’s mention of James, the brother of the Lord, but in the end, it doesn’t.

          • When you say “there is no credible evidence” even though all extant manuscripts provide evidence, and that the “best explanation” is a view that few historians have embraced, asserting that “it was not known to Origen” even though Origen clearly indicates that he believed that Josephus mentions James the brother of Jesus (although he apparently confuses what he said with what someone else says), it is hard to know who you think you are fooling, or why you think anyone should accept these claims on your say so. Do you honestly think that you are going to fool people on a blog like this one, as though this isn’t a blog where not only the blogger but many commenters actually know something about this subject?

          • Kainan

            Since Origen doesn’t quote this passage of Josephus (or the larger Testimonium, at that), instead quoting someone else and wrongly ascribing it to Josephus, the question arises: why didn’t he know about the real passage? The answer is that it didn’t exist in Origen’s time.

          • That makes no sense. As I have pointed out to you before, I might well confuse which of two authors that have written about a topic said X, but I am unlikely to confusedly think that an author who never addressed a topic was the one who said it.

          • Kainan

            Unlikely in general, but not in this case, where Josephus does write about James brother of a Jesus (most likely Jesus ben Damnaeus) being killed. The best explanation is then that Origen thought that this is the same James mentioned by Hegesippus (whom Origen actually quotes).

          • “Most likely” is apparently a phrase that you have misunderstood. If most scholars and historians do not find a view persuasive, in what sense is that “most likely”?

            The text says “James the brother of Jesus called Christ.” If you want to argue otherwise you are free to do so, but merely treating a claim of Richard Carrier’s as though it were Gospel truth is inappropriate credulity on your part.

          • Kainan

            It is very illustrative that instead of dealing with the specific argument you’re falling back on what “most scholars and historians” do or do not find.

          • I have not responded to arguments because you haven’t made any. Assertions are not the same thing. But the point still stands. The fact that someone has published a piece making a case for something does not make it so, and you know this, otherwise all the published cases for authentic material in the Gospels would have settled the matter for you. And so this denialist tactic is simply not going to work here.

          • Kainan

            It’s an intentional untruth on your part that I haven’t made any arguments. Of course I have, above. Specifically, that Origen never quoted this place in Josephus (which directly implies that it didn’t exist in Origen’s time). That’s an argument, whether you like it or not.

            Since you can’t address it in any satisfactory manner, you have to fall back on ad hominems and argument to authority.

          • Nope, it is still an assertion. In response, I offered an argument, namely that it is unlikely that Origen would confuse what Josephus and Hegesippus say if in fact Josephus never mentioned James the brother of Jesus called Christ.

            Can you see the difference? I am offering an explanation of why your claim is problematic. In response, you simply state things which are not true of the manuscript evidence as we have it, and nevertheless call them things like “most likely.”

          • Kainan

            Yes, it was an argument. You may find it a weak argument, or a wrong argument (or whatever), but it’s still an argument that I have offered. So claiming that I haven’t made an argument is an intentional untruth.

            It’s also interesting how you call what I wrote an “assertion” but what you wrote an “argument”. Even though you haven’t shown that it’s somehow unlikely – you only, you know, *asserted* it.

            You repeat your assertion about the manuscript evidence, yet it is wholly irrelevant, because all the same manuscript evidence stems from a single manuscript family with the partially or (most probably) wholly fake Testimonium Flavianum (yes, also the “deviating” versions, which have been shown to stem from Eusebius’ copy). So just as this manuscript evidence doesn’t support the authenticity of TF (at least on the whole), so it cannot support, at least by itself, the authenticity of the short phrase (“named Christ”) in question.

            Moreover, I have offered an argument that your argument actually doesn’t hold water (which you still have to answer). Namely, on any hypothesis, Josephus did write about some James being killed. So Origen wouldn’t have picked any random author. If the hypothesis I defend is correct, the choice of Josephus is very easily explained: Origen did actually think J. was meaning James the Just. He was wrong to do so, but that’s why he confused Hegesippus and Josephus.

            There is also the fact that we do know that what Origen wrote corresponds to what Hegesippus wrote, and not to what Josephus wrote. This is simply unlikely to be a coincidence, yet your hypothesis necessitates this. According to it, Origen and Hegesippus are independent. Quite improbable.

            So these two facts together: Origen not quoting the actual Josephus passage and his description corresponding to what Hegesippus wrote before him are best explained by positing that Origen’s copy of Josephus did not contain the words “named Christ”. That’s certainly not the only strong argument, but it’s quite sufficient.

          • It is unlikely that the TF is wholly inauthentic. Few consider it likely that Agapius, a Christian, paraphrased out all of the distinctively Christian elements of the TF and just happened to come up with something close to what historians would reconstruct as a plausible original form.

            You seem not to have understood what I wrote, in view of your odd comments about Origen and Hegesippus being independent.

            What you envisage is that (1) Origen read Josephus, despite his nowhere mentioning Jesus, (2) Origen identified as James the brother of Jesus of Nazareth a different James brother of Jesus, and then (3) Origen mistakenly thought that what Hegesippus wrote about James, Josephus wrote about James. I do not find that more likely than that Origen read two sources about James the brother of Jesus, and misremembered which said what.

            But given that you have lower standards for persuasive arguments when offered my mythicists, and are unwilling to accept the argumens offered by mainstream scholars, I suspect that you will continue to deem Carrier’s claims about his “quite sufficient.”

          • What’s your position on what Agapius’ source was?

          • I would hesitate to speculate too much. Agapius is giving the TF from memory, and may be paraphrasing. Nevertheless, his paraphrase/remembered version lacks the specifically Christian interpolations that Josephus scholars in the modern era have proposed removing in an attempt to recover what Josephus wrote. And so ultimately I think that Agapius knew an uninterpolated version of Josephus, whether directly or through quotation by another author.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            That Origen never quoted such a text is an observation, not an argument. You do make an argument, but it is in parentheses, namely that this “directly implies that it didn’t exist in Origen’s time”). That you present the argument in parentheses and the observation that you use as its warrant as the argument proper suggests some confusion on your part regarding what constitutes an argument.

            That said, your parenthetical argument is beyond weak. First off, “directly implies” is kind of a self-contradiction, isn’t it? Implication is by definition indirect. I think what you mean is “From this we can infer that…” The problem is that it is fallacious. You can only sustain this argument from silence if you can show that Origen, if he had known this passage, would have quoted from it. From what I have read you have made no effort. Thus, yes, you have made an argument, but you have not done the work necessary to lift it above the level of logical fallacy, and until you meet your obligation it is somewhat unreasonable to expect that others are obliged to take your argument seriously. As such Prof. McGrath is quite justified in describing it as an assertion (although I would probably have used the words “insufficiently warranted argument,” but that’s just caviling. He and I are saying the same thing, in the end).

            The “argument” that the James mentioned is the brother of Jesus Ben Damnaeus does seem to be simply an assertion. I see no evidence cited to support that view.

      • redpill99

        The New Atheists would say James brother of the Lord is a figurative or metaphorical or spiritual sense.

        • But that doesn’t fit what the texts in question actually say. This has been pointed out to you on multiple occasions. Why do you keep saying the same things as though none of that earlier conversation had taken place? Are you here as a troll?

          Also, it is not the “New Atheists” who say that. Plenty of “New Atheists” know better than to embrace a fringe view on history. Please don’t insult them as a group in this way.

          • redpill99

            Paul wrote in Greek so he spoke Greek. Jesus and James spoke Aramaic. What language did Paul, “Cephas” and James converse?

          • Paul lived and studied in Jerusalem and was fluent in Aramaic, being bilingual. Why do you ask?

          • redpill99

            Why did Paul call “Peter” “Cephas”? I am aware that means “rock” in Greek.

          • Are you aware that both mean “Rocky,” one in Greek and the other in Aramaic?

          • Bethany

            Regardless of whether Paul spoke Aramaic or not… why would that be an issue? People who don’t have a language in common speak through interpreters all the time.

          • redpill99

            In my experience a lot of atheists are promoting Jesus non-existence.

            Is it fringe history to say Moses, Joshua, King David, King Solomon, etc., never existed?

          • What is the point of this question? Every allegedly historical figure has to be assessed on their own evidence. If Solomon turned out not to have been historical, would that make Hezekiah unhistorical?!

          • redpill99

            this scholar


            claims Moses, Joshua, King David, King Solomon, etc., never existed.

            is she a fringe scholar like Behe and ID?

            is it fringe history to say Moses, Joshua, King David, King Solomon, etc., never existed?

          • You have asked this question before, and I have answered it. I will answer it one more time, and if you continue to simply ask it over and over again as though I had never done so, then that will be the end of your time on this blog.

            Francesca Stavrakopoulou is a mainstream scholar and an excellent one at that. You will note that she is not persuaded that David existed, which is still a possible view, even after the discovery of the Tel Dan stele. It isn’t clear whether her short answer means that there was no historical David at all, or that the Biblical stories bear so little resemblance to any likely historical David that “no” is the simplest short answer. You will also note that she indicated the consensus of historians that Jesus existed. The evidence for various figures mentioned in various works which eventually become part of the Bible is different. If we had a letter from someone who had met David’s brother, I am sure she would answer the question differently than she does in view of the current evidence, which does not provide that sort of attestation for David.

            Can you please respond in such a way as to indicate that you have understood this point?

          • redpill99

            I understand that based on Paul that Jesus existed, and Jesus mythicists claims otherwise is fringe. I understand that Carrier and Price and Brodie, despite having PhD in ancient history and NT in the case of the latter 2 are fringe, though I’d like to see reviews of Carrier and Price.

            Francesca Stavrakopoulou is claiming most of the OT figures we know and love did not exist. Is this fringe ?

            While that talk show had both Francesca Stavrakopoulou and Richard Dawkins, what if they also invited Richard Carrier or Robert Price and asked them?

            How is an atheist supposed to be able to distinguish Carrier and Price as fringe despite their phD, versus Francesca Stavrakopoulou who also holds a phD and who also holds the OT figures did not exist, as fringe or non-fringe? It’s my understanding that is no contemporary extrabibilical evidence the OT figures like Moses Joshua David Abraham Solomon did not exist.

          • This has nothing to do with whether one is an atheist. This is a matter of information literacy. Everyone ought to know that the mere fact of someone having a PhD does not mean they are right. You need to consult mainstream textbooks and reference articles by scholars working at mainstream secular institutions, and find out what the consensus on a topic is, if there is one.

            Most historians think there was a historical David, especially since the discovery of the Tel Dan stele. And so Stavrakopoulou’s view is still a minority one. But I don’t think she would claim otherwise. And there is still a difference between a professional scholar like her, versus someone who has chosen not to pursue a career in the academy (Carrier) or one who has chosen to teach at an unaccredited seminary (Price).

            But the short answer to your question is that you should learn how to do research. Start with the CRAP Test. Learn basic information literacy and apply it to all areas, not just this one.

          • redpill99

            For me my interest here is the intersection of secular atheist freethougth advocacy and honest research. Atheists advocacy is promoting Jesus myth on forums and websites.

            So when atheists and secular activists claim Jesus did not exist, they are promoting fringe. But when they claim OT figures like Moses Joshua Abraham Solomon Noah did not exist, and events like Exodus and United Monarchy were pure fiction, Esther and Daniel, Job, Jonah, etc., they happen to dovetail with mainstream biblical scholarship. The OT is mostly pure fiction, but in the NT Jesus and Paul and James and Peter existed.

            If this historical David differs in every detail but name from a historical David, in what sense can you say the King David described in the bible existed?

            So the atheists and antitheists of the present and future should give up on Jesus myth and instead focus on OT mythicism, that the major OT figures did not exist, as a way to undermine religion of Christianity Judaism and Islam.

          • I think that atheists and antitheists, if they are committed first and foremost to undermining religions and only secondarily to truth, ought to ask themselves in what way if at all they are different at a fundamental level from the religions they oppose.

          • redpill99

            If those atheists like me if we are committed first and foremost to truth, ok, take the position that 1- Jesus existed for reasons Bart Ehrman outline and oppose mythicism, but then 2- major OT figures did not exist Moses Joshua David Abraham Solomon did not exist and cite Francesca Stavrakopoulou as an example of the mainstream consensus, (her view on David non-existence may be a minority position but it is certainly viable) it would be an example of both respecting truth and undermining religion. I’ve heard from many sources that the events as described in Exodus is pure fiction, and that the United Monarchy is also fiction.

          • This is bizarre. What does the existence of Jesus have to do with the existence of Moses, any more than the existence of Philo depends on the existence of Moses? What on earth is driving this strange line of questioning?

          • redpill99

            you said, “I think that atheists and antitheists, if they are committed first and
            foremost to undermining religions and only secondarily to truth, ought
            to ask themselves in what way if at all they are different at a
            fundamental level from the religions they oppose.”

            Jesus and Moses are both a part of the Bible. They are a part of the Western religious traditions of Judaism and Christianity. Philo is not.

          • What does the fact that the Jewish Bible became part of the Christian Bible have to do with the historicity of any of the figures mentioned in it?

          • Bethany

            I’m not James, but I think the point is that deciding what conclusion you want to reach FIRST, then picking and choosing only the evidence that supports it, is not the act of a responsible scholar (although it is very human).

            Starting with the goal of disproving something mentioned in a religious tradition at any cost is as intellectually suspect as starting with the goal of *proving* something mentioned in a religious tradition at any cost. As scholars and intellectuals the goal should rather be to figure out what actually happened (as much as can be done) and let the chips fall where they may.

          • redpill99

            Francesca Stavrakopoulou trotted out a list of major biblical characters like Moses and David who she stated did not exist. Per James, she is a highly respected non-fringe biblical scholar.

            So there is nothing “intellectually suspect” in stating that bible scholars have concluded that most of the OT is pure fiction.

          • Bethany

            Again, someone correct me if I’m wrong, but I think “bible scholars have concluded that most of the OT is pure fiction” is overstating the case.

            I’m nearly to the end of Deuteronomy in my current “read the Hebrew Bible” project, and I’ll be happy to testify that there’s actually quite a bit of Bible left after you finish with Solomon. 🙂 (Not that I’m at Solomon yet. I’m still stuck on the east side of the Jordan…)

            The Hebrew Bible is a VERY complicated collection of documents (again, documents plural, not a single document) — even with the Yale Open Course and the copious commentary I know I’m only scratching the surface and getting a glimpse of just how complicated its history is. It represents, what, 900 years of literary output by an ancient people, and who knows how many hundreds or thousands of years of oral traditions before that? It’s not just the sort of thing you can dismiss with a hand-wavey “pure fiction” as if someone sat down and wrote it like Harry Potter. The history of the collection is much more complicated than that.

          • redpill99

            Which events are historical and which figures existed.

            Did Exodus happen? Did Moses lead 2 million Jews out of Egypt? Did Joshua initiate a genocidal conquest of Canaan? Did David and Solomon rule over a United Monarchy? Did Esther save Jews? Did Daniel exist? etc.

          • If you want answers to those sorts of questions, shouldn’t you read a history book?

          • Bethany

            If you don’t want to take Dr. McGrath’s suggestion to crack some history books, there’s always Wikipedia. I’m not a historian so I can’t attest to the quality but its article on, say, the history of ancient Israel and Judah is quite extensive .

          • redpill99

            first there’s this


            followed by




            second I already have.

            also there are atheist forums. they said jesus did not exist and the OT figures like moses and david did not exist, tel dan steele notwithstanding. so they got jesus wrong. from what they said and my own research they got the OT mostly right.

          • You still seem to be struggling to grasp that minimalism is a minority view, and it is mainstream scholarship in the sense that it is one of several widely held scholarly views, because the evidence concerning figures like Moses and David is ambiguous. You seem not to grasp that there can be disagreement among scholars, without any of them being crackpots, when the evidenc we have is compatible with more than one conclusion. You seem to be looking for ways to be dogmatic about everything, even when dogmatism is inappropriate. This fundamentalist approach looks no better when the fundamentalist is an atheist than when he or she is a religious believer.

            I would really encourage you to read books on this subject, and to become aware that YouTube videos and documentaries are not the place to turn if you want to find out what scholars say at their clearest and most precisely nuanced.

          • Andrew Dowling

            Your way of thinking is that of the fundamentalist. Something being nonhistorical in a document collecting hundreds of texts from over several centuries speaks nothing to the historicity of another document in that collection. To make such an assertion is sheer laziness, it’s like saying there was no such thing as a KIngdom of Judea because the Bible has talking animals . . .

          • redpill99

            I’m not saying that it does. I’m providing an account of which events/persons are historical in the canonized jew xtian Bible and which are not based on “mainstream” scholarship.

          • Bethany

            Actually — and someone correct me if I’m wrong — I don’t think the argument is that the Hebrew Bible is pure fiction. I gather that up until you start reaching the time of Solomon the stories in the Hebrew Bible don’t generally seem to be backed up by archeological evidence, but that there are numerous events later in the Hebrew Bible that are attested to in the archeology and also in the historical records of the neighboring countries.

            But besides that… what does that have to do with the price of eggs when discussing the historical Jesus? We’re talking about stories that were originally written down 1000 to 500 years before the New Testament was written and in some cases as many as 1000 years AFTER the events they describe. So what does the historicity of some of the people described in the Hebrew Bible have to do with the historicity of people described in the New Testament?

          • redpill99

            The bible consists of both NT and OT, and if Francesca Stavrakopoulou says the major OT figures and events never happened, it’s a discussion of a major portion of the bible.

            Jesus is just one part of the bible.

          • Bethany

            Right… but what does anything related to historicity of various events in the Hebrew Bible to do with Jesus mythicism?

          • redpill99

            as James said ”

            Jerry Coyne, unsurprisingly, finds him completely credible. By way of contrast, another atheist blogger, Steven Bollinger, has tackled the topic, and concludes, “As an atheist, I long for a much better class of atheists, atheists writing about history who are not historically illiterate.”

            To say David Moses et al existed is historically illiterate.

          • It is not historically illiterate. Many find the evidence of the Tel Dan inscription, and of a Davidic dynasty, makes it seem likely that there was a historical David, even if the stories about him are mostly legends. Many feel that it is more likely that “Moses” is a truncation of an Egyptian name with the theophoric element removed, rather than the Israelites having invented a leader with such a name. The latter is far from certain, but it is not an illiterate suggestion. When there is such a long gap between a figure’s time and the earliest written source, there is great uncertanty. That is the most fundamental difference between the cases of Moses and Jesus.

          • Try to understand this. The Bible is a collection of works made later. That things ended up as part of a collection together some time after they were written is irrelevant. David and Hezekiah are part of the same literary work, even if it was edited together from once separate sources. So why not try to be a Hezekiah mythicist? You could claim that Israelites forged inscriptions in Assyria or something…

          • redpill99

            I understand that the Bible is a collection of works. I do not have a problem with Hezekiah as being a real person as was Jeremiah.

            Your post was titled “Moss and Baden on the Lastest Mythicist Nonsense”

            with emphasis “Lastest Mythicist Nonsense”

            we can agree atheists forums and bloggers who promote Jesus non-existence is nonsense.

            I agree that historicity of each figure and event has to be determined on a case by case basis. Determining the historicity of David or Moses has no direct bearing on Jesus, but since they are all a part of the Jew-Christian religion, in a collection known as the Bible, it is relevant for “bible studies”

            So I favor a “new” approach to atheism and antitheism. Carrier et al is nonsense. Per Francesca Stavrakopoulou, most of the OT figures in the Bible did not existence with a couple of exceptions like Hezekiah. Those bible Christians and Jews who claim Exodus happened and Moses and Joshua and David and Solomon existed are promoting fringe crackpot discredited by modern scholarship. The OT is mostly not factual. Churches and Jews who promote the OT historicity, with few exceptions are promoting deception and lies. The Torah is not what God dictated to a fictional non-existent Moses on Sinai. But the NT is partially historical and mythicists are fringe.

            I think based on previous discussion, the above position with re: Bible, OT NT and fringe vs mainstream represents a mainstream position that atheists can teach and promote without being labelled “fringe”.

          • Jonathan Bernier

            I’m not sure that your position is quite as strong as you seem to think. There are the minimalists who want to tell us that we know virtually nothing about ancient Israel before the post-exilic period and then there are the maximalists who want to tell us that the biblical canon is a near-verbatim transcript of ancient Israelite history. Although not an expert in HB/OT, my sense though is that both groups are a minority bordering on statistical negligence. The overwhelming majority, I suspect, live somewhere in between. I suspect that there is actually much more agreement on the broad outlines of Israelite history than focus upon the extremes would lead one to think.

          • redpill99

            first watch this


            per James, Francesca Stavrakopoulou is an excellent mainstream OT scholar. per Francesca Stavrakopoulou, although Jesus existed, David and Moses did not.

            Her position is much closer to miminalism, and she is mainstream.

            Atheists and anti-theists who proclaim Jesus non-existence is fringe and debunk, but who proclaim other OT figures like Moses DavidAbraham Ester Daniel non-existence is mainstream, academically sound and supported by honest scholars, not fringe.

            Francesca Stavrakopoulou was debating that Indian Catholic priest guy. Clearly a lot of Christians and Jews are misinformed about the factual accuracy of the OT.

            As an atheist, I long for a much better class of atheists, atheists writing about history who are not historically illiterate.”

            Atheists who claim jesus did not exist are historically illiterateand atheists are doing a disservice by promoting Price and Carrier.

            But Jews and Christians promoting the historicity of the Exodus, Conquest of Canaan and United Monarchy are also historically illiterate

          • arcseconds

            You do have to be careful about picking on minority views that you happen to like, though. McGrath is constantly warning about this, too.

            Myself, I don’t have so much of a problem with personal views on what is most likely, even for non-experts. Indeed, I’m not sure it’s psychologically possible to not have views you personally like and think are most likely, if it’s a subject you care anything about.

            But we should be honest and admit that we’re not experts, and while we like a scholastically-supported position, it’s a minority position, and there isn’t a consensus on this matter, and we shouldn’t be promoting it as ‘The Truth’.

            (although, neither should people endorse the bible as being thoroughly historically accurate, as that’s a thoroughly fringe view amongst the scholars.)

          • Jonathan Bernier

            You’re right: it might be difficult for outsiders to distinguish who is and is not fringe. That’s why scholars such as Moss, Baden, and McGrath do the public the service of communicating the scholarly consensus on mythicism. What that means is that instead of arguing with scholars when they say “This is the consensus on the matter,” when all they are doing is stating a matter of fact, one should perhaps aim from them.

            And again, you continue to miss the fact that there is a difference between affirming Jesus’s existence and that of David’s. The evidence is not of the same quality. Whilst I am inclined to affirm both, I can much more easily envision a world in which there was no David than one in which there was no Jesus. That’s not because of a priori religious commitments but because of the nature of the data.

          • arcseconds

            I think maybe you’ve misread redpill99? I know redpill99 has argued a position that’s somewhat sceptical about Jesus’s existence in the past , but based on these remarks:

            Carrier et al is nonsense


            If those atheists like me if we are committed first and foremost to truth, ok, take the position that 1- Jesus existed for reasons Bart Ehrman outline and oppose mythicism, but then 2- major OT figures did not exist Moses Joshua David Abraham Solomon did not exist and cite Francesca Stavrakopoulou as an example of the mainstream consensus, (her view on David non-existence may be a minority position but it is certainly viable) it would be an example of both respecting truth and undermining religion.

            (emphasis mine)

            and even in the post you’re replying to:

            Atheists who claim jesus did not exist are historically illiterateand atheists are doing a disservice by promoting Price and Carrier.

            I don’t think they’re arguing that Jesus doesn’t exist any more, in fact, they seem to accept that it’s likely that Jesus did exist. They just now want to go after people claiming that the Bible is historically accurate, apparently being a bit overly-enthusiastic about minimalism at the same time, but it’s hard to deny that claiming that the Bible is a true account of history in the way we expect modern history textbooks to be is, as redpill99 says, historically illiterate.

          • Caravelle

            Wasn’t redpill99 arguing quite strongly against mythicism on Godless in Dixie a month ago ?

          • arcseconds

            This is the first time I’ve heard of ‘Godless in Dixie’, and I’m not so vitally interested in redpill99 I follow their every move, so I wouldn’t know 🙂

            I thought redpill99 was pushing at least a mythicism-sympathetic, historicity-sceptical line (if not actually crypto-mythicism) until just recently too, but their recent comments really indicate fairly strongly otherwise. It’s of course possible they’ve recently changed their minds about this. Perhaps though it was more of a matter of pushing a mythicism-sympathetic line to see what James et. al. would say about it.

          • Caravelle

            It’s a blog on Patheos that had a post on mythicism a month ago:

            I thought I remembered you there but I guess not, I might have been confusing it with the similar Slacktivist thread around the same time…

          • arcseconds

            I appreciate that redpill99 made a mythicisty-looking remark just a few days ago on this very thread (had forgotten how recent this was), but I wonder whether the question is not just quite legitimately “mythicists say X, how do you respond to that? I’m wondering” rather than a backhanded way of saying “I think X – respond!”.

        • MattB

          But this would be very odd, given Paul and James encounter and the fact that Paul singles him out. Why the need to single James out if he were not in fact something more than an apostle of Jesus?

      • Steven Bollinger

        If Paul made Jesus up, then he or a later redactor also had to make up James, and Paul’s earlier persecution of Christians (whom he couldn’t have persecuted before he invented Jesus) and probably a few more things.

        People who agree with no problem whatsoever that the Immaculate Conception, Jesus’ being born in Bethlehem and his descent from David, the Star of Bethlehem, the flight to Egypt and the Slaughter of the Innocents, walking on water, water into wine, multiplying loaves and fishes, healings, resurrection, etc, were all invented, suddenly become quite indignant and disdainful when someone wonders whether Jesus and James might also have been invented. To me, suggesting two possible additions to a long list of fabrications is no reason to go around comparing people to Paulkovich and Dawkins.

        • MattB

          But, wouldn’t you have to admit that is some sort of special pleading of some kind on the part of mythicists?

          Anything “could have” been made up. However, historians are looking at probabilities, not possibilities. An argument that can be made to fit the evidence isn’t an argument at all.

          • Steven Bollinger

            No, I wouldn’t admit that.

            “historians are looking at probabilities”

            Tell that to all the Biblical scholars and theologians saying that it’s “certain” Jesus existed rather than “very probable.”

          • MattB

            You seem to not understand what historians mean when using certainty. They don’t mean 100%. That would be crazy. They simply are saying that it’s extremely likely that Jesus was real than not.

          • Steven Bollinger

            An argument made to support a foregone conclusion is — well, those kinds of arguments were popular among scholastics. Over the centuries, many of their foregone conclusions have been abandoned: the literal truth of Genesis’ creation story, the existence of Abraham, of Moses — the existence of Jesus seems to be a sort of Custer’s last stand where the biblical scholars still insist that no extra-Biblical evidence is required.

            It seems to me to be special pleading, after it has been agreed that so many of the details of the stories in the NT are agreed open to doubt, to insist that this and that detail is rock-solid. Like many so-called mythicists — I say so-called because they’re not championing any myth theories as having been conclusively proven — I just want to see a discussion of the topic of Jesus’ historicity. “It was discussed and settled in the early 20th century, he existed, shut up!” is not discussing things. It’s also not true that the discussion took place in academia back then. Back then, the academics were saying the same thing they’re saying now: “It’s settled, he existed, shut up!”

          • MattB

            You seem to be taking a fundamentalist approach. Either all of the text is true or none of it is true and this is quite frankly not how history works.

            But you can’t compare other biblical figures, who existed in bronze ages and so forth to Jesus, who existed in the first-century, nor can you compare the Bible as a whole because that’s not how it was written.

            “It’s also not true that the discussion took place in academia back then. Back then, the academics were saying the same thing they’re saying now: “It’s settled, he existed, shut up!”

            No they weren’t. Academics were still developing models and methods and in fact, many were lacking credible knowledge of historical and scientific technology. How can you compare those from the past to those in the present, when the former had no working knowledge vs. the latter who has discovered more evidence that sheds light on Jesus not being an amalgam of pagan myths/a celestial being who lived under the moon. More evidence has thrown away mythicism rather than support it.

    • Do you only read histories written by people who personally knew the people about whom they wrote? If not, why not?

      • James

        Good point, but we also are skeptical of improbable claims. We don’t give much credence to JFK conspiracy stories or alien abductions either, and each is far less extraordinary than the claims regarding Jesus.

        • It depends which claims you are referring to. The mythicist stance, to use your analogy, is typically akin to arguing that, since people have concocted implausible conspiracy theories regarding JFK, therefore he is unlikely to have existed.

        • Bethany

          As Bart Ehrman has pointed out, the question of “did Jesus exist” and “which of the things the Gospels claim that Jesus did actually happened” are two different questions.

          To steal an analogy Ehrman uses, if (counter to fact) it were to turn out that Obama was born in Kenya it would not then prove that Obama doesn’t exist. 🙂

    • Bethany

      Whether John relies on Mark is a topic of considerable debate. Whether you believe in Q or not, Matthew and Luke also use sources that were apparently unknown to Mark as well as some some that were not available to the other.

      So someone tell you he has a brother, that’s “just hearsay” and therefore you will refuse to believe him have a brother unless you actually meet the brother in the flesh? (Although it’s still hearsay as all you would have would be their mutual word for it, so I guess to be certain you would have to see DNA testing, or perhaps have witnessed the birth?)

  • Nash

    The whole “Jesus’ brother” point severely understates just how ridiculous this point is for mythers. It’s not just that Paul said Jesus had a brother, the context of his letters indicates he had a persistent and heated argument with the people who knew and lived with Jesus.

    The James crowd had issues with Paul for distorting the teachings and meaning of their leader, whom they traveled with for years. Paul insisted that he knew better because he saw Jesus in visions.

    The larger point isn’t so much that Paul had visions, it is that he argued those visions gave him a better understanding of Jesus than those who knew him personally. For that to make sense, he had to be referring to those who knew Jesus as a human being.

  • Kainan

    Low-hanging fruit. I’ll wait till they respond to Carrier.

    • MattB

      What’s Carrier gonna do? Carrier hasn’t done anything that other mythicists haven’t done before.

  • So I read this Moss and Baden article with interest – and I have no reason to think Paulkovich is a scholar of any kind – but then I come across this paragraph:

    “Of course, there are plenty of ancient figures who never wrote anything themselves—Aristotle, for instance. Though let’s not start giving Paulkovich any more ideas.”

    Wait … what?! Did these two scholars really just say that Aristotle never wrote anything himself?!!

    Are they joking? Am I missing some subtle irony?

    • I am not sure whether they were kidding, or meant to write “Socrates,” or were jokingly referring to the fact that few ancient authors wrote things with their own hands.

      • Seems like a mistake to me; I think they meant Socrates. If it’s a joke, it’s not a very good one.

    • arcseconds

      Hopefully you’re right and they meant Socrates (strange mistake to make, though).

      However, there is an idea that the works of Aristotle that we have are essentially unpolished lecture notes, and sometimes it’s said that they’re lecture notes taken by his students. Maybe it’s to this that they refer?

      • Other historians see the Poetics as Aristotle’s own unpolished lecture notes. If the writers are referring to a hypothesis that Aristotle’s works are the lecture notes of his students, it’s not a very clear or useful reference.

        I think it’s more likely they meant Socrates, and hastily dropped the name of one iconic philosopher, when they meant the other.

        • arcseconds

          My understanding is that many people (relevant experts, I mean) think that basically the entire Aristotelian corpus is Aristotle’s own unpolished lecture notes, and that we’ve lost (save for a handful of fragments) all his polished, final works.

          (We know, for example, he wrote dialogues, but we don’t have any extant works)

          Of course, that doesn’t mean he didn’t write them… except in the ordinary-for-the-time sense he quite likely had a scribe take dictation rather than slave over a hot writing desk himself.

          However, it may be that they’re under the impression that it’s the received view about Aristotle is that he just gave ex tempore lectures which his students wrote down?

          It’s a bit of a stretch, I admit, but I have met people who believe something like this.

          And I still find the Socrates mistake a bit strange. I wouldn’t find it so strange except for the following:

          – these people know a bit about the ancient world.
          – there are two authors, thus reducing the probability of an error quite substantially (assuming that it’s a low chance in each case)
          – Aristotle is an odd philosopher to confuse with Socrates. Plato would be more common, owing to the fact he’s a major source for Socrates, and of course it’s common to think his character Socrates is a mouthpiece for his (Plato’s) own opinions.
          – Aristotle is also an odd person to suppose never wrote anything. I’m presuming these people are at least passingly familiar with the history of Christianity past their area, so they surely must be at least somewhat aware of the rediscovery of Aristotle in the West, and Aquinas’s Summa Theologica?

          A single person making this mistake would be more understandable, and I’d almost expect it from someone with little knowledge of the period.

          I’m not insisting on my idea they’re somehow channeling a kind of scholarly urban legend (a library legend?) about Aristotle, it’s just an idea. It’s odd, but I find the idea that they made such an error with Socrates odd too. You’re probably right, it’s more likely it’s Socrates, but I’m still kind of raising my eyebrows at this whole thing…

  • MattB
    • M. Solange O’Brien

      Matt, this is a lie. These people you refer to are not mythicists. You have been told this numerous times.

      • MattB

        Well then many people on here shouldn’t defend mythicism and criticize historicism.

        • M. Solange O’Brien

          That has nothing to do with it.

          People have pointed out that your representations of Carrier’s motives are false and your understanding of his methods nonexistent.

          None of those people are mythicists. You have been told this numerous times. For you to claim that they ARE mythicists is bearing false witness. It is dishonest. It is a lie.

          Why do you keep lying?

        • M. Solange O’Brien

          On here? Or on there? People are free to defend the techniques Carrier is using and free to criticize the hot-house nature of Biblical scholars without defending either mythicism or attacking historicism.

          Apparently you’re incapable of distinguishing between the tool and the result.

          But you should also retract your dishonesty.

          • MattB

            On what basis do you attack biblical scholars who are using critical methods? How is this no different than yec’s who criticize scientists for using faulty methods? This sounds to me like a denialist tactic.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Learn to read. I attack no one. I point out that people have the right to defend scholarship they think is sound, and attack scholarship they think unsound. YECs are simply ignorant.

          • MattB

            But you claimed that biblical scholars are “hot-housed” natured. I don’t understand how you don’t see the resemblance between mythicists and yec’s. The approach, denial, and tactics are all there.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Yes. And they are. It’s an insular community and has been for centuries. That’s not a criticism of their methods, as you would have realized if you had actually read my comment. Why don’t you ever bother to read what people write?

            As for mythicists and YECs, I have no opinion on their similarities. I have read a fair amount of YEC literature: they are uniformly ignorant, dishonest, and not very bright.

          • MattB

            But it is a false statement that you made about biblical scholars.

            I think if one looks at the similarities between mythicism and yec, then you will see that both views are simply untenable.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            I made no false statement. You refuse to read what’s written. YECs are ignorant, biased, and dumb. Carrier is not. Beyond that, I don’t care.

          • MattB

            You claimed that biblical scholars are hot-house and insular.I made no such statement about Carrier being dumb because I don’t think he is. I said that mythicists and yec are the same in their tacitics and denial of the evidence.

            You seem to be accusing me of not reading what is written yet you do the same.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Biblical scholars are an insular lot. Have been for a century or more.

            And I never said that you called Carrier dumb. You called him a lot of other things, but not that particular word.

            Read what is written. This is a skill that will help you in school.

          • MattB

            “And I never said that you called Carrier dumb. You called him a lot of other things, but not that particular word.”

            ” You refuse to read what’s written. YECs are ignorant, biased, and dumb. Carrier is not. Beyond that, I don’t care.”

            You at least pre-supposed that I did, didn’t you?

            “Biblical scholars are an insular lot. Have been for a century or more.”

            According to….???

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            No, I did not presuppose that you did.

            Learn to read.

            And if you were familiar with the tight-knit world of biblical scholars, you wouldn’t need to ask. But apparently all you are capable of doing is arguing by authority.

          • MattB


            Another misunderstanding of the argument from authority fallacy.

          • M. Solange O’Brien

            Read it again, child.

            Your idea of an argument is dueling authorities; you seem incapable of making or accepting and point unless it is a quote from someone you regard as an authority.

  • Steven Bollinger

    I only noticed just recently that Paulkovich has published another edition of his book No Meek Messiah with the 126 “historians.” I don’t know how many editions there are now in all. I only noticed it recently because it now has a brand-new title: Beyond the Crusades. According to the publisher, American Atheist Press,

    “It includes an exhaustively researched 19-page appendix that provides
    citations for the controversial 126 ‘Silent Historians’ of Chapter 49
    and serves to rebut critics who erroneously claimed that some of the
    writers on the list were not applicable or even pre-Jesus.”

    Well. I guess that shuts me up, once and for all. Seriously, though, I’m torn between a morbid curiosity on the one hand about just how Paulkovich has doubled down here, and on the other hand, profound, cringing embarrassment for him.

    Speaking of embarrassment: to me, the most interesting thing about the new edition, now entitled Beyond the Crusades, is that it has a Foreword by Robert M Price. I come across Price’s name all the time, as probably the one contemporary mythicist in the US, if not the world, who has spent the longest time as a professor. Does writing a Foreword for Paulkovich represent a new low for Price, or is it just more of the same from him, or does my asking merely reveal that I am naive to assume that it is customary to read a book before writing a Foreword to it?

    • Price sometimes strikes me as a “shock jock” who takes delight in adopting and advocating quirky, controversial, and downright bizarre views simply because it is fun and challenges piety.

      On the other hand, there do seem to be some who write forewords and blurbs without reading books, or at least without reading them carefully…

      • Steven Bollinger

        Paulkovich has accused me of never reading the portion of his book which was excerpted in Free Inquiry — and he’s right, I never read it, never read the whole book, never read anything but that list of 126 names, plus a few bits and pieces of his comments here and there which I have not been able to ignore. But that list, it seems to me, would have to be a deal-breaker for anybody. C’mon: he claims it’s odd they didn’t mention Jesus, and over 40 of the 126 didn’t write anything which survives to our day? Last I heard, Paulkovich was still insisting that we do have letters by the Emperor Titus. How utterly divorced from any sort of involvement with anything resembling a primary source do someone have to be in order not to realize that Paulkovich is a sheer monolingual horse’s ass? And if you are not involved at all with primary sources, how can you think you have anything meaningful to say about any subject in ancient history? It’s like claiming to be a physicist but having no knowledge of math beyond 4th-grade arithmetic. *sigh*

        “Price sometimes strikes me as a ‘shock jock’ who takes delight in
        adopting and advocating quirky, controversial, and downright bizarre
        views simply because it is fun and challenges piety.”

        Piety. Yes, perhaps that’s what Price is concerned with. The most frequently-occurring disconnect between myself and others in the discussion of Jesus’ historicity is that, to me, it’s an historical discussion, and not primarily a matter of theology or faith.