2010-02-14

“Creationist” slurs have no place in an honest mythicist-historicist debate

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Following is a silly post, one of the silliest I have ever written. Maybe the silliest. Its only point is to foolishly respond to baseless and ignorant slurs written and spoken by Associate Professor James McGrath against people who argue Jesus was a mythical or legendary figure, not a real historical one. I do not know why an associate professor would find it necessary to resort to insulting these people by comparing them with “creationists” (e.g. here, here and here). While admitting he has not read mythicist literature, he makes up for this lack by (in his own words) thinking about mythicist arguments a lot. And the more he thinks about them, the more he sees them having points in common with creationists. Maybe associate professors have acquired the ability to understand more about something by merely thinking about it without having to go to the trouble of reading the evidence for themselves.

{{BArch-description|1=Albert Schweitzer Zentra...

Image via Wikipedia

It is a pity he and others like him could not take to heart the words of Albert Schweitzer who was able to discuss knowledgeably the mythicist arguments of his day, and in a civil and professional manner.

The tone in which the debate about the existence or non-existence of Jesus has been conducted does little credit to the culture of the twentieth century.

Among MGrath’s false allegations are that mythicists do not engage the mainstream scholarly literature. This seems to me like almost wilful ignorance, but I am sure no associate professor would ever be wilfully ignorant. Earl Doherty’s website is well known and his very extensive reviews of notable scholarly publications (Funk, Wilson, Crossan, et al) are there for anyone to read. Anyone who reads mythicist arguments of the kind that belongs to a line going back through Doherty, Wells, Drews, Smith, Whittacker, Bauer — on back to the Enlightenment era with Volney, Dupuis, Reimarus — and others, will be rewarded with introductions to some of the best and current biblical scholarship of each generation.

McGrath challenged me to address the arguments of E.P. Sanders, and implied that his arguments for an historical Jesus were well enough established in the mainstream to be effectively indisputable. I have begun to take up this challenge in the post previous to this one — Why the Temple Act of Jesus is almost certainly not historical.

But for this post, I hope to avoid the charge that I am defining “creationism” tendentiously to suit my particular argument, so I have chosen to use a study of Creationism that many sceptics can acknowledge as hard-hitting, comprehensive and fair.

It would be helpful if associate professors took a similar approach with their uses of the term, too. This would enable them to avoid any suspicion of merely collating all the things they think they would like to see in common between “creationism” and that just as nasty “mythicism”. Granted, the more subjective approach does provide a rich store of material one can use to justify insults. Maybe some associate professors, like some of the rest of us, simply love to hoard junk.

So in order to attempt to expose how unfounded is the comparison between mythicists and creationists, I have chosen to use the points in a book by Michael Shermer (well known for debunking nonsense, e.g. Why People Believe Weird Things), Why Darwin Matters. Shermer is a wonderful example of how to tear down a false argument in a civil and polite and professional manner. He never once resorts to insult. . . .

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

I have also found it very easy to approach “loony fringe” ideas without ever suggesting they are as much, and maintaining throughout a reasonable discussion that engages the audience I want to read it. I did this with my Atlantis post.

So why do some biblical scholars find it necessary to resort to ridicule and insult in place of clear incisive argument alone?

Creationism, mythicism, historicism and FEAR

Creationists and fear

People do not accept evolution for a number of reasons, some of which have been identified as fear — fear of the consequences of giving up their faith and fear of what the world would look like to them if evolution were true. I wrote up a summary of Michael Shermer’s list of reasons in Why People Do Not Accept Evolution.

Mythicists and fear

To suggest that mythicists “fear” any notion of a historical Jesus is simply nonsense. What is there to fear? What is there to lose? The alternative would simply be a different explanation for the origin of a faith they would generally have little personal interest in. Although in cases where someone puts his ego on the line to promote some sort of crusading argument, I imagine such a person might fear embarrassment at being proved wrong.

Historicists and fear

One might, however, imagine a few historicists fearing the consequences of a mythicist Jesus, however. I can understand it would be embarrassing to discover that one has committed a lifetime of study, including publishing and teaching work, to a false premise. Even non-religious people have inherited a cultural interest in Jesus and Christianity, and I am thinking of scholars from this group. It goes without saying that believers would have something to lose if they had to face up to their Jesus being nonhistorical.

This is why Albert Schweitzer, in conceding certain weaknesses of the “historicist” argument for Jesus, advised the Church to build its faith on a metaphysic, and not some historical Jesus construct.

Creationism, Mythicism, Historicism and an ANTI-SCIENTIFIC AGENDA

Creationists and an anti-scientific agenda

The fundamental sin of creationism is its anti-scientific agenda. It is not science. It attempts to fraudulently pose as a scientific enquiry, but it is not. This has been established in the court decision in the 2005 Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District case, discussed in chapter 5 of Shermer’s book.

The real motive of Creationists, and their modern mutation as the Intelligent Design movement, is to turn people against evolution, to persuade others that evolution is an anti-religious, atheistic, Satanic philosophy or pseudo-science. ID seeks to turn people to the Christian God and the salvation of Jesus Christ. It is a cover for an evangelistic religious movement.

The methods used by ID people have been established (in the 2005 court decision mentioned above) as fraudulent, dishonest. While posing as “scientific”, they are in fact pushing an anti-scientific agenda.

Creationists are anti-intellectual in that they want to shut down scientific enquiry and end questioning and enquiry with the claim that, at “this point”, “God did it”.

Mythicists and an anti-scientific agenda

Let’s replace “anti-scientific” with “anti-historical” agenda. Does this apply? Hardly. As far as I can tell the mythicist arguments are grounded in current historical methodologies, engaging with the evidence of the culture, thought, literature and history of the times. In addressing alternative (historicist and alternate mythicist) views I read of challenges to the logic of arguments, the handling and understanding of available evidence, and so forth. No doubt many will disagree with some of their conclusions. But I have not been able to see any fault with their methodologies as such, certainly nothing comparable to the logical and methodological flaws that are so glaring in beliefs in Atlantis or Creationism or the Moon Landing Hoax. It is easy to shift from a scholarly historical Jesus book to a well-informed and well-argued mythicist Jesus book, whatever one thinks of the conclusions.

One frequently hears complaints that mythicists arguments do not make it into the peer-reviewed publications, and that for this reason we have a right to assume that there must be something inherently wrong with its methodologies. Shermer reminds readers how difficult it is even for new theories within the hard sciences (genetics) to become widely accepted in a very conservative field. A new theory can take decades to win widespread acceptance — and this is within a field that deals with laboratory controls and repeatable tests. Most mythicist proponents have day jobs. They lack the institutional supports of those whose views they challenge. Worse, they are challenging a millennia old cultural heritage. Challenging the existence of Jesus was one step too far for most even in the age of the Enlightenment. It has been a minority position ever since. But this does not in itself mean that its arguments are necessarily without intrinsic merit.

Historicists and an anti-scientific/anti-historical agenda

The heading is a contradiction terms. I suggest that if historicists find fault with arguments and methodologies of mythicist books and articles, the faults they see are no worse qualitatively than anything they have had reason to address among their peers. Indeed, I do see some historicists criticizing ‘mythicists’ because they refer to works of reputable establishment scholars they also disagree with!

Historical enquiry can take place in a very wide room. There can be many debates about hows and whys. This is the same with evolution. Such debates by no means imply that the methods themselves, or the basic historiographical enterprise is wrong. It is a pity that the variant explanations among mythicists for how certain processes happened are not accepted in the same light. Instead, they are sometimes confused with “evidence” that they don’t know what they are talking about. Yet historicists would do well to accept that various mythicist proposals are as much a rightful part of a broader historical enquiry as any of their own variable hypotheses.

Creationism, Mythicism, Historicism and SIX PRINCIPLES OF SKEPTICISM

Shermer lists six principles of scepticism to “help us sort through the various arguments for Intelligent Design.” (p.48)

  1. Hume’s Maxim, or, What is more likely?
  2. The Known and the Unknown: the tendency to quickly assume the Creator is the answer
  3. Burden of proof: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence
  4. Either-Or Fallacy; disproving A does not prove B
  5. Fossil fallacy: One datum does not a science break
  6. Methodological naturalism: no miracles allowed (the ‘divine-fallacy’)

1. Hume’s maxim

Creationists must face the question, What is more likely? A miracle or someone telling a fib about a miracle? The answer will reveal ones bias for or against the natural order of things.

Mythicists and historicists argue over what is the natural order of things: is it more likely that a real man came to be worshipped as a god and co-creator of the universe, or that there was some other process by which people came to merely believe a god had in the past become a man and returned to being a god?

Among mythicists and historicists, the debate is one about natural or historical processes. It is not a matter of a difference between the natural and supernatural. Mythicists and historicists are playing the same game. Creationists are not even anywhere near the stadium. They are on another planet.

Tendency to assume quickly the “unnatural” (or “natural man”?) is the answer

Creationists are eager to find the point of “irreducible complexity” in order to stop further enquiry and say, Here we can stop! We have found God!

Mythicists and historicists do not do that. The enquiry is always neverending. I have said repeatedly that I do not like the idea of arguing for mythicism or historicism in regard to Jesus. That seems to me a pointless exercise. Surely the enquiry is about what the evidence can tell us about the origins of Christianity. If it points to a mythical or historical person at the heart of it, then so be it.

But that’s not how everyone on both sides thinks. Especially on the historicist side. It is amazing to see historicists leap upon a single passage in the New Testament, or a phrase in Josephus, and declare with absolute certainty, Here we can stop! We have found Jesus!

All of a sudden, it is as if all their prior knowledge of manuscript traditions and variants, hypothetical models of transition of ideas and texts, the wide spectrum of evidence that can be brought to bear, — all of this flies out the window and all that some historicists can see is “a historical man” in a single narrative that lacks any external support, and that might even run counter to the external evidence available.

One example is the enormous weight many place on that awkward phrase, “the brother of Jesus who is called Christ” in Josephus, as if this clinches as sure as a fact that Josephus did indeed write about Jesus Christ. The problems with such a facile interpretation ought to be obvious, but clearly they are not, so I have posted them here.

Another example is the extraordinary weight hanging on the passage in Galatians 1:19 where Paul says he met James the brother of the Lord. This passage alone, we are stridently assured, is all that is necessary to prove without doubt that Jesus himself was a historical person. The passage does not even mention Jesus. It is, moreover, uncertain if the sentence was known by those arguing over who “owned” Paul in the late second century (Tertullian, Marcionites). The letter to Galatians is unknown in the external testimony until the second century. There are any number of possibilities. To insist, in the face of all such factors that would normally give any historian pause before committing to any such evidence as “bedrock fact” and with only one possible interpretation, is very courageous indeed. What is worse, however, is that too many “historicists” are quite prepared to insult those who do so pause.

Burden of proof

Shermer reminds us that it was Darwin who had the uphill battle to prove his theory at a time when it was new and shocking. The ‘status quo’ has changed by now. Granted, the mythicists do have an uphill task to prove something that is so contrary to 2000 years of cultural conditioning. But unlike creationists, my understanding is that mythicists accept this challenge. They do not become indignant and demand equal time in schools or faculties just because they think they have that right, without first making their case.

Disproving A does not prove B

Creationists are on record as having claimed to have “proven” some hole in evolutionary theory, and therefore conclude that Creationism has been “proved” as a result. This is not logical, of course.

I know of no mythicist argument that asserts that disproving any particular “historicist” interpretation of Jesus thereby “proves” the mythicist case. Some historicists have indeed written as if this is the case. But they have not provided any evidence to support that claim as far as I know. Their interest appears to be to slander and ridicule without any serious enquiry into what they are opposing.

One does see, unfortunately, some historicist proudly claiming to refute a particular mythicist interpretation, and appearing to conclude that by so doing they have reaffirmed the historicist position. This, of course, is the same error one finds more commonly among creationists. I would like to think only a minority of historicists are guilty.

One datum does not a science break

Creationists are infamous for demanding to see “the missing link”, that intermediate fossil between “species”. When it is shown to them, they then complain that there are now two missing links where before there was only one! Can’t win.

Mythicists do not base their arguments on a single datum. They nowhere that I know of point to a single passage and claim that that one passage alone disproves the entire historicist model. They may argue that a single datum does argue against the historicist view, but only because it is part of a larger array of such or similar data. They may discuss one item to attempt to open up a debate, to provoke thought and questions. But this is not the same as the creationist’s demands, or complaints that a single example is enough to overturn the whole theory of evolution.

Historicists, I would like to think, do not claim to disprove the entire mythicist hypothesis by pointing to but one verse or passage in a text. (??)

The divine fallacy

Shermer does not use this term. But it means the same thing as he discusses. The fallacy is to say: I can’t imagine any explanation for X other than Y. Therefore Y is the only answer. It is called the “divine fallacy” because it has been used to “prove” God’s existence. I can’t imagine how all this design and beauty came to be by any means other than a divine Creator. Therefore God exists. It is also used to “prove” psychic powers, the Moon Landing Hoax, and Creationism.

My reading of mythicist literature is that a wide range of possibilities are usually discussed before a mythicist view is concluded as an explanation or interpretation of a bible passage. Mythicists, after all, generally realize that they are the minority voice challenging the establishment view, and generally speaking they have to be all the more careful about how they attempt to argue or explain their position.

Historicists, it would be nice again to think, do not make the mistake of reading a passage and saying, “I can’t imagine how this can be interpreted in any way other than supporting the fact that there was a real historical event behind it, therefore there must have been a real historical event behind it. Well, that would be ideal if all historicists were as open in their investigations.

What else?

If Shermer’s points do not cover everything historicists would like to use for insults, perhaps anything I have overlooked can be added in the comments boxes below. Or maybe it would just be less stressful and more civilized to simply play nice.

play nice

AfeImage by earnest70six via Flickr

Afterthought

Is it remotely possible, just barely possible, that biblical scholars enhance their self image and deepen their sense of immersing themselves in an academic discipline of real substance — equal to that of the biological and life sciences even! — by comparing their field with something as enduring and substantial as the science of evolution? Could the creationist slur be some sort of compensatory ploy by those feeling that they may not be one of the hardest or most rigorous of subjects on the block? Just a thought.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

39 Comments

  • GakuseiDon
    2010-02-14 01:14:28 UTC - 01:14 | Permalink

    Neil,

    (1) Can you actually lay out the mythicist case, please? That is, the case that you feel needs to be answered. You’ve been asked this quite a few times. Perhaps devote a blog post to it?

    (2) You’ve noted several times that you are not a mythicist. Can I ask why not? What is the problem (if any) with the mythicist case that stops you from being a mythicist?

    • 2010-02-14 02:59:17 UTC - 02:59 | Permalink

      GakuseiDon Says:
      2010/02/14 at 1:14 am

      Neil,

      (1) Can you actually lay out the mythicist case, please? That is, the case that you feel needs to be answered. You’ve been asked this quite a few times. Perhaps devote a blog post to it?

      Hello GakuseiDon,

      I see a problem with this question. I don’t believe there is “a mythicist case”. I think there are a number of them. For example, Bruno Bauer had one, Earl Doherty has one, and a number of other people have had one. Asking for a single mythicist case I think is problematic. What would be better would be to ask for a list of the various hypothesis. I for one would like to see a list of ALL the mythicist cases listed on a page, with the main points of each laid out. But to ask to have a third party like Neil, attemtp to combine all the various mythicist cases, into a single mythicist case would be problematic. To clarrify further, there are a number of scholars that have the hypothesis that Jesus was a historic person, and they vary. To ask for a conglomerated historicists case would also be problematic. For example, some think that Jesus was part of the Essenes group, and others do not. In “the historicists case” would be be an Essene or not?

      Each of the mythicists cases need to be examined individually.

      Cheers!
      RichGriese.NET

      • GakuseiDon
        2010-02-14 05:37:41 UTC - 05:37 | Permalink

        Each of the mythicists cases need to be examined individually.

        Well.. examined by who, exactly? “Academia thinks X. A layman thinks Y. Academia should examine Y”. Is it up to academia to investigate fringe theories, or is it up to laymen to present their theories in an academic forum and at an academic level?

        On the Freethought board, this discussion has come up often: how do fringe theories become consensus in academia? The answer is to start publishing parts of theories into peer-reviewed publication, until the body of evidence supports the main theory.

        Anyway: Neil certainly appears to think that there is a mythicist case that needs to be looked at. On his blog, he wrote that James McGrath wasn’t “serious about understanding the mythicist case” and that Neil didn’t want James to “embrace rumour or second hand information” about the mythicist case. Perhaps Neil has one in mind, or has a synthesis of a few. But he should definitely lay it out.

        And I’m also intrigued why Neil — not being a mythicist himself — insists that the mythicist case is one that James McGrath needs to address.

    • Anonymous
      2010-02-14 06:41:48 UTC - 06:41 | Permalink

      GDon

      I really fail to see why you are after Neil to set out a case for the mythicist position. He has posted that he is not a mythicst – so this continual badgering of him is beginning to look unpleasant. Can you not appreciate someone having a purely objective position on this issue – that they want to let the pieces drop wherever they drop…

      Neil has posted re The legitimacy of questioning the historicity of Jesus. Perhaps that is all he wants to do – acknowledge the legitimacy of the question. After all, whatever is the real answer to this question – might not, ultimately matter to Neil – or anyone else that sees that it is the question that is the fundamental issue – and needs to be asked.

      Sure, whatever answer is ultimately correct – that answer will present its own problems. And these are problems that not everyone will have the interest to follow. A mythicist, like a historicist – will find that the problems that arise once the question has been answered, re the gospel Jesus, to be interesting and worth building scenarios upon – but that endeavor is not itself part of a historicist or a mythicist position.

      Both these positions deal only with the question as to whether or not Jesus of the gospel storyline was historical or was not historical. Anything else is additional to the basic question – and, actually, until that fundamental question is answered – any scenarios that are put forward are purely tentative anyway.

      Neil is doing one fabulous job of evaluating the gospel material. Rather than badger him for what he is not doing – appreciate the work that he is doing and offering here on his blog. So, GDon – be nice – and stop making demands.

      • maryhelena
        2010-02-14 06:43:53 UTC - 06:43 | Permalink

        sorry, GDon – that Anonymous post was from me…

      • GakuseiDon
        2010-02-14 07:16:57 UTC - 07:16 | Permalink

        I really fail to see why you are after Neil to set out a case for the mythicist position. He has posted that he is not a mythicst – so this continual badgering of him is beginning to look unpleasant. Can you not appreciate someone having a purely objective position on this issue – that they want to let the pieces drop wherever they drop…

        Hi Maryhelena,

        I suppose I am badgering Neil, but it isn’t to be unpleasant. But there are many mythicist theories. Either Neil has one particular one in mind, or he doesn’t. If he does, I’d like to understand it.

        Sure, he doesn’t have to be a mythicist himself in order to ask for people in the field like James to address it. But surely he can say why the mythicist case that he wants answered doesn’t convince him to be a mythicist. That doesn’t mean that there is no case, perhaps Neil believes that the case, while not convincing, is more convincing than the historicist case. That’s fair enough. But even then, I’d STILL like to know why the mythicist case he wants answered doesn’t convince him enough to make him a mythicist himself, if that makes sense.

        Don

      • maryhelena
        2010-02-14 07:33:16 UTC - 07:33 | Permalink

        Ah – but don’t forget – curiosity killed the cat….

        your badgering – but don’t mean to be unpleasant – that’s mighty nice of you – for you…

        Anyway, GDon – rather play the waiting game and leave Neil to do whatever in his own time…

      • GakuseiDon
        2010-02-14 07:33:59 UTC - 07:33 | Permalink

        Neil is doing one fabulous job of evaluating the gospel material. Rather than badger him for what he is not doing – appreciate the work that he is doing and offering here on his blog. So, GDon – be nice – and stop making demands.

        Hi Maryhelena,

        Just wanted to add: I agree with you that Neil is doing a good job in evaluating early material. He is certainly showing that we simply can’t take a historical Jesus for granted.

        But, while there are of course overlaps, the case against a historical Jesus and the case for mythicism are separate arguments. There may not be enough evidence for either historical Jesus or mythical Jesus.

        Don

      • maryhelena
        2010-02-14 07:50:57 UTC - 07:50 | Permalink

        All the more reason to be nice to one another – and cut out all the accusations of creationism that are being thrown around against the mythicist position…That James McGrath needs to stop with such tactics otherwise he will be doing his academic training a grave disservice…

  • 2010-02-14 01:31:35 UTC - 01:31 | Permalink

    Doherty, Wells, Drews, Smith, Whittacker, Bauer

    that list I guess you think reads like “Schweitzer, Lovejoy, Goodspeed.” It does not. none of those those guys are qualified in any field pertaining to the issues. They are not official acadmiecs in the filds that pertian to the issue. Most of thema re or were considered crack posts in their day.

    they mythist thing is a great deal like creationism becuase they are people who are angry with the established norm in the academy and are trying to force change among real academics and noen of them are credentialed in the field (even some creationists are credentialed in their fields or related fields). Doherty is in a realted field but that’s like Dwain Gish saying “i am a hydrolich enginere and tha’s sort like a scientist.”

    They are also like creationists in that they want to control what makes for “real history” and they are not willing to accept the gatekeeper’s of history.They want to replace the gatekeepers and when there is a direct clash between the gatekeepers and their views they argue that the gatekeeper’s are wrong, which is to say they are saying historians are wrong; that’s a lot like creationists saying that scientists are wrong.

    Your anger over having them compared to Creationists is silly because it’s an apt comparison and while “creationist” in your world is short hand for “idiot” you need not see it that way.

  • 2010-02-14 01:35:54 UTC - 01:35 | Permalink

    BTW Schweitzer did not agree that the mythers of his day had any real basic in fact or logic. in fact he is basically the one who knocked off the myther movement for that century and it was not heard from in a major way until a few decades ago.

    • 2010-02-14 09:45:39 UTC - 09:45 | Permalink

      Schweitzer conceded he had not and could not “knock it off”:

      Seen from a purely logical viewpoint, whether Jesus existed or did not exist must always remain hypothetical. . . . Modern Christianity must always reckon with the possibility of having to abandon the historical figure of Jesus.

      p.402 of The Quest of the Historical Jesus, 2001, by Albert Schweitzer.

      (Schweitzer himself died a few decades ago, so I wonder where you think there is some gap between Schweitzer and some “re-emergence” of the mythicist view.)

  • Antonio Jerez
    2010-02-14 04:33:35 UTC - 04:33 | Permalink

    Metacrock,
    I don´t actually care much if Doherty and the other mythicists don´t have academic credentials. Sometimes amateurs or half-amateurs can have worthwhile things to say. But the real problem with Doherty and the others is that many of their arguments are just outright bad.

  • 2010-02-14 06:30:41 UTC - 06:30 | Permalink

    GakuseiDon Says:
    2010/02/14 at 5:37 am

    Each of the mythicists cases need to be examined individually.

    Well.. examined by who, exactly? “Academia thinks X. A layman thinks Y. Academia should examine Y”. Is it up to academia to investigate fringe theories, or is it up to laymen to present their theories in an academic forum and at an academic level?

    GakuseiDon,

    Your starting to loose me here. I though you were looking to examine the various mythicist views.

    Also, I would not call many of the Jesus myth theories “fringe”.

    Also, as I understand it, mythicists like Bruno Bauer, Earl Doherty and others HAVE presented their case.

    Cheers!
    RichGriese.NET

  • 2010-02-14 06:43:36 UTC - 06:43 | Permalink

    GakuseiDon,

    Sorry, I did not include this link on my prior post addressing your question. If you are not familiar with Earl Doherty’s Jesus myth view, that is a link. The link, not only includes about 5 main articles laying out the view, and in addition, a link to his book, where I imagine he lays out the view in even more detail.

    I have not read Bruno Bauer’s view, the one from the 1840’s but he was a quite famous theologian in Germay at one of the major theological universities, and I am sure it can be tracked down.

    Is there any other specific Jesus myth theory that you are looking for? Let me know, and I will try to track it down for you.

    Cheers!
    RichGriese.NET

    • 2010-02-14 10:23:03 UTC - 10:23 | Permalink

      GakuseiDon’s extensive discussions on FRDB are available here. — I have since seen that the link won’t work. But by joining FRDB one can do a search for posts by user-name.

    • GakuseiDon
      2010-02-14 07:08:25 UTC - 07:08 | Permalink

      Rich, thanks for the link. Yes, I am very familiar indeed with Doherty’s theory. Doherty has a couple of webpages on my critique on Second Century writers (which is my real area of layman interest), which you can find here: http://www.jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/responses.html

      Here is my review of Doherty’s Sublunar Incarnation Theory here:
      ….forum.richarddawkins.net/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=108159 [Link inactive, 18th August 2015, — Neil. Try http://members.optusnet.com.au/gakuseidon/JNGNM_Review4.html ]

      I’ve also debated extensively with him on the FRDB forum. I have reviewed various mythicist theories (Doherty, Acharya S, Freke & Gandy, a few others), and there are many that I haven’t looked into (Jesus as mushroom cult, Paul as Flavian spy, Julius Caesar as Jesus). Should I look into the others? They don’t particularly interest me at this stage, so I don’t plan to.

      But what if someone accused me of avoiding those particular ones? And they said I was ignoring them due to rumours and bad information? I’m not sure how to respond other than to say “Show me what you have”.

      Is there any other specific Jesus myth theory that you are looking for? Let me know, and I will try to track it down for you.

      Seriously: I want to understand the mythicist case that Neil is suggesting that James McGrath should look into. And I would like to understand why Neil himself isn’t a mythicist, yet would like James to address that case anyway.

      Don

      • 2010-02-14 12:25:49 UTC - 12:25 | Permalink

        Hello GakusieDon,

        I recently read http://jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/CritiquesGDon.htm and notice that you have apparently been arguing against Doherty for a long time, and in quite detail.

        Are you a academic in the religious studies industry, or a laymen like myself? If you are a academic, what is your name/site, and is it possible to read any of your academic stuff?

        Cheers!
        RichGriese.NET

      • GakuseiDon
        2010-02-14 13:15:13 UTC - 13:15 | Permalink

        Rich, I’m a layman with an interest in early Christian and pagan metaphysics. I’m a liberal Christian with no training in religious studies, no training in history, and no language skills relevant to the field.

  • 2010-02-14 10:01:46 UTC - 10:01 | Permalink

    Part of a comment I made in a discussion on another post is applicable here:

    I admit my response to James McGrath (asking him to actually read what it was he was criticizing and so get his information first-hand before launching the insults) was misguided. It should not matter even if he has first hand knowledge. Nothing excuses his insults.

    I may plead for some justification, however. . . .

    If James does take the effort to read what it is he thinks is comparable to his personal description of “creationism”, then he will be in a position to make an informed and incisive case for public edification without any of the slurs. Like the way Michael Shermer does. Or even like the way I have demonstrated can be done when pulling apart Atlantis belief.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-14 18:38:05 UTC - 18:38 | Permalink

    We ‘creationists’ can point to religious movements today where the founder is a myth.

    We ‘creationists’ can show that processes operating today can lead to a religious movement based on a mythical person.

    And we can point to plenty of mythical people in ancient history – people who were then given biographies.

    We know our ‘creationist’ methods work. We can point to successes in other cases.

    But mainstream Biblical scholars cannot point to other cases where they have successes of their ‘criterion of embarrassment’

    And when you read in 1 Corinthians 11 about the Lord telling Paul how the cult can obtain access to the founder’s body in a ritual meal where the followers eat the blood and body of the founder, you have to wonder just how far into mythicism Paul can go before people start to ask themselves why any historical Jesus movement needed a ritual meal to access a body of its founder.

    What exactly do historicists want as evidence of mythicism?

    A flesh and blood body conjured up in a ritual meal? They’ve got that.

    And they still declare mythicism impossible even when the earliest Christians had a Jesus whose body appeared in a ritual cultic meal….

    Do they want want Paul to start talking about telepathic communications like Benjamin Creme does about the Maitreya?

    Do they want Paul to start explaining that people were sent to preach about Jesus, like Benjamin Creme does about the Maitreya?

    Do they want Paul to start giving words from the Lord like Benjamin Creme does about the Maitreya?

    What exactly would historicists accept as evidence of a mythical Jesus?

  • GakuseiDon
    2010-02-14 20:07:14 UTC - 20:07 | Permalink

    The post below from GakuseiDon is in response to this post of mine:

    neilgodfrey
    vridar.wordpress.com
    neilgodfrey1@gmail.com
    218.186.10.239
    2010/02/14 at 4:06pm | In reply to GakuseiDon.

    GakuseiDon, do you think the “creationist” label is appropriate to use in the way James McGrath has used it of “mythicists”? (Metacrock has made it clear that he thinks it is. Where do you stand on this matter?) I ask because your response, if unequivocal, might help others assess how best to understand where you are coming from and how to respond to your posts.

    Some technical hitch has led me to relocate my post here at the beginning of G’s post. The rest below is from GakuseiDon:


    Neil, I’ve certainly used the “creationist” analogy before, but remember I’ve also debated Acharya S and critiqued Freke&Gandy. So when I think “mythicist”, I am probably thinking of different theories than you are. That’s one reason I think you need to state what version you are talking about. I think you are also underestimating how annoying Steven Carr is, with his continually asking the same questions over and over (you can see James getting frustrated with that approach). Like it or not, Steven is one of the public faces of mythicism on many boards. I’ll go into this more below.

    I’ve used the analogy in the context on how the fringe engages the mainstream. It has nothing to do with the merits of the cases of evolution and a historical Jesus. The evidence for a historical Jesus is weak, and I believe it should be questioned. The evidence for evolution is unassailable.

    But it has everything to do with how the fringe believes that the mainstream should address the fringe, and not the other way around. And often the fringe theory is being pushed by people who don’t even understand the fringe theory, but rely on a book that they have found plausible, even if they don’t have the knowledge to critically evaluate it. THAT’s the analogy to creationism that I mean.

    The following is my personal opinion only: You have said that James McGrath should not make comments about mythicism until he has studied it for himself. Fair enough. But mythicists like Steven Carr have been making posts in his blog, often asking questions or making points based on assumptions which are unfamiliar and appear to lie outside the mainstream. Does he respond? If he doesn’t, he looks like he is ignoring the questions. If he does, then he probably doesn’t understand the assumptions the questions are built on, so won’t answer to the mythicist’s satisfaction, or responds with the mainstream view, which leads to “you don’t understand the mythicist case”. But of course he doesn’t. Why should he? There is nothing in academia to support the assumptions of the mythicist (not yet, at least), so what can he do?

    You’ve said that Doherty addresses the mainstream, and cites reputable scholars. But that is just one part. Addressing the mainstream means putting your ideas up for inspection in peer-reviewed publication, allowing the academic back and forward to take place. The person with the new theory introduces parts of their theories, until they build a weight that starts to drive a new paradigm. That’s the onus on the fringe theorist. Asking academics to understand the fringe theory reverses that onus. There must be many fringe theories in every discipline: they cant expect to understand them all.

    Doherty has published in a non-academic forum. Nothing wrong with that. Interested laymen like myself have found that his theory doesn’t stand. Now, think of the situation between me and you. You’ve said you won’t address me, because I won’t listen to people’s responses. If you like, I am the Steven Carr here, the annoying person with my questions. My responses are the fringe theory, going against the case that Doherty has established in his books. So I am the “creationist” equivalent in this scenario, using the analogy in the way that I have defined it. What advice would you give me so that mythicists listen to my responses to Doherty?

    Anyway, while in my opinion I think the creationist analogy is valid (in the sense that I’ve personally defined it), it causes too much heat and confusion, so I will avoid it in the future and try to use something else to try to get the point across.

    • 2010-02-14 16:19:34 UTC - 16:19 | Permalink

      Will respond to your post later, perhaps. But once again, I do tire of your misquoting or misreading what I write. Nowhere have I ever suggested James McGrath should not make comments about mythicism until he studies it for himself. Do stop this sort of misrepresentation. It is so consistent it comes across as deliberate.

      • GakuseiDon
        2010-02-15 05:28:37 UTC - 05:28 | Permalink

        Will respond to your post later, perhaps. But once again, I do tire of your misquoting or misreading what I write. Nowhere have I ever suggested James McGrath should not make comments about mythicism until he studies it for himself. Do stop this sort of misrepresentation. It is so consistent it comes across as deliberate.

        Neil, perhaps you may not believe it, but I really try to take great pains to avoid misrepresentation. Deliberate misrepresentation is one thing I genuinely loath in debating, since it can serve no good purppose. However, it can be so easy to misrepresent. You do come across as fair-minded, so I need to try harder in future.

        In this blog, you wrote:

        I admit my response to James McGrath (asking him to actually read what it was he was criticizing and so get his information first-hand before launching the insults) was misguided.

        I apologize if my paraphrase comes across as misrepresentation, it certainly wasn’t intended as such.

    • 2010-02-14 22:34:17 UTC - 22:34 | Permalink

      Just a bit of history for the benefit of anyone not aware of GakuseiDon’s earier exchanges on FRDB: his/her reputation for misreading the words of Earl Doherty and Richard Carrier, and claiming to have refuted their arguments on the basis of these misreadings, is well known.

      This tendency to misread is carried over into misreading my posts here and elsewhere.

      It suggests to me that GakuseiDon is driven by an agenda that predisposes him/her to see what they expect or want to see in Doherty’s/Carrier’s/my words.

      This is why I have little interest in engaging GakuseiDon in any sort of discussion.

      (The post of GakuseiDon above further demonstrates his tendency to misread and misrepresent. To equate interested individuals who argue a point on the basis of a book by, say, Doherty, is represented by G as some sort of general face of “mythicism” being “pushed” in incompetent ways. This sort of abstraction to my mind is nonsense. It’s just individuals asking about, or excited about, new questions. G regards this sort of activity as comparable to “creationist” agendas or such, apparently. Ditto for his remarks re Doherty and peer review. It is pointless, in my view, to take up discussions with people who insist that the windmills they are charging are really “giants” to be slain.)

    • 2010-02-14 22:54:54 UTC - 22:54 | Permalink

      P.S. I like Steven’s questions. They remind me of the boy who cried out at the grand parade “Look, the emperor has no clothes!” And everyone tells him to hush. And the parade continues as if nothing is amiss.

      If GakuseiDon could give me something as stimulating I’d be happy to respond.

      P.P.S.

      Oh yes — so we know now that GakuseiDon also equates “mythcism” with “creationism”. He apparently differs with James McGrath, however, in believing that one should not use the “C” word in front of “mythicists” for fear of upsetting them.

      It is interesting to see how McGrath and GakuseiDon “define” “creationism” to enable them to attach to it anything they dislike. This reminds me very much of how racist scapegoating works. All the bad things you detest (greed, bad smells, dishonesty) you heap on the victims and label them “Jew” or “Chink” or – in this context – “Creationist”.

      It was to attempt to encourage McGrath to avoid this illegitimate process that led me to use a third party to lay out the nature of “Creationism” in my post. My efforts have to date had no apparent impact on GakuseiDon or Metacrock, sadly.

      • GakuseiDon
        2010-02-15 06:14:34 UTC - 06:14 | Permalink

        The analogy is how the fringe views the mainstream. “Creationism” is probably the best known example of this and so lends itself as the perfect example, right or wrong. I certainly think that the analogy holds true there, even if it fails elsewhere (and **all** analogies fail at some point).

        And I’m sorry, but until you lay out the mythicist case that you think is most compelling and that you urge James to understand (and curiously why you aren’t a mythicist yourself), the analogy appears to hold true, at least at the point I’ve defined it.

        On Steven’s questions: Read James’ comments. This is from here:
        http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/02/04/the-legitimacy-of-questioning-the-historicity-of-jesus/#comments

        Neil:

        James, it is nonsense to suggest that the mythicist case argues that if a scripture is used to describe or address a person then this somehow suggests the person is not real. I am beginning to doubt you are serious about understanding the mythicist case. You seem too willing to embrace rumour or second hand information and the opinions of critics without bothering to investigate the matter youself. Regretfully, you do not give the impression that you are prepared to consider the arguments with anything but ill-will.

        This is the tone and attitude toward the debate of which Schweitzer himself complained. Admittedly it has come from both sides at times.

        James’ response

        Neil, I won’t say that is “the mythicist case” since there doesn’t appear to be a unified single mythicist view. But it is the view of Steven Carr, expressed to me clearly, and responded to by me with the ridicule I think it deserves.

        Perhaps we’ve found something we can agree on? 🙂

        And another comment by James later on:

        So how is this supposed to work next, Steven? I copy and paste my reply again? I still don’t get the point of your saying the same thing over and over, ignoring anything anyone wrote in response to you.

        There is a disconnect here, and I’m not sure how to bridge it. Perhaps two debates need to go on simultaneously: one side to give the best possible case for a historicity; the other to give the best possible case for ahistoricity?

  • branderudanders
    2010-02-14 22:31:52 UTC - 22:31 | Permalink

    A logical analysis (found in http://www.netzarim.co.il (Netzarim.co.il is the website of the only legitimate Netzarim-group)) of all extant source documents and archeology proves that the historical Ribi Yehosuha ha-Mashiakh (the Messiah) from Nazareth and his talmidim (apprentice-students), called the Netzarim, taught and lived Torah all of their lives; and that Netzarim and Christianity were always antithetical.

    It’s meaningless to consider, exclusively, the post-135 C.E. Hellenized Greek source documents of Roman Hellenists who, Oxford historian James Parkes demonstrated (The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue), were 180 degree antitheses of the 1st-century Pharisee Ribi), instead of the 1st-century Judaic sources (like DSS 4Q MMT).

    The “historical Jesus” is an oxymoron.

    The historical person was named Ribi Yehoshua.

  • 2010-02-14 23:40:30 UTC - 23:40 | Permalink

    You don’t agree with all my ideas? We think alike. I don’t agree with everything I wrote earlier either.

  • 2010-02-15 06:37:53 UTC - 06:37 | Permalink

    GakuseiDon Says:
    2010/02/14 at 1:15 pm
    “Rich, I’m a layman with an interest in early Christian and pagan metaphysics. I’m a liberal Christian with no training in religious studies, no training in history, and no language skills relevant to the field.”
    —–
    I notice that many or most of the posters/commenters link to their websites. What is your sites URL. I would be interested in reading what you put forward more so that your criticisms of what others put forward.

    Cheers!
    RichGriese.NET

    • GakuseiDon
      2010-02-15 15:02:14 UTC - 15:02 | Permalink

      Hi Rich, My website is here:
      http://members.optusnet.com.au/gakuseidon/

      It is largely incomplete. One day I plan to make it into the site I want, but it is a low priority item at the moment. There are a few articles linking to my reviews of Doherty and “The God Who Wasn’t There” movie. I have some data in my “In their own words” section, though not sorted.

  • 2010-02-14 23:25:11 UTC - 23:25 | Permalink

    I think the point we’re missing here is that it’s clear Neil has issues with “Creationists” but, more importantly, it’s irrelevant if Christ existed as a person named Jesus or of it was really Judas in disguise… (play dramatic Dun dun DUNnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn here).

    Is it relevant to the billion people who believe what he says? It’s fine that we doubt Lao-Tzu’s existence, but to deny Christ’s existence is tantamount to blasphemy! We have Christianity, by proving legitimately that Christ did not exist (a logical impossibility to me), would it matter? Do other people’s arguments of why Christ did or did not exist… matter?

    If you’re arguing a different specific point, I’d search your feelings and clearly define it. You have a problem with Christ because of some hatred of Christianity just say that. It doesn’t make your arguments any less valid but it does color them in an appropriate fashion. If you don’t like the difficulty of history being a “provable” science like “geology” then say that, too. I have all kinds of problems with our intrinsic belief in what someone wrote 1000 or 2000 years ago because none of us were there to witness that history with our own eyes (except for maybe Mel Brooks). We have to take someone else’s word for it. Language is another problem we like to overlook. The growth and change of language. I still see the Rosetta Stone as one hell of a lucky break in the realms of historical findings. Almost too lucky…

    Doesn’t mean I’m a jackass, just means I don’t know everything.

    Neil, you brought great ideas to the table and I don’t agree with all of them. Bam! DONE!

    • 2010-02-14 23:33:08 UTC - 23:33 | Permalink

      or of it was really Judas in disguise

      That should be an IF… This is why I can’t write for soap operas.

  • Steven Carr
    2010-02-15 15:49:03 UTC - 15:49 | Permalink

    I see GDon has managed to find a claim by James McGrath that he has ridiculed me, but has not managed to find any answers by James McGrath to my questions.

    Paul is clear where his Christianity comes from. It comes from what had been given to the Jews – the Old Testament.


  • 2010-02-15 17:15:26 UTC - 17:15 | Permalink

    GakuseiDon Says:
    2010/02/15 at 6:14 am edit

    The analogy is how the fringe views the mainstream. “Creationism” is probably the best known example of this and so lends itself as the perfect example, right or wrong. . . . . .

    I see. Creationism is the only “fringe” that comes to mind. Of course, creationism is probably oh what percentage of the U.S. population compared with “mythicist” views? And there are, of course, no other associations that would allow anyone using the label to take a condescending view that one side does not even meet the basic requirements of scholarly discourse nor is deserving of respect as an intellectual partner.

    GakuseiDon Says:
    2010/02/15 at 6:14 am edit

    There is a disconnect here, and I’m not sure how to bridge it. Perhaps two debates need to go on simultaneously: one side to give the best possible case for a historicity; the other to give the best possible case for ahistoricity?

    In the light of your creationist comparisons, your regular misrepresentations of Doherty, Carrier and now me, and ongoing sympathy for one who has now taken to publicly gloating about “offending” mythicists in other web avenues, and your failure to address the issue of the post topic above these comments, in the light of all this your touching expressions of concern for a harmonious debate among bridgeable sides move me not.

    • GakuseiDon
      2010-02-15 18:36:50 UTC - 18:36 | Permalink

      Neil, I barely knew who you were before all this, so where I have had a chance to “regularly misrepresent” you I have no idea.

      As for Doherty and Carrier: I won’t say it is impossible that I’ve misrepresented them, but if I have it has been unintentional. I certainly feel I don’t need to — I have offered very comprehensive rebuttals of Doherty; any misrepresentation would be unnecessarily. I’ve said less about Carrier, other than Carrier’s review of Doherty’s theory. If you would like to point out where I have misrepresented either of them, I would be interested. I suspect that I have misrepresented them about as much as I have you.

      If you want to debate any of the points I have raised against Doherty, I’m more than happy to do so.

      Don

      • 2010-02-16 15:03:51 UTC - 15:03 | Permalink

        I refer anyone interested in following up these claims check the archives of FRDB for GakuseiDon’s exchanges with Doherty and co.

  • 2010-02-15 17:22:24 UTC - 17:22 | Permalink

    GakusieDon, as you quote me here, I addressed the willingness to insult upfront. That was very clear so your plea for “good intentions” rings hollow. At no time have I ever suggested James or anyone should not discuss or comment on any topic at any stage of their enquiries about it.

    GakuseiDon wrote
    2010/02/15 at 5:28 am

    Neil wrote: Will respond to your post later, perhaps. But once again, I do tire of your misquoting or misreading what I write. Nowhere have I ever suggested James McGrath should not make comments about mythicism until he studies it for himself. Do stop this sort of misrepresentation. It is so consistent it comes across as deliberate.

    Neil, perhaps you may not believe it, but I really try to take great pains to avoid misrepresentation. Deliberate misrepresentation is one thing I genuinely loath in debating, since it can serve no good purppose. However, it can be so easy to misrepresent. You do come across as fair-minded, so I need to try harder in future.

    In this blog, you wrote:

    I admit my response to James McGrath (asking him to actually read what it was he was criticizing and so get his information first-hand before launching the insults) was misguided.

    I apologize if my paraphrase comes across as misrepresentation, it certainly wasn’t intended as such.

  • Pingback: Even an atheist constructs a historical Jesus in his own image « Vridar

  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *