2012-06-29

23. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Part 23

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by Earl Doherty

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Part II: The Mythicists’ Claims – One: A Problematic Record

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.COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • Admitting to problematic Gospels
  • Gospel authors unknown
  • Fallacious analogies:
    • Obama’s birth certificate
    • The Hitler diaries
    • Clinton’s presidency
    • George Washington
  • Discrepancies and contradictions in the Gospels
  • Radically different pictures of Jesus
  • How much of the Gospels is fictional?
  • Form criticism and the argument of Robert Price
  • The criterion of dissimilarity: is it applicable in the Gospels?
  • Doubly strong claims? — multiple attestation and dissimilarity:
    • crucifixion
    • brothers
    • Nazareth
  • P.S. Claim 2: Nazareth Did Not Exist


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Chapter Six: The Mythicist Case: Weak and Irrelevant Claims

Claim 1: The Gospels Are Highly Problematic as Historical Sources

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 177-190)

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The present chapter will look at the typical arguments used by mythicists that are, in my judgment, weak and/or irrelevant to the question. (DJE? p. 177)

With that, Ehrman embarks on a direct attempt to discredit some of the arguments on which mythicists like myself base their contention that Jesus did not exist.

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Problematic Gospels as Historical Sources

After allowing that the great number of manuscripts of the New Testament documents we possess, as compared to copies of other ancient writings, has nothing to do with whether they are reliable or not, Ehrman makes a pretty heavy set of admissions:

  • we do not have the original texts of the Gospels, and there are places where we do not know what the authors originally said;
  • the Gospels are not authored by the persons named in their titles (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) but were written by people who were not followers of Jesus but lived forty to sixty years later in different parts of the world;
  • the Gospels are full of discrepancies and contradictions;
  • the Gospels report historical events that can be shown not to have happened.

Moreover,

. . . even though the Gospels are among the best attested books from the ancient world, we are regrettably hindered in knowing what the authors of these books originally wrote. The problem is not that we are lacking manuscripts. We have thousands of manuscripts. The problem is that none of these manuscripts is the original copy produced by the author (this is true for all four Gospels—in fact, for every book of the New Testament). Moreover, most of these manuscripts were made over a thousand years after the original copies, none of them is close to the time of the originals—within, say, ten or twenty years—and all of them contain certifiable mistakes.

But in Ehrman’s view,

 . . . for the question of whether or not Jesus existed, these problems are mostly irrelevant. (DJE? p. 180)

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Inconsistent and contradictory Gospels
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If writers in the early days could play so fast and loose with ‘history’ and sources, with no word or deed of that central character spared revision, what does that say about the stability and reliability, the basic roots, of any supposed traditions these stories are supposedly based upon?

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Well, let’s see. The Gospels do not agree in their wording, or in the inclusion of certain passages in all the extant copies? “So what?” Ehrman asks. It doesn’t matter, for example, if some copies of John are missing the pericope of the woman taken in adultery, this hardly has any bearing on whether Jesus existed or not.

Taken individually or even as an illustration of a principle, he may be right. But what if the overall picture of many types of inconsistencies indicates that each evangelist had his own agenda, and the singular pericopes which his Gospel contains can be seen to be his own invention? What if the vast majority of pericopes are built on identifiable Old Testament precedents with no identifiable history remembered? What if pericopes limited to only some manuscripts of a Gospel would indicate a practice of adding to earlier versions willy-nilly? What if many pericopes are significantly changed from one Gospel to another, suggesting a picture of extensive revision to a documentary record upon which we have no eyes at all for the first century and more of its existence? What does the vast freedom of redaction indulged in by each successive evangelist say about their overall concern for history?

Such things are hardly irrelevant.

This type of “problem” does indeed undermine the fundamental reliability of these accounts, not excepting the existence of their central character. If writers in the early days could play so fast and loose with ‘history’ and sources, with no word or deed of that central character spared revision, what does that say about the stability and reliability, the basic roots, of any supposed traditions these stories are supposedly based upon?

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Obama’s birth certificate

As an example of the totally inapplicable analogies Ehrman often offers, he suggests that some problem in the wording of President Obama’s birth certificate would not undermine the knowledge that he was born. Of course not. That’s because I’ve seen Obama myself on television many times, as have millions of others. There are indeed separate evidences for his existence that are completely reliable. And that birth certificate can be examined contemporaneous with his life.

But if no one alive at some point in the future had actually seen Barack Obama, and they had copies of his alleged birth certificate which came from a century or more after the presumed original, and those copies contained huge discrepancies one from another and could moreover be set beside histories of the 21st century which made no mention of him, well . . . I think we could see that the situation would be quite different.

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Gospel authors unknown

Ehrman admits that the attributions of the four Gospels are certainly false, and of the other books of the New Testament, only eight are considered written by their named authors. (Seven, of course, he attributes to Paul. He doesn’t identify the eighth, though I can’t imagine which one he has in mind. Revelation?) This is a case of “misattribution” or deliberate forgery. He does note that Jesus’ followers were probably illiterate peasants, whereas the Gospels were written by “highly-educated, Greek-speaking Christians from outside Palestine.”

But it is difficult to accept that a situation in which we have a set of documents constituting our basic witness to an historical Jesus all lacking a time and place and author that we can attach to them is irrelevant to the question of existence for those documents’ central character, especially when the rest of the New Testament authors give us virtually no corroboration for the Gospel story, let alone for that central character.

Why indeed do we not have any biographical writings by those closest to an historical Jesus? Not a single disciple could have sat down on his front porch in older age and penned or dictated his eyewitness memoirs? (The apologetic canard that they all died for their faith is not borne out in the record.) No critical scholar I know of credits later Christian tradition that Mark ultimately goes back to Peter’s recollections, or that Acts was written by a companion of Paul. If that sort of thing were actually the case, it is hard to imagine that such a tradition, if known at the time of writing and even if false, would not have found expression in the documents themselves.

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Hitler’s Diaries

Ehrman is not the first to use the analogy of the “infamous Hitler diaries,” initially declared authentic by experts, then exposed as forgeries. That, however, says Ehrman, has no bearing on whether Hitler existed or not. But how do we know that, how can we make such a statement? Because we otherwise know that Hitler existed. I do wish apologists would stop offering analogies which involve the principle of begging the very question under debate. The Hitler diaries as forgeries do not cast doubt on Hitler’s existence, it is claimed; therefore the Gospels as forgeries—not only in regard to their authors, but in regard to their details whose reliability as actual history has shrunk to virtually nothing—do not in themselves cast doubt on Jesus’ existence.

That’s fallacious nonsense. If we had no reliable historical evidence that a Hitler existed, no other documents besides the diaries that testified to him, then we could indeed question whether the diaries were fiction from start to finish. If we had correspondence from Germany penned in the 30s and 40s which provided no information about the involvement of an Adolf Hitler in the events of the period, but referred to him as some kind of inspirational spiritual figure driving the Nazi takeover and conquests, we could then quite legitimately regard the diaries as a fictional or allegorical rendition of that spiritual inspiration.

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Discrepancies and contradictions
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. . . even if we have widely different accounts of a world-wide flood in the epic of Gilgamesh and the biblical tale of Noah’s Ark, does this mean that we should have doubts about the occurrence of the flood, or the existence of either Utnapishtim or Noah? You’re darn right it does.

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Ehrman admits that the Gospels are full of discrepancies and contradictions. But again, this is irrelevant. Ehrman mentions the great discrepancy between Jesus’ declarations about himself in John—labelling himself God—and the Synoptic authors who “seem to have forgotten that part.” But his admission that this is a big discrepancy doesn’t go far enough. Are we to believe that two separate traditions could be so far apart, that the one man supposedly behind them both, especially the virtual non-entity Ehrman and other critical scholars today seem to be opting for, could be presented in two such radically different ways?

Is it not more sensible that an idea could enjoy radically different embodiments in various versions of a fictional story, that multiple writers could allow themselves these divergent presentations, precisely because they were not basing them on an historical man about whom anything was known, but one who served as a symbol of the movement itself? That parts of their creation are the allegorization of a spiritual concept in order to illuminate it and provide lessons to the community?

Once again, Ehrman offers a blatantly invalid analogy. If we get widely divergent accounts of Bill Clinton’s presidency, would this speak to his non-existence? (Although I doubt that whatever divergency Ehrman has in mind is as wide as the accounts of Jesus.) I’d prefer an analogy more like: even if we have widely different accounts of a world-wide flood in the epic of Gilgamesh and the biblical tale of Noah’s Ark, does this mean that we should have doubts about the occurrence of the flood, or the existence of either Utnapishtim or Noah? You’re darn right it does. Of course, when you fashion a proper analogy like this which doesn’t involve begging the question, you are liable to come up with a different answer.

Since we can trace the later Synoptics back to a single genesis of their story in Mark, and John in its basic tale of a Galilean preacher and crucified man also looks to go back to Mark, my analogy is quite apropos, since historians of ancient times tend to see the Hebrew Noah’s Ark tradition as based on earlier Mesopotamian versions like that in Gilgamesh and probably further back on other precedents in the prehistoric Middle Eastern region, such as the flooding of the basin of what is now the Black Sea from the Mediterranean.

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Non-historical elements in the Gospels
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Why did nothing from Jesus’ earthly career survive in the tradition? Why not a single aspect of the crucifixion which had no scriptural basis? Why no miracle tradition, even embodying exaggeration, which does not present itself in a standard literary form and as a recasting of a biblical precedent?

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Nor is Ehrman bothered by the amount of obviously fictional events found in our canonical Gospels. He mentions the account of Jesus’ birth in Luke, with its non-historical world-wide census; or the slaughter of the innocents of Bethlehem by Herod otherwise unknown to history; or the ruthless Pilate being said to have released the robber and murderer Barabbas in lieu of Jesus.

Perhaps not wishing to alarm his readers too much, Ehrman passes up detailing anywhere near all the Gospel elements which critical scholars today regard as fictional: virtually all of Jesus’ miracles, the cleansing of the Temple; the betrayal by Judas—indeed, his very existence; a burial by Joseph of Arimathea who could well be Mark’s invention, too; the resurrection appearances as a historical return of Jesus in a human body, and so on. Not to mention at least three-quarters of the sayings attributed to him.

Does all this invention of Gospel details have anything to do with the issue of whether Jesus existed or not? According to Ehrman, it does not. But that is clearly blinding oneself to an important consideration.

First of all, what can we identify as an actually occurring event in Jesus’ life? Virtually nothing. As far as I can see, Ehrman has not committed himself to pointing to a single Gospel event and declaring it reliably authentic in its Gospel presentation. When pressed, about the only thing critical scholars declare as reliably known is that Jesus was crucified. Not a single event of the ministry can be critically judged as presenting historical memory, no miracle account, not even the baptism. The entire recounting of trial and execution is allowed to be entirely fictional, put together out of scriptural elements. Nevertheless, we definitely know that the crucifixion itself happened.

But does this logically follow, let alone with any assurance? If every detail is invented (or at least we cannot point to any detail we can say was not invented), then we need to answer a few prominent questions. Why did nothing from Jesus’ earthly career survive in the tradition? Why not a single aspect of the crucifixion which had no scriptural basis? Why no miracle tradition, even embodying exaggeration, which does not present itself in a standard literary form and as a recasting of a biblical precedent?

And if no actual tradition survived, requiring everything to be constructed out of scripture, what got the movement off the ground, what kept it going? What was being passed along orally, in proselytizing activity to win over new converts in far-flung places, before a literary life was constructed from scriptural sources? To imagine that every Christian apostle held the same alleged Pauline attitude, ignoring a life on earth and preaching entirely in terms of the revelation of heavenly realities and mystical meanings, would be a ludicrous scenario and simply incredible (though this is precisely what the epistles present).

One would surely have to maintain that oral traditions about Jesus’ life were being bandied about, used in everyday missionary work and ritual observance in established congregations. How could some dusty apostle preaching in the marketplace make any headway without them? Of course, we already know that none of this ground-level tradition shows up in the epistles. But why does none of it show up in the Gospels?

  • If some amount of ‘history remembered’ had to be the lifeblood of the early movement (otherwise none of it makes any sense), why do apparently ivory-tower evangelists present nothing but rehashed Old Testament material?
  • Why are their different versions of Jesus so two-dimensional? So much like wind-up mouthpieces for their own agendas?
  • Why for the Synoptic authors is he nothing more than a re-channelled Moses with an implausible trial and execution tacked on?
  • Why does John’s Jesus sound like a megalomaniac speaking of himself in grandiose terms, a character no author should have expected would ever be accepted as an historical portrait?

There is virtually no human color, no individuality. Everything about Jesus serves one or another purpose for the evangelists—often contradictory ones. And the same void is present not only in the epistles, but even in Q, the much-touted ‘earliest picture of the genuine Jesus.’ The latter is nothing but a bare-bones collection of teachings not all that original, and a few anecdotes, both of which are no more than representative of what the movement itself is engaged in. (Q specialist William Arnal admits that Q’s Jesus is undifferentiated from the general body of Q prophets). The lack of a Jesus personality is so marked in Q that someone like J. D. Crossan must take refuge in saying that the early movement’s focus was entirely on Jesus’ sayings and not on his person.

Ehrman’s appeal to a handful of Gospel events as “alleged episodes which did not happen” hardly does justice to the void in the entire early record, including the Gospels, on any identifiable elements which did happen. Yet all this is supposed to be “irrelevant” to the question of Jesus’ existence.

Once again, what is irrelevant is Ehrman’s analogy with George Washington. Yes, we can point to anecdotes about Washington which are generally believed to be false and apocryphal, such as cutting down the cherry tree. But is his crossing of the Delaware equally apocryphal? What about being elected the first President—can we find no corroboration or basis in history for that event? Such analogies involve the very certainty of existence which Ehrman is trying to give to Jesus by placing him in the same category as the analogous figure. That is a flagrant begging of the question, something which Ehrman clearly and alarmingly does not recognize.

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Tackling Robert M. Price

In an opening salvo (the main battle will come in the next chapter) against Robert Price’s contention that the Gospel accounts contain nothing but legendary material, Ehrman declares that this is “only marginally relevant to the question of whether Jesus existed.” And he finds fault with Price’s claim and his methodological approach. By way of background, Ehrman refers to the form criticism of the early 20th century as practiced by the likes of Rudolf Bultmann and Martin Dibelius. They envisioned that traditions about Jesus, when passing through early Christian communities, adopted certain forms that were shaped by those communities—their Sitz im Leben—their “situation in life.” Furthermore,

One of the implications of this view is that early Christian communities told stories about Jesus only when these stories were relevant to their own communal life situations. (DJE? p. 186)

In other words, such communities did not bother to remember and pass on stories about Jesus which they had no use for in their own “life situations.” They didn’t bother with traditions just for the sake of remembering and passing on something about Jesus. According to the form critics, “communities tell stories only when they advance their own self-interests in one way or another.

(I can’t pass up a short digression here. If early Christian communities facing communal life situations allegedly appealed to stories about Jesus when they were relevant and useful to those situations, where is the evidence of any such practice in the epistles? In the only body of evidence we have in which we would expect to find such a practice, namely the communities of Paul and other epistle writers who faced very serious and divisive “life situations,” this form-critical principle is shown to be a fantasy, for no appeals to such Jesus stories are anywhere in view.)

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The criterion of dissimilarity
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Ehrman wants it both ways. Scholarship has created a criterion that could tend to identify genuine sayings or deeds of Jesus. But if that criterion is found to have no application, this must in no way be allowed to indicate the opposite.

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Ehrman does not agree with Price’s contention that only relevant Jesus stories were told, and he notes a criterion created by the form critics: the criterion of dissimilarity. In other words, can we identify in the preserved traditions elements which did not conform to a community’s self-interests, so that we might say that such traditions were probably genuine to Jesus more or less as they stand, since they could not be shown to be created or reshaped by the community to serve its needs? If we can identify traditions that are dissimilar to the community’s interests, we can assume they were not its own invention and thus they could be said to go back to Jesus. As Ehrman puts it, “Stories like that were probably told simply because they were stories about Jesus that really happened.”

The problem is,

Price’s modus operandi is to go through all the traditions of the Gospels and show that each and every story of Jesus can be shown to meet some need, concern, or interest of the early Christians, so there are no stories that can be shown to go back to a historical figure, Jesus. (DJE? p. 187)

Ehrman disagrees, but he does so on a basis which is self-serving. He has just stated that the criterion of dissimilarity is used to indicate—once a tradition is identified as dissimilar to the community’s interests—that it should therefore be considered probably authentic, a story told about Jesus simply because it really happened. But if Price is right about there being no identifiable examples of dissimilar stories, then he is correct in saying, as Ehrman reports him doing (above), that “no stories can be shown to go back” to an historical Jesus using the criterion of dissimilarity.

But Ehrman objects that this is a misuse of the criterion, for it cannot be used to indicate that Jesus did not say or do something. An example of dissimilarity with the community’s interests can indicate that a certain story or saying could be genuine to Jesus, but another story or saying that is similar to those interests is not thereby proven to be not genuine to Jesus. After all, he might actually have said or done something which was in keeping with the community’s later concerns.

This is quite logical, but it is a misrepresentation of Price’s argument, at least as Ehrman presents him. Price’s point is that nothing in the Gospels can be identified with any surety as being genuine to Jesus, because all of it bears “similarity” to the various communal interests; thus the criterion of dissimilarity cannot come into play. And so all of the Gospel content may be seen as “legendary,” that is, traditions created or shaped by the community and attached to their Jesus figure. Price is not saying that because no dissimilarity appears, this proves that all the traditions have to be inauthentic. Some might theoretically, as Ehrman argues, be genuine by coincidence, happening to coincide with community interests. Price is not claiming certainty, as Ehrman seems to suggest. He is simply saying that genuineness has no visible means of support.

Ehrman wants it both ways. Scholarship has created a criterion that could tend to identify genuine sayings or deeds of Jesus. But if that criterion is found to have no application, this must in no way be allowed to indicate the opposite. It is like the perennial ‘proofs’ of God’s existence never making any allowance for contrary ‘proofs’ that could indicate his non-existence. The handiest form of positive criterion is that which has no negative or falsifiability dimension.

Moreover, what Ehrman fails to understand is that, even if coincidence were theoretically possible, it is up to him and historicist scholarship in general to demonstrate some basis on which we could judge that some of the traditions are coincidentally genuine. Price has not misused the criterion; he has set it aside as proving nothing, and having no effect on the argument that all the traditions of the Gospels could be seen as products of the community; there is nothing to prevent that option from being adopted, since they all bear the supposed “legend” indicator of similarity.

Ironically, historicist scholarship has itself created this two-edged piece of methodology.

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Doubly strong cases? Multiple independent sources AND criterion of dissimilarity?
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“Shaping the story is not the same thing as inventing the story.” But . . . . Ehrman has yet to convincingly demonstrate that some Jesus stories do have historical cores, or to explain why so much of the early record presents evidence that for a wide range of writers—the ones who really provide a window onto the initial thinking of the movement—no such cores existed.

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Having outlined his criterion of dissimilarity, Ehrman now goes on to apply it in ways and with examples that are highly dubious. He begins, as usual, by appealing to his vast array of “independent” sources, such as his “seven surviving Gospels” and “multiple independent witnesses to the life of Jesus.” In such a world of independence, finding a given story present in many sources makes it much more likely to be historically genuine.

Moreover, if a given story with “independent” multiple appearances can also be seen as fitting the criterion of dissimilarity, then we have a doubly strong case for genuineness. Ehrman gives us three examples of this combination.

The Crucifixion

The first is the multiple attestation of Jesus’ crucifixion, an event which would not have been a desirable aspect of the faith, since who would want to “make up” a crucified messiah?

Thus, in addition to its multiple witnesses, the crucifixion is an element “dissimilar” to the community’s interests. Therefore, it really happened.

But is the Gospel story historical, or only a story? That’s our basic question. All the ‘repetition’ of a story which can be seen as based on the first written version does not constitute multiple independent sources, let alone corroboration. We need external support. But for all of Ehrman’s ‘independent sources’ which allegedly fed into the Gospels, the only one we can reasonably feel secure about, namely Q, ironically fails to provide that support, as it lacks any story of a crucifixion whatsoever. So does a spinoff to early Q, the Gospel of Thomas.

Moreover, the pre-Gospel record which shows no dependency on or connection with Ehrman’s alleged earlier sources for the Gospels, namely the epistles, fails on two accounts.

  1. First, it does not corroborate the story of the crucifixion in the Gospels, because it gives us no such story. Not a single detail of the Gospel trial and crucifixion scenes appears anywhere in the first century epistles. Not even a time, place and agency (except for Paul’s demon spirits). Thus Paul does not figure in the ‘multiple attestation’ to that story, as Ehrman claims. (We can also dismiss his inclusion of Josephus and Tacitus in that attestation, since at the very least the latter could be derived from Gospel-based hearsay, and Josephus’ Testimonium cannot be shown to be anything other than a Christian insertion in its entirety.)
  2. Second, is the crucifixion of Christ in the epistles something that can be regarded as “dissimilar” to communal interests? Hardly. Paul is constantly waxing enthusiastically on the wonder of Christ’s sacrifice as “God’s wisdom.” It is the avenue to salvation and the guarantee of eternal life. It is found in holy scripture and revealed by God himself. Is there any suggestion anywhere in the epistles that Christian believers were ever disillusioned or embarrassed by a crucified messiah, something which then required a vast rationalizing and reinterpreting to make acceptable? No.

The criterion of dissimilarity in regard to the crucifixion can only be employed by forcing it on the record as a whole in totally unjustifiable ways.

On Jesus having a brother named James

Ehrman’s second example is even weaker. Mark, Paul and Josephus (i.e., in Antiquities 20) “independently” testify to Jesus having a brother named James; John testifies to him at least having brothers, if unnamed. To simply assume that Paul is referring to a “sibling” is to beg the question when there are two available interpretations, and to list Josephus is to ignore the debate over interpolation. So this is anything but clear multiple attestation.

But to also maintain that such a reference fits the criterion of dissimilarity because it would not relate to the community’s interests is really pushing the concept. Can there not be ‘neutral’ elements in a story or historical account? Salome’s dance has nothing to do with the faith, but are we thereby required to consider it historical, especially when Josephus has nothing to say about this alleged cause of the Baptist’s beheading?

On the other hand, not even neutral-looking elements are truly neutral. The interests they serve are the interests of the writer in crafting his story. No novelist ever throws in a completely irrelevant item serving no purpose. What is more natural than giving one’s central character a family, which includes brothers? And the anecdote in Mark 6:1-6 which introduces that family and those brothers can indeed be seen to fit Mark’s interests and to “promote his agenda,” for he is presenting a proverbial event of a prophet not held in honor in his home town and among his kinsmen. Such kinsmen are then introduced with the proper reaction in order to embody the point of the passage.

Is James merely a name plucked out of the air, or might Mark have pressed into service the legendary Jerusalem pillar witnessed in Paul who was known as a “brother of the Lord”? Who knows? But this is hardly a case of any meaningful use of the criterion of dissimilarity.

On Jesus coming from Nazareth

For his third example, Ehrman points to the tradition that Jesus came from Nazareth. That, too, is allegedly multiple: Mark, Q, John, L, M. Since we have clear literary chains of dependence between all the Gospels and their components (including the apocryphal ones), we can regard this as a single-source element. And I am aware of no reference to Nazareth in any reconstruction of Q.

Was an origin in Nazareth something dissimilar? Ehrman maintains that this was something that needed to be “explained away.” (John pours scorn on the idea of the messiah coming from Nazareth, while Matthew and Luke in their nativity stories still have Jesus home-based in Nazareth even though they need to have him born in Bethlehem because of the prophecy in Micah.)

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But once again, Ehrman fails to look at things from within the context of the story first created by Mark. Because of the chain of literary reworking, some evangelists had to cope with an element that had already been established within the story line. Something becomes “dissimilar” to later writers’ interests in regard to an earlier fictional feature. The baptism of Jesus is another good example. Mark seems to have invented it, while evincing no sign that it was dissimilar to his interests. In fact, it would have fit as the symbolic paradigm to the ritual baptism of the community itself (in contrast to Paul, who fails to employ such a useful historical event). Later evangelists had a different take on its suitability.

We all put slants on our accounts of other people, Ehrman suggests, though I hardly think this is tantamount to creating “legends” about them, not on the scale found in the Gospels. He maintains that some Jesus stories have historical cores identifiable by scholarship.

Shaping the story is not the same thing as inventing the story. (DJE? p. 190)

But this is merely the statement of preferred principles. Ehrman has yet to convincingly demonstrate that some Jesus stories do have historical cores, or to explain why so much of the early record presents evidence that for a wide range of writers—the ones who really provide a window onto the initial thinking of the movement—no such cores existed.

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Claim 2: Nazareth Did Not Exist

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 191-197)

As for Ehrman’s next point of discussion, the claim by some mythicists that Nazareth did not exist in the time of Jesus, I am not going to weigh in on that question, as I have never made a study of it. It may be that, as Ehrman suggests, this point is genuinely irrelevant to the debate over Jesus’ existence.

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. . . to be continued

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  • 2012-06-30 02:59:03 UTC - 02:59 | Permalink

    The reference to Nazareth in Q Ehrman refers to is probably the one in Matt 4:13 and Luke 4:16.

    • 2012-06-30 03:16:29 UTC - 03:16 | Permalink

      Luke 4:16 is not from Q. It’s an expansion of Mark 6:1-2.

      Matt 4:13 is not from Q. It’s an expansion of Mark 1:21, which is echoed in Luke 4:31.

    • 2012-06-30 04:07:40 UTC - 04:07 | Permalink

      Neither of those passages appears in any reconstruction of Q.

      • 2012-06-30 04:20:15 UTC - 04:20 | Permalink

        The IQP’s reconstructed text of Q does have Luke 4:16 in it; see here.

        • 2012-06-30 04:34:23 UTC - 04:34 | Permalink

          Or, at least, the reference to Nazara in Luke 4:16.

          • 2012-06-30 12:16:03 UTC - 12:16 | Permalink

            You’re right. I’d forgotten about the unusual “Nazara” minor agreement. It’s one of those things that make me step back and think, “Maybe Goodacre is right.”

  • 2012-06-30 04:43:46 UTC - 04:43 | Permalink

    What, Q simply had the word “Nazareth” (Nazara) in it? That makes no sense to me. And the contexts are entirely different in Matthew and Luke.

    • sam
      2012-06-30 10:59:47 UTC - 10:59 | Permalink

      Look at ‘The Critical Edition of Q’ pages 42-3 Matt 4.13//Luke 4.16 “Nazara” is incuded in “Q” according to the IQP, including the concordance page 575. Discussion in all relevant books.

      • 2012-06-30 13:01:28 UTC - 13:01 | Permalink

        “Discussion in all relevant books.”

        Well, since you brought it up, we can assume you’ve read one or more of those discussions. Why not give us a summary or a quote from one of them?

        • sam
          2012-07-01 03:30:26 UTC - 03:30 | Permalink

          Yes of course. You know it’s not appropriate to summarise detailed discussions with different various arguments for its inclusion in Q. I’m under the impression you haven’t studied the IQP Critical Edition of Q text which only retains Nazara. The best discussion for you to read is in the accompanying volumes, “Documenta Q: Reconstructions of Q Through Two Centuries of Gospel Research Excerpted, Sorted, and Evaluated” also edited by Robinson, Hoffmann and Kloppenborg. The Volume “Q4:1-13,16 The Temptations of Jesus Nazara” published in 1996 (Peeters,Leuven) is the one you need. Discussion on Nazara pp. 391-463.

          • 2012-07-01 04:22:25 UTC - 04:22 | Permalink
            • sam
              2012-07-01 07:33:45 UTC - 07:33 | Permalink

              Excellent. Or you can borrow my overpriced hard copy which is easier to read. I think they’re wrong about Q but the discussion is interesting especially the beginning from page 391, on Nazara and text critical issues, attestations and spelling.

              • 2012-07-01 10:37:03 UTC - 10:37 | Permalink

                They are certainly quite “dear” (as my grandma used to say), but they sure are densely packed with information. I have the next volume in the series, Q 6:20-21. The dangling, single word, “Nazara,” sort of falls between the two.

                I’m dubious about whether it really comes from Q. Hell, depending on my mood, I have serious doubts about Q itself. And when you’re dealing with a single word — even a strange one like this that sticks out like a sore thumb — you have to start wondering about scribal interference.

                In any case, the idea some scholars have proposed, that it’s a remnant of a longer, lost Q fragment, seems to be really pushing it.

              • sam
                2012-07-02 00:15:04 UTC - 00:15 | Permalink

                Yes they cost a bucket – there are 32 volumes. I have 8, with the rest (still unpublished) on standing order, in order to refute their single document “Q”.

  • ROO BOOKAROO
    2012-06-30 05:00:58 UTC - 05:00 | Permalink

    Richard Carrier has this interesting comment about the reliability of ancient Greco-Roman histories and biographies (Dying Messiah Redux, June 29, ’12)
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/1440/comment-page-1#comment-14498

    “I should note that this is the actual mainstream view of ancient historians in actual academic history departments generally: ancient historians are always to be treated with suspicion. Full stop.
    The idea that they are to be implicitly trusted until discredited on a specific point is a notion only held by apologists and biblical studies people, who don’t communicate with the history department across the hall. Read Michael Grant’s Greek and Roman Historians: Information and Misinformation for an example of the actual consensus trend.
    Biography, BTW, has come in for even worse (most ancient biography having been exploded as rampant with fabrication). Examples of the consensus trend there are Ava Chitwood’s Death by Philosophy and Mary Lefkowitz, The Lives of the Greek Poets.”

  • John
    2012-06-30 05:20:59 UTC - 05:20 | Permalink

    I’ve been offline for several weeks and have some catching up to do. Part 23?! Yikes!

  • ROO BOOKAROO
    2012-06-30 06:29:13 UTC - 06:29 | Permalink

    A question for Tim Widowfield:

    Is there a tag a commenter can use in his window along with the “Blockquote” tag to italicize a portion of the text inside the quote, for instance, titles of books, as in my comment above.

    Are there any other editing or styling features the commenter can access?

    More generally, can a commenter have access to the WordPress Editor from the comment window, or is that access reserved to the blog owner as holding the WordPress account?

    • Jason Goertzen
      2012-06-30 07:46:16 UTC - 07:46 | Permalink

      I think you need your own blog, Roo! 🙂

  • 2012-07-01 08:35:26 UTC - 08:35 | Permalink

    Sam: “Yes of course. You know it’s not appropriate to summarise detailed discussions with different various arguments for its inclusion in Q.”

    Baloney. It’s appropriate to summarize or quote from anything in a discussion. That is, if you’ve read and understood it yourself. And if I do read it, and I’m not allowed to summarize or quote from its details, and neither are you, how can we have a discussion about it?

    Anyway, since I’m not claiming to be hamstrung by ‘inappropriateness’, here are a few observations on the basis of checking it out through the link Tim provided.

    In view of the fact that the context for the common “Ναζαρα” is completely different between Matthew and Luke, the possibility of a “vestige” of the name in Q has little rational basis that I can see. Far more likely is the probability expressed: “The reading of Ναζαρα in Mt.4:16 is textually uncertain and might possibly be the result of secondary assimilation to Luke’s text….This ‘minor agreement’ is not strong enough to support unaided the hypothesis of another source [i.e., Q]…” Other references make it clear that there is anything but majority support for the contention that Ναζαρα was in Q. And I notice that Ναζαρα is not even used in the Greek USB and NIV.
    (In fact, it’s hard to tell from this link that indeed any reconstruction of Q inserts it unconditionally. Can you vouch for the fact that any does? If that’s not ‘inappropriate’ of course.)

    If some reference to Nazareth existed here in Q, as part of some description of a movement of Jesus from one place to another (which is the way Mt. and Lk. have used it, though in diametrically opposite ways), such a reference would be unique in Q, since the only time Q seems to show an interest in outlining Jesus’ itinerary is in a couple of extended anecdotes, such as at the beginning of the healing of the centurion’s servant. There is no sign of such a thing anywhere else.

    But if Ναζαρα were part of an extended anecdote such as that, can we think that neither Matthew nor Luke would have made any use of it, but both would simply extract and use this different way of saying Nazareth, while never employing that version in any other place?

    It is claimed that Ναζαρα in a Q passage would “respond to the need to provide a transition between the Temptation tradition and the centurion tradition which follows.” But the latter does not follow immediately on the former, but is separated by quite a few sayings, so I don’t know what sense this makes. Besides, where else in Q is there any interest shown in providing transitions between its different elements? We cannot even be sure of the intro line to the centurion anecdote. “When he had finished addressing the people” is only in Luke, since he has just presented his Sermon on the Plain, but Matthew doesn’t have it, since something else intervenes. The common reference to Capernaum may be part of the Q centurion anecdote, but only as a reference to where Jesus was when he performed this healing. (Although even that is in fact somewhat confused in the story.) Or it could simply have been a reference to where the centurion lived and both evangelists have made alterations to fit their own contexts, which is what I suspect is the case.

    But the reference to Capernaum which seems to be from Q is not taken by Mt. or Lk., let alone both, in isolation. It is part of a miracle story they have used. What is Ναζαρα a part of? Nothing that has survived in either Gospel.

    The occasional alleged inclusion in Q of Jesus’ baptism by John represents a tendency on the part of Q researchers which is quite suspicious. I regard the business of suggesting Ναζαρα was in Q in the same light. Essentially a wishful thinking which is not well supported.

    Anyway, because Sam is fearful of inappropriateness, at this point I don’t know if my statement that Nazareth appears in no reconstruction of Q was in itself incorrect or not, or whether it is simply mentioned as a qualified possibility. lt is certainly not found in individual researchers like Kloppenborg and Mack. It and a few other items are proposed by some to have been in Q, but with no general agreement and with attendant problems. (But no surprise that Ehrman chose to come down on the side that he did. A literal grasping at a straw.)

    P.S. I have to agree that the narrowness of the Reply box is a real problem when you want to do some editing before posting. Is it not possible to expand it?

    • sam
      2012-07-01 11:11:20 UTC - 11:11 | Permalink

      “I don’t know if my statement that Nazareth appears in no reconstruction of Q was in itself incorrect or not”. The Critical Edition of Q pp.42-43. If you have a look at the text you will see Nazara is “unconditional” according to the IQP. The point was to alert you to the material, not summarise multiple detailed arguments. You have the google books link to the specific volume of Documenta Q for the detailed discussion. I’m not defending Ehrman and I disagree with any hypothetical document Q. Migaku Sato also includes Luke(Q) 4.16 in Q with uncertainty (square brackets).

      • 2012-07-02 00:49:27 UTC - 00:49 | Permalink

        Well, that wasn’t so difficult now, was it? Thanks. Perhaps Neil could add after my comment about there being no reference to Nazareth in any reconstruction of Q: (But see the discussion in the Comments below.)

        From the sound of it, you’re spending a lot of money on ‘disproving Q.’ How’s that going for you?

        • sam
          2012-07-02 01:39:06 UTC - 01:39 | Permalink

          I said all that in my comments above Earl, with my reference. I don’t see how this was any different. Naraza is in Q according the “The Critical Edition of Q” edited by Robinson, Hoffmann, and Kloppenborg, with detailed discussion in the accompanying Documenta Q. Check my comments you complained about. How’s it going? Nightmare of detail refuting many complex multiple arguments for a single written document Q (the contents of which there is no consensus on and never could be). Thanks.

        • sam
          2012-07-02 01:55:16 UTC - 01:55 | Permalink

          My first comment to you above: Look at ‘The Critical Edition of Q’ pages 42-3 Matt 4.13//Luke 4.16 “Nazara” is incuded in “Q” according to the IQP, including the concordance page 575. Discussion in all relevant books.

          My second comment to you above when you asked me to summarise discussion when I explained that there were many detailed multiple arguments
          :
          Yes of course. You know it’s not appropriate to summarise detailed discussions with different various arguments for its inclusion in Q. I’m under the impression you haven’t studied the IQP Critical Edition of Q text which only retains Nazara. The best discussion for you to read is in the accompanying volumes, “Documenta Q: Reconstructions of Q Through Two Centuries of Gospel Research Excerpted, Sorted, and Evaluated” also edited by Robinson, Hoffmann and Kloppenborg. The Volume “Q4:1-13,16 The Temptations of Jesus Nazara” published in 1996 (Peeters, Leuven) is the one you need. Discussion on Nazara pp. 391-463.

        • sam
          2012-07-02 03:28:02 UTC - 03:28 | Permalink

          By the way, you quote, I’m not sure where from, “The reading of Ναζαρα in Mt.4:16 is textually uncertain and might possibly be the result of secondary assimilation to Luke’s text….This ‘minor agreement’ is not strong enough to support unaided the hypothesis of another source [i.e., Q]…” Other references make it clear that there is anything but majority support for the contention that Ναζαρα was in Q. And I notice that Ναζαρα is not even used in the Greek USB and NIV.

          There is an error in your source. Ναζαρα is in Mt.4:13 and Luke 4:16 of the Greek texts of both the USB and NA with manuscript variants duly recorded.

          One of the mistakes people make is to assume that material contained in the single (flawed) document Q hypothesis is an argument for its historicity, and if it is not contained in Q it is an argument for non historicity. I argue for the historicity of a source Ναζαρα, but against a single Q hypothesis. But I can’t summarise that here. It’s too convoluted.

          • 2012-07-02 05:09:34 UTC - 05:09 | Permalink

            Sam: There is an error in your source. Ναζαρα is in Mt.4:13 and Luke 4:16 of the Greek texts of both the USB and NA with manuscript variants duly recorded.

            My copy of The Exhaustive Concordance to the Greek New Testament says:

            3711 Ναζαρα Not used in UBS/NIV

            And my Mt.4:16 was obviously my typo in having to switch from one window to another. Somewhat like your typos “USB and NA”? Or are we not talking about the same ones?

            Anything that is too convoluted is automatically suspect. Somewhat like the position that Luke copied Matthew. Considering all its problems and the contortions that must be indulged in to fit fit such a theory, that’s much more convoluted than simply saying that there was a document behind the common material in Matthew and Luke. That it is now lost is hardly difficult to envision, let alone uncommon.

            • sam
              2012-07-02 08:15:17 UTC - 08:15 | Permalink

              I made no typos Earl. NA is the regular symbol for the Nestle Aland Greek New Testament with a committee of editors: Barbara and Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M Marini, Bruce M Metzger.
              http://www.amazon.co.uk/Nestle-Aland-Novum-Testamentum-Graece-NA27/dp/1598561723/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1341182169&sr=8-1

              USB Greek New Testament edited by Kurt Aland, Matthew Black, Carlo M Martini, Bruce M Metzer and Allen Wikgren.
              http://www.amazon.co.uk/UBS-Greek-Testament-Kurt-Aland/dp/1598563572/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1341182486&sr=8-3

              Ναζαρα is in Mt.4:13 and Luke 4:16 of the Greek texts of both the USB and NA with manuscript variants duly recorded. I have them both here open in front of me.

              NIV is an English translation and irrelevant.

              I’m not denying there were sources. Just not the single document hypthesised by the IQP with evidence imaginatively squeezed and stretched to fit the hypothesis. The arguments are flawed. Parsimony is a virtue of explanatory logic; it is not a feature of historical or literary realities as Kloppenborg himself concedes in Excavating Q. Simple hypotheses do not reflect historical reality.

              • 2012-07-02 09:17:15 UTC - 09:17 | Permalink

                You made no typos? You originally referred to the UBS as “USB” and you’ve done it again in the above posting, right above the cover picture saying “UBS”. And “NA” is a ‘typo’ insofar as I quoted a reference to the NIV and you came back with a reference to the NA. The NIV, while generally referring to an English translation, has an “underlying Greek text” which is what my Concordance was referring to.

                I, too, dismiss appeals to Occam’s Razor, saying that history is usually messy. What I am saying here is that if to defend a theory one has to come up with the sorts of convoluted and often fallacious justifications which Goodacre does to defend Luke using Matthew, that’s carrying “messy” too far, into a different category in fact.

                The arguments for Q are far less flawed than those used by Goodacre, in my estimation. If you want to ‘broaden’ Q to a collection of sources, or parts of different versions of an evolving document, or some other theory along those lines, that may be another thing. But I wish you luck in formulating a case for it. It doesn’t matter to me that Q may not be as tidy as originally thought, as long as we acknowledge that we do have a watershed of material, much of it written, which represents a pre-Marcan movement Mark belonged to and inherited. The alternative, leaving the evangelists high and dry with no precedent on which they built, makes absolutely no sense to me. However you want to define or reconstruct “Q” it is infinitely better than no Q at all.

              • sam
                2012-07-02 10:12:08 UTC - 10:12 | Permalink

                UBS was indeed a typo, recognisable as a typo of USB. NA was not. I included the more common Nestle Aland Greek New Testament to demonstrate the point. The NIV is an English translation and irrelevant so I left it out. I did add however that NIV has Nazareth in both texts which suggests that Ναζαρα is in the ‘underlying Greek text’. I don’t agree with your opinions. It was Michael Goulder who convinced me that the author of Luke knew Matthew, but not that Matthew was used as a source. The evidence in the material suggests otherwise. Q is historically implausible and while ‘better’ for you, is not where the evidence leads.

              • 2012-07-02 11:03:56 UTC - 11:03 | Permalink

                I disagree, so let’s leave it at that.

            • sam
              2012-07-02 08:31:48 UTC - 08:31 | Permalink

              By the way, irrelevantly, I also have a copy of the NIV and Nazareth is indeed in the text of the English translation of Matt 4.13 (and Luke 4.16) both tanslated from Ναζαρα.

              • grog
                2012-07-02 22:39:52 UTC - 22:39 | Permalink

                Sam, I’m wondering how you arrive at “Nazareth” being translated from Ναζαρα in the NIV. You seem to know a lot about this and I don’t. However, it seems to me that 1) The Aland and the UBS are essentially the same text, and; 2) The NIV used many manuscripts, some of which may have contained Ναζαρα and some may have read Ναζαρὲτ. I am just trying to understand your argument. I could be wrong here, maybe there is agreement amongst the manuscripts behind the NIV. So if you could clarify this, it would be helpful.

              • sam
                2012-07-03 00:12:52 UTC - 00:12 | Permalink

                Ναζαρα and Ναζαρὲτ are both variants of Nazareth, but Ναζαρα is in the texts of both the USB and NA which are very similar texts but not exactly the same. Variants are duly recorded in the textual apparatus of both editions.

              • steph
                2012-07-03 02:36:04 UTC - 02:36 | Permalink

                It’s steph. Sam is a nickname. I had to log in again on this computer so I logged in as sam to alert Doherty to The Critical Edition of Q and the accompanying Documenta Q, neither of which he seemed aware. I am surprised he doesn’t use a Greek edition of the New Testament. It’s good to see people critical of the “Q” hypothesis. Tēnā koutou – thanks.

              • 2012-07-03 04:11:22 UTC - 04:11 | Permalink

                I often refer to a Greek edition of the NT. That’s clear from my writings in which I analyze the original text. As for minute discussions about details in Q, I have when referred to them in books like those of Kloppenborg or Arnal, though that has usually required visits to a library. I need to make more use of the Internet, obviously.

                And I wish that those who see it as “good” to question Q would offer as an alternative something a little less problematic than Goodacre’s case, which is full of holes.

                By the way, I guess “steph” is someone we are familiar with here?

              • 2012-07-03 04:20:35 UTC - 04:20 | Permalink

                I don’t think it is clear. I do recommend that you get a copy of The Critical Edition edited by Robinson, Hoffmann and Kloppenborg though. I am writing up research on the double tradition and propose a chaotic hypothesis as opposed to a single written document which I argue against. But my intention is not to argue with you or try to persuade you. Kia Ora, tēnā koe.

            • sam
              2012-07-02 08:33:17 UTC - 08:33 | Permalink

              *translated. I shouldn’t have clicked so quickly.

  • Blood
    2012-07-02 00:20:34 UTC - 00:20 | Permalink

    Ehrman thinks that the biggest problem with the texts is that the originals do not exist. If we had the originals, should we therefore assume them to be true in any way? And should we assume that the church in the first and second century placed the same value on “originals” that people in the 21st Century do?

    If the Holy Spirit inspired the writing, I don’t see why God couldn’t have miraculously preserved the original papyrus from deteriorating.

    • 2012-07-02 00:51:26 UTC - 00:51 | Permalink

      It’s more likely he didn’t miraculously prevent the copyists and redactors from destroying the earlier versions after they made wholesale changes to them.

  • 2012-07-02 05:12:41 UTC - 05:12 | Permalink

    That’s odd. When I enter a “Reply” to a preceding post, I get a nice long box. When I make a new Comment (like now), I get the stingy one. Hey, life (not to mention NT scholarship) is convoluted enough!

    • ROO BOOKAROO
      2012-07-02 06:45:48 UTC - 06:45 | Permalink

      Here is something even odder.
      When you open your reply box, either way, before typing, keep the return key depressed as the cursor goes down all the way, opening up the box to 63 lines.
      When you start typing on line 1, the box remains fully open.
      I hope it works for everybody.

  • 2012-07-02 06:58:35 UTC - 06:58 | Permalink

    Try this. When you open a reply box — either a reply to a preceding post or a new comment — you should see the cursor in the box waiting for you to start typing away.

    But before you begin typing, simply press your Return/Enter key and hold it down and see if it doesn’t begin to enlarge your comment/reply box to whatever size you want.

    It works with my Firefox and Safari browsers.

  • Brett
    2012-07-03 06:42:49 UTC - 06:42 | Permalink

    Neil: Could I recommend a WordPress format with a standard, fixed sentence-length, as your main section? Reading unnaturally long lines, as they appear in larger screens at least, is a bit awkward and distracting. Standard book width is available.

    • 2012-07-03 07:33:40 UTC - 07:33 | Permalink

      I agree it can take a bit of getting used to to read a very wide post, but when I get tired of turning my head I reduce the size of the browser to fit my eye span. One alternative I looked at reduced the main blog post box size to a field way too narrow for the sorts of posts we like to present here. Will think about it. This sort of blog does invite longer than common blog posts and comments and I haven’t yet seen a quick, easy (and free) solution.

    • 2012-07-03 08:56:37 UTC - 08:56 | Permalink

      I almost never accept the standard size of a web page. Whenever I open a URL I press the Ctrl key and flick the mouse scroll wheel until I get to a comfortable font size. (You can get the same effect by pressing Ctrl+[ = ] and Ctrl + [ – ].) It quickly becomes second nature.

      Modern browsers will remember the size you’ve set for each site, so when you go back you don’t have to do it again.

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