2012-04-06

Ehrman explains: Doherty could be right after all

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

by Neil Godfrey

Diogenes the Cynic philosopher went around the sunlit streets of Athens, lantern in hand, looking for an honest man.

Bart Ehrman has expressed outrage at Earl Doherty’s suggestion that ancient philosophers had any influence at all upon the way ancient myths came to be understood in the wider culture of the day. Doherty discusses the way philosophers came to reinterpret certain types of traditional myths so as to lift them out of the primordial past and to place them into a spiritual dimension, even an upper world, and to allegorize them to represent larger cosmic forces and generic human impulses. At the same time he makes it clear that he thinks myths such as those of Heracles or of Olympian gods interacting with humans on earth were not affected, but that other myths such as those of Isis and Osiris were evidently lifted into that “spiritual dimension”. How were these myths interpreted in the mystery cults? Do we have a right to suggest that elitist philosophical thinking had any influence at all upon the wider culture of the day? Doherty’s writes:

And if that transplanting [of myths from a primordial past to a supernatural dimension] is the trend to be seen in the surviving [philosophical] writings on the subject, it is very likely that a similar process took place to some degree in the broader world of the devotee and officiant of the mysteries; it cannot be dismissed simply as an isolated elitist phenomenon. In fact, that very cosmological shift of setting can be seen in many of the Jewish intertestamental writings . . . . [Other hints and deductions which can be derived from archeological remains, such as the Mithraic monuments, can also be informative.]. . . . . 

[N]or would everyone, from philosopher to devotee-in-the-street, shift to understanding and talking about their myths in such a revised setting. The changeover in the mind of the average person may well have been imperfect, just as modern science has effected a rethinking of past literal and naïve views toward elements of the bible in the direction of the spiritual and symbolic, but in an incomplete and varied fashion across our religious culture as a whole. [p. 100, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man]

Ehrman retaliates vociferously:

Why should we assume that the mystery cults were influenced by just one of these philosophies? Or for that matter by any of them? . . . .

I hardly need to emphasize again that the early followers of Jesus [Christians] were not elite philosophers. They were by and large common people. Not even Paul was philosophically trained. To be sure, as a literate person he was far better educated than most Christians of his day. But he was no Plutarch. His worldview was not principally dependent on Plato. It was dependent on the Jewish traditions, as these were mediated through the Hebrew scriptures. (pp. 254 – 255, Did Jesus Exist?)

I have substituted Ehrman’s ambiguous yet question-begging “followers of Jesus” for “Christians” in the above quote so it can be reasonably dealt with in a logical manner. Here Ehrman can scarcely be any more dogmatic. There can be no doubt that here he is leading his readers into thinking that ancient philosophy had no impact on Paul nor even on any of the ordinary folk who became the earliest Christian converts. Paul’s world view was Jewish, so he is stressing. His theology was informed by the Jewish tradition and his meditations on the Jewish scriptures alone. Ehrman is laying out his point in stark contrast to anything else he leads the readers to think Doherty is arguing: Paul and the early Christians were dependent upon the Jewish religion and scriptures and NOT pagan philosophies or mystery cults.

But wait!

Ehrman answers his own rhetorical question

Before Ehrman wrote this book attacking mythicism he wrote other stuff that sounds for all the world as if he was agreeing with the very possibility Doherty was suggesting — that the philosophical ideas of the elite probably did indeed trickle down in whatever bastardized form to the wider community!

Here is what Bart Ehrman wrote in calmer moments about the role and potential influence of ancient philosophers on the common people who gravitated towards mystery cults and Christianity:

Philosophy and religion were not thought to be irreconcilable entities; indeed, some of the best known philosophers were priests in pagan temples. They nonetheless represented two different spheres of activity with two different sets of concerns. Greco-Roman philosophy was . . . concerned with showing how a person could attain well-being in this world . . . .

Professional philosophers were a relatively rare breed in the Greco-Roman world, whose pre-industrial societies had scant resources to support large numbers of people who did little but think and teach others to do likewise.. . .

Nonetheless, philosophical ideas were widely known, in large part because of their typical mode of communication. On street corners and thoroughfares of major urban areas throughout the empire, philosophers of all stripes could be found proclaiming their views and urging others to adopt them in their own lives, rather like street preachers in some places today. (My emphasis. p. 34, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction To The Early Christian Writings, by Bart Ehrman. 2004 ed.)

And again on page 304 of the same book:

Perhaps because of their inclusive character, none of these religions [the ancient cults] was missionary, none of them urged their devotees to pursue converts to participate in their cult and their cult alone. Thus, when Paul and his co-workers were trying to make converts, they were not modeling themselves on what representatives of other sacred cults were doing.
On the other hand, some of the Greco-Roman philosophical schools were missionary, in that they had leading spokespersons actively engaged in winning converts to their way of looking at the world.

Are we reading that right? What was it that Ehrman said in his excoriation of Doherty?

Why should we assume that the mystery cults were influenced by just one of these philosophies? Or for that matter by any of them? . . . .

So Ehrman answered his question a few years ago. In his effort to denigrate mythicism he simply forgot. Ehrman himself pointed out that various followers of philosophical schools did not lock themselves away in ivory towers. Many were on the street corners seeking followers. No doubt their subtler teachings would have soared over the heads of many but one cannot assume that some knowledge of their teachings was not picked up by the wider public. As far back as the days of Socrates the playwright Aristophanes expected his lampooning of Socrates to resonate with a broader public.

So when Ehrman protests that early Christians “were not elite philosophers” he is overlooking entirely the thrust of Doherty’s argument that there was a cultural shift in thinking that cannot be thought of as confined entirely to a coterie of literates. Ehrman in his own publications has answered his own rhetorical question. He knows very well both the means and the likelihood that philosophical thinking of the day very probably did percolate through to the wider society in however diluted or imperfect a form.

Doherty himself wrote the same things as Ehrman had in 2000 and 2004:

[W]andering philosophers . . . were a kind of “popular clergy,” offering spiritual comfort— though usually demanding a fee. Some had immense influence on a wide audience, such as the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, who taught that the universe is governed by a benevolent and wise Providence, and that all men are brothers (in the sexist language of the time). . . .

Does this mean the common person would have thought like a philosopher? Of course not, as Doherty explains:

[N]or would everyone, from philosopher to devotee-in-the-street, shift to understanding and talking about their myths in such a revised setting. The changeover in the mind of the average person may well have been imperfect, just as modern science has effected a rethinking of past literal and naïve views toward elements of the bible in the direction of the spiritual and symbolic, but in an incomplete and varied fashion across our religious culture as a whole.

Would Ehrman seriously — in any context apart from mythicism — disagree with this?

But when Doherty suggests that we cannot discount the possibility or even likelihood that philosophical views of ancient myths had some form of impact upon the thinking of mystery cults that evidently re-interpreted traditional myths as having an immanent presence and power, should we not recall Ehrman’s own clear explanation of exactly the means of communication by which such an influence was affected?


One should also stop and reflect on the rapid growth of Christianity in the Greek speaking world through the efforts of apostles such as Paul. Those who gravitated to Christianity presumably felt some affinity for it that stemmed from their previous religious associations and thought world. That will be the topic of my next post in this series. In that post I will show that Ehrman has effectively again denied what he himself has written in the past simply to attack Doherty for daring to raise the same things and demonstrating how they support the mythicist case.

And thanks to the blog reader who alerted me to Ehrman’s earlier writings that for all the world sound so similar to the very same points he would attack when they come from the pen of Doherty!


Socrates was always a favourite with the crowds

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  • Bob Carlson
    2012-04-06 10:16:42 UTC - 10:16 | Permalink

    I suppose there are lots of instances where a person’s published words come back to haunt him/her, but those persons are usually politicians. Unfortunately for Ehrman, agnostics (especially one with atheist leanings, as Ehrman describes himself on p. 5 of DJE) have little hope of even being elected drain commissioner in most parts of the USA–all the more so in Bible Belt states like North Carolina. Maybe Ehrman thought nobody would bother to look. Good work.

  • mcduff
    2012-04-06 11:14:13 UTC - 11:14 | Permalink

    Ehrman is making a common mistake here.

    Its arises from the ideological assumption that we can separate the varying spheres of human activity eg domestic, economic, recreational, religious/philosophical et al into domains that do not connect.

    But the ecology of human society shows us that all aspects of human life bear a relationship and interdependence, albeit in varying ways and strengths, to each other.
    ‘Things’ and ideas do not go on in isolated vacuums.

    The thigh bone is connected not only to the kneebone but also to the brain and to the stomach and so on.

    So, presuming your paraphrase is accurate, ” Bart Ehrman has expressed outrage at ED’s ancient philosophers had any influence at all upon the way ancient myths came to be understood in the wider culture of the day”, then Ehrman is just being silly.

    Of course they did. And the reverse was operating also. As well as other influences – in both directions.

    Now as to the significance as to the nature and strength of this complexity of ecological interrelationships and how in particular they were manifested in political and social theory and practice that is a more more nuanced set of questions and possible answers.

    But that society, any society, any time, any where, is a mess of interlocking relationships, that I’m sorry to inform Bart, is a given.

    • mcduff
      2012-04-06 12:54:51 UTC - 12:54 | Permalink

      Let me give one simple but significant example of the above.

      Why is Jesus a man? And not a woman?

      Because the society of the time, and its Hellenic and eastern antecedents, was patriarchal.

      Gerda Lerner, in her classic “The Creation of Patriarchy”, analyses the patriarchal underpinnings of the religions, philosophy and ideology and social and cultural elements of Hammurapian Babylon, Jewish Torah, Platonist and Aristotlean thought and Paul as derived from those above.
      Both the society[s] and the religious philosophers are misogynist and patriarchal.
      That is not accidental.

  • 2012-04-06 17:21:12 UTC - 17:21 | Permalink

    From Ehrman’s book, Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene ‘Paul would have been surrounded by people embracing religions other than Judaism. Paul, unlike Jesus or Peter , was born and raised in a non-Jewish, pagan environment….

    Ehrman goes on to explain that Tarsus was ‘one of the great philosophical centres of the Empire’, ‘one of the two or three best places for a person to develop his philosophical or rhetorical abilities.’

    • 2012-04-06 18:03:19 UTC - 18:03 | Permalink

      Yup. I’ll be covering Paul in this context in a future post. But I haven’t read the book you mention. That’s more fuel for the coming fire. Thanks.

  • 2012-04-06 23:11:03 UTC - 23:11 | Permalink

    Matthew 16:18

    And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

    I didn’t realize that Hades was a character in the Jewish Bible

    1 Corinthians 11.23-25

    23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

    Justin Martyr continues:

    …Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn

    Since syncretism is completely unheard of, there are only two options here. Coincidence, or the wicked devils really did convince the followers of Mithras to copy Christians.

  • ROO BOOKAROO
    2012-04-07 03:49:15 UTC - 03:49 | Permalink

    EHRMAN UNVEILED!

    Ehrman was interviewed by NPR on April 1 about his new book, of course.

    http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=149462376

    He said very clearly, quoted from the transcript (and verified by listening to the audio):

    EHRMAN: Well, there are several arguments. When you just look at them plainly, they LOOK fairly plausible. Jesus is never mentioned in any Roman source of his day. There’s no archaeological evidence that Jesus ever existed, no physical proof. And the Christian sources are problematic because the Gospels are 20, 40, 50, 60 years later. On the other side of the ledger, they point out that many of the things said about Jesus are said about pagan divine beings or pagan gods
    ……
    EHRMAN: …raised the dead. And, most importantly, they point out that there are pagan gods who are said to die and rise again. And so the idea is that Jesus was made up as a Jewish god who dies and rose again. And so when you simply look at it without any context, it LOOKS like a plausible argument.”

    So, in all fairness, Ehrman does acknowledge that mythicists have good arguments for their case. “It LOOKS like a plausible argument.”

    But then, he simply dismisses them, and start expounding on his own theory of the hypothetical “written sources, and hypothetical “oral traditions”. He cannot do much more in this short interview.

    “EHRMAN: A lot of the arguments don’t really count for anything. I mean, the fact there’s no archaeological evidence for Jesus…
    …..
    EHRMAN: …doesn’t really matter, because there’s not archaeological evidence for hardly anybody who lived in this world.
    …..
    EHRMAN: Well – or the 60 million people who lived in Jesus’ day. So what I do in the book is I marshal all of the evidence. The Gospels were written 40 or 50 years after Jesus, but they incorporate earlier written sources, and they’re all reliant on oral traditions.

    And you can actually translate some of these Greek traditions in the Gospels back into the original Aramaic of Jesus and they make better sense, which means these were traditions floating around in Palestine probably just a few years after Jesus’ death.”

    Just as an example of how scholars can be misquoted in this very competitive field of religion studies, let’s see in an article on one of her websites how Dorothy M. Murdock/Acharya S mentions Bart Ehrman’s words in this interview with NPR

    http://www.freethoughtnation.com/contributing-writers/63-acharya-s/670-bart-ehrman-mythicists-arguments-are-fairly-plausible.html

    In her email letter, she pounces on Ehrman’s words and trumpets, twisting his words and paraphrasing:

    “Bart Ehrman: ‘Mythicists’ arguments ARE fairly plausible…
    “Mythicists’ arguments ARE fairly plausible… According to them, Jesus was never mentioned in any Roman sources and there is no archeological evidence that Jesus ever existed. Even Christian sources are problematic – the Gospels come long after Jesus’ death, written by people who never saw the man…. Most importantly…these mythicists point out that there are Pagan gods who were said to die and rise again and so the idea is that Jesus was made up as a Jewish god who died and rose again…. The mythicists have some right things to say… The Gospels do portray Jesus in ways that are non-historical….

    When I passed along that excerpted quote to Dr. Robert M. Price, another mythicist who, like me, was the subject of Ehrman’s wrath in DJE, Bob exclaimed: “Wow! That sounds like a retraction!” ”

    So all of a sudden, Ehrman is shown as RETRACTING himself! By transcribing his “LOOK” into “ARE”, Murdock, is misquoting and completely distorting the point of Ehrman’s interview, and ignoring the rest of the interview where he states his stance most clearly, of course.
    Couldn’t she at least read the transcript? Or perhaps she did, but decided to enhance it.

    What Ehrman does is to simply, and correctly, enunciate the mythicists’ case — but he never says that he is in agreement with it. On the contrary. The whole interview shows that Ehrman dismisses the whole mythicist case from the point of view of his own theory of hypothetical sources and oral traditions.

    Murdock does not even mention the rest of the interview. She simply distorted Ehrman’s words to make her “input” more sensational. She immediately reports to established scholar Robert M. Price, what only detective Murdock has discovered.This is “Ehrman Unveiled!” And Price, his usual distrust completely disarmed, swallows the whole thing, and does not even express any doubt!
    Again it’s pure self-aggrandizement at the expense of Ehrman. We can read some evaluations of her style of work on her site, TruthBeKnown:

    “Your scholarship is relentless!”
    “Acharya S is a shining light of truth in a sea of deceit.”
    “D.M. Murdock could well be the most brilliant, insightful and rigorous theologian writing today.”
    “Acharya S is the ranking religious philosopher of our era.”
    “Acharya S/Murdock deserves an award for her hard work and courage. She is the Galileo of our day!”

    Hey, Jesus had his disciples saying similar things.

    But, really, mythicist arguments don’t need a false presentation of Ehrman’s stance, and we can suspect Murdock’s resorting to such distortions only for personal self-promotion.

    This is just another case of Murdock’s sloppy use of quotes, lack of interest in accuracy, and disregard for authentic sources. She seems never to ask herself: “Is what I am writing really true?” That is just too boring. The key is to produce quotes, and quotes, to justify the embellishment of your interpretation. What a relief to read scholars like Carrier or Doherty who double-check any sentence — but, oh, aren’t they “dull and dogmatic”?

    We can guess that this approach is due to her having never received any graduate school training, never having been subjected to the harsh scrutiny of a PhD supervisor.
    She trained herself by publishing first, and then reviewing the criticisms raised against her work in order to prepare the publication of a new book answering criticisms. And so on.
    She is famously known for her penchant for inaccurate interpretations and disregarding basic graduate school-ingrained respect of sources. She never studied science or maths that inculcate a religious respect for accuracy and exactness. Too “dull and dogmatic” for her.

    After this flagrant example of misquoting, and not presenting the full content of Ehrman’s interview on NPR, many will find it hard to believe any of her claims about the meaning of sources without serious double or triple-checking.
    To quote her in the same breath as Richard Carrier, Earl Doherty, or Robert M. Price is a serious mistake in evaluation.

    • 2012-04-07 05:08:56 UTC - 05:08 | Permalink

      I am thinking that people like Ehrman and McGrath are not so much unwilling as incapable of thinking outside their own thought-world. Having immersed themselves in just one way of thinking so deeply they can do nothing more than stare and shoot if they see a radically foreign idea from another source. It’s a form of “brainwashing” if you like. (We can see the arguments are riddled with logical fallacies of otherwise very intelligent people, so it’s not comparable to the evolutionist who exposes faith-based ideas.) They don’t even address many of the mythicist arguments — only their conclusions. They very often simply shout their own interpretations more loudly.

      • 2012-04-07 11:09:40 UTC - 11:09 | Permalink

        It is just too bad that you guys do the exact same thing when someone’s views are not worthy of your consideration. Here are a few examples.

        Howard: “There are two entirely different paths that this could have happened. Yours is that [the Bible] was an entirely human work, similar to other ancient religions. The other is that it was inspired, compiled and maintained by God. So for me, I would be interested in how you came to the determination that it is not from God and merely a human work?

        Neil: If someone believes the Bible is divinely inspired or put together I have no way of arguing with them. Nothing I can say would dissuade them. I would not try to argue the point. People have faith for personal reasons. Faith is by definition not rational so a reasoned argument is pointless against it.”

        And

        Neil: “As for your big-picture response to the last point, the whole idea that there is a big picture, something big enough holding the books together in the way you have said, is entirely a product of your own — or your church’s — imagination. It is not found in the books themselves. It is a belief system that you are imposing on them and that finds no warrant within the books themselves.”

        Howard: “You feel this way because you have rejected the thing that binds these books together. All these books are about God, he is the binding factor. If I go out and collect together five independent books where the main subject is about Australia, then these books certainly have a relationship to each other. If one book was about the history, and another about the major cities and the other books, other aspects, wouldn’t these books together form a bigger picture of life in Australia than any one of the individual books?”

        Neil: “The Bible tells believers what to think about non-believers and how to judge them. It reads their minds for them. I reject that as another damaging and socially divisive lie. The Bible’s books are all about Israel, the people of God, etc. I can see what they have in common just as clearly as I can see what books about Australia have in common. I have no need to imagine any other unseen mind in the sky manipulating and encoding it all for his chosen one.”

        All your responses were conclusions or opinions, not evidence for a coherent argument. However, you do deserve some credit for not sinking to hate and mockery as some of your other readers have done.

        • 2012-04-07 11:32:25 UTC - 11:32 | Permalink

          As you probably already know, Neil and I already know what it’s like to think the way a believer does. So when Neil says, “I have no way of arguing with [believers],” he means we know that no rational argument can sway their belief.

          What kind of evidence would convince you that the Bible is a work of human hands, like any other book of supposed scripture? None. What sort of rational argument would change your mind? None.

          Mind you, I don’t care to change your mind. If you’re happy, that’s fine. But please understand that we can remember what your thought world is like, and we have no interest in returning to it.

          • 2012-04-07 12:16:21 UTC - 12:16 | Permalink

            You’re doing it again! I didn’t say anything about you or Neil persuading me to change my mind or for me to try and change your mind. I simply asked what was the evidence/argument that shows the Bible is the work of men. It is up to me to decide if that evidence/argument is convincing. But I don’t even get the chance, you have already decided for me that I would NOT be persuaded by your evidence/argument. You have falsely attributed to me a state of mind that you think I possess. What about Neil? He says at one time he was a believer, but something did change his mind, your logic is faulty. If you don’t want to take the time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions with an explanation of the relevant evidence, or because its all been said before, that’s fine, just say so. But maybe that’s the same reason why, as you guys put it, scholars do not engage the actual arguments of mythicists. Don’t kid yourself, your explanations are not unique, there is nothing groundbreaking about mythicism, every person that ever lived that did not believe in God, Jesus, and the Bible were mythicists. Any story that is not factual is a myth, the only difference is that you guys have invented an intricate story to explain why it is a myth, but the end result is the same. I can also remember what your thought world was like, and I have no interest in returning to it either, but that is not the point. The point is deciding what is the most plausible explanation of the available evidence, which can not be done when one party is not willing to engage the evidence.

            • mcduff
              2012-04-07 12:42:13 UTC - 12:42 | Permalink

              “I simply asked what was the evidence/argument that shows the Bible is the work of men.”
              Are you serious?
              I mean is this a genuine question to which you seriously expect people to respond to?
              And that you would seriously and sincerely consider such response?

              Here, have a watch of this.

              • 2012-04-07 12:47:17 UTC - 12:47 | Permalink

                Wow, what world do you live in? Talk about being out of touch with reality….

              • mcduff
                2012-04-07 13:16:38 UTC - 13:16 | Permalink

                The real one.

              • 2012-04-07 14:29:09 UTC - 14:29 | Permalink

                I was thinking more of the argument sketch. “That was never five minutes!”

              • 2012-04-07 12:48:23 UTC - 12:48 | Permalink

                Oh, just so you know, I have no intention of watching any video.

            • 2012-04-07 14:27:57 UTC - 14:27 | Permalink

              Howard: “I simply asked what was the evidence/argument that shows the Bible is the work of men.”

              This isn’t hidden, esoteric knowledge. In the first place, it is a safe assumption that any written work that we possess was written by humans, since we don’t know of any other animals with the ability to read and write. If you’re saying that an invisible spirit told some certain select people what to write (inspiration), then the burden would be on you to provide evidence of this extraordinary claim.

              For my part, the fact that the evangelists were quite content to change their sources (the way Matthew and Luke changed Mark) or even change the day of the crucifixion should show anyone with an open mind that we’re not dealing with straight reportage of events. Nor are we dealing with authors who were afraid to change what they found in their sources if it suited their theological agendas.

              Howard: “But I don’t even get the chance, you have already decided for me that I would NOT be persuaded by your evidence/argument.”

              As I said, this isn’t hidden knowledge. All you have to do is read a little bit of critical scholarship to know what the issues are. It’s as if you came here and asked why we think evolution is true. Well . . . go forth and read!

              Howard: “You have falsely attributed to me a state of mind that you think I possess.”

              You mean there is evidence that would persuade you that the Bible is a man-made object? What would it look like?

              Howard: “The point is deciding what is the most plausible explanation of the available evidence, which can not be done when one party is not willing to engage the evidence.”

              Which evidence are you talking about?

              • 2012-04-07 21:09:37 UTC - 21:09 | Permalink

                You honestly can’t see that your responses are straight from the McGrath book of avoidance?

                1. I ask a question that is nonsense to an atheist. I get childish logic as a response (animals can’t write books) and I am told to go look up the information myself.

                2. A mythicist ask McGrath a question that he thinks is nonsense. The mythicist gets childish logic as a response and is told to go look up the information themselves.

                I certainly don’t see much difference between the two. Also, I’m no longer interested in an answer to my question on this blog, I only mentioned it to make a point. And the point was that mythicist are no different than the scholars they complain about when it comes to their entrenched beliefs.

              • 2012-04-07 22:19:59 UTC - 22:19 | Permalink

                That’s an interesting point. I thought Tim’s response was perfectly rational and exactly what I would have said. But your response, as from a third quarter, forces me to re-think how my thinking does come across.

              • 2012-04-08 00:13:14 UTC - 00:13 | Permalink

                Wow, I put a crack in the armor! You of all people should understand that simply reading books that touch on these subjects are not usually effective. A lot of my beliefs are unique, and when books cover these subjects, 9 times out of 10 they do not mention my view, usually they just mention the traditional views. With a book, you can not engage the author with a view he doesn’t mention. That is why I prefer these interactive blogs. And from what I have seen, the bulk of atheists arguments fall in grey areas. Like Tim’s mentioning that John’s day of the crucifixion is different from the rest of the gospels. This is not an open and shut case, if this was really a contradiction, it would have been a glaring contradiction to early Christians on such an important issue, so why didn’t early copyist try to fix it like they did for other situations that did not seem right? Some argue that because the Sabbath and Passover fell at the same time, there were two different days of preparation. John wrote up to 50 years after the others did, maybe the day of preparation was being used in a slightly different manner. Whatever the case, this is not indisputable evidence that it was two different days.

              • 2012-04-08 05:02:16 UTC - 05:02 | Permalink

                I don’t understand the charge of “childish logic.” My point is that we know all writings we have were written by humans. If someone says, “This book is different — it was inspired by God,” that’s one thing. On the other hand, if he or she then says, “Prove to me that it isn’t,” that’s quite another.

                I’m familiar with the ability of apologists to construct baroque arguments that allow them to harmonize all contradictions. So I know that evidence that convinces me we’re dealing with works of human hands will never convince them of the same. I’m aware of the labyrinthine logic that leads many apologists to conclude that the Synoptics and John agree on the date of Jesus’ crucifixion, but they arise from a mindset that says, “I know the Bible is true; therefore I must reinterpret what I read so different parts of it do not conflict.” That’s why apologists use the term “supposed contradictions.” They have decided once and for all that there are no contradictions; it’s just a matter of figuring out why.

                And I don’t think your question is “nonsense.” I merely think that the answers I give will never satisfy a person who believes that God has inspired the Scripture. Received truth is highly resistant to rational argument.

                Finally, I’m sorry I insulted you by suggesting that you go look up information. My ultimate point was that if you have read up on the subject — and I assume that you already have, since you seem very interested in it — and you have not been persuaded, then anything I have to add probably won’t change your mind.

                Howard: And the point was that mythicist[s] are no different than the scholars they complain about when it comes to their entrenched beliefs.

                The difference is that McGrath presents himself as a rational man who is quite willing to interpret parts of the Bible — e.g., the first few chapters of Genesis — allegorically. In theory, a scholar like McGrath and an amateur like me should be on the same side of the fence. We may differ in our conclusions, but we presumably use the same methods.

                So it’s a bit jarring to have him lower the Hammer of Orthodoxy on Neil for asking questions about oral transmission and historical methodology.

                Another difference is that McGrath has unabashedly called Neil a fool and a crazy person. However, I think you, Howard, are neither. We just have very different worldviews.

              • 2012-04-08 06:36:45 UTC - 06:36 | Permalink

                I know you probably want to just let this thing die, and Roo Bookaboo seems to get very upset if I talk about something other than Ehrman and his new book, but I do want to respond to this. I used “childish logic” because it is obvious that men wrote the Bible, there was no need to explain that animals didn’t write it. It is a question of inspiration and I was merely trying to be brief in saying was it from God or from man, and the inspiration part was implied. Apparently nobody is either reading or understanding my comments. I never asked anyone to prove the Bible was not inspired by God, I asked Neil to relate his experience and the evidence that convinced HIM that the Bible was not inspired by God. Then I would have dealt with that information as it was provided to me, but it was never provided. I was merely curious if Neil had a line of reasoning that I was not familiar with, then I could have researched the situation and gained more knowledge in some specific area. And maybe I could have presented Neil with some ideas he was not familiar with for him to investigate. That is all I was interested in, I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything, I’m not even a practicing Christian.

                “I know the Bible is true; therefore I must reinterpret what I read so different parts of it do not conflict.”

                I do not think that is true at all, and especially in my case. It is human nature to try to explain contradiction, I don’t think it has to do with the Bible as much as you think. For example, lets say someone committed a crime and there were four witnesses. Three of them gave virtually the same story, but the fourth one said some things that contradicted the other three. What would the police do in that situation? Would they just let the whole matter drop and say there was no crime because there were contradictions? Would they just ignore the one witness? Or would the police re-question this one witness to try and ascertain why he gave different information? Would the police be acting irrationally in trying to figure out this contradiction? Well the author of John died 2,000 years ago, so we can not question him, the best we can do is use the best available evidence to try to come up with explanations of why he gave different information. This is a search for truth, not an irrational attempt to protect a preconceived truth. If the police operated on your logic, every criminal that said “I didn’t do it!” would create a contradiction of the facts, and the police would just have to drop the case because if not, they would be accused of trying to protect their preconceived idea of the truth of the case.

                “Received truth is highly resistant to rational argument.”

                That is because to a certain degree, received truth is not rational. Things that are rational are things that can be seen or experienced or explained using other things that are rational. What would it take to make the existence of God (the one described in the Bible, YHWH) a rational idea? At the moment, there is nothing that can do that. What the Bible says about God and what he has done is beyond what the world knows as rational. That is why belief in God and everything else involved relies on faith, not blind faith either, but through trust in what has been accurately said about him. That is why the two ideas are diametrically opposed. No one will ever find God through humanistic rationality only, it simply is not possible. The only way to find God is to go beyond human rationality and trust in the writings about him. And no, I am not preaching, just telling you what I think.

              • 2012-04-08 06:48:36 UTC - 06:48 | Permalink

                If I entered a Christian site and said I was not preaching but simply explaining what I think — and that just happened to be why I don’t believe in a God — then I would indeed be “preaching”. As I said in another comment recently, I have no new arguments you have not heard before and I doubt you have new ones for me — maybe different applications or presentations of some, but nothing new. I lost all interest in discussing whether or not there is a god long ago. The question simply doesn’t interest me. You will not find any “new reasons” for you to test against your own beliefs here.

                You are free to test your own beliefs in your own mind, but to use this blog as a public platform for the exercise is not appropriate.

        • 2012-04-07 21:50:51 UTC - 21:50 | Permalink

          Hi Howard,

          I’ve been away in another world and only returning now to this blog.

          At this moment I do not recall when I came to suspect that the Bible was not the inspired word of God. If memory has any credibility the notion came to me some time after other questions, doubts and issues in my life. I seem to recall a time when I felt consciously being open to the possibility that those arguments I had heard against the “truth” of fulfilled prophecy may indeed have been valid.

          But honestly, I am simply not interested in seeking to undermine other people’s faith. Life is so unpredictable and we are all simply products of a combination of our genetic makeup and life-circumstances — it [crusading against a faith position one held in a “past life”] hardly seems a worthwhile pursuit. I think of ourselves as a species inhabiting a planet and that is a pretty broad concept, I think. It leaves no room for pettiness over who thinks what, etc etc etc. Sure those things are important in a micro-scale — especially if they impact on social or professional working relations that are a part of our everyday lives — but in the grander scheme of things, I simply ask “So what?” All that matters is that we are fellow creatures and that we are polite and good to each other when stuck with each other in a bus, a neighbourhood, a virtual world, or whatever.

          • 2012-04-07 22:54:07 UTC - 22:54 | Permalink

            Neil, you have completely missed my point in commenting on your blog. I am not here to argue or spread my personal view. I have been studying the Bible for nearly 25 years, and no, not by reading faith based material, but through lexicons, grammars, textual criticism, manuscripts, history, Hebrew and Greek, other religions, and so on. When the internet became available, I would go to other Christian websites to see if they had any evidence to show that my views were incorrect. (my views are somewhat different than most Christian religions) I have been to hundreds of Christian websites, and mostly what I learned was that most of them were sorely lacking in actual biblical knowledge. Their arguments were not convincing at all and most bordered on the dishonest side. So I tried to find more credible arguments to test my views, which after some years, brought me to these critical thinking sites, which I thought would have the most credible arguments against the Bible. That is why I am here, to test my views against supposedly educated views of the Bible. But all I seem to get are conclusions, I need to know how you got to the conclusion to test my views. A conclusion can be drawn from a list of reasons. For example:

            Conclusion: There is no God

            Possible reasons for concluding that:

            Because of human suffering
            Because other religions believed in false gods
            Because the Bible has contradictions
            Because there is no evidence
            Because of evolution
            Because the Bible makes no sense
            Because my life sucks

            And there are many more, so for me to evaluate your reason with my view, I need to know what is the foundation of the reason. It could even be all the above. But there is always other plausible explanations for apparent problems. What might look like preaching on my part is when I try to explain, that what you are saying about a supposed Christian belief is not my belief, and I try to explain the way I see it, so you can rephrase what you are saying to accommodate my view. What bothers me the most is that you have a blog that says Christians believe this and this and that, and when someone tries to engage that error, they get shot down. I’m sure you would not be pleased if I produced a blog that says mythicists and atheists believe this and this and that, and when you comment to try to set matters straight, I tell you it’s not worth my time to try to explain it to you and you should go look up the information yourself.

            • 2012-04-08 06:20:16 UTC - 06:20 | Permalink

              I cannot really go beyond what I and others have already said. I don’t have any unique arugments that you cannot find in any other source. The difference is that there was once a time I did not accept these arguments and then there came a time when I did find them reasonable. That change in thinking had more to do with my personal history and facing up to critical questions of faith.

              I have no doubt (based on my own experience) that a person of sincere faith can always find rational reasons to believe, and to find logical/rational fault with whatever stands against their faith-perspective.

            • Geoff
              2012-04-20 02:12:36 UTC - 02:12 | Permalink

              Howard,

              Don’t you think a forum like freeratio or carm would better suit your purposes? You are interested in testing out some ideas that the owner of this blog just isn’t interested in exploring. This might not be the best place to fish for someone to engage with you on this. I think if you post these thoughts on either of those sites, you will get many more willing participants. You can go away from here thinking whatever you want about Neil’s unwillingness to really engage, but there you will get fruitful explorations I think. I would be willing to engage this topic to some extent (though I am a little weary of it) and I am sure there’d be others. I am not sure if on CARM you have to get special permission to enter into the “secular ghetto” or if you as a Christian can just enter freely, but you would have to post in the secular allowed areas in order for those who are self-identified skeptics to be able to engage.

  • ROO BOOKAROO
    2012-04-08 01:10:48 UTC - 01:10 | Permalink

    I hate to get involved in any discussion with Howard Mazzaferro, because it’s so woolly, so hazy, I never know exactly what he is talking about. He gives the reader the impression of being on quicksand, with no footing.

    This started as a discussion of Bart Ehrman and his new book compared to Earl Doherty’s recent book about the character, nature or image of jesus Christ. Historical or not?

    Howard barged in with a question of his own, totally unrelated to the discussion:
    “Howard: “There are two entirely different paths that this could have happened. Yours is that [the Bible] was an entirely human work, similar to other ancient religions. The other is that it was inspired, compiled and maintained by God. So for me, I would be interested in how you came to the determination that it is not from God and merely a human work?”
    Then it became more precise:
    “The point is deciding what is the most plausible explanation of the available evidence, which can not be done when one party is not willing to engage the evidence.”

    The evidence of what? Not clear. What evidence?
    Neil and Tim Widowfield come from a religious background and immediately sensed the direction of Howard’s argument: to reintroduce the validity of faith and a belief in God. Neither is interested, because they both understand what the baggage Howard wants to bring along.
    However, a mind that does not come from a religious background and tries to just follow what Mazzaferro is saying, remains perplexed.

    The argument then drifts away from Ehrman and Doherty and the question of the historical existence of Jesus, to the question of showing that the Bible is a product of men, which drifts further into the discussion of “There is no God”.

    To the non-religious observer, this is perplexing.
    First, what is the meaning of this “God”? Some supernatural being who can do miracles, or influence men’s brains by mysterious ways? All this is freely imagined, but not defined nor explained. But anyway, there’s some concept of what God represents, for Howard to be able to talk about Him (?) Her (?), It (?). And why should this God be described in our sexual language?

    Second, what does Mazzaferro mean with “is’ in “There is no God”? Does that mean “physical existence”, “spiritual existence” in a dimension defined in imagination, or some spiritual “heaven”, “clouds,” etc.. in a ptolemaic conception of the universe with many levels? Again, all this remains very unclear, because once we give meaning to this term “god”, it acquires some existence, either linguistic, or in imagination, or as some kind of science-fiction hypothesis.

    Then Howard abandons even this line of discussion, to give a long-winded litany of his personal “needs”:
    “so for me to evaluate your reason with my view, I need to know what is the foundation of the reason.”

    First, Howard has a “view”:
    “I try to explain the way I see it, so you can rephrase what you are saying to accommodate my view.”
    What is this view? Neil and Tim say they can guess. But the non-religious mind does not get it: what is this famous “view” of Howard Mazzaferro’s? Can he spell it out?
    And then he mentioned that he needed “reasons” and behind those “reasons” he needed to see “foundation of the reason”.
    So here, instead of discussing Ehrman vs Doherty re Historical Jesus, we are embarked on finding ways to satisfy Howard Mazzaferro’s personal needs. He denies it with:
    “I am not here to argue or spread my personal view. ”
    Then what is here for? Why does he barge in and drifts away from the main object of the discussion. He cannot be a legal prosecutor for sure, not even a good defense lawyer.

    But he explains that;
    “I have been studying the Bible for nearly 25 years, …I would go to other Christian websites to see if they had any evidence to show that my views were incorrect. (my views are somewhat different than most Christian religions)”
    So, once again, what is this famous “view”? There have been thousands and thousands of scholars who have devoted their lives, and much longer than 25 years, to study the biblical documents and other early Christian documents, and they have developed “views” that are coherent and understandable. They have published books, and that is how we know about them. This is the case for Bart Ehrman, and the case for Earl Doherty, and the case for thousand others.
    Views are made to be communicated, explained, and defended.
    So the only solution for us to follow what his drift is about is for Mazzaferro to write a clear, comprehensive text, if not a book, at least a long essay (ten to thirty pages) expounding his “views”, and give us or Neil a link to access that essay. Then, instead of beating around the bush, we’ll know what Howard is talking about.
    Until then, all his interventions are woolly and incomprehensible to the observer who is of a non-religious background. Neil and Tim don’t need it, because they can guess the origin of Howard’s views, and have lost interest in it long ago

    As a final remark, when Howard says:
    “I’m sure you would not be pleased if I produced a blog that says mythicists …”,
    this is not even true. There have been since the late 18th century, a huge number of books refuting the nascent hypothesis that there was no historical Jesus. In the first half of the 20th century, a fashionable subject for writers was :”Jesus: History or Myth”? Right now, the theme is being revived, there are dozens of blogs on the net refuting the Christ Myth Theory, and Neil does not show too much displeasure, even though he tries to add his 2 cents to some like James MacGrath’s own blog, a futile exercise, but good for the rhetorical exercise. In addition, every religion writer worth his salt is working on a book of the same subject, either to defend the historical view against the mythicist one, or the opposite. The fashion has come back full swing.

    And Howard is using this blog for the same rhetorical reason, to give his own view and arguments a chance for deploying their architecture and organization and test the reactions of the public.
    But until we get this explicit essay on what his enigmatic view is, this seems like a huge waste of time, from which there’s nothing to learn.
    The major reason why I personally have preferred so far to avoid any involvement in this sterile discussion.

    • 2012-04-08 01:57:04 UTC - 01:57 | Permalink

      This endeavor will probably be useless as Roo Bookaroo, was unable to see the clear path that this conversation took. I did not drift off topic at all, the main thread running through my comments is that mythicist treat others in the same way scholars treat mythicist. Just as you put it, “Neil and Tim Widowfield . . . immediately sensed the direction of Howard’s argument: to reintroduce the validity of faith and a belief in God. Neither is interested, because they both understand what the baggage Howard wants to bring along.” So it is safe to say that McGrath and Ehrman immediately sensed the direction of the mythicist argument: to reintroduce the validity of a mythical Jesus. Neither is interested, because they both understand what the baggage the mythicist wants to bring along. That was the point of my original post, I was not asking any questions, I reintroduced questions I asked months ago to make my point, that’s all. It is your lack of reading comprehension why you think I asked questions about the Bible or God. They were examples to bring my point out.

      “So the only solution for us to follow what his drift is about is for Mazzaferro to write a clear, comprehensive text, if not a book, at least a long essay.”

      I have: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/howardma

      Again, you miss the point, is Neil overjoyed by McGrath’s avoidance of his questions?

      • 2012-04-08 06:28:47 UTC - 06:28 | Permalink

        The difference between my exchanges with McGrath and exchanges here with howardma is that it the terms and goals of the discussion were ostensibly agreed upon from the start and we ostensibly had a common interest in pursuing a clear and logical point. But Howard, you say your interest here is a personal one of testing your reasons for thinking certain things against my own reasons. That is an entirely different sort of conversation. I don’t know all of your reasons for thinking something and am not interested in testing your views. That interest is yours alone. It is not of general interest.

        • 2012-04-08 06:50:56 UTC - 06:50 | Permalink

          That’s fine, we can let the whole thing drop. I wasn’t really asking you to do anything, but provide some information, but things got so bogged down with misunderstandings I had to explain why I was here, which I never intended to do. I simply assumed you would be willing to discuss a variety of biblical topics. Oh well, back to the drawing board.

  • Geoff
    2012-04-19 23:09:54 UTC - 23:09 | Permalink

    Someone should do an Ehrman vs. Ehrman blog post.

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