Mythicism and the Bacterial Flagellum

Mythicism and the Bacterial Flagellum April 7, 2019

As I unwisely allowed myself to get dragged into a conversation on another blog with someone whose behavior led to him being banned from this one, I was struck again by the difficulty that many mythicists seem to have with distinguishing between the question of Jesus’ existence, and the question of whether certain ancient sources, and/or certain contemporary apologists, make accurate claims about that ancient figure.

And so of course my thoughts turned to the bacterial flagellum.

I’ve made comparisons between mythicism and movements like Intelligent Design, since there are similarities both at the level of the big picture and on specific details.

But here’s a difference that may be equally instructive. When atheists opposing Intelligent Design proponents hear them cite the bacterial flagellum as evidence of a Designer, they don’t counter by insisting that the bacterial flagellum doesn’t (or probably doesn’t) exist.

Why not? In most instances they haven’t seen this microscopic object. Indeed, the extent to which our tools can allow us to “see” them is itself a less-than-straightforward matter, making it very interesting in its own right.

But staying on the central point for the present, why do atheists trust the scientists rather than suggesting that the thing their studies bring to light probably doesn’t exist, because it is appealed to by ID proponents? It would be easier to simply deny its existence altogether than to engage in the more complex argumentation needed to argue (on the basis of its existence) that ID proponents interpret its significance incorrectly.

Hopefully the point here is obvious. The fact you disagree with someone’s interpretation of a person or object does not have any bearing on whether the person or object exists. If the case they make seems compelling initially, or seems completely bogus right away, has no bearing on whether the person or thing their case is made about exists.

In the discussion that led to this post, I was asked if I am “sure” Jesus existed as a historical figure, and if so why. I tried to give a short answer as follows:

“Sure” is relative. I’m as confident as one can be for a figure in the ancient world who did not mint coins or erect edifices on which he placed inscriptions about himself.

The shortest argument (which, like a short argument for anything, may not seem persuasive unless it is expanded on) is this:

– the anointed one descended from David referred to the king and the restoration of that line to the throne
– being executed by the Romans before establishing one’s throne disqualified one’s claim to be the one to restore the Davidic dynasty to the throne
Therefore
– It is less likely that early Christians invented from scratch a crucified anointed one and went around trying to persuade their fellow Jews to accept him, than that there was a figure that they believed to be this messiah who was then executed, and they managed to maintain that belief despite the cognitive dissonance resulting from this counterevidence.

Can one make an argument that is even shorter than this, while still keeping it relatively persuasive?

The ongoing discussion there has kept illustrating the similarities. They appeal to scholars who are persuaded by the evidence that there is a historical Jesus, but who offer criticisms of aspects of the field’s methods and argue for better ones, in exactly the same way that ID proponents quote mine biologists who are persuaded that evolution occurred, but disagree with their peers and advocate for improved methods. They also look around and as long as they can find a scholar who has proposed a particular view, they are happy to treat it as though it were more probable than alternatives, and to combine minority views together into an edifice that is at least as unlikely as its component pieces, if not indeed more so because the convergence of so many unlikelihoods may be more unlikely than any one or even several of them would be!

I also said the following in response to a comment that shared a recent video by Richard Carrier:

The fact that mythicists can say that Jesus of Nazareth is merely:

  • Enoch
  • Philo’s Logos
  • A combination of different people named Jesus
  • Tammuz
  • Horus
  • Julius Caesar
  • A figure crafted through what they mislabel “midrash”

and so on indicates that this method is completely bankrupt. It amounts to picking any known source or individual(s) and then adding “and Jesus was invented on that basis.” Which, of course, one could do with any other comparable figure in precisely the same way.

I would write a book about this, perhaps pitching it more broadly as being about how to identify pseudoscholarship. It seems to be needed in our day and age more than ever. And yet the discussion over on that blog makes me wonder whether it would accomplish much. But presumably the fact that some people stubbornly persist in denialism should never be allowed to persuade us not to make a case in an attempt to reach others (and perhaps, just maybe, even the truly die-hard true believers in false beliefs)?

Of related interest, Christoph Heilig has responded to the book review that engaged with his use of Bayes’ Theorem. Here’s an excerpt (the full thing is worth reading, and includes an illustration from the modern-day political realm):

The point about Bayes’s theorem offering access to the “best” possible result should not be mistaken as a reference to precision but to completeness of evidence taken into account. To formulate it more clearly this time: if we are comparing two hypotheses in light of some new evidence and we can’t tell which of the two had been more plausible before the new evidence emerged (prior-probability) and if we can’t tell which of the two hypothesis makes the evidence more predictable (likelihood), we simply can’t say anything about which of the two hypotheses is more probable (“probable” refers here to the subjective “confidence in the truth of  [the hypothesis] H. How much would you be willing to bet on the truth of H?”, Hidden Criticism, p. 28).

Meanwhile, Phillip Jenkins discussed Philo’s account of the Carabas incident and how it relates to the Gospels. Also, Ben Witherington’s series, mentioned several times already, continued. See too:

Jesus, Skepticism, and the Problem of History

 

 


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  • John MacDonald

    I really don’t see how identifying possible literary mimesis is evidence against historicity.

    For example, I have speculated recently that maybe Mark shaped his trial/execution story to portray Jesus in the light of figures like the just, executed criminal Socrates, or the just, executed criminal of book two of Plato’s Republic. The point of such a shaping would be as a call for social reform, both of how the Jewish Elite ran their endeavors, but also of the Roman administrator who seemed more interested in smoothing over an administrative nuisance than conducting a real trial aimed at justice in the case of Jesus.

    These mimesis speculations (which are mere guesses) don’t push me to doubt that there was an historical Jesus who was crucified, but to be more sure of it. It makes perfect sense that such legendary material may have evolved out of the disciples of the historical Jesus having been desolate at the fact that their beloved master, in their eyes, had been wrongfully executed and, out of grief, that they had hallucinations of him. The cross of Jesus would have been a rallying symbol for Jews and gentiles alike who wanted a social turning back to God and His principles, for people to live their lives in a more decent, loving way.

    My godmother experienced grief based auditory hallucinations of my godfather after he passed.

    • John MacDonald

      Willingness to die to unearth (a-letheia) the corruption of society would also demonstrate Jesus met the executed, just man archetype and hence would be worthy of being judge in the new age/apocalypse.

    • I agree that [i]t makes perfect sense that such legendary material may have evolved out of the disciples of the historical Jesus having been desolate at the fact that their beloved master, in their eyes, had been wrongfully executed and, out of grief, that they had hallucinations of him.”

      I just don’t think that plausibility equals probability.

      • John MacDonald

        It’s hard to say.

        One of the points of basic hermeneutics suggests that if a particular pericope has apparent literary/theological overtones, we should be wary of its historicity.

        For example, I think (and this is just me) positing a historical relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist is problematic. Mark says “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ ; as it is written in the prophets.” Mark immediately interprets John the Baptist as a forerunner of the Messiah (a la Elijah in II Kings 1:8). Mark then clothes John similar to Elijah (Mark 1:6. II Kings 1:8.) He then says John ate locusts and wild honey,the food of the wilderness in which Elijah lived (and so on and so on). In view of parallels elsewhere between John and Jesus on the one hand and Elijah and Elisha on the other, some also see in the Jordan baptism and the endowment with the spirit a repetition of 2 Kings 2, where, near the Jordan, Elijah bequeaths a double portion of his own miracle-working spirit to Elisha, who henceforth functions as his successor and superior.

        So, there is significant theological/literary coloring here. Some have tried to rescue the historicity of the Jesus/John the Baptist relationship by pointing out John is portrayed as doubting Jesus, but this may just be a literary device. Would we be as confident that Thomas actually doubted Jesus, or that Peter denied Jesus? I’m not really sure. Maybe there’s a criteria that can be applied here? The baptizing of Jesus by John clearly embarrassed later writers, but this doesn’t mean Mark was embarrassed/

        When you start bringing in the literary model of the just, executed Socrates, or the just, executed man of Book 2 of Plato’s Republic, a lot of interesting questions arise. The question is whether such a model generated the crucifixion story, or whether Christians applied the literary forms after the fact such as with Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 (according to Ehrman’s model: https://ehrmanblog.org/jesus-the-suffering-messiah/ )

        Dr. McGrath threw down the gauntlet. He said:

        The shortest argument (which, like a short argument for anything, may not seem persuasive unless it is expanded on) is this:

        – the anointed one descended from David referred to the king and the restoration of that line to the throne
        – being executed by the Romans before establishing one’s throne disqualified one’s claim to be the one to restore the Davidic dynasty to the throne
        Therefore
        – It is less likely that early Christians invented from scratch a crucified anointed one and went around trying to persuade their fellow Jews to accept him, than that there was a figure that they believed to be this messiah who was then executed, and they managed to maintain that belief despite the cognitive dissonance resulting from this counterevidence.

        Well Vinny, what do you say to this argument?

        Crafty old Socrates. Did you know that he gave a prayer of thanksgiving for the poison?

        • Given Dr. McGrath’s disclaimer (“like a short argument for anything, may not seem persuasive unless it is expanded on”), I was hesitant to respond to the argument directly, but since you ask, I will. In short, I think that there are a whole lot of unconnected dots in that “therefore.”

          It is pretty clear that being executed by the Romans before establishing one’s throne did not disqualify one’s claim to be the Messiah–at least in the mind of some Jews. Even if the evidence might lead us to believe that the idea was anathema to most Jews of the day, the fact that the Jesus sect acquired converts seems to preclude blanket conclusions about what ideas all Jews did or did not find offensive.

          I suspect that there were any number of devout Jews in first century Palestine who were praying for God to send a champion to deliver His people from the Romans. I also suspect that some of them would have vacillated between hope and despair as each potential challenger was crushed by the Romans. In searching the scriptures for an explanation, it seems plausible that one of them might have stumbled on the idea that it was God’s plan that his anointed one should first suffer for the sins of his people before being vindicated. I don’t have any basis for assessing this scenario for the origin of the belief in a crucified Messiah as any more likely than the scenario in which cognitive dissonance acts on the followers of a particular failed messianic claimant, but I don’t see any basis to assess it as less likely either.

          Sometimes half-cracked people–believing themselves to be the recipients of supernatural revelations–make up fantastic stories. Sometimes they manage to convince others that the fantastic stories are true without any evidence at all. I suspect that probably makes a decent starting hypothesis when considering the origins of any religious belief. I think that I have to allow for that possibility when it comes to the origin of a belief in a crucified Messiah.

          • John MacDonald

            One question I always enjoy mulling over is how can two highly educated people be familiar with the relevant evidence and yet hold incompossible points of view, like you and Dr. McGrath?

            Derrida makes the point that we forget sometimes that when the evidence is somewhat ambiguous our choice of a particular interpretive model can be somewhat dependent on our subjective, psychological experience of “obviousness.” So, for instance, given the available evidence, it is obvious to Dr. McGrath that it is probable that Jesus existed. Similarly, it is obvious to you that our evidence is too sparse, and that we need to hold judgement.

            That’s one of the reasons I have appreciated your exchanges with James over the years. Each of your exchanges are based on two competing point of views that are nonetheless “obvious” to each participant.

            I had a friend who, according to his psychiatrist, had the worse case of OCD the psychiatrist had ever seen. For instance, not only did he lay in bed at night doubting that he turned off the stove, he was completely unsure after a session at the computer whether he had unwittingly sent a “bad email” to his employer that was going to result in him getting fired. Because of his illness, this lack of certainty/assurance permeated all facets of his life. Nothing was obvious. There was only doubt = What If s. It was as though Descartes’s method of systematic doubt had been put on autopilot.

            I always found a good strategy for debating is to focus in on the premises your opponent is accepting as obvious, and pick away at those to de-stabilize the conclusion.

          • Gary

            I personally think both John and Vinny are saying the same thing. Same for McGrath.
            Remember, McGrath said,
            ““Sure” is relative. I’m as confident as one can be for a figure in the…”

            McGrath also said,
            “– It is less likely that early Christians invented…”

            Less likely can mean 0.49 versus 0.51.

            Absolutely sure means 1.0.
            Absolutely not means 0.0.

            So, unless actual numbers are assigned, Vinny saying “I just don’t think that plausibility equals probability.”…

            And John saying “two competing point of views that are nonetheless “obvious” to each participant…”

            They are all saying the same thing. Their opinions. Unless they assign numbers to their opinions, might as well say 0.49 versus 0.51, close but no one is absolutely sure. Just opinions. I don’t believe Carrier’s approach, but you have to at least give him credit for trying to assign actual numbers to HIS opinions.

          • John MacDonald

            I like you addressing numerically quantifying where on the continuum between historicity and mythicism that we are plotted on.

            As I read Carrier, the two key points seemingly in favor of historicity that he needs to overcome are the James, the brother of the lord passage in Galatians, and Paul claiming Jesus was “made” from the seed of David.

            (A) Regarding the first, Carrier says “brother of the Lord” could just as well mean (i) a non apostolic baptized Christian as it could (ii) a blood brother, so the passage doesn’t count as evidence in favor of historicity, because if historicity were the case and Paul meant “blood brother,” he should have said something like “James, the brother of the Lord according to the flesh.” Carrier says Jesus was understood as the first of many bretheren.

            (B) Regarding Jesus being made from the seed of David, the usual interpretation is that Jesus is descended from the line of David. Carrier objects that Paul using “made” here is the same word Paul used for how Adam was made, so could just as easily suggest that God took David’s sperm and stored it in a cosmic sperm bank, later making the celestial Jesus out of this sperm. To me, I don’t find a difficulty here like Carrier does, since God “making/forming” someone in the womb is a common Hebrew Scripture concept, so I don’t find Carrier’s alternative particularly appealing, since it requires a whole host of assumptions that aren’t present in the text.

            That said, from the point of view of postmodernism, on the other hand, just because I fall on the side of historicity because of how the evidence “speaks” to me, in this case I wouldn’t really be comfortable assigning what I think are objective numerical probabilities to the evidence because I can certainly see how the evidence might speak to another observer in a different way. Someone might find Carrier’s mythicist objections here compelling.

          • I think that may the one thing for which I don’t give Carrier credit. I think that his attempt to inject the logic of probabilty into the discussion is valuable, but I think that assigning numbers to things will lure you into thinking you know more than you really do.

          • Gary

            “will lure you into thinking you know more than you really do”…
            A common problem that everyone suffers from.

          • (I realize that this might not be strictly responsive to your comment, but I was thinking about it while driving home this evening.)

            As Mark Twain said (reputedly), “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

            On February 17, 2004, Cameron Todd Willingham was put to death for setting a fire that killed his three children. A certified arson investigator testified that various smoke and burn patterns in the house pointed conclusively to a fire that was set intentionally with the use of accelerants.

            The problem of course was that there was no empirical evidence to establish that those particular patterns were more likely the result of arson than not. Many accepted principles in the field of arson investigation had never been tested scientifically. Indeed, tests had shown that many of the supposed signs of arson by accelerants also occur in fires without accelerants. The accepted wisdom in the field was largely the product of an echo effect.

            I think of this case when I read the work of New Testament scholars who claim that their expertise enables them to look at a particular two-thousand-year-old theological innovation (i.e., a crucified Messiah) and determine who might or might not have invented it and why. What empirical data are they using as a basis of comparison? How do they determine which theological concepts are susceptible to being manufactured from whole cloth and which ones require a historical antecendent based on a complex psychological phenomen (such as cognitive disonnance).

          • John MacDonald

            Some times, in hermeneutics generally, you get different interpretive portraits due to polysemia from ambiguity in the evidence. So, in such cases, there may be a number of interpretive models to choose from, and in such a case which model you choose is really just taste: aesthetics. It’s like having a personal preference of choosing between a merlot, cabernet, or pinot grigio. Crossan made this sort of point of an embarrassment of riches of historical Jesus portraits where it seems that the biographers were basically doing autobiography.

            Carrier has asked why mythicism isn’t just accepted as one of the many Jesus portaits. I think the important question is: is the evidence for the Jesus historicity question really that ambiguous that we can’t decide either way? The key for me is I personally find Carrier’s Cosmic Sperm Bank hypothesis to be not credible as it is not firmly suggested by anything in the text, and so on this point mythicism does not seem to fit the evidence. I suppose if one really contorts and twists the James passage in Paul it can be explained away as a cultic title, but I think Paul saying Jesus was from the line of David is a real problem for mythicism. Would Paul not have mentioned such as thing as a cosmic sperm bank?

          • Mark

            Being killed on a cross did disqualify Jesus, just as the improbable flakiness, psychiatric eccentricity and periodic gross impieties, then conversion to Islam and finally an unremarkable death in Albania all disqualified Sabbatai. But some people held on at each stage. Before the apostasy reputable rabbis went over to him by the amazing effect on the masses; the sudden outburst of ascetical piety was a ‘miracle’. Then after the apostasy made the truth quite plain, some even “converted” to Islam as King Messiah had done. Though persecuted by the rabbis, crypto-sabbateanism was still around in the late 1800s, and the Dönmeh went on to help found the Turkish Republic. The scripture, gamatria and plasticity of the kabbalistic background, especially in the hands of Nathan of Gaza, made this possible. In the case of Jesus it was the contagion of ecstatic experience of his presence, the presence of his spirit, etc. , formulated sooner or later in terms of ‘resurrection’, that saved the day for those who felt them. A mystical purpose was thus found, by those few subject to the the enthusiasm, for discounting the disgrace and death as a mere momentary departure from the script of glorious messianic rule. They could feel the scoffers about to be proved wrong. I think that Paul despite his evident learning and piety and seriousness was able to hold on despite the script’s increasingly glaring flimsiness by the miracle he felt in the effect of his teaching on the formerly sleazy idolatrous gentiles he made ‘holy’.

            But in each case there is no doubt the person was simply disqualified and most soon enough knew this — and they disbelieved because of the evident disqualification. Others, though, became incapable of seeing it.

          • Tom Hanson

            So now you do believe there was most probably an actual Jesus figure, or am I misunderstanding what you are saying? This was not very clear.

          • So a crucified man was disqualified from being the Messiah, but some Jews could change the job specs if they felt like it?

            Doesn’t it make more sense to speak in terms of what people expected the Messiah to be like rather than who was qualified?

          • John MacDonald

            What do you make of Paul’s claim that Jesus was from the seed of David?

          • Not much. I think it’s like his claim that Jesus was born of a woman. It may bear on whether Paul thought that the exalted Christ had once been a man who walked the earth, but I don’t think it carries much weight on the question of whether that man existed.

          • John MacDonald

            I’m confused. Are you saying that Paul probably thought that Jesus existed, but that this is irrelevant to the question of whether Jesus existed?

          • The weight that I would give Paul’s belief that Jesus existed depends on the evidence he had for that belief, and I’m not really sure what that was. Joseph Smith thought that Moroni existed based on (I suspect) his own imagination or dillusion. I’m not sure that Paul’s belief in an earthly Jesus had any basis beyond his belief that he had encountered an exalted Christ. It could have, but I don’t I think Paul points decisively in that direction.

          • John MacDonald

            Vinny said

            I’m not sure that Paul’s belief in an earthly Jesus had any basis beyond his belief that he had encountered an exalted Christ. It could have, but I don’t I think Paul points decisively in that direction.

            Then, I would be interested in how you interpret Paul’s intention behind Romans 1:3 …

          • Paul had a vision of a heavenly being who he believed had once been a man who walked the earth. He believed that man was a descendant of David. The question is what basis he had—other than the vision—to believe that the man ever existed.

          • John MacDonald

            Paul presumably would have been in a good position to know whether his belief that Jesus walked the earth was true or not. Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection didn’t take place the distant, primordial past. His death and supposed resurrection took place over a recent three day period, according to the Pre Pauline Corinthian Creed/Poetry that Paul quotes (1 Cor. 15:3-5). Paul calls the resurrected Jesus the “first fruits” (catalyst) of the general resurrection harvest of souls at the end of the age that was now underway (1 Corinthians 15:20), implying a recent series of events. So, presumably Paul would have been in agreement with Cephas that Jesus walked the earth.

          • Tom Hanson

            Not to mention that Paul speaks of being in with the Jews who thought him early on to be the right man to carry out a persecutorial posse job on Christian Jews, which would mean, far more probably than not, that his Jewish higher ups at least explained what was going on about the earliest Christians to Paul before they sent him and his posse.. All known later Jews also were solid on what they were told by the Jewish leaders that, yes, Jesus was crucified. The enemies of the Christians, including Tacitus, always thought Jesus was human, not another god, but not a phantasm, either. One would think that at some point Occam’s razor should come into play.

          • As I have pointed out before, the people who carry out religious persecutions frequently have a distorted understanding of the beliefs and practices of those that they persecute. Sometimes, the people behind the persecutions are scapegoating the victims for reasons that have little to do with their actual activities.

            As far as Occam’s Razor goes, “Paul came up with a bunch of crazy shit out of his own head” seems to me to be a pretty simple explanation.

          • Tom Hanson

            This is to laugh at.So now we have a conspiracy theory? How exactly does that work in regard to Provincial Roman Law, where-by the Jewish prosecutors have to explain to Roman officials why the want to execute someone. The Roman officials will search there own records and say we can’t find any record of a Jesus at such and such a time being crucified, and you want us to help you. No, you shall not execute them. That’s how it would have to have worked also with the stoning of Stephen prior to Paul’s “crazy shit.” Without existing enemies The records in Jerusalem or Caesaria would certainly have been looked at regarding groups upsetting things.

            As for your last sentence, you are certainly not thinking like a historian. Rrhersh has you right: “many of the arguments come down to ‘I have certain expectations of the
            period evidence … [my]expectations are not based on any actual
            knowledge of the documentary record of the era. I nonetheless consider
            these expectations to be normative’.” I have been talking about Roman law and how it worked in provinces. Romans authorities were not crazy people in keeping the peace. They were often coldblooded, and mostly deliberate, thinking people. I am talking about Romans and how they operated. And Occam’s razor would indicate that yours is not a simple but a simplistic answer to whether Jesus was ever an actual human being.

          • I’m not sure what conspiracy theory you think I am invoking or why you think I am invoking it. I was simply responding to your point about what Paul’s higher ups may have told him before they turned him loose on the Christians. It is a point that I frequently see made, but that I have always found problematic.

            In the Roman Empire, the Christians made convenient scapegoats when thing went wrong (e.g., Nero’s fire) because they refused to make the sacrifices that might have kept the gods from letting the bad things happen. What the Christians actually believed or practiced had little to do with the persecution. Indeed, anger at the Christians would be stirred by accusations of incest and cannibalism. I think the historical record suggests that such wild accusations are common during religious persecutions, if not typical (e.g., pogroms were promoted with the accusation that Jews practiced ritual infanticide).

            It is possible that Paul’s superiors told him exactly what the early Christians believed and that it was those beliefs that inspired Paul’s indignation; however, if history is any guide, it’s also possible that higher ups were scapegoating the Christians for reasons largely unrelated to their beliefs and that Paul was told lies to motivate him. Moreover, if Paul used torture or informants in his pursuit of the Christians, it seems likely that he would have been exposed to further misinformation.

            Paul claims that after he received his revelation, he went out and preached for three years before he sought out his predecessors in the faith. What was the source of the message he preached? I don’t think that we can discount the possibility that it was largely the product of misinformation and/or his own invention.

            As far as Occam’s Razor goes, I don’t think I have ever seen it invoked by a real historian. I suspect this is because real historians are willing to acknowledge that sometimes the evidence is insufficient to draw conclusions with any certainty. Historical Jesus scholars, on the other hand, love to express high degrees of certainty based on highly problematic evidence. Occam’s Razor provides a convenient way to justify a conclusion based on parsimony in the absence of convincing evidence.

          • Tom Hanson

            A) conspiracy theory: Paul’s higher ups lying to him (without a shred of evidence left today that that happened) about why they were sending him and his posse to Damascus to persecute the the Christians there. That is laughable. The reason it is laughable is simple. How would Paul be able to tell his posse to know what they were to look for unless they were told, correctly, how to tell a Jewish Christian from an ordinary Jew? If the highups didn’t want Christians persecuted, why did they send the posse to Damascus to pick them up? You can make up anything you want, it still won’t change the fact that your conjecture is not evidence at all. Historians need evidence on which to judge probabilities.

            B) “In the Roman Empire, the Christians made convenient scapegoats when
            thing[s] went wrong (e.g., Nero’s fire) because they refused to make the
            sacrifices that might have kept the god…” etc.
            Don’t start off on Nero’s fire [64 CE]. Odds are that Christians were not yet recognized as such. They were probably considered as a new strange sect of the Jewish religion, which for Romans

          • A) Insofar as I am aware, there is not “a shred of evidence left today” of what Paul’s superiors may or may not have told him about about the Christians, so your assumption that he was given accurate information is also conjecture. In any case, Paul and his posse would only have needed to know who to look for, not what to look for. He would not have needed an accurate understanding of their beliefs to track them down.

            B) I find it amusing that you would take Acts as established fact, while questioning my use of Tacitus. I am aware that there are doubts about Tacitus’s account of the persecution, but I don’t think that affects the fact that religious persecutions have often been used to scapegoat unpopular groups for reasons that have little to do with what those groups actually believe or practice and that lies have often been used to stir up the anger of the people who actually carry out the persecutions.

            C) It has never been my position that “historians should accept the words ‘Jesus never existed as a historical person’.” I don’t think that the evidence for his existence is anywhere near the slam dunk that most people seem to think it is, but neither do I think that the evidence establishes his non-existence.

          • Mark

            > Insofar as I am aware, there is not “a shred of evidence left today” of what Paul’s superiors may or may not have told him about about the Christians

            Paul seems to think he knew pretty much everything of importance that he later knew. It isn’t like a Muslim going over to Yazidism (not that it’s possible) where there would be protests about the earlier falsification and misunderstanding Paul says that after his ‘vision’ or whatever his crisis was, he went over their side, but went to Arabia etc.; then later he compared notes in Jerusalem with little difficulty.

          • In my experience, people who seem to think they know pretty much everything of importance about a particular subject often know much less than they think.

          • Mark

            Deep wisdom about Paul, but how did it happen that he reports no conflict with other members of the Jesus crowd, except over the irrelevant matters pertaining to the gentiles? Maybe I’m forgetting something else.

            That is, he is speaking not from within his period of hostility and what you imagine was Dunning-Krueger type knowledge, but later, when he does know what they think in Jerusalem. As far as one can tell, on his later representation, he always knew what they thought, but just didn’t think it; then he too thought it.

          • John MacDonald

            I would say I am about 90% sure (very convinced) that Paul thought Jesus walked the earth. The force of Paul’s statement that Jesus was from the line of David really gets me there. We have to keep in mind that different types of evidence carry different weights (like a final exam when compared to a weekly quiz), and I think that piece of evidence must be given considerable weight. Of course, the line/evidence may have been an interpolation, or Paul might have been lying, but I seriously doubt it.

            I also am very convinced Cephas also thought Jesus walked the earth, because such a monumental difference between a historicist Paul and a mythicist Cephas certainly would have come up if we know about things like the gentile issue.

          • John MacDonald

            One last thought:

            I take a clue from Philosophy of Science. In Science, you can have any number of experiments/data that agree with the interpretive model. However, despite this apparent support, it takes only one significant recalcitrant experiment to disconfirm the interpretive model. The same is true of the mythicism interpretive model. There is plenty of evidence that can be covered by the mythicist interpretive framework, but Paul’s belief that Jesus was from the line of David disconfirms the mythicism interpretive model.

          • Do you think Paul had any evidence that Jesus was from the line of David, or did he just infer it because he believed that Jesus was the Messiah and the Messiah had to be from the line of David?

          • John MacDonald

            Either way, Paul thought Jesus walked the earth.

          • But which do you think it was? If it is such a powerful piece of evidence, it is surely worth considering why Paul believed that Jesus was from the line of David, isn’t it?

          • There are a number of reasons why he might have believed this, and there are many scenarios on which the information might or might not be correct. But none of them involves a Jesus that was not a historical human being, and that is the point in this context.

          • Might one of those reasons be that he thought that it was part of his revelation?

          • So he persecuted believers in Jesus as the Davidic messiah, but then received a revelation that Jesus the alleged Davidic messiah was descended from David?

          • Yes.

            I am suggesting that when he was persecuting the followers of Jesus, Paul didn’t believe that Jesus was the Davidic messiah and he didn’t have any information about Jesus’ lineage. After he received his revelation, he came to believe that Jesus was the Davidic messiah. Ergo, Paul believed that Jesus was from the line of David because he thought it was part of his revelation.

            Is that an unreasonable hypothesis?

          • I don’t want to say that your positing of a seemingly supernatural occurrence is “unreasonable” but it certainly isn’t historical study as practiced by academics. That Paul received a revelation that actually informed him of something that it is clear from the texts that all known early Christians thought, namely that Jesus was the anointed one from the line of David, is not the kind of mundane historical explanation that is appropriate. But you are free to believe in miracles, and to even use them as an excuse for rejecting mainstream historical scholarship, if you are inclined to do so.

          • I’m not suggesting anything supernatural. I don’t think that a revelation informed Paul of anything. I think he attributed his own theological inventions to revelation,
            and I wouldn’t be surprised if he attributed things he heard from other people to revelation.

            I’m not saying that Paul learned of Jesus’ messianic claims via revelation. I’m saying that he came to believe them as a result of whatever it was that he experienced.

          • John MacDonald

            I find Vinny’s hypothesis that Paul learned Christ was from the line of David through revelation unsupported by the text and contrary to other elements we know. For instance, I would recapitulate what I said earlier that for Paul Jesus’ execution/resurrection appearance claims were recent events (1Corinthians 15:20) that took place over a short period of time (1 Corinthians 15:4). In that light, Paul could have easily fact-checked the (according to Vinny) revelation of whether Jesus recently lived with Cephas or any other number of sources. Personally, I don’t think Vinny believes this hypothesis. Vinny just likes being contrary and obstinate. Which I like!

          • Since you are responding to a comment in which I specifically rejected that hypothesis John, I cannot imagine why you insist on attributing it to me. I’m not particularly surprised that you did it, but I cannot imagine what your justification is. Do you crave McGrath’s up-votes so much that you’ll write anything to get them?

          • John MacDonald

            When I said “revelation” I just meant “hallucination” or whatever –

          • I specifically said that I didn’t think Paul learned of it that way.

          • John MacDonald

            Then I have no idea what you are arguing. How do you think Paul learned that Jesus was of the line of David?

          • I appreciate that I may not always make my arguments as clear as they might be. Nevertheless, if I explicitly deny making a particular argument in a comment, I hope you would do me the courtesy in your response of not attributing to me that very argument.

          • John MacDonald

            Sorry. So, to recap, we seem to be in agreement Paul probably thought Jesus was of the line of David and hence walked on this earth. There seemed to be an issue of how you think Paul learned that Jesus was of the line of David, because if Paul learned it from other Christians this would be problematic for the mythicist interpretive model because then it would seem fairly universal that Jesus was believed to be of the line of David, and hence having walked this earth. So if you could clarify, how do you think Paul learned Jesus was of the line of David?

          • How about you answer my question first (since I asked if first): Do you think Paul had any evidence that Jesus was from the line of David, or did he just infer it because he believed that Jesus was the Messiah and the Messiah had to be from the line of David?

          • John MacDonald

            I think the evidence he had is that he learned it from other Christians in an evidence chain that ultimately led back to those who knew Jesus. If he merely inferred it from a belief it probably would have come up in conversation with Christians and if those Christians were mythicists, Paul would have changed his historicism, which he never did. Keep in mind we aren’t talking about Paul in isolation, but Paul in dialogue with the broader Christian community. Against the mythicist reading of Cephas, If Cephas was so irritated by the gentile issue, imagine how irritated he would have been at Paul transforming his glorious celestial Christ into a lowly executed human criminal, lol?

            So, if you could clarify, how do you think Paul learned Jesus was of the line of David?

            EDITED

          • Gary

            This is kind of a useless argument.
            From Ehrman, Jesus Man to God. Paul, at resurrection. Pre-Pauline creed from Romans 1:3-4, “Who was descended from the seed of David according to the flesh, who was appointed Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead”.
            If Ehrman is right about a “pre-Pauline creed”, then Paul learned it from a “Pre-Pauline Creed”. As Homer Simpson would say – “Duh!”
            Does it really matter?

          • Gary

            From Ehrman, Jesus Man to God. Paul, at resurrection. Pre-Pauline creed from Romans 1:3-4, “Who was descended from the seed of David according to the flesh, who was appointed Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead”.
            The evidence is that Paul learned from the “pre-Pauline creed”, if Ehrman is correct.
            So the debate should be, “is the creed based on fact or fiction?”

          • How did Paul learn that Jesus was “born of a woman”? Did someone need to tell him or did he just figure it out? My guess would be the latter. Believing that Jesus had been a human being, Paul inferred that he had a mother.

            In a similar fashion, I suspect that Paul inferred that Jesus was from the line of David. Paul believed that he had a vision of the exalted Christ. He believed that the being in his vision was a descendant of David because Nathan prophesied that the Messiah would be. I don’t think Paul would have needed to learn it from someone who knew Jesus.

            It is possible that Paul knew of the Davidic descent claim prior to his vision. However, since Paul didn’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah at that point, he would not have credited the claim. Ergo, Paul did not learn that Jesus was from David’s line–he came to believe it as a result of his vision.

            Even if there was a historical Jesus, I don’t think we can be sure when the Davidic descent claim was first made. Jesus could have made the claim during his life, or it might have been a conclusion that Cephas (or someone else) reached after his own post-mortem vision of the resurrected Jesus. I am not sure how we could establish that it wasn’t Paul himself who made it since he is our earliest source for it and he doesn’t tell us where he got it.

            I would also note that King David is believed to have lived some time around 1000 BCE. Consequently, almost any Jewish person alive in Paul’s day might have been a descendant of David, and it seems unlikely that there would have been any evidence to estabish or refute any particular claim. In claiming that Jesus was of the line of David, I doubt that Paul required any more evidence than he needed to claim that Jesus was born of a woman.

            To sum up, I doubt that Paul learned from anyone that Jesus was from the line of David (in part because no one would have had any way to establish that he was). Paul might have been aware that the claim had been made, but he only came to believe it as a result of his own experience (whatever that may have been).

          • John MacDonald

            As I said, you’re ignoring the context. Even under your mythicist reading of Cephas and the rest of the Christians, for Paul, Paul said Jesus’ life/execution/resurrection appearance claims were recent events (1Corinthians 15:20) that took place over a short period of time (1 Corinthians 15:4), so if Paul was going around claiming Jesus was a person who recently walked the earth, there would have been ample people who were there at the supposed time of Jesus such as Cephas and the 12 to correct him that, no, Jesus never walked the earth, he was actually a celestial being.

            But beyond this, you offer no positive evidence that Cephas, the 12, and the rest of the Christians in opposition to the historicist Paul were mythicists, while, as James pointed out to you, all the evidence we have of any Christians from early texts is that they believed him to be of the line of David! Do you suppose a scenario where Paul was going around to the churches established before him trying to convert the mythicist Christians into historicist Christians, lol?

            By the way, why do you keep saying “Ergo?” Trying to sound impressive, lol?

          • The question you asked me was “[H]ow do you think Paul learned Jesus was of the line of David?” Why would my response to that require me to offer any “positive evidence that Cephas, the 12, and the rest of the Christians in opposition to the historicist Paul were mythicists”—even assuming that I believed such a thing (which I don’t).

            Perhaps one of the reasons you have trouble grasping my position is that you don’t really think about it. I noticed that “one other person is typing” message on my screen within a couple minutes of when I posted my comment. Did you even read my comment, much less think about what I was saying? The fact that you didn’t respond to anything I said makes me wonder.

            I do think that “ergo” has a nice ring to it; in addition, I get tired of the word “therefore.” I also used “consequently” in that comment, but that takes longer to type.

          • John MacDonald

            If you don’t believe that Cephas and the 12 were mythicists, then they were historicists! If this is the case, we both believe Paul and Cephas and the twelve and the rest of the early Christians believed Jesus was of the line of David, and hence walked the earth. So, Christianity had its origins in the belief of an historical Jesus! Ergo, argument finished! Yay! I’m off to see Pet Cemetery at the show.

          • In order for there to have been an argument, you would have needed to respond to the positions I took rather than the ones you attributed to me.

          • Tom Hanson

            LOL, If this is your position, you have made no arguments against me. Care to start?.

          • No thanks. Your willingness to take Acts at face value leads me to believe that any conversation would be fulile.

          • Tom Hanson

            For you, that would probably be true. The Acts thing, in fact, as was pretty clear in my opinion, leads reasonably pointedly, to the fact that you make no arguments at all about it, just assertion pooh poohing it and although at the time I did not voice this, in debate as well as logic, any germain argument wins over simple assertion. Go back and read both of my comments referent to it.

          • Tom Hanson

            You might try “thus,” for example.

          • John MacDonald

            And the question isn’t whether Jesus actually was of Davidic lineage, but that he was believed to be by the early Christians, which is to say all our evidence points to the idea that Jesus was believed to have human lineage. Whether he actually was related to David is beside the point.

          • Gary

            John – last comment for me…
            Pre-Pauline Creed, whether true or not, it’s interpretation can be go in many directions. Example – Elaine Pagels in “The Gnostic Paul”, explains how Valentinians would later interpret it. Too complicated for me to explain, including David as demiurge and Paul as both psychic and pneumatic. Considering many people at the time believed this, the fact that people believed in this creed doesn’t necessarily make the creed true. So just because Paul said it, doesn’t necessarily prove Jesus did, or did not exist.

            Then there’s Ehrman’s “Lost Christianities” Workbook,

            “Marcion’s views can be contrasted
            to those of the Ebionites, who
            saw Paul as their mortal enemy.
            Marcion thought that Paul was the
            one apostle who rightly understood
            the nature of the Christian message.”…
            “Marcion’s conclusion was that Jesus was not actually born into this world or part of it. He was not a fl

          • But you accept, and hopefully admit at long last, that Jesus having been a human being among other human beings was a matter of shared assumption among disciples and opponents alike?

          • I think that “accept” and “admit” imply a level of certainty that is beyond the one to which I would ascribe, given the evidence. In any case, I don’t recall that I ever argued that anyone believed that Jesus wasn’t a human being among other human beings.

          • John MacDonald

            This is a key point. Is it more reasonable to say Paul learned of Jesus’ Davidic lineage through revelation/hallucination, even though there is nothing in any of the early texts supporting this, or that Paul simply learned this from the early Christians – Christ being a Davidic Messiah being universally attested to?

          • I don’t think that Paul much cared about what anyone else thought; he believed that, through his revelation, he knew everything that anyone needed to know about the gospel. I don’t think that it would have served his purpose to acknowledge any conflicts that he was not forced to acknowledge. He may also have been one of those know-it-alls that just assumes that everyone else argees with him.

            BTW, this has nothing to do with the Dunning-Krueger effect.

          • Tom Hanson

            A) “Not to mention that Paul speaks of being in with the Jews who thought
            him early on to be the right man to carry out a persecutorial posse job
            on Christian Jews, which would mean, far more probably than not, that
            his Jewish higher ups at least explained what was going on about the
            earliest Christians to Paul before they sent him and his posse…[break to another of my comments]…conspiracy theory: [Your conjecture about the higher ups lying to Paul while they were sending him and his posse to Damascus to persecute the Christians there.

            Conspiracy theory: That is laughable. The reason it is laughable is simple. How would Paul be able to tell his posse to know what they were to look for unless they were told, correctly, how to tell a Jewish Christian from an ordinary Jew? If the higher ups didn’t want Christians persecuted, why did they send the posse to Damascus to pick them up? You can make up anything you want, it still won’t change the fact that your conjecture is not evidence at all. Historians need evidence on which to judge probabilities. You have asserted a possible objection without any evidence at all.

            I gave them what Acts says Paul says in Acts. Pooh pooh it as you will, that is ancient evidence.

            Conspiracy theory: Paul’s higher ups lying to him (without a shred of
            evidence left today that that happened) about why they were sending him
            and his posse to Damascus to persecute the the Christians there. That is truly
            laughable. The reason it is laughable is simple. How would Paul be
            able to tell his posse to know what they were to look for unless they
            were told, correctly, how to tell a Jewish Christian from an ordinary
            Jew? If the high-ups didn’t want Christians persecuted, why did they
            send the posse to Damascus to pick them up? You can make up anything
            you want, it still won’t change the fact that your conjecture is not
            evidence at all. I showed how unbelievable your conjecture is. I also added a certainly plausible and possibly probable example of how absolutely necessary knowledge passed to Paul and from him to his posse. That is my only conjecture here. Knowledge had to have moved, earlier or right before Paul was sent on his mission, and it had to have happened before he thought of becoming a Christian. The other option is to say, either the high-ups lied to Paul, who told his posse what he thought was the truth, or Paul lied to his posse or that the author of Acts made it up. There is no evidence of any of those things occurring.

          • I will pooh pooh it. Which apologist did you get the “ancient evidence” idea from?

          • Tom Hanson

            Not a single one. And I may guess that you come from misinterpretations of J. Derida and his linguistic deconstructionism, as well as a skepticism on steroids which would have Hume himself ashamed of misdeconstructionism, since he warned that a good skeptic must remember to always be skeptical about his own skepticism, as well. Derida himself at a conference in, (was it Baltimore?) protested that his work is, (now was), dealing with the underpinning of language only, and that he thought that to take it much farther was ridiculous. At any rate historians are in the business of dealing, in part, with texts, and if texts are all they have (a circumstance sadly but frequently the case in ancient history) they cannot make stuff up. Instead they can use an old but still useful sense of hermeneutic: the necessity to find out what questions need to be answered before your question can begin to be answered. This comes from Aristotle through scholastic philosophers and should not be confused with hermetics. It is a part of logic.

            Thus you object that the high-ups might have lied to Paul. That cannot be what the text means because the posse had to learn how to tell a Christian Jew from an ordinary Jew before Paul left for Damascus. You will say that you don’t care what the text means, it is always possible that somebody lied. To which the historian must ask, “what is the evidence that that actually happened in this text.” And you will have nothing to say. I am assuming that if you had any evidence, by now you would have brought it up. Am I wrong in that assumption?

            All of this leads me to ask you why you think that it is not proper for historians to add multiple various “evidences” of multiple various kinds of “evidences”, no single one of which is conclusive, and then believe in the probability that THE Jesus actually was, within the limitations of historical fact, more likely than not, a human being?

          • That isn’t what I think.

          • Tom Hanson

            I asked, ” why you think that it is not proper for historians to add multiple
            various “evidences” of multiple various kinds of “evidences”, no single
            one of which is conclusive, and then believe in the probability that THE
            Jesus actually was, within the limitations of historical fact, more
            likely than not, a human being?”

            You say, “That isn’t what I think.”

            You have had time to think. What is it that you think? If you don’t think that it is not proper for historians to do that, then you.are left with “it is proper for historians to do that, OR that in some cases it can be proper for historians to do it, and in other cases it is not. Which is it? Or do you claim there is yet another possibility? If so, what?

          • I told you what my position is: “I don’t think that the evidence for his existence is anywhere near the slam dunk that most people seem to think it is, but neither do I think that the evidence establishes his non-existence.” What is so confusing about that?

            Like many commenters on this blog, as well as its proprietor, you seem to feel compelled to deride anyone who even hints that they have any sympathy for the mythicist position.

          • Mark

            > Historical Jesus scholars, on the other hand, love to express high degrees of certainty based on highly problematic evidence.

            ‘Historical Jesus scholars’ try to figure out what Jesus was up to, not his historicity. This is necessarily somewhat speculative. Yet the text a writer on the topic composes will largely take the form of simple assertions. This procedure is rational because each attempt can be brought down by an opposing synthesis.

            You don’t see the sense of scholarly operation generally by looking at the individual works (much their individual seemingly confident assertions) but at their reciprocal opposition. That an account takes the form of scholarship shows its willingness to be shot down, as it attempts to shoot down others. It is not necessary and would impede the exposition of inner connections if every sentence was preceded by “Maybe, …” It would be window dressing even if it was done, and would impede the expressions of unsettlement that are internal to the particular theoretical construction. No one doubts the historicity of Socrates, but many of the problems with his life and thought are just as fraught https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/socrates/

            It is the same with attempts to figure out what Socrates was up to and what he thought: the articles and books are assertions on the basis of the indirect evidence of Plato’s dialogues, Aristotle’s few statements, Xenophon, etc. The constructions look awfully self-satisfied and “certain” until you look at the next book on the subject which destroys everything and totally reorients the evidence, and reflect how the previous work was managing its predecessors.

            In fact there is indisputable progress over longer periods in both cases. In the case of ‘historical Jesus’, as in the case of Paul, just getting past anti-semitic aprioris and Protestant aprioris is a gigantic step forward.

          • Mark

            This is true – like the insane falsification of Yazidi by ISIS etc. – but the general category of ‘religious persecution’ has nothing to do with the case at hand. Obscure as it is, we have to do with specifically Jewish 2nd temple sectarian antagonism. You would have to show that Jews of the period completely falsified each other. It is always a mistake to bring the general category of ‘religion’ into the account when we are inside a more determinate framework like that constituted by 2nd Temple Jewry.

          • The mistake would be to ignore general categories thereby convincing yourself that you know a lot more about a specific situation than you really do.

          • Mark

            This is only true if the are ‘laws of religion’ and ‘religion’ is a clear concept itself – as it obviously isn’t. To see how opaque it is look how much trouble people have getting clear the idea of the Jews or the Jewish people and what is called “Judaism”.

          • Why is that presumable? If Paul believed in his visions and revelations of the risen Christ, why would he care anything about the pre-exaltation man?

          • The issue is not whether he cared, the issue is whether he was party to relevant information.

          • I have no doubt that Paul was party to whatever relevant information there was to be known, I don’t see that his letters actually establish that there was any.

          • John MacDonald

            So, we agree Paul probably thought Jesus walked the earth.

            I would argue that we could probably infer beyond this that Cephas and the 12 also thought Jesus walked the earth. Paul knew Cephas, so it would be odd if they disagreed on this point. For instance, Paul simply repeats the Pre Pauline Corinthian Creed/Poetry, so it would make sense that Paul interpreted it in the same sense Cephas did:

            That Christ died for our sins
            in accordance with the scriptures.
            and that he was buried;

            That he was raised on the third day
            in accordance with the scriptures,
            and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

            Why would Paul simply repeat this creed/poetry if it expressed a sense that fundamentally differed from his view of the terrestrial Jesus? Would you concede the point that Cephas and the 12, like Paul, thought Jesus walked the earth?

          • Without independent evidence of the creed’s content, how do we know that Paul is simply repeating the creed rather than tweaking it to emphasize his own views? I think I’ve read that some scholars believe that Paul may have added the appearance to the 500. I would also assume that he added the part about himself. I would be reluctant to assume too much about the creed prior to its appearance in 1 Corinthians.

            From what I gather, Paul and Cephas disagreed about a lot of things even though they knew each other. I would guess that they interpreted many things differently. While I think it plausible that Cephas shared Paul’s view of the earthly Jesus, since we don’t have any independent evidence of Cephas’s view, I don’t see that we can give it any weight.

          • John MacDonald

            My, you’re quite the skeptic, lol. We apparently know the main issues of difference between Cephas and Paul because we are told them. One would think there would have been mention of Paul and Cephas differing about whether Jesus had been on earth! But okay, perhaps not, let’s play Devil’s Advocate:

            How about this: We are agreed that Paul believed Jesus walked the earth, and have no information from other sources suggesting the contrary. If we take that as a clue, how would such a Jesus compare to the same reference class of messianic claimants situated in recent memory such as:

            Hezekiah/Ezekias, c. 45 BCE (Jewish War 204-205)
            Judas son of Ezekias, 4 BCE/death of Herod (Jewish War 56)
            Simon of Peraea, 4 BCE/death of Herod (Jewish War 57-59)
            Athronges the Shepherd, 4 BCE/death of Herod (Jewish War 2:60-65)
            Judas the Galilean, 6 CE/Archaelaus removed (Jewish War 118)
            Theudas, c. 44 CE (Jewish Antiquities97, Acts 5:36).
            James and Simon, c. 46 CE, sons of Judas the Galilean, crucified by Tiberius Alexander, nephew of Philo, who was Procurator 46-48 CE (Jewish Antiquities 20.102)
            “The Egyptian” c. 50s CE (Jewish Antiquities 20.169-171; Jewish War 2.261-263; Acts 21:38)
            Eleazar son of Dineus/Deinaeus, c. 52 CE under Felix (Jewish War 253; Jewish Antiquities 20:161.
            Menachem, son of Judas the Galilean, 66 CE (Jewish War 2:433-448)
            Eleazar son of Jairus (ben Yair), commander of Masada, was of the family (γένος) of Menachem (Jewish War 447) – Souce Dr. James Tabor

            Appropriating Carrier’s interpretation of Bayes somewhat, if we were to put the names of all such figures into a hat and pulled one out at random, what would be the probability of pulling the name of an historical figure out of the hat as opposed to a mythical one? I imagine it would be quite high. Do you have any mythicist evidence that would counter/overcome this prior probability?

          • It’s not a matter of how much of a skeptic I am John. It’s a matter of how much boot-strapping I know you are going to do if I don’t express every possible reservation I may have. For example, earlier today you asserted that “we agree Paul probably thought Jesus walked the earth.” At the time, I didn’t think that this captured my position as precisely as it might, but I chose not to dicker over it. That may have been a mistake since in your most recent comment you asserted that “[w]e are agreed that Paul believed Jesus walked the earth.” My acceptance of a likelihood was turned into acceptance of a fact.

          • John MacDonald

            I’m just going by what you said. You wrote

            1. Paul had a vision of a heavenly being who he believed had once been a man who walked the earth. He believed that man was a descendant of David.

            2. While I think it plausible that Cephas shared Paul’s view of the earthly Jesus …

            In any case, just now you wrote:

            My acceptance of a likelihood was turned into acceptance of a fact

            As you well know, these two categories are not mutually exclusive, since historical reasoning is probabilistic, and so to say something is a historical fact means that it probably happened. It’s a question of degree.

            So, keeping in mind such things as Paul said Jesus was born of a woman and was of the line of David, where would you plot your view of the likelihood that Paul thought Jesus walked the earth on a line plot between 0.5 – 1.0 ? https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/25b423701fd4cdf5734ffb7c75099d6dd194c063753dc617dfe1846088ffb8ba.jpg

          • I wouldn’t plot it on a number line. I don’t see any point to making an estimate like that (other than giving you something else to use in your bootstrapping).

            I’m much more interested in your notion that “know the main issues of difference between Cephas and Paul.” What we know is what Paul told his followers about the dispute with Cephas. I supect that Cephas might have had a different take. I would assume that there is an awful lot that we don’t know about their agreement. Moreover, since Paul generally shows so little interest in the earthly Jesus, I think it would be perfectly natural for Paul not to mention any related disagreements he might have had with Cephas.

            In any case, I would assume that Cephas was on the same page as Paul concerning whether the exalted Christ had walked the earth as a man prior to his crucifixion. However, having no record of Cephas’s thinking on the question, I don’t think that assumptions about where he might have agreed with Paul really count for much.

          • John MacDonald

            As I said, you said:

            Paul had a vision of a heavenly being who he believed had once been a man who walked the earth.

            I you don’t want to clarify what you mean using approximate numbers, how about words, lol. Is the likelihood that Paul thought Jesus walked the earth in your opinion merely likely, likely, very likely, extremely likely, virtually certain, or certain? Or, if you can’t qualify what you mean by “Paul probably thought Jesus walked the earth,” is your position just meaningless verbiage?

          • I don’t believe that my position is meaningless verbiage. I think the problem is that there’s not a lot of evidence on the question. Paul says so little about the pre-exaltation Christ, that I am far from confident that I have a complete picture of his thinking. Moreover, some of the things Paul says are rather odd. For example, Paul says that Jesus was “born of a woman.” Why did he think it necessary to point that out? Was there someone making some sort of claim that the risen Christ had only ever been a spirit being?

            How about this: I believe that the probability that Paul thought that Jesus had been a man who walked the earth is 70% with a margin of error of +/-25% due to the small quantity of evidence.

          • John MacDonald

            That’s great. Now I have a better understanding of what you’re trying to argue. Thanks for sharing!

          • John MacDonald

            Vinny said:

            In any case, I would assume that Cephas was on the same page as Paul concerning whether the exalted Christ had walked the earth as a man prior to his crucifixion. However, having no record of Cephas’s thinking on the question, I don’t think that assumptions about where he might have agreed with Paul really count for much.

            Your reasoning seems to be a little muddled here. You seem to both be saying (1) It is reasonable to make the inference, while (2) There is really no basis to make the inference … Which is it?

          • Nick G

            The weight that I would give Paul’s belief that Jesus existed depends on
            the evidence he had for that belief, and I’m not really sure what that
            was.

            Meeting his brother might just have had something to do with it.

          • Mark

            I don’t how widely people ‘expected’ a messiah. But they knew what such a thing would be if the royal-messianic readings of texts had anything in it.

          • It may be what they believed, but I wouldn’t think that it is something they knew.

            The point is that beliefs can be reinterpreted, which clearly occurred when some people decided that a crucified man could be the Messiah. The question is what (if any) degree of certainty we can have about what led to that reinterpretation.

          • John MacDonald

            That’s what I think too. We know that some had tweaked their worldview to allow for a crucified Messiah, but no real way of telling when or why.

          • Bones

            At the time fairly widespread given the rebellions against Rome eg Simon Bar Giora had messianic ambitions during the first Roman Jewish War.

            To quote monty python…..

            Brian: I’m not the Messiah!
            Arthur: I say you are, lord, and I should know, I’ve followed a few!

  • Chuck Johnson

    I find the extended, research-based examinations of historical Jesus to be boring and unproductive.

    The real, undeniable and culturally effective Jesus is the character of Jesus as seen in the Bible and elsewhere.
    Since I am an atheist and a scientist, I see all of the asserted miraculous properties of Jesus to be false.

    But stories can be, and often are effective.

    • Tom Hanson

      Feel free to be bored.

  • rrhersh

    The parallels between ID and mythicism are interesting. Another one is the parallels between mythicism and the Shakespeare authorship crowd. In both cases many of the arguments come down to “I have certain expectations of the period evidence. These expectations are not based on any actual knowledge of the documentary record of the era. I nonetheless consider these expectations to be normative.” This serves for the initial provocative thesis, that Shakespeare didn’t write those plays and that Jesus was totally made up. It is set aside for the secondary conclusion, that the figure of Jesus was based on the life of the Earl of Oxford. Or whatever.

    • Tom Hanson

      “many of the arguments come down to ‘I have certain expectations of the
      period evidence. These expectations are not based on any actual
      knowledge of the documentary record of the era. I nonetheless consider
      these expectations to be normative.’ This serves for the initial
      provocative thesis”

      Precisely and elegantly put, about both the “Shakespeare couldn’t have done it because…” crowd, and mythicists, especially those who like the “100 years, one whole century! and no mention of the name Jesus at all, so he didn’t exist.”

      “Ahh”, I have said, “you are wrong in years. You choose the first century AD, and that can’t be right. No one, not even a Christian has ever said that Christianity began at the beginning of the first century. Most biblical historians, including Jewish and atheist-agnostic scholars put the latest Gospel, John, at sometime between 100 and 120 CE. Christianity could not have started until after Christians thought Jesus had been crucified, otherwise their insistence on the resurrection makes absolutely no sense at all. They peg that as under Pontius Pilatus who is mentioned in nonChristian texts and has recently been found in archaeology. Figuring the first Christian movement about 30 to 35 CE (note Josephus on Pontius Pilatus), and the large disappearance of most of Jewish-Christianity in the destruction of the Temple under Titus in 70 CE). Given the murderous pre-rebellion politics as well as the disastrous revolution itself I am startled that any Pauline-Christian gospel texts showed up as early as they did. The mythicist, (one e-named rationalobservations) ignored my argument after calling me a liar and smoothly changed to Constantine creating Christianity.

      BTW There is, I think, a minor sense in which Shakespeare can be considered not to be completely the author of his plays. Editors have had to decide what Shakespeare’s words were amid various printed texts. But that is boring and reasonable. It was an editor named Theobald who brilliantly turned hideous gobbledygook (what typesetters used to call pied type) into ” A’ babbled a’ green fields” for Mistress Quickly’s description of Falstaff’s death. And to say that Shakespeare had friends to whom he could talk about various things like nautical terms etc over ale in a tavern just cannot be considered. He had to have a university degree.

  • I’m as confident as one can be for a figure in the ancient world who not only did not mint coins or erect edifices on which he placed inscriptions about himself, but also who left no discernible mark in the historical record during his lifetime, i.e., not very confident at all.

    • Tom Hanson

      Are you equally not very confident that Josephus ever lived, or Socrates, or most of the other ancient Greek philosophers or the Buddha or Confucius?

      • Mark

        The better question is whether he has confidence in any of the otherwise unattested characters mentioned in _The Jewish War_ , and whether they thereby ‘left a mark on the historical record’.

        The whole book is a validation of Josephus’ belief in Vespasian Christ.

        • Tom Hanson

          ?. ?.

          • Mark

            You don’t know how he ingratiated himself to the Flavians and acquired his apartment in Vespasian’s house and how he came by the name Flavius Josephus? *The Jewish War* has a messianic purpose, the same as Mark does. It’s a bit deflationary by comparison of course.

          • Tom Hanson

            Of course I know that. Do you really believe everything Josephus said about Vespasian and Titus? How could he continue to believe himself a Jew and really believe Vespasian as “a” or “the” messiah. He was a captive and, as you said, “ingratiated himself to the Flavians” and so forth, toadying to his captors and found a plush life there. I think of him as a pet of the Flavians and historians have to always be careful about believing him especially when he starts to flatter Romans. He obviously felt himself still a Jew or else why would he have written the Antiquities to
            explain Jewish history and thinking to the rest of the Hellenistic world.

          • Mark

            He thinks some divinely inspired messianic prophecy was in fact about Vespasian. The further progress of events probably further convinced him of the truth of his claim. Darius was ‘anointed’, so even if the text(s) he is going by speak of anointing, it’s not too surprising or un-Jewish.

          • Tom Hanson

            I guess you do wholeheartedly believe whatever Josephus says. See above.

          • Mark

            I believe he predicted Vespasian would be emperor.

          • Tom Hanson

            That is totally believable, and flattering to the Flavians, without meaning Josephus thought Vespasian was some sort of messiah, given the kind of other Roman hopefuls for the the emperorship. Vespasian had a very good army, and was doing a very fine job with his already experienced legions rooting out rebels. My guess is that the betting money in Rome was on Vespasian on that strength alone. I suggest reading Suetonius on Galba, Otho, and Vitelius, as well as Vespasian who was the last of the four of the year of the four emperors.

      • Josephus left a mark in the historical record with the things he wrote during his life. That seems reasonably solid to me. Details about Socrates’ life appear in the writings of three of his contemporaries, which is more than we have for a lot of figures from the ancient world, including Jesus. The evidence for a historical Buddha doesn’t inspire much confidence in me. I don’t know that much about Confuscius, but I suspect that my confidence in his historical existence would be greater than mine for Buddha but less than mine for Socrates.

        If there was a historical Jesus, he was likely as not an illiterate peasant who went unnoticed during his lifetime by anyone outside a small band of illiterate followers until such point as he sufficiently annoyed the authorities to get himself put to death. That is the kind of person in the ancient world about whose existence I would not expect to have any confidence. Were it not for a belief that arose in supernatural events that supposedly took place after his death, I doubt that Jesus would have left any historical footprint.

        There are of course other historical figures about whom fantastic stories arose, such as Alexander the Great. Nevertheless, when you scrape away the supernatural tales about Alexander, you still have a substantial historical footprint based on the things he accomplished during his lifetime.If you scrape away the supernatural tales about Jesus, you scrape away the only reason anyone bothered to preserve any stories about his natural life. That seems unlike the situation we have for anyone in the ancient world about whose existence we can be confident.

    • Tom Hanson

      I am to take it then that for you, it is proper for historians to do so ie.
      to add multiple various “evidences” of multiple various kinds of “evidences”, no single
      one of which is conclusive, and then believe in the probability that THE
      Jesus actually was, within the limitations of historical fact, more
      likely than not, a human being?” I do not mean that you yourself must then believe that Jesus was actually a human being. Only that you believe they are doing a proper thing to do as historians, faced with multiple and sometimes contradictory evidence.

      • I think that a historian using valid historical methodology might reasonably conclude based on the evidence—not “various kinds of ‘evidences’”—that the existence a historical Jesus is more probable than not.

        • Tom Hanson

          Thank you. I have mistaken you all along, and I apologize.

  • John MacDonald

    Neil Godfrey is like James’s jilted ex boyfriend, lol. James broke up with Neil, and now Neil is obsessed with him. See today’s post on Vridar: https://vridar.org/2019/06/06/addressing-james-mcgraths-arguments-against-mythicism-1/

    • Oh my goodness…!!!

    • Gary

      Regardless of content, I am always amazed at the length/amount of work, put into Neil Godfrey’s posts. An example of too much free time. Seems like his real 40 hour a week job would suffer. I don’t know his marriage status, but if he isn’t married, he needs a wife to give him “honey do’s”, or teenage kids to occupy his spare time.

  • John MacDonald

    This just came out and is kind of neat. There is a Price at the center of the conspiracy theory that Shakespeare didn’t write his books, just like there is a Price at the center of the Christ Myth theory. The comparison of Shakespeare doubting with creationism also arises: https://quillette.com/2019/05/16/conspiracism-at-the-atlantic/