Listen to the Big Debate Tonight!

Listen to the Big Debate Tonight! October 21, 2016

Some of us watching the debate last night knew that the real big debate is taking place on the evening of October 21st – today! I’m happy that, despite not having been able to drive today to where it is occurring, I will nevertheless be able to watch the debate this evening between Bart D. Ehrman and Robert M. Price on whether Jesus existed as a historical figure. If you want to watch, Matt Dillahunty will be moderating it, and I can offer you a 20% discount! Simply paste this code: 4CPBfM in the checkout at:  http://mythicistmilwaukee1.cleeng.com/debate-dr-robert-price-and-bart-d-ehrman-did-jesus-exist/E775536156_US

After the debate, I’ll be joining James Crossley and other scholars to talk about it together with the hosts of the show Who Do They Say That I Am?, Matt Kovacs and Arick Mittler.

Listen to “Who Do They Say That I am’s show” on Spreaker.

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  • myklc

    Lowest link above is showing the debate live!

  • arcseconds

    I have managed to get through the debate. I haven’t listened to your panel discussion yet, but I thought I’d note down a few things first. Before I forget! Ehrman has me paranoid about my memory now… is it trustworthy over a few hours? 🙂

    I must admit, I have developed a bit of a soft spot for Robert Price. I have read that he’s an affable sort of a person, and I wasn’t really sure how that squared with mythicism. But unlike many other mythicists, he doesn’t seem to be motivated by animus against Christianity, and is happy to admit it’s all just speculation, realises he’s out in the wilderness about it, and is pretty relaxed about the whole thing. At no point does he outright insult the academy.

    I suppose the notion that there’s a dominant paradigm (he doesn’t use that term when he’s describing it, preferring to reference Heidegger and Foucault rather than Kuhn, but I don’t remember his exact terminology) that isn’t up for question might be considered insulting, but there’s some truth to the idea, and the ‘sociological’ take on science and the academy more generally has had plenty of adherents within the academy, so it’s not a totally fringe position to take.

    He kind of strikes me as the same way I think of the 19th century fabulists: he loves stories and he loves connecting them together in unusual ways. I was also reminded a bit about something I read about Charles Fort, who apparently didn’t take his own theories particularly seriously, and saw himself as more of a champion of the anomalous. I think there’s some value in having such people around.

    There’s also something rather delightfully performative about him: he’s obviously fond of his clever titles and has peppered his opening address about him. I don’t always enjoy performativity, but his is fairly subtle and laid back. I don’t even like his clever titles that much and putting them in a speech seems contrived, but he’s having fun with it. It seems like he’s enjoying himself, and this isn’t combative: he just likes showing off his view and contrasting it with that of another scholar. He’s even quite gracious and serenely uninterested in pushing his position at the end: he grants Ehrman some of his time, and on a couple of incidents doesn’t bother taking an opportunity to speak further, apparently feeling he’s said all he wants to.

    Having said that, it is a bit frustrating that he’s prepared to handwave wildly and adopt what sometimes seems like every fringe position out there: late Gospels, no genuine Pauline letters, interpolations all over the place, reading in references to a pre-Christian divine sacrifice myth everywhere. And his reduction of the miracle stories to mundane occurrences like picnics and visiting someone who’s son just dies and doesn’t get better is just silly, and Ehrman rightfully calls him out on that.

    Ehrman overall did a pretty good job. I would say a historical Jesus agnostic who doesn’t know much about the subject but realises this and has some feeling for evidence ought to find Ehrman pretty persuasive. His explanation at the end about Paul was good and informed me about a few things, although I’m not sure I agree that the pseudo-Pauls are testifying to his existence. If Pauline letters were floating around, the natural assumption would be that there’s a real Paul behind them, so the fact that someone decides to pass themselves off as Paul is not actually any more information we have about Paul than the existence of the epistles themselves. And even if they didn’t think Paul existed, they still might write letters as though they were Paul (if anything, thinking that all Paul letters are inventions would only be encouraging).

    I do wish he had pushed Price further on a couple of points. We can ask: what problems does this theory solve (or, as I’ve put it before, what weird things does it make boring?). Historicism explains why a messiah is crucified and why Paul refers to a flesh-and-blood Jesus and meeting his brother and his chief disciple. All of these have much more complex explanations in Price’s account.

    But what does Price’s account resolve? One thing he keeps coming back to is that he doesn’t believe that an ordinary wandering miracle-worker and preacher would be compelling enough to start such a big movement. But mythicism also has this problem: there are plenty of entirely mythological figures with quite incredible stories that some cult centers around, but few of them become world-changing religions, or anything more than small local affairs. Christianity’s spread is a highly unusual occurrence no matter how you cut it, and there’s some obvious historical accidents that helped (like becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire).

    The explanation for the early spread is presumably some combination of compelling stories, theology, and practice. On either account there’s a fair bit of fortuitous mutation into a religious form that would be popular, and there’s no particular reason to think this kind of mutation is more plausible from an entirely mythical figure as opposed to accounts of a historical person.

    The other thing I wish Ehrman had stressed was how there’s nothing particularly unusual about the way history is done for the early Christian church, or at least, not the way he’s doing it, especially when he was being confronted by scepticism from the audience. It’s not like New Testament scholars are the only ones who take letters at face value, as actually being written by the people who they claim to be written by, for example. We might say that these are optimistic assumptions, but they are necessary to get anywhere in our investigations, and this is something that’s recognised in the philosophy of science (e.g. Newton’s 3rd and 4th rules of reasoning, formal learning theory). The fact that we’ve made these assumptions doesn’t mean we can’t reject them later if we get into trouble with them, and that’s actually an important way of making advances.

    I wouldn’t expect Ehrman to be able to make this point, but to the person asking about Bayesian treatments, I would reply that, if one accepts Bayesian epistemology as the right epistemological account, then every good empirical argument is a Bayesian argument, even if it isn’t cast in Bayesian terms. Contrariwise, if there are good empirical arguments that cannot be explained on Bayesian principles, its not the correct account, or at least, not the whole story. And it has yet to be established that there’s anything to be gained by trying to do history with the formal Bayesian apparatus.

    Also, I wanted to note that we were given a great example of conspiracy theory reasoning right at the end, when the penultimate questioner was pushing a theory where it was convenient for Jesus’s disciples for Jesus to die, so they may have offed him (or he inconveniently died of dysentery or something) and then attributed his death to being crucified by Romans. Ehrman reiterates that the problem is why would they say that the Messiah was crucified, but the guy just ‘doesn’t buy it’.

    Finally, Price’s manner of speaking really reminded me of someone, but I couldn’t think who. But I finally worked it out: he sounds like Brains, from Thunderbirds, just without the stutter 🙂