Monthly Archives: April 2012

7. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism: Telling the Gospels Like It Is

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Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt.7

Telling the Gospels Like It Is

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Should “faith documents” be treated as legitimate historical sources?
  • Are the Gospels independently based on oral tradition?
  • Matthew and Luke’s story is Mark’s story
  • Hearing about Nazareth and Jesus
  • Should we trust accounts of George Washington but not Jesus?
  • Equating Luke and Plutarch, or Luke and Philostratus
  • Mark as sole source for a life of an earthly Jesus
  • Luke and Matthew’s “special material” (“L” and “M”)
  • John’s dependence on the Synoptics
  • Gospels of Thomas, Peter, Egerton as “independent accounts”

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In his Chapter 3, Bart Ehrman says that he will present “common knowledge” about the Gospels which mainstream New Testament scholars “have known for a long time.” He asks how anyone can complain about making the public more knowledgeable on these matters. Mythicists would heartily endorse that thought.

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Gospels as Historical Sources?

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 69-78)

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Ehrman’s Preliminary Comment

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Ehrman claims that

. . . once one understands more fully what the Gospels are and where they came from, they provide powerful evidence indeed that there really was a historical Jesus who lived in Roman Palestine and who was crucified under Pontius Pilate. (p. 70, DJE?)

In a “Preliminary Comment on the Gospels as Historical Sources,” Ehrman acknowledges that the Gospels “are filled with non-historical material, accounts of events that could not have happened,” that they have “many discrepancies in matters both great and small” and “contradictions all over the map.” On the other hand, there is “historical information in the Gospels,” but “it needs to be teased out by careful, critical analysis.

To support his contention that the Gospels “can and must be considered historical sources of information,” whether by conservative congregations or by atheists/agnostics who dismiss them as faith documents with no value as history, Ehrman urges that they be recognized as literature, written by human beings in response to the human times they lived in. Such authors had no intention of producing sacred scripture. They “were simply writing down episodes that they had heard from the life of Jesus,” some of which may have been historically accurate, others not. “They had heard reports about Jesus; they had probably read earlier accounts of his life; and they decided to write their own versions.

Ehrman inserts another reference to the intentions voiced in the Prologue of the Gospel of Luke, a topic I’ve dealt with earlier, pointing out why those statements cannot be taken at face value. Luke and the other evangelists, admits Ehrman, were not disinterested and unbiased, but

they were historical persons giving reports of things they had heard. The fact that their books later became documents of faith has no bearing on the question of whether the books can still be used for historical purposes. (p. 73, DJE?)

No bearing? Hardly. Being documents of faith — and on what grounds is Ehrman claiming they did not begin as such? — may not justify ruling them out as totally valueless, but it is a warning to use extreme care in evaluating whether anything in them is reliable history.

Does Ehrman regard the Passion in Mark’s Gospel as containing anything ‘historical’ when virtually every part of it, even at the level of individual phrases, can be shown to be dependent on — often a verbal borrowing from — a scriptural passage? (That has been recognized since around 1980.) If there is no “history remembered” (and no external corroboration not dependent on those Gospels), how do we securely perceive an actual historical event behind it? Because “Pilate” and “Caiaphas” are involved? Any fictional story can contain historical elements and characters.

Ehrman’s constant emphasis on “hearing” about what Jesus said and did as the basic channel through which the Gospel content passed is not only curious, it’s quite misleading, especially regarding the later evangelists. The old view that the Gospels are basically a recording of oral traditions circulating in Christian communities is no longer in vogue — indeed, it’s untenable. A compromise might have been that Mark was dependent largely on oral tradition, but that the later evangelists essentially redacted Mark (with the exception of John’s ministry), with Matthew and Luke inserting the contents of a written collection of sayings into that redaction. read more »

Carrier slices and dices Ehrman, second course

For those few who do not know already Richard Carrier has now posted his second round response to Bart Ehrman’s “Fuller Reply”.

On the Was Pilate a Procurator issue, Carrier writes:

Ehrman finally does what he should have done originally (take note of this trend: it confirms the entire point of my original critique), and asks an expert. But what he didn’t do was read the scholarship I pointed him to. . . .

I . . . reference the scholarship on it. . .  I would ask that Ehrman have his informant read that piece . . .  and then relay what they say in reply. Notice what happens.

On the Tacitus scholarship: read more »

Bart Ehrman bans this comment from his Public Forum

Questions I had posted to Bart Ehrman’s Public Forum have disappeared more than once into thin air. So I decided to keep copies of whatever I posted to his Public Forum.

But first, let’s be charitable and be clear about the comments of mine he has allowed to appear on his site.

I posted the following comment to his Forum but it sat there in his “moderation queue” for some days before it finally appeared. So that when it did finally appear there were many more subsequent post already on the page and mine was lost way back in the middle of a long chain somewhere. Who would ever notice it? But here it is:

Neil Godfrey  April 26, 2012

It looks like Earl Doherty is damned if he doesn’t engage with the scholarship and now he is damned if he does. I find it curious that the one example Bart refers to that supposedly makes him look dishonest or somehow implying that Morna Hooker is supporting his interpretation of a celestial crucifixion is identical to the one example advanced by James McGrath — and which was answered by Doherty himself as follows:

She stated a principle (Barrett once stated a possible meaning in regard to a Greek phrase which I was able to make use of, though in a manner he did not). It is completely legitimate for me to appeal to such observations when they can be applied to a mythicist interpretation, even if the scholar himself or herself does not choose to make the same application of their observations. Hooker pointed out the principle involved in counterpart guarantees: “Christ becomes what we are (likeness of flesh, suffering and death), so enabling us to become what he is (exalted to the heights).” That principle stands, it works in both cases, whether it is applied to a Christ perceived to be acting on earth, or a Christ perceived to be acting in the heavens. I am well aware that Hooker applies it to the former; she understands it in that context. That doesn’t necessitate her being right. I can take the same principle and understand it in the context of a heavenly death and rising. Because I don’t conform to Hooker’s context does not necessitate me being wrong. This is simple logic . . . .

I submit that it is simply absurd to suggest that Doherty at any point misleads anyone to think the scholars he engages with support his mythicist view. Of course they don’t, and Doherty at no point hides that fact. Right from the opening page he makes it clear what is already clear to everyone — that is argument is “radical” and obviously contrary to the mainstream view. And as I point out in my post, Doherty regularly acknowledges and addresses the fact that scholars do not draw the same conclusions as he does.

Doherty has handled the scholarship in a scholarly manner, and has never pretended to be a professional scholar himself — he explains why he writes in the style he does, and for whom, and what his educational background is — so it is quite unfair to fault Doherty for appearing to be a scholar among scholars.

Is it wrong for an amateur to seriously engage with the professional scholarship and draw different conclusions through that serious engagement?

Well, at least it finally appeared. Bart is not afraid to have dissident voices heard after all, at least as long as they can only faintly be heard from the middle of a large room.

But at the same time I had posted another comment, so understand how doubly excited I was to see that it, too, had appeared there at long last in the middle of a long chain, most of which consisted of more recent comments: read more »

How could Ehrman possibly have read the books he cites?

This is an extract from my previous post. Since that post is very long there is a significant section there that I fear could easily be overlooked. Bart Ehrman has indignantly declared he read all of the books he discusses in his book Did Jesus Exist?

How, then, could he possibly have confused the mythicist argument of Wells with that of Doherty. The two are opposed to each other. But Ehrman appears to have picked up a garbled account and attributed half of Doherty’s argument to Wells!

Here is the relevant section from my previous post. There are many more shoddy and false statements by Ehrman about what Wells writes that I address in that post, but I have singled out here just this one point. read more »

The Facts of the Matter: Carrier 9, Ehrman 1 (my review, part 2)

Let’s sit down and look at the score sheet. Richard Carrier kicked 11 “errors of fact” at the net of Bart Ehrman’s book Did Jesus Exist?

Carrier says he could have kicked many more but that it was getting dark and the referee told him he had limited time.

Since beginning to write this post I have learned Richard Carrier has posted his own reply to Ehrman. But I have avoided reading his response so as to continue with my own thoughts for my own “review” of Ehrman’s book.

Here are the “errors of fact” Carrier kicked at Ehrman’s book, in order:

  1. The Priapus Bronze
  2. The Doherty Slander
  3. The Pliny Confusion
  4. The Pilate Error
  5. The “No Records” Debacle
  6. The Tacitus Question
  7. The “Other Jesus” Conundrum
  8. That Dying-and-Rising God Thing
  9. The Baptism Blunder
  10. The Dying Messiah Question
  11. The Matter of Qualifications

Here are the “errors of fact” Ehrman attempted to defend, in order:

  1. The Priapus Bronze, or Cocky Peter (Or: “A Cock and Bull Story”) (in a separate post)
  2. The Matter of Qualifications
  3. The Pilate Error
  4. The Tacitus Question
  5. The Dying and Rising God
  6. The “Other Jesus” Conundrum
  7. “No Roman Records”
  8. The Doherty “Slander”
  9. The Pliny Confusion

That means goalie Ehrman stood there texting on his mobile while two went through uncontested:

  1. The Baptism Blunder
  2. The Dying Messiah Question

Keep in mind that these “Errors of Fact” in Carrier’s critique of Ehrman’s book are not the only, nor even necessarily the most, serious faults in Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist? But I cannot cover everything in one post so I deal with these before moving on in a future post to the even more significant errors and fallacies of Ehrman’s work. read more »

Carrier versus Ehrman: Reflections

I have decided to do my own review, or series of reflections, on Bart Ehrman’s book. I think it could be worthwhile writing about it through the context of both Richard Carrier’s response to it and Bart Ehrman’s replies to Carrier. It is interesting, perhaps instructive, to see the way Bart Ehrman’s tone has changed in his most recent posts. The context of that change is equally interesting. But let’s start at the beginning — in this case Carrier’s initial reaction.

Richard Carrier expressed the disappointment of many when Bart Ehrman’s book finally appeared:

I was certain this would be a great book, the very best in its category. And I said this, publicly, many times in anticipation of it. It’s actually the worst. . . . I was eagerly hoping for a book I could recommend as the best case for historicity (but alas, that title stays with the inadequate but nevertheless competent, if not always correct, treatment in Van Voorst’s Jesus Outside the New Testament and Theissen & Merz’s The Historical Jesus). I was also expecting it to be a good go-to rebuttal to the plethora of bad mythicism out there . . . .

No doubt many who have favourably considered mythicism agree. We were looking for a serious challenge. But one thing Bart Ehrman made clear in his Introduction was what he thought of mythicism and mythicists. Mythicism is on a par with Holocaust and moon-landing denial (p. 5). Mythicists are driven by anti-Christian agenda and are not interested in historical inquiry for its own sake. They will not be convinced by anything he writes so the rest of the book is not even an attempt to engage with them. It is to inform “genuine seekers who really want to know how we know that Jesus did exist” and the answers will come from scholars who, supposedly unlike mythicists, have no vested interest in the question.

That is the tone Ehrman sets in the opening pages of his book. He is essentially telling mythicists to step outside, or at least to the back of the room, while he talks to those who (unlike mythicists) think evidence matters. This is not the book that mythicists and those who are curious but undecided were waiting for. read more »

6. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism: Jewish Sources

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Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt.6

What Did Jews Have to Say?

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Philo of Alexandria
  • Josephus
    • the Testimonium: entirely interpolation or an authentic residue?
    • is an authentic residue “neutral”?
    • is the Testimonium intrusive or a digression?
    • silence of Christian commentators on Testimonium before Eusebius
    • how could Josephus have felt ‘positive’ or even neutral toward Jesus?
    • is the Testimonium’s language the language of Eusebius?
    • changes to the Testimonium and its location
    • the case of Antiquities 20
  • The Jewish Talmud
    • why are there no traditions about Jesus going back to the 1st century?

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Non-Christian References to Jesus

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 56-68, Jewish Sources)

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Philo of Alexandria

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Deutsch: Philo(n) von Alexandria English: Phil...Bart Ehrman, in his survey of the non-Christian witness to Jesus, turns next to the Jewish category. He first dismisses the silence about Jesus in the writings of the philosopher Philo of Alexandria as something unsurprising, since by his death (probably by 50 CE), Christianity had not yet penetrated to Egypt. That may be the case, but this does not mean that a philosopher living in Egypt, just around the Mediterranean corner from Palestine, especially one whose philosophy about God and the mediator Logos was a close antecedent to that of Paul, was completely isolated from news of Judean events, or from new ideas being bandied about in the very field of thought Philo was engaged in.

What we do know from Philo’s writings

Moreover, we know from his writing that Philo was familiar with Pilate and his objectionable activities in Judea. He would not, of course, know about every rebel or criminal executed by the governor, but considering the developments which supposedly followed this particular execution, and considering his interest in the sect known as the Therapeutae to which the early Christian community in Judea would supposedly have borne a strong resemblance, it would not be infeasible for him to have noticed the latter and especially what was presumably being made out of its human founder.

We have writings of Philo up to the year 41 CE, but it could be argued (Ehrman does not) that, even had he taken notice, commenting on that notice was something he simply didn’t get around to doing. The silence in Philo is therefore not overly significant, it’s just another void to add to the overall picture.

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Josephus

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The romanticized woodcut engraving of Flavius ...

The romanticized woodcut engraving of Flavius Josephus appearing in William Whiston’s translation of his works. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But the most important Jewish historian of the era is another matter. Josephus has been a battleground in the ‘clash of titans’ and understandably so. The last half-century of scholarship has focused mainly on whether the passage known as the Testimonium Flavianum in Antiquities of the Jews, Bk.18 contains an authentic original by Josephus which Christians later only made additions to. This is a bandwagon which virtually every New Testament scholar these days has hopped onto, as though the maintenance of an authentic original is seen as crucial to Jesus’ existence.

What scholars used to say

It should be noted, however, that prior to the Second World War, many scholars were quite willing to postulate that Josephus made no reference to Jesus at all. See, for example, Maurice Goguel, Jesus the Nazarene: Myth or History?, p.35 (that both passages can be “suspected of interpolation”); or Charles Guignebert, Jesus, p.18 (“It seems probable that Josephus did not name Jesus anywhere”). The latter, in regarding the Testimonium as a complete forgery, suggested: “It may be admitted that the style of Josephus has been cleverly imitated, a not very difficult matter” (Ibid., p.17).

Who proofread this book? I

Curiously, Ehrman says he will deal with Josephus’ two references to Jesus “in reverse order,” gives us a brief description of the Antiquities 20 passage, then “before dealing with” the mythicist claim that it’s an interpolation, he switches over to the Testimonium in Antiquities 18, calling it the “second passage.” One gets an impression more than once in this book that Ehrman simply went with his first draft, and without benefit of editor.

The suspicious passages

Though most of the present readers will know this passage like the back of their hands, I’ll give Ehrman’s rendition of it according to “the best manuscripts”:

At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one should call him a man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. He was the messiah. And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. For he appeared to them on the third day, living again, just as the divine prophets had spoken of these and countless other wondrous things about him. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died out. (Antiquities 18.3.3) [DJE?, p. 59]

The problem parts of this passage, as Ehrman recounts them, are well known: read more »

Why Philosophical Naturalism Wins

I would love to share in a series of posts here some of Jerry Coyne’s paper, Science, Religion, and Society: The Problem of Evolution in America, for those who do not have online access to it. (It is available through a paywall only — see the link for details.) Jerry Coyne’s blog post certainly assures us he would like it to be shared widely.

Not a matter of anti-supernatural bias

I am singling out here one short section in the paper in which he addresses the claim often heard among the faithful that scientists (and by extension we could also say historians) approach their studies with a bias against the supernatural.

The idea that deities don’t affect the universe, then, is not an unjustified a priori assumption, as theologians often claim, but a conclusion born of experience: the experience that only a naturalistic attitude — -that is, a scientific one — has helped us understand nature and make verified predictions about it. As our confidence that science helps us understand the universe grows, so wanes our notion that immaterial and supernatural forces exist.

So what leads to this conclusion?

Beyond this incompatibility of methodology and outcomes is a philosophical incompatibility: the scientific view that supernatural beings aren’t just unnecessary to explain the universe (“methodological naturalism”), but can be taken as nonexistent (“philosophical naturalism”). Forrest (2000, p. 21) explains the link between these two forms of naturalism:

Taken together, the (1) proven success of methodological naturalism combined with (2) the massive body of knowledge gained by it, (3) the lack of a comparable method or epistemology for knowing the supernatural, and (4) the subsequent lack of any conclusive evidence for the existence of the supernatural, yield philosophical naturalism as the most methodologically and epistemologically defensible world view.

This is where philosophical naturalism wins — it is a substantive worldview built on the cumulative results of methodological naturalism, and there is nothing comparable to the latter in terms of providing epistemic support for a worldview. If knowledge is only as good as the method by which it is obtained, and a world view is only as good as its epistemological underpinning, then from both a methodological and an epistemological standpoint, philosophical naturalism is more justifiable than any other world view that one might conjoin with methodological naturalism.

Tim Widowfield posted his own take on this in Leap of Faith Or Failure of Reason

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Fight Club! Historical Jesus Scholars Take On the Christ Mythicists!

25-934902-twb030211brophy02_t325Here they come. The advance warning was R. Joseph Hoffmann‘s Mythtic Pizza and Cold-cocked Scholars. He promises that within a week (apocalypse coming!) we will see on his blog “three essay-length responses to Richard C. Carrier’s ideas: The first by [R. Joseph Hoffmann], the second by Professor Maurice Casey of the University of Nottingham, and the third by Stephanie Fisher as specialist in Q-studies.” I haven’t been this excited since I was a little kid in side-show alley at our city’s annual exhibition. Recall the tremors as I came to the tent-boxing pavilion. You knew you were approaching it when you heard the war-like beating of a bass drum. On a raised platform iron-faced and red and gold robed boxers stood in a row beside the drummer yelling out the challenge for anyone to dare enter the ring.

Hoffmann whets our blood-craving appetite by announcing the intellectual weapons to be pitted against each other. Those championing the historical Jesus have “the complex evidence of textual and linguistic studies” and “hermeneutics”. (By “hermeneutics” I think he might mean in particular the full spanner-set of criteriology: the criteria of embarrassment, double dissimilarity, multiple attestation, coherence, etc.) Against these we have the mythicists using scientific method:

these same folk who hold up the scientific method to religionists want to walk past the complex evidence of textual and linguistic studies as though it weren’t there. ”Hermeneutics” for them is just a word theologians like to throw around to impress seminarians . . .

Textual and linguistic studies as weapons for historicity? I think that must include those incisive analyses that identify Aramaic words in the Gospels or lying behind the current Greek words. I wonder how the scientific method will compete against that slam-dunk evidence that the Gospels really were quoting the Aramaic words of an Aramaic speaking historical Jesus? It’s going to be a tough fight. read more »

5. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism: A Roman Trio

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Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt.5

A Roman Trio

COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Pliny the Younger – Letter to Trajan
    • Information taken from Christians
    • Is “Christ” a man or only a god?
    • Christo quasi deo” – “as” or “as if”?
    • Ancient quotes have no “quasi
  • Suetonius – Life of Claudius
    • Chrestus” and the expulsion of Jews
    • Misleading translation
    • Paul and Acts
  • Tacitus – Annals 15
    • “Christ” but no “Jesus”
    • Tacitus’ source: archive or hearsay?
    • “Procurator” vs. “Prefect”
    • The question of authenticity
    • No Christian witness to martyrdom for the Great Fire
    • No Roman witness after Tacitus
    • Sulpicius Severus (c.400) the first witness

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Non-Christian References to Jesus

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 50-56)

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Pliny the Younger

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After this considerable amount of prefatory material, Ehrman finally arrives at his discussion of the non-Christian references to Jesus. He begins with Pliny the Younger and his famous letter to Trajan in the year 112 CE during his governorship of the province of Bithynia,making inquiries regarding the prosecution of Christians.

At the outset Ehrman admits that any information about Jesus that might be gleaned from Pliny could be seen as having been derived from the Christians themselves (indeed, this is a virtual certainty from what he says), and thus is of little if any value in establishing the historicity of Jesus. Nor does Pliny use the name “Jesus,” referring to the Christian object of worship simply as “Christ.”

The information Pliny has collected from the accused about the sect’s activities is pretty innocuous:

  • A pre-dawn chant,
  • subscription to certain ethics and behavior,
  • assembling to “take food of an ordinary, harmless kind.”

We might note that the latter does not suggest the Eucharist ceremony with its eating of the flesh and blood of Christ, whether god or man, and there is no reference to a crucifixion let alone an alleged resurrection.

As if!

But that pre-dawn chant: Pliny says it was “in honor of Christ as to a god [Christo quasi deo].” read more »

Putting James the Brother of the Lord to a Bayesian Test

spelt out in blue neon at the offices of Auton...

spelt out in blue neon at the offices of Autonomy in Cambridge. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I saw none of the other apostles, except James the brother of the Lord. — Galatians 1:19

On this verse some hang their strongest assurance that Jesus himself was an historical figure. Paul says he met James, the brother of the Lord (assumed to be Jesus), so that is absolute proof that Jesus existed. That sounds like a perfectly reasonable conclusion. So reasonable, in fact, that some quickly denounce as perverse cranks any who deny this “obvious meaning”.

But should historians be content with this? Is it being “hyper-sceptical” to question this explanation?

We need to keep in mind some fundamental principles of historical research and explanations from the professional historians themselves. Renowned conservative historian, Sir Geoffrey Elton, warns against deploying such simplistic methods as citing a single piece of evidence to make a case. In this instance, the case is about evidence for the historicity of Jesus.

Historical research does not consist, as beginners in particular often suppose, in the pursuit of some particular evidence that will answer a particular question (G.R. Elton, The Practice of History, p.88)

If that’s what historical research is not, Elton goes on to explain what it is:

it consists of an exhaustive, and exhausting, review of everything that may conceivably be germane to a given investigation. Properly observed, this principle provides a manifest and efficient safeguard against the dangers of personal selection of evidence. (p.88)

Since I am currently reading and reviewing Richard Carrier’s Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus I am taking time out in this post to see what happens if I test this “obvious” interpretation of Galatians 1:19 by means of Bayesian principles. Carrier argues that Bayes’ Theorem is nothing more than a mathematical presentation or demonstration of what goes on inside our heads when we are reasoning about any hypothesis correctly. So let’s try it out on the conclusions we draw from Galatians 1:19.

The way it works is like this. (But keep in mind I am a complete novice with Bayes’ theorem. I am trying to learn it by trying to explain what I think I understand so far.) I see a verse in Paul’s letters that appears to have a simple explanation. I think of myself as a geologist looking at strata in a rock face and I think about all I know about strata and the evidence in front of me and with all that in mind I try to work out how that strata came to look the way it does. This verse is like that strata. My task is to test a hypothesis or explanation for how it came to be there and to appear as it does.

So the explanation, or hypothesis, that I decide to test is: That James, whom Paul meets according to this letter, was a sibling of Jesus. That’s my initial explanation for this verse, or in particular this phrase, “James the brother of the Lord”, being there.

It seems pretty straightforward, surely. This should be easy enough to confirm.

So let’s set it out in the theorem structure. read more »

Jerry Coyne’s (Why Evolution Is True) Comments on Carrier’s Review of Ehrman

Jerry Coyne of Why Evolution Is True fame has posted on his blog his own comments on Richard Carrier’s review of Ehrman’s book.

Here is his conclusion:

In other words, Ehrman’s book is important to Americans only insofar as it can be taken to support the tenets of Christianity.  Since it doesn’t, even by Ehrman’s admission, I’m a bit baffled at the attention it gets. I conclude that all the kerfuffle rests on this: Christians conflate the existence of a historical Jesus with the existence of a divine Jesus.

And, of course, there are important questions about how one adjudicates ancient history.

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Richard Carrier’s Review of Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist?

Updated an hour and again seven hours after original posting.

This is a serious error, because it makes Ehrman’s book into nothing more than falsified propaganda. It is his responsibility as a scholar to have read these writings and accurately represent them to his readers so they don’t have to read them themselves. That he doesn’t do that erases any scholarly value this book could have had. Here, for example, the key point is that Doherty engaged himself like a competent scholar, used mainstream scholarship extensively, and correctly identified where his conclusions and interpretations differed from the scholars he cites and from mainstream scholarship generally. Ehrman hides this fact from his readers, and even misleads his readers by declaring exactly the opposite. Where else does Ehrman completely hide and misrepresent the views, statements, and methods of the mythicists he criticizes? If we cannot trust him in this case (and clearly we can’t, since what he says is demonstrably exactly the opposite of the truth), why are we to trust anything he says in this book?

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Richard Carrier has now posted his own review of Bart Ehrman’s book: Ehrman on Jesus: A Failure of Facts and Logic. (This links to the review.)

This is his introduction:

Having completed and fully annotated Ehrman’s new book Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (Harper 2012), I can officially say it is filled with factual errors, logical fallacies, and badly worded arguments. Moreover, it completely fails at its one explicit task: to effectively critique the arguments for Jesus being a mythical person. Lousy with errors and failing even at the one useful thing it could have done, this is not a book I can recommend.

Happily Richard acknowledges the extensive series of rebuttals of Ehrman’s book by both myself and of course Earl Doherty as among those worth reading.

read more »

4. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism: Chapter 2 continued

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Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 4

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In this post Doherty covers Ehrman’s arguments dealing with:

  • Probability in history and the burden of proof
  • Ideal evidence historians want against what they actually have
  • Ehrman downplays the problems with the (lack of) evidence
    • Unsuccessful comparison with Pontius Pilate
  • Absence of eyewitness accounts
    • Late date of the gospels
    • Ehrman overlooks problems with Luke’s Prolog
    • Ehrman overlooks scholarship on origin of the Gospel of Luke
    • Ehrman fudges reference to the backbone of New Testament scholarship (Markan priority)
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Preliminary Remarks

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 37-39 of Chapter 2)

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In yet another preface to his discussion of the non-Christian witness to Jesus, Ehrman examines some of the principles involved in historical research. No, it is not like science which can repeat experiments and get observable results.

Technically, we cannot prove a single thing historically. All we can do is give enough evidence (of kinds I will mention in a moment) to convince enough people (hopefully nearly everyone) about a certain historical claim . . . . (p. 38, DJE?)

Burden of Proof

True, all we can really establish is “probabilities” based on judgments about the evidence. And yes, I agree with Ehrman and against Price and some other mythicists that the burden of proof does not lie entirely on the historicist side. As Ehrman quotes E. P. Sanders: “The burden of proof lies with whoever is making a claim.” The problem is, historicists have a habit of maintaining that no burden lies on their side, or else (too often) that adequate ‘proof’ is to be garnered simply through majority opinion, the authoritative consensus which scholars past and present have adopted that an historical Jesus existed. When asked to actually present an adequate case for the existence of the Gospel Jesus, the demand is too often brushed aside as ‘already proven’ or by simple dismissal as an axiomatic non-starter, dissented to only by those driven by an “agenda.”

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The Kind of Evidence Historians Want

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 39-42 of Chapter 2)

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Ehrman asks what kind of evidence historicists look for, and rely upon, to establish the existence of a given person in the past. He enumerates a “wish list.” Hard, physical evidence, such as photographs. Obviously, none of the latter are available for Jesus, but Ehrman goes further and admits that there is no physical evidence of any kind. No archaeological evidence; again, probably not surprising. No contemporary inscriptions, no coins. Fine. No writings: perhaps a little less natural, but perhaps he was illiterate; or if he could read, he could not write, although Ehrman fails to note that there was nothing stopping him from dictating (it wasn’t a far-fetched idea to Eusebius some centuries later who quotes clearly fabricated correspondence between Jesus and an Edessan king).

Ehrman focuses on the most common form of written witness: documents about a person. The more the better, and best that they be independent and corroborative. At this point, he once again fails to make it clear that the four Gospels are anything but independent and corroborative. They are all dependent on Mark, with one reasonably perceivable lost source, the Q document extractable from Matthew and Luke. John, too, is dependent on Mark for his passion story, and where he is not dependent on a Synoptic source, namely in his portrayal of Jesus’ ministry and the content of his teaching, he is not corroborative. For he gives us a drastically different set of teachings by Jesus, thereby casting doubt on the authenticity of any of the teachings of Jesus, for how could John take the liberty of going off on such an alien tangent from the others, totally ignoring them, if the others were real and reliable?

Another preferred feature of written records is proximity in time, the closer the better. Leaving aside efforts by conservative scholars, the standard dating of the Gospels, all of them following soon after the Jewish War, is not close proximity, especially given the disruptive effects of that war on all of Palestine. A considerable number of mythicists prefer to date all the Gospels well into the second century, but even if a compromise is adopted (I and others like G. A. Wells, with demonstrable reasons, would date Mark to around 90, with the rest following over the next two to three decades; see Jesus: Neither God Nor Man, p.400f), we have nothing resembling proximity. And another wish-list preference, disinterest on the part of the writers about their subject, is as far from the actuality of the Gospels as one can get.

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The Sources for Jesus: What We Do Not Have

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 42-50 of Chapter 2)

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No Witness to Jesus in the First Century

Ehrman attempts to address this lack head-on. But he makes observations which are patently a down-playing of the real situation. No Greek or Roman author in the first century makes mention of Jesus? No matter, read more »