Richard Carrier and Illiterate Country Hicks

Richard Carrier and Illiterate Country Hicks November 21, 2014

As readers of this blog probably know, I wrote a short and focused review of one aspect of Richard Carrier’s book On the Historicity of Jesus for The Bible and Interpretation. I am planning to follow up with another such focused review, probably focused on the use of the Rank-Raglan scale in assessing historicity. But there are lots of other points that deserve to be made about specific details in the book, and so in addition to writing review articles, I also plan on blogging through the book in shorter chunks.

In this post, I mainly want to make clear that, while the book is most definitely a work that can be considered scholarly, Carrier’s book is also a work of apologetics. People sometimes ask me why mainstream scholars interact with sectarian religious works about Jesus which do not limit themselves to what historical methods can say. The answer, as I have said before, is that no one seems to be unbiased when it comes to Jesus, and Carrier is no exception. Rather than make a list, I want to focus in here on one example of the kinds of things Carrier writes, which reveal an attitude that is clearly not about trying to be unbiased or even fair.

In no other scholarly work have I encountered the vast majority of human beings alive in ancient times – and then also the rare literate exceptions to them – characterized the way Carrier does on p.293. He says that the two options for explaining the paucity of mention of Jesus by his contemporaries are (1) widespread suppression or destruction of evidence, or (2) “Christianity was so small, insignificant and pervasively illiterate that such evidence never existed (and Paul was a lone educated freak in a sea of illiterate country hicks spinning yarns far and wide).”

There is obviously the issue of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” here – having someone literate provide information about Jesus makes that individual a freak, while people who were illiterate (like almost everyone else then alive) are spoken of disparagingly.

There is also the issue that this very plausible option is considered last and treated dismissively, whereas it is both the most widely held view, and the one most consonant with the evidence. Summed up in more conventional language, Paul was unusual in the early Christian movement in terms of his education. Paul even says as much explicitly in his letters.

But I think the biggest issue is that Carrier seems to have fallen into a trap that no historian of antiquity ought to fall into, namely viewing ancient from the perspective of an inappropriate chronological snobbery. The literate were a tiny percentage of people in antiquity, but that does not mean that they were not intelligent, nor even talented at stringing words together or writing music or doing other such things. It means that literacy was rare. This might lead us to appreciate the higher literacy rates in our own time, but it should not lead us to view ancient human beings with disdain, or us as automatically not just better educated but inherently smarter.

If anyone feels that Carrier’s language is appropriate, then it must be pointed out that what Carrier says here about Christians can be said about ancient people more generally. Carrier considers the comparative example of Socrates, who was more highly educated and more connected to people of influence in an urban hub than Jesus was, in a manner that doesn’t just pretend that the evidence for the two ought to nonetheless be the same, but also in a manner that is disrespectful to ancient people in general, to country people in particular, and to Christians. And it is not merely insulting, but insulting about things which these ancient people had little or no control over in their time and place in history.

I don’t think Carrier would say that most people in ancient times were “illiterate country hicks” or that most educated people were therefore “freaks.” He seems to reserve such insulting language specifically for Christians, and perhaps others whom he dislikes with equal vehemence.

That doesn’t mean that Carrier’s book should not be interacted with by historians and other scholars. But it does show that Carrier is not even pretending to offer an impartial, mathematical weighing of evidence – or if he is pretending, then he fails to do so consistently.

Carrier’s book is a discussion of history, but it is also anti-Christian atheist apologetics. And just as we take that into account when interacting with sectarian religious scholarship, it is an aspect of Carrier’s work that cannot be ignored, since it clearly permeates and influences what he writes and how he writes about it.

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  • Landon

    How does this description of the early Christian movement affect Carrier’s assessment of the evidence, or his calculations? I haven’t read the book, but I’d be interested in finding out whether you think his harsh (perhaps inappropriate) language on p. 293 has a significant upshot in terms of the overall case he makes for mythicism.

    Or maybe the idea is just that this remark of his shows that he’s not attempting to assess the evidence objectively. I wonder whether that conclusion can reasonably be drawn from that evidence though.

    • I think the problems with Carrier’s evaluation of evidence are problems in their own right, irrespective of what his particular biases may be. But people often object that conservative Christian authors go beyond what can be maintained on the basis of historical evidence, or use ideological language that is insulting to other constituencies, and so on. And so it is surely worth pointing out that atheism does not automatically equate with objectivity.

      However, I do think, on this specific point, what he writes only works as anti-Christian apologetics, in essence saying, “Look what kinds of people these are, why should you take them seriously?” That is all well and good if your aim is to dismiss religious beliefs. But when it comes to history, it is certainly not fair to insist that people lacking in literacy, ancient or modern, are by definition stupid, gullible, or inaccurate. Wouldn’t you agree?

      • Landon

        Certainly “atheism does not automatically equate with objectivity,” but we already knew that. I doubt even Carrier thinks otherwise.

        I’m not sure that what he writes in this instance “only works as anti-Christian apologetics,” though it does work as that. I take it you don’t disagree with the substance of the remark, but you just object to this way of putting it. (You agree that most people, including most early Christians, were illiterate.) Maybe you think Carrier is trying to say that early Christians were inherently stupid. But without reading more of p. 293 I couldn’t say whether that’s a fair reading. It isn’t suggested by the portion you quoted.

        I agree that “it is certainly not fair to insist that people lacking in literacy, ancient or modern, are by definition stupid, gullible, or inaccurate.” (What it means to say that someone is inaccurate is a bit confusing.)

        But I’m not convinced that Carrier was insisting that ancient illiterate Christians were by definition stupid, gullible, or inaccurate. I think that, in order to pin something serious on Carrier here, you need to elaborate on precisely what the problem is supposed to be. If he is making some false statement, he should be corrected. If he’s saying something that’s basically true, but saying it in a way that scholars wouldn’t normally say it, or in a way that is even a little insulting to Christians, well, that’s Carrier for you. You’ll recall how everyone scoffed at Carrier’s review of Ehrman’s book because of his language and rhetoric. It wasn’t at all the sort of scholarly review that we in academia are used to, and admittedly the language can get annoying.

        I was just curious whether this was a mere complaint about the unscholarly language or whether it was supposed to reveal any deeper problems with his case. I’ll look forward to the rest of your posts critiquing the substance of his case.

        • I just find the terminology of “illiterate country hicks” insulting and an inaccurate use of a modern urban perspective that is being retrojected on antiquity in a way that gives an unnecessarily negative impression of roughly 95% of everyone alive then.

          But maybe this is just my own modern urban perspective? I’d be interested to hear what others think.

          I think the main issue I have is that it is an attempt to depict something that is mere historical datum as though it were significant for how one evaluates the evidence. Paul was a rare well-educated individual in the early Christian movement, just as his level of education was rare in relation to the majority of people around him more generally. This isn’t surprising to anyone familiar with the data, and so it isn’t clear why it either calls for insults or even seems worthy of mention. But if you are going to mention it, why consider other options that are less widely accepted first, and why not highlight this in a neutral tone as representing the consensus of historians and the most natural reading of our primary source materials?

          • I don’t really think that’s unnecessarily negative. Even unto this day, 95% of the inhabitants of the Ivory Coast believe in witchcraft. The majority of the nations of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are an excellent reminder of what the premodern world used to look like.
            http://www.gallup.com/poll/142640/witchcraft-believers-sub-saharan-africa-rate-lives-worse.aspx

          • But does that make people from the Ivory Coast untrustworthy or stupid in the way Carrier claims? I find the sort of English-speaking/European superiority stance even more disturbing in many respects than the chronological snobbery. The fact that people have not embraced in whole or in part certain modern scientific conclusions even in our time does not mean that they are wrong about which people they know and other mundane matters, any more than it means that Christians – even of the anti-science sort – are consistently untrustworthy about mundane matters.

          • Where does Carrier claim the “illiterate country hicks” were stupid and untrustworthy?

          • If not that, then what do you think his reference to them “spinning yarns far and wide” indicates?

          • Come on, James, even you admit this occured. Don’t you think that inauthentic Christian oral traditions were common in the 1st century?

          • This, I think, gets at the heart of the issue I have with what Carrier wrote. In an era when there was little writing and little ability to write, telling stories was the way people interpreted and shared and participated in communal life. It is not as though this were something that a nasty bunch of Christians were doing because they were uncritical fools. There was no other way to talk about historical events than to tell stories, and where necessary compose appropriate stories. We know that that is what historians did in this time period. And so, while this may work as point-scoring against fundamentalist Christians who pretend that Christians were an exception to the way history (if we can call it that) was done in ancient times, reversing it and pretending that Christians were the only ones being uncritical is no more historically accurate.

            Can you see the problem now?

          • pretending that Christians were the only ones being uncritical

            -This is the opposite of what Carrier does. He frequently points out that Christians were typically uncritical religionists in a typically uncritical age:

            http://infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/kooks.html

      • But when it comes to history, it is certainly not fair to insist that people lacking in literacy, ancient or modern, are by definition stupid, gullible, or inaccurate. Wouldn’t you agree?

        -Another strawman goes up in odorous flames by the fiery torch of James McGrath. The flesh-and-blood man remains standing.

        • MattB

          Another mythicist who can’t handle constructive criticism.

          • Wrong on both counts. That criticism isn’t constructive, it’s just straw-man burning.

          • MattB

            On the contrary, If Carrier is claiming that something isn’t correct and somehow uses that to bolster his case for mythicism, then I think McGrath has every right to criticize it.

          • What do you mean by “is claiming something isn’t correct”? What are you referring to?

          • MattB

            The idea that because Christians were illiterate during the ancient world, they must be wrong about claiming that there was a real Jesus from Nazareth.

          • Nobody has ever claimed that.

          • MattB

            Did you not read the review?

  • Avenger

    An essay on Carrier’s use of the Rank-Raglan scale would be an excellent idea. The pseudoscientific nature of Carrier’s enterprise is particularly apparent in his treatment of this subject. When someone begins by trying to calculate the probability that a certain kind of person existed you know that you are about to witness a con trick. Supposedly, Jesus belongs to the class of mythic heroes, and members of this class tend not to be real people. Therefore, we start with a low probability that Jesus existed. Of course, if there is something unusual or different about Jesus’ membership of this class then we are already on the wrong track.

    King Laius tried to have his son Oedipus killed in infancy because a prophecy warned Laius that Oedipus would kill him. Laius was right to be concerned because Oedipus did indeed end up killing him. This scenario is one of the features that characterise the mythic hero, and it seems to apply to Jesus. An attempt was supposedly made to kill Jesus in infancy, althought this is only mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel.

    However, when this scenario plays out in Matthew it doesn’t really make sense. King Herod learns about the birth of a future messiah and tries to have him killed. Was Herod right to be concerned, as Laius was? No, Jesus wasn’t actually a threat to Herod. Jesus didn’t end up killing Herod, and he never took Herod’s crown. So what we see in the case of Jesus is a rather contrived attempt to portray him as a mythic hero. When Matthew wrote his Gospel he had some freedom to invent things, but because he was constrained by actual events he couldn’t just invent anything. He couldn’t have Jesus taking Herod’s crown, for example. This clearly distinguishes the Gospels from complete mythology.

    • MattB

      I think he’s doing precisely what you said, Avenger. For one, how do you know which people on the RR scale are historical and which are mythical without using the historical-critical method? It seems like this is just some sort of circular reasoning that is nonsense.

      • Avenger

        Excellent point, Matt. How was the RR scale constructed in the first place? Clearly, it was constructed by looking at mythical characters and seeing what features they have in common. But in order to do that you must already know which characters are mythical and which aren’t.

        • arcseconds

          I don’t know much about the Rank-Raglan scale, but it seems to me the point isn’t about historicity at all, but rather about how mythic stories frequently share features in common with one another. That a story might have elements in it that are substantially true can’t be shown or disproven by merely noting its similarity with other stories, although we might suspect the bits that it has in common with other stories are less likely to be true.

          • Avenger

            Good point, and if the scale is used to cast doubt on certain stories in the Gospels, such as the slaughter of the innocents, then I don’t think anyone could object.

          • “we might suspect the bits that it has in common with other stories are less likely to be true.”

            Raglan himself makes a similar point – the figure in the hero story may have existed, but the hero story is unlikely to be true.

          • arcseconds

            Good! 🙂

            Given that Raglan’s interest seems to be comparative mythology, and not proving the existence or nonexistence of anyone, I’m not too surprised, but it’s nice to know he actually said this.

            I don’t suppose you’d have a reference for this would you? I have to admit once again my almost complete ignorance of Rank or Raglan or the scale. I know what it is, I know the names, I’ve some superficial idea of the context but that’s about it.

          • Can’t remember the specific quote from Raglan, but Dundes writes in “The Hero Pattern and the Life of Jesus”:

            “Raglan does not categorically deny the historicity of any of the heroes he considers. It is rather their common biographies he labels as non-historical. Moses and the others may have lived, but inevitably the folk reporting of their lives tend to conform to the hero pattern”

            Rank says precisely zip about historicity, and uses the example of Cyrus as one of his Freudian birth hero stories. The Persian dude, that is, not Miley or Billy Ray.

        • MattB

          This just goes to show that Carrier’s use of the RR is unfalsifiable because no matter how many figures you compare, Jesus somehow will always end up less than historical than others, even though there are plenty of historical figures on the scale that have a higher ranking than Jesus and whose stories are much more myth and legend than historical.

          The problem with Carrier in my opinion(and this is just an observation) is that he seems to still want to interpret Jesus in a Greco-Roman sense rather than as a first-century palestinian Jew. This is what a lot of scholars did back during the 19th and 20th century, before the discovery of the dead sea scrolls and other texts like the Naghammadi surfaced. They basically viewed the gospels as being a prototype of myth and legend, and would often claim that they were historically useless. However, that is not what scholars today say. Scholars find these documents to be more reliable than what those in the past thought about them. And so, you will frequently see Carrier draw parallels or odd sleight-of-hand arguments in our earliest stories to try and persuade his audience that Jesus was a myth.

          • Avenger

            This RR business reminds me of those “scientific” attempts to create the perfect face. You know the sort of thing: they take one person’s eyes, another person’s nose, someone else’s mouth, etc., and what they end up with is a face that just looks weird. That shows you the dangers of trying to replace our intuitive judgements with something that is supposedly scientific. Of course, any scientific analysis of beauty would have to be based on intuition anyway.

            It is the same with the RR scale. We already have an intuitive sense of what mythology is. We can try to formalise our understanding with a set of criteria, but this sort of thing should be done with caution. It seems obvious to me that Jesus is very different from truly mythical figures.

            The problem with Carrier in my opinion(and this is just an observation) is that he seems to still want to interpret Jesus in a Greco-Roman sense rather than as a first-century palestinian Jew.

            Absolutely. Carrier wants to set biblical scholarship back a hundred years. I hope James McGrath does something on this.

          • arcseconds

            I don’t think there’s much to be objected to looking for common tropes in mythological stories. You can’t work out what’s a common trope except by looking at a lot of myths, but this isn’t intuition but empirical work. Mythic (including mythologized) figures frequently have unusual births and infancies, often involving portents and omens and so forth. This isn’t the application of some intuition about what mythology is but rather looking at a lot of stories and noting what they have in common.

            It might take something like intuition to spot the pattern in the first place, but if you’re having difficulty getting others to see it then one should consider the possibility that it’s not really there, but is something you’ve read into the texts, and are now engaged in shoehorning.

            I gather that the tradition Raglan was working in did go a bit over the top in this area, frequently tending to want to see a single prototype which all actual myths are deviations from, but the general approach of looking for commonalities doesn’t seem objectionable tout court.

          • Avenger

            Carrier believes that the methods of biblical scholarship are unreliable and need to be replaced by something more rigorous. His use of the Rank-Raglan scale is supposed to be an example of that greater rigour. Although we might note that Jesus has been mythologised to some extent, Carrier wants to measure the extent to which this has happened – hence the scale. According to Carrier, Jesus has been mythologised to an unusually great degree. In Carrier’s opinion, it is very unlikely that this would happen to a real person, therefore if we have only this information to go on, we should conclude that Jesus probably didn’t exist. So Carrier takes this very seriously.

            My objection to this is that Carrier’s rigour is deceptive. It is true that Jesus scores highly on the scale – although the actual score is debatable – but the way in which Jesus matches the criteria is unusual. One of the criteria is that the hero defeats a monstrous adversary. Jesus appears to match this criterion because he was confronted by the devil in the wilderness. But contrast this with the story of Perseus and the Gorgon. Perseus slew the Gorgon and brought its head back for everyone to see. It was a very public event. In contrast, Jesus goes into the wilderness alone for his battle, which has no witnesses. If you wanted to portray a real person as a mythic hero, this is the way that you would do it. Jesus didn’t actually defeat a monster in battle, but the story of the temptation is a good way of making him qualify as a mythic hero.

            Carrier has said that attempts to downplay Jesus’ status as a mythic hero are specious apologetics. I disagree because I think a more intuitive and less quantifiable assessment is justifiable.

          • arcseconds

            I agree with everything you say here (noting that I’m dependent on your presentation of Carrier, as I have not read his book).

            There’s two points I’d like to highlight in particular.

            (1) Even granted that Jesus has been mythologized to an unusually high degree, that’s no reason to think it hasn’t been built around an actual person.
            Mythicist and their sympathizers have been known to point out against the criterion of embarrassment that it can’t generally show that the thing is true, because unless the occurrence was directly experienced by the writer, the writer only knows what they have read or heard.

            That point applies here: if you’re about to embark on some embellishment of the story, then unless you experienced it directly, all you have is what you read or heard. What about a story ‘based on truth’ is there that will discourage you from embellishing in a way that one that is just myth through and through won’t?

            (2) One of the problems with the earlier work in comparative mythology seems to be this notion that there’s some kind of Jungian Archetype (or something like that) of a myth that actual myths just instantiate. So when similarities are found, the presumption seems to be that the Archetype is working it’s way into the waking world or something. But there can be much more prosaic explanations for similarity. Flood stories might appear everywhere just because lots of cultures experience floods, and occasionally torrential ones that seem to engulf the whole world, for example, not because there’s a primordial Flood Myth in the collective unconscious or anything.

            And with the example you mention, lots of cultures value martial prowess very highly. So it’s not surprising there are ‘battle the monster’ myths everywhere, because it’s a particularly cinematic way of displaying your hero’s martial prowess. We don’t need a ‘Hero Battles the Monster’ episode in the Archetypal Hero Myth to explain this.

            And it appears from what you say Carrier (and certainly I think this is likely to be true of anyone using the Rank-Raglan scale as part of a mythicist argument) is making the same kind of mistake. The notion that there’s essentially just one myth being reworked is overshadowing the fact that there are particular hypotheses that are much more explanatory. Herod’s slaughter, for example, is usually taken to be establishing a parallel with Moses, which seems much more plausible an explanation as to why this episode has been added to the story, rather than just accepting that it’s the Hero Myth, so it has to have the Survive the Attempt to Kill Babies episode.

            The thing with Satan just seems like blatant shoe-horning to me. As you say it’s completely different, and what’s more, the narrative point of the story is different. This is about Jesus overcoming temptation, and eschewing power and wealth in favour of humbler conditions. It’s not a tale of dearing-do like Perseus, nor even something that’s particularly parallel with it. Jesus doesn’t get through because of ability or special planning, like the Greek heroes, but because he’s morally exemplary. The only tale that springs to mind as a comparison immediately is the whole “I cannot tell a lie” thing with George Washington, although I’m sure there are others.

            Again, seeing this as part of a Hero Story seems to obscure the particular reasons as to why this story appears in this narrative.

          • Avenger

            I disagree with Carrier, of course, but I will hazard a guess at what his response might be. A high score on the RR scale doesn’t necessarily mean that a person never existed, but it is information that has to be taken into account in a Bayesian analysis. Suppose that I discover an ancient document which is an account of the life of either a real person or a mythical character. You have to guess which it is. The only thing that I am going to tell you is that the person has a high score on the RR scale. On the basis of this information you guess that it is a mythical character.

            This doesn’t mean that you can’t revise your opinion in the light of new information. Suppose I now tell you that the document is a previously unknown and highly fictionalised biography of Julius Caesar. You know that your original guess was wrong but you had no choice about making that guess because you could only base it on the information you had at the time.

            I think that would be the gist of Carrier’s argument. My response to it would be that we don’t just know that Jesus has a high score on the RR scale: we also know, as I have argued, that there is something unusual about his high score. So if we follow Carrier’s reasoning we are using evidence that we already know to be misleading.

          • arcseconds

            If all I knew was the RR score you report to me, I don’t know what I’d conclude. Maybe I would conclude they were more likely mythical than real, but I would not be giving it a super-high probability, and it would be something I’d revise very quickly if I had any better evidence.

            A probability does not represent your entire knowledge about the situation. If I’ve just walked into a room and see a coin-tossing machine toss 20 heads in a row, I’d conclude it’s probably a biased machine and think the next toss is likely to be heads. But if you’ve designed it, built it, and watched it throw a million coin-tosses before, in which the proportion of heads to tails is nearly 1:1, then you might be very strongly inclined to think the probability of the next toss being a head is just 0.5 again, and the last 20 heads was the kind of one-in-a-million chance you’d expect to crop up once in a million coin tosses.

            The extra knowledge is represented by the priors and likelihoods in Bayes’s theorem, and when knowing so little about this texual figure at all, I had better be inclined to think the probability of them being historical given even any piece of even quite weak evidence for historicity (that is to say, the likelihood of historicity on some piece of weak evidence) should be quite a bit higher than my initial stab on the basis of the RR score.

          • Ian

            Even granted that Jesus has been mythologized to an unusually high degree

            I’m a newbie on the details of this scale, but it strikes me as a very very odd thing to dredge up as having some rigour.

            For a start, comparative religious studies of the period done in western institutions tends to be highly colonial. We spent how many decades forcing the Christian model of what a religion was onto the rest of the world? Is there any serious discussion of the fact that the RR scale matches Jesus so strongly because it was motivated by cultural Christianity?

            It would be like finding that Christianity matches so many of the criteria of what makes a religion. Or that white western culture matches so many of the criteria of what makes a civilized society.

            Maybe I’m just unduly pessimistic about any “scholarship” of the period with “comparative” in the title.

          • “Is there any serious discussion of the fact that the RR scale matches Jesus so strongly because it was motivated by cultural Christianity?”

            I made a related point over on the Hume’s apprentice blog:
            Otto Rank used the birth stories of Jesus, along with a few others, in creating his pattern for the hero-birth story. Given this, it hardly seems valid to then use a set of criteria partly based on Rank’s work to ask the question “is Jesus a hero?”. The hero pattern is a set of similarities between a group of stories, one which actually is the story of Jesus, so isn’t Jesus’ hero-ness already built into the criteria you would be using to answer the question?

            It struck me as being a bit like coming up with 22 criteria for determining whether a car is great by identifying a list of similarities between a Mercedes, a Rolls, an Aston Martin, and a Bentley. That may or may not be a good way of going about it, but I don’t really see how you could then use the same list to test whether an Aston Martin is a great car – the result would be meaningless as the car’s greatness is already built into the criteria you’re using to perform the test!

          • arcseconds

            While normally I’d quote Wittgenstein on the metre rule in Paris not being able to be said to be a metre long approvingly with this style of argument, I don’t think this is all that fair in this particular case.

            If you’ve managed to find a genuine pattern, then you can certainly say that your initial sample that it fits the pattern, and expect the same explanation to apply to your initial sample as it does to everything else.

            To take an extreme example, imagine Kepler coming to you and saying “The line between the sun and Mercury traces out equal areas in equal times. And the same is true of Venus. I’m keen to look at the other planets to see whether there’s a pattern here.’ and then he comes back and say “same is true of Mars! I really think there’s a pattern here! I propose a new Law, I shall call it the Area Law, and Mercury, Venus and Mars obey it (so far)’ it would be odd to say “hang on a bit, you can’t say it’s true of Venus because you used that to establish the pattern in the first place”.

          • Good point. At best it may get us to the starting point that Jesus looks similar to other characters who we understand to be mythological, but so what? That’s a long way from there being no historical person around whom the myths grew.

            Mythicists seem to fall back on “There is no reason to think such a character is historical.” This may be perfectly true, but is seems equally true to me that there is no reason to think that there wasn’t an actual person who was mythologized.

            I would add that I think Carrier’s arguments may look more rigorous then they really are simply because so many of the counter arguments are so weak.

          • arcseconds

            I don’t know much more than you do (quite possibly less).

            But it doesn’t seem to me that the motivation is all that Christian. Rank was a student of Freud’s (oh, that Otto Rank. Thanks, Paul!), so we’d expect rather deflationary views of Christianity, if not hostility, and the paradigmatic myth here is Oedipus, of course, not Jesus Christ. Raglan’s motivations are a little wider: he’s apparently indebted to Frazer of the Golden Bough fame.

            Now, of course, one could complain that these are rather dated and deprecated approaches (to say the least) stemming from a Victorian worldview. But both Freud and Frazer were attempting to put the study of religion and mythology on an even footing where Christianity is not treated differently from anything else.

            And, as I’ve said, I have some sympathy with a portion of this work. There seems to me to be value in noting the similarities in the various myths, and I think that at least some of the similarities they note are genuine similarities, not spurious shoe-horning to fit the pattern.

            And I think having identified some common patterns, there is the question of how this arises, although I’m inclined to more prosaic and particular (and likely not very exciting) explanations than Myth-Archetypes from the Collective Unconscious.

            So I wouldn’t just throw this out on the basis of horrible bias or anything, but at best all it can do is to point out how many common story patterns a story has. Even then it’s not particularly rigourous, but I don’t think it tells us nothing whatsoever.

            I don’t think anything can be concluded about the historicity of the actual figure because of this, but an element of an ancient biography that fits some common mythic trope is, ceteris paribus, more likely to be appearing there because it’s a popular mythic trope, not because it actually happened to the figure in question.

            But I think you and Avenger are right in being suspicious of the rhetorical strategy being employed here. Checking off some criteria and assigning a number looks all sciencey-objectivey and quantitative, which appeals greatly to the biases of Carrier’s in-group, particularly when it’s deployed against those woolly-headed biblical scholars, where as in fact it’s at least as humanities-fuzzy as anything the mainstream ever does.

          • MattB

            Hello Arc,

            I want to respond to the mythicist claim about the CoE. I don’t find this kind of response by mythicists convincing. Why must the author be the one to experience such events in order for them to be true? The Criterion of Embarrassment is just a method that helps us understand why certain pieces of evidence and or events couldn’t have been made up because of the author’s agenda. When one looks at the historical trajectory of Jesus in the gospels to Jesus in the Gnostic texts, one can truly see that there is a tendency in the gospels to correct certain things about Jesus. In the gnostic texts, we see the opposite happening. Now this isn’t absoulte proof that the author isn’t lying, but it is proof that the author is trying to do something that goes contrary against his agenda. That requires some explanation for doing so.

          • arcseconds

            The author doesn’t have to have experienced events for them to be true. But for it to be a record of an actual event, they’d have to have heard it from someone who did experience it, or someone who heard it from someone who did experience it, etc.

            (There are other possibilities, of course, someone might have reconstructed the event from physical evidence, for example, but for it to count as a record at all there would still have to be some kind of casual chain to the actual event. But I don’t think anyone thinks that this kind of thing went on in the case of Jesus, at least.)

            Experiencing something isn’t transitive, of course. Nor is embarrassment. And that a claim is embarrassing doesn’t give the claim magic truth-tracking powers.

            So the most that the criterion of embarrassment can show is that the author thought it was true. If they didn’t experience it themselves, all they have is someone else’s testimony for it. And the question then arises whether that testimony is a reliable record of an actual event.

            To that extent, the mythicist’s complaint is correct, as far as it goes.

          • MattB

            But this seems to me to be unfalsifiable. Why must the author have to have heard it from someone who experienced it in order for it to be an actual record of an event? There are plenty examples in history where such authors never experienced the events, nor did they have personal contact from someone who did. However, like the Gospels, a lot of ancient history involved oral tradition. So while the authors may or may not have known Jesus, they were alive within one generation of such events in order to know what the eyewitnesses said about Jesus or to have at least been around in that area.

            If the historical trajectory of Christian sources goes from Jesus being historical in early sources and mythical in later sources like the gnostic texts, then doesn’t that show that the author’s intent by changing stories about Jesus because they’re too embarrassing or including extra details that go against the author’s agenda must be good enough reasons for the historian to conclude that these must be part of a historical datum?

            As James McGrath has said in one of his own blogposts a few months ago:

            “Where we have no evidence concerning what seemed embarrassing in a particular historical and cultural context, the criterion of embarrassment cannot be applied. But we have enough historical information to conclude that there was reason to be embarrassed by the crucifixion of someone you claimed was going to restore the Davidic dynasty to the throne, for instance.”

            The criterion of embarrassment is not meant to be used as some magical truth-tracking criteria. The CoE is simply meant to show that such an event that the author either excludes or includes in their work that contradicts their agenda or what was known to be completely embarrassing in the time would make it more likely true than false.

            Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2014/08/is-the-criterion-of-embarrassment-and-embarrassment.html#ixzz3K8jUq1Cp

          • arcseconds

            But this seems to me to be unfalsifiable.

            What claim of mine do you think is unfalsifiable, and why do you think it’s unfalsifiable?

            Why must the author have to have heard it from someone who experienced it in order for it to be an actual record of an event?

            What I said was “But for it to be a record of an actual event, they’d have to have heard it from someone who did experience it, or someone who heard it from someone who did experience it, etc.”. In other words, there has to be a chain of accounts that eventually terminates in someone who experienced the event directly. How did this get shortened to just one link in the chain in your version of my claim?

            If the historical trajectory of Christian sources goes from Jesus being historical in early sources and mythical in later sources like the gnostic texts, then doesn’t that show that the author’s intent by changing stories about Jesus because they’re too embarrassing or including extra details that go against the author’s agenda must be good enough reasons for the historian to conclude that these must be part of a historical datum?

            I don’t really understand what you mean here, but if you’re saying a later gnostic author includes details that go against their agenda it proves they’re part of a historic datum, then absolutely not, no, that doesn’t prove that at all.

            The most we can tell by a late, gnostic author including details that go against their agenda is that the Jesus tradition already contained those elements at the time our gnostic author was writing, and the gnostic author felt they needed to include them or address them somehow. That doesn’t at all prove that the details are historical. They may have been introduced by the previous generation of Christians (or even non-Christians). As these people can have different agendas, they may find quite different things embarrassing or convenient, e.g. the Gospel tradition wasn’t written by gnostics, so could easily contain things that were invented by the intervening tradition that are embarrassing to gnostics but not to anyone else.

            To take a specific example, there appears to be an early tradition that Jesus’s father was a roman soldier. Let’s imagine that we find a text by an early Christian author that’s contemporary with the early Gospels that maintains this. Now, it’s plausible to suppose that this author really believes that Jesus’s father was a roman soldier. Could we conclude from this that Jesus’s father really was a roman soldier? Of course not! It’s just the sort of thing that could be the product of local rumours. Maybe Mary never knew any soldiers, or did, but never had sex with them, or maybe she did but the child was Joseph’s nevertheless, or maybe the story was invented decades after Jesus’s death by people who didn’t like Christians but somehow the author of our imagined text believed this claim, etc. Of course, it’s also possible that there’s an oral tradition that’s faithfully recording Jesus’s bio-dad which this guy had access to. But he’s not in a position to tell whether the stories he heard are true, and neither are we.

          • MattB

            But the purpose of the Criterion of embarrassment is to show something is true by an author if the author includes something that they know is embarrassing-relative to the time and place of the event happening and yet contradicts their agenda. So your example would only be true, if it was an embarrassing thing-relative to the time and place of where the event actually happened. If there was a rumor going around in a given time and location that Jesus was born as a result of Mary sleeping with a Roman guard, and the author’s agenda is to fabricate Jesus’ birth by claiming he was born say from some magical snake or something but he includes the former, then obviously what we have is not absolute proof that the author is telling the truth, but it is more likely that because the author includes something about Jesus that was rather embarrassing and weak to the author’s case, is it more than likely true.

            The gospels are based on oral traditions that developed in layers starting with the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life. So what we have is datum that was passed down, and later edited by the evangelists in certain areas. So the criterion of embarrassment really helps when studying the gospels and any other piece of ancient history because it helps scholars get certain glimpses of what was most likely true and what was most likely false.

            A good example where the CoE is useful is in the crucifixon of Jesus. Paul claims that Jesus’ crucifixion is a stumbling block to Jews and Gentiles(1:23). The commonly held belief by both Jew and Gentile was that anyone who was crucified was automatically a criminal and a failure. Jews took this more importantly since Jesus was a messianic claimant(or at least accepted the claim to be one). This runs contrary to Jewish-messianic expectations about what the messiah was and was not going to do. The messiah was most certainly not expected by Jews to be crucified under Roman authorities. Paul may not have seen Jesus crucified, but that doesn’t mean that Jesus wasn’t crucified or that the event didn’t happen. The CoE is one way of establishing that the crucifixion did happen, because it runs contrary to Judaism in that time period. The question is raised- Why would early Christians who have an agenda to preach Jesus as the risen Messiah and Lord want to further hurt their agenda by claiming that their leader was killed by those whom he was supposed to conquer?

          • Avenger

            It is interesting that when Paul talks about the crucifixion as a stumbling-block, he doesn’t suggest that this crucifixion is different from all the others. There is no sense that Jesus’ crucifixion happened in outer space and was carried out by demons, for example. The crucifixion is a stumbling-block precisely because it was like the countless other crucifixions with which people were all too familiar.

          • arcseconds

            When we think of a crucifixion, we cannot help but think of The Crucifixion with all it’s theological baggage and so we’re culturally extremely inclined to already think of this in terms of symbolic, metaphysical, and theological terms. For many of us our favourite attonement theory comes along ‘for free’, as it were.

            Given that it’s already largely a theological event in our minds, it doesn’t seem to be a big step to make it an entirely theological event. If what’s really going on is some kind of weird contract bridge between God’s Justice and God’s Mercy, for example, then there seems little reason why this couldn’t just take place entirely in Heaven.

            But the earliest Christians would not have thought of crucifixions in this way. For them it was a very mundane, albeit horrific and humiliating, occurrence. If we try to step into their shoes, it’s a very strange death to attribute to an entirely mythic figure, especially one that’s supposed to be the Davidic Messiah.

            It’s like saying the Spectre died of pancreatic cancer in a charity hospital outside the gates of heaven as some kind of symbolic/theological atonement for our sins.

            (I’ve made this kind of point before, but it seems worth reiterating)

          • Avenger

            That is an interesting point. And centuries of other-worldly depictions of the Crucifixion in art would contribute to this way of thinking. Now that mythicists have completely embraced the idea of a heavenly crucifixion, they can’t see why anyone would demand direct evidence that the early Christians did actually believe in such a thing.

            Imagine that you travel back in time to first-century Corinth and have the following conversation:

            You: I want to tell you a story about someone who was crucified.

            Corinthian: Hang on. Before you go any further, is this a crucifixion that happened on Earth, or one that happened in the heavens?

            As if the two possibilities were equally likely. In reality, of course, the idea of a heavenly crucifixion would need to be spelled out. And I would argue that the evidence needs to spell it out to us today.

          • arcseconds

            As I said, the most it can tell us that the author believed it. So it’s entirely reliant on whether the author’s believing it is a guide to the truth.

            So if an early Christian author writes about Mary sleeping with a roman guard as though it’s true, it’s reasonable (let us say) to think that the author believed this.

            But all this author has access to is the material available at the time: oral and written accounts. So if the oral and written accounts are not true, then they can be as embarrassing as you like, and the author can really, really believe them fully, but this doesn’t make them true. To assess the truth of the claim, we can’t just look at how embarrassing it is for the author, but whether the entire chain, from the author back to the event, is reliable.

            And in the case of paternity, this seems about as likely to terminate in scurrilous rumour than it is with a real affair.

          • MattB

            We can. Historians can get back to what was historically embarrassing not to the author but to the people in Jesus’ time. That is why I brought up the crucifixion.

          • arcseconds

            I basically agree with you on the crucifixion, but it seems to me the criteria of embarrassment is not doing all that much work here. We don’t think this is true merely because it’s embarrassing, but also because:

            *) if Jesus existed, and was crucified, and had disciples, it’s pretty certain the disciples would know about it.
            *) Paul’s statement puts this in a time where Jesus’s (alleged) disciples were still alive, and he knew some of them personally. So there’s not really any room between when it was supposed to have happened and when it is first recorded for the story to go through much of a process of mythologizing. Not in the sense of the story going through several hands and getting altered every step along the way, like Instone-Brewer’s account of how the Talmud story of Jesus’s death (in which he is stoned) came to be.
            *) It gives an explanation for quite a bit of why the Gospels are the way they are, and in particular, why they don’t conform to the usual Messianic narrative (this is different from merely being embarrassing, it’s a causal story about how these narratives came to be).
            *) alternative accounts of how the Gospels came to be the way they are seem much less plausible. e.g. an unknown ‘dying messiah’ tradition.

            If you contrast this with the case of Jesus’s alleged Roman paternity, everything is different:

            *) assuming the story really did originate with people who knew Mary around the time of Jesus’s conception, they’re still not necessarily in a good position to know whether it happened.
            *) the evidence is a lot later anyway, so there’s plenty of time between the event the story to come about and get elaborated on. There’s three decades between Jesus’s birth and ministry where this could happen.
            *) the alternative, that this was merely a rumour, seems extremely plausible.

            So even if we did find a Christian author asserting this, the fact that we now have someone for whom the testimony is embarrassing saying it would not make us think it was true, because all the above are still true and they all give us good reasons to doubt that any account, whether or not it’s said by someone for whom it is embarrassing, is telling us the truth.

            (I do think given that the Gospels, Celsus and the Talmud all agree on there being something iffy about Jesus’s conception, it’s not unreasonable to think there’s a high probability of question marks over this going back to the time when Jesus was actually alive (and maybe even a few months before!), rumours at the very least. But what exactly the rumours were and whether or not they were true we’re not in a position to say. )

          • MattB

            I like the points you make. It’s also important that mythicists need to realize that historians use these with other methods to help reconstruct Jesus.

    • How do you know that Matthew wa constrained by actual events?

      • Avenger

        What I mean is that if Matthew had been following the logic of mythology then Herod’s attempt to have Jesus killed would have been motivated by an actual threat to his own position, as happened with King Laius. Of course, that wasn’t the case because Herod died not long after the alleged event, and it had nothing to do with Jesus.

        This in itself doesn’t suggest that Jesus was a real person, of course, but it does mean that it would be unwise to use the parallel between Jesus and the mythic heroes to argue against historicism. There is a parallel, but because of the differences between the cases we can’t be sure that it is telling us anything useful.

  • Some people outside the US sometimes gently mock Americans for their perceived inability to register irony (both in the comments of others and in those expressed by themselves) and I can imagine some of those who have read Carrier’s book and the post here will notice the same trait surfacing once again.

    Carrier’s comment is not typical at all of his descriptions of ancients peoples (and I notice the post only asserts the contrary without providing corroborating evidence). Indeed, the author of this post appears to be oblivious to Carrier’s outspoken work in other areas for causes of human respect, dignity and acceptance of those who are too often relegated unfairly to the margins.

    The description seized upon by Professor McGrath here is actually a one-off mocking summary of an argument presented earlier on page 292. In context it is very evident to most (I am sure) readers of this book that Carrier does not at all believe Paul was a freak (and the context makes it very clear that “freak” is used in the generic sense of bizarrely unusual behaviour, in this case literary and educational as seen from his qualifier “lone educated freak”, and not to any reference to physical disability); even less does Carrier “typically believe” that ancients should be characterized as “country hicks”.

    On the contrary, Carrier’s metaphor is of contrasts at sea: a lone overly educated freak in a sea of ignorance. The emphasis in this image is on the concept that there was not a single other Christian who had the ability to write a single letter — as is clearly pointed out in the argument on page 292 that he is pointing to in a mocking manner here on page 293. Carrier makes it very clear that the argument is absurd. He finds it so absurd that he mockingly suggests that anyone who seriously believes it (and it is so absurd we know he does not really believe anyone — not even the author of this post — does really believe it) must imagine Paul being an over-educated literary freak in a sea of illiterate country hicks.

    Carrier is pointing out the absurdity of the assumption that underlies a particular arguments or point of view.

    To take that passage and tell the world that it represents Carrier’s attitude towards Christians and ancient peoples generally is a gross distortion of Carrier’s context and simply untrue and unsupportable. Such a response leaves this commenter with the impression that the reviewer is reading with malice and failing to register the realities of the various tones of human discourse.

    McGrath has evidently overlooked Carrier’s conclusion in which he anticipates certain devout Christian scholars would dwell upon such distortions:

    I know many devout Christian scholars will balk and claim to find all manner of bogus or irrelevant or insignificant holes or flaws in my arguments, but they would do that anyway. Witness what many Christian scholars come up with just to reject evolution, or to defend the literal miraculous resurrection of Jesus (which they claim they can do even with the terrible and paltry evidence we have). Consequently, I don’t care anymore what Christian apologists think. They are not rational people. I only want to know what rational scholars think. I want to see a helpful critique of this book by objective, qualified experts who could live with the conclusion that Jesus didn’t exist, but just don’t think the case can be made, or made well enough to credit. And what I want from my critics is not useless hole punching but an alternative proposal if my method is invalid, then what method is the correct one for resolving questions of historicity? And if you know of none, how can you justify any claim to historicity for any person, if you don’t even know how such a claim can be justified or falsified at all? Also correct any facts I get wrong, point out what I missed, and if my method then produces a different conclusion when those emendations are included, we will have progress. Even if the conclusion is the same, it will nevertheless have been improved.

    But it is the method I want my fellow historians to correct, replace or perfect above all else. We can’t simply rely on intuition or gut instinct when deciding what really did happen or who really did exist, since that simply leans on unexamined assumptions and relies on impressions and instincts that are often not reliable guides to the truth. We need to make explicit why we believe what we do rather than something else, and we need this as much in history as in any other field. And by the method I have deployed here, I have confirmed our intuitions in the study of Jesus are wrong. He did not exist. I have made my case. To all objective and qualified scholars, I appeal to you all as a community: the ball is now in your court.
    pp. 617-18

    It appears that the author of the post has little interest in responding positively to the hope expressed by Carrier here and prefers to deflect attention from the central theme and arguments of the book. We saw that with his treatment of the Carrier’s discussion of the Ascension of Isaiah in which our author/reviewer failed at any point to even explain the place of the AoI in the larger argument of Carrier’s argument, erroneously asserting that it was “central” in a particular sense — and even erroneously claiming other scholars refuted some of Carrier’s statements as I demonstrated at the time.

    No doubt I will be accused of also denigrating ancients and Christians as being “hicks” and Paul as being a “freak” and my point will be lost entirely upon the author here.

    (Mythicists, after all, must be faulted not only for supposedly wrong conclusions but also for wicked character — that seems to be the modus operandi of some of those hostile to the idea.)

    So for what it is worth I will point out that I firmly believe that whoever was responsible for the early Christian literature was/were very intelligent and well educated, some of them were even brilliant, I think, bordering on genius. Some of them were certainly very creative.

    (Carrier additionally points out that the evidence shows that some of them made things up knowing they had no basis in fact and presenting their fabrications as genuine history and he does call this “lying”. Perhaps McGrath disagrees with this character assessment, but if so, then he would have a genuine criticism to address.)

    I also assume those whom they attracted to the movement (those who have left us no written evidence) were no different from the average everyday people we find in all ages and all cultures — then and now — in their humanity, their concerns, interests, loves, fears, needs. . . . I suspect had I lived at the time I would feel at one with them as my larger family with all their good and bad.

    • Jim

      Defenders of Carrier’s every word in OHJ sometimes remind me of the Monty Python Oscar Wilde scene:

      Whistler (sub in RC): Your Majesty is like a stream of bat’s piss.

      Prince: What?

      Shaw (sub in defenders of every word in OHJ as holy writ): [he] … merely meant, Your Majesty, that you shine out like a shaft of gold when all around is dark.

      • “Defenders of Carrier’s every word in OHJ”?

        So you equate that single parenthetical phrase ripped from context to a literal generic insult? You wouldn’t have a visceral bias against Carrier or mythicists in general, would you? Many of us are atheists, I suppose, so I guess there’s no denying that we are quite prepared to murder grandmothers and eat babies. So of course we never pass up a chance to think insulting thoughts about everyone else, especially Christians, and dammit, we sometimes let those wicked insulting thoughts show in throwaway comments — mythicists are such bad, bad people. Why should anyone take seriously the arguments of such wicked persons who would gladly throw all Christians to the lions if they had half a chance?

        • Jim

          Ah, an extracted confession. That’s precisely my rationale for pulling an Irenaeus. I’m just trying to protect grannys, babies and lions. 🙂

    • Kris Rhodes

      //[Carrier] finds it so absurd that he mockingly suggests that anyone who seriously believes it (and it is so absurd we know he does not really believe anyone — not even the author of this post — does really believe it) must imagine Paul being an over-educated literary freak in a sea of illiterate country hicks.

      Carrier is pointing out the absurdity of the assumption that underlies a particular arguments or point of view.

      To take that passage and tell the world that it represents Carrier’s attitude towards Christians and ancient peoples generally is a gross distortion of Carrier’s context and simply untrue and unsupportable.//

      I was going to post, basically, this. Neil is exactly right here.

    • jjramsey

      Carrier is pointing out the absurdity of the assumption that underlies a particular arguments or point of view.

      Describing something sneeringly or sarcastically is not the same thing as pointing out something’s absurdity. Shorn of prejudicial language like “country hick” and “freak,” Carrier is describing a viewpoint where early Christianity had few adherents — which would hardly be absurd for a new religion — and that most of its adherents were illiterate — which would hardly be absurd in a world where the vast majority of people in general were illiterate.

      • Anyone who read Carrier’s book with basic comprehension could not possibly say that the passage is “sneering” or “sarcastic” in tone. That is the spin McGrath has put on it by ripping it from context. Words alone do not convey attitude or tone. That’s only conveyed from context.

        When I see an amusing section from an author I sometimes pencil a little smiley in the margin for easy future reference and that’s what I did with that line of Carrier’s. If you think I am therefore scoffing sneeringly or sarcastically at anyone for doing this I remind you to look again at my attitudes towards ancients in my original comment.

        I have already demonstrated – and McGrath has failed to provide any evidence to the contrary – that he is reading Carrier’s book in this negative/hostile way, too. He failed to explain the context and significance of the AoI in Carrier’s argument even though such information is the most fundamental data required for any honest professional review. Now we see McGrath doing the same with words ripped from context here.

        McG has said he will next be addressing Carrier’s discussion of the Rank-Raglan scale. I predict that McG will ignore Carrier’s own discussion of the actual context and point of his use of the R-R scale and what he believes someone should do if they disagree with his assessment of Jesus in the context of that scale. Though of course if this remark is brought to his attention then he may well try to prove my prophecy wrong — something I would truly welcome.

        • Neko

          [McGrath] failed to explain the context and significance of the AoI in Carrier’s argument even though such information is the most fundamental data required for any honest professional review.

          OK, so what’s the context and significance of the Aol in Carrier’s argument?

          • If you don’t want to read Carrier for yourself and the reviewer here won’t tell you then I can say, in summary, that the AoI is simply used as an illustration of what a certain mythicist argument consists of. It is there to explain a particular understanding of mythicism. It is not used as evidence for the mythicist case at all (except very indirectly and incidentally once or twice by reference to inclusion in a range of literature of a similar type). Carrier sets out what he considers all the relevant evidence — the Gospels, the Epistles, Acts, and then the “extrabiblical evidence”. The AoI is not included in that.

            Yet the review would leave readers with the impression that Carrier finds the AoI a major plank in his case for mythicism. Quite the contrary. If the AoI never existed or Carrier never mentioned it once it would make not one bit of difference to Carrier’s larger argument.

          • Neko

            Thank you for this informative reply. Actually I am interested in reading Carrier’s book but given my distaste for Carrier’s rhetorical excesses I have to wonder if it’s worth plunking down US$31.50 on a door-stop. On the other hand, It would be useful to have the book around, since, for example, McGrath in his review footnotes his contention that “Carrier’s chapter summarizing that mythicist core begins with the Ascension of Isaiah, a text which was central to Earl Doherty’s mythicist case, and in turn has played a key role in Richard Carrier’s.” I’m certainly curious to know what Carrier writes on p. 34.

            I’m also peripherally aware of the recurrence of the Ascension of Isaiah in mythicist arguments. I remember one incident in particular when Maurice Casey dispatched Doherty or Carrier’s (I forget which) proposed dating of AoI. But if, as you say, AoI is extraneous to the “major plank” then Casey’s indignation is neither here nor there. What, then, would you say is the “major plank” of Carrier’s larger argument?

          • Avenger

            There is no major plank; instead, there is a pile of match-sticks. That is what Neil Godfrey appears to be saying. In order to evaluate Carrier’s claim you have to judge the probability of each piece of circumstantial evidence according to mythicism and historicism. This effectively means that you have to take everything into account before you can voice an opinion Carrier’s theory. Neil is objecting to any evaluation of individual aspects of Carrier’s case. It has to be all or nothing. Whether or not this is practical is another matter.

          • Neko

            Thank you for your response. I’m surprised to learn that AoI is insignificant, after all. So what gives? You can say that Bart Ehrman argues Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet because apocalyptic appears in all the early sources and because the two figures most closely identified with Jesus were apocalyptic. One sentence. What can you say about Carrier’s argument in one sentence? A problem with the mythicists is they’re so prolix you never get clear of the weeds.

          • It is also quite incorrect to say the AoI is “central to Earl Doherty’s mythicist case” — D has summed up his case in “12 points” and the AoI does not feature anywhere in those. I honestly doubt that McGrath knows very much about mythicist arguments at all. Most of his polemics that I have seen have been based on assumptions quite at odds with the mythicist writings that I have read. A responsible review of anyone’s work should outline the argument being reviewed but I have yet to see McGrath do this with respect to mythicism.

            The major plank of Carrier’s argument is a methodical evaluation of the full range of evidence against the totality of background knowledge — literary, cultural, political, religious, anthropological…. — that contextualizes that evidence. Most authors addressing the evidence only treat the evidence piecemeal and in the context of selected background information.

            There is no “one major plank” in the sense of “Paul’s teachings” or “Gospel narrative” that is at the foundation of the mythicist case of either Carrier or Doherty. It is a broad assessment of it all.

            Taking one piece of data it is easy to interpret it a certain way but when one takes it as part of a larger constellation of data then sometimes the picture changes significantly. This approach also lends itself to “proof-texting”. Some people dismiss mythicism on the basis of a proof text and seem to think that Carrier or Doherty likewise argue on the basis of proof-texts. So called “proof-texts” need to be understood in the broader context of background knowledge and full range of evidence.

          • I attempted to give what I think is the most accurate answer — but to sum up some details that I think you are also looking for:

            the “central plank” is a combination of the ahistorical nature of the gospels and Acts (based upon a wide range of direct and indirect evidence) and Paul’s explicit teachings (not silence; interpreted to a significant extent through the wider relevant documented ideas of his age as well as within the evidence within the canon itself) and the nature of the extrabiblical evidence (again not interpreted solely through any single point of view as applied to this or that isolated facet of data) — all combined with what we know historically of early Christianity and studies in anthropology and history of the times.

          • Neko

            Thank you for your generous replies. I suppose since Carrier aspires to upend the consensus no less than a monumental, encompassing effort should be expected.

            Maybe Santa will bring me a copy of On the Historicity of Jesus for Christmas. I’d enjoy the irony.

          • I find myself tending to defend any position or person I find being irresponsibly dealt with by public intellectuals.

      • This is unbelievably absurd. We have imputed to a single parenthatical phrase character and attitude that are utterly alien to the context and the entire 700 pages of Carrier’s book.

        McGrath said that this phrase is but “one example of the kinds of things Carrier writes, which reveal an attitude that is clearly not about trying to be unbiased or even fair” and effectively accuses Carrier of viewing “ancient human beings with disdain” — especially country folk and Christians.

        I challenge McGrath and his supporters here to compile a list of supporting evidence in Carrier’s book for this charge. So far everyone here has seized upon some words that I believe have been ripped from their context and presented in a tone alien to Carrier’s original discussion. So if there is dispute over this particular expression then I challenge those who love to hate Carrier to compile a list of other expressions from his book that demonstrate their point. They must be easy to find because McGrath says the one instance here is just one example of the kinds of things Carrier writes. Okay — so list some of those other things Carrier writes that damn him for supposed “chronological snobbery”.

        But I know this will be problematic for most because many have evidently not even read Carrier’s book. But a book of 700 pages must surely have lots of evidence to support the character assassination of another mythicist — that does really seem to be the main game being played here. No-one, not even the reviewer!, has yet even mentioned Carrier’s overall argument or method!

    • Neko

      Your point is well taken; however, given Carrier’s propensity to sneering dismissiveness McGrath’s characterization is hardly unfair overall.

      Your excerpt from Carrier’s book is simply embarrassing and yet another example of Carrier’s hubris and unprofessionalism. Does Carrier imagine himself to be remarkable in his desire to engage rational actors? Are Christians by definition irrational and therefore incapable of addressing historical arguments? How about Carrier’s apparent conviction that until his own glorious appearance the profession was but the vanity of “intuition and gut instinct”? Hard to take any of this seriously enough to slog through 700 pages of polemic (?) to arrive at “the truth.”

      • Do you have a comment to make on the actual argument in question?

        • Neko

          Since the argument concerned Carrier’s even-handedness there’s no need to get your moderator’s hackles up.

          • Would that the moderator had been even-handed! 😉 (The argument was not so much about even-handedness as what I consider a naive — some would say hostile — reading.)

  • I’d be happy to concede that Carrier engages in “anti-Christian atheist apologetics”, so long as we can all concede that N.T. Wright, Habermas, Licona, W.L. Craig, et alia – engage in anti-atheist Christian apologetics.

    • MattB

      I don’t think that is a fair comparison, BQ. I say this not as a Christian, but because these other scholars are actually engaging with mainstream scholarship. Now while you may disagree with their philosophical conclusions, that doesn’t mean that their historical conclusions are incorrect. Carrier on the other hand seems to deny mainstream scholarship and invent his own conclusions of the evidence that mainstream scholars(like McGrath) would find very disturbing. I think a fair and more accurate comparison would be that of say Ken Ham, Jonathan Wells, or Kent Hovind.

      • How many words have you read of Carrier?

        • MattB

          Do you mean his works?

          • No. I think I’ve read some five to fifteen thousand on his blog, and several thousand in his papers.

          • MattB

            Most of it is attacking scholars while never admitting he’s wrong

      • Wright is arguably engaging with the mainstream; though he adds apologetics to his writings that, while fine in theological circles, are definitely outside the purview of historical methodology.

        However, ask James McGrath about the standing of Craig, Licona, and Habermas in academic NT history circles.

        • MattB

          Maybe in some places, but in most, I would say that he’s pretty accurate with mainstream conclusions. I’m pretty sure McGrath would disagree with their philosophical conclusions, but nevertheless, he wouldn’t say that these men are cranks who are merely trying to do psuedoscholarship.

          • Who is accurate with mainstream conclusions? On the subject of the historicity of the resurrection, none of the scholars I’ve mentioned: Wright, Craig, Licona, nor Habermas, are mainstream. Ask James.

          • MattB

            But Habermas has taken a bibliographical survey-not a questionare by surveying the amount of published work by scholars and historians on Jesus, and he found that more than 75 percent hold to the burial, empty tomb, and the disciples believed to have had experiences of Jesus after his death. McGrath even agrees to some extent on these. He has written on his blog posts about this. Of course, his disagreement is the philosophical, not historical, conclusions of these scholars.

          • No. Habermas does not claim that his survey shows 75 percent of scholars and historians with published work on Jesus “hold to the burial, empty tomb, and the disciples believed to have had experiences of Jesus after his death.”

            That the “survey”, after over ten years of claims by Habermas has never been published for peer review is relevant. But you don’t even have the claim of the survey correct.

            In fact, you’ve been corrected on this before. Why do continue to spread this falsehood?

          • MattB

            “Of these scholars, approximately 75% favor one or more of these arguments for the empty tomb, while approximately 25% think that one or more arguments oppose it. Thus, while far from being unanimously held by critical scholars, it may surprise some that those who embrace the empty tomb as a historical fact still comprise a fairly strong majority.”

            http://www.garyhabermas.com/articles/J_Study_Historical_Jesus_3-2_2005/J_Study_Historical_Jesus_3-2_2005.htm

            Why would Habermas’ survey have to be peer-reviewed? It is a observation of already peer-reviewed work in mainstream scholarship. You would simply just need to read what scholars post on such topics and you will find that most affirm these facts.

          • Your quotation from Habermas shows that this percentage deals only with arguments concerning the empty tomb, and not – as you stated – arguments that “the disciples believed to have had experiences of Jesus after his death.” Why did you make this false addition?

            Furthermore, your quotation leave’s out the antecedent to “of these scholars”. To what scholars is he referring? Not, by a long shot, all NT scholars. Not – as you falsely stated – “scholars and historians with published work on Jesus”. No – the scholars he is referring to are only those NT scholars that have published arguments about the empty tomb. In other words the scholars from whom this percentage is derived represent a small minority of all NT scholars.

            “Why would Habermas’ survey have to be peer-reviewed?” Really? You’d better find out the obvious answer to this question, if you seriously want to pursue NT graduate studies. Academic studies carry no weight, unless they can be confirmed by scholars who review the data, the study’s assessment of the data, the sources of the data, and the study’s conclusions about the data. As for your insistence that most scholars confirm this, I’ll be perfectly honest. I wouldn’t trust a statement like that from you further than I could throw you. Why? Because every time I’m dragged into such conversations with you, you toss out false information like popcorn.

          • MattB

            “Your quotation from Habermas shows that this percentage deals only with arguments concerning the empty tomb, and not – as you stated – arguments that “the disciples believed to have had experiences of Jesus after his death.” Why did you make this false addition?””

            Right. I was merely referring to the fact that most find the burial and empty tomb story to be historical and not fictional. The other fact about the appearances was not part of that 75%. However, most would agree with the apperances as well.

            “Furthermore, your quotation leave’s out the antecedent to “of these scholars”. To what scholars is he referring? Not, by a long shot, all NT scholars. Not – as you falsely stated – “scholars and historians with published work on Jesus”. No – the scholars he is referring to are only those NT scholars that have published arguments about the empty tomb. In other words the scholars from whom this percentage is derived represent a small minority of all NT scholars.”

            No that is incorrect. The published work indicates that most scholars who have written about such things, not only agree to this but also that vast majority of their colleagues in the field for example agree on this as well. In other words, these scholars agree that most scholars in the field of NT studies agree that Jesus was buried and his tomb was found empty and that most hold to the disciples conviction of seeing Jesus risen after his death.

            “”Why would Habermas’ survey have to be peer-reviewed?” Really? You’d better find out the obvious answer to this question, if you seriously want to pursue NT graduate studies. Academic studies carry no weight, unless they can be confirmed by scholars who review the data, the study’s assessment of the data, the sources of the data, and the study’s conclusions about the data. As for your insistence that most scholars confirm this, I’ll be perfectly honest. I wouldn’t trust a statement like that from you further than I could throw you. Why? Because every time I’m dragged into such conversations with you, you toss out false information like popcorn.”

            First off, Habermas’ survey is of literature that is already published by mainstream scholars in peer-reviewed Journals. In other words, it would be redundant to ask for already peer-reviewed literature to be peer-reviewed. Anybody can go and read these Journals from anywhere.

            Second, Gabermas’ survey is peer-reviewed and it has appeared in the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus in 2005[1]

            [1] by Gary R. HabermasAn edited version of this article was published in the
            Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, 3.2 (2005), pp. 135-153

            Third, and this goes back to my main point, this is not false information and you can look at what mainstream scholars say about the evidence and more importantly about their colleagues who agree to the evidence. So Habermas’ claims are not false information because there are other scholars who cite the majority opinion as well.

            “The dominant view among NT scholars is therefore that the Passion narratives are early and based on eyewitness testimony” (Mark Allen Powell, JAAR 68 [2000]: 171

            James D. G. Dunn, “The most obvious explanation of this feature is that the framework was early on fixed within the tradition process and remained so throughout the transition to written Gospels. This suggests in turn a tradition rooted in the memory of the participants and put into that framework by them” (J. D. G. Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 2003, pp. 765-6.

            Paul Barnett, “Careful comparison of the texts of Mark and John indicate that neither of these Gospels is dependent on the other. Yet they have a number of incidents in common: For example, . . . the burial of Jesus in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea” (Jesus and the Logic of History, 1997, pp. 104-5).

            “The standard recent commentators on Mark (Ernst, Gnilka, Haenchen, Harrington, Hooker, Pesch, Schweizer, etc.) . . . do not invest him with the kind of creativity needed to invent the burial story. . .” (Daniel Kendall and Gerald O’Collins, “Did Joseph of Arimathea Exist?” Biblica 75 [1994]: 240).

            “By far most exegetes hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements concerning the empty tomb” (Die Osterevangelien–Geschichten um Geschichte (Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1977), 49-50).

            “The resurrection of Jesus lies at the heart of Christian faith. Unfortunately, it also is a tradition about Jesus that historians have difficulty dealing with. As I said, there are a couple of things that we can say for certain about Jesus after his death. We can say with relative certainty, for example, that he was buried. I say with relative certainty because historians do have some questions about the traditions of Jesus’ burial. . . .

            Some scholars have argued that it’s more plausible that in fact Jesus was placed in a common burial plot, which sometimes happened, or was, as many other crucified people, simply left to be eaten by scavenging animals . But the accounts are fairly unanimous in saying that Jesus was in fact buried by this fellow, Joseph of Arimathea, and so it’s relatively reliable that that’s what happened.

            We also have solid traditions to indicate that women found this tomb empty three days later. This is attested in all of our gospel sources, early and late, and so it appears to be a historical datum. As so I think we can say that after Jesus’ death, with some (probably with some) certainty, that he was buried, possibly by this fellow, Joseph of Arimathea, and that three days later he appeared not to have been in his tomb” (Bart Ehrman, From Jesus to Constantine: A History of Early Christianity, Lecture 4: “Oral and Written Traditions about Jesus” [The Teaching Company, 2003].)

            Now if you want to claim that “I am tossing out false information like popcorn”, than you can. However, in doing so you are claiming that scholars are lying about what the majority in the field say. Unless you have information that shows that most scholars don’t agree on these facts, then I think I am being pretty honest here BQ.

          • You are still tossing out false information. Your quotations do not confirm Habermas’ percentage, and your statement that “The published work indicates that most scholars who have written about such things, not only agree to this but also that vast majority of their colleagues in the field for example agree on this as well” is false. Habermas offers no data on the “vast majority of their colleagues in the field.” If you want proof, look at your own Habermas link.

            In your citation from the JSHJ, Habermas only refers to his survey, he does not list his sources – which means that whether or not “anybody can go and read these journals”, we do not know which journals and articles Habermas is referring to because he has not published his bibliography! Scholars have been asking to see this bibliography since Habermas started citing it – but he has yet to publish it! So – No. Of course it would not be “redundant” to publish a unpublished bibliography. False, again. Are you trying to be disingenuous?

            Most importantly, no matter how many scholars agree that there might have been some empty grave from which the gospel stories are derived – there is certainly NOT a majority of scholars who conclude that this is historical evidence for a resurrection, as you implied in your first reply to me.

            You are very good at providing quotations that do not support the wildly imprecise and misleading statements you make.

          • MattB

            BQ,

            To be honest, and I’m not trying to attack you. I really don’t think you’ve read his sources that he’s cited, nor do I think you read the article because if you did, you would see that he cited 96 citations of mainstream scholars on the issue.. And what supposed scholars do you claim have been asking for it? Did you also ignore the other mainstream scholars I quoted who confirm what the majority think about the evidence? The other scholars I quoted confirm what Habermas’ survey says. They confirm that the vast majority of scholars hold to these facts. The ones who deny these facts are a tiny minority(like Crossan and the Jesus Seminar for example). If Most scholars didn’t hold to these, then why do so many of them say otherwise? Why do multiple scholars claim that the majority hold to these facts? Again, none of what I have cited can just be dismissed by such sweeping statements by calling it “False”. You have yet to show me the scholars who say that most scholars don’t agree on these facts.

            “Most importantly, no matter how many scholars agree that there might have been some empty grave from which the gospel stories are derived – there is certainly NOT a majority of scholars who conclude that this is historical evidence for a resurrection, as you implied in your first reply to me.”

            I didn’t say that. I simply said that most scholars hold to these facts.

            You are very good at providing quotations that do not support the wildly imprecise and misleading statements you make.”

            “In your citation from the JSHJ, Habermas only refers to his survey, he does not list his sources – which means that whether or not “anybody can go and read these journals”, we do not know which journals and articles Habermas is referring to because he has not published his bibliography! Scholars have been asking to see this bibliography since Habermas started citing it – but he has yet to publish it! So – No. Of course it would not be “redundant” to publish a unpublished bibliography. False, again. Are you trying to be disingenuous?”

            Once again, BQ, I don’t think you’ve read this article because you should know that he has 96 citations. You also seem to be moving the goalpoasts. You said in your previous comment that it has to be peer-reviewed in order for it to be credible. I cited evidence that it was then you claim that it’s not enough because Habermas doesn’t cite his sources, even though we know that isn’t true. Here is Habermas’ sources that confirm these facts by mainstream scholars and what they say about the evidence as well as the majority:

            “You are very good at providing quotations that do not support the wildly imprecise and misleading statements you make.”

            What have I said that was misleading? You can read the citations and quotes by the scholars themselves. Nothing I’ve said has seemed to misrepresent mainstream scholarship. I haven’t heard or seen quotes from you by scholars that would say otherwise about the majority.

          • Matt

            “Most” scholars would never claim the empty tomb was a “fact”; that’s not a word that “most” scholars would use for such speculation.

            Habermas’s article may be peer reviewed, but it is not a publication of his bibliography. His bibliography, from which he derives his scholarly percentage, is not peer-reviewed. That’s not a goal post – it is a fact. And his 96 citations (many of them repetitions from the same scholars – at least 20 from Wright alone) do not change the fact that his bibliography is not peer-reviewed.

            I already told you what you said that was misleading:

            “But Habermas has taken a bibliographical survey-not a questionare by surveying the amount of published work by scholars and historians on Jesus, and he found that more than 75 percent hold to the burial, empty tomb, and the disciples believed to have had experiences of Jesus after his death.”

            Not true. First of all the percentage claim is only concerning empty tomb articles – not a percentage of all NT scholars as you implied. Exactly NONE of the quote-mines you’ve copied and pasted in your replies verifies this percentage claim – not even Habermas’s article in JSHJ.

            And of course, my original point is that there is no majority of scholars that are seen to agree with Habermas, Licona, and Wright’s conclusions about the resurrection.

            You haven’t seen quotes from me? That’s right. Because, unlike you, I don’t barrage comment replies with irrelevant copy/pasted quote-mines. I’m not setting goal posts for you, Matt. I am asking you not to mislead.

          • MattB

            “”Most” scholars would never claim the empty tomb was a “fact”; that’s not a word that “most” scholars would use for such speculation.”

            It’s not speculation that the tomb was found empty. Scholars agree that it was.

            “Habermas’s article may be peer reviewed, but it is not a publication of his bibliography. His bibliography, from which he derives his scholarly percentage, is not peer-reviewed. That’s not a goal post – it is a fact. And his 96 citations (many of them repetitions from the same scholars – at least 20 from Wright alone) do not change the fact that his bibliography is not peer-reviewed.”

            Please tell me how you know this. There are at least 20 pages to this entire article and I only cited you one. The point of the citations was to show that other scholars agree that most of their colleagues find the burial of Jesus and the empty tomb story to not be based on legend but on historical evidence.

            “Not true. First of all the percentage claim is only concerning empty tomb articles – not a percentage of all NT scholars as you implied. Exactly NONE of the quote-mines you’ve copied and pasted in your replies verifies this percentage claim – not even Habermas’s article in JSHJ.”

            That’s not the point I was making, as I said above, the citations that Habermas use show that most scholars in the field would hold to these facts.

            “And of course, my original point is that there is no majority of scholars that are seen to agree with Habermas, Licona, and Wright’s conclusions about the resurrection.”

            Whether or not this is true is irrelevant as I said in my other post because that is a philosophical issue ,which most philosophers of religion investigate, which is what Habermas and Craig are as well.

            “You haven’t seen quotes from me? That’s right. Because, unlike you, I don’t barrage comment replies with irrelevant copy/pasted quote-mines. I’m not setting goal posts for you, Matt. I am asking you not to mislead.”

            I’m not quote-mining irrelevant qoutes. I hardly doubt you read them because if you did then you would see my point being made. The point being made is that if multiple scholars say that most of their colleagues in the field agree to these facts, then that shows that these facts are the majority and not minority as you want to claim. I was asking you to cite me scholars who would say that this is the minority because you kept wanting to claim that this is only held by a small amount of scholars, but that’s not what the evidence suggests. I stand my position that this is what most scholars hold.

          • I really don’t like the system of commenting that involves constantly quoting back what someone else has said, so I’ll try to keep this to a minimum, but when you state:

            “The point being made is that if multiple scholars say that most of their colleagues in the field agree to these facts, then that shows that these facts are the majority and not minority as you want to claim.”

            Only one of the quotations you used makes the claim that “most of their colleagues in the field agree” to the empty tomb. The rest are simply stating their own opinions on the matter (and most are just generalizations about the comparative reliability of the gospels, not about the empty tomb in particular). The one claim about what the majority of his colleague’s think of the empty tomb comes from an article that is thirty seven years old.

            As to the second part of your statement, I don’t claim that a minority of scholars argue for the empty tomb. I’m only stating that Habermas’s 75% is a claim made from a bibliography that has not been peer-reviewed. I stand by that statement. The article you cited does not release the bibliography.

            Even if he’s right, in no scientific, historical, or philosophical field would a 75% consensus ever be construed as a “fact”. Especially when most of the articles in question construe the empty tomb as an argument or a hypothesis. Certainly not as a fact.

            The resurrection of course is the sort of claim that only an apologist would regard as “fact”.

          • MattB

            “Only one of the quotations you used makes the claim that “most of their colleagues in the field agree” to the empty tomb. The rest are simply stating their own opinions on the matter (and most are just generalizations about the comparative reliability of the gospels, not about the empty tomb in particular). The one claim about what the majority of his colleague’s think of the empty tomb comes from an article that is thirty seven years old.”

            Not entirely correct. Mark Allen Powell’s statment concerning the passion narratives as early and based on eyewitness testimony includes the burial story and empty tomb as well as the appearances. In other words, MAP is saying that most scholars agree that these narratives are not later legends or developments. Jacob Kremer’s statement, while from ’77 was meant to show the consistent trend because just slightly before that time scholars had already doubted these stories, but then in Kremer’s time most scholars had started to believe in them based upon the historical evidence, which we see today: most scholars holding to these facts. Bart Ehrman affirms this as well, NT Wright, Jodi Magness, a world leading archaeologists for Early Judaism and I think Christianity(If I’m not mistaken) cites that the idea of Jesus not being buried in a tomb and instead being eaten by dogs or thrown into a common burial plot is absurd and doesn’t fit the up to date archaeological evidence:http://gregmonette.com/blog/post/why-bart-ehrman-gets-jesus-burial-wrong-part-2. Also Norman Perrin, Paula Fredericksen, Dale Allision, Mike Licona, and Raymond Brown confirm this.

            “As to the second part of your statement, I don’t claim that a minority of scholars argue for the empty tomb. I’m only stating that Habermas’s 75% is a claim made from a bibliography that has not been peer-reviewed. I stand by that statement. The article you cited does not release the bibliography.”

            I am willing to concede this might be true. Habermas has recently said a few years ago that his percentages are slightly higher and that he has gathered more data(3400 as compared to 2200). However, it seems to me that you are at least willing to agree that the majority agree to these facts and so that is something I think we can agree on.

            “Even if he’s right, in no scientific, historical, or philosophical field would a 75% consensus ever be construed as a “fact”. Especially when most of the articles in question construe the empty tomb as an argument or a hypothesis. Certainly not as a fact.”

            By fact, I don’t mean absolute 100% certainty or proof. Scholars don’t think of these facts as a some hypothesis. They agree that these actually happened. I am not citing the majority as proof but the evidence as to why the majority hold to these facts.

            That’s your presupposition regarding the resurrection but I certainly don’t find it true. Many academic philosophers of religion certainly can’t be just mere ‘apologists’ if they agree to these facts.

          • Scholars don’t call them “facts”. Period.

            Few other than Habermas, Craig, and Licona would support the “minimal facts approach”, which is most definitely outside of the mainstream of scholarship.

          • MattB

            “Scholars don’t call them “facts”. Period.”

            So then what do they call something that is historically verifiable?

            “Few other than Habermas, Craig, and Licona would support the “minimal facts approach”, which is most definitely outside of the mainstream of scholarship.”

            This is not true. I already cited what mainstream scholars think about what happened to Jesus after his death. Where scholars differ is not these facts but the best explanation of these facts.

          • No, Matt, whatever scholars think of the empty tomb, appearance narratives, or other “facts” – they do not separate them into “minimal facts” to draw conclusions – that is not the way historians work.

            Whatever you think “verifable” means, it is most certainly not defined as a 75% consensus of opinion.

          • MattB

            “No, Matt, whatever scholars think of the empty tomb, appearance narratives, or other “facts” – they do not separate them into “minimal facts” to draw conclusions – that is not the way historians work.”

            That’s not necessarily what I was suggesting. I was merely suggesting that most hold to these facts.

            “Whatever you think “verifable” means, it is most certainly not defined as a 75% consensus of opinion.”

            Of coures not, but that adds weight to the argument and evidence. I don’t find any good reasons from the minorities side to think these things didn’t happen which is why I hold to the majorities side.

          • If only 75% hold them, then they are clearly not facts. They are opinions.

            I am content with the fact that scholars don’t agree on the empty tomb. But regardless of whether a grave was found empty for whatever reason (James provides a few good reasons in his book), a resurrection is the least likely explanation possible; and one that historians cannot conclude, as James McGrath can explain to you in his book.

          • MattB

            “If only 75% hold them, then they are clearly not facts. They are opinions.”

            They are facts irregardless of whether 75% or 1% hold them. Facts are independent of beliefs. My point is that if most believe in these facts then that adds weight to the argument that the majority are more than likely correct.

            “I am content with the fact that scholars don’t agree on the empty tomb. But regardless of whether a grave was found empty for whatever reason (James provides a few good reasons in his book), a resurrection is the least likely explanation possible; and one that historians cannot conclude, as James McGrath can explain to you in his book.”

            James’ objection is philosophical and stems somewhat from David Hume’s argument that miracles are impossible. He however does not disagree with the facts that the majority hold.

          • Your definition of “fact” makes no sense. When there is a scientific finding with only 75% percent agreement in the field – it remains a problematic hypothesis, not even theory, much less a fact.

            I’m not interested in your assessment of James’ opinion. Ask James what he thinks of the minimal facts approach.

          • MattB

            “Your definition of “fact” makes no sense. When there is a scientific finding with only 75% percent agreement in the field – it remains a problematic hypothesis, not even theory, much less a fact.”

            It may not be universally held, but it is held by most, which means that there are better reasons than what the minority is proposing. I’m not sure why you think my definition of a fact is wrong. We judge things as true or false based on arguments and evidence, not opinions. However, as I’ve said before, a majority opinion of experts or a consensus of experts adds weight to the arguments because that means there is a lot of research on the issue that has convinced most to hold to something vs the least to deny it. I don’t find good reasons to deny these historical facts because of the evidence for them.

          • Matt, you live in a very black and white world. Do you realize that many interpretations of historical evidence are not evaluated as true or false, but rather as probable, improbable, possible, of interest – all without the hubris of definitively calling an unknown, a “fact”.

          • MattB

            Yes. By fact, I meant probable. I didn’t mean absolute.

          • There lies the confusion.

          • MattB

            I merely wasn’t trying to confuse. By fact, I thought you had understood what is more probable.

          • No, I can’t say that a “75% probability” can ever be construed as “fact” – even if Habermas could show that probability as correct.

            In all of the sciences, including history, a 75% / 25% dispute over conclusions is huge and unresolvable without more data.

          • MattB

            Maybe but 75 is bigger than 25. A majority opinion does outweigh a minority opinion.

          • Facts are not determined by a 75% majority in science or history.

          • MattB

            Right. Facts are determined by methods and are apart from opinion.

          • Precisely. Which is why the empty tomb is an opinion.

          • MattB

            What evidence do you have for this that runs contrary to mainstream scholarship?

          • What evidence do I have for the fact that some scholars express an opinion that the empty tomb might be based on an historical gravesite, while other scholars express an opinion that it is a story that developed alongside other conflicting gospel stories?

            Let’s ask one of the scholars who published on the empty tomb. Ask James if he was expressing a fact or an opinion.

          • MattB

            You mean most scholars, but anyway….. James thinks that Jesus was buried in a tomb but dishonorably. I would suggest reading articles on these since you have access to your Universities library database. You will see archaeologists and scholars talk about a lot of how the datum fits what the gospels depict about Jesus regarding his burial.

          • I would suggest you read about the difference between facts and historical opinions. You will see that a 75/25% split in scholarly opinion can hardly be called a “consensus”. And even if it were, for many if not most historical matters, we will never have enough data to establish “facts”, only “opinions”.

            And if you want to be a graduate student in biblical studies, I would suggest that you begin reading legitimate scholarly articles (you might begin with the SBL’s Journal of Biblical Literature) rather than skimming apologetics websites.

          • MattB

            “I would suggest you read about the difference between facts and historical opinions. You will see that a 75/25% split in scholarly opinion can hardly be called a “consensus”.

            It’s not consensus, yes but it is majority opinion. I don’t quite understand your claim that “And even if it were, for many if not most historical matters, we will never have enough data to establish “facts”, only “opinions”” I don’t think any historian would say that.

            “And if you want to be a graduate student in biblical studies, I would suggest that you begin reading legitimate scholarly articles (you might begin with the SBL’s Journal of Biblical Literature) rather than skimming apologetics websites.”

            Absolutely, and thanks for the advice. Even though I did cite apologetic websites, these are websites by actual scholars with publications in peer-reviewed mainstream Journals, which one reflects a lot of mainstream views in NT studies while the other in PoR.

          • Really, Matt, you need only browse a few mainstream NT journals, and you’ll see historians equivocate on what we can know historically. Of course historians would “say that.”

          • MattB

            Yes, I’m aware of that.

          • You don’t show it.

          • MattB

            how so?

          • Read back a few comments – you’re disagreeing with yourself.

          • MattB

            Here are his citations btw(sorry I couldn’t post them in my last comment. I was having trouble with my connection).

            1] There are no “bookend” dates that necessarily favor this specific demarcation of time. But as I began gathering these sources years ago, the last quarter of the Twentieth Century to the present seemed to be as good a barometer as any for deciphering recent research trends.

            [2]. Raymond Brown, An Introduction to New Testament Christology (New York: Paulist, 1994), 4-15, 102.

            [3] Hans Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians, trans. James W. Leitch (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975).

            [4] Willi Marxsen, The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, trans. Margaret Kohl (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1970); Jesus and Easter: Did God Raise the Historical Jesus from the Dead? trans. Victor Paul Furnish (Nashville: Abingdon, 1990).

            [5] Gerd Lüdemann, The Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology trans. John Bowden (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994); Lüdemann with Alf Özen, What Really Happened to Jesus, trans. John Bowden (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1995); The Resurrection of Christ: A Historical Inquiry (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 2004). See also Hansjürgen Verweyen, editor, Osterglaube ohne Auferstehung? Diskussion mit Gerd Lüdemann (Freiburg: Herder, 1995) and the lengthy book review by Andreas Lindemann in Wege zum Menschen, 46 (November-December 1994), 503-513.

            [6] Ingo Broer, et. al. Auferstehung Jesu–Auferstehung der Christen: Deutungen des Osterglaubens (Freiburg: Herder, 1986); Broer and Jürgen Werbick, “Der Herr ist wahrhaft auferstanden” (Lk 24,34): Biblische und systematische Beiträge zur Entstehung des Osterglaubens, Stuttgarter Bibel-Studien 134 (Stuttgart: Verlag Katholisches Bibelwork, 1988).

            [7] Rudolf Pesch, “Zur Entstehung des Glaubens an die Auferstehung Jesu,” Theologische Quartalschrift, 153 (1973), 219-226; “Materialien und Bemerkungen zu Entstehung und Sinn des Osterglaubens,” in Anton Vögtle and Pesch, Wie kam es zum Osterglauben? (Düsseldorf: Patmos-Verlag, 1975).

            [8] Wolfhart Pannenberg, “Die Auferstehung Jesu: Historie und Theologie,” Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche, 91 (1994), 318-328; Die Auferstehung Jesu und die Zukunft des Menschen (Munchen: Minerva-Publikation, 1978); Jesus–God and Man, second ed., trans. Lewis L. Wilkins and Duane A. Priebe (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1977).

            [9] Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ: Christology in Messianic Dimensions, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993).

            [10] Martin Hengel, “Ist der Osterglaube noch zu retten?” Theologische Quartalschrift, 153 (1973), 252-269; The Atonement, trans. John Bowden (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981); “Das Begräbnis Jesu bei Paulus und die leibliche Auferstehung aus dem Grabe” Auferstehung-Resurrection, ed. Friedrich Avemarie and Hermann Lichtenberger (Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2001).

            [11] Jacob Kremer, Die Osterevangelien–Geschichten um Geschichte, second ed. (Stuttgart: Verlag Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1981); “Zur Diskussion über `das leere Grab,’ ” Resurrexit: Actes du Symposium International sur la Résurrection de Jésus, ed. E. Dhanis (Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1974), 137-159.

            [12] Walter Künneth, Theologie der Auferstehung, sixth ed. (Giessen: Brunnen, 1982).

            [13] Ulrich Wilckens, Resurrection: Biblical Testimony to the Resurrection: An Historical Examination and Explanation, trans. A.M. Stewart (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew, 1977).

            [14] Francis X. Durrwell, La Résurrection de Jésus: Mystère de Salut (Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf, 1976).

            [15] Xavier Léon-Dufour, Résurrection de Jésus et Message Pascal (Paris: Seuil, 1971).

            [16] Jean-Marie Guillaume, Luc Interprète des Anciennes Traditions sur la Résurrection de Jésus, Études Bibliques (Paris: J. Gabalda et Cie, 1979).

            [17] Guillaume, Luc Interprète des Anciennes Traditions sur la Résurrection de Jésus, esp. 50-52, 65, 201, 265-274.

            [18] Michael Goulder, “Did Jesus of Nazareth Rise from the Dead?” in Stephen Barton and Graham Stanton, eds, Resurrection: Essays in Honour of Leslie Houlden (London: SPCK, 1994); “The Baseless Fabric of a Vision,” in D’Costa, ed., Resurrection Reconsidered (Oxford: Oneworld, 1996), 48-61; “The Empty Tomb,” Theology, vol. 79 (1976), 206-214.

            [19] G.A. Wells, A Resurrection Debate (London: Rationalist Press, 1988); The Historical Evidence for Jesus (Buffalo: Prometheus, 1988); Did Jesus Exist? (London: Pemberton, 1986).

            [20] Duncan M. Derrett, The Anastasis: The Resurrection of Jesus as an Historical Event (Shipston-on-Stour, England: P. Drinkwater, 1982).

            [21] Thomas Torrance, Space, Time and Resurrection (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976).

            [22] James D.G. Dunn, The Evidence for Jesus (Louisville: Westminster, 1985); Jesus Remembered (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003).

            [23] Richard Swinburne, The Resurrection of God Incarnate (Oxford: Oxford University, 2003); “Evidence for the Resurrection,” in Davis, Kendall, and O’Collins, eds., Resurrection, 191-212; editor, Miracles (New York: Macmillan, 1989).

            [24] Oliver O’Donavan, Resurrection and Moral Order (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986).

            [25] This includes Wright’s series, Christian Origins and the Question of God, published in the U.S. by Fortress Press. See especially his third volume, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003).

            [26] John Dominic Crossan, “Empty Tomb and Absent Lord (Mark 16:1-8),” in Kelber, ed., The Passion in Mark: Studies in Mark 14-16 (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976), 135-152; Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1994); The Historical Jesus (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1991); The Birth of Christianity: Discovering what Happened in the Years Immediately after the Execution of Jesus (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1998).

            [27] Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1999), Parts 3-4; “Thinking about Easter, Bible Review, X:2 (April, 1994), 15, 49.

            [28] Reginald H. Fuller, The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives, Revised Ed. (Philadelphia: Fortress, Press, 1980); Fuller, Reginald H., Eugene LaVerdiere, John C. Lodge, and Donald Senior, The Passion, Death, and Resurrection of the Lord: A Commentary on the Four Gospels (Mundelein, Ill.: Chicago Studies, 1985); “John 20:19-23,” Interpretation, 32 (1978), 180-184.

            [29] Pheme Perkins, Resurrection: New Testament Witness and Contemporary Reflection (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1984); “I have Seen the Lord (John 20:18): Women Witnesses to the Resurrection,” Interpretation, 46 (1992), 31-41; “Reconciling the Resurrection,” Commonweal, (April 5, 1985), 202-205.

            [30] Raymond E. Brown, The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus (N.Y.: Paulist, 1973); A Risen Christ in Eastertime: Essays on the Gospel Narratives of the Resurrection (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991); The Death of the Messiah, two vols, (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1994).

            [31] William Lane Craig, Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus (Lewiston, N.Y. Mellen, 1989); The Historical Argument for the Resurrection of Jesus During the Deist Controversy (Lewiston, N.Y.: Mellen, 1985).

            [32] Stephen T. Davis, Risen Indeed: Making Sense of the Resurrection (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993); Davis, Daniel Kendall, and Gerald O’Collins, eds., The Resurrection (Oxford: Oxford, 1997), 191-212; editor, Miracles (New York: Macmillan, 1989).

            [33] Some examples include Gary R. Habermas, The Risen Jesus and Future Hope (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003); Habermas and Antony G.N. Flew, Resurrected? An Atheist and Theist Dialogue (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005); “Resurrection Claims in Non-Christian Religions,” Religious Studies 25 (1989), 167-177; “The Late Twentieth-Century Resurgence of Naturalistic Responses to Jesus’ Resurrection,” Trinity Journal, new series, 22 (2001), 179-196.

            [34] Gerald O’Collins might be mentioned here: What Are They Saying About the Resurrection? (New York: Paulist, 1978); Interpreting the Resurrection (Mahweh, N.J.: Paulist, 1988); Jesus Risen: The Resurrection—What Actually Happened and What Does it Mean? (London: Darton, Longman, and Todd, 1988); Easter Faith (N.Y.: Paulist, 2003).

            [35] These percentages reflect only those publications that answer this specific question, where I have conducted a detailed investigation.

            [36] Such as the hypotheses of Lüdemann or Goulder above.

            [37] Goulder also raises this question.

            [38] I have categorized these natural hypotheses, naming two alternative proposals (the illumination and illusion options) that have so far eluded any recognized designations. For details see Habermas, “The Late Twentieth-Century Resurgence of Naturalistic Responses to Jesus’ Resurrection,” 179-196.

            [39] For example, Craig, Assessing the New Testament Evidence , 373-374; cf. Kremer, Die Osterevangelien–Geschichten um Geschichte, 49-50.

            [40] Michael Goulder avers: “Only male witnesses are valid in Jewish jurisprudence” (“The Empty Tomb,” Theology, 79

            [1976], 211).

            [41] For the circumstances under which Jewish women could testify, including the conclusion that this Gospel report nonetheless provides evidence for the empty tomb, especially Carolyn Osiek, “The Women at the Tomb: What are they Doing There?” Ex Auditu, 9 (1993), 97-107.

            [42] Norman Perrin, The Resurrection according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977), 83.

            [43] Howard Clark Kee, What can We Know about Jesus? (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 1-2.

            [44] For example, Paul precedes the text by using the equivalent Greek for the technical rabbinic terms “delivered” and “received,” which traditionally were the way that oral tradition was passed along (see also 1 Corinthians 11:23). Further, the report appears in a stylized, parallel form. The presence of several non-Pauline terms, sentence structure, and diction all additionally point to a source prior to Paul. Also noted are the proper names of Cephas and James (including the Aramaic name Cephas

            [cf. Luke 24:34]), the possibility of an Aramaic original, other Semitisms like the threefold “kai oti” (like Aramaic and Mishnaic Hebrew narration), and the two references to the Scriptures being fulfilled. See Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, from the German, no translator provided (Minneapolis: Augsberg, 1983), 97-99; John Kloppenborg, “An Analysis of the Pre-Pauline Formula in 1 Cor 15:3b-5 in Light of Some Recent Literature,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 40 (1978), 351, 360; Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, “Tradition and Redaction in 1 Cor 15:3-7,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 43 (1981), 582.

            [45] Murphy-O’Connor, “Tradition and Redaction in 1 Cor 15:3-7,” 582. Fuller agrees: “It is almost universally agreed today that Paul is here citing tradition.” (The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives, 10)

            [46] I have outlined the case elsewhere, for instance, in Habermas, The Risen Jesus and Future Hope, chap. 1; “The Resurrection Appearances of Jesus” in In Defense of Miracles, R. Douglas Geivett and Gary R. Habermas, eds. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1997), 262-275.

            [47] For just a few of these scholars, see Hans Grass, Ostergeschen und Osterberichte, second ed. (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Rupert, 1962), 96; Francis X. Durrwell, La Résurrection de Jésus: Mystère de Salut, 22; Reginald Fuller, The Foundations of New Testament Christology (New York: Scribner’s, 1965), 142, 161; C.H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and its Developments (Grand Rapids: Baker, reprint, 1980), 16; Oscar Cullmann, The Early Church: Studies in Early Christian History and Theology, ed. A.J.B. Higgins (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1966), 65-66; Pannenberg, Jesus: God and Man, 90; Raymond Brown, Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection, 81, 92; Peter Stuhlmacher, Jesus of Nazareth–Christ of Faith, trans. Siegfried S. Shatzmann (Peabody, MA.: Hendrickson, 1993), 8; Helmut Merklein, “Die Auferweckung Jesu und die Anfange der Christologie (Messias bzw. Sohn Gottes und Menschensohn),” Zeitschrift fur die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der Alteren Kirche, 72 (1981), 2; John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, vol. 3: Companions and Competitors (New York: Doubleday, 2001),139; Dunn, The Evidence for Jesus, 70; Leander E. Keck, Who is Jesus? History in Perfect Tense (Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina, 2000), 139; C.E.B. Cranfield, “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ,” Expository Times, 101 (1990), 169. O’Collins thinks that no scholars date Paul’s reception of this creed later than the 40s A.D., which still would leave intact the major conclusions here (O’Collins, What Are They Saying? 112).

            [48] Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians, 254; Lüdemann, The Resurrection of Jesus, 38; Robert Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, The Five Gospels (New York: Macmillan, 1993), cf. 18, 24; Michael Goulder, “The Baseless Fabric of a Vision,” in D’Costa, Resurrection Reconsidered, 48; Jack Kent, The Psychological Origins of the Resurrection Myth (London: Open Gate, 1999), 16-17; A.J.M. Wedderburn, Beyond Resurrection (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999),111, 274, note 265; Thomas Sheehan, The First Coming: How the Kingdom of God became Christianity (New York: Random House, 1986), 118; cf. 110-112, 135; Michael Grant, Saint Paul (Glasgow: William Collins, 1976), 104; G.A. Wells, Did Jesus Exist?, 30.

            [49] Walter Kaspar, Jesus the Christ, new ed., trans. V. Green (Mahweh, N.J.: Paulist, 1976), 125.

            [50]. Wilckens, Resurrection, p. 2.

            [51] For the sermon segments that may contain this traditional material, see Acts 1:21-22; 2:22-36; 3:13-16; 4:8-10; 5:29-32; 10:39-43; 13:28-31; 17:1-3; 17:30-31.

            [52] For just some of the critical scholars who find early traditional material in Acts, see Max Wilcox, The Semitisms of Acts (Oxford: Clarendon, 1965), esp. 79-80, 164-165; Gerd Lüdemann, Early Christianity According to the Traditions in Acts: A Commentary, trans. John Bowden (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989), 47-49, 112-115; Merklein, “Die Auferweckung Jesu und die Anfänge der Christologie (Messias bzw. Sohn Gottes und Menschensohn),” 2; O’Collins, Interpreting the Resurrection, 48-52; John E. Alsup, The Post-Resurrection Appearance Stories of the Gospel Tradition: A History-of-Tradition Analysis with Text-Synopsis, Calwer Theologische Monographien 5 (Stuttgart: Calwer Verlag, 1975), 64-65, 81-85; Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and its Developments, 17-31; Brown, An Introduction to New Testament Christology, 112-113, 164; Fuller, The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives, 44-45; Perkins, Resurrection, 90, 228-231; Durrwell, La Résurrection de Jésus: Mystère de Salut, 22; M. Gourges, À La Droite de Dieu: Résurrection de Jésus et Actualisation du Psaume 110:1 dans in Noveau Testament (Paris: J. Gabalda et Cie Editeurs, 1978), especially 169-178.

            [53] Gerald O’Collins, Interpreting Jesus (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1983), 109-110.

            [54] John Drane, Introducing the New Testament (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1986), 99.

            [55] Gerd Lüdemann, “Closing Response,” in Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment? Paul Copan and Ronald Tacelli, eds. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2000), 151.

            [56] Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 272; cf. 321. In this volume, perhaps Wright’s major emphasis is the bodily nature of resurrection in general, and Jesus’ resurrection, in particular (see next note). See also N.T. Wright, “Early Traditions and the Origin of Christianity,” Sewanee Theological Review, 41 (1998), 130-135.

            [57] The best current treatment is Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 32-398. Also exceptional is Robert H. Gundry, Soma in Biblical Theology: With Emphasis on Pauline Anthropology (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1976), esp. chap. 13. Compare Caroline Walker Bynum, The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200-1336 (New York: Columbia University, 1995); Stephen Davis (126-147) and William Alston (148-183), both in Davis, Kendall, and O’Collins, eds., Resurrection; Joseph A. Fitzmyer, “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ According to the New Testament,” The Month, second new series, 20 (1987), 408-409; Cranfield, “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ,” 170; Norman Kretzmann, “Resurrection Resurrected,” in Eleanore Stump and Thomas Flint, eds., Hermes and Athens (Notre Dame: Notre Dame, 1993), 149. For a detailed treatment of this point, see Gary R. Habermas, “Mapping the Recent Trend toward the Bodily Resurrection Appearances of Jesus in Light of Other Prominent Critical Positions,” in Robert Stewart, editor, The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N.T. Wright in Dialogue (Minneapolis: Fortress, forthcoming, 2006).

            [58] Marxsen, The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, 125 (Marxsen’s emphasis); cf. 169.

            [59] Marxsen, Jesus and Easter, 92.

            [60] Borg in Borg and Wright, The Meaning of Jesus, 137-142.

            [61] While Crossan is well known for his view that Jesus’ dead body was probably buried in a common grave (Jesus, 152-158), this is actually an alternative burial account. It does not even address the resurrection appearances, since, conceivably, Jesus could have been buried other than in a traditional tomb and still have been raised from the dead.

            [62] N.T. Wright, “Christian Origins and the Resurrection of Jesus: The Resurrection of Jesus as a Historical Problem,” Sewanee Theological Review, 41 (1998), 119.

            [63] In a recent dialogue, Crossan indicated that he does not think that alternative responses are good explanations for the appearances to the disciples. (See Robert Stewart, ed., The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N.T. Wright in Dialogue.) Still, it could be pointed out that Crossan’s comparison of the resurrection appearances to dreams or visions of a departed loved, however normal, still involves the reliance on a natural scenario instead of the New Testament explanation. (John Dominic Crossan, “The Resurrection of Jesus in its Jewish Context,” Neotestamentica, 37

            [2003], 46-47.)

            [64] John Dominic Crossan, Who Killed Jesus? Exposing the Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Gospel Story of the Death of Jesus (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1995), 185, 209.

            [65] Crossan, The Birth of Christianity, 550.

            [66] See Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, especially 321, 686-696, 709-710.

            [67] For these points, see John Dominic Crossan and Jonathan L. Reed, In Search of Paul (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2004), 6-8, 341; Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 318-319; 378-384.

            [68] Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 453-456; Crossan, The Historical Jesus, 364, cf. 293-294; Crossan and Reed, In Search of Paul, 341.

            [69] Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, xvii-xix, 31, 71, 82-83, 200-206.

            [70] Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, Chapters 5-8, especially 273, 314, 350-374.

            [71] Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, Chapters 9-10, especially 424, 476-479.

            [72] Crossan, “Mode and Meaning in Bodily Resurrection Faith,” in The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N.T. Wright in Dialogue, especially endnote 4.

            [73] Crossan, “Mode and Meaning in Bodily Resurrection Faith,” endnote 3. Compare Crossan, “The Resurrection of Jesus in its Jewish Context,” especially 37-40, 46-49, 55.

            [74] Crossan and Reed, In Search of Paul, 6-10 (their emphasis). We have already seen above that Lüdemann also holds a similar position to that of Wright, Crossan, and Reed.

            [75] Crossan, “Mode and Meaning in Bodily Resurrection Faith,” see especially the Conclusion and the preceding section, “Caesar or Christ?”

            [76] For examples, see Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, 244-245, 355-361, 426, 441-444, 450, 578-583.

            [77] N.T. Wright, Following Jesus: Biblical Reflections on Discipleship (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), Chapter 6. The quotes are from 54-55.

            [78] Crossan, “Mode and Meaning,” Part I; “Resurrection of Jesus in its Jewish Context,” 46-47.

            [79] Personal discussion with Dom Crossan, March 11, 2006, before the dialogue in which we both participated (The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and N.T. Wright in Dialogue, Fortress). Still, any misconception here remains my mistake.

            [80] Fuller, The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives, 2.

            [81] Fuller, The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives, 169, 181-182.

            [82] Fuller, The Foundations of New Testament Christology, 142.

            [83] E.P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus (London: Penguin, 1993), 11; cf. 10-13.

            [84] Sanders, Historical Figure of Jesus, 280.

            [85] Funk, Honest to Jesus (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1996), 32, 40, as well as the entire context here.

            [86] Funk, Honest to Jesus, 266-267.

            [87] Funk, Honest to Jesus, 35-39.

            [88] John Meier, A Marginal Jew, vol. 3, 252; cf. 70, 139, 235, 243, 252.

            [89] Dunn, The Evidence for Jesus, 75 (Dunn’s emphasis).

            [90] N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 109-111.

            [91] Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 231.

            [92] In the study referred to above, virtually every critical scholar recognizes this fact, or something very similar. It is very difficult to find denials of it. This is evident even if we listed just some of the more skeptical researchers who hold this, such as Lüdemann, The Resurrection of Jesus, 37, 50, 66; Borg, “Thinking about Easter,” 15; Crossan, “The Resurrection of Jesus in its Jewish Context,” 46-47; Funk, Honest to Jesus, 40, 270-271; Michael Goulder, “The Baseless Fabric of a Vision,” in D’Costa, Resurrection Reconsidered, 48; Rudolf Pesch, “Zur Entstehung des Glaubens an die Auferstehung Jesu: Ein neuer Versach,” Freiburger Zeitschrift für Philosophie und Theologie, 30 (1983), 87; Helmut Koester, Introduction to the New Testament, vol. 2: History and Literature of Early Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982), 84; Anton Vögtle in Vögtle and Pesch, Wie kam es zum Osterglauben? (Düsseldorf: Patmos-Verlag, 1975), 85-98; James M. Robinson, “Jesus from Easter to Valentinus (or to the Apostles’ Creed),” Journal of Biblical Literature, 101 (1982), 8, 20; Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels (New York: Random House, 1979), pp. 3–12; Wedderburn, Beyond Resurrection, 47, 188; Ehrman, Jesus, 227-231; Kent, The Psychological Origins of the Resurrection Myth, 16-17; John Hick, Death and Eternal Life (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), pp. 171–177; Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians, 258-266; Thomas Sheehan, The First Coming: How the Kingdom of God became Christianity, 1986), 91; Hans Werner Bartsch, “Inhalt und Funktion des Urchristlichen Osterglaubens,” New Testament Studies, 26 (1980), 180, 190-194; Norman Perrin, The Resurrection according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, 80-83; J.K. Elliott, “The First Easter,” History Today, 29 (1979), 209-220; Michael Grant, Jesus: An Historian’s Review of the Gospels (N.Y.: Scribner, 1977), 176; Hansjürgen Verweyen, “Die Ostererscheinungen in fundamentaltheologischer Sicht,” Zeitschrift für Katholische Theologie, 103 (1981), 429; Alsup, The Post-Resurrection Appearance Stories of the Gospel Tradition, 274; John Shelby Spong, Resurrection: Myth or Reality (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1994), 51-53, 173; Michael Martin, The Case against Christianity (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991), 83, 90; G.A. Wells, Did Jesus Exist?, 32, 207; James Keller, “Response to Davis,” Faith and Philosophy, 7 (1990), 7; Traugott Holtz, “Kenntnis von Jesus und Kenntnis Jesu: Eine Skizze zum Verhältnis zwischen historisch-philologischer Erkenntnis und historisch-theologischem Verständnis,” Theologische Literaturzeitung,104 (1979), especially 10; Merklein, “Die Auferweckung Jesu und die Anfänge der Christologie (Messias bzw. Sohn Gottes und Menschensohn),” 2. For a list of more than fifty recent critical scholars who affirm these experiences as historical events, see Habermas, The Risen Jesus and Future Hope, 50-51, endnote 165.

            [93] For details on this consensus, see Habermas, The Risen Jesus and Future Hope, chap. 1.

            [94] Koester, History and Literature of Early Christianity, 84.

            [95] Fuller, The Foundations of New Testament Christology, 142.

            [96] Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 110.

          • Matt –

            This is ridiculous! Don’t waste comment space with a list of citations that anyone can copy and paste from an internet article! Habermas’ claim about 75% of empty tomb articles is only supported by his unpublished bibliography – not by his citations in this particular article. No one claimed that Habermas doesn’t publish peer-reviewed articles. I claimed that his bibliographical percentage was not published.

            My original point is that Habermas, Licona, Craig, and Wright’s use of scholarly trends as evidence that the resurrection took place, is far from a mainstream opinion and is an approach that would never hold water outside of NT apologetics.

          • MattB

            “This is ridiculous! Don’t waste comment space with a list of citations that anyone can copy and paste from an internet article! Habermas’ claim about 75% of empty tomb articles is only supported by his unpublished bibliography – not by his citations in this particular article. No one claimed that Habermas doesn’t publish peer-reviewed articles. I claimed that his bibliographical percentage was not published.”

            His article was published in the Journal for the study of the Historical Jesus. The one on his website is only a brief snippet of it. The whole thing is like 20 pages and would probably have to be bought in order to read it. Now whether or not it is really 75% or more or slightly less is not my point. My point is that his citations indicate that most scholars agree with the evidence. And that his citations show that other scholars agree that most scholars in the field hold to these facts.

            “My original point is that Habermas, Licona, Craig, and Wright’s use of scholarly trends as evidence that the resurrection took place, is far from a mainstream opinion and is an approach that would never hold water outside of NT apologetics.”

            They aren’t using scholarly trends as evidence for the resurrection. They are using scholarly trends as evidence that scholars agree about certain things that happened to Jesus after his death. Craig and Habermas are philosophers of religion as well as historians, and so this kind of investigating is mainstream in that field. The best explanation is that a miracle has happened, which is what PoR would agree on in this situation.

          • Matt

            I have access to the journal and have read the entire article, which attempts to suggest a number of trends. The citations are given for a variety of purposes; some are explanatory and don’t even reference other scholars; some are references to the same scholars repeatedly; some references are even to scholars that disagree with him. Copy and pasting that long list of citations is pointless with context.

            My point was and remains that, while Habermas might reference other scholars who agree with him on some points, his percentage comes from an unpublished bibliography.

            As to your last point, Philosophers of Religion who make historical determinations (especially in ways that real historians never would) are taking positions outside their expertise. Probably one of the many reasons that mainstream philosphers often advice grad students not to purse Philosophy of Religion.

          • MattB

            “”I have access to the journal and have read the entire article, which attempts to suggest a number of trends. The citations are given for a variety of purposes; some are explanatory and don’t even reference other scholars; some are references to the same scholars repeatedly; some references are even to scholars that disagree with him. Copy and pasting that long list of citations is pointless with context.My point was and remains that, while Habermas might reference other scholars who agree with him on some points, his percentage comes from an unpublished bibliography.”

            How much did you pay for it? I know that must have been expensive unless you were able to bypass it somehow and read it for free.

            My main point is not the percentage itself, but the fact that other scholars back up Habermas’ claim that the vast majority of NT scholars hold to these facts. That was the purpose of those citations. I wasn’t claiming that every citation was from different scholars. The point was that there are multiple scholars who agree that these facts are the majority opinion and not the minority. So obviously those who disagree are the minority of scholars and not the majority.

            “As to your last point, Philosophers of Religion who make historical determinations (especially in ways that real historians never would) are taking positions outside their expertise. ”

            No they’re not. Philosophers of Religion investigate claims regarding the supernatural and when it comes to the resurrection, the philosophical questions arise regarding the explanation of the historical evidence. And this is where historians are divided because it involves philosophical worldviews and not historical worldview issues. The liberal scholar and conservative scholars(most of them) both agree on the historical issues, but differ on the philosophical issues.

            “Probably one of the many reasons that mainstream philosphers often advice grad students not to purse Philosophy of Religion.””

            I am sure this statement is highly speculative and false.

          • I didn’t have to pay for it. I have access to a university library.

            If you were trying to make the point that some NT scholars agree with Habermas about a majority of scholars, then why didn’t you just quote those scholars, instead of dumping off the entire citation list, most of which is making fine points unrelated to what the majority of scholars think?

            “Vast majority”? Even Habermas’ 75% isn’t a “vast majority”.

            If you think historians are divided on the matter of the supernatural – you obviously don’t read many historians.

            You think that my statement about grad students being encouraged not to pursue philosophy of religion is “highly speculative and false”?

            Then you clearly don’t talk to many philosophers of religion, for whom this is a common complaint. Here is one philosopher of religion stating that “grad students are still counseled against specializing in aPoR, and encouraged to focus on something respectable like metaphysics or epistemology ”

            http://www.newappsblog.com/2013/08/has-analytic-philosophy-of-religion-really-become-intellectually-respectable.html

          • MattB

            I didn’t have to pay for it. I have access to a university library.

            “If you were trying to make the point that some NT scholars agree with Habermas about a majority of scholars, then why didn’t you just quote those scholars, instead of dumping off the entire citation list, most of which is making fine points unrelated to what the majority of scholars think?”

            I did but I also threw in those citations which includes such things.

            “”Vast majority”? Even Habermas’ 75% isn’t a “vast majority”.”

            Huh? All I am saying is that there is very little amount of scholars in the field who deny these facts.

            “If you think historians are divided on the matter of the supernatural – you obviously don’t read many historians.”

            I would beg to differ.

            “You think that my statement about grad students being encouraged not to pursue philosophy of religion is “highly speculative and false”?

            Then you clearly don’t talk to many philosophers of religion, for whom this is a common complaint. Here is one philosopher of religion stating that “grad students are still counseled against specializing in aPoR, and encouraged to focus on something respectable like metaphysics or epistemology “”

            Whether or not this is the case, it is not because, as you previously stated that PoR are working outside their expertise. In fact, the rest of the sentence says to wait to do PoR once you have tenure. It may be because PoR is a hard field to get hired into since it is not as well known as other fields.

            But let’s say this is true. So what? So what if some philosophers in other fields don’t respect PoR? If they aren’t experts in PoR then I think it is pretty obvious that it’s not their say as to what constitutes truthfulness.

          • Incidentally, have you read the entire Habermas article in the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus? I have the PDF right in front of me.

            So “highly speculative and probably false” turns into “But let’s say this is true. So what?” After I give a bit of evidence. You are tiresome.

          • MattB

            “Incidentally, have you read the entire Habermas article in the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus? I have the PDF right in front of me.”

            I wish, but no. I plan on buying it in the future. Or maybe I can search for it at my local community college library via internet.

            “So “highly speculative and probably false” turns into “But let’s say this is true. So what?” After I give a bit of evidence. You are tiresome.”

            The first objection you raise says that PoR dabble outside of their field and you say that this is the reason why they are not respected. However, this is merely speculative.

            I don’t know how much PoR is respected but even if it isn’t it doesn’t matter because PoR is a field just like any other field in Philosophy. They are specialists in religion and know the arguments. And that same PoR that you cited even says in other posts that most work in the philosophy of religion is not prosletyzing.

          • PoR is a subfield of philosophy suffering a huge degree of bias from theists who pursue it for apologetic purposes. And even with this bias, you won’t be even able to find a majority of PoR scholars supporting the “minimal facts approach” to the resurrection.

            http://www.academia.edu/4366213/Diagnosing_Bias_in_Philosophy_of_Religion_with_Paul_Draper

            http://www.academia.edu/1438058/Results_of_my_survey_on_natural_theological_arguments

            http://philpapers.org/archive/BOUWDP.pdf

            http://www.ryerson.ca/~kraay/Documents/2013TJT.pdf

          • MattB

            Whether or not some PoR purse PoR for apologetic purposes or personal reasons is irrelevant to the reason for most PoR being theist. Correlation does not equal causation. In fact, it’s interesting that you cite some of these articles from 2 PoR who are not atheist and are actually Theist and one of them happens to say that most work published in this field is not prosletyzing but scholarship(Read her blog). The other(Kraay) actually criticizes Paul Draper and Nickolas’ claim that PoR have a widespread cognitive bias. He shows that Draper and Nicholas offer no evidence to support this notion(Read page 6).

            I’m sorry but you should read what philosophers of religion say about miracles and you will see a lot talk about the resurrection and other stuff.

          • You don’t have to be sorry, Matt. I have read PoR philosophers and their talk about “other stuff”.

            I am glad you enjoyed my links. As you can see, I am being fair and equitable in my sharing of research, not showing only one side of the argument. I’m not biased against Christian scholars, and, in fact, I think it useful to note that theists (not just atheists) are concerned about bias in the field of PoR.

            While I don’t agree with all of Kraay’s assertions about Draper’s paper, I would agree with him that most PoR work is not proselytizing. It is a field that can be equitably pursued for a number of purposes.

            Incidentally, since you appreciated Kraay’s lecture, did you notice his statement:

            “But things are not all rosy at present. It is very difficult to secure academic employment in philosophy of religion, and for this reason, graduate students are routinely counseled to downplay, or obscure, or even give up any interest they may have in it.”

            Let’s see if I can remember what you said on this topic. First you quoted me:

            “Probably one of the many reasons that mainstream philosphers often advice grad students not to purse Philosophy of Religion.””

            Then you immediately said:

            “I am sure this statement is highly speculative and false.”

          • MattB

            I am sorry for making that statement. I guess I was frustrated at your previous statement about PoR dabbling in other fields and this being a reason for them not being respected and for grad students being counseled. However, PoR is not advised because it’s hard field to get employment into, not because it’s not mainstream.

          • Kraay gives a different reason for the advice given to grad students:

            “There is covert or overt
            hostility towards philosophical reflection on religion – and towards those doing the reflecting –
            in many secular academic environments.”

          • MattB

            I wouldn’t be surprise. Most philosophers are atheist, but then again not all atheists have a vendetta against religion.

          • And not all theists have a vendetta against atheists. But then, I don’t think what Kraay is describing is a “vendetta against religion” – though he might see it that way.

            Take a look at James’ assessment of Habermas in the comment below.

          • Craig isn’t really a New Testament scholar, and I don’t think he claims to be. Licona I have yet to read. Habermas is clearly doing the kind of sectarian scholarship which it is hard to interact with unless one shares his presuppositions, which most mainstream scholars and historians do not, including Christians among us. Wright is largely mainstream in his approach, although at times he will frustratingly say things that are not merely unjustifiable, but which he makes no attempt to justify, simply saying that sometimes unusual things happen or sometimes the consensus is wrong.

            That doesn’t mean that any of the authors necessarily ought to be ignored, any more than Richard Carrier or Michael Behe ought to be ignored, or for that matter what people like Richard Dawkins write about religion. I’m not for ignoring anyone altogether. But when one is dealing with something that blurs scholarship and apologetics together, it may seem that it is making its argument more persuasive to supporters of the authors view, it is actually making them less persuasive to people outside of that author’s community and ideological assumptions.

          • I completely agree; although I would add that Craig makes pronouncements outside of his field all of the time (he references NT scholars constantly, especially Habermas) Within his chosen field of philosophy of religion, his scholarship is just as sectarian as that of Habermas. He says:

            “philosophy is rightly the handmaid of theology”

            and:

            “it is the self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit that gives us the fundamental knowledge of Christianity’s truth. Therefore, the only role left for argument and evidence to play is a subsidiary role”

            It seems to me that the blurring of scholarship and apologetics is a far more pervasive and prolific problem than mythicism.

          • It is certainly far more pervasive and prolific. But I am not sure if it is a fundamentally different problem. 🙂

          • How is it different? (I mean, I know that the topic is different, but what do you see as the fundamental difference).

            In both cases, poor historical reasoning is being paired with scholarship to convince a wide audience of lay people that scholarship supports an untenable conclusion.

            I might even suggest that the blurring of scholarship and apologetics is a more closely related problem to mythicism than creationism or intelligent design – a comparison that you often make.

          • I don’t think it is fundamentally different.

          • Oh, yes – I misread your comment!

          • MattB

            James.

            I think I would have to disagree with you and BQ. Craig and Habermas have a lot of peer-reviewed work in mainstream Journals in both fields of NT studies, but mostly in Philosophy of Religion. PoR do exactly what Craig and Habermas do. Not necessarily apologetics but evaluate religious claims and compare religious beliefs. I think that I’m sure you would agree that Habermas’ survey represents what most scholars think about what happened to Jesus after his death(example: Jesus was buried. His tomb was found empty. His disciples believed that he had appeared to them). Now of course I’m not saying that scholars in general agree with the resurrection- because I know that’s disputed. But what I am saying is that unlike Carrier, Craig and Haberams at least try to represent what mainstream scholars say about Jesus in some areas. Carrier, on the other hand, can not be in the same ballpark as these fellows because he has not done anything that would be considered mainstream in his work. He has very little peer-reviewed work and he is not respected by scholars in his field.

          • What do you mean by “both fields of NT studies? Philosophy of Religion is not a field of NT studies. Academics in PoR are not NT scholars, as James is.

          • MattB

            I’m not saying they are. I’m saying that PoR examine claims about Religions.

          • That’s one thing PoR academics do.

            But you still haven’t answered the question. What you did you mean by “both fields of NT studies”? You claimed that Craig has “a lot of peer-reviewed work in mainstream Journals in both fields of NT studies.”

            This is the sort of vague, misleading statement you make on a regular basis. Craig is not an NT scholar.

          • MattB

            I mean in both fields of NT and PoR. Craig does have a PhD studying the historical Jesus and his resurrection under a German Theologian from Munich in Germany, if that counts.

          • No, it doesn’t. Especially, when one doesn’t publish in mainstream journals of NT scholarship.

          • MattB

            Habermas has published in mainstream journals and so has Craig, but Craig’s focus is more in the PoR, which you can read his and other mainstream philosophers articles and you can read some of Habermas’ work in mainstream Journals. You will hardly find Carrier’s work anywhere. Nor does Carrier have a teaching Job like Craig and Habermas.

          • Whether Habermas’ journal publications are “mainstream” is debatable, but Craig – you seem to finally note – is not a New Testament scholar.

            I’m not concerned with Carrier. I’m not a mythicist and I don’t follow his work.

          • MattB

            “Whether Habermas’ journal publications are “mainstream” is debatable, but Craig – you seem to finally note – is not a New Testament scholar.”

            I didn’t say that Craig wasn’t a NT scholar, I said that Craig’s work is mostly in the field of PoR, but Craig himself has earned his second PhD under the German theologian Wolfhaart Pannenberg, where he studied the resurrection and the literature so I think he counts.

            “I’m not concerned with Carrier. I’m not a mythicist and I don’t follow his work.”

            Right. But you were suggesting that Craig, Habermas, Licona, and NT Wright are in the same league as Carrier in terms of their scholarship and I would have to say that this is not entirely true.

          • I’ll have to agree with James on this one; Craig is no NT scholar.

            And yes, I still find the blurring of scholarship and apologetics that one finds in the “minimal facts approach” fundamentally the same problem as mythicism.

          • I think you will find that Craig publishes almost not at all in journals related to the study of the New Testament, and that Blomberg publishes very rarely outside of specifically Evangelical journals. Carrier has peer-reviewed publications, but that is not what determines whether his conclusions are mainstream, much less whether they are correct. And so I am not sure where you are going with this.

          • MattB

            I’m willing to agree to that, but then again Craig works mostly in the field of Philosophy of Religion, and so his published work will be in mainstream journals of philosophy and not Biblical studies. However, the study conducted by Habermas is a bibliography that is about what mainstream scholars think about what happened to Jesus after his death and not merely relying on Habermas’ views as an evangelical. My point was that Carrier’s arguments are not reflective of mainstream scholarship. Habermas’ and Craig’s views reflect mainstream views in the PoR and NT studies.

            The Resurrection of Jesus is still controversial, which both Craig and Habermas point out. But the evidence for the resurrection is not. Where the controversy lies is not in the historical evidence but the philosophical conclusions. Some scholars, as you know, think that the Resurrection could not happen because miracles are so improbable. Others are open that it may have happened. Others are still agnostic on the issue. This is where worldviews come in and I think Craig and Habermas have every right to assess these issues because that is their job as Philosphers working in the field of religion

          • MattB

            Again, maybe in some areas but in others I find that a lot of their views on the historical evidence is mainstream(Jesus’ burial, tomb and appearances).

          • You mean what they call “minimal facts”. It is the use of “minimal facts” to draw an unwarranted conclusion about the resurrection that is not only far from the mainstream, but is not how historians work. Historians assess all of the evidence, not “minimal” evidence.

          • MattB

            No. What I meant was that historians agree with the datum. When Craig and Habermas draw conclusions, that is completely in the mainstream in their field of philosophy of religion. They are seeing what philosophical explanation best explains the evidence. Historians can’t reject miracles but must be open to the possibility of them.

          • Drawing historical conclusions is the specialty of historians, not philosophers. When Craig and Habermas use faulty logic to draw historical conclusions, they are practicing apologetics, not philosophy.

            Whether one accepts miracles or not, historians do not use “minimal facts” to reject or accept historical interpretations – they use all of the evidence available.

          • MattB

            Craig and Habermas aren’t drawing historical conclusions, they are drawing philosophical conclusions of the evidence. If you approach the evidence with a presupposition that miracles are impossible, then obviously a natural explanation will be your guide. If you however approach the evidence that miracles are possible, then it may be that a miracle has actually taken place. This is not the job of the historian but the philosopher.

          • Quite the contrary, Craig and Habermas are approaching their “minimal facts” (again – not an approach that historians take), with the presumption not just that miracles are possible, but that the Abrahamic God is real and that he has reason to raise Jesus Christ from the dead, when no legitimate evidence of a resurrection can be found in history anywhere.

            Even if one believed that a miracle were “possible”, they would be – at best – incredibly rare. Certainly not the best explanation of the data by any reasonable measure. Craig and Habermas are obviously biased by their presumptions.

          • Paul E.

            BQ, you amaze me. You deserve some sort of prize for patience. I truly cannot understand how you put up with interacting with stuff like this. I imagine it can be fruitful in the long run, but I just couldn’t do it!

          • Well, it’s simply annoying when people are duped into thinking that apologetics can be treated as real objective scholarship. Matt will learn this eventually if he pursues the graduate degrees he says he desires, but only if he avoids sheltered conservative enclaves of apologetics like Biola University.

          • MattB

            I would like to know why you think the philosophical position they hold are not mainstream.

            I completely agree that historians assess all the evidence. I don’t think they meant to exclude other things but just that these are the three core facts of Jesus after his death. Habermas says there are like 12 other facts as well.

          • Oh, Matt, if you think that the Habermas resurrection conclusion, or the “minimal facts approach” are mainstream, you really are poorly read (unless all of your readings are on the amateur religious apologetic websites all over the web.

            And you need to reread the “minimal facts approach” if you “don’t think they meant to exclude other things”. They absolutely mean to exclude other things. They have no desire to deal with such matters as the overall reliability of the New Testament writings.

          • MattB

            “And you need to reread the “minimal facts approach” if you “don’t think they meant to exclude other things”. They absolutely mean to exclude other things. They have no desire to deal with such matters as the overall reliability of the New Testament writings.”

            That’s because the overall reliability of the NT is completely irrelevant to Jesus’ resurrection.

            “Oh, Matt, if you think that the Habermas resurrection conclusion, or the “minimal facts approach” are mainstream, you really are poorly read (unless all of your readings are on the amateur religious apologetic websites all over the web.”

            No, I read up on mainstream scholarship in PoR. They make arguments from miracles and religious experience. This is completely in the mainstream of PoR. So I am not sure why you say otherwise. And NT scholars are still divided over the best explanation of these facts.

            “Even if one believed that a miracle were “possible”, they would be – at best – incredibly rare. Certainly not the best explanation of the data by any reasonable measure. Craig and Habermas are obviously biased by their presumptions.”

            But that’s not justification for a priori ruling out a miracle as an explanation of the facts. You have to put it in the pool of other live options. This is the kind of thing that David Hume argued in the 18th century that has been widely refuted by philosophers.

          • How can the reliability of the New Testament be “irrelevant to Jesus’ resurrection”? What else have you got besides the New Testament?

            I didn’t say “miracles and religious experience” were not in the mainstream of PoR. I said the “minimal facts approach” of Habermas was outside the mainstream. If you’re going to argue with someone – argue with what they actually say.

            For example, my last paragraph did not rule out miracles a priori. But even if one allows that miracles are possible, they remain an extremely remote possibility. Certainly not a “best explanation”.

          • MattB

            “How can the reliability of the New Testament be “irrelevant to Jesus’ resurrection”? What else have you got besides the New Testament?”

            Because Historians look for what the texts does have and not what it doesn’t have. The fact that the NT has historical errors can not be evidence that these facts didn’t happen.

            “I didn’t say “miracles and religious experience” were not in the mainstream of PoR. I said the “minimal facts approach” of Habermas was outside the mainstream. If you’re going to argue with someone – argue with what they actually say.”

            Which field is this out of mainstream? These are the core main three facts that scholars hold to.

            “For example, my last paragraph did not rule out miracles a priori. But even if one allows that miracles are possible, they remain an extremely remote possibility. Certainly not a “best explanation”.”

            This is still a presupposition that is demonstrably outdated and false. You still want to put miracles outside the pool of live options when you must put miracles as equal as natural explanations.

          • Matt

            Of course historians take into account the unreliability of texts. Historians are interested in how texts were generated, the agendas of the authors, the ways that stories change and grow over time. Historical errors in any given ancient text are entirely relevant.

            The “facts” of the “minimal facts” approach are not the “core main three facts” that scholars hold to. Why do you make such vague and unfounded statements? NT scholars examine all sorts of evidence, differing by their individual disciplines and interests. What is not mainstream is the isolation of Habermas’ list of “facts” from the rest of the NT context – as he attempts to do with his “minimal facts approach”. Historians look at all the evidence, not the “minimal evidence”.

            Even James would explain to you that miracles are not “equal as natural explanations.”

            As James has pointed out to you, Habermas writes with sectarian presuppositions that mainstream scholars and historians do not share.

          • MattB

            “Of course historians take into account the unreliability of texts. Historians are interested in how texts were generated, the agendas of the authors, the ways that stories change and grow over time. Historical errors in any given ancient text are entirely relevant.”

            But your previous comment sounded to me as though you were suggesting that the gospels as a whole must be reliable in order for these to be probable facts. However, the passion narratives that depict Jesus’ death and burial and resurrection accounts are early and based on eyewitness accounts.

            “The “facts” of the “minimal facts” approach are not the “core main three facts” that scholars hold to. Why do you make such vague and unfounded statements? NT scholars examine all sorts of evidence, differing by their individual disciplines and interests. What is not mainstream is the isolation of Habermas’ list of “facts” from the rest of the NT context – as he attempts to do with his “minimal facts approach”. Historians look at all the evidence, not the “minimal evidence”.”

            I don’t quite understand your objection here. If these aren’t the core facts that scholars hold about Jesus after his death, then what are? And why assume that Habermas hasn’t looked at the other arguments for these facts? The point was that these main facts make up the main data of Jesus after his death. The other arguments are just extra details that aren’t required for these to be true.

            “Even James would explain to you that miracles are not “equal as natural explanations.””

            This is a philosophical presupposition, not a historical one.

            “As James has pointed out to you, Habermas writes with sectarian presuppositions that mainstream scholars and historians do not share.”

            I’m sure this is true of some scholars but I don’t quite understand the issue since he’s reflecting mainstream scholarships views on Jesus on the historical facts about Jesus rather than his own vs. Carrier who is reflecting his own opinions on Jesus that aren’t reflected in mainstream articles.

          • The reliability of the gospels as a whole certainly have an impact on any conclusions about the resurrection. The passion narratives that depict the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus conflict with each other and are clearly embellished.

            NT scholars focus on a host of NT matters. Those might be yours and Habermas’ “core facts”, but to assume that they are “core” to all NT scholars is frankly silly.

            James is a historian. His assessment of miracles or any other NT issues are based on a historian’s perspectives. Sorry, Matt, but you simply aren’t remotely qualified to tell James his own business. He’s right about Habermas’ credentials and distance from the mainstream; and he is far more qualified to give this assessment than you are.

          • MattB

            “The reliability of the gospels as a whole certainly have an impact on any conclusions about the resurrection. The passion narratives that depict the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus conflict with each other and are clearly embellished.”

            They also contradict each other on Jesus’ death and his trial and his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. Does this mean that these events didn’t happen? Also, the earliest sources report the burial and so these could not have been later embellishments.

            “NT scholars focus on a host of NT matters. Those might be yours and Habermas’ “core facts”, but to assume that they are “core” to all NT scholars is frankly silly.”

            Yes they do. I understand you don’t take these facts seriously but you’re denying mainstream scholarship and their opinions on the issue.

            “James is a historian. His assessment of miracles or any other NT issues are based on a historian’s perspectives. Sorry, Matt, but you simply aren’t remotely qualified to tell James his own business. He’s right about Habermas’ credentials and distance from the mainstream; and he is far more qualified to give this assessment than you are.”

            Miracles aren’t historical issues. Miracles are philosophical issues. The historical-critical method must be open(neutral) to miracles not closed. James never said that Habermas didn’t have the credentials:http://www.garyhabermas.com/habermas_resume.htm

          • The contradictions certainly create challenges for scholars in separating fact from fiction. And the fictions throw light on the writers intentions and characterizations even when he does include actual events. I am not denying mainstream scholarship; I am telling you that mainstream scholars do not deal with the resurrection by isolating “minimal facts” as Habermas does.

            James characterized Habermas work as “sectarian scholarship”.

          • MattB

            “I am not denying mainstream scholarship; I am telling you that mainstream scholars do not deal with the resurrection by isolating “minimal facts” as Habermas does.”

            But neither does Habermas. Habermas has taken into consideration the other arguments for the resurrection which are sub-details of these facts. He’s basically summarizing the evidence that scholars argue for what happened to Jesus after his death.

            “James characterized Habermas work as “sectarian scholarship”.”

            Maybe in some areas, but certainly not in what we’ve been talking about the past week.

            “The contradictions certainly create challenges for scholars in separating fact from fiction. And the fictions throw light on the writers intentions and characterizations even when he does include actual events”

            Yes, but scholars can separate the fact from fiction in these narratives. On example would be the ending of Mark.

          • Habermas’ work is sectarian scholarship in precisely what we’ve been talking about – the “minimal facts approach”.

          • MattB

            “And yes, I still find the blurring of scholarship and apologetics that one finds in the “minimal facts approach” fundamentally the same problem as mythicism.Habermas’ work is sectarian scholarship in precisely what we’ve been talking about – the “minimal facts approach”.”

            How can it be if it reflects the views of mainstream scholars vs. Carrier whose views are extreme and doesn’t reflect virtually any scholars views on the historical Jesus? Are you suggesting that PoR are blurring the evidence even though it’s their job to evaluate religious claims and truths?

          • I’m not sure how to have a meaningful discussion with you when you argue against points that I do not make.

          • MattB

            You said that these scholars are blurring scholarship, but I don’t quite see in what they are, when there is no consensus on the issue.

          • No consensus on what issue?

          • MattB

            The Resurrection of Jesus. There is consensus on his existence, so Carrier’s actually arguing against mainstream scholarship while Craig, Habermas, Licona, and NT Wright aren’t.

          • Craig, Habermas, and Licona are arguing against mainstream scholarship in their use of a “minimal facts approach” to determine historicity. I have already made that clear.

          • MattB

            They aren’t trying to determine historicity.

          • Yet another false statement from MattB:

            “They aren’t trying to determine historicity” MattB

            hmmm…

            Habermas, Gary R., “The Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ” (2006). Faculty Publications and Presentations. Paper 204.
            http://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/lts_fac_pubs/204

            Licona, Michael Ren, “The historicity of the resurrection of Jesus : historiographical considerations in the light of recent debates” Doctoral Thesis (2009)
            http://upetd.up.ac.za/thesis/available/etd-04022009-190941/

            Craig, William Lane, “Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ,” Truth 1 (1985): 89-95.
            http://www.reasonablefaith.org/jesus-resurrection

          • MattB

            By Historicity, they mean the historical evidence.

          • So let me get this straight:

            Are you saying that when they write entire books and papers about “historicity” they mean something different by “historicity” than what you meant by “historicity” when you said, “They aren’t trying to determine historicity”?

            How am I supposed to take conversations with you seriously?

          • MattB

            As I’ve said before, It’s not the job of historians to evaluate religious claims and evidence. The Historian evaluates certain historical truths about religions but not the truthfulness of that religion itself.

            Habermas’ approach is mainstream in the PoR. Why? Because as we discussed it’s what philosophers of Religion do.

          • Thanks for your opinion, but your assessment of each discipline is shallow, and misses the point.

          • MattB

            What is the point I’m missing?

          • That historians such as James are qualified to assess the historicity of events.

          • MattB

            I didn’t say that. I said that as a historian, James can’t object to the Resurrection on philosophical grounds.

          • Matt, I’ve watched this conversation with a great deal of bewilderment. Do you not agree that resurrections are improbable events? Do you not agree that historical study deals in probabilities? If you agree on both these points, then surely you cannot disagree with the point historians regularly make that historical tools cannot be used to “prove” that a resurrection occurred. If you disagree with these points, I would be interested to know which one(s), and why.

          • MattB

            Dr.M,
            I agree with both your points. Where I disagree is in a priori ruling out a miracle as the best explanation of these facts because that’s not what the historical method can do. To do so is to go beyond history and into philosophy.

          • How can an astronomically improbable event be judged by historians to be the best explanation of the facts, when less improbable and more mundane explanations can also account for them, given the points you said you agree with?

          • Paul E.

            I have watched some of the conversations beau quilter has had here and in another thread with a different poster (whose name escapes me at the moment) with the same feeling you expressed: bewilderment.

            I guess I would ask if sensitivity to religious feelings has anything to do with your decision to engage with mythicists in one manner while engaging with apologists (not of the yec variety) in another (and there certainly could be a legitimate basis for differential interaction)? I also understand personal interests in one topic over another and certain prior interactions with personalities in one arena or another can influence the tenor of the dialog on a blog, but is there a legitimate place in scholarship for “pulling punches” with, for example, the position that the reanimation of a corpse is the best explanation (without faith or the witness of the Holy Spirit) for the evidence relating to the origins of Christianity? And if not (and I suppose even if so), then would it not be a more pressing social concern to address that issue than it would be to address the incredibly uninfluential position that mythicists take?

          • I’ve written a book on the subject of history, faith, and the resurrection. I’ve not done something similar with respect to mythicism. And so I am not sure why you feel that my treatment of the former has been less than the latter. Perhaps it is because of the fact that Carrier’s book has led to more focus on mythicism here very recently? But surely one cannot be expected to write equally in all venues at all times?

            http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0077SP5SU/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B0077SP5SU&linkCode=as2&tag=jamefmcgrshom-20&linkId=BRLD4BGUUSUI2BRR

          • Paul E.

            All fair, and I want to make clear my question was not adversarial. But I wonder about the “manner” of discourse as well. Without mining posts specifically (my comments are “off the cuff”), I believe it has been your position that it is fair to treat mythicism with a certain contempt/sarcasm, or at least with an overtly polemical tone, while it seemed to me your book on Jesus’ burial to which you linked was more about giving certain Christians something of a “soft landing” in distinguishing between scholarly conclusions and faith positions. And that distinction seems to come out in your discourse, in my limited experience/exposure to your blog. You seem to disagree with that impression, and I certainly could be wrong (I am fairly new to your blog). Nevertheless, even if my impression is correct, I am not saying the differential treatment would be illegitimate. It may well be irresponsible to take a frontal assault against certain faith positions if one has authority/influence; a different approach may be more responsible. It may also be legitimate to treat positions with which one has some sympathy differently from others, as long as one is open and up-front about it. I simply hope that we aren’t treating faith positions masked as scholarship with kid-gloves when there is not a legitimate reason to do so.

          • I think the fact that there are Christians in significant numbers – including Christians who embrace a historical resurrection while acknowledging that historical tools cannot be used to demonstrate it – who engage in mainstream historical research, that directing interested laypeople to such sources is appropriate. I think you will find that I also engage in a similar way with atheists who engage in academic discourse in an appropriate manner. When it comes to those who reject mainstream scholarship – whether they be proponents of Intelligent Design or of mythicism – that is when I feel that it is appropriate to not merely use the ideal gentle methods, but other ways of speaking, in the hope that they might realize the implications of rejecting scholarship in the way that they do. I hope that, when it comes to attempts to persuade the public of views that have not been able to persuade academics in relevant fields, I am consistent. I try to be, but I am sure that I fail on occasion.

          • Paul E.

            Fair enough; thank you for the explanation and I can appreciate the distinctions you are making.

            As a closed-circuit aside, I hope you have the time soon to give me your thoughts on the draft (or perhaps you think daft?) ideas on the burial I sent you via email a short while back. 🙂

          • I will try to get to what you sent me after the end of this semester’s classes, if not sooner.

          • Paul E.

            Thank you! I am very appreciative!

          • By the way, when you mentioned “another thread with a different post” defending the minimal facts approach, you were probably referring to my conversation with Nick Peters on this post:

            http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2014/10/mythicisms-methodological-mess.html

          • MattB

            Because none of the natural explanations that have been proposed in the past adequately explain the evidence without committing some sort of ad-hoc explanation and making things more complex. Even most critical scholars accept the fact that no natural explanation exists.

          • You cannot have read them very widely or thoroughly. Even unlikely scenarios – such as that some disciples tried to steal the body, were caught and killed by the Romans and all tossed together in some other grave – are far more likely as historical explanations than that a unique supernatural event occurred, even without there being specific evidence pointing to this having happened. Such things do happen, and could happen. They are not inherently improbable. And so how can you judge such scenarios less likely than an unprecedented miracle, using the probabilistic rules and tools of historical inquiry?

          • MattB

            I still don’t see how this is not a philosophical presupposition. On the one hand, you say that any natural event(like some disciples trying to steal Jesus’ body and then they end up dead) is considered an unlikely scenario, but on the other hand, you say that even if there is no specific evidence for such an unlikely event, it still ends up being more probable than a miracle happening, even though both are highly improbable. How is this not some sort of special pleading?

          • It is fine to call it a philosophical presupposition, but there is no special pleading. If someone is found dead, even if we do not manage to identify the murderer, it will be more likely that someone killed them than that the angel of God struck them dead. That is based on experience, and it is certainly woven into the way we approach criminology and history as a presupposition. But it is not an inappropriate one, and you seemed to acknowledge that historical study, dealing in probabilities, cannot be a means of making the improbable seem probable.

          • MattB

            . The historical method can’t rule out a miracle but rather it is neutral and open to one happening. The argument you’re making strays into philosophical reasoning that was proposed by David Hume hundreds of years ago(Extraordinary claims requires extraordinary evidence). However, this is false. All a claim needs is evidence to support it. An example of this argument that you made was by trying to come up with an improbable explanation by claiming that some of the disciples stole the body and then were killed by the Roman guards. You said that this was highly unlikely but still more likely than a miracle happening. That’s not a historical judgement but philosophical because it doesn’t in anyway allow the possibility of a supernatural explanation. Especially in the case of Jesus where, like I said earlier, no natural explanation has been valid. You would have to go to great lengths to try and weave together many different scenarios to explain the evidence. For example, you could say that the disciples stole the body from the tomb, but then how does that explain the appearances? You would have to either weave something like “Oh the disciples were hallucinating” even though hallucinations don’t happen to multiple individuals in different parts of Israel throughout multiple days. Or you would have to come up with the twin theory but there is no evidence that Jesus had a twin. Then you would have to explain how they really came to believe in Jesus as the risen Christ. You would be adding more causes beyond necessity or adding the most assumptions vs. being open to it being unexplained.

          • You are mistaken, or at least are expressing yourself inaccurately. You cannot simply complain that meteorology, or chemistry, or history, or criminology, are inappropriately diverging into philosophy because they limit themselves to mundane matters and the evidence for them. It may be a result of a judgment about method that is in the domain of the philosophy of history, or the philosophy of science. But it remains the case that, until such time as these disciplines are redefined in radical ways, we don’t ever say that it is more likely that an angel struck someone dead because we have not found the human perpetrator or the knife they used. We simply leave the case open. If that is what you want to say – that history cannot but be agnostic on something like a claim to resurrection – then that is fine. But if you then want to try to argue that the resurrection is probable, that is contradicting what we have already established about the appropriate limits of historical inquiry and its tools and methods.

          • MattB

            James,

            I am not criticizing any of these fields or their methods. I am simply saying that you yourself can’t a priori rule out miracles in your pool of live options. If you are open to a highly improbable natural explanation then why not a highly improbable supernatural explanation?

            It seems the argument that I’m making is not historical but philosophical. The historical evidence that leads one to a philosophical conclusion. That’s why I brought up Philosophers of Religion, who would make an argument that the Resurrection is the best explanation of the evidence, philosophically speaking. This has nothing to do with the historical methods or the critical methods in these fields you brought up.

          • If you have to ask the question then you have not grasped the point. And so perhaps I should ask some specific questions. What kind of evidence would it take to persuade you that someone had been killed through the magical manipulation of a genie’s power? And do you think that it would ever be appropriate for criminologists, using the tools of criminology, to conclude on the basis of the kind of evidence they investigate that a genie had been responsible for someone’s death?

          • James doesn’t “object to the Resurrection” (where do you come up with these straw men). James explains that a resurrection is not a probable explanation of events in the first century from a historian’s point of view.

            I would add that the vast majority of philosophers would agree with this assessment.

          • MattB

            “James doesn’t “object to the Resurrection” (where do you come up with these straw men). James explains that a resurrection is not a probable explanation of events in the first century from a historian’s point of view.”

            What’s the difference? If he doesn’t find the resurrection a good explanation then that means he doesn’t believe it’s true correct?

            “I would add that the vast majority of philosophers would agree with this assessment.”
            I would disagree.

          • You ask, “What’s the difference?” Most of the Christians I know believe in the resurrection on faith, not historical evidence.

            I was already aware that you disagree with the vast majority of philosophers on the resurrection.

          • MattB

            What vast majority say this? To my knowledge, this is not the views of mainstream por.

          • According to the most recent professional survey only 14.6% of philosophers are theists, and only the Christians among those would even believe in the resurrection, and even among the Christian philosophers, I am sure you will find those (like James) who don’t see the resurrection as something that can be historically evidenced.

            http://philpapers.org/archive/BOUWDP.pdf

          • arcseconds

            I’ve looked at Chalmer’s work here before, and I actually recall it being a bit lower than that, dunno why.

            It’s also notable that atheism has the third highest level of agreement among philosophers, beaten only by realism about the external world and realism about science.

            What was surprising to me is that deontology narrowly beats consequentialism in the normative ethics stakes. I was expecting consequentialism to be at least 10 percentage points higher.

          • The huge disconnect between mainstream philosophy and the subfield philosophy of religion corresponds well with the recent Draper/Nichols paper “Diagnosing Bias in Philosophy of Religion”.

            https://www.pdcnet.org/pdc/bvdb.nsf/purchase?openform&fp=monist&id=monist_2013_0096_0003_0420_0446

          • MattB

            There is a 58% response rate in that survey, but what’s even more interesting is that on that same survey, 70% of philosophers of religion are theist(the specialists in the field) vs. the non-specialists who will know little, if anything at all about the arguments for and against the existence of God.

          • I think it’s hilarious that you think academic philosophers “know little, if anything at all about the arguments for and against the existence of God.”

            It’s true – I just can’t take you seriously.

          • MattB

            Philosophy is not a unified subject anymore. That means philosophers work in many sub-disciplines or fields within philosophy. That’s not to say that some fields don’t overlap because they do. However, just because fields overlap doesn’t mean that someone in one field is going to be an expert in another field. And there are many sub- disciplines within philosophy. Philosophy of Science, Epistemology, Metaphysics, Ethics, Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy of Art, Philosophy of Education,etc.

          • Nope. Vague, uninformative generalizations about the field of philosophy don’t really change anything. It was still quite silly of you to say that academic philosophers “know little, if anything at all about the arguments for and against the existence of God.”

  • arcseconds

    While this is surely an example of purple prose rather than a rational argument, I’m wondering whether Neil has a point here.

    Isn’t the rhetorical target here really the mainstream view, and not early Christians? Without having read the book, it seems to me that what Carrier may be suggesting is that according to the mainstream view, Christianity was an insignificant bunch of illiterate hicks (with a single freakish Paul). Perhaps to be contrasted with his own view, where i gather the Jesus that we’re familiar with is largely a literary invention of Paul’s, who is operating in a rising and dying messiah and has bought that figure down to earth and given him a mundane biography?

    At any rate, from his perspective he can’t really be insulting the early Christians who knew Jesus (or knew people who knew Jesus) in a straightforward sense, because he doesn’t believe such people existed.

  • Gakusei Don

    Carrier writes on p. xiii of OHJ that he deliberately uses “ordinary language” in his latest books. I’ve quoted Carrier below on this. I don’t think he does himself any favors. I’ve read lots of fairly technical books that are directed also at the layman which are written clearly and well (Ehrman and Sagan come to mind), so I don’t understand why he thinks he needs to be a trial blazer in that respect. His use of ‘outer space’ and your highlighting of his use of “hicks” and “freaks” suggests he may not be doing it so well.

    Anyway, Carrier writes on p. xiii:

    “Though this is a work of careful scholarship, the nature of its aims and funding necessitate a style that is approachable to both experts and laymen. By the requirements of my grant, I am writing as much for my benefac­tors as my fellow scholars. But there is a more fundamental reason for my frequent use of contractions, slang, verbs in the first person, and other supposed taboos: it’s how I believe historians should speak and write. Histori­ans have an obligation to reach wider audiences with a style more attractive and intelligible to ordinary people. And they can do so without sacrific­ing rigor or accuracy. Indeed, more so than any other science, history can be written in ordinary language without excessive reliance on specialized vocabulary (though we do need some), and without need of any stuffy pro­tocols of language that don’t serve a legitimate purpose. As long as what we write is grammatically correct, accurate and clear, and conforms to spoken English, it should satisfy all the aims of history: to educate and inform and advance the field of knowledge. This very book, just like the last, has been written to exemplify and hopefully prove that point.”

    • Charles Ormsbee

      Thanks for that Gakusei Don. I’ve been debating whether to get OHJ. Do you recommend? How does it compare with Earl Doherty’s book(s)? I’ve not read either one, but Doherty comes off a bit more professional and polite in his online dealings with detractors.

    • Neko

      As a layman I’m grateful for elegance and lucidity in historical writing and find Carrier’s approach off-putting to the point of not reading him. McGrath rightly objects to Carrier’s deployment of pop language as a vehicle of disdain and insult. Perhaps Celsus was just as bad; I wouldn’t know.

  • ..an interesting book has just come (October 2014) by Michael Paulkovich (NASA systems engineer)…called….”NO MEEK MESSIAH”. Apparently it is has great reviews! He “proves” that Jesus Christ NEVER existed! Can anyone give some feedback on this issue………??? please!

    • Chris Crawford

      The author’s book blurbs on Amazon make it pretty obvious that the author is pandering to an audience that isn’t me. I’m automatically skeptical of anyone who uses that kind of inflammatory rhetoric; I see no reason to trust him.

      This is how it starts: “The vast majority have not read their Bible. Many think they have; they are exposed to certain parts on Sundays, even being dedicated attendees of weekly Bible Study. But most are completely unaware, for instance, that the New Testament traces the parenthood of Jesus to mythical Adam and Eve…”

      I mean: really? If he’s this wrong in the description, I can’t imagine what gems of inaccuracy lie inside the book’s pages.

    • I’ve already done so: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2014/10/moss-and-baden-on-the-lastest-mythicist-nonsense.html

      Why are you asking about the book in a comment, and yet not bothering to look on the blog where you ask about it, to see if it has been discussed?!

      UPDATE: Having looked at your comments elsewhere, I see lots of copying and pasting of the same nonsense over and over again. Spammers are not welcome here. Goodbye.

  • Erp

    Beyond the tone, Carrier is also wrong in ‘country’ since it is my understanding that most historians of the era think Christianity was, outside of Galilee, an urban religion (even though most people lived in the country). Small yes, mostly poorer people though a few were rich enough to discriminate against their poorer neighbors in eating (I Corinthians) or own slaves (Philemon), mostly illiterate because most people except the elites were (though each of the groups Paul was writing to had to have had at least one member capable of reading the letters). Though the perception of ‘urban’ might also be because what literate people there were tended to be in the cities.

  • John Pieret

    A small point as to “pervasively illiterate” … Homer and his audience were undoubtedly illiterate too. Could Carrier write anything as magnificent as that “country hick” Homer sang? Illiteracy does not equate to “lack of sophistication.”

    Also, illiterate people have long had ways to pass along knowledge without writing. Certainly, error creeps in using such methods … but so it does in copying writings we no longer have the original manuscripts of, as in the case of many, if not most, ancient historical “documents.”

  • Anon-a-Mouse

    Couldn’t it just have been from the perspective of ancient social status? Carrier might not consider Socrates’s educated contemporaries “freaks” because they were widely respected by society which cannot be said for Paul.

    • I don’t understand your point. What cannot be said of Paul in his social context that could be said about Socrates in his?

      • Anon-a-Mouse

        The analogy would be for the sources: Greek contemporaries for Socrates vs Paul for Jesus. I might be wrong but the difference is that while Socrates was a social outcast his contemporaries were not, whereas Paul was one.

        • I’m still not following you. In relation to what society was Paul an outcast? Which of Socrates’ contemporaries were not? And what do you think the relevance of this is?

          • Anon-a-Mouse

            Paul was an outcast to Roman society in general, whereas Plato and Aristophanes were not outcasts in Greek society (Xenophon is the exception since he was pro-Spartan).

            The relevance is that I think it makes more sense that Carrier framed it as ancient status equaling accuracy: the more socially reputable the source the more accurate the information. This is of course debatable, but it makes more sense than Carrier being elitist.

          • In what sense was Paul an outcast? Are you presuming that Jews were outcasts by definition in that context? The evidence doesn’t support that viewpoint.

          • Anon-a-Mouse

            I was assuming he was post-conversion as a Christian. This is only for social standing, obviously he had legal privileges as a Roman citizen.

          • You seem to be reading back into Paul the situation of a later time. Paul never uses the term “Christian.” The messianic Jewish sect that he was a part of would eventually come to bear that name. But you seem to be anachronistically retrojecting onto Paul the situation in our time, when Judaism and Christianity are separate world religions.

          • Anon-a-Mouse

            Yes I am using the later term but that doesn’t disprove Paul didn’t social standing in Roman society. Are you arguing his Jewish sect was as equally respected as the others and that he thus wasn’t marginal?

            The overall argument of Plato’s/Aristophanes’s social status in Athens vs Paul’s in Rome seems definitive unless I missed something important :/

          • The Romans don’t seem to have made any distinction among Jewish sects in this period, as far as we can tell. And I still don’t understand what it is that you are arguing. Can you actually make whatever argument it is that you are referring to, and do so explicitly?

          • Anon-a-Mouse

            In that case were Jews given equal social status to other non-Jewish Romans?

            The overall argument is that in ancient societies, accuracy was based on social standing, If Paul had low status in Rome he was thus thought to have low accuracy, making him a “freak,” Plato/Aristophanes had high status in Athens and thus high accuracy.

          • I am not sure what you mean by “accuracy was based on social standing” in ancient societies. Please explain what you mean by this statement, and then provide some evidence to substantiate the claim. It is hard to imagine what you could possibly mean by referring to Aristophanes’ dramatic works as having a “high accuracy.” And you seem to be assuming that all people of a particular ethnicity had the same social standing, which is qute obviously incorrect.

          • Anon-a-Mouse

            I think the “theory” (really a guess of Carrier’s thinking) isn’t that important, what I really want to know is what Paul’s social status was to Roman citizens in general.

            I’m starting to think the original assessment of Paul having low status wasn’t correct.

          • What do you mean “what Paul’s social status was to Roman citizens in general”? Are you mistakenly thinking that citizenship was something that most inhabitants of the Roman empire possessed? As for his status, according to Acts, Paul had the status of citizen, but historians do not universally find Acts credible on this point. But in terms of other considerations, he was clearly educated beyond what was typical in the Roman world, and (again, if Acts is credible) he was probably, in terms of economic status, a craftsman in the retainer class, and thus not in the situation of the vast majority, but neither in the very small class of the uppermost elite of rulers and nobility.

          • arcseconds

            I don’t really see any reason to view either Socrates or Paul as outcast, if that is to be understood as being a marginal figure on the fringes of society or someone who is rejected from the social position they occupied wholesale.

            Socrates served on the assembly, so he had pretty high social standing, and he had rich and often positive interactions with out-and-out aristocrats (like Plato and Xenophon). He seems to have been at minimum a rather divisive figure, was certainly rather eccentric, and apparently was rather poor (although probably this is relative to his social standing) later in life, but none of that equates to being an outcast.

            As McGrath says, Paul is portrayed in Acts as being a citizen, which again is a fairly high standing in Roman society which only a minority possessed. He uses this to e.g. avoid being executed.

  • Guest

    Um